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How Confident Are You in Your Drug and Alcohol Policy?

Published November 04, 2016 (last updated November 17, 2020) -

With the festive season approaching, employees may decide to take the ‘silly’ in silly season quite literally.

Workplaces often become more relaxed in the lead up to Christmas, especially if a business is closing down for a period of time and the workload begins to slow down. This is why it is imperative that employers are confident in their drug and alcohol policy, to ensure that their employees are not celebrating the silly season in the worst possible way, and putting themselves and others at risk.

If an employee is under the influence of drugs and alcohol, their job and productivity may be impaired as a result of poor concentration, carelessness, errors in judgement or risky behaviour.  Not only does drug or alcohol use result in poor performance and productivity, it may also result in higher rates of injury or even fatalities.

A large concern for employers is that drug use in the workplace is not usually a once-off occurrence and the individual who may be under the influence of may not exhibit any obvious signs of intoxication. Even the tell-tale obvious symptoms of marijuana use, such as bloodshot eyes, increased heart rate and delayed reaction time could realistically be chalked up to lack of sleep or an allergic reaction.

Drug and alcohol testing can be a sensitive subject throughout New Zealand workplaces, and as such it is important that both employers and employees are aware of their rights and obligations when it comes to testing.

What is the right policy?

Employers can only request employees to undergo a drug or alcohol test if this is a condition of their employment, and recorded in their employment agreement. A provision in all employment agreements should include when drug and alcohol screening will be conducted such as:

  • if the employee is involved in an accident or near miss
  • if the employee is acting out of character
  • if there is a smell of drugs or alcohol on the employee
  • if another person reports seeing an employee partake in drug or alcohol consumption
  • as a requisite for employment

There may be other instances where an employer would like to conduct a drug and alcohol testing, which is specific to their business. These should be specified in employment agreements and clearly communicated to employees.

The policy should state what will happen in the event that an employee refuses to take a drug or alcohol test. Generally, refusal to take a test will be treated as a failure to follow a reasonable and lawful instruction given by the employer and this can be considered serious misconduct.

If an employee refuses to take a drug or alcohol test, the employer must ensure they:

  • sufficiently investigate the event or series of events which led to the employee’s refusal and their reason for refusing
  • allow the employee to respond before taking disciplinary action
  • genuinely consider the employee’s reasons for not wishing to take the test

A drug and alcohol policy must also include the repercussions of an employee returning a positive test result. Many employers choose to allow their employee to remain at their job, so long as the employee agrees to undertake a rehabilitation program, or meets certain criteria specified in the policy moving forwards.

The results must be discussed with the employee, and the sample may be retested. It is important to note that a positive result may not necessarily impair an employee’s work, however, an employer can take a positive test into account when determining if the employee is guilty of misconduct.

Drug and alcohol testing do’s and do not’s

Before introducing a drug and alcohol policy, employers must take care to consult with their employees, including what form of testing will be conducted, and when employees may be tested. The drug and alcohol testing policy should be tailored to your specific workplace, and updated regularly.

Employees’ rights must be taken into consideration under the Privacy Act 1993, which means that any information gathered must not be unfair or intrude to an unreasonable extent. The Privacy Act allows employers to collect personal information, including test results, only for lawful reasons and the collection must be necessary.

A lawful reason for requesting employees to take a drug or alcohol test would be to meet your duty of care to provide a safe working environment under the Health and Safety at Work Act. Under this Act employers and employees both have a duty to ensure that a workplace is safe, which includes eliminating risks associated with drug and alcohol use.

Sporadic or random testing may be deemed too intrusive unless the employer has a reasonable suspicion that an employee or group of employees are under the influence.

The festive season generally sees an increase in parties, both inside and outside of work. Employees may become reckless and partake in drugs and alcohol, and this is why it is imperative that employers are confident in their drug and alcohol policy.

If you would like to discuss implementing a drug and alcohol policy into your workplace, or have any questions relating to health and safety at work, contact Employsure today. Our specialist team can assist with any queries or concerns you have, so call us today on 0800 568 012.

About Employsure

Employsure is one of New Zealand’s largest workplace relations advisers to small and medium businesses, with over 5,000 clients. We take the complexity out of workplace legislation to help small business employers protect their business and their people.

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