Drug testing considerations

Surveys have shown that only around 8% of employers operate drug or alcohol testing. Interestingly, of those employers that do conduct testing, more than a third test all existing staff, while just under 20% test only those in safety-critical roles.

What to consider:

If, following careful consideration, employers decide to undertake drug testing (whether random or not), they must remember:

• Testing cannot be done without the employee’s consent. Contracts and policies can specify that withholding consent may lead to disciplinary action.

• Drug test results are sensitive personal data under the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA). Explicit consent must be obtained and employers must treat results with all the necessary safeguards.

• Raising awareness, clear communication and ideally staff consultation should be central – including policies, training staff in recognising drug misuse, promoting awareness and employee assistance programmes.

• Extensive consideration should be given to which system and testing company is used, how and how long samples are stored securely, and limiting access to the right people.

Employees should feel supported in the workplace. While some employers operate a zero-tolerance policy in most cases employers should aim to treat drug-related problems the same as any other health issue. Understanding employees’ struggles and providing them with help and assistance should be combined with protecting the integrity of the business, to reduce workplace incidents and improve health and safety.

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