The essential foundations of a good drugs and alcohol strategy for your business

Every employer in the UK has a legal obligation to adhere to the laws surrounding drugs and alcohol, such as The Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, and Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.  Companies also have a duty of care towards their employees and should ensure that the well being of the individual concerned is at the forefront of any decision making regarding substance misuse.

But just how vital is it for employers to have a robust drug and alcohol policy in place?  What factors contribute to a strategy that successfully marries up employee welfare with the interests of the business?

Why have a policy?

Employee substance misuse affects companies in a number of ways:

  • Absenteeism

A heavy drinking session the night before, or indeed that same morning, will invariably result in an employee’s absence.  This has massive repercussions for the employer who must call in another worker, pay overtime, or survive on a severely limited skeleton staff.

  • Low productivity

An employee who is under the influence of alcohol or drugs – or one who is suffering from a hangover or ‘come-down’ from substance abuse – will be far less efficient.  Aside from the lack of motivation, alertness, and general competence, unproductive employees are costly in that they may need to be sent home and other staff called in to provide cover.

  • Risk of injury/illness

Intoxicated employees are a liability.  Employees who are under the influence of alcohol or drugs, will run the risk of hurting themselves, other workers, and possibly customers/clients.

What should the policy look like?

A company’s drug and alcohol policy should follow a certain set of criteria to establish a reliable and consistent approach to dealing with the problem.  With regard to alcohol, many employers will view the issue from a medical perspective, thus encouraging and assisting the individual to seek help should be a priority.

The foundations of a substance misuse policy should set out information relating to confidentiality, education, disciplinary action, rehabilitation, and reintegration in to the workforce post recovery.  All staff members should have access to the policy and should be briefed on where to find it.  Failure to do so could result in the gathering of inadmissible evidence and, potentially, gross misconduct.

The policy should also include details on methods of testing. On-the-spot testing is available in the form of products such as THC testing kits, which are essentially ‘dip and read’ urine tests that give accurate results in as little as five minutes.  These kits are ideal for employers who require results in a quick and cost effective way, and those that need to test for a variety of different substances.


Individuals display a number of signs when under the influence of alcohol or drugs.  Generally speaking, a person’s demeanor will be inconsistent with their normal behavior.  The following are the most common signs that an employee may exhibit:

  • Becoming easily angered.
  • Sudden mood changes.
  • Lengthy absences from work.
  • Being accident prone.
  • Persistent tiredness.

Employers must get to know their employees before making a judgment as many of the above symptoms could be put down to stress, depression, bereavement, a medical condition, or work-related problems. Although drug and alcohol policies are vital, testing – including the use of send-off analysis kits or quick result equipment – should only be employed where absolutely necessary.

A solid drugs and alcohol strategy is one which protects the interests of the business and the employee, striking a balance between legal obligation and compassionate duty of care.


Posted by on Apr 14 2014. Filed under Blog. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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