Drugs and Alcohol Policy: Support or Discipline?

This week is alcohol awareness week and we’ve been thinking about what, responsibilities employers have to control the behaviour of employees with regards to alcohol and potential addiction issues.

 

There is a certainly a difficult balancing act at play for employers: should employers be as supportive as possible, and recognise that substance dependency may be a medical issue, or should employers protect themselves and their businesses by disciplining any alcohol or drug misuse at work?

 

The legal position

The fact is that employers have a legal responsibility to look after employees’ wellbeing as well as their health & safety. Staff who misuse drugs or alcohol are more likely to take time off, display poor performance and increase the risk of accidents. Employers may be responsible, vicariously, for the negligence of any employees caused by impairment due to alcohol or drug misuse and it is illegal if an employee under the influence of excess alcohol is knowingly allowed to work or drive.

 

It goes without saying that employers could be acting illegally if they knowingly allow drug-related activities to go on at work but do not act. It is also obviously a criminal activity if the drugs being abused by an employee are illegal; employers should give some consideration as to whether any employee’s drug use will require reporting to the police.

 

Employers also need to protect all employees equally – in some industries, a zero tolerance approach is a necessity, as perhaps the machinery operated incorrectly could risk severe harm to everyone in the workplace.

 

TIP: ensure that where there is a zero tolerance policy in place that this is objectively justified and that it is consistent with other policies such as disciplinary policy when it comes to the wording for example – “it WILL result in SUMMARY dismissal” in both policies.

 

Mental Health?

 

However, employers could also consider (where possible within that industry) whether any serious alcohol or drug issues arising at work are actually indicative of a wider problem, perhaps stress at work or a mental health issue. Is the employee actually suffering from a disability, for which the substance misuse is just a symptom? If so, the employer will have obligations towards that disabled employee.

 

It is always important for all employers to make a clear distinction between dependency issues and misconduct issues such as isolated occasions of drunkenness at work. Line managers may find a clear policy to be helpful, in terms of how to support employees and when a matter is a disciplinary issue.

 

Case Study

 

We assisted on of our lovely HR clients with an issue where the employee had clearly been self-medicating.  First of all this company have mental health first aiders and were able to spot the signs and came straight to us for guidance on what next and how to handle the situation properly.

 

The employee was a loyal employee of over 20 years’ service, never had any issues with conduct before, but had been found with drugs and alcohol at work.

 

The signs were that this was very out of character and they knew that something had been going on at home, but he had been reluctant to talk about it.

 

The employer sat down with him* (didn’t discipline him) and asked him why this has happened.  He opened up and explained the reasons which had caused the decline in his mental health and explained he was really struggling and just didn’t want to work anymore.  They were able to come to an agreement for him to leave on terms which assisted him but were also fair to the company.

 

*Every case is unique, so always take advice if you are sure how to handle some of these more sensitive and difficult conversations.

 

 

Drug and Alcohol Policies

Regardless of whether there have been any historic issues of their use in an organisation, employers can benefit from having a policy on drugs and alcohol. This should cover:

  • What the rules are on the use of drugs or alcohol at work and the disciplinary position

This would outline whether an employer has a zero tolerance approach (and if so, why) and clearly outline the distinction between misconduct (eg. arriving at work under the influence) or where an employer would seek to be more supportive of any possible addiction issues (eg. repeated issues giving rise to the concern of employers and colleagues).

A policy would usually also make it clear what the rules are on social drinking between colleagues or networking. Imogen, a solicitor at Thrive Law, has recently written a piece on networking without alcohol. Inclusive networking is an important stepping stone towards truly inclusive and diverse workplaces.

 

  • Whether the company will undertake any drugs and alcohol screening or testing as part of their policy.

 

Drugs and alcohol testing is quite a sensitive matter, and our advice is that these type of tests should only be undertaken on a random or automatic basis where the industry or nature of the work requires absolutely no influence of any substances.

 

In a normal office role, it may be difficult to justify having a random or automatic testing policy. Employers need the permission of employees and should only carry out screening when they have a health and safety reason for testing.

Another consideration in drug testing is that drug screening test results would amount to special category personal data concerning an individual’s health, and therefore would give rise to further GDPR considerations for an employer and how they process this data.

