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Ask a Specialist: How to Deal With Employee Hangovers?

Published March 13, 2017 (last updated November 19, 2020) -

We live in a day and age where having a few drinks is a normal part of, perhaps, everyday life. While the population varies from the non-drinker to the extreme, when it comes to the workplace, what happens after hours is completely out of your hands. However, as a business owner or employee, you can try to control the aftermath – effectively, the hangover.

It is inevitable that at some point you will have an employee/s who arrives at work hungover, and while generally this can be deemed acceptable, repeat or severe offenders or those that are in breach of health and safety standards can be a huge cause for concern. So, what can you do to minimise the chance your employees show up to work sporting a hangover?

Drug and alcohol policy

First and foremost, having the appropriate policy in place when it comes to drugs and alcohol will assist in advising an employee of acceptable and unacceptable behaviours and the associated rules regarding alcohol in the workplace, being under the influence and suffering the effects of alcohol or drugs. Having such a policy will not only stipulate what is required but will also safeguard you in the event of a breach in the policy and carrying out appropriate disciplinary action.

Employee records

You should keep records on all your employees and these should include their employment agreement, hours worked, leave taken (including sick leave), performance appraisal, any appropriate personal information required for employment reason and any other employment misdemeanours or accolades. As an employer, you are within your right to record the times employees present with a hangover. Be careful though – you cannot just assume your employee is suffering the effects of alcohol, you must have confirmation first.

Approach the employee in a gentle and non-threatening manner and simply ask if they are hungover. Make sure you keep a written account of each occasion and if the problem continues, you have the evidence to support the claims, meaning you can commence appropriate disciplinary procedures.

Duty of care

Some hangovers carry with them a lingering blood alcohol level that affects a person’s ability, reaction and thinking capacity. If your employees drive, operate machinery or work in any sort of hazardous circumstance a lapse in judgement or misuse of equipment as the result of a hangover can be catastrophic. It is your duty to that person and to all other employees to recognise any presenting signs and act accordingly to diminish the risk.

It is also important to understand that in some cases, the employee maybe suffering as a result of addiction or emotional challenges that are work related, completely separate from work or a combination of the two. You have a duty of care to assist any employee who is struggling because of work or non-work related issues.

If you have the facilities in place to offer your employee assistance, perhaps in the form of an Employee Assistance Program or similar, recommend the employee utilises this service to get the help they need or, with permission, make an appointment on their behalf. If this is not available, try to openly communicate with them, suggesting they seek professional guidance and assistance themselves or with your help.

While most hangovers will be the result of a little bit of careless fun, alcoholism is a serious illness that now affects close to one in 10 New Zealanders. When faced with a hungover employee, be sure to act in good faith and approach the situation in a fair and just manner.

If you need assistance in devising a drug and alcohol policy for your business, or are uncertain of the action you can take with a repeat or severe offender, Employsure can help. As the leading workplace relations specialist, we will work directly beside you to help you achieve a fair a safe workplace for all. Contact an Employsure specialist on 0800 568 012.

About Employsure

Employsure is one of New Zealand’s largest workplace relations advisers to small and medium businesses, with over 5,000 clients. We take the complexity out of workplace legislation to help small business employers protect their business and their people.

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