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Drug and alcohol policy

Employers have a duty and obligation to provide a workplace that is safe and without risks to health. Employers can minimise workplace risks and potential claims resulting from employees impaired by drugs or alcohol by developing clear occupational health and safety policies.

Developing a policy 

When developing a policy you will need to be mindful of employee rights. While employers have a legitimate right to try to eliminate the risk that employees might come to work impaired by drugs or alcohol, there is no right to dictate an employee’s choice regarding use of substances during their own time. 

Therefore, an employer needs to analyse whether an employee, who may be under the influence, poses a safety risk to the business and other employees. The condition of the affected employee may be easily identified where manual work is involved. However, it may be more difficult for office personnel. No matter what the reason for intoxication, the primary responsibility for the employer is the safety of their employees and others. 

When deciding on methods for identifying whether an employee is affected by drugs or alcohol, there are a number of legal implications that need to be considered. For example, the collection and use of medical testing results is severely restricted for privacy reasons. However, if the performance of a particular high-risk position requires a high level of physical and mental functioning, business procedures implementing drug and alcohol testing would be less likely to be regarded as discriminatory against employees. 

Notifying employees of the policy 

When a drug and alcohol policy has been developed it is important that all employees receive a copy, usually in the form of a notice. It should also form part of all contracts of employment for new employees. The policy should also be clearly stated and posted somewhere in the workplace. 

Policy must be enforced fairly 

Breaches of the policy should be dealt with fairly, no matter what the employee's position. It is not sufficient to have a policy when the workplace norms indicate that it is acceptable to breach the policy. 

Social drinks 

Don’t forget to convey to employees the guidelines for Friday night drinks and business functions. It is usual for employer to expect that drinks are provided on the basis that employees are aware of legal requirements before driving and a measure of moderation is required.

Random testing

Random testing can only be at the employee’s consent. In some cases permission is granted in the employment contract. In all cases, test results are confidential. The employer may also need to prove there is a requirement for testing arising from a job requirement. An example may be a tower crane operator where there may be high risk of injury or death to other employees.

If random testing is part of the policy, sample collection must be to a sufficient standard.

Additionally, employers with drug and alcohol policies that include testing should, if possible, provide for saliva testing over urine testing. 

To find out more, contact HIA's Workplace Services team

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