Ensuring your members and board members are having a good time at your events is one thing but sometimes one person’s idea of a good time is another’s idea of going overboard. This topic addresses the following questions on alcohol from the Chamber of Commerce Professionals Group on Facebook:
I’d like to hear about your policies on serving alcohol at your events? Is it served by volunteers or only by licensed servers (i.e. a caterer with a license or at a banquet center/bar that serves)? We are looking at our Business After Hours events. Up to now we have allowed members to serve if they chose to (was never required) and as we all know more people show up when there is a drink available. Last night we had our first uncomfortable situation. While I don’t want to over react, I’m using this as a warning and will have the board discuss at their meeting next week. I would appreciate any best practices advice this group has.
A colleague at a Chamber on the West Coast recently reached out to me for advice and I thought I’d post his dilemma here: one of his Board members has been admitting to drug use on social media…what, if anything, should he do about this act seemingly inappropriate for a Board member?
ALCOHOL – ANY IDEAS? We have a chamber vehicle now so that means implementing a chamber vehicle policy. I’ve got some excellent sample ones, but it brought ANOTHER thought to mind. Does anyone have any specific written policy regarding staff alcohol consumption at chamber events? Prohibited? Limited? Rules? Any direction would be appreciated!
Ah, ending the week feeling like a total buzz kill. Just finished updating our mixer agreement to include some heaving duty wordage regarding the serving of alcoholic beverages. And updating the Ambassador Badge Agreement to include a policy about the consumption of adult beverages. I am uploading them to the files tab if anyone would find them helpful.
Disclaimer: They have been read and approved by our CEO, but not reviewed by an attorney.
I think I know the answer to this question, but I still have to ask. What do you do about a Chamber Ambassador who attends a mixer and gets almost falling-down drunk? This has happened more than once (with this same person), but not frequently. They have in the past been one of the highest-performing Ambassadors and one of the greatest promoters of the organization. But publicly and obviously drunk in the middle of a mixer. *sigh*
Read the 50+ responses from chamber professionals across the country:
This discussion is for Insiders (members only).
Policies for Serving Alcohol at Chamber Events
Edward M. Rodriguez I think there is no one set answer here. A lot depends on what your state and/or local allows will allow to start with. Then other factors will include what is the accepted norm and the culture in your area. Most of our after-hours events have alcohol if the sponsor wants it. If they are a restaurant or a location with a liquor license, they are NOT allowed to give it away they MUST sell it according to state law, though they can offer drink specials to our event participants. Of course, this works for us because we do not charge at the door for BAH (that would constitute selling alcohol in our state which would then require us to purchase an alcohol license for the event AND an insurance policy rider). For locations that do not have their own liquor license (banks, professional offices, retail stores, they can give it away and can NOT charge for it. Of course, you should make sure that your insurance policy is written with this all in mind.. so check with your insurance provider. A side issue to consider is that for chamber staff, these events DO constitute a workplace if they have any duties at the event. In our case, we do not permit alcohol in the workplace although we can allow certain reasonable exceptions. But for the most part, our staff is instructed that only when their duties are over (i.e. at Business After Hours, that is after everyone is checked in, announcements made, and door prizes given out), then they can have a drink but must drink responsibly. Other issues come into play depending on your individual situation. (We have a chamber vehicle and staff driving that vehicle cannot drink at ALL for example or staff that is getting mileage reimbursement cannot drink at ALL for that event).
Shelby Lawley McNamara The company hosting provides. Does that limit our exposure – NO. It’s all good until a situation. We have been lucky I guess you’d say.
Edward M. Rodriguez That’s why you need to be well-protected with good insurance that is reviewed annually!
Peter Ingellis We have put a one drink limit in on the Board and Staff.
Debbi Rydberg Thanks. I’m more concerned about the exposure for the member hosting. We’ve got staff covered
Peter Ingellis That’s their issue to deal with.
Tabatha Duvall We have been providing beer and wine at ours (held at a community center). However, after our last event, we got notice from the city we could no longer do that as it’s an open event. You might want to check with your city.
Shelby Lawley McNamara We’d have no Board members if we had a 1 drink minimum!
Susan Munroe Received a call from the chief of police 2 days before a Wine & Chocolate tasting BAH at local bakery/candy shop. One of the shop’s competitors who had been feuding with the other reported us. Chief (who was very nice, just doing his job) said if she called the night of the BAH, the police would have to come to the event and ask the business and who was serving the alcohol to show their permits. After consulting with Ohio’s department of commerce attorney, he explained that chambers across the state have illegal BAH’s all the time, but in most cases, it’s overlooked- EXCEPT for ours. Other than restaurants and bars, other places of business must have liquor permit- which one-time permits are $150 for for-profits and $75 for non-profits. Did you know than even if a shop owner who wants to have a beer or glass of wine in the back room, maybe on a Friday afternoon to kickoff the weekend- that is illegal in Ohio and in violation of the liquor laws? Not only does the place of business need a permit, but whoever is serving legally needs a serving permit. We have an awesome gourmet shop owner that is generous with his time and will provide and serve the alcohol at business events like BAH’s. He has a permit to sell and serve alcohol at his shop, but not to serve at other locations. So technically, he’s in violation of the law. Ridiculous. Now I feel like I know enough to consult Ohio Chambers on the do’s and don’t of serving alcohol at BAH’s or other events. All this because of a silly feud between 2 competitors. And by the way- We did have that BAH, but with no alcohol because it was impossible to get the permit we needed from the state with 2 days notice. It has definitely impacted the way we work with members and advertise our BAH’s.
Susan Munroe There are also a lot of myths in what you can and can’t do with serving alcohol such as selling drink tickets is OK vs directly selling the drinks- this is false, at least in Ohio. For your chamber’s protection and your members, contact your state’s governing body for serving alcohol and get the facts. Find out the exceptions as well. In Ohio, there is a special permit specifically for art centers which is low cost. Permits can get expensive!
Alan Anderson Varies from state to state. At events where we serve alcohol, we contract the bar and servers. Members pay for their own drinks (cash bar). State of Utah is happy, our insurance is happy! We seem to be safe…(knock on wood.)
Addressing Board Member Drug Use
Allison Ann Buchman Legal, or Illegal drug use? I think that makes a big difference…
Amy Hardebeck Well…legal in some states…it IS the west coast after all
Allison Ann Buchman Well I guess I meant, is it illegal for the person to be using the drugs where he or she lives. We all have habits that are less than desirable I’m sure but if he has a legal right to use the drugs and it doesn’t negatively affect his board service, then that would be handled differently than say, illegal narcotics use taking over his or her life.
Ali Crain I think the answer to this is similar to the question Frank posted up last Wed regarding the board member with the alcohol problem. I recommend reading through those
Joshua Vick I have heard more and more companies running into this situation. I have been in HR for several years now and the advice I give is this:
A person has a right to post whatever they want to post on there. After all this is a social network. But if a person is using their personal page for their job in any aspect and they are have their job posted then common sense should be used in what is posted. Post what you want but do not get upset if there is retaliation.
Michael Pingree What to do: the same thing you would do for someone who always posts photos of themselves drinking or smoking (2 other legal activities). NOTHING
Allison Ann Buchman While a board member does have the right to do what he or she wants within the law, he does take on the responsibility of representing the chamber by being on the board, something which i’m sure he knows! Just like each of us should try to be thoughtfu…See More
Elaina Turpin Current or past use? I think it makes a big difference to say that someone has used drugs in their reckless teenage years or they are currently using them.
Robert Goltz Unfortunately, this again is a By-Law issue, and if it is not covered in the By-Laws you are most likely not able to do anything about it. Many by-laws do not address these issues, letting this because a legal nightmare. As you see within our own gro…See More
Alcohol Consumption at Chamber Events
Teri Wilson Edwards I’d consult with attorney. We don’t have an agency owned vehicle, but our policy addresses that the agency is not responsible or liable for any accidents or tickets incurred performing agency related activities.
Jason E. Camis We don’t have a policy (we allow it), just common sense hopefully. Would the vehicle issue be any different than any other issue?
Jeff Emsweller One of my board members was arrested for DUI. We don’t have a policy. But if he loses his job over the arrest, he will be removed from the board.
Edward M. Rodriguez Well the vehicle issue is totally separate and in fact a vehicle use policy is supposed to address alcohol. I was just wondering if anyone has an alcohol policy. Actually, my counsel has told me that if we have an alcohol clause in a vehicle policy then it also needs to apply not only to staff using that vehicle but also to those for whom the chamber pays mileage reimbursements for use of their own vehicles. But above and beyond that it seems as if having a workplace alcohol policy in genera is a good risk management practice for any employer. That’s why i was wondering if anyone out there has one.
Drew Marmo We have a substance abuse policy at the Hampton Roads Chamber. It’s fairly comprehensive–mostly common sense recited in legal jargon. I can send it if you like. Just need an e-mail.
Ali Crain We have something in our policy – I’ll check when I get to the office. Also I think the Northern Kentucky Chamber has a staff alcohol policy — I’ll see if I can find that one too.
Jane Templeton Clark We have one. No staff drinking at Chamber events. Eliminates all potential problems and everyone on staff is comfortable with the policy.
