Laws On Drug Testing in the Workplace

By Amanda Beattie
17 Jun 2019

The 2017/18 Crime Survey for England and Wales found that one-third of adults aged 16-59 took illicit drugs at some point in their lifetime. 4.3% of them had done so in the last month.

Depending on the industry you work in, you might feel justified in supporting a policy of random drug testing—especially with the above figures in mind.

But before you start testing employees left, right, and centre, it’s important you understand the processes and regulations.


Drug testing in the workplace

Are alcohol and drug testing in the workplace in the UK increasing? There’s no evidence to suggest this is the case.

It can be quite a difficult and time-consuming policy for a business to establish.

Remember, you must have consent from your employees if you want to test them for drugs. That’s usually given via a full contractual health & safety policy you include in the individual’s contract.

We’ll go into what you should add in a drink and drugs policy at work later in this piece.

For now, let’s take a look at the legal side.

There are laws on random drug testing in the workplace you must abide by as an employer. These include:

  • Limiting drug testing to employees you need to test.
  • Ensuring the tests are random.
  • Not singling out an employee unless justified by the nature of their job.

If you have good reasons for drug testing in the workplace, (whether it be essential to do so for certain roles, or there is reasonable cause to believe an employee is under the influence) and someone refuses to take the test, you may resort to disciplinary action.


Dealing with drugs in the workplace

So, now you know when testing is applicable, how do you go about it?

Well, firstly, there are three different types of workplace drug and alcohol testing:

  1. Pre-employment: Tends to be the most common, but it’s also the least effective. This is because it’s based on a urine sample an individual can easily dilute or substitute.
  2. Post-incident: As the name suggests, it’s testing following a health & safety incident.
  3. Random: When a group of individuals consent to testing and you pick a handful of them to test at random. 

To effectively test for drugs, you must have an individual with the correct qualifications from the UK Accreditation Service. They’ll conduct the testing.

But you must also comply with the International Standard for Laboratories.

Failing to do this will mean the results are void.

The drug tests tend to work in a similar way, no matter which substance you are testing for. The most common package test is for cannabis, cocaine, amphetamine, methamphetamine, benzodiazepine, and opiates.


What do you do if drugs are found in the workplace?

If you happen to find physical evidence of employees using or storing drugs in the workplace, you still have to follow your process.

Again, refer back to your drug and alcohol policy and stick to it.

Document where, how, why, and who found the drugs, as well as any witnesses, previous complaints, concerns or behaviours.

Meet with the employee to discuss the situation—you should also bring your documents with you to support this. Keep a second party present as a witness.

Finally, if the discussion with the employee is inconclusive, you may request the employee submits to a drug test.

If the employee refuses to take a test you may go down the disciplinary route, including terminating their employment—if necessary.


Creating a drug and alcohol policy

You should include this in your health & safety policy, which should make up either the employees’ contract or handbook.

The aim of this policy is to clearly set out the company’s position on alcohol and drugs within the workplace.

The policy should define when the use of drugs or alcohol is an issue (i.e. within working hours—or when it interferes with work capability or conduct).

It should reiterate the UK employment and health & safety legislation relating to the use of alcohol and drugs (i.e. The Health & Safety at Work Act 1974, The Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, etc.)

Then, it should define when you might request a drug test or conduct an investigation.

It should then give direction to employees’ who suspect a colleague is under the influence, ideally pointing them to a particular contact they can speak to.

Finally, the policy should detail the company’s disciplinary procedure and how it will relate to anyone using drugs or alcohol in the workplace.


Workplace drug and alcohol policy template

This guide should serve as a template to what you need to include in your documentation.

You may also want to create a separate document that specifically covers drug testing. Such a document is appropriate if drug testing is commonplace in your industry or sector.

Drafting a workplace drug testing policy template is difficult. The document needs to be specific to your industry and workspace.


Need our help?

We can help you draw up and policy relating to HR, employment law, health & safety, or pay & benefits—speak to a Croner expert today on 0808 145 3380.

About the Author

Amanda Beattie

Amanda represents corporate clients and large public bodies, including complex discrimination and whistleblowing claims. Amanda also drafts and delivers bespoke training regarding all aspects of employment law, including ‘mock tribunal’ events; in addition she also frequently drafts employment law articles for various publications for Croner and their clients.

Get expert views & insights delivered directly to your inbox