In most circumstances, it would be unusual for an employee to be under the influence of alcohol during working hours, and generally not acceptable. Depending on the type of work environment there might even be legal ramifications if an employee was drunk, such as if they are in charge of a vehicle. Being under the influence might not only put the employee themselves in danger but also their colleagues and the public at risk.

On the basis that there isn’t an obvious or acceptable reason for the employee to be drunk, such as it being a Company event with alcohol being widely consumed by all then this is something that you would need to address. Particularly if their behaviour is concerning you.

We would always recommend that you have policies in place that give guidance on how employees are expected to behave during events, either internal or client, where alcohol is being served.

Having policies and processes will set clear parameters for employees on how they are expected to conduct themselves on such occasions.  As with any event, employees representing the Company are expected to behave responsibly, which includes drinking in a responsible manner and not bringing the Company into disrepute.

Nevertheless, aside from Company sanctioned events, there may be a variety of reasons for an employee to be under the influence of alcohol at work at any time of the day. As an employer, you have a duty of care towards them and other employees. Even if the employee in question is not seemingly posing a threat or danger to themselves or others you should raise your concern and address it accordingly.

In the first instance, we would recommend that you deal with it immediately, in the moment, away from colleagues as discreetly as possible. Speak with them regarding your concerns and if appropriate ask that they return home for the duration of the day. We would express some caution about being too overzealous as if they are not under the influence then that could create greater issues.

If they have been sent home or have seemingly sobered up when they return to work the next working day hold a return-to-work meeting with them. In this meeting you should raise your concerns, allowing the employee to explain themselves and apologise if necessary.

Depending on the content of the discussion you can make the appropriate choice for the next steps, which should be aligned with the policies you have in place.

Possible appropriate options may be:

  • Informal warning.
  • Disciplinary action – which could be up to and including gross misconduct.
  • Instigating support for the employee – they may be required to engage with an alcohol support programme and have tested if allowed contractually and in line with policy.
  • Occupational Health.
  • Assistance with issues contributing to alcohol issues.
  • Offering an EAP (Employee Assistance Program).

Your response will be specific to that situation as everyone will be different. For someone who is suffering from alcohol issues and wishing to overcome them, it is important that you are sympathetic and understanding. Whilst it might also be appropriate to follow the disciplinary process aside from having issues with alcohol, there may be other factors causing them to drink that the employee requires your support as an employer before this happens. If that is the case then as long as they are being open and honest with their concerns and their needs you should engage with them to support their recovery, as much as possible for the business.

We appreciate that there is a fine balance between duty of care towards your employees whilst supporting their recovery and considering reasonable responses from an employer at the same time as balancing the needs of the business.

Alcohol is a prevalent and socially acceptable norm, and although you might not consider it essential now, having policies and well-being systems in place that are aligned with the Company’s culture can help prevent and reduce incidences at work and provide a framework for managers and employees should this arise.

For more information or support around this issue, please contact us at