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What happened next? Dealing with Drugs. By Sarah Fletcher


How do you handle an employee whose drug-fuelled weekends are spilling over into working hours? Find out What Happened Next when member Claire Fitzgerald asked Any Answers how to make her workplace a pill free zone. By Sarah Fletcher

How do we stop the downward spiral?
“A valued member of our team has a really bad drugs problem. We have spoken to him numerous times about the effect his drugs taking and general lifestyle is having upon his ability to do his job as well as the long term effects on his health.

"He has had verbal and written warnings which we had hoped would jolt him to realise the downward spiral he is getting himself into. Nothing is working and we are reaching breaking point. We want to offer him help and support rather than continue to discipline him. Help, I am tearing my hair out.”

Claire Fitzgerald
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What happened next?
We suspended him for a week from work with the remit to look at his lifestyle and see how his drugs use is damaging his ability to do his job. We also told him to sleep normal hours, to not socialise and to get some exercise.

We arranged for him to meet a senior member of our team each day to look at the lifestyle issues. These people are not your typical HR style managers. These people are industry people who have seen it all before and in some cases have been there themselves so they could also use their personal experiences. This was useful.

The drug taking is linked with where and how he socialises. He is trying to learn to be able to socialise without taking drugs and to not socialise in certain bars and clubs.

We gave him a very hard return to work meeting and told him that he was in a last chance saloon. It didn’t help the mood of the meeting that he turned up ten minutes late claiming that he’d been stopped by the police for a random check, unfortunately he’d used this excuse before so I was not sympathetic.

At the meeting we set out our expectations and warned him that any more transgressions would result in him being dismissed. He appeared to have taken it to heart but over the longer haul his work performance remained dreadful.

It was the smoke and mirrors effect. On the face of it he was getting into work on time or early and looking like he was working hard, but on the other hand he was having to be reminded to do the most basic of tasks – the core aspects of his job. Our juniors, who are extremely hard workers, were getting very upset about having to carry his workload.

At all times we have been realistic - he will take drugs again, but provided it is purely recreational and not impacting upon his work, I am happy. The problem was that he was taking way too many drugs and coming into work on a Monday on a big down from the weekend which meant he was awful in the office.

In the end, despite all the support and direction, he just failed to keep to any of his verbal agreements with us and, added to his work underperformance, we came to the decision to terminate his contract. He had been with us for less than one year. Our view in the end was that he has been here eight months and his performance has been rocky for 50% of this time, we are a business and we cannot carry him.

I am sure that if it was a longer standing member of the team, we would have continued to be supportive for longer. We had been in the past – successfully.

Which sources of information did you find the most useful?
We used the experience of our team to be honest. They have seen it all before.

What would you have done differently with hindsight?
We should have acted sooner. We knew he was partying too hard from November and particularly in the lead up to Christmas. I knew that he was not popping an occasional pill but taking a lot of Ketamine and MDMA. Whilst I said to him a few times that he ought to cool it, I should have been more direct with him then, but I had hoped that he would rest over Christmas and reassess his life himself.

Was the outcome satisfactory for all parties?
No. Obviously there is a sort of sense of failure on my part, but at the end of the day we have worked extremely hard to support him, we have thrown our most senior resources at him and yet he continued to delude himself that he was okay.

Are there any other learning points?
Once you notice the signs, act quickly. One thing I have learned from this job is to be direct and see the signs quickly and ask direct questions about what they are taking and social habits.

How to deal with this grievance - advice offered by members:
  • Lisa Hodge says sometimes you have to back off and let them self-destruct.
  • Nik Kellingley believes if the employee won’t admit they have a problem, disciplinary action is the only option.

Other articles in the What Happened Next series

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