(Written by Michael McCafferty, FEI Senior Account Manager)

Several months ago I had a conversation with a concerned employer about one of his best employees, Laura*, who had come into work that morning and seemed to be “out of sorts—and really emotional.” When he asked her what was wrong, he noticed she looked like she had been crying. He also noticed she smelled like alcohol. Laura denied drinking at work, but admitted she’d gotten “pretty drunk” the night before. Regardless of when she drank, she was in no condition to work. A late night of heavy drinking can easily result in a BAC (Blood Alcohol Content) over the legal limit; combined with lack of sleep, this can be deadly.

These stories are more common than many employers would like to admit. In fact, not a month goes by where I don’t have a conversation like the one above. We’ve known for a long time that it’s not safe to drink and drive, and the Drug Free Workplace Act has been in effect for over 25 years. Yet the evidence is clear:

  • A recent federal survey indicated 24 percent of workers reported drinking during the workday at least once in the past year.
  • Workers with alcohol problems are almost 3 times more likely than workers without drinking problems to be absent due to injuries.
  • A 2007 study revealed one-third of workers reported having a hangover at work and 10 percent reported doing so at least once a month.

The good news is that employers have options. Motivated organizations can effectively address substance use and abuse in their employee population by:

  • Implementing drug-free workplace and other written substance abuse policies;
  • Offering health benefits that provide comprehensive coverage for substance use disorders, including aftercare and counseling;
  • Reducing stigma in the workplace; and
  • Educating employees about the health and productivity hazards of substance abuse through company wellness programs.

According to the National Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence, establishment of an effectual Employee Assistance Program (EAP) “is the most effective way to address alcohol and drug problems in the workplace.” FEI and other EAPs deal with all kinds of personal issues and provide short-term counseling, assessment, and referral of employees with alcohol and drug abuse problems, emotional and mental health problems, marital and family problems, financial problems, dependent care concerns, and other personal problems that can affect the employee’s work. Since family members of employees with alcohol or drug problems also suffer significant job performance issues—absenteeism, poor concentration, accidents and injuries—EAPs are in a great position to help them, too.

In Laura’s case, she was lucky. She didn’t get into an accident (or get arrested for operating while intoxicated) on the way to work, and her employer cared enough about her well-being to make it easy for her to get the help she needed. Because the company had effective substance abuse policies and trained employees on how to handle these situations, her manager knew what to do.

FEI was able to connect Laura with treatment resources that helped her learn about safer ways to drink alcohol, as well as helped her employer feel confident she was getting appropriate assistance. The last time I spoke with Laura, she reported choosing not to drink and her manager reported that her work had been better than ever.

*Name has been changed to protect confidentiality