Sue Gray report: Is it ever appropriate to consume alcohol at work?

Sue Gray’s report finds that ‘the excessive consumption of alcohol is not appropriate in a workplace at any time’

Saman Javed
Monday 31 January 2022 16:48 GMT
Sue Gray’s report says ‘excessive alcohol consumption’ is not appropriate in any workplace
Sue Gray’s report says ‘excessive alcohol consumption’ is not appropriate in any workplace (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

The initial findings of a report on lockdown parties in Downing Street during Covid-19 restrictions and lockdowns have been released to the public.

The report, authored by senior civil servant Sue Gray, concluded that “a number of these gatherings should not have been allowed to take place or to develop in the way that they did”.

Gray also added that there is “significant learning to be drawn from these events which must be addressed immediately across the government”.

A photograph of one such party, which took place on Friday 15 May 2020, showed Boris Johnson sitting at a table in the 10 Downing Street garden with a glass of wine, and some cheese, laid out in front of him.

A leaked email, obtained by ITV News, showed that staff had been invited to the garden for “socially distanced drinks”.

Following its publication, Mr Johnson apologised to the public and insisted that he had only been in the garden for 25 minutes, and that he believed it was a work event.

Writing in her report on Monday, Gray said that “the excessive consumption of alcohol is not appropriate in a workplace at any time”.

“Steps must be taken to ensure every Government Department has a clear and robust policy in place covering the consumption of alcohol in the workplace.”

But is it ever acceptable to drink at work? We asked the experts.

Is it legal to drink at work?

It is perfectly legal to drink in most office jobs. While there are no laws specifically concerning the consumption of alcohol at work, consuming alcohol of any kind is prohibited in some industries.

For instance, any job that requires employees to drive, operate machinery or public transport requires them to abide by the Transport and Works Act 1992 or the Road Traffic Act 1988. These laws make it an offence to drive while under the influence of alcohol, and therefore drinking on the job is not allowed.

What is an ‘excessive amount’ of alcohol to drink at work?

When it comes to “acceptable” levels of drinking in the office, each workplace will differ.

As employment law doesn’t prohibit drinking, most employers write their own policies.

Some may choose to bar the consumption of all alcohol, while others “may take a more relaxed approach and allow moderate drinking during lunch breaks or when with clients, as long as it does not impair their ability to perform their work,” according to HR consultancy firm Peninsula.

Why is drinking at work a problem?

According to Alcohol Change, a charity that campaigns to reduce the harms of alcohol, lost productivity at work due to alcohol costs the UK economy more than £7 billion each year.

With more than 25 million people in the UK who drink alcohol, this can amount to 167,000 working years. This is a result of people turning up to work hungover, still being under the influence from the night before, or consuming alcohol during the working day.

The charity found that 40 per cent of employers attributed low productivity to alcohol consumption, while three to five per cent of all work absence is caused by drinking.

Additionally, the charity found that employees are more likely to become heavy drinkers when drinking culture is seen as normal at work.

What should workplaces that are worried about excessive alcohol consumption do?

Experts at Alcohol Change recommend that all workplaces implement an alcohol policy.

The charity also recommends hosting activities that raise awareness about the negative impact of drinking too much, and ensuring the work social events aren’t centred around alcohol, and that there are alcohol-free drinks on offer.

Additionally, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), an association for human resource management professionals, says employers should clearly outline what is and isn’t acceptable.

“Many choose to ban [alcohol] consumption during working hours because of the effects it can have on behaviour,” Rachel Suff, employee relations adviser at the CIPD said.

“Others may allow it during a lunch break or to ‘toast’ celebrations, but a policy should always spell out the responsibility of people to take reasonable care of themselves and expectations on employees to not be under the influence and to behave appropriately.”

Suff added: “The regular provision of alcohol can blur expectations of how employees should behave, and employers can be liable for any events that happen as a result of providing alcohol to staff who then act inappropriately.

“Equally, employers need to recognise that there are other ways to bring their staff together, and that not everyone will be comfortable being around alcohol so it could act to exclude some staff.”

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in