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Managing Drug and Alcohol Misuse in the Workplace

Did you know that research conducted by the CIPD highlighted that drugs and alcohol are contributory factors in 26% of all workplace accidents? With that in mind would your managers, supervisors or directors know how to effectively and safely deal with an employee that was suspected or found to be under the influence of drugs and alcohol at work?

First thing’s first. What are your responsibilities as an employer? Seems like a simple question however, as an employer, you have a responsibility to look after your employee’s well being as well as providing them with a safe working environment. You also must consider that employers are acting illegally if they knowingly allow drug or alcohol related activities to occur at work, specifically if:

  • an employee under the influence of excess alcohol is knowingly allowed to work
  • controlled substances are produced, supplied or used on an employer’s premises
  • drivers of road vehicles and transport system workers are under the influence of drugs while driving or unfit through drugs while working

As an employer you are therefore expected to walk the fine line between supporting employees if they are struggling with substance abuse (especially as some of the symptoms of long term misuse of drugs and alcohol could be classed as a disability) yet maintaining a safe environment for the rest of your employees, whilst staying on the right side of the law. When considering supporting an employee it is important to remember that the misuse of these substances is often associated with underlying issues including mental ill health and therefore can be complex situations to tackle.

As this is an employment blog we always recommend starting with a policy. Your Drug and Alcohol policy should outline:

  • your responsibilities as the employer
  • the standards you expect from your employees
  • what, if any, testing regimes you employ within the business
  • what disciplinary action may occur on failing or refusal of a test

With a policy in place, it is important to share this with your employees, and ideally have them sign to say they have read and understood it, which is important when it comes to dealing with issues later on.

What to do when you suspect an employee is under the influence at work?

It’s difficult to prescribe a one size fits all approach, however some fundamentals include trying to tackle it informally and discretely if possible. It’s important not to ignore the issue so calling them into an informal meeting is a good start. If you are on a safety critical site or their role involves driving or using heavy machinery you may want to consider sending them home on full pay while you investigate.

If you do decide to send them home, do not let them drive home themselves and assist in finding them an alternative method of transport.

If you have a testing regime, then now would be a good time to follow through and utilise it. Although testing can be carried out by an employer, tribunals usually prefer to see an external third party conduct the testing. This carries with it the questions of how quick can your third-party provider get out to conduct the testing and how quickly can they get the results back to you?

It’s important to remember that even if an employee fails a drug and alcohol test it does not necessarily mean that a tribunal will support it being a fair dismissal. You still have to go through your disciplinary procedure, and you would be expected to demonstrate how their performance would be impacted to enough of a level that warranted dismissal.

This blog barely scratches the surface on this topic so if you would like some further advice please contact the employment team on 01302 341 344.

By Kris Kerins BSc (Hons) PGC (Tech Mgmt) Risk Services Adviser








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