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Handling a substance-abuse problem

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While surveys show that drug and alcohol abuse are less common in today's workplaces than in recent years, managers still are likely to encounter employees with substance-abuse problems that need to be addressed on the job. Proper handling can leave room for a good worker to return to top form, but it's important to proceed carefully, deliberately, and without favoritism.

Here are some guidelines:

Document the employee's behavior and performance, and the problems they create in the workplace. This objective record will help you explain to the employee why the current situation is unacceptable, as well as providing evidence that may be needed in later disciplinary or legal proceedings. Don't ask other employees to report on the substance-abusing employee's unsafe or inappropriate actions, as this may violate applicable laws regarding confidentiality.

Talk to your HR department and legal counsel. Find out what services your benefits programs can provide in such circumstances.

Call the employee into your office for a private conference. Have an objective, high ranking witness present, such as your supervisor or an HR rep.

Describe the problem. This is not a two-way discussion. Make clear to the employee that you suspect substance abuse, and emphasize that it could lead to termination. (Be sure of your ground before you make such statements. Policies must be consistent for all employees.)

Offer a chance to correct the situation. Let the employee know you value his past contributions to the company, and that you're offering an opportunity for him to keep his job--provided he immediately takes steps in the right direction.

Define expectations for improvement. Clearly set forth what you will require from the employee, beginning immediately--including on the job performance, on the job behavior, or attendance at recovery programs.

Offer time and assistance to aid in recovery. Know your obligations under state and federal law (including the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Family and Medical Leave Act).

Write up a counseling memo and have the employee sign it. In the memo, describe the employee's behavior that?s under discussion, list required actions or behaviors he must adhere to, and provide a timetable for the employee to follow.

Identify the consequences if the unacceptable behavior continues. Include an explicit statement that you're putting the employee on probation, and that the next on the job evidence of substance abuse, unacceptable behavior, or poor performance will lead to immediate termination. No exceptions.

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