All You Need to Know about Alcohol in the Workplace

Have you as the employer ever been faced with a situation where you caught an employee under the influence of alcohol or in the act of drinking alcohol, even worse, company alcohol…
The use of alcohol in the workplace can be seen as a major issue in South Africa. It has become an increased trend amongst employees to arrive at work under the influence of alcohol, or even worse, to consume it in the workplace during working hours. When looking at discipline in the workplace regarding the use of alcohol or drugs, employers are urged to implement a clear policy regarding alcohol and drug consumption. Employers should also make it a priority that all employees are aware of the alcohol policy that is in place as well as disciplinary actions that can be when an employee is in contravention of the policy.
Although an employee may test positive for alcohol, it does not automatically imply that they are under the influence. According to recent case law, an employee’s “drunkenness” should be proven either by 1) the employee’s conduct (the employee acts in an unusual manner and cannot perform their duties), 2) smell (smelling alcohol on the employee’s breath for example) and/or 3) sight (seeing the employee in the act of drinking). When a case is made against the employee, the onus rests upon the employer to prove the employee was under the influence or made use of alcohol.
Before employers take disciplinary action against employees, they should take the following factors into consideration: 1) What behaviour is seen as generally accepted within the workplace, 2) the nature of the business, and 3) the possible harm that can be caused by the employee after consuming alcohol. These factors can influence the severity of the offence and can be the difference between a warning or a dismissal. For example, an office worker who consumed alcohol before the start of their working day may be able to continue with his/her daily tasks without harming anyone and completing these tasks to acceptable company standards. However, a truck driver who consumed alcohol before his shift may not only present a danger to himself, but also to company property as well as innocent bystanders as he may be likely to cause an accident.
The fact of the matter is still that when an employee is able to perform their work to acceptable company standards and to a level of competence that can be expected of a person of sober nature, dismissal for alcohol use may be judged as unfair. Case law also suggests that if an employee is found to be under the influence and not sent home on the day, but later dismissed, the case might be referred to the CCMA with the argument that the employer still saw the employee fit on the day in question to perform their daily duties to the required standard. Therefore dismissal may be ruled as unfair.
Although alcohol use is mostly dealt with as a form of misconduct, alcohol abuse can be seen as a form of incapacity and must in some instances be treated as such. It is important that employers must be able to differentiate between the two. The use of alcohol can be seen as a one time or non-regular occurrence whereas alcohol abuse can be defined as the early stages of alcohol dependency which is classified as a disorder. In cases of alcohol abuse, employers should rather investigate options such as counselling or rehabilitation to help the employee as an alternative to dismissal. However, when looking at all of the above, it is extremely important for an employer to have a proper alcohol policy in place, to make sure employees are thoroughly aware of the policy and what disciplinary action can be taken if the policy is transgressed. It is also of utmost importance to apply the policy consistently throughout the company. This creates little space for employees to sidestep the situation and go unscathed when making themselves guilty of violating the alcohol policy.
Need to get an Alcohol & Drug Policy in place, contact Invictus Group on 0861 737 263.