I think my on-call coworker was high when I contacted him

A reader writes:

I’ve got a bit of a very modern doozy here. I work in a position where I regularly call on-call personnel after hours to investigate technical issues, often states away. I had to call our on-call person and, well, I’ll be honest here, I’m pretty sure he was high: he was laughing at things I said and he was having trouble understanding what I was saying. For instance, let’s say I was calling for a problem with a teapot sealer, and he kept referring to the teapot stamper instead. The conversation ended up being a total wash, because he couldn’t understand and kept interrupting me by laughing. It ended with a work order being assigned to him because I at least got him to agree to that much, and I had no more contact with that issue.

Now, the complication. He lives in a state in which marijuana is legal, and he wasn’t on the clock but he was on call. I’m not exactly a square, I don’t look down on people that choose to imbibe though I don’t myself, and I know that unlike having a beer you can’t predict how long you’re going to be high off a given amount of marijuana, but that just tells me you should be triple-careful when you might have work responsibilities that night!

I also don’t have concrete evidence he was stoned, but the giggling and laughing and confusion made it pretty obvious he was in some altered state.

The last complication is that our relationship with the facility mechanics is vital to performing our job because we’re the same pay grade. I rely on them doing what I ask but have no authority to make them listen to my advice or information. Plus, if they want to, they can put a fine-toothed comb on all my work orders, looking for reasons to get me disciplined.

I don’t want to look like I have a vendetta, and I don’t want to alienate the plant technicians, but the conversation was really not okay for me. It made me feel very uncomfortable, and it was very clear that the job wasn’t going to get done until he was in a clearer state of mind. I felt very disrespected, but this isn’t about my feelings; this is about if he was capable of doing his job.

Should I just let it go? Should I say something informally? If I go to my boss or shift floor manager, it’s going to become a big deal right away, probably drug tests and my boss’ boss calling the mechanic’s boss’ boss.

Why not just report the facts that you have, and avoid drawing any conclusions? After all, he might have been high, or he might have been drunk, or he might have been all hopped up on Jolt Cola (it’s a thing), or he might have been on a legally prescribed muscle relaxant, or lots of other possibilities. We don’t know.

But what we do know is that he was unable to help you while he was on-call, and he behaved really oddly and unprofessionally. Those are objectively reportable facts, and they’re concerning all on their own regardless of the cause.

So if you do decide to say something, say this: “When Fergus was on-call last week, I called him for help with a teapot sealer. The call was unsettling and unhelpful — he kept laughing at things I said and was having trouble understanding what I was saying. I eventually just got him to agree to take a work order and ended the call, but the laughing and confusion and general disconnection from the conversation really concerned me.”

As for whether to report at all: I’d lean toward yes. Presumably you have people on-call because it’s important that someone be able to deal with issues that come up, and this guy was very much not able to do that. On the other hand, some people might argue that you should give him a one-time pass and only report it if it happens again, at which point you’d have a pattern on your hands. I don’t really know which makes sense here without knowing a lot more context, but absent any other information, I’d lean toward filling someone else in. (And if there are safety issues involved, that should move you to a definite yes.)

{ 141 comments… read them below }

  1. Traveller

    Not sure whether it applies in this particular industry, but many industries which use on-call staff put limitations on what staff can do while they are on-call. ie – must be able to report for work within 60 minutes …. which effectively means – no drinking while on call (and no drugs, by extension), no travel out of town etc.

    I’m primarily thinking of examples like doctors, pilots or police officers where they may be asked to show up and be ready to go on short notice — and clear-headedness could be a matter of life and death!

    1. Manders

      Yeah, I would assume that if the on-call person has to be clear-headed enough to answer technical questions without notice and maybe travel to the plant on short notice, that would be spelled out clearly. And I’d assume that there was some kind of call rotation with a sufficient number of technicians, so that one person wasn’t permanently stuck unable to drink or smoke or travel.

      If this guy is the only one who’s “on call” for this type of problem in this region and he’s always “on call” when he’s off the clock, then that’s a different issue. I’ve heard of that being a problem in some industries. But if the system is set up well and expectations are clear, yeah, he screwed up.

      1. Joseph

        “If this guy is the only one who’s “on call” for this type of problem in this region and he’s always “on call” when he’s off the clock, then that’s a different issue. ”
        This is a sadly common issue. Which, IME, never ends well. Either the person gets burned out and bails out (bye bye knowledge), the person gets fired for being unavailable, or something happens that prevents the person from being on call (e.g., hospitalization) and the world falls apart.

        1. Naomi

          Or (in my boyfriend’s case), their girlfriend gets so annoyed at being woken in the middle of the night she issues an ultimatum – either he talks to the office about getting a proper rota system setup, or she will. It worked (also I found being somewhat vocal in the background of calls helped ie ‘who is that? Is that the office again?’)

          One person being constantly on call is not good for anybody!

          1. JustaTech

            You’re so much more pro-active than I was! I just said “The third time the system wakes you up at night you have to get out of bed and go downstairs.” It was an automated system (so no talking), but it would go off at 3am all the time.

      2. DJG

        Hi, it’s me, the original writer here.

        We have multiple on-call regions, about 20 of them, and at any given time about half of them have someone on-call, who is expected to cover nearby regions as well (E.g. the on-call for northern Colorado might also be covering parts of Utah and Wyoming). Some regions are more heavily staffed than others but it means on average each tech will end up being on call once every 1-2 weeks. They might be asked, however, to cover a location when not on-call just because they’re the only person that could get to the site in a reasonable amount of time, that happens mostly in very sparsely populated states where facilities might be considerably distant.

        1. CrimsonCaller

          That’s quite a lot of on-call. “Being on call once every 1 week” is also known as “being on call every week.” It sounds like it’s closer to the perpetual on-call than the “hey, you’re only on call 3 days a month, please don’t drink,” type. What are the regulations and rules regarding being “on-call?”

          As mentioned, in some instances there are restrictions on travel while on call, but clearly in this instance that’s not possible, since the on call area covers hundreds of square miles.

