As an employer in South Africa, one of your key concerns is keeping a healthy, capable and productive workforce in operation.
Substance use issues are almost given in the South African workplace, as up to 15% of the workforce are actively addicted to some harmful substance or behaviour.
Addiction negatively impacts productivity, profitability and the mental and social wellness of your business.
Poorly executed tasks, disciplinary hearings, absenteeism, theft and deaths caused directly or indirectly by addiction can have substantial effects to the bottom line and business management.
In South Africa, employees that “self-identify” their addiction to their employer are protected under the labour relations act.
Invariably the knee jerk reaction to dealing with substance abuse in the workplace or office is met with dismissals where trained and valuable staff may be lost in the process and human capital is effected as the costs of training new staff and motivating remaining staff also impact the profitability of the company unless active measures are taken to address these issues.
The following practical guide will help your company succeed in the face of addiction-related issues.
Recovery Direct helps employers handle these issues mindfully and constructively for all parties concerned.
When dealing with an employee in the flight of active addiction, business owners need to understand how addiction works to address the issue mindfully in the best interests of the company and for the wellbeing of associated employees.
Dealing With an Alcohol or Drug Addicted Employee
Questions like, what has happened? who was involved? What are the next steps to remedy the problem, boil to the surface.
In most scenarios “addiction” is presented on an event. Some event has sounded the “alarm”, in many business cases this is material in that a theft, destruction of property or some outrageous inexcusable social interaction. There are many more “subtle” identifications, but the bottom line is that management is now aware of a problem that can impact the business and must take action.
In most “management” scenarios even the best business managers are NOT equipped to deal with the complexity of physical and psychological addiction issues. While the immediate event may seemingly have nothing to do with drugs or alcohol, and be warranted grounds for dismissal, addiction to drugs and alcohol is in many cases the underlying cause of wayward employees actions.
The immediate “knee jerk” response is punitive dismissals and/or disciplinary hearings.
The task of firing an employee opens up a plethora of legislated procedure in South Africa as employees are protected by a list of LRA policies and the process has a lot of interpretive processes. Meaning that any flaw on the dismissal process can be ultimately be challenged in a (free to employee) CCMA hearing and if it was not handled correctly the employee may be awarded up to a years salary (with no productivity for the company).
In any terms, this is a loss in profit.
In the case of employees that openly identify their addiction in disciplinary hearings or in consultation prior to or even after the hearing, further complexity is added into a dismissal procedure.
Item 10 of Schedule 8 of the Labour Relations Act, in essence, says that if an employee tells the employer that they are suffering from an addiction, the company is legally obligated to take steps to help the employee resolve their addiction problem before they can proceed with the dismissal.
Basically substance addiction is yet another trump card that can be drawn even months after dismissal by using a range of schedules and “condonation” clauses in the Labour Relations Act of South Africa.
Bottom line is that losing staff not only means having to recruit new staff, but invest the time in helping replacement staff get up to speed with the operations of the business, whilst still maintaining cohesive work environments as you can imagine this list goes on from rectifying business losses caused by the employee to the impacts of perceptions and morale in the workplace.
Lastly losing one’s job due to addiction is an incredibly stressful and demoralizing event for all involved. These events invariably cause ex-employees into destructive cycles of substance abuse that poses a massive risk to their long-term wellbeing.
Developing an Alcohol and Drug Policy For Your Company
According to the code employers, together with employee representatives, should develop, in writing, a policy on alcohol and drug abuse. If possible, the policy should be formulated with the help of medical personnel and other experts who have specialised knowledge regarding alcohol and drug related problems. The policy should include information and procedures on:
Measures to control “substance abuse” in the workplace through good employment practices
The code advises that where it is shown that certain job situations may contribute to substance abuse the employer together with the employee representatives should identify and take appropriate preventative or remedial action. Workers and their representatives should also not formally or informally support behaviour, which incites, encourages or otherwise facilitates the harmful use of alcohol or the abuse of drugs on the premises. When an employee voluntarily discloses a previous history of substance abuse, the employer should take steps to ensure that the employee is not exposed to a working situation which might, in the past, have resulted in the employee’s problem.
