is it fair for a company to restrict perks to spouses?

A reader writes:

I’m a recent college graduate. Unfortunately, despite many interviews, I have been unable to find full-time employment in my field, or anything remotely close to my field. In the meantime, I have been working at a local themed hotel, because I figure a job is better than no job at all.

My question pertains to some of our employee policies and perks. For our annual holiday party, I was given an RSVP slip for me to say whether or not I’m attending and what my spouse’s name was. I turned my slip in to my manager stating that I would be attending with a parent. My manager then told me that employees were only allowed to bring a spouse, no other guest, and unmarried employees need to come alone. When I asked why this rule was in place, I was told that the hotel had too many employees for each employee to bring a guest, so the only guests allowed were spouses. (Our hotel is very busy during the holiday season, so our holiday party is in mid-January.)

Strangely enough, we also have a free overnight stay guaranteed to us in the hotel anytime during the month of January. When I went to our Human Resources office to request a form for my overnight stay, I was promptly told that I was only eligible to bring a spouse or my family to my overnight stay — no friends or significant others unless it’s a spouse.

My question is, do they have a right to restrict this? It doesn’t seem fair to unmarried employees and also seems somewhat discriminatory. I was wondering if there was a specific place I could complain anonymously about this. All of these rules are actually in our employee handbook. I don’t think I’m asking for a lot here, just to take a parent out to a nice dinner at our party, and to bring my boyfriend to stay with me and enjoy the hotel’s amenities. Can you give me any insight into this? I would really appreciate it.

Yes, they have the right to do this. And it’s not at all uncommon for for a company to restrict holiday party invitations to employees and spouses. I personally think it’s more reasonable to extend the invitations to spouses and significant others, but it’s not uncommon to do it this way, particularly at more old-fashioned companies.

You could certainly suggest that the company invite significant others as well — perhaps pointing out that in this day and age, many people are in long-term, live-in relationships but not married, and that not everyone is even legally allowed to marry the person who is for all intents and purposes their spouse. But I wouldn’t do it as a complaint, just as a suggestion for how the company could make the party (which is presumably intended as a morale-builder) more enjoyable for everyone.

And sure, you could suggest it anonymously, but why? As long as you’re being polite and not pushy, and as long as you’re graceful in accepting “no” as an answer, this is a perfectly reasonable conversation to have and you don’t need to go all cloak-and-dagger on it.

As for the hotel stay:  It’s not uncommon for perks like using the company’s facilities to be restricted to family members — think, for instance, of employee discounts that can be used by family but no others. Now, in this particular case — a one-time hotel stay, rather than an ongoing discount that could be used without limits — I don’t see why they can’t simply offer it to you and any guest of your choice, but again, sometimes companies do restrict perks to family members.

Regardless, I wouldn’t get too worked up about any of this. Remember, these are perks, not entitlements, and the company isn’t doing anything particularly radical with these polices.

Now, a separate issue that I’ve been dying to get to throughout this answer:  You really don’t want to bring a parent to a company holiday party. It would be so unusual to do that it would stand out and get you labeled as young and … well, Millenial in all the worst meanings of the stereotype. Interestingly, this is something that might be charming if an older employee did it, but if you do it as a recent grad, you’re just going to come across as Not Quite Grown-Up Yet.

{ 110 comments… read them below }

  1. Joey

    I wonder how they treat same sex partners….that is if the op is in a state that doesn’t recognize same sex marriage.

    Be glad you even have a holiday party. When I worked at a couple of really expensive hotels when I was younger none of them ever had staff holiday parties. The only holiday perk I got from any of them was a free turkey and extra pay for working the holidays.

    1. Anonymous

      I would cheerfully and happily take the food and pay rather than go to our painfully dull “Employee Appreciation Day”.

    2. Naama

      Yeah, if they’re in a state where employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is illegal but marriage equality isn’t a right yet, it would be unlawful to restrict attendance to (opposite-sex) spouses.

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        I’m not positive about this, but I actually think it would still be legal. (Stupid, but legal.) Discrimination laws refer to employment actions (hiring, firing, promoting, salary, etc.) but not generally to stuff like what non-employees are invited to a holiday party.

        1. anon-2

          Depends where you are, AAM.

          Here in Massachusetts, same-sex marriage is legal, defined as a right, and generally, socially accepted.

          Having a “significant other” of the opposite sex — even without marriage — is also socially accepted in most quarters, even outside of Massachusetts.

          But getting back to the same-sex marriage thing — I’d think that if a company used company funds to hold a company event and excluded employees’ spouses and partners based on sexual preference, yeah, I’d think it might raise a legal stink. It shows a pattern of discrimination. At least where same-sex marriages are legal.

