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New guidance for job applicants implemented in drug and alcohol workplace policy

New guidance for job applicants implemented in drug and alcohol workplace policy

Alcohol and drug use increases the risk of problems in the workplace, with absenteeism, low productivity, inappropriate behavior and potential aggressiveness steming from the consumption of these substances. It is evident that alcohol and illicit drug use is prevalent in those who are in work, with an estimated 25% of registered drug addicts in full time employment, and as such is a significant issue for the workplace and is a growing concern for employers as they seek to develop workplace drug and alcohol policy as part of a wider employee welfare policy. Research from employment solicitors Crossland in March found that, in a poll of 500 employers and 500 employees, 35% of staff knew or suspected their colleagues had a drug problem or had taken illegal substances either during or outside work.
As a result of this, the British Medical Association (BMA) has updated its guidance on alcohol and drugs workplace policies. The new guidance now includes a section which specifically addresses the questions of occupational health support for job applicants.
Committee chairman Dr Paul Nicholson outlined the new changes: “The main difference is the new chapter nine, which reinforces the message that health professionals have a responsibility to challenge negative stereotypes and help employers understand that people who have a history of alcohol problems and have successfully taken part in a treatment programme can still be successfully employed.”
The new chapter on Occupational Health support for job applicants looks at various issues. One of those includes the use of “abstinence periods”. The guide states that whilst some laws and regulations specify abstinence periods, where this is not the case, drug-free periods are entirely arbitrary and are of little use in determining an individual’s suitability or readiness for employment. Instead it offers the advice that the best guide is receiving and completing a course of treatment, followed by training and then voluntary work or support to find work. The updated guide also offers advice on the application of post-offer health assessments.
It recommends that occupational physician should consider a range of points when performing or reviewing a post-offer health assessment, including the time the individual has been abstinent is not an indicator of competence. It also states that applications should only be considered on a case by case basis and not by the use of blanket policies. The guide also offers further guidance on other issues such as questions to ask when determining medical fitness to work and monitoring.
Dr Nicholson goes further to state that the new guidance, while aimed for Occupational Health professionals, is also aimed at other health professionals, including relevant HR managers and general employers. The revised report also includes the most up-to-date workplace statistics and evidence from research papers.
Under the Health and Safety Act 1974, employers have a general duty to ensure, as far as is reasonably possible; the health, safety and welfare of their employees. In order to maintain standards and meet these requirements, employers are advised to consider implementing a substance misuse policy.
Recent statistics show how at present there is a wide variation of responses in how employers respond to substance abuse at work. 41% of employers said they have an official drug awareness guide detailing company policy, while 23% said they undertake random drug and alcohol testing among employees. 21% stated they had a programme of training for managers or supervisors on recognizing the signs of drug misuse; 14% said they granted employees time off to seek help, whilst 11% stated they terminate employment. The wide range of responses show the need for clarity on screening employees.
According to the BMA, drug policies are more successful when conceived as part of a health and welfare policy rather than primarily a disciplinary matter. A substance misuse policy will define what is meant by use, and will include statements on the following:
Why the policy exists
To who it applies
The rules regarding alcohol and illicit drugs
The support available to employees
Encouraging those with problems to seek help voluntarily

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