Everything You Need to Know About Drug Checks in UK Workplaces

If you’re leaving Africa to live and work in the UK, you should be aware of the fact that you may be subject to a drug check in your workplace. Here’s what you need to know…
It goes without saying that moving to live and work in the UK after previously residing in Africa is huge step and comes with plenty of potential challenges. After all, making such a big move isn’t likely to be completely straightforward.

When you work in the UK, you may learn that your workplace conducts drug checks to ensure that you and your fellow employees are not taking any substances. Most company policies will explicitly state that you are not allowed to work while under the influence of any type of drug. So, it’s sensible to understand exactly how these types of drug tests work – unless you want to be pulled up on something as serious as drug conspiracy charges.

Here, we outline everything you might need to know about drug checks in UK workplaces so you can be sure you’re fully prepared when you arrive to start work.
Everything You Need to Know About Drug Checks in UK Workplaces

Why Do UK Workplaces Conduct Drug Checks?

Contrary to popular belief, drug tests aren’t used to catch employees out, or to find an excuse to fire anyone. Where a company conducts drug checks, this is usually done for health and safety purposes, and to ensure that you can perform your job without endangering yourself or anyone else.

For example, if you’re working in a role where you’re operating heavy machinery, such as a forklift, or you have to drive, you’ll likely face a random drug test to ensure that you are able to perform your role safely and effectively.

What Do Drug Checks in UK Workplaces Look Like?

Interestingly, most drug checks in workplaces do not test for the presence of drugs. This is because, in many cases, drugs can break down very quickly in the body. The test will instead look for the chemicals that remain after the drug breaks down – called metabolites. It will not be able to tell if someone is actually ‘under the influence’ of drugs, or what their level of impairment is.

Metabolites can be detected in blood, urine, sweat or saliva, but the most common type of testing is through a urine sample. When a urine sample is taken, you don’t need to make any additional preparations.

You should be aware that the presence of drugs in urine can be detected for up to three days after use. Heavy use of cannabis can even be detected for several weeks.

There are three types of drug checks that will usually take place in UK workplaces. These are:

Pre-employment Drug Checks

A pre-employment drug check is where your employer screens you before you start work. Because you will not have started working for the company, you won’t have any employment rights or the support of a union to challenge a decision.

Post incident Drug Checks

This is where an employer tests employees following a notable incident that has caused an injury or damage. Anyone involved will be tested for drugs to help determine the cause of the incident.

Random Drug Checks

Random testing sees employees are selected at random intervals to be tested for drugs, but you cannot be forced to accept a test.

Many European countries, including the UK, have banned pre-employment and random drug screening. While it’s often allowed in ‘safety critical’ industries, other safeguards have been introduced, such as only carrying them out if recommended by an occupational physician.

What Might Happen if You Fail a Drug Test?

The action taken if you fail a drug test will entirely depend on your company’s policy. If you fail a drug test, this may lead to disciplinary action, like receiving a formal warning, it may cause you to be suspended, or it may lead to your immediate dismissal.

A dismissal is likely if drugs are found in your system while you are operating heavy machinery, or after you were found to be responsible for a workplace accident.
Everything You Need to Know About Drug Checks in UK Workplaces

Will You Know When a Drug Test Will Take Place?

In every scenario, you should be given fair warning that you will be subject to a drug test in a UK workplace. An employer is not allowed to spring a surprise on you with an unexpected drug test.

The amount of time you have to prepare for a drug test will depend on the guidelines set out in your employee handbook. Here, it should tell you exactly what to expect from a drug test, why you might be subject to one, and the amount of warning you will be given.

Do You Have to Agree to Take a Drug Check in a UK Workplace?

Employers can only carry out a drug test if there is a drug testing policy that you are aware of and have agreed to. If you are presented with a drug testing policy in your employment contract, you cannot be forced to accept it, but this may provide reason for an employer not to hire you.

However, if you have previously consented to undergo drug tests, and you then refuse to take one, this can become an issue. Usually, this will give an employer the grounds to take disciplinary action.

Can You Be Arrested for Failing a Drug Test in a UK Workplace?

In the vast majority of circumstances, you cannot be arrested for simply failing a drug test in a UK workplace. The only scenario where you may find yourself being prosecuted is if an employer suspects that you may be in direct possession of drugs, and then reports you to the police.
Everything You Need to Know About Drug Checks in UK Workplaces

Have You Got Any More Questions About Drug Tests in UK Workplaces?

That just about covers everything you need to know about drug checks in UK workplaces. If you keep this information in mind when you move from Africa to work in the UK, you should be able to stay well out of trouble.
Have you got any further questions? Please leave them in the comments below!

Photo credits:

Photo 1 – Hal Gatewood via Unsplash

Photo 2 – Christina Victoria Craft via Unsplash

Photo 3 – Testalize.me via Unsplash

Next Post »