Legal highs in the workplace

‘Legal highs’ have become a hot topic in the media over recent months. These are substances that have a similar effect on users as illegal drugs, but are not controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.

In a bid to combat the rise in legal high usage, the Government has vowed to tackle the issue by seeking to introduce the Psychoactive Substances Bill. This legislation aims to prohibit the production, sale and supply of mind-altering substances in the UK.

To coincide with this, ACAS have also recently published a guide for employers on dealing with legal highs in the workplace. Many employers have existing drug and alcohol misuse policies contained with the staff handbooks. However, the majority of these policies focus on the historical drugs of abuse, such as cocaine, heroin and cannabis for example.

As a result of the changing habits brought about by the increase in popularity of legal highs, employers may wish to update the policies to ensure that it is clear that the use of legal highs will not be tolerated.

We recommend that the wording of policies focus on the impact on the employee’s behaviour and ability to work, and not whether the substances are legal. This will give the employer the best chance of being able to fairly discipline or dismiss the employee if drug taking is discovered.

Whilst it is open to an employer to decide how to treat instances of drug abuse, for example whether a supportive pastoral approach is taken, or a hard line zero tolerance positon is maintained, employers should treat the abuse of both legal and illegal drugs in the same manner.  If a drug and alcohol misuse policy includes the right to require drug testing, it may be more challenging to identify the use of legal highs, as the chemical compounds used in the drugs change regularly.  As a result of this, the importance of employee and management training on the warning signs to look out for is higher than ever.

Many employers are improving the training offered to their managers, providing them with the tools and information to spot users of legal highs. For example, many legal highs are advertised as ‘incense’, ‘plant food’ or ‘bath salts’. If your business monitors internet and email usage, managers may wish to look out for repeated visits to such sites.

KBL are able to provide advice and assistance dealing with any employment related substance misuse issues, including reviewing existing policies and procedures to ensure they deal with the use of legal highs.