In other words, do you risk of a blow-up and organizational crisis because the policy, as written, interferes with the drinking practices of high-functioning, top management and corporate executives who run the organization? It’s the elephant in the living room – or I should say in the boardroom with many employers.
Some companies have zero tolerance policies that state no alcohol may be consumed before coming to work, at at lunch during the work day, or before the employee's return to the workplace at any time. They focus on consumption around the use of the substance, not performance related symptoms of the disease of alcoholism.
This can be a mistake when it comes to alcohol use. Illicit drugs are a different matter altogether.
Some hospitals have very strict policies. And who can blame with them with amount of risk to patients from an employee who came back to work with one too many. Sounds logical and fitting to implement, right? Maybe not.
Be careful when implementing a zero-tolerance policy so that you get buy-in from top management--you may have alcoholics working in the organization in powerful positions who will fight your efforts.
Better than a zero tolerance policy is one that focuses on performance and behavior, being "under the influence" when returning to work, and signs and symptoms that indicate an employees is not fit for duty.
Alcoholics usually do not appear under the influence, even when drunk on the job because of tolerance. And here is something to consider: Can a VP of marketing go out to lunch and have three martinis, but the mail room clerk get fired for the same thing and having a "breath on" -- no different than the VP of marketing?
Many employers are burying their heads in the sand. The “zero” tolerance alcohol and drug abuse policy is not adding up because top management will not comply and ultimately exempt themselves from it.
What about a hospital with employees caring for very ill patients? One hospital I worked for attempted to write a zero tolerance policy and it was immediately confronted by the hospital medical staff physicians. They were not about to comply with it. And no one could force them to do so. The Vice President of the Medical Staff – with interesting drinking practices, himself, led the rebellion.
These doctors wanted to drink alcohol during the work day at lunch, or whenever. They weren't about to be restricted in their alcohol use. That meant going back to work with a positive BAL.
The Federal government has had the same problem for a long time where thousands of federal workers find watering at holes during the lunch hour to avoid withdrawal symptoms, which could cause them to leave work early if they experience agitation, or drink from a bottle of booze in the desk drawer.
Alcoholism is a disease, and the symptoms of it are manifested by the alcoholic’s inability to decide when they will drink, how much they will consume on any particular drinking occasion, and what the consequences will be—indirectly or directly—for consuming alcohol. This describes “loss of control.”
Policies could be written for abstinence for everyone to follow, and then when violated, users could be referred to an employee assistance program or other occupational alcoholism assessment. But this does not happen in reality or with those at the top who control the organization.
Alcoholism is also characterized by tolerance to alcohol. This means the ability to drink more over time, not feel its effects, appear sober, drink larger quantities than non-alcoholics, and appear functional, even with a high blood alcohol
There is nothing more problematic than a drug-free workplace policy that is zero tolerance, meaning that employees are fired for abusing drugs on the job or having a positive blood alcohol level. Ultimately, it will be discriminatory.
Doctors control hospitals, not hospital administrators. Remember that. He who owns the gold makes the rules. And medical doctors report to head doctors. And if that doctor is a lunch time drinker, or keeps a bottle of booze in their office, all bets are off.
Medical doctors who are alcoholic, depending on the progression of their illness, must go to lunch and drink, drink in the hospital, and if necessary return to work intoxicated—even surgeons.
So, in theory, at a hospital where medical doctors are exempt from a drug and alcohol policy, it is permissible for the doctors to consume alcohol during the workday, and potentially be drunk on the job. They do their own thing at the peril of the community.
At last report, the drug-free workplace policy at the hospital where I work still does not apply to physicians--only to other employees in the hospital. Medical staff reserves the right to consume alcohol before work, during the work day, late afternoon, or at any time they choose. Perhaps none of the medical staff drink during the work day—but do you believe that? Get non-dot supervisor training or DOT supervisor training