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Drinking in the Workplace



Author(s) Michael Pritchard
Authoring Institution Center for the Study of Ethics in Society at Western Michigan University
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Contributor(s) Michael Pritchard
Notes Case study originally published in “Teaching Engineering Ethics: A Case Study Approach” by Michael Pritchard. Center for the Study of Ethics in Society, Western Michigan University, 1992.
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Authoring Institution (obsolete) Center for the Study of Ethics in Society, Western Michigan University
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Year 1992
Publisher National Academy of Engineering, Online Ethics Center
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  • Posted 13 years ago


    Whether it is in the context of the workplace or school or
    personal friendship, intervention to help someone who is
    thought to have an alcohol or other drug problem is a difficult
    decision. On the one hand, it is easy to say that it is none of
    your business or that you risk losing a friend. On the other,
    if you are a real friend, you may be helping the person to a
    healthier, happier and more productive life, if your
    intervention results in the correction of a serious

    One of the important variables is how bad is the problem. In
    the case under discussion, Andy's work is described as always
    first rate; so his drinking hasn't prevented him from being
    able to do his job. And he isn't described as being drunk on
    the job, only as probably having too much to drink the night
    before and as sneaking a drink during work breaks. These are
    signs of alcoholism, not just recreational drinking. But many
    alcoholics are able to carry on their professional work at an
    adequate level of competence. Andy would feel better in the
    mornings and probably do an even better job if he were not
    drinking, but it is only John's "worry" that he would not be
    able to handle the additional pressures of promotion. There is
    no firm evidence that he could not.

    One way to approach this problem is to think in terms of the
    Golden Rule. If you were Andy with a drinking problem, would
    you want John to talk with you about it? If you were in
    "denial" and refused to recognize that you had a problem, would
    you still want John to talk with you about it? Would you want
    him to ask around to see if others think that you have a
    problem? If he found that they did, would you want him to bring
    in a group of co-workers to confront you with the fact that
    others know it whether you admit it or not? Would you want him
    to contact an alcoholism counsellor or someone else to talk
    with you, if he didn't feel comfortable doing it?

    Another approach is to try to estimate the consequences of
    alternative actions. Do you think that John would produce the
    best consequences by talking with him, by keeping quiet, or by
    something else?

    If John talks with him, he will likely find out more from
    Andy's reaction, and that may require John to take more action.
    It may be that Andy will deny that he has a problem, and John
    must then think about whether he is going to take any further
    steps. It may be that Andy knows that he has a problem and
    wants to do something about it. If so, John might need to be
    prepared to follow up by getting him in contact with an
    alcoholism counselor or with someone from Alcoholics

    If John keeps quiet, how likely is it that Andy's problem
    will get in the way of his work, whether or not he gets the
    promotion? John can't know for sure, but will he be doing the
    best thing for Andy and the company by doing nothing?

    What are the other possibilities? Should John inquire
    privately among other co-workers to see if any of them think
    that Andy has a drinking problem? Even if done with the best
    intentions of making a decision whether Andy needs help, could
    this be construed, by Andy or others, as a sort of talking
    behind his back? It might start rumors that John doesn't intend
    to start. But, since John is not the sort of person who feels
    comfortable discussing such matters with others, John might be
    able to identify someone who would be better at approaching
    Andy, or he might find someone who would go with him to talk to
    Andy. Which would be better--to talk to Andy first, before
    getting anyone else involved, or to confirm his judgment that
    Andy has a problem and to get the assistance of others in
    trying to make Andy realize it? If there is a professional
    alcoholism counselor accessible to the work force, maybe John
    should ask his advice, but then that counselor might be
    required to make a record of the conversation which would work
    its way onto Andy's record. Is that fair?


