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Creating a corporate travel alcohol policy that works for everyone

18 Mar 2021

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Creating a corporate travel alcohol policy that works for everyone

In a company’s travel policy, the topic of alcohol is essential to make clear. There are a lot of questions the company must ask itself before creating the policy for traveling employees. Alcohol has been embedded in business culture for a long time, but whether to allow employees to drink while traveling for their job is a big question. Bigger still is the extent to which the company reimburses the employee for it.

That’s why having a corporate travel policy that is sustainable, safe, and clear to employees is so essential. Let’s take a look at the most important things to consider.

What is the corporate travel alcohol policy?

A company’s travel policy should cover everything employees need to understand when traveling on behalf of the company. This includes whether to consider it as part of travel expenses, as well as conditions of allowing alcohol consumption.

We’ve broken down the aspects of the policy into four main categories:

  • Allowing or prohibiting alcohol
  • Reimbursing alcohol costs
  • Specific conditions for drinking during a work trip
  • Ensuring the safety of employees

Is alcohol allowed or prohibited?

Before diving into details of reimbursement and drinking conditions, a company needs to ask themselves if alcohol is acceptable at work at all. Business trips have always afforded more flexibility for the employee. And, entertaining clients at a restaurant typically involves a glass of wine or two. 

However, this isn’t necessarily applicable to every business. Companies have their own culture, and some may find that simply banning alcohol while employees are working is the best route, while others have no problem with trusting employees to drink responsibly on work trips.

So it’s important to take a look at the company culture, the employees, and the reasons for partaking in business travel before answering this question.

Alcohol reimbursement

Reimbursable expenses are a critical part of a corporate travel alcohol policy. Getting it right is important: too loose and employees may take things too far, while an overly strict policy may annoy employees.

For most companies, a middle route is the best option. This involves setting a limit on the amount of alcohol the employee can buy with their per diem allowance and count as a business expense. One or two drinks over dinner is a reasonable amount. It’s enough for the employee and the guest to enjoy themselves, but not too much that things become unprofessional.

Companies running with small teams, or teams that have a lot of trust between managers and employees, sometimes take a hands-off approach. By trusting the employee to make sensible choices, they can expense alcohol without limit. This allows them to buy drinks without worrying about amounts, so long as it’s all for a business purpose. But, if this ends up with employees getting drunk in their hotel room, then stricter controls need to come in. 

The last option is to simply put the cost of the alcoholic beverages on the employee. While meals and other drinks should be reimbursed by the company, the employee would be free to buy alcohol on their own dime. 

Drinking: Who, when, and how much?

A corporate travel policy should make it very clear what the company rules for drinking are. Work travel changes employees’ mindset a lot, and allowing them to drink with no oversight can a big gamble. While they’re likely to push the boundaries, setting hard and clear limits are the best way to avoid headaches in the future. Even if the majority of employees are mature and responsible, one loose cannon can cause serious problems.

Start with the situations where drinking is allowed. Generally, the rule goes that it’s allowable if it has a benefit for the business. So, taking a potential client out for dinner would probably go smoother with a glass of wine. Sharing a drink with new contacts at a networking event can be the foundation of a future partnership. Regardless of how strict or relaxed the company policy is, it needs to be clearly communicated in the policy, with enough examples to prevent things from getting out of hand.

Underage drinking is another issue to address. While 21 is the minimum age for drinking across the country in most situations, there are a number of exceptions to the rule. International travel further complicates things more than domestic travel, considering that most of the world has a minimum drinking age lower than in the US. A cautious, yet safe rule is to simply prohibit employees under 21 from drinking entirely, while many employees would prefer to be able to follow the laws of the country they’re visiting.

Finally, it’s a good idea to put a cap on the amount of alcohol that employees are allowed to consume while on business travel. Regardless of reimbursement, it’s wise to have a policy that prevents employees from getting too tipsy while at work.

As previously stated, this all comes down to the company itself, as well as the culture and the business it’s doing. For example, an employee working for a vodka company would expect a fair amount of leeway when visiting Poland to look for European partnerships.

Employee safety

Every company has a duty of care, which must be kept in mind at all times when creating a corporate travel alcohol policy. This is the legal and moral responsibility a company has for its employees when sending them to travel for business.

Allowing employees to drink, but having no plan afterward is a risky move. It should be clear that allowing them to drive is unacceptable, even if a rental car is already paid for. Similarly, walking around a strange city in the evening already poses dangers, and adding alcohol to the situation will only exacerbate the risks if the employee is away for an overnight stay. 

Therefore, employees need to be made clear that, following any occasion where alcohol is consumed, a safe way back to the employee’s hotel room must be taken. This means contacting a trustworthy taxi company or using a safe ride-sharing app. It should also be very clear that this cost will be reimbursed, or that the taxi company can be paid ahead of time by the company’s main office.

Regardless of the exact methods used, employee safety must be kept as the highest priority during their work travel.