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Every business will have health and safety concerns to varying degrees, with the level of regulation proportionate to the level of risk within your workplace. You need to ensure that you meet what the law asks of you to mitigate any health or safety risks according to the specific context of your business. One of these areas you need to manage is drug and alcohol usage in the workplace. Where drug and alcohol usage can lead to issues within your business, you should seriously consider developing drug and alcohol policies to reduce their adverse effects. However, you should work together with your employees to find a solution rather than use these policies as a mechanism for punishment. Therefore, this article will provide guidance on whether your business needs drug and alcohol policies and what this may look like.

Managing Health and Safety at Your Business

Unless you run a volunteer organisation, your business is likely a PCBU (Person Conducting a Business or Undertaking). A PCBU is an organisation or business with various obligations under health and safety law, and you need to ensure your business manages these obligations appropriately. Both you and your employees have a duty to ensure the workplace is safe. The extent of this duty will vary according to the level of risk in your industry.

For example, high-risk industries like construction or food product manufacture will have different health and safety requirements than an accounting office would.

As a part of managing your health and safety legal obligations, you should reduce the risk of employee impairment where possible. Drug and alcohol usage will affect your employees’ judgement and decision-making, which can be a hazard. Therefore, you need to reduce the risk of these effects wherever you can. Especially when an employees’ behaviour could negatively impact themselves or someone else’s, such as:

  • providing services to vulnerable people;
  • operating complex or dangerous machinery;
  • driving vehicles; or
  • offering health services.

Your employees have to comply with any reasonable health and safety policies you set, including drug and alcohol policies where applicable.

Does My Business Need Drug and Alcohol Policies?

If drugs or alcohol affect you or your employees’ judgement in the workplace, this could lead to:

  • unsatisfied customers or clients;
  • dangerous accidents;
  • damaged property;
  • reputational penalties;
  • lost productivity; and
  • legal liability.

An employee under the influence of drugs or alcohol not only puts their own work and safety into jeopardy but also that of other employees’. Other employees will have to fix their mistakes and potentially increase their own workload, leading to higher stress levels. If there are health and safety issues at play, there is also the potential for legal action. Where this is an issue at your business, you should have reasonable and effective drug and alcohol policies in place.

With an appropriate drug and alcohol policy that you tailor to your business needs, you can clearly set expectations for how staff treat drugs and alcohol in the workplace. 

Drug Testing and Employee Privacy

A common practice alongside drug and alcohol policies is drug testing. However, this process intrudes on employee privacy. So, you need to be careful to strike a balance between managing your health and safety obligations and respecting your employees’ privacy rights.

You can include a drug test as part of your pre-employment screening process, informing hirees that this is a condition of their employment in your safety-sensitive business. You need a justifiable reason for this. Where you have identified impairment caused by drugs or alcohol as a health and safety risk in your workplace, drug testing may be an appropriate tool to help manage that risk. The higher the risk at your business, the more you need to do to manage that risk.

For example, where you hire employees for your construction business where you work with dangerous machinery, a drug test may be reasonable for health and safety reasons.

Developing Effective Drug and Alcohol Policies

To develop an effective drug and alcohol policy, you should:

  • tailor it to your unique business context;
  • develop its requirements with your employees, listening to their feedback and concerns;
  • use other methods for drug and alcohol management alongside it, such as education and treatment options; and
  • not use it solely as a form of punishment, focusing instead on rehabilitation and moving forward.

If you use drug testing, your drug and alcohol policy should outline:

  • what situations would justify a drug test;
  • the employee’s options; and
  • the process that would occur in the event of a positive result.

Your policy will outline the responsibilities of you and your employees around managing drug and alcohol usage, as well as what is and is not appropriate. Community groups such as the NZ Drug Foundation have resources to help with developing effective and collaborative policies. You can also seek legal advice to ensure you meet your legal requirements for health and safety in the workplace.

Key Takeaways

You and your employees must ensure your workplace is safe. Part of that is making sure drugs and alcohol do not cause impairment that would lead to dangerous risks. Your drugs and alcohol policy can help guide this process. If you would like more information or help with developing your business’ drug and alcohol policy, contact LegalVision’s regulatory and compliance lawyers on 0800 005 570 or fill out the form on this page.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does my business need a drug and alcohol policy?

If drug or alcohol impairment is likely to be a health and safety risk at your business, you should have a drug and alcohol policy. It should be reasonable and apply to your particular business context.

What is a PCBU?

A PCBU is a Person Conducting a Business or Undertaking. This is a broad legal term in workplace health safety law to describe businesses with health and safety duties.

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