False Accusation About Being Drunk

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about being drunk on the job:

I work in a bar and have been accused of being drunk during my shift. This was not the case and I have customers and staff that can verify that.The report was made by a customer and I was immediately questioned and reprimanded for this without anyone else (including the other member of staff working that evening) being asked whether this was true. Can they do this? Surely if more than one person is willing to defend me by confirming that I was not, they cannot reprimand me for it. Shouldn’t they have asked the question before automatically believing it was true?

Signed, Angry

Dear Angry:

The short answer is that there are no laws that require an employer, especially a small employer, to conduct an investigation about most issues (the exceptions being EEO related complaints). However, good management policies and good employee-retention policies, would indicate that a complaint should be either proven, disproved or at least an effort made to find out the exact truth, before the employee is reprimanded verbally or in writing about it. I’m assuming your reprimand was verbal and primarily consisted of telling you that you’d better not be drunk and if you were, don’t do that again.

However, it seems odd that someone would just make a statement like that for no reason. So, if the reprimand was about behavior that led someone to think you were drunk, that might be different. For example, if you were acting in a way that gave the appearance that you were out of control or if you had a stale alcohol smell on your breath, or if you had, in fact, had a drink even though you weren’t drunk, your supervisor may have felt that you should be reprimanded for those things even though you weren’t drunk. (I’m not saying those things were the case, just speculating about what would lead someone to make such a complaint without any reason in their mind for it.) I can see why you are upset about it though.

No one likes to have someone word taken over their own. It sounds as though you and your manager don’t have the kind of relationship where he or she would know you better than that.So, if you think there would be any point in it, consider these potential actions:

1. Ask those who were witnesses to write a note to your manager in which they state the facts in your defense. Or, ask them to talk to the manager and tell him or her what happened.
2. Write a short note to the manager and say how disappointed you were that you were not believed but a stranger was. You might want to ask that it be investigated further by talking to the other employees. Say that you don’t want a reprimand to be part of your work history there and you feel it is only fair that the truth be known. If you have a personnel folder, ask that your statement and the witness information about it be placed in the folder in case it is reviewed by others.
3. If there is a manager above your manager and you think you aren’t getting anywhere at the lower level, you may want to talk to that manager about it. That might be problematic in your workplace, so you’d want to consider it carefully.

4. Think about the level of reprimand you received. If it was very mild, you may want to talk to the manager one more time and say that you were not guilty of the actions complained about and you hope you can move forward without that being held against you. If the reprimand included a warning about the loss of your job, you may want to push it a bit more, by sending a memo to the appropriate person (the manager, higher, or HR or some other part of the business) and list the witness names and what they will testify about, asking for at least a chance to clear your name.If you like your job and want to stay there, you may find you will have to put this behind you and show through your actions in the future that you are a great employee they want to keep. It will be awkward for awhile because you’ll feel differently about your manager. But, if you can do it, this will be forgotten over time.The main thing is to let it be forgotten, and don’t talk about it excessively to others at work. That will keep the rumors alive and will get back to your manager. If others mention it, ask them to speak up for you to the manager, but other than that, don’t spend time talking about it. Just focus on work and getting compliments to offset this situation.Best wishes to you!

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.