I've had some disagreements with my manager and have found some of his jokes and stories offensive. I recently found out he is an alcoholic (in the medical sense). I have never met an alcoholic before and am wondering, what kind of things should I avoid saying or doing? For example obviously I will not bring up the subject of alcoholic beverages. One thing I'm concerned about is sometimes we have to go to another office and he drives me; is it legal to refuse to get in a vehicle he is driving? How should I approach this?

I think the replies describe the situation better than I have thus far: I agree the fact that he is an alcoholic is immaterial but his symptoms of alcoholism may be effecting the work place. How do I know, and does it matter, if a specific trait is alcohol related? For example he sometimes speaks incoherently. Is that just the way he is or is this an effect of alcoholism and if so can/should anything be done to better the situation for him and the people he works with? Some people seem to be ok when he talks about things inappropriate for the work place, such as bodily functions, is this allowed since he may have a medical reason for it?

  • 1
    For legalities, it would help to state what jurisdiction you are as laws could well vary in different parts of the world.
    – JB King
    Jul 15, 2013 at 21:28
  • I'd be hard-pressed to believe that refusal to get in a car with someone you suspect is in no shape to operate it is a criminal offense anywhere in the world.
    – Blrfl
    Jul 15, 2013 at 21:34
  • While it may not be criminal, it could cause issues at work if one lived where there was a culture that 90%+ of the population drink regularly and you'd be seen as disrespecting your boss to refuse his ride.
    – JB King
    Jul 15, 2013 at 21:43
  • 4
    I'm related to an alcoholic who hasn't had a drink in years. Please differentiate between "alcoholic" and "frequent drinker", as not all of the former fit into the latter.
    – Adam V
    Jul 15, 2013 at 21:59
  • 2
    This question appears to be off-topic because it is just a rant about OP's inability to mesh with boss's personality/style. OP just wants to know how acceptable it would be to blame this discord on the boss's alcoholism, yet the boss doesn't drink frequently (as the OP tells us).
    – acolyte
    Jul 16, 2013 at 14:46

4 Answers 4


Well, first: An alcoholic is someone who is or was physically addicted to alcohol. It is a lifelong medical condition, and is subject to medical privacy laws (I'm not familiar with Canada's, but in the U.S. it's the HIPAA law).

Secondly, whether or not he is an alcoholic is immaterial. The issue is impairment. If the person is medically an alcoholic, but has a Blood Alcohol Level of 0.00, then he is not impaired and there is no issue with him driving.

If the person has been drinking, then you are absolutely within your rights, and within the bounds of any good judgment to refuse to ride in the vehicle with the person. If you get any flack at all from your company about this, document it completely and seek legal representation.

As far as being supportive of him if he is in recovery, then use good sense. Don't recommend visiting taverns or bars. You are within your rights to drink if you're off the clock, but a little compassion might help: Don't order any alcoholic drinks so he doesn't feel "alone" with his iced tea.

I wish I could be more specific, but there is a big difference between a recovering alcoholic and an inebriated person. If they are drunk, his alcoholism isn't your problem. His impairment is. Deal with that, and don't worry about his alcoholism.

I hope you can see/appreciate the difference between the two (even though they are intertwined).

  • 1
    First sentence is completely wrong. The OP does not qualify as a covered entity under HIPAA, so no medical privacy law applies here, nor is there any physician-patient privilege established in this relationship.
    – Blrfl
    Jul 16, 2013 at 11:00
  • @Blrfl - I think you meant the second sentence. I don't believe I stated that the OP was restricted by those laws. That is up to them to determine. The information IS subject to these laws. If it has already been disclosed, with consent, to the company, then HIPPA privileges have been waived. The OP being in Canada means completely different laws are in place. I don't know what Canada's laws are, but it is generally not a good idea to disclose any third party's health information. Jul 16, 2013 at 19:04
  • The information is subject to HIPAA's privacy rule if a disclosure is being made by a covered entity. If you discover that your boss has cooties, neither you, your boss nor your employer is forbidden from disclosing that fact because none of you fall into that category. "Not a good idea" and "legally-restricted" are two different things.
    – Blrfl
    Jul 16, 2013 at 19:48
  • @Blrfl - Again, I never said the OP was legally restricted. You are seeing something that is just not there. If the OP works at a healthcare facility or a health insurance company, and they handle their own coverage, he may be enjoined. I am not offering legal advice. I am recommending that the OP be aware of his own situation. Jul 16, 2013 at 20:17
  • This is valid advice. Unless the manager is under the influence while at work, then their alcoholism, is not relevant to your personal problems with the indivual.
    – Donald
    Jul 17, 2013 at 12:51

