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Implications of drug and alcohol testing within the workplace 

Many employers operate Drug and Alcohol policies detailing what is acceptable within the workplace when it comes to alcohol and drugs, and the implications of being under the influence of either substance during working hours. Such policies generally cover an organisation’s right to perform random drug or alcohol tests and may also include reference to what help or support a Company may offer to those who have openly declared an issue with substance abuse.   

Despite having standardised policies in place, many employers fail to consider the real implications of conducting drug or alcohol tests at work. Whilst there are many valid reasons for conducting such tests (including an employer’s duty to protect their employees from a health and safety point of view) it is important to be aware of the practicalities and implications of conducting tests at work.  

Consider if testing is absolutely necessary 

Before conducting tests, employers should consider if this is absolutely necessary. Tests can be intrusive, and employees may feel uncomfortable being asked to undergo a test, especially if it involves providing a urine or blood sample. Whilst most employees will appreciate the underlying reasons for conducting such tests, some may feel the process is overly intrusive, especially if it is not totally necessary. 

Before conducting tests, employers should ensure there is adequate reason for doing so. As per guidance by the HSE, there may be a case for screening, particularly in certain jobs (for example employees who make safety-critical decisions like drivers, pilots and some machinery operators).

Cost

Whilst there are various drug testing kits on the market which vary in price (based on how easy they are to use, their accuracy or the quantity ordered), employers must ensure that testing kits are in line with required standards and that tests are administered by adequately trained personnel. Failure to meet said standards may lead to results being contaminated, inaccurate and therefore contestable in any formal disciplinary action. 

Alternatively, you may opt to have an external professional body attend the workplace to carry out testing. However, this can cost considerably more, especially for those who require regular testing. 

Accuracy 

Any alcohol or drug test, whether conducted in-house or private, is not 100% guaranteed for accuracy. Errors do occur whilst samples are taken, stored, tested and processed, and such errors can lead to incorrect results. Employers must bare this in mind when handling positive test results.  

What to do upon receipt of a positive test result

In the event an employee who is not under the influence of substances receives a positive result, this can have a negative impact on the employment relationship. 

With this in mind, upon receipt of any positive result, employers need to ensure that strict policies are adhered to with a view to investigating the underlying reasons for the said result, prior to commencing formal disciplinary action. Keep in mind that there is no such thing as instant dismissal, even with something seemingly as conclusive as a positive drugs/alcohol test result.

During investigation, the Company should determine if the employee can provide any valid explanation for their positive result.  The employer should gather all relevant facts and information before considering an invite to disciplinary. 

If the employee provides an explanation, this must be investigated in full. Such investigations may involve seeking consent to access an employee’s medical records, especially if the employee claims that prescribed medication may have affected their results. Ignoring any possible explanation without a full investigation could lead to unfair dismissal, and a possible pending claim. Keep in mind that professional drugs/alcohol screening providers will generally establish whether the employee is taking any medication which may affect their result, before testing takes place. 

Once investigations are complete and the employee has been given the opportunity to present an explanation, the Company should decide if formal disciplinary action is appropriate. A positive drugs/alcohol test, with no explanation or valid mitigation, is normally deemed gross misconduct, with a range of sanctions from no further action to potential summary dismissal. 

In summary

Employers should decide on an individual basis if drug or alcohol testing is necessary or if it is in the Company’s best interest to conduct such screenings. In the event screening is deemed necessary, it is recommended that employers source a reputable and trustworthy provider to support with testing, and ensure that upon receipt of a positive test, detailed investigations and procedures are followed.   

Consult with your HR Advisor or seek professional advice before considering any potential dismissal. talk to us today to discuss your requirements – call 01427 678 660 or email admin@skaltd.co.uk and #oneoftheteam will be happy to help.