How to Craft an Effective Drug & Alcohol Policy

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According to, the hospitality industry has the highest rates of illicit drug use of any other industry.

You may be concerned about drug use in your restaurant or bar but unsure how to address it. The following guide will help you craft an effective drug and alcohol policy for your foodservice business.

There are many laws regarding what employers can and cannot do when crafting a drug and alcohol policy and they vary from state to state. Before updating your restaurant’s policies make sure to consult your local regulations.

Restaurant Drug Use Safety Issues

There are many sources of potential safety hazards in a restaurant environment. Our goal as employers is to create a safe environment for all employees and guests.

Drug and alcohol use impacts motor and cognitive function in users. In a restaurant, this could mean increased potential for injury to oneself or others from:

  • Knives and sharp objects
  • Hot surfaces and objects
  • Equipment misuse
  • Food contamination
  • Fire hazards

The use of illegal substances, alcohol and even some legal prescription drug use can create a clear and present safety risk to everyone in the restaurant including the user.

It’s our duty as restaurant management to protect our restaurant from these safety risks.

Restaurant Employee Drug and Alcohol Use

Employees may use drugs for a variety of recreational or medicinal reasons. As an employer, it’s up to you to determine a drug and alcohol use policy that protects your guests, other employees, and your bottom line.

  • Legal Drug Use

    Depending on the state you’re in, different drugs may be legal for medicinal or recreational consumption.

    If a drug is prescribed to an employee getting that information can be a delicate matter. To maintain compliance with ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) regulations, an employer cannot typically inquire about an employee’s medication.

    Exceptions are made only if an employer can demonstrate a clear risk that taking medication could have to the health and safety of employees or the public. In this case, it is only appropriate to inquire about such medication.

  • Illegal Drug Use

    Most employers have a policy against the use and sale of illegal drugs. Illegal drugs also include the use of otherwise legal prescription drugs without a prescription or in excess.

    If you suspect an employee to be abusing drugs you can inquire directly. If they confirm their use they can legally be subject to termination or disciplinary action.

  • Drug Use At Work

    To maintain a healthy and safe work environment, restaurant employees should refrain from drinking alcohol on the job, even in a bar or nightclub.

    Use of prescription drugs is protected under the ADA but if the use of a prescription drug can be shown to be a clear danger to the employee or others a decision must be made by the restaurant or bar management if a reasonable accommodation for the employee’s disability can be made.

  • Drug Use Outside of Work

    Regulating employee drug use outside of work becomes more difficult. An employee that drinks in their off time or consumes recreational marijuana in states that permit it is not in violation of the law.

    However, if employees show up to their shift intoxicated it can be considered against your restaurant’s drug and alcohol use policy, and a legal reason for disciplinary action or termination.

Restaurant Employee Drug Testing

Some restaurants choose to incorporate drug testing into their drug and alcohol use policy. However, this should be done carefully in order to maintain compliance with the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act).

Pre-employment drug testing can run afoul of the ADA, since it is considered a medical inquiry. Since prescription drugs can also show up in a drug test, there is potential for a job candidate to claim that they were discriminated against, if they are not hired.

To avoid potential lawsuits it’s recommended to adhere to the following practices.

Extend a job offer first. Make it contingent on passing the drug screening. By extending an offer the candidate is now and technically an employee, giving you greater protection in your pursuit of a drug test. It’s no longer considered a violation of the job candidate’s privacy.

Tell the testing company to notify you on a “pass/fail” basis. Since drug tests can show positive results for prescribed medication that an employee is taking, if it is disclosed to you, the employee could potentially sue you for discrimination if terminated. If the testing company only provides a pass/fail status you won’t be made aware of, nor liable to protect an employee’s confidential medical information.

Restaurant Drug And Alcohol Policy Violations

Part of your restaurant drug and alcohol policy must cover how violations are handled. There should be a consistent policy in place to avoid accusations of discrimination.

For employment conditional on passing a drug test, it is legal to withdraw an offer after a test is failed.

Many restaurants will drug test employees when injuries or unsafe practices are observed.

If restaurant employees are found to have used drugs illegally or have violated the company’s alcohol use policy it is typically legal to terminate the employee.

Restaurant management also has the option to administer disciplinary action or mandate that the employee participate in a drug rehabilitation program as a condition for continued employment.


Your restaurant drug and alcohol use policy is in place to protect the safety and well-being of your staff, your restaurant guests and the general public.

When crafting your restaurant drug and alcohol use policy be considerate of employees with disabilities. Make sure your drug testing practices and questions about drug use do not violate the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act).

When drug and alcohol use is discovered in violation of your restaurant’s policy you can legally choose to terminate, discipline or require staff to attend drug rehabilitation.

This guide to crafting a restaurant drug and alcohol policy is part of the free restaurant management resource library from Rezku.

Rezku is a leader in restaurant management technology and business intelligence. Founded in 2012 by veteran restaurateur Paul Katsch, Rezku is an award-winning leader providing practical and affordable solutions to restaurants and bars large and small.

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