Drunk at Work – What Should Management Do About Intoxicated Employees?

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Drunk on the job


When employees come to work and their behavior reasonably indicates that they are drunk, management has an obligation to act – especially in safety sensitive situations. What appropriate action steps should management take? Does the company have a policy and procedure for this kind of situation? Differing scenarios require various management responses. In some situations, action is needed immediately.

Management should always be cautious to tailor their actions, ensuring to mirror their company policy to the situation at hand. Scenarios do exist where a medical condition or legally prescribed medication, rather than recreational drugs or alcohol, may be the underlying cause of suspicious behavior and warrant a customized response by management.

When a reasonable suspicion scenario arises, emotions can be high and panic can ensue. Employers may not know the best way to handle the situation. To eliminate this, employers need to have a detailed step-by-step procedure outlined. This will eliminate confusion and streamline the process.

The following should be considered when implementing a reasonable suspicion procedure:


Observation of drunk behavior                        

First, management should observe the situation to determine if action is needed. The goal of management should be to observe and comprehensively document any suspicious behavior. The following are a few examples:

  • Slurred speech
  • Staggering gate/walk
  • Blood shot eyes
  • Odor of alcohol or marijuana

Taking appropriate action against drunk employees

Once management has established evidence of suspicious behavior, they should refer to their policy and procedures for action and necessary documentation of the situation. Suspicion, and the documentation therein, is recommended to be observed and corroborated by two or more direct supervisors to the employee.  This will eliminate any bias against the employee.


Maintaining A Drug Free Workplace
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Typically, the cause of the suspicious behavior is revealed by testing for both drugs and alcohol. This can be done via urine, salvia, or blood to detect the presence and concentration of drugs in the human body.  A breath alcohol test is typically utilized to detect alcohol.  If a drug and/or alcohol test is performed, it is recommended that a member of management oversee the entire testing process at the collection site. After testing is completed, it is suggested that the employee not return to work until the results have been reviewed by management and cleared of the suspicious behavior. This is highly recommended for employees involved in safety sensitive duties.  


Setting yourself up for success

Before a company conducts drug and alcohol screenings of employees, it is important for companies to seek qualified legal consultation in development of drug and alcohol testing policies that fit each company’s specific legal and business environment. The drug and alcohol industry is constantly changing and evolving and can be quite complex. It is vitally important that a company’s policy and procedures be tailored to its specific needs, requirements, and regulations.

Development of these policies is typically referred to as a Drug-Free Workplace Program. The existence of such a program can greatly assist management in taking the appropriate actions, in the correct sequence, when often the situation is time sensitive and missteps far too easily occur.

A great initial resource for development of a Drug-free Workplace program can be found at The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) website, https://www.samhsa.gov/workplace. SAMHSA is an agency under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.  In addition to SAMHSA, Validity also can provide its clients with independent expert resources who can guide the entire process of Drug-free Workplace policy development. If interested, contact Validity for further information.