LRD Booklets November 2008

Drug and alcohol policies at work - a guide for union reps


Employers’ attitudes towards drug and alcohol use at work have become a significant issue for trade union representatives to deal with in recent years.

Many employers, including high profile private firms and public sector organisations, have introduced drug and alcohol policies and used them in disciplinary cases against individual workers.

During 2008, an employment tribunal ordered the Northeast Press media firm to pay more than £20,000 compensation after unfairly sacking an NUJ journalists’ union member. The NUJ said: “If Northeast Press had used its policy, our member would still have been in a job today. As it is, instead of providing the support it should have done under the policy, it simply abandoned and sacked him, leaving him to pick himself up.”

In 2003, seven London Underground maintenance workers were sacked after empty beer cans and an empty cognac bottle were found in a mess room at Farringdon tube station. Their employer, maintenance contractor Metronet, operated a “zero tolerance” policy and the employees lost their jobs (see page 44).

These examples indicate that union reps need to understand the issues relating to drugs and alcohol at work. Fortunately, there are a number of positive examples of union action and intervention, using the law and good practice guidance.

Union involvement can make a difference and this booklet shows union reps how to do it. It explains the law and government guidance on drugs and alcohol at work and examines employers’ policies on drugs and alcohol, particularly around disciplinary procedures and testing. It also looks at rehabilitation and support for workers. Best practice was found where policies had been produced in consultation with workers and their union reps.

The Labour Research Department would like to thank the workplace union representatives and national union officials who provided information for this booklet.