          1. Anon13

            I took “being on call once every 1-2 weeks” to mean “being on call one day/shift every 1-2 weeks.” I agree that, if it means the entire week, it’s unreasonable to expect the person to never be imppaired or unreachable while on call.

    2. Random Lurker

      I manage a team that has on call duties and have had to put restrictions like you outlined. Unfortunately, I’ve had to terminate someone for being drunk while on call. It’s a crappy part of the job, but if you are on call, you need to be prepared to work at a moment’s notice. It seems silly that you have to spell out to people that this means you cannot be inebriated, but there you have it.

      1. Not the Droid You are Looking For

        Yup…we have a similar paragraph detailing what a person can and cannot do while on call. Some of them seem pretty obvious, but all are situations that have come up.

        1. Joseph

          I wouldn’t really say it’s “obvious” simply because, as someone else said below, “on call” can mean tons of different things. And therefore, the restrictions on what’s allowed can be different.
          >Can I go to sleep/nap with my phone volume cranked loud to wake me up if the phone rings?
          >Can I be at a sporting event and unable to access a computer?
          >Can I travel to a different city?
          >Can I have a couple beers?
          You might think the obvious answer is “No, you’re on call”, but depending on the job duties, it may be completely fine to do any or all of the above.

          1. Manders

            Yeah, I’ve seen someone I know “on call” with a pager on his belt and a beer in his hand, and that wasn’t out of line for his profession, where lots of people are on call but the call would only go out in an emergency so massive that some people might not be able to make it in anyway because of major infrastructure disruptions.

            This problem seems like it got fixed with a work order, and it doesn’t sound like someone needed to travel to the plant to fix something right that instant, so I’m not clear on what exactly “on call” means in this company. Also, there seems to be something potentially contentious going on with the relationship between facility mechanics and the LW’s position, so it’s entirely possible that this guy’s managers do not think of time on call the same way LW does or aren’t that concerned about not always being available to LW. This dynamic strikes me as pretty weird:

            “I rely on them doing what I ask but have no authority to make them listen to my advice or information. Plus, if they want to, they can put a fine-toothed comb on all my work orders, looking for reasons to get me disciplined.”

            1. Manders

              Oops, I posted this before I saw LW’s response. The on call rotation seems pretty reasonable, but it still strikes me as odd that you have the ability to put in work orders and call facility mechanics but you don’t have the authority to actually make them do anything, or that they’d deliberately try to catch you out for putting in work orders.

              1. sunny-dee

                Nah, that seems not impossible to me. It’s like this (I work in software) — you have engineers and you have support people. The support people are taking calls / issues from customers; if they hit a problem, they need to escalate to an engineer for technical assistance. The engineers don’t report to the support guys, though, so the support guys can’t “force” them to do anything. And if the support guys start shifting issues which they should be able to address themselves over to engineering, then the engineers can push back. They work together because the shared goal, ultimately, is happy customers, but they’re working as peers.

              2. DJG

                Hi, it’s me, the original poster again.

                It’s not that they would come down on us for writing the work orders, those are our job. It’s that they can put a fine tooth comb on them and look for “oh the service level agreement says this gets ticketed within 15 minutes and this one took 16” or look for small details trying to cause trouble. I file a few dozen work orders a day, it’s inevitable that there are occasional mistakes as much as we try to avoid them. Typically it’s understood by everyone, including management, that no one is perfect and the goal is to get work done not obsess over minutiae. But if a particularly pedantic tech has it in for you, they could put your job at risk by overstating the impact of minor things.

          2. DJG

            Hi, it’s me, the original writer here.

            Our formal service level agreement says that the locals have to be able to drive to location, and they are obligated to answer a voicemail within 30 minutes or we go up the chain and call their supervisor, who gets a report that they’re AWOL. Absent technical or logistical reasons (having to drive two hours to get a part, the site being remote or there being heavy weather that slows travel), expectation is impactful issues are resolved within four hours.

            We have people go out to dinner with the family, or attend events, but they know that they might have to leave suddenly. The expectations on having their issued tablet and laptop at hand are more murky, many of them do, but not all. I’m not going to expect someone who is driving down the freeway to have their laptop open and be dialing in to routers and equipment.

            1. MashaKasha

              Ah, having to drive pretty much means no drinking or other substances IMO. In our case, we had to be able to log in. As long as we had our work laptop with us, and were near a power outlet and an internet connection, no driving was expected.

          3. MashaKasha

            I was on call for 6.5 years in the early 2000s; one week on/two weeks off, and two weeks on/four weeks off. If I didn’t sleep while on call, I’d be dead by now! Meaning, I agree with you, there’s some leniency.

            Have I ever taken a call while under the influence of alcohol? Not gonna lie, I only knew one person at my work who’d never done that. Life happens. But, we all made sure we’d have enough presence of mind to be able to handle a call; instead of dumping it on our off-call teammate or mishandling it and causing a production emergency. IOW, having a beer at a family cookout was okay, being blackout drunk was not. There were no guidelines, written or otherwise, that I know of; other than “you should be able to call back within 15 minutes”. We just used our common sense.

    3. Mike

      I think it really really really depends on what “on call” means. Even at a single workplace, it differs — one team with super-critical timing requirements had people on a rotating on-call schedule where being on-call meant you had to be <15 minutes away from a computer at all times; another had all the staff be "on call" in case something went wrong in case of emergency, but nobody would get in trouble if they couldn't answer the phone or were unable to help.

      If the requirements are spelled out clearly and the callee couldn't meet them, that's the problem; if they're not, then it's not clear whether there even is a problem.

      1. DJG

        Hi, it’s me, the original writer here.

        In our case anything that can be done remotely can be done with the tools the central facility has. The field mechanics don’t have any access we don’t have at the management center except they have keys to the facility and can put hands on the equipment.

