Driving home for Christmas

The festive season is upon us and with that tends to come Christmas parties, which usually involve a tipple or two.
 
However, with new drink driving regulations coming into practice in Scotland, employers are being advised to think carefully when organising the office celebrations – as they could be faced with a legal claim from employees caught over the limit.
 
The new regulations, which commenced on December 5 2014, are set to try to decrease fatalities on the roads throughout the Christmas period. According to latest estimates from the 2012 Road Traffic Bill, 290 people were killed in drink drive accidents in the UK, which was an increase of 25% since 2011.

PJ Chalmers
 
Headquartered in Aberdeen, Empire, an HR and employment firm, advises employers to consider their responsibilities and their employees’ safety throughout the festive season.
 
Director at Empire, PJ Chalmers, said: “It’s important to remember whilst this is the season to be jolly, employers and employees should be sensible with their alcohol intake. With recent changes in the legal drink-driving limit, companies’ substance abuse policies, which cover alcoholic consumption, should be updated immediately to ensure staff are aware of their employer’s stance on the new laws.”
 
Below, Empire offers advice on how employers can ensure staff are kept safe on the roads this Christmas.
 
Company policies
As an employer, it is important to keep policies and documents up-to-date, including substance abuse policies and corporate vehicle documents. Depending on the industry, employers may choose to adopt different approaches to alcohol consumption by their employees. With roles that involve driving, operating machinery or are health and safety critical such as the offshore industry, it may be appropriate to adopt a zero tolerance approach.
 
Sales and customer facing roles may involve wining and dining clientele throughout the festive period, so precautions should be in place to ensure travel home is organised in advance. They should also be advised of what is acceptable conduct and the consequences of bringing the company into disrepute when under the influence of alcohol.
 
Companies which operate globally should also ensure staff who work throughout the UK, or are unfamiliar with Scottish laws, are clear on the different legal limits north and south of the border.
 
Duty of care
Holding team meetings, sending out a news bulletin, or communicating the changes on a notice board or specific places individuals gather for lunch can help communicate information on the new drink driving limits to employees. Employers should also consider the repercussions of a member of staff breathalysed after a work event. Although the driver caught drink driving will themselves be criminally responsible, if the driver is driving as part of their job, and was given alcohol by the employer, the employee could raise a personal injury claim against the company, similar to any injured third party.
 
Christmas party plans
Employers are advised to review Christmas party plans and take into consideration how employees will travel to and from the party, especially if there is alcohol involved. It would be beneficial for employers to send out a reminder of the new drink driving regulations and expectations regarding drinking and the impact on work prior to the event – or a generous employer could consider putting on transport to get staff home safely.
 
A number of employers offer staff drinks after work during the festive period, and with the changes in the Scottish law this means that one glass of wine or a pint of beer could put a driver over the legal 50mg limit. In practice, employers should be discouraging those driving to have a drink, and could offer them soft drinks or let them take the alcohol home to enjoy in the comforts of their homes.
 
Testing
Safety critical industries, such as oil and gas, adopt alcohol testing within their workforce, whether this be random or with cause. Ensuring the health and safety of employees is crucial. If employees abuse alcohol in the workplace disciplinary action can be taken which may include dismissal in accordance with the ACAS code.

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