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This guide will provide you with the information you need to improve the productivity
of your staff and protect their health and safety by tackling problems that may arise
from alcohol and other drug abuse at your worksite.
This guide is designed to make your job easier. It can be scary and tough to
think about addressing alcohol and other drug use among the people you work with. But
you don't need to be scared, and you don't have to be tough. Addressing alcohol
and other drug abuse in the workplace is first and foremost a conduct and performance
issue -- an employee who uses or abuses alcohol or other drugs on the job may at some
point be an employee whose performance goes downhill. You will see it -- and this
guide tells you how to deal with what you see.
To ensure that you have the best possible advice, the development of this guide
involved discussions with supervisors, foremen, stewards, and managers across the
country. You will find, as a result, a clear description of your role in a drug-free
workplace program and the steps you can take to make sure the program is successful. In
short, it is a guide to help you be the best manager or supervisor possible when handling
job performance problems.
As a supervisor, you have three main responsibilities within a drug-free workplace
- Know Your Organization's Policy
Review your organization's written drug-free workplace policy. If you don't have a
copy, ask your employer for one. Become familiar with what the policy permits
and prohibits and the penalties for violating the policy.
- Be Prepared to Explain the Policy to Employees
As a supervisor you may be asked to explain the drug-free workplace policy to
other employees. Be prepared to answer questions. Most of your employees will
welcome a drug-free workplace program, but they will all have questions in the
beginning. Below are examples of questions that you may be asked:
What drugs are not allowed?
Is alcohol allowed?
What actions/behaviors are not allowed? (sale, use, etc.)
What happens if someone violates the policy?
Are we going to be drug tested?
How accurate are drug tests?
What happens if I refuse to take a drug test?
What happens if someone tests positive?
Is counseling or treatment available? Will insurance pay?
How is my union involved?
It is best to be ready with answers. If your organization's policy does not
address these and other possible questions, ask your employer for the answers. If
all questions can be answered, it will help employees to accept and respect the program.
- Know Your Role
You are in a unique position to play a major part in a successful drug-free
workplace program. You will need to know how to identify and address employee job
performance problems. Always keep in mind that while some problems may be related
to alcohol and other drugs, others are not.
As a supervisor, your role is to observe and help improve employee job
performance, to document work problems and successes, and to effectively implement
your organization's policies and programs.
You are not expected to diagnose alcohol or other drug abuse
or to provide treatment or counseling services to employees with job performance
Rather, your role is to conduct evaluations of job performance problems.
Some organizations will have a formal employee assistance program (EAP). This
means that there is a counselor available who is trained to assess the cause of
employee job performance problems and offer assistance. If your organization has
an EAP, find out how to refer employees with job performance problems to that
service. Talk to your employer to make sure you understand what is expected of
you -- when it is appropriate to refer an employee to the EAP and the procedures
to use. Knowing your role in the organization's drug-free workplace program
will help you work well as part of the team.
How to be Part of a Successful Drug-Free Workplace Program
The following action steps can help you identify and handle employee job
The sooner a problem is identified, the sooner it can be corrected, especially
when dealing with alcohol and other drug abuse. It is important to remain alert
to any and all job performance problems such as:
- rising accident rates
- increased absenteeism or tardiness
- decreased productivity
- deteriorating coworker relationships.
Although these problems can arise for many reasons, including a variety of
personal problems, they may also be signs of alcohol or other drug abuse. Don't
make assumptions about the reason for a problem: your job is to be aware of problems
on the job -- and to make sure that tasks are completed, deadlines are met, and things
are running as smoothly as possible. Staying aware of what is happening in your
work environment is the first step to doing an excellent job.
Suppose you see changes in an employee's work patterns or performance . . . watch
more closely. For example, you know an employee is making a habit of arriving late,
calling in sick a lot, or having mood swings. Has there also been a drop in
productivity or an increase in accidents? Remember, it is not your job to figure
out the cause of the problem. Your job is to observe employee behavior and determine
the effects of those behaviors on job performance.
