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What Employers Can Do for Addicted Employees

Running and managing a business is no small feat. It takes discipline, determination, and sacrifice. Managing a workforce can be challenging and takes solid procedure, intelligence, and maintaining quality relationships. Addiction in the workplace can affect employers as well as employees. When it comes to addicted employees, employers may find themselves struggling with their legal and emotional intelligence. Therefore, it is essential to learn what employers can do for an addicted employee.

What should an employer do when an employee is addicted to drugs?

Employees should keep a few key factors in mind when determining how to handle an addicted employee:

  • If an employee is suspected of substance abuse, it is vital to ensure the employee’s safety. This step could include removing employees from the workplace.
  • An employee can be dismissed or fired for consuming illicit drugs or alcohol while working. However, if the employee enters a rehabilitation facility, firing the employee is prohibited once the treatment has begun. 
  • Substance dependency is protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act, which means certain actions towards the employee are prohibited.

…an estimated 22.4 million people ages 18 or older are illicit drug users.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, an estimated 22.4 million people ages 18 or older are illicit drug users. Of these illicit drug users 68.9% of which are employed. Additionally,  79.3% of adult binge drinkers are employed. With these rising numbers in substance abuse, it is important to know the signs of addiction and understand the importance of maintaining a safe work environment.

It is highly recommended that employers implement a workplace drug and alcohol policy, and under certain circumstances must comply with the Drug Free Workplace Act. This policy should ensure the safety and confidentiality of the employees, and clearly state the employer’s stance on substance use in the workplace.

What Are The Legal Responsibilities?

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, or ADA, ensures that recovering addicts are legally protected. However, illegal drug use or alcohol use is not protected under the ADA. An employer may discipline or fire an employee if the use of drugs or alcohol negatively affects job performance or compromises workplace safety. Addicted employees may be held to the same performance and safety standards as other employees.

Legal compliance

In cases where drug or alcohol use is considered to be an issue, take certain steps to ensure they are legally compliant. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration provides a basic list of steps to take in these circumstances. These steps include:

  • Consult an attorney
  • Set penalties
  • Provide proper training
  • Documenting performance and incidents
  • Protect privacy
  • What Are The Signs Of Addiction?

Recognizing the signs

Recognizing the signs and behaviors of substance abuse can be difficult. Some symptoms are common with other illnesses and medical conditions. Common signs of addiction include:

  • Frequent absences at work
  • Poor performance
  • Low motivation
  • Low energy
  • Weight loss
  • Red eyes
  • Unkempt appearance or lack of grooming
  • Changes in behavior such as irritability or avoidance
  • Poor relationships with co-workers
  • Money issues
  • Begin The Conversation About Addiction

If an employee is displaying signs of addiction, addressing the issues in an appropriate and compassionate way is a vital step in this process.

If an employee is displaying signs of addiction, addressing the issues in an appropriate and compassionate way is a vital step in this process. It is best to approach an employee to address the symptoms of addiction the employee is displaying instead of accusing the employee of addiction outright. If these symptoms are confirmed with a failed drug test, it is at the employer’s discretion the appropriate consequences. Showing understanding and encouragement could help ensure positive results.

A company policy that approaches addiction as a health matter and encourages rehabilitation and treatment could positively affect the workforce. This is a crucial step to removing the stigma of addiction and fostering favorable outcomes. It is important to note that a failed drug test disqualifies employees from the protection of the ADA while seeking rehabilitation ensures the protection of the ADA.

How Can An Employer Help Addicted Employees?

Employers can help struggling employees in many ways. Here are examples of ways employers can help addicted employees:


Educating staff on addiction can be beneficial in creating a culture of understanding. Substance abuse programs that specialize in removing the stigma around addiction are available. These programs ensure that staff members are adequately trained on how to approach addicted employees.

Effective Company Policy

Create and implement a company drug policy that is tolerant and understanding. For example, an appropriate policy could allow time off or hold an employee’s position while seeking treatment. In addition, create a policy that outlines procedures on drug testing and penalties.

Maintain Confidentiality

Ensure the employee that, regardless of the outcome, the employee’s confidentiality will be maintained. For example, only discuss the issues in private, and request another member of management to serve as a witness.

Removing The Stigma From Work Culture

The ongoing stigmas that exist around addiction frequently contribute to a lack of treatment and negative outcomes. In addition, the stigma causes people who struggle with addiction to feel ashamed of the situation. Removing the stigma around addiction can lead culture in the right direction.

Addiction can often result from underlying issues such as mental illnesses, poor relationships, or medical problems. Addiction is a symptom and can be complicated. One way to remove the stigma from work culture is to open up the conversation about the underlying causes of addiction. Provide support and encourage addicted employees to open up without shame.  Fostering an understanding and educated environment will help remove the stigma and the shame or guilt that comes with it.

Where To Find Answers

Addiction in the workplace can be a difficult situation to manage. Therefore, it is important to have an educated staff who understands these legal and moral obligations. The Society for Human Resource Management guides substance abuse policy and legal responsibility. In addition, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration provides a wealth of information around substance abuse and basic guidance for workplace policy and assessment.

In the case of an emergency such as thoughts of suicide, encourage employees to seek out the nearest emergency room or call The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available twenty-four hours a day and provides support and prevention for people experiencing a crisis. It is entirely free and confidential.

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