Boss drinks before work and on lunch break

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about alcoholic boss:

I work for a retail store in a small town. We have a sense of family here and this isn’t always a good thing in the work place. Our store as a whole has broken many corporate policies regarding social gatherings and special consideration for employees over customers.I believe that due to this relaxed work environment we give each other much more room to bend or even break rules than is beneficial to us or our company as a whole.

The biggest problem is my boss. I believe she is an alcoholic. I have smelled alcohol on her breath and she has trouble showing up to work when scheduled.  Everyone knows and recently the problem has gotten so out of control that we have been unable to reach her when she is needed. The responsibility falls on our assistant manager and sales leads to pick up the slack, which they are not always prepared to do.

I, along with at least one other employee voiced our concerns to our regional manager. An investigation followed and somehow our assistant manager was fired, not our boss. I have smelled alcohol on two occasions since the investigation. I do not feel comfortable reporting to my regional manager again. I do not think the situation was handled properly though I am not aware of all the facts raised during the investigation. I was asked to report anything suspicious, but am also required to provide specific details about my boss’ behavior when reporting anything. I have been with the company for about a year. If I had seen obvious signs of drug or alcohol abuse sooner, it would be easy to report my findings in a clear manner. But the behaviors my coworkers and I have witnessed are at best peculiar and puzzling. The only thing we have to go on is the smell on our bosses breath. I was told that this could be caused by a number of things. I am so frustrated that I want to leave my job. I did not sign up for this. If only my boss had shown up smelling of liquor at my interview, I never would have started working there.

I have grown to truly enjoy my job and I have a family to support. I just don’t know how our workplace can be shaped up with an alcoholic boss that is not reprimanded, a hesitant regional manager, and the only authority figure that cares to do anything to improve the state of our store (our assistant manager) recently fired.What to do? I’m not sure I can easily find another job in this economically depressed area. Feeling Defeated…


Dear Concerned:

The issue to focus on is not whether or not your boss is an alcoholic, but that work is not being handled correctly and you, others and the overall business, are suffering because of it. If you can’t point to any harm being done to the business, you are not likely to get a response about it that changes anything. If you have been a steady and dependable employee, I wouldn’t think you will be fired for bringing concerns to someone’s attention. If your company is large enough to have a regional manager, it also has other managers and an HR section. No one wants to see the business suffer.Apparently you now have a new assistant manager and perhaps you can talk to that person about the situation. But always the key is, “What is being harmed by the situation?”So, if the smell of alcohol is offensive and distracting for you, that is something you can mention, as you would mention any other personal situation. But, you will have a much stronger case if you can show that some part of the work was not done or not done well, because the manager didn’t do it.

Let those who investigate it decide whether that lapse was caused by alcoholism, drug use, mental problems or whatever. If you try to reach the manager and she can’t be contacted, maybe the task should be delayed until she is available. Stop covering for her and see what happens. You say you’re not prepared to do the work she doesn’t do. That would be the thing to talk to the regional manager about. If the regional manager refuses to listen, perhaps you need to go higher. Or, as Dr. Gorden says, “vote with your feet” and quit–making sure you tell the highest level possible why you are doing it.But, if you plan on doing that, why not tell the highest level possible NOW and see what happens? The key is to have a valid complaint about a business matter and be able to prove it, not just to allege an alcohol or drug problem, unless you can prove there is something illegal or unsafe happening.If sales are doing fine and no one is leaving, higher levels have no reason to make a replacement. But if many employees complain and there is an affect on work, that would make a difference.

If you know the manager well enough by now, maybe you can simply say to her,”Mary, I know you’re the manager here. But I’m worried about your health and about the business. You smell like alcohol and you weren’t here when we needed you. What is going on???” Or, maybe several of the employees can ask to talk to her and say those kinds of pointed remarks.Whatever approach was used before apparently was not helpful. And apparently the assistant manager did or did not do something that justified firing her. Or, the company is so poorly managed that they fired her for no reason, in which case it wouldn’t be a good place to work anyway! Unfortunately, there are no easy solutions to these problems, but generally in business the bottom line of profits and efficiency is the best way to get the attention of higher management. Best wishes as you work to find a solution. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what happens. Your experience may be helpful to others.

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.