It's hard to believe that an employer would actually prohibit an employee from any kind of sustenance, especially water. But if you've received instructions from your supervisor that you're not permitted to drink water, the best course of action is to learn the workplace policies and address your concerns with her. Chances are, your employer isn't prohibiting you from drinking water because she wants you to see how well you tolerate being parched by the end of the day. There may be a workplace safety policy that prohibits food and drink in certain work areas.
Review your employee handbook about workplace policies concerning public areas and employees' workstations. Many employers don't permit food or drink near workstations for safety reasons. Computer equipment can be damaged, sensitive files destroyed or papers soiled by just one mishap or accident. Carefully read your handbook, because if your employer has specifically forbidden eating and drinking at your workstation, it's probably a company policy. If you don't have a copy of your handbook, get the most recent version from your human resources department.
Ask your supervisor for clarification about the no-water rule. Avoid storming into her office, demanding to know why you can't simply quench your thirst whenever you want. Instead, tell her that you would like clarification about employees not being permitted to drink water. Explain that you've reviewed the workplace policies and -- assuming that you didn't find the policy in writing -- that you need to understand the rules so that you don't inadvertently violate workplace policies of which you might not be aware.
If you work in an area where sucking from a water bottle just isn't the dignified image the company wants its employees to project, think about it from a customer's or client's perspective. For example, say that upon your arrival to your lawyer's or accountant's office, the receptionist is drinking water from a bottle with a nipple-like cap that emits a sucking noise every time she takes a drink from the bottle. That could ruin the firm's professional image. Appearances mean everything in many organizations and, at a minimum, the receptionist could drink from an actual glass instead of a bottle. Perhaps your employer means that she's just concerned about you drinking from a water bottle and would prefer that you use a glass.
When you work in a field where employees are known for their compassion and understanding, engaging in an activity that people around you cannot do can be off-putting. For example, if you work in a laboratory or health care clinic where patients report for various tests that require them to abstain from drinking and eating for 12 hours or more, it's pretty insensitive to down a bottle of water in front of them if you're the office receptionist or the patient care tech assigned to greet them.
Some work environments prohibit drinking and eating in places where contamination could occur, according to requirements that the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration mandates. For example, the OSHA standards concerning bloodborne pathogens does not permit food or drinks in areas where laboratory equipment and substances might be compromised. In addition, if you work in a place where the customers and patrons aren't permitted to drink -- such as in a library -- it would be disingenuous for you to be able to drink water or anything else, when the patrons cannot.
If you have a health condition that requires you to drink water throughout the day, explain it to your boss and ask for an accommodation. If drinking at your workstation isn't permitted, you may have to slip away quietly to get your required water. Or you might simply need to drink from a container that has a secure lid so that you don't have an accident that could damage office equipment. If you explain this within the context of a medical necessity, your employer will relax the rules for you, especially if you have a condition that may be protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
- U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: The Americans with Disabilities Act: Types of Reasonable Accommodations
- University of California San Diego: The Library: Food & Drink Policy
- U.S. Department of Labor: Occupational Safety & Health Administration Standard Interpretations - Standard Number 1910.1030
- The Joint Commission: Food and Drinks in Patient Care Areas
Ruth Mayhew has been writing since the mid-1980s, and she has been an HR subject matter expert since 1995. Her work appears in "The Multi-Generational Workforce in the Health Care Industry," and she has been cited in numerous publications, including journals and textbooks that focus on human resources management practices. She holds a Master of Arts in sociology from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Ruth resides in the nation's capital, Washington, D.C.