Under the influence: dealing with drugs and alcohol during the festive period

There’s probably loads of things that you’re looking forward to now that the festive period is here. Mince pies for breakfast, putting your feet up for a few days of well-earned rest and, of course, the age-old tradition of work’s Christmas party.

Merry-making is so much part and parcel of the time of year, but it can have some not-so-merry consequences. Party season means more opportunities for drinking, whether it’s the Christmas do or meet-ups with friends and family. With that comes the risk of team members coming into work over the legal limit, inebriated or under the influence of drugs.

A whitepaper by the Institute of Alcohol Studies quotes findings by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence that up to 17 million working days are lost each year in the UK because of alcohol-related sickness. In turn this costs employers an estimated a£1.7bn per year.

If you don’t like those odds, there are certain things you can do to mitigate this risk of the worst happening. We’ve outlined four key areas for you to be aware of in the run up to Christmas.

Communication is key

When it comes to the impending Christmas party, you need to ensure that your policy around responsible drinking is clearly communicated with all of your team members. Whether you have a meeting beforehand, or you send out a clearly drafted email with reference to your alcohol and drugs policy if you have one. It’s important that everyone is on the same page from the very start. Ultimately, the Christmas party is an extension of the workplace and behaviour should reflect that.

Be risk-aware

Do your staff drive as part of their jobs? Obviously, at this time of year there’s a heightened drink driving awareness campaign on behalf of police, which will affect everyone, right down to those who are simply commuting.

For those that drive professionally they will be unable to undertake their driving duties if they’re found to be over the limit. Whether it’s the aftermath of the Christmas function, or following a few social drinks the night before, if a driver is convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol then they will lose their license and potentially, their job. Be sure to remind your team that the risk simply isn’t worth it.

Handling dangerous equipment

It’s not just a person’s ability to drive that’s in question when they’re under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol. If your business is based in construction or manufacturing, it’s likely that some or all of your staff will be operating dangerous equipment or working at height.

Needless to say, this is extremely dangerous when someone’s judgement is significantly impaired by intoxicating substances. From forklifts to slicers to high-stack shelving, an impaired employee is not only a danger to themselves but to others too. Be risk-averse and spare you and your business a world of pain.

Offer continued support

If you suspect that an employee is under the influence, or might have a more serious, chronic problem with alcohol or drugs, it’s important to keep an open-door policy. Encourage anyone who’s struggling to come and speak to you or their manager, so you can ensure they get the right support and you can both reach an agreement on how to go forward.

We’ve got you covered

Hopefully, it never happens, but if you do find yourself facing a situation involving inappropriate use of drugs or alcohol in your business, whether it’s over Christmas or not, and you need help handling it, get in touch with our Employment Law experts on 0345 844 1111 or use the form on this page.

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