Under the influence over video chat

By: Darlene Clabault

Publication: Employment Law & Regulatory Alert

Date Posted: 09/14/2020

The longer employees work from home, the more remote employee situations continue to evolve. What if, for example, during a group chat meeting, a particular employee appeared to be under the influence of a substance?

Usually, employers ensure that a second manager also be a witness. From there, it might be decided that reasonable suspicion exists, and the employee is sent for a drug or alcohol test. What should a manager do, however, if a remote employee appears under the influence or they see other evidence of drug or alcohol use on a company video chat?

Watch for signs of substance use from remote workers

Observation is key to potential substance use. Some signs indicate that perhaps an employee is experiencing some issues that could affect job performance, including substance use. Such signs, however, are not always easy to spot if an employee is working from home.

Adding to the challenge is the increase in state laws allowing marijuana use. While employers may prohibit marijuana use at the worksite, the lines blur when employers try to prohibit its use in an employee’s private residence.

Remote employees may feel the risk of repercussions is lower for drug/alcohol use while working from home, since observation is decreased. This could be particularly true for employees who are new to remote work. If the employer does not have a well-communicated expectation of employee behavior while working remotely, and managers are not trained to spot the signs of potential issues and how to respond, problems could arise.

5 tips to curb abuse

Therefore, employers should consider the following when looking to address such situations:

  1. Crafting or reviewing/updating company policies regarding drug and alcohol use during working hours and clearly pointing out employee expectations.
  2. Having remote employees sign agreements to comply with the company policies while working outside the facility.
  3. Including potential repercussions should employees violate related policies/agreements.
  4. Training all managers on what to look for and how to respond, including how to have drug/alcohol tests performed — particularly in an area where medical professionals are already overburdened.
  5. Being sure all actions and bases for such actions are well documented.

Virtual drug tests

Some companies are beginning to offer virtual drug tests, whereby a kit is sent to an employee and, during a video call with a company representative, the representative observes the employee swabbing his or her mouth. Within two minutes, the swab shows the results by color, which is viewed over the video. Of course, while waiting for a test kit to arrive, the employee’s substance levels can revert to normal.

Sending such kits to all remote employees might not be economically feasible. Also, if a virtual test comes out positive, the employee should still go to a testing facility, but the employee should not drive while under the influence, so perhaps a cab or rideshare is involved.


Key to remember: Employers have learned to roll with many changes in the last months, including how to handle potential substance abuse and remote work. With time, employers will need to continue to learn more and be ready to adapt as situations evolve.

About the author
Darlene Clabault - HR Senior Editor

Darlene is a Senior Editor on the Human Resources Publishing Team and specializes in employment law topics such as the Family and Medical Leave Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, Forms I-9 and E-Verify.

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