How to handle an alcoholic employee

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According to the Ministry of Health, one in five New Zealanders aged 15 years or over who drank alcohol in the past year has a potentially hazardous drinking pattern – but what should you do if you have an employee who’s addicted? We spoke to one HR professional who says it’s all about honesty.

“When workers get into an alcohol abuse problem they start calling in sick and they lie,” says HR manager Alice Lesmana. “I had to encourage some people to be honest and forthcoming so I could help.”

Lesmana is based in British Columbia, where 8.6% of the population admitted alcohol had, at some point, caused harm to their employment or education – so it’s no wonder she’s come across the issue before.

According to her, the best way to tackle alcohol abuse in the workplace is by creating a supportive environment where employees feel comfortable to admit they have a problem.
“It’s not about punishment or about getting into trouble,” says Lesmana. “It’s about changing and improving the situation.”

One employee who found himself addicted to alcohol came to Lesmana with his family – she said his job would still be there for him, if he made it through rehab and stayed sober.

“We told him he had to go to rehab and I said I needed a letter from the facility to prove it,” says Lesmana. “I checked in with his family members every few months to see how he was progressing and when he came back after six or seven months I said I wanted a discharge report. He also had to go to AA meetings for a year so I made up a sheet and said, “get your sponsor to sign off on that – I want to see it every month.”

Lesmana admits she stayed on her employees back to prove his sobriety but it was a necessary measure.  “I needed to make sure [he was sober]” she said. “I told him; ‘it’s not about punishing you it’s about your safety and about the safety of the other employees.’”

“Building that trust and building that relationship means you have a lot of employees who are a lot more open,” says Lesmana.
  • dick on 14/01/2015 11:52:57 a.m.

    Alcoholics in my experience will protect there jobs wherever possible and go to extraordinary lengths to retain the job as to lose the job cuts of the ability to support the addiction. Therefore the need to be diligent and provide an environment where it is OK to seek support is imperative to ensuring the risk is managed and employees can gain help.
    However one of the traits of alcoholism is denial and often a person has to hit rock bottom before they are willing and ready to seek help. Often that includes losing their job, house , family etc as the disease is an addiction and until the person affected wants to seek help they will not irrespective of anything that anybody does for them . Bear this in mind when dealing with a potential problem. I have used the assistance of AA when somebody is identified in the workforce. They are really great and obviously have people that can relate to the person from personal experience and specialist training.

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