WORKSHOP: Personal Trainer

Stephen Bubb, chief executive of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations (ACEVO). Send your questions to:

A member of staff has a serious alcohol problem. He has been drunk at work on a number of occasions. Can I sack him?

Oh dear! Substance abuse (and I include drugs as well as alcohol) is one of the most challenging and potentially problematic issues facing organisations. It must be one of the most difficult problems for managers to address. This is an area where I would recommend organisations to be proactive. Any third-sector organisation should have well-designed and comprehensive policies on drugs and alcohol misuse. A recent study indicated that nearly half of businesses do not have guidelines in place. Do you?

You may think that adopting a policy is too heavy handed and you might prefer to rely on individual judgment and common sense. But when things go wrong it is even more challenging to deal consistently with individuals.

This is what can give rise to problems at tribunals. And we want to avoid those.

In any case, the biggest benefit of a policy is that it offers a route through which managers can raise the issue.

So what are the issues? First, boundaries. What is acceptable and what is not? Is it OK to have a few drinks with contacts at lunch?

Second, should recreational use of drugs outside of the office be a concern?

Third, the law. Clearly any policy needs to comply with the law i.e. ensuring reasonable steps are taken to prevent staff from being impaired by the use of drugs or alcohol at work. This is common sense for health and safety. The policy should be introduced only after proper consultation with staff - collecting views is an important element in making acceptance more likely.

If you are going to develop a policy, make sure it has:

Clear sanctions; applies at every level; encourages staff to seek help at an early stage; distinguishes between disciplinary procedures and effective management; provides guidance on how to get support; acknowledges difficulties staff may have; and finally makes expert advice available.

Your staff member clearly needs help. You are going to have to tackle this but sacking him without offering support and in the absence of a policy, could be problematic. I would advise you to see this as primarily a health issue. Disciplinary action may arise if the employee doesn't do their bit in accepting help to resolve the problem. Further information and policy advice is available from Alcohol Concern.

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