Does your workplace have a drug culture?

The use of drugs in the workplace is a very serious issue, as an employer you could be breaking the law if you allow drug related activities in the workplace and fail to take any action. Not only is a drug culture a serious personal health concern for employees, but it is also a serious health and safety concern within the working environment. Some drugs have a significant effect on concentration and alertness, potentially causing workplace incidents. Drugs also have a drastic impact on behaviour, productivity and absenteeism – causing a great deal of disruption for any organisation. The key is to be vigilant in the workplace, look out for: unexplained or frequent absences which may occur in patterns, behavioural changes in employees which are out of character and unusual in nature, and slumps in productivity or increases in the number of accidents/near misses. What can you do as an Employer if you suspect drug use? The most important approach in tackling a workplace drug culture is to implement a watertight policy on drug misuse which all staff have access to, this should form part of wider Health and Safety policy. This should make clear the organisations stance on drug use/misuse and ensure that the outline of how this will be dealt with in the working environment is clear so there is no misunderstanding that this is unacceptable. It is good practise to have a policy in place even if there are no concerns at present. There should also be some training and awareness among staff/managers regarding the policy so that it is embedded in workplace practices. If you suspect a particular employee of having problems with drug use, then the approach is the same as for an employee who has any other medical or psychological problem; help and support should be offered. The employee may not admit they have a problem in the first instance, but approach them informally and discuss the issues which has caused concern in the first instance, i.e. behavioural changes/decrease in productivity etc. Ensure the employee understands that they are in a supportive and confidential environment to allow them to open up. If the employee does not admit to having a problem you can only encourage the employee so far to take responsibility themselves advising them to speak to their own GP, the issues that are causing concern then have to be dealt with separately. If the disclosure is made the approach that would usually be advised is one that combines counselling, occupational health support and potentially disciplinary action if this is appropriate. There should be a consideration of the nature of the work the employee does and if this is safety critical. An employment Tribunal is likely to consider any dismissal unfair without an employer being able to demonstrate that they have offered support to an employee with a drug misuse problem. If you need any clarification on this issue then contact the Peninsula Advice Service on 0844 892 2772.

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