Managing Disciplinary Matters at the Workplace


The misuse of drugs, alcohol and other substances is a concern to almost everyone. Employers are equally concerned with drug and substance abuse among their employees because it increases the risk of accidents and injuries in the workplace, absenteeism, reduced productivity, and the harm they cause to the misuser’s health. A report commissioned by HSE that sought to establish the prevalence of illegal drug use in the working population in the UK established that 13% of the working respondents reported using drugs in the previous year. Thirty thousand respondents were included in the study. The study also found out that there was considerable variance with age (Health and Safety Executive, 2004, p.14). The associations between drug use and impairments in cognition, perception, motor skills, injuries, accidents, and work performance will continue to be a major concern to employers and human resource managers.

Approach to the case

Over the years, different techniques have been designed to deal with drug abuse in the workplace. One of the methods used involves running screening programs to establish whether their employees are using drugs that could impact negatively their work performance and reduce their productivity. Drug screening programs have proved to be very expensive for companies that do not have adequate financial resources to carry out such programs. Besides this, there are numerous arguments against the use of screening programs by workers’ unions in the United Kingdom. Their major argument is that this has the potential to divert attention from other effective measures of dealing with drug use at the workplace. Another argument is that it should only be used when there is an established risk. Unions have also expressed concern about the potential for arbitrary use testing. Companies that do not have the financial capacity to implement drug screening programs often revert to other approaches like stand-alone treatment, rehabilitation, and counseling for the concerned employee which are implemented alongside health promotion programs at the workplace (Bohle&Quinlan, 2000, p.477)

Others have instituted employee assistance programs to help their workers deal with a variety of problems that interfere with the way they go about their jobs. Bohlander &Snell(2007,p.515) explain that the main intention of employee assistance programs is to help employees to solve their personal problems or preventing g the problems from escalating in a manner that affects their ability to work productively. Expounding further on employee assistance programs, they explain that the programs provide various services like diagnosis counseling, refferals for advice and treatment (if necessary) for alcohol or drug abuse related problems, emotional diffivculties,financial and family related difficulties.

These discourses clearly point out that there is no standard way of dealing with the problem of drug and alcohol abuse at the work place and that a combination of approaches like the ones mentioned above can be a better way of addressing the issue.In regard to this case, the ware house manager should consider using the systematic progressive discipline approach in attending to this case. In this approach the manager deals with work performance issues in a stepwise manner and the consequences for undesirable behavior become more severe with each repetition of the mistake or problem.

The Canadian Ministry of labor (2008, para 1-2) explains that this approach saves time and the cost of dismissing and hiring a new employee. When using this approach, the manager fairly explains to the employee what is expected of them and lets them know that their conduct was wrong. Evidence on the case suggests that this is the first time the fork lift driver is facing a work –related disciplinary problem. After doing this the ware house manager will need to establish probable reasons why the fork lift driver was drinking before coming to work and continued to do so while working. Was it due to work related stress, misconduct, finances, family problem or incompetence?.This will guide the manager on the task of deciding what to do next (Para 3-4).

Odiorne (1990,p.152-154) explains that if the problem is due to incompetence, the manager needs to explain what happens to the employee if performance does not improve, the employee is then given a period of time to improve on performance and is closely supervised their work appraised regularly. If performance improves then the manager concentrates on other duties but if the performance does not improve, the manager is at liberty to consider either a dismissal, suspension or recommend the employee for counseling, treatment or use their discretion to undertake any other option that is take into consideration the situation of the employee and the company’s goals. The manager also need to properly document what happens throughout this process.

In case the manager identifies the problem as a case of misconduct, Guerin & Delpo (2009,p.130-132) advice that the person handling the case, in this case the manager should evaluate the seriousness of the misconduct and try to establish what could have contributed to the occurrence. An investigation is useful in achieving this. It’s important to note here that this matter was reported to the warehouse manager by the shift manger and he/she lacks first hand evidence on the case. If the problem is a minor one, the manager should give a fair verbal warning and a written letter to the employee to settle the matter. The manager gives the employee a considerable period of time to improve, if the employees misconduct persists, the manger is at liberty to suspend the employee or take other disciplinary actions against the employee.

