What Employers Can Do about Substance Abuse in the Workplace

Up to 73 percent of all drug users above the age of 18 are employed, according to the Department of Labor. This means that chances are you work with someone who is currently abusing drugs or alcohol. Drugs in the workplace are a hot topic for many. As you become more aware of drug abuse and addiction, you cannot help but detect signs of it everywhere. Most people who own a business or are in a management position need to know what they can do about substance abuse in the work place. Employers can do some things about this growing issue.

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Look for Patterns

One of the best ways to stop drug abuse in the workplace is to be able to identify it. In order to do this you have to be able to look for behavioral patterns that indicate there is a problem. A few of these patterns are:

Substance Abuse in the Workplace

Workplace drug abuse can put your employees in danger. Know the signs.

  • poor performance – this is particularly true of employees that were previously excellent and then suddenly declined. This indicates that the employee is having a problem, possibly a problem with drugs or some other issue. By talking to the employee, you can find out which it is.
  • frequent late arrivals – this is a classic symptom of employee drug abuse. They could be late because of the night before or because they lost track of time.
  • changes in behavior – a previously amiable employee who got along with people suddenly becomes irritable and difficult to work around.
  • frequent absences – absences are often explained by illness or multiple excuses. These absences become more and more frequent, as the drug use gets worse.

All of these are patterns to look out for when you are an employer.

Recognize the Signs of Drug Abuse in the Workplace

Once you recognize the signs of drug abuse in the workplace, you can set up reporting systems and other programs to make sure that everyone recognizes them. Most people who have a drug problem will eventually show signs of it. Some of these signs are:

  • frequent trips to the bathroom or outside – many drug users start to use at work.
  • financial problems – borrowing money from their paychecks or other employees,
  • office theft – things going missing while that employee is on duty,
  • deterioration of personal appearance – many drug users stop taking care of themselves.
  • disregard for safety – they may be overconfident and take chances.
  • needless risk taking – many people on drugs take risks that they should not.
  • avoidance – people using drugs might avoid friends, coworkers, and other people who know them well.
  • blaming others – placing blame for mistakes and shortcomings on anyone but themselves.

Although no single sign is definitely drug use, many of them together can indicate a serious problem. Each of these signs become more obvious as the abuse goes on or gets worse.

Drug Tests before Hiring

One way to prevent drug use in the workplace is to drug test before hiring. Although depending on your industry might prevent you from hiring many of the candidates, it can prevent problems later on.

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Random Drug Testing

Random drug testing prevents employees from using drugs while they work for you. This is an effective means to stop employees from using drugs but it can cause problems later on. The legal procedures for drug testing can get sticky particularly if a positive test results in termination. Before implementing random drug testing, it is always good to make sure that you are within your legal right to do so.

Due to the legal aspects of random drug testing, many employers only drug test in the event of an accident or suspicion. Most employees are tested if they are filing a workman’s compensation claim or have an accident resulting in severe injury.

Drug Seminars

Holding drug seminars is also a good way for employer to prevent and circumvent substance abuse issues. Knowing the how to spot drug abuse, what programs are available, and how to approach suspected employees, helps workers to understand the procedures and that there is help available. Sometimes knowing that there are options other than losing the job helps employees choose a path of recovery instead of downward spiral.

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Employee Assistance Programs

There are many reasons to have employee assistance programs in place. Most studies show that having a comprehensive drug treatment program increases employee retention. Many employees get trapped into drug use due to the stress of the job or other job related factors. In this case, it is better and more cost effective to retain the employee than it is to train another.

Good employee assistance programs have:

  • drug and alcohol education,
  • drug and workplace awareness programs,
  • assistance for problems related to substance abuse,
  • provide confidentiality, this encourages employees to use the assistance programs,
  • peer support programs, and
  • provisions for in-house assessment and treatment procedures.

If you find that one or more of your employees has a drug problem, it is important to make sure that they get the treatment they need. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, employers with established drug testing and treatment programs have less problems with drug abuse and a better employee retention rate. Retraining employees is more expensive and difficult on the company than helping those that you find have a drug problem. There are agencies that can help you establish a testing policy and treatment programs no matter what business you are in.

the Take-Away

Employee substance abuse not only puts the employee in danger, it also puts the business and other employees in a tough situation. Learn what employers can do to help.