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Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Drinking at Lunch

I am a Project Manager who was reprimanded for going out to a restaurant for lunch with several employees. One of them had a beer and upon returning to the office he commented to the newly appointed (inexperienced and unqualified) "Executive Assistant" what she missed for not going with us. I don't believe the company is liable if we are hourly paid employees during a lunch not paid by the company and not related to work in any way. I would like to clear the air before my upcoming performance review.

Your "inexperienced and unqualified" executive assistant apparently knows enough to know that drinking at lunch is inappropriate. Telling her that she missed out on such an event further indicates a lack of maturity on your team's part.

Here is Evil HR Lady's rule of co-workers: When you are with people you work with you are AT WORK. This means that even though you weren't getting paid, you should consider a lunch out, at work. Think about it this way. If you had sexually harassed a co-worker instead of watching him drink alcohol, could you successfully argue that "hey, we were at lunch, not work, so I can harass him all I want"? I didn't think so.

And here is the Management Corollary: When you are with people who you manage (either as a true manager or as a project manager), you are still the boss and their actions will reflect upon you accordingly. This is true, again, even if you are on your "own time."

Alcohol at lunch is downright stupid. Sure, it's your "own time," but do you want to have an employee who was drinking 30 minutes ago working for you? Of course not. (Well, you do, but most people do not.)

Sure, I've heard rumors of the 3 martini lunch, but those days are gone. (At least in my experience. I've never worked in investment banking and even if I did, I don't drink at all.)

I don't know squat about the liability issues (not a lawyer, remember?), but I do know that you should suck it up, admit you were wrong and grovel for forgiveness at your performance review. Yes, I understand that you weren't drinking, but you obviously condoned the activity and blamed the Exec Assistant for your problems and judgment lapse.

And next time, if going out to lunch brings temptations inappropriate for the office, stick to the company cafeteria.

46 comments:

class factotum said...

Amen to "When you are with people you work with you are AT WORK." That's what so many managers don't get! Why aren't we excited about spending a Saturday evening at a retirement party for the big boss? It's at a nice restaurant.

Because it's work! But we're not being paid! And even if we were, we'd still rather have our Saturday night to ourselves!

Ask Rosezilla said...

I've worked at 2 places where HR states that the law in New York says its legal to have one beer at lunch. And, you know, its one beer, not a beer funnel. My current company is European, so there's actually a beer closet for special meetings and parties. Comparing a beer at lunch to sexual harassment is a huge leap, imo.

Personally, I think the course of action would have been to tell the taunter and tauntee to grow the heck up. I can't believe that the EA's boss didn't reprimand her on the spot for such frivolous complaining. I mean, seriously, a grown woman whining to her boss that "Bobby teased me about missing lunch, but I heard he had....a BEER!!"?

HR Godess said...

Right on EHRL! Who drinks during business hours? It's more understandable after hours but you should be very careful. Work is work. It can be fun and should be, without alcohol!

I'm surprised that this person can't see the poor judgment he used. It's always easier to place blame on someone else. It's a shame that they can't own up to the mistake and make sure it doesn't happen again.

Evil HR Lady said...

Rosezilla--legal is different than smart.

jaded hr rep said...

Exactly. There's nothing illegal about many things a company asks its employees not to do (being late, not yelling at employees). It's not only managers who don't get this, but employees as well. I once had an employee tell me our policy requesting employees not engage in political activity in the office was a violation of his right to free speech. :-/

Anonymous said...

Come on! Its one beer. A lot of this comes down to the person drinking more so than the manager trusting his/her employee to have one beer without being impaired!

Dont make a big deal out of this scenario, its peanuts! Get on with work instead of focus attention on something silly that can be settled over a conversation between the three in 10 minutes.

Plus, its no where near the same as sexual harrassment, and it may be that unpaid hours with colleagues is work, but work & socializing and & private life are not inseperable!

HR Godess said...

Anonymous -

Drinking during business hours, regardless of the amount is not allowed by any company that I have ever worked for. I agree that it is not near the level of sexual harrassment but rules are rules and managers are expected to follow all of the rules, even if they don't like them!

Rachel - Employment File said...

I agree with HR Goddess. Any place I've worked at would discipline (possibly terminate) an employee for drinking any type or amount of alcohol on their lunch break.

Evil HR Lady said...

I'm not trying to equate one beer with sexual harassment. My point is that just because you are off the clock doesn't mean that company rules don't apply to you.

chris said...

Clearly this is a US-centric post. In other cultures it is perfectly acceptable to have a glass of wine or beer with your lunch, when lunch draws you away from the office building.

