Navigating Substance Abuse in the Workplace: Effective Strategies for Employers

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Drug usage in the workplace – immediate suspension or dismissal?  

It can put colleagues’ safety at risk, cause reputational damage to the organisation, and impact on everyone’s working environment.  

However, the use of recreational drugs either in the workplace, or from home, may also be attributed to the workplace environment. Over 1 in 4 employers have said they had disciplined someone for drugs misuse over the past 2 years.  

  • Would you discipline an employee found to be taking drugs at the weekend? 
  • How would you react to substance abuse?  
  • Do you think it warrants disciplinary action?  
  • Can our weekend habits affect the workplace?  

What does it mean for you, the employer 

The use of drugs can affect a person’s ability to perform to an effective standard. However, it is difficult to manage an employee’s actions outside the workplace. So, what should you consider?  

You have the right to intervene when conduct impacts the business, to uphold the values of the organisation and standards in the workplace. However, you also need to consider the wellbeing of staff, that the organisation owes its staff a duty of care, but to handle the situation with sensitivity.  

What should you consider when discussing concerns with an employee regarding alleged drugs usage? 

  • Take an accurate note of the alleged poor performance, and highlight any patterns of behaviour  
  • Interview the worker privately but avoid making accusations  
  • Provide guidance on support outside the organization  
  • Prepare a plan for future action and monitor progress  
  • Offer assistance 

It is helpful to think of substance abuse as a health and safety problem, so raise awareness and support workers. Employee disclosure can increase the provision of employer support and it should be encouraged.  

Be mindful of fuelling a drinking culture in the workplace that may encourage substance abuse. Focus on prevention, as substance abuse can be caused by heavy workloads, stress levels, and working conditions.  

Finally, think about conducting an investigation to uncover the link between poor performance and substance abuse, or whether the worker has taken their weekend habit into the workplace or whether there is a wider cultural concern in the workplace which is driving the behaviour. 

Capital Law Employment Investigations Unit 

If you are faced with an employment issue that is affecting your workplace culture, our team of experienced independent and impartial employment investigators can help. Please call us for an initial chat on 0808 196 3151 or learn more here. 



Squire Patton Boggs article –  


People Management – substance abuse at work –