Covid-19 Fallout: Recruiting and managing workers with potential addiction issues

Despite stigma that may cause some individuals to perceive addicts and alcoholics as jobless, 75% of those struggling with substance use disorder were gainfully employed. It’s quite likely you will have temporary employees on your roster, or internal staff, who are misusing drugs and/or alcohol, especially now. Self-isolation from the quarantine has led to widespread  feelings of depression, anxiety and stress, all of which can exacerbate substance abuse. The proliferation of “quarantini” memes on social media are the tip of the iceberg, as statistics show alcohol sales have jumped over 2019 levels. And with more than 26 million Americans having lost their jobs in the last few weeks, many may be seeking employment through staffing firms and temporary work.

Which means staffing firms and buyer organizations be planning now to provide easier access to behavioral healthcare options. Workplaces can be hesitant to take action when addiction and alcoholism are noticed – in both permanent and temporary workers – because they are unsure how to address it. Staffing agency professionals can be key in supporting employers by providing resources and training to recognize signs of addiction. The longer an addiction goes untreated, it’s more likely that legal liability may incur. For example, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, people with a substance use disorder are four times more likely to be involved in workplace accidents.

Key physical indicators of addiction to look out for may include falling asleep during work hours, having bloodshot eyes, or smelling like alcohol. Currently, many employees are working from home. Once shelter-in-place orders lift, many businesses will likely continue to have staff work remotely. While this poses a barrier in identifying such warning signs, there are some behaviors that may indicate abuse, such as:

  • Constant “emergencies” including tardiness and emergent patterns like calling out after payday.
  • A change in work quality, or projects being incomplete.
  • Mood or behavior changes, including avoidance of co-workers. This may occur in remote workers who don’t utilize video chat during online meetings, or avoid phone calls, relying on emails only.

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Substance use disorder is a disability, per the Americans With Disabilities Act, or ADA.  Allowing employees to access long-term treatment services is more cost-effective, less disruptive to the business, and limits the risks involved with continuing to use addictively. Try working with employers that offer comprehensive insurance benefits which cover all stages of treatment for substance use disorders, including detox, residential care, outpatient care and individual counseling. Staffing agencies and buyer organizations should have a clear drug and alcohol policy in place that ensures employees and temporary workers with addiction problems feel safe to come forward. Most individuals believe they may be fired if they seek addiction treatment while employed. The policy should also include safety provisions on alcohol being served at company functions.

Substance use disorders affect more than 20 million Americans — and that’s pre-pandemic. When you add family members who are affected by a loved ones’ addiction, more than one-third of our nation is impacted by this disease (and that number is growing). Temporary work through a staffing agency can help break the self-sustaining cycle of drug use and unemployment that go hand-in-hand. Working with these individuals holistically can lead to a win-win, as employees that feel supported in their mental, physical and emotional health are more likely to remain committed to the company overall and be more productive over time.

MORE: Executive Forum Virtual Experience Offers Guidance on Navigating the Covid-19 Storm

Sue Bright

Sue Bright
Sue Bright is the executive director of New Directions for Women, an addiction treatment center for women of all ages in Southern California. With more than 30 years’ experience in the behavioral healthcare field, she specializes in intake, quality improvement, and working collaboratively with HR professionals, EAPs, and unions.

Sue Bright

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