Lawyers urge caution on firing staff drinkers

An employee’s tendency to drink may not be reason enough to sack him or her, a lawyer specialising in HR has claimed.

Alan Jones, HR partner at law firm DLA, come in the wake of BA’s decision to suspend a number of pilots for allegedly drinking in a prohibited period before flying.

Channel Four’s Dispatches programme last month seemed to show 11 pilots and three cabin crew drinking just hours before take-off.

Jones said: "Clearly if someone is in an occupation where safety is of paramount importance such as a pilot, forklift truck driver or a gas fitter, then drinking on or off the job is a major concern.

"But sacking someone because they drink too much is fraught with difficulties unless their contract of employment specifically states a policy on alcohol – for example, a prohibition on pilot’s drinking eight hours before they are due to fly."

Jones urged employers to look for regular patterns of absence to identify any underlying problems.

He said: "Where staff are often off work, there is sometimes a pattern to the behaviour of a persistent absentee, such as failing to turn up for work on the Monday following the home fixture of a favourite football team, or after a stag weekend.

"Employers should have systems in place to monitor sickness absence and ensure sickness certificates are followed correctly and recorded."

He said requiring general staff to undergo a medical or take a drink or drugs test could prompt a challenge under the Human Rights Act.

He added: "But where it is a safety issue, for example for train and taxi drivers, it should be clearly set down in contracts."

By Richard Staines



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