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Kegs Making A Comeback In Silicon Valley

Employees in the Silicon Valley are drinking on the job.

That’s right: kegs at work! Perk-wise, it's a little taste of 1999 all over again.

But this is Silly Valley in 2011, so it can’t be an old-fashioned keg. No, our cutting-edge West Coast tech friends are tapping an iPad-linked Kegarator, a keg that’s hooked up to an iPad that employees must sign in on to receive their frothy brews. This way, employers can keep track of their servings and employees know someone at work is watching.

Companies say the Kegarator is a nice perk when employees are putting in so many hours. Employees can enjoy a smooth nitrotap while coding or whatever, and they’re treated like responsible adults who can manage their alcohol intake.

I enjoy a good hefeweizen and being treated like a grown up as much as the next person, but I’ve interviewed way too many labor and employment lawyers over the years and I can tell you they would see a few problem scenarios here. They would warn employers of the potential liabilities, of which there are many.

As the above article points out, there’s always the potential for frat-party like sexual harassment situations, but what about the employees who think they can handle their alcohol intake but when it comes down to it, they cannot? The world is full of people who don’t understand or respect the power of alcohol and will be slurring their way through Britney Spears songs after one glass of Chardonnay. What if these people work for your company? Do you really want to find out who can’t handle the vermouth during an intense project deadline?

Another risk is having an employee who sees an implied permission to branch out from alcohol to other things. Hey boss, you said drinking beer, wine and whiskey shots is fine on the job, so what’s wrong with the marijuana I smoked in the car during my afternoon break? I really don’t see the problem here, since you’re so cool with alcohol. Hey, are there any Doritos left in the break room?

Then there’s the bad public relations in having a spouse or family member tell their friends that Jim could handle his alcohol until he started working for company X. Jim never had a second amber ale at home, but now he’s downing the stuff like someone downing water after eating an entire habanero chili pepper. Maybe Jim didn't happen to mention during the job interview that he's a recovering alcoholic, who, with the help of friends, family and AA, has managed to get his addiction under control. Well, until the company keg had him at hello.

Or maybe an employee’s parents don’t like finding out that little Jimmy or Janie is drinking on the job. We all know how involved the Baby Boomers tend to be in their kids’ lives. Will some of them start helicoptering over the company keg? Will the CEO be taking calls from concerned parents? And what if an employee balks at it for religious reasons?

Another question is how this trend jibes with state server laws. Monitoring employee drinking via a computer gives employers some control, but do employers essentially become electronic bartenders in the process? And who inside the company will have the responsibility of cutting off employees who have had a little too much to drink, and making sure they don't get behind the wheel? This task doesn't sound like a fun job. And how many beers will be considered too many, especially if an employee is putting in tons of hours at work? Two? Four? Six? Eight? Who do we appreciate to make this decision?

Like I say, I’m all for treating employees like big people who can make their own decisions. I just hope employers are drinking in the risks before they open up the tap.

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