Impact of Employee Assistance Programs on Substance Abusers and Workplace Safety

Article excerpt

Businesses have dealt with substance abuse in different ways. Some organizations have established Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) to address these problems. One large national company chose to fire employees with positive drug screens, offer them EAP services, and then consider them for rehire after treatment. A study of performance records for 12,167 employees with safety incidents revealed that rehired employees had a significantly higher incident rate than the company's general population. Results indicated no difference in pre- and post-EAP incident rates for rehired workers, and the post-EAP incident rate fluctuated for 2 years. Implications of hiring/rehiring individuals who abuse drugs and alcohol are discussed, and suggestions are made for future research.


Organizations want their employees to work hard, show initiative, and be productive day after day, year after year. These objectives can be met only when the employer recognizes that employees are individuals with personal lives and problems. Some U.S. businesses have realized the importance of intervention and have established Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) to address substance abuse and psychological problems of their employees. Early detection and treatment of problems may benefit both the employee and the employer. Employees are better able to balance their work and personal lives, and the company may retain a valued worker, enhancing the workplace environment and the organization's value to the general public (Rotarius, Liberman, & Liberman, 2000).


The origin of employee assistance can be traced to the founding in 1935 of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), an organization that fostered the concept of alcoholism as a disease and promoted a long-term treatment for recovery (Riley & Zaccaro, 1987). By the 1940s, several major corporations were actively promoting helping relationships between alcoholic employees and AA members (Trice & Sonnenstuhl, 1985). Because of increased interest in dealing with deteriorating job performance during the 1960s and 1970s, EAPs expanded their services to cover other problems that employees might have. In 1979, 57% of Fortune 500 companies had some type of program that provided assistance to employees with alcohol problems (Normand, Lempert, & O'Brien, 1994), and by 1998, an estimated 48% of companies with more than 100 employees and 15% of small businesses had EAPs (Stieber, 2000).


Although EAPs are not all the same, all EAPs provide the same essential functions: direct service delivery to employees (e.g., treatment, referral services, follow-up) and system-maintenance activities (e.g., program evaluation, training; Erfurt & Foote, 1977). A company may establish an EAP or may contract with an outside provider fox EAP services. Some programs address substance abuse only, whereas others assist with any personal concerns. No other system outside the family or legal system exists that has this kind of ongoing contact that allows a long-term relationship (Normand et al., 1994).


Alcoholism in the 1970s

Alcoholism was presumed to be the most prevalent problem in organizations and was reported to cause deterioration in job performance, which can be reflected in absenteeism, sporadic and reduced production, poor decision making, and low morale of coworkers (Erfurt & Foote, 1977). Presnall (1976) estimated that 35% of employee problems identified by deteriorating job performance were alcohol related, with an additional 10% linked to other drug use. These figures produced a rate of alcoholism in the workforce of 8.7%, which is higher than the National Council on Alcoholism's 1968 rate of 5.3%.

Drugs and Alcohol in the 1980s

Substance abuse escalated throughout the 1980s. Bernstein and Mahoney (1989) reported that 47% of industrial injuries and approximately 40% of industrial fatalities were linked to alcohol. …