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22nd December 2014

Have your employees attended work under the influence of alcohol/illegal substances?

bottle abstractMerry season

For many people Christmas is seen as a time to catch up with family, friends and colleagues and often a time to have a few festive drinks and celebrate the festive season. This merry season can be seen as a problematic time for employers. The CIPD have produced interesting figures which shows that ‘One in four UK workers have admitted to working under the influence of drugs or alcohol’. The survey of 1,500 UK employee’s also showed that a fifth of workers said they drive to work despite feeling they are over the legal limit’ (report).

Maybe a number of those days would account for the 17 million working days that are lost each year. But not only that, what is the impact on the work? How is it effecting the service user and who has been let down by the employees behaviour? All questions that employers will have to answer to ensure the service user isn’t compromised. The CIPD also produced a report that shows that more than half of UK employees, 57 per cent regularly drink alcohol to excess with damaging consequences! (report). It’s clear that a hobby of the workforce certainly is drinking!

So, what should employers be considering in the event that an employee attends work under the influence of alcohol/illegal substances?

  • Is that person a risk?
  • Ensure you have safe working practices at all times.
  • Consider the risk, not only to the business but also the service users and their safety.
  • If you are uncertain it may still be safer to send the employee home (with pay), as a precaution. If it is just a precaution then it would be difficult to justify disciplinary action afterwards. You might however have a firm informal word.
  • In more extreme cases, consider what evidence you have that they are under the influence:
    • An alcohol smell on the breath is not itself evidence of incapability.
    • Is their speech slurred (make sure you have witnesses).
    • Can they walk in a straight line? Again witnesses are important.
  • If you are satisfied that they are under the influence of alcohol or illegal drugs then this would normally be a gross misconduct offence. If this is your policy then an individual should be sent home and suspended (with pay) prior to a hearing. In those circumstances the above evidence will be crucial.
  • If an employee phones in and honestly admits to being unfit to work it would be reasonable to expect them to take the time as holiday; and you might have an informal word on their return. They need to know that they have let you down and how you feel about it.
  • Some employees will phone in sick. You should have a return to work interview procedure to cover this eventuality and apply it rigorously.
  • Meanwhile, have a plan B so the impact on the business is reduced – it will reduce the temptation to compromise.
  • For the future, provide training on alcohol/illegal substances – Make employees aware of both working and driving whilst under the influence of an intoxicating substances.
  • Finally, make sure you adopt an Alcohol and Drugs Policy and Procedure – available from QCS

The NHS have predicted that the UK population will drink an astounding 41 per cent more in December compared with the annual monthly average. So be aware that you might just need to use this advice.

Anita Manfredi of Employer Solutions – QCS HR Expert Contributor


Topics: Human Resources

Sarah Riley

Senior Customer Care Executive

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