The law

Office Parties And Company Cars

What If An Employee, Who Has Clearly Drunk Too Much At The Office Christmas Party, Is Planning To Drive Home. It’s Not Your Responsibility. Is It?

Wrong.

  • As an employer you have a ‘duty of care’ for your employees.
  • As it’s the company’s party you need to take some responsibility.
  • Think about travel arrangements – maybe end the party before public transport stops running.
  • Provide the phone numbers for local registered cab companies and encourage employees to use them.
  • Before the party, ensure that all staff is aware that disciplinary action could be taken if they fail to turn up for work the next day and there is reason to believe it is due to too much booze.
  • It is the employers’ responsibility to make sure people don’t get too drunk and fail to turn up for work the day after the party.
  • The employer should make sure there are plenty of non-alcoholic drinks and enough food.
  • It is an employer’s duty of care to provide a safe working environment. Many individuals lack the knowledge of the impact of alcohol on the body and seriously underestimate sobering up times.
  • It is essential companies take the responsibility of educating employees, regardless of whether they are driving on business or travelling to and from work.

Police statistics show that many people are driving to work under the influence of alcohol consumed the previous evening. With drink-drive deaths and casualties on the rise, awareness and training must be the answer.

There are options such as giving employees the morning off or offering overnight accommodation with a mini bus to work the next day. All of these may have a cost implication but the cost would be a lot higher if an accident or fatality occurred and the company was held responsible.

Other suggestions to prevent ‘over the limit’ driving the morning after include:

  • Giving employees a taxi allowance to and from work the following day
  • Encouraging the use of public transport
  • Stop serving alcohol at 11pm
  • Awareness training on alcohol limits and sobering up times
  • Reiteration on the consequences of drink driving as stated in the employee handbook

Liquid Lunches

If there is urgent work to be done, disciplinary action may be appropriate if staff are late back to the office or intoxicated. But bosses must be careful: a history of festive tolerance could be used as evidence that disciplinary action against an individual is unfair. Also ensure that proper procedures are followed.

At a Christmas lunch in the early 1990s, a worker returned a few hours late to work after drinking too much. It was the day before the Christmas holiday was due to begin. The employer saw this as gross misconduct but decided to tell the employee after he had sobered up – which meant waiting until after the Christmas holiday. The worker learned of the dismissal through gossip during the holiday and claimed unfair dismissal. He won. The Employment Appeals Tribunal decided that, while it was reasonable to wait for the employee to sober up before being told that he would be dismissed, and while the holiday had complicated matters, this did not justify a failure to follow a clear procedure.

Free Booze

Employers providing free drink or putting a credit card behind a bar should be careful.

In one case, three employees of the Whitbread Beer Company got drunk and had a fight after a seminar on improving behavioural skills. They successfully argued that their resulting dismissals were unfair. A relevant factor was that the employer had provided a free bar – and thus condoned their behaviour.