Changes in behavior may be related to alcohol or other drug abuse; they also
may be the result of something else, such as a medical problem like diabetes or
high blood pressure. Slurred speech or dizzy spells can be a sign of someone who
is high, in need of insulin, or has had a stroke. It is important to call for help
if you believe a situation may result in harm to yourself or others. Keep emergency
numbers on hand, such as building security and your medical department or EAP.
Job performance problems and other work-related conduct need to be documented. This
means a written record should be kept that explains what you see. It should include
the names of persons involved, the time, the date, what occurred, names of witnesses,
and what actions were taken. Documentation should focus on job performance and should
not include your opinions.
The box to the right shows how you might use a standard form to document problems with
work conduct. A similar form should be used to track job performance and attendance
over time. Consistent and objective documentation of performance and conduct is
critical when doing employee evaluations.
Address Job Performance Problems
Once you have documented the job performance problem, you should meet with the
employee to discuss what you have seen. Make an appointment at a time and place
when you think you will be relaxed and able to discuss the problem without
distractions. When job performance problems occur, it is especially important
to treat the employee with respect. Your job is to address the performance problem
and encourage improvement, not to judge the employee. Be relaxed and maintain a
nonjudgmental attitude; this will help keep the lines of communication open, solve
the problem, and maintain good management-employee relations.
Many supervisors report that starting a conversation with an employee about
a performance problem is often the most difficult step. You may feel unsure about
what to say or how to say it. Or you may find yourself wanting to avoid the
discussion altogether. The information that follows will help you take the first step.
How to Begin and End a Conversation
Sarah, I want to talk with you about my observations regarding your work. You
have been a good employee in the past, but lately I've noticed changes in your work
performance. I want to make you aware of my concerns and hear from you as well,
because it is important that you correct the problems as soon as possible.
Well, I've just been tired lately . . . I know I've been late a couple of times.
(Refer to specific documentation of Sarah's job performance in the past
month). Actually, you have been late 10 times in the last month, your productivity
is down 25 percent, and you have called in sick 3 times in the past 3 weeks, always
on a Monday or Friday. Has anything about your job changed that could explain these
What do you mean?
For instance, are you having trouble with a specific job-related task or routine
or with a coworker relationship that would cause you to be late or cause your
productivity to be down?
I don't think so. I mean there are certain people I don't really get along with,
but that's not what makes me late. I've been having problems at home. I guess it
has been affecting work more than I thought. I get the message. I'll try to do better.
Sarah, it is important that your work performance improve. I will give you 2 weeks
to correct the behaviors I mentioned before taking further disciplinary action. In the
meantime I will remind you that the employee assistance program is available to you
if you need help with personal problems that are affecting your job performance.
When we meet again 2 weeks from Thursday, we will review your job performance
again. Between now and our next meeting I expect you to be present at work and on
time every day. If your attendance and tardiness do not improve, we will discuss
further disciplinary actions.
Note for Supervisor: (Further disciplinary action may include referring
the employee to the EAP again, or to some other source of help in the community. Again,
it is important that you follow the guidelines established by your employer as to how
you should handle referrals.) It also is essential that you prepare a written
summary of this meeting that includes the followup plan you made with the employee,
then conduct the followup as scheduled.
What to do if the Conversation Goes Off Track
Employees often become defensive when their supervisor draws attention to a job
performance problem. The employee may cry, show anger, or make excuses to take the
focus off the real issue -- job performance.
When an employee becomes defensive, it is especially helpful to stay focused on
job performance and conduct. While it is important to be understanding, it is not
your job to counsel the employee about his or her personal problems. The goal of
your meeting is to discuss and find solutions to the job performance problem.
Barriers and How to Handle Them
Confronting an employee about a job performance or conduct problem is not easy. No
one can tell you how an employee will respond. Sometimes an employee may become upset
with you, hoping this will make you back down from the confrontation.
