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Dear Workforce How Do I Handle an Employee's Drinking Problem?

How do I approach a new employee that I suspect may be drinking prior to arriving at work?
September 7, 2011
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Related Topics: Employee Communication, Your HR Career, Coaching & Mentoring, Stress Management, Drug & Alcohol Testing, The HR Profession, Employee Relations, Management Skills and Development, Safety and Workplace Violence, Dear Workforce, Legal, Staffing Management
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Dear Hard to Swallow:

Don't delay. If you have good reason to believe an employee is drinking before coming to work, act immediately. This situation could have a negative impact on morale, is a potential safety issue and does nothing to promote an engaging work environment.

Leverage the conversation. There is nothing wrong with asking the employee if he or she has been drinking, provided you have credible reason to believe so. You have safety on your side, more than likely company policy, and applicable state laws. These conversations are best conducted when at least two company representatives are present, along with the employee.

Examine the policy. It is important to have sufficient detail in the policy to cover most situations, and if it needs to be adjusted to be more comprehensive, then the company should move to make that happen. Taking a look at the company policy regarding drinking, you will know the exact parameters.

Consider safety. Employee safety is paramount. An employee who is drinking prior to work puts people at risk. This is especially true in organizations that use heavy equipment, but could certainly apply in an office environment as well.

Offer help. If the employee admits to drinking, then do your best to offer help if you are able to through your organization's employee assistance program. HR directors do themselves a favor by not offering counseling themselves to a person drinking. Let professional drug and alcohol counselors apply their skills instead.

Seek discipline. An employee is suspected of drinking. The employee says that he or she was not drinking and will not admit to doing so. If you still suspect drinking occurred, then have the person take a blood-alcohol test. (Some organizations have relationships with medical units that provide these services.) It is important that an HR representative escort the employee. The results of the tests will determine whether you need to take disciplinary action.

Promote a healthy work environment. People drink for a variety of reasons that could be lessened by an engaging, healthy work environment. Some companies use vendors that provide programs focused on healthy living. These could include assistance with alcohol reduction, tobacco cessation, weight loss and physical fitness.

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 The information contained in this article is intended to provide useful information on the topic covered, but should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion. Also remember that state laws may differ from the federal law.

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