The issue of drug misuse in the workplace has always existed, and should not be taken likely. It must be dealt with immediately and in a sensitive manner as it can affect employee’s health and safety, work performance and conduct.

It is important for employers to have a Drug and Alcohol Misuse policy in place and that all employees have a copy of the policy and that they are aware of what is expected of them and what the consequences are if they were to be in breach of the policy. 

These policies should be in place to help with employee wellbeing, they should contain information on support available to employees to help with any rehabilitation they may need, as long as they agree and follow the process. It is important under the policy employees to know who they can go to if they need help.

Testing employees

Employers may wish to have the option within the policy to be able to test an employee if you think they are under the influence of drugs at work, testing can only be done to employees if testing is included with the Drug and Alcohol policy, employers are not able to just decide they wish to perform a test on a certain employee.

If employers wish to test employees for drug use, then this can be done within a policy as either random testing (I.E. doing unannounced tests periodically) or to test employees where there is cause for concern, or an employer can decide to do both.

Employers may wish to have Drug testing as part of their recruitment process, so any offer of employment is made on the condition that a candidate passes a drug test.

Looking out for the signs

Warning signs of an employee being under the influence of drugs are:

  • Unexplained or frequent absence
  • A change in conduct and behaviour
  • Reduced productivity
  • Frequent accidents or near misses

What to do if there is a situation in the workplace

If an employer comes across a situation where an employee appears to be under the influence of drugs at work, HR professionals advise that the following action has to be taken:

  • Quietly remove the employee from the immediate situation. 


  • Set the scene and gather the facts, advise the employee there are concerns and that they are required to undergo a drug test (if applicable in the situation and in line with company policy). It’s advisable to see if the employee offers you any information or reason for their behaviour during this initial discussion e.g. taking a new medication or if they admit they have taken something prior to attending work, or during work. Employers need to make notes of any important information that may be disclosed by the employee.


  • Explain that a test will be arranged if this is in line with company policy) and that the employees can refuse to have the test, but this may not be in their best interest.  Inform the employee they will be required to give written consent to a test and that they are required to declare any medication/substance they have taken.


  • Managers must for someone to sit with and supervise the employee until the test can be done. Ensure this is a quiet area somewhere out of sight and contact from their colleagues. Employees waiting for a test should not be permitted to remain working.


  • Any employee that refuses to take the test, but there is a reasonable belief they are under the influence of drugs, the investigation process should be continued with and the employee suspended as per company policy. 


  • Once a test has been completed if the results are: 
  1. Negative the employee potentially can return to work, if the employer deems the employee fit to do so if the employee is not fit to work they may need to be sent home. (Under normal absence policy rules).

  2. Non-negative/Positive the employee should be suspended from work, on full pay, until the final results are back following further analysis and once the investigation is concluded called to a disciplinary hearing.

By Lisa Baker, Senior Editor

Senior Editor Lisa Baker is the owner of Need to See it Publishing Group, providing contract news for business and news sites across the UK. Lisa is an experienced HR writer and commentator, editing HR publications for more than 5 years.