        So typically the expectation is by the time we’re calling we have done everything that is possible to do remotely. Sometimes we need to call the locals for advice on unusual configurations (E.g. “this teapot driller is labelled as ‘temporary replacement’ and it’s not responding to remote pings, is it actually in use anymore?”) but most of the time I’m calling them, it’s because someone is needed to go there and replace a part or a card or equipment is showing it has been disconnected, something of that nature

  2. Rachel B

    It would have been helpful to know what his follow up on the work order was like, once he was in a better state of mind. Did he have a better grasp of the issue, once he’d had a chance to think about it?

    1. Leatherwings

      Hm. I’m not sure it would be helpful, though. Either way, he performed some part of his job badly. Even if he got it together later, the reasons AAM suggests to report it still apply – it’s important to have people on call.

      Knowing if the follow up was better *might* help figure out if he was using substances of some kind, but that’s not really relevant to OP at this point.

      1. Jeanne

        I disagree. If the work order wasn’t finished in the right way or right time frame, that could be a fact in the report. If OP could be blamed for not getting the issue fixed, she should definitely include this info.

        1. Leatherwings

          To me that would just be an additional report, or additional info to include in the first one.

    2. DJG

      Hi, it’s me, the original writer here.

      I peeked in on the issue afterwards and it appears that it was handled later that evening without further trouble. It never showed up on a “late/unhandled” work order report and it was closed with a routine “I went and fiddled with it” reason coding.

      The local techs rarely leave voluminous notes on what actions they took, as compared to the expectations of the central facility network people like me (which is another issue altogether), but it didn’t look unusual as far as handling and resolution went.

      It was handled within the normal service level agreement timeframe.

      1. MissDisplaced

        Well, that being the case, at least to me, they were able to preform the job without issue. So… you may want to give the poor phone call a pass this once. They could have been anywhere, facing other distractions, etc. Not ok, and not terribly professional, but maybe not high either.

        1. nonegiven

          He could have been laying on the floor being licked by 6 puppies. I don’t know if anyone could avoid laughing.

        2. coffeepowerrd

          I agree with these comments. Just because someone is laughing during a business call doesn’t mean they are doing anything illegal. For all you know his girlfriend was tickling him mercilessly and he was trying to stay focused. Also, it can’t be assumed that the substance(s) in question are marijuana and/or alcohol.

          There are a lot of “drugs” out there (see: ALL chemicals of the universe, including Sugar and Caffeine, as Alison pointed out).

          If you take an action against this person and it turns out he was medicated at the time (albeit “altered” according to your subjective opinion), on a legal substance prescribed by his doctor, that could be very hot water. Consider also the mental health disorders and their medications in addition to assuming that he was partying while on call.

          This isn’t about being a square or being an imbiber, it’s about being careful with assumptions at the end of the day. If the call was recorded, save it.

          If it wasn’t, all you have is hearsay and your own opinions about the degree to which he was impaired, which, when this person has their wits about them again, is a risk you are exposing the company to.

        3. Shortie

          Agreed. This is very important to the story. If it was handled within the SLA later that evening without further trouble, I would give it a pass this once.

  3. Leatherwings

    Spot on advice. OP, I understand the line you’re straddling! I know you aren’t judgy and don’t care too much what people do in their free time, but on the other hand you need people to be able to do their jobs competently, and substance may interfere with that.

    I do think that reporting the behavior allows you to avoid straddling that line, but it also gives the person’s supervisor something concrete to go on. Rather than having to confront the person about substance use, they can address their bad service skills, which is likely to work better anyways. Good luck!

      1. Anna

        Well, that isn’t exactly what Leatherwings was suggesting, but basically it comes down to just reporting the facts of what happened without including any thoughts on why it happened that way.

  4. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2

    Technically, some people are “on call 24 hours a day 7 days a week”…..but that doesn’t mean they can’t tie one on, on a Saturday, etc., or even use certain substances.

    Is this an occasional on-call rotation, or is it “on call always”??? If someone was “on 24x7x365” call and received a call, say, at 10 pm on New Year’s Eve about redesigning a teapot, what type of answer do you expect?

    Been there, done that. Had a boss that would page me at 10 at night, or when he knew I was going to a hockey game or something, just to razzle me. Also saw certain customers rattle their vendors back in 1999 – middle-of-the-night “fire drills” in preparation for “Y2K”.

    So we should hear the WHOLE story – what time was this? Weekend? How urgent?

    1. Roscoe

      That was my thought. Is this person the “go to” weekend call person where they get called all the time, or is this a once in a while thing. That to me definitely makes a difference.

    2. Jaguar

      Yeah, “on-call” spans a whole range of possibilities that would affect how I would handle the situation. Is there an on-call rotation? Is on-call 24 hours a day? How urgent are the issues for on-call? Is there a backup on-call (or even a pool of on-call people)?

    3. Lily in NYC

      OP answered this after you commented -search for DJG to see his/her responses…(rotational on-call every 1 or 2 weeks).

    4. DJG

      Hi, it’s me, the original writer here.

      Each local field agent will be on call once every one-two weeks, barring special exceptions like a co-worker taking leave or being ill and unable to be oncall. In extended cases (like a field agent who had a heart attack and was out for an extended period) other nearby on-call zones shifted to pick up the slack. They’re very good, in my opinion, about avoiding excessive demands unless it’s truly a catastrophic event like a hurricane or mass flooding.

      If I recall the incident properly it was about 9:00 to 10:00 at night but he was in a different time zone so his local time would have been 7-8, it was a weekday evening.

      We deal with public-facing equipment that can cause an impact, so it’s not “oh my god someone’s going to die if we don’t fix this” but it is “there may be customer impacts that cause inconvenience and minor harm to groups of customers”.

      Our service level agreement is if we leave a voicemail we’re to receive a response within 30 minutes or their boss is getting a call saying they’re AWOL, if that gives an indication of the level of urgency.

  5. Anlyn

    We rotate our on call schedule (in fact, I’m on call this week), and I rarely drink while on call. I do sometimes have a drink with dinner, but even then it’s usually because I forget, and think “oh, shoot, I’m on call, better make sure to drink it slowly”. Last thing I want to have happen is to be paged to a conference bridge while drunk. Plus, I work in security and often have to reset system IDs…if I’m compromised, I could really screw up a server if I’m not careful. So I make sure I’m sober during my on call rotation.

