Get a Handle on Office Alcohol Policies

Posted by Melanie on

Christmas can be quite a boozy time of year: Not only are you faced with the potential minefield that is an office Christmas party, but drinks with friends and family outside of work could also impact upon office life. Peter Ames, from has written this short guide to make you aware of the key alcohol-based legislation in the workplace.

Alcohol in the workplace: The legals

When it comes to any policy, good employers know exactly where they stand legally. Relating to alcohol consumption, the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) highlight the following acts, under which employers have legal obligations:

• Health and Safety at work act (section 2): Makes employers responsible for the health and safety of workers during their time at work. Christmas parties generally still count as work.
• Management of Health and Safety at work Regulations 1990: Employers are obliged to asses any risks to employee health and safety. Bosses who ignore employees under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and as a result put themselves or others at risk as a result, can be prosecuted.

Employers may also want to consider writing an alcohol policy. Health and Safety Executive (HSE) have an excellent example but in summary it is advised employers take the following steps:

• Decide when you’re going to inform employees about alcohol in your office, and whether or not you need to create a formal written policy
• List all relevant people in the workplace you need to discuss alcohol policy with (e.g. HR etc.)
• Choose steps you can take to limit employee drinking
• Discover whether or not there are problems and how you will determine the point at which you should act
• Work out if and when alcohol-related issues are a disciplinary factor, rather than a matter of health/wellbeing
• Provide training to employees or even general information about health

Alcohol and the Christmas party

As we’ve mentioned, these can be particularly under the spotlight around Christmas. When it comes to the Christmas party itself there are a few basic steps you can take to reduce alcohol-related issues:

• Make water readily available
• Provide food alongside any alcohol supplied
• Be generous but try to impose reasonable limits on the alcohol you make available
• Make sure employees have made suitable arrangements to get home post-party
• Consider supplying transport yourself so employees can leave safely

In terms of extra legislation, there is nothing specific covering Christmas parties. However, with spirits high (and spirits flowing) there is increased scope for all manner of issues: Factors such as harassment and discrimination could potentially be a higher risk at these occasions, so just be aware of any behaviour that might be heading in these directions and act accordingly.

Words from an expert

Ciaron Dunne is MD of Office Genie and a former director at International Workplace. We asked him for some expert advice about alcohol policies in the workplace.

What is your opinion on employees drinking? Do you think it could have an effect on their productivity?

In my experience the vast majority of people are responsible in this respect. If issues (i.e. employees turning up to work hungover) are a very occasional instance then the overall effect on productivity is negligible, and - as far as possible - as an employer you don't want to be infringing on people's private lives.

If recurrent then there's actually an effect which is more immediate than productivity - other members of staff tend to notice and complain very quickly, in which case it needs to be dealt with immediately to avoid general dissatisfaction.

What would you do if you had employees turning up to work showing the obvious effects of alcohol?

My view is that you need a system which allows for this. No wants to be sitting in an office hungover, and no-one wants a hungover employee. It's massively helpful if you have a system which allows staff to take half a day's leave or vary their hours at short notice. It encourages honesty.

Have you ever had any problems revolving around employees and their alcohol intake?
No workplace incidents or injuries in my history as employer - but office environments are potentially lower risk. Research does show people might be up to 70% more likely to sustain an injury at work when they have been drinking, so it is clearly an issue, particularly in labour-intensive roles.

What are your top tips for a hassle-free Christmas party?

More of the same really, Christmas parties should be about fun and celebrating, rather than imposing limits upon your employees. Maybe open the office a little later the next day and, of course, act if you see an issue arise (order taxis for employees for example) but in general it’s a good policy to trust employees and hope this is reciprocated.

Peter Ames is web editor at Office Genie, a desk and office space marketplace in the UK.