In response to a request from Mayor President Josh Guillory, the Louisiana Attorney General's Office has rendered the opinion that it is OK for government to supply employees with coffee.
The four-page opinion states that "Public entities may provide their employees with coffee if they have a demonstrable, objective, and reasonable expectation that doing so will provide a real and substantial benefit to the public entity."
The assistant attorney general who wrote it opines that providing coffee to employees could be considered a benefit of employment, as are health insurance, retirement, etc. The AAG also opined that a cup of coffee probably doesn't meet the definition of gratuitous. It's the intent of the agency that matters, he wrote.
Thirdly, if there's a benefit to the agency and/or the taxpayer, it's allowed. One could assume that employees who can get a cup of coffee at the office will be more productive, and that type of atmosphere might serve to attract more talented employees. All employers have an interest in keeping employees happy so they can attract and retain the best employees, he wrote.
We've reached out to Guillory's office to ask why Guillory requested an attorney general's opinion regarding this issue. Here's the response we received:
"In years past we were told by auditors that we should not be providing coffee service free of charge to employees because it could be interpreted as improper use of government funds. The practice continued despite the auditor’s concerns, but it was under previous administrations so I can’t speak to any of that," spokesman Jamie Angelle said in an email. "Mayor-President Guillory cancelled the coffee contracts throughout LCG anyway last year when he was cutting costs to protect the balance of the city’s General Fund. He has been considering options to bring the coffee service back for our 24-hour employees like Police, Fire, etc. Before doing so he requested an opinion from the Attorney General’s Office to find out if it would be a violation of law to do so."
Angelle said no decision has been made yet by the Guillory administration about coffee.
We reached out to the Louisiana Legislative Auditor's Office, who said they're not sure of the context to which Guillory was referring, but they provide coffee to their employees in their office.
Here's the opinion: