How drugs can impact on your workplace plus how to create a policy, and guidance on testing

You have a legal duty to control the risks that can arise from substance use while staff are at work.

Raising awareness of drugs issues in the workplace has wider benefits for both individuals and the organisation in terms of:

  • health
  • wellbeing
  • productivity

What is a drug?

In their widest sense, drugs are substances that alter the way in which the mind or body works.

The effects of drugs vary from substance to substance and also from person to person.

These include:

  • alcohol
  • solvents
  • legal highs
  • prescribed drugs
  • over-the-counter medication

These also include controlled drugs such as:

  • heroin
  • ecstasy
  • cocaine
  • cannabis

Drugs and the workplace

Many drugs have the potential to affect a person’s ability to do their job safely and to keep their colleagues or other people safe too.

As a result, you need to:

  • understand the issue
  • spot problems at an early stage
  • make sure that your workplace remains safe for everyone

As an employer, you have a duty under Health and Safety law to make sure that your staff work safely and do not put others at risk. Managing the impact of any drug use would be included in this.

Those driving while at work are also covered by road and rail safety laws.

The Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 (external site) makes it a criminal offence to allow someone to supply or use controlled drugs in your premises.

Routine medication may be needed to allow your employee to continue to carry out their work safely and effectively.

For example, medication taken for:

  • diabetes
  • epilepsy
  • heart problems or blood pressure

However, some routine medication can adversely affect your employee’s ability to perform their job as safely.

This can impact on both their own health and those of their colleagues. For example, diazepam or sleeping drugs, although prescribed by a doctor, can affect the ability to drive or operate machinery safely.

It is important that you are aware of the potential impact of substance use on your business and have considered what needs to be done to deal with the risks.

For more information on specific types of drugs, you can visit the Know the Score website (external site).

Supporting staff

The misuse of drugs, whether intentional or unintentional, can also have far-reaching effects on the staff's personal and working lives.

If not addressed, it can lead to:

  • absence and ill health
  • accidents and injuries
  • reduced productivity
  • reduced morale
  • damage to your business reputation

Consider the potential for misuse of drugs in your workplace and create a policy on handling any issues and supporting your staff.

This will increase the likelihood of issues being highlighted at an earlier point and minimise the impact on your business.

Drug and alcohol policy

One of the best ways to address the possible risk of drug misuse by employees in your organisation is to create a drug policy.

If you already have an alcohol policy or are tackling these issues at the same time, you could combine these policies. It clarifies everyone’s rights and responsibilities.

It also allows any problems relating to drugs to be dealt with in a positive and consistent manner. It shows staff that support is available to help them stay in work.

The policy should be available to everyone.

It should also be applied to all employees, regardless of status.

It should clearly state:

  • the rules about drug use in your organisation
  • how issues will be dealt with
  • what support will be offered
  • when disciplinary action would be taken
  • when the policy was created and when it will be reviewed
  • a commitment to confidentiality

You can find out more about implementing an effective alcohol and drug policy​ in our drugs and alcohol in the workplace publication and on our alcohol​ page.

Drug testing

Many employers consider a drug testing programme as part of their policy on drugs.

This can be important for those working in safety-critical jobs.

However, it does raise some issues in terms of human rights. You would also need to make sure that tests are carried out in a way where the results will be accepted as evidence in any proceedings.​

Find out more

Healthy Working Lives’ Promoting an alcohol- and drugs-free working environment booklet contains useful information on implementing an alcohol and drugs policy at work.