IMPORTANT: Advice For Starbucks Employees

Though I ought to make it clear: I Am Not A Lawyer.

But then again, and this is my point: You’re Not Cops.

Today I visited the Starbucks I frequent, and had occasion to speak both to my friend the manager, and to his District Manager.

And the word is: Starbucks has no official policy on the six-meter (turns out it’s six, not seven) non-smoking law.

Unfortunately, they do have an unofficial policy.

And in my (admittedly non-lawyerly) opinion, this is very bad news indeed.

Because the unofficial policy is to confront and remind customers who are lighting up outside the store that it’s against the law. But since Starbucks has no official company policy about the law, this isn’t the same thing as, say, if someone were to light up inside the store — in that case, my friend the manager could simply say “sorry, you can’t smoke in here, it’s against company policy, this is a non-smoking establishment, please extinguish your cigarette or leave.”

And if Starbucks had an official policy about their outdoor seating area, he could probably get away with saying much the same thing. But they don’t.

So, it’s just him out there. And he’s not a cop; he’s just some guy. And in the absence of an official Starbucks policy, he’s not authorized to tell people what they can and can’t do on the sidewalk outside his store.

This could easily lead to a confrontation. A confrontation in which he will not be in the right.

So for my friend there, in my opinion, it’s a goddamn can of worms.

So if you’re like him, please, for God’s sake, call up the ladder and tell your supervisor that you don’t feel comfortable interfering with people that way. Tell them that if they want to make it part of your job description in an official sense you’ll be happy to do it, but that as things stand you just feel like you’re pissing people off, and for no defined reason. Tell them that the only way this should even ever be a thing you have to deal with is if one of your customers complains to you about another one of your customers…and that in that case you would like to be able to say to the complaining customer that you’re very sorry, but it isn’t a Starbucks policy it’s a law, and you’re not allowed to enforce it because you’re not a policeman. Because only policeman are authorized to enforce the laws (at least for minor infractions like this one), and if Starbucks employees started taking it upon themselves to do the job of the police it could expose both Starbucks and their individual employees to potential lawsuits.

Alternatively, tell them you would prefer to simply post a notice on the door: “Starbucks would like to remind its valued customers that the Provincial Government has prohibited smoking within six meters of a doorway.” And then point to it when someone complains. Because it’s always good to have something to point to, that’s signed by someone who is not you.

Please tell your supervisors and managers this. Though I’ll stress once again that I AM NOT A LAWYER, I don’t think I need to be a lawyer to recognize that this sort of thing could go pear-shaped for the Starbucks employee in an awful hurry. And I have a certain fondness for Starbucks employees, and would hate to see them get into needless scuffles with angry customers over misunderstandings like this.

And Starbucks: get your act together. The government wants you to help it enforce its law, and in my opinion this isn’t right — IN MY OPINION THIS IS VERY, VERY, VERY WRONG, AND INCREDIBLY DANGEROUS FOR OUR DEMOCRATIC SYSTEM! — but if you’re going to do it, do it officially. Don’t hang your employees out to twist in the wind, it isn’t right, and damned if I don’t think it’ll do anything but insulate you from liability.

What a slippery slope this is. The more I think about it, the more like a quagmire it seems to me. This could be trouble.

I’ve never been more disillusioned with my government. And that’s really saying something.

This is, simply, a disgrace.

And no, I did not myself get into any sort of confrontation with my friend the manager. But I worry this is all going to blow up in his face in the next few days.

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2 responses to “IMPORTANT: Advice For Starbucks Employees

  1. That’s pretty crazy. I was about to post on the last comment about how I can’t for the life of me see how that’s enforceable. Answer: get businesses to get their staff to do their enforcing for you. Which is crazy. I feel the excruciating embarrassment of any employee stuck with that duty (where excruciating embarrassment is the very least of things that could happen).

    Like you said, whether supportive or not of indoor smoking bans, at least that law has a practical and reasoned enforcement element. Hell, even a ban on smoking everywhere but a person’s abode is doable if not necessarily a good idea. But a certain distance away from a doorway? Good grief.

    My views on the smoking ban over here were pretty neutral. Restaurants, sure, but with bars and pubs it always seemed a bit odd that people were surprised that smokers went there. Smoking has always been part of the (for want of a better word) culture of going down the pub, almost as much as drinking. Does anyone really go for a job at a club and then complain about the amount of people who are flat-on-their-arses drunk?

    The flip side of it is that now the ban’s in place I’d never want to go back, because getting a gig doesn’t mean every single item of clothing, equipment or property doesn’t stink. So every cloud, eh? But the doorway thing is ridiculous.

  2. I used to have a joke: “sure, so all the provincial court judges walk across Main Street at lunch to grab a couple triple whiskies and watch a seventeen-year old girl strip for their pleasure, but smoking? Man, that’s just dirty and wrong…”

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