    When John is taken out to lunch, should he volunteer
    anything about Andy's drinking? It may make a difference if
    John has already talked with Andy and has more information
    about Andy's attitude toward his problem. And it may make a
    difference what the effects of the disclosure would be. On the
    one hand, to volunteer the information would probably be a
    service to the company, in that the plant manager could then
    make a more informed decision. But if Andy has been doing first
    rate work and has not actually been drunk on the job, perhaps
    it is a disloyalty to a friend to report evidence which could
    lead to his being fired. So one factor is what would be the
    reaction of the manager. Is there a treatment program for those
    with drug and alcohol problems, or are they simply

    It is one thing to volunteer the information. It is another
    to hide it if asked outright. If John is asked if he has any
    evidence of Andy having a drinking or drug problem, then he
    would be lying to deny it. Sometimes lying is justified if the
    alternatives are horrible. For example, it is usually thought
    permissible to lie to save an innocent life, such as in hiding
    someone from the Gestapo. Would this be such an extreme


    There are two concerns of the union--the invasion of privacy
    and the unfairness of exempting professionals from mandatory
    testing. The second looks like a clear case of discrimination.
    If testing is justified as a way of improving the quality of
    the non-professional workforce, then some reason should be
    given why professionals are exempted, and none seems to have
    been given. But the privacy issue is a difficult one. It may be
    thought that the company has a right to test its employees as a
    means of improving performance. But the issue is not so

    If the company's policy of sanctions against those found to
    be working under the influence of alcohol or illegal drugs has
    not prevented absenteeism and shoddy workmanship, there is some
    question whether drug and alcohol use are the problem and
    therefore whether random drug testing will answer the problem.
    A big question is what the company plans to do with the
    results. Will those who test positive be fired, or be given
    counselling, or be reported to the police? And what drugs are
    included? Will recreational users of marijuana be identified
    and labelled the same as cocaine addicts? Presumably the random
    "drug" testing is for residues of illegal drugs. If drug users
    have not been found to be working under the influence, why is
    testing not a prejudice against socially unacceptable drugs?
    The company is not testing for residues of alcohol, which is
    socially accepted. Is this an interference in the private
    lifestyle of the employees?

    Drug addiction is often thought of as an illness. If so, is
    refusal to employ an addict like discrimination against someone
    who has some other (non-communicable) illness, such as diabetes
    or multiple sclerosis?

  • Posted 13 years ago


    John should talk to Andy about his concerns. Though it may
    be true that Andy's work has always been first-rate, continued
    drinking may cause a deterioration in quality just at a time
    when Andy needs to be sure that his work is at least as good,
    if not better, than it has been. In addition, getting a
    promotion can be stressful, and the likelihood is that someone
    who drinks will drink more under such conditions. Andy needs to
    know that someone else has noticed that he drinks and that
    someone else is concerned about it. If one can notice, others
    can as well.

    There is also a concern, which is perhaps more important,
    that Andy will be in a supervisory position and the most
    important one, that of quality control. If Branch, Inc., has
    been losing ground to its competitors, then one of the likely
    sources of loss of competitive edge is the quality of its
    products. If Branch has identified substance abuse as one of
    the sources of its loss of competitive edge, then the company
    would be ill-advised to put in as head of quality control
    someone who drinks. From the company's perspective, that is
    like putting a fox in a henhouse to guard the hens. That is,
    quite independently of whether Andy will do a good job, the
    company has committed itself to a view about whether those who
    drink do a good job or are harming the company, and the company
    will presumably be surprised, and no doubt angry, to discover
    that its new head of quality control himself drinks. The
    repercussions of Andy's being discovered to drink after being
    promoted would no doubt be disastrous for Andy, but the main
    point is that John has an obligation to the company to make
    sure that those in positions of responsibility are doing what
    the company requires. In this situation, the company has made a
    commitment of a certain sort--has a corporate policy, publicly
    proclaimed--and so one's normal obligations to make sure that
    the company is not ill-served by its employees takes on added

    In addition, those in supervisory positions are supposed to
    present role models for those they supervise. If Branch is now
    making a concerted effort to prevent substance abuse in the
    workplace, having Andy in a supervisory position, and in that
    crucial supervisory position, will undermine its overall
    commitment should those working under him, or others within the
    company, discover that he drinks.

    So there are three reasons John has for talking with
    Andy--Andy's own self-interest in doing a good job in an
    important position, the interests of the company in making sure
    that those who work for it, especially in that supervisory
    position, are not abusing any substance, and the interests of
    the company in making sure that those who are in supervisory
    positions are proper role models for those they supervise.


