The number of depression and anxiety cases has significantly risen in the past few years, as more employees are taking medication to combat symptoms. In addition to this, there are workers who need to take drugs for a wide range of other medical conditions.
With doctors overloaded the approach seems to be to hand out prescriptions rather than finding alternative methods of treatment. Physicians often regard it as unethical to refuse to prescribe medication that will alleviate symptoms. Therefore, it is highly likely that a proportion of your workforce is medicated.
Prescription and over the counter medicine has side effects that often include sickness, headaches, dizziness, drowsiness and impaired judgment. These symptoms can cause workers to struggle to carry out their job roles and some may even put themselves and others at risk by trying to do so.
Those who use powerful pain relief are usually at higher risk, as most of these drugs are opioids. Opioids interact with pain receptors located in the brain and spinal cord can make it unsafe to drive vehicles and operate machinery because like drowsiness, loss of concentration and reduced reaction times.
Because legally prescribed and over the counter, drugs may affect an employee’s safety, it’s important to establish your right as the employer to know what they’re taking.
Make part of your terms and conditions of employment that certain employees must inform you if they are taking medication which could affect them at work. To ascertain who this would apply to, including all those who undertake safety-critical work, for example, those who operate machinery, drive, work at height, etc.
During the staff induction explain to staff in these roles what you need to know and the reasons why, for example, the side effects due to the medication may put themselves and their colleagues at increased risk of an accident.
When an employee informs you that they are taking prescription drugs, check the details of potential side effects and activities which are not to be undertaken when used.
You should avoid jumping to conclusions about restrictions needing to be put in place for their safety. Going down this route could lead to unintentional discrimination. If it’s not clear from the information received, ask them to return to their GP and obtain a fit note which outlines any restrictions.
Assess risks on a case-by-case basis. Usually, you will require input from the employee, along with assistance from an occupational health specialist and an HR professional.