Small businesses and lunchtime drinking: The HR debate

Here, Alan Price comments on Lloyds of Londons's decision to prevent employees from consuming alcohol at lunch.

How can employers tackle drinking during working hours?

How can employers tackle drinking during working hours?

The news that Lloyds of London have introduced a policy banning consumption of alcohol during core working hours has divided opinion; some are shocked that this rule needs to be explicitly laid down whilst others are wondering at the extent of employers control over staffs’ private time. As factors such as workloads and workplace pressure increases, these are contributing towards lunch time drinking becoming a social norm. How can employers tackle drinking during working hours?

It is important that employees are made aware that lunch breaks can be viewed as an extension of the working day and not the employee’s own time. This will depend on factors such as whether the employee leaves the office, if they take lunch at their desk and what effect the alcohol will have on the employee’s work after their break. Health and safety is a major issue especially where the drinking member of staff will go on to undertake duties such as operating heavy machinery.

In similar fashion to Lloyds of London, employers who wish to prevent this happening should introduce a drugs and alcohol policy. The policy should cover all areas of the working day including those which may be viewed as non-work time, for example lunch breaks, client visits, working lunches etc. It should contain exactly what is and isn’t acceptable from employees in relation to consuming alcohol and the potential consequences if the policy is breached. Employers should get signed and dated evidence that the policy has been received, read and understood by all members of staff; this will be important when relying on the details set out in the policy in the future.

Simply having a policy will not prevent the consumption of alcohol so employers need to enforce it properly. This will be crucial in businesses similar to Lloyds of London where lunchtime drinking has become ingrained in the culture of the company. All members of staff should be trained on the policy and any incidents of drinking during working time should be addressed. Regardless of whether the policy breach is by a manager of a junior, they should be disciplined in line with any sanctions contained in the policy.

A less obvious way of preventing lunchtime drinking is to provide an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) or another form of workplace counselling to support employees. Lunch time drinking may be occurring because the employee is struggling to deal with personal issues or because they have an addiction to alcohol. These programmes will assist the employee in dealing with the root issue and any health problems and, in turn, will prevent lunch time alcohol consumption.

Alan Price is employment law director of Peninsula

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