Alcoholic Manager Slams into Another’s Car: Can His Employer Continue Ignoring the Situation?

You’ve been ignoring the rumors that a well-respected manager you employ has an alcohol problem.

Neither you nor any other senior manager have noticed him acting intoxicated during the workday, although you certainly saw him getting toasted at pre-pandemic company celebrations.

During those events, a lot of other managers and employees indulged on the free and free flowing alcohol. You didn’t worry about this manager or any of the others celebrating. He and they were just having a good time. You never thought it signaled a problem.

This manager has been with you for more than a decade and you personally like him. He does a good job, and you can always count on him to step to the plate when needed.

Employees apparently have seen Mike going into and out of bars and liquor stores. They’ve told talked about it. Recently, when two supervisors each dinged an employee for having a beer or glass of wine during the workday, the employees countered “what about Mike”?

You can’t ignore the problem any longer. Last week Mike had a DWI in a company-provided truck that he drives during and after work hours. The police arrested him after he slammed into a car slowing down to make a left-hand turn. You’ve contacted your insurance carrier and now you face the question:  

Should you do something? If so…what?

According to the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), an alcoholic who can perform the essential functions of his job may have a disability requiring employer accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The Courts are generally unanimous in ruling that an employer needs to grant at least one leave of absence so an alcohol-dependent employee can participate in a treatment program if the employee hasn’t misused alcohol on the job or engaged in misconduct.

In the landmark Schmidt v. Safeway, Inc. case, the Court ruled that the ADA may require an employer to provide a leave of absence to an employee with an alcohol problem if it is likely that the employee would be able safely to perform his duties following treatment. With an alcohol-dependent manager, a leave of absence for outpatient or inpatient treatment may be the logical accommodation.

Alcoholism, however, doesn’t immunize managers or employees from the consequences of their actions. Employers can hold alcohol-dependent managers and employees to the same performance and behavior standards as non-alcoholics and discipline or discharge an alcoholic whose alcohol use adversely affects his job performance. As an example, if an alcoholic employee often arrives late to work or makes frequent errors, the employer can take disciplinary action based on the poor job performance and conduct. The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the ADA does not protect an employee from termination for alcohol-related absenteeism when reliable attendance at scheduled shifts is an essential job function.

Additionally, employers need not condone outrageous misconduct or criminal behavior that stems from alcohol dependency. For example, if an employee cusses out a supervisor, a medical technician makes a mistake that adversely impacts a patient, or an equipment operator endangers the safety of others, the employer can discipline or potentially even terminate these employees.

A manager embarrassing the company while publicly inebriated or arrested for driving a company car while intoxicated may fall into this category. In two situations relevant to yours, Milwaukee County fired an employee whose job required driving after a DWI arrest, and the University of Tennessee fired a football coach stating he could no longer serve as a role model or representative of the university after a highly publicized DWI. Both employers prevailed in lawsuits.

You can consider a manager getting a DWI driving a company provided vehicle a game changer. If you don’t, and your manager gets in an accident, you may take on partial or even full liability for the results.

This manager may be only the tip of the iceberg, as discussed in another post,

You need to consider establishing and enforcing clear guidelines to prevent other workplace alcohol-related problems.  A policy (if you enforce it) can make clear  that managers and employees understand that they cannot drink alcohol at work or prior to the working day or while attending events on behalf of the company.

If your manager cannot comply with these directives, you have the right to take disciplinary steps, which could include a change in job responsibilities, the removal of supervisory duties or, based on reasonable evidence, termination.

Finally, if you like this manager, ask yourself:   

Is he spiraling downward and are you enabling him?

Alcoholism can permanently change the quality of a person’s life and can prove deadly.

Alcohol abuse can destroy brain cells and damage the liver and pancreas in ways undiscovered until too late.

You don’t want this man to join the ranks of Steve Jobs, Patrick Swayze, Michael Landon and others who died far too early of pancreatic cancer. Unlike other cancers that can be cured if detected, pancreatic tumors metastasize quickly. Further, routine medical exams and blood tests generally don’t check for markers of pancreatitis, and pancreatic cancer may soon be the second-largest cause of cancer deaths.1


You might be interested in these other posts focusing on alcohol:

Alcoholic Super-star,; “My Job at Risk from an Alcoholic Boss, and “My Boss A Functional Alcoholic,”

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3 thoughts on “Alcoholic Manager Slams into Another’s Car: Can His Employer Continue Ignoring the Situation?

  1. Yes, the employer must take action, and the actions recommended in this case seem quite worthwhile, as being nearly legally required. In fact, if the employer knows about results of an employee’s alcoholism on the job and does not take action, the employer might in fact be sued and held liable. The insurance company also might have penalties to exact on the employer.

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