How to Avoid Legal Risks in Drug and Alcohol Testing

23 August 2017

Australia has some of the highest rates of illicit substance use in the world, and with some recent evidence showing that workers who misuse drugs or alcohol are at a higher risk of workplace injuries, illnesses and fatalities, this is quickly becoming an issue employers simply cannot ignore.

Dr Rob McCartney, an occupational and environmental physician, and general expert in managing drug and alcohol issues in the workplace, has recently spoken on the topic and warns that a comprehensive drug and alcohol policy translates to more than simply a drug testing regime.

So to ensure employers are not at risk from a health and safety and legal perspective, McCartney suggests that best practice components of a workplace drug and alcohol program are education, training, case management and where appropriate, rehabilitation – all in addition to an ‘appropriately considered’ drug testing regime.

In his words, an ‘appropriately considered’ drug testing regime includes:

  1. The use of appropriately trained medical experts, medical review officers and court recognised occupational physicians, ‘as line managers aren’t doctors and for them to determine workers’ fitness for work based on test results can have serious legal ‘ramifications’.
  2. One that ensures that the collection of medical information is in accordance with all privacy laws.
  3. One that understands that it is inappropriate for managers or HR personnel to see private information declared by workers during the testing process.

Overall, the key message is that if employers implement a drug and alcohol policy which is ethical, fair, has appropriate privacy considerations and respects all individuals; even in a world of rising substance use, the workplace can and will be protected