What to Do When You Suspect an Employee is Using Drugs

You’ve been watching a particular employee for a few weeks and are now officially concerned. His performance has slipped. Deadlines have been missed, careless mistakes have been made and he’s taken longer breaks than usual. Hopefully you’ve noted these problems in a couple emails and brief conversations, and maybe you even asked him what’s going on in private—but his answer was a resolute “nothing.” This is clearly untrue, because something is definitely wrong. It might be drug use.

More Employees Admit to Drug Use

The 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health released in September shows a rise in drug use among full-time and part-time employees. In just one year, substance use among all employees rose by almost a full percentage point, to nearly nine percent for full-time workers and 12.5 percent for part-timers.

If the possibility of substance abuse has occurred to you, Entrepreneur recommends small business owners take these steps:

  • Gather educational resources on substance abuse available from local agencies and make them available to all employees.
  • If you provide insurance, check with the company to see what rehabilitation services they recommend in your community.
  • Talk to your lawyer to find out what you can do to address the situation. State laws vary regarding employee and employer protections. A quick Internet search will help you locate your state’s laws.
  • Have an in-depth, private conversation with the employee. Express your concern, review what policies you have in place and share your resources.

Be sure to document all conversations you have about the employee and your substance abuse policy efforts. Should you choose to go this route, you do have the right to test for illegal drug use, says the American Civil Liberties Union.

Not All Drug Abuse is the Same

Don’t make an accusation about drug use or threaten to fire an employee for it. Not only could you make things worse for the employee and colleagues witnessing this, you risk a lawsuit yourself. The Americans with Disabilities Act protects employees whose impairment is the result of taking legally prescribed medications. It also protects employees who are currently undergoing treatment for any kind of substance abuse. It does, not, however, protect active, illegal drug use on the job, even if the employee is undergoing treatment.

Supporting an Employee’s Treatment

You may be genuinely troubled by your employee’s predicament and want him to seek treatment as soon as possible. According to Best Drug Rehabilitation, most addicts need 24/7 medical supervision to help them come off drugs safely and with the least amount of discomfort possible.

Beginning January 2014, coverage for addiction treatment will be mandatory across the nation for all insurance, Kaiser Health News reports. Chances are good, however, it will cost more than what insurance pays for. At first glance, it may seem impossible for your business to support an employee undergoing rehab. There are reasons why it may be financially and emotionally beneficial to do so, though, including savings on retraining, improved productivity and increased company loyalty. Above all, everyone deserves a chance to be free from the chains of addiction.