    If Harvey Hillman makes it a point of putting John in a
    position where it would be awkward for him not to say something
    about Andy's drinking, then John will have to say something. It
    should be noted that Harvey does not ask John whether Andy
    drinks, but the nature of the conversation is such that if he
    did drink, and it was later discovered that he does and that
    John knew and said nothing, John would be, quite properly,
    criticized for not volunteering the information. The question
    Harvey is asking is indirect, but about as direct an indirect
    question as one can ask under the circumstances.

    If John has not talked with Andy about any of this, he would
    be in a far worse position than if he has. If he has talked to
    Andy, he can then explain to him that he, Andy that is, had a
    chance to go to Harvey himself, explain his problem, and make
    whatever arrangements were mutually agreeable--to vow to stop
    drinking and take the position conditionally, perhaps. He could
    have said to Andy that there was no way that he could continue
    in that supervisory position without being discovered,
    especially given the company's publicly expressed commitment to
    control substance abuse, and that eventually things would come
    down on him and that he would be well-advised to discuss the
    issue up front with Harvey. Having been told that, Andy has
    only himself to blame if John now says to Harvey that perhaps
    Harvey ought to talk to Andy. He can say, quite honestly, "Andy
    has done superb work, and I really think that he will do a
    great job in that position, but, to be honest, I have smelled
    alcohol on his breath from time to time, and though it has not
    interfered with his work, you may want to check it out with

    If he has not talked to Andy about this at all, then he is
    in a really awkward position. He will feel, rightly, that he
    has not forewarned his friend and that to say anything now
    would be somewhat unfair to him. But not to say anything now
    would be unfair to Branch, and to his superior. In addition, it
    would not likely help since, in the long run, Andy is bound to
    be found out. And, so, not saying anything now would likely
    hurt Andy more in the long run and would hurt John as well.
    After all, if Andy is up front at the beginning, then perhaps
    something can be worked out--some conditional arrangement:
    "I'll try to stop drinking, and we'll check it out in three
    months." But if he is not up front about this, then when he is
    found out, if he is, he will probably not be given a second
    chance: he will be perceived as having deceived the company.
    And John will be perceived in the same way. Having been given
    an opportunity to do something beneficial for the company, and
    for his friend, he will be perceived by Harvey as having let
    Harvey down personally--since, after all, Harvey will be the
    one who will have to take responsibility for having put a fox
    in the henhouse and so for not having properly checked out
    whether he was a substance abuser--and by the company for not
    being loyal to the company.

    One way of determining what it is proper for someone to do
    is to ask whether one can ask of anyone in such a situation to
    do such a thing. If I see someone drowning, and want to know
    whether I should go in to save them, then it is proper to ask
    whether I could ask of anyone, similarly situated, to do the
    same. The answer will vary depending upon the circumstances.
    Since I am not a strong swimmer, it would be crazy of me to try
    to save someone in a rapid current, or in an undertow: I would
    not save the person and I would likely die, too. I could not
    ask anyone, similarly situated, to make such a risk. Just so,
    we can ask whether Andy can properly ask of John that John not
    respond to Harvey's indirect question, and the answer, I
    suggest, is that Andy can see that if he were in that position,
    he would feel compelled to answer: his own self-interest, his
    concerns about the long-term interests of his friend, his
    concern about Harvey's interests in making a good choice, and
    his concerns about the company's well-being (and thus his job,
    his friend's job, his colleagues's jobs throughout the company)
    all conspire to make a response reasonable.


    Mandatory random drug testing raises a variety of ethical
    issues, and one could go on at great length about all the
    difficulties. Let us concentrate upon two concerns:

    First, the proposal to exempt present professionals and test
    its nonprofessional workforce does raise issues of fairness.
    This is particularly so since the professionals are the ones
    responsible for ensuring that the workmanship not be shoddy.
    One shoddy worker can ruin a product, but if Branch's problems
    are systemic, it is much more likely that a variety of factors
    are at work and that proper management could alleviate the
    problem. So the likelihood, in such a situation, is that the
    professional managers are as likely culprits as the

