Alcohol at work
Let’s face the truth- occasional drinking is part of our culture. We all know how to enjoy few pints at the pub with friends responsibly and yet the bombardment of information about the risks that alcohol involves is continuous. And let’s not talk about continual alcohol price increases.
When the risks of drinking too much alcohol are mentioned many people may picture an alcoholic not able to walk, screaming and behaving inappropriately. The biggest problems of drinking however are well hidden and despite the mini “prohibition” regime we live in, when stressed most people are more likely to turn to alcohol rather than their GP, friends or family.
Recent research by the Mental Health Foundation revealed that half of participating adults feel stressed every day, with a quarter saying every few days. Over 59% of people confirmed that their lives are more stressed now than five years ago with money (26%) and work problems (28%) being in between the top causes of stress and anxiety. This is understandable bearing in mind the hard economic times we all have to deal with.
The consequences of turning alcohol into a kind of therapy against stress and hard times are well known. Social costs, increased crime, civil disorder, ill health (this last one involving strong NHS spending costs for treating alcohol related diseases) and costs for employers are rising too as it increases sickness absences, inability to work (unemployment and early retirement), premature deaths and so-on.
Society needs to tackle this problem seriously with families and employers being among the first that should intervene instead of waiting for people’s distress to become a disease leaving the health services to deal with what may be too late.
The average SME’s managers very rarely have to deal with an alcoholic, but with an employee showing incapacity to organize themselves correctly; poor time keeping and low production rates all of a sudden should be an early indicator that something is a miss and could be to do with the affects of alcohol at work.
Try and investigate what may be causing this out of the ordinary behavior before making a decision that it is alcohol at work and if so what action to take for tackling the problem.
Under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 the employer is reasonably responsible for the health, safety and welfare of the employees. An employer could be prosecuted if he or she allows an employee under the influence of alcohol at work or other substances to perform a job. The law presumes that this would be a significant risk for everybody involved in the work in progress and an employer could be liable if an accident happens. Virtually any job could be a risk, when it comes to alcohol at work but special care should be taken in activities such as operating heavy machinery, driving, working at heights or working with chemicals.
What can we do about alcohol at work?
Screening employees for alcohol is a sensitive issue. Many companies especially from high risk industries are introducing such screenings on a random or regular basis
To be 100% sure nobody turns up to work with elevated or dangerous levels of alcohol in their bloodstream, an employer should test regularly. However be careful with such screenings because they could undermine the spirit, respect and trust with your employees.
In any case written consent and/ or change of the terms and conditions of the employee’ contract should be in place before any tests are conducted. If an employer tries to force a screening the employee has the right to resign and claim “constructive dismissal” as well as other legal implications.
An honest talk with the employee should be the first step regarding alcohol at work and could be the solution; it also gives you the right idea of how serious any potential problems are.
Be mindful that an employee with a drinking problem has the same right to confidentiality and support as somebody with medical or psychological condition.
In any case dismissal and disciplinary actions should be the last resort, especially because a court might find the dismissal unfair if the employer is not able to demonstrate that enough good-will action has been taken to resolve the problem.
Also the cost of recruiting and training new employees could be higher than keeping an existing one rather than giving a helping friendly hand.
I hope this has given some insight into one of the unspoken problems of alcohol at work that many businesses and individuals face on a daily basis.
For more information on this or any health and safety related issue please do not hesitate to get in touch with our health and safety consultants
alcohol at work