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Legal Eye: A cold, legal one

  • Poland
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For me, eating lunch outside says summer. Better yet, dining while enjoying a refreshing beverage (such as a nice, cold beer) on a Friday afternoon makes for a pleasant end to a work week.

Before you decide to indulge, however, you should take a look at the rules on consumption of alcohol. Poland’s Law on Sobriety and Combating Alcoholism places various limitations on even moderate enjoyment of alcohol.

Public consumption

If your contact with the great outdoors is confined to urban spaces, your choices of where to enjoy that cold beer are limited. The Sobriety Law enumerates places in which alcohol, even low-percentage alcohol such as beer, may not be consumed. While a glance around the streets of Warsaw may have led you to believe otherwise, the Sobriety Law makes it illegal to sell, serve and consume alcohol:

  • in schools and dormitories,
  • at the work-place or a company canteen,
  • during mass gatherings, and
  • on public transportation or related sites.

Despite all those classic beer advertising images involving outdoorsy scenes, you also are not allowed to drink beer while walking along public streets, squares or parks. The exception to this rule is special areas set aside for consumption at a point of sale, such as a little café in the park. Fortunately, apartment balconies and your own back yard are not on the banned list.

In addition, the Sobriety Law contains some special restrictions for larger events. When it comes to outdoor concerts and other similar events, lighter beers (of less than 4.5 percent alcohol content), may be sold, served and consumed, as long as an appropriate permit has been obtained, and then only in special areas. Also, the local gmina council can decide that other places or sites will be dry, either temporarily or permanently.

Fortunately, this rule is used sparingly in Warsaw, but tends to be dusted off for papal visits.


In addition to the possible health consequences from drinking too much beer, public consumption can have other costs. Drinking beer in those forbidden public places may be punished by a fine of up to zł.5,000. Bringing your own bottle to a special area in which drinking is allowed in a public place could also subject you to the same fine.

This fine is just for drinking in the wrong place. Public intoxication is another matter. People who are drunk can be escorted by the police to the local drunk tank. The privilege of admittance could cost you up to zł.250.

Of course, you also shouldn’t get behind the wheel after indulging. Poland’s threshold on legal intoxication is a blood alcohol content of 0.5 per mile. Depending on your weight and a number of other factors, it is possible to reach this threshold after only one glass of beer. As with other places in the world, the punishment for drunk driving can be harsh in Poland. Finally, you have to be 18 to buy or consume alcoholic beverages.

Workplace rules

As much as I may be tempted to enjoy a cold beer with lunch, it’s better to wait until happy hour. The Sobriety Law requires that workplace supervisors refuse to allow employees to work if there is a justifiable suspicion that they have been drinking, in general, or have consumed alcohol during work hours. Additionally, under the Labor Code, one of the grounds for immediate termination with cause is showing up to work drunk.

While you may not drink at work, the Sobriety Law permits alcohol to be served at official government functions, within limits. A separate regulation addresses the circumstances under which the consumption of a small amount of alcoholic beverages at official functions is allowed. The two main conditions are that a foreigner must be present and that it is either an international custom to drink on such occasions or diplomatic courtesy requires it.

Source: Judith Gliniecki, Warsaw Business Journal, 20th June 2011

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