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Drug and Alcohol Policy Essentials

Published December 6, 2020 (last updated on April 17, 2024) | Adam Wyatt - Copywriter and Content Creator


There are many reasons employers want to keep on top of drugs and alcohol in the workplace.

The influence of drugs and alcohol in the workplace can lead to employees exhibiting poor concentration and judgement, to carelessness and risk-taking behaviour. Drug and alcohol use can, in the worst cases, have fatal consequences. At the very least, it impacts work performance, productivity and may severely impact workplace culture.

The outcome of the cannabis referendum in October was not in favour of legalisation, which means there aren’t any current changes to Kiwi employers’ drug and alcohol policies; nevertheless, in the wake of the result, it’s a good time to revisit your existing drug and alcohol policy.

Explain the Purpose

Any policy should begin with the reasons for the policy, and the outcomes you’re hoping for.

Explain to staff the importance of a drug- and alcohol-free workplace – drug testing is a measure designed to prevent accidents, injuries and fatalities from impaired capacity, sensory perception, and reckless behaviour. Testing also discourages the resulting poor performance and productivity from drug and alcohol use.

Define to Who and When It Applies

In your policy, clearly define who must undergo a drug and alcohol test, and when.

For instance, employees who regularly operate vehicles may be required to undertake regular random testing, whereas office staff at the same business may not be required to take a random drug and alcohol test, although may still be subject to a test for reasonable cause.

You should also note the other instances when you may require an employee to take a test – for example, before being employed, before changing to a safety-sensitive role or after an accident, incident or near miss.

There are some strict requirements for employers to request their employees undergo a drug and alcohol test. A test can only be request if:

  • there is a lawful reason for undertaking the test (for example, random testing if the role is safety-sensitive, such as they operate heavy machinery)

  • there is a valid drug and alcohol testing policy

As such, Employsure recommends you include a provision in your policy for an employee to submit to a drug and alcohol test in the following scenarios:

  • if the employee is involved in an accident or near miss

  • if there is reasonable cause for belief the employee may be impaired at work, such as if the employee is acting out of character, if there is a smell of drugs or alcohol on the employee or if another person reports seeing an employee partake in drug or alcohol consumption

  • as a pre-requisite for initial employment or changing to a safety-sensitive role

  • if their role is safety-sensitive

  • if they are on a client site and the client requires testing

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Describe How the Testing Process Works

How are you going to test your employees? What’s the procedure, and waiting times for results? How are you going to make sure your employees’ privacy and confidentiality won’t be breached during or after testing?

These questions should be answered and explained in your policy. Lay out how exactly the testing process will work. Assure employees how their results will be kept if they pass the test.

Outline Disciplinary Procedures

Another section that needs to be included is the process that follows a failed test, or an employee’s non-compliance with other parts of the policy.

An outline of disciplinary procedures is the most sensitive part of any policy, as these procedures will be the focus of any potential drug and alcohol related dispute at your workplace.

Employers must ensure the disciplinary procedures are fair, reasonable and proportionate to the offence and test results.  Employers are also bound to follow the process they have listed in their policy. It is best you get in touch with Employsure for some expert advice when it comes to crafting this section of your policy.

You may also want to include steps and processes your business is willing to take to rehabilitate or otherwise support employees affected by drug or alcohol addiction.

Employsure is one of Australia’s largest workplace relations advisers to small- and medium-businesses, with over 25,000 clients. We take the complexity out of workplace legislation to help small business employers protect their business and their people.

Need Help Putting a Policy Together?

An effective drug and alcohol policy must be clear and concise, yet also cover all the details. If you need help creating a policy get in touch with Employsure to learn how we can assist you at 080068012.

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