The 331-year-old insurance institution, Lloyd’s of London, was for long regarded as the last bastion of the City’s workplace drinking culture.
Whereas the financial crisis led other City industries, such as banking and law, to ban workplace drinking some time ago, the insurance sector continued to remain more tolerant towards a pint or two at lunchtime. However, re-occurring reports of inappropriate behaviour and sexual harassment committed by intoxicated workers has led to a re-think in the insurance sector.
Lloyd’s of London crack down
In an attempt to crack down on its notorious drinking culture and associated reports of sexual harassment, Lloyd’s of London initially made the headlines in 2017 when it imposed a ban on its own staff from drinking during working hours. However, as Lloyd’s of London’s own staff makes up only a fraction of the people working in its building, this ban was of limited value.
In its continued efforts to tackle the situation, Lloyd’s of London has now announced a new code of conduct prohibiting anyone under the influence of drugs or alcohol from entering its building. This prohibition will apply to Lloyd’s of London’s 40,000 pass holders, as well as its own 800 members of staff. In addition to the new code, in its attempt to turn itself into a safe and inclusive workplace, Lloyd’s of London is turning its bar into a coffee shop and has set up a hotline to enable the reporting of bad behaviour.
New code of conduct
While Lloyd’s of London’s new code of conduct will no doubt have some opponents who consider it an Orwellian form of control, it makes perfect sense from an employment law perspective. It is not difficult to foresee the potential implications that may arise from a breach of the code of conduct:
- alcohol is well-known to loosen the tongue which can lead people to make inappropriate comments, including of a sexual or racial nature.
- Alcohol-fuelled work functions are also a common hotbed of sexual harassment and other offensive behaviours.
- A robust code of conduct will make staff feel more protected, as well as help to promote diversity and inclusion in the workplace.
Expected standards of conduct
To be effective, a code should clearly set out the organisation’s expected standards of conduct both within the workplace and on business engagements outside the workplace. Expectations on the use of drugs and alcohol at work-related evening and weekend functions should be expressly referred to, and relevant examples of unacceptable conduct should be given. The code should also set out expected standards of professionalism and conduct between co-workers.
A code of conduct will, however, be of limited value on its own. It is equally important that organisations have in place effective reporting mechanisms and robust disciplinary policies. The reporting mechanisms should be as straightforward as possible and, where appropriate, staff should be referred to the organisation’s grievance or sexual harassment reporting policy.
All staff should be encouraged to report breaches and given assurances that they will not be subjected to any retaliatory conduct for doing so. Staff should also be informed that any reported incidents will be dealt with confidentially, to the extent possible.
A breach of the code
Effective disciplinary policies should set out the disciplinary sanctions that will be applied in the event of a breach of the code. Crucially, organisations must actively use these policies in the event of a breach. This will include fully and promptly investigating all reported breaches of the code, in an open, fair and sensitive manner. If the investigation concludes that the behaviour complained of did fall short of the expected behaviour set out in the code of conduct, appropriate disciplinary action should be taken, regardless of the employee’s level of seniority.
The code, the disciplinary policies and reporting mechanisms should be drawn to staff’s attention, and training on them provided on a regular basis. To be effective, training should be as open and interactive as possible to encourage questions and engagement. Organisations can also consider requiring employees who have breached the code of conduct to attend equality and diversity training, in addition to or in lieu of a disciplinary sanction.
Implemented correctly, a code of conduct, coupled with effective HR policies, procedures and training, can lead to a safe, diverse and inclusive workplace.