Drugs in the Workplace

Posted in : HR Updates on 11 March 2015
Helen O'Brien
Personnel and Training Services
Issues covered:

According to a number of recent reports, there has been a dramatic increase in testing employees for drugs. Many companies have introduced drug screening programmes for their employees.

Legal issues and implications

Many drugs can impair judgment and introduce human error, which in turn can lead to accidents. The purpose of any drug testing regime must be to prevent accidents caused either directly or indirectly by an employee’s drug use, even if such drug use occurred in the employee’s own time, which is not usually the concern of the employer.

The fundamental legal requirements on health and safety implicitly require employers to consider the issue of potential drug or alcohol use by their employees and the impact this may have on their own health and safety or that of others.

Common law, too, imposes on employers a “duty of care” to their employees and others and this will extend to the potential use of drugs.

The Transport and Works Act 1992 makes it a criminal offence for certain workers to be unfit through drugs or drink while working on railways, tramways and other guided transport systems.  While The Road Traffic Act 1988 states that any person who, when driving or attempting to drive a motor vehicle on a road or other public place, is unfit to drive through drink or drugs shall be guilty of an offence. An offence is also committed if a person unfit through drink or drugs is in charge of a motor vehicle in the same circumstances.

It is also an offence under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 for occupiers knowingly to permit the possession of certain controlled drugs on their premises and can be grounds for dismissal by an employer.

Screening employees for drugs is a sensitive issue and any policy must be introduced with the involvement of, and consultation with, employees or their representatives.

Discussions on a workplace drug policy are likely to include the following:

  • The aims and expected outcomes of the policy.
  • The standards of behaviour required to comply with the policy.
  • The importance of senior management commitment to the policy and to creating workplace awareness about the harmful effects of drugs.
  • The factors in the workplace that may contribute to harmful drug use.
  • The role of restrictions on the availability of drugs in the workplace, eg at company functions.
  • Intervention strategies: the earlier a problem is addressed, the better the chance of successful management.
  • Reporting procedures: a confidential process for reporting drug misuse will encourage both the affected employee and/or others to report hazards.
  • Incident and accident reporting: consider adding an option to note if drugs have been a factor in any in-house incident reporting systems.
  • Procedures for drug screening.
  • The types of counselling and support services that is most appropriate for the workplace in question.
  • The education, information and training needs of managers, supervisors and employees.
  • The confidentiality, privacy and anti-discrimination requirements.
  • The types of disciplinary action relating to drug-related incidents that are suitable for the workplace in question.

Screening and training

Screening employees usually involves taking blood or urine samples from the employee and is in itself a difficult and sensitive issue. Employees cannot be forced to give blood or urine samples and taking them without their consent could be regarded as assault.

However, all policies on drugs should contain a requirement for employees to give blood, urine or other types of sample within the constraints of the policy. The policy should be incorporated into contracts of employment; in which case, should an employee refuse to give a sample then they may be in breach of their contract of employment and face disciplinary action.

Related articles:

How to handle an employee who arrives at work under the influence of drugs - Patricia Rooney, Tughans


This article is correct at 14/10/2015

The information in this article is provided as part of Legal-Island's Employment Law Hub. We regret we are not able to respond to requests for specific legal or HR queries and recommend that professional advice is obtained before relying on information supplied anywhere within this article.

Helen O'Brien
Personnel and Training Services

The main content of this article was provided by Helen O'Brien. Contact telephone number is 028 2564 4110 or email HelenOB@pts-ni.com

View all articles by Helen O'Brien