Drug and alcohol policies

Background

Many organisations have introduced formal policies to address issues of drug or alcohol misuse in the workplace.

PCS supports the need for employers to have formal policies to address these issues but strongly believes that these need to be supportive and not intrusive and/or draconian.

In recent years we have seen several employers seeking to introduce random testing of employees to identify illegal drug use.  in many such cases not only is such action unjustifiable but it is contrary to the very clear guidance issued by the Information Commissioner, regarding the Data Protection Act requirements for the collecting and storage of sensitive personal data.

Support not discipline

Individuals turn to drugs and/or alcohol for many reasons - but it is well recognised that excess pressures (or stress) can cause an increase in alcohol use and may also lead to the use of drugs. 

For this reason, it is important that employers recognise that there may be ways to address problems of alcohol or drug misuse that can help an individual overcome not only their addiction but also the underlying factors that are causing it.

Having a clearly stated policy that those who are facing drug or alcohol dependnecy problems can and will be supported through a rehabilitation process and offering some degree of job security can encourage such individuals to seek help.

Not a single chance

Any reasonable policy has to recognise the difficulties associated with breaking a dependancy of this type.  Most such policies will suspend disciplinary penalties for the duration of the treatment. Good policies also accept that some individuals will either fail at their first attempt or, having apparently broken the dependency, will return to it after a few months - possibly because once they are finished with the rehabilitation programme the increased levels of personal support may tail off, leaving them again in a vulnerable situation.

Key elements of a good drug/alcohol policy

  • Drug and alcohol policies should be seperate documents;
  • They should start with a clear statement of aims: why the policy exists; who it applies to (which should be ALL staff);
  • Who has responsibilities under the policy: the senior manager who oversees the operation of the policy; line managers' responsibilities; the role of trade union reps, welfare or counselling staff and of individual employees;
  • Definitions: what is meant by drug misuse; what expectations the employer has on alcohol during working hours;
  • the rules of the policy regarding rehabilitation; will the employer offer financial support; is time off for treatment available; can employees get paid leave; is a move to another role possible, to reduce pressures;
  • safeguards: that employees will not be disciplined for failings while they are seeking assistance and/or undergoing rehabilitation; recognition of the risk of relapse; confidentiality of individuals under the policy;
  • discipline: circumstances where the safeguards do not apply or may be removed: violence to others; refusal to acknowledge a problem over a significant period of time; refusal to cooperate with a rehabilitation programme; possession of illegal substances;
  • monitoring and review arrangements for the policy - in conjunction with trade union reps.

Random testing

In the vast majority of areas where PCS members work, there will be no reasonable justification for random drug or alcohol testing.  The Information Commissioner strongly recommends that any employer contemplating such a move should undertake and document an Impact assessment.

If your employer is moving towards random testing, for alcohol and/or drugs, contact PCS HQ.

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