my company requires employees to take an annual “team-building” trip to the Caribbean

A reader writes:

Our company takes an annual trip, usually to the Caribbean. Our airfare and hotel are paid for by the company, but our food and other activities are not. As a matter of fact, we are expected to buy our bosses dinner one of the nights. When you are hired, you are told to sign a form that states if you commit to the trip and then quit the job or cannot make the trip, you are to reimburse the company for their costs.

This year, several of us have opted out of the trip for financial reasons (I spent over $350 on food last year) so we did not commit to this year’s trip. Now they are saying that it is a mandatory trip. Can they do that, force us to do someone we cannot afford to do?

I wrote back and asked what the purpose of the trip is. The response:

They want to create a feeling of team spirit.

Hahahahahahahaha!

There is nothing like creating a feeling of team spirit by forcing your employees to go on a trip that costs them hundreds of dollars.

Please pause and enjoy a hearty laugh at this, as I have.

Okay, now … Yes, your company can indeed make this trip mandatory. Whether or not they should is a different issue (hint: they should not), but as for whether they can legally require it as part of your job? Yep, they sure can.

But of course it’s a terrible idea for them to do so. First, in general, companies should cover work-related travel expenses, because it’s not fair to ask employees to bear what should be business costs. And second, the alleged purpose of this trip — to build team spirit — provides extra cause for them to cover the expenses, because even people who are inclined to be filled with team spirit tend to get a bit deflated when told that they’re going to be out $350 for the privilege, and that they’ll be fired if they don’t agree.

Now, it’s certainly your employer’s prerogative to decide that this trip is a key part of their culture-building (and they’re at least doing the right thing by being up-front about that with people when they start working there; it would be worse if they were springing it on you afterwards). They’re allowed to decide that the culture they want includes an annual trip, even an expensive one — just as they’re allowed to decide that their culture means that everyone dresses up like clowns on Fridays or that you can’t wear red or that you all have to speak in tongues after lunch. If they think that stuff contributes to the culture they want, it’s their call — and as long as they’re really clear with prospective employees before anyone accepts a job there, so be it. I don’t want to work there, but some people will. (Just like I don’t want to work in Southwest Airlines’ really effusive, bubbly culture either, but they’re entitled to decide they want that culture, and it works for them to screen me out and hire people who are aligned with their vision of a workplace.)

And in this case, your company has decided that they want people who will be excited to go on this trip every year, and will see enough value in it (and probably see it as sufficiently like a vacation) that they won’t mind covering their own food expenses. And that really is their prerogative.

As for what you can do though … I’d go to your manager and first get clarity on exactly what the situation is. Start by saying something like, “It was my understanding when I was hired that it was fine to decline the trip as long as the company knew far enough in advance that our tickets hadn’t been purchased. Is it now mandatory regardless?”

If you’re told yes, it’s now mandatory, then you can say something like this: “I understand the company intends this as a team-building trip, and I’d be glad to go. But last year my food costs were around $350, and that’s not an expense I can fit into my budget. I’d like to be able to go on the trip, but I can’t afford those costs. Is that something the company can include, or would it make more sense for me to stay here?”

If your manager says that neither of those options are possible …. well, then these are apparently the new terms of your employment, and you’ll have to decide if you want the job under these conditions. I think it’s BS to do that to you, but at that point, that’ll be the choice you’re looking at.

{ 249 comments… read them below }

  1. Ann O'Nemity

    You’re expected to buy your boss’s dinner?! On a mandatory, not fully compensated business trip? WTF

    1. WorkIt

      Seriously. You’d think the bosses would buy their staff dinners, seeing as it’s not reimbursable.

  2. The B

    Oooh, this sucks. I worked at a place like this, where there was a mandatory conference. I was able to make it for 2 years, third year had to excuse myself due to family issues. They were completely NOT understanding and kept bringing up the trip as the one reason they would not to promote me (it meant I wasn’t a ‘team player’) even though I attended all other conferences, stayed late to finish projects, etc. So I left for a job that paid more. I think the least of your worries is the $350 (although that’s not a small amount of money), but what it says about the culture at your job. Run, don’t walk.

  3. businesslady

    more questions:
    1) how long is this trip?
    2) is it considered vacation time or are you compensated for the time you’re there?
    3) are spouses/partners allowed to go or is it just employees? if the latter, then 3a) do you have to share rooms?!

    …seriously, what the heck.

        1. Revanche

          Ahem as a runs-at-the-mouth colleague once said: We didn’t leave anyone holding down the fart.
          …..
          THE FORT! I SAID FART BUT I MEANT FORT.

          That will forever remain burned into my brain.

      1. ThatHRGirl

        Yeah, I can imagine the out-of-office message… “Sorry, you’re SOL – We’re all in the FREAKING CARRIBEAN”.

  4. Lexy

    So I’m the sort of extrovert that normally loves team building crap that other less outgoing people hate. But this trip sounds like THE WORST.

    1) If I’m spending my own money on food, I want to do my own thing (e.g. not have my restaurant choices dictated by what the team is doing) which I’m assuming isn’t the case here.

    2) No. I do not by dinner, drinks, gifts, etc. for my boss(es). Nope. MAYBE if it’s someone I’m VERY fond of I would give them a card with a heartfelt message for a big occasion (wedding, baby) or upon my or their departure.

    3) I would rather gouge my eyes out than recreate with my coworkers in the Carribean. Give me a beach, a fruity drink, and a book and GTFO.

  5. badger_doc

    I don’t know that I would complain about a most-expenses paid trip to the Caribbean! I can’t even do a weekend vacation for less than $350. I totally wish my company would do this every year. Is there any way to make the most of it? I suppose it would get old year after year, but I am actually totally jealous!

    1. A.

      $350 isn’t an amount to sneeze at for a lot of people. And if they were going to spend that kind of money at all, a lot of those same people would prefer complete autonomy rather than being forced into it regardless of the locale.

      1. Holly

        Seriously! 350 bucks is my water, electricity, internet, car insurance, renters insurance and food budgets all put together. It’s big money.

    2. ThatGirl

      Not everyone enjoys sand and sun for their vacation. I live in the Midwest and a lot of people I know would rather go to the lake/camping before going on a Caribbean vacation.

      Besides, isn’t the point of a vacation to get away from work-related stuff?

      1. Xay

        I love sand and sun and I still would balk at a company trip where I would have $350 in food expenses. I like to have a good time, but a mandatory work trip like this should include reimbursement for food. Also, as a former frequent business traveler, a work trip and a vacation are not the same thing and should not be treated that way by the employer or the employee.

    3. Jessa

      Except that some people have other expenses in their lives that take up their budgets and even with a year’s advance notice I could not afford $350. Even people who make a lot of money have medical expenses, children or elders to take care of etc. I would never go on such a trip myself. Haven’t had a holiday in years because we just cannot pay for one. Also, personally? I have medical reasons that I would never go somewhere hot. I’d never go south where it’s always hot unless I had a guarantee I would be in the constant presence of a/c, my house gets over 65 degrees, I get physically ILL. Back in the days before the IRS got picky about deductions my a/c was a deductible medical expense.

      I would have taken that job understanding that it was NOT mandatory, but I have to give notice. If they changed it there’d be an ADA claim about reasonable accommodation due to the heat. But seriously the fact that it’s “only” $350. Um no.

      1. TychaBrahe

        I’m the same way. I can usually handle dry heat, but heat + humidity causes *me* to quickly overheat. I become nauseous, dizzy, and confused.

        Plus, even when it’s cooler, I sunburn badly. Sun screens aren’t really effective. I wear a 45 or 50 and still react badly. I don’t notice it at the time, but hours later I’m bright red and desperately need to sleep.

        My grandparents took us kids on a cruise to Tahiti to see Halley’s comet. I spent my nights on the deck in astronomy lectures, and what little of the day I was awake watching Romancing the Stone over and over in the ship’s movie theater, because I didn’t dare go out in the sunlight. This Caribbean thing would be a nightmare for me.

    4. Cara

      I can see both sides. $350 is a song IF you enjoy the trip otherwise. (You would be buying groceries if you were at home, so the real cost is a little less than $350, maybe closer to $250 depending on how long the trip is). If it’s not your thing, though, having to pay for your meals and the boss’s meals just adds insult to injury.

      I feel this way about conferences sometimes. The company pays for me to go to a beautiful location, great… and all I can do is sit and stew about the fact that I’m at Tahoe and can’t enjoy it. I’d honestly rather be at the office daydreaming about Fiji than be in Fiji seething about having to go to yet another company dinner.

      1. fposte

        Yeah, the thing is, it’s not a $350 trip to the Caribbean–it’s paying $350 to work with your officemates in the Caribbean.

