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Drug and alcohol policies

This final month, in our Breaking Down the Handbook series, we look at drug and alcohol policies and why they are important for employers to have when dealing with employees with drug and alcohol misuse problems.

Why have a policy?

The need for a policy is important, as the lines can often become blurred as to what may be deemed acceptable or not between different employers - and even between different departments within the same employer. For example, one employer may have a lenient approach and allow employees to consume alcohol while on a lunch break or at work events, whereas other employers may have a complete ban on any alcohol consumption at all. When considering your business’s position on alcohol consumption, you may want to consider the following points:

  • Would you be happy for alcohol to be consumed during working hours/lunch breaks/special occasions or when entertaining clients?
  • Do you expect the same to be the case for employees working in safety sensitive positions or management as you do for employees who do not work in those roles?
  • How would you want to deal with an employee who has either a drug or alcohol problem which is affecting their performance at work?
  • How would you want to deal with an employee who fails to follow the policy or who attends for work under the influence of drugs or alcohol?

Aims of a policy

The primary aims of an employer’s drug and alcohol procedure should be to provide a clear position on what the employer’s policy is on drugs and alcohol.

Dealing with an employee who is misusing drugs or alcohol

You have a legal duty under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 to ensure, as far as is reasonably practicable, the safety of your staff. As such, if you knowingly allow a member of your staff to misuse drugs which results in themselves or others safety being placed at risk, you could be prosecuted under the Act.

As such, it is important that you try to assist an employee who is having issues with drugs or alcohol in the first instance. A tribunal is likely to find a dismissal unfair if it finds that no attempts were made by the employer to help an employee whose issues at work are connected with a drug or alcohol problem.

Confidentiality is absolutely key when dealing with an employee who voluntarily admits to having a drug or alcohol problem. It is the comfort of knowing they can seek help on a confidential basis that may persuade an employee to come forward and reach out for help.

You may wish to consider random drug screening for employees. However, under the GDPR this will be considered sensitive personal data and, as such, should only be used if it is absolutely necessary, i.e. employees who work in safety critical environments such as heavy machinery, doctors, drivers. Even so, workers in different jobs will pose different safety risks in safety critical environments, so collecting information through the random testing of all workers will rarely be justified.

What should your policy include?

  • You should set out the aims of the policy and why it is necessary to have one. It should be clear exactly to whom the policy applies;
  • Who has overall responsibility for implementing the policy? Is it HR? Is it someone in senior management? Given the sensitive nature of the matter, you may wish to limit the number of people responsible for implementing any policy;
  • If you are to undertake drug testing, the reasons and the process should be made clear to employees and their specific consent must be provided;
  • In relation to alcohol, the policy should set out clearly what the boundaries are. Is there a zero tolerance policy? Is a reasonable amount permitted at lunchtimes and when at client events?
  • The policy should make it clear that if any employees raise issues with a drug or alcohol problem that this will be kept in the strictest confidence;
  • Disciplinary action – make it clear in what circumstances, disciplinary action will be taken and what those actions may be (ie written warning, dismissal).

It is important to have a policy on this topic and employers should ensure that their tolerance on drugs and alcohol is proportionate to the needs of the business. While businesses will enforce a zero tolerance policy on drugs, more leniency may be given on alcohol, provided it does not compromise the safety of any of its staff and doesn’t impact performance.


This information is for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. It is recommended that specific professional advice is sought before acting on any of the information given. © Shoosmiths LLP 2022.


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