The British Medical Association’s occupational medicine committee has published new guidance on best practice in terms of recruiting people with alcohol or drug dependency issues.
The updated guidance, “Alcohol, drugs and the workplace – The role of medical professionals”, includes a chapter specifically addressing the question of occupational health support for job applicants.
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The committee’s chairman, Dr Paul Nicholson, said: “The main difference is the new chapter nine, which reinforces the message that health professionals have a responsibility to challenge negative stereotypes and help employers understand that people who have a history of alcohol problems, and who have successfully taken part in a treatment programme, can still be successfully employed. So it is about getting around that stigma.”
The guidance can be found online and the new chapter examines the use of “abstinence periods”, post-offer health assessments, determining medical fitness to work, and monitoring of employees.
For example, it argues that, while some laws and regulations specify abstinence periods (such as for driving), where this is not the case, drug-free periods are “entirely arbitrary and are of little use in determining an individual’s suitability or readiness for employment”.
The best guide is whether or not the employee has received and completed a course of treatment, followed by training, voluntary work, and support to find work.
When it comes to post-offer health assessments, it recommends occupational health physicians should consider the following:
- Time abstinent is not an indicator of competence.
- Assessments should be considered on an individual basis and not by application of blanket policies.
- People with experience of drug misuse and drug treatment can be effective workers, particularly when well supported by management and occupational health services.
- While there are some instances where prescribed medicines can impair a person’s ability to carry out a particular task, this should be factored in to any assessment of employment-related needs.
“Occupational health professionals have a role in assisting people with a past history of abuse back into work because, apart from anything else, being in work in itself can aid their recovery. It is also about reducing the risk of relapse,” argued Dr Nicholson.
“Employees who have a past history of abuse or who have successfully been treated for or overcome an alcohol or drug problem will often be extremely loyal and productive members of your organisational team because they value the opportunity; the fact they’ve been given a second chance,” he added.