As an organisation offering free assistance to those struggling with drugs and alcohol, we frequently receive questions about drugs and alcohol in the workplace. As such, we believe some of those questions – along with their answers – might be helpful for your workplace:

Why should employers be concerned about substance abuse and addiction?

Employers have an obligation to both their employees and the customers they serve to provide a safe and productive environment allowing them to conduct business as normal. Workplace drug and alcohol issues interfere with that obligation by reducing productivity, increasing absenteeism rates, contributing to workplace accidents and injuries, and diminishing the level of quality a business or organisation offers.

According to Narcanon, drug and alcohol issues cost businesses and organisations some £2 billion every year, just in London alone. Imagine what the economic impact must be across the entire UK! This is why you, as an employer, need to be concerned.

Do employers have a legal responsibility to deal with such issues?

Yes and no. Yes, in the general sense that the law requires employers to take every reasonable step necessary to provide a safe environment for both workers and visitors. This would include removing any workers who present an immediate danger to others due to drug or alcohol use.

Having said that, there is no legal requirement for an employer to establish an official drug and alcohol policy. Employers are free to do as they please in this area, as long as they remain in compliance with general health and safety regulations. The law does outline specific legal requirements for companies involved in most forms of transportation and its related infrastructure.

How are workplace drug and alcohol policies developed?

Developing and implementing workplace drug and alcohol policies is a matter of employers collaborating with the necessary partners to get the job done. It involves consultation among management, staff, and legal departments, at minimum. Employers in many cases call on outside organisations to assist in the process as well. Policies are developed according to each organisation’s unique workforce and circumstances.

How are workplace drug and alcohol policies affected by confidentiality requirements?

There are a number of laws on the books protecting worker confidentiality. It is important to understand those laws before crafting workplace alcohol and drug policies. An attorney or trade union can help in this area, so employers should be sure to ask for assistance. Suffice to say that confidentiality is an important part of encouraging workers to participate in creating an alcohol and drug-free workplace.

What are employee assistance programmes?

Also known as an EAP, the employee assistance programme is a confidential service offered by an employer to address the alcohol and drug related needs of individual workers. The nature of such programmes differs from one employer to the next, but it is not uncommon for EAPs to include counselling services, treatment referrals, group support referrals and free literature and multi-media resources.

What is a return-to-work agreement?

A common component of workplace drug and alcohol policies is the return-to-work agreement. This agreement is a set of guidelines established to allow a drug or alcohol policy offender to return to work after completing a prescribed course of action. This is an important part of any workplace drug and alcohol policy in as much as it establishes clear guidelines that allow workers to be given a second chance after violations.

I am supervisor and I suspect a problem with one of my workers. What do I do?

If your company already has established policies for dealing with drugs and alcohol in the workplace, the first course of action is to consult those policies for direction. In the absence of an established policy, you should take your concerns to your immediate supervisor (if one exists) or the human resources department. If you are the highest-ranking member of the management team, you will ultimately be responsible for determining what course of action to take.

The correct course of action may include investigating the suspected employee to verify a problem exists. If the problem is already verified, offering the worker access to an EAP is probably appropriate.

I am a worker who suspects a problem with one of my co-workers. What do I do?

As with supervisors, workers should first check to see if established policies are in place. Follow the guidelines set forth in those policies if they exist. Otherwise, take your concerns to your immediate supervisor for further direction. If you are comfortable in approaching your co-worker to offer your help and support, you may want to consider doing so.

I am struggling with drugs or alcohol myself. What can I do?

If you know drugs or alcohol is interfering with your work, it is your responsibility to do something about it. Being willing to admit you have a problem is the first step. Now, take your concerns to your immediate supervisor or the human resources department. Learn all you can about the different options available to you. With that information in hand, choose those options that appear to be the best for your circumstances. Whatever you do, do not ignore the problem hoping that it will go away on its own. It likely will not.

Addiction Helper encourages anyone struggling with drugs or alcohol to contact our helpline for further assistance. If your employer does not offer any sort of EAP or other support, we can help you by providing free assessments, practical advice, and treatment referrals.