        1. Kelly O

          This.

          Plus, the whole issue of “tropical attire” on the trip gives me hives just casually pondering it.

          And, what about families? I mean, even if I went on this fabulous Caribbean trip and had a blast, I would still have to pay the childcare while we were gone, and would obviously need childcare while there. Nevermind my spouse and those working issues. (Oh lord… I just nearly aspirated my water thinking about having to tell my husband that a mandatory Caribbean trip was part of my work… that would be hilarious.)

          1. PuppyKat

            Nice to see you on here again, Kelly O! Forgive me if I’ve just been missing them for some reason—but it feels like you haven’t been commenting as often.

            I always enjoy your perspective.

        1. Cruella DaBoss

          What about buying groceries for a family of 6 with two teenage boys….ugh! $350 may last the week.

      2. ThatGirl

        I’m not sure where you live but where I’m from, $350 is more than a whole weeks worth of groceries for my family of 5.

        Following that logic, I go to the Caribbean for a week and eat my family’s food budget for the week. So what are my kids and hubby supposed to do? Not eat the week, I’m in the Caribbean?

        Aw, HELLS NO.

        I don’t go to work every day so that my boss can eat steak/lobster on the beach, I go to work so my family can eat every day and live in a safe and comfortable environment.

        Even if I didn’t have a family, $350 dollars (even $250) is still a lot of money. Hell, $350 is
        a. a car payment
        b. a nice chunk of a mortgage/rent payment
        c. a student loan payment
        d. almost all of the utilities for the month

        I just don’t think the OP’s job should impose this kind of hardship on their employees under the guise of ‘team building’, seriously, they can order pizza and do some team building in the office conference room.
        /rant

        1. Cara

          Guys. I am not saying $350 is exactly the cost of groceries. Please reread what I wrote:

          You would be buying groceries if you were at home, so the real cost is a little less than $350, maybe closer to $250 depending on how long the trip is.

          If you are gone for a week and you usually pay $100 per week for groceries, the real cost of the trip is $250 ($350 for food overseas, minus $100 you would be spending anyway). Use whatever number you actually spend if $100 is too high for you, it was just an example. Sheesh!

          1. Ask a Manager Post author

            I think people are saying that many people spend so far below that amount that the point doesn’t really stand — if they spend $50 on groceries at home for a week for one person, this remains an expensive trip.

            1. Cara

              I agree with that, but people were interpreting my comment to mean I thought groceries cost $350/week, which I was not at all.

            2. Sophie

              One thing I am learning from this conversation is how different the cost of living is here than in America (where I assume most of you are from).

              I pay $200 / week rent, $150/week food for one person. The idea that you could fit more into $350 astounds me! I suppose it is all relative.

              1. Kat M

                Wow, I pay less than $150/person for food a MONTH. I’m curious, do you live in a remote area? I know food can get pricy if you live on an island.

                1. Ash

                  I agree. $150/week for one person seems like a crazy amount of money to spend, unless you’re on an island or maybe eating some sort of crazy-restrictive diet where you can only eat food made out of rare metals… I would suggest looking into reducing your food budget (you spend $600/month on food!), and it’ll be easy because there are a lot of great frugality sites online.

                2. Sarah

                  She may live in Sweden or something. The cost of living is much higher in some countries. She did indicate that she is not in America. She probably makes considerably more money as well on average.

                3. Jen M.

                  This is a response to Ash. The comments don’t nest this far down.

                  Ash, my BF and I spend about $650-700/month on food. We are “veganic”–vegan and organic-only. Yes, it’s true that this is a choice we make. We are happy with this choice, and we budget in other areas of our lives to afford this.

                  My point in replying with this is just to point out that some people really DO spend that much on food in a month! It breaks down to $75/person/week.

                  That said, even if I DIDN’T eat this way, $350 for food for ONE TRIP would be too much for me to afford. My mortgage and bills are high. That $350 would cause me not to be able to pay my other bills. How do I know this? My BF and I just went away for four days, and I spent about that much on food (he paid for accommodations, I paid for food and gas.) I now have to pay my electric bill and my HOA fee (it’s crazy high!) in two installments each this month! (It was bad timing, financially, but we booked it in advance.)

          2. ThatGirl

            Let me apologize for what could seems like an angry rant against you. It wasn’t by any means.

            I apologize, I was just ticked off on behalf of the OP. It’s just that $350 is really a nice chunk of money for a lot of people in this economy.

            So my take away from this is, some people would like this and see it as a perk and others would absolutely hate it.

            /talking about this particular issue

            Note to self: self select out of companies who do this. :-)

            1. Cara

              Thank you for the apology and clarification, which makes perfect sense.

              $350 is no small change, certainly. To the employee at least. It probably IS small change to the company. If they can pay thousands for each employee to go to the Caribbean, they can kick in another 10% on top of that for food. Making the employee pay is just going to lead the employees to resent the “vacation” even more.

          3. TychaBrahe

            $350 is about a month’s worth of groceries for me, and I’m on a low-carb diet, where I eat mostly beef, chicken, eggs, and cheese.

          4. Jessa

            Numbers not withstanding, I do not have an extra $10 at the end of the month, due to many many bills from being unemployed and medical expenses. Even with a good job in our household we are still incredibly in the hole from before we had that job. If it is NOT 100% paid for, I CANNOT go. Period, full stop. If it was $5 for a tip at the restaurant I do not have it. I will not have it for years. Digging out of the previously unemployed and medical hole is going to take me a very very very long time.

            How much it would be vs how much someone would spend for those things is irrelevant if the person in question CANNOT AFFORD THE TRIP no matter how much it is.

            When they’re eating $1 bologna and have their student loans on “we can’t pay” deferment, there is NO extra money to spend $350, $250, $1 on a trip.

            The actual maths of the cost of the trip or what they spend at home are not really relevant.

      3. Jessa

        No $350 is NOT a song. My grocery bill is less than $50 a week, not because I don’t have family but because due to medical concerns and prior unemployment we are dead broke. I supplement my food with St Vincent de Paul’s food pantry. I don’t need to have to tell my employer this. $350 for food? For less than a couple of months? NO. That is not “the same as your grocery bill” in this economy.

        I have not gone on vacation in over 15 years. The fact that the company forces me to go somewhere is NOT a vacation. And certainly no place I would want to go if I did have any money.0

        1. Cara

          Sigh. Apparently I touched a nerve and it’s preventing people from reading and comprehending my comment. I apologize to everyone for confusing the issue by bringing groceries into this, but once again I beg you to note I NEVER said or implied that $350 is “the same as your grocery bill.”

              1. ThatHRGirl

                I understood it too – I think the main take-away is that money (especially when some are barely making ends meet) is a sensitive issue and people are likely to feel it more personally.

                And, lack of money could make what might otherwise be an enjoyable trip very uncomfortable for some, if they had to opt-out of additional team dinners, eat a kid’s grilled cheese at every meal, constantly drink water while everyone else sipped tropical beverages, etc. – I would constantly be self-conscious that everyone else knew I couldn’t afford it and it might affect me having a good time, and it’s not a position you should have to be put in.

                And for God’s sake – has this company never heard of all-inclusives??? Problem solved!

          1. The Griper

            Don’t sweat it. One of the best parts of this blog used to be the insightful comments and exchange of relevant experiences.
            But it seems we are increasingly forced to wade through reams of nonsense to get to these pearls of wisdom. A lot of people with the reading comprehension of a four year old now come here to vent, lash out, or grind an axe about something only tangentially related to the discussion topic. Or, they make the most inane postings just to create linkbacks to their own crappy little blogs or otherwise raise their own social media cred.
            I still love this blog but the quality of the comments here has taken a turn for the worse.

            1. Mishsmom

              it seems Cara’s point was lost – at least what i interpreted it to be – it’s not about the amount – it’s what’s behind it. 20 dollars is a lot to me, but may be pocket change for others. the amount is not the issue – it’s that the company is forcing her to spend it.

              1. Jessa

                Exactly. The company is requiring things that the average employee will not be able to afford.

            2. Ask a Manager Post author

              Really? I don’t see that at all — I think the comment quality is as high as ever. (And I have to admit, I thought the reaction to Cara’s point was understandable. She might have been misinterpreted, but when that many people misunderstand you, it’s usually because you didn’t communicate your point the way you intended!)

    5. Kou

      I would be SO thrilled to get a vacation for the cost of my food even if it did mean spending a bunch of that time with coworkers. As long as it wasn’t 100% of the time, and even then, I’d still be more into it than not. Though buying dinner for my bosses is laughable under any circumstances.

