Coworkers Reeks Of Alcohol

Question:

This coworker brags about being hung over at work. Comes in to work reeking of alcohol — which means he has driven in this impaired state; brags about coming in at 4 a.m.; closing down bars on Thursday nights; then comes to work on Friday. What are my options? I have spoken to management. They tell me there is nothing they can do–that it is not illegal to be hung over.

Signed,

Don’t Like It


Answer:

Dear┬áDon’t Like It:

I assume you are frustrated about Hung Over. From what you say, Hung Over is not a friend and you strongly disapprove of both his coming to work “reeking of alcohol” and of his macho attitude about it. Apparently your complaint to management contained no evidence that Hung Over adversely affected his or your job performance. And lack of that probably is the reason your complaint to management got the “it is not illegal to be hung over” response. You have a couple of overlapping options: 1. Investigate and/or request that management investigate. 2. Confront your coworker. Investigate: Your concern about an alcohol-impaired coworker driving is understandable. Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) undoubtedly would agree with you that drinking, especially heavy-drinking and driving, should be stopped. It is unfortunate that law enforcement doesn’t have the authority and orders to test those who exit bars to learn if they have drunk enough to impair their ability to drive. This country repealed prohibition, and I fear it doesn’t have the will to pass laws that require checks outside bars or random checks those who get behind the wheel. So what options do you have about your coworker coming to work smelling of alcohol and bragging about his drinking? Required and/or random testing of employees for alcohol is only acceptable when the job performance and safety obviously can be hurt by its consumption.

You need to learn what evidence you must have to ask that a coworker should be investigated about his/her use of alcohol. You can consult your company’s policy book and Human Resources/Personnel to learn what is said about abuse of alcohol and of reporting it. A typical example of policy pertaining to alcohol is: Drug and alcohol use on the job is forbidden. Employees who violate the drug & alcohol policy will be terminated. Such a policy might be spelled out in more detail and could include rules against off the job drinking with employees and at company sponsored events. Reporting it calls for caution. You need to learn what are the protocols for requesting an investigation since your complain about a coworker coming to work smelling of alcohol and boasting about drinking met deaf ears.

Large companies often have Employee Assistance Programs that can advise what might be done if an employee is suspected of alcohol use that can impair his/her performance and workplace safety. Gathering and documenting signs of alcohol’s effects on the job are part of an investigation. Evidence of impaired job performance for some jobs might be very difficult to document, just as it is difficult to prove a driver is impaired who obeys the rules of the road.

Confront: You probably have asked your self if you should confront this employee. You have a voice. Should you say anything? Might you prevent an accident by saying, “Sam, I am worried about you coming to work reeking of alcohol. You say you have boozed up into the early morning hours and therefore you gotta’ be on the road coming to work in that a condition. That makes driving dangerous. I’d hate to be on the same road with you. Do you know what I mean?” Such a remark might get a “Mind your own business” response, but even if it does, that could get the topic out in the open. If your tone is sincere, your disapproval is firm, and not preachy, it might plant a seed that can make this fellow to look in the mirror more thoughtfully.

The fact is that you complained about this individual to management. You might be ready to apologize for that. Wouldn’t you want a coworker to come to you about something before she/he complained to management about you? You might want to say, “Sam, I owe you an apology. I told the boss you came to work hung over. You might hate me for that. I should have told you first, but I still think I would have had to report it. You aren’t driving a company truck, but you could still have a costly accident and your license could be suspended for DWI.”

I am interested in what you elect to do? The fact that you are angry enough about the action of your coworker to write us indicates that you are not content to bite your tongue. So hopefully these two options will prompt you to act constructively or to find a more creative way to cope with a coworker is sometimes hung over. If your workgroup had a coach committed to teamwork, she/he would engage you all frequently enough that high job performance was a focus of skull sessions. And if that were the case, the odds are that Sam’s sometimes hung over condition then would not be overlooked. The coach and team members would be on his case in a helpful way. You might share this thought if you elect to speak again to your boss about Sam. Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS, and really isn’t that what you want; for Sam and all of you to have a work environment that is safe, productive, healthy and happy abut working together? The hard fact is that that doesn’t happen without you and others championing doing what it takes to make it real.

William Gorden