    All this assumes, of course, that Branch is correct in its
    assessment that substance abuse is the problem. It seems odd
    that so much abuse should occur in a single place and cause so
    much difficulty, and one ought to back off and ask whether that
    really is the source of difficulty. A good manager can
    sometimes turn a weakness into an asset and turn around a
    difficult situation by deft managerial maneuvers. So it may be
    bad management that is partly at fault. But if so, that is all
    the more reason not to exempt professionals from such

    To do so would be to say to the nonprofessionals that the
    company holds them, and them alone, as responsible for its
    problems. It is to shift onto those assigned to do the work all
    the company's problems in getting out a good product and so
    alleviate the professional staff from any share in the blame.
    That is not the way to build a cohesive company. Such a policy
    will rather wedge apart the professional and nonprofessional
    staffs and so cause one more problem that is likely to cause
    Branch's difficulties to increase. After all, one cannot
    improve a product if those doing the work are not willing to
    come to the professional staff and point out difficulties.
    Casting blame on those doing the work of assembly, for
    instance, is not going to make them likely to come to those who
    have been given a clean bill of health to explain how to
    improve the product. After all, the company has already decided
    that the problem lies with the workers, not the professionals,
    and so any worker who sees a problem that needs a professional
    to correct has already been told, by the company policy, that
    the problem is not likely to be perceived as a real one.

    So if there is to be mandatory random drug testing, there
    ought not be discrimination between employees. Everyone from
    the President on down ought to be subject to such testing, and
    the procedure ought to be truly random. Some procedure for
    selecting those to be tested--like a lottery--ought to be
    instituted to make sure that everyone is equally subject to the

    There is an additional reason for the need for a pure
    procedure besides the unfairness and the problems with creating
    two or more classes of individuals within the company, and that
    is that such testing is demeaning, and it is important that no
    individual be exempted because of his or her position from
    being so demeaned. Perhaps the realization that the person
    ordering such testing may himself or herself be tested will
    make them more reluctant to issue such an order.

    For, and this is the second issue that needs to be
    discussed, one major difficulty with random drug testing is
    that it presumes guilt. It is one thing to notice a problem and
    ask that someone be tested to make sure that what one thought
    one noticed is in fact the case. That is like a police officer
    giving a sobriety test to someone who was weaving the car down
    the street, as though drunk. One has some evidence in hand of a
    problem, and the test then determines whether the evidence is
    accurate or not. Since we presumptively have the power not to
    drive after drinking, we put ourselves in such a situation
    where we risk being tested. If we do not wish to be subject to
    such a risk, we need not drive after drinking. But mandatory
    testing picks out people quite independently of any evidence
    that there is a problem. It is as though one is presuming guilt
    until proven innocent, and that presumption demeans people: why
    should they be treated as though guilty if they have done
    nothing to merit such treatment?

    In addition, the test itself is demeaning. One is forced to
    urinate, as tests now are conducted, in a place where others
    can know that one is urinating and that there is no chance that
    one will replace one's own urine sample with anyone else's.
    Many will no doubt not be bothered by such a procedure at all,
    but many will, and it is offensive to subject them to such a
    procedure--especially when there is no evidence that they have
    abused any substance.

    So mandatory drug testing which exempts the professional
    staff is not only discriminatory and may well not get at the
    problem at its roots--if the professional staff is in part, at
    least, responsible for Branch's competitive decline--but also
    demeaning to those it tests, both by presuming guilt without
    evidence and by subjecting those presumed guilty to a demeaning

  • Posted 13 years ago

    This case gives the initial impression of involving several
    distinct (though related) issues about drug use, with each
    requiring a separate discussion based on a variety of
    considerations. Nevertheless, a central common theme is
    provided by the issue of the privacy rights of workers. Our
    discussion will concentrate on this all-important aspect of the
    situations described in the case.

