Article written by Crystal McLauchlin

The LWO Employers Organisation assists Skitterblink to manage labour risk in the Domestic and Contract Cleaning Sector and Skitterblink encourages their clients, who are also employers, to address labour as a business risk proactively in order to promote a working environment with reduced conflict, friction and misunderstanding, which in turn creates a structured environment receptive for growth.

Employees that report for duty under the influence of alcohol presents a real problem which employers are faced with on a regular basis. The use of alcohol affects an employee’s sight, speech, coordination and reaction speed. Employees working with machinery or driving a vehicle, who are under the influence of alcohol, hold a high risk for the employer, themselves and their colleagues. It is the employer’s responsibility to create a safe working environment for all employees and must therefore always act in accordance with the disciplinary code.

How to determine if an employee is under the influence

Labour legislation does not specify the symptoms to determine whether an employee is under the influence of alcohol. Therefore it is vital to implement an alcohol policy in the workplace. Employees can also be tested for alcohol during working hours, but only if this is so stipulated in their employment contracts or in an alcohol policy, or if the employee has given his/her permission.

In general, employers can consider the following symptoms in order to determine whether an employee is under the influence of alcohol:

  • Red and bloodshot eyes with enlarged pupils;
  • Slurred and incoherent speech;
  • Change in behaviour;
  • Staggering, ie the employee is disoriented;
  • Delayed reaction and coordination;
  • Breath smells like alcohol.

How to act when an employee is under the influence:

  1. Call the employee aside, preferably to an office. Ensure that a witness is present.
  2. Determine whether the employee is under the influence. Request the employee to blow into an alcohol tester.  If you do not have such a device, you can take the employee to a physician for blood tests to determine his/her alcohol level.
  3. If none of these methods are available, or if the employee refuses to give his/her cooperation and permission, it is vital to record his/her behaviour. Ask witnesses to also record their observations, which must be in writing.
  4. Send the employee home for the rest of the day, without pay.
  5. Follow the correct procedure as per your disciplinary code. Keep in mind that the sanction given must be appropriate in relation to the type of work done.

Disciplinary hearing

If a disciplinary hearing is held, it is important to follow correct procedure, to ensure fair procedures and substantive fairness. During the disciplinary hearing all witnesses that observed the symptoms must be present. The burden of proof is not so heavy in labour legislation and the employer must only be able to prove on a balance of probabilities that the employee was under the influence of alcohol during working hours.

When an employee is found guilty of being under the influence during working hours and admits to having a problem, it is the duty of the employer to establish if the cause of the substance abuse problem is related to working conditions in any way. If so, the employer should review the conditions if necessary. Furthermore the employer must assist the employee to undergo counselling and make time available for rehabilitation. This can be seen as unpaid leave without placing the employee’s position in jeopardy. Alcoholism is widely accepted as a disease and should be treated as such.

An alcohol policy

The aim of an alcohol policy is to ensure that all employees are aware of the rules in terms of alcohol in the workplace and that corrective and progressive discipline is applied.

Contact the LWO Employers Organisation for all labour related issues at 0861 101 828, email us, or visit www.lwo.co.za

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