Jason E. Camis Edward, I wonder if you could simple address it in a broader professional conduct policy/statement? That way it could cover events, conferences, etc. and puts the responsibility on each individual employee. Personally as an ED I would never want to police an alcohol policy. I can’t imagine our board wanting to do it either. But the key would be addressing any issues that came up. I’ve worked for a bunch of nonprofits and have never had a strict no-alcohol policy, even with the YMCA.
Brandon Baker I would check you liability policy first. Many policies have exclusions for alcohol and yours may need to be reviewed for modified.
Edward M. Rodriguez @ Jane… I think that is the simplest. The more I think about it, it makes the most sense. Bottom line if you are being paid to be at work you don’t need to be drinking. Restaurants and bars certainly don’t allow their employees to drink while on the job. If someone is uncomfortable with that, maybe they need to be working for a member firm and attending the event without our paying their salary for them to be there. Even more so if they are using a chamber vehicle or if the chamber is reimbursing them for business use of their personal vehicle. Plus you can always make an exception for certain things — conferences, a champagne toast at a goundbreaking or an annual dinner when the business portion of the meeting is over, etc. etc. It is after all, an employment issue, it’s not about policing the behavior of volunteers and members.
Drew Marmo Update: While our Chamber does not condone drinking at the office or at functions, we do not prohibit it. In fact, many of our events both large and small have open/cash bars where, if time allows, participating employees are welcome to indulge. People keep it classy and to my knowledge have avoided drinking to the point of concern. As I mentioned in an earlier post, our substance abuse/use policy is fairly comprehensive on the off chance someone decides to spoil the pot with his/her behavior.
Ali Crain this is what the Kentucky Chamber personnel handbook states: In general, employees are expected to: (6) not be intoxicated in the workplace during work hours or while representing the Chamber in a public setting
Sarah Sheila Birnbach Frank, Thanks for inviting me to weigh in. Here is the statement that I put in the policy manuals that I develop for chambers and associations: While _________ (Organization name) does not limit the amount of alcohol that can be consumed at an __________ (Organization Name) event, __________ (Organization Name) will not tolerate intoxication or behaviors associated with intoxication. I have a longer substance abuse policy and your post reminded me I should put it on my website with my other resources. Give me a day or two (since I have to get it posted on my website.)
Sarah Sheila Birnbach OOPS – hit “send” too soon. Should say “Give me a day or two (since I’m teaching at Institute this week) to get it posted on my website.
Sarah Sheila Birnbach Thanks, Melanie!
Instituting an Alcohol Policy at the Chamber
Michael Pingree “will refrain from consuming alcoholic beverages while working at
check-in during a mixer” | Does that mean they can get hammered once they are done checking people in?
Beth Bridges Yah, actually, because I can’t control what they do with their life. But then they aren’t conducting themselves in a professional manner and may be asked to resign as an Ambassador. And I know you were being facetious, but that could be the actual scenario here. Not fun having to think of this stuff.
Melissa Fetterhoff thanks for sharing Beth! Definitely not fun having to this of this stuff… ugh….
Michael Pingree At a group where I am a Board member, I am referred to as Mr. Doom b/c I always look at what COULD go wrong so we can be prepared.
Beth Bridges Yep. And a big part of reducing liability is having made it clear that the Chamber doesn’t endorse, support or encourage such things. But in California, anyone can be sued by anyone else at any time for anything.
Stephan Wurzburg Would an “ethics” clause in your ambassador agreement help take care of the “Mr. Doom” scenario? IE- like what you have to sign in your Student Handbook. And don’t corporations have a “morality clause” too? Might be something to look at in order to ensure you are protected even “off the clock”.
Beth Bridges Values
1. Ambassadors are valuable and highly regarded volunteers for the Chamber. They are not employees or official representatives. Their service is at will and can be ended at any time by either the Chamber or the Ambassador without further obligation.
2. Ambassadors will understand and promote the goals and mission of the Clovis Chamber.
3. Ambassadors must be a Clovis Chamber member in good standing (no more than 30 days past due).
4. Ambassadors will represent themselves and the Clovis Chamber in a professional manner at any event or activity where they are acting as a volunteer and will hold the highest standards of conduct.
Beth Bridges Right. “Acting as volunteer” covers everything. We were very careful to make the alcohol non-consumption specific to the mixer check-in table and inside the booth. But then, if you get falling down drunk AT the mixer, then perhaps a discussion needs to take place regarding “professional conduct” while representing the Chamber. We’ve been thinking about this quite heavily since Aug 21.
Stephan Wurzburg Well keep me posted and may have to “borrow” your agreement to use with our Ambassadors as we had a similar situation arise a while back.
