There are good reasons to believe that alcohol and drug abuse is an increasing problem in the UK workplace. A 2012 report by the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service found that roughly 33 percent of British employers nowadays have to deal with alcohol and drug abuse problems at the workplace.
Since the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) advises that employers are responsible for providing a safe, hazard-free workplace for employees it is therefore understandable that an increasing number of employers are requiring drug tests from prospective employees and are often also requiring existing employees to undergo regular drug tests.
One of the best ways in which employers can protect themselves against problems in this regard is by requiring prospective employees to undergo a drug test. Make sure this policy is in writing and that all job applicants are aware of the fact that such a test will be required of them before they can be appointed to a position in the company.
Where drug tests are required from existing employees, this should also be in writing and form part of the employer's service contract with the company.
It has to be noted that no employee can be forced to undergo a drug test. If an employee should refuse, however, this should immediately raise a red flag with the human resources department and if there is reasonable suspicion that such an employee had indeed made him or herself guilty of drug abuse, disciplinary proceedings might be instituted.
There are various types of drug and alcohol tests. For alcohol abuse, a simple breathalyzer test might be all that is needed, while testing for drugs is usually completed by taking either a blood or a hair sample.
Employers should make sure that a reputable company is used to analyze these samples in order to prevent any possible disputes. Employees should also be asked before the test whether they take any prescription medicine, since certain types of medicine are known to cause false positive results for drug abuse.
While a screening test for all new job applicants will go a long way to prevent future problems, a policy of regular drug testing might be the only way to really get on top of the problem of drug abuse at the workplace. Make sure that all employees are aware of this fact and try to get the cooperation of the relevant trade union in this regard.
If an employee fails a drug test, there should be a disciplinary hearing. Employers should always try to be fair in this regard. There's a huge difference between an employee who works in the back office and who abuses alcohol on a single occasion, and someone working with dangerous machinery that abuses drugs on a regular basis. The effect of the employee's drug or alcohol abuse with regard to the safety of fellow workers, and on productivity in general, should always be considered.
Where possible, instead of dismissing an employee, such an individual could, for example, be required to undergo rehabilitation treatment and counseling.