Alcohol Policy

Last reviewed on 30/04/2013 14:24

Alcohol can be a cause of workplace accidents and is a major cause of ill health, low productivity and absenteeism.

This page outlines why organisations should have an alcohol policy, legal obligations on employers and how to develop a policy for your workplace.

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How common are workplace alcohol policies?

It is estimated that 65% of Scottish companies already have an alcohol policy (Health Scotland figure).

The costs associated with alcohol at work, the impact of current legislation, and the notable links between alcohol and ill health suggest that alcohol policies are becoming an essential part of good business practice.

Small and large businesses alike are advised by major bodies such as the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) and the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) to adopt alcohol policies.

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Why have an alcohol policy?

Surveys suggest that employers' reasons for adopting a policy include:

Absenteeism/sickness In 2001, sick days caused by alcohol misuse were estimated to have cost the Scottish economy £184m in lost productivity (Scottish Government figure).

Staff performance 45% of male and 28% of female heavy drinkers report that the after-effects of their drinking had affected their work in the past week.

75% of problem drinkers are in full-time employment.

Safety 25% of all accidents at work are reported as involving alcohol in some way.

Employee welfare A year after receiving treatment, only 7.7% individuals referred for alcohol counselling had been dismissed from their jobs as a result of their alcohol problem.

(Figures from Alcohol in the Workplace - a simple guide - see further information)

Employee benefits Employees can benefit from a good alcohol policy. Benefits include:

  • assistance for those with alcohol problems
  • health education
  • fair and consistent procedures.


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Legal duties and obligations around alcohol

As well as the moral duty of employers to protect employees and members of the public, General Health and Safety Legislation covers all employers and workplaces.

Employers and employees are required by law to address the issue of alcohol in the workplace.

Relevant legislation includes:

  • the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974
  • statutory legislations, e.g. the Transport and Works Act 1992.


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Key steps in developing an alcohol policy

When developing a policy, the following stages should be observed:

  1. seek expert advice from a specialist agency
  2. develop a mechanism to enable management, trade unions and employee representatives to participate in policy development (e.g. joint working party)
  3. develop a draft policy
  4. negotiate and consult with key personnel on the proposed policy (e.g. health and safety representatives, occupational health staff, and line managers)
  5. amend the policy as necessary, and if appropriate, give advanced notice of any change of working conditions (e.g. alcohol-free working environment)
  6. implement the policy
  7. review and monitor the policy on a regular basis.


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Principles behind an alcohol policy

An alcohol policy should be underpinned by the following principles:

Clear statement of intent A policy should be a written statement of intent outlining how the organisation will deal with the issue of alcohol and problem drinking at work.

Commitment to joint negotiation For a policy to work in practice it should be based on joint negotiation and/or consultation between management, trade unions and/or employee representatives.

Clearly stated policy objectives Policy objectives generally fall into:

  • prevention of alcohol problems at work
  • commitment to ensuring the health, safety and well-being of employees
  • provision of help for employees with alcohol problems
  • procedures for defining the role and responsibilities of management when dealing with alcohol problems at work
  • a commitment to education, training and monitoring.

It is applicable to all employees A policy should be applicable to all employees, regardless of status. In cases where restrictions are placed on employees in 'safety-sensitive' occupations, policy rules should be clearly explained and defined.

Confidentiality The maintenance of strict confidentiality is fundamental to an alcohol policy.


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What should an alcohol policy cover?

An alcohol policy should address the use and possession of alcohol in and around the working day.

Some of the issues that may be considered include:

  • the availability of alcohol in the working premises
  • consumption of alcohol in and around working hours
  • alcohol consumption and the use of company vehicles.

The policy should also:

  • take account of relevant legislation
  • adhere to best practice when dealing with disciplinary cases involving alcohol
  • establish clear procedures for dealing with employees whose work performance is adversely affected by alcohol.

Policy provisions may include:

  • referral for counselling/treatment
  • discipline held in abeyance, where appropriate
  • protection of present job and future promotion prospects.

Policy conditions may include:

  • resolution of work performance problems
  • consent to a reporting regime with counselling/treatment agency
  • limited relapse.

The policy should encourage early intervention in alcohol problems via education and training initiatives, including:

  • alcohol awareness campaigns aimed at all employees
  • training seminars for key personnel involved in policy implementation.


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Getting help to develop an alcohol policy

There is no such thing as a standard alcohol policy. Organisations, from the very large to the very small, need to develop a policy to suit their individual needs.

The type of policy required will depend upon the nature of the organisation, the culture, size and structure of the workplace, and the rationale behind the policy development.

It is strongly advised that you seek expert help to assist you in the development of a policy suited to the needs of your organisation.

Here are some potential sources of such assistance:

Professional trainers Health Scotland, Alcohol Focus Scotland and the Industrial Society have trained a network of professionals on the subject of alcohol in employment. A central list of qualified trainers can be obtained by telephoning Health Scotland on 0131 536 5500.

Health boards Health boards have a range of specialists including those from health promotion and occupational health who can provide you with help. To find your local specialist, contact your health board (listed under 'Health' in your telephone directory).

Alcohol Focus Scotland (AFS) AFS can provide in-house specialists in the field of workplace alcohol policies and/or direct you to a network of local alcohol counselling agencies. To find out what's available in your area, telephone Alcohol Focus Scotland on 0141 572 6700.


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Your questions on alcohol

Can I insist my drivers take an alcohol test if I suspect they have been drinking?

Further information on alcohol in the workplace

Free resources from Healthy Working Lives Links below are to publications pages giving options to download these resources:

Free guidance from Health Scotland Links are to publications pages on the Health Scotland website giving download options for these resources:

Free guidance from the Health and Safety Executive Links are to external pages on the HSE website giving options to download or order these resources:

Free guidance from The Institute of Alcohol Studies

→ Download Alcohol and the Workplace (PDF - 206KB, external site)

Other sources of help and advice

Scottish Government Alcohol Campaign Site (external site) This public site from the Scottish Government contains much useful information on alcohol, including sections on alcohol at work and advice on cutting down.

Alcohol Focus Scotland (external site) Website of the Scottish alcohol issues charity, with advice, factsheets and more.


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