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Facts and Figures

Workplaces are often reflective of what is happening in wider society. In Scotland levels of alcohol consumption and harm are at historically high levels with a third of men (32%) and a sixth of women (16%) categorised as hazardous or harmful drinkers. Evidence also shows that those in employment are more likely to drink than those who are unemployed or economically inactive.


It is estimated that alcohol cost the Scottish economy £3.6 billion in 2010. This cost comprises unemployment, premature death (before the age of retirement), absenteeism and presenteeism (where people are at work but there is reduced activity and productivity).

Another study found that:

  • 1/3 of employees admitted having been to work with a hangover
  • 15% reported having been drunk at work
  • 1 in 10 reported hangovers at work once a month; 
1 in 20 once per week
  • 77% of employers who were interviewed for the study identified alcohol as a major threat to employee well-being and a factor encouraging sickness absence

These figures show that alcohol can and does have a significant impact in the workplace and therefore action to reduce the negative effect is essential.

Alcohol and drug addiction among workers and professionals can have a variety of impacts on businesses:

  • Relationships and Behaviours: Inappropriate behaviour can be disruptive and lead to tension and frustrations at work. Client relationships are also affected. Alcohol & drug addiction has a negative impact on family life which also affects work performance
  • Morale: Addiction problems are often ignored which damages staff morale
  • Absenteeism: Sick days due to alcohol hangovers cause disruption in the workplace and lose the company money
  • Productivity: Alcohol reduces the ability to concentrate and this affects work performance including decision-making. It also causes impaired skills, lower quality of work and lack of motivation and judgement. Cocaine abuse might increase alertness initially, but has long-term effects on concentration and memory
  • Presenteeism: When someone comes to work and unable to perform at full capacity it effects the entire team. If the employee is in a client facing role the company is at increased risk of damage to customer relations
  • Health: Alcohol & drug abuse cause a variety of health problems; liver damage, cognitive impairment, stomach disorders, high blood pressure, sexual problems and many more. Alcohol is a depressant and can affect moods and cause irritability often leading to sickness absence
  • Safety: Just small amount of alcohol or any drugs can cause a lack of co-ordination, slower reaction times, impaired eyesight and judgement, thus increasing the risk of an accident occurring

Adapted from ‘Taking care of alcohol issues at work’ by: Dr. Michael G. McCann MD MA DIH MFOM, Board of Directors, Castle Craig Hospital.

If you or someone you care about is facing disciplinary action, here are the stages your employer should follow.

Step 1: Formal disciplinary action

This can be raised without informal warning. You or your colleague is given a chance to explain and have a chance to appeal.

  • A letter setting out the issue.
  • A meeting to discuss the issue.
  • A disciplinary decision.
  • A chance to appeal this decision.

Step 2: Your employer shouldn’t take any disciplinary action before meeting with you first and discussing the problem.

At the hearing your employer should:

  • Explain the complaint against you
  • Go through the evidence
  • Give you a chance to tell your side of the story

You have the right to take someone with you to a disciplinary hearing, but you must tell your employer about this first.

Step 3: Disciplinary action

After the hearing your employer should write to you as soon as possible, saying what action they’re going to take, and telling you about your right to appeal.

The decision might be:

  • No action
  • Written warning
  • Final warning
  • Demotion
  • Dismissal

Step 4. Disciplinary appeals

If you think disciplinary action taken against you is unfair you can appeal.

Write to your employer saying you’re appealing and why.

Step 5 – Suspension

When a disciplinary issue is being looked into you might be suspended from work. This doesn’t happen very often. If it does it should normally be with pay and you should be told why you’re being suspended.

More information can be found out here regarding redundancy and your rights.

Employers have a legal responsibility to look after employees’ wellbeing, health and safety. A good employer will want to help employees. In some cases, alcohol or drug misuse may be used to help cope with work-related stress. If there is a problem with alcohol or drug misuse in your workplace then this may be part of a wider stress problem.

Some employers treat alcohol and drug misuse as a medical rather than a disciplinary matter. In this case, the chances of overcoming the problem is assessed and a reasonable period of time off for recovery is agreed.

They may also consider appropriate help to treat the employee (for example, by contributing towards the cost of counselling), treat any absence for treatment and rehabilitation as normal sick leave and review the person’s work to ensure that their workload is not contributing to the problem.

What is an alcohol and drugs policy?

Major bodies such as the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), and the Scottish Trade Union Congress (STUC) advise that it is an essential part of good business practice for small and large businesses to adopt an alcohol and drugs policy.

Where there is a policy in place, often employers do not actively promote it to staff and only one-third of employers train managers in how to manage these issues at work.

Click here to find out more about the alcohol and drug policy.


Can someone be sacked for being under the influence at work?

If the employer can prove that drugs or alcohol have had a detrimental impact on an employee’s ability to do their job, they may be dismissed. The employer must have a good reason to justify dismissal, related to the employee’s conduct or capability.

The employee under the influence may be sacked if their conduct is so bad that it means they have broken one or more of the terms of their employment, for example: continually missing work; showing poor discipline; evidence of drug or alcohol abuse; or theft or dishonesty.

The employer should follow a fair disciplinary procedure before dismissing an employee for misconduct. Under this procedure they may also consider help and other interventions such as counselling. See stages of redundancy

Can someone be arrested for being drunk at work?

Yes. Under a law called the Misuse of Drugs Act, if someone drinks alcohol or take drugs or other substances (except when prescribed by a doctor) while at work, they could be breaking the law and may be prosecuted.

Can employers help if someone has a dependency?

Employers have a responsibility to ensure the wellbeing health and safety of staff under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. Disciplinary action should be a last resort.

Can an employer be prosecuted if someone is drunk at work?

Yes. Under the Health and Safety at Work Act, employers could be prosecuted if they know an employee is under the influence of excess alcohol and is allowed to continue working, putting co-workers at risk.

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