Make sure you know the laws about drugs and work before you light up, even after hours, says the writer. Picture: NQOBILE MBONAMBI
Make sure you know the laws about drugs and work before you light up, even after hours, says the writer. Picture: NQOBILE MBONAMBI

Dagga may be legal, but it is not permitted in the workplace

By Michael Bagraim Time of article published Oct 3, 2018

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With the advent of the recent Constitutional Court judgment and the increased use of cannabis, we are finding many employers being faced with employees who feel they may now partake in cannabis as it is “legal”.

It must be known that the Occupational Health and Safety Act specifically says no employer may allow any person to enter or remain in the workplace if they appear to be under the influence of liquor or drugs, or to be in possession of, partake in or offer others intoxicating liquor or drugs.

This injunction is far-reaching and is in no way negated or changed by the court ruling. Every employee must be made aware that being under the influence of marijuana at work could lead to accidents and if detected will lead to disciplinary inquiries which will probably lead to dismissal.

More often than not, the effects of dagga remain in the system longer than alcohol and do in fact impair the individual user.

Any danger that exists at the workplace is vastly exacerbated when someone has been using dagga. We also often see that dagga is smoked together with other drugs which makes it a lot more dangerous at the workplace. Cannabis is classified as a hallucinogen, which does often translate into a depressant for the central nervous system.

Dagga can affect performance and safety and is dangerous when a person has to use machinery or is expected to drive. Most results show us that dagga affects motor co-ordination and reaction time.

Just because the smoking and partaking in the ingestion of cannabis is now legal, it does not make it legal at the workplace. Depending on the amount of dagga taken, the effects could last anything up to 12 hours, especially if ingested and not smoked.

Employers need to ensure that they have policies in place carefully outlining the negativity of alcohol and drugs and these policies should outline the disciplinary action that will be taken if the presence of the drug is detected.

These workplace policies must be made known to every employee and it is recommended that these employees personally sign copies of the policies to indicate they know and understand the policy and that they will abide by the rules.

An employee will not be able to use the defence that the dagga is now legal.

Alcohol being legal does not excuse any employee arriving at work intoxicated. Even the possession of dagga at work should lead to a disciplinary inquiry. It is well known that after alcohol, dagga is probably the most abused substance in South Africa.

Now that dagga is legal it might be useful to inform the workforce that if any employee has a particular problem with dagga use, they can come forward and, as with alcohol abuse, ask for help from the company.

As the workplace becomes more and more stressful and pressure is put on employees daily, we find employees often turn to alcohol and drug abuse after work.

The effects of this abuse in the evening or after the work shift can still be seen the next day or on the next shift. These symptoms will lead to an investigation and often end up in the loss of employment.

It is useful to form a committee at the workplace in fashioning the intoxicating substances policy.

There are examples where employees have felt they are part of the solution and structure the committee to reach out to those who are using the substances. It is now vital for every employer to raise the topic at the workplace and to ensure every employee, from management down, is subject to the same rules and regulations. Every employee who is impaired or intoxicated will face the same risk of dismissal.

Employers also face prosecution if they don’t take action in order to avert accidents at work. It is common practice for certain categories of employees who celebrate big sales or entertain clients to partake in intoxicating substances. These employees should be encouraged not to drive and not to return to work after such events.

To sum up, the use of any intoxicating substance is not acceptable in any circumstances when it will lead to intoxication at work.

Recently our attorneys’ firm has received dozens of queries from employers about the recreational use of dagga during the lunch hour or even in between shifts. Employees argue that the minuscule amount of a few puffs does not in any way interfere with their working ability.

Our advice remains that even the smallest amount is not acceptable at the workplace and cannot be condoned in any form by the employer.

* Michael Bagraim is a labour lawyer.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media

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