Being aware of potential barriers is the best way to decrease the chance of a
negative reaction. The information below provides guidance for how to respond to
some of the most common barriers.
Barriers That Arise When Addressing Employee Problems
The employee denies that problems exist and insists that the supervisor or
someone else in the company is out to get him or her.
How To Respond:
Stay calm. Have at hand documentation of the employee's job performance and/or
conduct and keep the conversation focused on performance issues.
The employee threatens you or the organization.
"If you push me, I'll go to an attorney . . . make a scene in the
plant . . . quit here and now . . . ."
How To Respond:
Remind the employee that he or she may do whatever he or she chooses; however,
as a supervisor your responsibility is to uphold the organization's policy and
find a solution that will help both the organization and the employee. If you
think you are losing your objectivity or need help to resolve a conflict with a
defensive employee, seek the help of another supervisor or manager.
The employee tries to avoid the issue by making excuses.
"If this job wasn't so stressful, I wouldn't be making so many mistakes
and wouldn't be late so often."
How To Respond:
Stay focused on work performance. Avoid being distracted by excuses; let the
employee know that help is available.
The employee becomes angry. He or she may cry, yell, or scream. This emotional
outburst is intended to scare off the supervisor and cause him or her to drop the
(In a shouting voice with arms raised) "How dare you accuse me of being late to
work and not getting my deliveries made on time!"
How To Respond:
Do not react! Wait until the employee has run out of steam and then continue
where you left off; keep the focus on performance issues. If the employee continues
to carry on, reschedule the meeting.
Regardless of your personal relationship with an employee, it is important to
treat each person the same when addressing job performance and/or conduct
problems. This is not always easy to do. By following your organization's
procedures, you avoid playing favorites. This protects you from being accused
of discrimination and can help your relationship with the people you supervise.
All discussions of an employee's job problems should be held in private. No one
else should be able to hear the conversation. If employees choose to tell coworkers
about their private concerns (e.g., results of a drug test), that is their
decision. However, when an employee tells you something in confidence, you are
obligated to keep it between the two of you.
Be "up front" with the employee at the beginning of the meeting. If your
employer requires that you report what will be said, it is important that you inform
the employee before you begin the meeting. Although not a common problem, you could
be sued if you disclose what is said in the meeting without the permission of the
employee. Respecting employee confidentiality is critical to developing a trusting
relationship with the people you supervise.
Taking followup action is a key part of your role in your organization's drug-free
workplace program. Followup means that you continue to observe and document the
employee's job performance and conduct. Followup ensures that the employee keeps to
the agreement and that improvements are made. Before your followup meeting(s) with
the employee, review the employee's progress and decide what steps to take from there.
If the employee's job performance and/or conduct has improved, no further
disciplinary action needs to be taken. However, you should continue to monitor his
or her progress until you are sure the performance problem is resolved completely.
If job performance or conduct has not improved as agreed, or if the employee
refuses to acknowledge or correct his or her behavior, document these events and tell
the employee the actions that you will take next. Inform the employee that help is
available. Use the resources listed at the end of this guide and on the Employee Fact
Sheets for referrals and/or refer the employee to the EAP.
You may not know if an employee is in treatment for an alcohol or other drug
problem. However, if an employee tells you that he or she is seeking help, support
the recovery process but do not "enable." Read Employee Fact Sheets #2, #3, and #4
that came with this guide to learn about addiction, enabling, and recovery.
Note: Being in treatment is not an excuse for poor job performance. Your
responsibility is to make sure employees do a good job. Protect yourself and the
employee's rights by consistently following your organization's disciplinary procedures
if an employee's job performance or conduct does not improve.
Reintegrating an Employee After Treatment
Returning to work after or during treatment for alcohol and other drug abuse can
be stressful. You can help lessen this stress by assuring the employee that you will
maintain confidentiality and by carrying on with business as usual.