      That said, I don’t expect anyone else to be enthusiastic about any part of that, and making it mandatory is bull.

      1. Judy

        I’ve heard “Oooh, Italy, I bet that trip was fun” lots of time. People don’t want to hear that in my experience, a business trip to Paris, France, and one to Paris, Texas is pretty much the same. Get up, eat breakfast, car to meeting location, 10-12 hours in a room with most likely no window, car to hotel, find some food, hope for some exercise, catch up with my real work on the computer, go to sleep. I’d prefer Paris, Texas because the travel would be less brutal in time and timezones.

        1. -X-

          I’ve had work trips to Montreal, Havana, Caracas, Oaxaca (Mexico), Stockholm, Tokyo, and many places in Canada, the UK and the US. Probably forgetting some. Oh, and long-term work in another country in Asia.

          Lot of variety if you look for it – eat outside the hotel, go to local places, etc. Even variety within the US. A conference in New Orleans a few years ago with the places we ate do different than the northeastern US where I live.

          1. -X-

            Just remembering a meal on the side of a mountain in rural Mexico with a bunch of rural workers, involving homemade tortillas, meat and vegetables we grilled over a fire, etc. Didn’t actually love the food, but it was a scene.

            And one of the best meals of my life in a fancy hotel at a conference in Japan. Tempura of mind-blowing quality.

            Probably not typical travel but things can be different around the world.

          2. fposte

            Unfortunately, not all work-event schedules provide the option of looking for it. I’m fortunate in being able to give myself a little local time too, but a lot of conferences and work trips really don’t give you free time, so you have to have budget, time, or seniority to be able to take off and check the area out on your own.

            1. -X-

              I was actually working in those situations – one was a conference and the other was working with the rural people.

              In my experience, when people we’re meeting with arrange the meals, it has not been boring but rather interesting local stuff. And if I’m not meeting with someone, I pretty much refuse to just eat in in the hotel restaurant for dinner unless it has local food – I just go to the nearest local- looking place that’s not sketchy. Yes, time is an issue. But budget rarely is (local is not more expensive, though *maybe* a cab ride can increase it).

              And it’s also mindset – just leave for a short while. Mindset in terms of just going out to new places and also mindset in not working more than 12 hours a day. I refuse to do that more than than a few days a year when in my main location. And on business travel no way will I do that. I need some “me” time and that includes going out.

              1. -X-

                Last meal in NOLA was in a Subway though – running to airport and local cuisine places nearby were too slow :-(

                Still pissed about that.

              2. Kou

                You’re reminding me now of the week I spend in Sapporo where they had us booked 7am-9pm every single solitary day such that we could not escape so much as ONCE to eat anything other than sandwich platters or look at anything other than the inside the university. We pressed a few times to cut the lunches or dinners (they weren’t meetings or anything important, they just ordered meals for us for some reason, sad ones in empty conference rooms with no windows) so we could at least get that much out of it, and they told us “You can do that when you come back on vacation.” Not with vitriol, but with confusion– “We’re taking care of everything, what’s the problem? You’ll be back if you like it here anyway, right?” We weren’t even working all that time, we sat around waiting for people for probably 25% of every day but couldn’t escape without deeply offending our host department.

                It was years ago and it still makes me grumble. I feel a serious need to go back there one day now just because I can’t believe I spent 16 hours each way to sit in windowless rooms with my own colleagues. And I had paid my own airfare! Gaaah academia. I don’t miss you at all.

        2. TychaBrahe

          I spent a weekend on site for one of our clients in New York.

          I was in the Bronx without a car, it was raining and I was three blocks from public transportation, I was at some tiny dump of a hotel next to a construction site, and I had to finish a document the customer needed.

          It was not a glamorous weekend in Manhattan.

    6. Sean Sullivan

      I agree with badger_doc. This really beats the company xmas party we had here. If it costs $350 for food it sounds like you’re just doing it wrong. Or maybe get together with your coworkers and bring the concerns about the cost to management?

      I really enjoy this blog but seriously the questions that have been coming in lately are mostly for comedic value = )

  6. Ann O'Nemity

    Also, I would be a bit reluctant to even try to get tax deductions for these kinds of expenses. The IRS has some pretty specific guidelines for international travel, meals, and entertainment. If any amount of the trip is not specifically work-related, you have to start calculating percentages. Even though you probably deserve the deduction, these kinds of expenses attract audits.

    1. Anonymous Accountant

      Exactly. And in an audit it comes under close scrutiny as to the IRS agent, you were sitting on a sandy beach sipping margaritas and lounging poolside.

      And the agent may quarrel with you over what portion of your meals were “business-related” and what they consider “vacation/personal”.

      Ugh. My head hurts just thinking about it. (Had client who traveled extensively for his business and got audited. It was a nightmare).

      1. KellyK

        Would having something in writing from your company that it was mandatory help at all in terms of being able to deduct it?

        1. Anonymous Accountant

          It would help (if audited) to prove it was required for your job. Now if it’s a total of $350 in meals for the entire year? If nothing else looked “unusual”, it probably wouldn’t be an audit red flag. If there would be $15,000 in total travel expenses- I’d be very surprised if there wasn’t some type of audit or “office audit” where they ask you to fax/mail documentation to prove your deductions.

          There would need to be excellent documentation and some of it may be disallowed as personal. Fair? Probably not. But it can depend on the agent.

          My client traveled extensively and had to all but jump through flaming hoops for the agent we had to prove that it was work-related and not just many vacations.

          1. Natalie

            Just curious, but how does this work from the company’s end? Can they deduct the airfare and hotel expenses for a trip that is only for “team building”?

          2. I won the appeal...

            I had a Washington state Administrative Law Judge deny me unemployment once, because though he found I’d resigned with good cause, he decided my subsequent move to join my husband in Hawaii when his job transfered him…

            Well! HE wasn’t about to allow me “to have an extended vacation on the state’s dime.” Honestly I don’t even know if he knew where Hawaii was or that it is a state too (really!) Because the longer the conversation the more I thought he thought I had left the country entirely, and a good way to piss someone who already feels superior off is to ask.

            Of course this was not mentioned in his official decision but he harped on it enough during the hearing and made many condescending remarks about my character, enough that I can say with certainty he ignored the rest of the case.

            Fortunately enough errors were made I was able to get a new hearing.

            To this day it upsets me that some people have the idea the more exotic the location, well! you are just on holiday 365 aren’t you! And we must have taken unfair advantage of someone somehow to get this way. No way ordinary people could actually live and work in Hawaii/Caribbean (oh and by the way are you a meth head/money launderer too? Because if you are not on vacation, well, those must be your only other options.)

            So would I trust a gov’t agency to understand business expenses in the Carribean at face value? Well, who the WORKS there, it sounds soo bogus already, just the idea! I am sure there are a few people who don’t buy, nor would be convinced a mandatory “you- foot- the- bill” trip to the carribean is even a “problem.”

            1. Rana

              Yeah, I used to get that when I was living in California (where I grew up) and talking with people from elsewhere. It wasn’t until I moved to the Midwest that I finally understood why they had this strange idea that California was this endless sunny party state. The first nice spring day in Minnesota, everyone played hooky from work and went running around in shorts and holding barbecues, where in California if you tried to pull that crap you’d probably get fired or at the very least receive a bunch of eye-rolling. When most days are sunny days, acting like they’re these special holidays isn’t going to happen. I mean, I lived a couple of blocks from the beach when I was in grad school, but it was rare that I actually had the time to go there more than once or twice a month (and then I usually picked a wet or foggy morning so I’d have it to myself).

              1. Jennifer

                It is utterly gorgeous here right now in CA and I am trapped at work in the basement. ‘Nuff said.

                I guess that’s a thing about states with actual winter: they not only get snow days, but SUN DAYS too?!?!

            2. anonymous

              Sounds like the judge who heard part of my boyfriend’s disability case. LOL! Guy obviously didn’t even read my boyfriend’s file. Just decided he was in the wrong.

              (BF has a lawyer now.)

  7. Lyda Rose

    Does anybody know if the food expenses would be tax deductible? That might a least cushion the blow a bit, but it’s still an astonishing burden to put on all the company’s employees.

    1. Tax Nerd

      It probably would be deductible, but only (1) if you itemize, and (2) to the point that the $350 plus all of your other miscellaneous itemized deductions (tax prep fee, safety deposit box) exceed 2% of your Adjusted Gross Income. I’d still keep any and all documentation that it was a work trip, and that it was required.

      So technically, yeah, but from a practical point of view, not so much.

