Unread 01-21-2004, 04:08 AM
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Default Drinking during working hours

We have a situation where an employee we hired 2 weeks ago has been suspected of smelling like alcohol by several employees she works with. They have notified the supervisor in that department and she wants to know the best way to approach this employee about the issue. Our employee handbook has a substance abuse policy and states that if there is just cause to believe an employee is violating this policy, he/she will be disciplined. The employee we currently suspect was required to read the manual and sign an acknowledgement form when she was hired that she read it and understands it.

Could someone assist me with the best way to handle this situation? Thanks.
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Unread 01-21-2004, 04:18 AM
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Default RE: Drinking during working hours

We require that at least 2 supervisors or higher personally observe/verify that there is resonable suspicion of substance, in your case alcohol abuse during work hours. If that verification is completed, then we follow our zero tolerance policy and proceed with immediate testing. Under our policy any positive testing leads to termination.
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Unread 01-21-2004, 04:44 AM
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Default RE: Drinking during working hours

This is a new employee. If it was me (our company has a probationary policy), I would fire her. If an ee has to be disciplined within a few weeks of starting, they are going to be problem.
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Unread 01-21-2004, 05:05 AM
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Default RE: Drinking during working hours

Are you in an at-will state? I ask because I remember a recent thread that included a post indicating that the smell of alcohol on a persons breath can occasionally have other causes. I agree with immediate termination if alcohol is being consumed during or right before work. Just be open to the possibility that something else may be going on. We can only hope for that, but my cynicism says it will be alcohol.
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Unread 01-22-2004, 12:43 AM
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Default RE: Drinking during working hours

I would caution you that there are a couple of medical conditions that could make and individuals breath smell like alcohol. Observe behaviors...........don't assume or make personnel decisions on an assumption.
My $0.02 worth.
DJ The Balloonman
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Unread 01-22-2004, 01:11 AM
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Default RE: Drinking during working hours

Am I missing something here? Is there some reason that the supervisor can't bring the employee in and ask her if there is any reason that she would smell of alcohol? The supervisor should tell her that he/she is concerned about the employee's health and that the he/she is aware that there are medical conditions that may cause this aromatic effect. If the employee has such a condition, or claims to, ask for a statement from the doctor for confirmation. If the employee confesses to consuming alcohol during work hours then use your company's substance abuse policy to discipline, terminate, or assist the employee in obtaining help.

Good luck.
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Unread 01-22-2004, 03:22 AM
vmiller MO
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Default RE: Drinking during working hours

Missouri is an at-will state. I assume that you do not have a union contract. Therefore, absent a contractual provision or a contrary staturory provision, you can terminate the individual for a "good reason, a bad reason, or no reason at all, with or without notice." Missouri does recognize the "public policy" exception to the employment at-will doctrine, but that doctrine probably does not apply in this instance. [I hedge because I do not know all of the facts surrounding this situation]. What all of this means is that your action will be judged in accordance with the normal protected class analysis.

With that background, I see no reason why you could not have the person tested. As a policy matter, I always recommend that an employer follow its established policies. I do suggest that you change "just cause" to "reasonable suspicion." There is a difference.

One final thought. I recommend that you follow my "California Doctrine." If you have an opportunity to empower an employee to find a job elsewhere, take it and find an employee who does not give you problems or cause concern. The failure to follow this doctrine, in my experience, has given rise to the application of my second rule of employment--"No good deed goes unpunished."

Good luck.
Vance Miller
Editor, Missouri Employment Law Letter
Armstrong Teasdale LLP
(314) 621-5070
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Unread 01-22-2004, 03:43 AM
ray a
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Default RE: Drinking during working hours

The few times I've dealt with this problem, I did as Balloonman says - observed behaviors. If the supervisor smelled alcohol on someone they were instructed to watch how they walked, how they talked. Was there any change in their performance. I have talked to a couple of people and pointed out our observations and waited for their response. One individual admitted to going home at lunch and drinking a couple of beers. I told him he could not do that. End of problem. The other person admitted to being up to just past midnight the night before, drinking heavily. The alcohol we smelled was left over from that binge drinking, but she claimed she was fine by morning. She was warned that if we believed she may still be under the influence we would follow our policy and send her for a blood alcohol test. I had called our local Drug/Alcohol rehab facility and talked to the director to get some ideas on how to deal with this problem.
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