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Workers' Rights Regarding Drink And Drugs In The Workplace

By: Chris Hogan MSc - Updated: 27 Aug 2014 | comments*Discuss
Workers' Right Business Employer Drugs

Most company employment contracts will consider drug-taking or drinking alcohol on the premises as gross misconduct, which means that offenders can be dismissed without going through a grievance or Disciplinary Procedure. Less clear-cut are employers' options when drink or drug abuse is not happening on the premises, but could be affecting the business.

Health and Safety – Drink and Drug Problems

The reasons that employers need to take notice of drug and drink problems, rather than treating them as private issues, is largely one of Health And Safety, rather than workers' rights. How important that is depends on the nature of the business and the role of the employee. For example, a train driver or long-distance lorry driver could cause an accident as a result of driving under the influence of alcohol or narcotics.

It's for exactly that reason that the Transport and Works Act of 1992 created criminal offences to cover people taking control of vehicles, as part of their job, while unfit through drugs or drink. It could be argued that someone picking and packing products in a warehouse is less likely to cause a problem, and it's in order to avoid arguments like this that most businesses enforce drug and drink policies across the board.

As far as a Employment Tribunal is concerned, turning up to work under the influence of drink or drugs is a justifiable reason for dismissal, although the personal circumstances behind the problem and the perceived risk to the public would probably be taken into consideration. This further puts the onus on firms to deal with these problems when they first arise, rather than waiting until a crisis forces action.

Screening for Drugs

Many organisations and businesses now screen employees for drug use, although this cannot be done without the employees' consent, which can make the introduction of such drug testing problematic. For new employees, it can simply be made part of their Employment Contract. An employee can decline the contract if they don't wish to give permission to be tested, although that means they will not be employed either.

For existing workers, putting a clause in the contract to cover drug testing would constitute a change of contract and as such, cannot be forced on the employee. This would require negotiation and, depending on the strength of the workers' case, probably result in concessions being awarded in return for the contract amendment. Searching employees for evidence of drug use is a very sensitive matter, but again, this would need to be voluntary and the issues of contract amendment would be the same as for drug testing.

One problem with screening for drugs is that some 'soft' recreational drugs can leave traces in the bloodstream for over a month, and an employment tribunal might take the view that such drug use in the worker's own time, where there has been no degradation in performance or safety issue, is not a dismissal offence. The real impact of this is that it makes it harder to implement a 'zero-tolerance' policy on all drug use.

Care Regarding Drink and Drugs in the Business

Many employers will have policies to cover the affects of a drink or drug problem that will involve pastoral care and support. These businesses subscribe to the theory that drug addition and alcoholism should be treated as illnesses, and that fixing the problem will get a valued and expensively trained employee back to work.

The hard reality though, is that a lot of business owners, particularly those of small business, do not want to afford the cost of getting a worker back on track when it is easier and cheaper to hire a replacement.

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Who has the right to conduct arandom drug test in the workplace , can a supervisor or manager take it upon the selffes to without a doctor do a drug test ,
Floydd - 27-Aug-14 @ 6:56 PM
I had a bump on the forklift truck at work, It was a genuine accident, I wasn't under the influence of drink or drugs. I was locked in an office for hours under guard, waiting for the drink/drugs doctor to test me, I had to have somone with me if I went to the toilet. I was treated like a murderer. I was in full view of all the rest of the staff. All the tests were negative. I'm in my 35th year at this firm I can't put it in words how it made me feel but it was abuse. Where do I stand?
Rick - 19-May-12 @ 5:57 PM
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