Companies are required to have an alcohol policy in the workplace, and often these policies may stipulate a “zero tolerance” approach to alcohol consumption in relation to their work or workplace. However, this policy seems to be relaxed especially during social work functions or gatherings where alcohol is present and sometimes supplied by the company.
Employees however need to understand that this does not mean that all rules relating to alcohol consumption at the workplace are suspended for the duration of the function. In order to avoid such misconceptions and having to deal with transgressions stemming from these misconceptions after the fact, it is sensible for the company to clarify its policy guidelines in this regard and communicate these to employees prior to any social gatherings. Such communication may include the following:
Informing employees that behaviour at social work functions still requires a level of dignity and professionalism suitable to a working environment, and that it is the employee’s responsibility to ensure that they consume alcohol with discretion to avoid contravention of workplace rules and expected standards of behaviour.
Employees (or their partners) could be removed from the premises should their conduct be inappropriate or undermine set rules and policies.
Stating that the employer will not accept liability for harm and/or damages which may be caused by the employee as a result of his/her alcohol consumption.
Reminding employees that the employer would be entitled to take disciplinary action against an employee for any misconduct which impacts on the employment relationship.
In South Africa, an employer can legally be held liable for damages caused to others by the actions of its employees if those actions took place within the course and scope of their employment, this is referred to as vicarious liability. Needless to mention the potential damages that could be done to the employer’s reputation or any internal work relationships by intoxicated employees, the danger of employees driving under the influence of alcohol or when over the legal limit, the potential contravention of health and safety obligations as well as allegations of any type of harassment, assault or otherwise.
Therefore, it is prudent for employers to put into place measures to ensure acceptable and appropriate behaviour at work functions where alcohol is served. Employers should also play a proactive role in monitoring employees’ alcohol consumption during work functions, and deny intake to an employee whose behavior is out of character or who seems to be consuming excessive volumes in order to prevent types of misconduct which may occur as a result of an employee’s intoxication. Employers may further make available or make employees aware of alternatives such as Uber or alternative modes of transport to avoid employees opting to drive under the influence.
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