Should a Coworker’s Drug Use Outside of Work Be Reported?

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about reporting drug use:

A friend of mine works at a bank and he has become friends with a co-worker. That male co-worker of my friend has been open about doing drugs outside of the workplace. He has noticed a change in his productivity and mood since his friend of 6 months now, has been using drugs. He wants to know if he should talk to his friend who is using or go right to the boss.

Signed–Drugs and WorkDear Drugs and Work:

This is a topic that deserves attention. When and where should drug use be reported? A place to start is by learning if the employer has a drug- and alcohol-free workplace policy. If so, this document will describe your reporting responsibilities and guide your friend on how you handle making a report of drug abuse. When no policy exists, consult human resources or a manager.

Any policy will probably state that an employee of a firm who witnesses another employee consuming alcohol or drugs at the workplace — or suspects that a fellow worker is impaired while working — needs to offer a first-person account to the Human Resources or manager.

Since your question was posed by a friend about a coworker, of course, you have only his word about what he knows and has observed. A rule of thumb that I have is not to report on a coworker without first talking to her/him. Such a conversation might be prefaced by “Dan, you have told me about your use of drugs outside of work. Do you mind if I ask you a question about that? My question pertains to how that use might affect your job.” Probably Dan will say, “What’s on your mind?” And then your friend can begin with something like, “I’m just a coworker who wants you to succeed at this job, and I’ve wondered if you know whether our bank has a drug use policy–and whether if drug use while at work or away from the job, could get you fired.”

If the coworker, says, “My drug use is my own business.” The case is closed unless your friend has observed Dan is at risk of breaking the bank’s policy.

Such a conversation, might also include, “I’ve noticed that you sometimes seem to be in less than a happy mood. Is that because you have or haven’t been using drugs? Do you think you need them to keep you going?”

Should this conversation result in Dan to disclose he needs drugs, then it might lead to talk about if the bank has employee assistance regarding drug use.

The underlying question is whether the employer should be told about drug use and when and who should reveal that. Your friend might say to this coworker, “I’m coming to you as a coworker and don’t plan to say anything about your drug use, but if you want to report it I’m willing to go with you when you do.”

Thank you for raising the question. Please update us on what you decide to do about the matter and how it works or fails. Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS.

–William Gorden