Alcohol and other drugs

An alcohol and other drugs policy helps employers and employees understand what’s acceptable in the workplace and how issues will be dealt with. This can include testing for alcohol and other drugs.

Use of alcohol and other drugs

Using alcohol or other drugs can lead to impairment at work. An alcohol and other drugs workplace policy must be reasonable. It should be clear about what is and what is not acceptable in the workplace. For example, some employees might be allowed to drink alcohol when they are entertaining clients.

It should explain what happens if employees do not follow the policy, and the process the organisation will follow if it becomes aware of an alcohol or drug problem, or if the policy is breached.

The policy, which will vary from workplace to workplace, should also cover:

  • who it applies to
  • the use of alcohol and drugs outside work when that use might impact the employee’s behaviour or performance at work 
  • the responsibilities of the employer and employees, for example, how the organisation will manage use of alcohol or drugs at work
  • approaches to prevention and education, and other support or rehabilitation that might be available.

It’s important to consider how far the workplace wants to go and what the impact of the policy might be. We strongly encourage employers to consult with their employees when developing a workplace alcohol and drugs policy.

Testing for alcohol and other drugs

Employers who are considering testing employees for alcohol or other drugs should have a workplace policy in place and should record any requirements for testing in writing, for example, in the employment agreement.

Policy must be reasonable

A workplace policy for alcohol and drug testing must be reasonable. Guidance is provided below about things to consider when determining if an alcohol and drug testing policy is reasonable. However, as this is a complex area, we recommend that employers who want to test employees for alcohol and other drugs get legal advice.

  • Consider whether a policy in this area is needed. Employers should have a reasonable belief that employees could be impaired at work, or that testing is needed to manage risks to health and safety. Not every employer needs to test employees for alcohol or other drugs as part of managing their health and safety risks.
  • Consider if testing could compromise employee privacy, particularly when it comes to procedures for sample collection and handling test results. Employers should weigh up employees’ rights to privacy against the need for drug testing in their workplace.

Employee privacy

  • Consider who the policy will apply to, for example, employees working in safety-sensitive areas or whose work directly impacts the safety of others. The policy should be clear about what is and what is not a safety-sensitive area, and whether only safety-sensitive areas are covered by the policy.
  • Consider if targeted or random testing is required to manage risks to safety. 

Targeted testing means testing individual employees for specific reasons. Targeted testing might be a reasonable tool for managing risks if the employer reasonably believes that an employee’s actions, appearance or behaviour suggests they could be under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Random testing means testing employees at random even if they don’t show signs of impairment. Employers considering random testing should make sure their policy clearly explains the reasons for random testing and why it’s needed. For example, it might be a reasonable tool for managing risks where employees are working in safety-sensitive areas.

What a testing policy should cover

The policy, which will vary from workplace to workplace, should be clear about:

  • when and why alcohol and drug testing is required
  • what type of testing may occur
  • when testing may occur 
  • where and how testing may occur 
  • what happens if an employee returns a positive test result, for example, discussion of the results with the employee and re-testing
  • support services that might be available to employees, for example, treatment and rehabilitation. 
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