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Create an effective workplace alcohol policy

An alcohol policy tells your people what is and isn’t okay around alcohol and the workplace.


This article provides some practical advice and ideas about things you might consider including in your workplace’s alcohol policy. Your policy has to work for your organisation, so adapt the information below to suit your workplace.



Why have a policy?

A policy puts in writing the rules and expectations around alcohol. It also sets out planned actions to prevent or reduce the impact of alcohol on your workplace and your people.


Complemented by a range of strategies, a workplace alcohol policy contributes to:

  • improved health outcomes and workplace safety for employees

  • a clear understanding of the limits on drinking in relation to work

  • consistency and efficiency in how a workplace responds to issues or incidents

  • showing a clear commitment to being a supportive and healthy workplace

  • cost savings from reducing the impact of alcohol in the workplace and managing any alcohol-related issues better.

Having a policy alone isn’t enough. To be effective it must be backed up by communication, induction and education activity, counselling and treatment support options.


Some organisations have a separate alcohol policy. Others include alcohol in their wider organisational policies and procedures (eg, around catering for work events or using vehicles).


Core content

An alcohol policy sets out an organisation’s position on alcohol and how it achieves that.

An effective workplace alcohol policy should clearly state:

  • whether the work site will be alcohol-free (see below for help when considering an alcohol-free policy)

  • when it’s appropriate to consume alcohol – if at all

  • acceptable standards of work performance and acceptable blood alcohol levels (if any).

The policy should also specify who does what, such as who’s responsible for:

  • monitoring work performance, approaching an alcohol-influenced employee, and what they do, such as:

  • strategies for dealing with alcohol-related issues, including:

  • procedures for approaching and dealing with the employee

  • information on treatment and other support services

  • imposing any disciplinary measures

  • keeping records of disciplinary measures

  • evaluating the policy and associated treatment/support strategies.

How to make your policy effective

There are a number of things that will ensure any policy is effective – whether it’s about alcohol or any other workplace matter.

1. It’s developed through consultation – Policy development involves everyone, including management, supervisors, occupational health and safety personnel, employees and unions.

2. Fully supported at all levels of management – Support from senior managers gives it credibility, and managers and supervisors play an essential role in delivering the policy.

3. It's universally applied – The policy should apply all employees, regardless of seniority. (That can be tricky in businesses with a mix of low and high-risk work areas.)

4. Tailored to your organisation – The policy specifically fits your workplace’s needs and operating conditions and is compatible with your organisation’s culture and purpose.

5. It’s written in clear, precise terms – The policy must cover all aspects of alcohol consumption and management at your workplace. For example, if alcohol is permitted at social functions, it should state when it’s allowed and set out how it’s served and consumed responsibly, and any consequences if the policy is breached.

6. It must be communicated to all employees – Your employees must know about and support the policy and understand what happens if they breach its terms.

7. It’s reviewed and evaluated – This will determine if the policy’s aims are being achieved, and to identify strengths, weaknesses and any possible improvements.

See examples of how organisations have created their alcohol policies.


Alcohol-free?

Part of introducing an alcohol policy is considering whether your organisation should be alcohol-free. If it’s not, when is drinking alcohol appropriate? And should a no-alcohol rule apply to all employees, or can some drink and others not? (An alcohol-free policy works best when it’s the same rule for all employees.)


The questions below might help you decide. Answer "yes", "no" or "depends" and use your answers to inform your decisions.


Is drinking alcohol in the workplace okay:

  • during working hours?

  • during lunch and other breaks?

  • on special occasions?

  • when entertaining clients?

  • after work? (Friday night drinks, etc).


How to discourage alcohol in your workplace

  • Display various alcohol-related posters and other resources in the workplace, including those showing the health and financial benefits of giving up alcohol.

  • Remove any workplace bars or beer fridges.

  • Don't stock alcohol in the fridge or have it where employees can see it.

  • Don’t have wine or beer glasses in the kitchen.


Effectively monitor and test

Alcohol testing in a workplace raises a number of practical, legal and ethical issues.

