Legal highs are in the sights of employers who don’t want them gracing office Christmas Parties

Legal highs imitate the effects of illegal drugs when consumed but are not actually illegal themselves, although some are thought to be just as dangerous and damaging. 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.

Christmas parties

“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,” commented Stewart Gee, head of information and guidance at Acas.

“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,” Gee concluded.

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.

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.





Robert joined the HRreview editorial team in October 2015. After graduating from the University of Salford in 2009 with a BA in Politics, Robert has spent several years working in print and online journalism in Manchester and London. In the past he has been part of editorial teams at Flux Magazine, Mondo*Arc Magazine and The Marine Professional.