Skip to main content

Alcohol and substance abuse and the use of alcohol in the workplace

The University expects a standard of conduct from its students and employees that provides a safe and healthy environment for themselves and others. The University is aware of its legal obligations and its obligations to the health and safety of other employees and students and will do everything possible to protect them at all times.

In response to the reality of the use of drugs, including alcohol, the University has chosen to adopt a policy of harm reduction. ‘Harm reduction’ describes a variety of policy and practice interventions aimed at reducing negative outcomes of the use of drugs, including alcohol, to users, their communities and wider society. It is supported by the WHO, UNODC and ECMDDA[1]. The primary focus of harm reduction is on the safety and wellbeing of the person and those around them rather than on their use of drugs and alcohol. UoE will continue to work proactively to reduce the harmful impact of alcohol and other drugs in order to prioritise the safety, health and wellbeing of everyone in our community.

[1] United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime. Reducing the Adverse Health and Social Consequences on Drug Abuse: A Comprehensive Approach. UNDOC. (2017). European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction. Annual Report to the European Monitoring. EMCDDA. (2014).

The use of alcohol should not however have a detrimental effect on safety, attendance and work performance. If issues regarding the inappropriate use of alcohol do occur, procedures are in place to deal with them. In some working areas alcohol should never be consumed during working hours (see Section 5).

Under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971[2], it is a criminal offence for UoE to knowingly permit the use, production or supply of any controlled drugs on its premises. Under the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016[3] it is an offence for UoE to knowingly permit the production, supply, import or export of any substance if it is likely to be used for its psychoactive effects and regardless of its potential for harm. The only exemptions from the Act are nicotine, alcohol, caffeine, medicinal products and those already controlled by the Misuse of Drugs Act.

UoE must operate in the context of national legislation and would be committing a criminal offence were it to knowingly permit the use, production or supply of any controlled drugs on its premises. Therefore, UoE cannot allow the possession, use or supply of controlled drugs or psychoactive substances on its premises.

The University views substance abuse and alcohol dependency as medical conditions rather than disciplinary matters. However, there may be occasions when disciplinary measures will need to be taken. Failure to comply with this policy could therefore result in disciplinary action.

While the University has an interest in the well-being of its members of staff, what they do in their private lives is generally outside the scope of this policy unless it affects their work, interferes with the legitimate activities of other members of the University, brings the University into disrepute, or risks their safety or that of others.

There is a separate policy for students studying at the University. Where someone is both a student and a member of staff, the relevant matter could be considered under both policies as appropriate. Post Graduate Research students will be considered under the Student Drugs and Alcohol Policy, save in relation to their specific employment role.

[2] Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.

[3] Psychoactive Substances Act 2016.

Throughout this document, ‘substance’ is intended to include illegal drugs, prescribed and non-prescribed medication, alcohol, solvents, nicotine, psychoactive substances under the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016 (‘legal highs’) and any other ‘illicit substance’ covered by the Misuse of Drugs Act (1971).

Substance misuse is defined as: ‘the intermittent or continual use of alcohol or substances which causes detriment to an individual’s health, social functioning or work performance, and which affects efficiency, productivity, safety, attendance, timekeeping or conduct in the University’. This definition covers usage outside the workplace but where the effects have or may have an impact on an employee’s functioning at work or employment.

This policy aims:

  1. To ensure that the University meets its obligations to safeguard the health, safety and welfare of its employees under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.
  2. To promote the sensible and appropriate use of alcohol among employees, as it relates to the workplace.
  3. To prevent and reduce the incidence of alcohol and substance abuse in the workplace.
  4. To recognise that alcohol and substance use and dependency may be a health condition and to encourage, assist and appropriately support employees who may have issues with alcohol and substances - and to advise their managers - with a view to ensuring that the employee receives appropriate support and concerns and are consistently managed.
  5. To foster a climate which will encourage individuals experiencing these health issues to come forward for help in the knowledge that they will receive support.
  6. To give managers a clear framework within which to deal with alcohol and substance abuse issues constructively and to describe the procedures to be followed when dealing with an employee who is suspected to be suffering from substance abuse or alcohol dependency.
  7. To provide guidance for dealing with employees who are suffering from long-term substance abuse or alcohol dependency.
  8. To inform employees about the consequences of using or supplying controlled drugs or partaking in unauthorised alcohol consumption whilst at work.

This policy sets out the University’s rules and strict instructions for the use of alcohol in the workplace at the same time as promoting an environment in which the use of alcohol in certain areas and illicit drugs is forbidden. Employees who are suffering from substance abuse should be able to seek help without fear of recrimination. The University recognises that it has a duty of care towards its employees and will therefore provide or signpost employees to health information and support as necessary and appropriate.

