my employee missed work after a night of drinking

A reader writes:

An employee I manage called out today due to being hospitalized over the weekend for alcohol poisoning. They went out to celebrate their birthday over the weekend and overdid it on the partying. I realize this is out of work conduct; however, it is affecting the employee’s job because they couldn’t come to work. Do I have a leg to stand on if I have a serious conversation with the employee about their judgment and how this type of behavior could negatively affect their employment with our company?

I answer this question — and three others — over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • Founder regularly threatens to quit our start-up
  • What should I do when I notice a coworker’s fly is down?
  • I accidentally reinforced a job candidates’ mistakes

{ 186 comments… read them below }

  1. Butterfly Counter*

    When it comes to missing work because of drinking, which day they did the drinking would also matter, I think. If they were out drinking the night before they had to come in (say Sunday if they work Monday-Friday), that would be different if they overdid it on either Friday or Saturday night, when they figured they’d have time to recover. Obviously, recovering from a hangover is going to be different than recovering from full alcohol poisoning. But overall, I think Alison’s advice is spot-on. The fall out from this mistake is likely its own deterrent for the future.

    1. Maestra*

      This was my thought too! If it happened Saturday and they overdid it (to put in mildly) enough to be in the hospital- that’s different than if the same thing happened Sunday night.

      If they went out on Sunday night and couldn’t come in Monday night whether or not they were in the hospital, I’d consider that like a hangover and that being more egregious- thinking they could go out and drink excessively and make it to work the next day.

      But, also the Allison said, look for a pattern. Once? Meh. More than once? That’s an issue.

        1. CarlDean*

          Exactly. If this is a pattern, that’s one thing. If this is a one time lapse in judgment, then that’s another thing.

          When I was 20 nothing, I completely overdid it at an OFFICE PARTY, passed out on the subway, threw up on a cop’s shoes, had to be picked up by my then-gf from the subway station (white girl privilege all over this story), and – SPOILER – missed the next day of work. As did several of my colleagues, one of whom was apparently found in the bushes outside of the party by a partner.

          I was horrified. Lesson learned.

          Who among has not been there once or twice in our 20-nothings?

          1. Reluctant Mezzo*

            When my brother was at the Naval Academy, one of his fellow middies celebrated the Navy’s victory at the Army-Navy game a little too hard, and was sick on the shoes of Assistant Secretary of the Navy (they say his ghost haunts Mother B still).

      1. Jade Rabbit*

        Many, many decades ago (early 80s), I had a coworker who routinely called in sick on Mondays. Of course, it meant other colleagues had to cover her spot. The resentment built but management didn’t do anything because we all knew she was sick every Monday because she was hungover. The odd Monday she did make an appearance… well the smell of alcohol was apparent. Scheduling was done around the assumption she would be off sick every Monday so no one else could take that day off… unless, of course, you called out sick.

        1. Reluctant Mezzo*

          One time I really did have a bad cold, but knew that *they* knew I’d been to Reno so I staggered in anyway on that Monday morning. I was sorry to spread my germs, but I knew what they would think if I’d called in.

    2. Love to WFH*

      If the employee was skateboarding on Sunday afternoon, and injured themselves, you wouldn’t complain that “this affected their work”. Accidents happen.

      If someone in the 40s drinks themselves into the hospital, then something’s up. If a young person does it for the first time, it doesn’t necessarily mean they have a drinking problem — it means they binged for the first time, and learned how dangerous it can be.

      1. JSPA*

        Not an entirely parallel situation.

        Its fairly hard to skate intensely enough to be too sore to function acceptably at a desk job; not hard to drink enough to be problematically hung over, the next day.

        And if someone is grounds crew…yeah, I might be irked if they skateboarded on Sunday to the point where they could not carry mulch or dig, monday. “Plan to be functional at work” is a reasonable expectation.

        Leaving a day’s worth of recovery time shows better judgement than not.

        But there’s always (sadly) “someone spiked my drink” or other aalternative explanations.

        1. Maglev No Longer to Crazytown*

          Considering some of the classic holiday party horror stories we have read on here about drinking at a work even going horribly, horribly awry even with mature older adults, I don’t think much can be gleaned from a one-off.

          As you unfortunately point out, something else might have been at play such as getting a spiked drink. Or even an underlying medical condition or medication reaction they might not have anticipated coming into play. A one-off like that over a weekend should not impact perception of their character, unless this becomes a recurrent issue.

      2. Boof*

        Umm, I don’t consider drinking hard enough to be in the hospital an unpredictable accident, or that young people are so unaware of the dangers of alcohol that it wouldn’t be at least a yellow flag. A lot does depend on the overall pattern and context though; a brand new employee, who seemed to be treating it as a badge of pride or no big deal? A lot more concerning than an employee who has a track record of being good, and seems chagrined about it, etc.

        1. just some guy*

          Mostly agree, but occasionally there are explanations like “didn’t realise somebody was spiking their drinks” and it’d be worth ruling out that kind of scenario before forming character judgements.

        2. Alpacas Are Not Dairy Animals*

          The idea that you can be impaired the next day from drinking too much, and basics like eating well and drinking water to avoid that, are fairly well-known. But there are a lot of other factors even beyond being spiked that people mostly have to learn by experience. When I lived in the mountains it was apparent that almost no one knew how elevation would affect their tolerance until it happened to them. I had to work out from personal experience that people who have periods can have their tolerance change with their cycle, and it took awhile because correlation is not causation. And so on and so forth. It’s to be expected that some people will go over the edge without even realizing they were near it.

      3. Majnoona*

        This happened to someone I know well. Only a few days in the hospital. Only time related to work and only time in the hospital but not the only time drinking too much. Laid off in the next round. Meanwhile he had quit drinking and hasn’t in years. Keeping him on would have worked. Sometimes people figure out it’s a problem themselves

    3. Pierrot*

      Yeah, that’s the one weird thing about the situation in my opinion. I’m curious if the employee volunteered that information because they felt they had to give the exact reason why they missed work, or if they were super nonchalant about it and said it as though it was a normal thing to tell your boss. Or maybe she thought that the boss knew that her birthday was that weekend and she was worried her boss would think she was blowing off work, so she felt compelled to volunteer more information than usual?

      I had a coworker at my last job who took a kind of unprofessional approach to calling out and I did say something to her in a friendly way. One morning before work, she texted me saying “Something came up, I’m not coming.” This was shift based work, we had one sick day a month but no actual PTO. she ended up telling the owner that she was calling out because she got into an argument with her sibling over text and it was stressing her out.

      I basically just told her, “With a situation like that it might be best to just say ‘I’m sick’ or ‘I have a headache’… you want to give a reason beyond something came up, but it can be as vague as saying you don’t feel well.”

    4. Clouston*

      My first thought was that the employee shouldn’t have explained beyond “medical emergency,” which is what she advises nearly everyone else, and I was a bit surprised she didn’t mention it. Recognizing when people have learned from their mistakes and when they need more information to not repeat them is a sign of a good manager (or parent, for that matter).

  2. MysteriousMise*

    I swear, I am going to create paper with my colleagues pics as the full a4 background, and then send them letters on it.

