You see an employee who is falling asleep, stumbling, slurring words, or out of sorts. Is he or she ill? Are they on medication? Or are they drunk? The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, says that businesses lose more than $86 billion in productivity to alcohol abuse each year. This can be a big problem. Additionally, the CDC says around 79,000 people die every year due to alcohol. This makes it the third leading cause of death among people. Since alcohol abuse and addiction is so prevalent, it is important for managers to know how to handle an intoxicated employee.

How-to: Handle an Intoxicated Employee: Things to Be Aware Of

Time of Year

Tammy Hoyman is the CEO of Employee & Family Resources Inc., which provides employee prevention, intervention, and treatment services. According to Hoyman, it’s likely that most employers will have a worker with an alcohol problem at some point. As a manager, it is important to know that drinking is more common during certain times of the year are. For example, the short, dark days in the months following the holidays can be depressing. In addition, the holidays themselves may be difficult times of the year for people as well. Some people have lost loved ones or could be depressed. The winter months can cause depression as well. The chances of having an intoxicated employee may be higher during those months.

Determine What is Wrong

It is important for managers to know the signs of an intoxicated employee. This can include slurred speech, confusion, tiredness, difficulty walking, or loss of balance. However, they should never accuse a worker of being intoxicated. There is the chance that the employee could be sick or be reacting poorly to a legal medication. Employers should focus on what they can observe without trying to figure out the cause. Managers should point out their observations without specifically identifying alcohol use. For example, say “I’m not sure what is wrong, but I am worried about your loss of balance and slurred words”.


The only way you can know for sure if they have been drinking is to have them take a test. This could include a blood alcohol test or a breathalyzer test. However, an employer should only request an alcohol test if there is “reasonable cause”. This includes finding open bottles of alcohol on the employees’ desks. Plus, it can include the employee slurring his or her words, having a hard time walking, or having bloodshot eyes. Keep in mind that an employee can refuse to take an alcohol test. However, this could lead to the employee losing his or her job if there are rules in place that require alcohol testing for a reasonable cause. Employers should check state and local laws on drug and alcohol testing in the workplace.

If the test is positive, there are different courses of action you can take for this intoxicated employee. You could require the employee to go through rehab, or other things depending on the policies at the company.