Frontline Supervisor: Substance Abuse in the Workplace

Frontline Supervisor: Substance Abuse in the Workplace

On 8 Mar 2017, in Frontline Supervisor

Each month, "The Balance Sheet" provides questions and answers from experts on a topic that's important to you as a manager. Please feel free to share this information with other colleagues who also manage people. 

Q. I have an employee who looks like a meth user, not unlike those before-and-after photos you can see online. I have no proof that she uses meth, but are these physical signs I can use to encourage BJC EAP self-referral?

A. It is appropriate to inquire about the status of an employee who appears ill. Although stating that she looks like a meth user would not be appropriate, recommending that she take advantage of organizational resources, including BJC EAP, is reasonable. Not all meth addicts have classic facial scarring from picking at their skin -- at least not initially. However, other signs of use may include paranoia, hallucinations, repetitive motor activity, memory loss, aggressive or violent behavior, mood disturbances, severe dental problems, etc. Addictive diseases are chronic and progressive, so things are going to get worse if meth is an issue. At the very least, you should understand your organization’s fitness for duty policy. A fitness for duty policy encompasses suitability for being at work in order to guard against an employee who may be unsafe to himself/herself or others. Talk with BJC EAP and consult on this situation to identify what other issues exist and could be used to recommend help or perhaps a formal referral that would lead to a full assessment.

Q. While involved in horseplay, an employee fell off the loading dock and was injured. A gesture from a coworker indicated he had been smoking pot on his lunch break. I have no evidence, but how can I make a BJC EAP referral to evaluate whether a drug use issue exists?

A. There may be occasions when a supervisor would like to refer an employee to BJC EAP for a personal problem based on a hunch or unverified tip but it is preferable to have clear documentation of a performance issue or a clear rationale for the referral. Some employers refer employees to BJC EAP for help with coming back to work after an injury, or when a conduct problem has repeated itself too often. A workers’ compensation doctor might spot a drug use issue in the course of treatment and refer to EAP. However, beyond these few paths of discovery, the ability to refer is limited. Note that EAP consultants always consider the possibility that an alcohol or drug problem exists within the context of any type of initial complaint.

Q. We have an employee who has entered a drug and alcohol treatment program. Should I encourage workers to visit him there or discourage these visitations? We don’t want him to feel abandoned or ashamed, so we’re thinking it might be the right thing for people to drop by.

A. Talk with BJC EAP for guidance on this matter. If a release is signed for you at the treatment program, discuss it with the counselor there. Otherwise, allow employees to make their own decisions rather than advocate either way. Your question raises important issues. Many people who enter addiction treatment do so under duress. Therefore, the rules associated with visitation can often be strict to prevent adversely affecting the motivation of the patient and to prevent their leaving against medical advice.

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