Alcoholic drinks and employees are often a bad mix. Most employers have an alcohol policy, particularly if staff use machines or drive. But, put Christmas in the mix, and things can get out of hand. One serious drink-driven work incident occurred after a Christmas party in 2011. This time the boss lost control and struck out at an employee. Two blows left the employee brain injured. A later hearing decided the company was not vicariously liable. This was because the later drinking party had become an entirely independent, voluntary, and discreet event. However that is not always the case. Employers may find their fat is in the fire and they are responsible for the conduct of an employee misbehaving at the Christmas party. With “#Metoo” claims still hitting the headlines there are numerous ways an employer could end up in a pickle; so coffee all round?
Hangovers are a likely outcome of overindulgence in alcohol but excessive eating can be a problem too. Sickness absence over Christmas led Argos, in 2016, to offer attendance pay. An extra 80p an hour being stopped for the entire week if the employee was away sick during that time. Some saw it as a positive move but if a disabled employees misses time because of their disability any deduction is likely to be unlawful discrimination. It is not clear if the experiment has been repeated. Even if employees get to work some may be less productive as a result of over indulgence. Some may even still be under the influence. A 2014 survey recorded 1 in 4 employees admitting to working under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Coffee and Tea
Even if you stick to coffee and tea there are may be crying over spilt milk. In 2013 an engineering company with 450 employees found many having breakfast, as the company saw it, at their expense. The employer issued a memo stating “milk is to be used for tea and coffee only” and “any cereal offenders will be dealt with”. Staff claimed they needed to be at work early but didn’t explain why the office milk had to be used for their breakfast. Their union, added their penny worth being “astonished” about the memo. The employer provided 100 pints of milk a day. It worked out that it was already spending around £14,000 a year on milk so felt their quibble was reasonable. An employer has no obligation to supply ingredients for even tea and coffee let alone breakfast. So what must they provide?
Facilities for heating food (if hot food isn’t easily available outside work) should be provided, e.g. a microwave and kettle for hot drinks but a fully equipped kitchen isn’t an essential. Generally employees are entitled to be able to sit and have a suitable surface to eat from away from possible contaminants. So for people working in a factory or a shop a specific area is needed. In a general office it will only apply if eating at desks is banned.
Dinner table desks
In many offices people eat at their desks. Being too busy to take a break might mean employees are working really hard, but it could be a symptom of other things. Is there too much work for one person? A saving on staff is one thing, but could lead to work done less well; answering the phone with a mouthful of crisps is not impressive. Eating can also be messy. Crumbs and spills can damage paperwork and computers and may encourage vermin. The mouse nibbling Santa’s mince pie looks cute on a Christmas card but not in front of employees or customers.
Eggy breakfasts and smelly cheese can linger and upset other employees and customers. Talking to staff can help, but not everyone agrees what is an acceptable smell. Some food has cultural links and it can be easy to cause offence. Banning food “at desks” may be a solution, but less fair if you can’t provide a place for staff to eat. Banning drinks at desks is a bigger issue. Employees need to keep hydrated and may be insufferably grumpy without their tea or coffee.
All in all employers can make quite a meal of staff issues and need to avoid biting off more than they can chew or everyone may spend the new year eating humble pie. In the mean time eat drink and be merry (well when you get safely home).
And may your New Year be bountiful
Edit 49a4. This newsletter looks at new cases and employment related matters, which are likely to be of interest to many. However specialist advice should be obtained before taking or refraining from taking action based on comments in this newsletter, which is only intended as a brief note. For more information or if you have specific concerns phone me on 01233 714055 or firstname.lastname@example.org