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Substance Abuse Think Twice Before Implementing Zero-tolerance

August 2, 1999
Related Topics: Substance Abuse, Featured Article
Issue: You are a supervisor with authority to fire employees for misconduct. You notice alcohol on the breath of one of your employees. Should you fire the employee?

Answer: Think twice before firing substance abusers.

With substance abuse an increasing concern in the workplace, many employers have responded by establishing zero-tolerance policies under which employees are immediately terminated for substance abuse on the job. But some employee assistance program (EAP) experts say these policies are a mistake.

They argue that the cost of firing and replacing otherwise experienced workers can be significant-ranging from $7,000 for a salaried worker to $40,000 for an executive. Instead of firing the employee, the experts suggest that the employer offer treatment resources-and assure employees that their jobs will still be there when they return to work. In this way, the employer will recover productive, dependable, and grateful employees.

Finding the right approach.
According to the Hazelden Foundation, a nationally-recognized substance abuse treatment center, the following suggestions should help employers approach an employee whose job performance is suffering due to drug and alcohol abuse:

  • Educate. Regularly inform employees about company policies regarding alcohol and drug use. Remind them of available resources for help, such as EAPs or other community resources.
  • Document. Keep a record of the employee's work performance-good and bad. That way you will be able to document any changes.
  • Warn. Have an informal talk to alert the employee about his or her unsatisfactory job performance, communicate your expectations, discuss the consequences and explain options available for help. Do not discuss drug or alcohol abuse behavior specifically. Keep the subject on job performance.
  • Refer. Contact the person designated by your company-whether it is an EAP representative, a medical professional, or other community resource-to advise you about confronting an employee who has problems with alcohol or drugs. They can give you advice for your initial discussion and then inform the employee of available help.
  • Intervene. Don't delay or beat around the bush. The sooner you talk to an employee, the sooner he or she can get help.
  • Confirm. Evaluate the extent of any problem through a professional assessment.
  • Follow up. Stick to your guns. Once you have met with an employee, follow through with appropriate support.

Cite: Hazelden Foundation. "Talking About Alcohol and Drugs in the Workplace," a free pamphlet published by Hazelden, is available by calling 800.257.7800.

Source: CCH Incorporated is a leading provider of information and software for human resources, legal, accounting, health care and small business professionals. CCH offers human resource management, payroll, employment, benefits, and worker safety products and publications in print, CD, online and via the Internet. For more information and other updates on the latest HR news, check our Web site at

The information contained in this article is intended to provide useful information on the topic covered, but should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion.

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