Home' HR Monthly : March 2016 Contents 30
It's not only employers who are bearing the cost of hangovers.
Data from the Australian Alcohol and Drug Foundation
shows one in 10 workers have experienced the negative effects
associated with a co-worker's misuse of alcohol. This can include
a reduced ability to do their job, alcohol-related accidents or
near misses and working extra hours to cover for a colleague.
"We've now got people saying that they don't want to work with
certain others because they drink too much and come in with a
hangover," says Julie Rae, Head of Information and Research at
the Australian Drug Foundation.
Rae adds that workplaces play an important part in shaping
an individual's attitudes to alcohol. "We see that parents,
sporting clubs and workplaces play a significant role in setting
behavioural expectations around alcohol and drugs. It's
important that workplaces set up expectations through codes of
conduct or having a policy that alcohol will be consumed in a
DUTY OF CARE
Excessive alcohol consumption can create other risks for
employers. Anthony Wood, partner in the employment group
of law firm Herbert Smith Freehills, says there is a clear spike
in complaints and legal claims that arise in connection to
workplace events involving alcohol, such as office parties. "It's
cliché, but it's true. Even though employers have become better at
communicating the expected standards and behaviours, people let
loose and behave stupidly sometimes."
Wood explains that employers may be vicariously liable for the
misconduct of its employees unless they have taken reasonable
steps to prevent it from occurring. "It's an exceptionally high
bar to establish and many employers try to argue that they're
not vicariously liable, but I'd say more often than not, courts
and tribunals will hold the employer liable for not having taken
reasonable precautions on the basis that the test is so hard."
Reasonable precautions go beyond sending a reminder
about expected standards of behaviour, particularly if alcohol
is going to be served without limits at an event. Woods says
reasonable precautions may extend to drug and alcohol training
in the workplace and rigid enforcement guidelines around the
responsible serving of alcohol.
PUTTING A POLICY IN PLACE
Melbourne-based consultancy Dekro Human Resources, which
works with companies to develop and implement drug and alcohol
policies, stresses that policies need to encompass the safety of
employees and the protection of company assets -- including the
Dekro's managing director, Doug Taylor, says effective drug
and alcohol policies should focus on the risks that impairment
can pose for employees, co-workers and customers. It should
also explain the personal responsibilities of employees and their
obligation to present to work in a fit state.
Assessing what role alcohol plays in the workplace and culture
is a first step, says Taylor. "If a business case can be made that
a workplace is impacted by a negative drinking culture, then
it should be easy to engage all senior managers in a program
of cultural change in which a consistent message is developed
and managers lead by example," he says. However, it's not the
place of the modern human resource manager to be the moral
conscience of the organisation, exposing it to unnecessary
policies and red tape procedures that don't contribute to the
effective performance of the company, says Taylor. In other
words, don't look for problems where none exist.
But once an alcohol policy is in place, any breach should be
treated in the same way as other performance issues, with the
caveat that managers need to be extra-sensitive to underlying
problems. "You need to have an understanding of why people
may be drinking to excess," says Rae. "Some people drink
because of trauma in their life, or it may be self-medication
for another reason or they may have mental health issues. You
need to be respectful but, at the same time, you need to have a
conversation about the behaviour. We would hope that employers
would support staff in getting help through having things like
employee assistance programs."
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