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Alcohol, drugs and the workplace

Recommended approach

It is advisable to adopt a clear and unambiguous attitude to the consumption of alcohol at the workplace

There are three phases here:

  1. No known problem
    This is the time to introduce a preventive policy. Prevention will include training of employees in the legal background to the consumption of alcohol at the workplace, as well as information about the signs of inebriation and the responsibility of each person to report a dangerous situation to the hierarchy. The ASTF can help you to set up suitable training/information.
  2. There is an acute problem
    An employee is in a state of inebriation at his workplace. It is useful to define a procedure that is known to everyone for taking care of the individual as a matter of urgency: the drunken state will be determined by the hierarchy, either by the employee’s own confession or by witness statements or else by measuring the level of alcohol in the breath. This finding will be followed by removal of the person from his workplace. Under no circumstances may the person concerned make his own way home. Either the emergency service or a member of his family will be alerted to accompany him.
    On his return to work, the person concerned will be directed to the occupational medical service to move on to point three.
    NB : it is advisable to make an entry in the employee’s personal file in case this behaviour is repeated.
  3. There is a chronic problem
    A person is suspected of being an alcoholic. A short and medium term treatment procedure will be put in place: when a problem of excessive alcohol consumption is suspected in an employee or after an acute episode, an attempt will be made to open a dialogue with the person concerned. It is better to talk to that person than to talk about him. An appointment with the occupational doctor will be proposed in order to arrive at an equitable solution both for the employer and for the employee. It is important for the person to know that the occupational doctor has been informed by the business of the problem and that an appointment has been made in order to help the individual to beat his difficulty and not as a punishment. Guaranteed support by the enterprise is essential to the smooth progress of this phase.


Legal aspect

Article L.312-1 of the Labour Code requires employers to assure the safety and health of their workers in every aspect of their work. The Labour Code lays emphasis on preventive action by the employer and on his liability if he fails to respect his obligations. In the exercise of his responsibilities for health and safety, the employer is entitled to prohibit the consumption of alcohol by his employees at their workplace.

Article L.313-1 of the Labour Code requires each worker to take care to the best of his ability of his own safety and health, as well as that of the other persons who are affected by his actions or omissions at work, in a manner commensurate with his training and with the instructions given by his employer. Employees accordingly have an obligation to report immediately to the employer and/or to the designated worker and safety delegate, any situation at work which they have reasonable grounds to presume presents a serious and immediate danger to safety and health.

These statutory provisions tend to create collective responsibility on the part both of the worker who consumes alcohol and of his work colleagues.

The consumption of alcohol is regarded as a misdemeanour committed by the employee in the performance of his work.
This misdemeanour justifies a penalty which may go so far as dismissal, depending on the gravity of the case.
But the gravity of this offence is reviewed by the judge who uses his sovereign power of assessment which tends:

  • either to tolerate the consumption of alcohol if this is an isolated event,
  • or to treat the consumption of alcohol as a serious misdemeanour if it is accompanied by a state of drunkenness, behaviour that disturbs other persons, prejudice to the employer, incapacity from work or work that is badly done and also if it is a repeat offence.

Nevertheless, the judge will be inclined to moderate the gravity of the fault and to refuse dismissal if, despite the (above) elements which accompany the consumption of alcohol, that consumption:

  • remains an isolated event
  • the employee concerned has substantial seniority in the enterprise
  • the employee has no previous history and has never been given a warning for similar events.

The consumption of alcohol will always be regarded as a serious misdemeanour if the alcohol has been consumed by an employee who occupies a high risk position or has been recruited as a professional driver.


Medical aspect

➢ What is meant by dependence or addiction?

Dependence is a situation in which an individual habitually uses a particular drug and the cessation of its consumption results in a mental or even physical malaise which obliges the subject to continue consumption.

But it is important to note that the notion of dependence includes all “forms of craving without drugs” and that the term addiction is used to characterize such behaviour; this is therefore another term used to designate the relationship of dependence of the individual on a product, a practice or a situation which has an alienating effect in varying degrees on that individual.

The two terms tend to be used as alternatives to designate this behaviour pattern which leads a person to indulge in practices that cause him to lose his freedom to live and exist as he pleases.

➢ Types of addiction

  • On a product: drug, tobacco, alcohol, medicine.
  • On a practice: game, sport, work, sex.
  • On a situation: loving relationship

➢ Psychoactive substances:

Definition: these are substances which alter the mental faculties: alcohol, amphetamines, cannabis, caffeine etc.

The individual may deliberately seek this effect (by using drugs or psychotropic pharmaceuticals) or may not do so deliberately (secondary effects of non-psychotropic pharmaceuticals, for example).

Psychotropic pharmaceutical:
A natural or artificial chemical substance that is liable to alter mental activity: anxiolytic (tranquilisers), sleeping tablets, neuroleptics (anti-psychotic medicines), antidepressants.

In general, a distinction can be made between three types of use of psychoactive substances at the workplace:

  • Private uses which have repercussions on the workplace.
  • Usage in the business environment: birthday parties, leaving parties and business meals.
  • Uses associated with working conditions (for instance, excessive consumption of drugs to combat fatigue, use of pharmaceuticals to “keep going”, use of anxiolytics to control stress or anxiety).

➢ The state of inebriation

This is a changed condition of the senses due to the consumption of alcohol or other psychoactive substances.

➢ The symptoms

Alcohol, drugs and psychotropic pharmaceuticals change perception, sensations, moods and consciousness.

The following signs may be observed at the workplace:

  • a loss of vigilance
  • losses of balance
  • a diminished awareness of dangers
  • somnolence
  • slower reflexes
  • possibly, a greater propensity to take risks

➢ Typical signs or pointers

  • lack of punctuality or failure to take things seriously
  • more frequent short absences with no apparent reason, especially at the start of the week
  • diminished performance and endurance
  • reduced memory capacity
  • high frequency of accidents
  • change of personality and social behaviour

To conclude that the employee is in difficulty, there must of course not be just one typical sign, but a whole set of different elements.