Your actions should depend on the company ethics:

  • Does your company stand for party? Consume? Not thinking about tomorrow, etc.

  • Is it a rather conservative company, that stands for old fashioned values?

If the ethics of your company are more related to the former point. You should probably get out. Preferably in peace since your boss could be reference for future applications. You shouldn't mention that your boss is an addict, unless maybe he's is getting help and had some kind of 'outing', since it could be considered as deceitful.

If the second point is the case, you should document the behaviour of your boss to be safe against future threats and then confront him with your concerns. E. g. you don't want to drive in the same car. Depending on his actions, you should maybe take lawyer.

  • Simple enough to simply not provide a reference to for a particular company, if the terms of a departure are negative, references are suppose for you benefit not a negative.
    – Donald
    Jul 17, 2013 at 12:55
  • Wouldn't say so. It's not always possible to leave sth out your cv without leaving a bad impression. E.g. a situation where you had one employer in the last 3 years vs one in which you had 3 employers in the last year.
    – mike
    Jul 17, 2013 at 12:59
  • 1
    Wouldn't you agree that after a certain amount of experience that the lack of a small window in time will not be important? If you have 15 years of experience then the lack of a windows 13 years ago wouldn't be important. Many resume experts might argue that reference from your first company is not even accurate. Besides its important to tailor your resume to begin with, references are important, but are not everything.
    – Donald
    Jul 17, 2013 at 13:06
  • I agree. But this situation suits not everbody, especially younger persons, who don't have that spectrum of references/former employers to pick out of.
    – mike
    Jul 17, 2013 at 13:23

If he is drunk at the time then he should not be driving. If you feel uncomfortable with him driving then take your own car or just flat out refuse. Your life is more important than your job - just handle it politely.

In terms of day-to-day work - if the alcoholism is affecting your work then raise that issue. It is his personal problem and should only be your problem if it is affecting your work.

I have worked for alcoholics in the past and there has been no problem but stand up for yourself if his problem is affecting your work.

As for interview... simply state state that you were not comfortable working in the 'unprofessional environment' created by your supervisor and leave it at that. Unless your stay was an odd length of time (like less than a year) they are unlikely to ask you why you are leaving.

Edit: Incorporated Jim's suggestion on handling the interview

  • 4
    Normally I advocate honesty when answering the 'why did you leave your last job' question, but in this case extreme discretion is advisable. Unless you are licensed to diagnose medical conditions then you should NOT label any coworker as 'an alcoholic'. That might be outright libel. Teambob's answer is fine except I'd suggest you simpley state that you were not comfortable working in the 'unprofessional environment' created by your supervisor and leave it at that. Jul 16, 2013 at 3:47
  • @JimInTexas - I agree just saying the work environment wasn't working for you valid enough reason to leave a company.
    – Donald
    Jul 17, 2013 at 12:53

You don't have to be in a car to be at risk. Unless this guy is taking concrete steps to sort himself out, you need to run... fast. Get away from his department, and if necessary, quit the company. If the people running the company don't or can't insist he rehabilitate, then they are, basically, complicit in what's going on.

In my brief stay in the U.S. Navy, there was a saying that 'schiss slides downhill' (Some amount of translation might be needed). In short, you could end up being a scapegoat for things that you aren't responsible for. This is even more dangerous if you're in a government agency.

The basic question is very simple: is there anyone in your organization whose judgment is impaired to the point where they will hurt customers or the public? If the answer is yes, the only moral action is to leave. Remaining on duty makes you complicit.

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