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Voluntary Treatment: What’s My Role?

(Fall 2018) Real Life Incidents: Working Partners® Consortium members receive phone support and consultation about drug-free workplace (DFWP) issues – a benefit we term “troubleshooting.”  Here is a brief description of a troubleshoot and our response/suggestions.


A new Program Administrator (PA) called us about an employee who admitted herself into treatment for cocaine use. The PA was alerted to this situation when the employee’s husband called to explain why his wife was not at work.  To compound the situation, before she entered treatment a trained supervisor and the PA had been documenting some signs of suspected substance misuse (e.g., erratic behavior, tardiness, reports of “odd” behavior from co-workers) but had not yet confronted her about their concerns.

According to the employee’s husband, she was scheduled to return to work next week. The PA wanted to know how to handle the employee’s return per the company’s drug-free workplace program, especially given his suspicions prior to her entering treatment and the fact that she works in a safety-sensitive position.


Before jumping into our response, we wanted to be sure the caller understood the difference between mandatory and voluntary referral for assessment/treatment, and how that might impact their return-to-work approach with this employee:

Mandatory referral – typically occurs following a program violation (e.g., a positive test), when completion of the assessment and any recommendations is necessary in lieu of termination or other corrective action. Best-practice in a mandatory referral is for the employee to sign a written agreement with the company (i.e., the “Assistance Agreement” in a DFWP policy written by Working Partners®), outlining the expectations and requirements of the referral.  From there, the company should receive updates from the counselor regarding the outcome of the assessment, when the employee can return to work, and if his/her job duties need to be adjusted.

Voluntary referral – occurs when an employee seeks treatment on his/her own. Often the employee can attend their counseling sessions before or after work hours, in which case the employer won’t necessarily know the treatment is occurring.  If the employee needs to take time off to receive treatment, as in the case of this caller, the employer might be privy to at least some information about the employee’s alcohol/drug issue.

After setting this stage, our approach with this caller was to help him start gathering questions and issues to take back to his management team for discussion:

  • Does the company believe the performance-related behaviors exhibited before the employee went to treatment warrant any corrective action when she returns?
  • Since the PA has knowledge the employee was in treatment and will be coming back to a safety-sensitive job, does the company want to have her sign a written agreement to enable them to get assurances from the counselor that she is progressing well and “ready” to return to work? If so, do they want that agreement to include follow-up testing?
  • Are there any other HR issues at play — e.g., reporting absences, time-off allowances?
  • Who should be brought into this situation in light of confidentiality concerns? Her supervisor?
  • How can they best support this employee’s recovery?

The PA shared that his company’s main concerns were to 1) maintain safety for all employees and, 2) to support the employee in recovery. As such, he anticipated they would opt to enter into a formal agreement with the employee upon her returning to work. Working Partners® also encouraged the PA to contact the treatment provider for suggestions on how she and her team might best support this employee in her recovery.

As a member of Working Partners® Consortium, don’t forget your access to this troubleshooting service.  Be safe, not sorry!

Call Working Partners® Consortium at 614-337-8200 or 866-354-3397.

DISCLAIMER: This publication is designed to provide accurate information regarding the subject matter covered. It is provided with the understanding that those involved in the publication are not engaged in rendering legal counsel. If legal advice is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought.