Over a Third of Employees Know or Suspect their Colleagues have a Drug Problem

Over a third (35%) of employees know or suspect that their colleagues have a drug problem or take illegal substances either during or outside work our survey has found, while over 60 per cent complained that mood swings, missed deadlines and calling-in sick are just some of the ways it’s affecting team performance.

We commissioned a survey of 500 employers and 500 employees which also found that 20 per cent of employees confirmed that they take, inject, or smoked illegal substances during the weekend and holidays, 12.5 per cent said they take illegal substances every week, and over 45 per cent agreed with their colleagues that it affects their performance in a negative way, such as making them feel down or depressed, tired at work or causes their change in mood, others said they “felt sick” , “generally unwell” while another claimed “increased productivity.”

What shocked us the most was that 23 per cent admitted they had done something illegal to fund their drug use either in or outside of work, with 12 per cent saying this involved work stock or cash.

46 per cent of employees also confirmed that they were aware of the potential disciplinary action that could be taken against them for substance abuse and result in them losing their job, but another 35 per cent were unsure of the exact grounds and consequences of any action – showing a wide gap in levels of knowledge among employees.

What employers said

We found cocaine in the men’s toilets, “I found out an employee was smoking cannabis in a status about it on social media” and “employees coming to work either high, or coming down” were just some of the comments from bosses on their experience of substance abuse in the workplace.

The survey also found a wide range of approaches in how employers respond to substance abuse at work. 41 per cent of employers said they have an official drug awareness guide detailing company policy and potential disciplinary action, nearly a quarter (23%) said they undertake random drug and alcohol testing on employees, 21 per cent said they have a programme of training for managers or supervisors on recognising the signs of drug misuse, 14 per cent said they allow people time off to get help or encourage them to seek help, while 11 per cent said they just sack them.

Across different industry sectors, accountancy, banking and finance was highest with 23 per cent of employees suspected or known to take illegal substances during or outside of work.  22 per cent in engineering and manufacturing and 16 per cent in business consulting and management.  

What Should Employers Do?

The starting point is a good policy in place to make it clear what is and is not acceptable in the workplace. Taking illegal drugs at work or coming to work under their influence will usually be gross misconduct and a tribunal will generally support this if these drugs are illegal and all employees in the same situation are treated consistently. However, ACAS and CIPD have urged employers to treat drug addiction in the same way as it would treat alcohol addiction and try and support an employee who really wants to kick the habit.

This will depend on the industry of course, as for some industries such as railways it is a criminal offence to be at work under the influence of drugs. Also, some roles may have a serious impact on the health and safety of others and therefore finding alternative roles may be difficult.

However, employees may be more likely to come forward with a genuine problem if they know they will not be dismissed immediately and with the skills shortage in the UK it will be important for businesses to address the root cause of the problem rather than dealing with the result of it. After all, some employees may be struggling with workloads or stress and find that drugs are the only way of coping. Others may just regard it as a 'trendy' thing to do and it may be that an employer wants to treat those two different situations in a different way.

ACAS have recognised the increasing problem by publishing guidance on dealing with drugs in the workplace  http://www.acas.org.uk/index.aspx?articleid=1986 and last year it became a criminal offence to drive with certain drugs in your system. It is likely that this is a problem that will get worse and not better and employers need to find ways of dealing with it.

For larger employers they may like to consider training their managers to spot the signs of those under the influence of drugs and, more importantly, what to say to the employee. If an employer simply accuses an employee of being on drugs without any evidence then this could lead to a huge breakdown in trust and confidence and a possible constructive dismissal claim, so it needs to be handled sensitively.

It is not proportionate for every employer to introduce random drug tests, as the type of industry they are in might not justify it. However, for those working with machinery or other safety critical roles, then it might be proportionate to include the ability to random drug test in the contracts of employment.