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Drug testing at work – developing a speak up culture around addiction


Random drug testing in the workplace is often used to keep substance misuse clear of the work environment. By doing this, companies are promoting employee welfare and the safety of the public. In this blog, drug rehab experts Port of Call discusses the process of drug testing and explores some of the challenges associated with introducing drug testing.

How does a drug test work?

There are two types of drug tests that can be carried out on participants. A ‘urinary drug screening’ or ‘USD’ is one of the most common types of drug test and examines the subject’s urine for illegal or prescription drug substances and alcohol. The USD is probably the simplest and most effective type of drug test. An alternative to the USD is hair testing. This analyses a sample of the individual’s hair for drug substances. Hair testing is an invasive process and more time consuming.

Drug testing at work

What drugs are tested in the workplace?

Drug tests most commonly pick up any signs of illegal or prescription drugs and alcohol. A USD most commonly picks up six types of drugs. The test will highlight:

  • Amphetamines
  • Benzodiazepines
  • Marijuana
  • Cocaine
  • PCP
  • Opioids or Narcotics

Drug testing at work should be carried out in a supervised environment in order to ensure the accuracy of the results. However, the privacy and dignity of the participant should always be respected. Drug testing firms often manage the process for you, or your team can be trained to facilitate the tests.

Drug testing at work – UK law

Drug testing at work is perfectly legal and encouraged in certain industries. In order for a drug test to be carried out, the participant must consent to the screening. Random drug testing in the workplace is often carried out on potential employees. For many companies, a drug screening is part of their employment policy and until a test is carried out, individuals may not be hired. While drug testing is not enforceable by law, if it is a part of the company policy, applicants can be rejected if they refuse a drug test.

Many industries complete screenings in order to minimise the risk of substance abuse at work, this is especially true in industries where public safety is at risk. For example, those working in the armed forces, financial sector, public sector, police and prison service are likely to require a drug test. If a company does wish to carry out random drug testing it must be outlined in all employment contracts, company handbooks and health and safety at work procedures.

Pros and cons of drug testing in the workplace

Drug testing can create a sense of friction in the workplace between the company and their employees. Personnel may feel uneasy in their role as there is an element of distrust from employers and a privacy dispute for employees. In the case of someone in the throes of an addiction, it may well serve as the catalyst to them seeking help, although how testing is communicated and how outcomes are managed can make all the difference.

Clearly, carrying out drug screenings in the workplace, minimises the risk of drug abuse affecting employees and the public, enhancing welfare.

The key to any workplace screening programme is to exercise sensitivity. Employers have a duty of care to support employees who present with a substance abuse problem, rather than reaching for the disciplinary procedure at the first available opportunity.

“Drug, alcohol or substance abuse is difficult for anyone,” say public service union, UNISON. “It is better for employers to find ways to support employees abusing these substances than to discipline them. Employers could, for example, encourage employees to seek specialist support via their GP or local treatment service if they suspect they have a problem or addiction,” they add.

Creating a speak up culture around addiction

Communication surrounding addiction is crucial and it is important all employees feel as though they can talk to their employer about any kind of drug or alcohol addiction. Many companies are beginning to implement an ‘amnesty period’, a helpful, forward thinking service that promotes a healthier and happier workforce. Enlisting specialist services to talk through addiction and recovery promotes the wellbeing of the workforce.

If you would like support or advice about drug testing at work, and finding addiction treatment programmes for employees, then please contact Port of Call, private rehab experts. We are specialists in providing the right care, at the right time, arranging personalised treatments for those who need it most. You can speak to one of our experts today by ringing 08000029010 or email help@portofcall.com.

For more information on Drug Testing Policies, you can read our case study here.

Call today for free & confidential advice on 08000029010 (International: +44 161 674 9049)

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