Workplace Drug Testing Situation in the UK
Drug misuse is an on-going problem of our society; and unfortunately, many of the drug users are part of the workforce. In the United Kingdom, drug testing can be legally performed by an employer during the pre-employment stage and/or for random testing of current employees. However, statistics show that only a small percentage of UK employers actually conduct drug screening and very few use disciplinary procedures when managing drug misuse at work.
According to the 2007 survey report – Managing Drug and Alcohol Misuse at Work – completed by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), out of the 505 surveyed UK-based HR professionals fewer than 60% of organisations have rules in place about the possession of drugs and alcohol on the premises. In all, about 22% of respondent organisations carry out any testing of employees for drugs or alcohol misuse, while 65% of employers don’t test and have no plans to start.
Drug testing in the workplace may have a number of benefits for both the employee and employers. In the United States, employers see drug testing at work as a useful technique to identify individuals who may have the potential to become a problem of the ogranisation. In many cases, drug testing results are given weight in making hiring decisions, especially in safety-sensitive positions.
In the case of the United Kingdom, although there is a growing trend in drug testing at work, the lack of explicit rules that promote workplace drug testing programs hinders many organisations, particularly in non-safety critical industries, to draft and implement their own solid drug testing policy for their employees. CIPD’s report further revealed that majority of testing for drug and alcohol misuse is carried out by safety-critical organisations. In all, 53% of safety-critical organisations carry out testing of employees for drugs or alcohol and about 18% are planning to introduce this approach.
When it comes to communicating policies on drugs and alcohol misuse to employees, the most common method used is through the staff handbook. Additionally, only 33% of employers train managers as part of their efforts to communicate policies on drug and alcohol misuse at work; and just 22% train employees generally in the organisation’s policies, procedures and approach to tackling the issue.
Since drug testing policy in the country is largely governed by several of UK’s existing laws, such as the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, and the Transport and Works Act 1992 – to name a few – the most common approach used by employers to manage drug or alcohol problems at work is to treat it as a combined disciplinary and health issue. If an employer is not sure about the legal position on drugs misuse, it is best to seek legal advice to avoid sparking any lawsuit brought by an employee.
In UK, employers are encouraged to pay attention to any performance problems and then proceed with precautionary measures that would address the problem. CIPD noted that the three most common management interventions to help employees with drug and/or alcohol problems are the provision of specialist counselling services, the use of disciplinary procedures and referral to occupational health practitioners, with about half of respondent organisations adopting all of these approaches.
Overall, organisations are marginally more likely to provide support where individuals have held their hands up and admitted they have a problem than when problems have been discovered. Employers are significantly less likely to use the disciplinary procedure where individuals have informed the organisation that they have a problem than when such a problem is discovered.