Should employers offer staff ‘hangover days’?

While four in 10 HR managers say alcohol can cause workplace issues, some firms are giving employees the option to work from home after a heavy night

Some UK companies have started offering ‘hangover days’ to staff, giving them the option to work remotely if they are feeling a bit rough from the night before. 

One such firm is digital marketing agency The Audit Lab. Its co-founder and director, Claire Crompton, told BBC 5 Live's Wake Up to Money that the policy “promotes honesty” between employees and their managers. Her organisation offers staff unlimited so-called ‘hangover days’ with the expectation that it makes it easier for workers to participate in work events and client entertainment. 

Crompton said the business introduced the policy “to offer something to younger millennials who typically go out midweek”, adding that they “just work in their PJs, sat at home on the couch”.

According to Crompton, the policy has been a success, with everyone being “respectful” about using the perk. 

CIPD research, shown exclusively to Wake Up to Money, found that 84 per cent of workplace social events involve alcohol. Two-fifths (40 per cent) of businesses told the CIPD that alcohol will be free of charge at their Christmas events, and half of managers surveyed said having drinks at social events was good for employee morale and team bonding. 

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However, 40 per cent of managers reported that alcohol consumption can cause problems at work. 

So should staff have the opportunity to give the commute a miss after a particularly excessive evening? Or are there downsides to be wary of when considering a formal ‘hangover day’ policy? People Management asked industry experts: 

Angela Brumpton, partner at law firm Gunnercooke, said:

“There a couple of employee relations issues this raises. A policy that gives perks to hungover staff could be criticised for condoning or even encouraging heavy drinking, which is at odds with their duty to safeguard the health and wellbeing of staff. It also perpetuates the stereotype of young people as feckless or irresponsible, which is unfair.

“The argument that it prevents employees from lying to their boss about the reason for absence raises an eyebrow. Lying to your employer about the reason for an absence is dishonest and is a gross misconduct offence. Employees should not ordinarily need to be incentivised to be honest.”

Claire Spurdell, head of HR business partnering at IT services company Agilisys, said:

“Whether these days are called hangover days, duvet days, mental health days or just flexible working, I think it’s encouraging to see employers looking to support a better work-life balance. 

“With the technology to do so, it makes sense to help employees maximise their productivity while supporting the need to have a life outside of work. This requires trust on both sides, but flexible working is inevitable for our modern workplace.”

Jill Miller, diversity and inclusion adviser at the CIPD, said:

“Being able to work flexibly can benefit so many people for a whole host of reasons, and making sure each employee group feels able to request it is definitely a good idea. Working flexibly can benefit employees and the organisation. 

“However, the labels given to initiatives and how they are communicated is really important. Could ‘hangover days’ be seen as endorsing excessive drinking? How does that stack up against one of the most talked-about-benefits of flexible working: wellbeing? And with many people choosing not to drink, are they still able to work flexibly?”

Alan Price, CEO of HR software provider BrightHR, said:

“Some employees would love not having to go into the office after a night on the tiles. Still, some fundamental issues would need to be dealt with first, including how many ‘hangover’ days someone can take, and whether the policy encourages employees to drink. How would the employer know that an employee actually is hungover, or just fancies working from home that day? 

“A more significant concern would be the potential discriminatory angle; employees who don’t drink alcohol for medical or religious reasons will have no access to this perk and could claim they are being treated less favourably. It would likely be challenging for an employer to justify this type of policy when required to by a tribunal.”

Shakil Butt, founder of consultancy HR Hero for Hire, said:

“Employers offering staff ‘hangover days’ gives permission to make bad choices. If someone is hungover, whether they are at work feeling terrible or at home feeling terrible, they are not likely to be very productive. This does not mean I want staff to call in sick and claim they have the flu, but I am advocating an adult-to-adult honest conversation.

“Perhaps a better way to deal with it would be to allow flexibility on working times and locations generally as a policy, if business can allow for that, rather than giving hangover days. This would have the benefit of not excluding those who do not drink.”

Elaine Hindal, CEO of charity Drinkaware, said:

“There should be no place for encouraging risky drinking behaviours in the workplace. Not only can employers play a vital role in setting out messages about the risks of drinking, we also believe they should be alert – and be catering – to diverse workforces. This may include people who don’t drink alcohol. In fact, our research tells us more people this year than last year don’t drink alcohol.

“We recently published a study into the pressures of drinking and the results should chime with bosses – more than half of people in work say they feel there’s too much pressure to drink when socialising with colleagues. We would encourage employers to carefully consider the facts about alcohol along with the health and wellbeing of their employees.”

The CIPD is exploring the issue of managing and preventing drug and alcohol misuse in the workplace in a new report out in spring 2020