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Dude you’re wasted! Can you stop your workers hitting the pub at lunchtime?

In Australia it’s not uncommon to have a couple of drinks before heading home from work at the end of the day. For corporate industries, it’s normal to have meetings over drinks and employees across the board are happy to knock off and have a couple of beers after work together. Companies like Atlassian even offer free beers to employees throughout the day and a 2011 study found nearly one in ten workers regularly consumes alcohol within the workplace.

However, such a casual attitude towards drinking can have its downsides and employee alcohol and other drug (AOD) use can negatively affect individuals and businesses.

What it can cost your business

The use of alcohol and drugs can impact workplaces in a variety of different ways in relation to safety, productivity, work culture and relationships. Mental and physical health can be damaged and impaired behaviour can have negative effects on individuals as well as their colleagues.

Within the actual workplace, mis-use of alcohol can affect colleague relationships. One in ten workers say that have been affected by a co-worker’s mis-use of alcohol in ways such as a reduced ability to do their own job, involvement in an accident or close call and having to work extra hours to cover for a co-worker.

For employers, AOD abuse can cause lateness, inefficiency, absenteeism, lost time and dangerous incidents due to mistakes on the job. Intoxication jeopardises efficiency and safety and, on top of that, hangovers have also been linked to increased conflict at work and reduced job completion with 83% of employees reporting that they felt being hungover made a difference to their work. 22% admitted to making mistakes as a result of being hungover and a third admitted that they ‘drift off and don’t work at their usual pace.’

It’s estimated that alcohol and drugs cost Australian workplaces an estimated $6 billion per year in lost productivity. Annually, 2.5 million days are lost due to drinking and drug use, at a cost of more than $680 million.

What can we do?

According to Safe Work Australia, all workers have a duty to take reasonable care for their own health and safety and ensure they don’t adversely affect that of others. This requires them to be fit and well enough to do their job and not use or be under the influence of alcohol or illegal drugs while at work.

  1. Implement policies

The first step for any employer in dealing with AOD use is to ensure a detailed workplace policy is in place. This policy needs to be tailed to the circumstances of the workplace and should be built out in consultation with employees.

Different industries and workplaces have specific rights and responsibilities for employers and employees when it comes to AOD use which are important to keep in mind when constructing internal company policies.

Some industries, such as those that involve driving vehicles, require employees to have a zero-blood alcohol concentration. Other places may have specific policies regarding actions such as testing employees for alcohol or drugs and what the consequences are if employees are intoxicated at work. Often these policies include disciplinary actions such as summary dismissals like in a 2015 case, where a ferry master tested positive to cannabis after crashing a ferry in Sydney harbour and lost his job.

These policies can cover incidences of intoxication on the actual job, such as the ferry case mentioned above. However, they can also outline the relevant disciplinary action if employees are intoxicated in instances such as work parties and if an employee shows up to work intoxicated but is not actually clocked on.

An example of this occurred in 2017, where a Geelong man lost his job after he turned up to work after hours to sleep off an alcohol binge. The oil and gas worker was sacked by employer Inco Ships after security guards had to stop him boarding after hours due to intoxication, which caused the man to become aggressive. The next day, the man called in sick and was fired for breaching the company’s drug and alcohol policy.

Although he technically wasn’t intoxicated on the job, the employee still breached company policies that were designed to protect the individual and prevent them endangering others.

  1. Drug testing

Drug testing is also common practice in industries where employees are required to operate heavy machinery or there is large safety aspect to the job. However, many courts and tribunals have found that drug testing is an intrusion on an individual’s privacy; that is, it is not up to the employer to dictate what drugs or alcohol an employee uses on their own time.

Testing can be justified on health and safety grounds, such as in the case above. However, again, it’s important to have policies and procedures in place that protect both the employee and employer rights and ensure a healthy and safe workplace.

  1. Disciplinary action

In the case that disciplinary action needs to be taken it must be in line with existing awards, agreements and other established counselling and disciplinary measures. In the case that the employee action has amounted to ‘serious misconduct’, it is possible to dismiss an employee without notice however it’s always worth consulting Fair Work to ensure you are following the correct protocol.

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