UK: Mister Meanor - In a fix when employee says no.

UK: Mister Meanor - In a fix when employee says no. - Mister Meanor advises on the implications of compulsory drug-testing and backdating a forgotten pay review when funds are low

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Mister Meanor advises on the implications of compulsory drug-testing and backdating a forgotten pay review when funds are low

Dear Mister Meanor

I am the managing director of a regional branch of a management consultancy.

Following a change in ownership, an edict came from head office to the effect that the company was to begin random drug-testing. Sure enough, some months later, I received a memo telling me that several of my employees were to be tested. Two of them were perfectly prepared to undergo the test but the third refuses point blank to do so. He says that, regardless of what he may or may not do in his spare time, the tests are an invasion of privacy and - as there is no safety issue involved - the company has no business testing his urine. I am loathe to make an issue out of this as I would hate to lose an excellent employee over something like this.

What to do?


Dear What to do?

Oh dear - your employee won't produce a sample of the amber nectar on demand. The question, I suppose, is can you make him do it or sack him if he refuses again? In your case, the answer is by no means clear: drug testing is one of those procedures that is relatively new here and, consequently, our legal framework is ill-equipped to deal with it. Now, I'm no legal buff but basically, if you wanted to threaten him with dismissal, you would have to show that, contractually (implied or other), he has to comply with any reasonable request of his employer. And what do you call reasonable?

If there is a question of public safety or your life insurance company insists, you might have a point but why plunge into such a grey area?

So, your best opening gambit is to explain to your employee that his failure to comply might possibly result in dismissal whereas, even if he tests positive, chances are all he'll have to do is seek help. If he refuses again, you will have to take the problem back to head office.

If they choose to proceed, they would have to get legal advice as to whether they fell foul of an unfair dismissal claim.

Just say: 'I don't know'

Mister Meanor

Dear Mister Meanor

Some six months ago, my newest employee was due a pay review. When she accepted the job, there was a tacit understanding that, as her starting salary was pretty low, she would receive a review and, assuming all was well, a substantial raise after a three-month trial period. However, the review was forgotten - until today when she reminded me about it and asked whether or not it would be backdated.

The employee in question has done an excellent job since she joined.

In normal circumstances, I would right this particular oversight by conducting the review now and backdating her pay to the date at which it should have taken place. However, the company's bottom line is not looking too healthy at the moment. I feel bad about the situation and would hate to see her go.

Life's a bitch


Dear Life's a Bitch

Oops - how remiss of you. Still, you have behaved in a forgetful rather than dishonest manner here and your best course of action is a commendably forthright one. Set up a review with her immediately and explain the company's predicament. Then tell her that you are giving her a raise but, that for the reasons you have mentioned earlier, you will not be able to backdate it. You may also feel it appropriate to make up for this by offering her a further salary review in, say, six months time instead of the more normal 12, if business has improved. Stress that you value her contribution and commitment.

Best of luck

Mister Meanor.

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