Dealing with an employee with an alcohol or drug /substance dependency

Alcohol dependence may come to the attention of a Head of College/Service 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 alcohol problem the Head of College/Service 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 some evidence from the GP 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 Head of College/Service 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 problem 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 Head of College/Service and, where appropriate, the HR Business Partner/Manager.

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 his/her 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 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 he/she should contact the Head of Security who, in conjunction with a senior officer of the University, will decide whether or not to inform the Police. This decision will be based on a full assessment of the circumstances and a consideration of the likely consequences.

If an employee encounters a colleague who appears to be suffering from alcohol or substance abuse and who may represent a danger to himself/herself, to others or to University property, then they 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 Section 3 ‘Advice and support services’.

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: 

  1. 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)
  2. Carry out immediate first aid
  3. 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 but who does not pose an immediate danger to himself/herself 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 is such as to have a serious detrimental effect on the employee’s ability to perform his or her duties, then it may be necessary to issue a formal warning with regard to future conduct.

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.