Return to Work, or Not….

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If a person attends counselling rehab or self-help, the ultimate goal is the same, to get sober, stay sober and become a useful, safe employee that is not a risk due to substances. Just as addiction has recurring patterns or themes, recovery has patterns and themes that indicate whether the person is going in the right direction or not.

Some employees try to go around the return-to-work procedure and contact the HR department or management to tell them that they are now fine and wish to return to work. There is no proof they have attended any treatment, no re-assessment, no due diligence and no follow-up recommendation. The employee just “feels” they are ready. Unfortunately it is commonplace for doctors or employers to take the person at their word. We allow them to tell us what they need to get better, when obviously they have not been able to fix themselves up to this point. This is especially amplified when people surrounding an addict have bent over backwards to give assistance and have believed that the addict will change just because they said they would.

If an addict’s old behaviour — whining, complaining, displaying anger, bullying — has worked for them in the past, they may try to use that behaviour to expedite their return to work. Those that have been enabled in their addiction wonder why it should be any different now. I have seen situations where the employee starts complaining to anyone who will listen and manages to get supervisors or union representatives worked up to the point where they try to speed up the employee’s return to the workplace.

Ultimately, my goal in a return-to-work interview is to determine whether the employee has changed to such an extent that is it reasonable to believe they will not pose a hazard in the workplace due to substances. Some people are able to demonstrate this very well, others not so much. What the employer or workplace needs is documentation from the SAP so they can satisfy due diligence and proceed on the most reasonable course.

 

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Addiction Assessment for the Workplace and Return to Work Process

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When an employee first learns that the assessment has determined they have a substance problem and they need help, the question I love to hear is, “What do I have to do to get better?” But the question I get often is, “When I am going back to work?” The answer to the second question is in the first question. Appropriate action from the employee will make a good case for returning to work. Remember that these employees are off work for a reason – safety!

During a follow-up interview after treatment, I ask, “What are you doing today that makes it reasonable for me to assume that you are not going back to your drug of choice?” I look for two key indicators that an employee is working on themselves: action and attitude. First, they need to be doing something to help themselves. When they are, they also feel better. When employees are grateful for the chance to change, I believe they are on the right track. Gratitude and action together shows me that they are moving ahead. This does not happen overnight, so the employer has to have strong boundaries, only returning employees to safety-sensitive work once certain actions are fulfilled.

People are people, and what they say they are going to do, they don’t always do. Some people are moved to change when the pressure is on, but after that their effort dwindles. The return-to-work process cannot be dogmatic or inflexible; it must be reasonable. Sometimes we just have to give some solid direction and wait to see what happens.

While looking for characteristics in the employee and their behaviour that indicate a good change is taking place. I ask myself, “Does this person have a reasonable chance of not allowing alcohol or drugs to affect their job when they return to work?” The key word is reasonable. The process must be fluid while taking into account what the employee does. Are they moving away from drug usage or back to it?

If a person attends counselling rehab or self-help, the ultimate goal is the same, to get sober, stay sober and become a useful, safe employee that is not a risk due to substances. Just as addiction has recurring patterns or themes, recovery has patterns and themes that indicate whether the person is going in the right direction or not.

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