Policy and procedure definition

The University of York (the University) is committed to providing a healthy and safe working environment for staff. All reasonable steps will be taken to reduce or eliminate the risk of injuries or incidents occurring due to a member of staff's alcohol or drug/substance abuse.

This policy sets out the main principles underpinning the management of alcohol and drug/substance abuse and provides guidance for managers in dealing with individual staff affected by alcohol or drug/substance abuse.


The policy applies to all staff and all those working in the conduct of the University's activities.


There is a clear link between the use of alcohol and drugs/substances and reduced safety and performance. The best known example is of the effects of alcohol on driving performance. Alcohol and drug/substance dependency are recognised as illnesses that can be successfully treated particularly if diagnosed at an early stage. Hence, the aims of the policy are as follows:

  • To ensure that a member of staff's use of alcohol or drugs/substances does not affect the health and safety of that individual, their co-workers, or others with whom they come into contact in the course of their work
  • To ensure that a member of staff's use of alcohol or drugs/substances does not affect the efficient and effective operation of the University's activities
  • To set out the University's procedures and guidelines on alcohol and drug/substance abuse
  • To provide a mechanism for staff with an alcohol or drug/substance abuse problem to seek help in confidence
  • To outline under this procedure the responsibilities of the member of staff, the line manager, the Human Resources (HR) Department and Occupational Health (OH)
  • To provide information on the symptoms and effects of alcohol, drugs and substance misuse and external sources of help

The University promotes a culture of trust and encourages staff with an alcohol or drug/substance misuse problem to inform their line manager and seek their support. The University will endeavour to ensure that advice and support are made available to any member of staff who believes s/he has a problem with alcohol or drug/substance misuse. Any member of staff who seeks the assistance of the University in finding treatment for an alcohol or drug/substance problem has the University's assurance of confidentiality and support to resolve it. Early identification and treatment is essential if problems for the member of staff and the University are to be avoided.

1. Rules on alcohol and drugs / substances at work

It is the University's policy that staff have a safe and healthy environment in which to work, free from the effects of alcohol or drugs/substances. For this reason, the following rules will apply:

  • The work performance of any member of staff should not be adversely affected by alcohol or drugs/substances
  • Staff may consume alcohol at organisational functions where this has been authorised by management. In these circumstances, alcoholic drinks should be served in moderation
  • Staff are responsible for ensuring they are not under the influence of alcohol whilst at work or driving
  • At such events, a range of non-alcoholic drinks should also be available
  • Staff shall not attend or attempt to work when unfit* because of the effects of alcohol or drugs/substances**
  • Staff shall not be in possession of illegal drugs*** in the workplace

* Individuals have a responsibility to determine their own fitness for work; however whether a member of staff is fit for work is ultimately a matter for the opinion of management. The manager might have sufficient evidence of intoxication (e.g. from observation) to form a reasonable belief

** Prescribed medication may sometimes cause side effects such as drowsiness which may affect safety to perform certain work activities (see Driving and Safety Critical Work below)

*** Illegal drugs include but are not limited to heroin, cannabis/marijuana, cocaine, ecstasy, amphetamines and various other mood or performance altering substances

Possession of or dealing in illegal drugs on University premises will be dealt with as a potentially criminal act and will be reported to the police via the Security Manager. The University will consider application of the Disciplinary Procedure in such circumstances in the context of a criminal investigation.

If in the opinion of the manager the member of staff is not fit for work due to the effects of alcohol or drugs/substances, steps should be taken to ensure the individual is safely sent home and any meetings should be postponed until the following day where practicable.

Managers should be aware that there may be ill-health issues for a member of staff who appears to be under the influence of alcohol or drugs/substances at work, and this should be taken into account during an investigation.

2. Driving and safety critical work

Management of occupational road risk

The University recognises its management responsibilities for the risks and hazards associated with work activities involving driving at work and Managing Occupational Road Risks (MORR). The University will ensure that all relevant control measures are introduced and implemented to prevent injury or harm to those undertaking, or affected by, driving at work.

