Naik v Telkom SA (2000) 21 ILJ 1266 (CCMA)

Principle:

Alcoholism is a form of incapacity and must be treated as such, rather than as misconduct.

Facts:

The employee, with 17 years service, was dismissed for being under the influence of alcohol whilst on duty and challenged the fairness of the sanction of dismissal. A year before the incident leading to his dismissal he admitted himself to a rehabilitation centre and benefited from the programme, despite relapses. After he threatened his manager with a panga he was given a final written warning. The incident which led to his dismissal was that he was found passed out in his car when he should have been at an important meeting. The CCMA held that alcoholism is a form of incapacity and that reinstatement to an alternative position was fair.

\Extract from the award:

The upshot of viewing alcoholism as a disease in the employment context is that an employee's displaying the symptoms of alcoholism must, logically, be treated similarly to displays of other medical conditions...

...there is conduct in the workplace involving the use or abuse of alcohol which may correctly be described as misconduct. This is especially in the case of persons who are not dependent on it...

If we are to view alcohol abuse by alcoholics as incapacity, then the compelling truth is that to dismiss an alcoholic merely because he turns up at work drunk for the second time but after a final written warning, would be analogous to dismissing an employee suffering from cancer because, in the course of his treatment, he was unfit to work on a given day...

...when considering how to deal with the applicant's incapacity, thought must be given to the nature of the job; the extent to which the illness incapacitates the applicant; the length of time that the applicant would have to be away from work to rehabilitate; and the possibility of securing a temporary replacement...Before dismissal can be effected the extent of the disability suffered as well as the availability of alternative work must be considered.