I recently hired a new designer. In the initial few conversations they were very articulate and communicative. The last call I had, they seemed to speak in broken incoherent sentences with 2-3 second pauses in between and the grammatical structure completely off. Sometimes I could barely comprehend him even though I understood each word. I suspect he was high on something while on the call.

Since it is not a fulltime role, the contract doesn't have anything about a drug/testing policy. Since it is all remote, I am not even sure a drug testing policy makes sense.

The preliminary work done by this person is very good. So I would prefer to have them on. But I am not sure if/how I should confront this issue.

Should I present it as different communication styles? Or directly ask if he was doped up?

This other related question Coworker consistently shows up drugged out has very useful info. The difference here is the context - I am the business owner (of a very small operation = no full time HR) so I need to take a decision. Lost productivity hits my personal and professional bottom line.

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    What sort of medium was this conversation? What sort of medium were the first few conversations? Was the medium different? If the position does not require drug testing, you must ask yourself, would you require a drug test if this position was not remote? It being remote should not change the legal requirements for the position. Of course, I am not a lawyer, and I know nothing about the position,
    – Donald
    Commented Mar 18, 2022 at 18:28
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    Keep in mind there's more reasons than drug use for this behavior. It could be related to anxiety, their mental state (perhaps something happened and they're super upset) or lack of sleep. Maybe something was going on in the background? They could have been distracted, etc. It doesn't necessarily mean your designer is on drugs (and if it's drugs it could be for a valid medical reason). If their work is good quality you shouldn't care about it. Commented Mar 18, 2022 at 19:35
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    I was once on a Zoom interview with a 3-second delay, and various other technical difficulties, that made listening / responding extremely difficult to the point I asked to just jump on a phone call. I've also drank incomprehensible amounts of coffee and my mouth turned to sludge. Jumping to drugs is a pretty far and damning accusation. Commented Mar 18, 2022 at 19:47
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    You say that their work is good and that you don't care what drugs people are on as long as the work is good... yet here you are asking how to confront the issue of this person potentially being on drugs. It either concerns you or it doesn't. Maybe don't jump to conclusions and make judgments based on a single conversation.
    – joeqwerty
    Commented Mar 18, 2022 at 20:01
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    Does this answer your question? Coworker consistently shows up drugged out Commented Mar 19, 2022 at 19:34

2 Answers 2


I would avoid escalating too much, too soon. You are clearly on the ball - and that is important to prevent it from impacting your business. However, if you appear to jump to conclusions, that will damage the working relationship. At this stage, it could well be something as innocuous as cold medicine, dental surgery or sleep deprivation.

As an employer, you have a duty of care to your employees. Under that duty of care, some interest in the employee's wellbeing is warranted. So I'd take a three-step approach:

  1. Address the current issue. You can freely ask the employee how they're doing and if they're ok. If you'd like to state your concerns, be very factual: 'You were hard to understand, compared to previous calls, and you sounded very distracted.'
  2. Monitor their performance: As soon as it appears to affect their performance, the conversation changes. That's when you notify them that they are not performing as expected. Be constructive, but also ask if there is anything you should know about their personal situation. Ask if something is affecting their work and if it's something you might help with.

Thus far, the employee is under no obligation to offer an explanation and may decline your help.

  1. Demand improvement: If their performance did not improve in response to the prior discussion, you talk expectations and obligations. If you want to retain them as an employee, you can still provide room for an accommodation.

I understand that you don't want to be taken advantage of by someone struggling with addiction. However, imposing drug testing is a bit fraught. Other employees may take it as a breach of trust. If you're contractually obligated or have no other means to ensure a safe working environment, it's warranted. In any other situation, clear expectations and consequences are probably a cheaper and more effective alternative.

  • Hi, thank you for the detailed, balanced (considerate of both sides) answer.
    – ahron
    Commented Mar 22, 2022 at 5:44
  • 'You were hard to understand, compared to previous calls, and you sounded very distracted.' -- should I also ask what the matter was? It might appear a bit like I am probing.. Or just leave it be (it is their personal business after all)?
    – ahron
    Commented Mar 22, 2022 at 5:51
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    I would leave it be. Many people have a need to be understood and will volunteer an explanation in response to genuine interest or concern. Others appreciate the trust you place in them by giving them space to figure it out themselves. I’ve been in your position, and it makes me feel a powerful need to understand. But the knowledge wouldn’t be actionable, I can’t change much about my team’s personal situations.
    – MvZ
    Commented Mar 22, 2022 at 7:09

I think a new hire is on drugs. How do I confront the situation?

Focus on their work and performance and don't worry about whatever substance you think they may be using. The new hire may have been using illegal drugs or they may have been on prescribed medication that had such a side effect. It is not your place to dictate what substances your employee can and cannot consume, especially if such a provision is not written into their contract.

If their performance begins to suffer for whatever reason you can address it with them, focusing only on what your expectations are and what they need to do workwise to remedy the situation. Leave your beliefs about possible substance use/abuse out of the discussions.

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    "It is not your place to dictate what substances your employee can and cannot consume" I think your answer is absolutely correct, but I think it might be better to stress that this is due to desk work remote. Other jobs might require the company to dictate this for safety reasons.
    – nvoigt
    Commented Mar 18, 2022 at 20:27
  • It may also be necessary if the company has certain government contracts.
    – JohnFx
    Commented Mar 20, 2022 at 15:11
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    @JohnFx can I impose a drug testing routine as company policy?
    – ahron
    Commented Mar 20, 2022 at 19:33
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    I can't see why you couldn't. At least not anywhere in the US.
    – JohnFx
    Commented Mar 21, 2022 at 0:41
  • @Yogesch there is a problem though that a lot of perfectly legal meds can give false positives on a drug tests. If you have a tooth abscess you are going to get painkillers that are of the same pharmaceutical family of opiates as herion. The issue is quite nuanced.
    – Neil Meyer
    Commented Mar 23, 2022 at 20:12

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