Manager of an employee with substance abuse problems

How you as a line manager should respond to an employee with substance abuse problems.

Norsk versjon: Leder for ansatt med et rusproblem

For employees with substance abuse problems – guidance and information

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A working and learning environment free of substance abuse

NTNU aims to create and maintain a working and learning environment free of drugs and alcohol abuse, and to help ensure that staff and students do not develop substance abuse problems. Intoxication in work and study situations will not be tolerated. It is important that you as a manager follow up this policy and seek openness on the subject of substance abuse.

What is substance abuse?

Abuse is defined as:

  • Use of drugs or alcohol during working hours
  • Arriving at work under the influence of drugs or alcohol
  • Use of drugs or alcohol outside working hours that results in absence from work
  • Unsatisfactory work performance due to substance abuse outside working hours

Intoxicants include alcohol, narcotics, medication, and other substances that stimulate the central nervous system.

Action plan for substance abuse

The Advisory Center for Issues Related to Alcohol, Drugs and Addictive Gambling in the Workplace (Arbeidslivets kompetansesenter for rus- og avhengighetspolitikk, AKAN) provides advice on what to do if you hear that an employee has substance abuse problems(opens in the same window).

If an employee develops a problem related to alcohol or drug abuse, you must establish an action plan together with the employee. An action plan is an individual support plan that includes measures in the workplace as well as external measures, such as working together with a clinic or treatment centre. Action plans must be drawn up in writing

Points that you and the employee must clarify in the action programme (pdf, in Norwegian).

 Action plan initiated by the employee

The university distinguishes between measures that employees take on their own initiative and intervention programmes. If the employee acknowledges the problem and contacts you, you can set up an action plan initiated by the employee in which you both consider whether other parties should be involved, such as the occupational health service, regular general practitioner ("fastlege"), safety representative or union representative.

Intervention programme

A line manager who suspects that an employee has substance abuse problems can establish an intervention programme (after giving one verbal warning to the employee). Participation in the intervention programme is voluntary. If the employee chooses not to participate, the substance abuse problems will be regarded as neglect of duties and will be handled accordingly.

Duty of confidentiality

Everyone who is involved in the intervention programme has a duty of confidentiality. You must make sure that all documents related to the issue are stored in a sealed envelope in the employee's personnel file. You and the employee should have copies of documents related to the matter. If the HSE division and/or the employee's regular GP are involved, they should also have copies.


The employee is obliged to follow up the support services that NTNU arranges. If the employee violates the agreement, you as the line manager are responsible for giving written warnings and for documenting this. Failing to comply with the agreements in the programme could lead to dismissal of the employee. An intervention programme should last for a minimum of two years after the last warning was received.

First warning

The first warning is given verbally, after the employee has been found abusing alcohol or drugs at work and has been ordered to leave the work premises. You must then give the employee a verbal warning when he or she is back at work and is not intoxicated. The verbal warning must be documented in writing and the employee must receive a copy of the document, which must include the time, location, name of the employee involved and a description of the reason for the verbal warning. As the line manager, you must offer the employee an agreement on an action plan for dealing with the substance abuse problem.

Second warning

If the employee breaks the rules again during the next two years, you give a second warning (pdf, in Norwegian) in writing. Ensure that the employee confirms in writing that the warning has been received. Then offer the employee a chance to take an active part in planning and implementing an intervention programme. If the incident is a breach of an intervention programme that is already taking place, you must evaluate the programme with the employee and make adjustments. This can also be done in cooperation with the HSE department, a safety representative, or the employee's regular GP.

Third warning

The third time that an employee abuses drugs or alcohol at work, a third warning (pdf, in Norwegian) is given, but this time it is from the line manager at the next higher level (faculty/staff level, or the rector if applicable). The employee must also confirm in writing that he or she has received this warning. You and the employee, together with the line manager at the level above and anyone else who wishes to participate (HSE department, safety representative, union representative or the employee's regular GP) then discuss the matter and consider whether the intervention programme should continue.

If you do not reach agreement on continuing an intervention programme, the programme and agreement are ended. The line manager at the level above will then assess the case from a legal perspective, which in practice means that the employee may lose his or her job.

When all goes well

If no further incidents involving substance abuse take place within two years after the first warning, the warning is deleted from the records. When the employee has completed the intervention programme, all of the warnings are removed. You are then responsible for making certain that all papers are removed from the personnel files and are not available to anyone other than the archive employees.

Advice on substance abuse from the Norwegian Directorate of Health to managers (in Norwegian)

Action programme for substance abuse (pdf, in Norwegian)

Second warning regarding substance abuse (pdf, in Norwegian)

Third warning regarding substance abuse (pdf, in Norwegian)

Systematic health, environmental and safety activities in enterprises (regulations, Norwegian Labour Inspection Authority)

The Working Environment Act (Arbeidsmiljøloven) (law)

Checklist for substance abuse (pdf, in Norwegian)]] (HSE rounds)

AKAN The Workplace Advisory Center for Issues Related to Alcohol, Drugs and Addictive Gambling (Arbeidslivets kompetansesenter for rus- og avhengighetspolitikk, AKAN)

Contact information

Occupational Health Services

Telephone advice line provided by AKAN - The Workplace Advisory Center for Issues Related to Alcohol, Drugs and Addictive Gambling