Hate Office Parties? Too Bad.

by Evil HR Lady on October 5, 2015

My company is having its annual company party, which is a barbecue located 1.5 hours away from the office at a coworker’s parents’ house. I do not want to attend for multiple reasons (I do not care to be in the hot sun, swim, eat barbecue, drink beer, etc). This event has nothing to do with the function of my job, but my employer insists that attendance is mandatory and if I do not attend then I will be deducted one personal day. I have offered to work rather than attend, but my employer said no, as the office is closed that day and I am not allowed to work remotely. Can he do this?

To read the answer click here: Hate Office Parties? Too Bad.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Roger Rabbit October 5, 2015 at 9:31 pm

My rule on drinking at any company event, whether it’s sitting at my desk during a normal workday or socializing at an off-site function is the same: don’t. In both cases you are at work and can be called on at any moment for any reason.

When I choose to drink it is away from business functions and business colleagues.

Others may find this a bit too extreme a position, however they have not had a vendor pull out a contract for signing after the seventh round of drinks – yes I had seven untouched glasses in front of me and no I did not sign the contract.

People rarely question my cranberry juice (aka red wine substitute) or my ginger ale (aka champagne substitute) and if they do a simple “no thank you” suffices.

As far as attending such an event, as the evil says, they can mandate that you go, as long as you are exempt, even if it’s at night or on a weekend. It may be that was the only time they could get a function hall or some other reason. A relative used to have these on Sunday mornings at 7AM to conclude before their business opened to the public and you had to go even if you weren’t scheduled to work that day. People would show up in fuzzy animal PJs etc. but they still had to attend.

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Elizabeth West October 5, 2015 at 10:43 pm

I quit going to the Christmas party at Exjob–I always ended up sitting at the boss’s table and never had a plus one, so I ended up feeling like either the brown-nosing kid (not even) or the kid nobody liked. Plus, the speeches were boring and it took place at night after work. Other people gradually quit going too–we figured we saw each other all day and we didn’t want to hang out after hours either.

They had a family thing at a local pizza joint too (think Chuck E. Cheese but not that). I NEVER went to that one because I don’t have kids, I hate that particular pizza place (it’s loud and the pizza is horrible), and my nice supervisor warned me that if I showed up without a kid, my boss would probably put me to work! No thank you!!

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NorthernHR October 5, 2015 at 11:09 pm

What a way to (not) boost morale! You are scheduled for a ‘party’ 1.5 hours out of town that you have to commute or carpool to, it is mandatory, it is a paid day (presumably, otherwise it is sucky that you would get docked personal time for NOT going), there will be food and drinks available, but technically, you are ON shift (being paid & all) so you probably shouldn’t have a drink, and to top it all of, it is at a co-worker’s relative’s place!

As one of the planners of our staff functions, I really don’t agree with how this is done. We plan in advance; give people plenty of notice of the time and what we are doing at the party (which we take into consideration what the majority of staff would enjoy, ask for feedback, etc.); provide a sign-up sheet and have a sign-up deadline (so we can plan for food, prizes, etc.); and we plan it for a night before/day where the business is ACTUALLY closed, so that people can relax and enjoy themselves. Because it is an event for staff, the business is still responsible for safe rides home, foodsafe licenses, etc., but it is not mandatory. Staff aren’t required to be there, nor are they paid to be there. We usually have a 95+% turn out, though, because people can have fun without being forced to go.

I would suggest that you go if the party is mandatory. But first, ask your boss how long the event will be; will staff have to ‘sign-in’ for this event (and get paid only for the time you attend), will rides be provided, or will carpooling be arranged, for those who do not have a vehicle; what are you required to bring (potluck, reports to go over, activities, etc.); what is the itinerary (what time is dinner, speeches, activities) and how late is everyone expected to stay. Then, if you are not required to be there the length of your usual full 8 hour shift, show up before dinner, enjoy dessert, sit through speeches, mingle a bit, thank the host for the wonderful day, say your goodbyes, and head home.

You may not want to go, but it is really only a few hours out of your year. And you might just have some fun, and at the very least, hopefully some good food!

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DeeAnn October 6, 2015 at 1:05 am

I have a follow up question. When you say we should look at these events as we would a “work related meeting”, how do you think management should address a company’s formal Code of Conduct policy with employees during events of this kind. I mean per my company’s Code of Conduct there is absolutely no alcohol permitted at work, there is a dress standard which would certainly not include a swimsuit, and a fairly high level of professionalism expected regarding language and conversation when at work. Needless to say, at a function such as a company party, mentioned in the example, team members are welcome to have a beer or two or more, wear whatever is comfortable for a BBQ and swimming and there is really no formal limitations on conversation. Frankly, my company has events that are very similar. But here is the problem, recently we had a Team Member file a compaint with Human Resources citing violations of the Company’s Code of Conduct for something their supervisor said at a Company party that allegedly offended them. It was part of a casual and social conversation that occurred over drinks and dinner and was not remotely business related. It is unclear if the offended Team Member was even part of the conversation or only overheard the comment. To make matters worse, the Team Member filing the complaint did not do so until 5 months after the party was held and it resulted in the immediate termination of his supervisor after Human Resources spoke to her and confirmed only that the conversation occurred. They left the decision to the supervisor’s Senior Manager and that was it. I suspect the reporting employee was riled up about something trivial that did not go his way and decided to file the complaint in retribution. But it is too late to speculate now. So how can a company hold an event with elements not in line with the comany’s Code of Conduct policyand then hold the Team Members accountable to Code of Conduct policy? This seems counter intuitive. But if employment is “at will”, are we not all at the mercy of anyone in Senior Management and Human Resources whim or opinion at any time, even in the privacy of our own home if we choose to host the “party”?

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fposte October 7, 2015 at 8:10 pm

Yes, if you’re an at-will employee you’re at the mercy of their opinion at any time. That’s pretty much how it works. (Similarly, they’re at the mercy of your opinion, though I wouldn’t say it was an equal power dynamic.)

If a comment is so egregious that it gets somebody terminated immediately, I suspect it wasn’t a comment that could be excused merely by being uttered in a more casual party environment. Which is kind of Suzanne’s point–don’t mistake a more casual atmosphere for an anything-goes situation. Now if you’d said the employee was terminated for wearing a bathing suit to a company-hosted pool party, I’d agree that you guys are way too into the letter of the code of conduct and blew that one, and I do think if your org takes it as seriously as it sounds it should probably expand coverage to quasi-social occasions like business trips and offsite parties.

But it sounds like the guy said something really dumb, not something that the code should be relaxed to accept.

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F. October 7, 2015 at 8:15 pm

I would suck it up and take the Personal Day, but I am such an introvert that the party would make me ill and exhaust me anyway.

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