Drunk and Sleeping on Duty?
A technician (we will call him Puzi Gologo), working on a secondment for a service provider at a chemical plant was found sleeping on duty by the customer’s plant manager. The plant manager did not wake him but instead sent an SMS to the contract manager of the service provider – “Puzi is vas aan die slaap en hy reuk van drank” (Puzi is asleep and he smells of drink [alcohol]).
The contract manager rushed to the plant where he found Puzi slumped in a chair and smelling of alcohol. He tried to wake Puzi by shaking him but was unable to do so, so he phoned for a replacement to take over the shift. When the replacement arrived, he took Puzi back to his office (some 8kms from the plant) and arranged for him to go for a blood test at a local pathology laboratory. The result came back 2 days later and indicated that Puzi had an alcohol content of 0.08 in his blood stream.
At the disciplinary enquiry that followed, Puzi admitted guilt, asking for leniency as he ‘had made a big mistake’. When asked if he had a drinking problem, Puzi was adamant that he did not but he indicated financial problems had made him feel depressed.
To Puzi’s surpise and dismay, the chairman recommended dismissal which was approved by management. The reasoning was that:-
- Puzi had short service – only 11 ½ months.
- He had been found sleeping when he should have been monitoring a chemical process – this could have had serious consequences if something had gone wrong with the process.
- Puzi was intoxicated in a dangerous chemical plant.
- Both the service provider and customer had zero tolerance policies to alcohol which had been conveyed to Puzi and which had been consistently applied in the past.
- Puzi was an intelligent person who had received extensive training in safety matters and he was fully aware of dangers and consequence of being intoxicated in the plant.
Sounds like a straight forward case? Not so. Puzi changed his story at the CCMA and the case ended up in a full day’s arbitration.
When asked by the chairman of the disciplinary enquiry to acknowledge his guilt in writing, Puzi disingenuously wrote on the notice of the enquiry, “I understand and accept the charges.” Later he argued that this meant that he had admitted that he understood the charges but he flatly denied that he had pleaded guilty.
As Puzi had pleaded guilty at the enquiry, no witnesses were called and it subsequently transpired that the only person who could say with any certainty that Puzi was intoxicated was the contract manager.
Without going into the details of the case, there are certain learning points which readers can benefit from. These are:-
IF YOU SUSPECT AN EMPLOYEE IS UNDER THE INFLUENCE OF ALCOHOL OR DRUGS:-
- Have at least two reliable management witnesses check the employee’s condition to verify that he or she is NOT FIT FOR WORK. If you use this terminology, you block off excuses where an employee claims that he or she is not intoxicated but had a reaction to prescription medicine.
- Do physical tests for intoxication and write down your observations:-
- Ask the employee to walk in a straight line and to stand on one leg.
- Ask him to type an e-mail or SMS or write something.
- Ask him to pick up a pin or to touch his nose with his index finger.
- Make a note of the employee’s manner – is it abnormal? For example is the employee euphoric (giggling and laughing at stupid things), abnormally depressed or abnormally aggressive?
- Make a note of the employee’s speech. Is his/her speech slurred and incoherent? Is he/she abnormally loud and/or over-familiar?
- Stand close enough to smell whether the employee has been drinking alcohol.
- Make a note of the employee’s general appearance. Is he unkept and slovenly in his physical appearance?
- Check his/her eyes. Are the pupils bloodshot, dilated and unfocused?
- Complete a CHECKLIST FOR INTOXICATION and get all the witnesses to sign it. (If you do not have one, e-mail us and we will send you one FREE-OF-CHARGE)
- Ask the employee to undergo an alco-test. These are normally administered by security, but if one is not available – don’t panic – just make detailed notes of your observations so you can justify your conclusion that the employee was not fit for work. If you have an alco-tester, make sure that the person who administers the test (preferably a security officer or manager) is prepared to act as a witness in any disciplinary proceedings which may follow.Remember however, that an alco-test (or even a blood test for that matter) is not proof of intoxication. In order to prove intoxication, one needs the testimony of responsible witnesses who can testify that the person is not fit for work. This is the reason for the Checklist for Intoxication.In the case described above, the employee was sent to a pathology clinic for a blood test. While the result showed that the employee was indeed intoxicated, it became an issue of contention. The problem with a blood test is that again, without the testimony of the person who conducted the test, it is not proof of intoxication. The employee may refute that he was intoxicated (as is what happened) and then require the employer to furnish proof of intoxication.This means that the nurse who took the blood sample would have to be called as a witness. She would have to testify that she took the blood sample from the employee and that the results published are from that blood sample. This is very likely to complicate matters as the nurse might not be available or could be reluctant to testify. Add to that, the employer might have to subpoena the nurse as a witness and would have to pay her expenses.
- If an employee admits to being under the influence, write out a statement describing the incident in full and ask the employee to sign it in front of witnesses. Ensure you include a clause to the effect that ‘This statement is made of my own free will – no person has coerced me into making it.’
- If you are the person leading the case against the employee (i.e. the initiator) investigate the incident properly and prepare properly for the enquiry. There is no such thing as an ‘open and shut case’.
- If you fail to prepare, be prepared to fail!!