Drug & Alcohol Problems in the Workplace: 4 Ways Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) Can Help

Mark Sagor



Two workers on a roofEAPs help employees and organizations with a wide range of personal problems that affect work performance. None may be more important than the misuse of alcohol and other drugs because of the additional safety and health risks associated with substance abuse issues. The misuse of alcohol and drugs becomes an immediate occupational health and safety concern when an employee’s coordination, concentration, motor control, judgment and alertness is impaired.

Under the general duty clause (Section 5(a)(1)) of the Occupational Safety & Health Act (OSHA), employers are required to provide their employees with a place of employment that “is free from recognizable hazards that are causing or likely to cause…serious harm to employees.” The courts have specifically interpreted OSHA’s general duty clause to include the hazards associated with the misuse of alcohol and other drugs in the workplace.

EAPs are well-positioned to help organizations meet the obligations imposed by OSHA’s general duty clause regarding alcohol and drug problems in the workplace. EAPs offer several solutions to assist employees and organizations deal with the complex issues of substance abuse:

1.  EAPs consult with management to help design a Drug & Alcohol policy that reflects the values and priorities of the organization. . This is not a “one size fits all” proposition. Companies need to make strategic policy decisions about what kind of drug testing (if any) they want to do and what kind of training programs they want to support their policy. EAPs offer organizations assistance at every step in this process.

2.  EAPs help individual employees (and family members) assess and respond effectively to the problems caused by substance abuse. One of the most confounding issues facing employees with alcohol and other drug problems is their inability to accurately assess the magnitude of the problem. Misinformation, denial, distorted thinking, fear and guilt often interfere with their understanding of what is happening to them. EAPs offer a confidential opportunity for employees to receive expert assessment and, when indicated, referral to appropriate community resources and/or treatment.

3. EAPs train supervisors to recognize possible employee substance abuse issues (before they become safety issues) as part of performance management process. Employees with drug and alcohol problems have more absences, more accidents and are less productive. EAPs offer training programs which help supervisors to recognize performance issues that may result from substance abuse problems and provide strategies for intervening with these employees before the problems escalate.

4. EAPs train supervisors how to respond when there is a safety issue associated with possible employee substance abuse. The ability of an organization to fulfill its obligations to provide a safe workplace depends upon the ability of supervisors to recognize potential hazards before they become accidents. EAPs offer training programs that teach supervisors what to do if they think an employee may be impaired.

EAPs should be much more than a behavioral health provider network. EAPs are worksite based programs that are structured to work closely with employers as they respond to the various issues, including alcohol and other drug problems, that employees bring to the workplace.