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Is the coffee machine illegal?

A brief look at the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016

The advent of a new piece of legislation is an opportunity to review existing polices and practices to ensure that they're still fit for purpose. The new act, which came into force at the end of May, makes it an offence to produce, offer or supply any banned psychoactive substances. These are substances which have the effect of altering the user's mental or emotional state and caffeine could certainly be defined as such but there's no need to ban coffee in the workplace because, along with nicotine, alcohol and alkyl nitrites ("poppers") it is exempt under the act.

Possession is not an offence, except in a custodial institution, so for most employers no change to existing policies will be needed. But drug and alcohol abuse generally continues to be a live topic so it's worth making sure that you have something in place to help address any problems that might arise.

Many employers 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.

Acas advisers can help you review policies and introduce necessary changes.

Call Acas Customer Services on 0300 123 1150 or complete our Customer contact form.