Drugs and Alcohol

by Ian Robinson


The screening of staff for drugs and alcohol must be handled in a very sensitive way, taking into account legal requirements and human rights issues. The issues must be covered comprehensively in the policy and you must have the agreement of the relevant staff associations.

There are three main methods of drug screening, each of which should be approached in a different manner:

  • Pre-employment screening
  • ‘With cause’ screening
  • Random screening.

Pre-employment screening

When potential employees are being considered, part of the recruitment process should include a drug screening test. This will send out a very clear message to potential employees that illicit drug use is not acceptable.

The candidate will be advised in advance of the drug screening test and the date that it will be carried out. This will usually deter any problem drug users, while recreational drug users will consider their use prior to the interview and screening process. Submitting themselves for the test will be a requirement for successful completion of the selection process before a candidate can be considered for employment.

Both urine and saliva tests are available and these must be carried out by trained staff in a legally defendable process, which includes the chain of custody of exhibits. Consideration should be given to using a specialist company for the collection of the samples and a qualified laboratory to analyse them. The use of an instant test is not recommended.

‘With cause’ screening

This method of testing must be conducted with the agreement of the employee; however, refusal without good cause will be classed as gross misconduct, which could lead to termination of employment.

This type of testing would be carried out following an accident or incident, if it was suspected that alcohol or drugs were a contributing factor. Incidents of this nature could include inappropriate behaviour at work, near accidents or even unacceptable levels of absenteeism or underperformance (see also Attendance Management and Performance Management).

The result of the screening test would be taken into consideration at any disciplinary action that may be taken against the employee.

Random screening

This is probably the most problematic area and very careful consideration should be given before implementing this method of screening. Although it offers an element of ‘prevention’, most employees and trade associations see it as ‘Big Brother tactics’ and this could well jeopardise agreement on the organisation drugs and alcohol policy.

If random testing is utilised, then it must be completely fair. All staff, including directors, must be included and an outside organisation should be used to decide the time and place and who is to be random tested.