    Talk to your manager and let her know you had trouble getting Fergus to assist you when you needed him, and let them draw their own conclusions.

    1. Ife

      Remembering my days of being on bridge calls for this sort of thing… I think the experience would be vastly improved by being drunk! Maybe not so much for the other participants or the systems involved though. :)

  6. animaniactoo

    […] you can’t predict how long you’re going to be high off a given amount of marijuana.

    We won’t discuss how I know this, but you can absolutely predict a maximum amount of time until you’re sober (enough to do your job) again. No matter what kind of batch you end up with. And unless you’ve gone way overboard, that time is generally not more than 3 hours.

    However, I will also say – I dunno if you’ve ever been punchdrunk from exhaustion. But it sounds like exactly the same thing. Even looks like it with the red eyes and all… So yeah. Report the behavior, not the suspicion. 8•)

    1. Manders

      I’ve had it last much longer with edibles (and here in Washington, people make some STRONG edibles). But yeah, if I knew I was going to be on call, I wouldn’t be eating those.

      And you’re right, if I was just about to go to bed after a long day or just woken up by a phone call, I might be confused in a way that someone on the other end of the line could mistake for intoxication. But I’d also be pretty surprised if I were OP and a call at, say, 8 p.m. was this difficult for the employee to handle.

      1. Hlyssande

        Yeah, edibles seem to last longer. I don’t know from personal experience, but a friend of mine once ate a lot of very special scrambled eggs in the 70s at a party and took more than a day to come down from it. Funny story.

      2. DJG

        Hi, it’s me, the original writer here.

        Exhaustion is a possibility I had thought of, and it’s one reason I was hesitant to say “hey, this guy was more glazed than a chocolate pie when I called him”

        The call was about 7-9pm the tech’s local time if I recall properly. The work order was timestamped (from when I took on the issue to work it) about 8 my time, and he’s behind me time-zone-wise, but I spent some time working said ticket on my own before I came to the conclusion it had to be paged out.

    2. RB

      Yes, you can usually predict. Unless you’ve just switched to edibles or some other form you’ve never used before.

    3. Roscoe

      I was going to suggest the sleep deprivation thing as well. I mean, if they are in a state with legal weed, that is probably the most obvious explanation, but being super tired gives very similar symptoms.

      1. Hotstreak

        Stating the obvious here, but just because it might be illegal certain states doesn’t mean people aren’t using it in those states. Lots of people have been using it illegally for a very, very long time!

        1. Roscoe

          Oh absolutely. I’m just saying that if its legal, they may not see it as a big deal that they were high in their off time

            1. Anna

              Well…they’re not being paid so it is still their time. It’s just that their time has been reserved just in case.

                1. Ask a Manager Post author

                  Not as a rule. If they’re non-exempt, they only have to be paid for the time spent doing actual work (as long as they’re considered “waiting to be engaged” and not “engaged to wait,” which this probably is). If they’re exempt, it would be moot, of course.

                2. ThursdaysGeek

                  Hah, that would be nice. When we were told that we were going to get an on-call rotation, it was asked if we’d be paid and the answer was a flat no. We are exempt. My on-call lasts for 6 days, every 4 weeks, and is from about midnight to 6 am. I only get a call every few months, fortunately. The only benefit I get is I can come in later that morning if I lost sleep during the night.

                3. DJG

                  Any time they’re actually called, they are paid two hours minimum (have to love being non-exempt and being on-call) if they have to do any amount of work. If the work takes more than two hours they account for their time in 6-min intervals.

      2. Gene

        Just because it’s legal here in Washington, doesn’t mean we’re all doped up. :-)

        I haven’t used since I tried it in the 70s and decided that it wasn’t my thing.

      3. Rubyrose

        Colorado here. I think there was a case that made it to the state Supreme Court by someone fired for testing positive on the job. Their case was that they were not using on the job and since it was legal off the job they should not have been fired. They lost.

    4. Stephanie

      I am completely nonsensical when exhausted. I also find everything hilarious, so this is a possible alternative explanation.

      1. Kore

        I know several people who, once they get tired enough, are non-stop giggly. If I’m particularly tired I know I sometimes forcibly laugh to try and seem like I’m more lucid than I really am, and I know I’m sometimes nonsensical too. Exhaustion is a totally reasonable explanation for this kind of behavior.

      2. Nina

        Same. I get very punchy when I’m fall-down exhausted. It happened to me sometime last week, actually. It was 3AM, I had been running around all day and still had something else to do before I went to sleep. I must have been laughing for 15 minutes about absolutely nothing.

        That said, in times like that, I can still understand if someone is trying to talk to me, so that gave me pause if the guy OP was talking about was actually punch drunk. But then again, exhaustion affects people differently, so who knows?

      3. ThursdaysGeek

        And just a few weeks ago, I experienced a teenager high on caffeine. I didn’t know that even happened, but she was extremely wild, giggly, loud. It was very nice when she came down and was a normal insane 14-year-old.

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          It’s a real thing! I mentioned Jolt Cola in the post because when I was in eighth grade, my friends and I used to get six-packs of Jolt and drink them until we were totally intoxicated. It was seriously like being drunk.

          1. Chinook

            1 litre of maple syrup poured over snow and split three ways will also do this. I still have fond memories of that sugar high – everything was funny by the end.

            1. SaraV

              Mountain Dew and Skittles.

              Or, a pixie stick (stix?) poured directly into a can of Mountain Dew. Whhheeeeeee!!!!

            2. Elizabeth West

              They used to make maple candy that way in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s time–anybody remember the sugaring-off dance in Little House in the Big Woods? Now I’m going to read that again with a whole new perspective, haha.

          2. Joan Callamezzo

            A friend of mine who was working full time during the day and going to night school at the same time used to mainline Jolt Cola *and* chocolate-covered espresso beans. Do not recommend.

        2. Moonsaults

          As a teenager, I used to pound espresso in the morning. I went from ‘She’s so grumpy and shy’ to “how do we shut her up?!”

