Toolkit on Drugs, Alcohol and Tobacco Use in the Workplace

Public Health England has published a toolkit for employers on drugs, alcohol and tobacco use at work. The toolkit considers the legal context, how to manage issues arising from substance use and how to monitor and evaluate the impact of your approach.

Alcohol, drug and tobacco use are the causes of and contributors to short and long-term ill-health for a considerable proportion of working people. In England there were an estimated 301,000 potential years of life lost due to alcohol and 365,000 due to tobacco in 2015.

You are likely to have a substance use policy which focuses on the disciplinary aspects of ‘being under the influence’ whilst at work but this is just one part of the actions you should be taking as a responsible employer. The challenge for you will be to implement policies and foster a workplace culture that respects individual choice while supporting your employees to realise their full potential.

You can achieve this by ensuring that you have effective and positive management standards in place, which includes regular reviews, setting objectives, ensuring working hours are reasonable and leading from the top. Staff surveys can also be a useful way of assessing the health and wellbeing needs of employees.

Legal requirements underpin the use of alcohol, drugs and tobacco at work. The Health & Safety at Work Act 1974 requires employers to provide a safe place of work for employees. Failure to deal with an employee who is under the influence of a substance or, who may constitute a risk to other employees could leave you open to prosecution. Common law also requires employers to take reasonable care of the health and safety of their employees.

You should also remember that health and medical information is sensitive personal data under data protection legislation. You will need to comply with the General Data Protection Regulation and the Data Protection Act 2018.

5 Key Actions to Take

  • Make a commitment on substance policies and make sure this is communicated to staff. Ensure a senior member of staff leads this initiative
  • Build your approach, ensuring that senior members of staff understand and act on your legal obligations
  • Ensure that your policy is positive as well as setting out the disciplinary actions for breach. In this regard, include support for those with substance problems, offering assistance where needed
  • Ensure staff know how to access support and train line managers to understand and signpost sources of support
  • Consider staff surveys, regular evaluations of substance use and reporting back on progress and evaluating the causes of red flag issues such as absenteeism and productivity

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