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The Ethics of Drinking at the Workplace

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Some workplaces have clear policies forbidding drinking alcohol on the job. For example, businesses in the transportation industry often are required by law to make clear to employees that they may not drink on the job. Regulations might also require monitoring and testing of employees to ensure compliance. Other workplaces might be more informal, for example, permitting drinking on certain occasions or after hours. In either case, ethical issues abound when it comes to drinking at work.

Employer Responsibilities

For employers, there are several ramifications of allowing drinking on the job. First, although controlling employee lifestyle choices is not necessarily an employer's responsibility, allowing employees to drink on the job might foster alcohol dependency. Second, drunk employees could cause workplace disruptions, for example, by verbally abusing or harassing others. Finally, allowing alcohol consumption in the workplace can cause safety issues, especially if employees operate dangerous equipment.

Cultural Factors

Another ethical issue to consider is whether the culture of a company promotes alcohol abuse, overtly or not. For example, boring, stressful or isolating work can make alcohol abuse more likely, according to Karen M. Hess, author of the book “Introduction to Private Security.” In addition, limited supervision can make it easy for employees to sneak alcohol into the workplace.

Employee Issues

If your workplace has an alcohol policy, follow it. But even if you have management’s consent to drink alcohol at work, think twice about drinking in the workplace - alcohol consumption might cause more problems than it’s worth. For example, if you become intoxicated at a holiday party and cross personal or ethical boundaries, you could create workplace issues that will haunt you later. And even if you do control your behavior, drinking alcohol can hurt your performance, for instance, because you're tired and sick from the previous day’s drinking.

Dealing with Alcohol Abuse

Employers should draft and enforce a clear policy concerning alcohol use. But despite an employer's best efforts, some employees might have difficulty controlling themselves. Don't attempt to counsel these people yourself. Instead, work with a substance-abuse counselor to identify the best way to proceed. If you work in a large organization, task the human resources department with designing a protocol for minimizing and handling alcohol abuse in the workplace, drawing on expert guidance from counselors and substance-abuse organizations.


Stan Mack is a business writer specializing in finance, business ethics and human resources. His work has appeared in the online editions of the "Houston Chronicle" and "USA Today," among other outlets. Mack studied philosophy and economics at the University of Memphis.

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