Joburg adopts restorative approach to substance abuse at work place

Recognising the escalating impact of substance abuse in society, including within the workplace, the City of Johannesburg is adopting a restorative approach to assist and support employees facing such challenges.

 Marumo Ralebona, the Employee Wellness Specialist in Region F, says drug and alcohol misuse in the workplace is a pervasive issue that requires active intervention.​​

“Organisations should take an active interest toaddress substance abuse or signs thereof to protect both the health and wellbeing of employees as well as the interests and outputs of the organisation,” Ralebona says.

He notes that the City is committed to upholding the highest standards of Occupational Health and Safety, considering substance abuse as disruptive and detrimental to a safe and productive work environment, as outlined in the City’s Group Substance Abuse Policy Framework.

While the Substance Abuse Policy has been in effect since 2014, it is currently under review for approval. The primary purpose of the framework is to provide assistance and treatment to employees dealing with substance abuse while sending a clear message that the misuse of intoxicating substances is incompatible with employment in the City.

Ralebona says the City has established mechanisms to address substance abuse both within the workplace and in employees’ personal lives. Notably, the Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) offers a range of support, including awareness campaigns, in-patient and outpatient rehabilitation services, and therapy.

Ralebona says the EAP is importance in raising awareness of substance abuse and providing a platform for employees to assess their own situations and seek help when needed. 

“In cases where formal rehabilitation is required, the EAP follows a process that involves self-referral, informal referral by a concerned party, or formal referral initiated by management based on visible work performance deterioration,” he adds.

Once a referral is made, the EAP specialists conduct tests and assessments to determine the severity of the situation and identify appropriate rehabilitation programmes. Rehabilitation options range from day-to-day visits to rehabilitation centres to longer stays as necessary, with the City having access to both government and private facilities.

“The employee must, however, be willing to participate in the suggested programmes.” Despite the available assistance, Ralebona acknowledges challenges in gaining the cooperation of managers who resort to disciplinary measures instead of allowing EAP intervention.

He emphasises the need to view substance abuse as a curable illness and create a supportive environment for employees to access EAP programmes.“The policy framework emphasises the disease nature of alcoholism and drug addiction, prioritises health-focused approaches over immediate disciplinary action, prohibits alcohol use on City property, and ensures support and confidentiality for employees seeking assistance,” he explains.

While the City upholds its mayoral priority of being a caring employer, penalties can still be enforced for continuous substance abuse that impacts overall performance, with disciplinary measures becoming the prerogative of the appropriate procedures.Ralebona urges employees and their families to take advantage of the confidential EAP services.“It’s importance to seek help without hesitation. Substance abuse should be seen as a sickness that is curable.”

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