What Employers Need to Know About Substance Abuse

Katie Zaugg
Support Group Did you know that substance use costs US employers $81 billion dollars a year, due to loss of productivity and attendance, accidents, theft, and rising healthcare costs? The National Survey on Drug Use and Health reported over seven million Americans struggled with a substance use disorder in 2014. Especially as a human resource professional, these numbers should demonstrate how important this issue can be. As organizations, there should be policies and procedures in place to handle substance use because the question is ‘when’ it happens, not ‘if’. Ongoing review and education is vital in being prepared for when you will need to deal with an employee who struggles with substance use.

Whether an employee is identified by self-referral, reasonable suspicion, or a drug-test, knowing what to tell the employee, what resources are available, and what your specific processes are is very important.

One crucial skill that HR professionals should possess is being able to ask an employee to take a reasonable suspicion drug screen as outlined by their organization’s policy. This can be a difficult and nerve-wracking process. By being educated about the signs and symptoms of use and planning how you would document them, you can feel more confident in addressing this issue with employees. How would you handle it if the employee cries uncontrollably? Or gets angry? Or threatens to sue you? By mentally thinking of scenarios and planning for how you would handle them, you essentially set yourself up to be more calm and resolved in following reasonable suspicion policy.

Consumer trends can also have an impact on your work environment. Do you know what ‘dabs’ are? Did you know that if an employee is vaping marijuana or using an e-cigarette, you might not be able to smell it? With marijuana becoming legal in more states, HR professionals should be up-to-date on marijuana education. Organizations are still allowed to prohibit marijuana use since it is still federally illegal. If your company falls into this category, it is important to continually educate employees that using marijuana is a violation of company policy.

As many of us know, people who deal with issues around their use of alcohol or drugs often become defensive and angry when confronted with their problem. Using neutral language is an important piece for dealing with employees about any issue, especially substance use. As HR, it is not your role to label, diagnose, or make assumptions about the employee. Your language should be neutral and objective. For instance, instead of saying, “You have an alcohol problem”, it would be more appropriate and useful to say, “I smell alcohol on your breath”. Using well thought-out language can help the process run smoother and with less defensiveness.

If you have questions or would like to know more about substance use in the workplace, join me on February 6th, 2018 for a free webinar called, “
Substance Abuse: What HR Professionals Need to Know and How to Address”. The webinar is designed specifically for HR professionals to discuss general drug and alcohol information, substance use impact in the workplace, policy and testing information, reasonable suspicion, and how to respectfully and efficiently address this issue with employees.

Register for the webinar here

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Katie ZauggKatie Zaugg is a licensed professional counselor and certified alcohol & drug counselor. She has presented to over 200 different groups on a variety of topics including Optimism, Mindfulness, Resiliency, Change & Transition, and Chemical Dependency. She has been a counselor and presenter for over ten years and absolutely loves Employee Assistance Program work.