Employee Alcohol Testing
Employee Alcohol Testing

Employee Alcohol Testing

Drug and alcohol testing are mandatory for certain jobs, and many employers still require a drug test for applicants as a pre-employment screening. But what happens afterward when it comes to employees and alcohol on the job?

In 2018, a pathologist was fired from his job at a Veteran’s Administration hospital. On two occasions, he was determined to be under the influence of alcohol while on the job. He was ordered into a rehab program. Following his release, he obtained a chemical that would make him intoxicated but wouldn’t show up on a random drug test. The doctor is accused of being so impaired on the job that he made several misdiagnoses resulting in the deaths of at least three people. He’s currently under federal indictment for three counts of involuntary manslaughter, four counts of making false statements, twelve counts of wire fraud and twelve counts of mail fraud.

While this is definitely an extreme case, it highlights the importance of every company having a drug free workplace and a formal policy addressing an employee being intoxicated on the job.

Alcohol and the ADA

Alcoholism is considered a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act if it significantly limits a major life activity (e.g., concentration, interactions with clients or other employees). As the employer, you might be required to provide certain accommodations to the employee, such as giving them a flexible schedule so they can attend counseling or AA meetings.

However, you can discipline or fire an employee if their alcohol use adversely affects their job performance or conduct. You can also prohibit alcohol in the workplace and require that employees never work while under the influence of alcohol.

Alcohol as a company perk

On the flip side, some companies are okay with having a drink or two on the job… within reason, of course. This trend is seen mostly in the tech sector and the advertising agency world (It’s been going on there since the Mad Men days). For example, Yelp has a well-stocked beer fridge and several brews on tap. And advertising powerhouse, J. Walter Thompson, boasts a 50-foot-long bar that would put most commercial bars to shame.

DOT Policies for Alcohol

Naturally, the Department of Transportation has very strict guidelines on alcohol in the workplace. Anyone who is considered to work in safety sensitive positions (e.g., piloting a commercial aircraft or driving an 18-wheeler cross country) is prohibited from using any alcohol, illegal drug or controlled substance that’s not prescribed by a doctor.

Since they have such a detailed drug and alcohol policy, some employers think, “I’ll just copy and paste the DOT regulations and use them for our company.” While it might sound like a no-brainer, it’s actually a terrible idea. Alcohol testing of DOT-regulated employees is governed by federal law. Non-DOT employees fall under state and local laws, some of which prohibit certain types of testing required by DOT.

Reasons for Testing Employees

There are two primary reasons an employer might demand an employee submit to testing for being under the influence of alcohol.

  • They might have reasonable suspicion that the employee is under the influence of alcohol at work because of their behavior.
  • If there’s an accident at work or with a company vehicle and the employee is suspected of being under the influence.
Here’s a sample alcohol use policy that you can use in your employee handbook.

Job applicants may be tested for alcohol as part of our employment hiring process.

An employee who is involved in an accident or injury while on the job will be required to undergo post-accident testing for alcohol or drugs. This test can be conducted via blood, oral fluids, urine or breath alcohol tests.

Employees may be required to submit to an alcohol test if the company believes the employee is under the influence of alcohol on the job, if excessive unexcused absences or tardiness is an issue, or if performance appears to be affected by alcohol abuse.

All employees are ultimately responsible for their choices and behavior regarding the consumption of alcohol when it is available at company-sponsored events, trainings and meetings. A company-sponsored event, meeting or training occurs anytime a group of employees gathers and is sanctioned by supervisor(s) and when the company provides catering services or purchases alcohol for employees’ consumption. Employees should be aware they may be held individually or collectively liable for incidents from the uncontrolled or illegal use of alcohol. Accordingly, all employees are expected to act appropriately and professionally at all times and to comply with all company policies.

The sale, availability or distribution of alcoholic beverages to anyone under the age of 21 is strictly prohibited. Employees must produce identification for verification that they can legally consume alcoholic beverages when requested.

Regardless of the number of participants, service of alcoholic beverages at company-sponsored events, meetings or trainings will be regulated to reduce the risk to the safety or well-being of employees, guests, the public, property and company brand.

Beer or wine is the company standard when alcoholic beverages are served, and catering is provided by the company. Hard liquor will not be served at such catered company events unless approved by senior management.

Employees who do not comply with this policy may be subject to discipline up to and including termination of employment.

Do you need help updating your employee handbook?

Watch this webinar to learn about the 10 legal updates you should consider as you update your employee handbook for 2020.

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