  3. Forty Years In the Hole*

    Retired military here (Air Force)…not shy. “Sir/Ma’am/Sgt, etc…yer hangar door’s open.”
    No fuss, no muss, ‘nuff said.

    1. constant_craving*

      Except as a non-military person I’d have no idea what in the world you were talking about. Kind of like when I was living in Pittsburgh and not a native to the area and someone told me “Kennywood’s open.” These kind of things really only work if the person you’re talking to has the required shared background.

      1. tamarack etc.*

        My grandmother once told me (I was as teenager) “careful! your bird is going to fly out!” and I had to ask for clarifications.

        I usually just say, quietly, “you wanna check your pants zipper, btw”. Or, given it’s 2023, text it.

    2. AceyAceyAcey*

      I had a colleague who used “XYZ” as a polite shorthand for “eXamine Your Zipper”. Except, since I didn’t know that, I had to draw it out and ask her to repeat it a few times and then explain it. Once I was in the know, it was great though.

      I think it can make a huge difference with the gender and power dynamics though. I have unfortunately come out of a meeting with subordinates and only *then* realized my wardrobe malfunction, even though it was a pretty obvious one. None of them felt comfortable saying anything, though maybe if it were one-on-one they would have — or maybe it would have felt worse and more like sexual harassment in that case!

    1. Presea*

      I would guess this is a regional thing, so I’ll include an explanation: This is sort of a schoolyard code that means “examine your zipper pretty darn quick”. It’s a relatively subtle way to let someone know their fly is down.

      1. High Score!*

        Thank you, I’ve never heard that. If someone said that to me in the middle of a conversation, I’d ask, “What’s with the alphabet remix?”

    2. WantonSeedStitch*

      I would honestly be more straightforward than that. I know that if my mind were on something else, even knowing what that means, I would probably stare blankly at you until you clarified with, “uh, your zipper is open.”

      1. UKDancer*

        Same. That’s not a formulation I’ve ever heard of. So I would also look blank.

        I’d go with “your fly’s open” and then look away so they can fix it.

        1. workswitholdstuff*

          ‘you’re flying low’ is the euphimism I’d go with if I didn’t out right say it.

          Thankfully, not that happen to at work to have to say it. I *have* descreetly alerted colleague re buttons popping open and bras showing though. That’s easier though, when you can gesture to the equivilant on yourself (or if friendly enough, I just say it….)

          1. Madame Arcati*

            Yeah, “flying low” is pretty ubiquitous here at all ages.
            For any such thing I tend to go for lighthearted but a little oblique rather than an actual code or euphemism: you’ve come adrift, trouser-wise. I think a shirt button has let you down there.

            1. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

              Not ubiquitous where I am!

              But yeah, that “xyz pdq” took me right back to 4th grade. And I love the mention of the disappointing shirt button.

          2. metadata minion*

            That’s actually one I’ve never heard! Given how regional these things are, being straightforward really seems like the best choice.

              1. TrixM*

                Exact opposite here!
                But I like “a shirt button has escaped” and “your trouser fly is misbehaving”, etc – humorous, but straightforward.

    3. The Eye of Argon*

      I was taught that if it’s the kind of wardrobe malfunction that can be corrected quickly, like their fly is open, the right thing to do is quietly and matter-of-factly point it out so the person can fix it. So I do a quick “check your zipper” and the person has always been grateful.

      But if it’s something they can’t fix (a stain or hole in their clothes) don’t say anything because they already know, and you’ll just make them more self-conscious about it.

    4. I should really pick a name*

      Never heard the PDQ part before.

      If you’re saying it privately, you may as well be direct.

      Even if it’s more public, I figure you get one of two situations:
      1. Everyone knows what you mean, so may as well have just said “check you zipper”
      2. The person you’re saying it do doesn’t know what you mean.

    5. Lirael*

      In school a whole class full of people spent like five full minutes saying “you’re flying low” to me. I had no idea what they were on about. Eternally glad to D who finally took pity on me and told me what was going on.

      1. UKDancer*

        Yes, I wouldn’t either. I mean if my fly is open, tell me my fly is open. I would not get any of these euphemisms very easily and would much prefer being told (in a quiet voice) but directly. Otherwise it’s just confusing.

    6. Francie Foxglove*

      Not saying I believe this, but I heard about a husband and wife who had a zipper code. Albert Einstein was alleged to be so absent minded that he’d walk around wearing bedroom slippers/with his fly open/some other oops. So the zipper code was “Einstein!” One day at church, wife notices husband’s fly down, whispers “Einstein!”, he checks his zipper…and so do three other guys.

      1. tech writer*

        I learned English as a second language many years ago and one of the few things I remember from the lessons was that if someone says XYZ, you act quickly and then respond with ABC, which translates to ‘as been checked. (Our English teacher was actually English.) I haven’t found use for that particular knowledge yet, and I do my best not to provoke it.

  4. kiki*

    For the first letter, I think part of the issue is that LW1 shouldn’t really know why their employee was in the hospital, especially if this is an isolated incident. If the LW’s employee is getting sloshed often enough in their off-hours that it’s causing recurring issues with attendance, that’s one thing, but it sounds like they made a mistake/ overdid it on a special occasion. If the coworker is young/ new to the workforce, I would tell them they don’t need to give detailed reasons of why they’re hospitalized to their managers– simply saying they were hospitalized and need time to recover is sufficient.

    I also want to add that folks go to hospitalized all the time for reasons that are somewhat self-created, but they’re still a solid reason for missing work. People have risky hobbies, are fast and loose with ladders stability, etc. It’s not a manager’s place to really get into how employees are running their lives outside of work, especially for one-offs.

    1. Em*


      “My employee wrecked their knee training for a marathon and missed work.”
      “My employee’s flight home last night from their vacation was delayed.”

      Unforseeable-but-not-unlikely consequences of one’s own actions make people miss work all the time, regardless of the perceived morality of the thing one is doing. (It’s like people who go “oh no, fat people, drain on the healthcare system” but enroll their kid in, say, cheerleading, which tends to result in a lot of injuries, or skiing, or whatnot. It’s not really the consequence that bothers them.)

      1. emkay*

        Just wanted to note that “It’s not really the consequence that bothers them” is a really helpful way of summing up what’s skewed about these arguments– thanks for that!

      2. JSPA*

        There are active health benefits to sports, though, so it’s a risk vs benefit calculation. Nobody signs their kid up to toss dice for the chance to get whacked on the knee with a mallet.

        1. coffee*

          I’m not sure if you mean it this way, but your comment does feel like you are intentionally missing the point. Fatphobia is a thing, and people often pretend that they have a friendly underlying reason for being rude to fat people when really it’s because they’re acting on their phobia.

      3. Mangled Metaphor*

        Flight delayed, so one’s own actions includes…. taking a vacation? That’s not a happy train of thought to follow.

    2. I'm Just Here For the Cats!*

      my thought exactly.
      especially since they are young they might not know their limits. Or who knows, maybe they have some un known medical condition that caused them to get sick more than they thought they would?

      1. Avery*

        A lot of medications react badly with alcohol, too. And since the spectrum of what that actually means varies from “you get drunk somewhat faster” to “you might actually die if you imbibe more than a few drops”, some people will assume it’s one end of the spectrum or the other and either under- or over-react accordingly.

