Addressing Workplace Alcohol and Drug Influence: Guidance for Employers

Published 20th September 2023

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The presence of employees attending work under the influence of alcohol or drugs is a growing concern for many employers. In recent times, we’ve observed a surge in queries from businesses seeking to address this issue. In this comprehensive guide, we aim to provide employers with straightforward and actionable advice on dealing with alcohol and drug-related concerns in the workplace.

1. Identifying the Potential Causes

Understanding the root causes behind employees attending work under the influence is the first step in addressing this issue. Common reasons may include:

  • Personal attitude: Some employees may not perceive any wrongdoing in such behaviour or believe they can go unnoticed.
  • Misjudgment: Employees who engage in alcohol or drug consumption during their personal time may underestimate the lingering effects when they start work.
  • Dependency: An employee struggling with alcohol or drug dependency may find it challenging to manage their substance use, which can adversely affect their performance at work.

Additional factors contributing to this rise in workplace issues may include financial pressures, such as the cost of living crisis, and other sources of stress that drive individuals to seek solace or escape through substance use. The rise of hybrid and remote working arrangements also presents new opportunities for employees to engage in undesirable behaviours, such as consuming alcohol while working.

2. Implementing Preventative Measures

To reduce the likelihood of employees attending work under the influence of alcohol or drugs, consider the following preventative measures:

  • Establish clear policies: Develop a comprehensive drug and alcohol policy that outlines the rules and expectations regarding employee conduct concerning these substances. Ensure that the policy covers all relevant work scenarios, including situations where employees work off-site or drive for work purposes.
  • Employee awareness: Make sure your employees are well-informed about workplace rules and policies. This includes educating remote or hybrid workers about the consistent application of drug and alcohol rules, even when they are not at the office.
  • Manage work-related events: When organising work-related events, such as a company Christmas party, communicate behavioural standards and expectations in advance. Taking a sensible approach and considering the workday following such events can minimise the risk of employees attending work under the influence or being too hungover to perform effectively.
  • Consider drug and alcohol testing: Some businesses may opt for drug and alcohol testing policies as a deterrent to maintain a safe working environment. However, implementing such policies requires careful consideration of HR aspects, including consultations with the workforce.

3. Providing Workplace Support

Encourage your employees to seek support if they are facing difficulties related to alcohol or drug use. Supporting employees can deter them from turning to substance use as a coping mechanism. Managers can also play a role by directing employees to external sources of assistance for various issues, including financial struggles. Addressing underlying problems early can prevent the escalation of substance use.

Monitoring employee workloads and ensuring they are manageable is vital. Overwhelmed employees experiencing burnout or excessive pressure may turn to self-medication with alcohol or drugs, leading to workplace issues.

4. Understanding Alcohol and Drug Dependency Under the Equality Act

The Equality Act (2010) specifies that dependency on alcohol, illegal drugs, or substances is not inherently considered a disability. However, employers should exercise caution, as dependency may be a symptom of another illness that qualifies as a disability under the Act. In such cases, employers must avoid discriminatory treatment and consider making reasonable adjustments to support affected employees.

5. Taking Employer Action

When addressing workplace issues related to alcohol or drugs, employers may encounter various scenarios, each requiring specific actions:

Suspicion of employee is at work under the influence of alcohol:

  • Exercise caution: Managers should avoid jumping to conclusions based on signs such as the smell of alcohol, slurred speech, or impaired behaviour. It’s advisable to have another manager observe the employee to confirm the signs.
  • Investigation meeting: Hold an investigation meeting with the employee to establish facts. Be cautious, as some medical conditions may mimic the signs of alcohol influence.
  • Follow-up actions: Based on the investigation’s results, determine appropriate actions, taking into account the employee’s length of service. Consultation with HR experts is essential for a proper course of action, to book your free 15-minute consultation with our team of experts, click here.

Employee refusing to undergo drug/alcohol testing:

  • Respect refusal: Employers cannot force employees to submit to testing if they refuse. However, refusal may warrant disciplinary action if it aligns with your contractual policy.
  • Explore reasons: Investigate the reasons behind the refusal to ensure there are no valid grounds.
  • Consequences: Make clear to the employee that refusal may lead to disciplinary action, including potential dismissal. Provide another opportunity for the employee to consent to testing.

Employee revealing a drug/alcohol dependency:

  • Handle with care: Approach the situation with sensitivity and empathy, as employees can complain to employment tribunals if they feel unfairly treated.
  • Review policies: Check if your business has a dependency policy in place and follow the outlined steps. Seek professional advice regardless of policy presence from our team today.


  1. What are the legal responsibilities of employers regarding employees attending work under the influence of alcohol or drugs?

Employers have a legal duty to ensure a safe working environment. This includes addressing issues related to alcohol and drug use. Legal responsibilities may involve implementing policies, providing support, and taking disciplinary action when necessary.

  1. Can an employer conduct random drug and alcohol testing in the workplace?

While some employers may choose to implement drug and alcohol testing policies, it’s essential to do so carefully, considering privacy and employment laws. Random testing policies should be developed in consultation with HR experts and may require workforce consent.

  1. How can employers strike a balance between supporting employees with dependencies and maintaining a productive work environment?

Employers should approach employees with dependencies with empathy and sensitivity. It’s crucial to offer support, such as referrals to employee assistance programs, while also ensuring that workplace productivity and safety are not compromised. Finding this balance may require individualised approaches.

  1. What actions can employers take to prevent employees from attending work under the influence?

Employers can take proactive steps, including implementing clear drug and alcohol policies, educating employees on these policies, and providing support for stress-related issues. By fostering a culture of responsibility and awareness, employers can reduce the likelihood of employees attending work under the influence.

  1. How should employers handle incidents where an employee is suspected of being under the influence while working remotely?

Employers should apply consistent policies and procedures to remote workers. If an employee is suspected of being under the influence while working remotely, initiate an investigation and follow the appropriate protocol, which may include a disciplinary process. Consult with HR experts for guidance on remote workforce management.


Effectively addressing alcohol and drug-related issues in the workplace is vital for maintaining a safe, productive, and compliant work environment. By implementing preventative measures, providing support, and understanding the legal aspects, employers can proactively manage and mitigate the risks associated with employees attending work under the influence. If you are an employer looking for HR guidance and support regarding alcohol and drug-related issues in the workplace, speak to a member of our expert professional team today by calling us at 0333 996 0666.