Drug testing in the workplace


Your business may consider it in your best interests to have drug and alcohol testing for your workforce. Misuses of either can lead to serious productivity losses for your business.

There are also health & safety risks to consider—for example, employees under the influence will have impaired judgement.

The British government doesn’t have a stance of mandatory drug testing for every business, but you may still want to implement a drugs and alcohol policy across your business. In this guide, we explain the legal requirements to do so.

The reasons for drug testing in the workplace

Drug abuse can lead to absenteeism and productivity losses. Some of the common issues you may have with employees include:

  • Productivity drops.
  • Lowered quality of work.
  • Health & safety issues.
  • Drops in strong customer relations.
  • Sporadic sickness days.

Remember, you must have consent from your workforce before you go ahead with a policy. You should also look to:

  • Limit your tests to only members of staff who require it.
  • Make the testing a random process.
  • Don’t single out a specific member of staff, even if you’re suspicious—or you feel you can justify the need (such as for an important role with health & safety implications).

In the event an employee refuses to take a test, you can push for disciplinary action—that’s if you believe you have a good reason for your suspicions.

Workplace drug testing laws in the UK

Across Europe, many nations are banning pre-employment drug tests. Many more are blocking random testing during working hours.

British legislation is a bit unclear on this matter. Possession of banned drugs is, of course, illegal. But an individual can’t receive a charge for a criminal offence if they test positive for one of the banned drugs. As a business, you have to make sure:

  • Your policy also involves supporting any staff members with an alcohol or drug problem.
  • You supply educational materials about alcohol and drugs.
  • A process for appeals is in place, with rights for union representation for any positive results.

Remember, you can’t force an employee to provide a urine, hair, saliva, or blood sample. But if they've agreed to contractual obligations to do so, then you can dismiss them if they disagree.

Safety-critical jobs

For roles that require a high level of concentration, then screening for alcohol and drugs is a more legally viable option.

This can include roles with any essential safety-critical decision making. Such as:

  • Truck drivers.
  • Machinery operators.
  • Medical workers.

Obviously, there can be terrible consequences if an employee is under the influence while in one of the above roles. In many of these industries, there’s legislation for drug testing.

How to undertake workplace drug and alcohol testing

Once your business decides to commit to these tests, you’ll need to create a policy that outlines your process to employees.

You can establish a random drug testing in the workplace policy with the scope of applying it across your workforce.

Remember, it must respect individual rights. A qualified medical professional must conduct the test and you should provide the employee with a copy of the results.

Your drug testing policy in the workplace should aim to cover the following:

  • Test legality: Explain how you will consult with legal representatives, trade unions, or any employee associations where applicable. This will be to establish the rights to privacy of your staff members.
  • When you’ll test staff: Explains how and when you will deploy your tests, along with the illegal substances you’ll check for. You may require a drug test only prior to employment for job candidates—or it may be for random tests during any given working day.
  • How you’ll test an employee: Explain the process you’ll follow, such as unscheduled or scheduled testing.
  • Procedure and provisions: How you’ll approach the tests, such as requesting a staff member’s permission before going ahead.
  • Prescription drugs: Layout your policies regarding any this, as in some countries the likes of medical marijuana are available.
  • Preventative actions: List the details on how you plan to help, such as through information sessions about substance abuse. You may also provide health training sessions, as well as an employee assistance program (EAP).

Effectiveness of drug testing in the workplace

After setting up your policy, can you expect it to provide preventative measures?

Ultimately, the structure will determine its effectiveness. The most effective approach is to ensure all members of staff agree to random drug testing.

Again, you have to gain company-wide agreement to this request. But if you have concerns your employees aren’t taking their roles seriously enough then it can be worth the effort.

Drug testing does act as an effective deterrent. But if an individual is under the influence and you’re able to gain evidence for that, it provides you with a reason to dismiss them on grounds of gross misconduct.

Disadvantages of drug testing in the workplace

If you decide it’s an essential requirement for your business, you should also prepare for some downsides to the process.

Principally, the cost of drug testing in the workplace is something you’ll need to consider. The financial requirements for the right equipment can be costly, so consider your budget carefully before deciding to go ahead with your policy.

The equipment you’ll have to purchase can vary, but there is a certain industry standard for costs.

It’s also a time-consuming process, which can have a knock-on effect on your overall productivity. This, in turn, can cause a further loss in money.

You should also take into consideration the effect on staff morale. Employees will likely view drug testing as invasive to their personal lives.

Some may consider it as blocking treats at the end of a working day, such as drinking a few glasses of wine. This can lead to resentment, which may ultimately mean some staff members leave your business.

Need our help?

If you’re looking to establish drug and alcohol tests for your business, we can explain how to go about the process: 0800 028 2420.

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