Important implications of the case

The fork lift driver coming to work while drunk and driving in the warehouse while intoxicated warrants this case to be considered as a disciplinary case. Klingemann, Takala&Hunt (1992, p.127) attest that there is little doubt that alcohol consumption at the work place is associated with many undesirable consequences. The confederation of British industries acknowledges that the misuse of alcohol is as serious problem that is linked with job absteenism and loss of productivity. It’s definite that a significant loss can be attributed to the inability of the fork lift driver to carry out his duties as expected. If the company ignored this incident, there is likelihood that the driver may continue drinking while working. In case this happens, the employee’s productivity will continue to drop translating to more loss to the company.

Safety concern within the warehouse is an important implication that is brought out in this case. Driving a fork lift and loading of materials is a sensitive job that requires the driver to be extremely cautious. These serious safety concerns relate to the drivers own safety, the safety of other employees and the safety of the machines and other property in the factory. The company would incur serious losses if the driver had caused a major accident, through unintentionally by working while drunk. Dalton (1998.p.215) explains that it is a necessary requirement for employees not to drink at all if their work involves driving, operating machinery, climbing ladders, operating electrical equipment or if the functional ability to carry out their work will be adversely affected by alcohol.

It is common that for smooth operations in a busy warehouse, employees need to work and contribute to team efforts. Hall (2008, p.105) notes that consumption of alcohol impairs the performance of individual and often damage the morale of other team members and is also a greater contributor to poor employee relations in many work settings.Referring to this case, a conflict can be expected between the drunk fork lift driver and the shift manager who reported his case to the ware house manager. This conflict can result in confrontations that could spill over and eventually seriously affect the daily operations at the work place.

Finally, this case qualifies to be regarded as a disciplinary matter considering the potential adverse effects on the company image and customer relations. A discussion by Gregory &Wiechmann(1999,p.193-197) on corporate image advertising mentions that employees play an important role in the success of corporate image advertising.A good corporate image is known to boost the morale of employees ,retain and attract customers and builds the confidence of investors. Since a company’s corporate image is mostly used to reflect corporate the values of a company, then negative publicity occasioned by an employee’s conduct could result in loss of customers, reduced investor confidence and damages the reputation of the company. Bohlander &Snell (2007,p.566)add that employee conduct outside the workplace not only damages the reputation of a company but it can also have a disruptive impact at the work place as other employees may develop a negative image of their colleagues and this a source of conflict at the work place.

Strategy for handling drug/alcohol abuse at work place

Alcohol related problems in the work place remain a serious problem that managers should take a keen interest to address because of the negative consequences linked to the misuse of alcohol. Effective work place policies should involve the input of all key staff and be specific to the companies which will use them. Components of a policy will tend to differ according to different companies. This policy is based on the need to promote a working environment that is protected from the negative consequences of alcohol consumption and is presented in four main parts.

Code of conduct for employees

A code of conduct is often used to enhance accountability. The warehouse managers can design a code of conduct for all employees that take into account the professional backgrounds of the company’s employees.the code should clearly outline the professional employees obligations to the company and a copy should be presented to every employee when they join the company. Revised and updated copies of the code should also be given to employees on a timely basis.

Basic obligations of the employee

  1. Each employee has the responsibility to the company to effectively carry out their duties, responsibilities or assignments as set out forth in the contract or employment agreement.
  2. Each employee shall respect and adhere to the general principles for ethical conduct as contained in this code of conduct and the company’s rules and regulations (Adapted from Standards of Ethical Conduct for Employees of the Executive Branch by United States office of government Ethics, 1994, p.3).

