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Should Employers Implement Alcohol Testing At Work?

Monday, 23 December 2013

A campaign is underway to convince employers to offer alcohol testing at work.

As the festive season gets into full swing, employers are unlikely to want to risk considering the proposals in the immediate future and being labelled killjoys in the process. However, the Alcohol Health Network is confident that its arguments in favour of alcohol testing at work would provide worthwhile benefits to employers in the long run.

Whether employers wish to expend time and resources undertaking such paternalistic activities in the work place is open to question though.

Misuse of Alcohol in the UK

It is no secret that the UK has something of a strong relationship with alcohol. Underage drinking, cheap alcohol in supermarkets and a binge drinking culture in town and city centres have all been the targets of recent political campaigns.

Despite this, alcohol-related problems still persist in the UK; according to Alcohol Concern:

  • Alcohol misuse costs England approximately £21bn per year in healthcare, crime and lost productivity costs
  • Average alcohol consumption has gradually fallen in many OECD countries between 1980 and 2009 with an average overall decrease of 9%. The United Kingdom however, has seen an increase of over 9% in these three decades
  • It is estimated that 2.6 million children in the UK are living with parents who are drinking hazardously and 705,000 living with dependent drinkers
  • Alcohol is a causal factor in more than 60 medical conditions, including: mouth, throat, stomach, liver and breast cancers; high blood pressure, cirrhosis of the liver; and depression
  • 34% of men and 28% of women drank more than recommended (4 units for men, 3 for women) on at least one day in the last week. Excluding those who didn’t drink at all in the last week the figure rises to 52% of men and 53% of women

Should Employers be Concerned about Alcohol Misuse by Employees?

Most employers pay attention to the health and wellbeing of their workforce as a matter of both economic and legal necessity and often through a genuine interest in caring for their employees. Clearly where alcohol misuse impacts upon the productivity of employees, employers do have an inherent interest in managing the issue but this is typically done through disciplinary procedures.

According to the Alcohol Health Network, by offering employees workplace testing of alcohol misuse it could help identify problem drinkers at an early stage in order to prevent greater issues later on. It recommends offering a confidential programme of workplace testing and advice as part of a self-awareness initiative.


In broad terms there may be a business case for employers to help employees avoid alcohol problems that impact economic productivity. However, for individual employers, particularly smaller businesses, intruding on this aspect of employees’ lives may be a step too far in terms of both resources and potential liabilities.

For more information or specialist advice regarding alcohol issues in the workplace contact Aneil Balgobin via e-mail or by telephone on 0207 611 48488.

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