Employees who return from inpatient treatment or who are enrolled in any type of
outpatient treatment program need to know that they will be held accountable for
their job performance and conduct. Clear guidelines should be established regarding
how the employee's progress will be monitored. For instance, the employee needs to
be informed about periodic followup reviews, drug testing (if applicable), and in
general, how your organization will handle his or her return to work (if the employee
was away at an in-patient program).
You may or may not know if an employee is attending an outpatient treatment
program. Most employees are able to maintain a regular work schedule while receiving
treatment during nonwork hours. However, sometimes employees will need time off from
work to pull themselves together physically, even if they are not hospitalized. If
an employee attends an inpatient treatment program, an intensive day treatment program,
or any other type of counseling that will interfere with his or her regular work hours,
you may need to know more about the situation, such as when and for how long the
employee will be away from work.
In 1992 the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) became law. There are certain
provisions == "reasonable accommodations" -- with which employers must
comply when an employee is in treatment for alcohol or other drug addiction. The
ADA defines "reasonable accommodation" to mean, at least, a flexible work schedule
so employees can attend treatment-related meetings (e.g., aftercare, support groups,
counseling sessions). For more information about the ADA, call 1-800-669-EEOC.
It is important that you understand what the employee needs as well as what
your employer expects of you in this situation. You will want to be able to support
the employee as he or she resolves any performance problems, but you must also ensure
that your employer's expectations are met and that you follow your organization's
If the supervisor has been informed about an employee's inpatient or intensive
day treatment process, a back-to-work conference is often scheduled at the time an
employee is discharged from treatment. This meeting usually includes the employee,
his or her counselor, and the supervisor or another company representative. Sometimes
a union representative will want to be included in the meeting, if applicable.
The purpose of a back-to-work conference is to ensure that the employee knows
the employer's expectations once the employee returns to work. These expectations
are often explained in a written contract that the employee signs. The recommendations
of the treatment center staff are usually incorporated into the contract to ensure
that the employee continues to stay free of alcohol or other drugs.
If you are subject to a collectively bargained agreement, you will need to comply
with that agreement. If you are unsure of the terms as they relate to your drug-free
workplace program and/or your role, ask your employer or business agent to explain
this to you, or obtain a copy of the agreement.
Your Beliefs About Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse
Despite the fact that the American Medical Association defined alcoholism as a
treatable disease in the early 1950s, many people still believe that people with
alcohol and other drug problems drink out of brown paper bags, live on the streets,
and/or cannot hold a job. These beliefs are myths. Most alcohol and other drug
abusers have nice homes, steady jobs, and do not drink out of brown bags.
As a manager, it is important to be aware of your own beliefs about alcoholism
and other drug problems so that they do not interfere with your job. As with any
other managerial responsibility, personal beliefs and prejudices will need to be
put aside. Employee Fact Sheets #1 through #4 are designed to provide information
about alcohol and other drug abuse and addiction to help you be objective when
dealing with an employee who has an admitted alcohol or other drug problem.
Employees Who Report to Work Unfit For Duty
If you are not sure how to manage an employee who reports to work unfit for duty,
ask your supervisor for advice and follow your organization's policy. In general,
it is advisable that you have two management staff members verify that the employee
is not fit to do his or her job. Document the conduct problems as objectively as
possible. If there is a human resources or safety person in your organization,
he or she should be notified and consulted about the situation. If all of the
management personnel involved decide that the employee is not fit to do his or
her job, the employee should be sent home via public transportation or with a
family member, or be escorted home by another staff member. Do not let the employee
drive home if he or she is not fit to perform the job. The manager should then
decide, based on the organization's policy, the disciplinary actions that should
Alcohol or Other Drug Abuse of a Boss or Supervisor
Alcohol and other drug abuse and addiction are serious illnesses that affect
people in all walks of life, in all types of jobs, and of all ages. The issue is
especially touchy when it is your boss who is having a problem with alcohol or other
drug abuse. Handling alcohol or other drug abuse of an employer or another supervisor
requires careful thought, and your response will depend on your relationship with
him or her.
