Let's assume the following scenario. One early morning, at work, you walk to the coffee maker to refill your coffee mug. When you get over to the coffee maker, two individuals are there talking. Based off of the strong smell in the general area, it is quite evident that one of these individuals has been consuming alcohol. Furthermore, let's assume that one of them works on a plant floor and operates heavy machinery which is quite dangerous.

What should you do in such a circumstance? If both of these individuals were office workers, it might be worth forgetting since you're not sure who the individual is who may have been drinking. However, there is a chance that one of the two could be putting themself and others in serious danger, due to the nature of their job.

You would never want to accuse someone of committing such a serious offense without reasonable proof.

This one is a bit of a sticky wicket. Could anyone offer any guidance?

  • 1
    floor worker = prduction facility/plant, correct? is the plant unionized?
    – acolyte
    Aug 2, 2012 at 20:21
  • There is no union and, yes, this is a Production Facility or "Plant".
    – RLH
    Aug 2, 2012 at 20:24
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    I would not describe that a s a serious offense. It might be a violation of the company rules, an unnecessary danger or simply an obvious lack of professionalism; not a severe violation of your country law (except if you live in a fundamentalist religious state) nor a conscious action aiming deliberately at hurting people. Also if it's really dangerous to admit drunk workers, and the company doesn't check it, you might want to incriminate the company BEFORE the worker
    – PPC
    Aug 3, 2012 at 17:27
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    @PPC A drunk driver is dangerous. A drunk forklift driver is dangerous^2; those things can take down walls and have been known to crush people to death. How is this not a big deal? When it comes to drunk operators of heavy machinery I don't care if they deliberately meant to hurt people -> their stupid choice to operate the machinery drunk was a conscious act. Where I live, this is known as criminal negligence.
    – MrFox
    May 31, 2013 at 17:43
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    @PPC From the OP's question: "... one of them works on a plant floor and operates heavy machinery which is quite dangerous."
    – MrFox
    Jun 4, 2013 at 13:49

5 Answers 5


Personally, I'd take the flak and go for speed over anonymity. But I've always had a good rapport with HR and at this point, I'm a manager... so that may bias me.

I'd go in this order:

  • direct supervisor
  • Human resource representative
  • plant safety (if there is such a thing?)
  • escalating chain of management

Depending on who is easily accessible and who responds quickly. I wouldn't do it like a panicked fire drill, but with some sense of urgency - and in ways that can't be ignored - in person or by phone -- email only as a last resort.

My thought is that the political issues of blowing the whistle on a coworker are vastly outweighed by the bad case of someone getting hurt because of this guy. After getting the message through to someone in charge, however, I'd let it go and trust the system (at least the first time). By "getting through" I mean that you get the feedback that the message was received (like you talked in person, or got a follow up phone call saying "thanks, got it").

For the record, there are legitimate medical conditions in which someone can end up smelling like alcohol. I believe diabetes (if not managed properly) is such a case... but I think there are others. The management and/or HR should have a procedure for following up that takes this into account and handles the situation properly. Of course, that's an idealized world...

NOTE: My answer would change in the event you, yourself, are a manager. At that point, you try to touch base with HR and then figure out how to talk to the guy. If you have reason to suspect a safety issue and you are a manager, you can be held liable in some cases for everyone's safety because of your position of authority.

  • First, I'm not a manager. Second, what makes this a bit more difficult is, I don't know the name of floor worker. I know who he is (he has to come in and out of my office area frequently to ask engineering questions) but I don't know his name. Also, thanks for pointing out the diabetes aspect. I wasn't aware of that.
    – RLH
    Aug 2, 2012 at 21:02
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    My only addition here would be if you're very concerned about anonymity is to go for HR first over your supervisor, but I'd talk with them personally (and privately), not try to give them an anonymous note they might not take as seriously.
    – Rarity
    Aug 2, 2012 at 21:05
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    @David - true. Although I'd hope HR was in the loop on that, you're right that there's no guarantee. For RLH- then I'd hit either your HR, or anyone you know managing the area the floor worker came from... you may just end up saying "hey, it was someone, not sure who - looks like this" but it's better than nothing. Aug 2, 2012 at 21:08
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    I would suggest talking to the person in question before going to their supervisor. If there is a serious problem and they won't acknowledge it, at least you can say you gave them a chance to take the day off on their own terms (to recover/sober up), before getting their supervisor involved. Aug 3, 2012 at 14:18
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    Personally, I really wouldn't unless I knew the person. Engaging with someone who is intoxicated can be unpredictable, and if I'm not the manager, it's not necessarily a role I should assume. If I actually knew the person it might be different - I could say "are you OK? you don't seem like yourself?" fairly easily, but in this case, the asker does not even know the guy's name. Aug 3, 2012 at 14:36

Unfortunately I know this one from personal experience. As pointed out by the other, this is way to dangerous to let it slide:

If you are in the US (or many other countries) and the company has a reasonable size, you should have a department called "Occupational Health". In many organizations it's known as "the nurse". See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Occupational_safety_and_health

They are specifically tasked with this sort of thing and you can call them directly. They would have to make a determination whether the specific worker is fit or unfit for duty. The call can also be treated anonymously (within reason). If there is a pattern or a history of similar behavior, Occupational Health would typically know about and act accordingly. On the other hand, any medical issues are highly confidential, so this also helps protecting the affected worker to some extend. Occupational Health acts as a buffer between employees and the company.

IF you don't have an OH department, than you should start with a person you trust either in HR or within your management chain. It's also a good idea to get a second opinion from someone who you trust who may have observed the same behavior.


Send an anonymous note to HR. There is all kinds of liability here. If it's anonymous, you won't have to deal with follow-up stuff, nobody will wait for you by your car after work with their baseball bats, and the company can deal with its liability issue. If HR doesn't find cause to fire the guy/gal, then you've done your part and can sleep at night.

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    Any sensible HR department won't reveal your name to anyone else anyway, and if they did they'd be inviting legal trouble.
    – Rarity
    Aug 2, 2012 at 20:32
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    Still could suspect you if you made a funny face in the break room or otherwise had a "knowing look"
    – jmort253
    Aug 2, 2012 at 20:58

Alright, the lack of a union complicates this immensely. For posterity, if there was a union, you should speak to either the plant manager OR the union representative for the plant workers. They're the ones who can adequately judge if disciplinary actions should be taken, and normally will have discretion no matter what. going to upper management is not a good plan, as it can really ruin someone's career/job. A good union rep will send the worker home, and then keep a close eye on them from then on.

Without a union present, however, you can only really report them to your HR department. Try to do so anonymously, however. Bad feelings can propagate quickly in a production plant, and that's never good.


Do you feel comfortable talking about this with someone empowered to take action (AKA a manager)? (Do you believe that the manager will protect you from retribution or even reward you for your diligence?)

  1. If yes, the answer is obvious report the unsafe condition, collect your reward, and be secure in the knowledge that there will be no retribution.
  2. If no, the answer is also obvious, keep your mouth shut, look for a new job, and hope that no accidents while you are on the floor. If you don't feel comfortable reporting unsafe conditions, then who does. There may be some hidden dangers - in addition to the stuff you see. Someone else is aware but not reporting - just like you.

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