Effective Alcohol-related Workplace Policies

© Jenna Caplette


Do you have a policy in place?

That’s one of the first questions a trainer who comes to teach your management team about intervening in employee alcohol misuse and abuse will ask.

Workplace substance use policies need to describe what happens to employees if they are using alcohol or other drugs while on work time, whether they will receive an opportunity for treatment and return employment, and how potential substance use problems are brought to the attention of the employee and supervisor.

A good policy is a written one.

  • It’s a set of rules and guidelines that govern and manage workplace behavior.
  • It tells employees what the potential problems are of substance abuse, how to avoid those, how to get help, and what the consequences are if you ignore or defy policy.
  • It may define what reasonable behavior is or is not.

A good policy is invoked, used and followed. Its goal? To help an employee get better and to create a safe, healthy, productive, workplace for all.

When looking at your workplace’s policies, Joel Bennett, Ph.D., the primary developer of Team Awareness Training, suggests you ask these questions

  • Do you follow the policy by the book?
  • Do you bend rules?
  • Do you adapt rules to accommodate the situation, find other ways to do things?
  • How well do your managers know your policy? (How about your employees?)
  • Do you view policy as your guide and safeguard or more as a necessary evil?

The important distinction is that between what is written, and what exists as informal policy.

An informal policy would be the choice to vary policy enforcement depending on how inconvenient it will be for management to intervene in an employee’s behavior.

  • Does a manager change work hours to accommodate an employee too hung over to arrive at 8 am, putting them on a shift that begins at noon?
  • Do they ignore that someone is stoned on the job because they still get the job done, though slowly?

Informal policy becomes the known throughout the company, draining the power of your written one. Your workforce needs to take ownership of your policy.

According to Bennett’s work, a negative cycle occurs with the presence of more risk factors than protective factors. For instance, employee attendance is low due to alcohol use. Coworkers enable or neutralize that behavior, and the problem continues, or accelerates. Or, employees fail to speak up, wanting to avoid conflict, and stigmatizing or denying that a problem exists.

The bottom line? Bennett says when employees do not see policy as meaningful, or group norms run counter to policy as formally written, those add up to a significant problem.

Your managers need to be trained in your policy.

  • Are they on board and supportive of it?
  • Have they been trained in how to recognize signs of substance misuse and abuse?
  • Do they know the distinction between those, or do they measure those by their own use standards?
  • Do they know how to bring these concerns to the employees, and set him/her up to get the help they need?

A great place to begin is to have your managers try the free, quick and private alcohol screening tool to learn about their own relationship with alcohol use.

Effective Policies

Do you have a workplace drug & alcohol policy in place? Have other questions about how to address alcohol & drug use in your workplace? We can help.