Cali Estes on NBC News and Entrepreneur

By Gwen Moran

    updated      8/18/2013 9:16:30 AM ET     2013-08-18T13:16:30
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The odds of substance abuse issues finding their way into your  business are sizeable. According to the Department of Health and  Human Services’ 2011 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, of  the 18.9 million adults classified with dependence or abuse,  nearly 52 percent were employed.

“Many employers   miss the signs,” says Cali Estes, a certified drug and alcohol  therapist who works with companies and individuals dealing with  substance abuse in the workplace and elsewhere.

Those signs can be subtle, but might include physical signs like  bloodshot eyes and residual alcohol smell. Others include  excessive absences, coming to work late and leaving early. Some  drugs might make the user active, so someone who is up and  walking around all the time and who looks really busy, but isn’t  getting anything done might be showing signs of addiction, Estes  says. The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug     Dependence publishes this list of common signs.

When employees have addiction issues, it can affect the company  in a number of ways, ranging from lost productivity to  significant liability if an employee is drunk or high on the job  and causes property damage or injury.

Related: How to Deliver  Uncomfortable Employee Feedback

Every company should have a written substance use and abuse  policy that prohibits using drugs or alcohol during work hours  and gives the employer recourse if the employee’s performance is  being affected by drug or alcohol abuse after-hours. Employees  should be required to read and sign the agreement upon hire,  Estes says.

And if you do suspect an employee has a problem, take these four  steps.

1. Gather resources.   Most communities have substance abuse prevention agencies and  resources. Check out a few local organizations to determine if  they have any education materials or recommended resources for  individuals dealing with substance abuse. Having a list of  support groups, treatment facilities, and other resources lets  you give your employee a place to start to deal with his or her  issue. Make this list available to everyone in the company.

2. Explore your insurance coverage.   If you have employer-provided health insurance, call your  insurance company to determine what treatment is covered and if  they have recommended resources in the community. Estes says that  insurance coverage can vary wildly from policy to policy, so it’s  important to understand what is covered so you can encourage your  employee to take the appropriate action for his or her financial  circumstances.

“Checking into rehab could be a $30,000 to $50,000 expense.  Getting treatment on an outpatient basis is an option and is  typically much less expensive,” Estes says.

3. Consult your lawyer.   From setting your substance abuse policy to firing someone who’s  used drugs on the job, you need to consult your attorney  throughout the process of dealing with an addicted employee. You  need to be sure your policy complies with state and federal  employment laws and that any termination complies with those  laws, as well, while also protecting your company from liability  if the employee does damage while under the influence of drugs or  alcohol.

4. Take action.   The worst thing you can do is ignore the signs of substance  abuse. If you see an employee who shows common signs, you need to  address the issue directly by having a private conversation with  the employee in which you review the company’s policy, express  your concerns, and provide any resources you’ve gathered, Estes  says.

“Usually if their job is on the line, we can say, ‘If you don’t  get some form of help, you’re going to get fired.’ In states  where that’s in compliance with the law, that usually works,” she  says.

Related: Why Transparency Is  Essential to a Trusting Staff    

Copyright © 2013 Entrepreneur.com, Inc.

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