What You Need to Do When an Employee Is Addicted to Drugs

Carl Hart, a professor of neuroscience and psychology at Columbia University, thinks all drugs should be legal. That’s not a shocking viewpoint–the state of Oregon just decriminalized possession of small amounts of drugs, including heroin, methamphetamine, and LSD. Portugal did the same but way back in 2001. But, he’s taking a step further and speaking openly about his own drug use–including regularly snorting heroin as part of “work-life balance.” 

What if Professor Hart were your employee?

This is not advice for Columbia University, as Hart is a tenured professor, which means he’s not an at-will employee. He has different rules than your employees, who are at-will employees. You don’t have to continue employing someone who is actively using drugs, especially not someone who brags about their illegal drug usage in books.

But, if he were addicted and was seeking treatment, that changes.

To keep reading, click here: What You Need to Do When an Employee Is Addicted to Drugs

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9 thoughts on “What You Need to Do When an Employee Is Addicted to Drugs

  1. Professor Carl Hart may — or may not — be addicted. However, either way, heroin use is a particularly-dangerous health hazard. At a minimum, Columbia University should ensure that he is not possessing/using drugs at work, coming to work under the influence or advocating illegal drug use to his students. They should also ensure that measures are in place to promptly and effectively respond to a potential drug overdose. The Evil HR Lady is correct: addiction is a disease. Accordingly, addiction should not be criminalized. But, that doesn’t mean that every drug should be legal, either. The benefits of legalization need to continue to be weighed against the risks of doing so.

    1. From what I understand, heroin is only addictive to two out of three people. The other third can do as much heroin as they want with no long term problems (as long as they don’t overdose). Unfortunately, the two guys who originally developed it were among that one third, and thought they had invented the best pain killer in the history of humanity.

      (And Portugal’s experiment is compelling. Drug dealing is still a serious crime, but while personal use isn’t technically legal, the harshest penalty is a recommendation that one seek treatment. This is for *all* drugs, and it’s been going on for 20 years.)

    2. I have narcolepsy. My body does not produce hypocretin. I have tried a variety of substances, and so far, no addictions. I’ve read that my lack of hypocretin makes me less likely to be addicted to substances. I’ve also read that heroin produces a very similar state to that of normal hypocretin production and there are studies where narcoleptics are given heroin to test this out. The thought is that it makes sense for narcoleptics to self medicate with opioids because we don’t get high, we get normal. I have a healthy fear of prison, so I will continue to opt out of using heroin until I can get a legal, valid Rx for it.

  2. Ok, so keep the employee on and be cool with them using company insurance to seek treatment. Got it. But there’s so much this article didn’t address…like, what to do if you catch your employee actively using drugs on site? Are you legally liable if employee comes in under the influence and you send them home – in their car – while they are high and something happens? How do you deal with the effect on team morale when your staff gets sick of picking up this employee’s slack? How do you smooth things over with a client who gets the weird email or bizarre phone call or indecipherable work product from the employee while they’re high? If the employee steals petty cash or work supplies to pay for their habit, can you still fire them for that even if they’re actively covered by ADA rules? I have more questions than answers now…

  3. Green Door has brought up numerous scenarios which can happen in the real world. Anyone got some legal answers on these?

    1. Active use of illegal drugs to which one is addicted is not legally-protected activity under the employment disability laws. However, an addict is somewhat protected while seeking treatment, or for having sought treatment. Nevertheless, even an accepted disability is, generally, not a shield against the normal rules that apply to all employees, including performance standards and conduct ones (such as those prohibiting employee theft).

  4. I’m really curious how much a company’s health insurance rates go up if one employee goes to rehab. Will each employee’s premiums go up $3 or $300?
    I’ve heard the same discussion when an employee gets hurt on the job and the company doesn’t want to send the injured employee to get help because their workman’s comp will go up. They make it sound like the workman’s comp premiums will bankrupt a company if an employee goes to a few sessions of physical therapy for a back injury.
    I’d like to know the real story and see the real numbers.

  5. I recently had an employee get caught getting high on heroine in the bathroom. She was seeking treatment, so we put her on a last chance agreement. Basically, the agreement said she could not possess, use, or be under the influence of any illegal drugs while at work. This did not include the methadone she was given by the treatment center. It did include everything else. It also said she had to follow all of our drug and alcohol policies and other conduct policies. He attendance couldn’t falter, her performance couldn’t go down, her attitude had to stay positive. The last requirement of the agreement said she agreed to random drug tests at our discretion for up to 1 year. This is what got her. She had an on the job injury, (for those of you asking about workers comp, the rates don’t go up enough to make it necessary not to send your employees to seek medical attention for 1 injury) and was sent to the hospital for a sprained wrist. It was a pretty bad sprain. I called the hospital and asked them to make sure she got a post accident drug screen, which is in our drug and alcohol policy. She refused to take the drug screen. By refusing to take the drug screen, she was violating our drug and alcohol policy as well as her Last Chance Agreement. Just because she was covered under the ADA for her addiction, did not mean we had to give her a pass on our other policies. She was terminated for her violations. Unemployment agreed with us and denied her unemployment benefits. I feel sorry for her and her addiction, but as a business, we have to do what is best for the company.

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