The complete guide to corporate travel policies

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Why a corporate travel alcohol policy is so essential

It’s a question all companies will have to ask themselves when starting to send employees on business travel: should alcohol be included in travel expenses? For many employees, it’s considered standard. Plenty of meetings with potential clients include a glass of wine during a dinner out. But, a growing number of companies don’t consider alcohol to be an essential part of doing business.

When creating a corporate travel policy, it’s vital that companies have clear rules and guidelines about alcohol for their employees.

What to include in the policy?

Below, you’ll find a breakdown of the essential things to clarify and add to a corporate alcohol policy. These apply to issues of both reimbursement and safe consumption alike. Making a corporate travel policy alcohol that’s clear to employees and leaves as little wiggle room as possible is best for avoiding unpleasant situations down the line.

  • Allowing alcohol or not
  • Reimbursement
  • Acceptable drinking conditions
  • Safe travel

Allowing alcohol or not

The first question to ask is whether or not to allow alcohol at all within office hours and during business trips. This all comes down to company culture and the type of work being done. 

Banning alcohol altogether is certainly the easiest, most cost-effective, and least risky approach for a company to take. On the other hand, this might not go down well with employees who feel they are wholly responsible with their drinking and expect to be able to have alcoholic beverages at a work event. A fair middle ground may be to allow one or two drinks if the employee is eating dinner.

Reimbursement

Assuming the corporate alcohol policy allows for employees to drink at all, the next question for businesses to ask themselves is about the company alcohol reimbursement policy. 

Broadly, there are three approaches companies take when establishing expense reimbursement rules for alcohol.

The first is to allow alcohol but to make it the choice and the cost of the employee. If alcohol is deemed acceptable for the work, but not a business necessity, then employees may be able to buy alcohol at their own cost. Alcohol in this scenario would be permitted, but not considered as part of business expenses, since it serves no business purpose. Hard drinks aside, food and other beverages need to be made reimbursable during international travel for work. 

The second is to have a set limit on alcohol. Many companies will allow employees to buy one alcoholic drink during business meals if it’s with a client, which the employee can pay with the company credit card as part of their per diem allowance. Alternatively, a set financial amount can be allowed for the employee. Companies taking this approach need to make it clear the difference between how much employees can reimburse alcohol, and to what extent they’re allowed to drink past that point, if at all.

The final option is a more laissez-faire approach. Employees are allowed to buy, drink, and expense alcohol without limits as if it were another type of food altogether. This is the riskiest approach, and steps should be taken to ensure the company isn’t legally at risk should the employee take things too far.

Acceptable drinking conditions

The conditions of allowing drinking during work trips need to be made clear. Employees will always want to push the limits, so having a clear policy is essential.

When do you consider it acceptable for an employee to drink alcohol? There are occasions in which it’s traditionally been accepted for workers to drink, like at a dinner with a client or at a networking event. But, an employee having a drink from their hotel room mini bar may be less acceptable, and even less so during breakfast. 

In the UK, it’s also legally allowed for 16 and 17-year-olds to drink if eating and accompanied by an adult. But, giving a young employee free rein to drink on the job is extremely risky. So, it’s often the wisest move to simply prohibit employees under 18 from drinking while on work trips.

Safe travel

Finally, as part of a company’s duty of care, it’s essential to do everything possible to keep business travelers safe. This means having a plan for travel arrangements after any event with alcohol. Having the employee drive should be clearly prohibited, even if a rental car is already paid for. Similarly, for employees travelling with an overnight stay, walking around a strange city after a drink poses a huge risk to the employee.

So, it needs to be clear that employees must find a safe way home, ideally with a taxi or ride-sharing service, and even better to have it reimbursed by the company.