Managing Alcohol Misuse in the Workplace
Misusing alcohol in any situation can be extremely dangerous to both your physical and psychological health. When it comes to misusing alcohol in the workplace, there’s a more serious issue at hand as you’re involving more people including your colleagues and the business you work for.
It’s well known that alcohol has a negative effect on the functionality of your brain which results in poor decision-making; this puts yourself and those around you at greater risk, particularly within a working environment.
If you suspect that a colleague or employee is misusing alcohol in the workplace, you’ll usually notice that they’re taking more time off work, not performing to a good standard, or are having more accidents. It’s important to remember that this person may be suffering from an addiction to alcohol which is a complex disease that requires professional help from a rehab centre.
We mustn’t judge others when we don’t know what they’re going through, but we should always try to help where possible. If you do suspect that someone is misusing alcohol in the workplace, you should report this to your line manager as they’re putting themselves and other people at risk.
It is then up to the organisation to investigate the matter whilst seeking out support for the person in need where appropriate.
Alcohol Addiction in the Workplace
Alcohol misuse severely impacts your physical coordination and judgement which is directly linked to more accidents occurring where alcohol has been consumed.
Alcohol abuse in the workplace will also result in lower productivity, increased absence, poor performance, poor punctuality, inappropriate behaviour, conflict with colleagues, increased work burden on colleagues, unsafe practices, negative team morale, and damage to the business reputation.
If you’re not sure whether a colleague or employee is suffering from alcohol addiction or is misusing alcohol in the workplace, then there are some common signs to look out for which can indicate that they’re abusing alcohol.
These signs include sudden mood changes, confusion about certain things, poor timekeeping, dishonesty or theft, repeated sickness and absence, irritability, aggression, poor concentration, poor performance, negative relationships with colleagues, customers, and friends, and unusual fluctuations in energy.
Whilst these are common signs associated with alcohol misuse in the workplace, it’s important to note that these could also be signs of stress, depression, or other medical conditions so also approach a situation with an open mind.
How Can You Manage Alcohol Misuse in the Workplace?
There are some very important steps to take when managing alcohol misuse in the workplace.
Firstly, understanding the legalities around alcohol misuse in the workplace is vital. The Health & Safety Act 1974 states the legal duty that the employer has to provide for the health, safety and welfare of their employees.
Similarly, employees also have a responsibility to take care of their health and safety in the workplace. If an employer knowingly allows an employee to work under the influence of alcohol where their actions could put themselves and others at risk, then the employer could be committing a serious offence.
To limit risk, all employers should create and implement a workplace substance misuse policy to form part of the business’s commitment to health and safety which will help to safeguard customers and employees.
The workplace alcohol policy should include a definition of alcohol misuse so that there are no queries, an explanation as to why the policy exists and why it’s so important, the regulations and rules on alcohol consumption, and help and support that’s available to those who need it, and a statement to encourage employees who may be misusing alcohol to seek out help voluntarily before the problem escalates.
Implementing a screening process for alcohol misuse isn’t a legal requirement for all employers, however, it is advisable within safety-critical positions such as railway or airline workers. Some people view this testing and screening to be unethical or immoral, the topic does have some legal issues surrounding it.
If you do decide to implement testing for alcohol, then it should be introduced alongside a policy that explains the need for testing and the procedures that need to be followed.
Fitness for Work
Whilst testing and screening can sometimes be frowned upon, implementing an assessment of fitness for work ensures that an employee is fit to perform certain tasks without a high risk to themselves or others; this may need to be adapted depending on the job at hand to make sure it’s carried out effectively and safely.
If you’re not sure where to start, then an occupational health expert can offer professional advice to both employers and employees. As an employer, you should understand the severity of the situation so that you can make adjustments in the workplace and manage the problem properly.
Before creating and introducing a workplace policy for alcohol misuse, it’s a good idea to consult with your employees alongside safety representatives. You must ensure complete transparency in the process with the aim to support your staff, not judge them.
You should make any misunderstandings very clear and involve everyone in creating the policy to provide a sense of ownership, trust, and respect for the process.
Having a transparent policy in place is critical so that all employees and the employer know how to deal with alcohol misuse. This will give everyone a clear starting point on how to deal with any situation of this kind and ensure they’re equipped to manage the problem effectively.
If you do identify someone who has an alcohol misuse issue, then you must consider whether they’re fit to work and whether they can perform their duties safely. If you can’t answer yes to both of those questions, then you must encourage them to seek out professional support whilst supporting them yourself as an employer.
We offer an employer referral service to help you if you think an employee is suffering from an addiction.