Testing can only be effective if it’s part of a comprehensive alcohol focus. That focus must also include a clear alcohol policy and procedures, good communication and education, and access to counselling and/or treatment support services.


Importantly, there must be a clear explanation of the rationale and procedures for testing (such as in high-risk workplaces), what level of alcohol will trigger a positive or failed test, and what the consequences of that are.


How to test

If you plan to test, there must be clear procedures about how it’s done, paying particular attention to a staff member’s right to privacy and confidentiality.

Rigorous procedures must ensure a valid result, including how samples are collected, handled and analysed.


Alcohol testing

Alcohol testing may be the right choice in safety and security-sensitive industries. However, testing has important limitations and can have significant negative consequences in the workplace (on employee morale, for example).

Testing can include random testing and testing for cause following an incident or ‘near miss’, to see if alcohol consumption is creating a safety or productivity risk.

The effectiveness of testing is limited because it assesses current alcohol levels only and can’t detect other alcohol-related risks, such as a hangover and fatigue.

Testing should never be the only means of reducing alcohol-related harm. It must be just one measure incorporated into a broader whole-of-workplace approach that takes in the workplace culture.


Breath-testing

The standard initial workplace test for alcohol impairment is breath-testing. This can be done in the workplace using an approved testing device that meets the Australian Standard: AS 3547-1997 Breath Alcohol Testing Devices for Personal Use.


However, organisations usually prefer to use an external agency to carry out testing for them.


How you work and lead

A workplace's alcohol culture is largely driven by how acceptable it is to drink alcohol - especially large amounts.


How you work and lead (your organisational policies and practices) is the area where businesses can have the most impact in helping reduce harmful drinking.


Here are some actions you can take to help reduce harmful drinking among your people.

  • Develop a policy around alcohol in the workplace. See our advice for creating an effective policy, including considering making your workplace alcohol free.

  • Provide clear guidance on when it is and isn’t appropriate to drink alcohol in relation to work.

  • Make sure that if alcohol is provided at work functions, it’s supplied in a way that complies with your policy. Find out more about how to promote and communicate about alcohol effectively in the workplace.

  • Ensure details about your alcohol programme are included in your induction processes.

  • Management must lead by example and be responsible drinkers.

  • Promote alcohol-free events and activities.

  • Take host responsibility seriously. Provide low and non-alcoholic drinks and plenty of food at work functions, as well as safe ways for employees to get home. See Serving Alcohol SAFELY at Workplace Events for ideas.

  • Provide host responsibility training.

  • Provide training for managers, supervisors and other key staff to help them identify and manage individuals that might be at risk of alcohol-related harm.

  • Promote and celebrate nominated sober drivers for work functions.

  • Review employment practices and working conditions that might impact on employee stress (eg, working hours, flexible working conditions, job design, workload, resources).

  • Ensure alcohol is not used as prizes or gifts. Swap for gifts that promote wellbeing and health, such as vouchers for activities, sports equipment or family outings.

  • Change the workplace culture around drinking so drinking isn't expected or encouraged in the work environment.

  • Stop offering alcohol at work gatherings or offer only small amounts.

  • Turn Friday drinks into Friday nibbles – and make them healthy nibbles.

  • Have work social functions at times when alcohol isn’t expected, such as breakfast, morning tea or lunch.

  • Hold work functions around activities that don’t include drinking, such as movie nights, family days or sports.

  • Offer opportunities and support for staff who wish to confidentially discuss concerns relating to alcohol with their manager.

  • Make it easy for staff to access alcohol counselling.

  • Allow them time off work or flexible working hours so they can go, or invite counsellors on site.

  • Address workplace factors that may influence staff drinking, such as workplace stress or bullying.

  • Consider using support services, such as an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) or an addiction service to help employees with alcohol issues.

  • Find out more about publicly-funded addiction treatment and advice services and information on helping people who might be at risk of alcohol-related harm.


Examples of workplace alcohol policies

These alcohol policy examples – or parts of them – may help you create your own.

However, whatever you create must be appropriate for your workplace.


Canterbury Safety Charter (specifically for construction)


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