Alcohol at the workplace

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The issue of alcoholism and addiction in the workplace is still a big taboo. Yet ignoring it leads to enormous macro- and microeconomic costs.

Dealing with alcoholic employees depends on culture in two aspects – on the one hand the specific corporate culture, on the other the social culture of the country plays a role. For example, in strictly Islamic countries there is a culture of abstinence, while in Austria alcohol is definitely tolerated, or under certain circumstances even binge drinking is considered “cool”. Similar differences exist between different industries: A beer at lunchtime is considered more acceptable for a construction worker than it would be for a pilot. Here it turns out that a company’s stance on alcohol affects the leisure behavior of its employees as well. Operational drug prevention and regulated dealing with alcoholics is therefore important – far beyond the limits of the individual company.

What costs do companies incurr due to alcohol consumption?

The macroeconomic damage caused by alcohol in companies is enormous. One study estimates it at € 72.7 million per year. Individual businesses likewise suffer: According to a study, alcoholics are absent 16 times more often from the workplace, are ill 2.5 times more often, and miss after accidents 1.4 times longer than other employees. Furthermore, employees with alcohol problems on average fail to perform 25 % of their work and thus cause costs amounting to approximately 1.25 % of the total payroll sum of an enterprise.

What is the legal situation of employers and employees?

 Not permissible: 

  • Illness is not a valid reason for terminating a working contract. Thus, people who suffer from alcoholism and are in valid employment relationships have the possibility to undergo outpatient and inpatient addiction treatment.
  • Drug tests (breathalyser etc.) are regarded as an invasion of privacy and are allowed only in case of voluntary participation.
  • If an employee refuses a drug test, there must not be no negative consequences. (Exception: Performance of drug tests is stipulated in the employment contract.)
  • In interviews, questions concerning alcohol consumption are not permitted under current labor law (exception: pilots, drivers)


  • Employers can ban alcohol in the workplace. This ban may also cover work breaks.
  • With the approval of the management, supervisors can develop a graduated scheme for dealing with alcohol in the workplace.

 How does a graduated scheme for internal addiction treatment programs work?

It is important to define rules for dealing with alcoholics not only when it actually becomes necessary, but rather preventively, in order not to make an affected employee a target on top of everything else. A set of rules should be developed, if possible spanning departments, and incorporated as a mandatory element into the operating agreement. Graduated schemes, which have proved effective, comprise for example detection of abnormal behavior, written recording, notification of the persons concerned, setting of an observation period and follow-up discussions.

The definition of the procedure enables each party to know when which step is to be taken, and what negative consequences are to be expected in case of non-compliance. This protects both the affected persons, for termination of the employment contract is the means of last resort, before which there are still many possibilities to avert this, as well as the supervisors, who are supported by the enshrinement in the operating agreement.

Other important cornerstones are training of executives in dealing with alcoholics, de-stigmatization of the issue among colleagues, and reintegration of such persons after inpatient treatment. Here companies benefit greatly from cooperation with specialized addiction treatment facilities.


Scheibenbogen Oliver, Primus Fanny, Musalek Michael: Alkoholkonsum und Alkoholabhängigkeit im Kontext Arbeit [Alcohol consumption and alcoholism in the workplace] (Anton Proksch Institut [Anton Proksch Institute])


These articles might also interest you:

+ "Addiction-Like Working Behaviors" - from Prim. Univ. Prof. Dr. Michael Musalek 
+ "Alcohol Addiction" - from Prim. Univ. Prof. Dr. Michael Musalek 
+ "Burnout as a process" - from Prim. Univ. Prof. Dr. Michael Musalek 
+ "The Orpheus Program" - from Prim. Univ. Prof. Dr. Michael Musalek 




Prim. Univ. Prof. Dr. Michael Musalek Anton Proksch Institut

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