Alcohol at Work Laws

  • Employee Conduct
Alcohol Abuse
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Peninsula Group, HR and Health & Safety Experts

(Last updated )

Alcohol is a big part of UK culture, so it is likely it will affect working life. Read here to help stop alcohol abuse and help your employees.

Alcohol can play a large part in an employee’s social life. It’s seen as a part of British culture to go to the pub and have a drink.

In England, over 25 million adults regularly drink alcohol, with 82% of adults saying they drank alcohol in the past 12 months and 49% of adults drinking at least once a week.

While it’s of no concern to you what an employee does outside of work, drinking can have an effect on the workplace.

Let’s look at what your responsibilities are as an employer regarding alcohol, and what the effects of it can be at work.

Problems of alcohol abuse at work

Alcohol and drug abuse by employees cause many expensive problems for business and industry ranging from lost productivity, injuries, and an increase in health insurance claims.

Here are a few examples:

  • Alcohol is a significant cause of low productivity.
  • Alcohol consumption increases work absences.
  • Colleagues notice those under the influence of drugs and alcohol at work, causing distractions.
  • Employees under the influence are more likely to make mistakes.

Lost productivity because of alcohol use costs the UK economy more than £7 billion annually. People may attend work hungover or still under the influence from the night before, consume alcohol before work or during the day.Health problems resulting from excessive drinking can also affect their work.

Which law covers alcohol misuse at work?

There are no employment laws specifically concerning the consumption of alcohol at work. But for some industries, other laws apply, which means drinking on the job isn’t allowed.

For instance, any job that means you’ll have to drive, operate machinery or public transport, means you have to abide by either the Transport and Works Act 1992 or the Road Traffic Act 1988.

While there are no employment laws relating to being under the influence of alcohol at work, there’s some health and safety legislation that relates to drinking at work.

Health and safety of alcohol at work

Under sections 2, 3 and 4 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, all employers have a legal duty to ensure the health, safety and welfare of their employees.

If you knowingly allow an employee under the influence of alcohol (or drugs) to continue working, and this places the employee or others at risk, you could be liable to charges.

Under section 7 of the Act, it also requires employees to take reasonable care of themselves and others who they could with what they do. Employees, too, could be liable to charge if their alcohol consumption (or drug-taking) put the safety of others at risk.

Therefore, for those organisations with significant safety risks, it is essential that you develop a policy that realistically reflects the risk factors. Given that we know that alcohol abuse is more likely than any other substance abuse, there should be an assumption that there is a high potential for alcohol-related problems.

Alcohol at work disciplinary in the UK

As employment law doesn’t specifically prohibit it, you can write your own policy which does. Many organisations will choose to bar the consumption of alcohol during working hours due to the negative impact it could have on their business.

If your policy states that’s misconduct or gross misconduct, this means employees who break the rules will normally face disciplinary action.

Others may take a more relaxed approach and allow moderate drinking during lunch breaks or when with clients, as long as it does not impair their ability to perform their work.

Is drinking alcohol at work gross misconduct?

Your policy should clearly state that if an employee reports for work when unfit due to the influence of alcohol, this may be regarded as a gross misconduct offence.

It’s important to make sure that your disciplinary and substance misuse policies properly define misconduct and that you properly considered the health and safety implications.

However, sacking employees isn’t often the best course of action. Supporting them with workplace counselling and other support networks can be the best option.

Expert support on employee conduct with Peninsula

Managing employee conduct can be hard. Here at Peninsula, we can help you with every step. This includes policy or even holding talks with employees.

Get our expert team to draft policy for you. Peninsula clients get access to 24/7 HR to consult our specialists on or secure air-tight contracts with our document experts.

Want to find out more? Contact us on 0800 028 2420 and book a free consultation with an HR consultant today.

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