The new pandemic problem of drinking while working from home
Engagement 4 minute read

The new pandemic problem of drinking while working from home

Megan Orr | January 28, 2021

Are you worried about your employees drinking while working from home? It’s a valid concern as the pandemic continues, and it’s bigger than a policy issue as people struggle with their mental health.

You have a three-hour long video call today. You have some wine in the fridge that you could pour into a coffee mug and no one would know. It might make the call more fun, so why not?

Even though it may seem obvious to you that you shouldn’t drink wine out of a coffee mug during a work call, 1 in 3 employees have actually admitted to drinking while working from home in quarantine. 

What does that mean for HR professionals? Well, it’s more than just a policy issue; it’s also a mental health issue and should be handled with delicacy and discretion. 

Continue reading to learn more about what to do if you suspect some of your employees may be drinking while working from home.

With many teams continuing to work remotely, it’s a good time to review or refresh company policies, whether or not you have reason to believe that some of your employees may be drinking while working from home.

Send out a friendly reminder to employees on your company’s substance policy. If you don’t have one, create one and introduce it to your employees. Be sure to include clear guidelines on expectations around working from home as well, whether you’re refreshing your current policy or writing a new one from scratch. 

This reminder or refresher should go out to all employees, and can include a required signature in acknowledgement if that’s common practice at your organization. Sending the policy to all employees—even if you know they’re not in violation of the policy— ensures that you are not targeting anyone specifically.

Drinking while working from home is more than just a policy issue. As social isolation regulations continue, many people are experiencing negative mental health impacts. 

These feelings of isolation may cause or increase substance abuse. Employees aren’t likely to admit to HR that they’re struggling with excessive drinking or drinking on the job—nor are they required to disclose that. However, it does make managing expectations, and employees, more challenging. 

In particular, it’s important to be aware of employees’ rights in your region. In British Columbia for example, addiction is considered a protected characteristic, classified as a physical disability under the B.C. Human Rights Commission. This means that you cannot reprimend or fire an employee who is struggling with addiction, as it’s considered grounds for discrimination. 

When you’re physically present in the office, it’s usually easier to tell if someone has been drinking. You may notice the smell of alcohol, unfocused vision, or the person slurring their words.

With dispersed teams you likely won’t be able to pick up as well on those physical signs of intoxication and will have to tune more into the employee’s performance and engagement. 

HR Daily Advisor writes that some signs to look out for are: “[i]f an employee routinely looks tired, displays slurred speech, is frequently late to meetings, lacks engagement, or repeatedly refuses to use the video function”. Those signs may mean they’re experiencing substance issues.

Ensure that managers know to look out for these behaviours, but not to confront the employee directly. Instead, managers should bring it to HR’s attention. 

It’s important to always foster an open line of communication so that employees feel comfortable discussing any issues they may be having with either their manager or HR. It’s also essential that HR is prepared with resources that support employees dealing with addiction. 

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