It was recently publicised that a new way of testing employees for alcohol intake has been developed, which is based around a finger print touch test rather than the conventional breath testing system commonly used to determine blood alcohol level. Apparently, the test takes 10 second to return a result meaning that 300 employees could potentially be processed in one hour.
So does new technology pave the way for employers to wade in and start testing all their employees?
Although there is no legislation which states that employers have the right to test employees for alcohol use, it is clearly recognised that certain job roles require this type of monitoring and therefore it is legal to carry out these tests.
Importantly, employees must be made aware that testing may take place and be told of their relevant rights. Employers should also weigh the possibility of the harm that could be caused by having someone in work still slightly above the acceptable limit because of their drinking on the night before.
Employers should have a written policy on the use of illegal substances in their organisation which, amongst other things, outlines the way in which employees will be dealt with should an alcohol test be carried out and compliance with this policy should be ensured.
Many employers find that random tests are a major deterrent to drinking alcohol during a lunch break or from over indulging on a work night due to the unpredictable instances at which they can be carried out. Random tests are just that – not triggered by any particular event or suspicion and will pick anyone from a group. It is important to maintain the unsystematic nature of random tests. Unfairly singling someone out can lead to claims of discrimination.
Tests need not be random, however, and are often run after an employee has been involved in a reportable accident, or where the employer may suspect that an employee is working under the influence.
Many employees will understand the requirement for a test because of the nature of their work, and look upon it as part and parcel of the job. There may, however, be a few who do not want to be tested. You cannot force an employee to be tested but in the event that you are met with refusal, you should not automatically assume guilt. Where it is a contractual obligation to provide a sample you can deal with the refusal via your organisation’s disciplinary procedure.
Where tests are carried out, they should always be done in a way that assures the dignity and confidentiality of the employee. Tests should be carried out in a private location, by a member of the same sex as the employee being tested. Consider any requests by the employee to have a witness present, or whether a contractual right to this exists.
You should make employees aware that it will be considered a disciplinary offence if they are caught deliberately attempting to falsify results, and what will happen should a test be positive.
If a test is returned with a positive result, you should allow the employee the opportunity to offer an explanation.
Where the result shows the employee is over the acceptable limit, you should deal with the employee through your usual disciplinary procedure and, in circumstances where this is warranted, dismiss the employee.
For any further clarification, please call our 24 Hour Advice Service on 0844 892 2772.
May 05 2013