Alcohol in the workplace

Oct 21, 2014

The Office Party… that never ends

The accounts manager that has one too many at the Christmas party. The sales rep that entertains clients over legendary liquid lunches. The guy from accounts who slips out for a quick one during lunch. Yes, alcohol in the workplace is very real and growing concern.

While some companies have a zero-tolerance approach to alcohol in the workplace, there are other companies where the lines are a little more blurred. For some a bottle of wine over lunch is acceptable. There are even some companies that encourage a culture of “socialising’ with colleagues after work. For others the faintest wiff of alcohol on one’s breath, will land the employee up in the Human Resources Department immediately.

The South African Labour Guide states that there really is no one-size-fits-all policy when it comes to alcohol and the workplace.

It states that the Alcohol Policy must be customised to suit each individual company or department. An employer needs a different set of rules for those engaged in hazardous occupation than for those that spend their days at the office. While this may seem like discrimination, consider the fact that pilots may not drink alcohol for a period of up to 24-hours prior to a flight, compared to an office based employee, who is expected back at work the next day, even after a night of alcohol consumption. It all boils down to liability and safety

However, office-based employees that arrive with alcohol smelling on their breath or drink during office hours, rendering them incapable of doing their work, or those employees that take multiple sick days and never present a doctor’s note – are a different matter entirely.

Employers need to give the Alcohol Policy careful consideration. It should contain rules that regulate acceptable alcohol consumption off premises during working hours, such as with reps, managers and excecutives. The Alcohol Policy should also include a separate section on how to handle noticeable and highly problematic alcohol abuse.

However the Labour Guide states that this section will only be applied to those employees who have a genuine desire to be helped. Most employees, when confronted, would possibly deny the problem in any case. The employer cannot force the employee to undergo rehabilitation but can demand that, since the employee has affirmed that there is no problem, the employee must stop the drinking immediately, undergo the rehabilitation program, or face dismissal.

Employers can seek the advice of organisations such as SANCA (The South African National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Addiction) or Alcoholics Anonymous to gain advice and information on formulating a policy with the do’s and donts of handling alcoholism in the workplace. With the Christmas Party season approaching, we will relook at this topic in the following weeks.

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