Working from home has become a normal part of business life, a part that is unlikely to come to a crashing halt any time soon. Within this new normal are casual clothes, comfortable working conditions, as well as less time spent in cars and chatting around the water cooler. These changes are immensely valuable to both employer and employee – boosting morale, productivity and work/life balance.
However, there are also risks to this new found freedom, one of which is that an employee could see it as an opportunity to have a drink or two while working. According to Nicol Myburgh, Head: CRS Technologies HCM Business Unit, this is a very risky move as many companies have a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to alcohol and drugs, and people can lose their jobs.
“It comes down to one simple decision – if it impairs your ability to do your job, then you should not be doing it during working hours, even if you’re at home,” he explains. “That said, as an employer it is important to set boundaries and understand the letter of the law when it comes to an employee acting as if they are under the influence. A good first step is to investigate the situation, then ask them if they are alright and to explain their behaviour on the day in question.”
If the employee admits to having a drinking problem, this introduces a new layer of complexity for the company. If a person has any kind of substance abuse challenge, the employer is obligated to provide them with reasonable assistance, according to the Labour Relations Act. While the business has to help them find treatment and ensure that they are given the right kind of support, it is not required to pay for it.
“The other side of the coin is if the person denies drinking,” says Myburgh. “Labour legislation expects the company to prove ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ that someone is under the influence. If they are behaving in a certain way or doing certain things, this can be reasonably inferred, but proof is mandatory for further action. That said, this situation needs to be assessed on a case-by-case basis.”
One incident of bad behaviour can be overlooked – the person made a poor judgement call and is rarely the type to cause problems so you can ignore it. If this becomes an ongoing problem, then you need to establish proof of whether or not the person has a problem, and then enforce any action based on company regulations and employee behaviour.
“These rules apply to any kind of mind-altering substance,” says Myburgh. “From alcohol to marijuana to illegal drugs. When it comes to medicinal drugs, however, the person does have the right to take them, unless it has a severe impact on their work. In that case, there has to be a process in place that works out how company and employee can continue within the limitations of the medication.”
Drinking on the job, whether at home or in the office, is often a fireable offence. Many companies will fire someone caught under the influence because this is outlined in their employment policies – documents that employees signed when they joined the company. For the employee, the best course of action is to avoid any kind of substance abuse during working hours as it could lose them their job. For the employer, it’s essential to find proof before accusing someone of being drunk, and to then perhaps take a more human approach to a once-off offense.