Firing someone who is struggling with alcohol abuse cannot be done easily.

An employer can suspect an employee to be intoxicated if they show several of these signs: decrease in job performance, being irascible, dealing with confusion, poor timekeeping.

Can you be sacked for being an alcoholic?

Even if the employer becomes aware you have a drinking problem, they cannot dismiss you right away. 

The employer can dismiss you if they conclude your condition is affecting your ability to perform your tasks, or that you are creating safety and health issues at work. Taking disciplinary action sometimes means dismissal. 

Most companies have strict alcohol and drugs policies. This policy clearly stipulates that alcohol and drugs consumption is prohibited while at work. If found intoxicated, the employer has serious reasons to dismiss you.

Can you get fired for having a drug problem?

The employment law is made to protect you from being fired from your job if you are dealing with addiction. The legal responsibility of your employer (to take care of the wellbeing of all their employees, and customers) can force them into taking disciplinary actions that can lead to your dismissal.

You may lose your job if your judgement and concentration are affected by substance abuse, leading to poor job performance. These consequences of substance abuse can put yourself and your colleagues at risk. 

The overall company’s performance can be affected if you perform poorly or start taking lots of time off as you need to recover from hangovers. 

The policy about alcohol and drug misuse at work is specially created to protect employees from the dangerous consequences of substance abuse and to encourage those employees with addiction to ask for professional help.

Such a policy should include the following:

  • A statement which stipulates that the policy applies to all employees within the organisation. 
  • The potential dangers generated by substance abuse and the problems that can occur if the situation is left untreated within the organisation.
  • The rules which emphasize the prohibition of alcohol or drug use at work.
  • A statement about addictions seen as an illness and the need to be treated as such.
  • Types of disciplinary actions.
  • How to get help through the company.
  • The assurance of confidentiality.
  • The necessity for paid sick leave when professional treatment is needed.
  • The rights of an employee who wants to get back to work after being treated properly for addiction and the rights of an employee who is dealing with relapse after treatment.

If you are struggling with addiction and you are worried you are going to get fired make sure you get a copy of the drugs and alcohol policy of your company. The first step is to find out the position taken by your employer in this case. The next step involves you asking for help. Castle Health specialists can assist you 24/7 if you want to regain self-control and sobriety. 

Is Drug Addiction a disability in the UK?

The Equality Act 2010 (Disability) Regulations 2010 (SI 2010/2128) stipulates that addiction to alcohol, nicotine, or any other substance (exception is made for the addiction from the administration of medically prescribed drugs) is not considered a disability.

In some cases, the employee may deal with a physical or mental condition that is considered a disability within the statements of the Act. Depression or liver health problems can occur because of alcohol addiction. 

For these specific cases, the cause of the disability is not relevant. If alcohol dependence is a side effect of another medical condition, the employee is affected by a disability.

For each case of addiction, the employer should investigate to find out whether the employee is suffering from a medical condition, caused by alcohol or drug dependence, which is a disability.

What to do if you suspect an employee is on drugs?

An employer can follow specific steps to properly investigate and document any situation.

If you are struggling with alcohol or drug addiction, you may cause significant problems at work (for employers, co-workers, and managers). 

You may be dealing with some of the following:

  • decreased job performance
  • being late for work or not showing up at all
  • lack of productivity
  • increased medical and workers’ compensation bills
  • causing workplace violence problems

When abusing drugs and alcohol, an employee can make a workplace dangerous, resulting in legal liability and other legal difficulties.

Here are the steps that the management will follow to better understand the situation of an employee who is abusing alcohol or drugs:

1. Check the company’s policy

Each company should have a written drug and alcohol testing policy. If the employer has any suspicion about an employee’s behaviour and their situation can ask for drug and alcohol testing. 

If the company has a general policy statement it will not be enough to permit testing. In this case, the employer should consult a legal counsel to help the organization to implement one.

2. Gather proofs

An employer can gather proofs and document any concerns, complaints, and behaviour patterns. If your colleagues are worried about you being intoxicated at work and displaying improper behaviour, you may expect your supervisor to start documenting these complaints.

3. Investigate

The management can also start investigating the situation by observing your behaviour. The supervisor can pay attention to:

  • irascibility
  • slurred speech
  • unusual smells
  • anxiety
  • excessive sweating
  • drowsiness

4. Schedule the meeting with the employee

After the situation is documented, the employer can schedule a meeting with the employee suspected of alcohol or drug abuse.  A second party can be usually present at the meeting to act as a witness. The management can follow at this point the steps stated in the company’s policy.

