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HR Advice on managing drugs & alcohol in the workplace.

Drug & alcohol addiction has become a thing for employers to manage.

Health & Safety rules nominate employers as being responsible for workplace safety. In some instances, employers are saving employees from themselves.

Even in the instance where an employee completely disregards safety rules in the workplace – and is injured, the employer is still deemed responsible.

So, how do we manage employees under the influence of drugs and alcohol

Most of the drugs are proven to remain in the body long after the ‘night before’, so this is an issue impacting directly on employee performance.

Cannabis for example (THC being a lipid-soluble drug) is detectable in body fluids up to a month after consumption. Even for occasional users, marijuana is detectable in urine for up to three days after consumption. For chronic and heavy users – more than 30 days.

Alcohol – another commonly used ‘drug’ can be detected in the system up to 48 hours after consumption, so for daily drinkers, it’s a daily topping up – and the impairment of judgement could be an ongoing situation. Your risks as the employer, are enormous.

While cannabis and alcohol are causing rising concern, methamphetamine is even more troublesome and is rising in use, despite police efforts to reduce supply. Used medically as a treatment for attention deficit hyperactivity, meth is causing widespread problems in NZ. Meth use affects families and businesses – the impact lasts up to three days after consumption. Weekend consumption extends into weekday performance

For employers of people working with potentially dangerous industrial equipment, this is a difficult and unpredictable situation.

While it’s reasonable to dictate that well-paid airline pilots refrain from drugs & alcohol 48 hours before taking a flight, this same rule is hardly reasonable for a CNC operator who works five days each week.

The best solution is to enforce daily drug testing for anyone using potentially dangerous equipment.

How can you manage the effect of drugs and still be a reasonable employer?

The answer here is really in the interviewing process & the scripting of the employment agreement.

All employment agreements should include the option of random and regular drug testing in the workplace, regardless of the employee’s role in the business.

If you enforce this rule – be sure to check a department or entire team rather than singling out one person. Be ready for an outcome that may be more widespread than you expect.

You are required to treat all employees equally. If you are targeting one person for dismissal, in accordance with the terms of the Employment Agreement, you will be required to dismiss any and all others affected by drugs above your deemed acceptable level for their role on the day of testing.

Employers may dictate behaviour in the workplace, but they may not have control of employee personal time.

If you are employing a worker who will be in danger using a piece of machinery with impaired judgement, you may need to seek an employee who does not drink or use drugs outside of work. If this is a requirement of the position from a safety point of view, you may include it in your employment agreement.

Employers are advised to seek advice from an HR specialist or employment lawyer (or both) in this situation, to ensure employee rights are not breached and that interview screening questions are non-invasive & reasonable.