As if your days are not busy enough, today one of your employees comes into your office and says that another employee is acting quite strange and they are concerned, and that you need to check it out. At this point you have no idea what the issue is. Is it a medical issue, are they intoxicated in some way, rendering them unfit for work? How do you assess the situation, and what do you do about it?

In all jurisdictions in Atlantic Canada, the Supervisor has some very specific duties and responsibilities regarding safety in the work place. This includes protecting employees from unsafe conditions, and the unsafe acts of themselves and others at all times. It is therefore the responsibility of the Leader to make an assessment regarding the employee’s fitness for work. Failure to do so, would be a neglect of the Supervisor’s responsibility, and would put the employees, the Supervisor, and the organization at risk.

In the situation, described above, the required course of action is to go speak to the employee, and to observe carefully what you are seeing and hearing. Is the employee acting different than what you are used to? How do they answer your questions? How are they moving? If you have any concern that they may pose a safety risk for themselves or others, you need to get them to a safe space somewhere away from moving machinery and equipment. Somewhere private where you can continue the discussion and your evaluation. If you get to this point, it would be prudent to have a second person with you to also observe and listen.

For most of us, we likely do not have the skill or experience to determine if a person is intoxicated by alcohol or drugs, prescription or other, or if the person is just in a highly emotional state. But the question really isn’t if they are intoxicated, from what, or why. The question is safety, and whether or not we deem them fit to work in a safe manner.

In the cases where your judgement is that you are not comfortable with the person continuing in the workplace, you should notify them of your decision, and arrange for them to safely get home. Call them a cab or ask if you can call someone to pick them up, but make it clear that getting in their car and driving themselves is not an option.

Next steps will depend on your organization’s policy, but notifying HR of the situation to allow for proper follow up is most likely the next step for most. HR will be able to assess proper disciplinary protocol (if warranted), contact the employee for follow up, and arrange for confidential access to employee assistance programs if needed.

This scenario is an unenviable position for any Frontline Leader to find themselves in, but it is critical that it be handled correctly to ensure the safety of all, and to mitigate risk for employees, the Leader and the organization.