Drugs and alcohol

Last reviewed on 26/06/2014 09:27

The use of drugs and alcohol is growing in society and the impact is being felt in many different settings, including in the workplace.

You may ask why an employer should be concerned about an employee's alcohol consumption or their behaviour in relation to drugs in their personal life. The answer is that if the level of alcohol consumption or the effects of drugs impacts on an employee's attendance, their work performance, or could potentially increase the risk of accidents at work, then you should be concerned.

If an employer knowingly allows an employee under the influence of alcohol or drugs to continue working, and in doing so places the employee or others at risk, the employer is vicariously responsible and could be prosecuted. The additional duty of care of employees regarding their own, and others', safety at work does not detract from the employer's overall responsibility.

What you should do

Make sure your staff are aware of what is expected of them; staff should  present for work free from the effects of alcohol or drugs during working hours.

Be aware of the signs and indicators of a possible drug or alcohol problem. This is not an exhaustive list and many other factors could be indicators:

  • Unexplained absences, particularly on a Monday or Friday
  • Poor timekeeping
  • Sudden mood changes, unusual irritability or aggression
  • Missing deadlines
  • Less care with personal appearance
  • Erratic performance
  • Lack of discipline
  • Deterioration in relationships with colleagues, customers or managers.

Don't jump to conclusions should you be concerned. Communication with the person should be your first step. Treat the situation as you would any health issue and if you require guidance, seek help from named contacts below or telephone helplines. An employer can also refer or direct the employee to local treatment services.

Assisting staff with drugs and alcohol

  • Provide a noticeboard or space where information can be displayed. Make sure that staff know about it and that it is regularly refreshed.
  • Signpost to supportive services and agencies in Scotland which exist in the voluntary, statutory and private sectors. For a full list of agencies refer to your local authority or NHS Board website.
  • Engage your staff to develop a policy on alcohol and drugs. This will give a clear understanding of the rules and procedures relating to the use of alcohol or drugs in the workplace. 

Further information

The following organisations can provide advice or assistance around specific issues:

Scottish Drugs Forum (external link) is Scotland national resource of expertise on drugs issues.

Scottish Drug Services (external link) maintain a directory of over 200 agencies throughout Scotland who can help with drug treatment and care.

Know The Score (external link) provides advice and facts and can help with any questions you have about drugs.

Alcohol Focus Scotland (external link) work to reduce the harm caused through alcohol.

You can also call our Adviceline for free confidential advice, to request a workplace visit, or to register for our Award programme which recognises and accredits good practice.