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Calling time on drinking in the workplace

The issue of drinking in the workplace has been in the media spotlight for much of this year following the ‘partygate scandal’ and the subsequent publication of the Sue Gray report on the activities that took place in Downing Street during the pandemic. It also highlights how for some, drinking is normalised either in the workplace or during working hours.

Drinking in the workplace isn’t against the law, however employers also need to be aware of their obligations under sections 2, 3 and 4 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. If employers knowingly allow an employee under the influence of alcohol (or drugs) to continue working and this places the employee or others at risk, they could be liable to charges.

The cost to businesses from employees drinking is well publicised with increased work absences and reduced productivity.  The physical toll on employees is also considerable and alcohol abuse is a leading cause of disability, ill health, and death in the UK.

The pandemic has also made it easier for many employees to drink while working from home and if employers haven’t yet reviewed and addressed this issue then now is a good time, especially as hybrid working arrangements continue for many.

It is certainly going to be harder for mangers to detect if employees are drinking whilst on the job if they are meeting them less frequently face to face.  There should be signs to look out for and reviewing employment policies and improved training might be needed to help them to deal with it. It might also be sensible to provide workplace counselling and support networks for employees who might be concerned about their own alcohol use before it becomes a disciplinary issue.

Options for employers are to review and update employment policies to ban the consumption of alcohol during working hours (including breaks) and this applies to those working in the workplace as well as those working from home.  This needs to be clear if it applies to all employees or to possibly exclude some roles where employees might be entertaining clients for legitimate business reasons, as long as it doesn’t affect their ability to work.

If hosting a work event where alcohol is available, those responsible for it should place sensible limits on the amount available and also make sure no and low alcohol drinks are available.

Whatever approach you take your employee handbook should be very clear in stating what the consequences are for any employee who reports for work when they are under the influence of alcohol or suspected to be under the influence of it and the disciplinary process that will follow.

It is always better to consider these issues regularly, so taking time to review and update your employment policies is sensible and we can provide advice and support on the best way to approach this.

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