Workplace policies on smoking, drugs and alcohol
Smoking, drugs and alcohol can have a negative impact on health and safety in your business. They can also affect productivity and profitability.
Smoking is now banned in almost all enclosed public places and workplaces in the UK. You need to ensure that employees and customers keep to the rules.
Drugs and alcohol can pose a serious risk to workplace safety. This is particularly true for workers whose job involves tasks such as operating machinery or driving a vehicle.
Therefore, as part of your health and safety duties you need to have suitable policies in place to cover these areas. This guide will help you write them and provide advice on how to ensure they are complied with.
Benefits of workplace policies on smoking, drugs and alcohol
Having a clear smoking policy and a drugs and alcohol policy can help managers and employees deal with any issues that may arise. It will also help you meet your legal responsibilities to ensure the health, safety and welfare of all employees.
In the case of smoking at work, a written policy shows how you are meeting your legal requirements. The main benefit of having a smoking policy is that it makes it clear to both employees and customers what is acceptable behaviour. See workplace smoking policy.
Drugs and alcohol policy
A drugs and alcohol policy should clearly set out the rules and procedures for dealing with issues relating to drugs and alcohol. In some businesses, this will need to include details of staff training in the correct procedures for handling incidents and dealing with colleagues. The policy must be consistent with other areas of staff guidelines.
Stricter policies may be necessary in workplaces where there the risks are greater. This could include businesses where workers have responsibility for their own safety and the safety of others.
Other benefits of having smoking drugs and alcohol policies include:
- Employees have clear guidance on what they can and can't do.
- Employees know what support is available, as well as which disciplinary procedures apply.
- Managers have clear guidance about the procedures they should follow.
- Policies raise awareness. They can encourage individuals to take action to correct any problems they have.
- By reducing problems you can reduce illness and staff turnover and increase productivity.
- You reduce the risk of your employees driving or operating dangerous equipment while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
- Policies help you meet your legal responsibilities for health, safety and employee welfare.
Checklist: workplace smoking, drugs and alcohol policies
What you workplace policies for smoking drugs and alcohol should look like
All policies need to take account of specific workplace circumstances and the views obtained during the consultation process with employees.
It is probably best to have a stand alone smoking policy for your business.
You'll need to decide whether to have separate drugs and alcohol misuse policies or a combined one. There are legal differences between drugs and alcohol, but they affect the workplace in a similar way. For this reason they are both dealt with using similar procedures.
If you are writing a combined policy it is important that it clearly states that it applies to both alcohol and drug misuse. This is to make sure that it isn't ignored by workers who don't see it as relevant to them.
The list below may act as a guide to what a policy on smoking, drugs or alcohol should include:
- Aims - explains why the policy is needed.
- Scope - to whom does it apply to and what it covers.
- Responsibility - who has overall responsibility for the policy - management and employees' responsibilities.
- Definition and principles - defines what a problem is and what the general principles of the policy are.
- The rules - how the business expects employees to behave to ensure that smoking/drugs/alcohol doesn't affect their work.
- Safeguards - outlines what safeguards apply for employees.
- Procedures - details what procedures are in place for dealing with problems.
- Education and training - detail how staff will be made aware of the policy and how it will operate.
- Safety critical jobs - there should be a definition of safety critical jobs.
- Disciplinary procedures - the policy should make it clear when disciplinary procedures are likely to be used.
- Information - provides information about the effects of smoking/drugs/alcohol on health and safety.
- Alcohol and drug testing - if it is intended to introduce drug and alcohol testing, the rationale, safeguards and procedures need to be explicitly stated.
- Help - the arrangements for employees who need help and support should be described.
Workplace smoking policy
Smoking is banned in almost all enclosed public places and workplaces in the UK. You need to ensure you have no-smoking signs in premises and company vehicles. You also need to make sure that employees and customers keep to the rules. It is therefore advisable to have a smoking policy for your business.
