Drugs misuse in the Workplace: Should employers be concerned?

The National Office of Statistics warned in January 2016 of the frightening reality of alcohol consumption & drug use in the UK. More than a quarter of men reported that they drink over the recommended maximum 21 units of alcohol a week*, whilst 17% of women consume more than the recommended 14.

Furthermore 36% of 16 to 59-year-olds have used one or more illicit drugs in their lifetime, with 12% having used an illegal drug at least once in the last year. Among 16 to 24-year-olds, 28% have used an unlawful drug in the previous 12 months.

So, is this a concern to employers?

The answer is, of course, yes, since amongst other issues this has an impact on attendance & performance. More importantly substance misuse can increase the risks of accidents and impact on the health and safety of the public.

A recent domestic survey identified that 40% of respondents recognised alcohol as a significant cause of employee absence and lost productivity. A third of employees reported that drug misuse had a similarly negative effect in the workplace. This is amplified by the National Alcohol Harm Reduction Strategy, which concludes that the alcohol-related output loss to the UK economy was up to a staggering £6.4 billion. There are also the explicit risks that substance misuse has on Health and Safety legislation since the employer could be liable if a substance misuse related accident occurs at work.

When dealing with alcohol or drug misuse at work employers must strike a balance between using the disciplinary procedure for conduct-related incidents and providing welfare to individuals who have acknowledged that they have a problem. The latter intervention can often have a better chance of reducing recidivism & improve the workplace culture (see an example of significant reductions).

TFS can support clients by:

  • Supporting organisations to establish & implement effective policies.
  • Where existing policies are in place support clients to communicate them effectively to managers and staff.
  • Offer bespoke training for managers on how to identify and address concerns and tackle these issues both inside and outside of the disciplinary framework.
  • Complement existing employee assisted programs by offering support, guidance and advice to employees

* In January 2016, the guidelines were changed to 14 units for both men and women [see NHS Choices], so the figures for men exceeding the weekly guidelines are likely to be higher now [April 2017].