What To Do If You Suspect Your Employee is Impaired

If you suspect an employee of impairment in the workplace or someone lets you know they’re under the influence of drugs or alcohol, you may wonder what you can do. After all, you can’t accuse them outright or you could face a slander lawsuit if you’re wrong.

Remember, you need to gather information and investigate before you move forward. Follow these best practices to protect your company, others, and the employee.

Best Practices When You Suspect Intoxication

  • Observe the employee – do they slur their speech, have balance problems, behave erratically or irrationally, or smell like alcohol or marijuana? If you answer yes to one or more of these potential symptoms, find an independent witness such as another supervisor or manager.
  • Ask the witness to observe the employee – if they notice the same behaviors, call the employee into a private area with you and the witness.
  • Discuss your observations – don’t accuse the employee of intoxication. Tell them what you both noticed and ask them to respond. Symptoms might be due to other factors such as stress, lack of sleep, and prescription medications.
  • Offer resources – if your company has an Employee Assistance Program, refer them to it. Counseling often helps people with issues affecting their work, even if they originate outside of the workplace and even if they have nothing to do with drugs and alcohol.
  • Drug-free workplace program – if your company has a program, Florida law demands you send the employee for a drug test if there’s a reasonable suspicion of drug use such as erratic or abnormal behavior, observable phenomena, or someone reported the problem.
  • No drug-free program – ask the employee if you can refer them to a healthcare professional for evaluation. If they refuse, remove them from the workplace and put them on administrative leave with wages and benefits intact.
  • Send them home safely – don’t allow the employee to drive. If they insist, inform them that you’re concerned for their well-being and the well-being of others. Tell them you’ll need to contact the police if they drive home. Ask the employee to send someone to pick them up or send them home in a taxi.
  • Put everything in writing – once they’re gone, record your observations and discussion immediately while it’s fresh in your mind. If you and your witness strongly suspect the person’s intoxicated, include it in your report.
  • Measure your response – If you conclude the employee was in the workplace and under the influence of drugs or alcohol, your response can depend on many factors.
    If the employee admits to addiction to drugs or alcohol, or indicates they need assistance you may decide not to discipline. Instead, you may want to grant leave to the person for rehabilitation, but reserve the right to sever employment following reinstatement based on their pre-leave actions. Otherwise, you could triggers risks under reasonable accommodation mandates and work-related leave laws.
  • Consider the alternatives – you may decide the person is fit to work or you may offer them a final chance to prove themselves. However, you could also decide to discipline or terminate the employee if they’re belligerent, unrepentant and performing poorly.
  • Discuss any decision with legal counsel first – before you proceed and before you decide to allow the person back into the workplace, talk to your legal counsel. They will ensure you meet ADA and state legal obligations.
  • Consider a return to work agreement – if the person did not violate rules or policies and voluntarily raises addiction issues you want the person to sign a return to work agreement. It outlines company expectations including compliance with a drug-free workplace. If the employee fails to meet these standards, it is grounds for termination.

There’s no room for alcohol and recreational drugs in the workplace. Impairment leads to accidents, injuries, and sometimes death. If you suspect an employee’s impaired, follow these best practices to prevent legal issues and further complications.

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