I've always followed two simple rules in this situation, which help avoid any cultural confusion as well:
1. Follow the lead of the "highest ranking" person at the meeting. If he/she's not drinking, you're not drinking.
2. When in doubt, decline an alcoholic beverage.

Rick Bales said...

Even if you're drinking on "your time," the alcohol will still be in your system on the company's time. The company has every right to demand complete sobriety of employees on the job. This is particularly (but not exclusively) true true if the employee drives, operates machinery, is responsible for the safety of others, or otherwise has job responsibilities that could subject the employer to liability if the employee were intoxicated on the job.

Anonymous said...

I think it's wise to follow the leader if you aren't sure of the people in your party. But a lot of large companies actually have a policy on this, so look there first. However, I've worked for companies that provide liquor at company-sponsored functions. So, in that case, EHRL, do you think it's still a horrible offense to imbibe?

Anonymous said...

I think someone protests too much. Need a 12 Step Program, Anon?

Evil HR Lady said...

If it's a company sponsored event where the company is providing the alcohol then you can partake. Under no circumstances should you get drunk--even if the boss is plastered.

People will remember how you behaved at such an event.

dwotwell said...

One beer with lunch!? If the company has a no alcohol at lunch policy, it's everyone's responsibility not to drink.

If not, there a many worse things than a single serving of alcohol.

EHR Lady, your criticism would carry more weight if you were a social drinker yourself. As you are not, it is very easy to condemn others behavior for something you never experience.

One drink is less debilitating that lack of sleep - does the company get to mandate how many hours you sleep at night?

Punish bad performance - being at work while intoxicated is always a no-no. If you can't tell from a person's behavior that they haven't been drinking, and their work does not directly involve the safety of others, and their performance does not fall off, and if there is no explicit company policy against it, you're casting a rather large net by calling that behavior "stupid".

Common Sense Management said...

I work for a Pharma company. Would you like your prescriptions drugs produced by people who just had a beer at lunch... well maybe two today.. I don't think so. Also, a business relationship is a business relationship. It does not end at the busines entrance. Any manager should know this.

Tim Lacy said...

Per the comment next above, alcohol-at-lunch rules should be field dependent. There's a big difference between customer service folks having ~one~ beer over lunch and a heavy equipment operator enjoying a beer and hopping back into her/his machine.

And of course, one beer may not be much for a 200 lb person, but one may be enough to create question marks for 115 lb person with no tolerance.

Still, each workplace needs a clear set of rules. We can't assume that everyone who has ~a~ beer is a fool, and everyone who doesn't is saint. - TL

Anonymous said...

Wow!! I'm a light social drinker -- and I'm a lightweight on top of that. I do not think getting drunk at work is acceptable at all. However, I believe that most work policies state that people cannot be inebriated at work. If somebody is on their lunch hour and chooses to have a drink and can handle the alcohol and not become inebriated, I don't see the problem. I work with somebody who has a beer on a daily basis. It doesn't affect his behavior, nor does it affect his work performance. I wouldn't be able to drink at lunch -- unless I had just a couple sips because I am a lightweight. Leave it up to people to have some judgement as to what they can and can't handle. The same thing is true with herbs and medications. If I knew I had to drive, I would not take kava kava or even drink more than a couple sips of anything that might impair my ability to drive.

I think that a hard line stating no alcohol when somebody who drinks all the time at night or is 200 lbs can be harsh. The bottom line is whether somebody is inebriated when they get back to work and whether it impairs their ability to perform at work. If somebody shows up drunk, fire them. That is unacceptable!

Corey J. Feldman said...

I agree with Evil - if you are with a coworker/employee/boss you are at work. I personally think drinking during the work day (even off the clock/even one beer) opens the company up to unnecessary risk. That being said, I have certainly worked for companies where a beer at lunch would be status quo. Heck, once I had to work with a union contract that actually specified the “acceptable” number of beer allowed during the day. What it comes down to, and where I think your real failure was, is knowing your company culture. Clearly this was a not acceptable at your company. You do yourself little service by denouncing the qualifications and experience of the Executive Assistant. She may very well by babbling idiot, but she is not the one calling you to carpet. It doesn’t mater how he/she found out.

Anonymous said...

I don't think there's anything wrong with having A drink during your lunch at work. (especially if you have an office job) If you're a responsible adult you know your limits and if you'd be ok having a drink of 2.
I also don't believe one drink would cause someone to say something different than if they had no drink at all.
This guy sounds like he's generally just a douche bag and the "underqualified" employee probably thinks that too, therefore tattling on him out of spite.

