Drug testing at work

Drugs and work aren’t exactly two words that you hear in the same sentence often (unless you’re working for a pharmaceutical company) but that doesn’t mean they don’t have an overlap. That’s where drug testing at work comes in. If your employer says you gotta pee in a cup, you probably have to. The Mix talks you through it.

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Drug testing in the workplace

First things first: dig through your draw of random crap and get out your employment contract. Next step is to check if there’s a clause about drug tests or implementing a drug and alcohol policy in the workplace. In some industries they’re mandatory, like the railways. If that’s the case for your work then you’ll need to take a pre employment drug test for the job and regular tests throughout your employment.

Can your boss do drug testing in a UK workplace?

If it says anywhere in your contract – or workplace drug and alcohol policy (usually found in the company handbook) – that they can spot-test you for drugs then you’ve got to comply. Refusing one could constitute a breach of contract and they could fire you for gross misconduct.

Even if it isn’t in your contract and they ask you for a drugs or alcohol test, refusing still may lose you your job. This is because it could be seen as not complying with a reasonable request from your employer, therefore breaching the implied conditions of your contract.

So – in short – if your boss asks you to take a drugs test, it’s going to be hard to refuse. But it’s not completely up to them. They still have to get your consent before they test you. And in case that got you worried, you can learn more about contracts and what a basic employment contract includes here.

What if they’re only asking you?

Ahh, now this can change things. Testing employees should only be done at random. The only exception is when you’re in a safety critical job where being on drugs could have severe consequences, i.e. you’re off your face on MDMA and about to operate on someone’s heart. In that scenario the employer has a duty to protect the health and safety of you and those who (literally) have their life in your hands. 

Employers can’t test you just because they heard a rumour that you’re under the influence of drugs. So it’s always worth checking to see if your test request is legit.

Can you refuse a drug test at work?

You can totally refuse a drug test at work. Remember, we live in a democracy which means that no one can force you to do anything. However, if you refuse and your employer has reasonable grounds to ask for one, then there’s a slight problem. You might get into trouble, face disciplinary action or even get fired as a result. At the same time forcing employees to take drug tests could be potentially challenged as a violation of privacy under the Human Rights Act and seen as a criminal offence . Although there are no notable cases to date. 

So the answer to Can you refuse a drugs test at work? is kinda complicated. Essentially, you can but there’s a catch. You run the risk of turning your workplace into a soap opera episode; filled with tears, betrayal and lawsuits if you don’t comply. 

Can you cheat in a drug test at work?

Short of shaving your head, or having a ready supply of infant wee to hand, there’s no sure-fire means of cheating a test (and trust us, people have tried). There are loads of products on the market that claim to outsmart the test, mostly by adding masking substances to your urine sample. But it’s all futile since the means of detection is constantly being updated. So what might work one day might fail badly the next.

What to do about a positive drug test at work

There’s lots of debate over the accuracy of drug test results. If you really haven’t taken drugs and your test comes back positive, it’s time to have a serious talk with your boss. While you’re in there make sure they’re listening and taking your case seriously. Otherwise you should get some legal support.

We should mention that testing positive for drugs doesn’t automatically mean dismissal. In certain cases, your employer may decide to shift you to another part of the company if safety is an issue. They may even offer you help and support – especially if they feel you’re dealing with drug and alcohol challenges. Regardless of the outcome, the best ammunition against a positive result is to get your head down and work your ass off to prove your value as an employee. 

Have you done a drugs test at work? Let us know about your experience on our discussion boards. Learn more about worker’s rights with The Mix here.

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work rules

By Nishika Melwani

Updated on 23-Mar-2022