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DEVELOPING AN EFFECTIVE DRUGS POLICY

Ashlie Turner provides opinion on the contentious matter of drug testing in the workplace.

RBS Business Online Magazine, ContentLive. 

Drug testing

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Employees are allowed to refuse to take a drugs test, though it is also acceptable in that case for them to face disciplinary action
  • Recent legislation banning the sale of ‘legal highs’, as well as drugs tests to recognise their use, can make it easier for employers to enact policies against them
  • The British Medical Association advises that those who have overcome substance abuse problems can prove valuable employees

Issuing drugs tests for staff can be uncomfortable and may seem unwarranted, but knowing how to deal with such cases is imperative for both employers and employees.

AN UNWANTED LEGACY

As a number of Olympian contenders fail to pass drugs tests, their reputations and the countries they represent have come under scrutiny. The desire to perform, the pressure, the likely fear of being found out, potential feelings of guilt and the prospect of missed opportunities and an uncertain future are all aspects of drug abuse that impact lesser athletes, too.

Drugs policies can be controversial areas for companies, and those that fall victim to substance abuse are often demonised. Setting in place a fair policy on testing and treatment expectations is progressively seen as more productive than simply opting for dismissal.

WHAT ARE COMPANIES ALLOWED TO DO?

Companies are entitled to recommend drugs tests for employees, including a test when someone joins a company. This is not a common procedure in the UK, though its use is reportedly rising, particularly as it may help reduce insurance premiums – especially for those in industrial industries. An employee is allowed to refuse to take a test, although the implications of this may include disciplinary action so long as the employer has reasonable grounds for requesting a test.

“In a tribunal, random testing could be seen as intrusive and heavy handed for an office role”

Ashlie Turner, founder and MD, Magenta HR

Ashlie Turner, founder and MD of Magenta HR, says that a company’s drug policies will depend on which sector it’s in. “We do have [policies for] random testing. You have an [external] organisation who says: ‘We’re going to test 10 people.’ However, it’s not that common to have companies that do that; it depends on the type of role. There’s a fine balance between that and what’s seen as appropriate for the role.”

She’s keen to point out: “In a tribunal, [random testing] would be seen as heavy handed for an office role and may be seen as intrusive.”

She says it is more common to use testing when there’s a suspected problem or for sectors where health and safety is paramount. “We do a lot of work with manufacturing and chemical companies – some firms that operate very dangerous machinery.”

Different policies may be required for different staff members, depending on their role. If an accident is caused by someone under the influence of drugs and alcohol, the company can be held responsible. The same is true if drugs are found on the premises.

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Extreme Weather - Who Covers the Cost when Employees can't get to Work?

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We are used to extreme weather conditions affecting us every now and then, but when severe weather continues indefinitely it can have a major impact on many aspects of business. There's the obvious logistical problems that can create lost business andadditional transport costs but many businesses also have the problem of staff not being able to get to work in the first place. In such instances who covers the cost? 

Unless an employeris contractually obliged to provide transport to and from work for their employees, the onus is on employees to get to work. If employees fail to turn up for work because of severe weather or transport difficulties, the employer is under no obligation to pay them. If an employee's normal mode of transport cannot be used because of disruption due to severe weather conditions the employer should first encourage the employee to explore alternative means of transport or if possible, arrange for them to work from home for a period.  If this is not a viable option then employers may want to provide some time off that can be made up by working extra hours over the following weeks once the situation has improved, provide unpaid leave or allow staff to take holidays.  

Frustrating as it is, it’s important to remember that these situations are out of our control and a pragmatic approach is best. It’s far better to keep safe than brave the elements.

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Striking the Balance During the Party Season

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We all want to enjoy the festivities in the run up to Christmas but office parties are notorious for staff letting down a little too much hair. As an employer, where do you stand if Billy from Accounts has one too many and decides to make an advance while dancing with a colleague?  You, as an employer, can be held vicariously liable for discriminatory acts by employees - even if the event is held off site and out of normal working hours. The claim most likely to arise is probably sexual harassment, but employers should not forget that the law now extends to unwanted conduct on the grounds of age, religion and sexual orientation. Employers should ensure that their policy on harassment is up to date, and has been brought to the attention of all employees - a key first step to providing a defence, should the worst happen.

A tenth of workers embarrass themselves at the Christmas party

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What is Considered Working TIme?

FOLLOWING A RECENT DECISION OF THE EUROPEAN COURT OF JUSTICE, THE GOVERNMENT PROVIDES GUIDANCE ON WHAT CONSTITUTES WORKING TIME.

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Under the Working Time Regulations 1998 working time is defined as any period during which a worker is working, at his or her employer's disposal and carrying out his or her activities or duties, or receiving relevant training. The Government provides guidance on what this includes.

What Counts as Work

What Does Not Count as Work

Time spent travelling for workers who have to travel as part of their job, eg travelling sales representatives or 24-hour plumbers Normal travel to and from work ie commuting
Where a worker has no usual place of work, time spent travelling from and to home for the first and last customer visits of the day Travelling outside normal working hours
Working lunches, eg business lunches Breaks when no work is done, eg lunch breaks
Time spent on call at the workplace Time on call away from the workplace
Paid and some unpaid overtime Unpaid overtime for which a worker has volunteered, eg staying late to finish something off**
Any other time that is treated as "working time" under a contract Paid or unpaid holiday
Job-related training Evening and day-release classes not related to work
Time spent working abroad, in some cases  

Maximum weekly working hours (UK Government website).

Federación de Servicios Privados del sindicato Comisiones Obreras v Tyco Integrated Security SL, Tyco Integrated Fire & Security Corporation Servicios SA Case C 266/14 ECJ.


**While the Government guidance explains that this type of voluntary overtime is not included in working time, it is likely that, where an employee volunteers for overtime at the employer's request, this would count as working time.

 

 

 

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