Have you been drinking?

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Recently I was asked by an employer what and how should they handle a situation when an employee turns up at work smelling of alcohol? Was this a dismissible offence or one that was best treated as an illness?

The answer is it could be either.

Ultimately, it depends on the facts. Where there is a clear company policy on alcohol abuse or the disciplinary policy states that operating machinery at work under the influence of alcohol is considered Gross Misconduct makes the company position on the matter clear.

However, where there are shades of grey is when the employee comes into work and someone suspects they have been drinking, or can smell alcohol on them. This is when investigations with care and sensitivity should take place.

Keep a note of when and how often the individual has smelt of alcohol; Monitor their behaviour, is it out of character, is their performance suffering; Bring the matter up with the individual in private and ask them if they can offer an explanation; Remember that only a medical expert can diagnose the problem so refer to them, whether this is a GP or an Occupational Health Advisor.

If an employee should turn up to work and there is strong suspicion that they are under the influence, arrange for them to be taken home as they may not be fit to drive themselves home. The employer has a duty of care towards the employee which extends to such scenarios. Remember to also consider your other employees as their health and safety could also be compromised by an employee on the premises who is under the influence. It is a fine balancing act but a good place to start is having a clear policy on alcohol and other substance abuse within the Company Handbook which leaves employees in no doubt.

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