Signs of Substance Abuse in the Workplace and What to Do About It

An employee who is using drugs at work is a risky situation for any company. A failure of  attention, even if it’s just for a minute, can create serious outcomes such as:

  • Personal injuries
  • Property damage
  • Lowered productivity
  • Death

Top 5 Signs a Coworker is Committing Substance Abuse in the Workplace

1. Changes in Behavior

A previously friendly and outgoing coworker may start to be isolated and less likely to engage with coworkers.

2. Long and Frequent Trips to the Restroom (or other unusual absences)

Individuals with an addiction will often seek out private places to inject drugs, sleep off the effects, or pass out. Bathrooms or broom closets or other private rooms that can be locked are places addicts will look for. The coworker might also be experiencing nausea, vomiting, or other side effects which could make going to the restroom more frequent.

3. Poor Hygiene and General Appearance

An individual with an addiction becomes more focused on obtaining, using, and recovering from side effects as time goes on. As a result, that person’s personal habits may decline and he or she may appear unhealthy. That person may come to work wearing unwashed clothes and not keep up with good grooming practices.

4. Repeatedly Making Mistakes

Addicted coworkers will make mistakes, whether they are actively using substances at the time or performing their job poorly because of lack of sleep or physical and mental stress. While not all of the mistakes may be major or serious, a series of small mistakes could indicate drug or alcohol abuse. It’s important to be aware of if these mistakes coincide with other signs of using substances as they could easily be overlooked and just seen as job stress.

5. Witnessed the Substance Abuse

Obviously, if you have witnessed your coworker using drugs or alcohol on the job, it is time to talk to a member of the Human Resources department or report it to your supervisor. If you are the supervisor, there are probably company rules governing how to handle such an incident.

What Can You Do?

Alcohol or drug use at work is a serious breach that should be handled quickly. But if you think that an employee or fellow coworker is using substances on the job, you need to approach the situation carefully. 

It’s essential to follow your company’s codes of conduct relating to drug use to make sure that the appropriate action can be taken. Here are some steps you can take before reporting drug use at work:

Document Suspicious Activities

You will want to carefully document any suspicious actions if you suspect a coworker of using drugs at work. Unpredictable behavior, inappropriate comments, or failing to meet job standards and responsibilities should be written down with a date and time. This information will be useful if the time comes when you file a report.

Talk to the Human Resources Department

Your company’s H.R. department has special training and rules on how to take action when a worker is suspected of using drugs at work. Instead of going straight to your boss or a supervisor, you should start by talking to an H.R. department member. Your human resources department will be able to advise you on the correct steps for reporting suspected drug use.

Can You Ask an Employee if He or She Has a Drug Problem?

Before offering a job to someone, an employer may ask the applicant whether he or she is using substances, or has used illegal drugs or alcohol in the past–as long as the questions aren’t likely to bring out information about past drug addiction. This is considered a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). 

Similarly, before making the employment offer, an employer may not ask about the frequency or amount of drugs the individual has used in the past or whether that person has taken part in a drug rehab program. This information is liable to reveal a drug addiction.

However, after extending a job offer, an employer may ask about the degree of the applicant’s past drug and alcohol use as long as it is:

  • job-related
  • compatible with business necessity
  • would affect the individual’s ability to perform the essential duties of his or her job

If you are a supervisor, you will work with the Human Resources department or another higher management level to watch the individual and take further actions if needed. Still, there are some general guidelines you can follow to handle probable employee substance abuse.

When You First Learn About the Substance Use at Work

When you first learn about the suspected substance use or of the employee’s impairment at work, you should:

  • Take the necessary actions to remove the employee from any safety-intensive work and gather evidence 
  • Send the employee for a drug or alcohol test if it is permitted by state laws and employer policies
  • Don’t depend on hearsay or secondhand reports. Get your evidence from people or supervisors who have witnessed the behavior firsthand. Keep in mind the signs mentioned previously.

