Help For An Employee
It’s thought that as many as 1 in 3 people in the UK are addicted to a particular substance or behaviour, and it stands to reason that many of these people work as employees at various companies across the nation. 
As an employer, it is important to familiarise yourself with the protocols and regulations surrounding employees with an addiction to ensure that you are able to provide the appropriate support and guidance.
What is addiction?
Addiction is the physical or psychological manifestation of craving or compulsion to use a certain substance or repeat a specific action.
If an individual has attempted to reduce or completely stop the behaviour of substance use but has been unable to do so, or continues the behaviour or substance use despite experiencing negative consequences, they may be suffering from an addiction.
The two main types of addiction are substance addiction, in which an individual compulsively uses a specific substance such as drugs and alcohol in order to experience a high or other pleasant sensation, and behavioural addiction during which the individual feels compelled to frequently repeat a particular behaviour despite experiencing negative consequences.
An individual can be physically and/or psychologically addicted to a substance or behaviour, and it can effectively change how their brain and body functions.
Common addictions include:
- Prescription drugs
Addiction does not have to be for life. Millions of people across the world acknowledge that they have a substance or behavioural addiction and have successfully taken steps to treat the cause and symptoms.
What are the signs and symptoms of addiction in an employee?
While it is possible to hide addiction from close friends, family and employers, over time the signs of dependency will often begin to manifest. This is particularly true within the workplace as we spend the majority of our time at work interacting with colleagues, clients and customers.
If left untreated, an addiction will usually get worse over time. You may slowly begin to spot the symptoms of addiction in an employee based on their behaviour, work performance and physical appearance.
Common signs and symptoms of addiction in an employee can include the following:
- They are often late to work or meetings, or call in sick frequently
- Neglecting personal hygiene
- There is a strong smell of alcohol on their breath
- They appear intoxicated – eg. unsteady on their feet, slurring their words
- They display frequent mood swings
- Their behaviour is inappropriate for the workplace – eg. loud voice, falling over
- Taking frequent trips to the bathroom
- Falling asleep at work
- Complaints from customers, clients and other employees
- Deterioration in work quality and/or production
- Withdrawing from others
How can addiction affect the workplace?
An employee dealing with an untreated addiction can negatively affect the workplace and business in a number of ways, and their behaviour may even be illegal.
The ethical and professional consequences that come from knowingly allowing an employee to perform their duties under the influence or in the grip of addiction can be severe and long-lasting. However addiction is not grounds for dismissal and where possible, the employee should be offered support and guidance towards their recovery.
Common ways that addiction can affect the workplace include:
1. Potentially unsafe
While being under the influence in the workplace is frowned upon in almost all sectors, in certain environments it can be extremely dangerous and even illegal. Some examples include nurses, lorry drivers, teachers, care workers and pharmacists – these jobs involve a high level of responsibility and trust, and using drugs or alcohol in this workplace can have severely negative and dangerous consequences. 
2. Other employees may feel uncomfortable
Understandably, many employees will not want to work with someone who is under the influence. This is particularly true if the employee is acting in a belligerent manner or behaving inappropriately, potentially putting themselves and others at risk. This could lead to a high turnover rate and unhappy employees, lowering the morale of the business.
3. Customers and clients may feel uncomfortable
If the employee is in a customer or client-facing role, their behaviour could potentially harm the reputation of the business. They may embarrass or offend an important client, provide inadequate service or incorrect information to a customer or behave inappropriately. This risks losing clients and customers, harming the business and potentially resulting in a loss of profits.
4. Multiple absences
One of the most signs of addiction in an employee is the frequency in which they are absent from work. This may be due to withdrawal symptoms, a hangover, being under the influence or the need to acquire and use additional substances.
Frequent absences can result in other employees being required to take on extra work in order to keep the business running smoothly. If the employee is a key worker with unique responsibilities, there may be no other employee to take their place. This can cause a backlog of work and tasks, slowing down the business and potentially upsetting other employees, clients and customers. 
5. Illegal use of drugs in the workplace
Under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, it is illegal for an employer to allow the use of controlled substances in the workplace. The supply and production of these substances is also classed as an offence, and this law applies to the entire business premises. If an employee is using illegal drugs in the workplace, you as the employer could potentially be prosecuted. 
What are the rights of my employee?
When an employee is struggling with an addiction that begins to affect their behaviour in the workplace, it may seem as though this is grounds for dismissal. However, as an employer, it is important to understand your employee’s rights in this situation as well as your own responsibilities and duty of care.
Under law, an employee with an addiction has the same rights as an individual with a mental or physical issue. The addiction must be treated as a type of sickness, and they cannot legally be fired simply for having an addiction. The employee has the right to complete confidentiality in regards to their addiction and should illegally be allowed time off work to attend medical and counselling appointments, as well as any other treatment programmes.
While employers are not required to pay for the treatment and recovery of the employee, you do have a duty of care to intervene if you become aware of addiction or dependency. The employee must not be permitted to work under the influence or drugs and alcohol, and may not be in possession of illegal substances within the workplace.
If you suspect that an employee is dealing with an addiction, you will need to approach them with empathy and professionalism.
1. How to effectively approach an employee with an addiction
It can feel awkward and intimidating to even consider approaching an employee with your concerns about their addiction, but the conversation that follows may be exactly what they need to hear in order to begin their recovery journey.
2. Provide proof of your statements
Keeping the conversation centred around facts may be the most effective strategy when approaching an employee about their addiction. Providing evidence such as absence records, customer complaints and CCTV footage can remove the need for excuses and allow a productive conversation to take place.
3. Understand employee rights and company policy
Before approaching an employee that you believe is dealing with an addiction, take the time to read through the company policies surrounding addiction and your responsibilities as well as employment law. This will allow you to provide effective support and guidance in a professional manner and ensures that your employee will be treated fairly.
4. Speak professionally and calmly
It may be tempting to express frustration and anger at your employee for their recent behaviour and even threaten their job security in an attempt to make them realise the seriousness of the situation. However, this will not be effective. Remaining calm and professional can help your employee feel comfortable enough to open up to you – remember, this may be the first time that they have been honest with themselves about their addiction.
5. Have a plan for the next steps
Simply acknowledging the addiction is not likely to result in sustained change, and you cannot legally allow an employee to work under the influence of any substance. It is recommended that you provide your employee with a list of options and treatment centres along with local support groups, and reassure them that you have their best interests at heart.
Where can my employee get help for their addiction?
If you have identified an employee that is struggling with an addiction, it is important that they receive the help that they need. That’s where our team at OK Rehab come in – we have connections to some of the most effective rehabilitation centres in the UK, and many of us have first-hand experience with addiction.
It is recommended that anyone dealing with an addiction should consider a professional treatment programme or rehabilitation centre for a safe and non-judgmental environment in which to undergo detoxification and receive counselling for their addiction.
Get in touch with us today for support and guidance – you may contact us on behalf of your employee if you wish, or pass our details over to the individual concerned as well as their family and friends.