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I work in the marketing department of a mid-sized public-sector organization. The problem is our director. Whenever there is a business evening event, he gets sloshed. The first time I noticed, it was at a fundraiser. He came into work midday already woozy. By mid-evening he was in no condition to be socializing with donors. I have suspected he was impaired at work a few times. He has become a laughing stock. If he leaves our workplace inebriated and injures someone, I'm afraid of what that would do to our organization. If he has an addiction, I want him to get help. Who do I talk to? HR? Our VP?


Heather MacKenzie

The Integrity Group, Vancouver

Be honest – how many people can admit to having worn the proverbial "lampshade" after consuming one-too-many tequila shots at a work function? Maybe dirty dancing with the boss, or making out with that virtual stranger from accounting after a few Black Russians at an office party?

Getting hammered at work events is never a good idea, but you have to differentiate one-offs from patterns of behaviour, and be careful before jumping to the conclusion that someone has a substance abuse problem.

In this scenario, I have too many questions that I would want answered before making a recommendation. It would be important to know exactly what you have observed and whether you have already tried talking to your director.

Work-related substance abuse problems affect morale, performance, disability claims, and sick time – not to mention the legal liability your company faces if it gets out of control. Some workplaces have policies that address this subject and provide a road map on what is expected. If so, consult the policy first.

If you have suspicions, you should have personal observations that confirm your theory (such as seeing the person consuming large quantities of alcohol, resulting in inappropriate workplace behaviour). Don't assume that a co-worker's dishevelled, late appearance one or two mornings is due to a hangover; the explanation could be a simple as staying up with a sick child.

If the situation doesn't pose an imminent risk, observe over a period of time and take notes. If patterns emerge, those observations will be important when you raise the issue with your colleague directly (if you can tactfully broach it), or if you report matters to a third-party such as the director's manager or human resources. Also, make sure that you are reporting this information with a clear conscience. (You're not angling for that director's job, are you?)


Bill Howatt

President Howatt HR, co-editor of Wiley Addiction Series

In the role of a counsellor or HR consultant I have assisted people with addictions or at-risk for an addiction for more than 20 years. Your decision to take action is a good one. I can't tell you if the behaviour you have observed is due to a physical addiction, alcohol abuse or irresponsible behaviour. What I can tell you is that your director needs guidance to stop this behaviour in the workplace. Typically, management will want to know when employees are engaged in at-risk behaviour. Being under the influence of alcohol during work is not safe, but it is not your job to correct or confront the behaviour. Folks like me are trained to help influence him to make the right choice.

Here's an action plan. First, write a timeline and map out your facts based on what you have observed. Next, report only true facts to your HR department. Most HR staff understand how to approach this type of situation in a manner that protects the employee's rights and enforces the organization's policies.

Your action will raise a red flag for HR to investigate, collect the facts and make a final decision with your director's vice-president as to the proper course of action.

Your motivation is to help. Your action may be the lightning rod that influences your director to get help if he needs it. At a minimum, it sets the stage to stop this behaviour before he or someone else is hurt. If he has a problem with alcohol, your organization will help, but ultimately it will be up to him to take action to change.

One happy ending would be that he is responsive to the intervention, stops the behaviour, and keeps his job. Your decision to take action may save a life. Never forget that.

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