when your boss is a raging alcoholic

A reader writes:

I’m an avid reader of your blog, and a friend of mine has a situation that has left me bewildered, so we’re coming to you for help. He works as an administrative assistant for a very large, successful company, but his boss is a raging alcoholic. He goes out at lunch about 3-4 times a week and comes back absolutely hammered. I’m not talking a few drinks over a meeting; I’m talking so drunk that everyone knows (and gossips about it). The worst part (in my opinion) is that he drives home every night, and there is just no way he is fit to get behind the wheel. On top of that, we work in the core of a REALLY busy city, so even driving sober can be a challenge (not that drunk driving in any location is acceptable, but it just adds another layer).

Not only is he an alcoholic, but he comes in late every morning/takes 4 hour lunches/leaves a lot of his responsibilities to my friend to complete (I don’t mean regular admin stuff , I mean high level responsibilities). He has also missed numerous meetings with staff and clients, and has even come back to meet with them wasted (slurring words/smelling heavily of it/lots of giggling). They do actually have a stellar relationship and my friend loves the boss, but it’s getting to the point that the absenteeism/drunkenness is really bogging him down. The boss’s boss has turned a blind eye to it, so he has gotten away with this behavior for quite some time now. Finally, HR is involved in this in the sense that they are drinking buddy’s with the boss, so there is no point in even going to HR about it.

What should he do? He loves his job, and isn’t going to quit over it, but there really doesn’t seem to be anyone else he could really go to (except maybe the CEO, which would be the level above the boss that is turning a blind eye). Thanks for any insight on this!

There are a few different issues here:

1. The manager is maybe slacking off on his job (coming in late, taking 4-hour lunches, and leaving lots of his work to your friend). I say “maybe” because he could be working hours that your friend does see, and some people do manage to produce at a high level despite stuff like that. It sounds unlikely here, but it’s possible. In any case, this one isn’t really your friend’s business to raise; this is between the manager and his own boss.

2. The manager is behaving unacceptably with clients (missing meetings and showing up drunk) and with staff (showing up drunk). Unlike #1 above, this one is so far over the line that it’s appropriate (I’d even say necessary) for your friend to raise it with someone.

3. The manager is driving drunk. This is absolutely your friend’s business, and he has a moral and practical obligation to speak up about it.

So, your friend needs to speak up about #2 and #3.

As for who to talk to, I’d talk to the manager’s manager. He can say something like this: “I really like Bob and enjoy working with him, but his drinking has become a work issue. He shows up for client and staff meetings clearly drunk, returns to work drunk after lunch, and is driving home drunk in the evening. It must be impacting what clients think, and I’m worried it’s only a matter of time before he has an accident and hurts himself or someone else.”

He also, frankly, could say something to the manager himself, at least about the driving drunk. He could also intervene when he sees him leaving work clearly intoxicated — he could refuse to let him drive and insist on calling him a cab.

And if the company doesn’t intervene and resolve this issue after your friend brings it to their attention, your friend should seriously consider looking for another job, regardless of how much he likes his current one. If nothing else, it’s going to eventually harm his reputation to work for this guy — and it would be helpful to be able to clearly state to the manager and the company when he leaves that he couldn’t stand by and watch this.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 78 comments… read them below }

  1. Colleen*

    Could the friend call the police and anonymously report the license plate and location/route of the car? Better the boss get hit with a DUI than hit and kill someone. If they suspend his license that will at least take care of #3 for a while.

    1. MissM*

      Absolutely. Above all else, there is a moral obligation to deal with the drunk driving issue, and law enforcement is who should be called in about that.

    2. Mimi*

      In fact, I’d go one further and go in to talk to the police now. Ask them what they’d recommend doing in a situation like this. They may very well tell you to call them whenever this guy leaves the building and heads for his car, visibly intoxicated.

      I’m not sure if the OP’s friend will be able to stay anonymous in this situation – their name could well end up in any police reports – but that leads to the other question of whether you should start looking for a new job (I say yes).

      1. Chinook*

        If you want to stay anonymous, there may be a Crime Stoppers hotline you can call that allows you to report anonymously. It means you won’t be in the police report.

        1. Jessa*

          A lot of places have this, or a general number for drunk drivers (sometimes you see it on signs on the highway – call xxx number for the patrol if you see drunk driving or drug activity.)

