The Royal College of Psychiatrists have warned about the number of adults who have increased their drinking since the Coronavirus pandemic begun. They estimate that in June 2020 8.4million adults where drinking at riskier levels than in February 2020 when it was reported 4.8million were in this group.
Guidelines recommend that people drink no more than 14 units of alcohol over a 3day period. Leaving alcohol free days enabling the liver to recover.
Drugs are another concern for employers, and they do not have to be illegal drugs to cause an issue. Some legitimately GP prescribed medication can be highly addictive, and individuals can begin taking it in a way which has not been prescribed by the medical professional.
Whilst your employees may not be coming to work directly under the influence of drugs or alcohol, it does not mean that they do not have a problem with one or another – or both.
This creates numerous challenges for employers and not just those of a disciplinary nature. The health and wellbeing of employees is critical to any workplace to ensure a cohesive culture exists, and productivity levels and professionalism remain high. However, an employer’s responsibilities do not end there. There are moral and legal safeguarding factors to take into consideration i.e.: the safety of that employee and others including colleagues, customers, suppliers or members of the public who may be dealing with them.
So, what does an employer do?
If not already, organisations should be proactively introducing, communicating and training policies and procedures to their workforce. Employees should feel comfortable and supported when approaching their managers with concerns regarding their drinking or drug habits.
The structure of the policy should include the following areas: legislation, purpose and scope, the organisation’s expectations, support offered, procedures and consequences.
In producing a policy whilst, the framework and information should be clear and specific, procedurally each case should be taken on an individual basis whilst remaining fair and consistent.
The reason for this is considering an individual’s circumstances and mitigating factors which may have contributed to the situation/incident. It is important that any protected characteristics are considered and that an individual is not discriminated against.
A further area organisations must now address is that of homeworking. Duty of care does not stop just because an employee is not working from a desk in the office. Remote working can make it difficult for employers to identify and address issues, but it must not be ignored and included in the policy.
Establishing, promoting and maintaining a healthy and wellbeing culture is key to a healthy organisation. Contrary to what is often believed, it is not always about spending vast sums of money but it is often the smaller activities and interactions that make a huge difference and cost little – if nothing at all other than time and effort.
Increasingly, it has become apparent that whilst in a world where technology plays a crucial role, as human beings we still crave contact with others. Many organisations have a culture which includes socialising with work colleagues and whilst this can still be part of the culture a different slant maybe required. It is a key area often overlooked by employers.
It begins with a solid work/life balance. This is a term often used and yet for a few organisations is still only given lip service. This can be particularly challenging with employees having offices set up at home where they can access their systems on a 24/7 basis.
Work/life balance starts at the top. Are managers sending emails or making calls to their team members when they should be off duty? Do team members feel compelled to respond to requests and are fearful of the outcome if they do not.
Many employees (now more than ever) have responsibilities or are looking after dependants whether it is children, spouses, parents or other family members. Organisations should be actively and positively considering flexible working requests otherwise they are risk of contributing to the pressures an individual experiences or, at risk of them leaving the company.
The Friday night drinks at the pub maybe a thing of the past due to coronavirus restrictions however, organisations should be thinking anyway, of other social activities which promote a healthier lifestyle such as meeting up for walks or setting activity challenges.
The water cooler or coffee machine chat at work are still able to take place. Even when employees are working remotely. Virtual coffee or lunch breaks not only maintain social links and team moral but also endorse the work/life balance concept.
Nevertheless, employers be warned you can still be held vicariously liable for unacceptable and inappropriate employee behaviour at a virtual social event.
Managers should keep in touch with team members, not just by dropping an email but via online team and one-to-one meetings and telephone calls.
Continued training and development will demonstrate to anxious employees that they are still valued and have a part to play within the organisation. Not to mention that they will be improving their skills. There are numerous online training programs which are either free or at discounted prices.
Policy Training And Communication
Ensuring your document is a living policy by training and communicating to your workforce.
Onboarding/inducting new employees and refresher training to the existing team (maybe through an online meeting) on health and wellbeing procedures and activities can cover a broad area including work/life balance, dealing with stress, working from home, mental health and of course drink and drugs.
Training for all should include identifying behaviours in themselves or others which trigger concerns and how to deal with them, who to talk to and what support is available to them.
In terms of training your managers, it seems obvious but, how to keep in touch with your team, how to identify and raise concerns (covered later in this document) even if the employee thinks they are coping and how to deal with others gossiping about a colleague. Clarifying what options are also available to that manager so they in turn feel supported.
Many people can mask symptoms of drug misuse or drink issues even to their own family. However, there is usually some evidence over a period of time. Signs that an individual is experiencing alcohol of drug issues are as follows:
- Poor timekeeping and/or increased absence
- A decrease in performance or productivity
- Taking bigger risks potentially leading to more accidents
- Inappropriate and unacceptable behaviour
- Friction between the employee and other members of the team including discussing social media activity
- Complaints from customers
- Gossip and hearsay between colleagues
There is quite a lot of support available to people recovering from alcohol or drug addiction and their families . Increased awareness has meant this support is more widely known. For smaller organisations it is about knowing where to look for it. Larger ones may already have Employee Assistance Programs, Occupational Health and other resources already set up. Please refer to the appendices where there are the details of a few of those support groups.