        1. Francie Foxglove*

          I think that’s what happened to Karen Ann Quinlan. She might be the reason pharmacies put no-alcohol warning labels on medications.

      2. Warrior Princess Xena*

        Or been misled by the alcohol. There was a case a while back where some college students didn’t review the back of the can closely enough (I think they were 4Locos or something similar?) and didn’t realize that just one can would nearly be enough to put them into the hospital for alcohol poisoning.

        1. kiki*

          Yes! I also think birthdays are a time when other people tend to buy you drinks. I may not normally drink a Long Island Iced Tea, but if somebody buys me one, I’d probably drink it. When I was younger, I wouldn’t have known that the Long Island would hit wayyyyy differently than a vodka cranberry with 7up.

      3. MigraineMonth*

        The first time I got “can’t walk a straight line” drunk was when someone else mixed a drink for me. I thought it contained one shot of liquor and was very wrong.

      4. s*

        My first bout with Covid wrecked my alcohol tolerance. Two weeks after I’d fully recovered, I went out and had three beers on my birthday–normally an amount that would have me tipsy, but fine in the morning. Nope. I was throwing up all night and into the next day.

    3. pope suburban*

      I agree that this sounds like a bad enough experience on its own without a lecture from the boss. People are allowed to be out sick. People are allowed to make mistakes- and when these mistakes are made on their own time, in a way that does not actually affect work (like, no one’s using the company’s money for personal expenses, or some such), then it’s really not work’s business. I can’t imagine adding insult to injury and shaming someone for an incident that already has them feeling bad and probably very foolish. That would be a professional overstep and an interpersonal gaffe.

    4. T.N.H.*

      Agreed! The boss wants to lecture their employee about responsible drinking but that just doesn’t fall under their purview. I think as a society Americans sometimes still have a temperance-movement moralism attached to over imbibing that we don’t apply to equally risky behavior (sports are a good example).

      1. A. Tiskit & A. Taskit LLC*

        Well, we have rather ambiguous attitudes towards drinking. On the one hand, yes, someone who’s out of work because they drank themselves into alcohol poisoning WILL be frowned on more than someone who’s out of work because they were injured while, say, cycling or playing basketball. On the other hand, drinking alcohol is assumed to be the default social behavior and non-drinkers often report being pestered about why they’re NOT drinking alcohol in a way that they’d never be pointedly asked why they’re not eating, say, olives or grapes.

        Perhaps something radical – like minding our own business about what others drink UNLESS their drinking negatively impacts others – would be a good middle-of-the-road choice to make.

        And it does sound as if this employee is very young indeed. Hopefully, they learned from their stay in the hospital that it’s okay to “have one and be done” with drinking, or even to choose not to drink alcohol every time they’re out with friends. If this is a one-off, I’d agree with Alison that letting it go would be wisest.

    5. CRM*

      Excellent point. Years ago I had to take a week off due to a concussion that I sustained in a recreational soccer league. I was a little embarrassed but but my boss didn’t have any issue with it. I think if I was consistently out of the office due to soccer-related injuries then my boss would bring it up, but we all have lives outside of work and accidents happen!

    6. RJ*

      Well said and excellently stated. I agree wholeheartedly.

      At a job I was at some years back, my boss berated me for coming in late. I had broken my wrist and taken painkillers. It was one of two times I was late in nine years of working there. He also began the speech on how letting outside interests affect work would negatively impact work.

      A week later, I had to run his reports and update his spreadsheets because he was too drunk after a ‘business’ lunch to do so.

        1. 1LFTW*

          In this guy’s world, yes. And “business” lunches that involve incapacitating amounts of alcohol are not.

    7. 2023, You are NOT Nice.*

      My excuse this past Monday was that I was rear-ended and got my car totalled. This explanation was sufficient! **Ok, technically not hospitalized, but one ER visit Sunday and one on Monday. Yesterday long lunch at the chirpractor’s. I am so looking forward to the next few months.

    8. Travelers Beware*

      I was planning to travel once when there was a small chance weather could delay my trip home a few days later and my boss essentially told me I shouldn’t travel at all (on my time off!) because of it.

      I understood his point, that it would be less than ideal for me to miss work, but really: there’s always a chance of a storm, or injury, or being bumped from your flight, or the airline completely falling apart and stranding you. My job was not life-or-death to anyone, the worst that could happen if I was stranded a few days was mild inconvenience. I don’t think I had even taken a single sick day up to that point, it’s not like I was chronically late or missing.

      I’m still bothered by his implication that I should never do anything at all to hypothetically jeopardize a single day of work.

      1. Smithy*

        Absolutely – if anything the professional development opportunity to have with the colleague is about how this kind of information was shared and how to adjust going forward.

        Whether it’s travel, exercise with greater injury risks, or socialization choices (i.e. staying out late, drinking, etc.), there are times people will make choices that have a greater risk of missing work or showing up as less than optimal versions of ourselves. That can be picking an early AM flight before work or going out with friends to watch a Sunday night game and having one (or three) more than you usually would because of relevant reasons.

        And if it happens infrequently, just calling out sick or taking a personal day is fine – and giving that kind of detail opens you up to inevitable judgement. Even from an otherwise friendly and sympathetic boss, they may be symapthetic to you staying up late to watch your team in the Super Bowl – but maybe not so much for knowing you were taking a sick day for being hungover. Now if the next day you called in sick, or perhaps arranged in advance to WFH and have no morning meetings….most sane workplaces won’t interrogate deeper.

      2. Willow Pillow*

        This reminds me of a similar frustration! I lived through that heat dome over the west coast in 2021 – my partner and I were both WFH at the time and we basically lived in our basement for a week – we had separate workspaces and his was already in the basement, so I made do with a laptop on the table. When I told my boss on the east coast that I’d be a bit slow because I didn’t have an external monitor as usual, her response was that I should move my setup or get central air conditioning. So many annoyances…

        1. It was a “1 in 1000 year” event affecting millions of people, and it would be over in a week
        3. Even if I wanted to spend thousands on AC, I wouldn’t magically have it the next day
        4. I was getting zero compensation for working from home at that time, I’d had to beg for months to even get that laptop
        5. I was still working, just a bit slower usual (spreadsheets, amiright?)
        6. This came from someone who routinely had emergencies resulting in time off, such as stepping on a piece of rusty metal at her summer home rental

      3. Outofthepool*

        I am so happy I have normal co-workers who understand that “out” means OUT, and the reason doesn’t matter. Today I actually kicked a coworker out of a Zoom meeting. She was really sick yesterday and no one kicked her out of the meeting to log off. It wasn’t my meeting so I couldn’t say anything, but today she sounded even worse and it WAS my meeting, so I told her to log off and go to bed immediately, or I’d lock her out of the network for the day.

    9. GiGi*

      Absolutely. Sometimes people provide details when they call in sick (sometimes they WAY overshare the details!) but it’s not required and we advise supervisors not to ask. If they miss more than 5 days for sick leave they have to provide a doctor’s excuse but still, we don’t have to know specifically why. And I really don’t want to know why. If someone is coming to work drunk or habitually and noticeably hungover, that is a different story because that is affecting their work and a lot of other things. Otherwise, what they do on their off time (provided it’s not going to get them in serious legal trouble) and the reasons they are taking the vacation or sick leave they earn, is none of my business and I’m better off not knowing most of the time.

