At this time of year, one area of particular difficulty for employers may be dealing with staff who are ‘under the influence’ of alcohol in the workplace, whether because of daytime drinking during work or drinking away from work.
Drinking or being under the influence of alcohol at work is a conduct matter, and the same principles apply to taking action over alcohol issues as with other conduct issues. If dealing with a disciplinary of a protected employee (e.g. over 2 years service), care should be taken in dealing with matters proportionately to the problems that arise.
A case that showed some of the pitfalls of dealing with alcohol at work is Liberty Living Plc v Reid, Mr Reid, a premises caretaker, was dismissed after being found by a manager having a shandy in a bar away from work during working hours. The legal reports don’t tell us what the manager was doing in the bar. Mr Reid faced a disciplinary for being ‘under the influence of alcohol’ at work, contrary to the employer’s alcohol policy. He maintained that he wasn’t ‘under the influence of alcohol’ as he had only had a shandy.
A close scrutiny of the employer’s Alcohol policy followed in Tribunal. The Tribunal accepted that Mr Reid was unaware of the policy, and went on to decide that even if he had been aware of it, the policy made a distinction between consuming alcohol during working hours and being under the influence of it. The employer’s allegation was not made out, and his dismissal was unfair. The decision was upheld on appeal, and this case highlights the importance of:
1. Making staff aware of policies.
2. When taking disciplinary action, make the allegation fit the situation, and align it with policies and make precise allegations. E.g. someone drinking a shandy at work might not be ‘under the influence’ but the proper allegation would be ‘drinking a shandy at work’.
Had the employee been aware of the Alcohol policy, and been found to have sneaked away from work (and faced that as an allegation) and been ‘consuming alcohol during working hours’, the dismissal might well have been fair.
Need help with an issue of conduct?
Find out what your options are by phoning Deminos on: 020 7870 1090.