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  • michellealvis9

"Wait...I CAN'T drink at work?"

Updated: Apr 26

Fact:  The above was said by an employee being terminated at my client's workplace a few weeks ago.

Fact:  This person genuinely thought drinking at work was OK, mostly because their policy was not clear (and was written before they were my client!).

Fact:  In some workplaces cultures it is acceptable to have alcohol and in others it is not.

Fact: Employers have the right to decide if alcohol is allowed in their workplace.


While in general, most workplaces do not allow drinking as a regular practice, there are certain circumstances and times where the occasional drink is perfectly acceptable.  For employers, this is about having clear policies and guidelines around alcohol in the workplace in order to limit their risk and liability when it comes to drinking at work.

When is it NOT okay to allow alcohol in the workplace?

  • Short answer:  Most of the time

  • While in the course of your regular duties in the middle of your workday ‘just because’

  • As a routine practice at work

  • In the presence of minors if your work requires work with minors

  • Other industries that I can safely say it is not allowed ever:  healthcare, construction, and transportation just to name a few

When is it OK to allow alcohol in the workplace?

  • Where there are clear policies, boundaries and guidelines established around when and where it is acceptable

  • Where they have disclosed it to their insurance career and have a specific coverage for the liability around having it onsite

  • Socially acceptable times:  after-hours work sponsored events such as holiday parties where employers have oversight and can regulate it to some degree

  • If it is explicitly outlined by your employer (examples:  An Account Executive entertaining a client, a Fundraiser at a donor dinner)

  • When the employer is aware it is happening and guidelines are followed

Risks to Employers Who Allow Alcohol in Their Workplace

While I understand a nice glass of Cabernet sound appealing on some days, there are the potential pitfalls that can come with employers who allow this as a routine practice in their workplace:

  1. It can enable those who already have destructive behaviors around alcohol to proliferate

  2. It excludes your employees who do not drink

  3. It can compromise sobriety and illicit temptation for anyone in recovery for alcohol or other addictions

  4. Liability for the employer – Allowing alcohol in your workplace 100% increases your risk if someone suffers a personal injury as a result of you allowing it (a car accident as an example)

  5. It increases an employer's probability of Harassment claims.  When drinking is your ‘norm’ at work, you bet harassment claims will rise.

Some of you might be saying, “what about companies like Yelp, Trello, Zillow, X (formerly Twitter), etc., that allow alcohol almost as a badge of honor and have even leaned into the idea fully and have built bars and dedicated refrigerators to alcohol”? 

To them I say good luck.  And to them I say have great insurance coverage and great legal representation on standby when the harassment claims hit. And also, given their large size, perhaps they can simply afford to take that risk moreso than a nonprofit or small business as they have the financial means to dispute claims when they arise.

As an employer, please make sure your policies and practices are clear for your employees around alcohol in your workplace.  If the boundaries are not defined, your employees are confused too and might not know what is acceptable vs. what is not.

As an employee, if you are unsure what your current employer’s policies are around alcohol in the workplace, ask to see a copy of their policy on alcohol at work so you are clear and can make informed, mature, and professional decisions about drinking responsibly at your workplace.

Is this a buzz-kill (pun intended) article for some of you?  Yes, I know it is.

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