What to do if you suspect an employee is under the influence of alcohol?

Date: Friday, 15th November, 2019

Today marks the end of Alcohol Awareness Week and in this blog our Senior HR Coordinator, Olivia Gunson looks at the issues around alcohol in the workplace.

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 at such occasions.  As with any event, employees are representing the Company and are expected to behave responsibly, which includes drinking in a responsible manner and not bring 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 with 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, giving the employee the opportunity to explain themselves and apologise if necessary.

Depending on the content of the discussion you can make the appropriate choice for 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 testing 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 each individual will be different. For someone who is suffering with alcohol issues and is 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 then you should engage with them to support their recovery, as much as is 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. Aside from undertaking your duty of care as an employer there can be serious financial and commercial implications if you do not deal with any concerns you have, as Alcohol Change UK reports that 167,000 years of working life were lost as a result of alcohol in 2015 (Alcohol Change UK Report,  https://alcoholchange.org.uk/get-involved/campaigns/alcohol-awareness-week/the-alcohol-change-report November 2018).

Alcohol is a prevalent and socially acceptable norm, and although you might not consider it essential now, having policies and wellbeing 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 on +44 (0) 2035 385 311 or hello@hrrevolution.co.uk

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