LRD Booklets October 2017

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

[pages 3-4]


Many employers now have workplace policies in place to manage problems arising from the misuse of drugs and alcohol. In part, this is in response to concerns about issues including loss of productivity, poor performance, lateness, absenteeism and the effect on the organisation’s image and reputation. In addition, the health safety and wellbeing agenda is a further driver for the introduction of workplace policies.

Trade unions are generally in favour of negotiated, fair policies that put the emphasis on support rather than discipline and enable any problems with drugs and alcohol to be dealt with early, effectively and consistently. Having an agreed policy can help to ensure that issues are dealt with as legitimate workplace matters in a non-judgmental way and can help staff gain the confidence to come forward and seek help without fear of disciplinary action.

But unions have also raised major concerns in relation to the introduction of drug and alcohol testing, including:

• intrusive testing that extends employer control beyond their legitimate functions;

• testing being used to victimise particular workers; and

• flawed tests that have resulted in workers being unfairly dismissed.

In addition, unions point to an independent inquiry which found that for the majority of businesses, investment in management training and systems is likely to have more impact on safety, performance and productivity than the introduction of drug testing at work.

Union involvement can make a real difference to the way employers develop and implement drug and alcohol policies and trade union reps need to understand the issues relating to drugs and alcohol at work. This booklet aims to help them to do this.

It looks at:

• why employers are introducing drug and alcohol policies;

• the scale of alcohol and drug misuse in the UK;

• the impact of alcohol and drug misuse on the health of individuals; and

• the impact of alcohol and drug misuse on organisations and the economy as a whole.

The booklet also outlines the law in this area, including cases interpreting employment protection and equalities legislation, and summarises the guidance reps can draw on, including official guidance published by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), the advisory, conciliation and arbitration service (Acas) and the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), as well as guidance produced by the TUC and unions.

It includes information for negotiators, looking at how employers are dealing with drugs and alcohol and workplace policies in practice, drawing on information supplied by national unions and the Labour Research Department’s (LRD’s) workplace contacts.

In addition, Chapter 5 looks at a relatively new area of trade union concern — that of problematic gambling. The booklet also provides a list of organisations providing more in-depth guidance in all the areas it covers.