    In terms of privacy rights, the critical issues of the
    present case concern whether Branch, Inc. has a right to know
    specific items of information concerning the property or
    behavior of their workers. One useful clear case is provided by
    the following example. Suppose workers may rent private lockers
    from Branch Inc., in which they could keep any personal items
    they might want to use at work (lunchboxes, coats, radios,
    etc.) Suppose that John Crane happens to see that Andy Pullman
    regularly has a bottle of whiskey in his locker, with a
    fluctuating level suggesting a pattern of frequent

    Should John talk to Andy about this (as a concerned employee
    of Branch, Inc. rather than as a friend), or even tell the
    company about what he has seen? No he shouldn't, because what
    Andy has in his locker and the use he makes of it is nobody's
    business but his own. If Branch Inc. is concerned about this
    possibility, they should stop renting private lockers, or issue
    a specific regulation forbidding use of them to store alcohol,
    or forbidding consumption of alcohol so stored. Workers could
    then conform to or challenge these regulations in court. If
    Branch does neither of these things, (stopping renting, or
    issuing regulations) then they have no right to know the
    information. Hence John as an employee has no business to be
    nosing around discovering such items of information on behalf
    of Branch Inc.

    We can extract the following general principle from this
    'locker' example. A worker has privacy rights in all
    information about their property and actions on the job, except
    for those items which are specifically provided for or
    specified as non-private in the contract under which they work
    (which contract includes any ongoing changes in regulations

    The initial situation actually described in the present case
    is quite similar to the 'locker' case. It differs only in how
    John acquires information about Andy's alcohol use: he detects
    alcohol on Andy's breath at various times in the day. Our
    question is, does Branch Inc. have a right to know this
    information? Branch has a right to it only if Andy does not
    have a right to privacy with respect to the information.

    In terms of our general principle stated above, the question
    becomes whether Andy's contract with Branch Inc. specifically
    provides that Branch is entitled to acquire or make use of
    information about what Andy's breath smells like. Almost
    certainly there is no such specification or implication in the
    contract, and therefore Branch has no right to the information.
    Thus as before, John shouldn't try to acquire for Branch
    information which they have no right to know. So he shouldn't
    pass on or reveal such information (or implications from it
    which he might draw) to other employees of Branch, whether or
    not they are in higher management positions. If Branch wants to
    detect alcohol use through breath tests, they should do so by
    proposing specific regulations, and re-negotiating the
    employment contracts of all affected workers.

    This leads us to the issue of mandatory random drug testing,
    proposed by Branch and mentioned at the end of the present
    case. Is this, as in the union's view, an "unwarranted invasion
    of the privacy of workers"?

    Well, at least Branch Inc. is going about this the right
    way, by proposing a regulation rather than by \relying on an ad
    hoc network of spies or informants to achieve their goals.
    Also, if one accepts the account given here of individual
    privacy in the workplace, the question of which issues are
    privacy rights and which are not is generally open to
    negotiation between management and workers. Those objecting to
    the ethics of mandatory drug testing would have to give
    compelling reasons why this issue should not be settled by

    In the U.S. constitution, the only available "compelling
    reasons" for non-negotiation are provided by the provisions
    regarding 'unalienable rights'. These are rights which legally
    cannot be voluntarily given up by a person, and which hence are
    not subject to negotiation. Examples are the right not to be
    enslaved, or the right not to be medically experimented upon
    with hazardous substances. However, there are no explicit
    provisions regarding privacy rights in the constitution, so
    each proposed case has to be legally established through a long
    and arduous process. In the present case, there is no current
    provision saying that one cannot give up a right not to be
    tested for drug use. So the burden of proof is on those who
    find mandatory testing morally objectionable. They need to make
    their case strongly enough to produce a corresponding change in
    constitutional law on the topic. (Analogous points would apply
    in other, non-U.S. legal systems).

    Finally, is Branch, Inc.'s proposed testing discriminatory
    and unjust, in that professionals are exempted from it? Clearly
    there are various moral objections which one might make to
    this. But are any so compelling that it should be illegal to
    institute or freely negotiate such a policy? No, because if we
    agree that workers and management have the right to negotiate
    working conditions as they see fit, then society shouldn't
    interfere in the process (other than on constitutional grounds,
    as discussed above). We may agree that Branch's proposal is
    stupid and short-sighted, in that it would create resentment
    and damage the morale of the workforce. But the proper remedies
    are such things as worker demands that the whole policy should
    be withdrawn, or that professionals and managers should be
    included in any testing.

