Weekly dilemma: Alcohol at work

One of my male employees was seen drinking vodka in the office toilets. He’s since admitted to me that he has a drinking problem. How should I handle the situation? Can I sack him, or should I support him?

This question raises both legal and practical concerns and, in short, the situation needs to be handled sensitively. You should, at the outset, review and follow any company policies that address alcohol in the workplace. Subject to those policies, you should meet with the employee to discuss the incident and clarify whether this is a conduct or a capability issue, as this will determine the relevant process that needs to be followed.

Given that the employee was drinking at work, you can treat the incident as a misconduct issue. However, if the employee does indeed have a drinking problem, then you should treat this as a capability issue. If you decide to treat the incident as a capability issue, you should ask the employee for consent to approach his GP to discuss his condition and seek ways of assisting the employee. Any information received from the GP should be carefully considered.

Although alcoholism is not a disability, there is a possibility that the employee might be disabled if there is a resulting or underlying condition arising from the alcoholism; alternatively, the employee’s alcoholism may have developed as a result of a disability, such as depression. If this is the case, you will be under a statutory duty to consider making reasonable adjustments which may help the employee.

While you are obtaining information as to the employee’s condition, you should also consider additional support. You should also think about offering the employee paid leave as this may help to protect the welfare of the employee and also the interests of the business while the medical information is obtained. Counselling services may also be offered.

If, however, you judge the employee’s drinking as misconduct, you must follow your disciplinary policy. The employee should be suspended from his duties and invited to a disciplinary hearing. An investigation will need to be undertaken and the evidence and allegations discussed in full at any subsequent hearing.

Kate Meadowcroft, partner, DWF

XpertHR FAQs on employment issues involving alcohol

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