Can you do a random drug test at work in the UK?
Workplace drug testing is increasingly common especially in certain employment sectors. The UK has traditionally been behind both the US and Europe in introducing random drug testing at work, but as the use of recreational drugs has increased, UK employers have been forced to address the issue of employees attending work under the influence of drugs.
Employers who have introduced random drug and alcohol screening recognise the risks posed to the safe operation of their business activities by both drugs and alcohol.
What are the benefits of random drug testing at work?
Random drug and alcohol testing in the workplace introduces a major shift in the relationship between employer and employee. It states emphatically that drug and alcohol use within the employment environment, is not acceptable behaviour.
Introducing or operating random drug testing at work also states clearly that the employer takes the health and safety of the workers it has contracted to undertake an employment role seriously, protecting both them and their colleagues as well as the general public, from the risks of allowing a worker to be under the influence of a drug while at work.
How to do random drug testing at work fairly
By operating a random program of drug testing the employer avoids criticism of targeted or unfair action against an individual. A properly operated random drug screening policy, cannot, by definition, be persecutory or discriminatory. A fairly operated random program of workplace drug testing also achieves the maximum return benefit for the company, let us explain how this works.
Benefits to the company of random drug testing
Business's operating a workplace health and safety program including random drug and alcohol testing, benefit from a workforce with whom they have engaged with. The issues and problems associated with drug and alcohol abuse have been discussed, and any ambiguity regarding the expectations of both parties are brought to the surface and discussed.
Employees understand that they may be asked to do a drug test at any time, the motivational value of this simple understanding should not be underestimated. Put simply, introducing a random drug screening program in the workplace can go a long way in sorting any underlying problems, without ever having to take any disciplinary actions.
A drug and alcohol free workforce is more productive, have less accidents and take less sickness absence.
Failed random drug test at work
This is not to say you are never going to get a positive result ie an employee who fails the random drug test. UK non-negative drug and alcohol workplace screening test results range between 2 and 4% depending on the demographic of the workforce. How an employer handles a non-negative random drug test result (ie a failed random drug test) is critically important and all non negative results should be confirmed with a UKAS accredited lab drug test. We cover this in detail in our guide to workplace drug testing sections of our website.
How to operate random drug testing at work
A random drug testing at work program must be random. It must cover all employees in the business and must operate over a long period of time. There is no absolute guide to the percentage of staff tested or the period of time between testing. Most businesses will drug screen in batches, simply for operational reasons, doing a batch of random drug tests periodically. Screening between 5-10% of employees per year has been suggested as the optimal benefit level, but this only works for large employers. Most small businesses screen a much higher percentage of their workforce, and more frequently, 25% every quarter is not unusual in small businesses employing less than 100 people.
Random drug and alcohol testing must be a contractually agreed term within the employment contract. If not then the employer needs to introduce the random drug testing policy into the employment terms and conditions, with the agreement of the whole workforce, ideally before they start any random drug testing.
Benefits to the employers or random drug testing
The benefits to employers are multiple and include higher productivity, lower accident rates, less failed roadside checks of drivers, lower insurance premium options and multiple other operational cost savings and benefits including tendering opportunities for contracts requiring drug screened workers. They also help employers meet their obligations to provide a safe working environment for all their employees.
Other less obvious but still valuable benefits to the employer, of introducing random drug testing at work, can be reduced staff turnover, reduced absenteeism and lateness, reduced theft from the workplace and a healthier workforce. It also help to identify employees who have a problem with either drug or alcohol misuse, and enables employers to offer them help or support, and referral to relevant drug or alcohol agencies.
Benefits to the employees or random drug testing
The benefits to employees are a better and safer workplace for everyone, and a better working environment and improved staff morale. Working with a colleague at work who is under the influence of drugs or alcohol can put a strain on the whole team, as well as the obvious health and safety implications.
Does random drug testing infringe on people's privacy rights
To avoid an infringement of the UK data protection act the results of a random drug test must remain confidential, even if the drug test is failed.
Random drug testing at work your rights in the UK
Employers can ask workers to take a drug test at work at any time, randomly or otherwise. If the employment contract does not include random workplace drug testing in the employment terms and conditions, then the employee has the right to refuse to provide a sample for random drug testing. No action can be taken by the employer in response to such a refusal.