Substance abuse and addiction have been consistently on the rise during the COVID-19 pandemic, and it may be affecting your employees. Here’s how you can help an employee struggling with addiction remain a productive team member while prioritizing their health and treatment.
by Amy Matton
October 28, 2021
About 10 percent of Americans have experienced drug addiction at some point in their lives. If one of your employees is struggling with this disease, you might be tempted to fire them.
However, this tactic causes problems for both you and your employee. You’ll lose a valuable worker, and your employee will lose the stability and sense of purpose that can help them recover from addiction.
Instead of firing them, help your employee remain a productive team member by following these seven tips.
- Discuss outpatient treatment.
Many people struggling with addiction require inpatient treatment. This means they will live temporarily at the treatment center, making it difficult or impossible to continue working.
However, people with milder addictions and strong support systems at home may qualify for outpatient treatment. In outpatient treatment, a person regularly attends a treatment center while living at home. They can then schedule their treatment sessions around their work schedule.
Encourage your employee to ask their doctors whether they qualify for outpatient treatment.
- Set up an employee assistance program.
An employee assistance program, or EAP, is a work-based program that helps employees cope with addictions and other personal issues that affect their job performance. It provides free, confidential resources, such as education, assessments, counseling and referrals, to support groups.
These services can help your employees navigate the challenges of working during treatment. They’re usually available via phone, email, video chat or online chat.
Most employers operate EAPs through third-party providers. To find a provider, search online EAP directories, such as this one. You can also ask fellow employers for referrals.
- Provide accommodations.
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, employers must provide reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities, including addiction.
An accommodation is a change to a job or work environment that helps a person with a disability complete the job’s essential functions. Common accommodations for people with addictions include:
- More frequent breaks
- Special break locations
- Support animals
- Weekly meetings to determine whether the accommodations are working
Accommodations can help your employees feel more calm and productive as they balance work with addiction treatment.
- Offer a more flexible work schedule.
When you provide a more flexible work schedule, employees won’t miss out on therapy appointments, support groups or other important services that boost their overall well-being and productivity.
As a bonus, flexible work schedules decrease stress. Stress often causes a person with addiction to relapse (start using drugs again).
Before your employees start addiction treatment, ask whether they’ll need any adjustments to their work schedules. Hold regular meetings to ensure their current schedule is effective for both your employee and the company.
- Encourage self-care.
As mentioned above, stress is a common cause of relapse. That’s why you should create a workplace that promotes self-care and relaxation.
For example, you could designate a quiet area of the office for meditation and mindfulness. The area may include features such as:
- Dim lighting
- Soothing artwork
- A comfortable couch
- Yoga mats or prayer mats
- Peaceful music
Employees with addictions can come to this area when faced with cravings or other stressful emotions.
To further reduce stress, remind employees to take full lunch breaks and avoid taking work home on weekends (unless they find the extra work helps keep their minds off their addiction).
You can also encourage self-care by reminding employees to:
- Get at least eight hours of sleep per night
- Eat a well-balanced diet with plenty of vegetables, fruits and other nutritious foods
- Exercise regularly
- Reduce stigma
Like other mental health conditions, drug addiction is surrounded by a large amount of stigma. Other people in your office may judge an employee with addiction as lazy or weak. This type of judgment can cause stress, which increases the risk of relapse.
To help your employee stay calm and productive during treatment, create a stigma-free workplace. For instance, you could hold mandatory meetings that explain how addiction is a disease rather than a moral failing.
Also, tell your staff to avoid stigmatizing language like “addict” or “junkie.” They should instead use person-first, nonjudgmental language such as “a person with addiction.”
- Discuss medical leave
If your employee needs inpatient treatment, remind them that they can take medical leave.
If your company has at least 50 employees, you’re probably covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act. This act provides up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for medical reasons, including addiction treatment.
To qualify for FMLA leave, your employee must have worked for your company for at least 12 months and at least 1,250 hours during the 12 months before taking leave.
If your company isn’t covered by FMLA, it might be covered by your state’s family and medical leave laws.
Aside from medical leave, your employees can also take time off for treatment using their paid time off.
Once your employee completes treatment, facilitate a smooth transition back to work by encouraging frequent, open communication. Also, point your employee to resources such as the EAP when necessary.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration: Provide Support
- S. Department of Health and Human Services: Drug Addiction And Federal Disability Rights Laws Fact Sheet
- S. Department of Labor: FMLA Frequently Asked Questions