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eqHR HR Business Tips: Handling an Intoxicated Employee

Posted on November 15, 2015

A client recently called and asked how to handle an employee they suspected of a drinking problem.

Several employees reported smelling alcohol on John’s breath. Plus, we’ve noticed that John’s attendance and punctuality has gotten worse. What is the best way to handle this situation?

Hopefully you have a drug and alcohol policy in your Handbook at your workplace. This is helpful because it gives you a guide as to what is acceptable and what isn’t acceptable and can help guide you through this situation. However, even if you don’t have a written policy in effect, the strategies to deal with this situation remain the same.

If someone comes to wor,k apparently under the influence of alcohol or drugs, you should send them home immediately. Have a co-worker drive them home, or call them a cab. This is true in any situation, but particularly critical where there is a safety issue, for example they use machinery or drive for their positions.

When the employee returns, follow your normal disciplinary procedures and either present them with a verbal or written counseling. Make it clear that coming to work intoxicated is unacceptable, and further occurrences may result in further action including termination or employment.

In some cases, an employer may suspect that an employee’s issues with chemical dependency are impacting his or her performance in the workplace, even though the employee is not observed at work in an obviously intoxicated condition. In those situations, employers should always remember to focus on job performance issues rather than the suspected chemical dependency. Document and make clear what expectations aren’t being met and provide a roadmap and timeline for improvement.

What if your employee admits their problem and asks for help? Depending on your company size, the employee may have certain rights under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the American’s with Disability Act (ADA) to seek treatment for their condition. You may also want to review your medical insurance coverage to see what it covers for substance abuse treatment, or refer them to your Employee Assistance Plan (EAP) if you have one.

Finally, a word about drug testing. If you believe the employee has a problem with alcohol or drugs and you want to have them take a drug test to be sure, tread very carefully. Drug testing current employees is a highly litigated area, and I would advise consulting legal counsel before going any further.

Employers often want to help their employees when they suspect a potential alcohol or drug problem. However, sometimes their compassion can lead them down a long path of poor performance and frustration. The best strategy is to try and remain focused on job performance, and avoid getting embroiled in what could become a drawn out and drama filled problem.

Call us today if you need to update your employee handbook or require guidance for a specfic employment situation.

This article was written by Lauren Sims, an eqHR Solutions Principal Consultant and may be contacted by calling eqHR Solutions.