How to Manage Alcohol-Related Incidents in the Workplace

Drunk at Work


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AnnaMarie Houlis4.87k
Journalist & travel blogger
July 17, 2024 at 7:2PM UTC

Drinking on the job is far from responsible. In fact, especially in hands-on fields, drinking on the job can put you and others at danger — let alone cost you your job. 

If you show up drunk at work or if your employee shows up drunk at work, however, how do you handle it? Here's what you can do to save yourself or to put your employee in check.

What should you do if you show up drunk at work?

If you show up drunk at work, you're probably risking your job and you may be putting yourself and others at risk, especially if you work in a field that requires manual labor. As a professional, you're expected to come to work able to perform at your most optimal capacity — and, of course, you're neither as productive nor precise while under the influence. 
Sometimes, however, it can happen. This is largely the case for employees with alcohol addictions, for example. It may also be the case for an employee who drank too much the night before and did not sober up before coming into the workplace.
If you find yourself coming to work drunk, here's what you can do.

1. Ask to leave early.

If you have to, it might be best to simply leave work. You don't want to put yourself or others in danger, which means that the best decision may be to bite the bullet, swallow your pride and ask to leave work early. You won't be able to do your best work (if you can do any work at all) anyway. Of course, you might lose your job for leaving work because you're drunk, but it's better to bow down and admit to your mistake than to unintentionally cause harm or wreak havoc at the office. 

2. Take a walk for food and water.

If you're sobering up from the night before and experiencing a serious hangover that causes you to still feel drunk, it may be best to take a walk in the fresh air to find some food and water. Alcohol dehydrates you, so you'll want to make sure you're drinking enough water all day to help speed up your recovery after drinking too much.

3. Do the work that requires the least amount of brainpower or physical agility.

If you're feeling too drunk to handle major tasks at work, try to take care of any responsibilities that don't require you to use as much brainpower or physical agility. Maybe you're too drunk to feel comfortable calling clients, but you can start making a list of the clients you need to call, for example. Do your best to be productive in ways that aren't too risky. After all, you don't want to do work while drunk that you'll just have to redo (and possibly undo the damage of) the next day.

What should you do if your employee shows up drunk at work?

Of course, no manager wants to be in charge of drunk employees. They pose a risk to themselves and to the company, and they may break the company policy. Dealing with a drunk employee can be complicated. 
If your employee shows up to work drunk, there are a few measures you can take. Of course, however, it's best to thoroughly examine the legality each individual situation, according to both your company policy and the law.

1. Fire your employee.

Alcoholism and drug addiction are considered disabilities under ADA, the Americans with Disabilities Act. It's a law that requires employers to give workers time off for treatment. That said, however, the ADA does not require employers to allow an employee to be under the influence of illegal drugs or alcohol while at work. It also does not permit an employee to use drugs or drink alcohol while at work.
While only a drug or alcohol test can determine whether or not your employee is actually drunk at work, you will want to turn to your employee handbook for statements that:
  • Ban drug and alcohol use in the workplace and require your employees to not be under the influence at work.
  • Specify that employees will be required to undergo drug and alcohol testing when there is reasonable suspicion that they are under the influence at work.
  • Clearly state the consequences of being under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol at work, such as termination of employment.
If you have reasonable cause and you've checked your handbook for drug and alcohol use, you may deem it appropriate to terminate this employee.

2. Have a conversation with this employee.

If you suspect that your employee has been drinking on the job or is showing up to work drunk, you may decide to have an informal, private conversation with this employee. While you cannot accuse your employee of drinking on the job without a test, you can talk to your employee about resources available to them if they're having a tough time or going through something that may be causing their poor performance in the workplace. These resources may include drug and alcohol abuse hotlines and programs for addicts.

3. Give your employee time off to seek treatment.

According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's (EEOC's) Technical Assistance Manual: Title I of the ADA, "An alcoholic is a person with a disability under the ADA and may be entitled to consideration of accommodation, if s/he is qualified to perform the essential functions of a job. However, an employer may discipline, discharge or deny employment to an alcoholic whose use of alcohol adversely affects job performance or conduct to the extent that s/he is not 'qualified.' "
Under the same law, an alcoholic may be entitled to take time off in order to seek treatment to better themselves. You may consider granting someone at work with an alcohol addiction time to seek and receive treatment.

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AnnaMarie Houlis is a feminist, a freelance journalist and an adventure aficionado with an affinity for impulsive solo travel. She spends her days writing about women’s empowerment from around the world. You can follow her work on her blog,, and follow her journeys on Instagram @her_report, Twitter @herreportand Facebook.

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