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February 21, 2017

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Lunchtime drinking – how can employers prevent it?

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How do you prevent employees from consuming alcohol in the workplace? What are the legal requirements for alcohol policies? And how does it all fit into health and safety management? Alan Price, employment law director for Peninsula, explains.

The news that Lloyds of London have introduced a policy banning consumption of alcohol during core working hours has divided opinion; some are shocked that this rule needs to be explicitly laid down whilst others are wondering at the extent of employers control over staffs’ private time.

As factors such as workloads and workplace pressure increases, these are contributing towards lunch time drinking becoming a social norm. How can employers tackle drinking during working hours?

In the UK, there is no direct legal requirement for employing organisations to implement alcohol policies per se. However, health and safety at work legislation requires both employers and employees to maintain a safe working environment, and were an alcohol related accident to occur, then, depending on circumstances, the employer, the employee concerned or both could be liable.

In the transport industry, there is additional legislation in place to control the misuse of alcohol and drugs. The Transport and Works Act 1992 makes it a criminal offence for certain workers to be unfit through drink and/or drugs while working on railways, tramways and other guided transport systems. The operators of the transport system would also be guilty of an offence unless they had shown all due diligence in trying to prevent such an offence being committed

Policies

In similar fashion to Lloyds of London, employers who wish to prevent this happening should introduce a drugs and alcohol policy. The policy should cover all areas of the working day including those which may be viewed as non-work time, for example lunch breaks, client visits, working lunches etc.

It should contain exactly what is and isn’t acceptable from employees in relation to consuming alcohol and the potential consequences if the policy is breached. Employers should get signed and dated evidence that the policy has been received, read and understood by all members of staff; this will be important when relying on the details set out in the policy in the future.

Simply having a policy will not prevent the consumption of alcohol so employers need to enforce it properly. This will be crucial in businesses similar to Lloyds of London where lunchtime drinking has become ingrained in the culture of the company.

All members of staff should be trained on the policy and any incidents of drinking during working time should be addressed. Regardless of whether the policy breach is by a manager of a junior, they should be disciplined in line with any sanctions contained in the policy.

Frequent breaches of the alcohol and substance misuse policy may indicate that the employee is experiencing deeper issues. While an effective policy should be drafted in a way which allows disciplinary action to be taken against the perpetrator, it should also aim to encourage employees to seek support and consider rehabilitation if alcohol or substance abuse is a recurring problem.

It’s also advisable that your policy clarifies that any investigation and findings of drugs or alcohol issues will be handled in the strictest confidence. Best practice dictates that you should support and encourage the individual towards rehabilitation, as sometimes alcohol or drug dependencies may be treated as an illness. If you offer an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) you should remind the employee of it as soon as an issue comes to light.

 
Alan Price, is employment law director at Peninsula.

Coronavirus advice for employers

This hub page complies all the latest government coronavirus updates. It includes what you can and cannot do in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, workplace advice from multiple sources, including information on welcoming staff back to the workplace and the latest vaccination information.

It also contains a host of useful external links and resources to find further information.

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Tony Jones
Tony Jones
5 years ago

Any drug & alcohol policy needs to have some reliable means of enforcement. A testing regime and alcohol limits should be included in the policy.

Reliable, properly calibrated and checked equipment used by trained staff will ensure that the results of the tests are supportable in any subsequent tribunal.

I have been working in this field for the last 19 years as training officer & evidential support coordinator with Intoximeters UK Ltd.