Having a smoking policy has clear benefits, including:
- a healthier workforce
- reduced disputes between smokers and non-smokers
- cleaner premises
- a better image
- helps you meet your health and safety responsibilities
As an employer you have a general duty to protect the health, safety and welfare of your employees. This includes any risks arising from exposure to second-hand smoke. You should prioritise the health needs of non-smoking staff. These duties will continue to apply in exempted premises.
What your smoking policy should cover
Your smoking policy should cover the following:
- acknowledge the right of your employees to work in a smoke-free environment
- list the members of management and staff who have the responsibility for implementing the policy
- identify the outside areas where people can smoke, but ensure those areas are not enclosed
- provide information on how to get help to quit smoking
- set out how you will communicate your policy to all members of your staff (including new employees before they start work) and to members of the public using your premises and vehicles
- set out the means of communicating to your staff and customers where they can smoke if they want to
You may also wish to set out your position on the use of e-cigarettes in your workplace.
You will need to decide how to deal with non-compliance with your smoking policy and how the policy fits within your existing health and safety and discipline policies.
Change your policy to fit your business' needs. For example, if you employ plumbers and decorators you might want to stop then from smoking anywhere on customers' premises. This helps maintain your image and reputation as a responsible, professional business.
Dealing with drugs misuse in the workplace
Drug misuse can be a serious problem for your employee and for your business. You have clear responsibilities for the health, safety and welfare of your employees. It may include the misuse of prescriptions drugs and the use of new psychoactive substances (also known as legal highs).
You might have legal liability if you allow employees under the influence of drugs to continue working where this places themselves or others at risk.
As well as improving safety, tackling drug misuse - or preventing it in the first place - also brings other business benefits. The benefits include higher productivity levels and fewer days being lost to illness.
Signs of possible drug misuse
Drug use is a very sensitive area and, short of catching someone taking drugs, it can be difficult to know when there's a problem. Some of the signs of possible drug misuse include:
- erratic behaviour
- mood swings
- poor time-keeping
- increased sickness absence
- change in attitude to work and colleagues
- reduced productivity
It's important to bear in mind that these factors might have a range of causes. They don't always mean that someone is misusing drugs.
If an employee's behaviour is troubling then a confidential conversation may be the best way of finding out if there are any underlying problems, whether drug-related or not.
There are times where disciplinary action may be needed in response to drug misuse, eg where the safety of your workplace is compromised.
Where possible be supportive towards employees with drug problems. Often the best course of action is referral to the appropriate counselling and support services. For information on these services, see counselling and support.
Dealing with alcohol issues in the workplace
Drinking alcohol in the workplace can lead to safety hazards. Even small amounts can affect an employee's judgement and reactions. This can lead to an increase in the risk of an accident. You are responsible for the health, safety and welfare of your employees. You might have legal liability if you allow employees under the influence of alcohol to continue working where this places themselves or others at risk.
Set the rules on drinking alcohol
A strict no-alcohol rule may be needed in some businesses, for health and safety reasons. For example, in businesses where people operate machinery or drive vehicles. Other problems can include:
- employees calling in sick
- reduced productivity
- unprofessional behaviour, which can lead to lost business
However, businesses don't have to ban alcohol from all work related events. All employees should been encouraged to use discretion if consuming alcohol during business-related events. This could include meetings, conferences or office parties. Employees may also be asked to not drink alcohol during events where customers are present and/or the business is being represented.
Soft drink option
At the very least, when a business is having an event, there should be soft drinks available as an alternative to drinking alcohol. Businesses may also wish to encourage alcohol 'light' events where only a limited amount of alcohol is available. It's a good idea to avoid having free or 'open' bars.
Businesses should draw up clear guidelines setting out the disciplinary consequences of alcohol-related problems at work. For example, an employee drinking and driving while on company business might be dismissed.
Signs of alcohol misuse
You should learn to watch for signs that might indicate an employee is having problems. These can include:
- frequent hangovers
- above average time off sick
- reduced productivity
- workplace accidents
- disciplinary problems
- customer complaints
If an employee's behaviour is troubling then a confidential conversation may be the best way of finding out if there are any underlying problems, whether alcohol-related or not.
