Drinking alcohol in the workplace can lead to safety hazards. Even small amounts can affect an employee’s judgement and reactions. This can lead to an increase in the risk of an accident. You are responsible for the health, safety and welfare of your employees. You might have legal liability if you allow employees under the influence of alcohol to continue working where this places themselves or others at risk.
Set the rules on drinking alcohol
A strict no-alcohol rule may be needed in some businesses, for health and safety reasons. For example, in businesses where people operate machinery or drive vehicles. Other problems can include:
- employees calling in sick
- reduced productivity
- unprofessional behaviour, which can lead to lost business
However, businesses don’t have to ban alcohol from all work related events. All employees should been encouraged to use discretion if consuming alcohol during business-related events. This could include meetings, conferences or office parties. Employees may also be asked to not drink alcohol during events where customers are present and/or the business is being represented.
Soft drink option
At the very least, when a business is having an event, there should be soft drinks available as an alternative to drinking alcohol. Businesses may also wish to encourage alcohol ‘light’ events where only a limited amount of alcohol is available. It’s a good idea to avoid having free or ‘open’ bars.
Businesses should draw up clear guidelines setting out the disciplinary consequences of alcohol-related problems at work. For example, an employee drinking and driving while on company business might be dismissed.
Signs of alcohol misuse
You should learn to watch for signs that might indicate an employee is having problems. These can include:
- frequent hangovers
- above average time off sick
- reduced productivity
- workplace accidents
- disciplinary problems
- customer complaints
If an employee's behaviour is troubling then a confidential conversation may be the best way of finding out if there are any underlying problems, whether alcohol-related or not.
There are times when disciplinary action may be needed in response to alcohol misuse, eg where the safety of your workplace is compromised.
Where possible be supportive towards employees with alcohol problems. Often the best course of action is referral to the appropriate counselling and support services. For information on these services, see counselling and support.