Do you suspect a staff member of being under the influence of illicit substances while at work, or of taking drugs in the workplace?  A recent case highlights the benefits of having a clear alcohol and drug policy for employees.

In the case an employee had been observed on several occasions smoking what appeared to be marijuana while on his lunch-break.  This was reported to the employer by several members of staff over an extensive time frame, and confirmed by a private investigator hired by the employer.

As a result, the employee was drug tested, due to the employer having reasonable suspicion that he was under the influence of illicit substances during work hours.  This test came back positive, and the employee admitted to 20 years of daily drug use.  After undertaking a disciplinary process, the employee was dismissed.

The employee claimed that his dismissal was unjustified because there was no evidence of him actually being impaired on the job, however this claim was rejected as the employer had followed company policy and the clauses in the employee’s contract carefully.

The company’s clear drug policy included several grounds for drug testing.  These were when the employer held a reasonable belief that drug consumption was occurring during work hours, where they had a reasonable cause to believe the person’s behaviour is symptomatic of impairment, and in situations where there had been an incident or accident and it was thought a person’s actions may indicate drug use.

In this case the employer had reasonable grounds to believe consumption was occurring during work hours, due to the private investigator’s report and the reports of other employees.  The fact that there was no evidence of actual impairment on the job was irrelevant.

By having clear alternative grounds for requiring an employee to undertake a drug test, the employer was able to safeguard themselves, and take the action they felt was appropriate to protect their workplace.

Additionally the Authority held that despite the lack of evidence of actual impairment the statistical relationship between drug users and accidents in the workplace meant that the employee posed a serious enough risk to health and safety to allow for a dismissal.

It is important to note the company meticulously followed the proper disciplinary process, including ensuring they had written documentation of the process which they were then able to file as evidence to support them in the Employment Relations Authority.

For example, the company used pre-prepared scripts for dealing with the employee at every step of the process, and provided him with clear explanations of why the drug test was occurring, and his rights in the situation.

The employer was commended for this, and for taking a careful approach to the matter, only drug testing when the evidence against the employee had built up to a point where they had reasonable cause.

If you would like help preparing a drug and alcohol policy for your employees, or preparing scripts to use in the event you suspect an employee of alcohol or drug use, please feel free to call Alan Knowsley.