Hate Office Parties? Too Bad.

Guidelines to follow when attending work-related events

Back Q&A Oct 5, 2015 By Suzanne Lucas

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?

Unless you have some sort of union contract that spells out precisely what your responsibilities are, your employer can basically make whatever demands he wants as long as they don’t violate the law. Now, if you’re nonexempt, he’s required to pay you for the time you’re at the party since it is mandatory. (If it’s not a mandatory party, he’s not required to pay you.) It sounds like the party is on a work day and that everyone will be paid. So yes, it’s perfectly legal for your boss to require your attendance.

Whether it’s reasonable is another story. For some people, driving an hour and a half might be a hardship. For others, it’s pretty much their normal commute. Some people love parties like this. Other people can’t stand them. The problem comes when people who love such things cannot imagine that other people would rather stick pins in their eyes.

What you need to do is re-frame the event. It’s not a party. It’s a meeting with barbecue and beer. Granted, nobody is (hopefully) going to show a Power Point or be called to the carpet for not meeting their Q2 goals, but it’s a meeting.

Anytime you are with coworkers, you should consider yourself at work and treat it as such. Here are some guidelines you should follow.

Swimwear: If you want to swim, that’s great — do so. But make sure your swimming suit is conservative. No Speedos for men. No string anything for women. Coverage should leave a lot to the imagination. Don’t hang out in your swimming suit either. When you’re out of the pool, have some sort of cover-up on. If you have tattoos that are normally covered but visible in swimwear, consider if you want your coworkers and boss to know about them. Most people don’t care either way, but you know your department.

Alcohol: If you value your reputation, you won’t get anywhere close to intoxicated. I don’t care if your boss gets falling-down drunk, you should not. The last thing you want to do is get tipsy and say or do something that you’ll regret. Remember, it’s still a meeting, and sober people make far fewer gaffes than drunk people.

Food: Don’t be a pig. Certainly eat and have a good time, but be polite about it. Don’t go back for seconds or thirds before everyone has eaten. Keep your portions modest. Remember, you don’t want to give anyone a bad impression.

Conversation: This one is a bit tricky. It’s a party, so most people don’t want to talk business, but business talk will happen and that’s OK. You don’t want to be there, so you might be tempted to moan and groan about how far behind you are at work, how you hate swim parties or how much it cost you to get out there. People don’t like that sort of negativity. Even if you’re normally an upbeat person in the office, complaining about the party will reflect badly on you. Try to keep the conversation on safe topics. The presidential campaigns are in full swing (shudder), and someone may ask you your thoughts on the candidates. The proper response is, “Oh, goodness! It’s so early in the process, I haven’t made up my mind who to support.”

Family members: This sounds like it’s a weekday party, so I’m guessing no family members (except for the host’s family) will be there. At other company parties, spouses and sometimes kids are around. They need to follow the same rules laid out above. It’s not OK for your husband to get drunk. It’s not OK for your 5-year-old to run around screaming like a banshee and shoot people with her water gun.

Even though you don’t love company parties, it’s just one day. If you play it well, you’ll improve your relationships at work instead of damaging them by refusing to participate.


Visitor (not verified)December 9, 2016 - 7:14pm

I've never attended a work party and I never will. I won't be blackmailed by some cretin who thinks he can tell me what to do. I don't work for people who expect such things

Visitor (not verified)December 26, 2017 - 9:27am

Contract or not, no one including a boss, has any right to dictate that anyone attend anything at work. Its nice that they're having a party of sorts, but the company needs to realize and except the fact that not everyone is a party animal. Besides, its possible that employees might not even know the hoste personally, and therefore, might not want to attend a party given by a total stranger. Deducting one personal day from the employee's time off is just a cheap thret.

Visitor (not verified)November 4, 2022 - 2:23pm

Middle of workday and required to attend, otherwise use vacation?

Liability. If anything happens to you…swimming…drinking…falling, harassment from drunk coworker etc etc etc you could sue your employer. You would think more employers would think before they do a MANDATORY event, especially including alcohol.