          1. Ask a Manager Post author

            It could be used as one piece of evidence among many to show a pattern of discrimination, yes. But the act on its own would almost certainly not be illegal (because it’s not an employment “action” like hiring, firing, promoting, etc.). It could be used to paint a picture of the landscape at the company to support a charge of discrimination in hiring, firing, promoting, hostile work environment, etc. though.

  2. Anonymous

    “You really don’t want to bring a parent to a company holiday party.”

    This struck me as incredibly odd too. OP, why in the world would you want to bring a parent? How old are you? That is just too weird.

    1. Onery PR

      Well, I’m in my 30s, unmarried, and I bring my mom to work functions a lot (we have an exorbitant amount of work functions). None of my co-workers think it’s odd, and I guess I never assumed it was something to think of as odd until now. I’m sure it’d be much more odd if I brought a random date to things. But I work for a small company that is very family friendly and accepting of people. Plus my mom is awesome! Way more so than most of my co-workers’ spouses ;)

      1. Anonymous

        Not that its anyones business but I bet your co workers wonder about your sexuality, whether or not you’re still on the nipple or what your mom is trying to gain. Are you sure they don’t think it’s weird?

        1. Anon

          Yeah, this is definitely weird. I’m in my 30s, too, and would never ever consider bringing my mom a work function. Maybe they aren’t telling you to your face, but your coworkers might still think it’s a little strange. I’m sure they are very accepting people, but regardless, it’s still an odd habit.

        2. Anonymous

          We had several employees bring non-spousal family members to our last function. Maybe it’s your workplace that’s odd.

          1. Anonymous

            This is definitely not the norm. I’ve worked in many places over the course of my career and have never, ever seen this happen.

              1. mishsmom

                when we have functions one of my co-workers always brings both her parents and we’ve gotten to know them over the years. when they don’t come we all wonder where they are – we adore them! we never wondered about her or why she’s bringing them, we just know that that’s who she wants to bring so why not? it may not be “the norm” but what is? and as long as nice people come to the event, who among us colleagues cares what the relationship is? why jump to conclusions? why judge? :)

          2. Stacy

            The closest I’ve seen to this in one of my former non-profit workplaces is parents of staff attending fundraisers as supporters of the organization. I guess, in a way, that might be odd too. But then again, this organization was in a rather small town were a lot of people who were born there, basically, died there. So, interconnectedness (that’s a word, right?) to ones community might have be more at play than anything else.

            Now you’ve got me thinking about this…

            1. Ask a Manager Post author

              Ah, for fundraisers, I think it’s different. That’s a situation where the organization wants as many people to attend as possible, and it’s not a staff party.

      2. Anonymous

        I think a random date would be way less odd and would show that you are looking for a mate and not just living as a perpetual child. I would really be weirded out if a coworker brought her mom (no matter how cool she is) to work functions. I know that is unfair since it is great that you are so close to your family, but that’s just how it is. There are many other places you can go with your mom other than those associated with your job.

        1. Anon.

          You would be ‘wierded out’ if someone brought their mom? Really???? That sounds like you are the one with the issue in this type of situation. Why in the world would you be ‘wierded out’?? Get over it.

          As for bringing the random boyfriend? Yeh, I’ll take the big skip on that – at least I know how my mom will behave!

        2. Artemesia

          The only work function that a parent should attend IMHO is an event that is held in honor of the particular person. Say you won a national award in your field and the office held a party for honoring you for that. Then a parent might be seen as not totally strange.

          Otherwise, it could not more effectively telegraph ‘I am still a child.’

      3. jmkenrick

        Could be off, but the way I tend to see it is that companies throw these parties for their employees. Significant others tend to be treated socially as ‘units’. This is a person whom you’ve chosen be your partner as you go through life. It’s a nice perk to bring them to work parties, so you have a ‘partner-in-crime,’ so they can experience a big portion of your life that normally they might not be privy to .

        People don’t generally view parents in that same way, so it might seem more like you’re taking advantage of the free food.

        1. ThatHRGirl

          I agree. We limit attendance to the employee, spouse or significant other, or children living in the home. If someone is single with no children, they may bring a guest of their choosing (whoever they want).

          I constantly have people complain that they cannot bring their brothers, sisters, parents, or grandchildren is the big one. And some people get so angry and resentful.

          One lady had her grandchildren write ME a letter stating how it was “dumb” and “unfair” that they weren’t allowed to attend our summer picnic. LOL!

          1. mishsmom

            oh my, ThatHRGirl, that is one of the most rude things i’ve ever heard! her grandchildren wrote a letter??! wow! LOL

            1. Anonymous

              Anyone pulling a stunt like that in my workplace (her grandkids? Wow!) would be fired without question.

            2. ThatHRGirl

              Yes. I don’t have any kids currently (although i’m cooking one at the moment, it’s still got awhile to go)… but my boss who was in the room at the time the lady “presented” this to me told her that she usually uses opportunities like that to teach her children that they can’t always have everything they want, and that sometimes NO just means no.

