Company sponsored, on-site drinking

Legal implications of the Friday afternoon beer-drinking session, and off-site alternatives to it. November 7, 2000

I need advice on policy and legal responsibilities for drinking beer "with the guys" on Friday afternoons. I will be managing a sister shop to a large shop where the employees currently practice this. It seems it would open up huge legal problems if an employee gets a DUI or worse on way home from work. Please advise.

Forum Responses
You've answered your own question, and it seems to me there's no better time to change old habits than when new management takes over. They're gonna be suspicious of you anyway, so you might as well let them know that business is business, bars are bars -- and never, for a variety of good legal, ethical, and societal reasons -- the twain shall meet; at least not on your watch.

You can do this a couple of ways: as a hard-ass, or with plenty of documentation to back you up. I'd advise talking to the company's lawyer(s) and asking them to draw up a policy and its rationale. But whichever route you take, don't be apologetic about it when laying down the law with the employees. Let them know that this shop is now being managed professionally (it apparently wasn't before, if this holdover behavior from 20 years ago has persisted).

Expect an uproar. But ultimately, this rule will separate the wheat from the chaff. And you'll be better off without the chaff.

Anthony Noel, forum technical advisor

Absolutely not. Allowing the drinking to continue ranks right up there with "let's have target practice in the shop." Something is bound to happen eventually.

If someone is injured or killed on the property after having a beer or more on site, this opens the company, and you the supervisor, up to high liability.

While I enjoy a good beer after work as much as anybody, at the shop is not the place. Anthony is dead on the mark on this one.

"The use of alcohol or controlled substances on company property or time is strictly prohibited. Failure to adhere to these policies will result in disciplinary actions and/or termination of employment."

This phrase should be in every employee hand book. (Make sure your company, or at least this shop, has one.)

Now, to help diffuse a possible blowup, how about knocking off 30 minutes early, and meeting at the local pub for a capper if the employees really want to continue the tradition.

The conversation may go something like this "We are going to do away with the tradition of Friday afternoon drinks here at the shop. This is a liability issue that our attorney tells us can't continue. If anyone is upset with this, then meet me at O'Mally's Pub at 3:30 Friday afternoon (assuming you clock out at 4:00pm), and we will discuss if further."

You didn't mention who pays. This way you still have the opportunity to keep some continuity in the shop, while breaking up a particularly dangerous situation for you and your company. They are probably already taking the time off anyhow waiting for the beer bell, so go ahead and give it to them. If your religous views do not agree with the behavior, so be it, but keep it out of the mix. That will also be grounds for a hugh blowup as far as personnel are concerned on a personal level.

In doing it this way you are not supporting the behavior directly, but building some support from the employees that you are someone who will find a way to make things work.

Check your insurance coverage, you may have "host" liquor coverage which would protect you. Is having a beer after a good productive week so bad? Lighten up.

I'd say it's fine as I often do it. Seems like I'm more prone to partake after an unproductive week though. But at home, or a drinking establishment. I've got to disagree with the last response. Alcohol has no place in the workplace, and I don't think I can lighten up on this issue.

Do these people drive home afterwards? Sure they do. You know the potential risk already. Drinking is a personal choise best done off company premises.

I think this is opening up a host of problems. If it's ok to drink some beer at work on Friday afternoon, then it might be okay to come back from lunch Monday after having 2 or 3 beers, or to come into work Monday morning after being on an all night drinking binge Sunday night.

With all due respect, I'd ask this question: Will the family of the employee who is killed or maimed as the result of driving home from work intoxicated "lighten up"? Maybe it will never happen -- but why tempt fate?

John's idea of meeting in a pub after work is good, although I think (and as I've so often said, I'm no lawyer) that knocking off early to do it, if it becomes a regular practice, COULD (could) establish a pattern that a judge or jury MAY (may) decide implicates the shop as having consistently encouraged its workers to cap off the week. This is one reason that company Christmas parties and summer picnics, even those off-site, are now often alcohol-free.

I wish we could lighten up on this issue. But the fact is that 99 percent of lawyers, seeing a circumstance involving potential company involvement in aiding or abetting the intoxication of an employee who is then hurt or killed, is going to sue that company for every penny it's got. And I don't know about the rest of you, but I've worked too hard to open myself up to that. So my advice remains: "steer clear."

One idea I've seen work is a weekly or monthly pizza/hoagie party AT LUNCHTIME on Friday, with the company picking up the tab and opening the soda machine (or buying soda, chips, etc.) (By the way, for the uninitiated, "hoagie" is Philly-speak for the sandwich elsewhere known as a sub, zep, grinder, po' boy, etc.) This is also a good place for a regular company meeting, open-forum style.

But alcohol is a hot-button issue. There are always people in various stages of thought about it, or opposed to it for religious reasons -- or worse, in recovery from abusing it. And society has (and continues to) increase the penalties for anyone even remotely considered culpable for alcohol-related death or injury.

I'd say focus on the task at hand, reward employees with money, commendations, alcohol-free events, etc. -- but don't mix work and booze.

Anthony Noel, forum technical advisor

How did you get from having a beer to being killed and maimed, or being a binge drinker? Sorry, you are an uptight group.

I have been called a lot of things, but uptight has never been one of them. It just goes to show, you think you've heard it all, but you ain't.

We don't allow smoking in our shop. Why? We don't allow drinking in our shop. Why? Heck! We don't even allow drugs in our shop. Why? Because I haven't worked the past 18 years just to give it all to some lawyer and his client. Poeple can and do SUE for more than your insurance coverage.