          But I would absolutely notify the bosses, because well… there could be liability there. Once they are on notice that they are letting a regular drunk drive off their premises on a regular basis (if he’s really so smashed that it’s obvious to general witnesses,) they may be in trouble if he hits someone if his car is parked in their lot. I don’t know, but honestly if I was hit by him and found out he was a regular drunk I’d certainly have my lawyers *try* to throw something at them.

          Dunno if it’d STICK, but “he was so obviously drunk, his car was on your property technically under your control, you could have called the cops on him,” would give me a reasonably decent run at their insurance company for medical bills and car repair above what his insurance covered.

          And I’m not the sort of person that goes crazy, all I ever asked for in an accident was to be made whole. IE exactly what I was out, and not a whole lot of extra damages and stuff. There are people that if they found out this guy walked around the office drunk all day and nobody did anything to prevent him from driving would make a HUGE case, especially if it was a big pockets company in the US.

          And even if there’s no case. And there might not be. It could be hard to prove they had knowledge, etc. Or actual responsibility to stop him. It’d look really, really bad anyway. It would be lousy press for them and might end up with a settlement just to put a gag order on the person suing to keep them out from under that kind of news.

          Totally devil’s advocate here, because honestly, I do NOT think it’s their responsibility legally, and I’m iffy on it morally either – he’s an adult there’s a limit to how far they can police him. But I can see where a good lawyer could make it out to look like it long enough to make problems for them. So it might be wise to point this out.

          The only issue I’d find is that if he has an expense account and he takes people to lunch and is allowed to expense liquor of ANY kind all bets on legally responsible and morally responsible are off. Because if they pay for the booze…and he hit me or my car or even my cat, I’d be totally after the company for everything they had for enabling this.

          But this can’t be looking good for the company anyway. I cannot imagine that the clients will stand for this guy long. Especially if you have decent competition who can do things for them in a better manner.

          1. OP*

            Hi, OP here. Thanks for the feedback! He has done the anonymous tip before since I put the request in, and they weren’t able to catch him in the act. Ugh. So he’s going to try again and see what happens.

              1. OP*

                The boss that was originally ignoring the whole mess (the big wig) ended up leaving, so they now have a new boss who isn’t putting up with it (at least at first). It was great for a few weeks after the change, but slowly the late lunches are happening again with the drunkenness, and once again no one is stepping up. Is an anonymous letter to the big wig a faux pas? I know it could be kind of tacky and cowardly, but at the same time he already brought it up once?

                1. OP*

                  Ps sorry I forgot the sentence where he did actually talk to the new big wig during the change over (they met with each employee individually just to get to know them), so at that time he laid it all out for him.

                2. Jamie*

                  An anonymous call to the police is one thing, but an anonymous letter within a workplace will always cause drama which will overshadow the actual issue.

                  One a practical level, there are very few situations where you can be specific enough that the accusations are taken seriously and not tip the hand as to who is complaining. Besides, it’s really hard to give credence to complaints no one is willing to put their name to.

                3. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Oh, great news about the new boss. I wouldn’t go with an anonymous letter for the reasons Jamie mentions, but why not talk to the new boss about it, as recommended in the post?

    3. Ruffingit*

      Coming here to suggest this. Call the cops every single night when this guy gets in his car drunk. He’ll likely be one of those people who ignores the DUIs he receives and continues this behavior. He’s an addict so that won’t be unusual. A few DUIs, a lost driver’s license, etc. will begin to impact his life.

      And yes, talk to the CEO. She needs to know what is going on. It’s quite possible she has no idea and this is so egregious, she should be made aware of this.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        Just the drunken client lunches ALONE would be enough to report it. Who in hell would want that to continue? The company could seriously lose business over this.

    4. Chinook*

      I was going to say the same thing. Some places even have campaigns to report impaired drivers by calling 911. When you do call, it will be helpful if you know the colour, make, model and licence plate of the car, where he is parked and when he will be leaving. In Canada, if not also in the U.S., it is illegal to be impaired behind the wheel, regardless of whether or not the vehicle is turned on (so you can’t argue that you were just sleeping it off).

