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Alcohol Policy - Q&A RisKey
The state Alcohol Risk Control Policy requires agencies to control the risks of alcohol on state property and in state activities. It says state employees may not consume alcohol on duty or while representing the state. Here are some of the more common questions we have been asked on this policy: Be sure to see the policy, itself. These are just meant to help your reading of it.
Q: Why prohibit drinking on the job? Is this some kind of moral meddling? Alcohol is not an invasive issue like smoking. What´s the point?
A: The policy puts in writing what most agencies and many private firms have long practiced. The policy is meant to prevent needless and wasteful losses caused by alcohol in the workplace. Those costs include employee injuries, property damage, tort claims, mistakes and damage to the public image of state government.
Discussion: Alcohol is recreational, not professional. It adds nothing to getting the job done. In fact, the costs of alcohol in the workplace are widely recognized. Oregon´s workers´ compensation reform included a law to help keep alcohol off the job. The law says an employer who prohibits alcohol, is not liable when alcohol causes a workplace injury. State courts have upheld the new law. The state can be a model of its own law, to the benefit of everyone. The alcohol policy will also help the state prevent tort claims arising from the use of alcohol.
Q: What does our agency need to do to adopt the policy?
A: Nothing, if you are an agency under the Governor´s appointment or control. The policy already applies to you. But, if your agency reports to an elected official other than the Governor, you do have to decide whether to adopt the policy for your agency.
Discussion: Unlike most risk management policies, the alcohol policy has no effect on agencies which report to an elected official other than the Governor . . . unless they choose to adopt it.
Tip: We suggest that those who are not covered by the policy adopt it anyway. They may prefer to alter it to better meet their needs.
Q: My agency is sponsoring a wine or beer tasting to promote state products. Does the policy mean I cannot be a taster?
A: No, it does not affect you if you are there as a member of the public. Yes, it means you cannot drink if you are there as a member of the state government. Doubly yes, if you are a server.
Discussion: First, lets say the function is on the weekend. You are attending on your own as a member of the public. You are not on state duty and have no state role there. In that case, the alcohol policy does not apply to you in any way. Your agency may ask employees not to attend, just like some stores ask their sales clerks not to shop at their own sales. But otherwise, you are on your own.
However, if you are there to perform any task or role on behalf of the state, you cannot consume alcohol. This is the case whether you attend as a volunteer or employee. State regulations and the policies of most restaurants and bars are similar. Servers and employees cannot drink on the job.
Tip: Your day is done and your work is over. Your employer allows you to be a patron at its alcohol-serving function. In that case, be sure to look like a patron. Shed name plates, uniforms, or anything that might confuse people. Do not look like you are on the job if you are not on the job.
Q: My agency is sponsoring a dinner party at a local restaurant for employees to honor them for the work they have done. Can I bring my own bottle or buy my own drinks? Can my spouse drink?
A: You cannot drink alcohol during the state function. What your spouse does is up to your spouse and the host.
Discussion: First, think about parties in general. Whenever any host throws a party, the host has the right to impose conditions. For almost any reason or no reason, the host may require you to leave. If you smoke, drink, behave badly, dress funny, or are just obnoxious, you could be shown the door. It is much the same at a state sponsored function.
Why is this? When someone sponsors a function, they can incur liabilities. Your agency may be blamed for employees that are injured at the function. It may be expected to pay for any harm its employees do to others or to their property.
In the end, whether the agency is made to pay for losses depends on all the facts. But, the risk lies in just being blamed. It can cost a lot of money to prove you are not legally liable. And, the accusations can damage an agency´s reputation.
Tip: All agency functions have a beginning and an end. It can help a lot to make those both very clear. When a party at a restaurant is clearly and formally and actually over, everyone reverts to their private roles. There are no hosts, bosses, guests or employees. What you drink is then between you, the restaurant manager, and your designated driver. So, in most cases, you may choose to drink when the agency party is over . . . really over.
Q: Our agency has a few people who need to drink at high-level social-business meetings. It is awkward if they do not. Does this mean we cannot allow them to drink?
A: No. The policy allows for positions who need to drink to be exempted in writing by your appointing authority. This can be done in their position description or elsewhere. The policy also exempts agencies who must do covert or overt enforcement of criminal laws. You can still do what you have to do for your mission and duties.
Discussion: The idea that someone must drink in order to do a good job for the state is an intriguing one. Does that mean that you would not hire someone who does not drink? A number of national organizations in alcohol-related work say that it is never good morals or manners to urge someone to have a drink. They say that even in private life, the choice to drink should be a private one. The state has very few jobs where the ability to consume alcohol is a bonafide occupational qualification.
Tip: If you need to sponsor or attend cocktail parties for dignitaries, several organizations can offer you tips on how to be a gracious host or guest who does not imbibe. If you conduct parties for dignitaries or workers in your home or in other settings that confuse the line between work and recreation, the answer is to make that line clear again. A private party is not funded or supported by the state. It is not a concern of the alcohol policy.
Q: What happens if I violate the policy?
A: This policy is no different than any other state policy or rule.
Discussion: Very few policies or rules are written to include threats to violators. There is no reason to build threats or special penalties into this one. The statutes do provide for fines and other penalties for violating any state policy or rule. But, it is a poor practice to manage by threat or intimidation.
Tip: If an employee cannot get through a meeting, agency function, or work day without alcohol, you might refer them to the employee assistance program. Also, by law, their health coverage covers some treatment for alcohol dependency. Talk to your personnel officer about your agencies´ plan for assisting employees with alcohol related performance problems.
These few questions and answers cannot cover all situations for all people. But, they may help guide your own decisions for yourself and your staff.