The University will consider each case individually on its own merits and will endeavour to act reasonably. It is not the University’s intention to intrude on the privacy of individuals, particularly in health matters, where their condition does not affect their conduct or effectiveness at work.

The University must, however, be concerned where health or behaviour impairs the conduct, safety or work performance of its employees and it recognises that the misuse of substances or alcohol dependency may be a cause of such impairment. A suspected problem cannot be ignored; to do so would be risking committing an offence particularly in relation to the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974 and /or the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regs 1999.

The possession and supply of drugs covered by the Misuse of Drugs Act (1971) is against the law. The University has a legal duty to inform the police of any incident involving controlled substances, which could result in criminal prosecution. The University may also take action against employees who are involved in illegal drug activities off University premises, if such activity may have an impact on the University, its students or its employees.

Alcohol can impair judgement. It can also affect conduct and performance. All employees have a duty to ensure that they are fit for work and are expected to perform and act at a reasonable level. If, as a result of excessive or inappropriate alcohol consumption, they cannot discharge their responsibilities safely and to an appropriate standard or they behave inappropriately then action will be taken. This may include applying the disciplinary procedure.

The definition of what constitutes a sensible level of drinking will depend on the work being undertaken as well as each employee’s physiology. However, it is expected that employees will err on the side of caution in ensuring that alcohol does not affect safety or performance. Examples where no alcohol should be consumed either during work hours or where employees should not be under the influence of alcohol whilst at work (“exclusion zones”) include:

  • Positions where the level of precision required may mean that a person must be able to operate equipment at such a high level of performance that they even have to abstain from alcohol during their leisure time;
  • Positions within laboratories or any areas dealing with harmful / flammable / explosive substances;
  • Positions using machinery;
  • Customer Service roles;
  • Positions which require the employee to drive a vehicle;
  • Where the employee has been given a specific instruction from their manager not to consume alcohol at the workplace.
  • The University does not impose a complete ban on alcohol at work or during meal-breaks for employees outside of the areas stated above. For instance, at a celebration to mark a particular distinction gained by a colleague, or a special event in the life of a department, or when marking the retirement of a colleague, it may be appropriate to toast the event with an alcoholic drink (provided non-alcoholic alternatives are available). However, nothing in this policy should be taken to imply that in any workplace situation the consumption of alcohol is encouraged or recommended or acceptable in every work situation.

Where Colleges/Professional Services have assessed that there is a risk of the effects of alcohol, these Colleges/Professional Services will define the exclusions zones and these areas/ working tasks will be clearly communicated to all employees.

Action that will be taken in the event of suspected unreasonable alcohol consumption or substance misuse

Immediate Action

If a colleague or line manager suspects that an employee has consumed alcohol, is under the influence of alcohol in a defined College/Professional Service exclusion zone, or has a role as set out in section 5 above, or is under the influence of drugs/substance misuse, the employee will be removed from the area or role immediately.

The manager should assess whether they pose a continued risk to themselves or others and reassign the work, remove them from their role or send them home. The manager should advise the employee of the reasons for the actions.

In the unlikely event of a security issue, Estate Patrol should be contacted.

On return to work

The line manager will be required to have a formal conversation with the employee at a suitable time to discuss the reasons for the actions which led to their removal, any appropriate action that will be taken and any support that may be provided.

Line managers should inform HR about any ongoing action and can access support from HR to assist with this conversation, if required.

The University accepts that in some cases an employee may have a health condition as a result of dependence on alcohol or substance misuse. In such cases, the University will take steps to encourage, assist and support the employee.

In other cases, the University will apply the Employee Disciplinary Procedure to deal with the irresponsible and deliberate misuse of alcohol or substance abuse. For more information see section 10 below. The Disciplinary Procedure specifies the following examples of gross misconduct which may lead to dismissal:

  • Serious incapability whilst on duty brought on by alcohol or substance misuse;
  • Severe breach of health, safety and hygiene rules or acting in a manner dangerous to others.

It is recognised that alcohol and substance abuse issues are primarily matters of health and social concern and that sufferers need support with their health issues. Managers should use the University’s Absence Code of Practice and Managing Performance (Capability) Policy for guidance and to ensure consistency of treatment.

Employees who suspect or are aware that they have a problem with substance abuse will be encouraged to seek medical help through Occupational Health, the University Employee Assistance Program, their GP, or directly with an appropriate agency. (See list at Appendix 1. This list is not exhaustive).

Any employee who has been identified as possibly having an alcohol or substance abuse problem which is thought to be affecting their conduct and/or performance at work will be asked to meet with their manager to discuss the matter and referred to Occupational Health for advice and guidance.

