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Acas urges employers to stamp out the rise in legal highs with clear disciplinary procedures

Monday 14 December 2015

Workplace experts, Acas, have published a new guide today to help employers deal with the challenges of an increase in legal highs. It includes advice on how to set drug and alcohol policies and how to manage staff under the influence of readily available mind-altering drugs that are legal.

Legal highs are largely substances which imitate the effects of illegal drugs when consumed but are not actually illegal themselves. They are also known as psychoactive substances. Last year there were 129 deaths in England, Scotland and Wales due to legal highs.

Employer calls to the Acas helpline about drug, alcohol and legal high use in the workplace, are often about what can be done to prove someone is under the influence of substances and the right action to take if they've seen an employee taking or admitting to taking drugs on social media sites like Facebook.

Acas Head of Information and Guidance, Stewart Gee, said:

"With Christmas parties already in full swing, it's important to keep celebrations clean and enjoyable for all. Employers need to ensure that they have robust policies in place to avoid any ambiguity when it comes to the use of legal highs in the workplace.

"Many people may be unaware that whilst these substances can be obtained legally, using or consuming them could be banned under most workplaces' drugs policies.

"Our new guide will help employers update their policies to ensure staff are aware that the use of legal highs is also unacceptable in the workplace."

Acas' guide urges employers to:

  • Consider: including legal highs when writing their drug and alcohol policies. Policies don't have to be limited to what is and isn't allowed in the law.
  • Act: it's a serious issue, so be clear in drugs and alcohol policies about all types of substance misuse - legal or not. If policies are not clear enough, update them accordingly.
  • Remind: employees that despite being technically legal, the use of legal highs is banned in most workplaces under the organisation's drugs policy.
  • Read: the new Acas guide for helpful advice on how to get policies in place sooner rather than later.

Stewart added:

"We can work with your organisation to help you develop and implement effective drugs policies for your workplace.

"Acas has extensive experience in this area and we can provide cost effective solutions to your needs."

There is currently legislation going through Parliament to ban the supply of drugs, based on their psychoactive effects. The Acas guide recommends agreeing standards of acceptable and unacceptable behaviours with employees now, by having clear drugs and alcohol policies that account for all types of substance misuse in the workplace - legal or not.

The Acas guide on legal highs in the workplace for employers is available from the New Psychoactive Substances (formally known as Legal Highs ) page.

Notes to editors

  1. Legal highs generally cannot be sold for human consumption and so are often marketed as bath salts, incense or plant food. They mostly contain synthetic, chemical compounds which imitate the effects of more traditional, illegal drugs such as speed and cannabis. Often they contain ingredients which haven't been tested on humans and so the effects of human consumption are hard to predict. These drugs can have a range of effects on users and are generally used as stimulants, "downers" or hallucinogens.
  2. For Acas' new Legal highs guide - see the New Psychoactive Substances (formally known as Legal Highs ) page.
  3. The Psychoactive Substances Bill - to control the use of psychoactive substances the Government announced new legislation in May 2015. The Psychoactive Substances Bill will prohibit and disrupt the production, distribution, sale and supply of psychoactive substances in the UK. The Bill is currently progressing through Parliament. The new legislation places a blanket ban on all psychoactive (or mind altering) substances, and introduces a list of exemptions for those in everyday use, such as alcohol, coffee and medicines which are regulated elsewhere, as well as drugs already banned under Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. More information on the Bill can be found at UK Parliament - Psychoactive Substances Bill [HL] 2015-16.
  4. Ireland introduced a ban on synthetic psychoactive drugs four years ago, which could provide a model for similar laws in Britain as set out in the Home Office study.
  5. The Acas helpline receives calls related to drugs and alcohol every year. The Acas helpline is available on 0300 123 11 00. For online advice see Helpline Online.
  6. Acas stands for Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service. Acas provides free and impartial information and advice to employers and employees on all aspects of workplace relations and employment law. We support good relationships between employers and employees which underpin business success. We also provide good value, high quality training and tailored advice to employers. Our expertise is based on millions of contacts with employers and employees each year. Acas is an independent and impartial statutory body governed by a Council made up of members from business, trade unions, academia and the law.
  7. For media enquiries or to receive an embargoed copy of Legal highs contact Sophia Said on 0207 210 3680 or For out of hours media enquiries please call the out of hours duty press officer on 020 7210 3600.