Responding to a Crisis Safely

Approaching an Employee in a Possible Drug or Alcohol Crisis
Ask the employee to come to a private area with another supervisor, a human resources representative, security, or some combination of these. Inquire, in a nonjudgmental tone, about the behavior, rumor, or report. Stick to the facts, and do not involve the names of other employees.

Express your concern. Keep in mind that this is about a specific employee and the employee’s workplace-related behaviors. Be sure to actively listen to the employee’s statements and repeat them back to ensure that nothing is misunderstood.

If there is reason to believe that a violation has occurred, notify a management or labor relations representative as appropriate. If there is evidence or suspicion of recent use, follow the guidelines of your organization’s drug-free workplace policy, which will detail how to handle the event.

Responding to a Workplace Crisis
All supervisors should be prepared to deal with a crisis. Although these situations are not common, knowing what to do in case of emergency is important. Such highly charged situations might involve alcohol or other drugs, so an impaired person may not be a rational person. Document your observations and responses and have another supervisor present if possible.

When investigating a potential crisis involving possible drug or alcohol use, ask these questions:

  • Does unusual behavior appear to be taking place (for example, illegal activity or policy violations)?
  • What specific behavior is visible?
  • Does the situation involve an individual employee or a group?
  • Are reliable witnesses available?
  • What are the physical dangers of taking or not taking action?
  • Is the situation serious enough to call security, law enforcement, or 911?
  • Is there a specific policy that applies to the situation?
  • Is it necessary to call in expert consultation with human resources, an EAP, or security?
  • Does the situation call for reasonable-suspicion testing?

Source: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration,