Under the influence


I often find that my work comes in patterns. I’ll have a spate of dealing with the same matters for various employers.  It’s more coincidence than anything but it can provide an interesting insight into an increase in issues that employers are facing.


In recent months I’ve dealt with a few instances of substance abuse having an impact on an employee’s ability to carry out their role.


According to Public Health England there are an estimated 586,000 dependent drinkers, only 18% of which are receiving treatment.  Additionally, figures from the Office for National Statistics say that one in 12 adults aged 16 – 59 in England and Wales took an illicit drug in the past year.

Although a small percentage of the working population, the impact of alcohol and drugs on the workplace can be significant. 


From odd days off caused by hangovers through to more serious instances of being under the influence while at work from consuming a substance before work, to actually drinking or taking drugs whilst on your premises, these issues may crop up for you at some point.


There is no law against drinking at work, however the consumption of certain drugs is a criminal offence rather than specificially identified in employment law.  You should consult your disciplinary policy to understand whether your policy cites being under the influence as potential gross misconduct.


Addiction isn’t a disability in itself, however it may cause secondary problems which are recognised as disabilities, i.e. liver complaints, depression etc, so it’s important to be 

Furthermore, being under the influence of alcohol, or drugs, may present a health and safety issue for the employee or others around them and arguably, this is the most important factor here.  Depending on the roles your staff carry out, you may need to think about carrying out random drug and alchol testing.


So, what do you do if you suspect you have an employee who has developed an addiction?

Talk to them about it.  Ask them if they have been drinking, or have taken drugs, and remind them that it is against the company policy and they could be disciplined for it.  Regardless of whether they admit to it, offer them your support if they are dealing with a dependency.  Tell them that you have their best interests at heart and that if they do have a problem for which they seek support, you will support them through any rehabilitation.


You may also choose to involve occupational health or seek consent to write to their GP both of which will provoke an independent consultation around the matter with the view of helping the employee further.


If you reasonably suspect they are under the influence of a substance, send them home but ensure they do not drive and can get home safely.  You may wish to address this with them again when they return to work and are free of any influence.


Check to see whether you have the right to undertake testing for substances.  You will need a contractual right to do so, so please be careful if performing tests and ensure that you use a test that complies with the HSE’s expectations.  There are many ‘saliva only’ tests available which will provide an initial ‘positive or negative’ result.  A positive result can then be followed up with a more robust test that will stand up to a legal challenge.


If you don’t have a policy already, I would suggest developing a policy on Alcohol and Drug Misuse and if your team are carrying out manual work, or are driving for work, you may need to think about introducing random testing.


If you need any support managing issues like this, please do seek advice.


Please note our blog posts contain general information and are intended as guidance only and should not be taken as an authoritative or current interpretation of the law. Please ensure that you obtain advice tailored to your individual situation before taking action. These posts apply to the UK only.


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