A Plain English Guide To British Employment Law

Drug Testing at Work

Drug testing at work

Your employer might monitor you at work, if it’s necessary for them to carry out their employment law health and safety duties. Where monitoring involves taking data, images or drug testing at work this should be done in a way that is lawful and fair to you. Find out about your rights.

Drugs and alcohol in the workplace – employment law

Any employer will be keen to keep drug misuse away from the workplace. As well as causing ill-health, drug misuse increases the chances of accidents at work and interferes with how much work is done.

Because of the safety risks from drug misuse, your workplace is advised to have a drug policy. The drugs policy could be drawn up between employer and staff or staff health and safety representatives. Your employer has employment law responsibilities to look after your health and safety as far as reasonably possible and must assess any possible risks. Any workplace drugs policy should set out:

  • what the policy is trying to achieve
  • how any tests will be carried out
  • what support is available to drug misusers
  • what disciplinary action may be taken

Drug testing in the workplace and your employment law rights

Your employer may decide to test for drugs in workplace. To do this, however, they need employee consent. This should normally be given where your employer has grounds for testing you under a full contractual occupational health and safety policy. The policy should be set out in your contract of employment or in the company handbook.

Your employer should limit testing to the employees that need to be tested to deal with the risk. If your employer wants to carry out random tests of these employees, the tests should be genuinely random. It’s potentially discriminatory under employment law to single out particular employees for testing unless this is justified by the nature of their jobs.

Searching employees is a sensitive matter and your employer is recommended to have a written policy on this. Searches should respect privacy, for example, be carried out by a member of the same sex and take place with a witness present.

You can’t be made to take a drugs test, but if you refuse when your employer has good grounds for testing you under a proper occupational health and safety policy you may face disciplinary action, including being sacked.

Resolving a dispute and employment law

If you are unhappy with being tested for drugs at work, check your company handbook, contract or written statement first to see if your employer is expressly allowed to do this. If not, you should raise the problem with your employer informally. If this doesn’t work, your organisation should have a grievance procedure – the details should be in your company handbook, contract of employment or written statement.

If the policy isn’t contractual, you might be able to resign and claim unfair ‘constructive’ dismissal for breach of the implied term of trust and confidence, but this will depend on the facts and can be difficult to prove. You might also have a claim for discrimination or a criminal claim of assault or false imprisonment if a workplace search or drug test is badly handled.