Your obligations

Is your organisation at risk?

Given nearly 80% of Australian adults are drinkers, 15% take illicit drugs and 11.4% admit to misusing medication,¹ the chances are that these substances are going to affect your organisation – and not just through accidents or injuries.

Not being at their best after a big night or while taking medication can cause employees to make errors, silly mistakes, and poor decisions – which all stack up. These things combine to be a big expense for business – $6 billion per year

If you do not take appropriate steps, such as establishing a clear policy and promoting it to your employees, you leave your business at risk for being ruled against in unfair dismissal cases – even if the employee was using alcohol or other drugs in the workplace.

Fair Work Australia cases

At-risk business

A truck driver arrived at work smelling of alcohol, slurring his speech, and appearing unsteady. He was sent home, and 2 days later was told he had been terminated. He pursued and won an unfair dismissal case. Fair Work Australia ordered $9,891 in compensation, equivalent to 7 weeks’ lost wages.

Why did an employee who drank before work, win the case?

  • The company did not have a zero-tolerance policy in place
  • He was not asked to perform a blood alcohol test or explain his actions at the time of the incident
  • He was not informed that an outcome of drinking could be termination

Read more: Fair Work Australia

Protected business

A company driver blew 0.09% when randomly breath tested at the start of a shift, and was terminated in line with the organisation’s zero tolerance alcohol policy. He pursued an unfair dismissal case and lost.

Why did the business win this case?

  • The employer had a clear alcohol policy
  • That policy was actively promoted and provided to employees
  • Employees had received education on alcohol (and drug) use

In addition to upholding the dismissal, the Fair Work Australia commissioner found that the company’s actions, including its policy, had not only met its obligations under the Coal Mining Act but that “it is clear it takes its obligations in this regard seriously”.
The Alcohol and Drug Foundation can help your business create a policy, promote it to employees, and educate your workforce to demonstrate that your business also takes their obligations seriously.

Research has found that more than 1 in 20 Australian workers admit to having worked under the influence of alcohol, while 1 in 10 workers reported that they often drink at work.4

The ‘duty of care’ provisions contained in the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 means your organisation is legally obligated to provide a safe work environment. These provisions require employers to take all reasonable or ‘practicable’ steps to ensure the health and safety of workers, and any other people who may be affected by the actions of the employer such as contractors or clients.

Health and wellbeing impacts

Research indicates that alcohol and drug use is closely tied to mental health and wellbeing, and can also impact a person’s physical health. It doesn’t just affect the person using either – one person’s alcohol and drug misuse can affect all your employees.

One in 10 workers says they have experienced the negative effects associated with a co-worker’s misuse of alcohol, such as:5

  • Reduced ability to do their job
  • Being involved in an accident or close call
  • Working extra hours to cover for a co-worker
  • Co-worker taking at least one day off work

This can strain relationships, affect the moods and attitudes of all of your workers, and negatively impact employee wellbeing and your workplace culture.

Workplaces can contribute to misuse

Your workplace could be contributing to your employees’ alcohol and drug use through the impact work has on their health and wellbeing. Factors that can cause substance misuse include:6

        • Long working long
        • High stress workplace
        • Dangerous working conditions
        • Lack of job security
        • Low job satisfaction
        • Boredom
        • Poor industrial relations
        • Low pay
Financial costs to business

Alcohol and other drug use is expensive for the workplace, even if you don’t provide alcohol at work. Alcohol and other drugs cost Australian workplaces an estimated $6 billion per year,even if that use takes place outside of work hours. These include:

  • ‘Presenteeism’ – showing up to work when you’re unfit to perform your role
  • Lost productivity
  • Resentment from co-workers due to absence and lack of productivity
  • Absenteeism
  • Injuries and workplace deaths

Can your bottom line afford those losses?

Reduce your risk

It’s far more cost-effective to invest in developing a comprehensive policy and educating your workers than having to manage an investigation, terminating an employee, then recruiting and re-training someone new.



Shearing Contractors Association of Australia.
Secretary – Jason Letchford

The shearing industry is the oldest Award-based industry in Australia. Culturally, it has been more tolerant to the use of alcohol than many other industries.

When a string of negative publicity hit the industry regarding unprofessional behaviour of workers, it was believed that alcohol and drug use were a contributing factor. As a result of this, the shearing industry’s safety stakeholder group formed a body to tackle the problem. After much consideration of alternative organisations, the group engaged the ADF to help address the problem. The ADF were certainly the most credible and capable organisation to help the shearing industry to start addressing the issues and develop a plan to achieve a ‘zero harm workplace’. Natasha Jager’s engaging presentation, along with her pre and post conference support, were certainly key to the programme’s success.

Because ADF’s information and solutions are evidence-based, the industry was better able to develop less disruptive solutions, at a lower cost. I highly recommend Natasha Jager and the ADF to assist with your workplace drug & alcohol strategy.


1. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW). (2014). 2013 National Drug Strategy Household Survey Report.

2. Manning, M., Smith, C. & Mazerolle, P. (2013). The societal costs of alcohol misuse in Australia. Trends and Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice, Canberra: Institute of Criminology, 454.

3. Penington Institute. (2016). Australia’s annual overdose report 2016. Carlton : Penington Institute.

4. Pidd, K., Roche, A.M., Buisman-Pijlman, F. (2011) Intoxicated workers: findings from a national Australian survey. Addiction, 106, 1623-1633.

5. Dale, C. & Livingston, M. (2010). The burden of alcohol drinking on co-workers in the Australian workplace, Medical Journal of Australia, 193(3), 138-140.

6. RMIT (2016) OHS Construction Forum, Safety Institute of Australia, 24/10/2016.

7. Manning, M., Smith, C. & Mazerolle, P. (2013). The societal costs of alcohol misuse in Australia. Trends and Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice. 454. Canberra: Institute of Criminology.