By Carol Smith, Senior Employment Consultant At Croner

At Croner, we’ve noticed employers calling our advice lines are reporting more incidents of drug taking amongst employees. Not only is there concern about misuse and damage to the employee’s health, absenteeism and reduced productivity, it may also increase the risk of accidents in the workplace.

What’s the legal position?

As an employer you have a general duty under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 to ensure, as far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare of employees. If you knowingly allow an employee under the influence of excess alcohol or drug-taking to continue working and this places the employee or others at risk then you could be prosecuted. Similarly, employees are required to take reasonable care of themselves and others who could be affected by what they do.

In the transport industry, there is additional legislation in place to control the misuse of alcohol and drugs. The Transport and Works Act 1992 makes it a criminal offence for certain workers to be unfit through drink and/or drugs while working on railways, tramways and other guided transport systems. The operators of the transport system would also be guilty of an offence, unless they had shown all due diligence in trying to prevent such an offence being committed.

It is also an offence under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 for any person knowingly to permit the production, supply or use of controlled substances on their premises except in specified circumstances eg when they have been prescribed by a doctor.

So how should you respond?

Firstly, adopt an alcohol and substance misuse policy in consultation with your staff. This policy should aim to support affected employees rather than punish them, though the policy must say that possession or dealing in drugs at work will be reported immediately to the police. If an employee admits to being a drug user, the policy should seek to help that person rather than lead simply to dismissing him or her.

The alcohol policy should include matters such as:

- how the organisation expects employees to limit their drinking

- how problem drinking will be recognised and help offered

- at what point and in what circumstances you will treat an employee’s drinking as a matter for discipline rather than as a health problem.

What about drug screening?

Some employers have decided to adopt drug screening (or the right to search) as part of their drug policy. However you need to think very carefully about the purpose of that screening and what will be done with the information it generates. It is also important to consider the drug testing process itself including the type of testing, how the sample is collected and the security of the sample from contamination. Similar issues arise if you wish to adopt alcohol screening as part of their alcohol policy. It is best to seek professional advice and guidance on these matters.


- Find out if you have a problem. There should always be a good business reason for the introduction of a drugs and alcohol policy.

- Where safety is an issue, the policy should make it clear that you have zero tolerance of alcohol and drugs use.

- Decide how your company expects employees to limit their drinking and consider how you can make sure that if an employee has a possible alcohol problem, this is noticed and help is offered. An employee assistance programme can be a useful route in this case.

- Decide when you till treat an employee’s drinking or drug taking as a matter for discipline rather than a health problem.

- Set out in the policy the organisation’s procedures for dealing with these issues and provide this information to staff.

Croner provides information, advice and support to employers on a wide range of employment and safety matters. Find out more at www.cronersolutions.co.uk

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