While many employers do not want to involve themselves with their colleague’s lives outside of work, sometimes they have no choice. Drug use can put people in danger, cut productivity, lead to increased absenteeism and potentially lead to violence. Supervisors, therefore, need to keep their eyes peeled for the signs of substance abuse.
The signs of substance abuse
The signs of substance abuse range from mild to severe. For professionals who haven’t undergone reasonable suspicion training, they can be hard to spot.
If you’re an employer concerned about a member of staff, here are some of the things you should look out for:
- Problems with work, such as a sudden disinterest in the task at hand
- Difficulty holding conversations with colleagues, clients, and other professionals in the workplace
- Making excuses for poor work
- Deteriorating concern with personal appearances, such as lack of grooming or showering
- Unexpected or unexplained changes in behavior
- Secrecy around their personal life
- Constant issues with never having enough money
- Missing or stolen items from work
What to do if you suspect substance abuse
If you suspect substance abuse, you should follow a strict protocol, ideally in line with company policy.
Step 1: Consult your policy document
The first step is to consult your policy document to see how your company should react to such an incident. Ideally, you want your handbook to allow for alcohol and drug testing of colleagues, especially if you operate in an at-risk industry. General policy statements, unfortunately, are not sufficient to permit testing.
If you have a policy document in place that allows for tests, then please move onto the next section. If you don’t, then you will need to consult with legal professionals about your next move. You may need to get employees to retroactively sign documentation that changes their working conditions.
Step 2: Observe signs of substance abuse and collect evidence
The next step is to observe signs of substance abuse and document behavior. We already discussed some of the common indications above, but there are many others including dilated eyes, slurred or problematic speech, emotional outbursts, drowsiness on the job, and excessive sweating.
Step 3: Discuss the matter with senior colleagues and then meet
The next step is to discuss the matter with other senior colleagues to find out what they think about the situation. A colleague may have all of the above symptoms and not be taking any form of drugs or medication. Other members of the team often have insights into why an employee is behaving in a particular way.
If the conclusion seems to be that the employee may be abusing substances, then the next step is to meet with them to share your concerns. When you do this, you should ideally allow a neutral third party to be present, such as an employee advocate, to act as a witness. You then describe what you have observed and how it contradicts your company policy.
Step 4: Test the employee
In some situations, employers have a legal duty to test employees they suspect of drug abuse. For instance, bus service operators must test drivers they believe are under the influence of substances, including alcohol.
When you do this, you must notify the employee that you are carrying out legal suspicion testing. This type of testing is allowed by law, as mentioned, in certain situations. It is critical for maintaining safety and ensuring that the employee themselves can get the help they need. If they fail the drug test, they should not be allowed to continue operating or working. They should not drive home either, as this could put other road users at risk.
Step 5: Act
Once you send the employee home, you have a range of options for what to do next.
One option is to attempt to return them to employment at their prior job. This way, you can safeguard their income while preventing them from putting other people in their environment at risk.
Another option is to provide the employee with the help they need to overcome their addictions. You might, for instance, pay for counseling or rehab before they return to work.
You can also terminate their position immediately. However, most employers try to avoid this route if possible. Not only can it make the employee’s situation worse, but it can hurt the company as a whole to lose an otherwise good worker.
In conclusion, discussing substance abuse with an employee is never a pleasant experience. But sometimes it is necessary to keep the team safe. Failing to deal with issues can lead to fines, loss of brand reputation, injuries, and death.
HR Future Staff Writer, UK.