  • Posted 13 years ago

    This seems to be a time to blame alcohol and illegal drugs
    for many of our problems, including crime, inefficiency, and
    low scores on achievement tests. The empirical evidence is too
    incomplete to establish even a strong correlation between, say,
    drug use and inefficiency. And what evidence we do have does
    not tell us which is cause and which effect. For example,
    unprofitable companies may have more alcoholism, absenteeism,
    and accidents than efficient companies. But are they
    unprofitable because their workers are drunk on the job, absent
    too much, and prone to accidents? Or are the workers drunk,
    absent too much, and prone to accidents because the company
    treats their workers so badly that they just don't care
    anymore/ Some companies have been able to reduce alcoholism,
    absenteeism and accidents simply by making work more
    interesting. Profitability has followed. Other companies (like
    Branch) have adopted drug testing with no noticeable increase
    in productivity. So, we must be careful not to confuse symptoms
    of trouble with causes.

    Managers are as human as the rest of us. Like the rest of
    us, they tend to blame others for a problem long before they
    consider blaming themselves. Every manager wants to be a "can
    do guy". Few will admit to being stymied. None will say, "I'm
    the problem. I'm a bad manager. Fire me." Yet, managers
    certainly can be stymied. And some are bad managers and should
    be fired--or, at the very least, put in a position of less

    From this perspective, Branch looks like a badly run company
    the management of which is looking for someone to blame. Like
    many American companies these days, they have hit upon those
    who "abuse" alcohol and certain illegal drugs. Those who
    "abuse" tobacco, coffee, and chocolate are exempt; as are those
    who drive wildly or can't pull themselves from the TV set. The
    result is predictable: a witch hunt more likely to hurt
    efficiency than help it.

    Consider Andy Pullman. His work has always been first rate.
    By all the usual standards, he should be promoted to head
    Quality Control. Yet, John Crane now has doubts. He has
    frequently smelled alcohol on Pullman's breath. Pullman
    apparently drinks on the job. Crane has never seen him drunk,
    unable to perform. But, we are told, Crane worries that, with
    new responsibilities, Pullman's "drinking problem" will worsen.
    Why suppose Pullman has a drinking "problem"? What makes
    drinking alcohol during the day--but not drinking coffee during
    the day--a "drinking problem" at all? Every drunk begins as a
    drinker, no doubt, but most drinkers remain drinkers. The
    correlation between drinker, even heavy drinker, and problem
    drinker is not strong, unless the correlation is made by
    definition (for example, by defining as a "problem drinker"
    anyone who averages more than two drinks a day). Equally
    important, we are not very good at predicting who will be a
    good manager. The only reliable way to find out whether Pullman
    can take the pressure is to give him the chance.

    Pullman does have a problem. He likes to drink on the job
    and his company now has a policy against that. Crane has a
    problem too. He works for the same company. He knows of a
    fellow employee who is violating company policy and has (in
    effect) been asked whether he knows anything that would justify
    not promoting Pullman. Crane is an engineer. What should he

    He must, I think, first make up his mind whether he thinks
    Pullman can handle the job. He must make up his mind about that
    because Hillman has asked him what he thinks about that, not
    whether Pullman has a drinking problem. He has referred to the
    drinking policy and old Curtis' drunkenness to illustrate the
    sort of thing he had in mind. The "drinking problem" is only a
    problem if it unfits Pullman for the job.

    If Crane believes that it might unfit Pullman for the job,
    he should say something. Pullman has no right to
    confidentiality on this. Pullman did not voluntarily reveal his
    drinking to Crane as a secret between friends. Crane simply
    smelled Pullman's breath. Crane has but his professional
    judgment at his employer's disposal. What he is being asked is
    within his competence (and not morally wrong or contrary to any
    professional obligation).

    If, however, Crane does not think Pullman's drinking unfits
    him for the job, he can honestly say, "I think he would make a
    good Head of Quality Control." But he should not stop there. If
    I were Crane, I would continue in some such way as this: "Since
    you mentioned shoddy production, I'll give you my professional
    opinion on that too: we should be paying more attention to
    worker complaints about too few rest breaks, bottlenecks on the
    assembly line, and our failure to design parts for easy
    assembly. Quality Control is a devilish job the way we've set
    up the manufacturing process. I'm not surprised old Curtis
    turned to drink."

