Office drinking.
September 20, 2006 3:31 PM   Subscribe

What are the liability issues regarding drinking in the office of a solely employee owned company?

I love my job and work for a great company. However, management condones drinking in the office. It is usually after hours and clients may, or may not, be in attendance.

I know I’m worrying about a worst-case scenario…someone leaves the office intoxicated, gets in an accident that involves injuries, or worse, the company gets sued, I lose my job. I realize that this is largely a bonding ritual and management wants to encourage a sense of camaraderie, but this happens on a regular basis.

Am I worrying over nothing? How can I express my concerns to management? If I do, will I be looked at as not being a team player? I usually just choose not to participate.
posted by socrateaser to Work & Money (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I dunno, it seems like a pretty reasonable thing to worry about to me. I had two co-workers killed after an office Christmas party involving way too much drinking and a head on collision with a snow plow.

I have subsequently taken a very proactive 'work functions are never a place for drinking' approach which has worked well for me. I don't know what you could do to get your co-workers on board with the idea, but if it's anything like my workplace, you will be fighting an uphill battle.

If you do choose to address it to management, I would use the 'it could open us to liability' approach. Not wanting to be a team player and worrying about the health of the company are different things and should be viewed as such.
posted by quin at 3:51 PM on September 20, 2006

Jeez. I have no idea (INAL) but this sounds pretty worryless. How is a company liable for the criminal actions taken by a company employee after they've left the premises? I am British though, so YMMV in the crazy litigious US of A.
posted by TrashyRambo at 4:06 PM on September 20, 2006

I believe there is insurance available to cover such liability.
posted by reverendX at 4:07 PM on September 20, 2006

If the drinking is after hours, I don't think you should make it into a major issue. The only difference between this and the usual "liquid lunch" or "business dinner" is the on-site location. Like reverendX said, you might want to suggest that the company take out additional insurance, but to me this would not be something I'd be willing to stick my neck out over.
posted by vorfeed at 4:12 PM on September 20, 2006

The only way you can change this is to talk to the person in charge and get him to change his mind. Until then, forgoing of the camaraderie isn't going to change anything, and you'll just end up with people thinking you don't like them. They may eventually figure out this isn't the best idea unless you address the eventualities you mentioned, but enjoy it while it lasts, man!
posted by Mr. Gunn at 4:26 PM on September 20, 2006

My husband's privately held corporation sends a beer cart around the office on Friday afternoons. The fridge in the company breakroom is full of beer, and alcohol is served at onsite and offsite functions.

They've been doing this for years, and it's never been an issue.
posted by padraigin at 4:45 PM on September 20, 2006

Make sure your company has an account with a taxi company or car service and encourage your employees to use it if they are at all impaired.
posted by missmerrymack at 4:55 PM on September 20, 2006

Insurance may not cover anything alcohol related. That's your biggest problem. Otherwise don't be a square.
posted by geoff. at 5:07 PM on September 20, 2006

Is this something that happens for specific celebrations or it could potentially happen any old day?

If it's something that's planned in advance, get a bartender to come in from a caterer or agency, with his (employer's) own liability insurance, etc. Where I've done this, we bought all the stuff at the liquor store and had all the glasses, etc. The guy just had to walk in the door and pour drinks for an hour or two and then walk off. We paid an hourly rate for his time to his employer (a catering company we used regularly), which was not a big increase in the cost having the same celebration and pouring the drinks ourselves.
posted by winston at 6:26 PM on September 20, 2006

Look for a new job. You don't seem to fit into the office culture, and attempting to change the culture is only going to make enemies.
posted by Loto at 6:50 PM on September 20, 2006

winston has hit it spot on. The person who pours and serves is liable in the good old US of A. If that person is an employee of your company, than your company can be held liable.
posted by onalark at 7:32 PM on September 20, 2006

Setting aside the liability issue for a moment -- if you're concerned that someone could be injured because of a company policy, then please do speak up. We innocent bystanders thank you. But asking them to stop doing something that's considered good for business, sociable, etc. isn't going to go over. Management believes the party atmosphere has business value for them; so orient your pitch toward enhancing that value.

For instance, "Boss, since you've cleverly recognized what good business it is for our clients and staff to kick back together after work, how about starting a policy that anyone having a drink on company time/grounds is entitled to (and *cough* expected to use) a complimentary cab ride home. That way people can stay late at our fabulous company parties, and they'll feel free to enjoy the extra drink or two that they'd never consider if they had to drive. Plus, boss, *cough* you won't have to worry about our good times and the company's medical insurance premiums getting destroyed by some crippling drunk driving accident. Win win."

Or if there's a regular schedule, like Friday drink night, then you could suggest the company offer a shuttle service to make sure the partiers are returned to their respective homes/hotels afterward. You get the idea...
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 8:05 PM on September 20, 2006

The legality of this is going to vary hugely from state to state and probably city to city. You're going to need to check your local laws.

I worked at a place which had a bar in one room with a well stocked liquor cabinet, and people would often mix themselves a few drinks after work. There was never a problem that I knew of. Eventually, though, the company hired someone who was under the drinking age, which led to much worry about the legality of having booze on the premises, and that combined with some less-socially-inclined management eventually eliminated the bar.
posted by hattifattener at 11:37 PM on September 20, 2006

is there an employee agreement/handbook of conduct? My company has specific language in our employee agreement pertaining to official functions and liability of the company/employee during and after. Since assenting to ours is a condition of employment, the company's butt is covered without any additional insurance.

That Said, IANAL, and we don't have a bar on premisis.
posted by markovitch at 8:07 AM on September 21, 2006

I realize you're in the USA, but if you google Jacobson v. Nike Canada it's a similar situation that happened up here. The plaintiff left work visibly drunk, stopped off at a bar to drink some more, and got in an accident on the way home. The employer was still found to be partially liable for the accident.

There are lots of good suggestions in this thread about how to bring it up without making it look like you're trying to ruin everyone's fun.
posted by Gary at 3:11 AM on September 23, 2006

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