Posted on 15th February 2010

Coronation Street Storyline - Alcoholism in the Workplace

Latimer Hinks solicitors Partner Nick Poole is offering advice to employers in the wake of one of the central characters in a TV soap starting to drink again.

Nick Poole says while Peter Barlow in Coronation Street is self-employed, his fictional situation has brought the workplace and alcohol dependency into the spotlight.

"As a result of this high profile storyline, employers may be wondering what their rights and responsibilities are if they discover or suspect any of their staff has a drink problem, " said Nick.

"Some businesses see drug and alcohol dependence as an illness and believe the best approach is to help staff become rehabilitated the aim of this being to encourage employees to seek treatment.

"But bosses need to be aware there are legal obligations relating to staff with addictions, which can make them unfit for work as well as a danger to themselves and others.

Under the Health and Safety at Work Act, employers have a duty to protect the health, safety and welfare of their staff.

Therefore, if an employer knowingly allowed a member of staff, who is under the influence of alcohol or drugs, to continue working and this places that person or others at risk then the employer could be liable to charges.

Workers also have legal responsibilities. They are required to take reasonable care of themselves and others who could be affected by what they do. As a result, they too could be liable to charge if their alcohol consumption or drug taking puts peoples safety in jeopardy.

The organisation for whom these employees work would also be guilty of an offence, unless they had demonstrated "all due diligence in attempting to stop these offences happening.

Nick says that if employers are unsure about how to deal with workers, whom they suspect may have a drink or drug problem, they should seek expert advice.

He says that employers who find themselves dealing with such a situation should considering doing the following:

  • Maintain confidential, accurate records of poor performance, attendance or behaviour detrimentally affecting someone elses work or safety.
  • Talk to the member of staff in private.
  • Focus on the examples of poor performance, which have been recorded.
  • Ask for an explanation about why their standard of work has deteriorated.
  • If need be, ask if it could be health-related. It is advisable not to mention drink or drugs to begin with.
  • If the circumstances warrant it, discuss the companys stance on alcohol and drugs and outline any support available internally or externally.
  • Agree future action.
  • Arrange to hold regular meetings to monitor progress and to talk about any further problems should they arise.

Nick added: "While employers will hope that, with support, advice and treatment, the member of staff can overcome their problems, they have to be prepared for the possibility of having to terminate someones employment if these are unsuccessful.

"This could result in an unfair dismissal claim being lodged with an employment tribunal. Here an employer will need to be able to clearly demonstrate that they have acted reasonably and an accurate record of events is vital as part of the evidence.