Help for Employers

Published by John Gillen | Last updated: 25th August 2022

As an employer, it is your responsibility to ensure that the work place is safe and that your employees are healthy and able to perform their job to the best of their ability as part of the Health and Safety in Work Act 1974.

Having an employee that has problems with drug or alcohol addiction can not only harm productivity in the workplace, but they can place themselves and others in danger and can cause accidents in the workplace.
If you suspect that one of your employees may be addicted to alcohol or drugs, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) have published the following guides to help you:
Drug Misuse at Work: A guide for employers

Know the Signs

Addiction in the workplace can have a detrimental effect, both on the individual and to others and damage the overall productivity of your business. A good idea is to do research on individual drugs, what the effects are and how they can impact on the workplace. It is important to recognise the tell-tale signs that may indicate addiction or substance misuse, which include:

  • Mood changes
  • Frequent absence
  • Accident records
  • Disciplinary problems
  • Change in personality
  • Irritability or aggression
  • Poor time keeping
  • Poor relationships with colleagues
  • Fluctuations in energy or concentration
  • Becoming confused
  • Dishonesty or theft

However, all of these signs could be caused by other factors, such as stress, so should be treated only as indications.

Drug Abuse

Drug use in the workplace is a serious issue and can put an employer in a difficult situation. Having an employee who is abusing drugs in the workplace can place themselves and other employees at risk. As an employer, if you knowingly allow this to happen then you may be prosecuted. However, dismissing employees who have a problem is not an option unless you can prove that you have done everything possible to help them, or you may face action from an employment tribunal. From a financial point of view, recruitment is an expensive business and finding an adequately qualified replacement could be more costly than allowing a troubled employee time off to get expert help.
It is recommended that you prepare yourself by having a policy on drug misuse in the workplace that ALL staff must agree to. According the HSE, such a policy should cover the following areas:
Aims – Why the policy exists and who is governed by it.
Responsibility – It is recommended to have a senior employee that is responsible for carrying out the policy.
Definition – Clearly define what drug misuse it.
Rules – Expectations on employee behaviour so that it does not have a detrimental impact on their work.
Safeguards – Reassure the staff that addiction will be treated like any other illness, time off for drug rehabilitation will be treated as normal sickness and a recognition that relapse may occur.
Confidentiality – A statement to reassure staff that any drug problems will NOT be disclosed within the workplace.
Help – Encourage staff to seek help by describing the services that are available to them.
Information – Provide information on drugs, health and safety and the help available.
Disciplinary action – Define the circumstances in which disciplinary or legal action may be taken. This may include refusing to accept help, gross misconduct or possession or dealing of drugs.


The majority of people who have a drinking problem are in work. This can present itself as a major problem for employers, as alcohol in the workplace is a widespread issue. Even drinks on a lunch break can have a major effect on performance and productivity. Employers who knowingly allow employees until the influence of alcohol to place themselves or others at risk could be prosecuted. It is also a criminal offense for staff to be under the influence of alcohol or drugs whilst working on railways, buses or other forms of transport.
As with drug misuse, disciplinary action should be used as a last resort as an employment tribunal may decide that help must be provided to employees with a drinking problem. If an employee’s drinking is an issue then they should be encouraged to visit their GP or seek help from an alcohol rehabilitation facility. They should also be reassured that their problems will be treated with the utmost confidentiality. A policy should also be drawn up, similar to that described in the drug misuse section of this page.

John Gillen

John Gillen - Author Last updated: 25th August 2022

John Gillen is a leading addiction treatment expert with over 15 years of experience providing evidence-based treatment methods for individuals throughout the UK. John also co-authors the book, The Secret Disease of Addiction, which delves into how the addictive mind works and what treatment techniques work best.