How do I confront drunk staff?

24 April, 2009

Q I am concerned that the manager of one of my stores is rather too fond of the products we sell. One or two times I suspect he has been drunk on the job – not staggering, slurring drunk, but enough for me to notice. How should I confront him????A Try not to “confront” him?. Accusing an employee of being an alcohol abuser is serious and you won’t have any way? of proving your claims at this stage.

Start? with a friendly chat. We all like a drink in this business, you could begin – does the employee ever think he has one too many? Most people will deny this, either because it’s not true or because they’re desperate to keep their drinking habits private. The conversation at this stage is really just to open the lines of communication.

If the employee does make any kind of admission, simply remind him that you expect high professional standards and you’re sure there won’t be a repeat performance. If the employee admits to having a problem, be as sympathetic as possible and ask if there’s any help you can provide. Genuine alcoholics really don’t have a long-term future as off-licence managers, but people who want to nip a problem in the bud can seek expert counselling. You might not be in a position to fund this, but you may be able to allow some time off.

More and more businesses are introducing alcohol policies in the workplace. Equipment is available to test the breath or saliva of employees for alcohol, but this can only be done if it’s enshrined in a mutually agreed contract – and even then random testing can be regarded as a breach of trust and result in claims for constructive dismissal.

Alcohol testing is clearly an important procedure in dangerous occupations but has some obvious drawbacks in a profession which involves routine tasting. You’re better off having a simple clause in employee contracts, requiring moderation and sobriety on the job, but not a zero-tolerance approach.

If your employee continues to give you problems, you may have to go down the disciplinary path on straightforward misconduct terms – for example, if you felt he was rude to customers or uncooperative towards you – rather than to make overt and ultimately impossible to prove claims about his drinking habits.

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