Nicolette doesn't drink alcohol. Why isn't important, and, in fact, I didn't ask her and she didn't volunteer the information. But, she did share this story:
After years of happily going about my non-drinking business, I was suddenly confronted with a boss who refused to buy me a soft drink as part of his round in the pub after our Christmas lunch. I felt very uncomfortable, especially as he didn't seem to have an issue getting one for my Muslim colleague! Another colleague stepped in to tell him how ridiculous he was being. It isn't a crime not to drink!! So if you want to go ahead, but leave those who choose not to to their virgin mojito!
I would like to state that her boss is an anomaly but as a fellow non-drinker, I can tell you her boss is not alone and there are many people out there who get equally upset when someone declines the offer to drink alcohol.
Now, the proper thing to do is offer something different if someone declines your alcoholic beverage, but not freak out. But, that's just good manners. As a boss, of the organizer of the company party, or the networking meeting, or whatever, you have legal reasons for not pushing someone to drink. Here are a few.
Nicolette's boss had no problem giving something non-alcoholic to her Muslim co-worker, so that's a start, but Muslims aren't the only ones who don't drink. Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (that's my reason), Jainists, Southen Baptists, and many many others don't drink for religious reasons. And it doesn't even need to be a proclaimed church tenet for someone to abstain. If you pressure or punish someone for not drinking, you could be discriminating on the basis of religion.
Once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic, even if sober. Alcoholism is protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act. This doesn't mean you need to allow someone to drink on the job, but it also means that if you pressure someone to drink you could be violating the law. In fact, allowing an alcoholic to skip a company event that has alcohol could be a reasonable accommodation. And do you really want to be responsible for pushing a sober alcoholic to have one little drink? No, you don't.
Some people don't drink because they think it's not good for them. Some people don't drink because their doctors have specifically instructed them not to drink. Some medications interact with alcohol. Some diseases are exacerbated by alcohol. And frankly, none of this is any of your business.
You may say, "Oh, it's just one drink and then we have a meeting and the alcohol will be out of your system by then, so have a drink!" but you'd be a jerk. Not everyone processes alcohol the same way, and we all want sober drivers on the road. And if you are the boss and you pressure someone to drink you could be held liable if there's an accident. Remember, you represent the company even at a party.
I Just Don't Want to Drink
While pressuring someone to drink in this situation isn't likely to violate any laws, if you do it, you're a jerk and you need help. I'm serious about that. What is it about someone drinking a Sprite that makes you so uncomfortable? It's time for you to evaluate your own drinking habits.
Alcohol isn't necessary for networking, having a good time, or team bonding. So knock off the pressure and break out the soda and sparkling water.