Help an Employee

The Role of a Supportive Workplace Environment

All employers should have a written and clearly-spelled-out drug and alcohol policy in place. It is important for employees to feel safe and secure enough to be able to come forward and admit it when have a substance abuse problem, which is why an official workplace policy should be supportive rather than threatening. As long as an employee is willing to get help, they should be granted a leave of absence to seek treatment and rehabilitation without being concerned that they will lose their jobs. When employers are supportive in this way, not only will it make those with substance abuse problems more likely to come forward, but it will also make co-workers feel more comfortable getting involved if they know their friend and colleague will not be facing automatic termination if the truth is revealed.

What employers can do

Alcoholism and other drug addictions are chronic and potentially fatal diseases if not treated. Employers who notice an employee having difficulty on the job may want to assess whether alcohol or drug use is affecting this person’s productivity. If this is the case, here are some steps you can take to begin a discussion about alcohol and drugs in the workplace.

  • Educate: Educate employees about company policies regarding alcohol and drug use.
  • Document: Keep a record of the employee’s work performance — good and bad. That way you will be able to document any change.
  • Warn: Have an informal talk to alert the employee about his or her unsatisfactory job performance, communicate your expectations and discuss the consequences. Do not discuss drug and alcohol abuse specifically. Keep the conversation on job performance issues.
  • Refer: Contact the person designated by your company — whether it’s a representative of your Employee Assistance Program (EAP), a medical professional or other — to advise you about confronting an employee who has problems. They can give you advice for your initial discussion and then inform the employee of available help.
  • Intervene: Don’t delay or beat around the bush. The sooner you talk to an employee, the sooner he or she can get help.
  • Confirm: Evaluate the extent of any problem through professional assessment.
  • Follow up: Stick to your guns. Once you have confronted an employee, following through with appropriate support is extremely important.


What co-workers can do

Alcoholism and drug dependency are treatable chronic diseases that know no hierarchy. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), 20 million Americans, or 11.3 percent of the population, are affected.

When a colleague shows signs of abusing alcohol or drugs, it can be difficult to know what to do or say. But, if a co-worker’s alcohol or drug use affects either your work or his or her health, it’s important you try to help. In fact, this may be the time your colleague needs you most.

  • Make use of company resources to help you assist your co-worker, especially if he or she resists your efforts. Denial is a common reaction among those who are dependent on alcohol or drugs.
  • Wait to talk to your colleague when he or she is sober and clearheaded.
  • Consider writing down what you want to say and practice how you’d answer a variety of responses from your colleague.
  • This will make your discussion easier.
  • Express your concern in an honest and caring way. Be sure to use “I” phrases such as “I’m worried.” This way, your colleague can’t argue with your feelings.
  • Talk to your co-worker about the effect of alcohol or drugs on whatever he or she cares about most: career, family, etc. Even if your co-worker doesn’t care for himself, he may get help for the sake of his family.
  • Don’t blame or criticize your colleague for his or her behavior. Addiction is a medically proven disease and often causes individuals to act in ways that are not normal for them.


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