Your colleague in the next cubicle seems out
of sorts: Her eyes are bloodshot; when she walks to the bathroom, her gait is
unsteady; her phone conversations are marred by slurred speech.
Image source: http://www.chaostrophic.com/14-jobs-youre-allowed-drink/
Is she ill? On medication? Or could she be
“The fact that employees are presenting at work under the
influence of alcohol is an indication that their drinking is significantly
impacting their judgment—a sign that they are in desperate need of help,”
said Tammy Hoyman, CEO of Des Moines, Iowa-based Employee & Family
Resources Inc., which provides employee prevention, intervention and treatment
of Year May Bring on Drinking
The spate of SHRM inquiries about on-the-job
drinking could reflect the time of year, workplace attorneys and substance
abuse experts said.
“I suspect winter depression—or
boredom—may be playing into it,” said Robin Shea, a partner with
Constangy, Brooks, Smith & Prophete in Winston-Salem, N.C. “It’s also
possible that not everyone was able to immediately end the bad habits they
picked up during the holiday season.”
January and February can be depressing months
for some people. The holidays are over, the days are cold and sunlight is
It’s likely that most employers will
eventually encounter a worker with an alcohol problem, Hoyman said.
Ill or on Medication?
Managers should know the telltale signs of
on-the-job drinking, but they should never accuse a worker of being inebriated,
Substance abuse experts suggest that employers
focus on what they can observe—bloodshot eyes, an odor of alcohol, slurred
speech—without trying to figure out the cause.
“Managers should never be put in the
position to diagnose the problem,” Calvano said. “Identifying
behaviors of concern and stating those observations with proper documentation
should be the extent of their interaction with suspected intoxication. Point
out what is observed without specifically identifying alcohol use. For example,
‘I am not sure what is wrong, but I am concerned by your unsteady gait and
slurred words.’ ”
The only way to be certain that a worker is
drunk is to have the worker take a blood alcohol test, a breathalyzer or some
similar test, Shea said.
Test or Not to Test
An employer should not request or require an
alcohol test unless there is “reasonable cause,” Shea said. This
could include slurred speech, an odor of alcohol, an accident that appears to
have been caused by substance abuse, impaired mobility or the discovery of
empty bottles of alcohol in the employee’s desk drawer.
An employee can refuse to take an alcohol
test, Calvano said. But a worker whose condition of employment required
agreeing to alcohol testing for reasonable cause can likely be terminated for
this refusal, and the employer would probably be on sound legal footing, Hoyman
said. She added that employers should check state and local laws on workplace
drug and alcohol testing.
In the absence of a company policy, it’s wise
to consult with a workplace attorney on the legality of requiring such testing
or on the legality of firing a worker who refuses to undergo such testing,
Hoyman said. This consultation should happen long before a manager is faced
with a worker who might be drunk on the job, she said.
Shea said employers may want to consider
extenuating circumstances if a worker is drunk on the job.
“Bereavement could certainly be an
extenuating circumstance, as could a divorce or a child custody
proceeding,” she said. “To avoid discrimination claims, be careful
that you are not more ‘merciful’ with employees of a given race, sex, national
origin or other protected category. As an additional defense, employers who
make these occasional exceptions [due to extenuating circumstances] should
document thoroughly the reason for the exception.”
Hoyman said the employer’s response should
also take into account the company’s overall experience with the employee, the
impact of the drinking on the company and the workplace, and how others have
been treated in similar circumstances.
According to the U.S. Equal Employment
Opportunity Commission, an alcoholic is a person with a disability and is
protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) if he or she is
qualified to perform the essential functions of a job. In such instances, an
employer may be required to provide an accommodation to the individual.
However, an employer can discipline, discharge
or deny employment to an individual whose use of alcohol adversely affects his
or her job performance or conduct, Hoyman said.
must proceed with caution when it comes to difficult situations like these.
Managers cannot be put in the position to diagnose problems, but they should to
be trained to know what to look for and how to handle it. If you are not
confident that your business can appropriately address substance abuse, it may
be time to consult with a team of HR experts. Converge HR Solutions provides
many services, including employee relations, company policies, management
training, and more. Don’t wait until it’s too late. Visit our website for more information https://convergehrsolutions.com/. Contact us directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or 610-296-8550.
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