Alcoholism in the workplace

Alcoholism in the workplace is becoming an increasing problem and challenges employers to address this in a proper legal manner by ensuring that the company policies and procedures are designed to suit individual company needs as well as ensure that employees comply.

Get a substance abuse policy

The crux of implementing such a policy is to ensure that employees not only adhere to it, but are also confident to admit any substance abuse. Thus, any policy in this regard should not be a threat to employees but an instrument to make them come forward and not be scared of discrimination.

Employers should base their policy and procedures on specific job categories according to special considerations and circumstances as each one requires a different approach.

Alcoholism in the workplace

In terms of the South African Labor Law, alcohol abuse for example can be approached from two viewpoints:

  1. either as a serious misconduct or
  2. a diagnosable and treatable disease.

In the first case, it is regarded as a serious offense leading to dismissals arising from incapacity and inappropriate behavior. In the second case, it requires counseling and rehabilitation rather than dismissal.

To ensure that policy is fair and binding, formulation of such policies requires input from all levels of management and applicable to all employees regardless of decision making power.

The employers’ responsibility

In terms of the General Safety Regulations Section 2(a), the employer’s responsibilities is to ensure

(1) that no employee who is, or who appears to be intoxicated, is allowed to enter or remain on the premises;

(2) that no employee has in his/her position or partake of or offer any other employee any substance; and

(3) that in certain circumstances, where employees are under medication, are only allowed to perform duties that will not endanger him/herself or other employees. In this regard the onus is on the employee to inform the employer of taking medication with possible side effects.

In light of the above, a substance abuse policy should be clear, direct and specific. It should stipulate specific requirements and disciplinary action in terms of detailed company processes and procedures that will be followed.

Employers should ensure that such policy is communicated and transparent to all employees at all levels.

Written by Tessa Van Eeden

Tessa Van Eeden

Tel: +27 12 809 4210

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