How to Implement a Substance Abuse Policy:
As a manager your job is to know your staff and to know their productivity capabilities.
It is vitally important that you notice when normal job performance changes suddenly and some
of the following are the indications:
- Sudden and noticeable mood changes. For example, the employee is calm before lunch but returns moody, highly excited or extremely mellow and drowsy.
- Increasing numbers of accidents.
- Increased productivity but with increasing errors.
- Arguments with co-workers and seemingly irrational complaints about other workers.
- Measurable decrease in productivity.
- Increasing short-term memory loss.
- Slurred speech, irregular gait, falling asleep on the job.
- Increased tardiness and absenteeism particularly around paydays, before and after weekends.
- Co-worker complaints of another employee?s use of alcohol or drugs on the job.
WARNING TO MANAGER: The above symptoms can be a result of an undiagnosed disease, lack
of sleep or personal problems. Your job is not to diagnose but to notice and document.
What should you document?
The answer to this question is EVERYTHING! You should be documenting all of the above warning
signs when they occur and witness names if any. If your company does not currently have ?Incident Reports? you can use, mock one up and use it for every incident involving an employee.
You can add attendance records and any other documentation you would use in reviewing performance.
Documenting performance and incidents is vital when implementing any Company policy.
However, all of that documentation is worthless if you do not take action when it is time to do so.
You must address these issues with the employee. This is the difficult part. You have probably
gotten to know your staff quite well. You might even be acquainted with their families. You really
want to help them and you, naturally, do not want to confront them with something as severe as
possible substance abuse. Well, you do not have to confront them with anything but performance
issues. Your job, to be repetitious, is to implement the policy not to diagnose a disease, personal
problems or substance abuse.
Implementing the Policy.
Let?s use an imaginary case as an example and work through the documentation, confrontation,
drug test and further action. In this imaginary case, an employee who has been working for you
for a year or so suddenly increases absences and tardiness although he doesn?t overstep the limit
in your Absentee Policy. The employee has had some verbal altercations with other workers.
You have given him some assignments, but he forgot to follow through. He fell asleep at his desk
after lunch and missed a meeting. You have documented and dated these incidents and now it is
time to open a discussion with him.
- Accumulate the documented incidents.
- Discuss the problem with your Human Resource Director, if your organization does not have one, then the highest member of management. If that person is not available, then review the problem with another supervisor. If you have the time, a second opinion is helpful.
- Review your Company Substance Abuse Policy and plan how you will execute it.
- If the employee is rational and performing normally on the job, simply ask him to come to your office to help you with something. If he is causing a disturbance then have security or another supervisor join you in taking him away from the work site and into a quiet, closed office area.
- The easiest way to begin a very difficult situation is to tell the employee that you are very
concerned about him. Note that his usually excellent (or acceptable) performance has been deteriorating. You have noticed an increase in absences, some failures to complete work assignments, some missed meetings and some arguments with other employees. Ask him if he has any explanations for this.
- The employee may complain of overwork, blame the other employees, say the company is unfair and he feels miss-treated. Never try to argue the employee out of these unreasonable accusations.
- Refer to your documentation and calmly inform the employee of the incidents that have lead up to this discussion. When you are finished, ask him what may be causing this behavior.
- The employee may try to derail the conversation, deny there is a problem and blame you or others.
- At this point, inform the employee that you are concerned that there may be more here than you can evaluate and you need some help. Explain that valuable employees are important and you need to know what is happening before you can allow him to return to work.
- Tell the employee that your own job description requires that if you are concerned that someone may be ?unfit for duty? you can not return him to work without expert opinion. This requires you to request a medical examination from the Company physician or Occupational Health Clinic and must, according to policy, have a drug test. The medical examination will determine if the employee is suffering from a medical problem and the Substance Abuse test will determine if he is impaired.
- Explain that someone will take him to the physician, but first the two of you need to complete a drug test. Explain how test works and that if it is presumptively positive a second sample will be collected and sent to an accredited laboratory for confirmation. Also inform him that you will be taking an alcohol breath test.
- If the employee refuses the drug test or medical evaluation then explain that the Company views refusal to test as a refusal to follow a reasonable work order and would be considered voluntary resignation.
There may be attempts to use denial, threats of calling an attorney, crying or anger. Don?t argue or defend your position, simply allow the emotion to pass and repeat the requirements for returning to work.