Leadership Competencies

For Managers and Owners, Prohibition is Not Such a Bad Thing

This time of year, many organizations hold picnics, barbeques or other events that might involve alcohol. Like holidays such as the stereotypical Christmas party, these situations could expose you or your organization to an expensive lawsuit.

A client—without consulting anyone first—fired off the following memo during what can best be termed a burst of seasonal enthusiasm: “It’s that time again, folks! Summer is here, we are having a great month, and it’s time to do a little team building exercise. By team building exercise I, of course, mean go to a bar and drink together.”

This may be an extreme example and I am not a prude or wet blanket, but there are numerous liabilities built into this situation. Some of the liabilities are external, legal ones, and some are internal morale and values-based issues. None are things you really want to walk into without caution.

If the event or activity is company planned and sponsored, then anything that happens at, or as a result of, the activity is “on the company.” If someone gets inebriated, drives home and hurts someone, then it is a legal liability for the company. The possibilities for those types of situations may be remote, but the reality is they do happen.

More likely, the problems will be more interpersonal. People under the influence behave differently than when they are sober. Some are happy drunks. Some get mean when they drink. Some lose their inhibitions. Some think they are God’s gift to the other gender. Most just make fools of themselves.

I had another situation in which an attendee pulled a starter pistol (the type of gun used to start a track or swimming event) and pointed it at his coworkers as a joke. He pulled the trigger and created a loud BANG! That was a load of fun. Another client had a drunken employee grope another employee at such a function. Employees propositioning other employees is a common occurrence.

Drink-at-workWhat values are on display here? What values are on display in the days afterward when senior management has to deal with the aftermath? The context changes from party setting to work setting pretty quickly. There is more here than just embarrassment.

If nothing else, consider this: employers may be liable for injuries caused by their employees after providing them with alcohol at work parties or other work-related events. They may also be held liable if the accident occurred while the employee was using a company car, while performing his or her job duties, or on the employer’s property.

If there is going to be a corporate-sponsored event or activity, have it be dry or only the soft stuff. Don’t make alcohol, even beer, so readily available that it’s pouring from a fountain. If there is going to be hard stuff, have it on a one- or two-drink limit. Have the event start and end early. If people want to stay around after the event officially ends so they can continue to drink, make it clear that’s on their own. Set expectations for professionalism. The owner or senior persons need to set the example.

Most of these cautions can be finessed so they don’t come across as over bearing. Most of your employees are likely to be grateful you keep things on a sober and mature level. You and your organization certainly will be better off.

Category: Leadership Competencies

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About the Author: Steve Cohen

Steve M. Cohen, Ed.D., CMC is President/Partner of Labor Management Advisory Group, Inc. and HR Solutions: On-Call, both based in Kansas City, MO.Often described as a “mess management” expert for his ability to skillfully resolve people prob…

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