Dry January ends! | QCS

Dry January ends!

Dementia Care
February 1, 2017

Not a week goes by where there isn’t some kind of article in the media about society’s increased consumption of alcohol or drugs. If what we read in the press is correct, drinking and recreational drug use (including legal highs) is more prevalent today than it ever has been.

With this in mind, and as we come out of “dry January”, now is perhaps an appropriate time to review your organisation’s approach to tackling alcohol and drug issues in the workplace.

Employees’ attending work under the influence of drugs or alcohol creates increased risk to the business in relation to:-

  1. Accidents/injuries;
  2. Increased absence levels;
  3. Reputational damage where customers or members of the public encounter one of your staff under the influence;
  4. Lost productivity; and
  5. Negligent errors.

The business case for tackling these issues head on, in addition to complying with an employer’s obligations under health and safety legislation, couldn’t be more compelling.

Note further, that there is as much need to address the legitimate use and misuse of prescription drugs as there is illegal drugs/legal highs. Any drug, including prescription drugs, which impacts upon an employee’s ability to perform their job safely should be caught by an effective alcohol and drugs policy which is tailored to the organisation, its values and its operational risks.

Attending work under the influence of drugs or alcohol and not being fit to perform your job safely is, more often than not, a potential gross misconduct offence and one which should be tackled under the disciplinary policy and procedure. However, how do you know if an employee is under the influence of alcohol or drugs? Is it lawful to require employees to undergo some form of testing? What if the employee has an addiction/medical issues which result in drinking or taking drugs (prescription or otherwise)?

In short, an effective alcohol and drugs policy will:-

  1. Set out the purpose of the policy reinforcing the importance of creating a safe working environment;
  2. Offer employees the opportunity to seek voluntary support where they have addictions/health issues to give them a chance to overcome these before they fall foul of any policy;
  3. Set out clear guidelines of what is expected and what is not permitted including (but not limited to) attending work under the influence, being in possession of illegal drugs or alcohol, reporting to management the prescription of any drugs that may affect the employees safety to fulfil their role;
  4. Setting out the employee’s right to conduct a search;
  5. Setting out the circumstances where the employee(s) may be required to submit to a drugs and/or alcohol test – will this be “for cause” testing i.e. where there is a suspicion following a report or incident, or “random” testing which is designed to be more proactive in enforcing the policy and identifying breaches etc;
  6. How tests will be conducted and the chain of custody;
  7. The potential sanctions for being in breach of the policy.

Inevitably, at some stage, an employer will need to be ready to conduct a drug or alcohol test. Given the complexities of the various drug testing kits and understanding results, and the importance of ensuring a safe chain of custody (i.e. the results not being contaminated), we would recommend employers identify a local service provider who can support your business in conducting such tests as and when required.

Where an employee is found to be in need of help i.e. they have an addiction, a sympathetic and supportive approach should be considered and a possible referral to Occupational health made.

Where an employee is guilty of misconduct, and the issue is not really one of capability (i.e. health issues) then it is important that a full investigation is carried out and disciplinary action is taken. Usually, breaches of a drugs and alcohol policy warrant gross misconduct allegations. It is also important to ensure that you adopt a consistent approach to disciplinary action and outcomes to avoid allegations of unfairness arising from lack of consistency.

The QCS Alcohol and Drugs policy has recently been updated and is available to members.

Oliver McCann
Oliver McCann

Napthens LLP – Employment Law Specialist


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