Alcohol Awareness Week 16-22nd November 2020

A new survey commissioned by Alcohol Change UK, shows that almost 1 in 3 drinkers (29%) have been drinking at increasing or high risk levels over the past 6 months (over 14 units per week). Over half of drinkers (53%) said they have drunk alcohol for a mental health reason – such as feeling anxious, stressed or worried, feeling bored having trouble sleeping, or feeling sad and or low – at least once in the past 6 months.

With that in mind, alcohol awareness within the workplace in of key importance when considering health and wellbeing of staff in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Alcohol addiction problems in the workplace can potentially:

  1. Put workers at risk due to behavioural issues;
  2. Lead to absenteeism or poor punctuality;
  3. Damage employee morale,
  4. Harm an Employer’s public image
  5. Decrease productivity and standards; and
  6. impact on profitability.

When an employer becomes aware of a potential issue, any necessary action required will be governed by whether the issue is one of dependency or rather a recreational use of drugs or alcohol.

Also of relevance will be whether the individual alerts the Employer to the problem. Where this occurs, the focus should be on encouraging the Employee to seek help and treatment, via a referral to occupational health or a specialist substance abuse counsellor. It is recommended that an Employer should allow special leave (paid or unpaid) to undergo any professional treatment recommended. This will enable the Employees progress to be monitored and assessed in order that the Employer can effectively determine whether they are capable of resuming their duties. If this is unlikely within a reasonable timeframe, or the Employers confidence in the employee is undermined, a performance management process may be justified, which may result in dismissal.

In circumstances where an employee has not declared an addiction but their behaviour or appearance gives the Employer cause for concern, an Employer should proceed with extreme caution.

An Employer could refer the employee to a medical expert for a general opinion on the Employees health and wellbeing, where a specific provision is made for this in the contract of employment. Whilst the Employer can relay their concerns confidentially to the specialist, they should be mindful of how to deal with the potential outcome especially for example if there is evidence of alcohol or drug misuse, but the employee does not admit to this.

Drug and Alcohol Policy

A detailed Drug and Alcohol Policy will assist an Employer when dealing with misuse and consequential problems in the workplace. Spot testing for drugs and alcohol is permitted provided there is a written policy and a justification for it. Workers must be notified of such a policy, what testing entails and that they may be subject to random, “for cause” testing (where misuse has been reported or is suspected). Positive tests should also be dealt with consistently.

Disciplinary Procedure

Where an Employee is suspected of potential recreational misuse which has lead to behavioural, reliability or other misconduct issues, the Employer can conduct a reasonable investigation and where appropriate commence and follow its disciplinary procedure.

Disability Discrimination

An addiction or dependency will only constitute a disability under the Equality Act 2010 if triggered by the use of prescription drugs or other medical treatment. However, Employers should be aware that impairments brought on by addiction (for example, depression or nerve damage) could be classed as a qualifying “disability”. In this scenario, reasonable adjustments should be considered, along with the potential risk of a disability discrimination claim (and unfair dismissal if terminated).

Summary

In the event of an employee’s admitted or known alcohol or drug dependency, the Employer’s approach should primarily focus on help and support. However, where there are continuing problems resulting for example in a loss of trust in the employee, or concerns the employee could endanger themselves or others at work, there will often be grounds for dismissal.

If you need assistance with drafting/implementing a Drug and Alcohol Policy in your business or have any current issues with staff, please contact the Consilia Employment Team.

 

Victoria Horner
Senior Associate – Consilia Legal
Mobile: 07516 030528
Direct Dial: 01138874673
Reception: 0113 3229222
Address: 4 Park Place, Leeds LS1 2RU

 

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