How to Deal with an Alcoholic Employee

Have you ever asked yourself how to deal with an alcoholic employee?

Before reading on, watch this…

Despite stereotypes of alcoholics and addicts as being unemployable, alcohol and drug dependence is surprisingly rampant in the workplace.

Said to affect an estimated 10 to 15 percent of the Canadian population, how could it be otherwise when the unemployment rate is half that!

That means you are likely at some point in your entrepreneurial or management career, to have to dealt with an alcoholic employee.

Perhaps you already are.

What Alcoholism Is And What It Is Not: The Abridged Version

Alcoholism is a disease with genetic, psychological, and environmental facets.

Without treatment, alcoholism can be fatal.

It’s far more than a behavioural or work ethic issue! Of course, a person struggling with alcoholism is not going to give you their best at work, but it’s important to recognize that they are struggling with what is characterized as a mental disorder, rather than merely acting irresponsibly.

The lack of control a drug dependent person has over their behaviour and their distorted thinking and actions, even in the face of negative consequences, is what characterizes the disease.

In the workplace, alcohol and drug abuse can cause:

  • Lost productivity
  • Health care costs
  • Absenteeism
  • On-the-job injuries
  • Poor judgment
  • Lost revenues

In order to break the cycle, supervisors, managers and HR personnel need to know about alcoholism, recognize it when they see it, and support the employee in getting treatment.

Your Concerns as An Employer of an Alcoholic Are Legitimate

While most, if not all, employers take the attitude that what an employee does on their time is their business, when it comes to alcoholism and drug dependence, there is usually overlap between personal time and work time.

Eventually, if left unchecked, an alcohol or drug habit will affect the employee’s ability to come to work, perform his or her duties, follow safety protocols, and maintain a professional code of conduct. Action can and should be taken.

Remember to keep these points in mind:

  • Your role is to appraise employee performance, not to pass judgment or diagnose someone with a drug problem.
  • You can and should take disciplinary action related to problems with performance and conduct, just as you would with any other employee.
  • You can and should refer employees to your agency’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP) to get the help they need.

It is key to remember that all discussions with the alcoholic employee should come back to performance based issues, irrespective of the addiction.

You don’t have to disclose your suspicions about an alcohol problem.

Conversely, if the employee is open about being alcoholic, you still need to hold them accountable based on behaviour.

Make the alcoholic aware of company policies and how they have been violated. Make it clear that he or she must improve performance and conduct, or face serious consequences, including termination.

Make Employee Alcoholism Help Available

Of course, since alcoholism is a disease, you can’t simply deliver an employee the ultimatum to shape up or ship out without providing assistance.

The best option is to refer the employee to your Employee Assistance Program, which can offer assessment, counselling and referral services to those struggling with all kinds of problems, including drug abuse.

The EAP will also monitor your employee’s progress and set up defined structures for him or her to follow.

With permission of the employee, they’ll also keep you apprised of how the employee is responding to treatment and provide follow up care.

If you’re not sure how to initially address your concerns, speak with your company’s EAP representative first; they are there to help. But not every company has an EAP.

Please feel free to contact us should you be concerned for a staff member or fellow employee. Our programs have helped people struggling with addiction regain their good standing in the workplace for over 40 years.

About the Authors

Renascent Staff
The staff at Renascent is passionate about helping people with substance addictions so they can reach their full recovery – with compassion, respect, empathy and understanding. Our staff includes our counsellors, all of whom have lived experience of addiction and recovery.

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