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Alcohol and drugs policies

Key points

  • Policies should be used to ensure problems are dealt with effectively and consistently.
  • Under the misuse of drugs act drugs are classified according to their perceived danger.
  • Employers have legal obligations under the Health and Safety at work Act 1974, The Transport and Works Act 1992 and The Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.
  • Managers should be trained to deal with workers who seek help.

Many employers use similar methods to deal with drugs and alcohol abuse. For example, some organisations now treat drug and alcohol dependence as an illness and frame policies aimed at rehabilitation. This approach can encourage employees to seek treatment. However, drugs differ from alcohol as use is generally not socially acceptable and is often illegal. Some drugs can more rapidly affect physical and mental health than alcohol, so the earlier the problem can be dealt with, the greater chance there is of rehabilitation.

There are legal obligations for employers under common law and the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, The Transport and Works Act 1992 and The Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. You can read more about these in our pdf icon Advisory booklet - Health Work and Wellbeing [647kb].

Any alcohol or drugs policy should be used to ensure problems are dealt with effectively, and consistently and early on in the process. They should protect workers and encourage sufferers to seek help. An education programme for managers is particularly important: it could include details of signs to look for, how to deal with workers who seek help, and where expert advice and help may be obtained. Being able to direct your workers to help is an important step. This may help them to recognise the dangers of alcohol, drug and other substance misuse and encourage them to seek help. It may also persuade your management and staff that covering up for someone with a drugs problem is not in that person's long-term interests.

Legislation to be aware of

  • Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 - section 2 - places a duty on an employer to ensure, as far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of their employees.
  • Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 - places a duty on an employer to assess the risks to the health and safety of employees. This means an employer can be prosecuted if they knowingly allow an employee to continue working while under the influence of alcohol or drugs and their behaviour places the employee themselves or others at risk.
  • Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 - makes it an offence for someone to knowingly permit the production, supply or use of controlled drugs on their premises except in specified circumstances (for example drugs prescribed by a doctor).

Although not applicable to all workplaces, these two Acts also put obligations on employers and workers:

  • Road Traffic Act 1988 - states that any person who, when driving or attempting to drive a motor vehicle on a road or other public place, is unfit to drive through drink or drugs shall be guilty of an offence.
  • Transport and Works Act 1992 - makes it a criminal offence for certain workers to be unfit through drugs and/or drink while working on railways, tramways and other guided transport systems.

This topic is addressed in Acas Employment Law Update training. View course listings. You may also benefit from viewing our Employment Law Update timetable.


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