T-Mobile | Viral clip alleging worker is intoxicated raises issue of substance misuse support

Viral clip alleging worker is intoxicated raises issue of substance misuse support

An employee at a T-Mobile store has been fired after a viral video appeared to show them intoxicated on the job - an incident which has put the spotlight on workplace substance misuses policies.

Video of the encounter, which reportedly took place at one of the telecomms giant’s third-party retail stores in Minnesota, US, shows an encounter between the male manager and a customer, who alleges the man has erased her phone.

His behaviour has led many to speculate that he was under the influence of some substance. The clip was shot by a bystander, who posted the video with the following caption: “This guy is the manager of a T-mobile store. As soon as I arrived I noticed that something was not okay. As you can see he was on something. At some point, I felt not safe.”

Indeed, during the encounter, the manager appears confused at certain points and has difficulty answering the customer’s questions. When asked what he did to the phone that caused all of its contents, such as pictures and videos to be erased, he responds: “I have no idea, I don’t remember”.

Comments on the video backed up suggestions that the employee was intoxicated, with unverified reports from other social media users that they had been to the same store and witnessed similar behaviour.

While stopping short of confirming if the employee was under the influence, T-Mobile admitted that the employee's conduct was inappropriate and that their employment had been terminated.

"This is a serious issue, and we moved quickly to address," a spokesperson told HR Grapevine.

"From what we’ve come to learn, the actions and conduct of this manager — who is employed by a third-party Authorized Retailer — were not appropriate and were completely counter to the experience that we are laser focused on providing every day for our customers. We’ve taken appropriate actions, the store manager’s employment has been terminated, we’re working directly with the customer. We’ve apologized to her and will work to make this right."

This incident took place in the US, but the core issue is one that HR leaders here in the UK can also learn from.

What the law says

According to Acas, employers have legal obligations under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, the Transport and Works Act 1992 and the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.

The public body suggested that an alcohol or drugs policy should be in place to ensure any problems are dealt with effectively and consistently, while offering training to managers is also essential to help them deal with workers who need help.

Supporting staff with substance issues

It goes without saying that anyone found to be under the influence of any substance at work should face repercussions. But that doesn’t automatically exclude HR from delving deeper and understanding how they can support those individuals, to identify whether they have an addiction or whether the incident was a one-off error of judgement. This could mean a reassessment of drugs and alcohol policies, or support provision, that they have in place.

Currently, only one in five employers are failing to offer proactive support to workers to help prevent and provide support on issues of drugs and alcohol misuse, according to research from the CIPD.

The report, titled Managing Drug and Alcohol Misuse at Work, found that few employers currently train managers on their organisation’s drug and alcohol policies. Just 12% provide one-off training for line managers and only one-quarter provide regular refresher training.

Further to this, just 26% train managers to recognise the symptoms of drug and alcohol problems, whilst only 32% cover improving management practice more generally, for example how to manage and support employees.

Dr Jill Miller, Senior Policy Adviser at the CIPD, previously explained: “It is vitally important for organisations to recognise drug or alcohol misuse as a health, safety and employee wellbeing concern, not just a disciplinary issue. Support for people struggling with alcohol and drug misuse must be part of an organisations’ wellbeing offering.

“By having a clear policy in place that sets expectations about behaviour and prioritises genuine support for wellbeing, employers can create a safe environment where people feel able to ask for support. This could encourage people to seek help before a concern becomes a real issue,” Miller concluded.

How to enforce an effective policy

Elena Cooper, Employment Consultant at Discreet Law, said it is particularly important to be vigilant for drug misuse around the festive period.

“There are huge variants within the ‘drug using’ world - socially, once in a blue moon, frequently - what can an employer do if it knows or suspects an employee is using drugs?” she previously told HR Grapevine.

“First, have a policy, it sets your standards, and will cost you peanuts to put in place. Second, ensure that, if this is a potential issue for your company, you contractually oblige employees to be drug tested.”

She went on: “With no policy in place and no obligation for employees to agree to drug testing, it's very unlikely that even a formal disciplinary warning will be appropriate (unless there is very clear witness evidence of the cocaine use, and those employees are willing to give statements to that effect). The employer is left with the ability to "have an informal word" with those involved.

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“Ensure you have a policy, it's no more than a page, prohibiting any use of illegal or recreational drug use, in, or out of the office. Introduce mandatory drug testing as an option, it sets the tone and should be used to ensure employees know that it isn't an idle threat.”

Offering advice on alcohol consumption support, as part of Dry January, Sarah Dennis, head of international at Towergate Health & Protection said: “Many employees around the world could benefit from workplace support to manage their alcohol consumption. There is a lot of support available but employers are not always aware of this and they may need to review their health and wellbeing programme to ensure it helps employees wherever they’re based around the globe to manage their drinking.”

Towergate also explained it can be helpful to run anonymised surveys to identify where employees need support. These may highlight alcohol use and misuse, and where there are issues that need to be addressed. Anonymised, online surveys are easily distributed to employees wherever they are based. They are simple for employees to complete and can be analysed to inform any action that needs to be taken.

Support might include access to alcohol-cessation programmes, or wider support to help people deal with underlying issues, build resilience and find coping measures. Helping employees who have an alcohol dependency issue is something that needs professional assistance. While colleagues and line managers should be encouraged to be supportive, they are not qualified to tackle such situations themselves, so providing access to professionals is a must.

While it can be difficult to confront the issue, engagement with support is likely to increase if employees know it is 100% confidential. Communication methods will be key, with regular messaging and clear signposting.

Dennis concluded: “Dry January is a really good opportunity for employers to introduce the idea of alcohol reduction and cessation. It creates a talking point and the chance to provide information to the entire workforce, in the UK and abroad, so that nobody feels singled out and everyone is provided with options for support.”

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