Alcohol dependence can raise significant implications for health, work performance and safety in the workplace. Employers should be prepared to address these concerns with a well-drafted policy that sets out the procedures to follow should any concerns be raised. The following are suggested for such a policy:

Gathering evidence. Understand how the issue may be impairing the employee’s performance or attendance, or whether there are other conduct-related problems to address, including an adverse change in a colleague’s pattern of behaviour.

Meeting with the employee. Focus on the performance issues or conduct that have been identified and discuss with the employee.  Examine whether the poor performance or conduct could be due to a health problem without explicitly stating alcohol as a potential reason.  If appropriate, discuss your alcohol and drug policy and further internal or external support that may be available.  The tone at this meeting should be supportive and encourage the employee to voluntarily seek treatment.

Referring the employee for medical assessment.  Consider alcohol dependency as a medical condition.  If it is identified at the meeting that the employee may have an alcohol problem, you may wish to seek advice from a medical expert.  Also, bear in mind that addiction to, or dependency on, alcohol is excluded from being classed as a disability under the Equality Act 2010 (except as a result of the administration of medically prescribed drugs or medical treatment).  Such addiction or dependency may result in, or be caused by, another medical condition which the employee may be suffering from, which itself amounts to a disability.

Providing support.  The medical adviser may suggest other workplace support, such as an adjustment to the employee’s duties.  Where such action is considered, the reasons behind this should be discussed with the employee, the period for which any adjustments are to apply defined, and a review date set.

Ongoing review.  Regularly review the employee’s progress.  Further adjustments may be necessary as a result of these reviews.  Make note to determine if the employee’s performance improves quickly, does not improve or if the adjustments are impracticable.

Determining next steps.  Where treatment is unsuccessful, you will need to decide what further action should be taken.  Take into account a multitude of factors, including any policy wording, the employee’s statements and attitude towards further treatment, the medical or legal advice and any effect this has had in the workplace, to other employees and your business.

Each case must be considered separately so as to take into account the unique factors relevant to the individual where addiction to, or dependency on, alcohol is concerned.  Only then can targeted action be taken with the intention to support an employee to return to good health.