Alcohol and drugs at work - a dismissible offence?

It is important that as an employer, you are clear as to what your obligations are if an employee attends for work under the influence of intoxicants. A recent case, in which in an employee was unsuccessful in their unfair dismissal claim serves as a useful guide for employers in how this matter should be handled.


In the case, A Complainant v A Meat Processing Plant, an employee failed a random drugs test and was subsequently dismissed by his employer. In rejecting the unfair dismissal claim, the Adjudication Officer took the below factors into consideration:


Disciplinary policy

  • The employer had conducted a thorough investigation in line with its own disciplinary procedures. The employee was suspended on pay pending investigation, he was afforded the right of representation at all stages and he was given the opportunity to appeal the decision.

Drugs and alcohol policy

  • The company had a clear drugs and alcohol policy in place which gave the employer the right to randomly test employees and also to refer the matter to the disciplinary procedure if an employee were to fail this test. The claimant in this case had signed this policy.
  • The employer was also able to show that as part of the induction process employees were made aware of the company’s zero tolerance approach to intoxicants due to the nature of the work activities.


  • The Adjudication Officer determined that the employer had substantive grounds to dismiss the employee and that taking the circumstances into account that the penalty of dismissal was proportionate. The Adjudication Officer found that to not dismiss the claimant would have put him and his colleagues' safety at risk due to the nature of the work environment and reverse the effect of the “zero” tolerance policy.
  • It should also be taken into account that the Court acknowledged in another recent case that generally speaking when dealing with an employee who has an alcohol/drug dependency problem that employers should give such employees an opportunity to seek professional treatment before considering dismissal.

To conclude, from the above case it is clear that while in some circumstances it may be reasonable to dismiss an employee who attends for work under the influence of alcohol or drugs or who fails an intoxicants test - employers still need to adhere to their workplace policies and avoid acting hastily. In addition, each case should be assessed on its own particular set of facts to decide what sanction is appropriate in the circumstances. Factors such as risk to safety, the level of responsibility, if the employee has contact with the public should be taken into account in deciding whether or not the penalty of dismissal is a reasonable and proportionate response in the situation.


For further information on the disciplinary process, you can consult the SFA guideline or contact Ciara McGuone on or 01 605 1668.

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SFA E-Zine – The Tuesday Edition
Alcohol and drugs at work - a dismissible offence?
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