- employees coming to work with a hangover;
- staff drinking socially at lunchtime thus becoming less productive and, potentially, putting the safety of other employees at risk;
- sickness absence through prolonged alcohol misuse outside of work.
In some cases, excessive alcohol consumption may be the manifestation of a drinking problem. If employers suspect that this is the case, they will need to decide how best to manage the situation and support the employee:
- What has caused the alcoholism: depression, stress, personal issues?
- To whom can employers turn to get more information on individuals’ personal circumstances?
- What adjustments may need to be made at work to support staff?
- Can employees continue working whilst their cases are being dealt with?
In some situations there may be a case for considering screening workers in safety critical jobs, but screening is only likely to be acceptable if it is part of an organisation’s occupational health and safety, or drug and alcohol, policy. However, screening cannot be seen as a solution in itself.
Employers have a duty under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 to look after the health, safety and wellbeing of their employees. This means that employers must take action if they fear that an employee is putting themselves or their colleagues at risk by consuming alcohol. As part of a programme of prevention, organisations could consider the inclusion of awareness programmes, which will help with preventing problems from developing in the first place. Employers could also consider the provision of support for those who are identified as having a problem.
Overuse of alcohol plays a fundamental role in the development of a number of conditions, including certain cancers, diabetes and mental health issues. All of these are known to contribute to long-term sickness absence, which can have an extremely detrimental effect on organisations and individuals. Fit for Work aims to support those who are in work with health conditions, and help organisations to manage sickness absence. Guidance on work-related health issues can be sought from Fit for Work, and employed people who have been (or are likely to be) off work for four weeks or more can be referred for a free, professional occupational health assessment.