How Does an Employer Handle Employee Substance Use?

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By: SUPE Editorial Team

Dealing with issues indicating an employee’s possible substance use often requires Human Resources professionals, outside legal counsel, and workplace drug and alcohol use policies.

Employees with substance use problems introduce risks for any company, and it is crucial to handle these problems professionally. Some of the following guidelines may help employers handle employee substance use and provide the assistance employees need to overcome addiction.

What Should Employers Do When They Learn of an Employee’s Potential Substance Use Issue?

Depending on who is finding out the information and the circumstances by which it is found, the management or human resources may take steps to remove the employee from any safety-sensitive work.

Depending on state laws, an employer may administer a drug test and gather all information about the incident. Generally, it is a good idea to focus on the following:

Icon used to represent Absenteeism and disappearing unexpectedly

Absenteeism and disappearing unexpectedly

Icon used to represent Workplace accidents or other safety incidents

Workplace accidents or other safety incidents

Icon used to represent Failure to meet productivity standards

Failure to meet productivity standards

Icon used to represent Observed signs of substance abuse

Observed signs of substance abuse

Avoid jumping to conclusions and taking any action based on individual perceptions. There are also underlying issues connected to any substance use problem.

What Laws Govern an Employer’s Response to Employee Substance Use?

The Americans with Disabilities Act protects qualified individuals with a disability. It also requires reasonable accommodation of protected status employees.

The ADA does the following:

  • It protects employees who have completed substance use treatment.
  • It protects employees who have current drug or alcohol problems whether or not they have completed drug rehab.
  • It does not protect employees against the current use of illegal drugs.
  • It does cover employees using illegal drugs who develop an addiction

Employers must tread carefully and should follow their internal policies related to employee drug and alcohol use. In addition, it may be recommended that employers seek outside legal counseling if necessary.

How Can Employers Help Employees With a Substance Use Disorder?

Suppose an employee admits to a substance use problem. An employer is required under the Americans With Disabilities Act to engage in an interactive process, which includes the following:

  • The process is initiated by an employee asking for help or an employer’s inquiry into behaviors unsuitable for the workplace.
  • A conversation occurs where an employee offers suggestions about the help that would benefit them.
  • An employer must accept the offer or present a counteroffer.
  • The employer must periodically check with the employee to confirm the accommodation is still effective.
  • The interactive process conversation continues until the employee requires no further accommodation.

Focus on Helping the Employee

When employees ask for help, employers should provide them with information about their employee assistance program. Employers should have a standard interactive process outlined by Human Resources to manage any situation regarding employee illness.

The goal should be to help the employee and get them the help they need for their substance use. However, employers are limited to conduct in the workplace. Moreover, employers should focus on an employee’s performance and behavior and seek outside legal counsel when needed.

Test Your Knowledge

Employer Handling Employee Substance Use

It is okay to remove an employee from any safety-sensitive work if there is proof the employee is using drugs.

What does the Americans with Disabilities Act not protect?

What should an employer provide when an employee asks for substance use help?

Can you enforce substance use policies if someone uses drugs or alcohol outside work hours?

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