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What to Do If You Suspect a Coworker is Using Drugs or Alcohol

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The tell-tale signs are there: the red eyes, the frequent latenesses and absences, the change in attitude, personality, and work ethic, the weight loss or gain, or even the smell of alcohol on their breath.

It may not be hard to detect whether or not your coworker is using drugs at work, but it is very hard to figure out what to do about it. After all, substance abuse is usually indicative of a deeper issue in that person’s life, whether it be a coping mechanism for issues at home or the result of a deeper mental health crisis.

When an employee is using drugs or alcohol, it can trigger confusing emotions in his or her coworkers. They may feel compassion, anger, fear, concern, or all of the above. Some people don’t know how to broach this subject with superiors, while managers themselves are often unsure how to proceed.

So how do you handle drug and alcohol abuse in the workplace? If a person is using substances at work, or coming to work under the influence of alcohol or drugs, it is necessary to tackle the issue directly, for the safety of everyone in the workplace.

Confrontation

The fact is that confrontation is never easy, especially if the person in question is in denial or afraid of losing their job. Supervisors or managers are usually the people who are best trained and informed to confront an employee, and most companies have policies and procedures in place for situations like these. Sometimes, a supervisor might direct that employee towards an employee assistance program, which can help that employee seek help from an addiction treatment centre.

Ultimately, the sobriety and recovery of your employees and coworkers is completely out of your hands. However, sometimes people need a little push in the right direction.

Boundaries

While a growing number of Canadian employers are choosing to direct employees to complete the drug rehab process, it’s also important to set firm limits. After raising this issue with an employee, make sure they understand that coming to work under the influence will no longer be tolerated. If he or she cannot meet that simple goal, then it may be necessary to let them go.
Support

Recovering employees need support and help from their work environment. This might include a simple email or note expressing such support, or a particular effort to aid that employee on their road to recovery. If they have to leave work for a while to attend an addiction treatment centre or go through a drug rehab process, making their return back to the office as smooth and inviting as possible could do a lot to show the employee in question how much they are appreciated and supported.

However, there’s a fine line between showing support and making an employee feel singled out.

Confidentiality

Not only is it usually workplace policy to keep any interactions about substance abuse confidential, but it is common decency towards the employee in question. Making their recovery process or return to the workplace any harder than it needs to be will only hurt your reputation and their health.

Legally, employers may also be required to keep healthcare matters like this confidential.

According to the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, drug and alcohol abuse has cost the Canadian healthcare system more than $8 billion. That’s because it’s a widespread problem that affects people from all walks of life, which makes it inevitable that employers and workers will deal with substance abuse in the workplace at some point.

Knowing how to respond firmly but compassionately is hugely important. It could make the difference between someone staying in pain or finally seeking out the drug rehab process.

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