Leave seasonal cheer at home: Firms are taking a tougher line on employee drinking, warns Paul Gosling

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IT COULD be that you are reading this while basking in a post-Christmas/New Year alcoholic glow. If you are at home, that is fine. But if you are at work, beware - it could cost you your job.

Companies have already started to crack down on drug abuse. That is hardly surprising at British Rail, where illegal drug-taking has caused accidents. For the past year, BR has tested potential employees for drugs and has in principle committed all employees - including office staff - to take periodic and unannounced drug tests. A spokesman said: 'It would be rather like Olympic testing. There may be two in a short period of time, so that an employee didn't think 'Oh that's over', but everyone would know they would take them at some time.'

A recent survey conducted by Personnel Today magazine showed that only 6 per cent of companies operated drugs tests, and that just a further 4 per cent planned to introduce screening. Nevertheless, many are taking an increasingly tough line on drinking.

Since 5 December, British Rail has been required by law to test for alcohol all drivers involved in accidents and to take steps to prevent track staff from using drugs that could lead to accidents.

BR has encouraged heavy drinkers to come forward and admit they have a problem, in which case they will be treated sympathetically - removed from dangerous tasks and helped to control their drinking. Those who do not seek help and test positive can expect instant dismissal.

BR stresses it does not have a significant problem, but says it wants to have none. Across British industry, however, there clearly is a problem, with an estimated 10 million working days lost to alchohol dependence each year.

Nor should workers expect unconditional support from their union over their drinking habits. Unions are calling on employers to reduce the alcohol culture. To show commitment to the cause the Manufacturing Science and Finance Union no longer supplies alcoholic drinks at national executive meetings.