    5. Mike C.

      Yeah, I’ve had that punch drunk feeling from lack of sleep before in college. I had some very good friends make sure I made it to the dining hall and back into my room to sleep. It makes you do some very strange things.

      1. animaniactoo

        I distinctly remember the night before our finals senior year. My roommate and I were up cramming and for some reason we ended up as a pair of fools hysterically laughing in a stairwell as we tried to move a mattress from one floor to another at 2 am.

    6. irritable vowel

      My (related) thought on this was that, unless this was the first time this guy ever tried marijuana, or the first time he tried a new strain, or the first time he took a strong new muscle relaxant or whatever, none of which would be at all smart when on call for work, he would probably have been able to pull it together enough to sound straight on the phone. So, I’m leaning towards it either him making a really bad decision, or the out-of-it-ness stemming from something else. (I used to answer the phone in my sleep and wake up in the middle of conversations with people…now I never answer the phone if it wakes me up, even if I think I’m awake.)

      1. ArtsNerd

        One of my colleagues called me last month and it wasn’t until WELL past halfway through the conversation that I woke up! Luckily she is a wizard and was able to handle the issue without me because I was not lucid at alllll… it was probably only 7-8pm, but we were all putting in long hours and I just crashed super hard that day and my brain/body just would not reboot.

    7. C Average

      I wouldn’t have thought of this, but it’s so true! On at least a couple of occasions, I’ve had to go straight from a long international flight into a work meeting, and I don’t think I’d have been able to pass a sobriety test–even though I was stone cold sober. Good call about sticking just to the behavior.

  7. animaniactoo

    D’oh! One more possibility! He might have been contact high.

    I will never forget a long long time ago – 2 jobs before this one, my boss smoked all day long. Literally, all day long. To the point that we’d go to the communal bathroom for the floor and tell him we could smell it out in the hall, and he’d frantically spray some air freshener.

    One day, the print broker who shared the very small office with him said to me “I don’t get it. On the weekends, I always have so much energy. But when I’m here, I have to take a nap every day, and I wake up starving. For junk food. Bob, being a good Orthodox Jewish man (unlike my boss) didn’t have a lot of experience with marijuana. I had to explain to him that he was getting contact high and had the munchies. Let’s just say that the look on Bob’s face was priceless.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Contact highs are actually pretty unlikely, unless you’re in a very small, unventilated space. (There’s a bunch of conflicting info about this online, but if you look at the actual studies, that’s basically the consensus.)

      1. animaniactoo

        “small unventilated space” – yeah, that describes that office. Not completely unventilated, but pretty poorly ventilated. Also the volume of it. I am literally talking a about a 1990 definition of a dime bag a day. That’s probably pretty rare too.

          1. Guy Incognito

            Ive some fond and very hazy memory’s of a miss spent summer in the back of hot boxed VW camper with at least 10 other people.

      1. animaniactoo

        It’s true – there’s an additional funny portion of this story. I was 19 and being trained to take over for my dad who was leaving the industry to go be a teacher. I had a proofreading desk that straddled the wall space between the computer room and their office. I had known this guy since I was pretty young – 11 or 12 when my dad had brought us into the office on a day when he had no babysitting available to us, and 14 when I did a quick stint working for him reloading some stuff on a computer (very simple rote work that just needed to be banged out in a hurry). I knew knew knew knew knew that he was a deeply religious Orthodox Jew, of the pray in a corner every afternoon variety.

        So for about 3 weeks, I walked around driving myself crazy “I know I smell weed. I KNOW I smell weed!” and then one day my dad said something to the other typesetter about a deal that boss had set up “Oh god, what’s he on now?” and I JUMPED on it. “Why? What’s he do?” Dad said “Guess.” Me: “Weed? Pot? Ganja? Maryjuana?” and got back “Keep going”. Turned out he had previously also had a pretty significant coke problem. But it was a shock to my system that not only was I not nuts, but it was this guy!

        1. Gandalf the Nude

          Once upon a time, a younger, more innocent Gandalf the Nude went to her first College Party. There, a bowl was passed around the room, and young Gandalf thought, “Wow. That smells familiar.”

          Several weeks later, young Gandalf returned to her hometown for Thanksgiving break, where she greeted her dad with a hug. “…Oooooh.”

          1. Rat in the Sugar

            Ha ha! I still remember the night in college I came home late at night from work to find my parent’s house smelling quite…green. They insisted in the morning that it had been the smell of lamp oil.

            Lamp oil. Yeah, the night that Dad’s raucous and rowdy old college friend shows up just happens to be the night you decide to check the storm lamps. Totally believe you, Dad.

            Of course, these are the same patents who gave me two different but equally hilarious lectures when they smelled MY weed in the house. The one from my Dad: “Now, don’t tell your mother, but I smelled your stash. Don’t mention it to her, but i used to do that myself so I’m okay with it, but you can’t have the smell inside…”

            And then, of course, the mirrored lecture the next day: “Listen, I know your father didn’t notice, but I could smell your stuff yesterday. Don’t tell him this, but I know all about that– not in the house, though…”

          2. Elizabeth West

            Whaaaa haha!

            Stayed with an older relative while traveling. This person, the very definition of hippie, has been indulging for many years. I kept the door to my room shut as much as possible so my clothes, etc. wouldn’t smell too much like green things (or their roll-your-own cigarettes).

          3. KR

            When I was in high school, a friend and I were always trying to keep our smoking on the down-low. We hid it in my underwear drawer wrapped in tin foil, plastic bags and dryer sheets and smoked outside or in my truck with the windows wide open. Still, we would be hanging out in the house and smell weed wafting through the air and went crazy trying to figure out how we were messing up.

            I found out a year or two later that my dad would lock himself in his room after work not to clean up but to smoke up and then he would go down to the garage and smoke later in the night. Man drove us crazy.

    2. Norman

      Seems more likely the person you shared an office with was tired during the week because he had to get up early, and was hungry after his nap because many people wake up hungry.

