Does Your Employee have a Drinking Problem?November 13, 2018
Even the best of us end up with some bad habits, and for some folks the issue is drinking. While drinking in moderation generally doesn’t lead to too many problems, excessive drinking can become a serious problem if left unchecked. This can affect workplace performance even if the employee is relatively sober on the job, but it’s a much larger issue if they’re turning up for work intoxicated and because it can actually put other employees at risk in addition to causing performance-related problems. Indeed, alcohol is the most abused substance in the United States, and so it would come as no surprise that you would potentially have an employee with drinking problems at some point. And it’s not as if you should take any issues with employees drinking at all, especially when it remains one of the most common ways in which employees and clients socialize.
Furthermore, you should try your best to point the employee to alcohol recovery resources.
Sometimes alcoholism is so severe that employees will show up intoxicated, or even try and bring alcohol to work with them. In this case, it’s perfectly within your rights as employer to terminate their employment. In less extreme cases, you should confront them about their behavior or erratic attendance, and indeed it’s true that someone isn’t necessarily visible as an alcoholic. A functional alcoholic is a bit harder to detect, but there are still signs that you can watch out for even if they’re not aware of their problem. These include drinking at any given opportunity, not remembering words or actions, messing up on responsibilities, unexplained absences, personal instability, and grumpiness. Do keep in mind that many people become alcoholics to run away from other issues, and so it’s best to not be excessively preachy or judgmental when dealing with them.
While it might be tempting to fire an alcoholic employee when their drinking issues continue, the fact is that it may not be possible to do so at will if you want to steer clear of legal complications. Both the ADA and FMLA cover alcohol abuse, and so it’s important to understand how these laws look at alcoholism and that you probably won’t be able to just terminate their employment right off the bat. Since alcoholism is a considered a disease by the ADA, the employee in question can only be fired for problematic behavior on the job and not simply for having a drinking problem generally. Furthermore, if an employee proves that their excessive drinking prevents them from performing some of their work-related tasks, then they may be eligible for an accommodation in which they are granted an appropriate leave for rehabilitation. However, you aren’t obliged to keep an employee who relapses or who refuses to utilize alcohol recovery resources. The FMLA further allows an employee up to 12 weeks of unpaid for rehabilitation, but it’s important to note that small businesses have no obligation to adhere by the FMLA as it’s only applicable to businesses with more than 50 employees in a 75-mile radius. And regardless, assaulting other employees or customers while drunk is not covered by any of these laws and it’s well within your rights to terminate them immediately in such cases. Furthermore, any leaves taken must be reasonable and not excessive.
While it’s time consuming and kind of a headache for employers, the best solution for an alcoholic employee who does not harm or endanger others on the job is to give them a chance to rehabilitate themselves. This will keep you out of legal trouble and also saves you the trouble of finding and training a new employee for the position, and of course some alcoholics can manage their condition. Furthermore, you shouldn’t be overly moralistic and judge an employee for having a problem, since everyone goes through a bad time at some point in their life