Beth Bridges *sigh* … I actually don’t think it’s going to turn out well. The person who triggered this is probably going to be pretty unhappy/embarrassed. And then a couple others who enjoy their cocktails but are always in control are probably going to be unha…See More
Dealing with Drunk Board Members
Mark Sturdevant I would put a volunteer between the staff and the problem. Bet there is something going on that person.
Paul Allen No easy solution. Could be a sign of a growing problem and they may need help. A direct approach perhaps with a supporter of that person present outlining the concerns and consequences. The behaviour needs to be addressed as it may effect the perceptions that others have of Chamber life
Melissa Fetterhoff Definitely put a volunteer between the staff and the person – and deal with it immediately. But also – make sure they DEAL with it and do so appropriately…
We had a member of my chamber who would do this… once left an after hours with a glass of wine in her hand.
LONG story short… she ended up harassing me (1-5 emails per night) at which point the board sat on their hands thinking this was “a girl thing”. I was told to “leave her alone and it would go away (I was already not responding to her – and it wasn’t going away).
I told the board I wouldn’t be able to work with her on the two committees she was on (womens and ambassadors) – so the board decided to remove her from the committees and they were supposed to tell her… they didn’t.. and she found out she was removed… and blamed me (more harassing emails and talking to other ambassadors).
At an after hours – she ended up shoving me and (trying to) bully me and talked about me to the other attendees (most people thought it was comical realizing she was tipsy – but those that were new and didn’t know me yet/or her – it was awkward.)
This is about the time that i had to bring in a lawyer to our board to explain to them the chambers responsibility…. The board chair ended up trying to meet with her (she refused – though she kept telling him she needed to tell him how horrible I was). The board ended up writing a “thank you for your years of service, at this time we understand there is a conflict with you and the president of our chamber, please cease engagement with our president and only address any issues through the chairman of our board” type letter. it was actually a nice letter saying how valuable she has been to the chamber (and at one point she was!) and how we appreciated her… She emailed me (?! no contact!??!) her disappointment that the chairman was now harassing her… NOT FUN.
Ali Crain Melissa – that sounds like a ‘fun’ experience. It is amazing how often this happens. Glad it all worked out in the end but so sorry you had to go through that.
Mary Ann Miller In addition to dealing with this individual, you should review your policies for the mixers to ensure the chamber limits liability should someone cause an accident on the way home. Do you limit the number of drinks per person and have a professional server who can cut someone off?
Peter Ingellis Sanction that person immediately. Discuss and explain the liability that it causes
Melissa Fetterhoff Ali – “Fun” was one way to describe it… LOL!!
Beth Bridges What do you think about this?
The Ambassadors need new badges. In order to get them, they will sign an agreement on their conduct *while wearing the badge*. It will explicitly spell out expectations on professional dress (we have seen the belly button on another Ambassador!), over-consumption of alcohol, and bashing other organizations. Which they don’t do because we (staff) never do it and it’s not part of the culture, but it would be good to codify.
I have a Board Member who has enough schadenfreude that they’d probably be willing to sit down with this person and let them know that they are subjecting the Chamber to risk and that they are not representing the Chamber or themselves in a way that we know they would like.
I will ask the CEO to check with our lawyer on who has the ultimate responsibility re: alcohol at events. Although I have a lawyer friend who always says, “You can sue anybody, anytime for anything.”
And if appropriate I will add to the mixer agreement a reminder that the host is ultimately responsible. AND, I will point out this particular Ambassador to them as a potential problem. After I check with MY attorney that doing that doesn’t expose me to liability. Or that it’s not slanderous or some such.
Can you comment on any parts of this that you think are good, that you have tried or with which you see a problem?
Melissa Fetterhoff Yes… that was really said… I nearly FLIPPED OUT at that… LOL
Melissa Fetterhoff Beth – i like the idea of having them sign an agreement… i have a chamber member that likes to bully businesses (“do you know who i am????” type comments) — she wants to be an ambassador… i have been hesitant and this would clearly define what she can/can’t do if representing the chamber.
Beth Bridges Mary Ann: In my ten years, this person and one other are the only ones we’ve seen who have been a problem. But I will be adding to the mixer agreement, along with verbally reminding them about their liability (after checking with an attorney).
Mary Ann Miller We had a situation in 2006 with a member (not an Ambassador or other volunteer) whose behavior was causing complaints. After numerous attempts to work with him we finally changed our bylaws to allow the board to ban a particular person from our events…See More
Beth Bridges Toastmasters International reminds clubs that you need to vote people in … so that if needed, you can vote them out.
Mary Ann Miller That’s why we changed our bylaws. We vote the member businesses in, not the individuals. Long story, but this is somewhere who was hired and fired by member after member after member.