However, supporting an employee is more than just pointing them in the right direction and leaving them to get on with it. It is about the employer adopting a flexible and adaptive approach to the employee. Allowing the employee to attend appointments in work time if required and showing genuine care and concern in the individual.
Other options open to the employer is redeployment to another department or adjusting duties so that they are not in a position where their safety or the safety of others is at risk; or the reputation of the business is at stake.
It is important that the employee knows, even if they have been subject to disciplinary action (which has not led to their dismissal) that they are fully supported by the organisation during recovery.
When the recovering employee is ready to return to their normal duties a plan should be discussed and mutually agreed as to what that will look like. Along with the consequences (including disciplinary action resulting in their dismissal) should they relapse.
Below are some examples of situations which a manager may have to deal with.
The Employee Approaches The Manager For Help
Creating a culture where there is mutual trust and respect enables individuals to confidently approach managers or HR with concerns and to seek help. Helping an employee who recognises they have a problem and want help in dealing with it, enables a proactive action plan to be put in place and ensures control of confidentiality.
In the first instance it is crucial for the manager to just listen to the employee in a non-judgemental manner. It is likely to have taken the employee an awful lot of courage to express how they are feeling.
Informing the employee of the support which is available to them would be the next step (See Appendix) and contacting those relevant groups as well as the employee’s GP.
Discussing with the employee in an open and honest conversation as to how the organisation will support them, what adjustments need to be made and future keeping-in-touch meetings. It is also important at this time to remind the employee of the policy and of the organisation’s expectations.
An Employee Approaches Their Manager With Concerns About A Colleague
It is important that this is handled sensitively. Managers’ need to listen to the employee raising the concerns, asking for examples to support what they are saying. The manager must find out from the employee who is aware of what they are saying. It is likely the matter has already been discussed between the team and confidentiality is paramount.
The manager/HR must decide what action they are going to take. They face the difficult but crucial task of approaching the employee whom the concerns have been raised. Rather than ploughing straight in with the question, it is more beneficial for the employee to be asked about some of the examples which could include: their appearance, sudden lateness/absence, their performance or conduct.
The manager/HR must listen to what the employee is saying in a non-judgemental way, asking open and probing questions. It is important that assumptions are not made. Some prescribed medication which is taken in the proper manner can cause drowsy side effects alternatively, they may be dealing with issues in their private life such as family or financial pressures, which are having an impact on them.
If, however, the employee agrees that they do have a problem, the manager/HR are able to move on to the subject of support etc.
The challenge comes if the employee denies there is an issue and there is no evidence that they are under the influence of alcohol or drugs during the meeting or an incident has not taken place. In terms what measures can be taken then; the manager/HR can only remind the employee of the policy, be vigilant in a fair manner and make a note on the employee’s file and of any action required by the employee in terms of improving their appearance, time keeping or performance etc. A further meeting maybe organised to review the progress in those actions.
The Employee Is Working Under The Influence Of Drugs/Alcohol
Firstly, the employee may need to be suspended. Almost always this would be done of full pay. Employees in this situation are suspended because they are a hazard to themselves, others (colleagues or customers etc) or/and the business.
The organisation’s disciplinary process should commence i.e. a full and fair investigation followed by a disciplinary hearing if required etc.
The investigation should include a full and clear conversation with the employee with them having the opportunity to discuss any issues they may be experiencing.
If the employee is found to be guilty of the allegations; being under the influence of alcohol or drugs, but an incident had not occurred, dismissal may not be the outcome (this will also depend on the role, industry and policy etc.) however, they may receive a warning or final warning. The support options should be offered to the employee for them to consider.
Whether the employee admits of denies the allegations , it is imperative they are aware of the policy and that if such a situation occurs in the future that further action may be taken against them, potentially leading to their dismissal.
What Happens If The Recovering Employee Relapses?
This is predominantly up to the organisation and the situation, previous conversations and action which was agreed.
Ultimately it could lead to dismissal of the employee, following an investigation and disciplinary meeting
Support Organisations – Alcohol
A good place to start is with your local GP. They will be able to review your health with you and advise you with any local groups. Below is the NHS website which also provides a wealth of information including the other groups listed below.
Support family members and partners who has been affected by someone else’s drinking.
Helpline: 0800 917 7650
Provides a free, confidential telephone and email helpline for children of alcohol-dependent parents and others concerned about their welfare.
Helpline: 0800 358 3456
Support Groups – Drugs
As with alcohol your GP and NHS is a good place to start for a review of your health, advice and guidance. Below is the NHS website details.
National self-help group specifically for cocaine users and based on the same principles as Alcoholics Anonymous.
Helpline: 0800 612 0225, open 10:00am to 10:00pm, 7 days a week
The largest self-help group for people who want to stop using drugs. Services are free. Their website details of your local groups
Helpline: 0300 999 1212
Talk to FRANK
A government-funded free service offering information and sources of support. The website provides detailed information on drugs that the non-specialist can understand.
Helpline: 0300 123 6600
Provides support to the user and family/partners
Helpline: 0300 124 0373