Drugs and alcohol - what can an employer do?

The first step an employer can take is to discover if drugs or alcohol misuse is a problem in the workplace. Changes in staff sickness levels or unusal changes in their behaviour may indicate drug or alcohol misuse. You may also want to examine the company's accident records and incidents of near misses. If a particular employee is becoming involved in more accidents, this could be another indicator of misuse.

Develop a workplace drug and alcohol policy

All organisations can benefit from an agreed policy, applying to all staff, on alcohol and drug misuse.

Such a policy should form part of your organisation’s overall health and safety policy. Many large organisations have policies that describe their position on drug misuse. A written alcohol and drugs policy has many advantages, for example leaving less room for misunderstanding than an informal ‘understanding’.

Gaining the support of the employees for any change in company rules while creating a policy, will be much easier if staff feel that they have been consulted beforehand. 

A straightforward process to establish and implement a policy for dealing with alcohol and drug misuse can be found in the HSENI publication 'Developing and implementing workplace drugs and alcohol policies'.

Consulting employees

In deciding what to do, you will almost certainly need to consult others, particularly your employees. You should consult safety representatives appointed by recognised trade unions. If your employees are not covered by such representatives, you should consult them either directly, or indirectly through elected representatives of employee safety.


Employees may be more likely to come forward and admit a drug or alcohol problem if they feel assured that their problems will be dealt with discreety. However, you will also have to consider your own legal position. If evidence or information supplied to you suggests that an employee’s alcohol and drug problem has involved breaking the law at work, please refer to 'Drugs and alcohol - the legal position'.


More companies, particularly those in safety critical environments, are using screening and testing as a way of controlling alcohol or drug problems. It can be used in various ways:

  • as part of a selection process for job applicants
  • testing all or part of the workforce routinely, occasionally or on a random basis
  • in specific circumstances, such as after an accident or incident, where there is evidence of drinking or drug taking that contravenes the company’s regulations, or as part of an aftercare rehabilitation programme
  • to monitor a particular problem, for example, employees reporting for work with alcohol in their bloodstream from the previous evening’s drinking

The implications of introducing screening

Agreement to the principle of screening must be incorporated into employees’ contract of employment. For new staff, this can be fairly straight forward but existing staff are under no legal obligation to agree to changes in their terms and conditions of service. If an employer tried to force a test on an unwilling employee, the employee could resign and claim ‘constructive dismissal’.


Key legislation

Please note that these links are to the original legislation, visitors should verify for themselves whether legislation is in force or whether it has been amended or repealed by subsequent legislation.