Managing and preventing drug misuse in the workplace | Moorepay
October 6, 2022

Managing and preventing drug misuse in the workplace

According to a recent review completed by the government, NHS, and Public Health UK, 3.2 million people in the UK between the ages of 16 and 59 regularly take recreational drugs. That equates to 1 in 11 UK citizens.

In the same report, it found that 1 in 25 adults consume Class A drugs. As a direct result of this type of drug use there’s also just under 3,000 deaths per year. 

Whilst these statistics primarily focus on illegal drug use, there’s also an increased proportion of the working population that are under medical supervision and have been prescribed prescription medication. Sometimes this medication can also influence an employee’s performance at work. 

Recreational drugs and prescription drugs

As mentioned, drugs and drugs usage are not necessarily restricted to illegal substances. Drugs can also be prescription medication which is taken under consultation with a doctor. 

The effects or side effects of prescription drugs and patent medicines can potentially jeopardise an employees’ ability to carry out their work. Most psychoactive substances (sometimes referred to as “legal highs”) are illegal for human consumption. Employees are responsible for ascertaining whether anything they take, or use may impact adversely on their work. This applies even where the product, medication etc. has been legally supplied.

Your duty of care

As an employer, what is your duty of care to your employees should they be a functioning drug user?  Employees should consult their employer if they’re concerned that the impact of such medication may be unsafe/inappropriate at work. Employers should individually agree action, including temporary exclusion from tasks/duties, if it places the employee or their colleagues at risk. 

How to demonstrate your duty of care for a functioning drug user:

  1. Make it clear that as an employer, you believe the use of drugs should not affect work performance.
  2. Explain you’re mindful of the health and welfare of your employees and regard an individual’s dependency on drugs as an illness.
  3. State that you’ll allow the same opportunity for treatment as for other illnesses and will assist employees with assessing their problem and obtaining confidential counselling.
  4. Explain that you will treat reasonable absence for advice and treatment for dependence on drugs as sick leave. The employee must keep their employer regularly informed of progress and genuinely attempt to overcome the dependency. 

There may also be a reason for concern if the employee is employed as a driver, or in charge of machinery for example. Any breaches of Health and Safety may be considered gross misconduct and a thorough investigation should take place if there are any reasonable concerns. 

What to do if drug dependency is affecting an employees’ performance or behaviour at work

If an employee’s behaviour or performance at work suffers because of drug dependency, it will normally result in disciplinary action. The company may suspend an employee for such action for an appropriate period during treatment. If the employee refuses help or unreasonably discontinues treatment, disciplinary proceedings will be initiated or resumed. This also applies if the employee’s behaviour does not improve and/or work performance remains poor. An employer may also terminate employment in such circumstances.

The importance of having a clear policy on drugs and alcohol misuse

As a responsible employer you should have a fully comprehensive drugs and alcohol policy in place. This should cover all areas of support and help, with prevention being the first point of assistance.  However, it will also need to include all necessary disciplinary processes as well as a process for potential dismissal cases, should the drug usage continue to have an impact on performance or becomes as an issue for the health and safety of the user and the impact on their colleagues.   

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About the author

Stephen Johnson

Stephen has over 25 years experience in private sector HR and management roles, working as a Manager for over 10 years and eventually moving into the financial services industry. In his current role as an HR Policy Review Consultant he develops, reviews and maintains our clients’ employment documentation. With extensive knowledge of management initiatives and HR disciplines Stephen is commercially focused and supports clients in delivering their business objectives whilst minimising the risk of litigation.