Handling Addictions at Work


The employee addiction crisis is on the rise. When dealing with an addiction, employers are faced with walking a fine line between wanting to help the employee, meeting business needs, and minimizing risk to the organization. Our HR Hotline Advisors answer related inquiries from employers on a daily basis. Here are a few pertinent questions and answers concerning this difficult dilemma.

Q: What impact has the opioid epidemic had on employers?

Employers are experiencing increased absenteeism, increased employee turnover, a loss in productivity, a decline in engagement, and a rise in safety issues and in requests for leaves of absence.

When someone suffers from addiction, not only does the individual suffer, but so do friends, family, co-workers, and neighbors.

And when friends, family, co-workers, and neighbors know someone struggling with an addiction, it can impact their workplace as well. It can result in "presenteeism," where employees show up for work—they are present but distracted, which has a negative impact on productivity.

In addition to these issues, many opioid abuse treatment programs are costly and have had a major impact on employer health plans.

Q: Are employers responding to employee addiction differently as a result of the opioid epidemic?

Employers are now more willing to give employees who are struggling with abuse a second chance. In fact, six percent of employers have updated their drug testing policy with a "second chance" rehabilitation option. This is a step in the right direction and gives employees an opportunity to come forward to ask for help without the added pressure and fear of losing their job. Ten years ago employers were more likely to terminate an employee who had an addiction.

Q: Are there steps employers can take to help curb the epidemic?

Definitely. A few are:

  • Re-communicate your company’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP) benefit. We’ve found that 23 percent of employers are currently doing just that. If you don’t have an EAP benefit, consider offering one. It allows employees to seek help from professional counselors on a variety of personal topics, including addiction and drug abuse, in a confidential setting at no cost to the employee.
  • Before any medical procedures take place, HR can help educate employees with information about post-procedure pain management and encourage them to talk to their health care provider. HR professionals are in a unique position where an employee comes to them before a medical procedure to request a leave of absence or with questions about benefit coverage.
  • Employers can also work with their benefits brokers and workers compensation carriers to explore options for prescription drug plan design and alternative pain management options.

Q: Where can employers turn for resources to help navigate these issues?

If you have a situation in the workplace that you would like to discuss further, our experienced HR Advisors are here to help at 866-HR-HOTLINE (866.474.6854) or email at InfoNow@mranet.org. There are also excellent resources for employers through the Center for Disease Control, National Safety Council, Drug Free America Foundation, EAP vendors, and benefit brokers.

Also, take a look at these pieces in our HR Resource Center and watch MRA in the WTMJ4 Ask the Expert TV segment featuring this topic.

Source: Laurie Greenlees, MBA, PHR, SHRM-CP, Director, HR Hotline & Safety, MRA - The Management Association