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Addictions need to be taken seriously by employers

The sad and untimely death of the former Liberal Democrat Leader, Charles Kennedy, led to a number of moving tributes across the political spectrum. One such tribute was from his close friend and ambassador for Alcohol Concern, Alistair Campbell, who expressed his hope that politicians of all parties developed a better understanding of alcoholism and to treat it as a disease on par with other major diseases.

Whilst most of us would echo and support these sentiments, what can an employer do if they suspect that an employee may have an alcohol related problem?
The misuse of alcohol can be a serious matter for an employer – it can lead to problems with absenteeism, reduced productivity and increase the likelihood of workplace accidents. Guidance by the Health and Safety Executive explicitly warns employers that knowingly allowing an employee to work under the influence of excess alcohol could represent a breach of their duty to ensure the health, safety and welfare at work of its employees.
Nevertheless, however serious the situation may seem, it is important for employers not to make a knee jerk decision and, instead, to take a supportive and caring approach. Indeed, a dismissal that is made by an employer without any attempt to support an employee whose problems are related to alcohol is likely to be unfair.
It is also important to stress that an employer should not expect to have all the answers. Addictions are complex and any employee who is suspected of having an alcohol related problem should be encouraged to seek advice from their GP. Employers can then work with the employee and their medical professionals to assist with the recovery process by, for example, agreeing to a period of time off for the employee to obtain treatment or by contributing to the costs of counselling.
Employers and employees alike may also benefit from the introduction of a policy dealing with alcohol and drugs in the workplace. An effective policy will ensure that employees are dealt with in a consistent and fair matter and will help encourage employees with alcohol or drug-related problems to seek help, in confidence, at an early stage.
For further information please contact our Employment Team on 0800 088 6004.