August 20, 2007

Raising A Glass Can Destroy Your Glass Business

By Paul Bieber

Sure, it was just an occasional beer on a hot day. But you have been noticing that Sam (we’ll call him Sam) has been coming back a few minutes late from lunch and you could smell beer on him. In fact just the other day something funny happened. Sam cut a piece of window glass at 27 1/2″ instead of 21 1/2″. The customer didn’t see it until she got home and called you. You said you would Sam right over with the correct piece.

You walked into the shop, and found Sam, sitting against the back door, catching a few minutes of shut-eye. You gave him a nudge, the order for the correct size, and he was on his way. Took the van, the correct piece of glass, and was back in thirty minutes.

It was while Sam was driving your van that you started to think. You realize Sam had a couple of beers at lunch, and was now driving your van, and going into a customer’s home. You break into a sweat when you remember the low number you put on your liability insurance. Well, Sam came back and no damage done. You dodged the bullet today…and someday soon, you are going to have that talk with Sam you keep putting off.

If you were to open the dictionary to “unexpectedly going out of business without a penny left,” there’s your picture. Wait a minute, you fired that Kid last summer who stole some office supplies, and you released the counter person who ordered the wrong windshield. You are fairly tough on your employees, so it is OK to bend a rule or two for Sam, who worked for your Father for ten years before you took over the business.

The picture is still in the dictionary, this time under “didn’t see it coming at em”.

An employee who works while impaired, whether from alcohol or drugs can bury your business. Alcohol is legal, and the drugs may be a prescription that is legal. Nonetheless, an employee who is not fit for work, that you let work, opens you and your business to liability that will bury you.

If Sam had a fender bender with your van, that wasn’t even his fault, and the Police smelled alcohol, and did the Breathalyzer, in most states you own the accident. If Sam made an off-color remark at the customer’s home, you could be on the way to handing over the keys. You have complete responsibility if you knowingly allow an employee who has had a drink get in contact with the public.

There is no question that every glass shop should create and enforce a zero tolerance on alcohol during the work day. If you go to lunch with a customer, it is not wimpy to order an iced tea. The three drink lunch was acceptable a generation ago, but not now.

If Sam has a drink, comes back to work, and causes an accident in which he and another worker are hurt, go to the hospital and have blood work, and it comes back positive for alcohol, you have created a hazardous work place. The injured, non-drinking, worker can sue you for negligence.

The hardest part of a zero-tolerance position is that you do have to enforce it. Announce it to your crews, meet with them and explain this is not a comment about drinking, but a safety issue. The macho guys will say that one beer at lunch doesn’t affect them. It might effect them less than it would me, but an ounce of alcohol affects every one to some degree. There are no exceptions. Ask each worker if they want to be on the other side of a 72 x 100 mirror with a guy who had a beer twenty minutes earlier.

If you don’t have a program now, look in the yellow pages for drug testing. It is not expensive to create a program. Ask for quotes covering writing your policy and training your supervisors. This shouldn’t be over a couple of thousand dollars for a medium sized company. You have to commit time from yourself and your supervisors to be trained. And, you have to be role models. Unquestionable. No middle ground. You have to train every supervisor to notice signs of intoxication or impairment. If a supervisor suspects someone to be impaired, call your testing company and they will come to you to do a Breathalyzer. Never send someone to drive themselves to the testing center. If they have an accident, you are responsible. The mobile tests are accurate and legal. Even if your state has a .08 threshold for driving impairment, you can set your level at .04, or .02. This goes beyond being able to drive a car. It is using power tools, cutting and lifting glass, making an impression on the public with your name on their backs.

The hardest thing is to enforce the issue. If someone is drunk at work, and your program allows for a 60 day suspension, then enforce the suspension, even if it is for “the guy you could never do without”. Its your program, you can start with a 30 day suspension, or instant dismissal, or just probation and a warning. Whatever you pick, it must be enforced evenly to every employee. If it is your son or daughter, so be it.

I promise you, if you create an even-handed policy, enforce it equally within your entire company, your glass shop will be better of for it.