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Reasonable Suspicion Training: Late on Monday, Absent on Friday, or the Day After Payday

Posted by Daniel A. Feerst, BSW, MSW, LISW-CP Publisher, WorkExcel.com on

Alcohol and drug using employees with substance abuse dependence may, in the later stages of their illness, demonstrate erratic attendance patterns that lead to their termination. One common pattern that you should discuss with supervisors in reasonable suspicion training is the problematic performance pattern of being absent on Monday, absent on Friday, and absent the day after payday. Alcoholics or drug addicted employees aren’t the only ones who experience this attendance problems, of course.

Depression affecting employees can contribute absenteeism frustrating patterns. So can domestic violence issues, conflicts with part time jobs, and many others. Once had an EAP client with attendance pattern caused by her inability to continue on any drive to work because of fear that she had accidentally run over someone when she turned the last corner. This compelled her to turn the car around and drive back in the opposite direction to ensure no one was lying in the street injured or dead! This would happen a dozen times, every day, on her commute to work. Medication to treat OCD fixed the problem.Despite other personal problems of employees that contribute to absenteeism, the classic pattern above is probably most common among addicts and frequently observed by managers and workforce management professionals with any significant time on the job. Typically when this symptom pattern is discussed in reasonable suspicion training, you will receive an odd chuckle from the crowd because they all know what you are talking about.


It is important to understand substance addiction has having two primary components that affect behavior. The first, and most commonly discussed is the effect of the substance use on the body, namely hangovers or other physical debilitation, even it temporary, that prevents the employee from coming to work. As the illness progresses, this attendance pattern becomes more severe. The second is the ability of a substance of abuse (psychoactive substance) to interfere with what I call "life urgency."

Life urgency is the "force" that causes us to act in our best interests. We require life urgency to finish a term paper, get out of bed, pay a bill, come to work on time, or indeed come to work at all. This sense of urgency is either intrinsic or necessitated by external factors, most commonly fear--fear of loss or fear of something given that we do not want.

Life urgency helps us prevent procrastination, and any psychoactive/addictive experience will diminish this sense of urgency. What is fascinating to observe, and it is also a complete puzzle to addicts, is why they also will fail to act in their own best interests.

This failure to observe and act with the tool of life urgency is part of the addiction pattern. It is not an inherent psychological trait of temperament or a phenomenon separate and apart from the addiction. Instead, it is in fact a symptom of chronic addictive disease.

An addict with a disheveled apartment is not displaying their personality issues of an unkempt lifestyle. They are showing signs and symptoms of the illness. They may simply not care. Addicts may say, “I don’t care if they fire me. I don’t care if I don’t get to work on time. F--- it.” Addictions -- gambling, drug addiction, sex addiction, internet addiction -- can all contribute to this dynamic of apathy. Unfortunately, if you are a management decision maker with hire fire authority, you are going to be the last person to recognize this as a symptom of an illness, and the willingness to terminate such employees is 100% understandable. Nevertheless, there is an intervention process that works that I would like to share. You can use the following one minute intervention to completely reorient the addict toward getting help and achieving sobriety. Here are the steps outlined in the E-book below. I call this the one-minute intervention for short, but it is about Conducting an intervention in the workplace using performance problems as its rationale without ever labeling your employee as alcoholic. You will see why this works very shortly.

A note of caution about intervention guidance. The following may not be appropriate unless teamed with an HR manager and key figures in an organization. I wrote the following e-book for small businesses run by one or two owners, and have successfully employed the techniques discussed therein with gas stations, law firms, property management companies, and an infinite variety of other small businesses.

Note: Get clear with your organization--if you are not the CEO--that you do not care any longer whether the employee decides to get help and proper treatment, or he or she is fired. You have reached the end of your rope with accommodations, warnings, and disciplinary actions used to inspire change. You would prefer to keep the employee because real recovery would give you back a valued worker, prevent turnover, re-hiring, legal risk, and many other indirect costs. However, truthfully, you are ready to let the employee go because you have reached the day of reckoning. If you have not reached this decision in stone, and there is waffling and wavering on your part of the part of management above you, then the following will fail.

Click here to download the e-book..(Note, this document and its principles can be used following a positive test for substance abuse in the workplace and can therefore help salvage a valuable worker, so depending on circumstnaces it is appropriate to discuss briefly in the reasonable suspicion training: How to Conduct an Intervention with an Alcoholic in the Workplace Experience Job Performance Problems

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