    5. Michele*

      I have reported drunk drivers in the state of Oregon and can tell you first hand they do not ask for your name when you make the call. Most states from my understanding don’t ask. They will want the suspected drunk drivers license plate#, description of the vehicle, and location.

  2. Kay*

    Please call the police every time he is getting behind the wheel drunk. Report his license plate, car make and model, as well as location and direction. If you wait for the manager’s manager to do something about this, someone could get killed in the meantime. This is really important – call every time. Eventually the consequences will catch up with this person and hopefully they will receive treatment. But for now it’s your responsibility to protect all the innocent people driving and walking out there – report him to the police before someone gets killed.

  3. Jo*

    I never met my grandmother because she was killed on a New Year’s Eve before I was born by a drunk driver. Please, please, please do something about the drink driving. You and your friend do not need the guilt if he damages someone while on a binge. Everything else is secondary.


    Not only would I call the police but I would drop an anonymous note to the big boss regarding what is going on. There could be some liability on the company as well.

    1. WWWONKA*

      Not long after I started a new job in the past I would occasionally go into work on Saturday to get caught up w/o the phones ringing. On one occasion I found a co worker passed out in his office. The doors were open ad the alarm was off so anybody could have come in and robbed the place. He also could have been hurt there very easily. I let my boss know and he brushed it off. After about the third time I reminded him of the liability and that if something should happen it might cost him his job too. After that it stopped the guy from coming in to sober up but did not stop his drinking.

  5. Steve G*

    Very surprising they haven’t done something about this already. And how can someone drink so much? I love red wine but drinking more than a little gives me heartburn, bags under my eyes, red face, and speeds up my heart, and other issues. I’d be dead if I drank that much every day.

    1. Ruffingit*

      It’s an addiction, which generally means high tolerance for the substance ingested because you need more and more of it to get the same high.

      1. dejavu2*

        Also, because it’s an addiction, they drink (well) past the point where a non-addict would be motivated to stop.

    2. Observer*

      You are actually quite lucky – most people don’t react so badly at first, so they can get into some very bad habits, and addiction. I’ve seen at least one autobiography where the subject says something like “I’m very lucky that alcohol makes me so sick I can’t drink enough to get drunk. Otherwise, I’d be dead from alcoholism today.” And then goes on to explain why they would otherwise have gotten to that point.

  6. Cary*

    I’d slso say document each incident with a time description of events and a list of witnesses. Keep a copy on you hard drivr st work but also make sure you email a copy to. you private email. Present it to your bosses boss during your conversation with him/her then send it as a follow up post meeting. Do ask your bosd not to drive if hes drunk, but don’t get into a cinfrontation but do csll the police ig he drives drunk. Make sure the bosses boss knows you will call the police if hes driving drunk.

    1. fposte*

      That sounds like a threat, though, and that’s not the tack you want to take. For one, it’s not likely to be as effective, and for another, it’s likelier to get you fired.

      1. Rachel*

        On that note, would the employee be protected legally, were he to get fired here? It sounds like he would under whistle-blowing laws; he reported something illegal happening in the workplace and got retaliated against, which seems like it would be covered.

        1. fposte*

          It wouldn’t rise to the federal standard, so it would depend on the state. Most of the state laws are about workplace safety, though; protections don’t generally extend to common crimes that take place outside of the workplace, even if it’s a co-worker committing the crime.

            1. Forrest*

              Retaliation doesn’t always happen and depending on a lot of factors, the hire ups could figure out who sent the anonymous note, thus putting the employee at risk anyway.

        2. Ruffingit*

          Not likely. Drinking is not illegal, nor is getting rip roaring drunk in the workplace. Some companies (obviously, from this letter) tolerate that. Driving drunk is illegal, but he’s not doing that at work, he’s doing it after work. So calling the cops would be the answer there, but being protected under whistle blower statutes? No, that’s not applicable as far as I can see. Someone correct me if I’m wrong.

          1. fposte*

            You’re not :-). Generally, whistleblower statutes are about protecting those who make complaints about systemic illegality–government fraud or waste, or code violations. While there might, as usual, be more in some states, it’s not a concept that generally means any complaint about an illegal activity is protected.

