U.K.: Can Employers Ban Lunchtime Drinking?

By John Hunter © Brodies LLP Mar 6, 2017
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In the popular imagination boozy lunches remain a quintessential element of the lifestyle of a city professional in the United Kingdom. A lunch time pint with colleagues or a few bottles of wine over lunch with a client have long been seen as a fundamental element of the day-to-day for bankers, brokers and traders in the capital.

This is perhaps why it was greeted with such surprise, and in some quarters indignation, when the city institution Lloyd's of London announced to staff that it was implementing a zero tolerance policy on drinking between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.

The much reported and commented on move from Lloyd's came after their own analysis showed that around half of all disciplinary and grievance issues in the last year were alcohol related.

The memo, to 800 of Lloyd's directly employed staff, reportedly noted that "the London market historically had a reputation for daytime drinking, but that has been changing and Lloyd's has a duty to be a responsible employer."

Many have welcomed the move away from a heavy-drinking culture, citing increasingly diverse workplaces and the need to attract talent following studies showing that under 25s are drinking less. Many Lloyd's employees were not so enamoured with the move however, with some labelling it at best nannying—and at worst Orwellian.

Can We Ban Lunchtime Drinking?

Your policy should set clear parameters around when (if at all) employees are allowed to consume alcohol, and explain why any restrictions are being imposed. Like Lloyd's, you can ban drinking during breaks and lunch times, both on and off your premises. If you want to allow drinking, for example when entertaining clients or at work social events, it's worth reminding employees that this should be done responsibly and without bringing the business into disrepute.

Ensure staff are made aware of your policy, and that it makes clear that noncompliance could amount to gross misconduct leading to dismissal.

Workbox users can access our template drug and alcohol policy.

Disciplinary Action?

Action relating to alcohol consumption should be appropriate to the circumstances. There may well be a disciplinary issue, but additional or alternative steps, perhaps relating to an individual's health or performance, may be appropriate if there could be an underlying problem of substance misuse. Health and safety issues will also be at the forefront of many employers' minds.

Remember that, while alcohol addiction is not itself a disability under the Equality Act 2010, employees with a mental or physical condition arising out of addiction (or contributing to their addiction) may well be disabled.

Is Alcohol Testing Allowed?

Regular alcohol testing has become increasingly prevalent in recent years. However, you should carry out a detailed risk assessment before embarking on this route. This will involve weighing up the proposed benefit against the invasion of employees' privacy. Routine or random testing is more likely to be justifiable in high risk sectors such as construction, rather than for instance retail or clerical work.

Workbox users can access our guide to drug and alcohol testing.

The news from Lloyd's reminds us that drinking and staff conduct remain a real issue for employers regardless of sector or scale. For all employers it is prudent to have an alcohol policy, and take appropriate steps when issues arise.

© 2017 Brodies LLP. All rights reserved. Reposted with permission of Lexology

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