It is not advisable to confront the situation on your own. Seek the help of
another manager or a professional who can advise you about your options, or ask for
help from your company EAP. Some addictions professionals are trained to help family
members and friends learn about intervention -- a structured form of offering
assistance. An addiction treatment center in your community probably has a staff
member who is trained to do intervention. Employee Fact Sheets #2, #3, and #4
contain information about addiction and recovery that may be helpful.
What to do if You Find Illegal Drugs at Work
Use caution. Review your organization's policy to see if guidelines have been
established for how to handle these situations. Do not discard or transport the
drugs yourself. Seek the help and guidance of another supervisor or manager. Contact
your local police department.
Following is a list that will help you find resources in your own community.
National Clearinghouse for Alcohol And Drug Information:
Provides free or low-cost pamphlets, posters, and videos about alcohol and other drugs.
The Center for Substance Abuse Prevention's (CSAP) Workplace Helpline:
Answers questions related to alcohol and drugs in the workplace and provides
assistance to supervisors and managers regarding employee job performance problems
that may be related to alcohol or other drug abuse.
The Center for Substance Abuse Treatment's (CSAT) Drug Information, Treatment,
and Referral Hotline:
Provides confidential information and treatment resources in your area.
Provides information about alcohol and other drugs.
Local Health Department
Usually offers information about alcohol and other drugs and may provide
treatment (look in the Blue Pages of your telephone book). There are different
types of treatment available (see Fact Sheet #2). Some health departments sponsor
seminars and workshops.
Community Hospital/Drug Treatment Program/Community Mental Health Center
Usually can answer questions or give written information. An addiction treatment
program is usually the best place to call. Look up "alcohol" or "drugs"
in the Yellow Pages of your telephone book to find a treatment center in your area.
Trade or Professional Association
Sometimes provides information on alcohol and other drug abuse prevention specific
to your workplace. Many associations now provide drug-free workplace information
Provide help with problems of all kinds. The most well known is Alcoholics
Anonymous. Narcotics Anonymous is for people with problems with other drugs. Other
groups include Smokers Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, Debtors Anonymous, and
Overeaters Anonymous. There are also groups for friends and family members of
abusers. Examples of these groups include Al-Anon, Alateen, and Adult Children of
The telephone numbers for these groups can be found in the Yellow Pages of your
telephone book. Read Employee Fact Sheets #2 and #3 to learn more about these groups.
|Do's and Don'ts For Supervisors
prepare what you are going to say ahead of time. Have a plan and stick to it. Say
what you have to say directly and clearly.
find a place to meet that is private. What is said in the meeting must be kept
focus on job performance and conduct -- not on suspected alcohol or other drug
abuse, mental illness, or any other potential reason for performance problems.
present written documentation of the job performance and/or conduct problems
(late reports, absences, lower productivity, accidents, trouble with coworkers).
treat all employees the same. Don't let age, seniority, friendship, or sympathy
affect your evaluation or allow you to make exceptions for some employees and not
use a formal yet considerate attitude. If the interview becomes too casual, it
will lessen the impact of your message.
state your expectations for improved performance and/or conduct and what will
happen if the expectations are not met within a specific period of time. Offer
suggestions for improving performance and/or conduct.
offer available resources (EAP, hotlines, etc.) to help employees get back on
track if they say they are having personal problems.
arrange for a second meeting to evaluate progress or to discuss disciplinary
actions, if necessary.
try to diagnose the cause of the employee's job performance or conduct problem.
be distracted by tears, anger, or other outbursts. (Stay focused on job performance
moralize or judge the employee.
cover up for the employee or accept repeated unlikely excuses.
back down. (Get a commitment for improved job performance and conduct.)
threaten discipline unless you are willing and able to carry it out.
argue with an employee. If the employee becomes resistant, reschedule the meeting