Employees fear losing jobs over addictions

Stigma around drug and alcohol addiction means many employees are put off seeking help

One in five (22%) people in the UK believe their employer would terminate their contract if they disclosed a drug or alcohol problem, according to research from Port of Call.

The Attitudes to Addiction in 2019 report, created to start a public conversation about addiction issues and how to support those affected, found that 19% of men thought they would be sacked if they revealed an addiction to drugs or alcohol, rising to 26% of women.

The research warned that these fears are putting people off seeking help, with 36% of respondents saying they would not get professional help for fear it would hinder their future job prospects.

Port of Call founder Martin Preston said that such stigma often means employees not feeling they can be open with their employer. “Most people who call us are in full-time employment and don’t want their employer to know they have an addiction problem, often for fear of losing their job. Addiction is a shame-based illness and people can have a fear of being ‘found out’,” he said.

The research follows recent data from Public Health England which showed that 1.3% of the adult population are alcohol dependent. This means a significant volume of people could be dismissed from their current roles for disclosing an addiction.

Businesses reserve the right to set their own policies and guidelines on handling addiction among employees. However, almost a quarter (24%) of those surveyed said they didn’t know what their employer's rules were or how their employer would react.

Preston added that there is little advice available for employers seeking help on behalf of employees.

“We also take calls from employers who are trying to help a colleague, and often even those with large HR and people teams are unclear about what the firm’s stance really is. Most organisations have a zero-tolerance policy around alcohol and drug use, which they require for health and safety, yet rarely have awareness of or access to specialist addiction treatment services," he said.

“Thankfully some firms are more progressive. We are retained by a number of larger employers who genuinely want to help their people. If you’re employing more than 10 people addiction is an issue that you’re almost certain to encounter.”

Port of Call surveyed 1,002 employees for its research.