If a coworker smells like alcohol, you may have no idea what you should do. If you work in an industry that requires driving or operating heavy equipment, it could pose a serious danger to everybody if another employee is intoxicated. Even if you work in a low-risk industry, if the coworker interacts with the public it could put your company’s reputation at risk. Before you do anything drastic, look for other signs of intoxication. Approach them privately to have a conversation. Offer to help them if it seems that they have a problem with alcohol. And if nothing resolves itself after your discussion, you can report them to your HR department. While nobody wants to throw another employee under the bus, their drinking could be posing a significant threat to their own, yours, others, and your company’s health.

My Coworker Smells Like Alcohol, What Do I Do? Navigate an Awkward Situation

Look For Signs

The first step to take if your coworker smells like alcohol is to look for other signs of intoxication. Don’t jump to conclusions before ruling out other options. For example, they might have gone out last night or be taking a medication that produces an alcoholic smell. Subtly look for other signs of intoxication instead. For example, slurring their words or inability to pay attention. If they seem out of sorts, overly hyper, or even overly tired, it could mean that they’re intoxicated. Sweating and being uncoordinated are also things to look for. If they seem like themselves other than the smell, try monitoring them for a few more days and seeing if you notice the alcohol smell on them in the future.

Approach Them Privately

If a coworker smells like alcohol and seems to be intoxicated or is acting a little off their game, have a discussion with them. Always make sure that you are in a private place where you won’t be overheard, as this is a sensitive issue. If they get combative or deny the smell, let the issue go but continue to keep track of their behavior over the next few days and weeks. They may offer up an explanation that explains the issue. For example, they were drinking last night. If they’re able to, suggest that they take part of the day off to go home and shower and change.

Offer to Help

It’s always best to offer to help if a coworker smells like alcohol. They may be battling an addiction that is causing them a lot of trouble in their life. If they know that you’re supportive, they may be willing to open up to you. Hopefully, you can help them get the support they need if this is the case. If your company has an assistance program for addiction, you can help them navigate this to get appropriate help.

Approach HR

If a coworker smells like alcohol consistently, or if you notice behavior that seems concerning, you can report to HR. It’s best to go to HR instead of a boss because HR may have a policy on how to handle it discreetly. Remember that their drinking could be hurting their overall health. It could also be putting other employees at risk if their job entails operating machinery or vehicles.

If a coworker smells like alcohol, it can put you in a really uncomfortable situation. It’s difficult to know what’s best when you want to be loyal to your fellow employee. However, if the situation continues or seems dangerous, ultimately it’s best to report it to HR. Look for other signs of intoxication first though, and try to sit down with them to discuss. Offering to help them will go a long way in building their trust. Hopefully, it is just a one-time situation with an easy explanation, and you won’t need to take further action. But just remember that their drinking could harm them or others if it gets out of hand and continues in the workplace.