The number of people drinking at high-risk levels has almost doubled since before lockdown. According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCP) “An estimated 8.4 million people drinking high-risk amounts of alcohol in June, compared to 4.8 million people four months earlier”. So now is as good a time as any to consider your approach to alcohol misuse in the workplace.
Although alcohol dependency in itself is not considered to be a disability under the Equality Act 2010, physical and mental conditions which arise from it, or which are the root cause of it, can be. Approaching conversations surrounding alcohol dependency can be difficult for employers but are crucial. Here we provide tips on how to spot alcohol problems and how to tactfully open up a dialogue with an employee.
Signs to look out for if you suspect alcohol dependency…
- Increased absence or lateness
- Poor work performance
- Inability to focus on tasks
- Missing deadlines
- Falling asleep at work
- Avoiding supervisors
- Change in behaviour (i.e. erratic tendencies)
Check your drugs and alcohol policy
Whilst there is substantial employment legislation impacting upon the management of alcohol and drug misuse in the workplace, employers should always refer to their own company policies in the first instance. These should be tailored to the particular organisation and its activities, e.g. in transport-related roles, alcohol and drug testing may be a mandatory requirement, whereas in office-based roles this may not be permissible under current Data Protection Law.
Start the conversation by being supportive…
If you suspect that an employee has an alcohol problem, it is advisable to treat the problem as a wellbeing issue in the first instance. It’s important for the employee to feel that they can disclose any problems confidentially.
Use open-ended questions and non-judgemental terms
- How are you feeling?
- We’ve noticed you seem very tired lately; do you know why this is?
- How have you adapted to working from home?
- You seem to be late a lot, why is this and how can we help?
Avoiding questions that employees can give yes/no answers to, will give you a better understanding of their situation and how you can help and support them.
If your employee does open up regarding an alcohol problem, it’s also important to ensure you use the correct language to avoid confrontational situations. For example, use terms such as ‘relying on alcohol’ or ‘having problems with alcohol’ rather than ‘alcoholism’, ‘addicted’ or ‘alcoholic’.
Agree on the next steps…
If you have an Employee Assistance Programme in place, remind the employee how they can use these services, or alternatively signpost the employee to external services such as those that may be available from their GP, or by seeking specialist advice from AA, Drinkaware or FRANK. Keep in mind that employees may feel more comfortable discussing these issues outside of a work environment.
Always encourage open communication
It’s important to keep a dialogue going and have further review meetings with the employee. By following this guidance, employers can hopefully work with the employee to tackle the problem before it causes a serious issue.
What if it doesn’t work?
Where the employer believes that an alcohol issue is having an impact upon performance, and the issue has not been resolved informally, the employer should refer to its Performance Management or Disciplinary Procedure as appropriate. Where there is a belief that an employee has attended work whilst actually under the influence of alcohol (rather than just experiencing a reduced performance due to the after-effects of alcohol consumption at home), this is a much more serious issue, potentially constituting gross misconduct under most Disciplinary Policies. However, it is important for the employer to follow a thorough disciplinary investigation and to consider the particular circumstances of the case and any mitigating factors before deciding on appropriate action.
Now might be a good time for employers to get involved with Alcohol Awareness Week, 16-22 November 2020. The theme of this year’s campaign is ‘Alcohol and Mental Health’ and posters, social media images and factsheets are available to help employers promote employee engagement.
Visit here for more info.
If you need further guidance on approaching an alcohol-related issue or any other issues within the workplace, please get in touch and one of our advisors will be able to help.