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Drinking alcohol did not justify summary dismissal

Posted on 26th July 2011
Case law

An employee who had a drink during working time was not fairly dismissed despite employer's policy.

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Julie Temple Julie
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Reid v Liberty Living Plc UKEATS/0039/10/BI


Mr R left work one afternoon and had an alcoholic drink. His employer, Liberty Living Plc (LLP), had two policies that they relied on. "Being under the influence of alcohol" was an example of gross misconduct within the disciplinary policy. LLP also had an alcohol and drug policy which prohibited "consumption of alcohol or being under the influence ... while performing company business or in the work place" and that "violation ... can result in disciplinary action up to and including discharge".

Mr R was invited to a disciplinary meeting to consider the allegation that he had been "under the influence of alcohol during working hours". Questioning at the meeting concentrated on whether Mr R had consumed alcohol, which Mr R admitted. He was dismissed at the end of the disciplinary meeting because he "consumed alcohol during work time and ... that is deemed an act of gross misconduct." The letter confirming the dismissal stated that Mr R "accepted that [he] had consumed alcohol during working hours ... and being under the influence of alcohol during working hours was considered as gross misconduct".

The decision

The dismissal was unfair according to the employment tribunal (ET) and employment appeal tribunal (EAT). Mr R was not aware of the alcohol and drugs policy and the ET found the policies confusing. It also found that Mr R was not actually in breach. Mr R had not consumed alcohol in the workplace or while on company business (although during work time). Mr R had also not returned to work "under the influence" of alcohol. The EAT concluded "the mere consumption of a single alcoholic drink in a bar outside the workplace is not ... prohibited".

In practice

This case practically highlights a number of important points:

  • Ensure any policies are sent to employees and that this can be evidenced.
  • Check that policies are carefully drafted and consistent.
  • When dealing with a disciplinary matter ensure that the allegation, questioning and decision are consistent with each other. 

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