Honesty is the best policy

27 June, 2008

Q We have started writing tongue-in-cheek shelf tickets, making extravagant claims such as "this is the best wine ever made" or "the

Queen serves this to heads of state". I thought it was clear we were just having a laugh, but a customer has warned us that we could be in breach of the law.

Should we go back to our old, strait-laced tickets?

A The Trade Descriptions Act 1968 insists retailers do not apply a false or misleading description to goods. The law is intended to protect consumers from serious untruths, not trivial statements that are clearly frivolous.

It's highly unlikely that any of your customers really think you are selling the best wine ever made, although, since this is a highly subjective matter, there would be no way of anyone proving beyond doubt that it was or wasn't. A particularly humourless Trading Standards officer might take a different view, but the courts would probably not take such a po-faced stance.

With your claim about the

Queen, however, you're into dodgy territory. The Act says it is an offence "to falsely state or imply that any goods or services are of a kind supplied to, or approved by, the

Queen or any other member of the royal family", according to the Trading Standards Institute. This clause is primarily to stop goods being sold with a fake "by royal appointment" statement, but even so, you might want to think of a different joke.

Q One of my sales assistants is a bit too keen on the goods he sells for my liking, and regularly comes to work smelling of booze. Now I have discovered he's also a regular cannabis user and this may help to explain some of his more eccentric behaviour at work. What can I do?

A Many industries are bringing in drugs and alcohol testing for staff, something that our trade hasn't been enthusiastic about for obvious reasons.

ACAS advises you to keep accurate, confidential records of instances of poor performance or other problems; to interview the worker in private; concentrate on the instances of poor performance that have been identified;

ask for the worker's reasons for poor performance and question whether it could be due to a health problem, without specifically mentioning alcohol or drugs; and then agree future action.

This could be the excuse you need to draft an alcohol and drugs policy.

"Any alcohol or drugs policy should be used to ensure problems are dealt with effectively and consistently," ACAS says. "They should protect workers and encourage sufferers to seek help. An

education programme for managers is particularly important - it could include details of signs to look for, how to deal with workers who seek help, and where expert advice and help may be obtained.

"Being able to direct your workers to help is an important step. This may help them to recognise the dangers of alcohol, drug and other substance misuse and encourage them to seek help.

It may also persuade your management and staff that covering up for someone with a drug problem is not in that person's long-term interests."

As well as outlining what help may be available for employees with a drink or drug problem, the policy should include details of your disciplinary stance.

"For instance, you may agree to suspend disciplinary action in cases of misconduct where an alcohol problem is a factor, if your employee follows a suitable course of action," says ACAS. "However, where gross misconduct is involved, an alcohol problem may be taken into account in determining disciplinary action."

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