Legal highs and the workplace

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Many employers have drug and alcohol policies and some workplaces require employees to undergo testing. The recent increase in the use of so-called ‘legal highs’ may mean that these policies need to be revisited and perhaps updated.

When consumed, legal highs generally imitate the effects of illegal drugs and, sadly, last year there were 129 deaths in England, Scotland and Wales related to their use. Given the increased use of legal highs and the ease with which they can be obtained, it is worth checking that drug and alcohol policies cover the use and effects of legal highs. Whilst legal highs are, by definition, ‘legal’, policies don’t have to be limited to what is and isn’t allowed by the law. Employers can include the use of legal highs along with illegal drug use and, indeed, alcohol.

The compounds used in legal highs can be difficult to identify in drug testing because they change regularly and this can present a challenge in obtaining a positive test result. Therefore, even if your policy permits you to require employees to undergo drugs testing, it will be preferable for the policy to focus on the effects of legal or illegal substances on an employee’s conduct and ability to work, rather than on confirmed usage of specific types of drugs. As ever, drug and alcohol policies should be supportive and encourage employees to seek help. They should also educate staff and line managers on the signs of drug use and what to be aware of as well as how to deal appropriately with an employee attending work ‘under the influence’.