Alcohol Problems in the Workplace


When a manager has their suspicions that one of their employees has been consuming alcohol on the job, they should respond to ensure the safety of the employee, their colleagues and of the organisation’s customers. The response may include carrying out a quick investigation or sending them for breath alcohol testing.

Employers should first of all confirm their suspicions that the employee has been drinking on the job. Are the suspicions just baseless rumours? Is there a plausible reason for the employee’s behaviour? Was the employee on a long weekend or at a recent event where large amounts of alcohol could have been consumed? Has the employee been witnessed consuming alcohol in their car or on their break? Or is the employee slurring their words, having problems with their motor skills or even falling asleep while in the workplace? Employers need to be careful that there aren’t any other reasons, such as a negative reaction to new medication or a medical condition (SHRM, 2023).


The issue should be dealt with in several different stages:


  • Look for Signs – If an employer has a reason to suspect that one of their employees is abusing alcohol then the first thing they must do is look for the signs, these could be changes in performance such as sudden frequent absences or changes in behaviour which could include a lack of coordination or the employee suddenly becoming very erratic (University of Southern California, 2023)


  • Documentation – While noticing the signs of potential alcohol misuse is important, the employer will need to able to point to several different situations where an employee’s behaviour was a little off. It is therefore crucial for management to maintain these kinds of records (HR Morning, 2013)


  • Get Professional Advice – Discuss the issue with a supervisor. If the situation requires immediate attention this should not be delayed. (American Addiction Centres, 2023)


  • Call a Meeting – If, after a careful and thorough investigation, the manager is certain that their employee has a potential drinking problem then a meeting should be arranged so that a private conversation can be organised to discuss the issue. Before the meeting it would be a good idea for the manager to ensure that they have evidence on hand, this includes any documentation that has been collected or copies of work that have been poorly produced (citrusHR, 2023).


Tips on Speaking to an Employee that may have an Alcohol Problem

The manager should be prepared, they should expect that their employee will be in denial, that they may become defensive, even slightly angry at the situation.


The manager should adopt a caring approach to dealing with their employee, they should express concern over their behaviour and their potential alcohol problem


The manager should approach their employee with facts and statistics, such as “we smelt alcohol on your breath before this meeting”, or “you have been late to work eight times this month”. Avoid saying “we/I think that you have a problem” so that the employee doesn’t feel like it is a personal attack.


The manager should recommend that the employees speak to their GP. If the employee expresses reluctance, then offer any services that the company may have such as counselling (naturalHR, 2023).


When to Breathalyse an Employee

Some employers have implemented screening as a component of their drug and alcohol workplace policy. Managers must consider several different aspects when deciding to breathalyse an employee whom they think is abusing alcohol, this includes ensuring that employees fully consent for both practical and legal reasons, screening for alcohol misuse should be a part of a company’s overall health and safety workplace policy.

Screening should also be carried to ensure that any samples cannot be contaminated or tampered with and that the testing procedures and analysis of any samples are correct. It should also be noted that employees cannot be forced to take any form of alcohol or drug testing, however if they refuse when an employer has good grounds for testing them, the employer can give the employee disciplinary action depending on the policies that are in place (Health and Safety Executive, 2023).


At Randox Testing Services, our professional policy review service is here to help create a workplace drug and alcohol testing policy. We offer training sessions and testing kits for organisations who are interested in internal testing or are eager to further their knowledge on drug and alcohol policy.

If you’re interested in getting assistance or learn more about implementing an effective testing policy, contact us:


Phone: +44 (0) 28 9445 1011



American Addiction Centres – The Effects of Substance Abuse in the Workplace (2023):

citrusHr – Confronting an employee drinking problem (2023):

Health and Safety Executive (2023):

HR Morning – You suspect an employee is using drugs: What now? (2023):

naturalHR – What to do if you suspect an employee has an alcohol problem (2016):

Society for Human Resource Management – How to Respond to Drinking on the Job (2023):

University of Southern California – Substance abuse in the workplace (2023):