How to handle an employee with an addiction

Substance abuse is contentious issue in the workplace and managers often draw a hard line when it comes to addiction. Whether the problem relates to alcohol or drugs the workplace issues are generally similar, but many wrongly believe that substance abuse amounts as grounds for instant dismissal.

There are two ways that employers are introduced to this problem. The first being if an employee who is under the influence of a substance whilst at work. The second is finding out that the employee drinks or takes drugs in their own time.

Employee intoxicated at work

If an employee is found to be abusing substances/ under the influence whilst working, this can cross many boundaries of acceptable behaviour. Despite that, an employer’s stance should be one of support, not blame.

Reprimand the employee for their actions, but give them a chance to heal their addictions. Discuss the  behaviour and offer support via occupational health. Then, if need be, allow time off for rehabilitation. Where possible, this should be paid time, to reduce any further stress. If the rehabilitation is successful, then full working capabilities can be resumed. If addiction is treated like an illness rather than bad behaviour, your employee is more likely to come to you in times of need. Especially if their ability to work effectively is confidentially discussed and highlighted as an issue.

This process of rehabilitation must work both ways if dismissal is the least preferable option. As well as employers having a duty of care (under the Health and Safety Laws), employees also have a duty to turn up to work in a fit state. If they do not, then the employee should be temporarily sent home, pending discussions. Immediate dismissal is not recommended but the employee may need to be suspended pending investigation.

A drink or drug problem outside work

If an employee is found to be using drugs or drinking too much in their own time, then employment law becomes a little trickier. Unless the employee is outwardly unfit for work as a result of their substance abuse, then not much can be done immediately. In cases such as this, suspicions of substance abuse must be discussed with the employee and, if correct, occupational health should be offered.

Drug testing must be pre-agreed

Unless it is stipulated in the employee’s contract, random drug testing is not allowed. If this is stipulated then employees must be given all relevant and up-to-date knowledge, such as how long drugs stay in the bloodstream and the longer term effects of failing a drug test. In 2012 only 4% of workplaces carried out random drugs testing because many tribunal cases have been raised following on from drug testing in the workplace.

Start from a position of support

The Government offers many great forums and call centres for confidential advice on addiction and substance abuse. For full effect, make sure that your employees know of these and they may seek help for themselves. As an employer, the starting point in managing a suspected substance abuse problem should of course be one focusing on overall health and safety in the workplace but employers should also be willing to support the employee in recovery.