I recently confided to my line manager that I have an alcohol problem. Soon after, the company sent out an email informing us that anybody caught drinking or smelling of alcohol would be subject to disciplinary proceedings. I know I need help, but I am worried that the employer is getting ready to fire me. Can they do this?
There is a thin line between addiction and being under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Our labour laws recognise addiction as a form of incapacity and employers are required to assist employees in overcoming addiction through counselling and rehabilitation.
However, it would be incorrect to say that an employer can never take disciplinary steps against an employee who is under the influence of drugs or alcohol, because each case is decided on its own merits and will inform whether counselling, rehabilitation or disciplinary action is appropriate. For instance, counselling or rehabilitation would not be appropriate for an employee who denies having a dependency or refuses assistance in the form of counselling or rehabilitation. This means that such an employee may be subjected to disciplinary proceedings which could, depending on the facts, lead to sanctions such as dismissal.
Employees need not be under the influence during working hours in order to receive assistance in the form of counselling or rehabilitation and this obligation of assistance also includes employees who have displayed a habit of being unable to perform their duties as a result of their alcohol consumption or substance use in their private time.
Although employers are required to deal with addiction cases in a sensitive manner by offering assistance to an affected employee, it is important to be mindful of the fact that employers are also required to provide a safe working environment for all employees. An employee who is under the influenceposes a risk to others as well.
Employers should have a policy in place to address substance or alcohol abuse and I would recommend that you consult your company’s policy to familiarise yourself with the company procedures. Where no such policy exists, take up your problem with your employer and request assistance.
– Jeanette Monahadi, associate, Phatshoane Henney Attorneys