Signs and symptoms

Supervisors need to watch out for the signs and symptoms of an employee who is unfit for work.

It may be difficult to determine whether an employee is unfit for work due to alcohol, drugs or another reason such as a medical condition. 

Supervisors are encouraged not to focus on why an employee is unfit to work, but instead on the actual signs and symptoms they are presenting with when determining their fitness to work. This focus assists in minimising conflict and managing the situation in a calm and professional manner. 

Fitness for work includes an individual’s physical, mental and emotional state. Even if the person does not have alcohol or drugs in their system, they may still be hungover or coming down from a drug and in both cases, they are not fit for work. 

Discussing incidents with employees

If an employee has shown signs and symptoms of being unfit to work, it’s best to raise the possible causes once the employee has recovered. It’s reasonable for a supervisor to think that a person’s condition may have been the result of alcohol and/or drugs if there is no alternative medical explanation for the symptoms.
Below are symptoms supervisors should look out for to help determine if an employee is not fit for work.
  • Less concerning symptoms will need to be present with other symptoms for an employee to be deemed unfit for work.
  • For example: blood shot eyes would not be a reason to send an employee home, but blood shot eyes in conjunction with uncoordinated movement, irritability and fatigue, might be. Fainting on its own, however, would be a reason to send an employee home.

Physical symptoms

Shakiness, bloodshot eyes, dilated pupils, uncoordinated movements, loss of balance, problems walking, irregular breathing, slow reactions and responses, vomiting, slurred speech, hyperactivity, fainting, fatigue.

Psychological symptoms

Unclear judgment, confusion, aggression, loss of memory, depression, irrational behaviour, hallucinations, anxiety, irritability, appearing high or drunk, laughing or talking more than usual. 

Indicators of potential drinking problems

A person’s use of alcohol can be defined as a problem when it starts to impact on their life and those around them.

The potential areas of concern for patterns of drinking behaviour (that could indicate problems) include but are not limited to:

  • drinking to cope with stress, anxiety or depression
  • having an increased tolerance and therefore requiring a significant amount of alcohol to feel its effects
  • drinking with the intention to get drunk on a regular basis
  • drinking quickly or gulping drinks
  • attempting to reduce or cut down on drinking with limited success
  • skipping meals while drinking.

If a member of your team is concerned about their drinking, or mention any of the points above, you should suggest that they: 

  • see their GP for guidance
  • call Direct Line on 1800 888 236.

Download the Signs and Symptoms of Impairment fact sheet [PDF 93 Kb]

Back to drink and drug driving in the workplace

Contact us

Email: [email protected]

Was this page helpful?


Please tell us why (but don't leave your personal details here - message us if you need help or have questions).