Companies rethinking alcohol in the workplace

Companies rethinking alcohol in the workplace

Excerpted from a Hunton Andrews Kurth LLP blog by Karen Jennings Evans and Robert T. Dumbacher

The presence of alcohol in offices has ebbed and flowed over time and largely depended on the type of business, from drink carts in advertising agencies à la Mad Men to keg refrigerators at startups. The once popular office perk may or may not be waning, but the number of companies addressing the issue and the attention those decisions are generating is certainly increasing. Companies across the country are evaluating their alcohol policies, or lack thereof, particularly in light of #MeToo developments and are considering the following:

Should the company ban alcohol in the workplace?
Alcohol should be off limits in industries where there is a high probability of causing serious injury to oneself or others, such as healthcare, construction and transportation. In addition, companies should be sure to comply with their own local or state laws that may prohibit alcohol in the workplace. For example, Washington State has a law prohibiting alcohol in the workplace. But in other instances, the company’s desire to create a certain culture will dictate a decision to ban alcohol in the office. For instance, one startup banned office drinking in 2016 when a new CEO decided to clean up a corporate culture he deemed inappropriate.

Is a policy addressing alcohol in the workplace necessary?
Employees should be made aware of the company’s expectations with respect to the presence and consumption of alcohol in the workplace and at all company events. A written policy also will assist in any necessary disciplinary actions.

What should be included in an alcohol policy?
The policy should indicate concrete hours and locations in which alcohol is allowed to be consumed. For instance, a multinational advertising and public relations company recently provided that its agencies should limit alcohol to designated areas such as dining rooms or lounges, and for a restricted time period of generally no more than two hours outside of the workday. Companies may want to consider designating the types of alcohol allowed as well. For example, allowing beer and wine, but not hard alcohol. Companies also might consider limiting the number of drinks allowed or at least stating that excessive alcohol consumption is not permitted at work, while performing company business, or at a company sponsored event.

What other corresponding issues should employers consider?
Among other potential issues, companies should review insurance policies to determine their coverage in regards to serving alcohol in the office or at offsite company events.

As to events where alcohol is served, companies should provide non-alcoholic drinks, and employees should not be required to attend events where alcohol is present, if they choose not to participate. In addition, companies should consider providing employees with ride-sharing, designated drivers, or safe methods for traveling home after an even with alcohol.

 

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