  8. Just a Reader

    Nothing like a little “gun to your head” fun! This is one of the reasons I left my last job–LOTS of forced socialization at my own expense. There were nights I had to drop $100 or more to hang out in a hipster bar with a bunch of younger, single coworkers when I just wanted to be home on the couch with my husband.

    I can’t even imagine having to fly somewhere and be “on” 24/7 while paying for the privilege.

    NO THANKS.

    1. Natalie

      Aw, man, now I’m bummed I can’t stream Netflix at work. (I’m just filing, it wouldn’t be distracting me, I swear!)

        1. Natalie

          If only. Our IT department often makes odd blocking decisions (for example, websites are often filtered based on words in the URL, which means that Adult Education is blocked because of the word “adult”) but one very wise decision they have made is blocking YouTube.

  9. ThatGirl

    Seriously, whose idea was this?
    If OP’s company is a non-profit then that’s a huge waste of donor dollars. If it’s a for profit company, isn’t that still a waste of company money and resources?
    Either way, stock holder or donor I would be livid if I found out this was happening.

    1. AP

      Sounds like a small private company with only a few levels of employees. My guess is Mr. Top Bossman wants a yearly Caribbean vacation and doesn’t have anyone to go with him so he makes it a staff event.

      1. Kou

        Or so he can use company (and employee) money to fund it and write it off as a business expense.

  10. DibbleDabble

    My husband’s company does a team building trip every year and you have to have a pretty good reason not to go. But they cover all the costs. They’ll give everyone an allowance for the trip to spend on food/drink/entertainment. It’s usually $50 a day.

    His company is privately owned and they view these trips as team building and an employee benefit.

    1. Runon

      Even if it was fully covered and it was not counted as vacation and I was giving money for sundries.

      It would still be awful for me. Just because some people like it doesn’t mean everyone will. Does that mean I’d look for a job elsewhere and your company wouldn’t want an employee like me because I don’t want to bond apres work? Yup. And if you are ok with that that’s fine. But be aware that you are excluding people.

      1. fposte

        Well, you’re always excluding people when you hire, as Alison notes about Southwest. There’s nothing wrong with that.

      2. Melissa

        Yeah, I have to agree…it would depend on the coworkers, of course, but I already hate traveling for conferences. I think I would really hate spending a week in a “vacation” spot surrounded by coworkers 24/7.

  11. Marmite

    I can see the employer thinking they are offering such a wonderful perk here and not realizing that employees aren’t viewing it the same way.

    I used to work for a travel company and we got paid very poorly (less than minimum wage, but they got around that by including food and accommodation costs as part of our pay) when on assignments traveling with clients. The manager was always saying how fun it was for us to travel to all these great places, which was true for the first trip or two, but the Eiffel Tower is much less fun the tenth time you visit. Plus traveling as a tourist and traveling for work are two different things, even when you are visiting tourist attractions.

    1. Sunday's Child

      Umm, yeah, I expect that the travel industry would use that as an enticement to potential employees. In my experience when you’re expected to travel for work, particularly overnight, most organizations expect that it is the organization’s responsibility to pay for food and accommodations. It’s not looked on as a perk, but as a cost of doing the business, and not to make up for poor compensation. Business travel can be grueling and it’s not typically to places such as Paris, France…maybe Paris, Texas, or Athens, Georgia. (No offense to either location, been there, but not as “glamorous” as Paris, France, or Athens, Greece.) And you’re absolutely right, the meeting rooms, conference centers, offices, etc. are not the “fun” that people have in mind when they sound impressed at “getting” to travel for business. And I’m sure it’s not as fun if you’re shepherding tours and don’t get any down time to explore and relax on your own. Every job looks different from the inside!

      1. Marmite

        The using food and accommodation to make up for poor pay is a legal thing, employers here are required to pay minimum wage, but they can get around it in some circumstances. One of which is to take room and board into account as pay, if it’s provided as part of your job. It makes sense in a job such as live-in nanny where you are genuinely saving on rent, but in a job where you are traveling for 3 weeks then home for three weeks you are not actually saving all that much as you still need to pay rent on the place you live in when not traveling.

        I agree, travel is viewed as a huge perk for some people, and I enjoyed it more than sitting in an office all day, but the point I was making is not really about the travel but rather that managers will often view situations very differently to employees. Our manager thought the travel was great and was constantly talking about how lucky we were to get to do it. The high turnover of employees indicates that most of the employees didn’t view it as a perk for long! I could imagine a similar view in the OP’s case, “This Caribbean ‘vacation’ is wonderful, our employees should be so grateful to have this opportunity!” is what the higher ups think, while the employees just don’t see it that way.

        (Also, I perhaps should have mentioned, I live in the UK so Paris, France is a two hour train ride away, Texas or Georgia would be a lot more exciting from here!)

        1. Anonymous

          I applied and had a phone interview with a tour company in which they asked me if I would be willing to relocate my address to another state, (I’m a Californian), because they didn’t feel they “could work with” the labor laws in my state for the “type of work” I would be doing.

          SHADY.

          1. Anonymous

            Eh, CA has some really difficult labor laws compared to other states. It can be difficult for a business based in another state to have employees in CA because of those laws, so I wouldn’t necessarily think it was shady.

            I’m also not in a hurry to leave CA and those laws that are rather employee friendly either! :)

              1. PEBCAK

                I realize you might not agree with all of the work protections that California offers, but it is illegal to ask someone to lie about their address in order to avoid them. If that’s not shady, I don’t know what is.

  12. Shannon!

    I hope we get an update to this post. I’m really intrigued to hear how this story will resolves.

    And I just love “update” posts.

  13. Runon

    Not nearly anything even close to this realm. But the team I am on many of them like to do stuff like celebrate birthdays and such. My boss has been silent about his birthday (other coworkers continue to bug him). Several of them have decided to pick a day to “Celebrate BossDude Day”.
    They want everyone on the team to dress up and bring in a huge amount of food and all this stuff. It has turned into a really big production. I mentioned to one of them privately that not everyone would appreciate something like this and that it might be a bit much for our fairly introverted Boss. Pretty much the response was wait don’t you like BossDude!?

    Should I warn BossDude? (I know I would be horrified if this was all sprung on me but I could prepare for it if I knew in advance.)

    1. Marina

      A similar thing happened to me, except my boss found out about it in advance and very angrily demanded it be canceled. It was completely awful.

      1. Runon

        Ugh. I don’t want that to happen. I think that would make a lot of the people on the team upset. And I know that BossDude’s boss knows and is ok with it. I kind of hope he’s told BossDude but I don’t know.

        1. Marina

          My coworkers were definitely upset, and basically said my boss owed it to them to be grateful they planned him a party. Which seems a little backwards to me, but whatever.

          I think in your position I might try and talk to BossDude’s boss to express your concerns.

          1. Runon

            That’s actually a really good idea. I think I could talk to his boss and then let the decision be made there. I think BossDude’s boss would be able to make a good decision either way because he knows BossDude better than I do.

            1. Marmite

              I’d be a bit careful with this, depending on your company culture it may come across as either bugging upper management necessarily, or tattling on the rest of your team, or both. Of course, it really does depend on your company and the relationship between you, BossDude, BossDude’s boss and your team.

            2. Not So NewReader

              I’d let the chips fall where they will on this one. I would not get involved in the party planning nor would I tell my boss. If the party did actually happen, I would try to be as low key as possible. If you can have that talk with the upper boss that might work out for you.

              No matter which side you stand on with this one -it’s not good. You are either a party pooper or causing the boss unnecessary discomfort.
              Can you try to find a pressing matter that appears to distract you so you appear very busy and very oblivious?

    2. Marmite

      Oh jeez! On the one hand you might save introverted BossDude some discomfort if you warn him, but on the other your co-workers may be annoyed if you “ruin” the surprise. I’d say it depends how much you like BossDude, and whether or not you’re willing to put yourself out on a limb with your co-workers in order to save him some (potential) embarrassment.

      It’s also worth keeping in mind that BossDude is, well, boss and therefore should be able to shut things down pretty quickly and get everyone back to work if he so wishes.

        1. Marmite

          Yeah, it’s a difficult call. I just also thought to add that perhaps BossDude won’t be as horrified by this as you anticipate. It’s possible that even though he may be an introvert he’ll appreciate his employees celebrating him and take it as a sign that he’s a good, or at least, well liked, boss. That’s not to say he’ll enjoy the actual fuss, but he may be able to see the good intentions behind it.

          1. Runon

            I do think he’ll see the good intentions and I don’t think he’d shut it down. But I think he might be a little better off if he isn’t surprised by it.

          2. Ask a Manager Post author

            Yeah, I’d probably stay out of it, other than pointing out to your team that your boss seems like someone who might not appreciate this. Beyond that, though, I’d trust that your boss can handle this stuff on his own; there’s too much risk of coming across as inappropriately interfering if you go beyond that.