Ask Rosezilla said...

I think some of the best comments have pointed out that there is no one good answer to drinking at work. Beyond legal, its my company's policy to be ok with social drinking. But they're European and in marketing. Another 2 companies I worked for had this policy (sales and gourmet food).

Is it ok to have a drink during lunch if you're a surgeon, teacher, or your company handbook expressly forbids it? Of course not, that's common sense. BUT, there are plenty of fields, companies, and locations where social drinking and work aren't taboo at all. Chris had the best advice, imo.

Just another HR lady... said...

I just see this as a question of good vs bad judgment when it comes to how you wish to be perceived at work. People notice when other people drink at work lunches, work functions, etc., and the "noticing" is not always positive. Why would you want to impair your behavior around co-workers or managers? Not smart.

I do also think that this type of behavior comes from the top down, as employees will model on what their Managers are doing at lunches and other work-related functions. If Managers know it's unacceptable and take that behavior to heart, employees tend to follow suit. Vice versa, if the Manager is drinking, employees will also follow suit.

As for Project Manager, don't bother trying to defend or justify the fact that one of your staff drank alcohol during a work lunch, drinking at lunch is a no-win argument and as EHRL says "downright stupid". Just apologize, say it won't happen again, and then ensure your staff know that drinking at work lunches are not acceptable. End of story.

HR Wench said...

Interesting conversation here. One thing I haven't seen mentioned yet:

How one drink affects me versus how one drink would affect another can be vastly different.

Sandi Mays said...

A few years ago, I visited a London office. They had alcoholic beverages in the vending machine. (low alcohol content ... but still alcohol) I about fell on the floor.

Not sure if anyone drank them or not ... the little red light indicating "sold out" wasn't on.

Anonymous said...

Even drinking at an evening function then going to work the night shift is innappropriate. I watched as a "boss" did so and was appalled. You just dont do that.

Anonymous said...

I'm certainly not in the habit of doing this myself, but I fail to totally see the point about appropriateness of someone drinking a glass of beer at lunch. If someone is not performing as expected or is behaving inappropriately, I am concerned; otherwise, I am not. I worked in publishing in London in the late 90s and found that most of my coworkers did this. I also will note it was the most effective group of people I've ever worked with - by far.

Anonymous said...

We have a severe drinking problem in this country. No, it's not people going out and getting drunk during lunch or even after work. It's a deathly fear that a drink (or two) will make someone so inebriated and completely irrational that they are unable to function. Teaching moderation, especially to those UNDER 21, is a much more effective than our society's abstinence approach.

Really, a beer at lunch. Come on people. Shouldn't we be worrying about more important issues.

Ask Rosezilla said...

The funniest thing about this thread is that I joined the JET Programme a couple years ago, which send people to teach in Japan. One thing that always came up during application time was that people who didn't drink were often turned down. In Japan, drinking with coworkers at regular office bonding parties, called enkais, was MANDATORY. It is seen as bonding offices together.

I grew up in the Midwest and I could never imagine anyone there drinking during lunch, even in wine sales. But its a mixed bag on the East and West coast and its certainly not often the case with a European or Asian company.

class factotum said...

It's not whether someone can function with a beer or two at lunch. It's if he hits someone in the company parking lot or driving the company car on the way back to the office and the cops find any alcohol when they test him. The liability payout would be bad enough if he were clean, but with alcohol? Open the checkbook, baby.

tracy said...

At my company we can and will test for reasonable suspicion...meaning if you meet certain criteria (if I smell alcohol on you, etc) then I'm taking you for a drug/breath test. If you pop positive then you're terminated.

Having a drink on your own time is one thing...another made the excellent point that once you get back from lunch you're now under the influence on the company's time, which is most likely a violation of policy.

I agree 100% with EHRL on this...

Anonymous said...

To Class Factotum: Excellent point, and I'm surprised that it has not come up before. ('specially since most of us are lovely HR folks). I'm not worried about how a 12 ounce beer is going to effect a 200 pound man/woman. I'm worried that he'll run over a small child on the way home. In the company car. Or better yet, when I do end up disciplining him a year down the line for drinking on the job, claiming ADA because he's an alcoholic and since he drank during his lunch hours with his manager, we enabled it. (This is a far stretch, but unfortunately, in the US, people think it's a god-given right to sue and litigation will cost me oodles). I think the problem here is much larger than a beer at lunch. It's a problem with liability, judgement, and responsibility.

Anonymous said...

