What to Do if You Suspect Drugs in Your Shop

What to Do if You Suspect Drugs in Your Shop

If you’ve owned or managed a shop for more than a decade, you’ve likely encountered one or more employees who had issues with alcohol or drugs. Discovering the problem and then figuring out the right strategy to deal with it can be tricky.

Candy Finnigan is one of the interventionists featured on the Emmy-nominated reality show Intervention (A&E) and the author of When Enough is Enough. In this interview, we discussed the effectiveness and success rate of interventions while she provided her insights into drugs in the workplace.

Candy Finnigan is one of the interventionists featured on the Emmy-nominated reality show Intervention (A&E) and the author of When Enough is Enough.

Q: Of all the interventions you’ve done on the show, have there been any people associated with the collision repair industry?

A: Yes, we had one individual a few years ago who lived in the San Diego, CA area and his entire family was in the body shop business in some capacity. The father was working at a shop and going down to Tijuana, Mexico to get parts to re-sell, but he was also picking back more than just parts. He was using the money from the parts to feed his addiction and keep it going.

Q: What addictions are you normally finding in the automotive repair industry?

A: Well, drinking has always been an accepted thing, whether it’s getting a six-pack after work when the shop is closed or everyone going to a bar after hours. It’s been ingrained in this industry and many people don’t see it as a problem. The bigger companies, such as the car dealerships and the larger shop chains do regular drug testing, but with a lot of these smaller, independent shops, these types of things can easily fall through the cracks. Some companies also check their employees’ credit scores, because if someone has a bad credit rating, they usually have been involved in something illegal.

Booze and pot are everywhere and one body shop owner told me that they’re not as concerned about marijuana, except for the fact that employees smoking weed are more apt to take naps and snack all the time. Opiates have never been a big concern for the collision industry, because a pill popper wouldn’t even be able to function in a shop. So speed is the real offender and the most common drug we find in the automotive repair industry as a whole.

Drugs can be a part-time drug for a while and at first maybe they work with a couple beers or on the weekends for most people. Users are attracted to many of these drugs, because they can allow them to stay up late and either party more or work more, depending. But, then it usually escalates and becomes a full-blown addiction.

Q: What should a body shop owner or manager do when he or she notices that drugs are in their shop?

A: It’s a gradual thing and this is how it usually happens. First, people will start showing up late for work. That seems to be the first sign, especially if someone who used to come in on time, but now they’re chronically coming in late. This is a problem, because that means they will rush through jobs to make up for the lost time and of course they start making mistakes. Two things will likely become apparent here, because they will either start doing bad work or they get so obsessed with a job that they don’t get it done on time. They get hyper focused on the job and will sand or buff one hood for hours and hours, for example. They spend so much effort and time on a job that the shop loses money and rather quickly it can affect the bottom line. It can also impact the shop’s safety, because if you’re under a car and relying on a drug head to help you, that’s obviously a very potentially dangerous situation to be in. That’s when the body shop managers and/or owners will start to step in, because they can see that this individual is bringing the entire shop down.

Q: Once a shop owner or manager knows that an employee is on drugs, what is the next step?

A: The first thing is to sit them down and tell them they need to get help. If they refuse the help, then you have the right to fire them. If they do agree to get the help, you may or not be forced to pay for their rehab (depending on the laws in your state). You may also be covered by your insurance, because more and more insurance companies are back in the rehab business after many years of being out. If the employee in question goes to rehab, you have to hold their position and their pay for 60 days. And it needs to be documented by the rehab people, to make sure they’re actually getting help.

Q: Is there any way that a consumer can know if a body shop fixing their car has a substance problem amongst their crew?

A: If you see the lights on late at night at a body shop, there is likely something sketchy going on. They’re actually called “tweaker shops” and there are more than just a handful of them all over the country. One addict told me that you can get your car fixed in just 12 hours at those types of shops! In some areas, people know about these shops and in most cases, you’re having addicts getting cars fixed by addicts. The problem is that the work is not guaranteed and there is really nothing you can do if the work is shoddy.

Q: Do interventions really work?

A: Yes, definitely. I tell people that an intervention is one of the most profound acts of love that anyone can do for someone else. This is what we see and that’s what we know. Whatever the person has done before to get clean hasn’t worked and that’s why we do the interventions. Interventions don’t fail; people fail, but it is very rare. We have a 98 percent success rate with interventions, so yes I would say they do work.

Ed Attanasio

Ed Attanasio is an automotive journalist and Autobody News columnist based in San Francisco.

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