  8. Chriama

    I think talking about marijuana makes it a moral judgement. This is something that needs to be addressed, but don’t mention drugs or make any inferences about his mental state or how it happened. Bottom line is you needed someone to do a work related thing and they weren’t able to do it. What if it had been a major emergency?

    If you can. I would use Alison’s script directly with the coworker and end with something like “I had major concerns about that and wanted to let you know and also confirm that I can count on you not to let something like this happen again.” I think that’s something you can say to a peer because you need to be able to depend on him to do his job. If you don’t interact with him regularly or don’t feel comfortable talking directly to him then yeah, you should probably talk to someone about it. At the very least, you need guarantees that the on-call person will be competent and available if they ever need to be contacted, or if there’s a backup number you should have that too.

  9. MegaMoose, Esq.

    Given how draconian many employers are about pot use (assuming that’s what it probably was), I think I’d lean more in the one-time pass camp, or at least do some follow-up to see if the issue was addressed. Alternatively, could you follow up with that individual the next time they’re on call and raise your concerns directly?

    I’d agree that there’s some missing info that might be useful, though, like safety and boundaries of “on call.” It sounds like this was more of a formal on-call than a 24/7/365 on call, but that would certainly make a difference.

    1. Rachel B

      Yes, is this something that would warrant a conversation directly with the individual? I never know whether I should start with the individual, or with a higher-up.

      1. Jeanne

        In this case, OP seems concerned that if she handles it directly, there could be retaliation where her issues are delayed or mishandled. I think that helps with the decision to go to the manager. Of course the on call guy could still figure out OP complained but on call guy will know management supports her.

    2. DJG

      Hi, it’s me, the original writer here.

      this is a formal on-call each tech takes a day every one-two weeks, on average, though it varies by region. As to safety, this isn’t a “my god people could die if we don’t fix our widget” but it does have the potential to cause inconvenience and minor harm to a group of people. That said it’s also a situation where if you can’t handle a job (or if it’s too far to get to) our field often leans on one another for coverage. There’s little risk he would have felt obligated to drive if he wasn’t capable of doing so, for instance, he just would have had to call someone else and rely on their good graces.

      I also have no way of knowing who is on-call when, the districts take care of that themselves. Which makes following up with any one person harder.

      1. MegaMoose, Esq.

        Hey OP, thanks for chiming in. That does sound like an on-call situation where I’d expect people to be maintaining a higher level of sobriety. I think I still come down on the side of letting it pass this time-assuming the work you needed to get done got done-but I can see good arguments all around. I know there’s the “what if everyone’s giving him a pass” argument, but it seems like someone would notice if the guy were really letting things slip? Either way, a tricky situation. Good luck!

      2. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2

        I ask because technically I am on call 24 x 7 x 365 but am allowed to refuse calls if the severity of the situation does not warrant immediate action.

        Two examples – one, I was paged (this is before cellphones) and a user in New York wanted to know how to use our software to generate reports. He called at 11:30 am on Christmas morning. I asked if this was an emergency and his reply was, “no I thought it would be good to come into the office today to get some things done.” When I advised I was not in the office – and can this wait until Monday? He got it.

        I also related an incident when I was on vacation – I was working an overnight shift – but was 1500 miles away. My co-workers both decided to call in sick on Friday night on Labor day weekend. I was about to get chewed out by the operations manager until he asked “where were you Friday night?” I replied “Nashville, Tennessee”. “Saturday?” “Front Royal, Virginia”. He realized that I was on vacation — my supervisor had neglected that teensy detail.

  10. Anon for this one

    Eh, I’d probably lean towards one-time pass in this situation. If the circumstance had been different with a similar outcome, it would probably just be written off as an anomaly. For example – if when OP called him, he was in the middle of jogging or yoga or something was all huffy and out of breath and discombobulated and overall just not very helpful, most people wouldn’t think about reporting it. I know this isn’t 100% apples to apples, but it’s just my dos pesos. Roll your eyes and let it go unless it becomes a problem.

    1. Emmie

      You can certainly take this route if you like. I lean towards informing the person who’d report or correct the behavior. It allows that person to collect all of the one-pass situations, and determine if there’s a pattern that should be addressed.

      1. Moonsaults

        Yes, exactly.

        It sounds like OP has experienced this just one time but that’s not saying that other coworkers haven’t ran into the problem and shrugged it off as a “one time thing” as well. Someone needs to be keeping track.

      2. Gandalf the Nude

        Yes, for all OP knows, there is already a pattern. It may be OP’s first time running into this issue, but others may have experienced it on other occasions. If 5 of his colleagues give this guy one pass, that’s 6 times it’s happened without an authority finding out.

        1. DJG

          Hi, it’s me, the original writer here.

          That’s a really good point.

          I think at the very minimum I’m going to reach out to my mentor and ask if this has been a noticed thing. Asking my mentor, unless he feels it’s something he is absolutely obligated to report, has a pretty low exposure risk, and keeps my options open.

          The only reason I’m gunshy about mentioning it at all is that I’m fairly sure if management is brought into the loop it will rapidly end up with my boss’ boss calling his boss’ boss and at that point it’s beyond my ability to correct a misunderstanding or put the brakes on that train: it’s going to become a very big deal fast.

          1. Joseph

            If you’re worried about it going into a huge management-on-management-on-management freight train, I’d say to *definitely* leave out any speculation on the cause. Since there are plenty of legally-acceptable reasons which could have the same effect, you do NOT want to drop that sort of “was it drugs?” speculation on the table with management.
            Stick to pure observations – laughing, comprehension issues, lack of resolution, etc.

        2. Jadelyn

          This is what I was coming in to say – this may be a one-off for the OP, but for all they know others may have had this experience with this tech as well and never mentioned it to them. Just report facts and no supposition, and let the manager decide what needs to be done or not done.

  11. Stephanie

    Hmm, so when I was working in an industrial environment, any hint of intoxication (be it via legal substances or not) had pretty strict reporting rules and a whole procedure you had to follow. It sounds like you guys are white-collar workers and there’s not actual danger of an intoxicated person running a forklift in your work environment.

