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Drug and Alcohol Awareness - when do they become a workplace issue?

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Occasionally coming in late with a suspected hangover may be acceptable in some workplaces. In other workplaces, a single occurrence may not be tolerated. All workplaces are different and have their own policies and rules. In some industries, such as transport, it’s a criminal offence to be unfit for work because of drink or drugs. Although drugs are different from alcohol, in that they are not socially acceptable and illegal, many employers deal with drugs and alcohol abuse in a similar way.

Drinking or drug-taking becomes a workplace issue if health suffers, or if work is being done under the influence of drink or drugs. It’s also a workplace issue if people are turning to drink or drugs because of work – perhaps because of stress, or because of physical problems caused by work, for example, they’re having to use painkillers to cope with musculoskeletal problems caused by poor lifting technique or seating posture.

Alcohol in the workplace

Too many of us, drinking alcohol is a causal part of our social life and doesn’t cause any problems with our work life. However, for some the impact that alcohol can have their lives is detrimental. Alcohol misuse can affect someone's decision making, productivity and in turn can cause accidents and mistakes at work.

Some workplaces have alcohol screening as part of their policy like those in higher-risk jobs e.g. driving or operating heavy machinery.

Drugs in the workplace

The large difference between drugs and alcohol is that recreational drugs are illegal in the UK. But this is not to say that people cannot get addicted to or abuse legal drugs while at work too. Not only do drugs potentially harm an individual's health, but it can cost an employer through absenteeism, increased risk of accidents and a lack of productivity.

If an employee has a substance misuse problem with illegal drugs this can also expose the user to the risk of criminal records and charges. What's more, employers themselves can also be breaking the law if they knowingly allow drug-related activities to happen in the workplace.

Some workplaces have also decided to adopt drug screening as part of their policy. If this is part of your Substance Misuse Policy, you need to think about what exactly you want from the screening.

Signs of addiction

Just some of the signs of addiction can be seen below, however, this list is not exhaustive.

  • Denial
  • Secrecy
  • Financial difficulties
  • Mood swings
  • Physical appearance
  • Illness
  • Increased temper
  • Poor judgement
  • Feeling hopeless
  • Poor performance or attendance at work
  • Continuing or not being able to stop using the substance
  • Lack of concern over personal hygiene
  • Insomnia

The addition of a medically prescribed drug can start after they continue to take it after it is no longer medically needed.

Drug & Alcohol Abuse Policy

An employer should interfere in an employee’s private life if it’s affecting their work and a company’s work policies or rules will decide at which point it becomes a problem and needs to be dealt with.  

It’s a good idea for organisations to have a Substance Misuse Policy - even if you feel there is currently no problem in your organisation. It’s a safeguard and will be there if it’s ever needed. The policy will clearly set out expectations and explain how substance misuse is to be dealt with as well as meaning there’s consistency in how everyone is treated.

Some organisations treat drug and alcohol dependence as an illness and their policies are aimed at the employees seeking treatment. Other organisations state quite clearly that, where there is clear evidence of drugs or alcohol affecting an employee’s behaviour or performance at work, dismissal is likely. It very much depends on your organisation. There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all Policy.

The point of creating a policy which is right for your workplace is to make sure that problems are dealt with quickly and effectively in the best way for your organisation and for your employees.

Having a written policy, including a written disciplinary procedure, in place is very important when dealing with drugs and alcohol. It means there’s less chance of misunderstandings.

Our Drug & Alcohol Training Course

Our Drug & Alcohol Awareness Course provides information about the problems with drugs and alcohol, the effects that they can have on your health, what you as an employer can do about drug and alcohol problems and advice on Drug & Alcohol policies. We also look at the signs of substance abuse.

Interested? Get started with a free no-obligation trial today!

Drug & Alcohol Awareness Training

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