Unread 03-06-2008, 10:02 AM
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Default Drinking alcohol while at Work

We suspect an employee has been drinking at work. Others in the office have smelled alcohol on her breath in the last few weeks, and today an open bottle of beer was discovered in the Women's washroom. The likelyhood that this individual in question is the one drinking the beer is great as there are only 2 other women that work for the company.

This employee was recently brought on board from part-time to full-time and is still in a 90-day probationary period. She has divulged a lot of personal information about herself to others including her recent DUI arrest and having to attend AA meetings. Apparently she has also shared stories that are very disturbing to the 2 other women in the office and they are now frightened of her. They are also concerned that this individual will confront them since one of them obviously told the manager about finding the beer bottle.

So, in addition to the situation of this employee suspected of drinking alcohol, we also have others who are afraid to work with her.

I'm not sure how to approach this. I know we must confront this individual and ask her if the beer belongs to her and if she has been drinking while at work. We have a policy that would allow for immediate dismissal without warning for possession of alcohol readily available for consumption , consumption of alcohol and being impaired by alcohol. We do not however, have a "random" drug/alchol testing policy. We only test new hires and employees with work injuries.

If this individual denies drinking on company property and that the beer belonged to her, how should we proceed?

Sorry, this got lengthy. Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated.
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Unread 03-07-2008, 01:49 AM
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Default RE: Drinking alcohol while at Work

You have a situation that can be very risky, but I think you can resolve it quickly without consideration for so much hearsay evidence (you seem to have a lot).

Stick to the simplest set of facts you have, and that is that the worker is in a probationary period. Not sure if you state is at-will or if there are limitations on your ability to let the person without cause, but I would investigate that and use that option, especially if your probationary period is well published in your company's policies.

As a separate action and in the event it might turn up something, you can certainly interrogate all three women about the beer, because it was found in the ladies' room, but if all three deny knowledge of anything except seeing the can and possibly retrieving the can to delivery to mgmt, I'm not sure your investigation will get you anywhere. Inherently, there will be a couple of problems with the questionning: unless someone reliable saw her put it there, you will need a confession; the presence of a can does not imply 'drinking at work,' a blood alcohol test would be required to prove any level intoxication or the presence of alcohol. The test would probably be based on reasonable suspicion, and unless everyone is tested, you should have two supervisors document that there was a change in this person's performance before targeting only her with the test.

I'm curious to hear from other posters and ultimately how you resolve your issue.

best wishes.
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Unread 03-07-2008, 10:16 AM
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Default RE: Drinking alcohol while at Work

I would ask all three women, individually, if any of them left the beer in the bathroom. Assuming they all deny it, I would remind them that drinking on the job is a dismissable offense. I would also inform the one you suspect , that there have been reports of alcohol on her breath. I would let her know that reporting to work with alcohol, or for that matter any offensive oder, on her breath or person is inappropriate. If she truly has a drinking problem, she will probably provide you other opportunities to dismiss her.
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Unread 03-10-2008, 05:45 AM
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Default RE: Drinking alcohol while at Work

Ok, here's the update on this situation - still unsure how to proceed...

Word got out in the office (small office) that a beer bottle was discovered in the women's washroom. The likely suspect approached one of our managers and confronted him that she knows everyone thinks it belongs to her. She strongly denies it.

All 3 women deny it belongs to them. Digging into this situation, there also exists the possibility that it could belong to the cleaning crew that comes in at night twice a week.

With so much ambuiguity, we are not going to pursue any further. Document the discovery of the beer bottle and put it away in our case file. We'll send out a memo to all employees about Company policy on alcohol and leave it at that.

The other matter is that the manager has told me that the other 2 women are frightened of this individual (the one originally suspected of drinking). I am back to considering letting this person go for not passing the probation period. The Manager was going to rate this individual high and does not want to let this person go. The other Manager in the office continues to hold his position in saying that 2 women (including himself) feel this person is unstable and they fear her. I am currently conducting an investigation and will be talking to both women to find out if they have fears/concerns.

I have been in contact with the top Manager (not on location) and he wants to know if we can place this individual on another 90-day probation. I have never done that and am unsure if we can. On what basis would we do this?

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Unread 03-10-2008, 06:10 AM
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Default RE: Drinking alcohol while at Work

I think your actions as far as the beer bottle go are correct.

I also believe you are on the right course as far as your concerns and the investigation goes. You do not want your other employees complaining of a hostile work environment (remote but possible). You need to know if she has threatened other employees. If she has, the manager who wants to keep her will just have to adjust. However, it doesn't seem right to fire someone just because others don't like her or make assumptions that she is dangerous because she is different. You need to know what is going on. If there is no basis, you will have to step in and tell your employees to grow up.

We do not have a 'probation' period. We have an 'introductory' period. However, we also have an extended 'introductory' period. The idea is that if an employee had some emergency and was unable to complete their training in time, we would not automatically disqualify them. We have considered using it for slow learners too. However, generally speaking, if they haven't cut it by 90 days they are not going to. Trying to put a square peg in a round hole is a waste of time.

If it is not in your policies, how would you justify another 90-day probation? That sounds similar to having an employee on a last chance agreement. To do that, you have to have something solid to hang your hat on. Unless you uncover something in your investigation, it doesn't sound as if you have anything solid at all. Besides, you could be setting yourself up to give every new employee an extra 90 days or be charged sometime with discrimination.

It is hard to judge without all the facts. Can you finish your investigation before her 90 days are up? If your policies do not allow for additional 90 day probation periods, I would go ahead and let her go. Even hard workers can be more trouble than they are worth if all they do is stir up trouble with other employees.

Good luck. I think you are going to need it.

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Unread 03-10-2008, 08:44 AM
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Default RE: Drinking alcohol while at Work

Agree with Nae. Sounds like you are taking appropriate steps at this point as far as the beer bottle is concerned. You tried, didn't get a confession, and you have no evidence that clearly shows who put the bottle in the restroom.

Also, agree that you should confirm quickly if there is any sort of hostile work environment going on, whether the suspect has threatened or intimidated anyone, or whether she has been threatened or intimidated. (Who knows? If you ever got to the facts of the bottle, it could be someone other than the suspect intentionally trying to make the suspect look bad.) Try to get that investigation done as quickly as possible, and remain objective. Sounds like there is a lot of focus on this issue right now in your office, fairly common in small offices.

Finally, you should turn a deaf ear to the manager who is trying to keep her on until you get your investigation done, unless the manager has critical first-hand experience or evidence. Otherwise, you are allowing one person's opinion (may or may not be reliable) to shadow a fairly serious situation (that has nothing to do with job performance) with job performance or his perception of job performance.

As for the extended probationary period, the basis is that you actually have probationary periods in your policy and consistently use them. If so, ensure that you have a policy (and past practice) that allows for extensions. We do, but the circumstances for an extension are limited. Typically, an extension would be based on a specific task or characteristic that the new employee has not performed adequately. You might retrain and give an extension with a clear message to the employee that the chips will be up when that period ends.

You're in one of situations that seems really tight right now. My gut instinct is that you have an underlying negative current of personality clash or general dislike between your existing workers and this new worker. If that is true, like Nae referenced, that is not necessarily grounds to discharge the one who is not liked. Not only have you not been fair, but you are in a tail-wag-the-dog situation in that you have allowed a small group of workers to manage your job for you.

best wishes. I think you need it as well.
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