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What to do if you suspect intoxication at work

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in Centerpiece,HR Management,Human Resources

IntoxicationDo you know how to react when you suspect an employee has been drinking?

When you smell alcohol on an employee, or receive reports that an employee smells of alcohol, you need to act fast to protect everyone’s safety. However, it’s also essential to handle the situation prudently. Accusing someone of being drunk on the job is serious business that could trigger a lawsuit.

Follow these guidelines, which both HR pros and front-line supervisors must be prepared to apply:

Watch for observable behaviors consistent with cognitive impairment. These include slurred speech, unsteady balance, an unusual number of mistakes or an inability to focus on job duties. The odor of alcohol may be a clue that someone is impaired, but it’s not proof.

Share your observations with the employee. Ask if he or she is OK. State the behaviors that have been observed; then ask if there is a reason. The employee should be given a chance to explain.

Never make a medical diagnosis. You’re not a doctor. Never directly accuse an employee of being drunk or high.

Reiterate the company’s substance abuse policy. Hand the employee a copy. State that you are not assuming or accusing the employee of being intoxicated, but that you need to be sure the employee clearly understands the policy and the consequences of violating it.

Make a judgment call. Assess whether a safety risk exists and the employee needs to be removed from the job. When in doubt, get a second opinion.

Send the employee home if necessary. If you believe he or she is intoxicated, arrange for (and pay for) transportation.

Document the conversation. Even if the employee is returned to duty, you must keep a record that the employee received a verbal warning about the substance abuse policy.

Note: Alcoholism may be an ADA disability, but nothing in the law requires you to tolerate drunkenness at work.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Joe L. Cobb Jr. March 31, 2019 at 3:57 am

I’m fairly certain drinking on the job, no matter where is completely illegal and should be. No one thinks they’re impaired at first. If you work anywhere that involves heavy manual labor, cooking, honestly if you feel the need to drink at work ignoring the obvious dangers that are associated with that, you either have or are on your way to developing an alcohol dependency. Or just should consider a job in a different career field. If there was no proof, and the allegations completely false then you should file for unemployment and speak with either a lawyer. No company wants to pay for unemployment if they don’t have to. Whoever your boss answers to, or your HR administrator will probably offer you your job back if the evidence is lacking and you have no documented history of alcohol abuse violations. Otherwise get sober and focus the time you have on yourself now.


Fred Smith September 9, 2018 at 5:30 pm

Can i log a law suit pertaining to being sent home without having a breathalyzer taken


alison July 23, 2018 at 1:43 am

i was sent home due to i had drink night before my shift at 12 following day but my supervisor let me clock and sign in on my till before she decided to send me hom and i was no whee intoxicated had she the right for these actions


Arabella August 26, 2017 at 2:43 pm

I found out today that my drinking habits whilst in a job I have since left were investigated as someone smelled alcohol on me. For the record I very rarely drink but never during the day or whilst at work. I wasn’t asked or told about the issue but my son’s girlfriend was asked behind my back if I drink. I do however smoke and during my half hour break I would have a cigarette then rub my hands in an alcohol based hand gel to remove the smell of cigarette. I am fuming at todays discovery & feel that an infringement of privacy has taken place.


Jeanine Kane February 20, 2016 at 7:49 am

I was dismissed immediately after several employees reported smelling alcohol on my breath several weeks prior. There was no behavior on my part to indicate that i was in any way intoxicated. In my 22 years on the job i never drank on the job. I was never tested, confronted, or given any warning. My new boss knew I was planning to resign so i think this was here way to save face with the board of directors since another long time employee had recently resigned. she claimed that the agency’s lawyer told her this was the necessary repercution.


Sarah Daltery June 9, 2017 at 2:06 am

What a ****!


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