To dismiss or not dismiss if an employee fails the alcohol and drugs test in the workplace
The case of A Complainant v A Meat Processing Plant, serves as a helpful guide to small business owners on best practice when it comes to dismissing an employee on the grounds that the employee failed the alcohol and drugs test.
In this case the employee failed a random drugs test and was subsequently dismissed by their employer. They took a claim for unfair dismissal through the Workplace Relations Commission and appealed the decision of the adjudicator to the Labour Court. The Adjudication Officer and Labour Court took the below factors into consideration when they found in favour of the employer:
- The employer had conducted a thorough investigation in line with its own disciplinary procedures. The employee was suspended on pay pending the 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. The policy also included a section that referred the matter to the disciplinary procedure if an employee failed the test. The claimant in this case had signed this policy, which the business kept a copy of.
- 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 it would undermine and devalue the effects of the “zero” tolerance policy.
- It should also be noted that the Court recommended when it referenced another case that, in the event an employee discloses that they have an alcohol/drug dependency problem, the employer should ensure that the employee is given an opportunity to seek professional treatment before considering dismissal.
It is important to note that whilst 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 own workplace policies on disciplinary and alcohol and drug testing. Each case should be assessed on its own particular set of facts to decide what sanction is appropriate and factors such as risk to safety, the level of responsibility and if the employee has contact with the public should be weighed up in the decision-making process to ensure the sanction is a reasonable and proportionate response to that individual situation.
We will be discussing intoxicants in the workplace at the SFA Employment Law Conference on 26 September in Cork and 10 October in Dublin. To book your place in Cork, please visit www.sfa.ie/0/empconfcork and to book your place in Dublin please visit www.sfa.ie/0/empconfdub
For further information on the disciplinary process or alcohol and drug testing in the workplace please contact Helen Quinn on firstname.lastname@example.org or 01 605 1668