How do you deal with a suspicion that a worker is abusing drugs or alcohol without running afoul of the law?
It’s best to take a step-by-step approach. Here are some steps provided by employee assistance program (EAP) company Shepell fgi.
Watch for warning signs. While all of the following signs don’t always point to substance abuse, they often are indicators:
- Mood: Irritable, depressed, suspicious, withdrawn, lots of talking, particularly after lunch breaks.
- Appearance: Poor hygiene, bloodshot eyes, significant weight gain or loss, hand tremors, an unsteady stance.
- Work performance: Lower productivity, poor work quality, insufficient concentration, problems making decisions, resistance to supervisors, misuse of equipment, and frequent time off.
- Relationships: Uncooperative, over-confident, argumentative, accusative.
Record what you’ve seen. Keep specific, regular performance and attendance records that are objective. While you want to document observations such as not meeting a deadline or goal, don’t include your suspicions. Also, don’t share this information with other employees, unless you feel it’s time to take the matter to a manager or HR.
Discuss and, once again, document. When it’s time to discuss the situation with the employee, do so in a private room away from other employees. Have another manager or someone from HR in the room to witness and document the conversation. Spell out the performance problems that you’ve noted but don’t say that you suspect substance abuse. Refer to specific performance examples. Set an example for the employee’s response by remaining calm while talking.
Get their reply. Give the employee an ample opportunity to respond. Your next actions will depend on what the worker says.
Set an action plan that you both agree with. If the employee tells you he/she has a substance abuse problem:
- Direct the employee to your EAP or programs available in your community.
- If the employee is in a safety-sensitive job, reassign them to a temporary position where safety won’t be jeopardized.
In all situations, whether the employee mentions a substance abuse problem or not, set up an improvement plan with specific goals including a timeline.
If the employee appears to be intoxicated at work:
- Speak with the worker to see how they respond and behave
- If you still think the person is under the influence, ask the employee to accompany you to a private area away from other workers
- Get another supervisor or someone from HR as a witness
- Instead of telling the worker that he/she looks intoxicated, say that you’ve noticed they’re not responding quickly or seem to be slurring words
- Give the employee an opportunity to explain
- If they’re intoxicated, send them home in a cab or with another employee so they don’t have to drive.
And remember, it’s never a good idea to accuse an employee of having a substance abuse problem. Deal with performance problems instead.