I recently had an interesting discussion with a professional friend regarding the issues of alcohol at company events and the legal liabilities they may ensue. This was a purely hypothetical conversation over a glass of wine and involved no particular companies. Below is a brief discussion of some of my thoughts on the topic. In full disclosure, I was sandbagging in this conversation because I have written on this subject before for an entirely different purpose. I pulled from that content in our discussion and for these blog posts.
Background on the Discussion
The leadership of a company values their employees and wishes to have regular recognition events to celebrate the hard work and success of the team. The company sponsors an event on Fridays where employees may relax from the work week and consume some burgers and beer. The leadership feels this is an important activity for employees to relax, build morale, and reinforce elements of the company’s culture. Recent events have raised the issue of excessive alcohol consumption to the management team. The leadership wishes to address the safety concerns while maintaining its fun corporate culture. This culture includes providing alcohol at company events as a non-negotiable element.
An organization may be held liable for the actions of its employees even when those actions occur outside of normal work times. Furthermore, the organization could be culpable for the result of any accident that is even partially attributable to the alcohol consumed during the company sponsored event. Beyond legal accountability, companies have a moral and ethical responsibility to the safety of their employees as well as the broader public.
Anyone driving under the influence creates a dangerous situation. They put their lives at risk as well as pedestrians and occupants of other vehicles. Driving under the influence is never acceptable; be smart and Call Uber.
A Solution Requires Change in Corporate Behavior
Based on an old proverb regarding finding yourself in a hole and realizing the importance of ceasing the digging, the first step in developing a solution is recognizing the problem (p. 112). The leadership must decide what is the correct course of action for the company. Given the desire by management to maintain the event structure, a risk mitigation approach is most advantageous in meeting their goals.
My Proposed Solution
The organization wishes to keep the event but lower the risk of a safety incident. The company should institute a two alcoholic drink maximum per employee and offer no-cost and no-questions-asked rides home for any employee who becomes intoxicated. This solution allows the management to maintain spirit and joviality of the event while significantly lowering the risk of an alcohol-related traffic accident.
His position on my approach
The company is in danger. Employees are free to choose to drive, and they may be impaired. This creates an unacceptable level of risk to the enterprise. The event should have all alcohol removed.
My response to his position
His solution is outside of the stated parameters. My approach is based on risk mitigation. It meets the requirements set out by leadership and addresses the safety concerns. The issues with the success of the solution will be how it is implemented and supported by the leadership team. It will succeed of fail in their hands because of how they choose to reinforce and integrate the changes into the corporate culture. In the second part of this post, I would like to share some thoughts on the implementation and pull-through.