            1. Jessa*

              Yeh, unless he was doing something DURING work, like driving a company vehicle, or operating machinery drunk, or doing something else dangerous that was job related, then you’d be okay, but nope not for driving off the lot after work. Unless maybe there’s some kind of swipe out at the end of the lot? Would the lot then be considered work space? I dunno you’d have to ask a lawyer that one?

              1. fposte*

                Yeah, I thought about the parking lot and decided to leave that one alone. In general, though, whistleblowing is one of those things that has a more specific meaning than it sounds like it does.

                1. Ruffingit*

                  Exactly. It’s like hostile work environment. I can’t tell you how many corrections I’ve made on that one for the people who think it means the environment is literally hostile as in co-workers behaving like jerks toward others. If that was the standard, the courts would be immeasurably clogged!

                2. fposte*

                  Wrongful termination is my other favorite example. Somebody needs to get language people to create these legal terms so they sound like what they actually mean.

  7. Library Jen*

    I wonder if other coworkers feel the same? If the level of drinking is so high that it is obvious that this manager is drunk and that it is disrupting his work then surely others have noticed? If he works with clients then perhaps they would make a complaint? This is separate from the drink driving of course, but if other people have been effected as well then it will put the OP’s friend in a better position. As for evidence/documenting the drunkeness – would it be better to note down when these events occur and get coworkers to do the same. As a united front you might not face retaliation.

      1. Jessa*

        Yeh and by that time they’ve badmouthed you to half their associates too. You end up losing more business than just them.

  8. Also Kara*

    I completely co-sign the previous comments about reporting the drunk driving. Absolutely. It’s only a matter of time before he hurts/kills someone. A relative’s colleague’s kid is in jail right now because she drove (very) drunk, got in an accident, and permanently injured the other driver.

    And I can’t believe clients aren’t saying anything about this guy missing meetings and showing up drunk. Are people just that good at covering for him? (I’m reminded of Augusten Burroughs.) At the very least, his boss should be made aware of how he’s behaving in front of clients.

    I have to say, if I were working for this guy, I’d be circulating my résumé. It’s just too fraught.

  9. Allison (not AAM)*

    Most big companies these days offer options for treatment, usually as a short-term disability. The boss’s boss should definitely be made aware (I like Alison’s #s 2 & 3), and this option could be offered as an alternative to termination. Does the company have an EAR service that your friend could use? I wish your friend luck – it’s a tough situation to be in. I have a recovering alcoholic in my life, and I know that deep down the alcoholic knows that his job is on the line, he’s just pushing it as far as he can. He will not be able to quit drinking until he is ready and willing to enter recovery himself. However, hitting bottom, such as losing his job or getting arrested for DUI, could wake him up. But no guarantees…

    1. Anon for this*

      Exactly. Speaking as a recovering alcoholic, this is exactly the reason why getting caught could be the best thing that ever happens to him. Or his family. Or the people he would have otherwise killed. I hear so many stories about people who have killed someone from drunk driving, and it’s heartbreaking. Please don’t participate via silence. Say something every time he gets in the car drunk.

  10. HR Personal&Confidential*

    Many employers with medical insurance have an Employee Assistance Program too. Maybe OP’s friend can research a bit and mention it when he goes to the bosses manager.

  11. Rebecca*

    I had to deal with a subordinate who had an alcohol problem, so a little different, but my manager told me something important.

    You can’t prove (without a breathalyzer or blood test) that someone is drunk. Most companies are wary of disciplining or firing an employee for alcoholism because this can be considered a disability. Instead, you need to focus on the resulting behavior. Focus on the fact that he is late or absent, he’s belligerent (or otherwise unprofessional) with clients, he is leaving his admin with work far beyond the scope of his job, etc.

    And yes, I would absolutely report the drunk driving. I have called 911 when I have seen drivers I suspected were drunk and they’ve never asked for my name, but you may look into whether there’s a Crime Stoppers hotline or something similar as others have suggested.

    Sorry your friend is going through this! I would definitely be looking for another job, this sounds like an awful situation. I hope his boss gets the help he needs.

      1. Rebecca*

        I wrote her up for the actions resulting from her being drunk. Not showing up for shifts, being argumentative with her direct manager, etc. I made sure her write-up included something along the lines of, “Further instances of insubordination and or/absenteeism will result in additional discipline, up to and including termination.”

        I actually was laid off not long after this process started (oh, the irony), so I don’t know what ended up happening with her.

