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I work at a company with a rowdy atmosphere that includes pressure to drink alcohol. Multiple people at the company told me verbatim that I would even been judged negatively in terms of hiring advancement if I didn't.

During the first week there is a company ritual for new hires to drink in front of the entire company which I hesitantly participated in. A less senior person said I could opt out of this, but very senior individuals did not say anything to that effect and implied the opposite by pouring my 3-4 drinks worth of alcohol and telling me to drink it in one go.

Outside of work I very rarely drink even in social situations but I felt obligated to because it sounded like my job would be very uncomfortable if I didn't. Partly this is because of an alcoholic relative and likeliness that I might become one has made me very conscious of it. The culture has also continued to be a little boozy and I'm unsure of what to do because there seems to be some expectation to stay for alcohol related events that include some continued pressure to partake.

My question is what should I do? I want to just say no to the alcohol culture and I have been after that initial day, but I'm concerned about what my coworkers said about not drinking and I still feel uncomfortable.

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    What country are you in? They certainly can't force you to drink, and it sounds a lot like workplace hazing. I would get out of there and fast!
    – David K
    Aug 12 '15 at 16:56
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    Is it conceivable you get so wasted that you can't remember your screen name (chosen to be a common sounding name), yet remember or be able to search for your hash?
    – Brandin
    Aug 12 '15 at 18:46
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    If you were in college/university, this would be called hazing.
    – alroc
    Aug 12 '15 at 20:13
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    What the hell kind of company is this?! Unless your job is wine tasting or something, no, they can't make you drink alcohol. Aug 12 '15 at 21:47
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No, your employer cannot make you drink alcohol (unless your job is wine tasting). If colleagues indicate to you that abstaining will damage your reputation, this means you are working in a very unhealthy culture and should consider making a career change. I have worked at companies where alcohol use was a problem but have never encountered a culture where abstaining would hurt your career.

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    Even wine tasters don't really "drink" the wine, they typically will spit it out.
    – alroc
    Aug 12 '15 at 20:15
  • @alroc, this is true, I guess I should have said they can make you put alcohol in your mouth, but they can't make you swallow it.
    – marteljn
    Aug 12 '15 at 20:22
  • Your answer could be right but I have no way of validating it because you do not reference your claim that they can not make you drink alcohol. Why would it be an unhealthy culture? Aug 12 '15 at 20:30
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    @ReallyTiredOfThisGame I didn't say they cannot fire you for not drinking alcohol, I said they cannot make you drink alcohol. Anytime you are in a situation where someone coerces you to do something bad for your health, that is unhealthy. Both of these statements are common knowledge and don't need to be backed by sources. If you can find a statute/law/etc. in any country stating that a person can be forced to drink alcohol, than I guess I will eat my words.
    – marteljn
    Aug 12 '15 at 20:50
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    I'm fairly certain that a company culture which pushes for everyone to be out drinking together every night still wouldn't be illegal. They might be courting disaster if it could be proven that the activities were company sponsored or even required IF someone then got caught drunk driving or caused a serious accident. The disaster in this case would be a major hit to their insurance and possible loss of coverage.
    – NotMe
    Aug 13 '15 at 15:57
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Legally

  • In the eyes of the law, your employer is absolutely not allowed to make you drink alcohol. It is forbidden and could even be construed as abuse.

Inside the Office

  • Now, what happens inside the office in terms of social pressure, well, that is up to the company. Some companies have a no tolerance alcohol policy while others are more easy going. I would suggest talking to an HR representative. It's their job to deal with things like this.

Politely Declining

  • A good excuse to your boss would be to say that drinking alcohol will result in a poor job performance. As long as you still socialize and have a drink in your hand (non-alcoholic, of course), people will push past the fact that you don't drink. They key is just to be firm and assertive. Not only does it help you, but it also shows people that you are someone who stands firm with his opinions, which, in my opinion, is a sign of a good employee.

Warning

  • Never drink if you do not feel comfortable. If you start feeling shunned or uncomfortable, involve the HR rep or simply resign.
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  • I agree. Don't drink and see how it goes.
    – paparazzo
    Aug 12 '15 at 17:16
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    There's also a fake it till you make it approach--there have been many events where I ask for a 'virgin rum and coke' (AKA just Coke) and nobody was the wiser. If this isn't happening at a bar (you're at the office/an event and there's just bottles of booze your managers pour for you), this isn't quite as easy. You can try to bring your own liquid of a similar color (if they like bourbon, flat Cream Soda can look similar) to 'blend in', just keep your cup full. I'd still recommend leaving, though. That environment is toxic, and won't change any time soon. Aug 12 '15 at 18:40
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    you really need a reference if you are going to say it is forbidden legally. I am not sure that it is at least not everywhere. Aug 12 '15 at 20:31
  • @ReallyTiredOfThisGame I'm not sure if it's illegal to make someone drink, but it could also fall under workplace bullying, which is illegal in many (but not all) places.
    – Jane S
    Aug 12 '15 at 21:05
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    @JaneS Which Is why I asked for a reference. Aug 13 '15 at 17:49
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My question is what should I do?

There are a few aspects to every job you need to consider. The first is whether the work is of the type you want to perform. The second is whether the environment is a good fit for where you want to be.

What you're saying is that the environment isn't a good fit for you. If that's the case then you need to seek employment elsewhere.

Certainly you could investigate whether the laws of your particular region are being violated in some way. Assuming they are (and I'm not convinced of that) then you could pursue some type of legal remedy.

But, let's get real. It sounds like you haven't been at the job very long and it's not as if the culture has suddenly shifted under you. So your personal best bet would be to find an environment that is more suited to your disposition.

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    You do have a perfect answer if the next recruiter asks why you didn't stay. I agree, if your description of the situation is accurate resume job-hunting now, and quit as soon as you have something better lined up.
    – keshlam
    Aug 13 '15 at 2:06
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One point that may seem unimportant to you but will be important if you get HR or a lawyer involved; They are not forcing you to drink. It sounds like they are exerting some pretty serious pressure not to decline, but in the end it was and is your choice to drink.

The question for you now is do you still want to continue with a career at this company. If not then you have little to lose by declining future drinking requests. I would simply decline to engage in these after hour activities, and start or continue to look for a new company.

If you do do want to stay with this company, you need to decide if it is more important to appear to be one of the gang to improve your chances of promotion, or if you are willing to take a risk and stay outside. If you want to be one of the gang, the easy way is simply to pretend to drink, but do things like nurse your first drink all night long, or replace it at your first opportunity with soda or juice.

If you are willing to stand out there as an individual, try to do so discreetly first. When offered a drink simply shake your head and say no thank you I do not like drinking. That will probably be enough. If it is not then you just need to stay strong and say no, but remain courteous and ask them to respect your decision. When people get inebriated they may forget you don't drink or say something discourteous, just shake it off and take the high road. If the high pressure to drink persists after the first few events, I would consider avoiding the events if possible, and maybe reconsider if this is the correct path for you to take.

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    You might well be able to push back on this if you make it clear that you aren't criticising them for drinking but that you simply don't personally find the taste or effects of alcohol pleasant. As noted elsewhere, IF you're comfortable with that position and willing to defend it -- and if you're willing to go out drinking with them, taking your turn buying a round while just taking soft drinks yourself -- they may decide they love you because you're saving them money and are always available as an emergency Designated Driver. Worth trying, if it's your dream job otherwise.
    – keshlam
    Aug 13 '15 at 2:39

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