In the UK, there is no direct legal requirement for employers to implement alcohol policies. 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 and/or the employee concerned could be found liable. A business will suffer if any employee consumes alcohol during working hours, phones in sick after a heavy drinking session the night before, or comes into work with a hangover.
Although an employee found drunk on duty is at risk of being dismissed for gross misconduct, employment protection laws are sensitive to the underlying problems of alcohol dependence and illicit drug use complications. Ultimately, an alcohol problem ought to be regarded as a primary health issue rather than an immediate cause for discipline, and so employers should offer support for rehabilitation rather than following the disciplinary process straight away.
What can Employers do?
All companies – large and small – can benefit from an agreed policy on drugs and alcohol. In order to tackle alcohol and drugs misuse effectively, employers may want to start by examining their own knowledge about the different types of drugs available and the harmful effects they can have on the misuser, and the similar effects that alcohol abuse can have on someone. It may also be useful for employers to explore any information they have on sickness absence, productivity, accident records or disciplinary problems to help identify if alcohol or drugs are harming the business. A workplace alcohol and drugs policy should cover the following areas:
⦁ Why you have a policy and who the policy applies to (which should be all staff in order to ensure equality).
⦁ Who is responsible for implementing the policy? All managers and supervisors have a responsibility, however it is more effective if there is an employee in senior management named as having overall responsibility.
⦁ The rules; how the company expect employees to behave to ensure that their alcohol consumption does not have a detrimental effect on their work.
⦁ A statement of confidentiality assuring employees that any alcohol or drug problem will be treated in strictest confidence.
⦁ A description of the support available to employees who have an alcohol or drug problem.
⦁ Employers should also convey their commitment to providing employees with general information about the effects of drinking alcohol and abusing drugs, including health and safety risks.
⦁ The circumstances in which disciplinary action will be taken should also be outlined in an alcohol and drugs policy.
As with the introduction or amendment of any policies and procedures, staff should always be consulted and their thoughts and opinions considered. In order for a new policy to be received by staff, they need to feel valued and considered throughout the process. With a drugs and alcohol abuse policy, the overall aims should be to ensure the health and well-being of the workforce and to minimise disruption to productivity.
If we can help you with this or any other HR issue, please do not hesitate to contact a member of our HR Team at HR Services Scotland Ltd on 0800 652 2610.
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