    What are your on-call rules? If you think he violated those, I would just report the behavior itself and omit any guesses as to the cause. He could have eaten way too much brownie or he could have, say, taken a prescribed painkiller (really strong painkillers make me loopy to a degree I really dislike). If you do have specific on-call rules, there should be a process that will be triggered for his supervisor that will allow for investigation, referrals, and discipline (if necessary).

    1. DJG

      Hi, it’s me, the original writer here.

      I’m not sure of our on-call rules, I looked in the HR manual and it appears those might be in the job description and expectations of their role, but not our employee manual. I know they are formalized and include a service level agreement.

      It’s not an industrial environment but… well it sort of is. I’d call it “very light blue collar” They will be on site working with IT equipment: routers, switches, communication buses, but the environment that equipment is in and the things they are ultimately connected to is industrial machinery with high-voltage feed lines, radiofrequency and laser hazards and limited chemical exposure or explosion risks.

      1. LCL

        I was 100 percent in the let it go camp, until you clarified what he is providing support for. I changed my mind-report him.

      2. Anna

        I’m beginning to suspect I know what state this person was in and possibly what you’re working with.

      3. Rachel B

        Thanks for the follow-up. So you didn’t ever ask him during the call, Hey Dude, you ok over there?

      4. stk

        I’m a safety officer offline, and I would like to jump in to say that for anything even vaguely or at a distance involving the things you’re talking about (high voltages and explosion hazards!) then erring on the side of reporting is ABSOLUTELY the way to go. Where I am, at least, there are potential serious legal issues with NOT following up on this.

  12. JeJe

    I used to have to do on-call rotations with a person who needed prescription sleep aids. I’m assuming they were used safely and as directed. The rotations were required and it would’ve been extremely unfair to exclude him from it. However, he couldn’t do much while on whatever he was taking. I’m not even sure how a company would accommodate something like that.

      1. KellyK

        Yeah, having them work on-call when on sleep aids seems like a bad idea. Sometimes there’s no good accommodation. It might depend a lot on what the other duties are and if things can be made at least “fair-ish” while excluding them from the on-call rotation. For example, if there are other duties they can pick up that would make up for not doing the on-call shift. There could also be schedule tweaks, like scheduling their on-call nights before their days off, if that would allow them to skip the sleep aids (which would depend on what they’re taking and their schedule, but would be worth looking into).

  13. Wrench Turner

    On call sucks, been there, but you’re still ‘working’ even if you don’t have a task at hand. You need to be ready to go. That’s why it’s usually done in rotating shifts (some are 24/7 but tend to be paid and prioritized differently). If there was any health/safety issue for anyone -staff, customers, night shift janitors- this needs to be reported.

  14. Moonsaults

    My allergy meds can make me a mess at times, especially if it’s been a long day on top of it.

    It could be so many different things. Sure it’s legal in some states but that doesn’t make us all more likely to partake in it suddenly.

    1. JMegan

      Or starting a new medication, or some new combination of medications. I discovered the other day that anti-anxiety meds should never be mixed with sinus meds. I took them both in the morning, so of course they peaked shortly after I got to work, and made me totally loopy. Not fun.

      Pot does sound like a likely explanation for OP’s coworker, although it’s certainly not the only one. I agree that it’s better to address the behaviour than to try and guess at a possible cause.

    2. Jeanne

      It could be so many substances so saying “I think he had marijuana” seems wrong. Saying “he couldn’t form a coherent sentence” sounds better.

  15. Miss Elaine E

    Just wanted to point out that it may or may not have been MJ: I know several people affected by diabetes, for example, and they can be pretty loopy when their blood sugars are off. Perhaps the OP can broach it as a health and safety issue?

    1. Kyrielle

      Yeah, I would skip voicing the assumption of any specific cause and just raise the behavioral issue. Sleep deprivation from too many other calls (from other people), or failure to sleep well due to feeling sick for some reason; diabetes and blood sugars; cold medicine; marijuana; prescription painkillers or muscle relaxants; goodness knows what else.

      But he still needs to be able to do the job, or alert someone he can’t (if it’s something like exhaustion due to too many calls/illness), when on call.

  16. Erin

    I vote for letting it go unless it happens again, particularly since it’s going to be such a big deal if you bring it up.

    Giving the benefit of the doubt – which you should, especially if you don’t know him well, which it sounds like you don’t – there is a chance that he was high but it was an isolated incident. In which case, it’s worth letting go.

    There are too many thing you don’t know – maybe he was prescribed something and took it because he was in a lot of pain and didn’t know how he’d react, maybe he had a particularly awful day, maybe he’s never actually been called while on call before and assumed it wouldn’t happen. Maybe, regardless of the reason, he’s now saying to himself, wow I really cannot smoke when on call, I can’t let that happen again.

    If it does happen again all bets are off. Carefully report the facts without speculation as per Alison’s thoughts.

  17. HRish Dude

    I would follow Alison’s advice, because – considering this is an on-call position – he might not be able to sleep due to being on-call and it might be sleep deprivation. If he’s sleep-deprived due to excessive on-call hours, that would also be something that the employer would want to know about so they can possibly figure out a different way to do the on-call rota.

  18. crazy8s

    Absolutely report the facts. what the higher ups do about it is their call. In many industries, there are policies regarding on call requirements–employees are supposed to respond in a certain time frame and be fit for duty. He might be getting on call pay, which makes it even more imperative that he be fit for duty.

  19. TheCupcakeCounter

    Most on-call people I know get a small hourly wage while being on-call and then are paid their normal wage for any calls as well as a minimum rate for each call. I.E. they get $7-$8/hr just for being on-call and then go up to their normal rate for a minimum of 1 hour if called or 3 hours if they have to go in for something. If that is the case here then they are on the clock.

  20. Thanks for calling

    My husband got called in to work over Memorial Day because the guy on call was too smashed to even communicate over the phone. My husband was compensated for the call-in and the original guy didn’t get any consequences. I’m guessing they just thought it was “one of those things,” and maybe it doesn’t happen all that often. It was frustrating for us, though, since we live 40 minutes from his work!

