Can alcohol mix with my security strategy?

I persuaded our managing director to hire a dedicated IT security expert. He has been in place for two months and I am pleased with his work, but on several occasions he has smelled strongly of drink. This makes me nervous, especially as I championed both the post and its incumbent. How do I nip this in the bud?

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THE QUESTION

I persuaded our managing director to hire a dedicated IT security expert. He has been in place for two months and I am pleased with his work, but on several occasions he has smelled strongly of drink. This makes me nervous, especially as I championed both the post and its incumbent. How do I nip this in the bud?

 

THE SOLUTIONS

Act quickly and discuss the options with your HR team

If this problem has occurred on several occasions, it is arguably too late to nip it in the bud.

It is unlikely you are the only one who has noticed it and your judgement will be questioned if this situation gets out of hand. What, for example, would happen if he made a serious error while not fully sober? Good technical skills are not enough for an IT security expert. Credibility is also needed with other IT specialists and business colleagues, and this is at risk with the situation you have described.

This is not a unique problem. According to a survey by employment law consultancy Peninsula, 33% of respondents had a liquid lunch three times a week, with 76% feeling slightly drunk when returning to work.

On the other hand, the Health and Safety Executive's website states, "You have a general duty under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 to ensure, as far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare of your employees. If you knowingly allow an employee under the influence of excess alcohol to continue working, and this places the employee or others at risk, you could be prosecuted."

In conclusion, this is a good time for you to have an open discussion with your HR colleagues about the options.

Sharm Manwani, Henley Management College

 

Broach your concerns gently with your employee

You need to discuss your concerns openly with your security expert. First, gain his confidence and put him at ease by telling him how pleased you are with his work so far. Then broach your worries gently. Explain why you are concerned, pointing out the critical nature of his work and the impact on both your reputations.

While you are doing this you must keep an open mind and genuinely listen to his side of the story. If your worst fears are confirmed, the guy needs help.

You must seek the advice of your personnel department. At this stage you need to discuss his contract with them and any clauses relating to drink or drugs, and fully understand your company's policies in this area.

Ensure he gets professional advice and give him support and encouragement to go through the process. Clearly you have a duty to protect your organisation and employees and you must deal with him fairly and ethically but also firmly.

Robina Chatham, visiting fellow, Cranfield

 

Make sure you separate the problem from the post

The fact that you have concerns about the person should not affect the decision to go with the post. I assume that the reasons and circumstances for creating the post are still valid, so it is important that in your dealings with the company the two issues are not confused.

With regard to the issue of drink, you first need to check your company's HR policies. For instance, is there a policy on drinking alcohol during lunchtime? I am not suggesting you wade in with a disciplinary at this stage, but before you talk to your colleague you need to fully understand the ground rules.

Another aspect to consider is whether you think the alcohol consumption is affecting your colleague's ability to carry out his duties. For instance, are there any visible behaviour changes that can be attributed to alcohol consumption? Also, as this employee is new to the company, I assume that colleagues are comfortable with his general performance and that he is meeting his probationary goals?

Once you have all the facts, talk to him. Tell him you have noticed the smell of drink. He may be embarrassed, not realising it was obvious, and this may be enough to fix the problem. If he is defensive and does not see it as an issue, you need to explain to him what is considered by the company to be appropriate behaviour.

At this stage, brief your HR department and managing director, position the problem so it is not associated with the post, and have a constructive plan to help the individual.

It important to be aware that the root cause of this behaviour may be due to an illness. Your employer must consider this and take it into account when determining its actions.

You need to act now. If you allow the situation to develop into a serious issue, you will have become part of the problem.

Roger Rawlinson, NCC Group

 

Monitor the situation carefully before acting

It appears you have two concerns: the wellbeing of the individual and the security of your systems. Therefore, you need to proceed with caution, sensitivity and some urgency.

First, check to see if your organisation has a drugs and alcohol policy, then establish contact with the HR department, which may have been involved in similar situations and will be aware of what support is available within and outside the organisation.

Don't dive in. Observe and keep a note of your concerns. Document specific examples that demonstrate how the employee's work is being affected or if it is a behavioural issue: a pattern of late starts, long lunches or afternoon absences, for example.

Once you have monitored the situation and are sure of your facts, take advice and then act. Ignoring concerns in this area could be very costly and have significant consequences.

This may mean you need to progress to a formal procedure. If the individual has only been employed by the company for a short time and you feel there are serious grounds for concern which can be substantiated, his contract could be terminated quite quickly. Given the specific nature of the role, alcohol abuse could be grounds for gross misconduct.

This is the most extreme outcome but if it does come to that, you must also ensure that you separate the personal situation from the job in the eyes of the managing director.

Congratulations on raising the profile of security with your board - don't lose the benefits. Objectively communicate the success and progress that has been achieved during the period and what is planned to continue with a new person in the post.

Ellen Dunne, director, Ernst & Young

 

THE EXPERTS

Computer Weekly has put together a panel of experts whose specialist knowledge you can draw on to solve a problem. E-mail your questions (or your solution to this question) to computer.weekly@rbi.co.uk

NCC Group www.nccglobal.com

Ernst & Young www.ey.com

Cranfield School of Management www.cranfield.ac.uk/som

Henley Management College www.henleymc.ac.uk

 

Got a question?

If you have an IT management-related question you would like answered by our panel of experts, e-mail it to computer.weekly@rbi.co.uk

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