        You can really only do so much for someone as their manager or even colleague. I really hope she got the help she needed.

      2. Bobby Digital*

        I don’t know if this is applicable to, well, anyone, really, but in some school systems, teachers can actually be escorted to a lab/hospital/etc. to have their BAC tested. This doesn’t happen often, of course, but the protocol exists.

        1. Jamie*

          Common in my industry as well and mandatory after an accident with injuries (automobile, forklift, or production machine).

          You have to agree to this in writing before beginning employment at every place I’ve worked.

          1. T in Construction*

            It’s common in construction too. At my company, we can be drug tested and alcohol tested at any time “for cause” because our safety department has BAC testing capabilities. In practice, this is only used after an accident or some sort of altercation.

          2. Elizabeth West*

            Yep, my manufacturing jobs and the job at an environmental remediation company had the same provisions for shop/field personnel. The environmental company had to do random testing under DOT regulations.

        2. Rebecca*

          In Texas anyway, if you have an accident at work (something you would file worker’s comp for), you can get drug and BAC tested. I believe it’s mandatory but I might be remembering that wrong.

          (I can understand why, I mean why should a company pay you worker’s comp if the real reason you even had the accident was that you were drunk. Of course, on the other hand, marijuana can stay in your system for weeks so there’s that.)

          Anyway, I think that’s only applicable in most industries in the case of an accident that would result in worker’s comp. I’m not sure they can just haul you off to get BAC tested on suspicion.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            There is a retailer in NYS that has a $200 cap. Any incident that costs over $200 in medical or other expense requires drug testing for those involved. Kind of a low cap, I thought. But the point is that many places are tying costs to mandatory testing.

  12. Bobby Digital*

    “He also, frankly, could say something to the manager himself, at least about the driving drunk.”

    I guess I can understand the impulse to want to make an anonymous report but…I don’t know. I’d like to think that I’d give the guy a heads-up before I started calling the cops on him.

    Maybe he doesn’t deserve the favor; maybe he’s an addict to whom a heads-up is futile; maybe this is a crime against you because you drive home, too. Still, I’d feel…grimy? sneaky? dishonest?…about saying nothing to the guy and then calling the cops every evening until they arrest him.

    That said, I have absolutely no idea how to have this conversation without it sounding like a threat…which it kinda is…ugh.

    Basically, I really appreciate this part of Alison’s advice.

    1. Jessa*

      “Hey Sam, I really, I can smell the alcohol on your breath from here, you’re really not safe to drive you know. You want me to call you a cab? (call your spouse/s.o/sister/friend/drive you home myself?)”

      Sam – “I’m okay”

      “No you’re really NOT okay. I don’t feel right about this. Seriously. I don’t want you to get hurt or to hurt someone else.”

      At that point if Sam leaves I can’t stop them. And yeh they’d likely know I’m the one that called the cops. So it really matters as to whether you want to start this every night. Because it could have implications for your job. Sam’s not going to forget about it and could make life miserable for you at work.

      And even though you’re right, and doing the right thing, booze is such a touchy subject, and even though everyone gives lip service to stopping drunk driving, such drivers get off again and again. You’re right as rain but not going to be popular over this. Especially amongst people who didn’t have the guts to stand up and do it with you/before you.

    2. Observer*

      Do you really expect someone to risk their job? That’s the fundamental problem here. At this point, there is little reason to believe that the boss will stop driving if the assistant tells him that someone should really call the police. On the other hand, if he does get stopped, he’s going to lay blame, regardless of whether the admin called the police – and might very well retaliate in any case.

      On the other hand, a heads up to the boss’ boss, to say something like “you know, if boss gets stopped for driving drunk, which is really what this looks like, then we’re not going to look too good. In fact we could be facing some nasty publicity”

      1. A Teacher*

        I’m going to guess if they are that intoxicated and the employee decides to call the police, the manager isn’t going to know who called on them. I’ve also called a few times when I’m driving and I suspect someone that’s driving drunk. They’ve never asked me my name, just as much info on the car/driver that I can give.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          I’ve never called about this, but every single time I’ve called 911 to report an accident, a roadblock, or a guy lying on the sidewalk (I just wanted them to send an officer to check if he was okay; it was really hot that afternoon, and that is not normal even for street people in my city), they have ALWAYS asked my name. Of course, I supposed I could refuse to give it, but in most cases I did anyway.

