Employers Guide to Addiction

Every day millions of UK workers head off to their jobs completely oblivious to the fact that they could be working side-by-side with someone addicted to drugs or alcohol. The problem of addiction in the workplace is so profound that it has a measurable impact on everything from productivity to the monthly balance sheet. It is something that cannot be ignored by employers, regardless of the size and scope of their operations.

alcohol, employment and the workplace

Dealing with addiction issues in the workplace is a matter of establishing the appropriate policies and the framework to implement them. Companies need to develop policies for identifying addiction issues, protecting other workers, and intervening and assisting where possible. Pre-employment policies should also be put in place.

Why It Matters

It may be that some business owners and organisational leaders do not take the problem of addiction and employment seriously. That is a mistake. Ignoring addiction, or simply giving it lip service, is an open door for problems that can absolutely devastate a workplace environment. To illustrate the point, we offer the following from a US report by the National Business Group on Health:

  • among all those identified as having substance abuse or addiction problems, 60% are employed full-time
  • substance abuse and addiction contribute to higher absenteeism rates and lower productivity
  • substance abuse and addiction contribute to higher healthcare costs related to workplace injuries
  • substance abuse and addiction contribute to higher rates of disability claims
  • use of addictive substances increases the dangers related to working in hazardous conditions
  • use of addictive substances creates interpersonal problems between workers.

In a best-case scenario, a worker suffering with an addiction problem will negatively affect his or her employer through lost production, increased absenteeism, and professional conflicts with co-workers. A worst-case scenario could result in an employer being held liable for the actions of an addicted worker who injures or kills someone else.

Addiction in the workplace matters because it directly affects everything the employer does. The use of addictive substances can be just as destructive to the workplace environment as crime or labour unrest. It should never be ignored, no matter how small a disruption appears to be.

Concerns of Safety Issues

There are special safety concerns when it comes to employees who routinely engage in certain types of workplace activities. For example, a delivery driver is already exposed to significant risk simply by being on the roads all day. Common sense dictates that the more often a person drives, the more likely he or she is to be involved in an accident. However, things become more complicated when substance abuse and addiction are involved.

Imagine a driver getting behind the wheel of a company vehicle with heroin in his or her system. That driver puts him or herself, their company, other drivers, cyclists and pedestrians at risk. Now imagine that same driver causing a crash that kills someone. This is serious business indeed.

Similar concerns apply to workers who operate heavy machinery or handle hazardous substances such as cleaning chemicals and petroleum products. Any time a worker’s day-to-day routine involves hazardous work, the potential dangers of that work are amplified many times over by substance abuse and addiction.

Workplace Policies

While no workplace can guarantee a 100% addiction-free environment, this does not negate the responsibility of management to put certain policies in place to reduce risks. Workplace substance abuse and addiction policies are divided into two primary categories: prevention and response.

Prevention policies establish the principles a company will follow in order to prevent substance abuse or addiction from becoming a problem in the workplace. One of the more common prevention policies is the pre-employment drug-screening programme that identifies addicts before they are hired.

Response policies are those put in place for dealing with problems once they are identified. Such policies cover everything from reporting suspected drug use to intervention to offering support services. Policy development should include, at a minimum, the following core components:

  • coverage – a detailed description of all parties affected by the policies
  • confidentiality – mechanisms to protect the privacy of those involved
  • intervention – guidelines to determine how companies will respond to reported problems
  • support – guidelines defining what support, if any, will be provided by the employer
  • discipline – a detailed description of any and all disciplinary actions
  • legal – a detailed description of a company’s legal responsibilities in cases of substance abuse and addiction.

The problem of addiction and employment is one that every workplace manager and executive staff needs to be concerned about. Failing to recognise the problem for what it is could lead to consequences no employer wants to deal with.

How is your company or organisation doing? Hopefully, you are doing well. If not, we encourage you or those in charge to get the help and advice necessary to establish a comprehensive and effective programme for dealing with addiction in the workplace. Ignoring the problem and its potential consequences is not a viable option.


  1. NBGH – https://www.businessgrouphealth.org/pub/f3151957-2354-d714-5191-c11a80a07294