• Leah Norman

Hungover Employees?

What can you do to minimise the chance your employees show up to work sporting a hangover? And, what to do when they do?


For many of us, it feels as though COVID is pretty much under control and life is returning to normal, well a new kind of normal... and just in time for summer! The days are warmer, the nights are longer - it is the season of socialising. And, while the dreaded unproductive and hungover employee is not something that is limited to summer, as we start to re-enjoy our freedom it seems timely to touch on the subject. As as employer when it comes to the workplace, what happens after hours is completely out of your hands. However, you can try to control the aftermath – effectively, the hangover.


Let's face it, we live in a day and age where having a few drinks is a normal part of, perhaps, everyday life. As such hangovers are inescapable in a work environment; you’ll see an employee suffer from a hangover at one time or another. and while generally this can be deemed acceptable (depending on the industry you operate in) It becomes a problem when the same employee (repeat or severe offenders) continually comes to work in this condition. Not to mention the breaches of health and safety standards which can be a huge cause for concern. Hangovers can also mean employees have a reduced ability to perform their roles, accidents or near misses and more pressure on the rest of the team to make up for the hung-over employee.


So what steps can you take to minimise the chance your employees showing up to work hungover?

  1. Have a Drug and Alcohol Policy in place - a formal and document policy is a great tool for advising your employees of acceptable and unacceptable behaviours and the associated rules regarding alcohol in the workplace, being under the influence and suffering the effects of alcohol or drugs. Having such a policy will not only stipulate what is required but will also safeguard you in the event of a breach in the policy and carrying out appropriate disciplinary action. Make sure the policy contains details on what constitutes a violation, and clearly explain its consequences. A good policy should spell out what the repercussions are for the employees and provide guidance for your managers. Some policies are designed to have “zero tolerance” and some are designed with a little more leniency. Its important to consider the type of environment you operate in when designing your policy. If you want to put in a section that deals with hangover-related issues at work, it is within your right to do so. This is most especially appropriate for companies that belong to higher-risk of "safety-sensitive" industries such as construction and forestry.

  2. Implement and Enforce the Policy - Consistently! - Unfortunately, just having a policy isn't enough. Once a workplace alcohol policy has been created, it would be in everyone’s best interest to implement, monitor and enforce it. That means that for employees who breach the policy need to be faced with the consequences. More often than not, first-time offenders will just be issued a warning. However, if the same employee continues to violate the policy again and again, the repercussions could be more severe, up to and including termination. Breaches to the policy must be treated seriously and applied across the board, if the policy is to be effective and a document that is relied upon.

  3. Have an Employee Assistance Programme in place - If they have an employee assistance program in place, they sign the employee concerned up for it in the hopes that he or she would make a complete turnaround and continue to be an asset to their business. Employee assistance programs, after all, are meant to help employees who are facing serious problems, substance abuse among them.

And a few tips on how to respond when the inevitable happens;

  1. Confirm the employee is hungover - Approach the employee in a gentle and non-threatening manner and simply ask if they are hungover.

  2. Don't scold the employee - wherever possible avoid scolding or embarrassing the employee. If the employee admits to being hungover, you can make a decision to send them home for the day, but only if your policy and contracts allow you to do this! After all, the ill effects of a hangover can make an employee unproductive. In cases where the hungover employee is working a safety-sensitive task, it can make them a risk to everyone in the workplace. By sending a hungover worker home, untoward incidents can be avoided.

  3. Keep a written record - Documenting the incident is also important if the employee admits to being hung over. That written record must be kept for future reference. The problem, after all, could persist. The employee might show up with a hangover on a regular basis. Written records of such incidents could become critical, especially when the situation becomes worse and disciplinary action is already called for. Be careful though – you cannot just assume your employee is suffering the effects of alcohol, you must have confirmation first.

  4. Recommend use of the Employee Assistance Programme (if you have one in place) - In some instances where the employee is willing additional and external assistance may be beneficial, Advise the employee of the service available to them to utilise to get the help they need or, with permission, make an appointment on their behalf. If this is not available, try to openly communicate with them, suggesting they seek professional guidance and assistance themselves or with your help.

Remember your duty of care; some hangovers carry with them a lingering blood alcohol level that affects a person’s ability, reaction and thinking capacity. If your employees drive, operate machinery or work in any sort of hazardous circumstance a lapse in judgement or misuse of equipment as the result of a hangover can be catastrophic. It is your duty to that person and to all other employees to recognise any presenting signs and act accordingly to diminish the risk.


However, it’s imperative that you assess the individual circumstances. Each case needs to be assessed on its own merits, and some degree of sensitivity would be required if the employee may be suffering as a result of addiction or emotional challenges that are work related, completely separate from work or a combination of the two. If the hangover is caused by your own work party the night before and the employee is not a risk to health and safety, you may want to apply leniency if it’s a one off and the Company may be liable for the state the employee is in. A good option is to make sure your end of year bash precedes a weekend or rostered day off, so that everyone can get into the spirit.


In short, for some, the issue of employees showing up for work with a hangover may be somewhat of a grey area and when dealing hungover employees, employers should generally focus on the employee’s workplace performance problems – such as lack of productivity, absenteeism, inattentiveness, or errors in work product – without passing judgment on the employee’s off-duty behaviors or whether the employee has an addiction problem. However, for employers who are really concerned about the health and safety of their personnel, hangovers need to be taken more seriously. Hangovers may seem harmless at first, but they may eventually impact one’s productivity, and most importantly, workplace safety.


If you need some guidance with drafting a Workplace Drug and Alcohol Policy or some assistance in how to deal with hungover employees at your workplace, give us a call 0508 924 357

Disclaimer This article, and any information contained on our website is necessarily brief and general in nature, and should not be substituted for professional advice. You should always seek professional advice before taking any action in relation to the matters addressed.