One of the things that I learned 30 years ago is that it's very easy to determine whether or not an employee has had a drink or not had a drink.

It's much harder to determine if he's had one or five. Sure one drink is no problem, but you won't find out that it was five drinks until you have a big problem on your hands.

Ask Rosezilla said...

By the way, EHRL...Taking one Benadryl is equal to 2 drinks.

sam k said...

Beer with lunch...GOOD!!!

Kelly O said...

I truly can't believe people are blaming the EA for reporting this. Many companies have written policies in the handbook (you know, the book you got on the first day that you skimmed, signed the acknowledgment form and then forgot about) regarding not being under the influence of any altering substance during working hours. It's been pointed out that one beer affects people in different ways, and the easiest way for the company to avoid liability issues is to just say no.

I'm a social drinker, and I would never have a beer or glass of wine at work. Yeah, in Europe they may do it differently, but we are not in Europe.

Trends in Human Resources said...

Brush up on state and federal regulations. Find out whether your state adheres to the at-will employment doctrine, which means either party can terminate the relationship for any or no reason, provided public policy - such as antidiscrimination or workers' compensation law - is not violated.

http://howtomanagehumanresources.blogspot.com/

chris said...

kelly o - really? we're all in the US? Gee, I missed that requirement. Sorry EHRL, guess I can't participate anymore.

(j.k. you're not leaving my blogroll)

I'll echo my earlier point in a more general sense: culture matters. Not for everything all the time, but in my experience more often than not.

Eric Randolph said...

For everyone involved, I think the big picture needs to be considered. As a participant in the lunch, I would remind myself of my career goals. If something I did/didn't do could be misinterpreted or worse give others the wrong impression of me, I would not participate. Remember, direction determines destination, not intention. The phrase "I didn't intend to...." does not erase or excuse the actions you took. There is a reason they say you only get 1 shot at a first impression.

Simone said...

I agree with Chris (and a lot of others) on this one. The American fear of everything and anything alcohol-related is blatantly apparent.

It's one beer; it takes the body about one (lunch) hour to eliminate the alcohol it contains from the system. Combined with food intake, I doubt the person in question actually felt any of the effects that alcohol can entail.

Having a drink or a glass of wine at lunch is okay. However, if you are dealing with someone who usually drinks much more and whose behavior becomes problematic afterwards, you have another problem which should be dealt with separately.

Dataceptionist said...

I''m in Australia, so it seems a little different here than the US.

Firstly, I think the questioner should respond in kind to the policy his company apparently has. Regardless of the policy you think should be in place, this is the one you have and don't whine about it after the fact. If you weren't aware of it, suck it up and just be apologetic after the fact.

In response to the issue of it being your own time, in Oz from the moment you step out your front door until you step inside your home again, you're covered by Occupational Health & Safety laws. These laws state that your company must take reasonable precaution to protect you, even from yourself.
For example if you are in a car accident on your way to work, you are entitled to compensation which pays you during your time off work, and covers your medical bills. In the same manner, if you are at lunch, and you trip and end up twisting your ankle and have to go to hosipital, even though you may not have been on company property at the time, you're still covered, and you will be paid for your time off, and the company pays for you to go to the doctor and have your ankle looked at.
As such, drinking during lunch is still classed, from an Occupational Health & Safety standpoint, as you being on the clock, and they can take measures to protect you, such as not allowing drinking.
Interestingly, the OH&S Laws also cover work functions outside work hours, including Christmas parties.

Regarding the broader question of drinking at work at all, culture in Oz seems to be quite different. If your in the private sector, its quite common.
My husband works for a construction company, and they have kitchens in their offices with fully stocked fridges of Coke, Mineral Water, Juices, BEER & WINE. Always there, always available, think nothing of cracking a beer at 4pm any day of the week.
My husband has ended up on a "dry site" because they are working on a train station, and government requires random drug & alcohol tests for them to keep the contract. This is an anomaly though.
Drinking and work and quite common in Australia I would say, and "boozy lunches" are certainly part of corporate culture.

Anonymous said...

Just a note Dataceptionist - over here in Western Australia you are NOT covered by OS&H on your way to and from work (unless you are travelling to/from a place that is not your normal place of work)

notsoanonymous said...

