January 22, 2018

Breathalysing in the workplace

Closeup of drunk business man looking at camera, wearing tie on his head and holding glass of wine.

The South African Labour Guide reports that “Employers are often shocked when yet another dismissal of a drunken employee is found to be unfair by the CCMA or a Bargaining Council. They have more reason to be shocked when they hear that a commissioner accepted that a truck driver (responsible for transporting fellow employees) was intoxicated to some extent and caused a collision, but found that the prevention of alcohol abuse at work was a management responsibility and that it was they who should ensure that employees were not able to commence work if drunk {GIWUSA & another v VM Construction [1995] 9 BLLR 99 (IC)}.”

In any industry, being under the influence at work can become a deadly habit. Whether the staff member is responsible for security, transport, warehousing or factory work, dulled senses put themselves, their colleagues and their customers at risk. There are no legal stipulations in South African law about whether a company can request an employee to undergo a breathalyser. As such, companies are well within their rights to request same.

To protect themselves, however, organisations must include a no tolerance clause for drugs and alcohol in their policies and procedures, as well as in the employment contract. According to the HR and Labour Club, it is then possible to test all employees using a breathalyser. Should an employee refuse to take a test, management can’t force them to do so, but will have recourse to discipline them for breach of contract or breach of the policy.

Jacki Condon, Managing Director of Apache Security Services, advises that it is essential that the breathalyser is in good working order. “Breathalysers must be serviced once a year or every 300 tests, whichever comes first. This service involves a re-calibration to maintain accuracy. This entails checking and adjusting the accuracy of a unit by comparing its results with a known value. It is important that the correct functioning of the breathalyser cannot be drawn into question.”

During the festive season, and as the workforce readjusts to the workplace in the new year, alcohol in the workplace becomes a major challenge. “In the security industry, guards are often the only staff on site through the holidays. This lack of accountability leads to a decline in discipline,” adds Condon. “Hiring external consultants to conduct spot-checks and administer breathalysers on staff could mean the difference between mitigating or aggravating risks.”

 Issued by Perfect Word Consulting (Pty) Ltd

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