Many employers reserve the right to fire an employee for any reason -- including drinking after the close of the business day or sharing pictures featuring a favorite martini on social media. If you work for a company with a specific alcohol-free workplace policy or under a contract that lists potential reasons for termination, you may enjoy a few additional protections under the law as long as your drinking after work does not affect your performance.
The Drug-Free Workplace Act of 1988 requires most organizations and businesses that receive grants and contracts from the federal government to maintain a written drug and alcohol-free workplace policy. While this Act did not encompass additional outside enterprises, many businesses voluntarily maintain a written policy on drugs and alcohol. If you are unsure about your employer's stance on these issues, reference your employee handbook, company bulletins posted in community areas, your employment contract or any existing labor agreement. Without a clear policy on how employee terminations are handled, your employer may fire you for almost any reason because you work as an at-will employee. In fact, some contracts and employee manuals emphasize at-will employment as a workplace policy which leaves you with little recourse when fired unless discrimination was also a factor.
Even if you have never taken a sip of liquor while on the clock, drinking may still noticeably affect your efficiency and the quality of your work. When a pattern of arriving at work hungover and unproductive gets noticed by management, disciplinary action, including firing, follows for both at-will employees and those with contracts featuring just cause firing clauses. While just cause termination policies protect you from being fired based on a manager's whim, they offer no protection when your work and productivity suffer because of the side effects drinking.
Social Media, Alcohol and the Workplace
For employees who conscientiously avoid mixing business with mixed drinks, the possibility of being fired still exists when you combine alcohol and social media. For example, according to the National Education Association (NEA), many teachers and student-teachers have faced employment termination for inappropriate social media postings -- some featuring alcohol or references to drinking. Unless an employer violates your privacy by accessing a social media page hidden behind privacy settings that prevent public access to your profile, little legal recourse exists if your behavior could be construed as detrimental to your employer.
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), if you suffer from the recognized disability of alcoholism, your employer cannot fire you for being an alcoholic. However, the act offers no protection when you are disciplined or fired because your productivity and behavior no longer meet the standards required by a given employer -- even if alcohol is the driving force behind your problems. Businesses with specific policies in place regarding an alcohol-free workplace and employee termination may offer you the opportunity to seek help for alcoholism and return to work after successful completion of a treatment program.
- United States Department of Labor: Drug-Free Workplace Act of 1988
- NOLO: Employment At Will: What Does It Mean?
- Lawyers.com: Just Cause
- National Education Association: Social Networking Nightmares
- NOLO: Can Potential Employers Check Your Facebook Page?
- NOLO: Reasonable Accommodations for People With Disabilities: The ADA
Ashley Mott has 12 years of small business management experience and a BSBA in accounting from Columbia. She is a full-time government and public safety reporter for Gannett.