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Unfair dismissal and drinking on company time

It should be axiomatic that employment policies relating to alcohol and drugs must be drafted clearly and brought to the attention of all employees.

In cases where employers have deviated from good practice, an employment tribunal may refuse to uphold policies that contain ambiguous wording and are lacking in clarity. An organisation may have a well-drafted, fair and reasonable policy but unless it is communicated to those who are subject to the policy, it will have limited weight. Where an employer fails to communicate a policy to an employee at all, this may prevent them from obtaining a benefit due to their failure to raise sufficient awareness.

In the February 2011 Employment Appeal Tribunal case of Liberty Living PLC v Reid, an employee was summarily dismissed for drinking a pint of lager shandy, off work premises, during afternoon working hours. The employee was dismissed on a two-limb basis:

  • Consuming alcohol during working hours; and
  • Being under the influence of alcohol during working hours.

It was only after the employee had been dismissed from the company that the alcohol and drugs policy was provided to him. The policy itself was incompatible with the employer’s disciplinary policy, which was limited to a single reference to alcohol.

The tribunal concluded that the company’s policy regarding alcohol was inconsistent and, further, that there was a lack of clarity to distinguish between the “consumption of alcohol” and being “under the influence of alcohol.” It was held that the employer had incorrectly applied their own policies and the failure to communicate the policy made the dismissal unfair, as it was not within the range of reasonable responses.

The case raises a practice point for human resource managers, who should ensure their company’s position is protected by having consistent policies in place. Wherever possible, employees should be required to sign and acknowledge receipt of policies and confirm they are aware of the conduct expected from them during working hours. Policies should clearly set out the potential consequences of any policy breaches.

If you require advice on your company’s alcohol, drugs or disciplinary policies we strongly advise you to contact a member of Lyons Davidson’s Employment team.

Posted on Sep 23rd, 2011 by Lyons Davidson