14 to 20 November was Alcohol Awareness Week 2016, a national event championed by Alcohol Concern to get people thinking about alcohol and how it affects us as individuals and as members of families, communities and society as a whole.  In statistics issued by Alcohol Concern ahead of Alcohol Awareness Week, they report that alcohol related harm costs England around £7.3bn in lost work days.  With such a huge potential impact, it’s important that employers know the risks around alcohol.

Although you might think that alcohol doesn’t play a big part in your organisation’s day to day operations, any amount of alcohol in an employee’s system can make them less efficient and less safe.  Alcohol can have a damaging effect on productivity, health and safety and morale so what might you want to think about?

  1. Create an effective alcohol policy

This should be drafted on a bespoke basis, taking into account your particular organisation.  Ahead of creating a policy, you should make sure you know what you’re trying to achieve and then look to put something in place that fits around your needs.  Part of creating that policy will require you to consider what approach you will want to take to staff who have a dependency on alcohol – supportive, disciplinary or a combination?  In reaching that decision, you will probably want to distinguish between genuine dependency issues and misconduct issues, such as isolated occasions of drunkenness at work.  The former is likely to warrant a very different approach, including potential engagement with treatment programmes in support of an employee’s attempt to recover.

  1. Safe system of work

As an employer, you have a duty to ensure a safe place of work and safe systems of work for your employees.  In the context of alcohol awareness, this will include having clear rules about coming to work under the influence of alcohol and about drinking alcohol whilst at work.  Clearly, this will be particularly important for businesses using tools or machinery or where the use of vehicles is part of someone’s role.

  1. Train your managers

Due to the sensitivity and confidentiality of alcohol dependency, it is critical that those within the business who might have to deal with such issues are appropriately trained to do so.  Alcohol Concern offer workplace services to ensure that your managers are sufficiently informed if alcohol dependency concerns arise.

  1. Alcohol testing/screening

Managing potential alcohol dependency is likely to engage the Data Protection Act 1998 which sets out protections for your staff’s personal data that you use and store, for example, in processing tests results and/or HR records of how you have dealt with a particular employee.  Tests results and other information about an employee’s health would be “sensitive personal data” and you need to take particular care that that data is processed in accordance with your employee’s rights.  Given its intrusive nature, alcohol testing or screening should only be implemented following careful consideration and, ideally, having conducted and documented an impact assessment.

  1. Is alcoholism a disability?

Alcoholism, in and of itself, is expressly excluded from the scope of the Equality Act 2010. (This is the legislation which sets out protections for staff where they have a mental or physical condition that amounts to a “disability”).  However, conditions which arise from alcoholism, such as diabetes, hypertension or liver damage may qualify for protection as a disability.  It is therefore important that you make sure you have full medical information about any employee who may have an alcohol dependency so that any decisions are taken with that advice in mind.

Our employment solicitors work in partnership with organisations to improve their HR practices and advise on employment issues. To discuss this article or any other HR issue call 01392 210700 or employment@stephens-scown.co.uk.