If I Let Employees Drink on the Job, Am I Liable–If Our Workplace is a Bar?

Question:

My brother is severely ill. He asked me to temporarily oversee his two businesses, one of which is a restaurant with a bar and liquor license. When he called and asked if I’d help him out, he made me promise I wouldn’t “gut everything.” (He considering me uber-controlling.)

Several things he allows worry me. I’m afraid I might be complicit if I allow these things to continue when I’m in charge.

My brother’s employees apparently think it’s OK to have a drink now and then when they’re working. Supposedly they pay for what they consume, but since we take in cash as well as credit, I haven’t been able to substantiate whether that’s true. I suspect my brother turns a blind eye to this and considers it a perk that keeps employees happy.

What are best practices for restaurants and bars concerning employee on-the-job drinking?

Answer:

Contact the alcohol beverage control board in your state. The alcohol beverage laws in many states don’t prohibit licensees or their agents and employees from drinking.

Like many other smaller employers, many bar and restaurants lack policies banning alcohol use during working hours. Further, most restaurant and bar employees work hard and some party even harder. While some bars and restaurants prohibit drinking during or before shifts, other employers provide employees free end-of-shift drinks, Some allow bar employees to do shots with regulars.

These practices expose these employers to liability as employers can become liable if their employees get into vehicle accidents on their commute home. Allowing regular workplace drinking also places employees at risk, leading some of them to slip down the slope into alcoholism, which is endemic among bar and restaurant employees. When almost everyone an employee sees for a work shift drinks steadily, some employees forget that this isn’t normal behavior but more how people act when out for the evening or socializing.

Best practices? You may need to tighten your business’s parameters for workplace drinking. Employers take a real risk when employees drink on the job and then later drive, particularly if the employees drive to handle work-related duties. At the same time, if your brother has allowed alcohol as a perk, you’ll fight an uphill battle.

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5 thoughts on “If I Let Employees Drink on the Job, Am I Liable–If Our Workplace is a Bar?

  1. Approximately 50 years ago, I was negotiating to purchase a bar. Towards the latter part of the negotiations, a lifetime friend’s brother was allowed to “overdrink” at said bar. He ended dying in a car wreck while heading home. He was obviously too drunk to be served, let alone drive. I decided not to go through with the purchase. In my mind, the moral implications far outweighed the legal ramifications.

    As an aside, since it was a rural bar, accessible only by road and snow machine, strict drunk driving laws and enforcement eventually caused the bar to shut down.

  2. Larry, a great comment. Drinking on the job creates enormous risks — and yet in this era of work from home, the numbers of people who work from home and drink during the workday has dramatically increased.

  3. When I read the lead-in, my guess was that many employers in bars allow employees limited drinking during their shifts. That said, I also thought about possibilities for liability if employees got into traffic accidents or even if they got into fights at work when they had been drinking. The comments here ratify my guesses and amplify possible responses and results. The problem, too, is that the poster is taking over the business briefly for the brother who owns it. If it’s only for a short time (a couple of months at the most, say) I don’t think it’s particularly wise or practicable to institute changes in long-standing practices. If it’s for longer, then maybe.

    1. Yes, however the “no good deed goes unpunished” would kick in if someone wrecked during his tenure…..

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