Q. Our drug and alcohol policy states: “While on company premises and while conducting business for the company off premises, no employee may use, possess, distribute, sell or be under the influence of alcohol or illegal drugs.” It's very clear how this applies at the work site. But some of our staff asked if this also applies to them when they travel or attend out-of-town seminars at hotels. Does our policy still hold up in this situation?— V.S., New Mexico
A. As currently written, your policy is pretty clear. But you could make it even clearer by including the following: “This policy applies to all off-premises business activities, including, but not limited to, company-related travel and attendance at out-of-town seminars.”
Banning off-premises drinking is often your safest bet because employers are typically responsible for employees' conduct during the “scope of employment,” wherever that conduct occurs. But many employers aren't willing to go that far. One reason: You could argue that the benefit of letting employees have a drink with a customer outweighs the risks associated with the drinking. Plus, policing a policy that extends to off-premises conduct is hard to do. At the end of the day, your company's decision will hinge as much on risk tolerance as its sense of whether employees are capable of drinking responsibly.