The Department of Employment and Labour has issued numerous Directives that address the occupational health and safety measures to be implemented in the workplace in response to COVID 19 and in an attempt to minimise the risk of spreading the virus in the workplace.
In terms of the above Directive, this includes inter alia social distancing measures, symptom screening, provision of hand sanitisers with an alcohol content of at least 70% as well as the provision of cloth masks to employees.
To curb the risk of spreading the virus in the workplace, most employers have subsequently suspended the utilisation of multiple-use breathalysers in the workplace. Understandably, employers may now question whether they will be able to discipline an employee who reports for duty under the influence of alcohol.
Employers are, however, well within their rights to continue with the implementation of disciplinary measures in the workplace, in line with their disciplinary code. Employers are advised to prepare an observation report sheet to complete when an employee reports for duty, and it is suspected that the employee is under the influence of alcohol.
Generally, the observation report can address the following symptoms to determine whether the employee in question is under the influence of alcohol: –
- Red eyes with enlarged pupils
- Slurred speech
- Delayed reaction
- A visible change in behaviour
- Breath that smells of alcohol
When the observation report is completed, the employer must ensure a witness is present and that the form is signed by both the person completing the sheet and the witness. Where the observation report is completed, and the employee in question presents with most or all the symptoms therein, an employer can decide to make use of a single-use breathalyser test, to test the employee’s blood-alcohol level.
The use of an observation sheet is not a new concept. It is used regularly by employers where employees refuse to undergo a breathalyser test. Where an employee disputes that he was under the influence of alcohol, the sheet can then be used as evidence, together with the testimony of the individual who completed the sheet and the witness. Where a single-use breathalyser test was utilised, the results thereof can then be used in support of the observation report. Employers are advised to keep the said test in a safe place and not discard thereof.
The COVID 19 pandemic should not be an opportunity for employees to get away with committing serious forms of misconduct, such as reporting under the influence of alcohol, without fear of discipline.
Article by: Ilze Erasmus
Dispute Resolution Official – Port Elizabeth