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Drugs and the workplace

Any employer will be keen to keep drug misuse away from the workplace. As well as causing ill-health, drug misuse increases the chances of accidents at work and interferes with how much work is done.

Because of the safety risks from drug misuse, your workplace is advised to have a policy on the issue. The policy could be drawn up between employer and staff or staff health and safety representatives. Your employer has legal responsibilities to look after your health and safety as far as reasonably possible and must assess any possible risks. Any drugs policy should set out:

- what the policy is trying to achieve
- how any tests will be carried out
- what support is available to drug misusers
- what disciplinary action may be taken.

Drug testing and your rights

Your employer may decide to test for drugs in employees. To do this, however, they need employee consent. This should normally be given where your employer has grounds for testing you under a full contractual occupational health and safety policy. The policy should be set out in your contract of employment or in the company handbook.

Your employer should limit testing to the employees that need to be tested to deal with the risk. If your employer wants to carry out random tests of these employees, the tests should be genuinely random. It's potentially discriminatory to single out particular employees for testing unless this is justified by the nature of their jobs.

Searching employees is a sensitive matter and your employer is recommended to have a written policy on this. Searches should respect privacy (eg be carried out by a member of the same sex) and take place with a witness present.

You can't be made to take a drugs test, but if you refuse when your employer has good grounds for testing you under a proper occupational health and safety policy you may face disciplinary action, including being sacked.

Resolving a dispute

If you're unhappy with being tested for drugs or monitored at work, check your company handbook, contract or written statement first to see if your employer is expressly allowed to do this. If not, you should raise the problem with your employer informally. If this doesn't work, your organisation should have a grievance procedure - the details should be in your company handbook, contract of employment or written statement.

If the policy isn't contractual, you might be able to resign and claim unfair 'constructive' dismissal for breach of the implied term of trust and confidence, but this will depend on the facts and can be difficult to prove. You might also have a claim for discrimination or a criminal claim of assault or false imprisonment if a search or drug test is badly handled.

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