The Sobering Risks of Mixing Work and Booze

The Sobering Risks of Mixing Work and Booze
Image credit: Shutterstock

Like it or not, alcohol is part of socializing. At both personal and professional gatherings, people have grown accustomed to using a favorite alcoholic beverage to break the tension and relax. Some offices have even started sending bar carts around for employees who are working late, especially on Fridays.

However, as popular as it might be, there are potential issues connected to providing alcohol to employees including some that might involve lawyers. Others may put your client relationships and work output quantity and quality at risk. Before you take that next sip of alcohol on work time, here are a few things you should consider.

Drinking in the office. 

Shows like Mad Men feature liquor cabinets as part of the executive office. It still persists in some of those places. But over the years, liquor has been mostly phased out of the conference room, leading to a work world where alcohol is seldom seen in the office. As businesses, especially startups, attempt to provide amenities to hard-working employees, however, alcohol is gradually making its way back into the office environment, but is it a wise idea?

There are a couple of issues attached to allowing alcohol in the office environment, whether during or after work. The biggest issue is employer liability, since the employee could leave work inebriated and injure someone or cause an altercation. Additionally, in-office drinking could lead to a case of sexual harassment or aggressive behavior toward co-workers, introducing an HR nightmare.

Added to this risk is the fact that intoxicated employees will sometimes continue to send emails or answer phone calls after having a few drinks, leading to errors that could cost a business valued clients.

Related: Working Too Much, Drinking Too Much?

Office parties.

Employers have long enjoyed throwing an occasional office party, allowing employees to socialize outside of the often-serious work environment. Office parties can be a great way to build a team, since workers will have a personal connection. Over the recent Halloween weekend there were many office costume parties around the country that illustrate this. They generally included alcohol. Drinking seems to naturally flow at these events, whether they’re held at the office, the home of the boss or another employee or at a restaurant, bar or event venue.

Wherever the event is held, the employer could be subject to social host liability, where the host is held responsible for something that happens as a result of serving alcohol at an event. To reduce liability, an employer should emphasize that attendance is voluntary and make sure licensed bartenders and servers are handling alcohol distribution. They are generally trained to recognize and handle a person who has had too much to drink.

Related: This Epic Office Holiday Party Featured a Massive, Detergent-Soaked Slip 'N' Slide

Drinking with clients.

Client events involving alcohol can be especially tricky, since a professional can often feel pressured to drink alcohol when the client is drinking it. If an employee gets in an accident as a result of a client meeting, the employer could be held responsible if that employee was encouraged to drink as a part of winning clients.

Employers should avoid encouraging employees to drink in any way to reduce its own risk. Even if an employee was never told to drink as part of a client meeting, the employer could be held responsible if the employee states he only did so because he felt it was necessary to win the account. However, an employer can only be held responsible for behavior that is performed as part of the scope of employment. That means if an employee drinks excessively on his own accord during a client event, the employer may not be viewed as liable.

When an employee’s alcohol consumption can be tied directly to the scope of his work, the employer may be liable, especially if it can be proven that the employer made it a condition of work. To protect themselves, business owners should make sure any event involving alcohol is optional and licensed bartenders and servers are on hand to monitor alcohol consumption.

Related: 15 Rules for Talking Business Over Drinks