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The use of alcohol or drugs by employees.

Posted on 27th November, 2017

Employment Law Briefing for Employers: Does your organisation have suitable and robust processes in place to deal with the various employment law issues that can arise from the use of alcohol or drugs by employees?

Last week was alcohol awareness week and on reading parts of the material available online it prompted this briefing on some of the employment law issues alcohol or drugs can cause in the workplace and how employers can best prepare themselves to tackle those issues. We are also now fast approaching Christmas and there will no doubt be plenty of office parties taking place in the run up to Christmas and also into January. The purpose of this briefing is to draw attention to some of the steps employers can take to try and prevent employment issues arising from alcohol and drug use and also to highlight the processes that can be implemented to effectively deal with any issues that may arise.

It is important for all employers, both large and small, and particularly at this time of year, to take the time to consider whether they have proper processes in place to deal with the many difficult issues that can arise in relation to alcohol or drugs. Some of the issues we advise employers on include:

  • How to effectively deal with a situation where an allegation of misconduct, perhaps fuelled by alcohol or drugs, arises from the work Christmas party, whether that be fighting, harassment, some other form of discrimination or bullying. Employers may wonder whether, and how, they can discipline an employee for something that happens at a work Christmas party which took place outside working hours and away from the office or site.
  • What steps can be taken with an employee who turns up for work under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or where there is a suspicion that the employee is at work under the influence.
  • What an employer can do to manage a situation where an employee has lost their driving licence having driven under the influence, whether during or outside working hours.
  • What procedural steps can and should be followed if an employee fails a random alcohol or drug test carried out at work.
  • How to deal with a situation where an employer finds out, or suspects, an employee may have a dependency problem relating to alcohol or drugs.

The issues above are just some of the ones that can arise.

Employers have duties in law to protect the health, safety and welfare of their employees (and others) and we recommend employers ensure proper rules and processes are put in place to deal with the types of issues listed above. All employers should know what steps they would take to deal with any of the above situations if they arise or indeed know where to get appropriate advice on dealing with those issues.

We strongly recommend employers put in place robust substance misuse policies tailored to their organisation setting out the rules and what their approach to these issues would be. We have seen the benefits this can have when it comes to managing these types of issues in the workplace. Policies should also be put in place covering equal opportunities in the workplace, including harassment, and bullying to ensure all staff are aware of the standards of conduct expected of them and what action may be taken if their standard falls below the expected one – with specific references to the disciplinary procedure.

As we approach the Christmas party season, while we hope everyone will have a wonderful time there are some tips we would offer to employers on managing the potential issues that can arise from Christmas parties. It is important for employers to realise that they can be held vicariously liable for acts of discrimination and harassment carried out by their employees if those actions occurred during the course of employment (which can include work parties) and could face costly tribunal claims. We would be happy to discuss the steps we would recommend employers take before Christmas parties in more detail but some of the steps we would recommend are taken include:

  • Providing a clear policy setting out the standards of behaviour expected at the Christmas party, along with other work-related social events. The policy should clearly set out the action that may be taken if the standard of behaviour falls below the standard required.
  • Considering who to designate responsibility to for supervising work-related social events.
  • Issuing advice about not drinking and driving and encouraging employees to consider how they will be getting home after the event.
  • Ensuring there is an equal opportunities policy in place, that all employees are aware of the contents and understand the action that may be taken if there is a breach of the policy.
  • Ensuring the event is as inclusive as possible and remembering to invite those currently absent from work on, for example, family-related leave.
  • It is advisable to consider controlling the amount of free alcohol that is available.
  • With the common usage of social media, employers should ensure they have an appropriate social media policy in place and remind employees of the rules before the Christmas party.
  • Employees should be made aware of the absence management processes and many employers will likely choose to remind their employees that lateness or absence due to overindulgence at the Christmas party will not be tolerated.

Employers should also be cautious about employees who may turn up for work still under the influence of alcohol or drugs from the Christmas party and exercise vigilance about this.

This briefing sets out some of the key issues for employers to be aware of when dealing with alcohol or drug issues in the workplace and also specifically in relation to Christmas parties as we approach the festive period.

We regularly provide management training sessions to business owners, managers and HR professionals on dealing with alcohol or drug issues in the workplace as well as managing disciplinary, grievance or capability processes. We can also link employers with appropriate service providers, including those providing alcohol and drug testing. More information can be found on the substance misuse page on our website or by contacting one of the members of our Employment Team.

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