Where alcohol policy meets the 3 martini lunch?
December 10, 2012 10:20 AM   Subscribe

How to enforce a drug free / alcohol free workplace policy when executives drink with clients during the workday? What does your company do?

I work in HR at a large US employer. Almost all of our employees (300+) are hourly factory workers. We have a very small staff of salaried office professionals.

For many years, we have enforced a drug and alcohol free workplace policy *in the plant* for all hourly employees. This policy is fairly standard, boilerplate stuff and has worked well for us. It states that being at work under the influence of alcohol, consuming alcohol during work, etc. are violations.

Our salaried staff is tiny, but growing, and we would like to extend the policy to cover both hourly and salaried employees.

The problem: our execs and high-level sales managers do sometimes entertain clients and business guests... and having a drink or two during a business lunch/dinner is common practice.

These same executives often golf with clients during the workday - again consuming alcohol.

We do not know how to reconcile a workplace policy against alcohol consumption while at the same time permitting business-related social drinking (requiring them to abstain is not an option).

I am sure that companies deal with this all the time -- but how?

thanks much!
posted by falldownpaul to Work & Money (28 answers total)
This falls under the heading of: "Rank has its privilagages."

Are you documenting this, or trying to square it away in your head?
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:23 AM on December 10, 2012

Couldn't this just be added as a clause in the contract for those to whom it applies?

Some companies do just enforce universal abstinence - for example, I know somebody who works for a rail company's marketing division, and because the drivers aren't allowed to drink, nobody else is either.
posted by KateViolet at 10:24 AM on December 10, 2012

I'm guessing that business lunches etc would take place off-site, whereas the factory work would always be on-site - why don't you just say no alcohol on site? Or no alcohol around machinery etc?

I don't really see much of a problem in the first place (it's expected that alcohol is not allowed in a factory workplace, and it's semi-expected that business lunches include alcohol), but if you really need to make a very general policy, the location clause should work for that.
posted by randomnity at 10:26 AM on December 10, 2012 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Can you carve out an exception for "appropriate use during client entertainment"?
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 10:27 AM on December 10, 2012 [7 favorites]

Can it be tied to the factory/office premises? Your executives are drinking outside...on preview what randomnity said.
posted by infini at 10:27 AM on December 10, 2012

Response by poster: Ruthless Bunny, thanks for the reply. In response to your question, I'm not sure what you mean by squaring away in my head... I'm trying to draft a policy on employee alcohol consumption that won't require me to fire the CEO for taking a customer out for a beer.

I'm sure that these policies exist, just not sure how the exceptions work in writing and in practice. Thanks again!
posted by falldownpaul at 10:31 AM on December 10, 2012

Honestly, what most companies do is have a blanket policy and then the salespeople and executives just violate it on their own. Everyone looks the other way most of the time, although if they were to do something stupid — like a DUI in a company vehicle on the way back from a business lunch, or run someone over with a golf cart at the country club — then they'd have created convenient grounds for disposing of themselves.

The de jure policy is "don't drink"; the de facto policy is "if you drink off-site you're on your own."

The only other even reasonably fair policy would be to tie it into the operation of heavy equipment, but a factory worker could pretty reasonably point out that if the executive is driving back from a business lunch in a car, they're operating heavy equipment that probably has more restrictions surrounding its use in connection with alcohol (and is arguably more dangerous to more people) than the die press or forklift or whatever they're operating in the factory. Which is why most places that I'm aware of that have drug-free/alcohol-free workplace policies have them apply (at least in theory) to everyone.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:35 AM on December 10, 2012 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for the responses, all. For those of your suggesting that off-site alcohol consumption is the easy answer, I should clarify:

Our current policy also prohibits reporting to work under the influence of alcohol, not just drinking on the job.

We can't have the forklift driver showing up for work drunk today, no matter where he or she actually imbibed. Thanks, tho.
posted by falldownpaul at 10:37 AM on December 10, 2012

The real question is, why are you trying to impose a policy that doesn't make business sense?
posted by downing street memo at 10:39 AM on December 10, 2012 [13 favorites]

I usually see it as "no alcohol consumed on the premises," occasionally modified to "no alcohol consumed on the premises except for official company events" (so you can have beer at a company-sponsored bbq, as well as wine for an on-site executive dinner), and a very important additional rule that boils down to "don't work if you're impaired". which has the benefit of including prescription and OTC drugs as well as alcohol and recreational illegal drugs.
posted by rmd1023 at 10:39 AM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Some folks who work for companies with strict alcohol policies that include travel policies end up asking for a split check when they dine out on official company trips - one for reimbursement, the other with the booze on it. (I believe Boeing doesn't (or didn't) want you to booze up if you're renting a car on their dime, for example.)
posted by rmd1023 at 10:41 AM on December 10, 2012

To elaborate, we also have alcohol served at company functions with explicit instructions to be responsible, call a cab on the company if necessary, and not return to work if you have had alcohol. (We make software; no forklifts.)
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 10:46 AM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

"Exceptions to this policy will be approved by..."
posted by Etrigan at 10:55 AM on December 10, 2012 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Easy: "... excluding beverages purchased or furnished by [your company]."

