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Employee Drug and Alcohol Policy: Overview, Scope, & Legal Framework

09 April, 2024

Workers wearing safety gears while communicating in a field

An employee drug and alcohol policy is a set of regulations that Australian companies implement to manage substance misuse issues. The scope of such company policy typically covers the prohibition of illicit substances and employee expectations. It may also include testing regimes, disciplinary measures, and Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs). Nevertheless, there are legal frameworks surrounding this workplace policy. It may involve the Fair Work Act and the Work Health and Safety Act.

Harmful alcohol consumption and the influence of drugs can have severe consequences in the workplace. It can decrease productivity, and increase accidents, legal liabilities, and other work-related risks. Hence, a company needs to have an effective policy statement. It mitigates safety risks or safety issues and promotes workplace health and productivity. This article will present an overview of alcohol and drug policy for workers, its scope, and legal framework.

Overview of the Employee Drug and Alcohol Policy

An employee drug and alcohol policy is a set of guidelines established by an organisation to manage and control the use of substances among workers. It outlines clear rules regarding the possession, distribution, and consumption of alcohol and drugs on company premises. Accordingly, it defines the code of behaviour required and specifies the consequences or measures for breaches.

The policy serves as a reference point for both employers and workers. It sets out the acceptable standards or corrective measures expected regarding substance use. Also, it ensures that everyone understands the boundaries and repercussions. Nevertheless, organisations implement it to maintain a safe and productive work environment. It eliminates the potential risk of harm associated with substance misuse issues.

Higher management representatives or Human Resources (HR) typically implement and manage the policy. They are responsible for ensuring the guidelines are up-to-date, compliant with special requirements, and communicated. Furthermore, these policies are standard in jobs with safety-critical workplace factors. It may include rail transport, medical practitioners, and construction industries.

Purpose of the Policy

  • Promotes Safety Initiative: The guideline seeks to ensure the safety of employees. By discouraging alcohol misuse and drug abuse, it minimises the risk of drug and alcohol-related incidents.
  • Enhances a Productive Workplace: A clear policy helps maintain high professionalism and work quality.
  • Maintains Legal Compliance: Companies ensure they fully comply with laws, relevant factors, and industrial agreements. Thus, it avoids potential legal challenges.
  • Supports Employee Well-Being: It demonstrates the commitment of the company to occupational health. Typically, they provide EAPs and rehabilitation services.
  • Protects the Reputation of the Organisation: It signals to clients, partners, and the public that the business operates with integrity.

A lab technician collecting saliva samples from a female employee

Scope of the Employee Drug and Alcohol Policy

Foremost, the scope of an employee drug and alcohol policy lies in its application. Typically, the guideline applies to everyone in the organisation. It is regardless of their role, position, or employment status. Secondly, the policy clearly outlines behaviours that are unacceptable regarding drug and alcohol use. It includes the use, possession, distribution, or sale of illegal drugs or alcohol on company premises.

Thirdly, some businesses include the regulation of prescription medications. These substances are legal. However, there are instances that it can be misused or abused. Fourthly, workers must report to work in a condition that allows them to perform their duties effectively and safely. The policy specifies that coming to work impaired or becoming impaired while at work is strictly prohibited.

Furthermore, to enforce the policy and identify violations, organisations may implement alcohol and drug testing programs. These can include pre-employment screening, random testing, reasonable suspicion testing, blanket testing, or post-accident testing. Additionally, recognising the challenges of substance abuse, the policy offers information about EAPs and rehabilitation programs.

Testing Procedures

Organisations often choose urine testing. It is due to its effectiveness and cost-efficiency in detecting substance use. Also, it can identify a wide range of substances and their metabolites. Another popular approach is oral fluid testing. It is less invasive and provides quick results. It is primarily valuable for detecting recent substance use.

Additionally, hair testing allows organisations to assess the substance use of a worker over a more extended period, typically up to 90 days. Furthermore, blood testing is the most accurate method. However, it is less common as it is invasive and costly. Lastly, they may use breathalysers for alcohol testing.

A hard hat, a book, and a gavel

Legal Framework Surrounding the Employee Drug and Alcohol Policy

In Australia, the legal framework for employee drug and alcohol policy is founded on several key pieces of legislation. Foremost, the Fair Work Act 2009 governs the employer-employee relationship. Under this act, employers are tasked with providing a safe work environment. Hence, this implicitly includes managing the influence of alcohol and drugs. The act also protects employees from unfair treatment.

Complementing the Fair Work Act, the Work Health and Safety Act requires employers to manage health and safety risks in the workplace proactively. It includes preventing accidents and injuries that could result from drug or alcohol impairment. These laws encourage employers to identify potential risks related to substance use and to implement a variety of control measures.

Moreover, Australian laws mandate that these policies respect individual privacy. Employers must handle the testing process and results confidentially. Thus, they only share information with those who need or are authorised to know. Transparency about how data is managed is crucial to maintaining trust. Nevertheless, employers often develop policies within this legal framework.

Sanctions for Violating the Policy

When crafting sanctions for policy violations, the company tailors disciplinary actions to the severity and nature of the infraction. These may range from warnings for minor offences to termination of employment for severe breaches. Accordingly, employers can suspend or transfer employees.

Additionally, the company often mandates participation in drug and alcohol education programs or counselling as part of the sanction. The approach emphasises the commitment of employers to employee well-being. It aims to address the root causes of substance use and support the rehabilitation of employees. Nevertheless, most companies have EAPs in place to aid workers.

Conclusion

In conclusion, implementing a comprehensive employee drug and alcohol policy is crucial. These are regulations set by an organisation to manage substance use among workers. It serves as a reference for both employers and employees. Accordingly, it promotes safety, productivity, and well-being, maintains legal compliance, and protects the reputation of the company. Nevertheless, these policies are common in safety-sensitive duties like rail transport and the construction industry.

Furthermore, the guideline covers a broad range of matters. It includes the applications, unacceptable behaviours, managing prescribed medications, prohibition of impaired workers, and testing and support programs. The testing procedure may involve urine, saliva, hair, blood, and breath. Moreover, there are legal frameworks surrounding the policy. It includes the Fair Work Act, Workplace Health and Safety Act, and the respect for individual privacy. Additionally, knowing the sanctions for violating the policy is crucial. It can range from warnings to termination.

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