4 Tips for Managing an Employee with Addiction

Addiction isn’t something that you always see coming. You might think your employees have it all together. However, trouble sometimes lurks beneath the surface. Addiction affects millions of Americans every year. You need a plan for how you’ll handle it if/when it emerges in your workplace.


4 Tips for Dealing with Employee Addiction

In many cases, addicted employees fail to receive the sort of care, support, and attention they need in the workplace. Often, that’s because management is unaware of the situation. If you don’t recognize the warning signs and symptoms of addiction, you won’t be able to help.

Common signs of addiction include frequent tardiness, excessive absences, chronic disengagement, frequent mistakes, low productivity, isolation from coworkers, physical signs of exhaustion, and an overall lack of reliability. The presence of just one of these factors can indicate any number of issues—and doesn’t necessarily mean addiction is involved. But the simultaneous emergence of multiple warning signs could indicate a serious problem.

If you discover that an employee is dealing with addiction, here are some tips that may help you navigate what is usually a sticky and emotional issue.


1. Have a Private Conversation

When you recognize the signs of addiction, you’ll want to pull the employee aside and have a private conversation. Be careful about accusing them of something. However, don’t beat around the bush, either. Offer the employee a chance to come clean. Let them know you’re here to help.




2. Take Action

“It is important for an employer to take action if they are certain an employee is struggling with alcohol or drug addiction,” Dr. Patrick Smith explains. “It’s their responsibility to the employee and to the organization.”

While you obviously can’t force an employee to enter recovery, you can (and should) highly encourage it. Review your insurance coverage to see what sort of treatment is covered under the employee’s plan. Then point the employee in the right direction. If they refuse treatment and continue to abuse drugs or alcohol, you can then follow the protocol for legally terminating their employment.


3. Welcome the Employee Back

If an employee has acknowledged their addiction, gone to recovery, and completed the necessary steps to reclaim a healthy and productive life, then you should seriously consider welcoming them back into the company.

Many employers are nervous about how to interact with an employee after a situation like this. However, former addict and current recovery advocate Michael Morse believes simple curiosity is the answer.

“Being curious about a person—the whole person, not the alcoholic or addict part of the person—does wonders for somebody who is struggling to regain their confidence,” Morse writes for American Addiction Centers. “Just knowing that somebody cares enough to acknowledge their presence gives a person new in recovery something other than the problem of addiction to think about.”



4. Document Everything

Unfortunately, we live in a world where lawsuits tend to emerge in the wake of emotionally charged situations between employers and employees. In order to protect your business from potentially devastating legal ramifications related to improper termination, discrimination, or some other issue stemming from your handling of the employee’s addiction, make sure you document every possible detail associated with the situation. If nothing else, this will give you peace of mind.


Does Your Business Have a Plan?

Whether you’ve dealt with it in the past or not, there’s always a chance that one of your employees could be going through an addiction. By developing a proactive plan that supports them, you can increase their chances of reaching a full recovery and eventually being reintegrated back into the workplace.