Many managers have had an employee or supervisor come to them to share that they suspect a co-worker may be “under the influence” or report that a co-worker smells of alcohol.  When this happens, the manager must act immediately by documenting the observations of the reporting employee.  Specifics such as what the person saw, smelled or heard.  Only facts should be recorded suchs as ” Sally smelled like alcohol and was slurring her words” rather than “Sally was drunk as a skunk”.

The manager should observe the employee right away and preferably with another party.  If the manager is not in the same location, then he or she should make arrangements to have one or two other managers observe the employee and document what they saw.  If the manager also observes the employee to appear to be impaired or smelling of alcohol, the employee should be met with immediately.  If your company has an HR department, your HR manager should also be involved in the meeting.

It is important during this meeting to stick to the facts and remember that if someone is under the influence of a mood altering substance, their judgement and mood will be impaired.  This is not the time to get into discipline or consequences but to ensure the safety of the employee and fellow co-workers as well as to dertermine if there is a violation of company policy.  Whether the employee admits or denies being under the influence, the employer should send the employee for a drug test or breath test for documentation purposes.   A manager should drive the employee to the testing facility and make arrangements for him or her to arrive home safely from the testing facility after the test and for the remainder of the work shift.  When you receive the test results, you shoudl review them with the employee, discuss discplinary action and make a referral to the employee assistance program. If you have a drug testing policy, you can provide the employee with a Last Chance Agreement which will require an assessment by the EAP, and follow through with EAP recommendations.

If you do not have a drug testing policy, you can still refer the employee to the EAP, remove him or her from work and require a medical assessment or drug test but it would be wise to consult with your attorney if you have concerns.

Remember, it is very important to never diagnose or assume.  We once had an employee who arrived at work smelling like alcohol and behaving irraticaly.  After being referred for a drug test and then a medical evaluation, it was determined that he had undiagnosed, severe diabetes and he was on his way to a diabetic coma . The test and referral to the EAP actually saved his life.

The EAP counselors cannot reveal any personal information without the employee’s written consent but the counselor will let you know if the employee is compliant.

Reasonable suspicion drug testing can be a very stressful experience for a manager.  If you are unsure how to proceed, call the EAP for guidance.