    3. khilde

      No particular advice, but question: Why not just do something on Boss’ Day? Isn’t that in October? It’s a better cover than just arbitrarily forcing another day.

        1. khilde

          Gotcha. I’m not really good at giving advice on AAM but I suppose you could always say something to BossDude about Boss’ Day being so busy and overlooked in the office and “would you like us to do something else some other time?” That supposes a lot of things and I’m not even sure I’d phrase it that way, but it might be a way to feel out his response without necessarily “outing” anyone.

    4. Cara

      They want people to DRESS UP? Wow. I think I agree with the others about staying out of it, but definitely try to distance yourself from the event so BossDude knows you weren’t in on it. Don’t dress up or bring in food. You could always just give him a card that he can open in private.

    5. A Bug!

      This seems very silly. But it reminded me of Captain Picard Day, which boosted my spirits considerably, so thanks for your comment!

    6. Cassie

      Depends on BossDude – if he’s the type of person to throw a fit, I would say some advanced warning would be good. You don’t want BossDude to walk into the office while everyone shouts ‘Surprise!” and then stomp out angrily. If he’s the type that could handle the temporary uncomfortable-ness of a surprise party, then that would be different.

      One of my coworker friends doesn’t like to celebrate her birthday at work (we go to lunch but that’s it) and one year, her boss planned a surprise cake. I told my friend about it so she could be prepared. She’s not an introvert but she doesn’t like that kind of attention. And I know – some people will say that I’m a party pooper and all that, but I don’t care. I’m thinking of my friend’s feelings, something that they clearly weren’t doing.

    7. Revanche

      In a similar vein, I was an introverted Boss for whom staff decided to throw a Congrats thing and I wouldn’t have asked for it but my boss basically said, shuddup, they want to do something nice for you. So I shuddup and they made it into a sort of hilarious Sneaking Up on Me on a Rare Kitchen Break thing and scared me half to death.

      Not a huge deal, IMO, but we didn’t waste a ton of time, they did it because they wanted to, I didn’t ask them for it, etc. I would appreciate warning if I didn’t know but that obviously didn’t stop my group from scaring/surprising me anyway.

  14. Jaded

    My company’s starting a new tradition this year. It’s called “you get to take the rest of the year off unpaid!” no opting out.

  15. Melissa

    What the heck? Seriously. I don’t have an extra $350 just hanging around, waiting to be spent on expensive food. Do you? No? Well I would not hesitate one second … I would march into HR and just be blunt. I simply CANNOT afford to go on this trip. I don’t have the money to pay for the expensive food. If you don’t have it, you don’t have it. What can they do?

    1. Runon

      Fire you. If this is actually a required activity and you refuse to go they could fire you.

        1. fposte

          Sure, but it’s also not awesome to keep somebody on who’s ducking an obligation they agreed to upon hiring.

          1. A Bug!

            I’m not super clear on whether it was communicated up-front that the holiday was mandatory, just that if an employee committed to going and then backed out, the employee would have to reimburse the costs.

            My understanding is that it was not made clear that the trip is mandatory, which does make a difference in my view.

            1. ThatHRGirl

              They stated at the time of hire that one could back out as long as tickets had not been purchased yet. It sounds like they have recently changed this policy, and made the trip mandatory, but haven’t communicated it to anyone.

              Regardless – they’re allowed to change the terms of your employment at any given time for any given reason if you are an at-will employee and not under any employment contract (which most US employees are not, as Alison has pointed out many times before).

              In fact, I’m sure the paper OP signed upon hire that outlined the conditions of the trip has a little disclaimer that says that the terms of this agreement can be changed at any time, with or without notice to the employee.

          2. Esra

            It sounds like the only obligation on hiring was that if you committed, you would pay out the costs if it was cancelled and it was only recently that it became mandatory.

            1. fposte

              Ah, okay, I see you’re right. Doesn’t really change the options, but it makes them even less fair.

              1. Esra

                You are right on. It doesn’t make the situation any better, just a little more mind-boggling.

      1. JR

        Yeah, especially since the workplace was really upfront about it being part of the deal. Maybe the OP can suddenly have some medical aversion to hot climates? That’s the only way I can see getting out of it.

        1. ThatHRGirl

          Yes, but if the employer is really as big of a (collective) douche as they seem, they could say there’s no difference and that it doesn’t matter *why* you’re refusing to go – and might even suggest some asinine way that OP could go and still afford food, like eating a Quaker Granola bar at every meal. Who the heck knows at this point.

  16. Tammy

    I work for a place that has 3 fly in conferences per year that you must attend, plus multiple events at nearby offices that we are required to attend and support. And that doesn’t include all the regular meetings we must travel for. Everything is paid, but I’m looking for another job. My salary is based on a 45 hour week, but if you add up all the extras, it works out to closer to 55-60.

    I want my off time to be my own. I’m tired of having to cancel appointments and family things to attend yet another after hours drinkfest. It doesn’t even make sense for the type of work I do.

    1. fposte

      While it makes sense to look to move on for a job that’s not a good fit, be aware that what salary is based on for exempt employees generally isn’t an indicator of office expectations. If it’s important to you not to work 50 hour weeks, you need to investigate office culture during the hiring process.

  17. Mike C.

    So I’m taking it that paying per diem for expenses on business travel isn’t Something That Is Legally Mandated?

    What’s to stop this business from forcing employees to pay for airfare or hotel rooms? Or for training materials or office supplies? Where does the line get drawn?

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Nothing. As long as it doesn’t reduce their pay below minimum wage, an employer can make whatever arrangement it wants with its employees. Not everything is covered by laws.

      1. Mike C.

        I quite understand that not everything is covered by laws, but I do find it disturbing that one’s pay can be temporarily lowered to minimum wage just so the boss can buy something else.

        This of course is quite different from furloughs and the like.

          1. TychaBrahe

            Unless you’re a public employee union member in California, where you use them in place of time off, bank your vacation days to be paid in a lump sum upon your retirement, and get them paid at your retiring salary rather than the salary at which you were paid when you earned them.

      1. -X-

        This.

        At a certain point on the staff part it shouldn’t be “Can I not go?” but “I can’t afford to go if I have to cover so many expenses. I’ll stay in the office those days and work.” See what happens. And dust off the resume in the meantime.

  18. Guera

    I am curious if spouses go.
    If so, in addition to paying for my food I would have to pay for a kennel for our dogs and find someone to watch our daughter. If spouses don’t go there’s no way I would want my spouse to go to the Carribean with his company and without me. He would not want to go without me either.
    But I am guessing this is one of those employee-only deals. And who came up with the idea of buying the boss dinner. (Probably someone who thought they should do so as a ‘thank you’ to the boss for the trip).
    What a truly, truly awful idea.
    Can’t wait for the update!

    1. EnnVeeEl

      I bet spouses are allowed if you foot the entire bill. Which basically means they don’t want spouses to come and many probably don’t.

      The update to this will involve some major shade because spouses/partners never came to these rum-infused, sexy, beach “work trips.” There is no way my husband would be cool with this, and I wouldn’t be either.

        1. fposte

          I’ve seen it done sanely at conferences in vacation-y venues. Working spouse goes to conference, accompanying spouse sees the town, they meet for dinner at a nice restaurant and do something cool in the evening. But this doesn’t sound like the kind of work trip where you could do that–you’d either have to attend work events or your only togetherness would be when you’re asleep.

          1. KellyK

            Yep. My husband may end up having to travel to fun places where I haven’t been yet, and if he does, I will take vacation and tag along. It would end up being cheaper than a normal vacation to the same location, because we’d only pay the difference between the cost for both of us and the business-related cost (my flight and meals, but not the whole hotel cost, etc.) Somewhat less fun than a real vacation to the same location, because he would be working all day, but those are the breaks.

            But, like you said, it only works if the spouse whose company it is actually gets free time to hang out. Or maybe if it’s such an awesome trip that it’s worth going even without much couple-y together time. I mean, if they go to the Caribbean without you, you *still* don’t see them the whole week–at least this way you get to lounge on a beach with a fruity drink while not seeing your spouse.

            1. badger_doc

              Another reason why I am a fan of company sponsored trips. I get that it sucks to have to work the majority of the day, but to get the chance to travel to some place you haven’t been (I have neer been to the Caribbean) is something that I wouldn’t turn down, even if I had to buy my boss dinner and do work all day. On top of that, if my sig other could tag along at his own expense and we could have nights to hang out and enjoy the night life?? Even better! I realize $350 is a lot for people but unless the trip is 3 weeks long, I don’t understand how you can spend that much on food on a business trip.

