Drugs Policy

Last reviewed on 17/04/2013 15:32

This page gives information on developing workplace policies around the use of illegal and controlled substances and prescribed medications.

It also gives advice on legal obligations and duties on employers, as well as what can be done to support employees with substance misuse issues.

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What is meant by 'drugs' and 'substance misuse'?

Drugs are substances that alter the way in which the body or mind works.

Drugs can be defined as those controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, which divides substances and the penalties for their possession and sale into three categories, and can include prescribed medications, over-the-counter medications and recreational drugs.

Medicines that are not classified according to the Misuse of Drugs Act may be covered by the Medicines Act.

'Substance misuse' is a broader term and covers the use of illegal drugs, prescribed drugs, alcohol and substances such as solvents.

'Misuse' refers to use that is problematic or harmful, either for the individual or others.

Substance misuse in the workplace may come to light through specific disciplinary or post-incident investigations, or during a screening programme.

→ Read more from the UK Home Office on The Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 (external site)


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Costs and risks of drug misuse in the workplace

Across the UK, drug-related crime, sickness and absenteeism costs in excess of £20 billion a year (Home Office figure).

In a report from charity Drugscope published in 2000, 27% of employers reported problems due to drug misuse.

For any organisation, large or small, the inappropriate use of drugs in the workplace can lead to serious consequences. These include increased accidents, poor work performance, lateness, increased sickness absence and reduced productivity.


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Who misuses drugs?

Drug misuse is an issue for the whole workforce and no employer or workplace is immune to the problem.

The majority of individuals who use illicit drugs are in employment, and particularly in the early stages, the issue may go unnoticed by colleagues.


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Why have a workplace drugs misuse policy?

Inappropriate use of drugs can have serious consequences for individuals and businesses. Employers are therefore advised to take active measures to address the issues of drugs in the workplace.

Developing an effective Substance Misuse Policy helps to clarify an organisation’s rules and procedures for dealing with the misuse of substances in a fair, consistent and supportive manner.

A good policy will include commitments to awareness raising activities, support and training for staff.

See developing a workplace drugs policy below.


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Legal duties and obligations around drugs

As well the moral duty of employers to protect employees and members of the public, General Health and Safety Legislation covers all employers and workplaces.

In addition, specific duties and obligations are laid out in The Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.

Under this act:

  • it is illegal for anyone, whether at work or outwith the workplace, to produce, supply or be in possession of illicit drugs
  • owners or managers of property may be liable if they allow their premises to be used for taking, supplying or offering illicit drugs.

For more information on the above legislation, please follow the links under Legislation.

The Road Traffic Act 1988, The Transport and Works Act 1992 and The Railways and Transport Safety Act 2003 all relate to employees and employers in safety critical posts in the transport sector, including road, rail and air transport.


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Developing a workplace drug misuse policy

There is no such thing as a 'standard policy' – its content will depend on the type of employer and the nature, size and culture of the organisation involved. Employers need to develop and implement a policy to suit the individual requirements of their organisation.

Policy development can take up to six months. Best practice suggests that a minimum of three months should be allowed to give staff notice of any changes to the terms and conditions of their employment.

Each organisation’s employment contract would normally state the period of notice to be given to employees regarding any changes in their working conditions.

A timetable for reviewing the policy should be considered. Ideally, new policies should be reviewed after six months and annually thereafter.


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Steps to developing a drug misuse policy

The process of developing a good policy has several stages:

  • seek advice from a specialist and support from senior management
  • gather the facts and information to support policy development
  • identify the key personnel to form a Working Group ensuring that all staff, and union, where applicable, are represented
  • organise training for those in the Group
  • develop a draft policy
  • circulate the draft policy for feedback to all staff (or a representative sample of the workforce)
  • redraft if appropriate, and seek final approval.


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Implementing a drugs misuse policy

The implementation of the policy must be supported throughout your organisation, from recruitment onwards:

  • design a training package for managers and staff
  • organise and deliver this training
  • promote and advertise the new policy to staff
  • all employees should receive a copy of the policy
  • staff inductions should include information on workplace policies
  • future job descriptions should contain reference to the policy
  • regularly monitor and review the policy to ensure its effectiveness.


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What should be in a workplace drugs misuse policy?

A good policy should:

  • have clear aims and objectives
  • be applicable to all
  • refer to relevant legislation
  • show a commitment to education and training
  • include a section on confidentiality
  • provide clear definitions
  • offer advice on support
  • state the rules clearly
  • outline roles and responsibilities
  • include a disciplinary procedure
  • include a monitoring and review process.


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Further information on misuse of drugs in the workplace

Free resources from Healthy Working Lives Links below are to publications pages giving options to download these resources:

The following guides are also available as a hard copy on request from our Adviceline:

Free guidance from the Health and Safety Executive Note: links below are to pages on the HSE Books website giving options to download or order these resources:


→ View The Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 (external site)

→ View The Railways and Transport Safety Act 2003 (external site)

→ View The Road Traffic Act 1988 (external site)


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