California Update: Liquor Liability 50-State Survey

August 31, 2022

Authors: Wendy D. Testa, Andrew P. Rossi

Mike Aberle (CEO, MindMeld Learning | GetRBS) also contributed to this article.

California’s Responsible Beverage Service (RBS) Training Program Act of 2017 (Act) went into effect on July 1, 2022, and provides a deadline of August 31, 2022, for alcohol servers and managers to receive training and a newly required RBS alcohol server certification. Originally signed into law in 2017, the Act was slated for implementation in July 2021, but was subsequently delayed to prevent business hardship during the COVID-19 pandemic.

As of August 29, 2022, more than 300,000 alcohol servers and managers in California have registered with the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) to start the three-step process of becoming certified and compliant with the new law. See, news alert issued by the CA Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. By August 31, 2022, under the Act, more than 56,000 businesses will be required to (1) register with ABC, (2) be trained by an ABC-approved RBS Training Provider and (3) pass an ABC exam. Anyone hired after July 1 must pass the exam and be certified 60 days from the first day of employment. ABC has created a page of FAQs regarding the RBC Training Act. 

Definitions & Requirements
Under the Act, all persons who qualify as alcohol servers or managers in California must participate in an RBS training course and obtain a valid alcohol server certification. Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code §§ 25681, 25682. An “alcohol server” is defined as a person who serves alcoholic beverages for consumption, or a person who manages or supervises that person, on premises licensed to serve alcoholic beverages pursuant to this division, including a designee for alcoholic beverage sales and service pursuant to a temporary license. Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code § 25680(a). 

The “alcohol server” definition includes anyone who (1) checks customer identification for purposes of alcoholic beverage service or entry to an ABC on-premises licensed establishment, (2) takes customer alcoholic beverage orders, (3) pours alcoholic beverages for customers or (4) delivers alcoholic beverages to customers. 

This expansive definition encompasses millions of Californians with the August 31, 2022, deadline upon them to (1) complete a training course and (2) to obtain the requisite “alcohol server” certification. An “alcohol manager” is anyone who trains, directly hires or oversees alcohol servers at ABC-licensed premises, or who trains alcohol servers on how to perform the service of alcohol for consumption for an ABC on-premises licensee. 

The Act specifically states that any alcohol server or manager who is employed by a licensee beginning on or after July 1, 2022, has sixty (60) calendar days from the date of hire to obtain an alcohol server certification. Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code § 25682(a)(2). Licensees must ensure their alcohol servers have the required certification and must maintain records of certifications for inspection by the Alcoholic Beverage Control Department upon request. Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code § 25682(b)(1). An alcohol server certification is valid for three (3) years from the date of issuance and is valid for any person employed by a licensee subject to the Act. Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code § 25681(e). 

Liability & Enforcement
Although the Act expressly states that it should not be construed to expand the duties of a licensee in connection with the sale and service of alcoholic beverages, and provisions of subdivisions (b) and (c) of § 25602 continue to apply. Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code § 25686. The new statutory requirements will definitely expand the potential liability arguments against licensees for negligent training and/or failure to train or certify all persons required to be trained or certified pursuant to the Act. 

A licensee’s failure to comply with the Act is grounds for disciplinary action, but will not be grounds for any criminal action against any licensee or their agents and/or employees. Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code § 25684. That being said, it is anticipated there will be an uptick in liquor liability litigation that may affect millions in the state of California due to licensees not being able to obtain and/or consistently maintain compliance due to the expansive definition of “alcohol server” and those identified as “manager” of these “alcohol servers.” The Alcoholic Beverage Control Department has accredited training providers to administer the necessary alcohol server training and issue alcohol server certifications to persons who successfully complete training and pass an exam. Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code § 25681(b)-(d). However, at this time, there are thousands of businesses that have not completed the three-step process of becoming certified and compliant with the new California law. 

For more information on training and the steps necessary for compliance, visit the Wilson Elser e-Learning webpage.

For information on current liquor liability law, see Wilson Elser’s 2022 Liquor Liability 50-State Survey.


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