Where appropriate, Occupational Health will advise and signpost the employee to relevant places for support. With the employee’s consent Occupational Health will keep the employee’s GP informed of progress.

In any discussion of an alcohol or drug related problem (whether at the initiative of the individual or manager) the same rules of confidentiality would apply with respect to these conditions as to any other health complaint. However, behaviour associated with misuse may have to be disclosed or discussed with other appropriate people where there is evidence of criminal activity, abuse of a professional position or potential harm to students, colleagues or other University service users.

Leave to undergo treatment will be dealt with under the University’s Absence Code of Practice.

An employee identified as having a potential problem who declines help and whose behaviour or performance at work continues to be a source of concern will be subject to formal action under the appropriate University procedure.

Continued failure to engage with managers or to seek support and assistance with any alcohol or substance abuse issue may ultimately lead to termination of contract of employment.

It is recognised that relapses do occur. Any employee with an identified alcohol and substance abuse condition, which has been confirmed by Occupational Health, who relapses, may be given one further opportunity to obtain support and treatment, provided:

  • They are honest and open about their illness.
  • They can demonstrate the support and assistance they are getting.
  • They can commit to a return to work date which is acceptable to the employer and by which time they will be fit to work (as confirmed by Occupational Health).
  • They have not by their actions committed an illegal act.
  • They have not by their actions placed the health and safety of others at risk.

Alcohol dependency and substance abuse are not in themselves disciplinary offences (unless this takes place whilst on university premises and / or has an adverse effect on the individual’s performance, safety of themselves or others or brings the University into disrepute) and in most cases will be dealt with as any other health condition.

Where there is an identified alcohol or substance abuse problem the aim would be rehabilitation and support with re-entry to the work situation being an important part of that process. There may be a requirement to move an employee away from their normal work duties during this time, to protect the safety of themselves and others who may be affected. The provision of alternative work will be subject to a timeframe that is considered “reasonable” for rehabilitation.

In more serious cases where an employee is working in a hazardous environment that is safety critical (e.g. using machinery, electrical equipment, dangerous substances, working at height) where instances of alcohol or drug misuse could have serious consequences, the employee will be removed from the area of work immediately.

Where a manager is satisfied that an offence or work problem has occurred e.g. absenteeism, violent behaviour, unsafe acts or substandard work, drinking alcohol in an exclusion zone, which results from or reflects alcohol or drug use, this must be taken into account in determining the appropriate course of action, following consultation from HR. It is important that the appropriate level of confidentiality is maintained, as would be the case with any other health related matter.

Employees should not be left in any doubt about the possible consequences of using, growing, possessing or supplying controlled drugs. (i.e. disciplinary action and police involvement will be instigated). Where substance or alcohol abuse has resulted in actual harm, loss or damage affecting another member of staff, student or property belonging to the university then appropriate action will be taken.

Dealing with an employee with an alcohol or substance dependency

Alcohol or substance dependence may come to the attention of a manager in several ways. For example, directly from the employee concerned, through information supplied by a colleague or other person, through misconduct or absenteeism, and /or through deterioration in work performance.

On becoming aware of a serious or potentially serious substance or alcohol problem the manager will, in discussion with the employee, arrange a management referral to Occupational Health. Occupational Health will offer support and advice and where appropriate seek assistance from the GP to facilitate referral to another agency and monitor progress. Subject to the rules of professional confidentiality, Occupational Health will provide advice and information to HR regarding to the employee’s fitness for work and provide recommendations regarding other work that may be suitable during the rehabilitation process if their current role is considered unsafe to undertake.

It is of course also possible for an employee to choose to seek advice direct from their GP or other outside agency. If this is the case, the normal standards of confidentiality will be observed. As far as it is possible, with the employee’s consent, Occupational Health may need to get further information or some evidence from the GP or alternative support agency to confirm that the employee is taking the appropriate action or getting the necessary support. Where time away from work is required to undergo treatment during the working day, the manager will need to be informed of the proposed absence in the same way as for any other health related issue.

In exceptional circumstances, where the health condition is considered to be serious and has resulted in a considerable length of absence from work, arrangements for their return to work will be overseen by Occupational Health, working in conjunction with the manager and, where appropriate, the HR Business Partner/Advisor.

Where dependency is not eliminated or controlled sufficiently to allow resumption of normal working arrangements within a reasonable period of time (which will be judged on the facts of each individual case, the medical advice and the needs of the department at that time), and / or no suitable alternative employment can be found, the University may consider termination of employment under Ill HealthProcedures.

At all stages, the employee should be kept informed of the steps being taken and, as far as it is possible, the consent of the employee should be sought. If the employee refuses to take advantage of the help offered and if there is no improvement in their performance then disciplinary action may be required.

