Managing drug and alcohol misuse at work

Managing drug and alcohol misuse at work - Centric HR

Employers have a legal duty to protect employees’ health, safety and welfare. Understanding and managing drug and alcohol misuse at work (or abuse) will help companies to promote health and safety in their workplace and to develop a policy to deal with drug and alcohol-related problems and support their employees.

Whilst most organisations have specific drug and alcohol policies, only a small minority of them provide information on sources of support for employees. However, the impact of providing support is clear. A recent survey found that for those employers who had referred an employee to rehabilitation support, 69% had remained working for the organisation, so the importance of ongoing support is paramount. It is vital that employers create an environment where people feel able to ask for help and confident that they will be supported to get the help they need.

The main goal is that workplaces are encouraged to establish a procedure or policy so that help can be provided in a professional and consistent manner. It is important for supervisors and managers to have a resource or procedure that they can rely on if the need arises. Employees need to know that everyone will be treated the same way and in turn, these actions will help to reduce the stigma associated with substance use. When stigma is reduced, it is hoped that people will seek help without fear, and will speak openly about substance use issues. Early treatment and support should always be encouraged.


Employers could increase awareness by including an explanation of the drug and alcohol misuse policy in their induction process for all new employees and could also brief managers and supervisors so they are clear about:

a) How to recognise the signs of drug or alcohol misuse
b) The organisation’s rules on drug and alcohol misuse
c) What to do if they suspect an employee is misusing drugs or alcohol
d) What to do when an employee tells them about a drug or alcohol problem

In addition, managers and supervisors should be educated in how to recognise and deal with substance use issues and employees should be offered educational programs. It is not the role of the supervisor or employer to diagnose a possible substance use or dependency problem, but it is their responsibility to identify if an employee is impaired, and to take the appropriate steps as per the organisation’s policy.


Think about whether drug and alcohol misuse in the workplace is treated as a disciplinary matter or a health concern. If a business  dismisses someone because of drug or alcohol misuse without trying to help them, an employment tribunal may find that they have  dismissed them unfairly.  An employee’s consumption of drugs or alcohol can amount to a potentially fair reason for dismissal. This could be on the grounds of conduct (where the behaviour results in misconduct) or capability (where the drug or alcohol usage is affecting the employee’s performance).

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If the employer wishes to take disciplinary action, they will need to show they had a genuine belief, after having undertaken a reasonable investigation, that the employee was guilty of misconduct. They should also show that dismissal was a reasonable response to the misconduct.

The CIPD have clear recommendations to assist which include the following:-

  • Have a clear policy in place that prioritises genuine support for employees and their wellbeing. It should set expectations about what is acceptable as well as detail who an employee can go to if they have a problem and signpost to where they can get help.
  • Focus on prevention. Employers need to regularly assess workloads, stress levels and the working conditions of their staff. In addition, employers should consider drug and alcohol misuse when designing their wellbeing programme and offerings.
  • Train line managers so they feel capable and confident to manage and support employees. Providing on-demand resources with a key point of contact in HR can be helpful, to ensure both the employee and the line manager feel supported.
  • Create an environment where people know about the support available and feel able to ask for it.
  • Avoid fuelling a drinking culture – consider the implications for wellbeing and inclusion when planning work events. Plans should strike the appropriate balance between rewarding employees for good work and improving morale, with a genuine commitment to employee wellbeing.
  • Support employee rehabilitation. Providing time off for someone to get treatment or support relating to alcohol or substance misuse is important. The organisation can hopefully hang on to talented and valuable people, and the individual still has a job after seeking treatment or professional support.

For further information on how Centric HR can support you and help your business with managing drug and alcohol misuse at work including polices, please contact us here.

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Picture of Sandra Berns

Sandra Berns

Centric HR was founded by Sandra Berns, a confident and versatile Human Resources and Organisational Development Practitioner with 25 years demonstrable experience and a Fellow of the CIPD. Sandra has both Operational and Strategic HR expertise across Public and Private sectors and has assisted senior teams in meeting challenging workforce objectives in many corporate environments.