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My Employee Appears to Be Under the Influence. What Should I Do?

When an employee is under the influence at work, it is a very delicate situation that could have serious consequences if not dealt with appropriately.

My Employee Appears to Be Under the Influence. What Should I Do?

ARTICLE BY: Elise Anderson

When an employee is under the influence at work, it is a very delicate situation that could have serious consequences if not dealt with appropriately. It is also an issue that if not handled correctly, and mistakes or misjudgments are made, can result in extreme hard feelings and mistrust in the workplace, potentially leading to legal issues.

So, what do you do if you suspect your employee is at work while under the influence of alcohol or drugs?

It is very important to understand the steps to take and in which order to take them.

If you receive a complaint or concern or have reasonable suspicion that an employee is under the influence do not jump to conclusions.

There are nine basic steps that must be followed if you believe an employee is impaired:

  1. Listen to the Complaint
  2. Observe the Employee
  3. Remove the Employee from Safety-Sensitive Areas
  4. Document and Observe Again
  5. Assess the Situation
  6. Meet with the Employee
  7. Prepare Transportation
  8. Send the Employee for Testing
  9. Wait for the Results

Step 1: Listen to the Complaint: Listen to the person(s) who feels one of their co-workers is under the influence and take notes. Notify the HR department and let them know you have a complaint, but you haven’t followed through yet to check on the accuracy.

Step 2: Observe the Employee: You and another manager (preferably an HR manager) personally observe the employee to see if there are any actions that support the complaint.

Step 3: Remove the Employee from Safety-Sensitive Areas: If an employee is working around heavy machinery or acting in a way that could be harmful or dangerous to others, have a manager or HR team member immediately remove the person from the job site.

Step 4: Document the Observation:  Both observers should not only observe but each objectively take notes of their observations. The following should be observed:

Odors: Is there a unique or pungent odor or is the smell of drugs/alcohol present?

Emotions: Are they drowsy, angry, argumentative, agitated or highly emotional?

Eyes: Are their eyes watery, dilated or moving in an unusual manner?

Speech: Is their speech slow, slurred, or faster than normal? Are they unable to verbalize thoughts and communicate properly?

Movements: Are they having difficulty balancing, dizzy, fidgety, or slow?

Face: Do they look like they are having trouble concentrating, sweaty or confused?

Actions: Do they appear tired, yawning, twitching, or pacing?

Inactions: Are they sleepy or unconscious, having trouble reacting to questions or communication?

Step 5: Assess the Situation: If both parties agree, after observing the employee and they appear to be under the influence you would then move to step six. Make sure both observers have detailed documentation. If the two parties disagree, bring in a third party and observe again.

Step 6: Meet with the Employee: At this point you would ask the employee to come and meet with all the observers present and an employee from HR if possible. You would then explain what you observed, and that the employee will need to take a drug and alcohol test to rule out the possibility of impairment.

Step 7: Prepare Transportation: If you suspect an employee is under the influence you should never allow them to drive themselves. You must schedule transportation for them. The transportation must be paid upfront or billed by the employer. If possible, transportation should be available to take them home as well.

Step 8: Sending the Employee Out to Take the Test: A manager, preferably an HR manager, should schedule a drug and alcohol test. At this time you should have a copy of the company procedure for drugs and alcohol available for the employee.

Step 9: Waiting for the Test Results: The employee, in most cases, should stay home until the results come in. During this waiting period the employer should pay the employee unless they are exempt. The employer should reference the Fair Labor Standards Act when making pay decisions for the situation.

Here are some situations that may occur:

  • What do you do if someone refuses to take a drug test?
    Before you call an employee in for a meeting to discuss probable cause you should print a copy of the company’s drug and alcohol policy for them. Most policies call for termination if the employee refuses to take the test. If the employee refuses and leaves the premises, arrange transportation. If they refuse transportation, do not restrain them. Write down their license, description of the vehicle and report it to authorities.
  • How do you Respond to a Negative Test Result?
    If the test results come back negative, have a manager or preferably a manager from your HR department contact the employee to bring them back into the workplace.
  • How do you Respond to a Positive Test Result?
    Refer directly to the employee policy on drugs and alcohol. Many companies offer a “Last Chance” program or allow the employee to take a leave of absence to seek out rehabilitation or counseling, although some companies decide to terminate. If necessary, seek legal advice.

The most important thing is to follow the appropriate steps before making any decisions or jumping to conclusions. It could be the person is sick, injured or having mental health issues. You want to be sure to analyze things correctly and follow through professionally.

It is advised to roleplay once each quarter bringing in different scenarios so that everyone is prepared and not caught off guard. Make sure the Steps for Reasonable Suspicion as well as your company policies regarding drug and alcohol are readily accessible to management. You may also want to print this blog and put it some place where management can quickly reference. It is also good to have resources your employee can turn to for help, if said employee is dealing with substance abuse and chemical dependency.

Nobody wants to be in this situation but if you find yourself there, be prepared and be aware. Contact Alliance 2020 today if you have any questions related to this topic!

Alliance 2020, Inc.
Corporate Headquarters
304 Main Ave S, Ste 101
Renton WA 98057

Mailing: PO Box 4248
Renton WA 98057


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