What if your employee is on drugs?

Every employee has good and bad days, but when those bad days are caused by drugs and they happen in the workplace, it can be downright dangerous. The Occupational Safety & Health Administration says between 10 and 20 percent of American workers who die at work have a positive result when tested for drugs or alcohol.

If an employer suspects drugs are behind the employee's behavior, there are certain sequential steps that should be followed. The boss should make notes of mood (irritability and withdrawal, for example), appearance, work performance and relationships. Does the employee have bloodshot eyes? Does he or she ask for frequent time off? Is the employee uncooperative?

The employer should keep regular and specific performance records, at the same time being objective. Observations should be documented, with suspicions kept out of the report. If the employee must be spoken with, the employer should discuss the situation privately— again, not mentioning substance abuse. During the talk, the employee should have time to respond.

If the employee admits to an abuse problem, direct him or her to community resources. But regardless of whether the worker mentions a problem, devise an improvement plan with goals and a timeline.

Best Drug Rehabilitation, founded by former substance abuser Per Wickstrom, operates its center focused on educating clients about how to lead a healthy, complete life. Its website offers information on dealing with drug use by an employee.

But first, recognizing the signs is vital. They include:

  • Dilated pupils
  • Consistent tardiness
  • Taking long breaks with no explanation
  • Grogginess
  • Wearing long sleeves while warm
  • Decline in productivity
  • Theft of company supplies

The boss should review company policies to find the appropriate channels for helping the employee.

Write it down

While documenting behavior is important, human resources should be consulted in case the HR rep knows about a personal problem or medical condition the employee is facing. However, if the HR rep has read the documentation and agrees there's a problem, the employee should meet with the employee with a third party present, such as the rep or company lawyer. Again, documentation of the discussion is essential.

If a drug test is called for, the employer should consider the legal ramifications of drug testing without consent. If the drug test is negative, let the employee get on with his or her job. If they need help, company policy should be followed.

Get outside help

HR Morning also has suggestions for the sensitive subject of suspected employee drug abuse. If needed, an expert such as a doctor or drug counselor can be consulted. If an employee must be approached about the problem, the person doing the approaching should do so in a concerned, not accusatory, manner.

If the employee doesn't respond appropriately, that can be dealt with under the company's policies and disciplinary rules. Remember, the end result should be what's best for the company, but also what's best for the employee.

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