Understanding The Impact
The impact of opioid addiction in the U.S. is remarkable — and devastating to individuals, families and employers. Opioid abuse may begin with habitual tardiness, absenteeism, longer-than-usual bathroom breaks, deception, stealing, low production and hindered work performance or combative attitudes. Those are just the first identifiable signs of a downward spiral into the world of drug addiction. This can often lead to cashing in savings plans or 401(k)s, employees asking for cash advances or immediate raises or bonuses, or fielding collections calls at the office.
I’ve hired and, on occasion, fired employees for the past 30+ years. Speaking from personal experience, I can say that the opioid crisis brings new challenges to even the most qualified and optimistic business owners and entrepreneurs. Opioid addiction is complex, and it changes people. Watching a talented, successful manager or employee, who was vibrant and full of positive energy, succumb to addiction or lose their life has huge ramifications, not just for that person’s family and friends, but also for their coworkers and their entire department.
Unfortunately, I’ve been through this process in my own company over the last five years. I’ve seen the toll it takes on a community. As a business leader, you want to take care of that employee’s needs, and you also have other employees to care for (and provide paychecks for). If you’re in the incredibly tough situation of watching an employee go down this path, here’s what you can do.
Understand what you are seeing in person
Hiring a drug abuse professional or a medical expert is a safe place to start. You could also hold classes for employees with that person’s help. I strongly recommend consulting your HR department, as well as your legal counsel. When you’re trying to determine if a colleague is suffering from an opioid addiction, always have another qualified professional help with the determination (and keep in mind that a false accusation could have legal ramifications). Opioid abusers can be good at hiding their addiction. Employers, managers and employees should ask for advice during every step of the process.
Verify the signs of addiction
Admitting what you see firsthand can be difficult, personally and professionally. Be prepared mentally, financially and perhaps legally to deal with what you may find. Opioid addictions can strike the strongest employees and the best managers. I recommend contacting the Health and Human Services‘ local drug counseling centers, or area hospitals. They can provide pamphlets and brochures on addiction and how to recognize the signs.
What to do for your employees
Talk with your employees about addiction, and offer them a safe environment in which to address any issues. Let them know that help is available at a professional level. While addiction issues can certainly cost someone their job, as an employer, you can help them recognize their rights and options for treatment.
Any professionals you bring in, whether they’re lawyers who specialize in these issues or drug abuse professionals, can confidentially help an employee determine what kind of treatment, if any, is right for them, while also protecting the health of your company. State bar associations may be able to provide qualified references regarding opioid-related work issues. Ultimately, remember that you are there to help as an employer — not a friend or a parent — and everyone’s ultimate goal should be to help the employee grow and continue a productive working relationship.
Addiction behaviors are complex, and recovery is a great challenge for everyone involved. Education is key to unlocking workplace success following addiction. Keep in mind that dealing with the office rumor mill can be devastating for someone in recovery. If you have an employee who chooses to seek treatment and then returns to the office, show them that you appreciate their return. Offer them support and guidance, and show them that you’re looking forward to seeing them continue to grow with the company.
Disclaimer: The information provided here is not legal advice and does not purport to be a substitute for advice of counsel on any specific matter. For legal advice, you should consult with an attorney concerning your specific situation.