Hold an Intervention for an Employee

The statistics concerning on-the-job addiction are startling and hard to ignore. According to the American Council for Drug Education, when compared to sober workers, addicted workers are:

  • 33 percent less productive
  • 10 times more likely to miss work
  • 5 times more likely to file a claim for workers’ compensation
  • 5 times more likely to injure themselves or another in an on-the-job accident

These issues can translate into big problems for those who own businesses, whether those businesses are large or small, and they might merit a strict employer/employee intervention. By discussing the addiction issue, in a forum that is both respectful and in compliance with the law, employers might help their employees to get the help they need and leave an addiction issue behind. These conversations are known as interventions, and they could be life changing for people struggling with addiction.

Documentation Is Key

When it comes to workplace interventions, a slow and steady approach is always best.

It can be tempting to pull an addicted person into a closed-door meeting and simply discuss the addiction in an open and honest way. After all, employers and their employees often have long relationships, and they might be friends as well as coworkers. Bosses who know their employees are addicted might be worried for them, and they might want to act right now to make the addiction stop. While this feeling is perfectly natural, and totally understandable, it’s not the best approach, from a legal perspective or from a practical perspective.

Interventions are built around specific examples in which the addicted person’s behavior was recognized, and caused damage for someone else. This specific, targeted information can break through denial and help addicted people to see that their actions aren’t acceptable to the people they care about. Similarly, employee discussions regarding performance must also revolve around specific instances in which an employee didn’t perform up to expectations.

Without specific documentation containing dates, times and witnesses, discussions of performance can become lawsuits. So, from a legal perspective and an addiction-related perspective, documentation is the cornerstone upon which success is built.

Employers who suspect addiction in their employees should begin by reading the employee handbook. This document should contain specific language about drug and alcohol abuse, and specific consequences about what should happen if that use is suspected. Next, employers should meet with their human resources managers and employee assistance program (EAP) representatives to determine what sort of documentation the company needs in order to hold an intervention.

This documentation might include:

  • Failing results of a drug urine screening
  • Witness accounts of drug use at work
  • Witness accounts of drug use at lunchtime
  • Client complaints of erratic performance
  • Unexplained absences after paydays or days off
  • Accident reports
  • Absences due to accidents or home injuries

When that documentation has been prepared, the team can begin to pull together a formal intervention for the employee.

Legal Issues

When faced with this mounting evidence, some employers might begin to wonder if they can terminate their employees due to the issue. In most cases, the answer is a resounding “no,” as many specific types of addictions are considered mental health issues, and those who are impacted are protected by law. In addition, addictions really can be effectively treated, and losing a valuable employee can cost a company a significant amount of money.

AARP found that replacing an experienced worker, no matter the age of that worker, could cost a company 50 percent more of that person’s individual annual salary in turnover-related costs.

Some high-tech positions cost companies even more to fill. By addressing a worker’s addiction, the company can assist that worker, as well as assist the company’s bottom line. It’s a rare situation in which everyone involved stands to benefit.

It’s also important to note that some companies require union representatives to be involved in addiction-related conversations.

These representatives ensure that the conversations progress along the lines that the union has agreed are appropriate for that company. Human resources managers can best navigate these waters, and their participation in the intervention planning process is absolutely vital.

In order to remain in compliance with the law, and the employee’s rights, all discussions between the intervention team must be held in strict confidence.

Openly discussing the addicted person’s issue could place the company in legal difficulty, and it should be avoided at all costs. All notes, paperwork, documents and such should be placed in locked filing cabinets, and all discussions should be held behind closed doors. Similarly, disclosing the addiction issue to the worker’s family members or friends, even if those people have the capacity to assist with the addiction issue, could cause legal difficulties. Even if employers have the best of intentions and want to disclose the issue to help the addicted person, they should refrain from doing so.

Planning Stages

Many companies rely on EAPs to help their employees deal with any mental health issue that arises. According to a study published in the American Journal of Public Health, 33 percent of all private, nonagricultural companies with 50 or more employees have EAPs, and they’re more common in the communications, utilities and transportation industries.

