Guide to Workplace Drug and Alcohol Policies in the UK

While family and friends of an addict are often the hardest hit, the burden and impact of substance abuse are widespread. Employers and work colleagues are also severely impacted by instances of drug and alcohol misuse in the workplace.

What is a workplace drug and alcohol policy?

Having a clear drug and alcohol policy in the workplace can help managers and employees deal with any issues appropriately, consistently and in line with general staff conduct guidelines. A policy is a statement of intent and is implemented as a procedure. It enables all employees to understand what is expected of them and all managers to know the appropriate procedure for dealing with particular situations. Depending on the type of organisation, the policy may need to include details of staff training surrounding the handling of incidents. Some workers may be responsible for their own safety and the safety of others. In workplaces where the risks are greater, stricter policies may need to be put in place.


A drug and alcohol workplace policy provides greater support for all employees. Rather than an informal understanding of an organisation’s standpoint surrounding substance misuse in the workplace, a written policy leaves little room for misunderstanding. Employees have clear guidance on what they can and cannot do and managers know the procedures they should follow.

The health and safety implications of drug and alcohol use at work are alarming. As an employer, you have a duty of care to your employees. Workplace risks must be minimised and the welfare of workers prioritised. A drug and alcohol policy will help you ensure you meet your legal responsibilities for health, safety and employee welfare.

Being under the influence impairs judgement, co-ordination and decision-making. Substance abuse in the workplace ramps up the risk of accident and injury. From employees driving or operating heavy equipment to those working with hazardous materials, performing tasks under the influence of alcohol or drugs can have lethal consequences. It is crucial to be able to and have an effective policy in place to protect all employees.

The cost of substance misuse to industry is staggering. From decreased productivity to increased absenteeism, drug and alcohol abuse is a blight on the bottom line. A loss in productivity has a direct impact on employers. Smaller businesses tend to be most at risk of failure from decreased productivity as a direct result of drug and alcohol misuse by employees.

The ripple effect of drug and alcohol abuse in the workplace is also keenly felt by the colleagues of addicts. The burden falls on colleagues to accept additional responsibilities at work, put in longer hours and pick up the slack for lateness and absenteeism. By reducing drug and alcohol problems at work, it’s possible to reduce those instances of sickness and staff turnover, attributable to substance abuse.

Prior to setting health and safety measures in stone, it’s important to consult with employees. While consultation involves providing information, it also requires the employer to listen to employees and take their views into account. It’s crucial to have employees’ buy-in when amending company rules and regulations. A straightforward way to gain support is by consulting with employees prior to implementing a new policy. Whether appointed by trade unions or elected by the workforce, representatives ensure the workers’ voices are heard and clear channels of communication are created during the consultation process.


It goes without saying that employers need to do all they can to prevent the use, sale and possession of drugs and alcohol within the workplace. Fostering a drug and alcohol-free workplace requires a comprehensive approach. A positive policy that accounts for extenuating circumstances and provides long-term solutions can improve productivity and staff retention.

Traditionally, a zero-tolerance drug and alcohol policy would be the likely approach and implementation. By definition, this type of blanket policy implies that a termination of employment is the outcome for any member of staff found to be using drugs and alcohol in the workplace.

More recently however, positive thinking around a more comprehensive drug and alcohol-free workplace policy has strengthened. Punitive policies can often contribute to a work culture fuelled by fear and further exacerbate the stigma surrounding addiction. Rather than adopt a blanket zero-tolerance approach, it may be more beneficial to support and retain workers who suffer from addiction and guide them to .

From a reduction in responsibilities and remuneration to employment termination, punitive substance abuse strategies can have negative consequences. Punishing an employee will not prevent the habit. Chances are, the stress of sudden changes in employment will exacerbate the abuse. Furthermore, firing an employee is costly, in terms of both time and money. The reduction in manpower will affect productivity and the recruitment and training process requires considerable investment.

Most employees won’t have a drug or alcohol addiction and the pushing of aggressive, zero-tolerance policies can be problematic. If will form part of a policy, it needs to be implemented appropriately.

Many companies and particularly those operating in safety-critical environments use drug and alcohol screening as a way of controlling substance abuse in the workplace. Drug and alcohol misuse is as much the employer’s problem as the individual’s concerned. From routine or random tests to screening in specific circumstances, testing can act as a deterrent.

While it can be relatively straightforward to incorporate agreement to the principal of alcohol and drug testing into a new employee’s contract, it can be more difficult to make changes to an existing member of staff’s terms and conditions of service. Existing staff are under no legal obligation to comply and forcing an unwilling employee to take a test could result in a case for constructive dismissal.

Alcohol and drug tests at work can create a culture of anxiety. In the extreme, testing can deliver the deathblow to employment or have life-changing implications, particularly in the case of a false accusation. If not managed appropriately, it can negatively impact staff morale, contributing to decreased productivity and employee retention.

If employees feel secure at work and assured that their issues will be addressed sensitively and discreetly, they’re more likely to come forward of their own volition to admit to a problem. It’s crucial to win the trust of your employees. Confidentiality instils confidence. If workers know that their privacy is valued and that their situation will be handled severally rather than with blanket disciplinary action, they will feel more comfortable coming forward.

At East Coast Recovery, we believe alcohol and drug misuse is an illness that can be treated. We provide the tools to help people understand and address the nature of their addiction, enabling your employee to return to work