How To Deal with Remote Workers Who Are Under the Influence

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Posted by: David Garcia July 03, 2023

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a considerable rise in remote work positions. Some people find this isolating and may turn to drugs or alcohol to help them cope, even during work hours. Employees doing so impacts not only the employees’ health but also their productivity and can be a liability for the company.

This guide can help employers navigate situations in which remote-work employees may be working while under the influence. 

Impaired Remote Workers: How Much Do They Cost Businesses?

Employees who abuse substances on the clock can be a major liability to a company. Healthcare costs for these individuals can be twice as expensive as for sober employees — not to mention monetary losses due to costs associated with mistakes, absences, and lost productivity.

Many employers have measures in place to avoid these situations, including drug testing and screening through a third-party company like the services we provide at ScoutLogic. Companies can do drug testing and screening during the hiring process as a condition of employment. In some instances, drug testing may also be required during employment. 

Recognizing the Warning Signs of Impaired Remote Workers 

It’s often difficult to recognize early signs of substance abuse in person, and it can be even more difficult to recognize with remote workers. In general, it’s best to look for changes in the employee’s overall pattern of behavior, as any one of the warning signs discussed below isn’t enough to suggest drug or alcohol usage. 

Someone who’s using or abusing substances is likely to display several of the following:

  • Changes in job performance 
  • Increased/poorly explained absences 
  • Avoiding direct interactions like virtual meetings or phone calls
  • Changes in disposition or personality
  • Changes in relationships with coworkers
  • Saying inappropriate or incoherent things
  • Slurred speech

Effective Solutions to Handle Remote Worker Impairment

There are several steps employers can take if they suspect a remote employee is working while under the influence. One of the best first steps is to contact the employee privately, explain the perceived changes, ask if the employee needs assistance, and work on a plan to improve performance. 

Be sure to keep a record of any evidence, such as suspect emails or products, a log of missed calls, or the employee’s attendance record. This evidence is necessary to take further action, such as disciplinary actions, requiring drug testing, or even terminating the employee. 

Providing Support

It’s important to remember that substance abuse is a mental health disorder. The Americans with Disabilities Act affords certain protections to people in recovery or seeking help for their addiction. Employees may seek reasonable accommodations and use FMLA leave while they receive treatment without being terminated from their position.

That isn’t to say that an employee cannot be terminated because of poor performance or misconduct due to substance use. The ADA and other laws grant very specific protections, and each case is unique. Employers are advised to consult with an HR professional to ensure that the company policy doesn’t violate any laws.

All managers should receive training on handling the situation when they are suspicious an employee is using substances. The response should include constant support during the entire process to ensure both the company’s and the employee’s rights aren’t violated. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What to Do if You Suspect a Remote Employee Is Under the Influence?

If you suspect an employee is working under the influence, keep a record of evidence of suspect behaviors. Speak with the employee regarding this evidence, company policy, and an improvement plan as appropriate. Consult an HR specialist about ways to move forward, including drug testing and possible termination.

Final Thoughts

The COVID-19 pandemic created a big increase in remote-work jobs, which can be very challenging for certain individuals. Substance use on the job was nothing new for employers before the pandemic, but remote work can make it harder to detect. 

There are several subtle warning signs of substance use employers can look out for. If you suspect an employee is abusing drugs or alcohol on the clock, keep a record of concerning behavior. 

Speak with them regarding the next steps in accordance with the appropriate laws, such as seeking treatment, drug testing, or termination. At ScoutLogic, we can provide drug testing and background screening services that may help prevent these issues from arising.

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