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Is that alcohol you smell? Here’s what to do

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in HR Management,Human Resources

Do 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—but not so fast that you mishandle the situation. Follow these guidelines:

Watch for observable behaviors that are consistent with cognitive impairment. These include slurred speech, unsteadiness on their feet, making an unusual number of mistakes or an inability to focus on their job duties.  “We advise managers that we do not take employment action based on what we think we smell; however, this may be a clue,” says L.D. Anderson, HR manager for a national retail chain based in Texas.  

Share your observations with the employee. “We encourage the manager to ask the employee if they are all right, then state the behaviors which have been observed, and ask if there’s a reason for this,” Anderson says. The employee should be given a chance to explain.

Never make a medical diagnosis. “Managers are coached to never directly accuse an employee of being drunk or high,” says Anderson. Only doctors can make a diagnosis.

Reiterate the company’s substance abuse policy. Anderson instructs managers “to present the employee with a copy of the company substance abuse policy and state that they’re not assuming or accusing the employee of being intoxicated, but want to be sure the employee clearly understands the policy.”  

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 and get HR involved immediately.

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

Did you know?

If an employee tries to hind behind the Americans with Disabilities Act, remember that the law does not preclude you from holding a current or recovering alcoholic employee to the same behavior standards as other employees, including working under the influence.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

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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