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December, 2018

Increase in drugs and alcohol abuse

Posted on: December 13th, 2018 by Ginny Hallam

We’ve noticed a spike in employment issues arising from excessive drinking and/or drug taking in the workplace (or outside). It doesn’t necessarily follow that dismissal is the obvious or fair option. It’s generally only if drinking or drug taking outside of work impacts on performance or the individual’s ability to do their job that it becomes an employment issue.

As part of a supportive culture a dismissal might not be in line with your values, and the individual concerned might be worth keeping within the business. Clearly, the right balance needs to be struck.

In practice:

Avoid prosecution

• If you suspect an employee is under the influence, send them home. If a workplace injury occurs, the company, your directors and your managers could all be prosecuted

Testing positive

• Not all tests are 100% accurate – don’t immediately ignore explanations the individual gives you. A short-sighted approach could make any subsequent dismissal unfair.


• Ensure your policies are up to date. If you want to treat ‘smelling of alcohol’ as gross misconduct say as much. If you want to carry out random testing – make that clear.

• If your people will be asked to socialise on your business, be clear about acceptable levels of consumption and behaviour and ensure you lead by example!

Take advice

• Just because an employee has acted inappropriately outside of work doesn’t always give you the right to dismiss them fairly – a connection needs to be drawn with their employment. Are they no longer able to do their job, is the drink/drugs affecting their performance significantly with little chance of improvement?

Don’t discriminate

• Drinking or drug taking can be connected to stress, depression or other mental illness. If you’re aware of the possibility of such conditions, dismissing could amount to discrimination. Take advice.


• Consider creating an anonymous employee helpline or have a designated, trusted point of contact within the business to encourage employees to proactively seek support or raise concerns about a colleague.

Click here if you would like to discuss this article or your employment policies or processes with us in more detail.