SMB Workplace Sobriety: Dealing With Addiction Among Employees

Published on December 13th, 2017 | by Kandace H

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Workplace Sobriety: Dealing With Addiction Among Employees

Alcoholism is a serious problem that affects millions of Americans and causes businesses an estimated $33 to $68 billion in losses. Those are staggering statistics, but they demonstrate that alcohol abuse in the workplace is something that needs to be addressed and dealt with effectively.

Employees who struggle with alcohol abuse miss more days of work, are more likely to make mistakes and are more likely to cause damage to company property and injuries. Loss of productivity, physical damages and lawsuits are results that no company wants to experience, so managers who suspect employees of alcoholism need to be proactive to limit the damage that substance abuse can cause.

Below are some steps that employers can take to protect themselves from employee recklessness and to help their employees maintain high standards of performance and professionalism.

Set Clear Guidelines Regarding Substance Abuse

The starting point for any company wanting to protect itself from the dangers of alcoholism in the workforce is to lay out clear expectations regarding employee behaviors and responsibilities regarding substance abuse. Along with clear rules and expectations, employee handbooks and materials should also specifically discuss disciplinary actions that would result in the case of infractions.

Even a small business with a handful of employees needs to have clearly written guidelines and policies regarding every aspect of employee behavior and consequences for failing to meet expectations.

Watch for Signs of Alcohol Abuse

There are many potential possible signs of alcohol abuse; here are some of them:

  • attendance problems
  • lack of hygiene and professional appearance
  • smell of alcohol on breath and clothing
  • bloodshot eyes
  • slurred speech
  • lack of physical coordination
  • mood swings
  • reduced productivity
  • poor judgement
  • excessive errors or mistakes on the job

Keep in mind that many of these symptoms can be caused by other issues beside alcohol consumption. Your job is not to diagnose any medical condition. Just focus on the symptoms and how they impact employee performance and the work environment.

Share Resources Available to Employees

If you observe patterns of employee behavioral problems, your first course of action should always be to correct the problem and help the employee improve his performance. When you suspect alcoholism to be the cause of your employee’s problem behaviors, try to point him toward resources that can help. Many employee assistance programs (EAP) provide professional counseling and self-help resources and technology recommendations such as Soberlink that can be helpful to employees struggling with addiction. Check with your insurance company and human resources department to see what resources are available for your employees.

Document Problems in Behavior and Performance

First, recognize that you are not a health professional, and it is not your responsibility to diagnose anyone with any medical condition. Your goal is not to label anyone or be judgmental. Instead, focus on factors such as job performance, attendance and interactions with employees and customers. Don’t judge; instead, document policy infractions and then confront the employee in an appropriate way.

Documentation protects the company from litigious employees who push back against disciplinary actions, particularly termination. It’s much more difficult to justify disciplinary action without thorough documentation.

Take Disciplinary Action When Necessary

As much as you may like your employees and want to be their friend, you are their employer above all else. That means that you need to deal with problems before they can fester and grow into major catastrophes.

When employees fail to meet behavior and performance expectations as laid out in your employee handbook of policies, you need to follow through with disciplinary action. This should not be avoided. Failure to discipline employees affects the entire organization and can cause small problems to grow out of control. Do not that happen.

Alcoholism is a growing problem in the workplace, and employers need to know the various steps needed to protect their organization from it. By having clear policies, documenting infractions, providing helpful resources and taking appropriate disciplinary action, destructive behaviors can be cut off at the source before they can do too much damage.


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