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Here's what you need to do to dismiss an employee who abuses alcohol at work

by , 12 September 2013
A senior South African official has been fired for being drunk at the Chelsea Flower Show in London, News24 reports. Yesterday, Water and Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa, released a statement saying SA National Biodiversity Institute (Sanbi) board chair Tami Sokutu has been 'released from his position'. The reason?

Sokutuwas under the influence of alcohol emerged when attending the flower show in May. Alcohol abuse on the job is a big problem for SA companies. Use these three steps to dismiss an employee who abuses alcohol at work.

If an employee is drunk or high at work, it has a direct effect on his performance, morale, judgment, and ability to carry out his job effectively. He could also hurt himself or compromise the safety of other employees or people who enter your workplace. You must take action, says the Labour Law for Managers Loose Leaf Service.

Make sure you cover all your bases when you take action.

Follow these three steps to dismiss an employee who abuses alcohol at work

Step 1: Establish the seriousness of the situation

The minute you suspect your employee is under the influence of drugs or alcohol, investigate the situation. Determine what the employee was doing and the extent of the problem.

Arrange for him to go home if it's clear he's drunk. It may be necessary to have someone take him home if you can see it would be dangerous for him to go home on his own. Advise him that you'll take corrective action when he comes back to work.

But if you establish the employee isn't currently drunk but might have had too much to drink during the previous night and still smells of alcohol, judge the working situation.

Look at the following factors:

  • How his staying at work will impact other employees;
  • How productive he'll be if he stays at work;
  • How likely it is that he'll need to communicate with customers; and
  • How safe the working environment is for someone in his condition.

Depending on your answers to these questions, it might be better to send him home and deal with him the next day. In both cases, make sure you have witnesses when you talk to him.

Step 2: Arrange for the employee to go to your clinic or to be seen by an external doctor or to attend an employee assistance program

Once you discover that your employee is drunk, you must try to find out the reason for his intoxication, either on the day or the following working day.

You can do this by sending him to your clinic or to be seen by an external doctor, or to attend an employee assistance programme where he'll be assessed. This'll help you establish the reason he's drunk.

If the reason is alcohol dependency (alcoholism), then you must follow the incapacity procedure.

This may require more counseling for your employee.

If the reason is mere lack of judgment, follow your misconduct procedure. You can take disciplinary action against him for misconduct.

Step 3: Charge the employee and have a formal disciplinary enquiry

Consider the charges carefully and ensure they accurately relate to the offence.

For example, if you charge your employee for being drunk, you must show that he was drunk. For instance, he smells of alcohol or has slurred speech.

As a general rule, don't dismiss an employee for a first time offence. Unless his conduct has serious implications for your business.

This is especially true in circumstances where he commits other acts of misconduct while intoxicated, which results in the breakdown of the trust relationship.

You may also be justified in dismissing him for being drunk or under the influence of alcohol if you've warned him before for the same conduct and he repeats it.

Knowing what to do when your employee is drunk at work will help ensure you take action and stay on the right side of labour law.

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