Ethics of a drug and alcohol policy

forklift accident

Doing the right thing is of high importance to anyone in any position of power. A manager or director of a company is no exception.

“The right thing” means an action that can be judged as morally good and goes beyond what is merely “good for the company” (often synonymous with “what eventually leads to more profit”) and is based on whether an action is good overall, for everyone and everything.

Naturally this is a question that arises when people consider testing employees for alcohol and drugs- regardless of the effects of the policy on company image, staff efficiency, attendance and other things directly linked to profit, is it a morally good thing to test employees?

Truthfully the answer to this question is sometimes a massive ‘Yes’, but sometimes an equally firm ‘No’. I have illustrated two scenarios below, relative to situations I have discussed with clients. In each scenario there has been concern from the employer as to whether testing their employees is the right thing to do. From working in this industry now I am starting to believe that there is no job in which an employer should be drinking alcohol in work hours. What do you think?


Scenario 1: Rebecca works in sales and occasionally invites her clients to a working lunch or dinner. During this meeting she often orders a pint of beer with her scampi and chips. She has travelled by public transport and has no intentions of having more than one drink. The nature of this work is not dangerous in the slightest. Would clamping down on Sarah with a post lunch breath test rob her of this pleasure while bringing little or no benefit to the productivity of the company? Would it result in Sarah feeling demoralized by the lack of trust?

Interlock breathalyzer

Scenario 2: Nick drives a school bus every morning. He sometimes goes for a meal on a weeknight and can finish off a full bottle of wine when he does. As a result, he frequently drives the school bus with alcohol still in his system from the night before, thus hugely increasing the chances of an accident with unthinkable consequences. Testing Nick for alcohol and reducing this risk is evidently the right thing to do. We could even call it a moral obligation. Is testing Nick for alcohol morally right since the company has a responsibility to protect those passengers from danger? Or is testing Nick going to affect his attitude towards work worse making him less approachable and productive?

So when you ask “What about the ethics of an alcohol and drug policy?” it is essential to consider not only how a policy will reduce the risk of injury and death, but also how it will affect the happiness of the staff – as well as whether it will be good for the sustainability of the company. These are the varying factors for each company.

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