There are times when disciplinary action may be needed in response to alcohol misuse, eg where the safety of your workplace is compromised.
Where possible be supportive towards employees with alcohol problems. Often the best course of action is referral to the appropriate counselling and support services. For information on these services, see counselling and support.
Stress and drugs and alcohol misuse
Having procedures in place to help employees deal with stress is an important part of responding to problems with drug and alcohol misuse.
Cause or contributing factor
Stress can be a cause or contributing factor in drugs or alcohol misuse. For example, a person under a lot of stress at work might begin to drink more alcohol to help ease the pressure.
Stress can have a very negative impact on your business' performance and morale. The benefits of managing stress effectively include:
- reducing time off for employees with stress-related illnesses
- minimising stress-related drug and alcohol misuse problems
- improving morale and productivity
- fulfilling your legal responsibility for employee welfare
Prevention better than cure
However, it is important to note that prevention is better than cure. Good management can reduce work-related stress. For example, setting realistic targets and providing employees with training and opportunities for promotion can help to boost employee morale.
But even with good management, you can't remove stress altogether. It's important that you learn to spot the symptoms and encourage employees to raise issues that are bothering them. Remember that stress doesn't just affect employees - watch for your own levels of stress. See how to deal with stress.
Counselling and support for drugs and alcohol misuse
Problems like drug and alcohol abuse aren't easy to deal with. Simply setting down rules and then disciplining employees who break them is rarely the best approach. Instead, you should look for ways to support employees who have a problem.
You may be able to provide a sympathetic ear yourself but, as these are complicated matters, specialist advice may be needed. You should encourage employees to make use of support services. For example, an employee's GP may be able to provide help and advice or refer them to a specialist.
Occupational health and welfare
Some businesses also provide an occupational health service for their employees. As well as responding to any problems that arise, this can help to promote employee welfare and prevent problems arising in the first place.
You'll need to investigate whether the costs would be matched by reductions in illness and absence.
Find your local Trust on this list of Health and Social Services Trusts.
Workplace testing for drugs and alcohol
Drugs and alcohol testing is a sensitive issue. If this is to form part of your policy, it is essential that employees and the workforce are consulted.
A workforce consultation is needed because of the practical, legal, and ethical issues involved. It can also provide valuable insight into how the policy can be implemented successfully.
Limitations of drugs and alcohol testing
The limitations of drug and alcohol testing are that it can't:
- measure to what extent an employee's performance is impaired by a substance
- the exact time when the drug was used
- in some cases, tell which substance was used
Case law under the Human Rights Act is emerging in this area. You should therefore get legal advice and the views of the Labour Relations Agency (LRA) before starting any testing.
Discipline, grievance and dismissal procedures
If an employee has a problem with drugs or alcohol abuse your first step should be to provide support or to help them find suitable support services. See counselling and support for drugs and alcohol misuse.
But being supportive isn't always enough. You have a clear responsibility to protect your employees' health and safety. If an employee's behaviour could place themselves or others at risk, you have a duty to intervene. You need to set rules and make sure they're upheld.
Sometimes the need for disciplinary action is clear. For example, the law doesn't allow you to let employees take illegal drugs at work. In the same way, drinking and driving at work is a clear case of misconduct that will have consequences.
In other cases, it can be more difficult to decide where to draw the line between offering support and taking disciplinary action. If you provide repeated help and support but an employee's substance misuse continues to cause problems at work, your business is likely to suffer if you don't take action. See disciplinary and grievance procedures.
Providing clear guidelines
You must, by law, tell each employee about:
- your disciplinary rules, which should include rules relating to smoking, drugs and alcohol at work
- your disciplinary/dismissal and grievance procedure
- the name of the person to whom they should appeal if they are unhappy about a disciplinary or dismissal decision, or to seek redress for a grievance
This information can be included in the employee's written statement or the written statement may refer the employee to a document where they can read it, eg in a staff handbook. All your employees must be clear about both the rules and the consequences of breaking them. See the employment contract.