What Should You Do If You Suspect Your Employees Are Using Drugs

Having a safe work environment is one of the most important aspects of the workplace for you. However, you might have noticed, or somebody told you, that some of your employees are acting quite strange. As you take a look at their reports and tasks they’ve done, you notice that their efficiency is lower than ever. The first thing that pops up in your mind is that they may be abusing drugs and alcohol during their work hours or at home, which creates an unsafe work environment for everyone. What should you do if that’s the truth? What steps should you take?

1. Look for the signs

You and your team are probably not the experts when it comes to determining if someone is abusing drugs or not. However, certain signs may help you determine the truth. Mood changes are one of the most conspicuous signs of drug abuse. They include irritability, depression and withdrawal, and energetic behaviour after a break. However, this too may vary depending on the type of substance. Altered appearance is the second sign you should look for. Employees who were once dressed smartly and were well-groomed, under the effects of substances neglect their hygiene or dress inappropriately. Besides these signs, bad work performance and relationship problems are also frequent. Even though these are some of the most common signs of drug use, they can be seen as symptoms of some mental illnesses, so don’t be too quick to judge.

2. Observe and document

Being able to identify odd behaviours is great, but having a reason for confronting your employees is even better. To do that, you’ll need to observe and document specific behaviour patterns that indicate that his or her actions were strange or off. That’s why managers need to have employees’ records ready. To catch a potential drug abuser at work, you’ll need to train your supervising team to look for unusual actions, emotional outbursts, and similar behaviour. Sadly, supervising team can’t include those types of behaviour in the record. Why not? The point of those records is to have an unbiased opinion about the performance. If you include emotions and behaviour, you’re violating employees’ privacy and subjecting it to different ways of interpretation.

3. Don’t forget about the work policy

Before you take action, make sure you’ve checked your work drug safety policy. Having a clearly-worded policy regarding drug use at the workplace makes things so much easier for you. Most workplace policies are clear- no alcohol or illegal drug abuse during working hours. But what happens to those who have prescribed drugs and medicine, and they need to take them during working hours? In most companies that shouldn’t be a problem. The only thing that matters is demarcating the boundaries when it comes to deciding what is acceptable and what is not. In case your company hasn’t implemented a drug safety policy, you can contact medical professionals who can advise you on the next steps.

4. Approach the person

People who have a drug addiction problem are most likely suffering. Emotional or other problems are probably the underlying cause of their addiction. That’s why you need to be extra careful and sensitive when you plan to approach them. Talking to a person with substance addiction can be hard. Threats and yelling won’t solve the problem. At the beginning try approaching your employee as a concerned friend. Nobody knows what may be the reason behind their addiction. You should explain that you’ve noticed that he or she has a problem. Offer to consult a professional for that issue, and let them know that you want to help them overcome it.

5. Test

Here’s the tricky part. Not every employee will willingly take a drug test. They are the best way to determine whether your employees are abusing drugs and what kind of drugs they use. Try to talk them into taking the test by saying it’s for their own good. Most policies order and allow a drug test for all employees.States have different regulations for drug testing so use Health Street’s guide to Illinois drug testing laws to figure out what your state requirements are. Even though you can use different samples and ways to discover if someone is using drugs, the best one is a reliable urine drug test. With just one urine sample, they can discover if any kind of substance is present and what kind of drug it is. While you wait for the results, you can think about the actions you’re going to take.

6. Act on a result

Once the results arrive, you can take further action. In case they are negative, you can prepare an apology and offer to help them with their daily struggles to improve their mental health and job performance However, if the results are positive, you can act differently. Firing an employee might be the quickest way to solve your problems, but that doesn’t solve the company’s issues, not the employee’s health. What can you do to help the employee? You can offer to send them to rehab, treatment and counselling, and keep their work position safe for when they come back. Once the employee is healthy and ready to get back to work, they can pick up where they started.


Confronting an employee if you have suspicions that he’s using drugs is never easy. You need to plan every action and think twice before you make a move. It can be hard for both of you, however, if you take the right, warm approach, everything can go just fine. Don’t forget that you’re working for your employees just like they are working for you.  


What do you think?

Written by Emily Wilson

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