Where an employer suspects that an employee is working under the influence of alcohol, what action can it take?

The employer should take care not to make unsubstantiated assumptions about the employee, but it will also be very important for it to take precautions to prevent any potential danger to the health and safety of the employee and his or her colleagues. The potential courses of action open to the employer will depend on: what, if any, policy is in place regarding the treatment of employees who have problems with alcohol; what the employer's disciplinary procedure says about working under the influence of alcohol; and whether or not the employer has ready access to occupational health advice.

If the employer has ready access to an occupational health specialist, the employee could be asked to agree to be tested for alcohol straight away. The results of such a test would show whether or not the employer's suspicions were well founded. If such testing is not possible, then the manager concerned should seek the opinion of an HR manager or another senior person to support his or her suspicions that the employee is in fact under the influence of alcohol. A record of his or her observations should be made.

The most appropriate course of action will then often be to suspend the employee (with full pay, unless the contract of employment specifies that suspension in these circumstances may be unpaid). The employee's manager should make absolutely sure that the employee is not permitted to drive and should, if necessary, call a taxi to take the employee home. Following a short suspension to allow the employer to investigate the situation (typically one or two days), the employee can subsequently be recalled to the workplace to attend an investigatory interview to establish his or her version of events. Depending on the outcome of the investigations, disciplinary action may follow. Alternatively, if it is established through investigations that the employee has an alcohol addiction, the employer may, depending on its policies and procedures, offer a programme of support with a view to rehabilitation.