Substance use disorder in the workplace: What can employers do?

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Substance use is on the rise in South Africa and is even more prevalent than HIV/Aids.

This is according to Adèl Grobbelaar, the manager of Johannesburg-based SANCA Wedge Gardens, a substance use treatment centre.

“The latest crime statistics reflect that 170 people died daily from alcohol-related incidents and illnesses,” says Adèl.

“Taking the statistics into consideration, it is possible that a significant number of people and/or their loved ones may encounter substance use-related problems that can impact their productivity in the workplace,” she adds.

As employees are a company’s greatest asset, effectively dealing with substance use in the workplace is essential.

“Dismissal of the employee, which many employers consider as their first course of action, could result in the company losing trained and valuable staff and increasing its costs, as new employees would have to be hired and trained,” says Adèl.

“SANCA Wedge Gardens Treatment Centre can assist companies with these employees and help them deal with the substance use problem as efficiently and effectively as possible,” she adds.

The early warning signs of substance use that employers should look out for include poor time management (missing deadlines / lateness); ineffective decision making; excessive use of sick and annual leave; extended lunch hours and leaving work early without permission; changes in appearance; being involved in accidents or having near misses and making errors; changes in behaviour and attitude (mood swings, anxiety, depression, aggression, being oversensitive, agitated, volatile, fatigued and a loss of interest); smelling alcohol or dagga on an employee’s breath; signs of intoxication, including dilated or constricted pupils, poor fine or gross motor skills and red eyes; and theft and deviance.

“When dealing with substance use in the workplace, an employer should gather facts with regard to the above-mentioned signs of substance use so that they can confront and discuss the matter with the employee,” says Adèl.

“SANCA Wedge Gardens conducts drug testing and can provide an assessment of the employee to determine the severity of the substance use disorder. We also offer substance use detection training for management, so that mangers are able to detect problems early; and we participate in wellness days to create awareness around substance use disorder,” she adds.

When dealing with an employee who has a substance use disorder, employers can involve unions and start a disciplinary procedure against the employee.

“Assisting an employee with rehabilitation should be considered if the person does not endanger lives at work. Once given the option, if an employee does not comply with the full treatment (in-patient or out-patient and aftercare) they can be fired. However, dismissal should only be an option when an intervention has been conducted by the employer,” says Adèl.

For more information about SANCA Wedge Gardens’ Full Circle Recovery Programme,  employers can contact Adèl at 011 430 0320 or visit