So called “legal highs” have been hitting the headlines recently. Read how to deal with these in the workplace

Most employers make reference to being under the influence of drugs and alcohol in the workplace. However very few contain any reference to Legal Highs. So what should employers be doing?

Recent ACAS advice has suggested that employers clarify definitions of alcohol, illegal drugs and legal highs. Legal highs are substances which imitate the effects of illegal drugs when consumed, but are not actually illegal themselves. As with illegal drugs, they can have a range of effects on users and employers should consider their impact on their employees and workplaces. Legal highs generally cannot be sold for human consumption and so are often marketed as bath salts, incense or plant food. They mostly contain synthetic, chemical compounds which imitate the effects of more traditional, illegal drugs such as speed and cannabis. They can have a range of effects on users and are generally used as stimulants, “downers” or hallucinogens.

* Employers should also set out the company’s position on the use and possession of legal highs in the workplace, including what will and won’t be tolerated and the consequences that will follow for breaching the rules.
* As legal highs can often not be tested for, policies should focus on the effects caused by the drugs, in terms of an individual’s ability to work and their behaviour. It can be helpful to reserve the company’s discretion to take a view on what is acceptable to avoid any problems with having a subjective “effects-based” test.
* Policies should encourage users to seek help for their problems and educate staff and line managers on the signs of drug use and what to be aware of.
* Dealing with someone who has a problem with using legal highs should be approached in the same way as any other workplace drug or alcohol misuse.

If employers become aware of the issue, they should:

* keep accurate, confidential records of instances of poor performance or other problems
* interview the employee in private
* concentrate on the instances of poor performance or unacceptable behaviour that have been identified
* ask for the reasons for the behaviour and question whether it could be due to a health problem, without specifically mentioning alcohol or drugs
* if appropriate, discuss your alcohol and drugs policy and the help available inside or outside of your organisation
* agree future action
* arrange regular meetings to monitor progress and discuss any further problems if they arise.

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