Intoxication. State and federal anti-discrimination laws do not protect drug or alcohol use that results in impairment at work. An impaired employee on the job is an obvious risk to safety, efficiency and good order in the workplace. For that reason, most employers impose discipline on workers who show up for work under the influence of drugs or alcohol. In most states, employees who show obvious signs of impairment (the smell of alcohol, bloodshot eyes, slurred speech, mood swings, erratic behavior, stumbling gait, sleepiness, among others) can be sent for drug and/or alcohol testing. Anybody refusing to take the test can be summarily suspended or terminated.

A few words of caution are in order. The test used must be scientifically valid. Further, the testing procedures must be strictly followed and rigorously documented.

Some states, like New York, protect employees who are “past” drug or alcohol abusers or who are merely regarded as impaired without more proof of actual intoxication.

It should be noted that an employee who is impaired through the use of appropriately prescribed medications are subject to the same rules. Employees taking medication should be advised to report the matter to supervision to avoid a problem.

Lastly, because drugs and alcohol pose such hazards in the workplace, their mere possession on the job can be prohibited.

Horseplay. Sometimes youthful exuberance gets the better of good judgment. The workplace is often rife with pranks and practical jokes. Employers don’t want to dampen the collegiality of the workforce, but common sense must prevail. If the horseplay causes even the most remote possibility of harm to people or damage to property, discipline is appropriate.

If management stops the horseplay before there is any harm or injury, generally a stiff warning will do the job. However, if the offender has been caught on previous occasions or if somebody is hurt, discharge might be considered. Although the culprit may not have been acting out of malice, the conduct is nevertheless an unnecessary danger to the workplace.

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