During the dot.com boom of the mid-90’s, companies were growing so quickly, they couldn’t hire enough people fast enough. In order to recruit and retain good employees who were required to work long hours, they would provide as many perks as they could. The most popular perk was free alcohol provided on company time. Many companies would host happy hour Fridays or allow employees to drink at work after 4 pm. Some employers provided kegs and beer fridges and allowed employees free access to alcohol while at work. As the dot.com boom became a bust, most companies began to tighten their wallets which resulted in the bar being closed at most workplaces.
While the economy is still very slow to recover and recruiters can take their pick of candidates, there appears to be a resurgance of alcohol being provided freely in the workplace. An article in the Seattle Times last month, featured tech companies like Yelp, providing beer kegs and beer fridges. These employers rationalize that they are growing, vibrant companies with a young workforce. Their employees are required to work long hours, sometimes well into the evening so they want them to feel at home at work. While they don’t actively monitor how much an individual drinks, some companies use an ipad app that logs every ounce they drink.

As an employee assistance counselor, I see serious problems when employers provide alcohol to their employees on company time on company property, for a number of reasons. The first concern is employer liability. If an employee drives from their place of employment while intoxicated, the employer may be liable. When employees drink, their inhibitions are reduced, so they will say and do things they may never do while not under the influence. These behaviors may lead to sexual harassment or discrimination claims from other co-workers and again, the employer may be liable. Women are at greater risk for sexual harassment at offices where heavy drinking is the norm, according to a 2004 Cornell University study. The report, sponsored by the National Institute on Alcoholism, found harassment incidents increased more than twofold for each additional alcoholic beverage consumed by male co-workers.

The second liability concern for employers is underage drinking. Some employers hire individuals who are under the legal drinking age but if others are drinking, it can be hard on the under age employee to fit in with the company culture. Unless employers are carding all employees before allowing them to drink at work, they cannot be sure they are not serving alcohol to minors.
The third concern is that when a person drinks alcohol, their judgment and productivity will be impaired. An employer cannot determine impairment based on how many drinks a person has had. Women and men metabolize alcohol differently and other factors include a person’s size and body weight and how much they have eaten. How productive can someone be if they have had two or three beers?
Finally, alcoholism is a major social and health concern in our society. Some employees cannot drink in moderation or control themselves after drinking. 10 percent of American adults are alcoholics. For these people, it is a struggle to face every day without alcohol and often the 8 hours a day they spend at work is the easiest part of their day to get though. If alcohol is served at work too, then they are constantly faced with the temptation to drink at work as well. Before employers decide to provide alcohol to their employees, they should consider the legal and social ramifications.
There are many other perks that make better business sense. Examples are concierge services that make things easier on employees who work long hours, wellness and worklife services to help employees balance work and family and employee assistance services.

For information on how you can provide personalized, professional EAP services, call Fully Effective Employees at 425-454-3003 or 1-800-648-5834.