      2. Jamie*

        Do you really expect someone to risk their job?

        Yes. As I’m sure would anyone who has been affected by the loss associated with drunk drivers. Or anyone who understands that we all have an obligation to public safety. If the boss was firing a gun randomly someone would call the cops. A car with a drunk behind the wheel is as much of a weapon.

        1. Kayza*

          You didn’t bother to read past the first sentence, apparently. Otherwise you would have seen that the question was in regards to risking one’s job to avoid the appearance of being “sneaky”, by giving the (not) poor, innocent boss a heads up.

          I don’t think anyone needs to risk their job to warn an idiot to stop playing with loaded guns, nor do I think they need to risk their jobs to warn someone that they shouldn’t drive drunk.

  13. Not So NewReader*

    Some how this guy needs to be reported. He is an accident looking for a place. It sounds like the possibility of injury to others is quite high.

    What about the place that serves him all these drinks? I cannot believe that no one sees him get in a car… Here, police have been known to sit in parking lots outside the bar/restaurant and just wait for people to come out and get behind the wheel.

    OP, does your friend have any friends that might “just happen” to follow the guy and report him? This could be anyone, not an employee of the company.

    I wonder about the liability thing. It is not clear when this guy is on company time or doing company business. Is the timing murky enough that a court would assume he was on company time doing company work? What would the legal implications be for the company if it was noticed that everyone knew this guy had an on going issue and did nothing?

    As an aside, OP, from my experience/reading many (NOT all!) alcoholics can be very likeable. They have aspects of their personalities that are very caring and endearing. Encourage your friend not to let these charming characteristics cloud the story line.

    I definitely would not recommend that he take on this situation by himself. (He will probably lose his job before he solves the problem.) I feel that he has to look outside the company for support. This could mean a visit to the police department, an anonymous phone call, the help of friends or similar ideas.
    The solution might be as easy as letting the police know which bar is this guy’s favorite and letting them take it from there.

  14. Editor*

    If I worked with this person and my boss and HR didn’t care about the drinking or sometimes participated in it, I would not say one word more to the drinker or to anyone in the company. The drinking is so egregious, I don’t believe the worker needs to give the drinker a warning, particularly since it sounds like it won’t be well received (based on the OP’s comments about the company’s culture). If the drinker lives in another police jurisdiction, I would call the police station where he lives, too, not just the cops who cover the area where he works and lunches.

    I would try to figure out where the drinker goes to lunch regularly or often, then I would go to a pay phone (there are a few) or get a prepaid cell or write up my notes and have a friend of a friend call the police station on the business line, and ask to speak to someone about a difficult DUI driver. Then when I talked to the officer, I would not admit to working with the man nor would I give my name; I would just give all the details about the vehicle and the most likely places to catch him, emphasizing the lunch locations — because if this drinker is arrested on his way back to work, it will make him even later for work and will be a documented case of drinking during standard working hours.

    I would be concerned about keeping my job. I think the OP’s friend should start looking for another job right away, but I think the drinking should be reported. Probably going over someone’s head to the CEO will result in damage to the messenger, given that HR won’t intervene or hangs out with the drinker. Make an anonymous report as soon as possible and keep your concerns to yourself at work. If there’s no arrest within a week, call the cops again with as much information as possible, but call 911 (in the U.S.) for the second call — just don’t give your name or phone, even if the operator asks for it.

    I disagree with a lot of posters about this situation, I know, but when the drinker’s boss avoids dealing with the problem, working within the company doesn’t seem to be a good solution. Going outside to encourage law enforcement to intervene seems best, because they are more likely to stop the drunk driving. If the drinker gets arrested, is released and/or posts bail, resumes drinking (and is reported anonymously again) and gets arrested a second time, that will be a stronger message than anyone at the employer has been willing to deliver so far.

    OP, one practical thing you could do is to call the local police station (not 911) and ask how anonymous the person reporting can be, whether the taped phone call of a complaint was an open record or could be subpeonaed, and where the jurisdiction boundaries are. Ask the dispatcher or admin at the police station if you can talk to the officer in charge or the officer who heads up the DUI enforcement.

