Unclear drug and alcohol policies can be problematic, warn experts

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A lack of clarity in drug and alcohol policies can spell trouble for employers, especially in tribunals, a panel of experts agreed yesterday.

Speaking at the Synergy Health Drugs at Work Conference in Surrey, Rhian Brace, employment law partner at Geldards LLP, warned that unclear or contradictory policies are often taken into account by judges when considering unfair dismissal claims.

“It’s essential you have clear rules on what will not be tolerated and what the consequences will be if those rules are breached,” she said.

“There have been a number of cases where an employer has dismissed a worker for breaches of the alcohol policy but the judge has ruled in the employee’s favour. This was because the policies weren’t clear enough so it was judged the member of staff was not made aware of what was required of him under the rules.”

Issues surrounding alcohol cost employers with 200 staff around £38,000 a year through absence and performance issues, according to addictions specialist and psychiatrist Dr Adam Winstock, quoting figures from The Global Drugs Survey. 

He added that all employers have a duty of care both for their staff and for the wider community.

“We find a lot of employers want strong drug and alcohol policies, not just to reduce costs and workplace accidents but out of a sense of responsibility for their staff,” he said.

“This helps in the workplace, but also if employers are acting more responsibly they’re less likely to cause trouble in wider society, preventing reputational damage to the company.”

Alcohol Concern workplace programme manager Lauren Booker added that alcohol policies present a different challenge to drugs as drinking is often part of a workplace culture. She explained that one of the most important things for leaders to do is lead by example.

“If people are aware of a policy of no alcohol consumption in working hours but see managers taking clients out for a drink during this time, it’s going to cause issues,” she said. “If employers are going to implement schemes to tackle alcohol use among staff, such as Dry January, the leaders need to be at the forefront for it to work.”

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