Debate: Substance abuse in the workplace

It can be an uncomfortable issue to tackle, but the problem of substance abuse in the workplace can be disastrous for businesses and individuals. With Brabners, we brought our panel of experts to Samlesbury Hotel to discuss how to protect and support companies, management and staff.

What are the responsibilities of employers when it comes to drugs and drink in the workplace?

Christine Hart: There’s a mix. The Health and Safety at Work Act says you need to be able to provide a safe environment for your workers. There is also the Misuse of Drugs Act. Sitting behind that are all of the implied duties in the employment contract. If it is dangerous to go to work employees have legal recourse and it can lead to an employment tribunal claim.

If you should have reasonably known that somebody was either working under the influence, or dealing drugs on your premises, then you are under a positive duty to take action.

The best way to protect yourself is through a mixture of training and policy. I can’t stress enough the need to have a written policy in place.

  • David Collins - Collins Consult
  • Tony Mawson - Organisational Healthcare
  • Christine Hart - Brabners
  • Krissy Fremont - Birchall Foodservice
  • Nick Dunn - HSBC
  • Margaret Robinson - Occupational Counsellor

Some businesses are very holistic and in their policies encourage employees to come forward and say they have a problem and need support while they get treatment. Others, such as in manufacturing, rightly have zero tolerance.

If you’ve gone on to dismiss somebody and you haven’t communicated the policy or you haven’t implemented the training you promised, that can tilt into an unfair dismissal.

Krissy Fremont: We have a drug and alcohol policy which is signed as part of our initial induction process.

It says: “In order to ensure compliance with the law, Birchall Foodservice will undertake drug and alcohol testing in all areas, key jobs within the company, these will be carried out pre-employment, as part of a random testing scheme or as a result of an incident.”

We’ve amended the policy quite a lot over the last 18 months. We’ve put people through counselling if they are willing, but that’s only providing they are an employee.

We started testing the night shift and more than a third of people tested positive for cocaine.

Tony Mawson: We are increasingly being asked about drug and alcohol testing across a range of different sectors.

Testing is only part of the picture and it’s important that if it’s going to be done, it is  done for sensible reasons as part of a proper policy and approach.

Doing the test is the easy part but what is going to happen when you inevitably find a positive test? That needs to be clear from the outset because people need to consent to have a test.

It’s got to be backed up as part of a holistic approach to the policy and what the employer is trying to achieve.

David Collins: I’d echo what’s been said. It’s not just about drug and alcohol testing, it’s about reasonable judgement.

One of the main things is training your management team to spot issues your employees could have. There could be a variety of reasons why someone is drinking more or taking drugs; it could be stress, factors in their home life, it could be stresses at work.

Say as a manager you arrive at work in the morning and you’re aware everyone’s had a lot to drink the night before because you were out with them, and one of the guys you were out with runs over someone with his forklift and kills them.

Straight away you’ve got an investigation about what the organisation knew or didn’t know about the drinking habit and whether  you tolerated people driving under the influence of alcohol.


Read the full debate in Lancashire Business View #85