              The best part was that she demanded I read it right then-and-there, in front of her.

              The sense of entitlement of some people is just absolutely disgusting. Nevermind that it costs the company tens of thousands of dollars and months worth of work (we have small team of people devoted entirely to associate events) to put this together, that we HAVE to limit it or else the cost would become astronomical.

          2. Veronica

            how do you word it for a company picnic? that ee, spouse, significant other, children can be guests – plus for singles that they may bring a guest of their choosing? we’re sending out invites ASAP and we’re stuck!

    2. yeah!

      Oh, I totally agree, it’s really ODD to bring mom to work parties. My husband’s team throws parties on weekends and invite spouses. There is one guy who shows up (twice now), bringing his pregnant wife and a kid, and the wife’s mom! And the mom doesn’t speak english, so she was just walking around with the kid. I couldn’t help but wonder, who in the world would do that to his mother in law.

      1. Anonymous

        That’s the kind of weird that would make me question whether that is someone I want to work with.

      2. Elsie

        This strikes me as culturally insensitive. For some people, a parent/grandparent, especially one who lives with the family, is just as a part of the immediate family unit as two parents/child. After all, Michelle Obama’s mother lives in the White House to take care of her grandchildren! I don’t disagree that there needs to be some kind of limit for employees’ guests for work functions for logistical reasons. But I don’t think it’s right for the employer to pass judgment on who that guest should and shouldn’t be, and by virtue who does and doesn’t “count” as family.

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          Except that not all office parties are for “family.” They’re for employees, and if those employees are part of a social unit (i.e., spouse or significant other), then the other part of that unit too. It’s pretty common to invite married couples as a unit, but not kids, parents, uncles, etc.

          1. Elsie

            Then why not just restrict it to one guest, and the employee gets to decide who that is? That’s what my org does for our holiday party.

        2. Katya

          I agree. If you are allowed to bring “a guest” to a family function, it should be allowed to be a parent, family member or friend. I think those who are complaining about its being “bizarre” are being close minded and overly reactive.

          1. Anonymous

            With the job market the way it is, why would anyone even want to risk looking immature, odd, etc., by inviting their mommy to a work event? It truly is admirable that some families are this connected. With that said, I have a son who I love with all my heart. However, if he invited me to his work event I would decline. I know how strange it would look for me to go with him and I would not want to risk harming his career. I’m not his prom date either.

  3. Anonymous

    As I was reading this, my first instinct was a cringe to bringing the parent. While I can see my mom driving me to work when my car is in the shop (and so she can keep her car during the day – no public transportation between me and my job either), I don’t bring her inside, and the same goes for my dad. I don’t want my parents there because when I get home, they are going to make comments and start asking 20 questions that I don’t need thrown at me (because they tend to tell me how to run my life if I let them know too much). As nice as the notion sounds that you would like to treat your parent to a nice meal at the holiday party, you should take the same sentiment and use some money you have made to take him/her out a nice restaurant some place away from work. I totally get it, just not there at the hotel which is your workplace!

    And I think the whole spousal invite goes along with the grown up ordeal. Yes, it should include significant others (boy/girlfriends, partners, and spouses) because times are changing.

    One other thing – if it is spelled out in your employee handbook, then why are you getting all uptight about it by wanting things you knew weren’t allowed?

  4. Jamie

    As a spouse who has had to attend work functions for my husband, I would lobby for all such invitations to include parents, pets, hairdressers, random people you meet in the gas station…and specifically exclude spouses, thank you very much.

    Those things are brutal and in my many years in the work force I’ve met maybe two people who enjoyed them…and hundreds who go out of obligation.

    1. Anonymous

      Ha ha, I know what you mean! My husband is in sales and I get dragged to so many work functons where I have to play like Betty Draper and dress all up and be the Perfect Wife. It’s exhausting and not at all fun but it helps us pay the mortgage so I go along with it. I would much rather he be allowed to take the cat instead; she would adore the attention!

  5. Rana

    I have to say, when I first started reading this, I thought it was going to be a question about the ethics of extending perks to spouses but not to live-in partners, and I was right there in wondering. But to wonder why these perks aren’t extended to other people? That’s a bit like wondering why you can have your husband or wife on your health insurance plan, but not your sister or roommate. Personally, I think you should be able to legally designate anyone (or even several people) to share in some sort of binding contract akin to civil marriage, but that’s not how our society works right now. Given that, expecting a company to go beyond the legal and social norms on this issue is a bit unfair.

    I also think it’s weird to want to invite a parent to one of these things. Also, in my experience, the only reason most people bring their spouses isn’t because it’s a treat for the spouse, but because it’s expected. Inviting someone to a function because it’s free isn’t much of a treat; it makes you look cheap, among other things.

