3 Huge Mistakes When Spotting Workplace Alcohol Abuse…And How To Avoid Them

Did you know that 47% of all industrial workplace accidents are alcohol related?  That’s what Occupational Safety and Health Magazine says….

We regularly hold supervisor training classes that help supervisors determine “reasonable suspicion.”  Meaning….”is that guy loaded?”  Today, I’d like to focus on one of the biggest mistakes people make when trying to determine if someone is drunk on the job.

Here are the 3 biggest mistakes we see supervisors (or small business owners) make when trying to determine reasonable suspicion for alcohol:

1 – Assuming your company leaders know what to do and what to say if they encounter someone who is drinking on the job or “workplace alcohol abuse”.

It’s astonishing to me how some very smart people are completely unaware of the signs and symptoms of alcohol abuse.  It’s more prevalent with people who do not drink themselves.  If someone doesn’t have much experience with alcohol, they are less likely to know the symptoms, or recognize the symptoms once they see them, if they don’t experience it for themselves.

I’m definitely not suggesting you take all your company leaders and force them to drink…but if you do…I’m sure that would lead to some great stories.  Instead, I suggest that you have regular (yearly or every other year) training on the signs and symptoms of someone who is under the influence.

In addition to recognizing the signs and symptoms, most people have  no idea on how to approach this issue and they are usually more scared that they might be wrong than they are scared that sometime bad might happen as a result of the drunk employee.

 If your company has people working in safety sensitive positions and you depend on managers of different levels to assure their safety on the job, then you need to understand that it won’t be a matter of “if” someone ever comes to work drunk…it will be “when” someone comes to work drunk.  Give your leaders the tools to handle this appropriately and make sure you visit reasonable suspicion training yearly or bi-annually.

2 – Supervisors often put off confronting employees with alcohol issues because they believe they know the employee’s character.

“John Smith” would never come to work drunk, I know him and he would never do that to us.  Substance abuse will mess with someone’s character.  “John Smith”, when sober, is probably a great man.  However, when people are plagued with substance abuse issues, character often leaves with their sobriety.

If an employee is showing the signs and symptoms of being intoxicated and they are in a safety sensitive position, it needs to be explored further.  It does not matter if your employee goes to church, or is a big “family man”.  Alcoholism doesn’t discriminate.  Regardless of who you’re dealing with, workplace alcohol abuse can impact many people.  You should understand that when someone is dealing with an addiction to alcohol, their character is generally compromised.  If their drinking is out of control, they stop making decisions based on morals or logic and they start making decisions based on how to get their next drink.

Additionally, when businesses are dealing with people who show signs of intoxication, every case should be treated as similarly as possible.   If your company decides to ignore the signs on “John Smith” because you like him…but “Dave Jones” shows the same signs and is terminated.  “Dave Jones” could have a good case for being profiled or picked on.

You should always look deeper into cases where there are 2 or more signs and symptoms of alcohol use regardless of what your opinion of the employee is.  Then, be sure to document all the specific signs that lead you to suspect intoxication or a safety concern.

3 – Supervisors sometimes like to interview the suspected employee and ask them if they’ve been drinking.

I’ve seen these conversations go down.  Rarely does anyone fess up and say…”Heck ya!  I’ve been drinking up a storm!”  Once you ask someone a question where they can simply answer “No.”, your conversation will start to focus on whether you believe them or not.  You will not be given further evidence as to if they’ve been drinking or not.

Instead, if you feel that you need to speak to the person you suspect is drinking, you should attempt to speak with them in a private area.  The best case scenario would be in a closed in area where it’s easier to smell the person’s breath or clothing.  Then, when you talk with them, you should simply ask about their workday and the job.  The purpose of this interview should be to verify signs and symptoms that have been reported.  Once you believe you have verified that they symptoms reported are accurate, you then let them know of the specific symptoms you are witnessing and let them know that they will need to submit to a reasonable suspicion alcohol test (and drug test) based on the 2 or more signs that you see.

At this point, if the employee denies being drunk, you can simply thank them and let them know that you believe them and that the testing process will prove what they are saying is true.

Click here to see how Lobdock can help you save money and headaches with proper implementation of drug testing policies that are smart, efficient, and effective.  Or call us at 1-855-753-7843!

About the Author Susan Lobsinger

Susan is founder and President of Lobdock Impairment Detection, a full-service, mobile drug testing and contractor compliance management provider. Lobdock provides safety managers with the objective data they need to make safety decisions that make a difference in the lives, safety, and health of their employees who work in safety sensitive positions.

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