Each month, “The Balance Sheet” provides questions and answers from experts on a topic that’s important to you as a manager. Please feel free to share this information with other colleagues who also manage people.
Q. I will be confronting my employee about the smell of alcohol on his breath in accordance with our reasonable suspicion policy. Can you offer any quick tips prior to my meeting?
A. Managers charged with determining reasonable suspicion of alcohol or drug use in the workplace sometimes fail to follow the organization’s policy, so be sure to review it, especially the definition of reasonable suspicion. Supervisor confusion about process, fear of making a mistake, the employee’s reaction and denial are factors in missteps and problems with following reasonable suspicion determination procedures. Be confident, respectful and mindful of the dignity and confidentiality of the employee. When confronting your employee, expect denial and a unique explanation (e.g., use of cold medicine or a late night out). Do not waiver in your determination to follow the policy steps for obtaining an alcohol or drug test. Don’t be accusatory, judgmental or condescending. Intervene in a proper and prudent manner to prevent an employee from driving home if you suspect he or she has been drinking or using drugs.
Q. I am a recovering alcoholic, and although I have no intention of disclosing it, my employee told me he is going to Alcoholics Anonymous to “try to cut back” on his drinking. He needs medical detoxification, not just AA. Should I say anything? There are no performance issues.
A. No, you should not say anything to your employee. Your experience as a recovering alcoholic does not qualify you to offer unsolicited advice to him. As with any illness, assure your employee that you will provide whatever support you can during this challenging time. Praise him for going to AA, and urge him to make it a top priority. Strongly suggest that he take advantage of the services offered by BJC EAP. If he truly needs detoxification, then it will become clear soon enough as he works closely with other AA members, many of whom understand the role of medical support for addictive disease in the initiation of long-term, successful recovery.
Q. If an employee had an alcohol problem, I think I would know it. That is why I am so surprised that one of my employees was admitted to a detox unit over the weekend. This employee never drinks at work, and his performance is fine. I’m stumped.
A. Many employees with severe alcohol problems may not drink on the job. Instead, they drink after work, on weekends or in the mornings prior to work, or they experience binges you will never witness. Family members do witness such events, however, and a crisis at home may have led to the admission of your employee in this case. Perhaps DUI led to the crisis. Your employee could have perfectly acceptable performance at work yet still have domestic problems caused by alcoholism. Like most people, you understand alcoholism from a limited point of view, because misconception and misinformation about the disease is pervasive. It is easy to decide that anyone who does not fit into that view is without a problem. Don’t respond to your employee with disbelief upon his return. Instead, respond with support.