              1. AdAgencyChick

                If you don’t get to choose where you’re eating, and you have to treat the boss? Sure, you could. OP didn’t say how long the trip was, but say it’s 5 days — $70 per day for 2 or 3 restaurant meals a day, plus snacks, drinks, etc. — doesn’t seem at all difficult to do.

                I’ve never been to the Caribbean, and if my company said I had to go, I’d be all, “SAY WHAT?!” Going to a new place is nowhere NEAR as fun when you have coworkers up in your grill the whole time.

              2. Xay

                It’s all fun and games until you find out that your work activities end at 9 and the town closes down at 10. Or you need a car to get to the fun stuff and everyone is sharing a rental car. Or you are just too tired by the end of the day to want to do anything.

          2. MeganO

            I agree with fposte – my dad’s company used to sponsor awards trips for the highest performers in each department – spouses (and kids) were encouraged. They did a few meetings but lots of other nice fun stuff, and these were beachy vacations. All the food for actual meetings and business functions was covered by the company – we were on our own for breakfasts or whatever, but my parents decided they could make that part work. Plane tix for employees and spouses were covered. They were really fun trips, and it was a much more family oriented culture. Evidently my dad had been grossed out by a previous company that had boozy sexy rewards trips where you were basically not allowed to bring your spouse and lots of people were hooking up.
            BUT the trip was a reward and I’m sure if you needed to get out of it for some reason you could.

        2. EnnVeeEl

          See, I don’t see this as a work trip. This is work related, but when they said team building, I felt it would involve “fun” activities without much work being done.

          Conferences, meetings, etc., – those are work trips to me. This…I don’t know what this is.

          1. Just a Reader

            It’s definitely a work trip. With bathing suits and possibly trust falls. *shudder*

          2. fposte

            Team building is definitely work–it’s specific exercises designed to make the working group more cohesive (I’m never sure if joining people in mutual loathing counts as a success). And since the point is the team, you really can’t open it up to the non-team anyway.

            1. Jazzy Red

              Team building is about as much fun as group therapy. I’m mostly a loner, and I needs LOTS of alone time. Group activities (except for choir) have very little appeal to me.

        3. Bess

          DH and I both sometimes have conferences overseas. We tend to go along with the other when possible — because the company is paying for the hotel and plane tickets for one of us, that means the other person gets an overseas vacation for only the cost of one set of plane tickets and food. Sometimes it’s also possible to schedule plane tickets so we fly in or out a day or two early or late, so the “working” one also has a day or so to enjoy wherever the conference is. There’s no “hanging out with colleagues” for the non-working spouse, it’s just a cheaper way to visit someplace interesting.

        4. Becky

          I went on a work trip with my spouse on a cruise ship. While he attended meetings and stuff in the mornings, I sat on the ship deck and read a book, and he had afternoons free. There was also an open bar in the evenings, which even if you don’t drink much is nice, since cruise ships are very expensive for anything that isn’t automatically included. There were other spouses there, and everyone just kind of wandered around visiting vendor booths and hanging out in the bar.

          It’s definitely not for everyone, but his company paid for my airfare and our room/cabin, and I’ll probably never go on a cruise otherwise, so it was fun to do.

          However, I cannot fathom being told that I need to take a trip that is mandatory, but that is not entirely paid for. That’s insane.

          1. Judy

            Before kids, my husband and I would try to time our trips to corporate the same weeks. Sometimes we would travel together, most of the time, I’d have to be there Monday morning, but leave on Wednesday evening, and he’s have to be there Tuesday through Thursday or some such. Even then, we’d usually be eating dinner with the people we came to meet with, especially if others came from out of town also. It was pretty much usual to meet up in the hotel room at 9pm after dinner.

            I’ve never been on a business trip that had much free time. Once on a workshop in Chicago, they arranged for a snack into our meeting room at 4pm, and then we went on the architectural boat tour on the river with dinner after. But beyond that, any conference, workshop or just plain business trip takes up nearly all of my awake time.

        5. Elizabeth

          I’ve gone with my husband to several conferences and he’s gone to one of mine. They are always in places like Las Vegas, Anaheim or Orlando, where there is something to do that isn’t sit & stare at the walls in the hotel, but if I get tired, I can go take a break.

          I won’t take my husband on another one, because he didn’t want to go out and do stuff without me and wasn’t happy that I didn’t take a lot of time away from the conference to hang out with him. I, on the other hand, have seen all of the California Disney parks, most of the Florida Disney parks & all of The Strip this way. I prefer to get a room in a suite hotel that includes laundry facilities & rooms with kitchenettes, and I see the world at my own pace.

        6. Kelly O

          I worked for a company that had a huge conference every year in Florida at a resort. The entire conference lasted about three weeks, and people came and went as their “sections” were held.

          My husband at the time came with me for a week of it, and I was there for two just me. While I worked, he went deep-sea fishing, hung out by the pool, and just generally did some sightseeing. He would come to the evening meals and “cocktail hour” when others would bring spouses too. There were generally a good number of spouses at breakfast, which was also cool with the company. Most everything was buffet-style anyway.

          Most people were there maybe three or four days, so it wasn’t so bad. Admins had it worst because we had to prep rooms and do all the usual meeting things, so it was a ton of super-long days, but overall it was not horrible. We had the time to take advantage of spa services, which we got gratis “for all your hard work.”

          That does not sound like this.

        7. Ask a Manager Post author

          Okay, point taken. But a spouse not being cool with not being able to go? That I don’t get. It’s not like company-sponsored cheating or something.

        8. The B

          I have a trip coming up and my husband wants to go because the hotel is paid anyway, so if we foot his airplane ticket he gets to see this city he’s always wanted to see and do tourist things during the day. Then we can meet up at night. We are also planning on staying an extra two days (out of our own pocket) to do some sight-seeing after my work is done.

        9. -X-

          At the moment I’m running a small workshop with participants from six countries and one brought a spouse who is doing touristy things nearby (not hanging out with us). They paid the spouse’s travel of course, and we got a hotel room deal that didn’t cost us or them extra, so it’s a win all around since the spouse wanted to visit our city. We’re having one fancy group dinner one night of the several days and the spouse is welcome to that and coming (and we’re footing the bill for this person – the working spouse has schlepped all the way here for us so it’s a small nice gesture).

          And another person wanted to do the same but couldn’t work out a visa for the spouse.

          My boss travels a lot internationally and her spouse, who is semi-retired goes on a many trips with her and does his own thing during the days.

          1. Jen in RO

            I’d try to tag along with my boyfriend anywhere he went. He can go do work stuff and I can go visit stuff! We did this in Paris when he had to work there for a week and it was great – I slept in, watched TV, walked around the city, then I picked him up from the office at 6-7 PM and we went to dinner and walked around some more. He was staying in the company’s apartment, so I didn’t have to pay for accommodation, only my plane ticket (and I’m in Europe, it wasn’t a fortune).

            [If he had to go to the US for work, I would totally pay a fortune to join him, if I got the visa.]

        10. ThatHRGirl

          Oh hell no. I don’t want my spouse to come with me. Shitty locale or not, business trips are my opportunity to SLEEP in a big nice bed, ALONE. And maybe take a bubble bath if the hotel is non-sketchy enough.

          1. Mishsmom

            ThatHRGirl, you took the words out of my mouth! and if my husband has to go on a trip, that’s my opportunity to have me time (after the kid goes to bed) – why not enjoy the rare moment alone? :)

        11. Kou

          Sometimes! My partner works somewhere now where a trip hanging out with his team would be awesome, but that’s never been the case in the past.

          And also, like with the comments above about being willing to take the vacation for the cost of food, lots of people would just take it as a vacation that’s 50% and the cost of the discount is being on best behavior because coworkers are watching. I’d take that deal. But also like above, I expect plenty of people to be appalled.

    2. Anonicorn

      I’d rather stay home on the couch and watch Downton Abbey than use vacation time from my own job to hang out with my husband’s coworkers on a work-related trip.

      But I’m a bit introverted, so there’s that.

    3. Cathy

      I bet spouses can’t go because they get rooms with two beds and put two employees in each room.

      My current company does that for our annual retreat (one night, about 2 hrs driving distance). Even when I worked at IBM long ago, they used to make us double up when traveling for training classes or for attending reward conferences.

    4. Ash

      there’s no way I would want my spouse to go to the Carribean with his company and without me

      I’m sorry, but this sentiment seems weird and controlling to me. Is your husband not an adult? Do you not want him to go because you can’t trust him? Would you force him to quit his job instead of going? I’m just completely weirded out by this reaction.

