The highs and lows of employee drug-testing

  • HR Policies Documentation
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Work hard, play hard. If your employees take illegal drugs on their own time, it shouldn’t matter to you, right? Not so... When your employees’ weekend antics blur into their working weeks, it's to take a stand.

No-drug zone

Zero tolerance drug policies exist for a reason. And it’s not just because employers like you are ‘fun-killers’. It’s your legal responsibility under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 to keep your workplace safe. That includes your staff as well as third parties. It also means making sure your employees aren’t working under a drug-induced haze. The law says if it’s reasonable and appropriate in the circumstances, then you can ask your employees to take a drug test. That can even include office employees. To be able to ask your employees to take a drug test, you have to:

  • Include it in your contracts, employee handbook and health & safety policy. You might never want to drug test your employees, but in case you need to, you’ve given them prior warning.
  • Get consent. The third party company carrying out the test will ask for a urine or hair sample. But if your employees say no, it’s a no. If you think a refusal to take a drug test warrants a disciplinary, that’s your call.
  • Keep it random. You can’t pick people out based on a hunch. By selecting any number of employees at different intervals, you don’t choose anyone in particular. And you can’t be criticised for singling anyone out.
  • Use a drug testing company that is familiar with data protection principles, particularly special category personal data. You don’t want to be facing a hefty fine following a GDPR breach.

Red flag: You can’t single out an employee based on their criminal past, or a protected characteristic. If you do, you run the risk of facing a bullying or discrimination claim.

Drugs and machinery don’t mix

Over the past three years, almost 25,000 motorists have tested positive for drug-driving. Statistically, a significant number of those drug-drivers will be employees. You wouldn’t want one of them to be working for you… Would you want one of your workers operating heavy machinery or driving if they’re high?

Illegal substances or something else?

Say your employee is irritable. Argumentative. Unpredictable. Forgetful. And has had the shakes for weeks. Not to mention their fluctuating attention span. Are they taking drugs? Maybe not. They could be depressed, and haven’t been taking their medication. Talk to them. Ask them if there’s anything you can do to help them at work. After all, a supportive employer leads to a supported workforce. You want to keep your workplace a drug-free zone, and you can drug test employees as a last resort. But remember, prevention is always better than a cure.


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