We all have our own level of comfort or discomfort in this case. And if you can stand having an employee drink in or around the shop, then why not smoke? Or worse? It's up to you. But expect a lot of "I told you so's". And don't expect a lot of sympathy.

I posed this question to a labor law attorney sometime back. She clearly stated that this was not to happen under any circumstance. Regardless of the fact that your insurance may cover it. She cited that although bars have liquor licenses they still are required to monitor a patron's consumption and are liable if an issue arises. What is the exposure? Who knows!

However, IF something does happen, a good lawyer will name everyone in the suit including the company, the person who bought the beer and probably the manufacturer. It just takes one incident, even something very petty, to open yourself to serious litigation.

I personally have all my employees meet at a diner on Friday prior to work. Whomever shows up gets a free breakfast. It is a motivational issue, and I can convey to the employees that they are valuable. Also, I get the opportunity to have a small company meeting to let them know what projects will be coming up in the next few weeks.

Wow... a hot topic. Logic would dictate that the drinking should be abolished.

However, most companies and managers have to work really hard to find a way to get employees to bond together and act as a team. You already have that in these Friday get togethers.

It may not be easy but you should look for a substitute for the alchohol but let the meetings continue. Perhaps a card game or something. I would even put it before the group and solicit ideas from them.

Unless they've been living in a cave they will understand the liability and safety issues. The important thing, in my opinion, is to keep the close knit group you already have.

As for your roll in all of this, blame it on your insurance man! No need for you to take the heat unless you want to flex your muscles with your new found position. Instead I would show my strength by enforcing the new law and being creative in finding a way to still make it enjoyable for the crew.

I sold my last bar on November 15, 1993 after 20 years of ownership and having built literally hundreds of bars for many who are no longer in buisiness. I know first hand the liabilities involved in any alcohol-related environment and there is no way to recommend to anyone to allow consumption in an industrial buisiness. Your employee may seem like your best friend who really needs a cold one after a hard day (god forbid one during the day). Just wait and see how friendly it is to sit across a courtroom in a liability suit where someone got killed after driving home or lost the ability to work because of accident. Having trouble saving for retirement now? Try saving for someone elses.

My guys like 1 or 2 after work. Been doing this for a long time. It dose bring "the group" together and opens up lots of great dialogue and creative ideas. No one gets S-faced. I think the risk is relatively low compared to the benefits.

Drinking beer in the shop. Come on guys, WAKE UP! The shop is a work place. Safety first!

You want to drink? Go home, get away from the work place, plan a meeting somewhere else and discuss whatever it is you are using as the excuse to justify this stupid behaviour.

I had a guy working for me several years ago that stopped on his way home, bought a six pack, had too many and wrecked into a light pole. Guess what? He was in one of our company trucks and tried to claim workers comp. I fired the guy on the spot and fought against his claim and he ended up losing that to!

It is not worth it, don't try it, don't continue it and if the guys don't like it--TOUGH! They are not worth keeping.

Friday afternoon is when we have our weekly meeting. It starts around 4:30 (beer thirty) and everyone gets paid for that last half hour when they are BSing in the office. There are a few rules. No one gets shit-faced and no one gets in trouble. can tell off the boss about whatever's been bugging you during the week. (I'm the owner and I like this plan.)

I like to have an open forum where everyone can get the little things off their chest and pose the questions, comments or suggestions for the business. I find that it brings the work force closer together and can sometimes stop problems before they start. I also like to end the week on a friendly note and have all the guys feeling good about their jobs and ready to come back to work on Monday morning. I find it's good to talk about the mistakes made during the week and share with the group. I've had people so worked up about making a big mistake that they think they should just quit and talking about it gets it out in the open and over with.

Beer seems to help. I have no idea about the legalities involved, but I'm sure it's probably not politically correct. But sitting here in Fairbanks, Alaska on a Friday night...drinking with my guys after a hard, long, productive week, I really don't give a shit. There are pro's and con's either way, but my shop is a family, and the Friday night beer is going to stay a part of the family. Here's to ya...

Encouraging your employees to drink at work and providing the beer for them is like giving them a loaded gun. It takes only one mishap and you have opened yourself up for financial disaster. Compromising your business in any manner is planning to fail.

You want to take your guys out for a drink? Send them home after work and arrange a meeting somewhere other than your place of business, but do not allow drinking in the work place. It surely will reflect on your ability to run a safe work place and lessen the respect of not only your empoyees but also your customer base.

This old way of attempting to justify your actions undermines what life is really about, responsibility and accountability. You're the man, not the party animal. Why not get with your insurance agent and seek guidance.

Anybody who can't wait to to get off of work to have a beer has got a problem, period.

Only one rule here. Don't set your beer bottle on the cast iron tables. It's a bitch to get those rings out!

The comments below were added after this Forum discussion was archived as a Knowledge Base article (add your comment).

Comment from contributor A:
Alcohol use or possesion on company property can not be tolerated at all, for obvious reasons.

Having said that, there is absolutely nothing wrong with allowing your guys and gals to clock out 1/2 an hour early on Friday. If you all happen to coincientally happen to meet up at the local pub at say 3:35... let the beer and BS flow! Everyone is officially off the company clock. Of course, you can't penalize employees who choose not to meet at the bar.

My point is: protect your interest first, then go out and have a good time second.