Tougher attitudes toward on-the-job drinking
As the rate of consumption of alcohol has increased in Finland, employers are taking a tougher line on employees appearing intoxicated at work.
A couple of years ago Finland's central labour market organisations reworked the old guidelines for encouraging abusers to seek treatment. The aim was to improve the preventative aspects of the procedure. The Huugo programme was aimed at training employees to cut back on consumption of alcohol. Tens of thousands have taken part in the training.
"In practice things have gone in the opposite direction, and tougher lines have been implemented at work places", says Timo Koskinen, lawyer at the Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions (SAK).
An increasing number of workplaces have a zero tolerance policy. An employee showing up at work with a hangover might be given a serious warning, and someone who is openly drunk at work could be sacked immediately.
"Under the traditional interpretation, alcohol abuse in itself is not sufficient grounds to fire someone, unless the employee has done something serious, like endangered work safety", Koskinen says.
The zero tolerance attitude extends beyond issues involving intoxicants. For instance, Koskinen notes that employers' increasing interest in their employees' credit information reflects a reduced level of trust. "There is a desire to find out things in advance, and to create simple, clear procedures."
The system of guiding substance abusers into treatment is merely a recommendation, but in Koskinen's view it should be a binding agreement. However, everyone concedes that it is not a good idea to give up a good employee very easily, since recruiting and training a new one is costly.
Antti Holopainen, director of the Järvenpää Social Hospital feels that the threshold for timely intervention in a substance abuse situation remains high. "Problems are ignored for too long, and then the employees fall to the level in which the ability to work is questionable."
Only the most difficult cases end up in the hospital, but health care professionals are often also inhibited in taking up the question of alcohol use, Holopainen says.
The biggest shortcomings in Holopainen's view are in getting rehabilitation in the early stages.
One sign of the times is that nine members of the Järvenpää City Council have backed an initiative to get the city to stop serving alcohol at municipal events.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Director of International Affairs Institute reprimanded for use of alcohol (9.4.2008)
Fired up on alcohol (6.4.2008)