7 Steps to Take When You Suspect an Employee is Using Drugs at Work

Drug use in the workplace can cause many issues and pose risk to others. In this article, we’re sharing six steps to take when you suspect an employee is using drugs at work.

An addiction to drugs can have devastating consequences to the individual and to those surrounding them, particularly if it leads to serious criminal behaviour such as possession with intent to supply.

Addiction isn’t only confined to out of hours activities. shockingly, it has been revealed that 22.5% of adult employees admit to have taken drugs in the workplace and, in this article, we’re sharing 7 steps to take when you suspect an employee is using drugs at work.

How Serious is Drug Abuse in the UK?

Illegal drugs range from relatively mild substances such as cannabis to more dangerous drugs such as cocaine and heroin. Being caught in possession of illegal drugs can result in a hefty fine. A person suspected of supplying drugs to other people may face a custodial sentence.

As levels of drug abuse increase, the UK now has the dubious honour of being dubbed the drug capital of Europe, with around 289,215 adults seeking help from drug and alcohol services every year.

Signs Someone May Be on Drugs in the Workplace

Using drugs in the workplace can be extremely dangerous as well as damaging to morale and productivity. The following are common signs that an employee may be taking drugs at work:

·       Noticeable changes in demeanour throughout the day – for example, being cheerful in the morning but agitated or lethargic later in the day

·       More frequent and longer trips to the bathroom

·       Inappropriate language

·       Drinking an excessive amount of water or soft drinks

·       Sudden and mysterious ailments causing the employee to ask to go home early

·       A loss of focus and productivity

·       Frequent mistakes

Spotting these signs does, of course, become trickier when an employee is working from home. This can be helped by holding regular video meetings and conversations in which you can physically see the individual.

7 Steps to Take If You Suspect an Employee is Using Drugs

If you think that an employee may be taking drugs at work, it’s important to follow professional procedures in order to protect the company and to support the individual. In this section, we’re looking at the seven steps you should take to facilitate this:

1.   Gather evidence

Your first step should be to note down any and all evidence which may support your suspicions – for example, keeping records of particular behaviour and the date and time that such behaviour occurred.

2.   An informal chat

Your next move may be to arrange to speak with the individual privately. During this meeting, you can ask if they have any issues or problems which they may feel are affecting their work.

3.   Limit activities

After chatting with the employee, if you feel that your suspicions are founded, you may want to perform a little damage limitation – for example, banning the employee from using machinery or limiting their access to sensitive or confidential information whilst you conduct your investigation.

4.   Provide support and point to resources

If the employee has admitted to using drugs in the workplace or your suspicions continue, it’s good practice to offer them support such as a counselling service. This should be done in a meeting with a representative of HR during which the employee’s responses will be recorded.

During this meeting, the employee should be advised that further drug taking in the workplace will result in disciplinary action – this is important as drugs in the workplace can have serious ramifications for the business.

5.   Monitor and review

Following the offer of support, the employee should be monitored closely while at work and regular review meetings should be arranged. It should be made clear to the employee that this period of review will determine their future in the company.

6.   Take necessary action

If the employee has successfully ceased any drug taking during the review period, they may be returned to full and normal duties. If, however, there has not been any improvement, it may be necessary to suspend or dismiss the individual.

7.   Consider installing a drug and alcohol policy

Drug taking in the workplace is extremely serious, as such, it’s a good idea to have a drug and alcohol policy in place to deter such behaviour. This policy, which includes working from home, should state clearly that drugs and alcohol are strictly forbidden whilst working and that doing so could result in dismissal. It should also state that the company is willing to offer support to employees who are suffering from addiction.

For employees operating from an office or physical workspace, some employers choose to conduct regular employee drug testing, particularly when their jobs require the operation of vehicles or heavy machinery.

Although you cannot force an employee to take a drug test, you may be able to impose disciplinary action if they refuse and, as such, this should be included in the drug and alcohol policy.


Although drug use at work should be treated as serious misconduct, the individual involved should always be treated with compassion. Drug addiction is a devastating affliction, and many people struggle to free themselves from its grip. For this reason, offering support to employees suffering from addiction is vital – as much so as protecting the company and its reputation.Please be advised that this article is for general informational purposes only, and should not be used as a substitute for advice from a trained legal professional. Be sure to consult a lawyer/solicitor if you’re seeking advice on employment law and drug related policies. We are not liable for risks or issues associated with using or acting upon the information on this site.

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