      1. ThatHRGirl

        Ditto. Is the spouse more likely to commit indiscretions in the Carribean than in Des Moines, IA or something? Hmm.

      2. Jazzy Red

        Oh, I totally get it.

        I see it as: Why should he get to go to the place I’ve always dreamed we would go together for a lovely, romantic vacation, when I have to stay home and take care of everything by myself?

        Two sides (minimum) to every story.

        1. ThatHRGirl

          Because him going now doesn’t mean you two can’t have a perfectly lovely, romantic trip in the future?

        2. Kou

          Agreed– especially if you have kids or ailing family or some other issue to handle at home that’s now 100% the other partner’s responsibility.

        3. Ask a Manager Post author

          It seems rather odd though to blame the other person for something that’s being required by work. It’s not like your spouse is just up and deciding to vacation by himself.

      3. MeganO

        I guess there’s also a couple ways to read this. One is, “there’s no way I would want my spouse to go without me AND I would pitch a fit or something about it.” Another way is, “there’s no way I would want my spouse to go without me BUT I guess if s/he has to I will just suck it up and be grouchy.” This could be either.

        Plus I guess, if you know the company culture is kind of icky, even if you trust your spouse completely, it would be hard not to be cranky about it, I imagine. I mean, I can see feeling sorry for spouse who has to deal with coworkers acting crazy and potentially directing unwanted attention. I wouldn’t enjoy dealing with that – so I can see feeling bad for your spouse.

        Maybe? Just thinking maybe there’s something else going on here.

      4. Not So NewReader

        “there’s no way I would want my spouse to go to the Carribean with his company and without me”

        There really is no such thing as a normal marriage- it’s whatever two people agree to. Yeah, this could be a control thing, but I have also seen spouses that just do not want to be without each other near by. They both agree and both are happy to live this way.

        For example: If two spouses grew up in homes where the parents constantly traveled, they could promise each other a different lifestyle because they both agreed they place a high value on coming home to each other every night.

        Conversely, maybe one spouse needs help with their insulin shot every morning and the other spouse promises “yes, I will help you.” The spouse panics at the thought of the helper spouse going away for a week. I had an family member with a medical condition that was physically impossible for him to deal with alone. Because of his embarrassment, hiring someone or asking a friend were not options. If you ever saw this man you would have NO clue that he needed this degree of help.

        Lastly, perhaps an employee just does not want to go on the trip. I have broad shoulders – if my spouse wanted to tell his boss I was upset over his trip, I would not object to the white lie. I would also know the real reason my spouse did not want to go and I would say nothing about it. (I have never done this and I do not believe it would be that effective as a technique. But I have seen people try it.)

  19. Chocolate Teapot

    I don’t like the sound of the “Forking out cash to feed Boss”. My first thought was that the restaurant would be Chez Posh, rather than pizza (or whatever the Caribbean equivalent is).

    And does this trip really benefit from taking place in the Caribbean? Couldn’t you all just stay where you are and get in some sand and a few bottles of Malibu?

  20. anongirl

    What I never get is why companies think beach trips are a good idea. I do not want to see my coworkers in their bathing suits. It just crosses that line into the unprifessional and awkward! Anything where I’m basically seeing people in underwear seems like a goven no go for work events.

      1. Jen in RO

        This was my first thought too. Apart from all the work-related stuff, now I have to worry about my body hair too?!

        1. Rana

          I don’t think I even own a swim suit that I’d be willing to wear in public at this point.

    1. -X-

      One reason is that some people like the beach and often can’t get to one.

      And in some cases the idea is to break down formal barriers by making the situation much less formal. In a similar way, that’s why group baths are used for bonding in places like Japan.

      Overall it’s generally stupid on the part of companies doing this in the US, since a lot of people don’t like this stuff. But those are two reasons. There may be others.

      1. Anonymous

        There’s the cultural difference though. I’d love to see someone try to get a group of American coworkers into a bath!

  21. EnnVeeEl

    I’m tired of companies digging in my pockets and everyone else’s to pay for “morale-boosting” activities. They want part of my paycheck for team-building activities, little bags of candy at the holidays, pizza parties, etc.

    I don’t have low morale. I don’t need a party at work. I certainly don’t want to pay for it. I want to do my best at my job and go home. I will have bad morale if you keep cutting into my paycheck to try and make me feel better, yet don’t give me a raise.

    This burns me up. And it happens at way too many companies.

    1. Yup

      Amen. Miss Manners has some great lines on this, about how the workplace is not a kindergarten so knock it off with the balloons and forced togetherness. I’m plenty social with coworkers under my steam, but quit pushing the mandatory fun on me. /rant

    2. Jane Doe

      I am always kind of suspicious of morale-boosting activities like that. Team-building activities, parties, etc. aren’t actually going to help create a culture of teamwork and high morale. Things like decent working hours, respect, decent pay, coworkers and managers who are pleasant to work with, etc. do that.

      1. Anonymous Accountant

        Exactly! I don’t know about anyone else but I feel more of a sense of “unity” and “team-like atmosphere” when co-workers pitch in and help others.

        There’s no trust falls or other team building exercises that have quite come close to how it feels when others pitch in and help out to get the work done. That I’ve found any way.

      2. KellyK

        Definitely! The only social things that really help morale and team coherence are the ones that spring up organically. If a group of coworkers decide they want to go for pizza every Tuesday, or have a Friday happy hour, great. But the minute you make it mandatory (or mandatory’s younger sibling, “strongly encouraged”), it becomes the exact *opposite* of a morale booster.

      3. Natalie

        I can’t remember where I read this, but it has been theorized that employee “benefits” like pizza parties and little prizes and so forth are popular because they feel more like gifts, so employees don’t (vocally) complain if they are taken away. Whereas employees will usually complain if you change their working hours significantly or cut their pay.

        1. EnnVeeEl

          I totally understand Natalie – but does the dynamic change when you are basically asked to pay for these things?

          I think it does. Because it seems to tell me I wouldn’t be getting these little prizes if my colleagues and I didn’t put in on it.

    3. anonz

      I once had to attend “group yoga session” for team-building, only our dress code was not relaxed for the day. That was awkward, both trying to do yoga in formal business attire, and for the three staff members whose physical issues (fused spine, recovering from carpal tunnel surgery, and arthritis) made it impossible to fully participate, and they weren’t excused!

      1. Natalie

        Everything about this sounds like the worst. I’ve done yoga for a long time, but when I was in college and first trying it, it was a little uncomfortable seeing some of my classmates in the various positions. I would definitely not want to repeat that with co-workers!

        The lack of dress code modification, or providing position modifications for the three people with physical issues, also makes me question the qualifications of that particular yoga instructor.

    4. Mishsmom

      where i work, a public university, they have a foundation that raises money for the university’s programs and activities, etc. they actually call employees to donate money as well – giving us the hard-sell. every time, politely, i explain that they have got to be kidding me. if they need my paltry salary to supplement the university, we’re all in huge trouble. ok, i don’t say it with these words, but you get my drift :)

      1. Rana

        Yup. I always figured they were benefiting enough from their refusal to pay me a living wage and benefits, that they didn’t need to gouge me for donations as well. Consider my shitty working conditions your “donation,” sirs.

  22. AB

    My first reaction, if I didn’t want to join any more of these trips, would be to talk to my colleagues to get a sense of their opinions. Perhaps enough hate the idea that together we could go talk to management, suggesting a different “team building” strategy that didn’t require people to travel.

    Having said that, I’d jump at the opportunity to an annual trip to Caribe (although not for “team building”, which I think it’s just BS — never seen it work as intended).

    I love to travel and like others here have taken advantage of travelling with my husband to visit other countries when he has a conference to attend, getting together in the evenings after his work is done and enjoying museums and city tours on my own while he is working.

    My husband often asks me to accompany him to business trips so we can explore the place in his spare time. I wouldn’t mind exploring the place on my own, but he needs company to enjoy tourism, and since I can work from distance and often have comp time available, it works well for us. Lots of his colleagues also bring their spouses to international trips and it’s well accepted within his company’s culture.

    If the OP is in a company where most people like the opportunity to travel, then I don’t think there’s much to do but take AAM’s advice and decide if you want the job under these conditions.

  23. K Too

    OP, please give an update about your situation. What is your industry? I’m trying to imagine having to put aside money for a forced company cruise AND having to buy my boss dinner on top of that. It may be within the companies legal rights, but this burns me up. $350 is a car payment, partial rent, utilities, etc.

    Have other co-workers complained about these trips as well or do they put themselves in debt in order to help boost “team morale”?

