Drunk at Work: What You Can Do About Intoxicated Employees

So what do you do when you suspect one of your employees is under the influence?  Reporting to work drunk, or worse yet, drinking while at work?

Don’t delay. If you have good reason to believe an employee is drinking before coming to work, act immediately. This situation could have a negative impact on morale, is a potential safety issue and does nothing to promote an engaging work environment.

Watch for observable behaviors that are consistent with cognitive impairment. These include smell of alcohol, bloodshot eyes, slurred speech, unsteadiness on their feet, making an unusual number of mistakes or an inability to focus on their job duties.

Share your observations with the employee. There is nothing wrong with asking the employee if he or she has been drinking, provided you have credible reason to believe so. You have safety on your side, more than likely company policy, and applicable state laws. These conversations are best conducted when at least two company representatives are present, along with the employee.

Examine the policy. It is important to have sufficient detail in the policy to cover most situations, and if it needs to be adjusted to be more comprehensive, then the company should move to make that happen. Taking a look at the company policy regarding drinking, you will know the exact parameters. If you don’t have a policy, it’s a good time to make one!

Never make a medical diagnosis. Managers should never directly accuse an employee of being drunk or high. Only doctors can make a diagnosis.

Consider safety. Employee safety is paramount. An employee who is drinking prior to work puts people at risk. This is especially true in organizations that use heavy equipment but could certainly apply in an office environment as well.

Document the conversation. Whether the employee is returned to duty or not, the manager documents the conversation as a verbal warning.

Seek discipline. So your employee is suspected of drinking. The employee says that he or she was not drinking and will not admit to doing so. If you still suspect drinking occurred, then have the person take a blood-alcohol test.  It is important that the manager, supervisor, or HR escort the employee. The results of the tests will determine whether you need to take disciplinary action. Employers cannot force workers to take a drug test against their will. However, an employee who refuses to take a drug test can be fired for that reason, as long as the employer had a solid basis for asking the employee to submit to the drug test in the first place.

Promote a healthy work environment. People drink for a variety of reasons that could be lessened by an engaging, healthy work environment. Some companies use vendors that provide programs focused on healthy living. These could include assistance with alcohol reduction, tobacco cessation, weight loss and physical fitness.

These situations are never easy, and the solution may vary case to case.  Be respectful, be thorough, and document everything!