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How to manage an employee under the influence of alcohol

Did you know that Ireland’s consumption of spirits has risen by 21.48% in the past five years? Perhaps you are not too surprised by this statistic as going for a drink is known to be a popular Irish pastime.

With that in mind, you may expect that some of your employees enjoy a drink or two in their downtime. Depending on the culture of your company, it might even be commonplace that colleagues meet after work for drinks. Trouble can arise however when an employee blurs the lines between work and play and turns up to work under the influence of alcohol.

This is not only incredibly awkward and embarrassing, for them and onlookers, but it’s also a risky and potentially dangerous health and safety situation that needs to be dealt with quickly and legally.

Find out how best to deal with an employee who is potentially under the influence with our top tips below.

Investigate the situation

Meet immediately with the employee as soon as it is brought to your attention. There may be an innocent explanation as some medications can cause drowsiness and some illnesses can impair mobility. Therefore, it is important to assess the situation and establish whether the employee is under the influence of alcohol, illegal drugs or prescribed medication.

Refer to your policy

Having a policy that clearly sets out your company rules on drugs and alcohol in the workplace is essential and will help you work out what to do next. If the employee is under the influence of alcohol, you can refer to your policy and explain the steps. This may be a Gross misconduct issue that could result in summary dismissal.

It’s worth noting that if you or a manager provided the alcohol, say at a work event, you can be at risk of vicarious liability and can be implicated should any harm come to the employee. If the employee is obviously incapable of working safely then they should be sent home and not allowed to continue to work.  If this is not so clear, you might need to suspend on full pay and in either case, you need to investigate it thoroughly in line with your discipline procedures.

Investigate further

At a later date invite the employee to an investigative interview.  Interview witnesses and try to build a complete picture. Is it a one off following a personal problem or celebratory event or is there and under lying addiction? Does your policy have a support system in place for addiction?

The findings of these questions will define your next steps If having a drink is associated with your company culture, you may want to balance it out by providing your staff with health education on the effects of binge drinking.

Seek expert advice

Failing to manage an employee who is inebriated at work can cause even bigger problems. Random drug and alcohol testing is really recommended where driving or handling machinery is involved, and dismissing an employee with an alcohol addiction could lead to claims under the Equality Acts, for dismissal due to a disability.  We advise to proceed with caution and get expert advice before you react in the wrong way, no matter how understandable that may be.

If you’re in need of an alcohol policy, setting up testing or would like to train your managers on how to deal with alcohol in the workplace, contact your local HR Dept today.