Suspecting an employee might have a potential alcohol or substance problem creates a difficult situation and one where you need to balance the needs of individual employees against the legal obligations of an employer, so here are our recommendations:
(1) Have a policy in place
You need to be clear about how you will handle issues regarding alcohol and/or substance use/misuse so make sure that you have a current and valid HR policy in place for this – it’s surprising how many employers don’t have one because they don’t expect it to affect their workplace.
(2) Act promptly
Usually there are signals which have prompted concern regarding a particular employee, such as poor performance, poor time-keeping, “unusual” behaviour (i.e. not usual for the employee in question) and even changes in physical appearance. This should both prompt and provide an opportunity for an initial private discussion with the employee concerned.
Whether it is a potential general performance concern or one related to alcohol and/or substances tackle the issue quickly by scheduling an early meeting. However, if alcohol and/or substance problems are suspected the legal obligations as an employer, including health and safety, mean you must act very quickly because the employee could be causing harm to themselves and be a potential risk within the practice to colleagues and patients.
(3) Act fairly – never jump to conclusions
There are various reasons why an employee may appear to be under the influence of alcohol (e.g. slurring). This could include an illness or because they’ve been prescribed new medication, so don’t jump to conclusions and assume you know what the problem is. Instead, make sure that the employee has the opportunity to openly discuss all and any issues which relate to their work performance, including personal concerns, at your scheduled meeting.
(4) Offer support
If the employee admits to having an issue with alcohol and/or substances, then you should encourage them to get help and signpost them to any relevant available professional support, such as www.drinkaware.co.uk for alcohol issues.
On the other hand, if the employee does not believe there that are any alcohol or substance issues but you reasonably feel otherwise, then consider arranging for the employee to see a relevant professional, such an occupational advisor, for examination – check your sickness/absence policy.
(5) Sickness/Absence Policy
Remember that an employee who has issues because of alcohol and/or substance abuse must be treated in the same way as any other employee suffering from an illness, so make sure you follow your own policies and procedures.
Finally, encourage other employees to raise concerns regarding colleagues by acting promptly and professionally, following your own policies and procedures and acting in the best interests of the relevant employees.