How to Deal with an Alcoholic Employee

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.

Perspective: Moving Out of the Fog

Perspective: Moving Out of the Fog

by Ian S.

Eight years ago I was the manager of a bar in Toronto. One night I got off early with a co-worker and took a cab to an after-hours club. I did a hit of ecstasy, and went out for a cigarette. I argued to get back in the club and that’s the last I remember. I was beaten into a coma. My next memory was waking up a month later and thinking I was late for work. I had severe brain injury.

I was in a fog. I tried to return to work, but I couldn’t do it. I was fired and moved in with my brother. It was a rough time. My sister helped me to get disability benefits. Since the brain injury, I can only think about one thing at a time. I have to take things slower, step by step. Before my injury, everything was fast. You have to serve drinks quickly and think about more than one thing at a time. Now if I have to do something I need to plan it out and take it one step at a time. If I look at the whole picture at once, it’s too much to digest. Everything is one step at a time.

After I got fired I had nothing to do, and I drank and ate. I used to drink daily at work, but I was functioning. After the assault I occasionally worked for my brother, but every bit of money I made went to drink. Eventually, someone recommended a neuropsychiatrist. He suggested that I come to CHIRS (Community Head Injury Resource Services) for SUBI (Substance Use and Brain Injury). I was very reluctant, because I hadn’t liked group meetings in the past. The meetings were only six or seven people — not fifty or sixty like I had attended before my injury and failed. Before my injury, I went because my girlfriend had given me an ultimatum. I wasn’t going for myself.

I came to CHIRS and I enjoyed the group meetings. Luckily, the small group of people was made up of people I enjoyed. I had moved out of my brother’s place and got an apartment, but I was very lonely. Apart from helping with my addiction, it was a place to go where people were listening to me. I got busy with other things too. I took a course to learn about my brain injury. I started to do more than lying in bed and watching TV. I started a volunteer job with a group that helps autistic kids with horseback riding. Before I was always talking and thinking about myself. Now I actually had an opportunity to give back and it created a good feeling.

I started to realize that nothing good had ever come from drinking. All my relationships were gone. Some good friends too. I didn’t like what marijuana did for me either.

What helped the most was the instruction, the counsellors. A fellow called David was really good. He told me, “Sometimes the hardest thing to do is put our shoes on. Make your bed. One step at a time, never mind one day a time.” He was telling us that it’s important to starting your day fresh. It’s true, it starts with the little things.

Now I’m a crossing guard. I enjoy the freshness that the kids have. Their bright faces in the morning wears off on me a bit. A good way to start the day—with the kids. It energizes me. My life was repetitive. Kids are in awe of everything. It gives me hope to see how the kids see the world. You can never go back again, but it reminds me that you shouldn’t take things for granted – that every day is a new day with potential.

The AA meetings give me a whole new influx of people. The AA at CHIRS helped me to get started. Less than six months ago, I wouldn’t have said that. The idea of higher power was difficult for me. But it doesn’t have to be religion. I have been told that the meetings themselves can be the higher power, and I tend to believe that. I’m not religious. I enjoy the fellowship. A lot of them are quality people. It bridges the gap of loneliness. It’s good to have a conversation. You get the acceptance without judgement. In closed meetings in particular, you can speak a bit, and no one interrupts you and no one judges you. It’s an outlet. People listen and you leave feeling that a void has been filled.

Thinking about it, honesty is the higher power. I’m thankful to be alive.

I see people who are worse off than me I feel thankful. People are trying to be as positive as possible and the honesty is very refreshing. They open up to stranger. I have a brain injury, and figuring out how to live after that was a real problem. My recovery from substance abuse was really about learning to live again, after a brain injury and without drugs.

Finding Your Calling

Finding Your Calling

by Dan Joseph

Although I cover a wide range of issues in my counselling practice, there is one aspect that dominates my new-client inquiries: requests for help with careers.

For many of us, our work is a major part of our lives — and it exerts a profound effect on our emotions and relationships. Forty hours engaged in anything each week will have an impact on our experience of life.

Some of my career counselling clients are seeking a job. However, most already have work that they find it unfulfilling. They are spending their lives engaged in activities that feel empty. They want to use their gifts in a way that yields a greater sense of purpose.

With these clients, I usually run through common career counselling methods at first — assessment of interests, discussion of new options, assistance in writing cover letters and resumes. But with most people, I find that I need to take a deeper approach.

When a person feels like a round peg in a square career hole, it is tempting to believe that the answer lies in simply finding a better job or a new career. But I have seen people bounce from one job to another (or from one career to another) all the while continuing to feel mismatched.

As time goes on, I’m becoming convinced that the real answer to career issues lies in discovering our true purpose here — our calling. This is an inner discovery, not a worldly search.

And what is this calling? Ultimately, you could say, our calling is to discover who we really are.

Finding the Gifts

Most of us see ourselves as little people on a big planet — separate individuals competing with other individuals to get our needs met. There is a pie out there, and we need to get a bigger or better slice of it.

The whole world is designed to support this perception. Life seems to pass us by, with what we have always at risk of slipping away. We need to continually strive to get and keep the things that keep us safe. Compete, acquire, protect — this is how many people see their work lives.

But I find that the secret of career success is to shift our perception. Instead of seeing ourselves as limited creatures in need of a better situation, we can see ourselves as inspired, gifted beings empowered to improve every situation we find ourselves in.

In my practice, I frequently find myself having a conversation like this:

“I hate my job,” says my client.
“What do you hate about it?” I ask.
“Everyone is rude where I work.”
“Yeah. Everyone is mean. It’s a terrible place to work.”
“Do you think you could improve things a little?”
“Improve? In what way?”
“You seem like a kind-hearted person. Could you bring some of that kindness into your workplace?”
“Why should I have to do that? I just want to get out of there.”
“Don’t you think that your experience of work might improve if you bring some of your kindness into your office?”
“Nah, I just want out. I want to find something better.”

