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Dry January Special – Concerns About Employee Alcohol Use

Dry January is an Alcohol Change UK initiative which encourages people to spend the month alcohol-free, so that they can experience some of the benefits of not drinking alcohol on a regular basis, and in some cases hopefully then introduce greater moderation thereafter. January can be a particularly appropriate time for this after the excesses of Christmas.

Alcohol can cause problems in the workplace beyond incidents at the Christmas party.  Whilst many employers will have an interest in the wellbeing of their employees, they will usually regard what they do in their private lives as a personal concern.  However, it may be appropriate for employers to become involved when it is suspected that an employee’s relationship with alcohol is affecting their work, wider business operations, or could risk the safety of the employee in question, their colleagues, or other stakeholders.

In this blog, we identify signs that an employee’s relationship with alcohol may be problematic, and how these can be responded to.

Drink Aware highlight that the following may be signs of a problematic relationship with alcohol:

  • A lack of interest in previously normal activities;
  • Appearing intoxicated more regularly;
  • Appearing tired, unwell or irritable;
  • An inability to say no to alcohol;
  • Anxiety, depression or other mental health problems;
  • Becoming secretive or dishonest.

However, it should be remembered that certain medications and health conditions may lead to people exhibiting some or all of these signs also.  As such, it is important to speak to an employee who you have concerns about in a non-accusatory manner, take time to understand, and not just make assumptions.

If an employer suspects an employee has a problematic relationship with alcohol, it can be beneficial to be aware of organisations who provide support to individuals, so that employers can direct employees to appropriate support.  Alcohol Concern ( and Alcoholics Anonymous ( provide support to individuals, and Adfam (, to the families and loved one of those struggling with drug and alcohol addiction.

If you have concerns about the safety of an employee being at work, then it may be necessary to send them home for the remainder of the day.  In such circumstances, relevant internal policies should be consulted with.  We also recommend that employers consider how the employee will get home, and consider calling a taxi if necessary to ensure that they do not drive when unsafe to do so. 

If concerns about an employee’s relationship with alcohol are affecting their work on an ongoing basis, then a discussion about the nature of the poor performance should be had.  As with any discussion of this nature, employees should be invited to share any information about any underlying concerns they may have.

In some instances, it may be necessary to consider if disciplinary action is necessary.  Usual company disciplinary procedures (and the ACAS Code of Practice on Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures, available here: should be followed before an employee is given any sanctions.  This includes undertaking an appropriate investigation and hearing; however frustrating the situation may be, and even if you have warned them previously, firing somebody on the spot is not advised, and is likely to have legal repercussions.

It is also helpful for employers to ensure that they have clear and consistent policies and practices regarding alcohol in the workplace.  This will, in part, depend on the nature of the work that this done – in some workplaces, any alcohol consumption would be entirely inappropriate.  In others, employers can run the risk of sending a mixed-message, if they have a policy which prohibits all alcohol consumption, but then managers regularly provide staff with alcohol at work events, or could even fail to lead by example themselves, e.g. by coming into the office after a boozy lunch.  As such, it is recommended that employers create and implement a policy appropriate to their workplace, to avoid mixed-messages and misunderstanding. 

If you are an employer and would like to ensure your policy is fit-for-purpose, or have a specific scenario that you are concerned about and would like advice on how to manage from an HR perspective, please contact a member of the ViewHR team today for an initial discussion.