    10. unperformative worker*

      Can’t count how many colleagues I’ve known who called in sick due to sunburn. Self-inflicted sick days happen.

    11. Staja*

      Yup, no need for details.

      I am having (100% elective) surgery in April and will be out 3 weeks for recovery. My boss knows I am having surgery in April and will be out for 3 weeks. Nothing more.

    12. DataSci*

      I was thinking the same thing about “somewhat self-created” situations – if someone was in the hospital for bad food poisoning, would LW1 say it’s not a good reason for missing work if they’d eaten raw oysters?

      1. JelloStapler*

        *Traveler’s Beware*’s boss would say that you should just not eat anything in case you’ll miss work.

    13. Sans Serif*

      Yeah, my first thought was, I would have told them I was in the hospital for food poisoning. Close enough to the truth. The worst judgement I see here is telling the company what really happened. If it only happened once, hey, everyone makes mistakes.

      1. tamarack etc.*

        I guess that’s a stronger indication of questionable judgement, that they told the truth :-)

    14. MurpMaureep*

      Thank you for this. If an employee has an attendance issue, speak to that, but judging the reason for one absence doesn’t sit right with me at all. Really the boss should, first and foremost, want them to be ok, same as if they injured themselves doing anything.

      1. BatManDan*

        Yup. Totally is NOT a character issue; totally IS an attendance issue (or, I should say, could become one). Boss’s role is limited to “I wanted to make sure you’re okay.”

    15. tamarack etc.*

      I agree with that. I strongly lean towards putting in a strong wall between someone’s medical needs (they’re hospitalized!) from applying judgement – and I try to use judgement for people who report to me only for work stuff. If the excessive drinking *is* indicative of a lack of judgement then it won’t fail to show up at work – and then I have *that* event to point to.

      For example, if a long-term smoker is struggling with emphysema or getting treatment for lung cancer, I’m not parcelling out my sympathy more stingily compared to someone who has idiopathic asthma or some other form of cancer.

  5. The Person from the Resume*

    For question 1, the employee could have kept this from being a question by saying they were sick and just out of the hospital.

    The LW/supervisor sure knows a lot of details. Maybe it’s an office rumor (because coworkers attended the b-day night out), but this is an example of why when you’re sick just say you’re sick and provide no more details.

    1. I'm Just Here For the Cats!*

      It being a rumor is a good point but I don’t see where the LW says that there were coworkers at the birthday party?

      If it is rumors I think the OP needs to check themselves becuase there can be many reasons why someone may end up ill after drinking.

      1. Spencer Hastings*

        I think they meant it as “maybe there were coworkers at the party and that caused office gossip”, as an explanation of why the boss would know the specific reason the employee was out at all.

    2. Heidi*

      I had assumed that the employee told the OP all this when they called in sick. Perhaps there does need to be a conversation about not oversharing personal stuff in a professional environment.

    3. ecnaseener*

      I don’t see anything to suggest it was a rumor. Either the employee overshared, or the LW didn’t accept a simple “I’m out sick” and pressed for details.

    4. neeko*

      In the original post, the letter writer posted in the comments that the employee in question told them. It was not a rumor.

    5. ScruffyInternHerder*

      “….why when you’re sick just say you’re sick and provide no more details.”

      Fully agree.

      I feel we (as those who’ve been there done that) should probably let our direct reports know exactly this, in these words. Because when you think about it, a recent college graduate has spend 16-ish years of having reasons for absences (during school) scrutinized/needing to reported for excused/unexcused. That’s a lot of de-programming, and it takes a little while.

      Heck, personally had a college level professor refuse to authorize an alternative exam date for my friend, who was at the date of the exam, hospitalized and in the OR for an emergency appendectomy. And his doctor wrote him out til he was out of his however-many-days of the good meds scrip. Because an emergency hospitalization “wasn’t good enough reason to miss an exam” and this professor put it in writing in an email reply. Suffice it say, the department chair thought otherwise.

    6. rayray*

      I agree so much with keeping details minimum when calling in sick. I could understand letting them know if you’ll be out a couple days or more, but I don’t need to discuss my ailments with my manager.

  6. Bast*

    This is a tricky one, but I feel if an employee is typically responsible and a good employee, one mistake made outside of work really shouldn’t make a difference. We have all made questionable decisions at one time or another, whether it’s drinking a little too much or dating a questionable person. I also firmly believe that no one should have to explain why they’re out exactly when using a sick day. If the employee had simply called in and said they were under the weather and wouldn’t be in, you would have been none the wiser. I think it’s also important to note that we don’t have all of the details. What if the person was actually drugged in some way? Perhaps they were on a medication they weren’t on previously that had an unexpected reaction. They may not even be a big drinker and didn’t realize quite how much it would effect them– I realized that to my detriment once when sharing a scorpion bowl with a friend.

    It’s hard, but unless someone is out robbing banks or carrying out hits, I try not to look too hard at what everyone is doing off the clock.

    1. Wendy Darling*

      I can absolutely see this not even being a questionable decision. I’m a very light drinker so a couple of times I’ve misjudged and ended up WAY drunker than intended. (The worst was when I was actually quite dehydrated but hadn’t really realized it, and underestimated how strong the thing I was drinking was — I drank a number of drinks that would normally have been fine for me and ended up a sloppy mess.)

      I also totally understand the overshare because I’ve had a lot of jobs with shitty boundaries where your reason for being out had to be “good enough” to be acceptable. Shoutout to the job where I went on leave to have medically necessary major surgery because I was severely ill and everyone acted like I was going on a 3-week vacation. I ended up telling people I was having a hysterectomy so I could stop bleeding to death because it was the path of least resistance and I was exhausted.

    2. GiGi*

      Honestly, a hundred mistakes outside of work really shouldn’t make a difference as long as it’s not affecting the work. Unless of course, like you said, they are robbing banks or something like it that obviously crosses the line. It’s a real slippery slope when we start trying to decide which circumstances warrant using a sick day. And, it’s not a manager’s responsibilty to lecture someone about personal choices outside the workplace and within legal norms.

    3. Nodramalama*

      I don’t think it’s tricky at all. Unless the person is drinking at work this is not the manager’s business at all. Plenty of people have to take sick days because of self inflicted injuries. It doesn’t matter WHY someone is sick, they were sick. If a coworker ate raw chicken and ended up in the hospital you wouldn’t sit them down and have a conversation about cooking safety.

      OP is not the workers mother, it is not their responsibility or right to lecture them about responsible drinking.

    4. londonedit*

      Yeah, I think if it’s a one-off it’s really not worth being worried about. Anything could have happened – food poisoning, accident, whatever. The employee obviously made a mistake but I imagine they’ve probably suffered quite enough without being disciplined by their employer as well. It was outside of work and I think it’s unlikely the employee is going out and getting blind drunk every weekend to the detriment of their work. Most people who enjoy a drink now and then have pushed it a bit too far on occasions – probably not to the extent of being hospitalised, but we’ve all been young and stupid and done things we shouldn’t have. It took me far too long in my twenties to realise that I should not, under any circumstances, drink tequila.

