Alcoholism and the Workplace
Alcohol misuse in the work environment is becoming an increasingly growing problem.
It is important to realize that alcoholism does not discriminate and affects people of all social and economic
It is commonly thought that alcoholics are unemployable however, it has been estimated that 75% of alcoholics
are employed full-time.
Some studies suggest that alcohol may be the cause of 25% of accidents in the workplace. Additionally, the cost
from loss of productivity and absenteeism has been estimated in the billions of dollars range. One of the problems
of alcoholism is the effect the disease has on people in close proximity to the alcoholic.
Next to family members, work colleagues are next in line to be affected by a persons drinking. In many cases,
the work partners spend time trying to cover for the alcoholic, which prolongs the difficulties of working with an
alcoholic and in actuality enables the person doing the drinking.
As far as the government and authorities are concerned, a persons decision to drink is his or her own business
and has no place being discussed in the workplace.
However, when the drinking begins to affect the persons work performance and the performance of people around
him the employer has a reasonable right to be concerned and involved.
As the employer or supervisor, it is important to remain in the position of supervising. It is the employers job
to supervise the employee and determine their ability to carry out the work required, get the job done, and
discover any problems as they arise.
It is not the job of the employer to diagnose alcoholism or any other disease.
Signs that there could be a problem with alcohol are:
Unexplained or unauthorized absences from work
Excessive use of sick leave
Careless or sloppy work
Strained relationships with co-workers
Short-tempered and argumentative particularly in the mornings
Sleeping on duty
Excessive use of breath mints or mouth wash
Staggering or unsteady gait
The smell of alcohol.
If the employer determines that alcohol may be a problem it is important to confront the employee with the facts
and then offer ways that the company will help the person recover and get help.
Did You Know
Alcoholism is a progressive and potentially fatal disease. Alcoholism itself is not
curable but it is possible to recover completely. Recovering from alcohol is to abstain from all
forms of alcoholic beverages and medications that contain alcohol such as cough medicines.
Alcoholism is considered a chronic illness. As with any chronic illness, it affects
entire families. As a result, the recovery process also affects the entire family and network of
friends of the alcoholic. The good news is that these people can serve as a good support network to
enable the alcoholic to abstain from drinking alcohol.
The same way a family would support a chronically ill person is how the alcoholic
should be treated because alcoholism is chronic.
Anyone who is an alcoholic will be an alcoholic for the rest of his or her
lives. Even though there is no cure for alcoholism,
there is hope for the alcoholic. That is where
recovery comes in – the abstinence from all alcohol on the
part of the addicted person.
This is where the control part of the disease comes into play. It is important to be able to control the desire to have
alcohol and to choose not to drink it. Unfortunately, the sheer nature of being an alcoholic is
defined by the lack of an ability to control ones drinking.
In order to enter the recovery phase and thus control the disease itself, the
alcoholic must come to the place where he or she is able and willing to take control and stop
reaching for alcohol.
Research has shown that the alcoholic cannot willfully control his
drinking and therefore should be abstinent. The alcoholic has to accept responsibility for
his addiction and recovery.
It is completely appropriate for the employer to hold an intervention in the case of an employee, who will not
admit to a problem with alcohol, has no family who will or can step in to help, and is clearly suffering in the
workplace because of the alcohol drinking.
It is important for the employer to avoid being an enabler but to be supportive and give the employee every
opportunity to get help and keep their job.
If the employee refuses to get help, fails at getting help and continues to have their work
suffer due to alcoholism, it is within the rights of the employer to let the employee go.
If the employee refuses to get help, fails at getting help and continues to have their work suffer due to
alcoholism, it is within the rights of the employer to let the employee go.
It is suggested however, that the employer let the person go while still providing support and knowledge of
ways to stop drinking and the possibility of a second chance upon recovery.