Dilemma of the Day: What do you do when you suspect your worker of drinking on the job?

Business Insights

Over half of employers (60%) have experienced issues due to staff drinking alcohol.

Whether its employees hitting the bottle to deal with workplace stress, or hangovers eating into productivity and accuracy, these are all serious HR issues that need to be dealt with.

And, of course, as employers have a duty of care to support the mental and physical wellbeing of their staff, that must take centre stage when addressing these issues.

This must be weighed up with several other factors, including the health & safety of anyone impacted by your company operations, the business's reputation, ensuring you act within the law, and team morale.

So, what happens if you suspect an employee of being under the influence?

Picture this: You own a haulage company and one of your drivers frequently smells strongly of alcohol. He's never had an accident and is one of your best employees. What would you do?

In a survey conducted by HR and employment law consultancy Peninsula, an overwhelming 94% of respondents would choose to speak to the employee in question to get to the bottom of the situation.

3% of respondents would ignore the issue on the grounds of the employee being a good worker, whilst 1% would jump straight to dismissal.

This range in answers shows the potential for such a situation to be mishandled.

Kate Palmer, HR Advice & Consultancy Director at Peninsula, gives her insight on the best way to proceed.

"As with the vast majority of HR concerns, the very best course of action initially is to sit down with the employee and talk it out. It's important to understand the root cause of the behaviours, and indeed if the whole thing is just a misunderstanding.

"In this scenario, however unlikely, the employer could live at a brewery, or have a taste for questionable aftershave! You should never assume to know the ins and outs of a situation before having an open conversation with them. It's always best to sit your employee down and speak with them to address any concerns.

"It could be that they are going through a tough time and using alcohol as a coping strategy. If so, then signpost them to relevant support where necessary, such as counselling or your employee assistance programme, but ensure they are not intoxicated in the workplace at any time.

"Employers should NOT let someone drive if they reasonably believe they've been drinking - to do so would make them liable. Send the employee home (arrange transport, do not let them drive), tell them to sleep it off and then work with them to put a plan in place to resolve the issue.

"It's a sad fact that 1 in 4 people in the UK turn to alcohol to cope with workplace stress. If that appears to be the case, then it's imperative for the employer to look at how they recognise and manage stress in the workplace. A change of duties, working hours and sometimes an overhaul of company culture, will stop these issues arising in the first place.

"If there is no obvious reason for the behaviour or it continues to be an issue, then the employer can proceed to a formal disciplinary meeting as being under the influence at work could amount to gross misconduct."