    An engineer is supposed to be a "faithful agent and trustee"
    of her employer. Crane's employer is Branch, Inc., not any
    manager or collection of them. As trustee, he should take into
    account not only the company's present policies but its
    longterm welfare. Of course, Crane must be careful not to take
    too much on himself. He cannot just substitute his judgment for
    management's. But if, after resolving all reasonable doubts in
    favor of management, he still believes a certain policy is
    against his employer's longterm interests, he need not go along
    with it. He may work against it as best he can (so long as he
    can do so without lying, deception, or other unethical acts). A
    faithful trustee will look beyond management fads.

  • Posted 13 years ago

    Substance abuse, or rather the abuse of persons by harmful
    substances, is a serious problem in the workplace. In
    construction and in other engineering industries, alcohol and
    drugs contribute to lost workdays, increased medical costs,
    inefficient productivity, poor quality work, and safety
    problems. These effects of substance abuse impact not only the
    drug user, but also other employees, the employer, clients and,
    in some cases, the general public.

    Mandatory testing for drugs has been implemented in some
    industries, such as the transportation industry, where impaired
    judgment can result in significant injuries and deaths to
    innocent parties. Expansion of mandatory testing into other
    areas of the workplace has been the subject of many journal
    articles and several full-length books (Coombs 1991, NASPE
    1984, Tulacz 1989). This topic raises important ethical
    questions. The protection of society and the rights of
    employers are in conflict with the civil rights of individuals,
    their freedom and their privacy.

    Troubling moral questions have particularly been directed at
    those mandatory testing programs that are not accompanied by
    successful rehabilitation efforts. Such programs are not
    usually founded in concern for the individual. They are more
    likely based in concern for diminishing productivity. Those
    programs that simply use testing results to dismiss abusers
    from employment have feeble moral ground for existence, for
    they view individuals only as means to an end, rather than as
    objects having intrinsic value.

    Immanuel Kant and many other philosophers have placed
    emphasis on the intrinsic value of human beings. Moral theory
    encourages the treatment of people as ends in themselves, never
    only as means to an end (Rachels 1986). It is precisely this
    point, the intrinsic value of human individuals, that suggests
    the proper course of action for John Crane.

    John Crane's dilemma is this: Should he talk with Andy
    Pullman about Andy's drinking problem, or should he overlook
    it? John is not the kind of person who is comfortable with the
    prospect of discussing this problem with Andy. In this respect,
    most people are like John. There are not very many people in
    this world who find it easy to initiate such a conversation.
    However, John and Andy have worked together for several years.
    During that time, John has developed a respect for Andy's work,
    and it appears that they have a close working relationship.
    Andy is extremely fortunate to have a friend like John. John
    may be the best person to talk with Andy, and he should do

    Friends can have an impact when they show genuine concern. A
    common public service announcement says, "Friends don't let
    friends drive drunk." Friends don't stand quietly by and let
    friends abuse themselves and their future with harmful
    substances, without expressing their concerns. Certainly, there
    are important aspects of privacy and freedom to consider, but
    an honest attempt should be made to communicate.

    Often, substance abuse is a symptom of low self-esteem. This
    may not be the case in Andy's situation, but if it is, it will
    be encouraging to Andy to find out that John values him enough
    to discuss the problem with him.

    John's concerns are genuine and sincere. His motives are
    founded in his respect for Andy and his desires for Andy's
    prosperous future. He is not motivated by self-interest, and
    Andy will likely understand this. If more persons were willing
    to lay aside their discomfort, and express genuine concerns for
    each other, mandatory drug testing might not be an issue. The
    concerns expressed by friends for each other are founded in the
    treatment of individuals as objects of intrinsic value.

    Harvey Hillman, the Plant Manager, asks John later to
    comment on the appropriateness of placing Andy in the top
    quality control position. It seems that John should not raise
    his concerns in this forum, unless he has been willing to
    discuss the problem first with Andy. If he hasn't already done
    so, he should approach Andy immediately following his visit
    with Harvey.

