"ONE FOR THE ROAD?" an interview with Graham Whitehouse, Consultant Solicitor, Blackburn & Co.

Oscar Wilde observed that: “Work is the curse of the drinking classes” but is it ever acceptable for employees to mix alcohol and work by drinking in the workplace?

A recent report by the BBC, (Padriaig Belton 25th May 2017), has highlighted a growing trend for high powered companies to offer their employees free alcoholic drinks while at work.

The report highlighted that staff employed at Twitter’s San Francisco office receive complimentary wine and beer while at work,  while Dropbox ends its week by holding “whiskey Fridays”. However, both of these are overshadowed by Yahoo who reputedly employ a drinks trolley service at its Chicago office.

This BBC reported that this trend now appears to be coming to the UK with advertising giant Saatchi & Saatchi incorporating a bar and terrace at its London office.

The idea behind this trend appears to be that in an increasingly competitive labour market, companies are desperate to stand out and attract the best possible candidates. Companies want to market themselves as fun and relaxed places to work.

Then of course there is the more cynical interpretation that companies are simply trying to blur the line between work life and home life in the hope of increasing productivity. After all, is it ever possible not to talk “shop” with your work colleagues and how many of us can truly relax while having a drink with the Boss?

We asked Graham Whitehouse, a specialist Employment Solicitor at leading Dorchester law firm Blackburn & Co, whether he thought that this new trend of work place drinking was a positive development.

Graham said: “It sounds like an excellent idea to promote a sense of camaraderie and allow your employees to get together in a more relaxed and  social setting, but employers should be aware that drinking in the workplace rarely produces positive results.

Employers have a responsibility to protect their employees and provide them with a safe working environment at all times and this duty includes work related social events, be they inside  or outside of the normal place of work. It should also be remembered that some working environments simply do not mix well with alcohol, those involving driving or operating machinery are obvious examples.

There have also been a number of recent cases in the Employment Tribunal where employers have been found liable for the drunken and often lewd behaviour of their employees during social events. In all of these cases, the Employment Tribunal expressed its disapproval  whenever it found that inappropriate behaviour had resulted from a culture of  unregulated workplace drinking.

I would also warn employers to be extremely sceptical of any employee who was actually attracted to a company simply because they offer whiskey Fridays”.

Graham also said: “It seems clear that encouraging drinking in the workplace does little to improve the working experience and employers should approach this trend with a high degree of caution.

Attending social events is part and parcel of many peoples jobs but the trend towards drinking at work is unlikely to led to a healthy work life balance. There is also the danger that employees will begin to confuse their professional and personal responsibilities and see drinking as being part of their normal daily routine and that can only lead further problems for both the employee and their employer.”  

Should you wish to discuss the content of this article or any issues regarding employment matters please contact Graham Whitehouse at gw@blackburnand.co.uk

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