Producing A Policy

Information taken from BITC – Alcohol, Drugs and Tobacco toolkit

A policy is a formal statement of an organisation’s intent, clearly stating the rules and procedures for dealing with the issue of alcohol and drug misuse. For some organisations, this will include details of staff training on the correct procedures for handling incidents and dealing with colleagues who give cause for concern. It must be consistent with other areas of the staff guidelines/contract.

Each employer will have different needs from a policy. A key element is clearly stating the policy’s meaning. For a drugs policy, it would be sensible to define the term ‘drug’ as being applied to substances controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, other psychoactive substances restricted under the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016, prescribed medicines, over-the-counter medication and solvents.

It is good practice to have a policy even if you do not find any evidence of current alcohol or drug misuse. It will help you deal with any future problems which may arise. A policy should be accompanied by a strategy that can be used in response to alcohol or drug related issues that arise, and may encourage reluctant staff to disclose a problem and seek support.

Producing a policy

A policy is a formal statement of an organisation’s intent, clearly stating the rules and procedures for dealing with the issue of alcohol and drug misuse.

Policy objectives:

  1. Meet your legal responsibilities.
  2. Assist managers and supervisors in dealing with substance misuse-related incidents and support in the workplace.
  3. Establish clear, easily understood guidelines for dealing with misconduct arising from substance misuse.
  4. Demonstrate your organisation’s commitment to staff health and safety and wellbeing.
  5. Raise awareness among staff of the effects of drugs and alcohol, and the impact on their wellbeing and the workplace of inappropriate use.
  6. A clear understanding of the situations in which the employer is committed to offering help to the employee.
  7. Ensure it includes a statement that the company will treat individuals with respect and in a manner that is supportive.

Understand the needs of your organisation

The concerns and legal obligations of those working in safety-critical industries, such as transport and construction, may differ from, say, the retail and hospitality sectors, or where staff are office-based.

SMEs may feel that there is no requirement for a formal policy on alcohol and drugs. However, they must consider operational and reputational risks and respond appropriately. This may be a simple code of conduct setting out what is and what is not acceptable in the workplace.

No business can afford to ignore the problem. A combined policy on alcohol and drugs may be appropriate and effective. They can affect the workplace in a similar way, and procedures for addressing issues that arise are also similar.

Policy content

This is a framework with suggestions for a policy on alcohol and drugs. You can adapt it to reflect the characteristics of your organisation:

  1. Set out why your organisation is introducing a policy and what its objectives are.
  2. Explain how you have involved staff and, where applicable, trade unions.
  3. Education and training: the policy should detail how staff will be made aware of the policy and how it will operate. The organisation should make a commitment to promoting awareness of the risks of alcohol and drugs.
  4. Managing incidents and discipline: you will need to clarify individual responsibilities – be they for staff or supervisors/managers. The policy must make clear what the procedures are and who should follow them. For an employer, a full investigation of all circumstances is crucial before choosing a course of action.
  5. It is important to remember that, in certain circumstances, implementation of disciplinary procedures may be inappropriate, or only part of the necessary response. Supporting an individual through treatment may be better for both them and your organisation.
  6. Drug and alcohol testing (if applicable): this is a complex area in which many employers have lost money and goodwill through ill-conceived testing programmes. If you decide to introduce testing, the rationale and procedures need to be explicitly stated and expert advice sought.
  7. Help, assistance and support: the policy should give employees information on where to seek advice and help, as well as clearly setting out the company’s procedures for people needing to access specialist treatment or support.
  8. It is important to consider the implications of familial substance misuse. An employee may have concerns about loved ones outside the workplace; providing them with the knowledge of where and how they can obtain advice can help prevent domestic issues from affecting the workplace. The policy needs to be accessible and brought to the attention of all staff. For local support groups visit the Adfam website:
  9. Return to work: set out the process for supporting an employee’s return to work after absence for treatment and recovery (including communication with line managers during a period of absence, return to work interviews, and workplace adjustments)

Making it work

A policy must be applied fairly and consistently. To support this, staff and management responsibilities for implementing the policy must be absolutely clear. All staff must have ready access to a copy, and consideration must be given to incorporating personal experience and views on the policy’s operation.

The policy will need to be monitored in order to:

  • Ensure your aims and objectives are being met
  • Provide the opportunity to reassess elements of it and reflect organisational and social changes
  • Gather evidence of how it is working
  • Ensure it is being effectively implemented
  • Update it in line with current legislation

It is good practice to implement a regular review process for all workplace policies, whereby changes in legislation and general fitness for purpose can be considered, and the policy either amended or confirmed as continuing to be suitable.

Disciplinary issues

Your policy should make clear what constitutes a disciplinary matter; for example, by prohibiting:

  • The use of drugs as defined by the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 (except prescribed medication) and the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016 during the working day
  • Working under the influence of drugs and alcohol
  • Being in possession of an illegal substance in the workplace

If testing is part of your policy, an employee’s failure to provide a sample must also be included. Include an explicit reference to substances covered by the Psychoactive Substances Act.

Many prescribed and over-the-counter medications can impair performance. The policy should clearly state that individuals have a responsibility for reading and following the advice supplied with their medicines and seeking medical advice where appropriate.

When seeking to address poor work performance due to substance misuse, it is important to:

  • Identify the problem within its work context
  • Clearly explain the action required of the employee to overcome this problem
  • Offer support and, where appropriate, access to counselling or treatment
  • Emphasise that disciplinary procedures may be suspended (depending on the seriousness of the incident) while the employee seeks assistance for a problem. Realistic timescales and outcomes will need to be agreed
  • Clearly explain that failure to show improvement in the area identified is liable to have disciplinary consequences

Emphasise the consequences of not following the agreed supportive programme and the likelihood of resumption of the disciplinary procedure