In the run up to Christmas alcohol consumption inevitably rises.  This is a great time for the pub and restaurant trade but licensees need to make sure that they have a plan for dealing with those who have had a little bit too much Christmas spirit.

Legislation restricts the sale of alcohol to drunks, and police sting operations to enforce these provisions in premises associated with alcohol-related problems are often launched in December.  Police can issue fixed penalty notices and can ask for licence reviews if premises are caught serving drunks.  Tempting though it may be to boost profits over the Christmas period it could be a costly mistake if the law on intoxicated customers were overlooked.

Fixed fines

S.141 of Licensing Act makes it an offence to “knowingly” sell or attempt to sell alcohol to a person who is drunk.  The bar person serving the customer is liable for a fixed fine of £80.00.  It is also an offence to “knowingly” allow alcohol to be sold to a person who is drunk.  In a pub both the barperson and licensee/designated premises supervisor could therefore be liable to a fine for each incident.  If an outlet is found to be persistently serving intoxicated customers then this might result in a licence review.

No definition of drunk

The difficulty with this legislation is that there is no legal definition of drunk.  Police will therefore need to show that a customer is “unequivocally” drunk.

Practical Advice

  • As licensee/designated premises supervisor you need to be able to show that you do not “knowingly” allow staff to serve alcohol to drunk customers.  You need to have a strategy for dealing with drunk customers and train staff how to deal with them.
  • Ensure that barstaff know that it is an offence to knowingly serve a customer who is drunk and that it is company policy not to do so.
  • Ensure staff understand what you regard as drunk e.g slurring speech, staggering about, unable to count out money for a drink etc.
  • Inform drunk customers of outlet’s your policy on intoxication
  • Monitor this in practice and discipline staff who breach the policy.
  • Consider employing doorstaff to refuse to admit or remove drunk customers on busy nights over Christmas.

Protecting Staff from Customer Violence

The risk of violence is heightened where customers are under the influence of alcohol or other substances.  Those enjoying the Christmas atmosphere may get carried away and staff will have to be prepared to deliver bad news and may, for example, receive threats if they refuse to serve a customer because they are already drunk.

If a customer becomes violent towards a member of staff there is obviously a personal cost to the employee who has sustained the injury, but there is also a cost to your business because of the detrimental effect on morale and absence.  The HSE and local environmental health officers take violence at work seriously. To date, there have been very few successful prosecutions against employers, but there remains a distinct possibility that employers will be prosecuted if they fail to take all reasonable steps to prevent violence and abuse to staff.

Employers have a duty to provide a safe place and system of work for all employees under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and also under the law of negligence.  The obligation is to take all reasonable steps to protect an employee from reasonably foreseeable danger.

What amounts to reasonable precautions depends on the individual circumstances and the size of your organisation.  In our view, if you own/run a pub or nightclub where there is often aggressive behaviour then it might be reasonable to expect you to employ or engage the services of a doorman for the protection of your staff and customers.  See Practical Advice below.

Avoiding claims

They key to avoiding successful claims is to have an up to date risk assessment covering the risk of violence in place.  You also need to have in place policies and procedures tailored to your business and these must be implemented.  You will need to be able to show that staff have received relevant training.  You should demonstrate that the issue of violence at work is taken seriously by management.  A comprehensive paper trail is important.

Practical Advice

  • Use incident records to identify patterns and causes.  For example, do more incidents historically occur in the run up to Christmas and what should you be doing about this?
  • Experience has shown that training in the ability to recognise the signs of conflict and how to defuse potentially dangerous situations is a key tool in reducing the risk of violence.
  • Create the right atmosphere.  Reduce congestion at entry points and ensure service at the bar is speedy not slow and sloppy.
  • Research suggests that the physical layout of the bar area can result in overcrowding which may lead to violence and aggression.  Changing the layout of the area may reduce the number of incidents.
  • Avoid incentives to intoxication such as happy hours.
  • Set the rules for customers and make sure they are followed, e.g no dancing on the tables.
  • Devise an action plan so staff know their responsibilities – for example who is responsible for asking staff to leave the premises?
  • Exclude persistent offenders from your premises
  • Consider whether security measures such as CCTV are necessary.

The content of this page is a summary of the law in force at the present time and is not exhaustive, nor does it contain definitive advice. Specialist legal advice should be sought in relation to any queries that may arise.