After all, the executives are most likely using the company provided AMEX, while Joe cubicle is paying out of pocket.
posted by Bathtub Bobsled at 11:04 AM on December 10, 2012 [6 favorites]

I think Kadin2048 has it right. Also, I'm not sure of the legalese here but maybe a slightly different wording would help, ie "impaired" instead of "under the influence of"? Having a drink or two with a client over a long lunch won't "impair" the exec, but I would assume you don't want them getting sloshed and then coming back into the office, regardless of their rank in the hierarchy.
posted by Roommate at 11:12 AM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you can word the policy such that it refers to specific activities (such as operating machinery), as opposed to imposing a blanket rule, that might work.
posted by pipeski at 11:13 AM on December 10, 2012

Best answer: An explicit policy authorizing consumption of alcohol while performing company business, in any setting, is a pretty direct track to liability for any resulting injuries/damages. The lack of such a writing doesn't eliminate the possibility of liability, but beware of endorsing consumption.
posted by uncaken at 11:18 AM on December 10, 2012 [3 favorites]

Our current policy also prohibits reporting to work under the influence of alcohol, not just drinking on the job.

Presumably, the sales people and executives aren't coming back to the office drunk, right? Having a single drink at lunch then coming back to the office doesn't necessarily make one impaired.

Thus, the only change needed is to clarify that sales and executive level client meetings off-site do allow for responsible consumption, and that employees in those roles are expected to remain in full control of their mental faculties throughout such off-site meetings (since they are still technically working) and upon returning to the office.

On preview, also agree with Bathtub Bobsled that the only allowed consumption is on the company dime. This allows you to audit the expense reports if you're suspicious of someone's drinking behavior.
posted by trivia genius at 11:19 AM on December 10, 2012

I work for a transit agency and because we have folks in a variety of positions that would be a bad mix with alcohol, we have a very strict "no booze" policy that applies to everyone. That said, I'm also an officer in one of the unions and we have an annual holiday party at which we serve wine and beer--but it is after the work day is over and not on company property.

Because we are a government agency we also cannot charge booze on company credit cards during travel and are very restricted regarding letting anyone buy us lunch/gifts, etc. In fact it is so restricted that most folks just refuse any offer. We also have restrictions on what over the counter drugs and/or prescription drugs you can take and come to work. For example I cannot take Benedryl for allergies and come to work. I'm not saying that there aren't folks who don't comply, but for the most part, folks go along with it.

I am in an administrative job but I'm held to the same standards as folks in Operations. Only difference is administrative employees are not subject to random drug tests. However, if you are obviously drunk or impaired, you can be tested and if over the limit, you can be fired. However, we have a policy that if you are caught drunk/drugged, and if you admit right there (before testing) that you have a problem and need help, they will transport you to a treatment program and if you make it through you can return to your job.
posted by agatha_magatha at 11:21 AM on December 10, 2012

Could you have an "except with written permission of the CEO" (or other appropriate executive) clause?
posted by elmay at 11:23 AM on December 10, 2012

Easy: "... excluding beverages purchased or furnished by [your company]."

Note this means no client can ever buy any employee a drink, nor can any employee ever go to a client's Christmas function or launch. Uncaken makes an additional complicating point.

My instinct would be to re-write the policy, making prohibition against being on the premises under the influence explicity for shop floor workers, and roll it into the Health and Safety docs. I'd say nothing about non-floor workers in this policy.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:56 AM on December 10, 2012

Our (state university) office will reimburse business lunches of various sorts, but not alcohol -- hence the need to bring back itemized receipts. If I were you, I'd revise the policy to be more along those lines.

It might seem like nitpicking, but them's the breaks. If people complain, mumble something about liability and "it's our insurance people making us do this," yada yada -- because hello, it IS an insurance problem if your people get into any sort of accident in the time surrounding an alcohol-fueled lunch, regardless of actual impairment. You won't want to deal with all of the questions related to that sort of thing.

My husband, who works for a large ISP, regularly goes on booze-filled dinners purchased by vendors, but those are specifically purchased by vendors, not the company.
posted by Madamina at 12:14 PM on December 10, 2012

I would tread lightly trying to reconcile this yourself - have you checked with your peers in the local HR community or with SHRM etc? There will be examples of what you need already built, legally vetted and HR approved.
posted by lstanley at 12:22 PM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

When I worked for an airline the policy was that you could not return to company property for a set number of hours after consuming alcohol. The reasoning was that an impaired employee was a safety issue for everyone on the job site. It wasn't just flight and ramp operations employees - everyone at all job locations had to be free of alcohol on company property.

It was actually pretty workable. Most of the meetings with alcohol occurred over dinner and people playing golf with vendors didn't return to the office.
posted by 26.2 at 12:31 PM on December 10, 2012

My company prohibits alcohol consumption at work "except during company sanctioned events". Dining with clients would certainly qualify.
posted by rosa at 12:44 PM on December 10, 2012

How about a policy specifically addressing the categories of employees who are using or touching the machinery, or going out onto the factory floor (rather than doing a blanket thing that doesn't make sense for other categories.) Yeah it's not great if the VP of Sales is sleepy after his lunch meeting, but it is a very different thing if the forklift guy is sleepy.
posted by fingersandtoes at 12:53 PM on December 10, 2012

Our company has a policy of no alcohol possession on company property. This extends to not even being allowed to have a bottle of wine in the trunk of your car for a dinner party elsewhere after work.

In some of our locations, employees do drink beer at lunch. This does not violate the policy.
posted by MonsieurBon at 4:04 PM on December 10, 2012

Your search term here is "vicarious liability" and your state. For a quick example, Illinois says you're probably not liable if someone acts irresponsibly after you serve alcohol at a party (but do you even want it to get that far?).
posted by anaelith at 5:42 AM on December 11, 2012

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