Kicking the habit

When an employee is chemically dependent, the situation not only affects the employee, but the employer, as well.

A chemically dependent person in the workplace contributes to accidents, low morale and decreased work performance. By establishing a drug-free workplace, an employer can lower turnover rates, increase safety and productivity and help the valued employee receive treatment.

The following steps can help you, the employer, keep your workplace drug-free.

1. Create a drug free workplace policy and put it in writing. This will let employees and applicants know that drug and alcohol use on the job will not be tolerated and inform them what will happen if they violate the policy.

2. Make sure company managers understand the substance abuse policy and can explain it to employees. Manager need to be educated on the signs and symptoms of chemical dependency and know when to take action.

3. Implement an employee education and awareness program. This will explain the substance abuse policy to employees and the consequences of using drugs or alcohol — on and off the job.

4. Set up an employee assistance program (EAP).

5. Drug testing should be the last step in a comprehensive program. If you decide to add this, make sure your drug testing program meets several requirements, including statutory or regulatory requirements, disability discrimination provisions, collective bargaining agreements and any other requirement in effect.

Knowing how to spot the behaviors associated with chemical dependency can help you quickly deal with a potentially harmful situation.

Some of the most common job behaviors of a chemically dependent person are an employee who arrives late and leaves early or has many absences on Mondays Fridays and the days after payday or holidays, or absences due to accidents, both on and off the job.

Other signs include an employee who is often absent from the work area, takes long lunch breaks, has poor concentration and judgment, lacks attention to detail, shows declining work performance, both in quality and quantity, is irresponsible when completing tasks, careless with equipment or wastes materials, and has had complaints from co-workers or the public about job performance or behavior.

Other signs that an employee may be chemically dependent show up in abnormal interpersonal interactions, such as mood swings, inappropriate statements, overreaction to criticism or outbursts of inappropriate anger, tears or laughter.

Resources for a drug-free workplace

Locally: Local treatment centers; Chemical Dependency or Alcoholism sections of the Yellow Pages; County of Summit Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services Board, (330) 762-3500; Community Partnership of Summit County, (330) 379-1954

Nationally: Employee Assistance Professional Association Inc., (703) 522-6272; American Council for Drug Education, (800) 488-3784; Center for Substance Abuse Prevention Workplace Hotline, (800) 843-4971

Carol Simpson, R.N., CARN, is the director of Chemical Dependency Services Edwin Shaw Hospital for Rehabilitation. She can be reached at (330) 784-1271, ext. 5151.