The University Policy and Management Procedure provides practical procedures on how MORR can be undertaken safely and provides best practice for University staff, students and others involved in driving at work, to discharge their responsibilities and duties in accordance with the law.

Members of staff working with machinery, performing work defined as safety critical* or driving in the course of their work must not consume alcohol during the working day, or shift, and should ensure that their performance is not impaired by alcohol or drugs/substances (whether illegal or not). This includes alcohol or drugs/substances consumed prior to starting work.

Members of staff prescribed medication which may affect their fitness to drive, operate machinery or potentially compromise the safety of themselves or others in any aspect of their work have a responsibility to declare this to their manager and to refrain from such activities if so affected. An example may be a member of staff working at heights suffering from drowsiness caused by strong pain relief medication.

Members of staff who have a recognised or suspected alcohol or drug/substance problem under investigation or treatment should not perform work with machinery, other safety critical work or drive on University business.

Members of staff who complete a course of detoxification and rehabilitation successfully may be able to return to work which is considered safety-critical or includes driving. In most cases, staff returning to such work will be required to undergo a period of monitoring. The manager may make a decision regarding fitness to return to such work based on specialist advice from Occupational Health. In some cases, this decision could involve other external agencies such as the GP, Addiction Advisor or Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA).

* The definition of what constitutes safety critical work is a management decision

3. Action under the managing ill - health and sickness absence, disciplinary and / or capability procedures

If the work performance of a member of staff is adversely affected by alcohol or drug/substance use, this will be dealt with under the relevant University procedure. This may be the Managing ill-health and sickness absence procedure, the Disciplinary Procedure and/or the Capability Procedure depending on the nature of the problem. Any of these procedures may be suspended for a reasonable period of time, pending investigation of whether the member of staff has a medical problem amenable to treatment and, if so, for that treatment to be undertaken. Whether one of these procedures is suspended or not will depend on the following factors:

  • The nature of the problem
  • The evidence that the member of staff has a health-related problem
  • The member of staff's acknowledgement of the problem and willingness to be treated

4. Responsibilities

Individual members of staff

All staff have a duty to take care of their own health and safety and that of others who may be affected by their actions or omissions at work.

The role of line managers

Managers are directly responsible for the health, safety and welfare of members of staff. They are the first point of contact and best placed to understand and support the needs of a member of staff who has an alcohol or drug/substance misuse condition. They can offer advice and support under this Procedure and may make referral arrangements for advice from Occupational Health. Also, managers can arrange modified work duties to support the member of staff's rehabilitation and return to normal working. However, managers must balance their responsibility for the affected member of staff with their responsibility to the University, to other members of staff and to others, ensuring a safe and healthy working environment.

Support and advice is also available for managers from the Managerial Advice line provided by Health Assured, the University Member of staff Assistance Program.

The role of the Human Resources (HR) department

The HR Department can provide advice and support to managers and staff about University Policies and Procedures and encourage co-operation to achieve referral, treatment, rehabilitation and recovery.

The role of occupational health

Occupational Health provides information and advice to all parties regarding work-related alcohol and drug/substance misuse. This may include advice regarding referral and rehabilitation back to work. Occupational Health will provide advice and information in confidence to any member of University staff who has a problem. Occupational Health will provide names of outside agencies and others who can provide expert professional assistance. Staff should note that their own GP can also provide such assistance, if preferred.

All medical information about a member of staff is confidential and can only be disclosed to the employer with the consent of the member of staff. However, the employer will need to understand the nature and severity of the situation in order to decide and provide suitable support arrangements. An element of cooperation is necessary in a situation that requires trust between employer and employee. Occupational Health will ensure they disclose only such information as is necessary for this purpose and managers are also bound by confidentiality to inform others only on a need-to-know basis.

The role of all staff with concerns about a colleague

Staff who are concerned that a colleague is exhibiting symptoms of an alcohol or drug/substance-related problem should notify their manager. It is particularly important that the appropriate manager is advised of these problems where symptoms start to affect work or working relationships or present a safety hazard or reputational risk.

Such notification will be handled in a confidential and sensitive manner.

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  • Last reviewed: 31 July 2016