Do I Smell Alcohol On Your Breath?
Richard P. Dacri
In this tight labor market where finding good
workers--and often finding and maintaining any workers is a difficult
task, employers are sometimes tempted to look the other way when
problems with their employees begin to surface. It is so much easier to
hope that it will go away and be better tomorrow.
So what should an employer do when they think that
one of their employees--maybe one of their better employees, may have a
drinking problem, particularly when the only “evidence” that they have
is the smell of alcohol on their breath?
The problem of alcohol and substance abuse in the
workplace is prevalent today. According to U.S. Department of Labor
reports, 71% of all illegal drug users are employed. This translates
into a problem that nearly every employer must address, and the costs
associated with this is staggering. Studies show that those who abuse
drugs or alcohol are less likely to come to work, have lower
productivity, increased errors, use their medical benefits at a higher
level than other employees, and file more workers’ compensation claims.
The National Council on Compensation Insurance
estimates that as much as 50 percent of workers’ compensation claims
are related to drug and alcohol abuse. In addition, drug abusers use
their medical benefits at rate of 8 times higher than non-users.
So what can employers do? How should they address
this workplace problem?
If substance abuse is contributing to an
employee’s deteriorating performance, ignoring the situation won’t
help. It will likely only get worse and have costly--and possibly
disastrous--consequences for everyone unless some action is taken.
Clinical diagnosis of an alcohol or other drug
problem however is not the job of the supervisor, but work performance
is. A key part of every supervisor’s job is to remain alert to changes
in employee performance and to work with employees who are having
problems so that performance improves.
When an employee’s performance begins to
deteriorate, for whatever reason, the supervisor has the right and
responsibility to intervene. The supervisor does not need to be an
expert on alcohol or other drugs to intervene appropriately if
substance abuse is suspected since the intervention should always be
focused on the performance problem.
From an organizational strategy, employers have
many options to combat this problem. All employers should establish and
enforce policies prohibiting alcohol and drugs in the workplace.
Supervisors must be trained in both understanding the signs of
substance abuse and in addressing performance-based issues. Employees
should understand that the company will not tolerate alcohol or drugs
in the workplace, but will provide help for those who truly want and
need it. Employers may also want to implement drug and alcohol testing,
but only after consultation with their corporate attorney. And finally,
the use of an employee assistance program to support the organization
and problem employees can also prove invaluable.
The problems of drugs and alcohol in the workplace
are not going to go away any time soon, but employers do have the
ability to ensure that their workforce is both productive and safe.
Rick Dacri is a human resource
consultant, featured speaker at regional and national conferences, and
author of the book “Uncomplicating Management: Focus On Your Stars
& Your Company Will Soar.” Since 1995 his firm, Dacri &
Associates has helped organizations improve individual and
organizational performance. Rick connects with people in a positive and
challenging way to offer practical solutions. He can be reached at
207-967-0837, or via email at