  7. CSRoadWarrior*

    For question 1, the title made me assume the employee drank on a weekday, which would be more of an issue compared to if it were on Friday or Saturday nights. In this case, it was over the weekend.

    As Alison said, it’s best to leave it alone. If this ends up being a once and done occurrence, then there is nothing to worry about.

    1. Laney Boggs*

      If you g9 to the hospital for poisoning, you will still be hungover for probably 2 days. He easily may have gone drinking Saturday, been in the hospital Sunday, and just still been down & out come Monday (or whatever)

    2. Lirael*

      I dunno. There have only been two times in my life that I’ve been anything like that drunk. One was entirely my own fault, but the other was because it was my birthday and I thought I was being bought singles, and I was being bought trebles. I actually tried to go to the bar that night and my friends stopped me.

      I don’t think they realised what a terrible idea it was until I threw up over the doorstep of one of them.

      I do wonder if the person in question genuinely didn’t have any idea what they were drinking until it was too late.

      Doesn’t make any differenc though really: if it’s a one off it sounds like the experience was bad enough. If it’s not, deal with the pattern when it becomes clear.

  8. goducks*

    If you stop and think about it, a large percentage of injuries and illnesses are the results of errors in judgement. We get hurt in a car accident because we misjudged a traffic situation. We break a leg because we engage in a dangerous sport. We get covid because we went to a gathering of people during a pandemic. Yet, we don’t write to advice columns asking if we should have a stern talk with people about their choices because they missed work due to those error in judgements.

    If the LW wouldn’t be having a talk about choices and how they impact employment over missing work due to a concussion from playing football with friends, or because they got covid after going to a concert, or because they got food poisoning from eating gas station sushi, then they should leave this employee alone about this off-work situation.

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      Yeah, I think LW is being judgy because it’s alcohol related. (Although to be honest, drinking to the point of alcohol poisoning is real edge-of-the-cliff terriroty.)

      however, it is affecting the employee’s job because they couldn’t come to work

      As you’ve pointed out, lots of things can prevent someone from coming to work. I think LW needs to back up a little bit and see the forest, instead of focusing so much on this particular tree.

    2. 2023, You are NOT Nice.*

      Agree with all this, except the gas station sushi. You HAVE to know that one is going sideways.

      1. goducks*

        I’m not saying gas station sushi is not a big gamble, I’m saying there’s no way the LW would be considering sitting her employee down and discussing judgement and how it impacts employment if he’d gotten sick from eating it.

      2. Wendy Darling*

        I think a lot of things we do is misjudge HOW sideways. Like you eat the gas station sushi assuming that you’re going to have a bit of a grumpy tummy, but then end up hugging your toilet and begging for death. You go for birthday drinks on a work night assuming you’re gonna be a little headachey tomorrow morning and end up in hospital with alcohol poisoning because after a reasonable number of unexpectedly heavy-handed cocktail pours your good-work-night-decision-making apparatus went offline.

        I’m not gonna get mad if it happens once. I do side-eye the dude I know who gets food poisoning like 5x a year though — he really needs to either figure out how to make better choices or see a doctor.

      3. Anthony-mouse*

        Is gas station sushi that bad in the US? I regularly buy sushi from petrol stations (in the UK they are chains of supermarkets half the time anyway) and never got ill in any way from it

        1. GiGi*

          I think the assumption is that gas station sushi isn’t made on premise and the source and when it was made might be in question. Those kind of details matter more when you’re talking about raw fish but I probably wouldn’t eat egg salad or even chicken salad from a gas station, but that’s just me!

          1. Em*

            I would very much prefer the food I get from gas stations to be made on premises (presumably involving kitchens *grin*) that aren’t the gas station!

          2. hbc*

            On one particularly bad trade show day, my entire diet consisted of a vending machine egg salad sandwich, airport kiosk sushi, and a half dozen chocolate espressos. I would have claimed jet lag rather than admit to those choices if I had gotten sick.

          3. Mr. Shark*

            I sometimes get egg salad/chicken salad from 7-11, but those stores turn over product quickly and they have dates on their products. I wouldn’t trust smaller, independently operated stores that aren’t as controlled or aren’t visited as often.

            1. jojo*

              I once bought a fridge breakfast sandwich at a gas station, nuked it. Then opened it to see it. It had mold in it. It was in a manufacturer sealed bag, like a Jimmy Dean, but a different brand. Made me glad I like to look at my food before I eat it. My travel companion was glad too cuz his was same, but he had actually swallowed a bite.

        2. Bagpuss*

          ALso in the UK – I’d be happy to buy something like that from the petrol station shop attached to a large supermarket, I wouldn’t by it from the small petrol station in the village – they have slower turnover, and also the issue that deliveries may not be unloaded and put in the chillers as fast

        3. Sir Nose d'Voidoffunk*

          I like former NFL star Chris Long’s explanation of why he trusts airport sushi. Essentially, he says that unless you live right by the water, the sushi is being flown in anyway, so why not get it right by the plane?

  9. Fluffy Fish*

    First LW – and what would your reaction be if the employee was in the hospital because they broke their leg skiing over the weekend?

    It is not your business. And I disagree with Alison that you should mention it if they missed an important client meeting or something. Its highly unlikely the employee planned to end up in the hospital.

    If the employee is showing up to work drunk or hungover that would be something to address. If the employee is repeatedly calling out sick that would be something to address.

    You’re not your employees parent.

    1. Clown Eradicator*

      Agree with this. Even if it WAS a big client meeting missed – like others said, they wouldn’t lecture someone with food poisoning from sketchy gas station sushi. This could’ve happened for all number of reasons. Medication, very heavy handed bartender + dehydration, or even more terrifying things like alcohol + being roofied. etc.

    2. should decide on a name*

      It is not your business. And I disagree with Alison that you should mention it if they missed an important client meeting or something. Its highly unlikely the employee planned to end up in the hospital.

      You’re not your employees parent.

      I completely agree with everything you’ve said. Employers and managers do not own workers. I will never understand why employers and managers are not more grateful for having people willing to work for them! They couldn’t do any of this without workers.

  10. Peanut Hamper*

    I suspect #2 indicates why a lot of start-ups go belly-up. There are a lot of unknowns, and if you are used to regular (and large) income, and are suddenly not getting that, this would be incredibly stress-inducing. Very few people are in a position, whether mentally, emotionally, or financially, to deal with this. I’m glad I’ve never even been tempted to go work for a start-up. I just wouldn’t be able to handle all of that, even at the peon level I would be working at.

  11. QuailKeeper*

    1: It’s a sick day. Treat it like one.

    A.) All that is relevant is that they were hospitalized. If someone is hospitalized for any other (socially acceptable) risk, would you be asking this question?

    B.) Alcoholism is a disease with a strong addiction component. Alcohol also has a whole culture and social element that can make it very hard to turn down. Alcohol is also easy to spike, causing consumers to react badly. You don’t know the full context–but even if you did–A.) is true regardless.