 5. Drug test

When deciding on drug testing, the company should have your written consent. If you refuse the test, but the company’s policy states you agreed to drug testing, the organization can decide an immediate termination of your employment.

6. Conclusion

If the drug or alcohol test results are negative, the employer must return you to your prior job as soon as possible. If it is positive, the management can send you to therapy or treatment. Your return to work is conditioned by your consenting to these conditions.

If you deal with relapse and do not communicate to your superior, the company has the right to terminate your work contract.

Is drinking at work gross misconduct?

Gross misconduct is considered an act which has such an impact that it justifies dismissal without notice. These acts can destroy the relationship of confidence between the employer and employee, resulting in the impossibility to continue the collaboration.

What means gross misconduct depends on the field and the nature of the business for each company. 

When an employee is working under the influence of drugs or alcohol can cause certain dangers such as accidents, low job performance or absenteeism. 

Do employers have the right to drug test the employees?

Any company will make sure to keep the workplace clean from substance abuse. Drug misuse can cause health problems for the user and can increase the risk of accidents at work. An intoxicated employee is struggling to perform the work task, increasing the risks for low performance.

As the safety risks can be multiple, each company has a policy on the issue. The policy can include the following:

  • what the policy is referring to
  • how drug tests will be made
  • type of support available for drug users
  • what disciplinary action can result from drug misuse

Your employer may decide to drug test the employees. For this action, the management needs the signature and acceptance of the employees. You can grant your employer the right to test you if you previously signed a contractual occupational health and safety policy.

If the employer wants to make random tests of the employees, the tests need to be random, otherwise, this is considered discriminatory action.

When the management wants to conduct searches of the employee’s body, they need to have a written policy on this subject. Searches can be conducted only if they respect privacy, are made by a member of the same sex, and take place while a witness is present.

You cannot be forced to take a drug test, but if you decide to refuse it after you signed an occupational health and safety policy, you may have to deal with disciplinary action. These actions can include being fired.

How to deal with an employee who is under the influence of drugs?

When the behaviour of an employee under drug influence is affecting the workplace, the employer has the right and responsibility of protecting the staff.

When doing so, the management must take into consideration several factors: what is the main cause that makes the employee abuse substances, is the employee consuming drugs while at work or is coming to work already intoxicated. 

When the employee is intoxicated during work hours the management should look at these things: if alcohol is available for consumption at the workplace employees can drink alcohol if they limit their intake.

When the employee is drinking outside the working hours, the supervisor should try to understand the root of the problem, if the individual is dealing with emotional issues, mental health problems, or life events (death of a family member, divorce).

Before firing a member of staff, it is recommended to review all the available information about the employee’s situation.

An employer can observe if a recent change in the employee’s schedule or responsibilities is negatively affecting their wellbeing. Some people may start drinking or using drugs when they feel stressed at work. If this is the case, the management can investigate further and take certain actions such as sending the employee to therapy, instead of firing that person.

What to do if an employee is under the influence?

When the work performance of an employee is affected by alcohol or drug abuse, the employer should consider healthy ways to give support to the employee. 

Once the employer gathers all the information necessary about the employee situation, they need to schedule a meeting with that person. The discussion about the employee’s addictive habits must always be managed confidentially and in private, away from other colleagues.

An employee who is struggling with alcohol addiction can cause difficulties for the company. Even for these cases, the employer should treat alcohol or drug problems as a medical problem. The person dealing with addiction should be given emotional support for the entire recovery process.

The management can ask the employee struggling with addiction to contact their doctor or a rehab specialist. As an employer it is important to reassure your employee that you will support them if they seek professional help and handle their situation.

Agreeing on future actions and arranging regular meetings to discuss progress and improvements is also part of the steps that an employer can take in this situation.

After the employees recover, the management can be surprised by the positive transformation in their life and at work. Recovering from substance abuse is possible, so an employer should consider adding mental health or recovery support services into their workplace.

Are you worried about your addiction interfering with your job performance?

The first step to take if you are dealing with addiction and you are worried about your job is to ask for help. Check your employer’s drug and alcohol policy to understand what kind of help you can expect from your employer. In most cases, admitting you are dealing with an addiction will not result in losing your job.

At Castle Health, we support employees and employers to help those struggling with dependence to access one of our confidential and customized rehab programmes. Using a personalised programme plan, we can help the person with an addiction solve their substance problems, and regain self-control to get back to work. Our rehab specialists can support those struggling with addiction to avoid relapse when the programme is completed.

If you are an employee who is worried that your addiction will affect your ability to perform your job, or if you are an employer who is worried about an employee with addiction, call 0808 291 4592 or email and the professional team at Castle Health will help you.