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Our perceptions of office drinking culture have shifted in the last few years. For many companies—often start-ups and agency-like firms—drinking on the job is now considered a perk. On a recent episode of All Things Legal, Craig Ashton speaks about the increasing trend of drinking in the workplace and the legal import of this growing trend, and how companies are ok with it.

The presence of a beer on tap is a sought after work perk, and having a casual drink at work is a way to keep employees happy. An alcohol friendly environment can also help foster internal connections. Research has even shown that workers who drink are more productive and can better explore unorthodox solutions.

Drinking at work is becoming more accepted, but is it legal?

The short answer is, in most places, it is indeed legal to drink at the workplace. The major exceptions are safety-sensitive jobs or if a job requires you to drive.

For companies that do provide drinks in the workplace, there are protections from enacted legislation that specifically shields a host from civil liability if a guest has too much to drink and ends up causing an accident.  Even in states that have fairly liberal “social host” laws, liability usually only extends to third parties who are harmed by the intoxicated guest’s conduct. A “first party” claim by the intoxicated guest will almost always fail. One notable exception is where a host provides alcohol to a minor. In that situation, a minor who is injured in an alcohol-related accident (even one they themselves caused) may be able to file a lawsuit against the host.

In almost all situations, it is almost always the drinker who holds ultimate responsibility in case of an accident caused by drinking in the workplace. Ashton and Price suggest to adhere to some common sense rules:

How to help ensure your safety regarding drinking at the workplace

Know your limits. Remember that you’re still in a professional setting, even if it’s a casual one. No one likes an inebriated guest. If you’re a lightweight, stick to one small glass of something.

It’s all about perception. You don’t want to seem too eager to down the drink. You’re trying to enjoy it with office colleagues, not get hammered.

For management and employers, setting some common sense rules in place will be necessary to help protect all parties involved. The actions of one person or one bad outcome can wreck the fun for the rest of the office.  Whether you choose to implement drinking policies for your company or just leave the call up to your team, the decisions should reflect your company’s culture. Having a formal policy backed by HR ensures you’re safe, not sorry.

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