An EAP member can be a vital part of an intervention team, as this person is likely to understand the benefits that are provided through the EAP, and can help the addicted person to understand what treatment might entail.

An EAP representative shouldn’t handle the intervention alone, however, as many workers have no interactions with their EAPs. In a study published in the Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, researchers found that a worker’s willingness to work with an EAP was greatly influenced by the worker’s knowledge of an EAP. In other words, those who know about the program tend to use it. Addicted people may not know anything about their EAP, and a conversation with just the addicted person and the EAP might not go well as a result.

Instead, the intervention team should contain the person’s supervisor, the human resources manager and the EAP representative. These three people can provide a complete picture of what problems the addiction can cause, and what the company expects the person to do about the issue. Additionally, the addicted person probably knows these representatives well, and will be swayed by what they have to say. Some EAP representatives have handled the planning of interventions during their careers, but those who have not might best hire an interventionist. This professional knows how to plan an intervention, and can step in during the conversation if something goes wrong. Interventionists can also help the team find an appropriate setting for the addicted person who needs care, and this might not be an area that EAP representative knows about.

During the planning stages, the team should come up with treatment facilities that the addicted person should use, and the team should determine how their companies could ensure compliance.

Some companies can require their addicted employees to participate in addiction programs as a requirement for further employment. Other companies cannot require this compliance. This is yet another question for the human resources director to answer.

The conversation should take place in an extremely private location. This can be difficult in offices with open floor plans in which conference rooms have windows covered in thin glass. Private offices might be a good fit for these employers, and some companies hold these interventions in the treatment offices of the EAP. By allowing the addicted person privacy, they help protect the person’s dignity, and that can be the best gift of all. The intervention should also be held at a time of day in which the person is likely to be sober. If complaints about the person tend to fall around the noon hour, for example, afternoon meetings should be avoided.

By focusing on sober times, the team has the opportunity to reach the addicted person in a moment of clarity.

Holding the Intervention

In the intervention, the team outlines the documentation, clearly and calmly identifying how the addiction has been noticed and how it is impacting the health and safety of other people involved. Words of blame should be avoided at all costs, as should overly emotional outbursts. Addicted people might respond with anger or fury, but the team should remain as professional and compassionate as possible, focusing on facts instead of feelings. At the end of the intervention, the team can present treatment choices to the person, and encourage the person to choose one facility in which to enroll. As mentioned, it’s ideal if the EAP representative or human resources manager has vetted these facilities and can ensure that they are in compliance with the insurance coverage the person has through his/her employer. That way, there will be no barrier to care. Employers can also remind employees of their sick time/vacation benefit they could use in order to get care.

It might seem intrusive or even a little cruel to ambush the addicted person with a conversation like this, but it’s important to note that these difficult talks could provide the addicted person with the motivation he/she needs to stop using drugs and alcohol once and for all. In fact, addicted people who haven’t been convinced to stop in the past might just do so when they are confronted by their employers, and they could avoid some of the negative consequences of addiction as a result.

In a study in the Journal of Occupational Medicine, researchers found that those addicted people who were forced to get treatment by their employers had fewer psychosocial problems before they entered care, when compared to people who voluntarily got care, however both groups improved with treatment.

Those who were confronted at work were confronted earlier in the disease process, and they improved because of it. This study makes clear that employer interventions can make a difference.

It’s important to note that some clients will refuse to obtain care in an intervention. It’s rare, but it does happen. If these employees work in the medical field, where their addictions could put the lives of others at risk, this could allow employers to take a hard stance and enforce compliance. If these employees work as executives, however, it could be harder to make the case that their addictions threaten lives. These clients might be swayed to enter care if they’re provided with the right type of addiction treatment facility. For example, some addiction treatment programs provide care that’s designed especially for executives. Here, they can still attend to work, and their privacy is strictly protected, but they’re still obtaining addiction care that can help them recover from the damage their addictions have caused. By working hard to find the right kind of addiction treatment program, that is apt to be accepted by the person who needs care, the intervention team has the best chance of ensuring success.

If you’d like to know more about interventions, or you need help in order to design and schedule an intervention, please contact us. We have operators standing by to take your call, and we’d love to be of assistance.