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Detecting and Investigating Alcohol Problems in the Workplace

Detecting and Investigating Alcohol Problems in the Workplace

Workplace alcohol abuse and alcoholism can cost employers up to $68 billion per year

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Alcohol is the single most used and abused drug in America. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), nearly 14 million Americans (1 in every 13 adults) abuse alcohol or are alcoholics. Several million more adults drink enough to lead to alcohol problems.

Cost of Alcoholism

Studies have defined workplace costs of alcoholism and alcohol abuse up to $68 billion per year! Alcohol is a major factor in injuries, at home, at work, and on the road. In the workplace, the costs of alcoholism are often not obvious but can include absenteeism, which is estimated to be 4 to 8 times greater among alcoholics and alcohol abusers. Accidents and on-the-job injuries are more likely to happen among alcoholics and alcohol abusers, so it is important for you to fully understand and be able to detect the problem.

It is a workplace issue you must address, and you should have an alcohol abuse definition and consequences outlined in your employee handbook.

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Signs of Alcohol Abuse

Signs of alcohol abuse or problems include:

  • Unexplained or unauthorized absences from work
  • Frequent tardiness or excessive use of sick leave, unexplained absences or emergencies.
  • Patterns of absence such as the day after payday or frequent Monday or Friday absences
  • Missed deadlines, careless, sloppy or incomplete work, including excuses for incomplete assignments or missed deadlines
  • Strained relationships with co-workers or the employee acts as a loner
  • Belligerent, argumentative, or short-tempered behavior, especially in the mornings or after weekends or holidays
  • The smell of alcohol, staggering, or an unsteady gait, bloodshot eyes, tremors, or sleeping on duty
  • Mood and behavior changes such as excessive laughter and inappropriate loud talk
  • Excessive use of mouthwash or breath mints
  • Avoidance of supervisory contact, especially after lunch

What to Do About It

Before meeting with the employee, gather any documentation of their performance or conduct problems. Hold the meeting in a private place. Be very specific about the problems in their performance and define particular incidents of concern. Discuss the consequences, including suspension or termination.

Be careful not to offer any opinion on whether or not they have a problem with alcohol. If they deny they have a problem , which they often do, continue to document any incidences and to take any necessary disciplinary action.

Hold additional meetings with the employee and make referrals to treatments to help them. No matter what happens, you still need to hold the employee accountable for their conduct. If they deny treatment, the next step will be to take any disciplinary or corrective actions that are necessary.