  15. Anonymous*

    I’m a little confused about #3; it’s “absolutely [the friend’s] business”…why? Not that I disagree in this case because of the safety issues, but there are safety issues with being under the influence of illegal drugs and you don’t feel that should be anyone’s business. Then there are posts like that one where the OP found out her coworker had either falsified credentials or lied about her education, and that wasn’t supposed to be her business even though for all we knew it could have been a Frank Abagnale situation.

    It seems like hit or miss with you whether something is supposed to be someone’s business, and tbh I don’t think that should be the deciding factor. Technically nothing is my business unless it directly hurts me, but that doesn’t mean I’m off the hook morally if a coworker without a PT license hurts a patient or someone comes to work stoned and crashes a forklift.

    1. Jamie*

      I’ve been reading this blog for a long time and I’ve never seen Alison advise people to drive under the influence of anything, or endanger others in any way.

      What people do in the privacy of their homes on their own time is so far removed from what people do while operating motor vehicles or other machines which could cause harm as to be a completely separate argument.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Exactly. Someone doing something in the privacy of their living room is very different than someone endangering other people behind the wheel of a car.

    2. OP*

      It’s a tricky situation, my friend (who I was writing on behalf of) has tried to get him caught. The part we struggle with (this is not an excuse in any way) is that it’s kind of pathetic that someone at the lowest level of the company is trying to fix such a massive problem when SOOO many higher up know about it. Not that that has deterred him from trying. Needless to say he is looking for a new job ASAP.

      Also, in regards to point #1 (THANK YOU ALISON FOR YOUR ADVICE), boss is in no way doing any work behind the scenes. I know it’s hard to make a statement like that, but we for sure know (mostly because my friend is pretty much doing their job).

  16. O*

    I was just wondering, if it would be appropriate to ask what city. I unfortunately know someone who is like this on their personal time and after reading this made me wonder if they are like this at work…

      1. Chinook*

        OP, since you are talking about a drunk driver in Canada, I can tell you that just sitting behind the wheel while impaired is illegal. Also, he doesn’t necessarily have to be over a legal limit to be considered “impaired” because that involves more than being drunk. You can even be arrested for being impaired by not having enough sleep (you won’t be charged for drunk driving but they will pull you off the road because you are a hazard).

        Since you are in a city, you are probably dealing with city police and not RCMP (meaning there are more people available to deal with this issue as RCMP detachments usually have fewer people on shift). Go to the local police station and tell someone on duty about your concerns as you described them here and ask them how you could deal with it. If you are uncomfortable with this and want to be anonymous, CrimeStoppers has a website and a 1-800 number you can contact to give all the details. Repeat as necessary. It is frustrating if no one will help you the first time, but think about the life you may be saving by doing so.

        If you get flack from your company for speaking up, point out that the PR would be very bad if this guy killed someone while driving drunk on his way home from work since no one there has plausible deniability about the problem.

  17. Realistic*

    Others have addressed the driving-while-drunk situation, so I’ll skip that. OP, your friend needs to talk to others who have been in similar situations. Al-Anon Family Groups is a resource for him or her. (http://al-anon.org/) Al-Anon is for anyone who knows someone with a problem with drinking. People at the meeting will share their experiences with the alcoholic, what they did that worked/didn’t work. There are meetings all over the world, including beginner’s meetings which are specifically for people just starting out learning about dealing with an alcoholic. That’s one resource outside of the workplace which is anonymous and supportive.

    Now to the practical stuff: If your friend is covering for her boss (“I’m sorry Boss missed the client meeting, he wasn’t had a work emergency”), she should stop. I think professionalism would dictate not saying that Boss is drunk, but people inside the company will know. Stick with the facts, “I don’t know where Boss is. May I reschedule the meeting?” Your friend should be sure that she takes care of herself, especially when doing high-level work. “Boss’s Boss, I did this report because Boss asked me to. If you have changes you need made, please email me directly so I can take care of them in a timely fashion.” And — perhaps — your friend shouldn’t do Boss’s work. By doing her Boss’s job, she is cushioning Boss from the consequences of his actions (using male language for Boss for ease in understanding). She is enabling him to continue to be employed. If his work didn’t get done, his addiction may have to be addressed by the higher ups. If she is covering for him by doing his work, her enabling is costing her the respect, pay and potential promotion that comes from doing the higher level work — and allowing her Boss to keep on doing what he’s doing. What motivation does he have to change his behavior if there are no negative consequences to it?

