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How to deal with hungover employees

Ho ho ho…it’s Christmas time. This usually means a lot of end of year parties, whether they are work parties, social parties or community parties and with a lot of parties quite often comes alcohol.

We HR people tend to bang on about the effects that drinking can have on a workplace and highlight worst case scenarios, but that’s because it often ends up being costly for businesses and is one of the most common issues HR Managers deal with over the silly season. A recent study conducted by the National Centre for Education and Training on Addiction (NCETA) found that hangovers are costing Australian businesses $3 billion dollars a year in absenteeism and make up for 11.5 million sick days. Hangovers can also mean employees have a reduced ability to perform their roles, accidents or near misses and more pressure on the rest of the team to make up for the hung-over employee.

Firstly, we need to stress the importance of having a well written drug and alcohol policy which explains what the repercussions are for being under the influence at work. A good policy should spell out what the repercussions are for the employees and provide guidance for your managers. It should aim to protect both the safety of employees and the Company’s reputation. It should also explain the importance of employees being fit to work. Breaches to the policy must be treated seriously and applied across the board, if the policy is to be effective and a document that is relied upon.

However, it’s imperative that you assess the individual circumstances. Each case needs to be assessed on its own merits, and some degree of sensitivity would be required if the employee was suffering from a trauma or mental health issue. If the hangover is caused by your own work party the night before and the employee is not a risk to health and safety, you may want to apply leniency if it’s a one off and the Company may be liable for the state the employee is in. A good option is to make sure your end of year bash precedes a weekend or rostered day off, so that everyone can get into the spirit.

Remember as an employer, you have a legal obligation and a duty of care to address alcohol and drug issues. This means you need to take reasonable steps to ensure the health and safety of all workers, contractors or clients who could be affected by the actions of your employees.  Consider if this person is an OHS risk to themselves or others. If they are, you will need to take swift action and ensure you remove the risk to your workplace. According to the Australia Alcohol and Drug Foundation being hungover at work can be dangerous as the employee may still have a high BAC, meaning the employee is still drunk.

If you have chronic hungover employees, then we suggest you have a serious chat/counselling session with your employee about expected standards of conduct and work outputs and escalate your disciplinary processes in line with your policy. Some policies are designed to have “zero tolerance” and some are designed with a little more leniency. Its important to consider the type of environment you operate in when designing your policy. Even more so, when deciding how to proceed with your hungover/intoxicated employees, you need to ensure you consistently follow your own policy, so you don’t end up with legal challenges about your processes.

If you need some guidance with drafting a Workplace Drug and Alcohol Policy or some assistance in how to deal with hungover employees at your workplace, give us a call at HR Gurus.

Written by resident HR Guru Jessy Warn.

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