    If there is a habit that impacts work regularly (they were coming in drunk or were frequently missing time and failing to complete tasks) or their post-work actions affected the business (e.g., posting work secrets on Instagram while they were partying) then that’s beyond what is acceptable. But it’s unacceptable because they are unable to complete the work, are a danger to others, or are losing the business money–not because they got drunk.

    1. Someone Else's Boss*

      Agreed! I would never question my employee about a sick day unless they ran out of time off. It’s none of my business.

  12. Alex*

    Once a long time ago my boss came into work with his polo shirt on inside out. No one told him. Both because he was the boss and because no one liked him.

    Halfway through the day he emerged from the office yelling “WHY DID NO ONE TELL ME MY SHIRT WAS ON INSIDE OUT!”

    Lol. Extra funny because he was kind of a hot mess and it was just icing on the cake.

  13. Lily Potter*

    Ironic that this letter is running this week, when there will be a fair number of people calling in “sick” (actually hungover) this coming Monday morning.

    Big picture? An employee calling in hungover is not an extraordinary thing. In general, it’s not a supervisor’s place to lecture about the risky behavior. The only caveat I might have is if, as Allison mentioned, the employee knew that they had a big presentation or the like the day after partying and then called in hungover…..that’s pretty irresponsible. But if the employee is just your basic worker, that doesn’t have anything extraordinary on the docket the next day, just let him/her call in “sick” and call it a day. Can’t be any worse than a guy I worked with years ago that would call in with a “headache” the minute he had eight hours of accumulated sick leave on the books.

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      Can’t be any worse than a guy I worked with years ago that would call in with a “headache” the minute he had eight hours of accumulated sick leave on the books.

      Gosh! What did this guy do when he actually got sick?

      1. Lily Potter*

        Why, came in sick anyway and breathed on he rest of us, of course!

        We knew he was job hunting when, all of a sudden, he stopped using his sick days (this was a public sector job that paid out accumulated sick leave at 50% upon severance).

    2. Smithy*

      I immediately thought of the Super Bowl sickdays with this letter, and really just want to take away that the professional lesson for this employee and OP is more that this amount of information should have never been shared.

      I have to imagine that a number of workplaces HQed in the Philadelphia and Kansas City metro areas are doing some kind of staggered/late start on Monday. If the work isn’t business critical, this seems like a level of work-life balance that may just not be worth micromanaging.

  14. alienor*

    I mean, getting alcohol poisoning when you’re older than a freshman in college is pretty dumb, but also why are they explaining that they can’t come to work because they had alcohol poisoning? “Hey boss, I got sick over the weekend and had to spend the night in the hospital, but I’m doing better now and will be back ASAP.” The boss doesn’t need to hear the details of your over-partying any more than they do your food poisoning.

    1. Shirtballs*

      I totally agree. The real issue here is the employee is oversharing. They should have just said they were sick. It’s not the boss’ job to police drinking that’s happening out of regular office hours. If the issue of calling out becomes too frequent they can discuss missing work, but the drinking shouldn’t have anything to do with it.

    2. Required*

      Sure, but then the boss can choose not to act on the employee’s overshared medical information, which is usually what Alison advises in these situations and is sort of allowing for here (but apparently not if it repeats?).

  15. Emily*

    I don’t think it’s crazy to think of alcohol poisoning as a fundamentally different issue than getting into a car accident or falling off a ladder or something because alcoholism is something that destroys peoples’ lives — including their job performance — and someone who is in the hospital for alcohol poisoning has a not-tiny chance of either having or being in the process of developing a problem with alcohol. It’s related to your life and your work in a way that lots of other ways you could hurt yourself, even if they involved making a bad choice, just wouldn’t. But I don’t think the answer is to be punitive about this, it’s to be concerned. If there’s an EAP, you could certainly mention that. Depending on the relationship with the employee, you might have more of a conversation about it. And then I’d watch out for symptoms that there’s a larger problem here.

    1. goducks*

      Nah, I’ve known a few people who got alcohol poisoning once, and in every instance it was due to a confluence of events, including: medication, someone seriously over-serving, friends not identifying an issue and cutting someone off, friends pouring drinks into someone already impaired, youth/inexperience.

      None of these people have concerning relationships with alcohol. The LW needs to leave this alone unless the employee has some larger pattern of work-impact that indicates an ongoing problem with alcohol.

    2. Lunch Eating Mid Manager*

      I agree with this. I think/hope the employee is not so far enough along that being handed the EAP brochure by their boss would have a serious impact to think about their choices.

    3. Emm*

      I think it’s worth thinking about, but one incident of alcohol poisoning is not indicative of alcoholism. Unless a pattern emerges that begins to inhibit the employee’s work, it doesn’t feel appropriate to steer them in that direction.

    4. QuailKeeper*

      You know how you can give 10 people a medication, and all 10 people will have different symptoms and side effects, and maybe one person just seriously doesn’t tolerate it for some reason?

      Alcohol falls into the same category. There are a thousand different reasons someone can get alcohol poisoning and end up hospitalized beyond just “drinking too much.”

      1. 1LFTW*

        It can also be metabolized very differently by the same individual at any given moment. Hydration, food intake, other medications, and sleep quality are just a few possible factors that might cause someone to overestimate their tolerance.

    5. Lydia*

      If, after one night of poor decision making, my boss handed me an EAP pamphlet under the assumption that clearly, I have an issue with an alcohol, I would be livid. Do not assume you know anything about anyone based on what currently is an isolated event. This person is already dealing with the consequences (embarrassment, hospital bills) without their boss making it more of an issue than it is.

      1. kiki*

        Yeah, I think Emily is probably coming at this from a caring place, but for just one instance of drinking gone awry, this seems like a big overreaction and a little precious to me.

    6. Fluffy Fish*

      Absolute overreaction and overstep to a one time incident that frankly the manager shouldn’t not even be aware of the cause.

    7. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      The few times over the course of my life that I’ve been really sick from drinking was because my alcohol tolerance had gone down after a period of hardly any drinking and I didn’t realize that. On the contrary, I’ve had several family members with real drinking problems. One eventually died from it. Another developed their drinking problem over time while we lived together, so gradually that it took me a while to notice. One thing I noticed they all had in common was extremely high tolerance. They could drink and drink and drink and then barely have a headache the next day, drink again the night after and so on to infinity. Like the energizer bunny, but with alcohol! None of them were ever in a hospital for alcohol poisoning, in fact I never recall any of them ever having alcohol poisoning at all. That was how they were able to keep drinking. So, yeah, in this case, definitely an overreaction, and a lesson to the employee to keep the details of their sickness to themselves. Would they tell their boss that they ate something bad the night before and are now spewing out of both ends and so cannot make it to work? no, they’d just say “I’m not feeling well” which is what they should’ve said here too.

    8. Irish Teacher*

      I think the first time something like this happens is a bit soon for a boss to start considering possible alcoholism and dealing with the employee on that basis. If there were problems on a regular basis, I’d feel differently, but a lot of people make a poor decision about alcohol at some point in their life (or as others have said, get spiked or have an unexpected reaction due to a combination of alcohol with some medication they are taking) and most are not alcoholics.

    9. Required*

      car crashes don’t destroy people’s lives??????? I mean, most of us know people who have died in car accidents. Do they not count?