  21. College Career Counselor

    I agree with reporting the facts (because you didn’t know at the time that you had your interaction that anything would get done/followed up on). Also, props to Alison for the Jolt Cola reference! “All the sugar, TWICE the caffeine!”

  22. Turtle Candle

    Ooh, yeah. I second the advice to report the behavior but not your conclusions about it. I had a weird (and highly embarrassing) situation a few years ago where I had a bad cold and got medication from my doctor. The medication said “may cause drowsiness, do not drive or operate heavy machinery,” but I’d taken cold medication like that and worked just fine before, so I took a dose in the morning of a day I work, hoping it would get me through the day. (I work from home, so I don’t drive, and spreading germs to coworkers is not a concern.)

    It was not, however, at all like the Nyquil to which I was instinctively comparing it (where I expect to be mildly groggy but ‘with it’). I giggled, I lost the thread of conversations, and about midday I logged off and wandered to bed to sleep. (Thank god, my job involves nothing client-facing.)

    The next day my boss was like, “Hey, yesterday wasn’t like you… you ok?” And I had to say, “Oh no, I’m so mortified, I took [prescription cough syrup] per my doctor and it hit me WAY harder than I expected it to–what can I do to repair things?” Fortunately for me, she laughed and said, “No problem, I’ll tell your team what was up, go get some rest,” and it was fine. I’m really glad that she didn’t assume that it was recreational drugs–certainly, based on my behavior, it could have been!

    1. Aurion

      Yeah, I second this. Muscle relaxants and cold meds tend to make me so lightheaded I feel like I’m falling into the abyss while I’m lying down. Most things that have mind-altering properties, from coffee to Benadryl to alcohol, hit me like a mack truck.

      Fortunately, I can feel it coming so I can usually muster enough presence of mind to state “okay, I am completely useless, I’m going to go sleep this off” before I totally embarrass myself.

  23. kapers

    I’d let this go but flag it in case of future issues.

    I sympathize with your coworker because lord knows I’ve come across high when I’m just tired, caffeinated (I suppose that’s a drug too), stressed, feeling silly because it’s almost the weekend, whatever. Also, how well do you know this person? Could they just be a bit of an odd communicator?

    And to take it a step further, being high while on-call in a non life-saving or driving role in a state where that’s legal doesn’t seem like the worst thing in the world to me. I’m a manager and I would not want to hear this unless it caused a real problem and the required work was never done. Otherwise, it seems like personal judgment and “telling on” a coworker. I see that I’m an outlier in this regard, though.

    1. Observer

      Well, it actually is a role where people are expected to be able to drive. And to fix equipment that drives some fairly high stakes equipment.

  24. Norman

    This seems like a clear case of the on-call person being distracted. (When I read this, my reaction was the guy was watching TV and only half listening to LW, not high, but whatever it was, he clearly wasn’t really available for the call.) Even though OP reports in the comments that the specific issue was resolved, that doesn’t address the fact that the on-call person was distracted when she called. I’d definitely report this, despite the good outcome.

  25. coffeepowerrd

    At the end of the day, consider the risk you are exposing the company by assuming it was drugs/alcohol and it turns out that is entirely false. If the call was recorded, save it and perhaps engage the employee to ask their side of the story before jumping to conclusion.

    If the call wasn’t recorded, all you have is hearsay on this which can be easily refuted by the guy when he collects his wits (up to your “standard” of expected responsiveness).

    Also consider the range of substances that exist on earth (sugar, caffeine, mental health meds, physical meds) and consider that firing someone for assuming they are on an illegal drug when they are indeed on a legally prescribed medication is probably not a good idea

    1. coffeepowerrd

      Just a final thought: if this person happens to be bipolar and was in a temporary period of mania, that wouldn’t look good either.

  26. Swistle

    My vote would be for a one-time pass, and deal with it the next time it comes up. This is not just to give the co-worker the benefit of the doubt, but also to strengthen a report (and your confidence in knowing it needs to be made) if you do end up having to make it.

    1. Swistle

      (I’d make careful notes NOW about the first incident, so I’d have them later: date, time, any other information you remember so you can make the future report as accurate as possible.)

  27. Photoshop Til I Drop

    It’s interesting the conclusions we all jump to. LW assumed drugs, a commenter assumed he was watching TV, and I assumed he was having personal time with a wife or girlfriend.

  28. kittycritter

    I used to work a helpdesk desk job where I was on-call AT LEAST once a month, very often 2 weeks out of the month. The after-hours calls I received would never involve me having to drive in to the office. I would have my work laptop at home and either talk someone through a technical issue or log into the vpn and remote into their machine and complete the work. I feel that being on-call 2 out of 4 weeks is pretty excessive. And it was normal to receive 10-15 after-hours calls during a week. I can honestly say that yes, on Friday/Saturday nights, I would sometimes drink and smoke while at home, because otherwise it felt like a virtual prison. I don’t think anyone could ever tell (no one ever complained, at least) and I was good at handling things while buzzed :) I think it’s pretty messed up to be in your early/mid twenties and have 50% of your weekends taken away by after-hours work. So maybe have some compassion for the guy – see if he actually follows up and completes your work order to your satisfaction. If he does, then I would forgive that phone call. It’s no fun having to be on-call all the time. Fortunately, I got promoted out of that helpdesk role and no longer have to do any on-call work! But give this guy a chance to do the work before trying to get him in trouble……..

  29. OG OM

    I re-read the letter and it also occurred to me that perhaps the on-call worker was laughing because the OP was over reacting and perhaps even misinformed? When discussing industrial tech, often times part will have an official name and a more commonly used slang term. Maybe he was laughing because OP kept calling a teapot stamper a teapot steamer? The OP mentions that they did not deal with the rest of the ticket or issue. Maybe it was because what the OP thought something that was a “call tech at home after hours issue” was actually nothing? The OP mentions that the tech did not understand what the issue was. It is equally as possible that the OP was explaining the problem wrong and the tech thought the OP was behaving oddly or must be on drugs to think what was being discussed warranted a call?

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