Is it OK to allow employees to drink alcohol at work?
Your company probably isn’t much like Sterling Cooper, the advertising agency from Mad Men. However, in 2018 you should have something Sterling Cooper didn’t: a clear policy about drinking alcohol at work. Sure, the days of the three-martini lunch are largely gone, but if you celebrate happy hour or have the occasional special event — and who doesn’t? — you’ll need to be clear about what is acceptable alcohol consumption. And with the holiday party season almost upon us, now is a good time to consider some options.
Yes, there are benefits
Obviously not every industry can allow alcohol at work. (Drivers, medical personnel, and operators of heavy machinery should wait until they’re off the clock for a beer or glass of wine.) But if your company comprises a team of young creative professionals, for example, the benefits could be substantial. By allowing alcohol at work, employers show employees that they trust them to consume responsibly. And a trusted employee is a happier and more productive employee. Many employers also report greater bonding experiences over a celebratory beer or glass of wine. If your industry is one that has to compete for top talent, you’ll likely find that on-premise alcohol is seen not just as a perk, but an expectation.
Yes, there are also risks
The risks associated with alcohol use are pretty clear. By sanctioning alcohol consumption, you may open yourself to liability for alcohol-related incidents, like car accidents or bones broken on company softball night. Or it might compromise the sobriety of an employee who is a recovering alcoholic. It would exclude employees who don’t use alcohol. Research also suggests there’s a greater risk of sexual harassment in a workplace with heavy drinking. (Related: California requires companies to have a written sexual harassment policy. More on that in a future blog.)
Just be smart
Let’s be honest. If you ask a lawyer if your company should allow alcohol at work, they’re going to say, “No, absolutely not.” But talk a little longer, maybe get someone from HR involved, and you may decide that a thoughtfully written policy allowing alcohol use at work is the best course.
While most US companies already have a written drug and alcohol policy, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to writing your own. Depending on the industry, you might find that a policy allowing drinking after 5 p.m. is sufficient. You may only need a policy for holiday parties.
Besides the written policy, just follow common sense. Stick with beer and wine. Provide transportation and plenty of food. Most important, remember that management sets the culture. In this and all workplace behaviors, set a good example.