IC recommends ban on random drug and drink testing on staff

Employers could soon be banned from blanket testing staff for drugs or
alcohol, unless they can show that not doing so would have a direct health and
safety impact on their businesses.

The Information Commission, which promotes good information handling practice,
has suggested the ban in its fourth, and final, part of the Employment
Practices Data Protection Code.

The code advises employers on how to comply with the law when handling
information on the health of their employees, and covers the operation of OH
schemes, medical examinations, drug and alcohol testing and genetic testing in
the workplace.

Under the latest proposal, which is being consulted until 27 February,
checks would be restricted to staff such as machine operators, where there is a
specific safety risk.

The intention is that employers will need to satisfy strict reasons for
testing, so that employees’ rights are fully protected under the Data
Protection Act.

However, the move could mean firms having to completely rethink how they
approach testing and medical records.

Employment lawyers have suggested that companies will need to look closely
at the questions they include on medical questionnaires.

Information Commissioner Richard Thomas said the issues in the code were of
"real, practical relevance to many employers, and those they employ".

The move comes as the TUC has said workers do not get sufficient protection
against the increasing use of "unjustified and degrading drink and drug
testing by over-zealous employers".

Testing, it argued, has doubled in the past decade, with one in eight
companies testing staff for drugs, and four out of five bosses saying they
would be prepared to test their employees if they felt productivity was at
stake.

Brendan Barber, TUC general secretary, said: "No-one is suggesting that
it is acceptable to be high or drunk at work, but staff who may have drink or
related problems need help, not disciplinary action."

www.informationcommissioner.gov.uk

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