What that person isn’t realizing is that he’s missing an opportunity to solve his problem at the core. He feels powerless, at the mercy of his company culture. But he actually possesses a remarkable inner power — a power that can be accessed by pouring forth his gifts into the world.

As this person learns to access his spiritual gifts, and share them with the world, he will see them expand. He will increasingly access his wise mind, and will experience greater clarity and peace.

Solutions to problems will become more apparent. His vision will become clearer. He will gain greater levels of understanding. And of course, he may feel inspired to pursue new job or career opportunities — but he will be doing so from a place of inspiration.

I believe that finding our gifts within, and allowing them to flow into the world, is the purpose of our lives here. This calling allows us to see who we really are.

If you have questions about how you can improve your own work activities, I invite you to try the following process:

1. To begin, try to step back from any thoughts you have about what you need and how to get it. These thoughts (usually quite fear-based) are often the clouds that obscure the light. You might say:

I do not know what I need,
How to get it,
Or the form that it may take.
I am willing to clear and open my mind.

2. Next, turn to your wise mind — the spiritually-inspired part of your consciousness. Even if it takes some practice to “search around” for it, it’s worth the effort. You might say:

Perhaps there is a part of me that is filled with inspiration.
Perhaps a part of me has enormous gifts to share with the world.
I am willing to turn to that inspired part.
I am willing to let it guide my steps.

3. Finally (and this is often the challenging part), try to sit quietly and receptively for a while, waiting to receive guidance about a step or two to take. If your mind wanders, you can ask your wise mind:

How can I share my gifts with the world?
How can I bring joy to the world in a way that I enjoy?
How can my gifts be used today?
I am willing to receive guidance.

That’s it… If you don’t seem to “get anything” at first, the effort it still worth it. I’ve sat with clients, engaging in this type of practice for ten or twenty minutes until they began to get a “hint” of inspiration from the wise mind. But that hint grew as they practised.

I believe that there are limitless ways for you to share your gifts — and that as you share them, you will gain a greater understanding of the spiritual glory within you. This is the great healing shift. It is a shift that brings happiness not only to you, but to all those around you as well.

Excerpted from the Quiet Mind newsletter by Dan Joseph and reprinted by kind permission of the author. To sign up for the free Quiet Mind newsletter, please visit
10 Ways to Help & Support Employees with Addiction or Substance Abuse Problems

10 Ways to Help & Support Employees with Addiction or Substance Abuse Problems

As an employer or human resources professional, you may be looking for ways to help and support employees with addiction or substance abuse problems.

If this is you, read this piece to provide the drug and addiction help and support for employees

You know what it’s like to have conflicting interests. There’s your business, which you have nurtured like a baby and which your livelihood is dependent upon – and then there’s the employees who make it happen. Most employers care a great deal about the fates of their loyal employees, but when problems occur, they are faced with some tough decisions. When an employee is no longer reliable, dependable and effective, it would seem logical to let them go. Yet when that employee is struggling with addictions, their behaviour doesn’t truly reflect their value as an employee, any more than it would for a staff member who is sick with cancer; neither is a ‘bad’ employee, they are both considered disabled under Ontario employment law…and neither can legally be terminated just because of their illness.

What, then, can you do about (and for) an employee who is struggling with substance dependency?

  1. Know that you’re not alone. Addiction affects 1 in 10 Canadians (some say that number is really much higher) and many other employers are struggling with the same issues you are.
  2. Know the signs of addiction. Often, employees can come through treatment successfully, but if you wait until the problem has gotten completely out of hand, it might be too late to ultimately save that person’s job (to say nothing of the harm it will have brought your business). If an employee seems to be suffering from poor attendance and/or performance related issues, errors of judgment or personality/behavioural changes, this person could be struggling with addictions.
  3. Ask for help. If you belong to a BIA or other industry association, find out what others are doing to support their employees with addictions.
  4. Develop a policy. Make sure that your HR department has a clearly drafted policy so they will be able to act consistently in accordance with these guidelines when confronted with a problem. Make the policy accessible to employees and spell out their rights and expectations.
  5. Set up an EAP. An employee assistance program can step in to provide support to employees in times of crisis. It’s a good thing to have, not only for when substance dependency issues strike but for other employee concerns such as mental health, bereavement, and stress. An EAP can provide counseling and self-help resources to the employee as well as assistance to you.
  6. Know the disability rules. Sometimes employees apply for disability under your company’s benefits plan, but in order to qualify, it may be necessary that they participate in an inpatient treatment program. Educate yourself and your employees to avoid problems later.
  7. Keep on top of things. If your employee is supposed to be accessing an outpatient program while they wait for a residential treatment centre bed, or has told you that they have their own private plan (i.e. counselling, 12 step meetings, support groups etc.), don’t just wash your hands of the situation. Support employees who are trying to get help by showing that you care how they are doing; reach out and follow up every so often.
  8. Try to work things out. If an employee isn’t eligible for disability benefits for whatever reason, consider allowing them to take sick leave, cut back to part time hours, job share or telecommute. If they have a plan to get back on track, try to work with it.
  9. Keep the lines of communication open. When an employee does return to work after attending a treatment program, discuss performance expectations going forward.
  10. Maintain a positive work environment. Have a strategy to deal with workplace stress and transitioning issues. Set a positive example by maintaining strict confidentiality.

Dealing with addiction in the workplace is as thorny as it is commonplace. If you still aren’t sure how to proceed, consult with an experienced labour lawyer for concrete direction that will benefit your business in the long run.