 

  • A statement that the organisation recognises that a drugs problem may be an illness to be treated in the same way as any other illness

 

Although an employer might have a (justifiable) zero-tolerance policy, the underlying causes of that drug or alcohol use should always be borne in mind. If the substance abuse is caused by (for example) depression or anxiety, that person may be suffering with a disability. If this is the case, then the substance misuse may be behaviour arising out of that disability, for which special consideration should be given to avoid allegations of discrimination.

 

  • Signposting those with addiction issues to organisations which can help

 

  • An assurance of confidentiality, insofar as possible, if an employee asks for any assistance with addiction issues

 

  • Whether the employer will allow sick leave to be taken for any required treatment or contribute towards any required counselling

 

In the course of our research we found that Drinkaware hosts Drinkaware at work programmes, which are designed to support the wellbeing and health and safety agendas of UK businesses. If you have a specific concern around alcohol use in your workplace, we would advise that you contact Drinkaware directly.

If Thrive Law can be of any assistance in, for example, reviewing or drafting Drugs and Alcohol policies, reviewing any disciplinary matters regarding drugs or alcohol misuse, or providing any general HR guidance in this regard, please get in touch. 

 

Written by Jodie Hill & Alicia Collinson

Related Articles

HR REVIEW – 5th February 2019 Over half UK workers accepted job offers without checking contract first

Time to Talk Day 2019

What your employer needs to know when your child has a mental health illness – guest blog

Vegetarianism & Veganism – Are they protected as Philosophical Beliefs?

Diversity: More than just Box-Ticking and Policies

Drugs and Alcohol Policy: Support or Discipline?

Bullying and Harassment in the Workplace

Yorkshire Legal Awards: Diversity and Inclusion Award

Yorkshire Post Excellence in Business: Social Mobility Award

Topic UK Magazine October 2019

Calling Time on the Booze Culture

Mental health discrimination is limiting the opportunities in the workplace for those who have served in the armed forces

Thrive Law positive following trial four-day working week

How to Thrive – Top tips to reduce stress in your organisation

Asda’s Employment Contract Changes: Fair or Foolish?

Keep Informed: MacDonald’s CEO dismissed for relationship at work

How to Handle Allergies in the Workplace

Menopause in the Workplace

The 4 Day Week Report

Feeling SAD?

WELLBEING | Thriving Minds at the Civic Hall by Rob Kilner

Keep Informed: New case criticises workplace “banter” and awards £54,000 for race and sexual orientation discrimination

Surviving or Thriving?

Keep Informed: Women and Equalities Committee proposes changes to enforcement of discrimination rights

The Good Work Plan

Working 9 to 5, 4 Days a Week…?

Is your organisation ready for Generation Z?

Thriving In The Workplace and the #OneMind Petition

Dyslexia in the Workplace

Overpayments and Deductions from wages

The UK’s increasingly diabetic workforce

TheBusinessDesk: Further expansion for law firm; Promotions at engineering specialist; and more

LGBTQIA+ in the Workplace

Eid in the Workplace

Neurodiversity in the Workplace

Leeds & Yorkshire Lawyer Magazine – 11th April 2019

Recruiting Times – 12th February 2019 Employment contracts: What to check for before accepting the job

HR News – 6th February 2019 Over half of working Brits have accepted a job offer without checking the contract first.

Yorkshire Legal News – 12th November 2018

BR Online: Employee wellbeing and human capital – November 2018

MMB Magazine – 5 November 2018

The Telegraph- Business 24 October 2018

H & N Magazine 3 October 2018

South Leeds Life 3 October 2018

The Yorkshire Post 10 October 2018

Article in People Management- “Employers must do more to tackle male ‘stigma’ around shared parental leave” – 30th July

The Business Desk- “Independent law firm launches in Yorkshire”– July 16th

Interview with Ascension Club Leeds- July 11th

Law Society Gazette – 3rd May 2018

Stylist Magazine – 21st May

Yorkshire Post – 2 May 2018 – Greg Wright The Case for introducing mental health first aiders at work

What Is YOUR Workplace Doing for Ramadan?

April Updates in Employment Law

Thoughts On “Gagging Orders”

The Loneliness Epidemic

Thrive’s round up of 2018!

To talk or not to talk?

Why employers should exercise caution when using NDAs

Being your true self at work boosts mental wellbeing and performance

How to spot and eliminate risks of office workplace accidents

Why The Best Investment Is In Your Mental Health

Supporting LGBT+ Mental Health in the Workplace

The Do’s And Don’t For A Happy Employee – Guest Blog

HR leading the way into GDPR compliance for businesses

Dealing with stress in the workplace

Welcome to our new website and blog!