General ethical principles

Lamberti (2005,p.4) explains that ethics are a set of personal values that are above and not subject to laws or policies that govern countries, professions, industries or companies which ensure that people do what is right in all circumstances. Principle on the other hand, refers to a general rule used to guide behavior or personal conduct. The company’s ethical principles serve to guide everyone in the company on the right way to act in different circumstances. The following list gives some examples of ethical principles that can be adopted by the warehouse to deal with the problem of alcohol use in the work place.

  • Dignity and respect-everyone should treat their associates in a friendly manner as this ensures good employee relations which are an important aspect that promotes smooth operations in the company.
  • Integrity-everyone should uphold high moral standards and should be considerate of the feelings and rights of others.
  • Accountability-everyone should take responsibility and face the consequences of personal and group choices
  • Stewardship –everyone should take decisions that enhance the value of the assets/equipments for which they are responsible.
  • Trust –everyone should strive to deal honestly, fairly and be reliable in their dealings (Adapted from Mass Mart code of ethical conduct, 2005).

Rules and regulations regarding drinking in the work place

  • No employee will be allowed to drink alcohol while on duty under circumstance
  • Employees must not use any alcohol on or before reporting for duty, this includes even lunch periods or official rest breaks.
  • Employees in official uniform and who can be identified as the company’s employees must not use any bar dispensing alcohol either on or after duty.
  • No employee who has been positively identified as having consumed alcohol should be allowed to drive, operate machinery or handle any electrical equipment(Anderson,1996, p.23)

Disciplinary procedures

According to Venkataratnam (2004, p.247), there are three main approaches of dealing with undisciplined employees. The first one is the traditional approach emphasizes coercive and punitive methods. A major assumption under this approach is that punishment is necessary to correct deviations from the expected work place norms.the second approach is called the judicial approach and uses the principles of natural justice and provides the offender with all the necessary opportunities t o present and argue out their case. The third approach is called the humanistic approach and emphasis is on establishing a healthy in interpersonal relationships between the leader and the employee. There is an attempt to find out the cause of the problem and assistance is given to the employee to help them get over the problem.

Another approach was proposed by Douglas McGregor which he named the ‘Hot stove Rule’. Douglas opines that a good disciplinary system should have the following characteristics; advance warning, immediacy of action, consistency and impersonality Venkataratnam (2004, p.247). The ware house manager has the liberty to use any of the approaches or can use a combination of the four approaches, but essentially the following procedure is a useful one:

  • When the manager hears of or notices a problematic behavior, he should summon the employee and raise concern
  • The manager should try to find out the causes of the problem or order an investigation into the complains
  • The manager should give the employee some to improve on their performance
  • The manger should closely monitor the case and document properly
  • If the manger notices that there is no improvement, they can decide to dismiss the employee or take other corrective measures.

Back up support for identified problem drinkers

According to the Alberta Alcohol and drug Abuse Commission (AADAC) (2006, p.1-3) there are many ways in which companies can help their employees deal with the problem of alcohol and drugs at the work place. These include:

  • Ensuring a good working environment (reducing hazard at the work place)
  • Ensuring that employee have the necessary support if they have personal problems (counseling, treatment, Rehabilitation)
  • Provide health information
  • Involve employees or their representatives in formulating policies
  • Introducing flexible working arrangements to help employees balance work and family
  • Ensure that company events are hosted in a responsible way (for example by having no alcoholic drinks in work place social events).


Alcohol and drug misuse in the work place is a major concern for employers because of its association with reduced productivity, absenteeism and the likelihood of injuries and accidents which translate to serious losses for a business. In addressing indiscipline cases at the work place managers should consider using the progressive discipline approach because it is effective in achieving behavior change on part of the employee compared other punitive approaches of outright dismissal or suspension from work. A work place alcohol policy is specific to the company that will use it but generally it should have provisions on the expected code of conduct. The policy should also have rules and regulations to hold the employees accountable and should also make provisions on how employees identified to be suffering from alcohol or drug related problem can be assisted if the company has the resources to do so.


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