What is the Americans with Disabilities Act?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects certain people with disabilities and requires reasonable accommodation of protected employees. Furthermore, the ADA:

  • protects employees who complete treatment for drug or alcohol abuse
  • protects employees who have current alcohol dependency problems, whether they completed treatment programs or not
  • doesn’t protect current users of illegal drugs
  • protects an employee using legal drugs (such as pain medications) who develops an addiction

Employers need to be careful when dealing with employees with substance use disorder (SUD) issues. This is especially true if the disorder has an effect on the workplace such as job performance, behavior, or attendance. In those cases, the employee may be held to the same standards as any other employee. 

Company policies relating to substance use are subject to the ADA and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations in addition to any state workplace drug testing and any other laws that are relevant.

Can You Get Fired for Having a SUD?

Although the ADA prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities, it does not include someone who is currently using illegal drugs as an individual with a disability. Under the ADA, an employee can be terminated if he or she is using drugs or alcohol on the job if the substance use:

  • Affects performance or productivity
  • Creates an unsafe job environment

However, if your employer discovers that you are going to substance abuse treatment, you can not be fired for taking time off to enter treatment. Under the ADA, chemical dependency is a disability. The law doesn’t consider past mistakes. If you voluntarily enter addiction treatment, you can’t be fired for going to treatment or for past mistakes that resulted from drug and alcohol use.

What are the Effects of Substance Use at Work?

The abuse of drugs and alcohol among workers in the U.S. creates expensive medical, social, and assorted problems that affect both employers and employees. Among employees, substance abuse can:

  • threaten public safety 
  • hinder job performance 
  • threaten the employee’s own safety

Furthermore, the National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information (NCADI) has noted that alcohol and drug users:

  • Are much less productive
  • Take three times as many sick days off
  • Are more likely to cause injury to themselves or someone else
  • File five times as many worker’s compensation claims

And the results of one survey showed that:

  • 9% of heavy drinkers were absent due to a hangover
  • 10% of drug users had missed work because of a hangover or the effects of drug use
  • 6% had worked while they were still drunk or high in the past year
  • 11% of heavy drinkers missed work in the past month
  • 18% of drug users also missed work in the past month

Economic Impacts of Substance Abuse in the Workplace

The National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information (NCADI) has estimated that the loss to American companies because of drug and alcohol abuse in the workplace is about $100 billion per year. The associated cost of redirecting company resources to substance abuse issues that could have been used for other things is not even included in that number. Likewise, it also doesn’t include the elements of “pain and suffering” that can’t be measured by money.

Pre-Employment Testing

Drug and alcohol abuse in the workplace is a huge expense for employers in this country. The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence Inc. (NCADD) has determined that the cost of drug use is $81 billion each year. 

In an attempt to only hire people who are sober, and to discourage the use of drugs at work, employers spend a lot of money on pre-employment drug testing. However, in spite of the testing by employers, NCADD estimates that 70% of the approximately 14.8 million Americans who abuse substances are employed.

The U.S. Department of Labor has stated that when the problem of substance use in the workplace is challenged by creating all-inclusive programs, it is a win-win situation for employees and employers. A study of the economic impact of treatment for substance use disorders (SUDs) in Ohio revealed significant improvements in job-related performance as seen in:

  • 91% fewer absences
  • 88% fewer issues with supervisors
  • 93% decrease in mistakes
  • 97% decrease in on-the-job injuries

All companies, large or small, can enforce a workplace substance abuse policy that can reduce loss of productivity and encourage a safer work environment for all employees.

Do You Need Treatment?

Are you struggling with a substance use disorder? Are you having problems getting through the day or night at work? Don’t put your job and, more importantly, your life, in jeopardy. Florida Center for Recovery understands the life-changing and life-threatening effects of substance addiction. That’s why we have a variety of substance abuse programs for different types of addictions and programs for different people such as a program for pregnant women, or for First Responders. 

Don’t wait for an ultimatum. You can turn this around and live a fulfilling life again. If you’re concerned about how this may affect your employment, talk to one of our admission specialists. We can help you with contacting your insurance company, verifying and negotiating coverage, and take care of the paperwork. Contact us today and we will take care of the rest.