The pandemic has undoubtedly resulted in a new way of doing things. Working from home, for at least part of the work week, has become common place but with workers now in the comfort of their own homes, does this give them free reign to consume alcohol and drugs while on the clock?

Aadil Patel, national head of the employment law practice at Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr, says even if workers are not physically working from the office, labour laws and company policies still apply.

“The Occupational Health and Safety Act; General Regulations states that subject to the provisions of sub regulation (3), no person at a workplace shall be under the influence of or have in his or her possession or partake of or offer any other person intoxicating liquor or drugs.

“Even though you’re working from home and employers may not physically see you, if suspicions are raised normal disciplinary procedures are expected to be followed.”

Being drunk at work constitutes misconduct and an employee can be dismissed, however employers must have an Alcohol (& drug abuse) policy which is communicated to all its employees.

“Management is responsible for putting policies in place, not just for consumption on the premises – policies can extend to behaviour off company premises, during working hours in the event that it impacts the employee’s ability to do their job. Policies should not be limited to the consumption of alcohol, and should include any substance that prevents one from doing their duties, such as cannabis for example,” explains Patel.

Each case needs to be treated on its own merits Patel advises. “Alcoholism is an illness, therefore the distinction must be made between incapacity as a result of alcoholism or simple misconduct. If an employer suspects that a worker may have a dependency problem, the employer is under obligation to assist the worker to access treatment.

“You may be tempted to reward yourself in between Zoom meetings while working from home, but think twice before reaching for a glass while you are still on the clock. And if you find yourself stress drinking, seek help – we are still in the midst of a global pandemic which itself has brought on additional mental health triggers,” concludes Patel.

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