Can your boss call time on liquid lunches?

10/03/2017

Lloyd’s of London sent a sobering shudder around the City of London when it imposed a total booze ban on staff between 9am and 5pm. Staff members and City workers reacted angrily to the outright ban, which threatens gross misconduct and dismissal for anyone caught defying the company missive.

Whilst some have welcomed the ban, many have argued it is unworkable in an environment where deals are often done over a drink or two in the hundreds of bars and restaurants in London’s ‘square-mile’.

But is this ban workable, and what if your boss has similar thoughts? Here’s a guide from experts on the DAS Legal Expenses Insurance Company legal advice helpline:

Are employers legally allowed to impose such a rule?

Employers are allowed to impose such a rule but would have to incorporate it into an employee’s contract of employment first.

Employers have a general duty under Health and Safety laws to ensure, as far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of their employees; an employer could be prosecuted if it allows an employee to continue working whilst under the influence of alcohol and their behaviour places them or others at risk.

Can staff challenge a ban?

Employers should consult with staff before making any changes to employment contracts. After a consultation exercise, existing employees could refuse to accept such a change to their contracts of employment. Ultimately, the employer would be faced with a decision of forcing through the changes or not. This could give rise to a potential constructive unfair dismissal claim if an employee resigns, and the employer would have to show a legitimate reason for imposing such a ban.

Can an employer ask you to take an alcohol breath test?

Employers have no general right to require an employee to take a breath test unless this is provided for in the contract.

Due to the intrusive nature of alcohol (and drug) testing, an employer should be advised only to introduce testing where it is necessary, given its health and safety obligations to other employees or third parties.

What if drinking is part of your role – e.g. sales or client relations?

Employers can include provisions relating to hospitality in any alcohol policy. Any policy should clearly set out what is expected, the reasons and any consequences for subsequent breaches.

Are there any industries where a drink ban already applies?

There are some industries, such as the transport industry, that are covered by specific legislation regarding the control of alcohol and drugs. The Transport and Works Act 1992 makes it a criminal offence for certain workers to be unfit through alcohol whilst working on railways, tramways and other guided transport systems.

Anthony Di Palma, solicitor with DAS Law, said: “For most occupations, it is not illegal to consume alcohol at work. I would recommend employees look carefully at the terms of their employment contracts.

”Employers should consult with staff before following Lloyd’s of London’s example.”

The Health and Safety Executive have published a guide for employers on alcohol at work called ’Don’t Mix it’.