    The truth of the matter is that men are more likely to get sober if they lose their jobs. Women are more likely to get sober if they loser their families. Everyone is more likely to change their behavior if there are negative consequences to their actions. Your friend is in a tricky spot, with the company only caring that the work gets done and her trying to meet that goal — and yet doing the work enable the Boss to continue his drinking. Talking to Boss about specific situations in a non-accusatory, non-shaming, non-judgmental way, and focusing on actions to be taken is a good rule of thumb: “Boss, you missed client meeting X because you were at lunch during that time. In situations like this, should I call on my own to reschedule it, or should I wait for you to ask me to do so?” Active alcoholics know they have a problem. They generally will do anything they can do to make it someone else’s problem. In a family situation, you can refuse to enable the alcoholic. In a work situation, however, your job is to enable the work to be done — but not the alcoholic to make things your problem which aren’t yours to clean up (if that makes sense).

    Good luck, and I hope your friend finds a resource of people who have been in a situation like this and can share experience with her.

    1. Jamie*

      I can see doing something like this for someone you love, but I don’t think anyone should have to seek out this kind of help for a workplace problem. If you require a support group to deal with a work issue, the problem is probably bigger than one can resolve without managerial support.

      Boundaries are great – I am a personal fan of strong boundaries…but the repercussions of not cleaning up after the person with the issue is so different at work than in personal life.

      I am just baffled that tptb there haven’t stepped in at least regarding the clients – I’d personally have my resume out.

      1. Realistic*

        I’m going by the comment that the OP’s friend “loves his boss and has a stellar relationship with him” and “isn’t going to quit over it.” Yes, management SHOULD BE doing something, and yes, one shouldn’t need a support group to deal with workplace issues. That being said, I just wanted the OP’s friend to know that one is available should he want to learn in a safe environment what others have done.

  18. Interviewer*

    I work for an industry that is high-stress and thus full of these type of addictive behaviors. They are also very high-functioning employees. Despite the fact that it’s common, these are painful and difficult problems for managers to solve in the workplace. Not everyone is equipped to have this type of conversation. The basics involve a strong gut instinct for BS, and a laser focus on the work performance that has degraded. Trying to tell someone “you smelled like whiskey after lunch” versus “you were late with the TPS reports this month” – well, the latter is much easier, frankly. But the employee whose performance is being questioned may have every defense in the world because they are equipped to lie about their disease and make plenty of excuses, shift blame, etc. That is where the instinct for BS comes in.

    I would ask the OP’s friend to notify the Boss’s Boss that despite a short period of improvement, the behaviors are returning. The OP’s friend may not be aware of a probation period for the Boss, or a warning to the Boss that future episodes won’t be tolerated, and perhaps this could be the final straw.

    Good luck.

  19. been there too*

    I had a co-worker coming to work with the shakes, sweating and smelling of alcohol. They would also fly into rages. I told my boss about this. Obviously not much has been done as this person is now in my bosses job when they are off on holidays. They are still coming to work sweating, shaking (alcohol breathe under control though!) but now he is my boss. If any formal complaints are made work policy is to have you both in a meeting with our manager who is worse then useless in conflict resolution. Don’t know how much longer he can keep it up though but he has managed to get by as he gets his job done. It is like watching a slow train wreck.

  20. L Keuhlen*

    My workplace feels like a dysfunctional family. We have a deadbeat dad of a postmaster who is gone for most of our lives; an alcoholic mother of a supervisor who is no longer “functioning”; and a big-brother-is-watching clerk who has ran off more co-workers than we can count with his erratic, hostile and sometimes physical behavior.

    The USPS claims zero tolerance for harrassment, yet this particular clerk remains while other (good workers) have had to escape to maintain their sanity.

    The USPS employs the “good ol’ boy network”, so the postmaster does not fear consequences for being errant and absent.

    The supervisor we care about but tiptoe around.

    It feels like a cop out to look for another job when you like what you do and care about those with whom you work.

    But ultimately, you can’t make others care about their jobs or themselves. You can only try to satisfy yourself.

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