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  • According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), 10.8 million full-time employees have substance use disorder (also called addiction).

    Some companies believe it’s best to fire these employees. However, this strategy could deprive your business of hardworking employees who, with proper support, can recover from addiction and help your company reach its full potential.

    How Companies Can Help (& Not Fire) Employees With Addiction

    Before you can help employees with addiction, you must learn the disease’s symptoms. 

    Whether someone is addicted to alcohol, cocaine, or any other drug, common signs of addiction include:

    • missing numerous days of work
    • frequently disappearing to the bathroom
    • frequently missing meetings or deadlines
    • sudden decline in hygiene
    • sudden decline in quality of work
    • sudden changes in mood or personality
    • trouble concentrating
    • poor memory

    If you determine that an employee is struggling with addiction, you can offer support in a number of ways:

    Start An Employee Assistance Program (EAP)

    An Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is a work-based program that assists employees who are struggling with addiction or other personal issues. 

    It provides free, confidential services such as assessments, short-term counseling, education, and referrals to treatment programs. These services make it easy for employees to start their addiction recovery journeys. 

    In addition, most EAPs offer 24/7 helplines, meaning your employees can always reach out in times of crisis. 

    Typically, an employer operates an EAP through a third-party provider. To find a provider, you can browse the EAP online directory or ask fellow employers for referrals. 

    Ensure Your Insurance Plan Covers Addiction Treatment

    Many people avoid addiction treatment because they can’t afford it. That’s why employers must select health insurance plans that provide addiction coverage. Your plan should cover as many addiction treatment services as possible, including:

    Provide Time Off For Treatment

    Even if they can afford it, some people refuse addiction treatment because they fear they’ll lose their jobs. Tell your employees that they can easily return to work after taking time off for treatment. For example, many employees attend treatment using their Paid Time Off (PTO).

    Also, if you’re a private employer with at least 50 employees, you’re likely covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). 

    That means your employees can take up to 12 weeks of leave for addiction treatment or other medical services. If your company is not covered by FMLA, it may be covered by your state’s family and medical leave laws. 

    Offer A More Flexible Work Schedule

    Some employees choose outpatient addiction treatment. That means they’ll regularly attend a treatment center while still living at home. 

    In this case, they might not need to use PTO or take FMLA leave. However, they’ll benefit from a more flexible work schedule that allows them to attend all of their treatment sessions. 

    In some cases, employees need flexibility even after treatment ends. For instance, they may need to attend weekly support groups to maintain their recovery. 

    Additionally, flexible work schedules reduce stress, which is a common cause of relapse. By giving your employees more control over their work hours, you can improve their long-term health and productivity. 

    Promote Employee Wellness

    People who take care of their physical and mental health face a much lower risk of relapse. Thus, you should prioritize the health of all employees.

    For example, you can reduce employee stress by:

    • designating a quiet area in the office for meditation and relaxation 
    • planning group yoga or meditation sessions
    • encouraging employees to take full lunch breaks 
    • placing adult coloring books in the breakroom 
    • discouraging employees from taking work home on weekends
    • discouraging employees from checking work emails at night

    In addition, you can promote healthy eating by putting vegetables, fruits, and other nutritious snacks in the breakroom. You could also provide a fridge, which encourages employees to bring healthy lunches from home instead of ordering takeout. 

    Similarly, you can encourage physical activity by planning group workouts and, if possible, creating an office gym.

    Create A Stigma-Free Workplace

    Employees with substance use disorder are often stigmatized by coworkers who don’t understand the disease. Stigma can cause stress and increase the risk of relapse.

    As an employer, it’s your responsibility to prevent stigma at your workplace. Host education sessions that define addiction as a treatable disease rather than a personal flaw. Explain that the disease has complex causes such as genetics, stress, and trauma. 

    Also, remind all employees to avoid stigmatizing language such as “addict,” “alcoholic,” or “junkie.” These terms place unnecessary shame on the individual. Instead, encourage person-first language such as “a person with an addiction.”

    Simplify The Transition Back To Work

    Many people feel nervous when returning to work after the treatment. To make this experience easier for your employees, keep lines of communication open. 

    Let them know you’re here to support them and encourage them to take advantage of the Employee Assistance Program and other resources when necessary.

    When you simplify a person’s return to work, you simplify their entire recovery. That’s because employment reduces the risk of relapse. More specifically, it prevents boredom and provides a sense of purpose. These effects motivate people to stay sober and healthy.

    Written by Ark Behavioral Health Editorial Team
    ©2024 Ark National Holdings, LLC. | All Rights Reserved.
    This page does not provide medical advice.

    National Institute on Drug Abuse - Words Matter - Terms to Use and Avoid When Talking About Addiction
    Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration - The NSDUH Report Data Spotlight
    United States Department of Labor - The Employer’s Guide to The Family and Medical Leave Act
    United States Office of Personnel Management - What is an Employee Assistance Program (EAP)?

    Medically Reviewed by
    Kimberly Langdon M.D.
    on May 25, 2022
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