Following on from Dr Edmond’s article, it’s not just medicinal cannabis that employers must think about – it’s also drinks, drugs, and legal highs.
When Jersey’s employment laws changed in 2005, Law At Work was established to help employers understand the myriad of new obligations and rules. The top queries that came through our advice line were ‘What do I do if someone doesn’t turn up to work?’ or ‘How do I carry out an investigation?’
The questions we receive today are much more technically advanced, from data protection issues to discrimination or bullying and harassment. But one question that keeps coming up is,
‘What should I do if I think someone is under the influence of alcohol or drugs?
Do we have a problem in Jersey?
A report undertaken in 2015 on behalf of the government seems to suggest we do. Whilst no new reports have been forthcoming, the charities who help individuals with drink and drug problems say there’s been increased usage across all services.
What should an employer do?
Under the Health and Safety Law, employers are under a general duty to ‘ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all [their] employees’. We can interpret this as including a duty to ensure employees are not under the influence of alcohol or drugs if they are likely to put themselves and others at risk in the workplace.
What if there is just a suspicion?
Suppose you or another employee suspects a worker is under the influence of drugs or alcohol. In that case, the first step is to think about the process you’ll need to undertake. The specific steps may vary, but it will usually look something like this:
- Receive complaints
- Observe the employee
- Remove the employee from safety-sensitive areas
- Document your observations
- Assess the situation
- Meet with the employee to find out more
- Prepare transport and/or send the employee for testing
- Respond to the test results
While some employers find it is sufficient to have a policy on alcohol and drugs, others may decide to take it a step further. For example, an employer might make specific provisions in their employees’ contracts of employment to reserve the right to test for alcohol and drugs under reasonable suspicion, for safety-critical roles, or even just random testing.
Testing for psychoactive substances (including those formerly known as ‘legal highs’) may be more difficult as the synthetic compounds of these drugs change and might not always be detected. In those circumstances, an employer should focus on the effect the drug has on behaviour or performance rather than the drug itself.
The key is to get the employment documentation right. Although employers should treat positive alcohol and drug tests seriously, they should try to deal with long-term alcoholism and drug dependency constructively and with sympathy, unless they want a potential disability claim on their hands!
Is it time to update your policy and contractual documents? Call Pete on 887088 to find out.