ACAS has released new guidance for employers on the increasing use of “legal highs” and the possible effect that they may have on employees and the workplace.
Legal highs are substances which emulate the effect of illegal drugs when they are taken, but are not in fact categorised as illegal themselves. The drugs have a wide range of effects on users, and have now found themselves a very firm spot in the drug market. In fact in 2014 alone, in England, Scotland and Wales, a total of 129 individuals died in situations involving psychoactive substances.
Worryingly, the number of legal highs available continues to increase, and whilst many have now been made illegal under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 (Amendment) Order 2012, newer substances are released regularly which are yet to be controlled.
The Government has attempted to control the use of psychoactive substances, and in May 2015, new legislation was announced. The Psychoactive Substances Bill is designed to prevent and disturb the production, distribution, sale and supply of psychoactive drugs throughout the UK. The Bill is designed to put a ban on all psychoactive substances and introduces a list of those drugs permitted in every day use, such as coffee, alcohol and regulated medication.
In light of the ever increasing statistics, it is now more fundamental than ever that employers take legal highs into consideration when drafting their alcohol and drugs policies.
A policy is not restricted to what is and what is not legal. As the ACAS guidance emphasises, the use of alcohol is prohibited in the general sense, yet most companies will ban the consumption of alcohol during working hours. It is suggested in the guidance that legal highs are treated in a similar way and built into a policy accordingly.
Whilst some employers may have drug testing in place, and this is not discouraged, establishing the existence of legal highs will be slightly more difficult, given that the compounds they contain change on a regular basis. As such, when drafting a policy it may be easier for an employer to focus on the effect of the drugs themselves on the employee (for example on their behaviour, and ability to carry out their role effectively), rather than purely the substances themselves.
It is vital that policies also provide some element of support to any employees with drug, alcohol and legal high use problems. Policies should support and encourage employees, whilst also offering guidance to senior staff and managers on how to spot drug use, and how to deal with it accordingly. Dealing with an individual who has a problem with legal highs should be approached in the same way to approaching any other individual with a drug and alcohol problem, and therefore depending on the complexity of the scenario and the behaviour of the individual, employers should ensure they approach the issue in an appropriate way.
ACAS provides useful further guidance on this area at http://www.acas.org.uk/index.aspx?articleid=5572.
At Kitsons, we regularly draft Alcohol and Drugs policies for our employer clients. As such, if you wish to discuss this area in more detail, or would like assistance in drafting your own policy, please do get in touch with a member of the team at firstname.lastname@example.org.