Q. When my employee returns from lunch, where he usually has an alcoholic drink, he is much more outwardly friendly and pleasant. He does not appear drunk. This is not a violation of our drug and alcohol policy. He is often late in the morning for work, but never has alcohol on his breath. What should I do?
A. You should refer your employee to BJC EAP if you have attempted to correct his tardiness but have been unsuccessful. Do not base the referral on the alcohol use issue. The two issues could be related, but there is no way for you to know for sure. Even if they are related, the performance issue is chronic tardiness, not alcohol use affecting the workplace — at least not in a way that you can document yet. If your employee’s behavior after lunch interferes with productivity or the work environment, you have grounds for making a referral. Many who suffer from alcoholism are late for work but do not drink before coming to work. Some may drink later in the day or directly after work to ward off ensuing withdrawal symptoms.
Q. We safely sent an employee home who had been drinking on the job. I would say he barely looked intoxicated when I saw him in my office. He reappeared two days later to face disciplinary action, but as uncanny as this sounds, he had no memory of the event! Is this possible?
A. Your employee appears to have experienced an alcohol-related blackout. A complete blackout is an amnesiac state characterized by the inability to recall an experience or event in any detail as a result of being intoxicated, even though the drinker did not pass out or fall asleep. The occurrence of blackouts – along with other signs and symptoms – is considered during the diagnosis of alcoholism. Blackouts are directly related to high tolerance to alcohol, or the ability to consume large quantities of alcohol without typical and expected effects. The individual might not appear intoxicated, but memory and recall function are impaired. Some recovering alcoholics have reported blackout periods lasting hours, days and even weeks, while on drinking binges. For many, what happened during these periods of time is never recalled.
Q. My employee was hospitalized after causing an accident while driving drunk. I have learned from his family members that his doctor has not confronted him about his drinking problem or about alcoholism. Should I mention it to his doctor?
A. Speaking with your employee’s doctor about your diagnosis of his drinking practices could lead to a serious complaint against you. In other words, he has the right to be left alone and be treated by his doctor without your interference. That said, it would be a good thing if doctors played a greater role in referring patients to alcoholism treatment. Many hospitals and physician associations are pushing for greater physician involvement in substance abuse intervention in medical settings, so things are changing for the better. Unfortunately, doctors in a hospital may see 20 to 30 patients in a given day and have limited time for each patient. This is a roadblock to efficiency in confronting patients — as is a patient’s tendency to deny having a problem. Some doctors don’t have a good command of resources and treatment options, and others may be hesitant to follow up with difficult behavioral issues not directly associated with the primary injury or disease, despite the fact that these issues contribute to the problem.