Sample HR scripts for tough conversations

Sometimes, even if you have a thorough workplace drug policy, actually implementing the various aspects of the policy can be quite daunting. In particular, approaching an employee you suspect of using drugs can not only seem challenging and confronting, but can leave you open to your own performance issues if not done correctly.

It is important to remember that you can t always directly accuse or talk to an employee about drug use, even if you suspect it. Your conversations should centre more on the employee s performance, any deficiencies and how they can improve. Remember to also point out your Employee Assistance Program (EAP) if you have one.

The following are some sample scripts that might help guide you if you suspect drug use and need to approach an employee.

First conversation: Manager/supervisor and employee

If a manager or supervisor at your workplace informs you they suspect one of their employee s work performance is affected by drug use, the first line of approach should be to suggest the manager/supervisor have an initial conversation with their employee.

If workplace drug testing is not regularly undertaken at your workplace, or the manager has not witnessed the employee using any drugs, then the manager should not directly accuse or ask the employee about their drug use, instead they should have an initial conversation about safety in the workplace and the employee s performance issues. It is also important the manager remember to document the conversation, and leave a note in their diary so they know when it took place.

An example initial conversation may look like this:

Manager: Can I have a quick chat with you/ Just need to cover off some safety things.

Employee: OK

Manager: As you know, we re working with heavy machinery, so it s extremely important everyone is working at their best, and able to pay full attention and quickly react to a situation, as mistakes in this line of work can be fatal.

Employee: I know

Manager: I ve recently noticed some of your work practices are not up to the standard they used to be. If this continues, it might affect the safety of the workplace and you might hurt yourself or someone else.

Employee: Oh, I see.

Manager: For example, I saw yesterday that you weren t paying attention when you were operating the digger and almost ran over one of your co-workers. I ve also noticed that you sometimes skip over the daily equipment safety checks and last week, when someone communicated to you to stop driving the digger, as you were about to run into a hole, it took you too long to react and bring the digger to a stop.

Employee: I guess, um, yeah, that wasn t good.

Manager: Is there anything going with you that you thing may be affecting your work performance? Can we help you with anything?

Employee: Not really, I guess I m just a bit tired (the employee may not admit drug use, even if that s what you suspect the problem is)

Manager: Well, you know if there is a problem you can go to one of the counsellors as part of our EAP (Employee Assistance Program). They re totally confidential and you can take a bit of time off work to attend.

Employee: mmm .I dunno.

Manager: Well, they re there if you need them. In the meantime you will need to improve your performance here. As safety is so important, I ll expect you to be able to pay attention and react at a high standard the next time you operate heavy machinery. If you need to take a couple of day s sick leave to make this possible, then that s available to you.

Employee: Yeah, I think I might take a couple of days off but I ll be back on my game when I return.

Second conversation: Manager/supervisor, employee and HR/Safety professional

If the employee does not improve their performance and/or safety practices by the specified deadline, then the manager will need to include an HR/Safety professional in the second conversation with the employee. Again, keep the conversation about their under-performance rather than their suspected drug use.

Manager: We re having this discussion with John from the HR/Safety team today because unfortunately your work performance still hasn t improved since we had our conversation last week.

Employee: OK.

Manager: When we spoke last week I said that, due the importance of safety in our line of work, you needed to improve your attention, reaction time and overall safety practices (such as daily safety checks on the equipment) by the next time you started using the heavy machinery. Do you remember me talking to you about this?

Employee: Yeah, I remember.

Manager: Then we agreed for you to take two days immediate sick leave in order to have time to get yourself back up to speed. But unfortunately, when you returned from sick leave last Friday, I noted that your performance is still not satisfactory, and you re still making the same mistakes you were before you went on sick leave.

Employee: Oh.

HR/Safety professional: We re going to have to put in place disciplinary action, including possible dismissal, if your work performance isn t improved immediately you know it s really important we make sure everyone is as safe as possible all the time. Your manager mentioned to me you didn t feel comfortable with help from our EAP service. Perhaps you should reconsider this, as it is a free service provided by the company?

Employee: Yeah, OK, I ll think about it.

Manager: As discussed in our last conversation, we expect that your performance will improve the next time you use the heavy equipment.

Employee: OK.

HR/Safety professional: We don t want to go down the route of disciplinary action, so if there s any reason you think something may be affecting your work performance please tell us, as we may be able to help you. (again, it s unlikely that the employee will volunteer that they have a drug problem)

If the employee still doesn t improve their work performance then it s time to start implementing disciplinary procedures, as per your company s policy, which is focused on their under-performance rather than their suspected drug use. If you work in a unionised industry, then you may need to involve a union official in a further conversation with the employee before you start to proceed with disciplinary action.

Keep in mind that if you are in an environment where drug use could cause harm to others, such as the employee above who operates heavy machinery, you can remove them from the floor for unsafe work conduct, or not allow them to start with the machinery if they appear to be impaired in any way. As an employer, you have a duty of care to all your employees, this means the employee who may be using drugs, as well as those around him.