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Drug and Alcohol Testing In The Workplace. Is It Necessary?

Many employers operate Drug and Alcohol policies detailing what is acceptable within the workplace when it comes to alcohol and drugs, and the implications of being under the influence of either substance during working hours. Such policies generally cover an organisation’s right to perform random drug or alcohol tests. 

They may also reference what help or support a Company may offer to those who have openly declared an issue with substance abuse.   

Despite having standardised policies, many employers fail to consider the real implications of conducting drug or alcohol tests at work. Whilst there are many valid reasons for conducting such tests (including an employer’s duty to protect their employees from a health and safety point of view) it is important to be aware of the practicalities and implications of conducting tests at work.  

Consider if testing is absolutely necessary. 

Before conducting tests, employers should consider if this is absolutely necessary. Tests can be intrusive, and employees may feel uncomfortable being asked to undergo a test, especially if it involves providing a urine or blood sample. Whilst most employees will appreciate the underlying reasons for conducting such tests, some may feel the process is overly intrusive, especially if it is not totally necessary. 

Before conducting tests, employers should ensure there is an adequate reason for doing so. As per guidance by the HSE, there may be a case for screening, particularly in certain jobs (for example, employees who make safety-critical decisions like drivers, pilots and some machinery operators).


Whilst there are various drug testing kits on the market which vary in price (based on how easy they are to use, their accuracy or the quantity ordered), employers must ensure that testing kits are in line with required standards and that tests are administered by adequately trained personnel. Failure to meet said standards may lead to results being contaminated, inaccurate and therefore contestable in any formal disciplinary action. 

Alternatively, you may have an external professional attend the workplace to conduct testing. However, this can cost considerably more, especially for those who require regular testing. 


Any alcohol or drug test, whether conducted in-house or private, is not 100% guaranteed for accuracy. Errors occur whilst samples are taken, stored, tested and processed, and such errors can lead to incorrect results. Employers must bare this in mind when handling positive test results.  

What to do upon receipt of a positive test result

If an employee who is not under the influence of substances receives a positive result, this can negatively impact the employment relationship. 

With this in mind, upon receipt of any positive result, employers need to ensure that strict policies are adhered to with a view to investigating the underlying reasons for the said result prior to commencing formal disciplinary action. Keep in mind that there is no such thing as instant dismissal, even with something seemingly as conclusive as a positive drug/alcohol test result.

During the investigation, the Company should determine if the employee can explain a positive result.  The employer should gather all relevant facts and information before considering an invitation to disciplinary. 

If the employee provides an explanation, this must be investigated in full.

Such investigations may involve seeking consent to access an employee’s medical records, especially if the employee claims that prescribed medication may have affected their results. Ignoring any possible explanation without a full investigation could lead to unfair dismissal and a possible pending claim. Keep in mind that professional drug/alcohol screening providers will generally establish whether the employee is taking any medication which may affect their result before testing takes place. 

Once investigations are complete and the employee has been given the opportunity to present an explanation, the Company should decide if formal disciplinary action is appropriate. A positive drugs/alcohol test, with no explanation or valid mitigation, is normally deemed gross misconduct, with a range of sanctions from no further action to potential summary dismissal. 

In summary

Employers should decide individually if drug or alcohol testing is necessary or if it is in the Company’s best interest to conduct such screenings. In the event screening is deemed necessary, it is recommended that employers source a reputable and trustworthy provider to support with testing and ensure that upon receipt of a positive test, detailed investigations and procedures are followed.   

Talk to us today to discuss your requirements – call 01427 678 660 or email and #oneoftheteam will be happy to help.


The information and any commentary contained within these updates are for general information purposes only and do not constitute legal or any other type of professional advice. Stallard Kane does not accept and, to the extent permitted by law, exclude liability to any person for any loss which may arise from relying upon or otherwise using the information contained in these blogs. If you have a particular query or issue, you are strongly advised to obtain specific, personal advice about your issue and not to rely solely on the information or comments in these updates.
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