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Supervisor Training

Ensure that all supervisors understand their specific responsibilities for initiating and carrying out the drug-free workplace policy and program.

Supervisors should receive training on how to recognize and deal with employees who have job performance, personal, and family problems that could be related to alcohol or other drugs.

To maximize the effectiveness of a drug-free workplace policy and program, customized supervisor training should take into account the particular characteristics of the workplace and of the employees.

Guidelines for Supervisors

Supervisors, as well as human resources staff, can benefit from following these seven guidelines:

1. Know the Organization's Policy and Program

Be familiar with the policy and the program, along with the rationale for implementing them. Ensure that these are clearly communicated to all staff members.

2. Be Aware of Legally Sensitive Areas

Where applicable, follow collective bargaining agreements. Maintain all employees' rights under the policy and follow the same procedures and policy in the same way for all employees. Provide due process and opportunity for response to allegations. If testing is a part of the policy, ensure laboratory quality control and confirmation of positive tests.

Provide updated information on changing local, state, and federal laws as they apply to alcohol, prescription drugs, and other drugs. Include any implications for the drug-free workplace policy.

Review 10 Steps for Avoiding Legal Problems.

3. Recognize Potential Problems

Observation is key to early detection of emerging patterns of performance and attendance problems. Do not wait for performance or attendance to deteriorate to the point that the employee has little chance of remediating the situation. Addressing potential issues before they become serious problems is an important step in creating a safe, healthy, and productive workplace.

The following signs alone do not indicate substance use, but they do indicate that perhaps the employee is experiencing personal issues that could affect job performance:

  • Change in work attendance or performance
  • Alteration of personal appearance
  • Mood swings or attitude changes
  • Withdrawal from responsibility or contacts with associates
  • Unusual behavior patterns, including sleeping on the job or inability to concentrate
  • Defensive attitude concerning any problems

4. Document

Documentation is an essential tool for identifying patterns in performance or attendance deficiencies. It is also essential for advancing corrective action. When you observe problem attendance or performance patterns, document them as they occur. When documenting, be specific about instances where performance and attendance failed to meet workplace standards. Be sure to provide employees with a well-defined job description, along with appropriate job training. In this way, you can be explicit about the behaviors you expect.

You will be more effective if you have a log of specific examples to refer to when addressing the employee. Examples will enable the employee to understand the true nature of your concern, serve to motivate, and then help you assign the appropriate corrective action. Remember, document concrete facts and observations rather than opinions, gossip, or assumptions.

5. Act

According to research by Paul M. Roman and S.C. Baker in the Handbook of Mental Health in the Workplace, constructively addressing the problem is a proven strategy for dealing with employees who have a performance problem in which substance use, including prescription drug misuse, may be a factor.

Constructively addressing the problem involves organizing a well-structured performance meeting. If your company has an employee assistance program (EAP), the program might be able to provide guidance on the process. During the consult, the EAP can also help coach you, as the supervisor, through the constructive assessment process.

Present the employee with documented evidence of performance deficits. Include a union representative, if applicable, during the meeting. If you believe that personal problems could be contributing to the performance and attendance concerns, refer the employee to an appropriate support resource such as an EAP.

When addressing the employee with your documented concerns, consider the following:

  • Identify the employee's strengths.
  • Describe the specific job performance problem (or problems) identified in your documentation and provide the employee with her or his own copy.
  • Discuss and describe performance expectations.
  • Keep your discussions focused on job performance/attendance.
  • Identify supervisory support to help the employee improve performance/attendance.
  • Set a time period in which you expect the employee to improve job performance.
  • Offer the employee a referral to the company EAP or other resource to address any personal problems that affect performance.
  • Identify a time frame for another meeting with the employee to review progress.

6. Refer to Appropriate Programs

A referral is not an adverse action but can be the first step toward helping an employee get back on track. Guidelines for making a referral include the following:

  • Choose the type of assistance based on the established effectiveness of available treatment options for particular issues.
  • Consider a provider under the employee's health insurance plan.
  • Ensure that the provider understands the employee's essential job requirements and the workplace culture.
  • Consider referring to an EAP that specializes in conducting employee workplace assessments, locating substance use treatment resources, transitioning the employee back into the workplace, and monitoring his or her ongoing compliance with return to work.
  • If a workplace is required to follow federal testing regulations (such as the Department of Transportation rules), a qualified substance abuse professional (SAP) may need to conduct both the initial and return-to-work assessments. SAPs are available through third-party national networks, and they typically offer fixed fees based on each individual case. The drug-free workplace policy should address who is responsible for any SAP fees.
  • The employer should continue to be supportive of employees who have been referred for assistance with problems related to alcohol and misuse of prescription or other drugs. An EAP can provide supervisors with guidance on supportive measures.

7. Reintegrate

Recovery from alcohol, prescription drugs, or other drug problems is a gradual, nonlinear process. To prevent relapse and to promote sustained recovery, supportive re-entry and follow-up are key.

Responding to a Workplace Crisis

All supervisors should be prepared to deal with a crisis. Although these situations are not common, knowing what to do in case of emergency is important. Such highly charged situations might involve alcohol or other drugs, so an impaired person may not be a rational person. Document your observations and responses, and have another supervisor present if possible.

When investigating a potential crisis involving possible drug or alcohol use, ask these questions:

  • Does unusual behavior appear to be taking place (for example, illegal activity or policy violations)?
  • What specific behavior is visible?
  • Does the situation involve an individual employee or a group?
  • Are reliable witnesses available?
  • What are the physical dangers of taking or not taking action?
  • Is the situation serious enough to call security, law enforcement, or 911?
  • Is there a specific policy that applies to the situation?
  • Is it necessary to call in expert consultation with human resources, an EAP, or security?
  • Does the situation call for reasonable-suspicion testing?

Approaching an Employee in a Possible Drug or Alcohol Crisis

Ask the employee to come to a private area with another supervisor, a human resources representative, security, or some combination of these. Inquire, in a nonjudgmental tone, about the behavior, rumor, or report. Stick to the facts, and do not involve the names of other employees.

Express your concern. Keep in mind that this is about a specific employee and the employee's workplace-related behaviors. Be sure to actively listen to the employee’s statements and repeat them back to ensure that nothing is misunderstood.

If there is reason to believe that a violation has occurred, notify a management or labor relations representative as appropriate. If there is evidence or suspicion of recent use, follow the guidelines of your organization's drug-free workplace policy, which will detail how to handle the event.

Last Updated: 11/02/2015