If your company is planning a meeting for the year 2000, you need to address the so-called "Y2K problem." In brief: Most computers cannot properly process a post-1999 date field. The result is that without significant reprogramming, all but the newest computers will reject a date such as Feb. 1, 2000 altogether or erroneously interpret it to be Feb. 1, 1900.

There are plenty of nightmarish scenarios to consider. If the software used to track hotel reservations or meeting registrations is not Y2K-compliant, registrations could be lost, housing records could be wrong, and overbooking and/or under-counting could result. Indeed, hotels might not be able to process reservations accurately, which could lead to room-block errors, mistakes in food and beverage calculations, and erroneous attrition charges. Billing software glitches could lead to confusion about payments or credits. The imaginable problems keep going and going.

Y2K Assurances First, be sure to ask hotels and other vendors whether or not their computer systems are Y2K-compliant. It is increasingly common for customers to demand written assurances that their suppliers are compliant and that Y2K problems will not prevent them from performing their obligations. An unwillingness or inability to provide such assurances should be a red flag.

Assurances or representations concerning Y2K compliance also can be incorporated into written contracts. For example, meeting executives should try to get written assurances that the vendor:

* has reviewed its operations for compliance;

* has developed, or is developing, a program to address Y2K problems in a timely fashion;

* has made a related inquiry of its relevant suppliers and vendors; and, based on such review, is satisfied that Y2K problems will not cause any material adverse effect on the performance of the contract.

In addition, such contractual representations should be backed up by a clause in which the meeting executive is indemnified against any losses arising from a Y2K problem.

What Goes Around Of course, turnabout is fair play. Meeting executives should be prepared to respond to similar requests from their customers and others with whom they have contractual agreements. Now is the time to review computer operations, determine Y2K compliance, and identify and address potential problems.

When responding to requests for Y2K-compliance assurances from third parties, make representations that are completely accurate. Ideally, any such responses should be reviewed by legal counsel. Whenever possible, seek to limit your organization's Y2K liability to third parties by excluding certain types of damages (e.g., lost profits) or by excluding potential liability for Y2K problems altogether.

Encouragement to Share Info On Oct. 19, President Clinton signed into law the Year 2000 Information and Readiness Disclosure Act. Its purpose is to encourage companies to share Y2K-compliance information about their products and services. Thus, the act limits the circumstances under which Y2K disclosure statements can be used against the persons making them and imposes strict proof requirements in legal actions claiming fraud or defamation from a Y2K statement.

For the protections of the act to apply, the Y2K-disclosure statement must be specifically identified as a "Y2K readiness statement." In addition, the act provides that exchanges of information that take place before 2001 and are designed to correct or avoid Y2K problems are not subject to antitrust laws. Such exchanges, however, cannot be used for boycotts, price fixing, or other anti-competitive conduct.