How can you deal with that properly as an employer?
It will be a familiar image to everyone: just enjoying a beer after work to end the working day “properly”. There is nothing wrong with that, of course, but if, for example, the entire kitchen crew regularly sits at the bar of the café, hotel or restaurant after work late into the night, whether or not in the midst of other guests, it can be a different story. The question then is: how can you deal with that properly as an employer?
It is essential for employers to have active policies regarding the consumption of alcohol at work. Having a policy fulfils the employer’s obligation to provide good and safe working conditions. This is true even – and perhaps especially – for businesses in the hospitality industry.
By taking a conscious position about this as an employer and determining whether, where and when alcohol can be consumed at work, a lot of problems can be avoided. The policy provides clarity on the applicable rules and addresses both the interests of the individual employee and the interests of the company.
Setting such rules falls under the employer’s statutory right to issue instructions. In this regard, it is important for employees to be aware of their employer’s policies and guidelines regarding the consumption of alcohol at work.
Are you then also allowed to stipulate that employees should not have drinks at the bar after work?
Yes, rules like this can also be included in the policy. A policy is thus not only about establishing specific rules for the consumption of alcohol during work, but also possibly its consumption in the employee’s own time. After all, employees making a professional impression even after work, while they are inside the restaurant, café or hotel, and not indulging in excessive alcohol consumption with all its possible consequences, is important to the employer.
In many companies there is a rule that alcohol may not be served during office drinks either, or only with the prior approval of the management. That may be going a bit far for the hospitality industry, as is a complete ban on visiting (outside working hours) the hotel, restaurant, or café where you work.
However, consideration could be given to limiting the number of alcoholic drinks employees may enjoy at work, or to requiring employees to wait a certain amount of time before consuming alcohol after work. For employees, of course, it is nice to be able to have another beer – often free of charge – at the bar, but as an employer there is no need to provide this, let alone an obligation to do so.
What if an employee violates the rules despite knowing them?
Of course, whether a policy violation should immediately be punished will depend upon the facts and circumstances of the case. However, it is important in that case for the employee to be held accountable for their behaviour. If there is a policy but it is not enforced, that will be used against the employer.
If immediate action is taken, it is in principle up to the employer to determine whether and what sanctions should follow. For example, the employer could issue a verbal or written warning.
Incidentally, the severity of the sanction also depends on the employee’s position: a manager is supposed to set an example and if they violate a rule, they then not only act in violation of the applicable rules, but their authority may then come into question to boot. In a case like this, consideration could be given to “demoting” the employee to a lower position, with a corresponding lower salary, in addition to issuing a warning.
And if things really go wrong?
If the employee’s behaviour has gone beyond all bounds, for instance in terms of drunkenness, possibly combined with intimidation or violence, or where the employee has been held to account for violating the rules before, dismissal – whether summary dismissal or otherwise – could be the consequence. Even then, the employee’s ability to be aware of the rules regarding the consumption of alcohol at work is relevant.
In a nutshell, having a good and active policy is really important: establish rules, make sure they are clear and communicated, and take action when they are violated. By doing so, you avoid problems.