Last orders? Banning drinking during working hours

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Lloyds' decision to ban drinking during work hours has drawn much attention, but what is the law?

Lloyds' recent decision to adopt a zero-tolerance approach to drinking during working hours has drawn a lot of mixed media attention. On the one hand it has been applauded for seeking to eradicate the perceived drinking culture in the City, but it has also been seen as too 'PC' and controlling.

Can such a policy work?

Yes. Prohibiting alcohol and drug use is a common theme in many employer handbooks. This is often driven by the need to protect health and safety, to guard against negligence, and to increase productivity.

Where many employers often fall into problems is the inconsistent application of their rules. If an employer allows certain employees to drink it can be more difficult to enforce standards for others.

Is this policy anything new?

Fellow financial institution Hiscox implemented a similar ban so this is not new to the City. Traditionally the finance sector has been viewed as fostering a drinking culture. However, with the expanding global nature of the sector, the increased ethnic diversity of the workforce, and the greater competitiveness of winning and retaining business, such culture has gradually been eroded.

How will the policy be monitored?

As long as the policy is clear and well-communicated HR will have a great deal of power to monitor and enforce rules. If HR has reasonable suspicions and/or independent witness evidence that employees have been drinking during working hours it will be on more solid ground to discipline those individuals.

Won't this affect networking?

Some brokers and underwriters, i.e. those who traditionally use client lunches to win business, appear to be exempt from the policy. The policy may therefore have little impact save to stamp out a drinking culture except in back office functions. Nonetheless, a total drinking ban for customer-facing roles will not be fatal to business development. With the introduction of anti-bribery rules several years ago many financial institutions have already tightened policies around client entertainment, so this latest ban may simply be viewed as another step towards creating a more professional environment.

Should employers consider adopting similar policies?

Employee conduct is under ever-increasing scrutiny. With the growth of social media staff monitoring is currently very high both inside and outside of work. If employers believe alcohol is affecting their business and leading to misconduct and complaints a clear and consistent policy is likely to prove effective. No doubt this will be met with some resentment and scepticism but over time it will lead to a change in behaviours.

Adam Grant is head of employment and partner at Wedlake Bell

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