Alcohol use and abuse constitute a real threat to the safety, health and welfare of people in the workplace; both to the abuser and other workers who might be affected by their acts, intentional or unintentional. The presence of alcohol abusers in the workplace can cause significant health and safety problems including stress among co-workers. Many employers recognise that the use of alcohol can affect the safety and well-being of people driving for work, operating machines, working at height, etc. and ban its consumption on work premises or during working hours.

Against this background it is important to remember that:

  • Employees with a drink problem have the same rights to confidentiality and support as with any other medical or psychological condition.
  • Disciplinary action should be a last resort. Dismissal may be found to be unfair if no attempt has been made to help an employee whose work problems are related to substance or alcohol abuse.
  • The cost of recruiting and training a replacement may be greater than the cost of allowing someone time off to obtain expert help.
  • Many people with an alcohol or substance abuse problem are able to regain full control over their life and return to their previous work performance.
  • It may be very difficult for people to admit to themselves or others that they have a problem. They need to know that you will treat their substance abuse as a health problem rather than an immediate cause for dismissal or disciplinary action.
  • If employees’ abuse of alcohol or other substances is a matter of concern, they should be encouraged to seek help from their GP or a specialist agency.