Addiction & employment

Whilst, for the most part, employment law protects you from being fired from your job specifically for having an addiction, it is the legal responsibility of your employer to look after the wellbeing of all of their employees, as well as their customers.

Drugs and alcohol affect the brain in a variety of ways, which can impede your job performance, judgement and concentration. This means that if your addiction is affecting your ability to do your job, putting yourself or others at risk, this could very well lose you your job.

Not only this, but people who are addicted to drugs or alcohol are far more likely to take excessive time off or perform poorly, affecting the company’s overall performance. Although an employer should be looking out for the welfare of staff, they are also running a business and need to ensure that they are doing the best for the company as well.

But it isn’t always as black and white as that. Most employers will have a drugs and alcohol policy that helps them to deal with these issues on a case by case basis.

They should also look carefully at the employees that are suffering from addictions, as if there is a culture of drug or alcohol misuse within the workplace this could very well indicate that there is something about the job that is causing these issues, and that this needs to be tackled to get to the root of the problem.

Any good employer would rather look after employees than fire them, to ensure that addiction problems are dealt with and employees are able to get stronger and return to their jobs when they have recovered.

No good employer wants to lose a knowledgeable employee who is good at their job, just because of an addiction. In these cases, addiction is treated as a medical issue rather than a disciplinary one, and your employer may provide you with time off, help with accessing addiction services or even counselling to recover.

Drug and Alcohol Policies

Whether or not an employer believes that there are people in their employ who have problems with substance abuse, it is worthwhile having a drugs and alcohol policy put in place anyway. Governmental body ACAS (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) provides impartial advice to employers across the UK and has produced a checklist which employers should follow when putting together their policy on drug misuse.


According to ACAS, these policies should include:• The purpose of the policy. An example from the ACAS website includes: ‘This policy is designed to help protect workers from the dangers of drug and other substance misuse and to encourage those with a drugs problem to seek help’

• A statement which says that the policy applies to everyone within the organisation. This includes employees at all levels, to ensure that any substance abuse is dealt with fairly.

•The rules for use of alcohol or drugs at work.

•The potential hazards of a substance abuse problem which is left untreated within the organisation.

•A statement which recognises that an addiction may be an illness and will be treated as such.

•What help is available through the company.

•What disciplinary action will be taken, and at what stage.

•What paid sick leave is available for treatment of an addiction

•An assurance of confidentiality

•What right an individual has to return to their job after being treated for an addiction

•What rights an individual has should they relapse after treatment.

For employees who are struggling with addiction, it should be simple to get a copy of the drugs and alcohol policy of your company, so that you can find out what position your employer takes and what is likely to happen if you are suffering from an addiction, and ask for help.


Drugs screening

Drugs and alcohol screening are one way in which some employers are able to target any substance misuse within their organisation. Any screening obligations should be included in the drugs policy and agreed by the employee when they enter the company.

A drugs and alcohol screening must be applied to everyone or no one within the company, to ensure that it is done fairly and lawfully, and there must be a provision under the health and safety policy which explains why this is necessary. An employer cannot decide to test employees for drugs and alcohol just because they feel like it!

There are different types of screening available, to test for certain drugs and even alcohol, and it is usually done via a urine sample. An employee can refuse to give a urine sample, but should also understand that if screening is written into their contract, they may face dismissal or other disciplinary action for their refusal.


What is the law for employers regarding substance misuse?

As mentioned before, any good employer will have a system put in place to help employees with addictions in the same way that they would deal with any illness. However, there is specific employment law regarding drug and alcohol use at work which employers also have to be mindful of. An employer may be acting illegally if they are aware of drug-related activities in the workplace, and don’t do anything about it.

It is illegal if:

  • An employee is allowed to work when knowingly under the influence of excess alcohol (Health and Safety at Work Act)
  • An employee in a driving job, or who works on the transport system, is allowed to work whilst under the influence of drugs or alcohol (The Road Traffic and the Transport and Works Act)
  • Any controlled substance is used, supplied or produced on an employer’s premises (The Misuse of Drugs Act).

What can you do if you are struggling with addiction?

The first thing that you should do if you are an addict and you are worried about your job is to get some help. If you look at your employer’s drug and alcohol policy then this should tell you what help you can get from your employer. For the most part admitting to an addiction will not cause you to lose your job.

At the Ocean Recovery Centre we work with employees and employers to help those struggling with addiction to get into our rehabilitation centre. Using a residential programme, we are able to help the addict to get over their substance issues, and put them on the right track for getting back to work and avoiding relapse when their rehab is completed.

If you are an employee who is worried that your addiction could affect your ability to work, or if you are an employer who is worried about an employee, call 01253 847 553, or text HELP to 83222, and the team at Ocean Recovery Centre is here to help.

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John Gillen - Author - Last updated: December 8, 2022

John is one UK’s leading professionals in the addiction recovery industry. Pioneering new treatment techniques such as NAD+ and ongoing research into new therapy techniques such as systematic laser therapy, John is committed to providing the very best treatment for people throughout the UK and Europe. During his extremely busy schedule, John likes to regularly update our blog section with the latest news and trends in the industry to keep visitors to our site as well informed as possible on everything related to addiction treatment.