Asking (and Answering) Questions

by Sharlyn Lauby on November 3, 2009

Someone recently sent me the following question:

We don’t have an HR department in my company.  What are the legalities of a person suspected being drunk on the job?  We have very strong suspicions. We’ve pointed it out to the employee’s boss with no results. It interferes greatly with our work day and attitude.

First of all, I’m not a lawyer and this shouldn’t be considered legal advice.  This also isn’t the Dr. Drew show so I can’t just shoot out a snappy reply.  And that’s really the point.   I’ve done many workplace investigations over the years, and there are a whole lot of unanswered questions here:

  1. What specific behaviors have been witnessed?
  2. Is this the first time that the behavior has been witnesses?  If not, how many other times has it been witnessed?
  3. Does this person have any kind of medical condition or disability (that the company is aware of)?
  4. Where is the company located?  There could be local laws to consider.
  5. What kind of industry is the company?  There might be industry-specific regulations.
  6. How many employees does the company employ?  That determines what laws may or may not apply.
  7. What is the position of the person(s) raising the concern?
  8. What is the position of the person suspected of being under the influence?

These are just the preliminary questions that come to mind.  And, it’s by no means is an exhaustive list – there would be many more depending on the answers.  But I wanted to share it with you to point out two things: (1) situations don’t always have clear cut, easy answers and (2) human resources is asked to answer questions like this all the time.

It reminds me of the frustrations people sometimes have with human resources.  Someone will come into HR and ask how to handle a situation (like the example above).  HR then responds with a dozen questions (like I did above).  The person gets frustrated because they just want an answer and don’t understand why HR won’t help.  Then, HR gets labeled as being difficult and contributing to the bureaucracy of the business.

I completely understand.  But before you totally dismiss the human resources department, let me offer a different perspective.  Let’s say the person who came to my office using the example above said you are the person suspected of being drunk.  Would you want me to just toss out an immediate answer?  Or should I ask a few questions and make sure I have a full understanding of the situation?  Hmmm…I thought so.

I know it’s a royal pain to have someone fire off a litany of questions.  But all of the questions and research is needed to make sure we have the information to make the right decision.

We’re talking about an employee and their livelihood.  You’d want someone to take that kind of time and attention when it comes to the matters surrounding your career.  You should do the same for someone else.

So while I’m really sorry I can’t offer any advice to the reader who sent this note, I do hope everyone can appreciate the amount of time and thought that should go into an answer of this sensitivity.

Oh, and a quick P.S.  This note also mentioned the company doesn’t have a HR department.  Don’t get fooled into thinking companies without HR departments don’t have employee issues and don’t need policies and procedures.  Small companies are still responsible for being compliant with human resources related matters.

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Fred December 7, 2012 at 11:43 pm

My boss told the HR guy something, and the HR guy called me in and said “He told you to do one thing and you did something else. It’s like he told you to paint the floor red and you painted it blue. There’s a gap. He said: status quo is not acceptable. Do you realize the seriousness of this?” Apart from that, he asked ZERO questions.

It appears he wasn’t interested in success; he was only interested in documenting the failure.

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