Professionals with drug and alcohol problems

Drug & alcohol problems at work

Employee rights

Companies are not legally required to implement alcohol and drug policies, nor to pay for treatment for employees with alcohol and drug problems. But employment protection law requires employers to treat dependence as a form or sickness, rather than an immediate cause for dismissal, giving the employee the opportunity to overcome the problem.

Many companies, however, ignore the problem until it is too late and the employee is dismissed due to deteriorating performance. But an employee who is helped from an early stage can recover from their addiction and go cost of recruiting and training a replacement may be greater than the cost of allowing someone time off to get expert help.

Your rights and responsibilities

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) point out in their guide to Drugs Misuse at Work:"You have a general duty under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 to ensure, as far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare of your employees."

As an employee the HSE states that you also have responsibilities: "Similarly, your employees are also required to take reasonable care of themselves and others who could be affected by what they do."

A recent survey by the the Chartered Institute of Personell and Development found that organisations are more likely to provide support where individuals have held their hands up and admitted they have a problem than when problems have been discovered as a result of an incident at work.

What you can do

  • Read your company's policy on alcohol or drugs misuse if they have one. If they do not have a policy then read their healthcare policy for sick employees;
  • Visit your GP and get a diagnosis to present to your employer;
  • Talk confidentially to your line manager about your diagnosed problem, they are likely to have noticed a change in your behaviours already. They should offer you specialist counselling, a referral to an occupational physician, or time off work for you to attend rehab;
  • Ask for time off work to address your addiction;
  • Talk to your GP and/or your company's Occupational Physician about treatment options;
  • If you have a private health insurance plan through your company phone them to see if they will cover all or part of the cost of treatment; 
  • Keep a file of recording all communications between you and your employers;
  • If you are simply dismissed without the offer of any help then you have the right to claim for unfair dismissal from an Employment Tribunal.