A new liquor law in Mankato could cut down on BWI: bartending while intoxicated.

Under a major overhaul of city liquor laws passed last month, bar and restaurant employees may be asked to take a breath test if they appear intoxicated on the job.

And their employer could face an administrative penalty if the test shows a blood alcohol content higher than .04 — half the legal limit for driving, and the same standard that airplane pilots are held to.

“They are not prevented from drinking on duty, but [from] being intoxicated,” Todd Miller, the city’s public safety director, told the City Council. The new law has a system of “strikes” that can lead to fines and the loss of a liquor license. Intoxicated employees are a potential strike.

Employee breath testing isn’t intended to be routine, said Jay Reasner, operating partner of Pub 500, a popular downtown Mankato bar. It’s more likely to be reserved for times when there’s an incident at a bar — a fight, for example — and officials question whether the staff was in the proper frame of mind to handle it.

While outsiders might assume that drinking on the job is an accepted perk for bar employees, many owners discourage it, said Tony Chesak, executive director of the Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association, an industry group.

“My grandfather, who owns four bowling alleys in Milwaukee, always said, ‘Don’t get drunk at your own bar,’ ” Chesak said. There’s no state law that regulates drinking by bar employees, but cities are free to pass liquor ordinances that are tougher than state laws.

The city’s liquor law overhaul came in the wake of several high-profile incidents in recent years, including the binge-drinking deaths of two underage youths and a street fight that left Isaac Kolstad, a former football player at Minnesota State University, Mankato, with serious injuries.

Mankato spent more than two years crafting the law and consulted closely with bar, restaurant and liquor store owners. That’s led to general satisfaction with the new rules, Reasner said.

“There’s a lot of trust between our city and law enforcement and us [bar operators],” Reasner said. “And in some communities there’s not.”

The new law leaves room for common sense, he said.

“As an owner, I certainly don’t want my bartender hammered behind the bar,” Reasner said. “But if you want to buy my bartender a drink, and it’s appropriate, I don’t have a problem with that.”