Employees at the Liquor Store While on Company Time

Steven Cesare, Ph.D.

The other day, a business owner from Delaware contacted me to discuss a policy issue. The owner had just received a phone call from a former company employee who had just seen several current employees come out of a local liquor store with brown paper bags, at 9:00 in the morning on a workday, and get into a company work truck and drive off. The owner wanted my opinion on how to proceed with this incident.

Naturally, I reminded the owner that the employees are “innocent until proven guilty” of any policy violation and that the company must proceed forward in a fair systematic fashion. With that premise in mind, I first directed the owner to review the company GPS program to determine if the company truck was actually at the liquor store at the alleged time. Second, I asked the owner if his employee handbook contained a policy against drug and alcohol possession and/or consumption in company vehicles during work time, as well as a policy identifying reasonable suspicion drug testing. Third, I told the owner to make sure that each employee in that company truck had a signed Employee Handbook Acknowledgment Agreement in their respective personnel file; that fact would verify that each employee formally acknowledged awareness of the aforementioned drug and alcohol and reasonable suspicion drug testing policies. Next, based upon those points, I suggested that the owner and a witness (i.e., Account Manager) visit the job site promptly to conduct an investigation of the company vehicle for possible evidence and interview each of the employees to document their side of the story. Again, keep in mind, employees are “innocent until proven guilty” of any policy violation. And finally, regardless of the employees’ responses gleaned from the investigation, each of them should be driven to the local MPN clinic for an immediate drug and alcohol test.

With that process now outlined for the owner, I reminded him that, if the drug tests come back positive, he had complete discretion to apply any aspect of performance management to this scenario, since his employee handbook accurately did not contain a progressive discipline policy.

For example, he could:

  • do nothing and let the whole issue go unnoticed;
  • verbally remind the employees of the company drug and alcohol policy;
  • provide a formal written reprimand to each employee;
  • distribute an unpaid suspension to each employee; or
  • terminate the employees.

Regardless of his ultimate decision, I reiterated that the owner should document the entire process for each affected employee, and confirm that his decision in this instance is consistent with similar policy violations previously encountered by the company.

If you have any questions or comments about this topic or anything else related to human resources, simply call me at (760) 685-3800.


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Steve Cesare Ph.D.

Steve Cesare Ph.D.

has more than 25 years of Human Resources experience. Prior to joining The Harvest Group, Steve worked with Bemus Landscape, Jack in the Box, the County of San Diego, Citicorp, and NASA. Steve earned his Ph.D. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology from Old Dominion University, and has authored 34 human resources journal articles. As a member of The Harvest Group, Steve’s areas of expertise include: staffing, legal compliance, wage and hour issues, training, and employee safety.  Read Steve's full bio.