Drugs and alcohol policy

09 July 2019
Despite existing criminal law on drug possession or use, employers are strongly advised to establish their own drug policy to control these issues.  Employers have a duty of care to ensure the health and wellbeing of all employees. A drugs and alcohol policy should therefore clarify that the consumption of either may compromise not only the safety of the individual(s) in question, but also that of colleagues and customers. An established policy is particularly important within industries that are health and safety critical. For instance, the safety risk for employees who work with potentially dangerous machinery, or who drive as part of their job, is likely to be far higher than the risk for employees in an office-based role. As such, jobs with a higher health and safety risk will likely require a stricter drugs and alcohol policy to ensure the safety of employees.

Establishing a drugs and alcohol policy

It is left to each employer to decide the exact nature and severity of policy that best suits their business. In any case, the drugs and alcohol policy is often included as part of the employee handbook and signed by each member of staff to prove that is has been read and understood. The policy should also include all relevant detail on dismissals as a result of ‘gross misconduct’. If an offence regarding drugs or alcohol is serious enough to be considered as gross misconduct, the employer reserves the right to dismiss the employee without a  statutory notice period. A comprehensive drugs and alcohol policy can also clarify any potential ‘grey areas’ around legal highs, e-cigarettes or other similar substances.

Reputation of the business

Employees should be reminded that, as representatives of the business, they have a responsibility to maintain a high level of professionalism at all times – particularly if the employee works directly with external customers or clients. The policy must state that working whilst under the influence of drugs or alcohol can have a significant negative impact on the reputation of the brand.

Support for employees

Issues with drugs or alcohol in the workplace can impact heavily on an individual’s health and wellbeing. A well-shaped policy around these issues may also detail the ways in which an employer may support an employee who is found to have problems with drugs or alcohol. Alcoholism itself is not a disability, therefore an employee does not qualify for protection from discrimination because they are an alcoholic. However, conditions that may stem from alcoholism – liver disease, for example – could qualify.

The law behind drugs and alcohol policy

Aside from criminal law for use and possession, there is no formal legislation directly relating to drugs and alcohol in the workplace. However, the Employment Rights Act 1996 provides that ‘conduct’ is a potentially fair reason for employers to dismiss employees


  • Despite existing criminal laws on the issue, employers should set a clear drugs and alcohol company policy that is in keeping with the nature of their business.
  • The policy should include all relevant detail on immediate dismissals as a result of ‘gross misconduct’.
  • Employers can use the policy as an opportunity to offer support to employees who are found to have problems with drugs or alcohol.

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