Practical Guidelines

It is not in the best interests of a colleague to cover up for a substance or alcohol abuse problem and employees should always be encouraged to seek treatment for themselves in the first instance.

If an employee encounters suspected illegal substances on the campus they should contact Estate Patrol immediately and Estate Patrol will carry out a full assessment of the circumstances and inform the Police if appropriate.

If an employee encounters a colleague who appears to be suffering from alcohol or substance abuse and who may represent a danger to themselves, to others or to University property, then the supporting employee should seek help from Estate Patrol. The nature of the incident will, of course, have a direct bearing on the way in which it is dealt with and the incident should be kept in perspective at all times. Employees should endeavour to remain calm and should not put themselves in any danger. Details of the incident should be recorded clearly and accurately to assist with any subsequent investigation. The employee concerned should, at an appropriate time, be advised to go to the appropriate support agency as detailed in the Appendix 1 ‘Advice and support’.

Employees who have not undergone training cannot be expected to deal with cases of alcohol or substance abuse, but if acute intoxication, physical collapse or unconsciousness is encountered they should be treated as a medical emergency. In such cases:

Call an ambulance. Dial 9-999 for the Emergency Services. Then call Estate Patrol (Exeter) on 01392 72 (3999) or Security (Cornwall) during office hours on ex1400 or 07768 557779 (5:30pm – 8:30pm).
Carry out immediate first aid if qualified to do so.
Keep any tablets or substances that are found so they can be checked at the hospital. If the person has been sick, endeavour to keep a sample of the vomit for the hospital to analyse.
If an employee encounters a colleague who appears intoxicated or has signs of drug use but who does not pose an immediate danger to themself or to others, Estate Patrol should be contacted. As well as having a duty of care to the employee, the University could be liable to claims from any third party injured by an employee under the influence of alcohol or drugs: it is therefore important to ensure a safe return home for the employee.

If the level of intoxication of alcohol is such as to have a serious detrimental effect on the employee’s ability to perform their duties, then it may be necessary to issue a formal warning with regard to future conduct. The HR Casework team are able to advise on this process.

If an employee has reasonable grounds for suspecting that a colleague is using illicit substances on University premises, or whilst at work, or whilst representing the University, or if a colleague is suspected of trafficking illicit substances, then the Director of Human Resources should be informed. Such offences will be viewed very seriously and will be thoroughly investigated. Mitigating circumstances would be considered and medical opinions sought but, if proven, such an offence could result in summary dismissal and/or criminal prosecution.

A range of confidential sources of support are available to employees. Employees should be made aware of the help that is at hand and be encouraged to make use of it.


Spectrum Life

An Employee Assistance Programme offering free, independent and confidential advice 24 hrs a day 365 days a year.

003531 518 0277

For Spectrum Life EAP and other Mental Health support please see :  Mental Health | Occupational Health | University of Exeter


Occupational Health Service

Occupational Health Advisors provide a confidential service to employees of the university to support their good health at work. The service can be contacted via telephone or email.

01392 722666




Chaplaincy Group

Chaplains are happy to discuss any personal matters in confidence.




Alcohol Change – UK

The national agency on alcohol misuse for England and Wales.

Drinkline runs a free, confidential helpline for people who are concerned about their drinking, or someone else's.

Providing general information about alcohol and helping to put you in touch with your nearest alcohol advice center.

National drink helpline

Drinkline: 0300 123 1110 (weekdays 9am – 8pm and weekends 11am – 4pm)




Alcoholics Anonymous Great Britain (AA)

AA is concerned with the personal recovery and continued sobriety of individuals with alcohol addiction.


National Helpline 0800 917 7650 (free)




Addiction Helper

An independent service for people with addictions.

24 hour confidential helpline staffed by addiction counsellors providing advice on NHS and private treatment options.

Free confidential helpline:

0800 915 9401   or

+44 0203 993 6451




We are with you

A UK wide treatment agency, helping individuals, families and communities to manage the effects of drug and alcohol misuse.

Use the website to get details of local services.



Action on Addiction

A registered charity formed in May 2007 through the merger of Action on Addiction, Clouds and the Chemical Dependency Centre.

0300 330 0659


National Drugs Helpline

Honest information about drugs including an A-Z as well as friendly and confidential advice.

0800 77 66 00


Drug Wise



Provides drug information which is topical, evidence-based and non-judgmental – and promotes this through media work, public speaking and lecturing.




National Charity dedicated to the prevention of solvent and volatile substance abuse.

01785 817885  (Helpline)




Providing confidential non-judgmental emotional support, 24 hours a day for people who are experiencing feelings of distress, despair or suicide.  

116 123 (free)