As an employer or human resources professional, you may be looking for ways to help and support employees with addiction or substance abuse problems.

If this is you, read this piece to provide the drug and addiction help and support for employees

You know what it’s like to have conflicting interests. There’s your business, which you have nurtured like a baby and which your livelihood is dependent upon – and then there’s the employees who make it happen. Most employers care a great deal about the fates of their loyal employees, but when problems occur, they are faced with some tough decisions. When an employee is no longer reliable, dependable and effective, it would seem logical to let them go. Yet when that employee is struggling with addictions, their behaviour doesn’t truly reflect their value as an employee, any more than it would for a staff member who is sick with cancer; neither is a ‘bad’ employee, they are both considered disabled under Ontario employment law…and neither can legally be terminated just because of their illness.

What, then, can you do about (and for) an employee who is struggling with substance dependency?

  1. Know that you’re not alone. Addiction affects 1 in 10 Canadians (some say that number is really much higher) and many other employers are struggling with the same issues you are.
  2. Know the signs of addiction. Often, employees can come through treatment successfully, but if you wait until the problem has gotten completely out of hand, it might be too late to ultimately save that person’s job (to say nothing of the harm it will have brought your business). If an employee seems to be suffering from poor attendance and/or performance related issues, errors of judgment or personality/behavioural changes, this person could be struggling with addictions.
  3. Ask for help. If you belong to a BIA or other industry association, find out what others are doing to support their employees with addictions.
  4. Develop a policy. Make sure that your HR department has a clearly drafted policy so they will be able to act consistently in accordance with these guidelines when confronted with a problem. Make the policy accessible to employees and spell out their rights and expectations.
  5. Set up an EAP. An employee assistance program can step in to provide support to employees in times of crisis. It’s a good thing to have, not only for when substance dependency issues strike but for other employee concerns such as mental health, bereavement, and stress. An EAP can provide counseling and self-help resources to the employee as well as assistance to you.
  6. Know the disability rules. Sometimes employees apply for disability under your company’s benefits plan, but in order to qualify, it may be necessary that they participate in an inpatient treatment program. Educate yourself and your employees to avoid problems later.
  7. Keep on top of things. If your employee is supposed to be accessing an outpatient program while they wait for a residential treatment centre bed, or has told you that they have their own private plan (i.e. counselling, 12 step meetings, support groups etc.), don’t just wash your hands of the situation. Support employees who are trying to get help by showing that you care how they are doing; reach out and follow up every so often.
  8. Try to work things out. If an employee isn’t eligible for disability benefits for whatever reason, consider allowing them to take sick leave, cut back to part time hours, job share or telecommute. If they have a plan to get back on track, try to work with it.
  9. Keep the lines of communication open. When an employee does return to work after attending a treatment program, discuss performance expectations going forward.
  10. Maintain a positive work environment. Have a strategy to deal with workplace stress and transitioning issues. Set a positive example by maintaining strict confidentiality.

Dealing with addiction in the workplace is as thorny as it is commonplace. If you still aren’t sure how to proceed, consult with an experienced labour lawyer for concrete direction that will benefit your business in the long run.