Do I need a Policy for Drugs and Alcohol in my Workplace?

We draft policies and procedures every day, one question we are asked is: Do I need a Policy for Drugs and Alcohol in my Workplace?

As an Employer, you have a legal duty to protect your Employees’ health, safety and welfare. It is imperative that you can identify and understand the signs of drug and alcohol misuse (or abuse), we call these in our policies ‘substances’ for ease as they cover many areas, and this will provide you the assistance you need to manage health and safety risks that may occur in your workplace.

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As an Employer do I need a policy?

As an Employer, you should develop a robust policy and procedure which should clearly identify your stance on substance misuse or abuse, in addition to how you will deal with misuse and or abuse; the consequences, and importantly what support mechanisms you have in place for your Employees.

You will note that we do mention support mechanisms, it is important that you focus on these as an Employer, you have a general duty of care toward your Employees.


As a minimum your policy should contain:


  • A policy overview should be clear and concise, it should set out your stance on substance misuse in the workplace, and the legal position.
  • A procedural overview should identify the framework of substance misuse, what this means, who it covers, when why, and how. The procedure should identify who is accountable for the aspects of substance misuse and the consequences when things go wrong.
  • You should also cover what reasonable adjustments you have in place and what support mechanisms you have in place.
  • You should refer to the names of others for reference and other related policies for reference and assistance.


As a minimum, your Policy and procedure should be reviewed on an annual basis or where legislation prevails.

You have a general legal duty to comply with the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and so you should ensure that you instruct a competent person to write your policy and procedure.


As an Employer what issues I should consider, and what should I look out for?

It is worth noting that substance misuse is not the same thing as dependence. Substance misuse is the use of illegal drugs and misuse of alcohol, and medicines, including over-the-counter medicines, it also includes substances such as solvents.

You should look out for the warning signs, any one or more of these could easily indicate substance misuse with your Employees:

  • A change in behaviour
  • Frequent, or unexplained absences, or timekeeping lapses
  • Increase in performance, or conduct issues
  • A decrease or unexplained reduction in productivity
  • An increase in accidents or near-misses


It is worth noting that whilst these may be linked to a misuse of substances, they may be signs of many other areas in an Employees life, this could be:


Stress, anxiety, and or any other Mental Health problem they may have, family, and or financial difficulties, or be suffering from a personal illness, we would strongly advise you to intervene at the earliest opportunity to explore how they are feeling, at that stage, you can offer support.



As an Employer should I make my Employees aware of the Substance Misuse Policy?

As an Employer you should increase awareness of substance misuse by including an explanation of your substance misuse policy and procedure in your induction process for all new Employees, it is always wise to ensure that your Managers are fully trained.

When training Managers they should understand:


  • How to recognise the signs of substance misuse
  • The Company Policy and Procedure on substance misuse
  • What to do if they suspect an Employee is misusing substances
  • what to do when an Employee tells them about a substance problem



How can and should you support your Employees?

Once you have your Policy and Procedure expertly written, communicated, and distributed, then this should ensure that any Employees with a substance problem can and will ask for help in the workplace, they should be assured that their problems will be dealt with discreetly and confidentially.

As an Employer, you must consider your own legal position if you are given evidence, and or information that suggests an Employee’s drug misuse has involved breaking the law at work.

Substance dependence is a recognised medical problem. Someone who is misusing substances has the same rights to confidentiality and support as they would if they had any other medical or psychological condition. As an Employer, you should encourage them to get help from their GP or a specialist substance agency and refer them to your company’s occupational health specialist.  You should consider permitting your Employee the time off to seek the expert help they need.

Whilst substance misuse in your workplace can be treated as a disciplinary matter, it may be more prevalent at times to treat as a health concern. You should consider that if you dismiss someone because of substance misuse without trying to support, or help them, a claim may be brought against you for unfair dismissal in an Employment Tribunal.




How can we help you?

Should you need further advice and guidance on the expert writing of this or any other Policy and Procedure or the implications do not hesitate to get in touch with a member of our team who are ready to help, you can contact a member of our team on 0333 006 9489 or [email protected]






This article contains a general overview of information only. It does not constitute, and should not be relied upon, as legal advice. You should consult a suitably qualified lawyer on any specific legal problem or matter.

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