Question: What are some supervisor responsibilities when an employee appears intoxicated in the workplace?
Answer: Intoxicated employees are a significant safety risk to themselves and the workplace. Employers must be prepared for this scenario with well written, widely distributed workplace policies that apply to both the standard workday and post-accident.
These policies must establish clear procedures, testing requirements, and consequences when an employee appears to be or is intoxicated at work. If an employer has a zero-tolerance policy, then it is imperative to apply the policy with consistency and document all steps taken to ensure the facts support the conclusion that the employee was intoxicated.
Under a zero-tolerance policy, an employee who tests positive for use of alcohol in the workplace or being under the influence of alcohol in the workplace would be terminated. If the employer has a second-chance policy and an employee tests positive for alcohol, he or she is given a second chance to seek treatment and continue employment.
However, regardless of the workplace policy, if the employee is in a safety-sensitive position and under, or potentially under, the influence of alcohol, he or she must be immediately restricted from performing the duties required of the position.
If the employee is willing, he or she may be sent to a medical unit/human resources/personnel for observation or a possible assessment. If sent to a medical unit the personnel may be able to offer a medical judgment that, in their opinion, the employee is intoxicated. They may also be able to conduct a voluntary alcohol test, for instance an Evidential Breath Test (EBT). The Employee Assistance Program (EAP) should also be contacted, if applicable. If the employee is disruptive to the workplace he or she should be removed from the immediate worksite to a safe location and company security or the local police should be contacted if the employee is physically resisting removal. Similar to any other situation when an individual is intoxicated, an employee should not be allowed to drive and other transportation should be arranged.
All employees should be provided with a copy of this policy, and it should be conspicuously posted in the workplace. Managers should also receive training on how to handle an employee who appears intoxicated in the workplace. The following should also be considered:
- If the employee is performing, or is required to perform, safety-sensitive duties such as driving vehicles, using heavy equipment, working around explosives or weaponry, or performing patient care activities, he or she must be immediately restricted from performing these duties.
- It is important to immediately and accurately document in writing what transpired. All the events that led to sending the employee home must be recorded, especially if any disciplinary action is necessary.
- Finally, employers should have a workplace policy that clearly addresses the use of alcohol or being under the influence of alcohol in the workplace.
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