      1. EchoGirl*

        I don’t agree with Emily’s larger point, but I think the distinction she’s making is that alcoholism is an ONGOING situation that can ruin lives. It’s not that car crashes can’t ruin lives, but by the time a manager learns about a car crash, whatever happened has already happened, so there’s no way for the manager to prevent lives from being ruined; on the other hand, being an alcoholic is an active situation that could lead to life-destroying consequences in the future, so the manager intervening could actually be preventative.

        (However, I agree with many of the other comments that it’s a stretch to think this one incident = reason to suspect an alcohol problem. Even if there’s no other factors and the employee did just voluntarily drink too much, sometimes one bad decision is just one bad decision.)

    10. Bagpuss*

      I’d disagree a bit – the only times I’ve seen/known people get alcohol poisoning they’ve been people with little / no experience who badly misjudged things, or people who trusted others too much (either lack of experience again and not realising how much alcohol was in a cocktail someone else has mixed, or issues with drinks being spiked.
      I don’t discount the possibility of someone having or starting to develop a problem with alcohol – in fact I’d be more concerned about someone who was often hungover than someone who wound up in hospital as a one-off.

    11. nodramalama*

      there is zero indication that the worker has ongoing issues with alcohol. People misjudge alcohol consumption, it happens. When I was 21 I had too much to drink, fell down, broke my hand and had to go to the hospital the next day to get xrays. I don’t have issues with alcohol, I was a dumb kid. This happens to a lot of young people. They don’t know their limits.

      It is wildly out of line for OP to sit down with the worker and have a conversation about alcoholism on the back of this incident.

    12. allathian*

      Sure, alcoholism is a problem both for individuals and for society at large. But one instance of alchol poisoning is no reason to suspect that.

  16. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

    LW1: As other people have noted, if someone is hospitalized once with alcohol poisoning (or for a more socially accepted reason like a broken bone from a skiing accident), they don’t need their boss to tell them that it’s a problem. A friend, or their doctor, might want to say something–but that something could be “did the pharmacist warn you about interactions with your new prescription?” or even a warning that a particular friend’s idea of generosity means they make extra-strong punch and mixed drinks without mentioning it. A lot of people’s idea of how much alcohol they can/should/want to drink is “X drinks in an evening,” which assumes that “one drink” is always the same amount of alcohol.

    Being hospitalized for anything is unpleasant (and, in the United States, can be very expensive). Even if you enjoy heavy drinking, or downhill skiing, or [other risky activity], you probably want to spend the night in your own bed, not having a stranger wake you at 3 a.m. to check your vital signs. OP1’s employee has a fresh memory of how fun that night in the hospital wasn’t, they don’t need their boss to tell them about it.

  17. Cake Wad*

    My employee was out for a critical day of work after a night of drinking. I was absolutely livid… especially because the night of drinking was with MY boss.

  18. Keymaster of Gozer*

    If it’s a recurring issue of an employee missing work then it’s okay to have a talk with them to say that this is negatively affecting their work and ask if they can do anything to mitigate this.

    If it’s a rare occurrence you say nothing. I get that the ‘they could have avoided this’ mindset is so tempting to say out loud but these are adults – they know this and lectures do not help.

    I have called off work before due to something totally self-inflicted (I tried to get off this plane of existence let’s put it that way) and I’d be seriously upset had someone found out why and criticised me when I got back.

    Drinking to excess out of hours is their business. If they showed up to work absolutely wankered then you do something.

    1. ScruffyInternHerder*

      I’m glad that you were unsuccessful in your attempts, as I truly enjoy your commentary here, and you seem a kind and wise human being :)

    2. Rainy*

      I agree so hard with saying nothing if it’s a rare occurrence. There are a lot of things that make a person call out of work that *could* be avoided, strictly speaking, if you knew they’d result in what they resulted in, but *will* they be avoided?

  19. Samwise*

    OP1. The employee isn’t the one asking, but my advice to that person would be: don’t tell your boss everything. Say: I was hospitalized for a few days but I’m on the mend and will be in the office on DAY. No need to worry!

    1. nonprofit writer*

      I wouldn’t be surprised if the employee is young. When I was younger, I always felt I had to explain everything. I had a student job that sometimes involved me delivering various documents around our campus (this was before people sent things via email). Over spring break, I had to have a really large, stubborn wart excised from the bottom of one of my toes, and it made walking painful. For some reason, the fact that I’d had a wart was SO embarrassing to me, and at the same time, I felt that I HAD to explain to my bosses why I couldn’t make the deliveries for a little while. So I told them I had stepped on broken glass and had to get stitches. Of course they were sympathetic, expressed horror that this had happened, etc. I am rolling my eyes now thinking about it. Now, I would simply say, “I had minor surgery on my foot, nothing to worry about,” and wouldn’t even think twice about it. Just one of the many reasons I’m glad to be in my 40s–no need to agonize over these kinds of things and to make up ridiculous lies (I’m also a really bad liar so I wouldn’t be surprised to hear my bosses suspected my story was made-up.)

      1. TootsNYC*

        when we’re kids, we have to justify missing school by giving detailed explanations to our authority figures (parents and school). It’s the only paradigm we know.

        And a lot of managers continue to act on those paradigms.

  20. Jenny*

    Boy I hope #2 didn’t uproot her life for that startup. That had “disaster” written all over it.

    1. Slow Gin Lizz*

      I really want an update on that one. I agree, I hope OP didn’t move for that awful boss.

  21. Veryanon*

    LW1: Many years ago I worked for a temp agency as a staffing coordinator. When our employees would call out, some of them would feel compelled to explain (in gruesome detail) why they couldn’t report to work. Please, everyone, I beg you, a simple “I’m sick and I can’t make it to work” is sufficient, or even just “I’m not going to be able to come into work today.”

    1. Lily Potter*

      I’m reminded of one of my college professors. I went to a small college and professors generally did take attendance, especially in lower division courses. First day of class, the prof tells everyone that they get three absences from class before it would impact our grade, and that said prof absolutely did not want to know why we were absent. That was our business. Mostly, she didn’t want to have to figure out of we were “sick” because of the flu or “sick” because of too much booze the night before. More than three absences, you needed to haul your sick butt into class or your grade was lowered. Allowed exceptions involved verified hospitalization or production of a death certificate (I seem to recall the sentence: “I’m going to verify that Grandma’s really dead, so plan your absences accordingly”).

      1. I should really pick a name*

        I hope this resulted in sick students coming to class and infecting the prof.

        1. Lily Potter*

          Nope. It’s weird, I don’t remember anyone in my social group ever getting sick enough (cold-and-flu wise) that it impacted our daily routines in college. I was happy that the prof laid everything out at the beginning about absences. You can bet that we all knew exactly how many days we could skip out during the semester, and we didn’t skip out frivolously.

      2. Llamalady*

        You know, when I was a freshman in college, my grandfather actually did die the week before finals and his funeral was the day I had several exams scheduled. Thank god nobody questioned whether it was true, as I was very close to him and really upset about it (but I also did produce an obituary with my name listed as a survivor). I just. . .hate that this is a meme now, since it was hard enough to be in college taking your first finals and having your beloved grandparent die AND no one believing you.

