You suspect an employee is using drugs: What now?

Drug abuse not only affects lives it also has a detrimental effect on business, especially when those who are suffering are working in a team environment. What can be done to resolve a situation when an employee is suspected of abusing drugs?

Drug abuse is a very difficult issue for managers to handle. Staff will often deny any wrongdoing if questioned and it is very hard for a company to prove that an employee has been taking drugs. An employee who is suffering from an addiction may become defensive and aggressive when questioned.

If a manager suspects that an employee may have a problem the first step is to start monitoring and recording the situation. This provides data that can help diagnose a problem and can also be used if disciplinary action is required. Any sign of drug abuse should be recorded in a diary and verified by a witness.

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Signs of drug abuse

Some of the most common signs of drug misuse include poor punctuality, frequent sick days, tiredness, forgetfulness and poor personal presentation. During work substance abuse can result in a lack of attention to detail, missing deadlines and being uninterested in working as a part of a team.

In the most severe cases drug abuse can cause some very obvious physical changes such as bloodshot eyes, weight loss, weight gain, poor hygiene, shaking hands or poor stability.

If an employee is showing any of these symptoms all the details, times and dates should be recorded. This will allow a manager to highlight any patterns in behavior that may indicate regular events, such as a particular night out during the week.

How to talk to an employee

The first step should be to arrange a private meeting with the employee to raise concerns about the quality of work, their appearance, attitude and attendance. This will give the employee an opportunity to talk about their problems openly. Often people will feel isolated and that there is no help available so the first step is to offer a helping hand.

If this meeting strengthens a suspicion the manager should then discuss the employee with HR and arrange another meeting, this time with a member of the HR team to act as witness, and discuss the problem further.

It is not advisable to raise the issue of drug abuse in the first meeting, but rather focus on work quality and attendance.

Drug testing at work

Routine drug tests are not common in the work place and sometimes are not legal. Drivers and operators of heavy machinery are tested more often for health and safety reasons. Hospital staff are often tested twice a year. Before starting drug testing in the workplace a company needs to check that they are complying with the law. While it is not a requirement it is advised that private companies follow the guidelines set out by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. This ensures that the information collected can be used in a court hearing should the need arise.


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