Drinking on the job has generally been considered a no-no... until the Don Draper era came along.
A&E’s hit television show “Mad Men” is all about a Madison Avenue advertising agency in the 1960s, which embraced the theory that booze on the job was a good thing. Office workers are seen drinking martinis in-office before heading out to have lunch, which often consists of double martinis, then returning to the office for another cocktail before clocking out at 5 p.m. While all this gin is clearly excessive, "Mad Men" has revived an old workplace trend: providing employees with a reward in the form of spirits.
Modern Companies Mimic "Mad Men"
Though there are different companies serving alcohol to employees, it seems like ad agencies are still leading the charge when it comes to this trend.
Employers who have embraced the idea of alcohol in the workplace include:
New York’s J. Walter Thompson: This ad agency has a 50-foot bar with swanky stools and a full-time bartender. A spokesperson for the company says the bar is “frequently accessed” and “incentivizes and enthuses employees.” Though they claim the bar is "generally used for off-hours consumption,” they don’t deny employees also drink on the job.
Yelp: The massive customer review site Yelp is based in San Francisco and offers a tech-inspired “kegbot” to its employees. Each employee who partakes of the beer has to sign-in before the beverage is dispensed. It also keeps track of each employee's consumption.
Do Alcohol and Work Really Mix that Well?
Serving alcohol to employees creates "a fine line" between safety and responsibility. After all, alcohol shuts off the brain’s ability to properly sensor activities and speech. Additionally, spirits have not been proven to boost creativity or productivity.
One of the most common practices for many employees is to offer alcohol at holiday parties. In fact, the Wall Street Journal conducted a survey that found only 38 percent of adults polled had attended a holiday party where alcohol was not served. Though alcohol can help to increase the social aspects of a holiday party or celebrate business milestones, it’s important to keep in mind that the majority of these parties are held outside of the workplace and off the clock.
Alcohol Dangers in the Workplace
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), alcohol is the single most used and abused drug in America, with almost 14 million Americans (1 in every 13 adults) suffering from alcohol abuse or alcoholism. Reports indicate that alcoholism and alcohol abuse cost businesses a staggering $33 billion to $68 billion per year.
Businesses may face some amount of liability for providing alcohol to employees. Known as social host liability, the concept is that, under certain circumstances, a business or “host” serving alcohol could be responsible for the acts of its drunken guests. Laws differ state by state, but the employer generally has a greater duty to the employee, since the employee may feel obligated to attend an office party or take part in an office-wide event. Simply put, cases are ultimately “factual issues” to be decided by a judge or jury.
The Legal Ramifications of Alcohol at Work
Several employers have faced lawsuits after serving alcohol to employees.
Nike: In 1996, Jacobsen v. Nike Canada Ltd. found its way before a judge. After serving alcohol to employees working a 16-hour day, a Nike employee fell asleep driving home. He suffered a car accident that left him quadriplegic; Nike was found to be 75 percent at fault for the accident.
The law firm Alexander Holburn: In 2010, Danicek v. Alexander Holburn Beaudin & Lang involved a law firm employee injured while attending an office party. Alcohol was served during dinner, then the party moved to a nightclub. While dancing, another employee fell onto the defendant, who hit her head on the dance floor. The employer was forced to settle out of court.