        1. Zephy*

          It’s been a meme about as long as college students with elderly relatives have existed, and I’m willing to bet there are more actual dead grandparents than fictional ones at any given midterms/finals week. But there are also always going to be people unprepared to meet a deadline, and unable or unwilling to take that L (whatever the consequences may be), and so they invent what would be an ironclad excuse to buy themselves some more time, if it were true, be it a dead relative or a hospitalization or what have you.

    2. Irish Teacher*

      My deputy principal cut me off with “oh, I don’t need to know the details; that’s your business” when I told him I needed time off for a doctor’s appointment. (The reason I was going to say a bit more was that it was for tests and I wanted to give him a hint that I might need further time off if they found anything concerning.)

  22. Rainy*

    I’d love to say that I am shocked at the manager who thinks they have the right to say something to their direct report about personal decisions that “have an impact on their work”, but I’m not.

    Employees are people. They do stuff outside of work. Sometimes that stuff they do outside of work–like eat Chipotle for lunch, or parent a child, or rock-climb–will have an impact on their work. They’ll get food poisoning and call out of work. They’ll need to take a sick child to the ER and call out of work. They’ll fall 15 feet onto pointy rocks and call out of work.

    If the LW can’t handle that, they shouldn’t be managing people. Go to your room and manage your stuffed animals.

    1. Student*

      The thing is, if you have prior experience with alcoholics, it can make you very sensitive to repeat experiences. Being over-sensitive after bad experiences with alcoholics is very normal, and the OP should think about whether this kind of prior experience may be influencing them.

      In the case of alcoholics, it often starts out very innocuous or occasional, then just spirals downward. It can make you regret not responding much more strongly when you first saw signs of an issue, regardless of whether that would have actually been reasonable at the time, because alcoholics can get much harder to deal with the further they spiral into dependency.

      I’d advise following AAM’s advice for this first round, but definitely having a serious talk with the employee if it happens more than, say, once every two years. Then you can still nip it in the bud early if it does turn out to be an addiction, but not too early to deal with all the relatively reasonable, common, non-addiction possibilities that have been raised by other commentors.

      1. Rainy*

        Sure, but if that’s the case, it’s a LW problem, not an employee problem, as you say, and they need to do some work on themselves rather than offloading that onto the employee.

        If I had an employee, or even a coworker, who was hospitalized for alcohol poisoning and out for a day while they recovered, my first assumption wouldn’t be a judgemental “this person is going to drink themselves into the ER every weekend and it’s my job to tell them that’s unprofessional”. Frankly, my first assumption would be either that they were drugged or that they had an unfortunate medication interaction.

  23. Former Retail Lifer*

    In college, our hilarious, sarcastic professor’s fly was down once. One of the sassier female students loudly informed him of this and laughed, expecting embarrassment.

    His response? “Well, WHY WERE YOU LOOKING THERE?” The class erupted in laughter.

    I didn’t say anything because I didn’t want to embarrass him, but I was not prepared for HIM to be the one making someone feel embarrassed.

  24. Lizard*

    Letter #1: I’d say that both context and frequency matter on whether to discuss the situation with the employee.

    These types of questions are very useful for me, and I still wonder about my own handling of a drunk employee situation that occurred many years ago. It was an overnight camping trip, for field-based work, and I was in charge of the crew. During the evening we were sitting around the campfire, drinking some beer and hanging out, however one person was drinking whiskey, which we were not aware of until we decided to call it a night. Then it became obvious that this person had over served themselves by a lot.

    That person was not able to work the next morning, and only showed up for a (useless) appearance in the afternoon. I did have words with that individual once they were sober, which became a bit uncomfortable because that person didn’t see what the big deal was (?!?). Once we got back to the office I hashed out what to do with another crew lead, and we decided that leaving it at “you can’t do this ever again or we’ll recommend you be fired” was the best solution. So no word about it to upper management, and life went on.

    In retrospect, I wonder if our approach was too soft for this particular instance. I mean, it directly had a negative impact on our project work! So Allison’s response about tailoring whether the behavior is discussed to the type of project impacts it had is a useful rule of thumb.

    1. Clown Eradicator*

      Except in your situation, it sounds like it was a work related event. Where in the letter, it was during off hours.

  25. Epsilon Delta*

    Haven’t read Alison’s answer yet, but my response if someone called in sick due to being hospitalized for alcohol poisoning would be:
    1. Oh my god (probably wouldn’t be able to stop myself from saying it out loud)
    2. Thank you for letting me know and for your honesty. Please rest and recover.
    I would leave it there unless I ever had reason to suspect there was a pattern. But rightly or wrongly I would be keeping an eye on them at team building events that involve alcohol to make sure they were ok/not driving if drinking (and trying to minimize those when I have a say in planning).

  26. Sleeve McQueen*

    Ok, so I once did something similar, albeit without being in hospital. Admittedly I work in an industry that is notoriously boozy in a country that is notoriously boozy, but in my younger days managed to get so written off at an end-of-year industry function that I could not stop vomiting for two days. Not my finest moment.
    I was deeply apologetic to my boss, and in retrospect I can’t believe they did not say more, but at the same time I was usually very reliable and hardworking so presumable they chalked it up to a dumb mistake and left it at that. It was also one of the most horrible experiences in my life – it felt so awful and that was compounded by my brain constantly reminding me that I had done this to myself. I swore I would never get even close to this level of drunk/hungover again and I never did.

  27. cncx*

    Tangential but I have a point: in Swiss case law, a company once ruled against an employer who used a key logger, arguing that if the employee had performance issues, there were other, less invasive and more legal metrics to hold that employee accountable. While drinking too much outside of work and using a key logger during work are two different things, if someone’s alcohol habits are so bad that they miss work more than once, surely there are other metrics that say something else is going on professionally without the value judgement of how they spend their evenings and without getting into whether or not alcoholism is protected etc.

    I once worked for a woman with an alcohol problem. She stank and had tremors and would be in an absolutely foul mood screaming and shaking until lunch when she had her first glass of wine (europe). She would drop binders and rip papers she was trying to staple and freak out on me for minutae. There was a clear performance change for the better between 8am and 2pm after her first drink or three had hit her system. Her drinking at night wasn’t the issue, the withdrawal symptoms during the morning were.

    1. allathian*

      She should’ve had a glass of wine for breakfast. It wouldn’t have improved her health, but it would’ve made things better for her reports…

    2. CA Cupid*

      I had the same thought – if this were indicative of alcoholism, there would be other signs besides a single hospital visit.

  28. should decide on a name*

    In response to Letter 1, I’d love to know if the employee told LW that they were in the hospital with alcohol poisoning, or if this is just sheer office gossip or other speculation.

    I also disagree with Alison about lecturing the employee if they ended up in hospital despite there being a big presentation or similar event scheduled for the Monday they called in sick for. People don’t plan visits to the emergency room, just like they don’t plan to end up sick.

    If you must discuss this with them at all due to what you believe is a recurring pattern of behaviour (and no, someone actually using the sick leave they are legally owed does not fall into this category!), I would recommend approaching them with compassion and support, speaking to them privately and gently as to if there is anything you can do to assist, including granting them some sick leave or other paid leave to go and seek treatment, or even just to rest and recuperate.

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