Employers can no longer turn a blind eye to the lunchtime tipple.
Substance misuse costs UK businesses millions of pounds a year in lost time, reduced efficiency and accidents. Most employers realise that dismissing someone with a drink or drug problem is not the solution - good management practice recognises the value of maintaining skilled, experienced staff. Employees need to be supported in finding help for their problems, which is one reason why employers should introduce a policy to tackle drug and alcohol misuse in the workplace.
Good practice aside, all employers have a legal requirement to ensure the health and safety of employees, as laid out in the 1974 Health and Safety Act. This includes endeavouring to ensure that staff are not endangering themselves or their colleagues, especially where vehicles or machinery are involved. Employers who suspect that an employee is under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and are not seen to be taking steps to protect them, may be liable to be prosecuted.
A workplace drugs and alcohol policy should provide a formal structure for dealing with problems as they arise. In particular:
- It should outline the organisation's position on substance misuse, including any policy on testing, and ensure that all staff understand the rules.
- It must try to ensure that managers are trained to recognise the signs of a problem and know where to turn for help.
- It is important to be clear that substance misuse will be treated confidentially as a health problem rather than a disciplinary problem.
- Any policy on substance misuse must be accepted throughout the organisation.
That means getting the unions and staff representatives on board from the start.
Linda Fielding is a director at the Institute for Study of Drug Dependency
0171 928 1211.