Restriction on alcohol, legal and illegal drugs in the workplace
The employer together with consulting parties should consider restricting or prohibiting the possession, or consumption and the selling of alcohol in the workplace. The employer should, after consultation with employee representatives, consider withdrawing alcohol as an item for expense account reimbursement or restrict it to specific situations. Employers should also be prevented from paying any wages in the form of alcohol or drugs. The above should apply to both management and workers. In those instances were medication might result in significant impairment, the employee should consult a health professional and inform his/her senior in accordance to normal procedures for absence for health reasons.
Prevention through information, education and training programmes
The code advocates that employers should promote safety and health in the workplace through information, education and training programmes on the physical and psychological effects of alcohol and drug use. These programmes should be directed at all employees. The information, education and training programmes should also include the following information:
- General and specific to the workplace laws and regulations on alcohol and drugs,
- Suggested steps to prevent such problems from occurring, and
- Services available to assist the employees both within and outside the workplace. This will include information on assessment and referral services, counselling, treatment and rehabilitation.
It is recommended that managerial staff should be provided with additional training in order to assist them in identifying changes in the individual’s performance and behaviour. The training will also equip managers with the necessary skills to respond to questions regarding the company policy on alcohol and drugs. After the training, they will also be able to support a recovering worker’s needs and monitor that individual’s performance when he/she returns to work.
Additional training should also be provided to employee representatives In order to enable them to assist employees who require help and to identify working methods or conditions that need to be changed or improved to prevent, reduce or better the management of alcohol and drug-related problems. Training would further assist them in explaining and responding to questions related to company policies regarding alcohol and drugs.
Identification of employees with problems could be conducted at different levels, including, self-assessment, and informal identification through a friend, family member or fellow employee and formal identification. Formal identification may include testing and should be done in accordance to the applicable laws and practices.
Assistance, treatment and rehabilitation programmes
The code further suggests that employees with alcohol or drug-related problems should be treated in the same manner as workers with other health problems. Therefore, workers who seek rehabilitation should not be discriminated against and should enjoy the normal benefits that are offered by an employer including the opportunity for transfer and promotion. The exceptions are in those cases where it has been identified that the employee is no longer fit to do their work. In such instances, the employer should assist the employee to obtain access to counselling, treatment and rehabilitation.
Assistance to employees with problems could vary according to the size of the company. Small companies could assist by providing employees with the names of identified professionals and services that specialise in counselling, treatment and the rehabilitation of employees, for example, self-help groups such as Alcoholic Anonymous (AA). Big companies, on the other hand, might consider the establishment of Employee Assistance Programmes (EAP). In other instances, employees might consider establishing their own programme.
Intervention and disciplinary procedure
The code additionally recommends that employers should be aware that an employee who suffers from an alcohol and/or drug problem might also be suffering from a health problem and should consider offering counselling, treatment or rehabilitation as an alternative before deciding to discipline the employee. Disciplinary rules regarding substance abuse should be communicated to employees so that they are clear in terms of what is prohibited and the type of sanctions for the violation of such rules.
More and more employers have established substance abuse programmes in order to respond to the problems that are created by drugs and alcohol in the workplace. These programmes save money and in some cases, they save careers, families and lives. In an effort to raise awareness about the impact of substance abuse in the workplace, the ILO implemented its code in 1995. Although dated, the code is still relevant and can assist employers to develop and maintain an alcohol and drug-free workplace. It is in the interest of each employer to implement such a policy if it has not done so already. The failure to do so will continue to adversely affect one’s workplace and have a serious impact on productivity.
So what is the solution?
Calling Recovery Direct we are able to determine the best course of action for your company, by understanding the legal risks of dismissal and the frameworks in which long-term viable employees can be brought into a path of recovery (without the stress and risks associated with firing staff).
Our staff are trained in dealing with employees and employers facing addiction issues in the workplace. Recovery Direct maintains a world-class residential private care program is a short term solution that can help to break the addiction process and the long term aftercare and outpatient services address the issues of restitution to the company whilst maintaining relapse prevention through our associated national network with Relapse Prevention.
Relapse Prevention Network