Drinks company Pernod Ricards hit the press last week for the unusual allegations from employees that not only were they free to drink during the working day but were put under significant pressure to do so , particularly at work related outings but also throughout the day. Press reports cited the court case brought by one employee against the company in which accusations were made of a culture of pressure to drink their aperitif products to increase sales to customers, to such an extent it resulted in the serious ill health of employees.
Despite official denials and reference to the company's official zero tolerance approach, many more employees gave similar reports contradicting the company's stance, mentioning a rather different culture of enthusiastically encouraged drinking.
This case highlights one particular aspect of alcohol consumption at work and related events which is not usually specifically mentioned in alcohol at work policies - the pressure sometimes exerted on employees to drink alcohol when they don't wish to and to drink excessively at social events - Christmas party reminiscences?
Such pressure to conform can cause significant stress (and unwilling intoxication if felt impossible to resist) because of fear of disapproval at work; losing work opportunities/promotion or even the job. It may also be deeply offensive to those whose religion proscribes consumption of alcohol.
Staff policies in relation to alcohol at work should be reviewed to include:
- an outline of the problem of peer pressure to drink alcohol and where it can occur
- a clear statement that pressure exerted on colleagues to drink alcohol where clearly unwanted, or to excess, is not permitted and could be offensive.
- a warning that this could amount to misconduct or gross misconduct and could result in disciplinary proceedings .
- a reporting system ( confidential possibly) to named individuals for those affected by such pressure.
- an explanation of the meaningful support which will be offered to those experiencing such pressure
- reference to training for managers and selected employees to deal with such situations at work events or during working hours
- if not done so, start to develop an all encompassing wellbeing at work policy which can include this aspect
To ensure that staff know what is and isn’t allowed HR should create a firm policy that lays down the ground rules when it comes to drinking on the job. It should include the ramifications of abusing a policy of this sort too.