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18th May 2015

What should I do if an employee smells of alcohol at work?

What should I do if an employee smells of alcohol at workA recent survey has found that four fifths (85 per cent) of the 2,600 people that were polled have been drunk in the workplace in the last year. 31per cent admitted to being drunk at work, or having their capacity to work diminished through alcohol, at least once a week. Fortunately for us, these figures show that employees in public facing jobs in particular and retail were more likely to stay sober. This was music to my ears.

Although it did raise a question to me. How would you deal with an employee that came into work smelling of alcohol?

Delicate situation

This might be a delicate situation which could affect the service you are providing. I would suggest that it is approached with discretion directly with the individual.

The first rule here is remember, they may smell of alcohol but it doesn’t mean they have been drinking at work or are under the influence of alcohol. The smell could be from the night before, I have heard of an instance where an employee had a certain prescription which had a side effect which smelt very much like alcohol!

The QCS Alcohol and Drugs Policy and Procedure provides invaluable guidance on identifying where a problem exists.

Hints and tips

In our sector, I see the tolerance of alcohol in the workplace as zero and should individuals choose to ignore this, then unfortunately they are responsible for the consequences of their action. But before you start any discussions with employees making with allegations have a look at these hints and tips:

  • Do you have a policy relating to alcohol in the workplace? It is important to safeguard yourself, your employees and your clients.
  • Ensure that this policy is communicated to all staff and how you, as the employer expect your employees to operate. If you plan to adopt a zero tolerance policy towards alcohol then make it clear.
  • If an employee is regularly attending work with a smell of alcohol, keep an accurate record of the instances. The fact that an individual may smell of alcohol isn’t enough to discipline someone.
  • If you have anxiety about an individual's ability to, for example, drive or offer care to an individual, you are in a better place to do something about this. Ask yourself the question, ‘what are your grounds for your belief?’ and have a genuine concern before taking any action.
  • If it continues, speak to the employee in private. There is usually an underlying reason if they are drinking excessively out of work.
  • Disciplinary action, including dismissal, may be appropriate. But where an employee has an addiction this is, in effect, an illness. Where the illness is admitted it should be treated confidentially and in a non-judgmental manner.
  • The QCS policy provides further guidance on intervention, and also on possible responses where the employee undergoes treatment for addiction.

Obviously, it’s an individual's personal business should they choose to drink alcohol. But, should the use of alcohol start to affect the employee's ability and proper performance of their duties, action needs to be taken.

Anita Manfredi of Employer Solutions – QCS HR Expert Contributor

Topics: Human Resources

Sarah Riley

Senior Customer Care Executive

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