Intoxication at Work

An area that is often troublesome for supervisors is what to do when an employee is apparently under the influence of alcohol or intoxicated at work. While organizations address such issues differently and more specifically. The following is a list of steps that can be taken in dealing with such a situation. Though not all steps would be appropriate in all situations, most would be applicable.

Actions in the workplace

If the employee is performing, or required to perform, safety-sensitive duties such as driving vehicles, using heavy equipment, working around explosives or weaponry, or performing patient care activities, he or she must be restricted from performing these duties.

If the employee is willing and the organization has a health unit, he or she may be sent to there for observation or a possible assessment. Health unit personnel may be able to offer a medical judgment that, in their opinion, the employee is intoxicated. They may also be able to conduct a voluntary alcohol test, most likely an EBT. 

Consider contacting the EAP. The counselor may be able to assist in any immediate assessment or may be at least able to talk to the supervisor immediately. Even if the EAP counselor is unable to see the employee immediately, EAP personnel should be informed of the situation. 

Be sure to refer the employee to the EAP after he or she returns to work.

If the employee is disruptive to the workplace, you should remove him or her from the immediate worksite. This may involve taking the employee home or at least taking him or her to some other safe location. 

An employee who is physically resisting should be dealt with by security or local police. The employee should not be sent home alone or allowed to drive. It would be appropriate to consider having a family member take the employee home. A taxi is also an option. Note that there could be some serious liability issues involved here so it is important to consult with Human Resources, Employee Relations, and the legal counsel’s office.

It is important to immediately and accurately document in writing what has transpired. Record all the events that led to sending the employee home, especially if any disciplinary action is necessary. It is important to work with the EAP and employee relations staff and keep them informed of such events because the quality of the information they receive from you impacts on the quality of their advice and service.

Things to Avoid

 Avoid being an “enabler,” someone who allows the alcoholic to continue the addiction without being held responsible for his or her actions. Supervisors that enable their employees often think that they are being kind, when actually they are hurting the alcoholic employee by letting him or her continue to engage in self-destructive behaviors. 

In addition, failing to hold the alcoholic employee accountable can have a negative effect on co-workers’ morale. Examples of supervisory behavior that might be considered enabling include:

  • Covering up for the employee;
  • Lending the employee money;
  • Allowing the employee’s spouse, rather than the employee, to call about the employee’s absence;
  • Failing to refer the employee to the EAP;
  • Shifting the employee’s work to other employees;
  • Trying to counsel the employee on your own;
  • Making excuses to others about the employee’s behavior or performance; and
  • Adjusting the employee’s work schedule, for example, allowing the employee to continually come in late and make up hours later.

Alcoholism is a disease. Employees who suffer from it need assistance and compassion. However, sometimes that compassion has to be firm in order to communicate that, while the company is willing to help the employee get assistance, the employee is ultimately responsible for his or her own rehabilitation, recovery, and performance.

 Source: The U.S. Department of Personnel Management: www.opm.gov