What do you do when … your employee gets a DUI (and needs to drive for their job)?

Soren is a terrific salesperson. When he’s in front of a customer he really knows his stuff. People like him. They trust him. Heck, you trust him. As a result, he brings in a lot of business.

On Monday, he came into your office to ask for a day off. He needed to go to court, because he’d been arrested for drunk driving. He tried to pass it off as no big thing — just a few beers with friends and he’d beat it. And even if he didn’t, and his license got suspended, he could still drive for work. The court would make an exception for that if you write him a note telling them he needs it.

So you give him the day off, but now what? Soren always liked having a good time, and you know that sometimes he’s taking clients and prospects out to dinner, or for a round of golf. Does he drink when he’s out with them? Does he drink too much? How do you handle this?

There are three questions I ask myself in a situation like this:

  1. Is his drinking affecting his work performance?
  2. It is safe for him and other co-workers, clients and prospects?
  3. What does Soren need? What’s good for him as a person, not just a worker? These needs are tempered by Soren’s right to confidentiality — I don’t need to be talking about the situation for him. If he talks about it that’s fine, but I don’t need to be doing that.

First, you need to get a handle on what his behavior is like with clients. Have you been along with him on outings, or meals? What did you observe? Are there clients that you could talk to see what the situation is (without spilling the beans)?

If there is evidence of behavior that is affecting his job performance, or the safety of others, you need to confront him. Maybe your company policy needs to be revised, or maybe you just need to say, “Soren, this is what I’ve heard and observed, and based on that I’d like you to refrain from drinking at business events.” Then ride along for a few events, and watch the receipts he’s turning in and enforce it. You can’t tolerate drinking that endangers an employee or others on company dollars. If he persists and you warned him, fire him.

That’s where question three really comes into play. You’re not Soren’s parent, nor even necessarily his friend, but if you care about him as a person and not just an employee, take the time to talk with him on a more personal level, outside the office. I’d make it a point that I’m shedding my “boss” role for this conversation and speak frankly. Maybe this was just a one-time-thing; but if it happens again the consequences, both legal and professional, get pretty steep. Does he have places to go for help? Where would he go if he noticed he was drinking too much? Friends, church, therapist, a 12-step group? Just like you would with a friend, don’t “proscribe” this to him – just lead the horse to water. He’s got to pick it up and run with it.

Keep in mind that this incident has implications beyond just the employee’s welfare, there is potential liability too. There is case law that holds employers responsible for accidents that occur when an employee is “on the job” or “on the way home from a work sponsored event. If the company owns the car that can be enough to trigger liability. If you could be considered negligent (by ignoring the problem, or poorly supervising the situation) you could suffer punitive damages as well.

That’s how I’d do it, how would you do it? Please, let us know in the comments!

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