Drug and alcohol addiction is fairly common among men and women from all backgrounds, races, and classes. Up to 60 percent of people suffering from addiction work full-time, according to a recent report from the National Business Group on Health. That means it’s more than likely that you’ll end up having to face an employee who has a substance abuse problem at some point in your career.
So, how do you handle it? Can you fire someone for alcohol or drug addiction? How is addiction handled according to the FMLA? Here’s what you need to know about how to help an employee who has a drug or alcohol problem:
1. Know what to look for
Knowing the signs of substance abuse is the first step toward helping someone who is dealing with it. Some common signs include being “sick” or coming in late often, general sloppiness while at work, careless attitude and missed deadlines or goals. Physical symptoms vary and can include bloodshot eyes and overall appearance of fatigue and tremors. Employees who are abusing alcohol or drugs while at work might avoid you and other co-workers after breaks, and they might display signs of being intoxicated, such as talking too loudly, slurring their words or being incoherent. If left untreated, one employee’s addiction could result in a work-related accident, costing your company money and potentially hurting other employees.
2. Handle it with delicacy
Confronting anyone about substance abuse must be handled carefully and privately. Brush up on your company’s policy toward substance abuse, including any programs or counseling it might offer. When you speak to your employee, you’ll need to have an action plan in place. This means knowing whether they can take time off or deciding if it’s their last day. According to FMLA, employees who receive health benefits from their workplace could qualify for up to 12 weeks unpaid time off since addiction is considered a health condition. If your employees are not getting benefits, talk to HR generally to find out what, if anything, you can offer your employee to help them seek treatment. Your employee will be more likely to admit to the problem and seek treatment if they know they can do so with discretion and without the risk of losing their job.
Make sure your employee knows that they can seek treatment confidentially. You don’t need to give other employees (aside, perhaps, from HR) the full explanation for their absence. If your company does not have a plan in place, see if you can find local substance abuse programs that are free or within your employee’s budget.
3. Be firm in your expectations
Substance abuse is considered a health condition, but that doesn’t mean you should (or can) condone intoxication at work. Be firm in your expectations-your employee needs to know that they are expected to adhere to company guidelines regarding drug and alcohol use and that their actions are putting their co-workers, and potentially their customers, in danger. Make it clear that you are committed to providing a safe, drug-free work place for all of your employees. That means the employee can no longer show up intoxicated. If they do not want to take time off for treatment, make it clear that you expect their performance to improve.
Handling an employee’s drug or alcohol problem is a delicate situation, but it’s one that should be handled sooner rather than later. Waiting for your employee to seek out treatment on their own probably won’t work, and it could result in an accident, not to mention wasted wages on a non-performing employee. Use these tips to help your employee understand the consequences of their addiction and to seek the help they need.
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