Wednesday, 29 November 2023 09:54

A New Approach to Substance Misuse

As we enter into the festive season, we can expect more opportunities to arise where are invited to partake in activities that will involve alcohol; and for some individuals, other more illicit recreational drugs. Drug and alcohol issues amongst employees aren’t confined only to the Christmas period, but the increase in their use makes it a good time to talk about it.

As usual, employee health, safety and welfare take centre stage in employer considerations and a clear policy on substance misuse should be in place. Historically we may have applied a zero tolerance approach to drug and alcohol misuse and considered only disciplinary action.

More recently however, following the social impacts of Covid and the pressures of the Cost of Living crisis, we might be more inclined to couple disciplinary action with a preventative and supportive approach to help employees get the help they need.

A standard drug and alcohol policy will take the approach that being under the influence of a substance whist at work is a disciplinary offence, and quite probably a dismissible one, Particularly where an impaired employee is high risk and might put themselves, their colleagues or members of the public at risk of injury or death.

However, disciplinary action will only be applied if the individual gets caught.

This might occur if you operate regular screening or random drug testing, but there is much anecdotal evidence that substance abusers are very good at covering up their use and so they may get away, undetected indefinitely. A supportive approach that encourages substance users to admit their problem and seek help is much less likely to result in dismissal as an outcome.

Employees that would be considered to be in ‘high risk’ groups include amongst others, drivers, those who work at height, handlers of hazardous substances or those who work with vulnerable adults and children. For these, regular screening is an acceptable approach. We would advise this is done as a minimum under a business’s corporate manslaughter responsibilities.

If you choose to carry out testing on other staff members, you should test the entire workforce to avoid any risks of victimisation or discrimination claims. The exception to that would be where you have reasonable and founded belief that an individual is under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Although self-use kits are available, when conducting tests it’s a good idea to use a professional external organisation to maintain consistency and avoid mistakes. You’ll also be able to ensure that proper records are kept and it will be less likely that any positive results are objected to.

The frequency of tests and whether they are applied to the whole workforce or a random selection and/or just high risk employees should be information contained within your staff handbook. This should also detail the likely consequences of a positive test result depending upon which substances are identified in the test.

We recommend that it is made very clear that tests will be held at random. Giving notification of when drug and alcohol tests will happen totally negates the reason for applying them.

Remember that substance abuse may be masking another underlying issue, such as a mental health condition, so whatever your approach, you should take this into consideration. Managers are rarely trained on how to approach sensitive subjects employees, but taking an empathetic and communicative approach is something that is threaded throughout our leadership programmes.

For further help and support with your drug and alcohol policy, your staff handbook wording and what to do in the event of having a substance user amongst your team, call us on 01452 331331 or email us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Read 454 times Last modified on Wednesday, 29 November 2023 10:30


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