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Chemistry Lab Employee Guilt-Ridden After Reporting Grad Student For Drinking On The Job

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WARNING: Addiction, Alcoholism

We all know that some people are going to take their work and professionalism more seriously than others.

Fortunately, most negative behaviors are minor and can be overlooked.

But there are instances where behaviors have to be reported, pointed out the “Am I the A**hole?” (AITA) subReddit.

Redditor ThrowRA12345795 found themselves in the tough position of having to report a colleague after they became concerned about the safety of everyone in the chemistry lab.

But when they were publicly ridiculed, the Original Poster (OP) wondered if they were wrong for stepping forward.

They asked the sub:

“AITA for telling my boss about my coworker drinking at work?”

The OP noticed some concerning behavior at work.

“I work in a chemistry lab as a postdoctoral associate.”

“Over the past 6 months, I’ve noticed a particular grad student drinks all the time in the lab and doesn’t even really try to hide it.”

“We work with a lot of dangerous things like explosives, pyrophorics, cyanides, etc., so it was really worrisome to me to notice this behavior.”

“I felt uncomfortable saying anything to this person because I don’t really know them and they’ve been pretty standoffish to me in the past.”

The behavior worsened. 

“I tried to look the other way until I noticed them putting vodka in a water bottle and then leaving to teach an undergraduate laboratory course.”

“After I saw this, I couldn’t keep it to myself anymore because there were now students that could be affected by his actions.”

The OP was concerned after reporting what they saw.

“I ended up telling my boss and now my coworker is really upset at me and he is in general just acting pretty aggressive towards me.”

“He keeps making snide comments to others to not have any fun around me because I’ll just report it.”

“I’m not sure how they found out it was me who told on them, but I assume it was pretty obvious as I’m the only one in the lab who really cares about safety.”

“I feel bad for telling on them, but I was genuinely worried about their safety, the safety of everyone else in the lab, and their students’ safety.”

“AITA for telling on my coworker because they were drinking at work?”

Fellow Redditors weighed in:

  • NTA: Not the A**hole
  • YTA: You’re the A**hole
  • ESH: Everybody Sucks Here
  • NAH: No A**holes Here

Some said the OP absolutely did the right thing for the department.

“NTA. He’s acting like a big toddler who needs to grow up.”

“You aren’t the Fun Police who is ruining his good time at a frat party. You are reporting behavior that has the potential to put others at risk.”

“There’s a time and a place for everything, and a chem lab isn’t the place for vodka.” – hEYiTSbEEEE

“NTA.”

“I’ve heard of friends working in labs where somebody was a little sleep-deprived and ended up chopping off a finger or basically filling up the entire room with toxic fumes by accident.”

“That’s someone who is just sleep-deprived… I can’t imagine what could happen if someone is wasted at the lab…”

“You did the right thing and potentially saved this guy from hurting himself seriously, not to mention everyone else at the lab.” – PayrollPrince

Others said it sounded like the colleague was addicted to alcohol.

“NTA. Although sounds like you are describing a functional alcoholic, he is still putting everyone at the lab at risk both physically and reputationally.”

“He is doing a classic deflection so he can escape his own issues.”

“I’m sure you are In a small office so I’m sure it wouldn’t take much to find out who ‘ratted’ him out.”

“My advice would be if he makes another snide comment, just confront him on it. In the open, tell him, ‘Yes, I did report you, because I didn’t want this department to have a reputation for employing drunks!'” – grover71780

“I’m usually a live-and-let-live person, but as soon as someone else’s behavior compromises my safety, all bets are off. NTA.”

“While it wouldn’t change my decision to run this bulls**t up the chain, also consider that this person has a problem and isn’t just ‘having fun.’ You are likely helping them as well even though they don’t see it that way.” – TacoDoc

“NTA”

“When they get to the point that they are hiding alcohol in the water bottle, and everyone around them knows there is a problem (after all you noticed it), you are actually doing them a favor by involving your boss and HR.”

“This is where someone can usually turn things around if they are given the motivation and opportunity, along with support and resources.”

“Sure, he can probably go along this way for a couple more years, becoming more and more careless, and eventually, something really bad happens, and you will bear some of the responsibility morally for that.” – ForwardPlenty

A few suggested ways of helping the colleague further. 

“NTA. A safety hazard is a safety hazard, and it’s just disrespectful to teach a class while intoxicated.”

“But since your coworker is a graduate student, could you check and see if the university has any kind of resources for students with mental illness/substance abuse? If so, perhaps you could direct your coworker towards them.”

“You certainly aren’t required or expected to offer support to this person who is being rude to you, but it could be a kind thing to do (and will probably assuage some of your guilt over ‘snitching’ on the student in question).” – mr_mini_doxie

“Recovering alcoholic grad student: there are no lies here. I thank my lucky stars that I sobered up and am about to defend.”

“But this is how bad academia is: a fellow male grad student actively preyed on female grad students, which would be bad enough, but he also preyed on undergrads in classes he TAd for. It was an open secret and we all got warnings about this creep.”

“He still defended and got his degree. All the while still being allowed to come into contact with undergrads as a TA. Pretty sure he never got a teaching job because no one would give him a reference.”

“I am very glad, though, that a supervisor called me out on my drinking. Also thankful for the grace shown me so I could get sober and now I will defend in January and I have a job lined up.”

“It sounds like this student isn’t ready to confront their demons. OP was right to call him out. Enabling only keeps people like me sick.” – smughippie

A few also pointed out how the OP could stand up for themselves.

“Hahaha, NTA.”

“Talking to them would have been a courtesy, but it’s not a right. Especially with their attitude before and after, it’s not surprising you didn’t talk to them.”

“Tbh (to be honest), I think you need to stand your ground. It wasn’t personal, you did what was right.”

“You seem to be questioning that it was a good act because you’re being punished.”

“Next time he makes a snide remark, you simply say, ‘Oh, you mean you think I’m not fun because I reported you for drinking on the job?'”

“You don’t even have to engage further, just prevent him from dragging you. I GUARANTEE no reasonable person will take his side. There is no professional job this is okay at this era, and he knows that too, he’s just too far gone because he’s rationalized it to himself…”

“Tbh (to be honest), he seems like he is addicted to alcohol and in denial. Sad, but that’s probably why he’s pushing back so hard” – iwannabeonreddit

“NTA. Reporting it is correct, especially for health and safety reasons. You (or the University) could be liable and are obliged to report it. (I work in a University and my other half is a chemistry academic).”

“I would also have a private word with your supervisor/line manager/HR about your whistleblowing and mutual respect policies. You shouldn’t be harassed by this person for reporting a legitimate h&s (health and safety) issue.” – Stinkylee76

Though the OP thought they may have been in the wrong because of the criticism they were receiving in their department, the subReddit insisted they did the right thing.

Not only was it a safety issue for all of the students and graduate colleagues involved, but it may have saved the colleague from getting worse.

Written by McKenzie Lynn Tozan

McKenzie Lynn Tozan lives in North Chicago, where she works as a poet, freelance writer, and editor. She received her MFA in Creative Writing from Western Michigan University, and her BA in English from Indiana University South Bend. Her poems have appeared in Rogue Agent, Whale Road Review, the James Franco Review, Thank You for Swallowing, and elsewhere; and her essays and book reviews have appeared with Memoir Mixtapes, The Rumpus, BookPage, and Motherly, among others. When she's not reading and writing, she's in her garden or spending time with her family. For more, visit www.mckenzielynntozan.com.