Managing an Employee with a Drink or Drug Problem

Posted on 23rd January 2019

Managing an employee with a drink or drug problem

This is a situation that as HR professionals, we are becoming more used to seeing and supporting managers and business owners with.  Unfortunately by the time you find out an employee has an issue, there have usually been issues in relation to absence or performance that have created some tensions, leaving a tense and difficult situation to manage.

There are one off situations and on those occasions your current policies should suffice in relation to those instances (if you feel that they don’t, please let us know and we can help you to re-write them).  It may be depending on the situation, that a disciplinary process will suffice.

In on-going or sufficiently serious situations there is no set process as such for managing the process. Each individual is different and not everyone accepts help or support and unfortunately not every situation results in a great outcome for all involved.

This blog is not intended as a process to follow, but it should give you some things to consider if you find yourself managing a situation. As always, if you need support please call us and we can guide you through the labyrinth!

What you have to ensure…

As a business you have an obligation under various legislation such as the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. You have a duty to ensure that all employees are safe at work and that employees aren’t storing or distributing drugs from your workplace.

Under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 you can be prosecuted if you knowingly allow employees to work under the influence of drugs or drink and therefore place other employees and themselves at risk. In those one-off situations, such as an employee who arrives at work with a distinct aroma around them. You have a right as an employer to send them home if you don’t feel they are fit to work.  If you do this, consider whether they should be driving home? Could someone take them home to ensure they don’t drive and that they and other road users are safe?  Take statements from those that witnessed the event and take some advice on next steps.

Don’t ignore issues…

The likelihood is that you have concerns because and employee is consistently late, has too much absence or their performance isn’t where it should be.  Depending on how closely you work with the individual you may have noticed that their moods change a lot or other employees may have reported concerns to you.

Our advice is always to discuss the issue with the employee, inviting them to a (Absence Policy) return to work meeting, (Disciplinary or Capability Policy) informal meeting;

  • Arrange a private place to discuss absence/performance/lateness or whichever situation that you have;
  • Inform them of what has been noticed or reported;
  • Ask if there is any underlying reason for the pattern of lateness/absence or performance issue that they would like to discuss with you;
  • Do they need any support from you or are they receiving support i.e. GP?
  • Reassure them that if there is a need for support that you will get some advice and come back to them about how you can help.

What do I do now though…

Our advice is to get some support.  Depending on the information that you gathered in the meeting you will either be looking at a disciplinary or capability process. The likelihood is that either one of these processes are likely to need intervention from Occupational Health.

Depending on the employee and how open they are to receiving support, there will be difficult conversations and tough decisions to make. Remember that dependency is an illness and can sometimes be linked to or result in mental health issues. Taking time to empathize with the employees situation can be key to assisting them whilst ensuring that you safeguard other employees and the business.



Lindsay Baker Character
Written by:
Lindsay Baker
Head of HR