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Alcoholism in the Workplace

Dealing with an employee who is drunk on duty once or twice is a problem (see our previous post in this regard). Dealing with an employee who battles with alcoholism is frustrating and can destroy the employment relationship.

Alcoholism, per se, does not constitute misconduct. It is being under the influence of alcohol and the consequences thereof that amount to misconduct. Nonetheless, alcoholism is an illness and should be treated as such.

One must still hold a Disciplinary Enquiry for being drunk on duty, and in order to determine the nature of the sanction to be imposed, one needs to look at the severity of the consequences of the employee being inebriated at work. For example, a “sweeper” is only likely to injure him/herself and possible the broom, whilst a machinist could injure himself badly and a driver could injure himself, the public and damage an expensive motor vehicle and possibly the load he is carrying.

Once an employee has received a final written warning for other types of misconduct, in ordinary circumstances, any subsequent misconduct would lead to termination. In the case of alcoholism, however, our advice is that the employee should be given an opportunity to undergo treatment for alcoholism as an alternative to dismissal. The treatment is difficult (a six month course), the medicines costly for the employee and have severe negative effects should the employee drink alcohol whilst taking the medication.

The employee must be suspended without pay pending their providing proof of having joined the program at SANCA (The South African National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence), who have clinics all over South Africa, and we strongly suggest that the medication be taken in front of management daily.

The advantage of this approach is two-fold – If the employee makes it through the course successfully, you will likely have a reformed employee. If the employee should ever drink again (or be found under the influence of alcohol on duty), the CCMA will likely condone dismissal given that the employer attempted to assist the employee to treat the illness.

If you have any questions in this regard, please do not hesitate to contact us on (033) 266 6170 or admin@mccarthylaw.co.za