Is your employee under the influence? What to do?

What does Management or HR do if an employee shows up for work under the influence of drugs or alcohol?

It happens, in fact in the world of HR anything and everything happens. According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) in New York City, alcohol is the most commonly used addictive substance in the US. In fact, 17.6 million people, or one in every 12 adults, suffers from alcohol abuse or dependence.

So what do you do if one of your employees shows up for work under the influence of drugs or inebriated? Here are some steps that can help in those situations.

  1. Remove the employee from the work area. That doesn’t mean physically, just verbally request he/she come to your office. However, if the employee refuses, is causing harm to other employees or equipment or supplies or if you believe they are dangerous to themselves or others, you will need to call security, another supervisor for assistance. In extreme cases you may need to call the police. The goal is to cause as little disruption as possible to the other employees, their workplace and their production. It is your first responsibility to provide a safe workplace for your employees so whatever you need to do to make sure that happens, do it.
  2. Take the employee aside so you can have a conversation with them about their behavior. You can have a confidential conversation with them but make sure you have a witness to the conversation. Talk with them about the behavior you notice without diagnosing the problem. For example, you might say that others have observed their slurred speech or difficult walking. It may be that they have taken a new prescription drug and is causing a reaction, or they are having a health issue. Don’t accuse and don’t diagnose! Tell the employee you are concerned about them. Listen to their answer. If there is a reasonable cause, you should request that the employee take a drug test. Reasonable cause would generally mean slurred speech, impaired mobility, an odor of alcohol, or an incident that may have been caused by substance abuse.
  3. If the employee refuses the drug test, that is likely grounds for immediate dismissal. If they agree, make sure the employee is given a drug and alcohol test immediately. Do not allow the employee to drive themselves at any point, not to get the drug test and not to drive home. Have a supervisor drive them to the drug test site and wait for the results. If the results are positive for drugs and/or alcohol, drive them home. It is not a good idea to have a conversation with the employee about their employment at that time. Do not engage in any conversation regarding their future with the company while they are under the influence. They will likely not be able to recall the conversation, they may get agitated and cause more disruption or even harm. In any event, this employee is not in the condition you want them to be in while having those conversations. Set a time for the next day for them to come to your office to discuss their future with the company. That gives you time to plan the next step.
  4. What does your policy state? Some policies have a no tolerance regarding drugs and alcohol on the job. If that is your policy, the employee should be terminated immediately. If your company has a policy that allows for rehabilitation and if you have an Employment Assistance Program this is a great resource for you as a manager, employer or HR. Contact them and get their guidance on how best to handle the situation. Take the time while the employee goes home for the day to determine your next step and the message you will communicate at the meeting the next day. Most of all, follow your policy and treat all similar situations the same.
  5. Communicate the plan to the employee’s manager and/or supervisor so that you can plan for their absence if necessary. Do not communicate to other employees about the situation. Talking to an employee’s peer about another employee’s performance, disciplinary action or reason for dismissal is very unprofessional. It leaves employees uneasy and will lose any trust they have in you.
  6. Document, Document, Document. Make sure you document the behavior as well as the events that took place. The documentation may come in handy if the employee complains how they were treated or of others felt unsafe and complain. And if necessary, the documentation will come in handy if the employee files a law suit.

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