By Nicolene Erasmus, André Claassen and Jan du Toit

Employees arriving at work with alcohol smelling on the breath, employees consuming alcohol during working hours, employees missing days (or even weeks) at work without justification, or with lame and feeble excuses (but never a medical certificate, or perhaps even with a medical certificate every time) and employees slipping out during lunch break “for a quick one” – all this seems to be a problem which is on the increase – with a resulting increase in problems for the employer.
The problem is not restricted only to alcohol; it extends to any substance having a narcotic producing effect. This type of behaviour constitutes misconduct – and all employers should have a company policy in place, that has been communicated to all employees, regulating the consumption of alcohol on company premises, and also off company premises, where it might impact adversely on the employer, the employee, or the employee’s ability to perform his / her duties.
If the employer has no such company policy in place, then that employer has a problem, namely that he cannot take disciplinary action against an employee for breaking a rule that does not exist.
We accept that not every rule has to be reduced to writing, on the basis that some rules are so well known that they do not have to be put in writing. But it will greatly complicate matters if there are no such rules in the workplace, and it will make for much smoother sailing if the rules are in place.
The Alcohol Policy must be tailor made to suit each individual company – there is no “standard policy” for this type of thing.
For example, the employer would need one set of rules applicable to employees engaged in hazardous occupation – truck drivers, machine or equipment operators, fork truck operators, crane drivers, and so on. The acceptable level of blood alcohol in such persons would be a much lower level than that which would be acceptable in an office worker.
Now before your start shouting “discrimination”, remember that the circumstances demand the approach. For example, an airline pilot who has consumed any alcohol at all in the 24 hour period preceding his next flight is prohibited from carrying out that duty, he is sent home.
An office worker who works for the same airline who has consumed alcohol in the 24 hour period preceding the next shift is not a problem, and can attend his/her workplace duties. That is a fair discrimination.
In the place of an airline pilot substitute truck driver; if the truck driver arrives at work smelling of liquor and the employer allows him to drive and he kills somebody in an accident, the employer could easily be held liable because he gave the driver permission to drive.
The office worker who arrives at work smelling of liquor is another matter altogether he is not endangering life or limb by sitting at his desk and working albeit not at peak efficiency. So an alcohol policy can discriminate fairly between the rules for one class of employee and another class of employee.
If an employer has in place a policy that states that sleeping on duty is a dismissible offence, and the lady who makes the tea is caught sleeping on duty in the kitchen, it doubtful that the employer would successfully defend a claim of unfair dismissal brought by the employee.
But if a security guard is caught sleeping on duty, the circumstances are altogether different, and dismissal would in all probability be justified.
Thus the employer must give careful thought to the design and content of his Alcohol Policy.
The policy must also contain rules that regulate alcohol consumption off premises during working hours, such as with field sales reps, field technicians, even to the extent of regulating alcohol consumption by managers and executives – business lunches, on the golf course, and so on.
There may be some job categories that carry a high risk for alcohol abuse – such as in the hospitality industry such as barmen, waiters, wine stewards, and people working with alcoholic beverages every day as part of their duties. All these special considerations each require its own unique approach in formulating the rules and regulations, because each has its own unique set of circumstances.
Therefore management is responsible for compiling the Alcohol (& Drug Abuse) Policy and management are responsible to ensure that employees comply. By “management” we refer to every person in a supervisory position who has staff reporting to him.
The Policy must not be as strict as to make problem employees fearful of coming forward – such a policy will only serve to drive the problem drinkers underground – and this compounds the problem because besides being a problem drinker, the employee becomes a secret drinker as well.
If the employer wishes to address the problem effectively, then the formulation of the Policy is important and requires input from all levels of management, and a fair amount of policy content will be decided upon from the results of past experience in dealing with the problem.

The Occupational Health and Safety Act; General Regulations and the company policy
Section 2(a) of the above mentioned regulations state;
2A. Intoxication

  1. Subject to the provisions of sub regulation (3), an employer or a user, as the case may be, shall not permit any person who is or who appears to be under the influence of intoxicating liquor or drugs, to enter or remain at a workplace.
  2. Subject to the provisions of sub regulation (3), no person at a workplace shall be under the influence of or have in his or her possession or partake of or offer any other person intoxicating liquor or drugs.
  3. An employer or a user, as the case may be, shall, in the case where a person is taking medicines, only allow such person to perform duties at the workplace if the side effects of such medicine do not constitute a threat to the health or safety of the person concerned or other persons at such workplace.
    From the general regulations above it is clear that there is a duty on employers to ensure that employees;
    ● who appears to be under the influence of intoxicating liquor or drugs are not allowed to work, enter or remain at the workplace;
    are not under the influence of intoxicating liquor or drugs at the workplace;
    ● do not have intoxicating liquor or ● drugs in their possession;
    ● do not offer intoxicating liquor or ● drugs to other employees.
    In other words zero tolerance in that you may not even arrive at work smelling of alcohol that was consumed the night before. To be accused of “having presented for work after having consumed alcohol (or a substance having a narcotic producing affect), or with alcohol smelling on the breath”, the employee does not necessarily have to be plainly intoxicated.
    He need not necessarily have had to have consumed a sufficient quantity of alcohol so as to have placed him “over the legal limit”.
    Being an act of misconduct, it is obvious that dismissal may result if the employee is found guilty after the employer has followed a fair procedure.
    Thus it is a serious matter and should be dealt with as such but employers are reminded that schedule 8 of the Labour Relations Act prescribes progressive discipline in order to correct that behaviour of the employee. It would therefore be unfair to dismiss an employee the first time he arrives at work smelling of alcohol after a long weekend.
    A dismissal may be contemplated in instances where the employee consumes alcohol at the workplace or makes it available to colleagues during working hours, as for the rest we recommend progressive discipline in order to correct the behaviour of the employee.
    For some strange reason Commissioners very often do not share the passion of employers to have sober employees at the workplace.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *