Essential elements of a responsible use of alcohol policy
Monday, July 02, 2018
From time to time, employers may have occasions when employees will have the opportunity to consume alcoholic beverages at work or during work-related activities.
Examples of such occasions may include employer-sponsored parties or events, or customer entertainment/development activities. Some employers even sponsor "happy hours" for their employees and/or customers. Given the inevitability of such occasions, employers should go "on the record" and adopt a policy addressing the responsible use of alcohol.
Of course, the language of a particular policy should be tailored to the nature of the employer’s business and the duties of its employees. For example, an alcoholic beverage distributor or a restaurant where alcohol is served may have a completely different policy than a child care center or a medical practice.
Outside sales employees whose primary duties may include off-site customer entertainment would be subject to different rules than employees who are confined to a single location with little customer contact. Likewise, employees who stay overnight away from work on work-related trips may require special rules.
Generally speaking, all employers that permit consumption of alcohol at work or at work-related events should include at least some of the following rules or requirements in their Responsible Use Policy:
- While moderate and limited use of alcoholic beverages is acceptable, excessive consumption of alcohol is prohibited.
- Employees who choose to consume alcohol while at work, in the course of performing work-related duties, or after hours while staying overnight, must use their best judgment and remain professional and respectful at all times.
- Employees under the age of 21 may not consume alcoholic beverages at work or at any work-related events.
- While moderate and limited use of alcohol at work or work-related events may be allowed, it is certainly not required. Employees are free to refrain from participating in the consumption of alcoholic beverages as they wish.
- Consumption of alcohol is limited to designated locations at work and is not permitted in other areas, such as individual offices, breakrooms or conference rooms. (Obviously, specific locations would be employer-specific.)
- Consumption of alcohol is limited to specific days and times, such as the last Friday of the month after 5:00 p.m.
- Regardless of the amount of alcohol consumed, employees are responsible at all times for conducting themselves as representatives of the company.
- Employees who consume alcohol should know their own limits for consumption and take steps to minimize the impact of alcohol on their systems, such as drinking nonalcoholic fluids, eating appropriately, utilizing a designated driver or taxi service or waiting a period of time after consuming alcohol before attempting to operate a motor vehicle, etc.
- Conduct that violates other employer policies, such as making sexual advances, racist remarks, loud or profane language, fighting, violence or threats will not be tolerated.
- Employees are required to comply with all applicable laws, especially those that relate to operating motor vehicles, such as those that prohibit driving while impaired or intoxicated, texting or using cellphones or other devices, seat belts, speeding, etc.
- Employees are encouraged to use the services of a taxi, Uber, Lyft, etc., as appropriate. (The employer may decide to cover such transportation or even overnight accommodations as it deems appropriate.)
- Employees who fail to employ the services of a taxi, Uber, Lyft, etc. when they have consumed an unlawful amount of an alcohol violate the employer’s policies, will be deemed to have assumed the risk of any downstream liability and may be subject to disciplinary action.
- Employees who drive as one of their work-related duties and who receive a citation for violating an alcohol-related law or ordinance must report it to their employer within 48 hours, so the employer may make decide how to minimize liability while the charges are pending.
- The employer reserves the right to restrict an employee’s consumption of alcohol at any time.
- The employer reserves the rights contained in its Drug and Alcohol Policy to test employees at any time, for any reason without advance notice to the full extent allowed by law.
- These rules apply even when employees are not at work or at work-related events, as intemperate use of alcohol or violation of applicable laws may harm the employer’s reputation or increase the risk to the employer of continuing to employ a particular employee.
The policy should conclude by stating that violation of any of these rules (or others that may be employer-specific) will result in disciplinary action up to and including immediate termination of employment.
Employers should encourage employees to self-report problems with alcohol use prior to the time such use affects an employee’s job performance or results in disciplinary action.
Employers should allow such employees medical leaves for treatment and maintain a medical benefits program that covers alcohol-related illnesses. Having an Employee Assistance Program is also another effective way to assist employees who may need to explore and take advantage of confidential treatment options.
Where alcohol use is more common, employers should consider offering or even requiring responsible use of alcohol educational seminars. Training may cover applicable laws or employer policies, the short- and long-term effects of alcohol and employer benefits available to employees who may suffer from alcohol-related illnesses.
Employers should take into account their tolerance of alcohol use at work or work-related events when choosing the types and amount of insurance and in taking other risk management actions. For example, some insurance companies even provide special packages to cover single events such as holiday parties or large customer outings.
Because of the potential for liability to both the employee and the employer, employees should be provided a stand-alone copy of the Responsible Use Policy and be required to sign to acknowledge their receipt of it.
Not every employer will sponsor or allow events where alcohol is consumed. But those who do allow the consumption of alcohol at work or work-related events would be wise to prepare and publish a Responsible Use of Alcohol Policy so that employees know the permissible limits of alcohol use and their employer’s expectations.
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