Substance misuse at work (Transcript)

The misuse of drugs (illegal, prescription, or industrial substances such as solvents) and alcohol can damage individual health and cause difficulties for employers because of increased absenteeism and reduced productivity.

The approach to tackling workplace problems with drugs and/or alcohol involves :

  • A clear policy (introduced after consultation with the workforce);
  • Screening; and
  • Support and/or discipline.


A drugs and alcohol policy applying to all staff should form part of the overall health and safety policy. As a minimum, the policy should:

  • Clearly state the standards of acceptable behaviour expected of all employees;
  • Apply equally to all management levels;
  • Address issues in the workplace that may contribute to increased levels of drug/alcohol use;
  • Be primarily non-punitive;
  • Clearly state the behaviours likely to lead to disciplinary action;
  • Provide for rehabilitation and treatment of affected employees;
  • Be communicated effectively to all employees; and
  • Be periodically reviewed and amended as necessary.


Screening can be a very sensitive issue. No one can be tested against their will, however, once testing has been introduced, a refusal can lead to disciplinary action.

Careful consideration needs to be given to a range of issues including:

  • the availability of suitable, reliable screening techniques;
  • who will be screened and when (e.g., random, after an incident, suspicious behaviour); and
  • what happens in the case of a positive result?

Support and/or Discipline

The balance between support and discipline must be consistent with the messages in the policy.  In general, the approach should be supportive rather than punitive.

Support services include:

  • Tackling workplace stress issues that might be leading to substance misuse;
  • Counselling and rehabilitation; and
  • Referrals to specialist medical support.

There will however be circumstances in which a breach of the drugs and alcohol policy would be deemed misconduct or gross misconduct, and these circumstances and the potential disciplinary consequences should be clear.  The drugs and alcohol policy will need to coordinate with the organisations’ disciplinary policy.

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