    Of course, John should discuss the problem with Harvey if
    his visit with Andy is not productive. Andy's promotion may
    place him in a position such that others are adversely impacted
    by his impaired judgment. There is a point, beyond which, a
    concern for the intrinsic value of those other individuals must
    take precedence.

    Very few who have managed people in industry have not had to
    deal with an alcohol problem and, with the present growth of
    the drug culture, the chance of needing to deal with drug usage
    in the workplace grows even greater.

    In no way can use of alcohol or drugs in the workplace be
    condoned or sanctioned. A user cannot be a 100% performer
    (although many will assure you they are) if he (or she) is
    using alcohol or drugs in the workplace. A user--as a less than
    100% performer--cheats the company in his performance. He (or
    she) cheats himself/herself, too, by giving a performance that
    may cost the individual chances for pay raises and

    In a workplace where machinery use is involved, the user
    runs the risk of injury to himself, and possibly to others,
    because his reaction time has slowed down. In quality control,
    or other functions where decisions must be made quickly, and
    where the decision affects the operations of other departments,
    it is absolutely critical that the decision-maker not be under
    the influence of drugs or alcohol.

    In the case described here, John, as a friend must speak to
    Andy about his drinking problem (and it is a problem if he is
    drinking at the beginning of work and on breaks--in truth, Andy
    is undoubtedly an alcoholic) and urge him to seek help.
    Paralleling the slogan of today, "Friends don't let friends
    drive drunk," John should bring home to Andy that "Friends
    don't let friends risk their job by working drunk."

    Andy must be a good worker if he can use alcohol and still
    perform at a level that merits him consideration for a
    promotion. Think how much better he could be if he could free
    himself from alcohol-dependence!

    After John and Andy have talked, if Andy takes no action to
    curb his problem, John should let company management know of
    Andy's problem. This action is a form of "whistleblowing." End
    of a friendship?--perhaps, but this action may keep Andy from a
    job whose pressure will deepen his need to drink. Not getting
    the job, if followed by appropriate advice from management, may
    shock Andy into admitting his problem and doing something about
    it. Andy will never give up his drinking until he admits he has
    a drinking problem and seeks a cure.

    As to compulsory drug testing--companies are now beginning
    to make drug testing a part of the pre-employment physical
    exam. This is done with the full knowledge of the prospective
    employee who can refuse the exam if he (or she) chooses.
    However, refusal removes any opportunity for obtaining the

    Unions will have to be convinced, through appropriate
    negotiations, that mandatory drug testing and the elimination
    of drug users from the workplace is necessary for the overall
    health of the company and subsequent improvement of the lot of
    the worker in such a company. One suggestion to help to get the
    union to agree to drug testing is to offer rehabilitation at
    company expense to drug users revealed by the testing

    I see no reason to exempt the professional workforce at
    Branch from drug testing--this case study has already shown us
    problems in existence in the professional work force! Some may
    see drug testing as an invasion of privacy, but it is
    truthfully a means of saving a professional worker from
    destroying himself (herself). As suggested above, the company
    could enhance drug testing by offering paid leave for
    rehabilitation of addicted individuals.

    The troubles at Branch seem to be so deeply rooted that one
    must fault top management of the company. Absenteeism, shoddy
    workmanship, profit decline, drug and alcohol problems are
    symptoms of management out of touch with what is actually going
    on in the company. If I were on the Board of Directors of this
    company, I'd push for major changes in company management and
    an overhaul of supervisory practices.

    Suggested Readings:

    1. Coombs, Robert H. and L. J. West 1991. Drug Testing:
      Issues and Options, Oxford University Press, New York,

    2. National Association of State Personnel Executives and
      Council of State Governments 1984. Drug Testing: Protection
      for Society , or Violation of Civil Rights?, Lexington,

    3. Rachels, James 1986. The Elements of Moral Philosophy,
      Temple University Press, Philadelphia, PA, pp. 114-117.

    4. Tulacz, Gary J. 1989. What You Need to Know About
      Workplace Drug Testing, Prentice-Hall, Old Tappen, NJ. W.
      Gale Cutler

Cite this page: "Drinking in the Workplace" Online Ethics Center for Engineering 6/15/1992 OEC Accessed: Saturday, August 17, 2019 <>