You’ve seen her productivity go down over the past month, hoping it’s just a season that passes quickly. But this morning, she arrived late for the fourth time in two weeks. And based on what you’re seeing so far, you’ll probably need to send her home. It’s another missed day because of what might be substance abuse. But how do you talk with your employee about your suspicions without infringing on her right to privacy while maintaining a drug-free workplace? It’s obvious she has a problem, and if things don’t change soon, she’ll be unemployed and without benefits. Then how will she get the help she needs?

Workplace Addiction

Creating a drug-free workplace is a top priority for most business owners, managers, and supervisors. But drug use among the employed is on the rise, so maintaining a drug-free environment for your employees can be a challenge.1

According to a Quest Diagnostics study, which analyzed the test results from 10 million workplace urine samples, there was a universal increase in use of the most common illicit drugs: cocaine, methamphetamine, and marijuana.1

The 2016 study found that 4.2 percent of all urine tests came back positive for drug use, the highest rate since 2004. It also found that cocaine use continues to climb for the fourth year in a row. Marijuana use increased to 8.9 percent, a nearly 75 percent increase compared to 5.1 percent in 2013. Experts believe this dramatic rise in testing positive for marijuana in the workplace is the direct result of the continued legalization of the drug for recreational use. Methamphetamine use also rose 64 percent between 2012 and 2016.1

Considering that more than 75 percent of those with an alcohol use disorder or an illicit drug use disorder are able to maintain employment, the impact undetected or untreated substance abuse has on the workplace is undeniable.2

Signs of Workplace Drug Use

Substance abuse costs American business owners more than 81 billion dollars in lost profits each year, due in part to the following:

  • Lost productivity
  • Increased absenteeism
  • Sick days used
  • Decrease in work quality2

That’s why creating a drug-free workplace is more important, and more difficult, than ever before. Knowing your employee’s work habits, including days missed, and holding them accountable is an important first step in solving the problems workplace drug use causes. Along with missed days and decreased productivity, other signs that an employee may be struggling with drugs or alcohol include the following:

  • Often arriving late or leaving early
  • Bloodshot or glazed eyes
  • Dilated or constricted pupils
  • A constant smell of alcohol
  • Hyperactivity without productivity
  • Avoiding contact with supervisors especially after breaks
  • Sleeping on the job
  • Making mistakes that cause accidents
  • Substantial changes in weight and personal hygiene
  • Personality changes, such as aggression, irritability, depression or paranoia
  • Frequently borrowing money from coworkers or asking for a payroll advance3

If you notice any of these behaviors in your employees, for the health and protection of all concerned, it’s time to act.

Dealing with Substance Abuse in the Workplace

Once you have identified behaviors that might indicate your employee has a substance use disorder, you must take steps to ensure the safety of all your employees. That usually means a face-to-face conversation. All conversations about the subject of substance abuse or addiction must be done in private and be well documented. Your HR department can provide you with your company’s policy, program, and rules concerning a drug-free workplace to have on hand when discussing this issue with an employee.

It’s also a good idea to review the signs of abuse with an Employee Assistance Program counselor before a meeting takes place. Once you’re prepared, the following steps can help you communicate the seriousness of the situation to your employee:

  • Schedule a face-to-face meeting and notify the employee of the time and place. Meetings of this nature should always take place in private.
  • Tread lightly and with respect. Remember that this is a sensitive issue. Approaching your employee with a harsh or judgmental attitude won’t get you to the heart of the problem.
  • Plan for denial. One of the first reactions when a person is confronted with his or her drug or alcohol problem is denial. Be ready for this with accurate documentation of the employee’s absences, work performance, tardiness, or other problems.
  • Consider intervention. Interventions can be a powerful tool in getting someone who struggles with addiction the help they need. Your EAP counselor can help you plan and carry out an appropriate workplace intervention.
  • Avoid enabling. Supervisors and managers that lend an employee money, cover for them, or give their work to someone else are only making the situation worse.
  • Enforce any written workplace policies. You are obligated to enforce any workplace policies that have been violated by your employees.
  • Offer support. Employers should offer comprehensive healthcare coverage that includes addiction treatment services. Direct your employee to the Employee Assistance Program for more information.4

Employee Assistance Program Basics

Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) are designed to help employees with personal problems, such as substance abuse and addiction, that may be adversely affecting job performance. EAPs are a type of intervention unique to the workplace, and are made available to employees free of charge as part of employee benefits.

Most EAPs are operated by outside vendors or by employee health insurance programs. Services can be delivered by phone, through video conferencing, through emails or in person.

EAP services are also available to spouses and children of employees. Along with substance abuse intervention, EAP services can include a variety of other help for employees and their families, including basic legal counseling and healthcare helplines.5

If you or your loved one is struggling with substance use or addiction, contacting your company’s Employee Assistance Program can be an important first step in getting the help you need. If you are an employer who is concerned about someone’s relationship with drugs or alcohol, directing your employee to the EAP can help them take a positive step toward recovery.

Finding Help for Workplace Addiction

If you are an employer dealing with substance use in the workplace, we are here to help. Our admissions coordinators are available to answer your questions about available services and insurance benefits and to provide you with resources you can give to any employee who is struggling.

By Patti Richardss

1Valentic, Stefanie. “Workforce Drug Use on the Rise [Infographic].” EHS Today, 31 May 2017.
2“Addiction In The Workplace: What You Need to Know.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 14 June 2017.
3Kenney, Dave. “Ways to Help an Employee with a Drug or Alcohol Problem.” Efficient Forms, 15 May 2017.
4Yagoda, Robert. “Addiction in the Workplace: Tips for Employers.” U.S. News & World Report, U.S. News & World Report, 4 Aug. 2016.
5“General: What Is an Employee Assistance Program?” Society for Human Resource Management. Accessed Nov. 13, 2018.