Recognizing drug use in your employees
Recognizing drug use in your employees
19 SEPTEMBER 2018 12:53 PM

The warning signs of a drug problem aren’t always evident or clear, and sometimes it takes prodding before you can understand the proper course of action to take.

I usually try to keep these columns light, try to make you chuckle or smile. Not this time.

Six months ago, we noticed one of our senior managers had lost weight. We were congratulatory as this gentleman had always topped 250 pounds and really needed to lose a solid 50 pounds. A month later, he had lost more weight, and we became somewhat concerned, as the weight loss seemed too rapid.
So we asked him if he was having any health issues and he said “No.” We also began to notice missed days at work and lots of last-minute vacation days. A manager who was once reliable and energetic had become unsteady and lethargic.

When he dropped more weight, we asked about his health again. He said he was having esophageal dysfunction and would be seeing a specialist. We accepted his explanation and certainly all employees have privacy rights; after all, he was under no obligation to tell us anything.

Another month went by and he lost another 20 pounds. Our friend was looking unhealthy, with dark circles under his eyes, baggy clothes and poor hygiene. We inquired about what the specialist said, and he said he was referred to another doctor. He was very convincing in his explanation.

The cycle continued month after month with more weight loss, increasingly poor job performance and more volunteered medical explanations. We counseled him that he had used all his paid time off and perhaps he should apply for medical leave to deal with his health under provisions of Family Medical Leave Act. He declined to avail himself of the benefits.

Another month passed and things just didn’t add up. He had lost 70 pounds and he looked emaciated. Along with the alarming weight loss, poor hygiene and declining performance, we found him sleeping at his desk. Investigating further, we learned additionally that this senior-level executive had been attempting to borrow money from co-workers.

As the drama continued, we did the right things. We documented performance issues, we added notes to his file and we offered employer assistance. At some point, I flat-out asked him if he had a substance abuse problem. You can well imagine I was not surprised that he said “No.” Our manager had become a walking zombie.

Then the staff chatter started. “Where is he?” “Why isn’t he ever around?” “Why is he always ‘inspecting rooms’?” “How come his car was here all weekend?” “What’s that smell?” “What happened to his skin?” And so it goes.

Accordingly, we resolved to impose strict scrutiny and compliance. His nine years of exemplary performance had been followed by six months of devolving leadership and hyper-drama in the workplace. It was becoming disruptive and indeed harming our reputation amongst the staff. Safety and liability became a concern.

HR double-checked our rights to force a drug screen and made the arrangements. Now it was time for the confrontation with “Joe,” as we’ll call him.

I explained to Joe that we all have been concerned about his weight loss, job performance and poor hygiene, and now staff reports of him nodding off frequently during the workday.

“Joe,” I continued, “you are displaying all the classic signs of substance abuse. I’ve asked you if you want a medical leave and you say ‘No.’ I’ve counseled you on performance issues and hygiene, and yet these deficiencies are not remedied. I believe that you may have a substance abuse problem. I’ve arranged for you to have a drug screen. Bob from HR (who was with me as witness) will walk with you three blocks, and we’ll get this done in the next 30 minutes.”

Joe replied, “I’m insulted that you would even think such a thing.”

I said, “I’m glad you’re insulted, and now you can prove me wrong. Insult me back by testing negative.”

Joe said he would rather resign, and I asked him why he would want to take such drastic actions.

Even if he did test positive, it didn’t mean he would necessarily lose his job, but it would inform us as to options for next steps. “Well,” he said, “I was going to resign on Friday anyway, I’ll just make it for today.”

I told him that if he’s impaired, his resignation is problematic, and I would really prefer he take the drug screen. Again, Joe refused. I told him that if he refuses to take the test, he would force my hand to terminate his employment for insubordination, or he could draft a letter of resignation to be witnessed by HR.

Three times more, we offered to test and treat. Three times more he refused, claiming he was going to move to Las Vegas. Brilliant.

Twenty minutes later, I accepted his resignation. Only then would he admit to me that “No way, I wouldn’t do heroin or meth … but yes, I do like cocaine.”

No longer employed, he needed to get help.

He’s on the train.

When a locomotive first pulls out of the station, you can jump right off, no problem because it’s only moving 1 to 2 mph. But the train picks up speed, and soon it’s going 20 mph. You can still jump off the train, and while you will likely injure yourself, you would probably survive. At 50 mph, you cannot just jump off anymore, even when you want to. Finally, the train is moving at 80 mph and heading for a curve. Derailment is imminent, and you cannot survive the crash. Joe is on that train and he doesn’t want to, or cannot, get off. Only Joe knows how fast that locomotive is moving the train down the tracks, the train called drug abuse.

We lost Joe. He disappeared. His mother has been calling. We cannot say much other than he resigned. He’s on that train to nowhere.

Addiction is real. It’s a growing problem in all corners of our society. It affects all hotels, their guests, employees, vendors and staff. Do not ignore the problem. Everyone’s safety is dependent on stopping the train. Do you have some riders on the train?

George Jordan is senior vice president of operations at Oxford Hotels & Resorts, overseeing a cluster of three-, four-, and 4 ½ -star hotels, both operating and under development. Jordan has worked in hotels for over 30 years, including the Arizona Biltmore, The St. Paul, The Marquette, The Drake, Raffaello Hotel, Hotel Felix, and most recently The Godfrey Hotel Chicago. New openings currently orchestrated by Jordan include the Godfrey Hotel Boston and LondonHouse Chicago. He rose through the ranks while attending college at University of Southern California and Arizona State University, where he obtained a B.S. in finance. He also has served as area food and beverage director for Hilton International, based out of the Drake Hotel Chicago, and also as hotel manager at the Drake. Jordan joined the Oxford team in 2009 as area general manager; he was promoted to senior vice president in 2012. His daily duties include oversight of Hotel Felix, Hotel Cass, Godfrey Hotel, and contributes his operational and marketing expertise to acquisition activities. Jordan is a well-respected leader and a member of many Chicago civic organizations including The Magnificent Mile Association, CCTB, DLC and serves on the board of directors for Lawson House YMCA and on the advisory council of De Paul University’s School of Hospitality. Jordan writes a quarterly column for Hotel News Now and is slated to be a cast member in an upcoming reality TV series.

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