I’ve spent over twenty-five years in business including executive and senior management roles in mining, energy and government. I’ve implemented drug and alcohol programs, including at mine sites, and I’ve too often seen how problematic use of drugs and alcohol affects safety, productivity and relationships.
At the same time, I can also tell you firsthand that I have seen how employment can make all the difference for someone in recovery.
Employers have a general duty of care to provide a safe workplace that is free of health risks, as is reasonably practicable, including those that may arise from inappropriate use of alcohol or other drugs.
It can take days to recover from drugs like ecstasy, methamphetamines and amphetamines and this means that drug use on the weekend can still impact someone in the workplace during the week. If you are concerned that a team member is high or drunk while at work, it's important to take action. You need to ensure they do not create a safety risk to themselves or others, and they safely get home. You may require them to have a drug test, you may send them to get help (such as a doctor or Employee Assistance Program) or send them home. A workplace drug and alcohol policy will make it clear what action you take.
You can avoid creating a culture centred around alcohol at your business. I know of a firm where their leadership team would gather in the boss’ office every Friday for afternoon drinks, while their employees were expected to still be working . The first thing the new boss did was get rid of the alcohol onsite – starting with the manager’s drink fridge. She understood that alcohol consumption at work makes for risky business. This wasn’t about being a party pooper; the tone comes from the top and that the managers needed to model the behaviour being expected of everyone.
If you are offering your employees alcohol at a work event, then you have a duty of care to manage the potential health and safety risks associated with that drinking. This includes ensuring there are limits on the amount of alcoholic drinks provided, and that staff can get home safely such as designated drivers, taxi vouchers or a bus at the end of the night.
Employee Assistance Programs aren’t just for big business. I know a small firm who offers this support to their five employees. These programs can provide guidance and counselling on a whole range of challenges employees face both inside and outside the workplace. They help people deal with everyday issues like stress and depression before they turn into major problems. Sounds expensive? Don’t be put off by the cost, as an EAP program is an investment and research shows that for every dollar invested in an Employee Assistance Program there’s a five dollar return in improved productivity and reduced absenteeism.
I encourage employers to create a work environment where staff feel comfortable enough to come forward if they recognise that they have an issue with problematic drugs or alcohol or if they’re concerned about their mental health. Being proactive is good for business because you don’t want to find out someone’s impaired at work after there has been an incident.
If your business doesn’t yet have an alcohol and drug policy, now is the time to get one. Seek specialist advice, check with your industry body or you can call WorkSafe Victoria’s Advisory Service on 1800 136 089.
 (Hargrave et al, 2008; Jorgensen, 2007) Hargrave, G. E., Hiatt, D., Alexander, R., & Shaffer, I. A. (2008). EAP treatment impact on presenteeism and absenteeism: Implications for return on investment. Journal of Workplace Behavioral Health, 23(3), 283-293. Jorgensen, D. G. (2007). Demonstrating EAP value. Journal of Employee Assistance, 37(3), 24-26.