Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn has not forgotten about his nightlife initiative — an 8-point plan of proposed changes to encourage a safe and vibrant night economy in Seattle. Mayor McGinn first announced the initiative in July at Century Ballroom, but provided the public with an update last week.
After soliciting more than 2,400 comments, and surveying Seattle residents, the idea of flexible closing times after 2 a.m. has gained significant traction. Mayor McGinn reported that this idea was supported by 80% of those surveyed.
Also part of the nightlife initiative is an effort to better address late-night transportation. Last week, at his announcement, Mayor McGinn discussed his ideas to allow individuals to pre-pay for metered street parking so that cars could remain parked overnight until 10 a.m. the following day.
Many of the proposed ideas in the nightlife initiative would require the support and efforts of the Washington State Liquor Control Board and the City Council. But while bars and nightlife goers will not likely see a change soon, bar owners are coming out in favor of the ideas being discussed.
A holiday party can be a good morale boost for your firm. But you do not want anyone to get hurt and you certainly do not want to get sued because of it. There are some steps you can take to minimize these risks.
Alcohol will be served at most of these celebrations and parties. There is nothing uncommon or unreasonable about service of alcohol at an employer-sponsored function. But apart from contributing to the occasional bad-karaoke-inspired self-flagellation, service of alcohol at these parties can open the sponsoring employer to potential liability. Although Washington law has a general rule of non-liability for a server of alcohol, there are several exceptions. An employer-sponsored party where alcohol is served is one such exception. A few practical preventative measures can alleviate the danger of liability.
Much of the advice regarding service of alcohol at employer-sponsored events rightly focuses on overservice and its relationship to driving. But another area of exposure is commonly overlooked: Workplace harassment. Inhibitions are lowered when libations are flowing. Even moderate intoxication can contribute to partygoers making unwanted sexual advances, inappropriate comments, or engaging in other behaviors that are inconsistent with maintaining a healthy and respectful work environment.
Several simple steps can reduce the likelihood of harassment or perceived harassment occurring during a holiday party:
Circulate a memorandum to all employees establishing the expectations of behavior at the employer-sponsored event. This memo should include a reminder regarding harassment policies, dress code, and transportation options.
Employers should remind employees before the party of their expectations and policies in place regarding workplace harassment.
Employers should remind supervisors of these rules, and establish what procedures should be followed if any harassment is witnessed or reported.
Do not deck the halls with mistletoe. This is pretty self-explanatory in a workplace environment.
Finally, consider inviting spouses or even making the event a family affair. People are often better behaved when they are surrounded by their family members or significant others.
Drinking and Driving
Other areas of risk include liability for injuries caused by attendees driving while intoxicated, liability for property damage caused by intoxicated attendees, and liability for service of minors. The following is a practical list of some employer tips to ensure a fun and safe 2008 holiday party:
DO – hire professional, licensed bartenders. Washington law requires that servers be trained to recognize intoxication, and that they take steps to avoid overservice. Similarly, a liquor license or banquet license may be necessary to comply with Washington law regarding alcohol service. Catering providers, bartending service companies, and legal service providers can all assist with this process.
DO NOT – rely on “drink tickets” or any other substitute for direct observation regarding intoxication. While establishing built-in limits to alcohol consumption and service is good in theory, in practice these safeguards are easily circumvented.
DO – have a clear policy and expectation in place with servers regarding when a person is to be “cut off.” Clearly intoxicated persons obviously should not be served. It is worth considering instituting a “last call” an hour or so before the scheduled end of the event. Any service policy that reduces the likelihood that employees will leave the employer-sponsored event in an intoxicated state is good.
DO NOT – serve minors. If minors will be present at the party, make sure that servers are instructed to verify age before service.
DO – provide round-trip taxi vouchers or other shuttle service. It is useful and wise for an employer to provide for taxi vouchers or other prepaid transportation options. It is best for those options to be round-trip. Many employees will drive to the event, and will need to return to pick up their vehicle in the morning. Making this process as easy as possible makes it more likely that a voucher will be used.
DO – serve food and “soft” drinks. The risk of overservice can be reduced by providing attendees other options for consumption. This facilitates a “designated driver” program, especially if taxi vouchers or shuttle service prove to be a nonviable option.
In addition to instituting some or all of the above suggestions, remember that alcohol inhibits judgment. Intoxicated people make bad decisions. Someone in authority should stay sober to monitor, for example, whether people are using the taxi voucher when appropriate.
Libations need not equal liability. With a few simple steps, employers and employees can ensure that an employer-sponsored celebration is just another part of a safe and happy holiday season!
Originally published in the Puget Sound Business Journal, December 5, 2008
Wines & Vines reports on Gov. Gregoire’s move to halt agency rulemaking by the Washington State Liquor Control Board (“LCB”). This executive action occurs in the wake of Washington state voters’ rejection of two industry-wide deregulation referenda in November, and is an interesting signal to those watching the industry. Gov. Gregoire’s order suspends development and adoption of new rules except in the cases of public health, safety and welfare, and it is ostensibly intended to stabilize the business environment for small winemakers. The move was well-received by the Washington Wine Institute (“WWI”), and moots efforts by WWI to seek clarification from the LCB on a number of rules, including whether winery personnel must be separately licensed as “agents” of the winery. The Washington legislature may need to address these issues in the next session if the state is to improve transparency and consistency of rulemaking for small business owners.
The attorneys at Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt are dedicated to providing the beer, wine, and spirit industries the information and counsel they need to thrive in three of the fastest growing industries in the Northwest. As the second largest producer of craft beer in the United States, Oregon operates 102 brewing facilities and 77 brewing companies. The state maintains 15 approved winegrowing regions, and operates more than 300 wineries. As the center of the craft distilling industry, Oregon operates more artisan distilleries than any other state in the nation. Our attorneys are well aware of the contributions the beer, wine, and spirit industries make to the region, and we are dedicated to helping members of these industries develop, protect, and grow their businesses.
Through our blog, we hope to provide members of the Northwest beer, wine, and spirits industries with up-to-date information related to the important legal and business issues they face. Our posts will focus on regulation, legislation, and case law affecting business operations, the industries as a whole, and legal issues such as:
Business formation and succession
Labeling and trademark protection
State and Federal regulatory compliance
L and issues, including permitting and zoning
Labor and Employment
Construction and design of facilities
Environmental and natural resources
Tax planning and tax litigation
Custom-crush, alternating proprietor and license agreements
Information on this blog site is intended for informational purposes only and is not intended to serve as legal advice regarding specific matters nor should it be construed as a legal opinion. Use of this blog site does not establish an attorney-client relationship between you and Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt. The information on this web site should not be used to replace the advice of a licensed attorney.
To comply with IRS regulations, we are required to inform you that this message, if it contains advice relating to federal taxes, cannot be used for the purpose of avoiding penalties that may be imposed under federal tax law. Any tax advice that is expressed in this message is limited to the tax issues addressed in this message. If advice is required that satisfies applicable IRS regulations, for a tax opinion appropriate for avoidance of federal tax law penalties, please contact a Schwabe attorney to arrange a suitable engagement for that purpose.