        1. Anonymous

          I, too, love updates, and I wish OPs would comment more and answer recurring questions. I find myself scrolling through many of the coments to see if they have. Alison, when an OP comments with an update, maybe you could flag that below the original question.

          1. PuppyKat

            Alison, when an OP comments with an update, maybe you could flag that below the original question.

            I like this idea!

  24. Tara B.

    Read this out loud to my husband and saw the Freudian slip in this sentence: “Can they do that, force us to do someone we cannot afford to do?” I’m guessing you probably mean something, not someone. :)

  25. Cassie

    There’s been a mention of a staff retreat floating around our offices, but I think they mean it more like the “faculty retreat” where the faculty hole up in some hotel meeting room for a day and discuss various work topics. Sure, the location might be nice (they once went to Santa Barbara) but it’s not really a “retreat” per se.

    This is a really bad idea for our office – yes, there is low morale and a negative environment (thanks to the management style at the top) but forcing people to spend time outside the office is not going to fix that. People aren’t just going to open up and share their honest opinions about work just because they are now off-site.

    I would absolutely hate to spend any time outside of work with my coworkers. I like some of them, I dislike others, and are cordial to all of them, but if I have to see them more than necessary, it would drive me batty. And going somewhere, like the Caribbean, would essentially feel like I was stuck on a deserted island with them (not being able to do things on my own, not being able to go home if I wanted to, etc).

  26. Cube Ninja

    Tsk, AAM readers. All this talk of money and Carribean vacations and expensive food and nobody brings up passports?

    Plenty of Americans don’t have one (as you’d have no reason at all to get one unless you travel outside the US). A conventional passport book will run you an additional $135.00 if you haven’t already got one. Heck, the only reason *I* have a passport is because I moved from Canada to the US … ohgodifeeloldnow over ten years ago.

    1. EnnVeeEl

      You are so right Cube Ninja.

      I have a passport, my entire family, including the kiddos, have passports – but many Americans don’t. It was around that much the last time I got mine renewed.

      Another added expense for this “team-building” exercise. I can’t with this company.

    2. Gracie

      Good point, Cube Ninja. I only got a passport b/c in college, I was able to go to London for spring break as part of a group trip. The only reason I renewed it last year is because even though there were no overseas trips lined up, I figured, “it’s probably easier to renew it just in case, instead of letting it expire and then finding out I’ll need it down the road.” Like what if a family member was traveling abroad and ran into an emergency and then I needed to get to them right quick?
      But I’m a freak who worries about everything so I don’t assume that most of my coworkers would have passports already.

    3. Natalie

      I always forget most Americans don’t have passports. Even if I hadn’t done a term abroad in college, I probably would have gotten mine just because it seemed logical to have one. But I suppose it is a huge PITA if you don’t actually have anywhere to go.

    4. Cara

      I didn’t think about the passport, but it sounds like a great excuse not to go! “Gosh, I was sooooo looking forward to doing the ropes course with you and all, but wouldn’t you know, those silly bureaucrats lost track of my passport application! Rats! Have a pina colada for me!”

    5. Your Mileage May Vary

      Do you have to have a passport to go to the U.S. Virgin Islands? Last time I was there, you just needed your driver’s license but perhaps things have gotten stricter.

      1. Natalie

        They tightened the requirements a few years ago. It appears the State Department is now issuing a passport card that you can use in Mexico, Canada, the Caribbean, and Bermuda, but only if you are traveling overland or by boat. You can’t use it for air travel.

    6. MeganO

      Oh my god you’re right. I didn’t even think of that – mine must have been cheaper last time? Yeesh that’s steep, and LOTS of people don’t already have one.

    7. Kou

      I thought one of the reasons the Caribbean is so popular is because many places have travel arrangements with the US that don’t necessitate a passport, but I am now unsure if I read that somewhere or if I just assumed. Or perhaps I am conflating passports and actual immigration paperwork. Orrr maybe it’s like Natalie said and it’s all different from when I heard that.

  27. Jazzy Red

    A forced vacation with my co-workers? Sounds like hell on earth to me.

    I’ll bet I could explain it to the unemployment lady if I got fired for refusing, though.

  28. mel

    Heck, I don’t even like going to the staff parties. I usually end up that one awkward person sitting in the corner of the room with no one to talk to, watching all the kids get drunk and knowing I’d have to clean up all of that vomit the next morning.

    I’d rather just sit it out.

  29. Andrea

    Ugh. I hate the beach. I hate sand; it gets everywhere. Everywhere. I hate hot weather. I have sensitive skin that also burns easily, and I get heat rashes too, so I wear head-to-toe clothing and coverings when I am outside working in my garden or walking the dog or whatever—big hats, long sleeves, SPF all over, etc., etc. If I were the OP, I might try to get a doctor’s note or medical exception or something. I’m not sure that would work here, since this company sounds unreasonable anyway, but it might be worth a shot if any of these problems apply to you. That said, I think the personal expenses angle ought to be persuasive enough, but again, I don’t think this company sounds likely to be swayed by logic or fairness.

    1. Jamie

      Nice to know I’m not the only one. As someone who is a 1 on the Fitzpatrick Skin Type Scale AND squicked out by the feel of sand clinging to sticky skin the beach is my idea of a nightmare.

      I’ve gotten sun poisoning through a car window in Chicago – I shudder to think how many layers of skin I’d lose in the Caribbean. Even as a teenager I’d go and pretend to enjoy it because it seems like nothing brands you as a stick in the mud faster than hating something that it seems most everyone considers paradise.

    2. Rana

      Agreed. I’m actually a fairly outdoorsy person, and tolerant of sun, but beaches have never done it for me. If I’m going to put up with sand, I’d rather go to the desert where the hiking is interesting; if I’m going to be at the coast, I’d rather it be a cloudy day where I can go beach-combing. Sitting in the sand baking and sweating is not my idea of a good time.

  30. Gmac

    A trip with my colleagues? Each year at Christmas and at nearly every leaving “get together” I’m off with this sickness bug. I’m normally paid to spend time with them for a reason! So why would I do it in my own time?!

  31. Mishsmom

    my grandfather used to say that “chutzpah” is pooping on someone’s doorstep and then ringing the doorbell for toilet paper. this company that OP works for, just rang that doorbell. ugh!

    i wish all of you and your co-workers OP would just all say “sorry, can’t do it” (too expensive, bs, etc) – they’re not going to fire all of you… but i know the real world does not work that way :(

    OP, i hope you update us, and GOOD LUCK!

  32. Not So NewReader

    I would be curious to find out what “proof” the company has that this team building experience is working out for them. Are they seeing higher productivity? Perhaps they are seeing sharper ideas developing?

    How do they measure the ROI for this trip?

    Do they have concrete examples of how this trip works for people? Something similar to “Betty had the opportunity to talk with Jane and Bill. Together they brainstormed and managed to save the company $50K per year. Ordinarily, these three people would not have had time for a sit down convo such as this one.”

    What are the hidden costs to the employee? I see passport expense and that probably does not factor in use of personal time and gasoline. Personally, I would have to buy all new luggage, what I have would not be able to handle and airplane ride. I can see where hidden costs could easily top $1000 in out of pocket for the employee.

    I am getting stressed out just thinking about this trip and I am not even going on it.

  33. likesdesifem

    It’s simply that firm’s corporate culture.

    Whilst team-building exercises per se are healthy and can be an important reward/motivational tool, I think your options are limited.

  34. Editor

    The OP says this year the company is saying people can’t opt out of the trip. I wonder if some genius booked some kind of group deal based on the number of employees and confirmed the number before checking to make sure everyone could go on the trip.

    I wonder if this firm has turnover right after the team-building trip, because people leave as soon as they can after the trip so they don’t have to pay for next year’s trip.

  35. Jen M.

    OP, I agree with some of the others. I don’t see any other option than talking to management and HR. It’s incredibly unfair that they’d make this mandatory, creating a financial hardship, and not give people an “out.” I’d also get my resume up to snuff, if I were you.

    I can honestly say that this would be an unsustainable expense for me. As I mentioned in one of my other comments, my mortgage is very high, as are my bills. (The Qaurters are especially bad!) There is NO WAY ON EARTH I could afford to go on this trip if the food wasn’t covered.

    Plus, is the company dictating where people can eat? What if you have food allergies or restrictions (I’m a vegan), and none of the food you can eat is available?

    This “trip” sounds like a nightmare for that reason alone. (Not covering the cost of food.)

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  37. Anne Marie

    We are now been made pay for team building events. This is not on our contract but manager said we have to pay whether we attend or not. Mostly these are outside work hours but i have a family and dont always get to these, but still have to pay. I have been working there for 20 years and this is not typical in our firm.

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