About 10% of Americans have experienced drug addiction at some point in their lives. If one of your employees is struggling with this disease, you might be tempted to fire him or her.
However, this tactic causes problems for both you and your employee. You’ll lose a valuable worker, and your employee will lose the stability and sense of purpose that can help him or her recover from addiction.
Instead of firing this employee, help him or her remain a productive team member by following these seven tips.
1. Discuss Outpatient Treatment
Many people with addictions require inpatient treatment, which means they live at the treatment center, making it difficult to continue working.
However, people with milder addictions and strong support systems at home may qualify for outpatient treatment, whereby they regularly attend a treatment center while living at home. They can then schedule their treatment sessions around their work schedule.
Encourage your employees to ask their doctors if they qualify for outpatient treatment.
2. Set Up an Employee Assistance Program (EAP)
An EAP is a work-based program that helps employees cope with addictions and other personal issues that affect their job performance. It provides free, confidential resources such as education, assessments, counseling, and referrals to support groups.
These services can help your employees navigate the challenges of working during treatment. They’re usually available via phone, e-mail, video chat, or online chat.
Most employers operate EAPs through third-party providers. To find a provider, search online EAP directories, such as this one. You can also ask fellow employers for referrals.
3. Provide Accommodations
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), employers must provide reasonable accommodations, or changes to a job or the work environment that help workers complete the job’s essential functions, for people with disabilities, including addiction.
Common accommodations for people with addictions include:
- More frequent breaks
- Special break locations
- Support animals
- Weekly meetings to determine whether the accommodations are working
Accommodations can help your employees feel more calm and productive as they balance work and addiction treatment.
4. Offer a More Flexible Work Schedule
With a more flexible work schedule, employees won’t have to miss out on therapy appointments, support groups, or other important services that boost their overall well-being and productivity.
As a bonus, flexible work schedules decrease stress that can cause a person with addiction to relapse (start using drugs again).
Before an employee starts addiction treatment, ask if the person will need any adjustments to his or her work schedule. Hold regular meetings to ensure his or her current schedule is effective for both the employee and the company.
5. Encourage Self-Care
Because stress is a common cause of relapse, you should create a workplace that promotes self-care and relaxation.
For example, you could designate a quiet area of the office for meditation and mindfulness that includes features such as:
- Dim lighting
- Soothing artwork
- A comfortable couch
- Yoga mats or prayer mats
- Peaceful music
Employees with addictions can come to this area when faced with cravings or other stressful emotions.
To further reduce stress, remind employees to take full lunch breaks and to avoid taking work home on weekends (unless they find the extra work helps keep their minds off drugs).
You can also encourage self-care by reminding employees to:
- Get at least 8 hours of sleep per night.
- Eat a well-balanced diet with plenty of vegetables, fruits, and other nutritious foods.
- Exercise regularly.
6. Reduce Stigma
Like other mental health conditions, drug addiction attracts a large amount of stigma. Other people in your office may assume an employee with addiction is lazy or weak, which can cause stress and increase the risk of relapse.
To help your employees stay calm and productive during treatment, create a stigma-free workplace, such as by holding mandatory meetings that explain how addiction is a disease rather than a moral failing.
Also, tell your staff to avoid stigmatizing language like “addict” or “junkie” and instead use person-first, nonjudgmental language such as “a person with addiction.”
7. Discuss Medical Leave
If an employee needs inpatient treatment, remind the person that he or she can take medical leave.
If your company has at least 50 employees, you’re probably covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which provides up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for medical reasons, including addiction treatment.
To qualify for FMLA leave, an employee must have worked for your company for at least 12 months and at least 1,250 hours during the 12 months before taking leave.
If your company isn’t covered by the FMLA, it might be covered by your state’s family and medical leave laws.
Aside from medical leave, your employees can also take time off for treatment using their paid time off (PTO).
Once your employees complete treatment, facilitate a smooth transition back to work by encouraging frequent, open communication. Also, point your employees to resources such as your EAP when necessary.
Amy Matton is a content writer for Ark Behavioral Health. She strives to reduce the stigma surrounding addiction and other mental health conditions.