Alcohol and drug misuse is a growing problem for business but companies are being encouraged to take a more understanding approach. In an increasingly litigious society, businesses are growing worried by the possibility of employees causing injury to colleagues or members of the public, and the organisation being held responsible in the courts. The effects of alcohol and drugs in the workplace are being taken increasingly seriously and businesses are seeking to protect themselves from employees alienating clients or tarnishing the company reputation while under the influence. A report on alcohol and drug policies, issued by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), with charities Alcohol Concern and Drugscope in December 2001, revealed that alcohol abuse costs the UK around £2.3billion in sickness pay and NHS costs. However, 40% of organisations don't have a formal policy on alcohol or drugs. This, in spite of the fact that among those who did have policies, absence was the most frequently cited reason for introducing alcohol and drug policies. Eric Appleby, director of Alcohol Concern, says government policy should provide clear guidelines for employers, encouraging them to develop fair and effective alcohol policies for the workplace. “Alcohol and drug problems should be primarily regarded as a health issue rather than an immediate cause for dismissal,” he says. “Employers should be encouraged to develop procedures to help staff with problems and use the wide range of statutory and non-statutory services available.” A health issue One company with a long-standing alcohol and drug policy is Standard Life, which revised its policy in 2001 as the original was outdated. Shauna Munro, head of Standard Life's human resources policy development says the company views alcohol and drugs as an occupational health issue, not part of the disciplinary policy. It offers a confidential employee assistance programme and provides counselling at the company's expense. It also has access to a rehabilitation centre. Munro says that alcohol and drug misuse is a fact of life in society and that this will be reflected in the workforce. “We don't conduct alcohol or drug testing as we feel that employee performance is what matters,” she says. “If however, illegal substances are found on the premises it not only becomes a disciplinary but a police matter as Standard Life must abide by the law.” The company takes a helpful approach, but if an employee refuses to accept that there is a problem, or if they refuse or fail to respond to treatment, this will be considered misconduct. Also, heavy use of drug or alcohol outside work, which impacts attendance, performance or conduct in the workplace, is a disciplinary offence. “Ultimately, we don't want to lose valuable people just because of what they do in their private life. That isn't our business,” says Munro. However, not everyone takes such a laissez faire approach. The CIPD report revealed that nearly a third of employers were considering introducing either random drug testing or testing at the recruitment stage. According to Alcohol Concern, most of the UK's workplace testing is in the transport sector where employers are required by law to demonstrate due diligence. Under the Transport and Works Act 1992 it is an offence for certain employees to be unfit through alcohol or drug use whilst working on transport systems such as railways.

P&O Cruises introduced a 'no alcohol' policy in 1989. It conducts random alcohol tests and will be reviewing its position on drug testing later this year. Communications manager Penny Guy says: “As the policy has now been in place more than ten years new employees know the P&O position on this and that taking any alcohol while on duty is in breach of the contract.”