Well I need lots of advice, even though I think I'm right. My manager and I went to a brewery for lunch, we ate and drank (actually got drunk), I know it was irresponsable from both parts, so not wanting to work like that I told the manager that after we cameback to the company I was gonna leave and he agreed, and was leaving as well.
well after I changed clothes we both left and he suggested to go back to the brewery and I agreed, we had more beer and he was acting weird, like kind of jealous and was talkin a lot of crap about some people in the company and even the owner, and how years ago they fired his father without a reason and calling them a#$holes,
well I felt pretty "served" at some time and told him I had to leave, we got out but before I put my helmet on he called me to where his truck was parked and put his arm around my neck telling me that I couldn't leave him and I kept on telling him that I needed to go home but that only made it worse because he started squeezing my neck with his arm, then brought me to the grass and tried to put me down but when I was going down I grabbed him and we both fell, he started laughing and "whooing" and I was shocked by the behavior but I did the same thing just so he thought I was with him You know well we got up and same thing with his arm squeezing but this time he aproached my ear and smiling (may be so no one would think he was trying to give problems) told me "I hate You mother f@#$, f$%ing wetback (I'm Mexican), and then he punched me on my left side of the face,(he's left handed and was grabbing me with the right arm),well after that I punched him three times (on the face) and on the last one he let me go.
I was about to leave while he was still cursing out loud then he grabbed my helmet from his truck's hood slammed it on the ground and left.
before that he had scheduled a two week vacation so he's on vacation now I have a very painful coccyx (tail bone)due to the fall, he called me the same night about ten times telling me he had six stitches on his eye brow, and threatening me and my family.
I called the company on monday to let them know I was going to be off, and the office manager told me that it was ok, he even said that I should take as much time as needed (I told him what happened), so I called tuesday and told him I was showing up on wednesday and told me the same thing. BTW I was working with them for two years thru an agency, well that sam evening I got a call from the agency telling me that HE called telling them that I was not needed any more, I went to get my belongings and give him the key back today wednesday 9 and he just told me it had not been his decision, and I know that.

What I say is if i just went back to change my clothes, meaning I did not work drunk,and left was that enough to fire me?.

Anonymous said...

quite ridiculous! A beer during lunch occassionally is just fine, there is a big difference between a social beer and being drunk. Good grief!

People regularly smoke their lungs out on a break, that is not only highly addictive but it can intefere much more with work than a beer! Get Real!

Anonymous said...

I contract with another contractor. I am NOT a prude, and do not much care what people do as long as they can perform, and do NOT impact me.
That being said, I contract alongside another contractor. He comes back from lunch smelling of alcohol for hours and is very muddled thinking. We do very intricate process analysis work, and I've had to sit through hours of muddled confused talk and redesigning of processes to be unintelligable. Also some very confusing requests where he acts like he knows the software, but he can't do it and wants me to do it. (I'm not sure if it's the booze or mental problems)
I'm thinking about quitting this contract.
I'm also afraid, since we interview people together, that they'll think the alcohol smell is coming from me.

TrailerQueenPDX

Drewster said...

Personal responsibility with drinking. If your lunchtime drinking affects your work, then you are disciplied to the same degree that you would if you were slacking off and browsing facebook. If you can drink a beer, keep in the legal limit, and do your job as well or better, what's the problem? In europe, say parts of France, a wine with a healthy lunch is not frowned upon.

Kate said...

I agree with a lot of what Chris and Simone said. One standard drink (a beer or a nip of spirits) will be out of your system in an hour and when you're eating at the same time, it's even faster.

Argueing that we're not in the US so our opinion on these matters don't matter is just stupid (kelly o) when you consider that with the spread of globalisation, it's smart to be understanding of other cultures and social standards in the world. Our opinion is just as valid as yours. So here's mine:

There have been studies that have shown that workplaces function better if the staff get along on a social level. I'm aware that this doesn't work for everyone. Some people prefer to keep their work and social lives seperate and that is their choice and I have respect for that. But personally, I enjoy socialising with my co workers. I find that it makes my workplace a much more pleasant place to spend my days.

But as to drinking in office hours, it depends on the lunch. Since in this case it was a lunch with co workers, I think that one beer is perfectly acceptable (though the man's behaviour afterwards certainly wasn't), however, if it had been a lunch with prospective clients or a first meeting with a business partner, I would agree that alcohol probably wasn't an acceptable drink.

I also agree with Drewster. I think that ultimately it comes down to maturity. One drink is not going to make a person (any person regardless of weight) who doesn't have a pre existing medical condition behave outlandishly unless they always behave like that, in which case it has nothing to do with the alcohol anyway. In this case, I think that both the male employee and the female EA are probably not very mature people but having said that, I think that as the project manager, some of the blame has to fall on you. As a leader, you should know whether your team are likely to boast about drinking at lunch before you allow them to do so.