If an employee has gone to watch a football match and had a few beers or had some cocktails with friends, it can cause a terrible headache for the employer.

It’s often forgotten that alcohol remains in a person’s bloodstream for up to 24 hours following consumption. So someone could turn up to work the next morning and still be under the influence.

Is it really a big deal?

Employers have a legal duty under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 to ensure, as far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare of employees. If the employee drives as part of their duties or operates machinery, there are high risks of workplace accidents occurring. If you knowingly let an employee who is intoxicated carry on working and this puts the employee or other colleagues at risk, you could face prosecution.

It may also mean that employees come into work late or not show up at all, leaving you in the lurch and scrambling to find suitable cover.

If the employee is very hungover, they may struggle to perform their work, make costly mistakes and be largely unproductive.

If clients or service users see or hear of employees completing work while under the influence, it can also damage the company’s image and reputation.

Don’t let this happen! Make sure that you have the rules in place to deal with someone who turns up under the influence of alcohol, know what to do if someone has a dependency and how to control excessive consumption at your own events.

Policy

In the interests of health and safety and to protect the business, you should have clear rules on alcohol use. This policy should be found in your Employee Handbook and be clearly communicated to all employees.

Depending on the nature of the organisation, an employer may strictly ban employees from consuming alcohol prior to or during working hours or breaks. For example, earlier this year, Lloyd’s of London prohibited their employees from drinking alcohol during the working day as roughly 50% of their grievance and disciplinary procedures revolved around the abuse of alcohol.

Others may take a more relaxed approach and allow moderate drinking during lunch breaks or when with clients, as long as it does not impair their ability to perform their work.

Your policy should clearly state that if an employee reports for work when unfit due to the influence of alcohol, this may be regarded as a gross misconduct offence. This means they will normally face disciplinary action under the company’s disciplinary procedure.

Some companies reserve the right to require an employee to undergo a medical examination to find out the cause of the problem. If an employee refuses to undertake the examination in these circumstances, their refusal will normally be treated as gross misconduct. If the examination confirms they were intoxicated, the employer may reserve the right to suspend the employee while they investigate the matter. After the investigation has occurred, they may then take disciplinary action.

Dependency

Employees who regularly turn up to work drunk may do so because they have a dependency on alcohol. In these cases, you may be able to offer support and/or encourage the employee to seek appropriate counselling or medical help.

If the employee is absent due to attending treatment or counselling, this should be treated as a sickness absence. However, if they do not follow the recommended treatment or continue to have issues with their performance, conduct or attendance, it may end up with disciplinary action being taken.

Company events

They may turn up to a company event and indulge in one too many drinks. You should remind employees that they should behave reasonably and consumption should not be excessive.

If you have an expectation for everyone to turn up on time the next morning after the party, you should make this very clear to your employees. You should clearly explain that they may face disciplinary action if they do not attend work the next day because they are too hung over.

At the party, you should consider restricting the amount of free alcohol available and ensure that there are non-alcoholic drinks available too. Speak to the bar staff to keep an eye on any employees who are over-indulging, and to ensure that employees under 18 are not being served alcohol. Remember that if it appears that you have condoned or encouraged over-consumption of alcohol, it may be difficult to fairly dismiss the employee if they have committed alcohol-related offences.

You should also think about how employees will get home after the party. To prevent people from drinking and driving, you could consider, if the budget allows it, to provide a coach to an accessible or central place at the end of the night. Encourage employees to check when last trains or buses are running and give them phone numbers for registered taxi companies.

If you do not have an alcohol policy in place, our Employment Law Advisers can draft one for you, tailored to your organisation. Contact us to find how we can help you.

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We combine the service quality of a law firm with the certainty of fixed-fee services to provide expert, solutions-focused Employment LawHR and Health & Safety support tailored to employers.

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