One in five employees ‘regularly’ uses drugs

But employers must have ‘good reason’ to introduce testing, warns employment lawyer

One in five UK employees admits to regularly taking drugs, and a third suspect that a colleague may have a drug problem, according to new research that suggests the increase in the use of illegal substances may be starting to make itself felt in the workplace.

The study of 500 employees and 500 employers, from Crossland Employment Solicitors, found that just two in five firms (40 per cent) have a drugs policy and only 23 per cent have tested their staff for drug use.

But Aron Pope, partner at law firm Fox Williams, said employers must have “good reason” to justify testing their employees for drug use. “Because of the intrusive nature of drug testing, employers must have a good reason to justify a policy of testing staff, and should always consider whether there is a less intrusive means of monitoring employees,” he said.

Pope added that employers need to exercise caution when dealing with employees who they suspect of using drugs, though he emphasised the importance of having a “sensible” drug misuse policy in place: “Under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, employers have a duty to ensure a safe place of work for their staff. With respect to substance misuse, this should include having clear rules about coming to work under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and about drinking alcohol or taking drugs while at work.”

The Crossland figures are higher than official estimates of drug use. A Home Office survey in 2015 found that 19.4 per cent of 16 to 24-year-olds had taken an illegal substances over the previous 12 months, and 7.6 per cent had used a Class A drug. The Global Drugs Survey 2015 found that 31 per cent of the UK population as a whole had used drugs at least once.

According to Crossland’s survey, 45 per cent of employees who use drugs feel it has affected their work performance. A similar proportion (46 per cent) say they are aware of potential disciplinary action for substance abuse, but another 35 per cent are unsure of the exact grounds and consequences of their actions.

Pope reminded HR professionals that “in view of their health and safety obligations, employers are able to take action to deal with employees who use drugs outside of work in certain circumstances”.

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