Managing Alcohol Misuse in the Workplace: Considerations for Employers

Managing Alcohol Misuse in the Workplace: Considerations for Employers

This year, Alcohol Awareness Week falls on 1-7 July 2024. This is a good opportunity for employers to consider how they handle alcohol misuse, or workers struggling with an alcohol dependency in the workplace.

Alcohol misuse is a major public health concern in the UK, leading to thousands of deaths each year and impacting numerous lives through health issues, social problems, and economic burdens.

Employers have a legal duty to ensure the health, safety, and welfare of their workers. This includes addressing issues related to alcohol misuse.

From an employer’s perspective, alcohol misuse in the workplace can have serious implications, affecting productivity, safety, and the overall work environment. Here are key considerations to help you navigate this sensitive area effectively.

Train Managers to Recognise the Signs of Alcohol Misuse

Supervisors and managers should be trained to recognise signs of alcohol misuse in workers, which may include frequent absences or lateness (perhaps with a particular pattern); a decline in performance; erratic behaviour; and smelling of alcohol during working hours.

Ensuring that managers are trained in early identification can help address the issue and provide crucial support to the employee before the issue escalates.

Develop a Clear Alcohol Policy

Employers should develop a comprehensive alcohol policy which should prohibit alcohol consumption during working hours and on company premises. Employers are likely to insist that employees must not attend work “under the influence” of alcohol. Employers may also with to consider providing guidelines for alcohol consumption at work events or client functions.

Employers should offer support mechanisms, such as Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) and referrals to counselling services. Ensure that all employees are aware of and understand this policy.

How to Address Situations of Alcohol Misuse

Alcohol misuse may affect an employee’s long term performance or attendance, even if there are no breaches of the rules on consumption at work. If it becomes clear that a worker has or may be misusing alcohol it is important to handle the situation confidentially to protect the worker’s privacy.

During any discussions with the worker, focus on the behaviour and its impact on work performance rather than making personal judgments and ensure that support is offered and encouraged, such as access to medical help. It is crucial to document all interactions and steps taken to ensure there is a clear record. 

Safety Critical Roles

When a worker with an alcohol misuse issue holds a safety-critical role, employers must carefully handle such situations to ensure both the worker’s well-being and workplace safety. Employers should adhere to relevant health and safety regulations, which may require the removal of the worker from safety-critical tasks until they are deemed fit for duty, and conduct risk assessments to determine the impact of the worker’s condition on workplace safety.

Employers may wish to carry out alcohol testing, particularly for safety critical roles. In jobs like these, the misuse of alcohol could have disastrous effects for the worker, colleagues, members of the public and the environment. Random testing (where there is no specific concern about an employee) is a contentious issue but may be justified in safety-critical roles.

Employees must consent to screening for practical and legal reasons, and screening should be clearly addressed in the alcohol policy and/or the health and safety policy. Screening must be carried out properly to ensure samples cannot be contaminated and that analysis is accurate. 

Employees cannot be forced to take a test but, if the employer makes a reasonable request in terms of the relevant policy, refusal may lead to disciplinary action

Disciplinary Procedures

Where it is apparent that alcohol misuse is continuing despite offers of support, and it is impacting on performance, conduct or attendance, disciplinary or other formal action may be necessary.

It is important to ensure that any steps taken are in line with your alcohol policy and disciplinary policy and that the process is fair and compliant with the ACAS Code of Practice on Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures.

Support and Rehabilitation

Employers should carefully consider what they can do to assist workers who have been struggling with alcohol misuse and may consider offering flexible working arrangements during recovery. Employers may also consider a phased return to work and regular follow-up meetings to monitor progress and provide ongoing support, where an employee is returning to work after an absence due to alcohol misuse.

Preventative Measures

Employers should consider implementing preventative measures. Employers could encourage healthy lifestyle choices in the workplace by organising health and wellbeing workshops or initiatives and providing access to fitness facilities or wellness programs. Employers may also wish to bring awareness to alcohol misuse by running events during Alcohol Awareness Week.


Managing alcohol misuse in the workplace requires a balanced approach that combines legal compliance with compassionate support. An employer need not “put up” indefinitely with the negative impacts of alcohol abuse, but at least initially should adopt a supportive approach, recognising alcohol dependency as an illness. By developing clear policies, recognising signs early, offering support, and maintaining fair disciplinary procedures, employers can create a safe and productive work environment.

If you would like further information on these topics do not hesitate to contact a member of BTO’s Employment Law Team.

This update contains general information only and should not be construed as providing legal or other professional advice.

Laura Salmond, Partner & Accredited Specialist in Employment Law: / 0141 225 5315 Connect with Laura on LinkedIn

Kimberley Tochel, Trainee Solicitor: / 0141 221 8012 / Connect with Kimberley on LinkedIn