  6. Jamie

    The spouse thing actually seems based on etiquette rules, as strange as it may seem.

    The rules per Miss Manner’s dictate that for mixed social events it’s you invite married couples together. She’s also opposed to the +1 trend at weddings. Invite the people you know, and don’t allow them to bring their own company…the only exception is where you invite the unknown spouse because socially a married couple is treated as a unit.

    While I agree with her completely about social events – nothing offered by an employer is ever a social event (no matter how much they try to dress it up.) It’s a business event and perk.

    I don’t agree with the overnight limitation to spouses – but I was just kind of struck the policy seems to be based on misapplying perfectly good social rules to work place situations. Weird.

    On a different note – the OP states that he/she hasn’t been able to find full-time work, which I assume means that this is a part time job. Most part timers don’t get perks or discounts, to my knowledge, so complaining that they aren’t inclusive enough seems somewhat entitled.

    1. Jamie

      For the record I personally would treat partners who are living together in the category of spouses…I think that’s the intent of the rule is the commitment constitutes treating them socially as a unit. I certainly wouldn’t exclude same sex partners if they were in areas where they couldn’t legally marry.

      One of the joys of pair bonding is getting dragged to each other’s horribly boring work events and then curling up in fleece with some hot cocoa when you get home and ruthlessly mock everyone.

      1. Scott Woode

        “One of the joys of pair bonding is getting dragged to each other’s horribly boring work events and then curling up in fleece with some hot cocoa when you get home and ruthlessly mock everyone.”

        Absolutely. The evening is made even better if the cocoa has real marshmallows (and possibly some quirky holiday movie playing in the background).

        1. Piper

          That was meant for Jamie’s last paragraph. Not that your last paragraph wasn’t stellar, Scott Woode. I just really liked Jamie’s. :-)

          1. Scott Woode

            No worries, Piper. I was also rather enamored with Jamie’s sentiments, hence my response. ;)

      2. Elizabeth

        Miss Manners agrees with you, actually – she’s written multiple times that people in committed long-term relationships should often be both included, because they are important to each other. What she’s opposed to are single people getting annoyed when they can’t bring a random date to a wedding.

        1. Anon

          I whole heartedly agree that single people should not be allowed to bring dates to weddings. It’s the best place to meet chicks :-)

    2. fposte

      Absolutely. I think the plus-one phenomenon has made a lot of people believe that the extension of an invitation to one’s other half is some kind of BOGO and it’s up to them to choose the other person, when its underlying point is “We’re not asking you to leave the person you live with home alone during socializing hours.”

  7. Joey

    Funny that so many dread the holiday party. At my current job where there never was a holiday party a group of employees went out of their way to poll the staff, ask for management support (money and appoval) and organize a staff holiday party all by themselves. Sure not everyone went, but a large majority went and commented how cool it was to be in a social setting with their SO’s, immediate co workers, and the employees from other locations.

    1. Jamie

      I bet the reason that party worked is because it was something people wanted and proactively organized. Also, you don’t mention anything about the people who opted out facing professional consequences.

      The people who have a problem with holiday parties are when they are mandatory (even if unspoken) but cloaked so you need to pretend you’re there of your own volition.

      1. Joey

        Of course there are always consequences even if they are unspoken, but there are consequences for every action we take. But I also think the consequences are greater the higher you are on the food chain. An entry level person probably isn’t going to see much impact beyond feeling excluded when people talk about the party. A manager on the other hand would have their commitment to their team questioned But it’s a choice. The higher up you are on the ladder the more expected you are to go to these types of functions. Is it fair? I think so. how would you feel if the CEO never attended any employee functions? Most employees just don’t care how busy she is. All they know is that she never attends so they draw their own conclusions. The higher up you are the less excuses matter. That goes for anything.

        1. Jamie

          Personally, I would be okay with the CEO never attending employee functions, because in my perfect world there would be no employee functions to attend.

          Seriously, though – this is one of those issues where reasonable people have wildly divergent viewpoints. It all depends on where one falls on the old Work/Social event meter.

          It is one of my most deeply held beliefs that it’s ridiculous to make any kind of party or work event which is about socializing mandatory – even it’s the mandatory part is unspoken. I give anywhere between 55-60 hours to my employer most weeks. I’m on call 24/7 for emergencies. I do this without too much complaining because it’s part of the job. I would have no problem working an extra 10 hours if needed…but would resent to the core of my being having to spend 2 hours at an after work party.

          It’s the principal. I hate being forced into awkward social situations and if they don’t need me in a business capacity the least they can do is let me choose how I spend my off hours. All of them. I consider it an intrusion and it’s just rude.

          And for the record I do like my co-workers, and have spent time with several outside of work which was great. By our choice. That’s the key.

          That said – what Joey is saying is absolutely 100% correct. The reality is there are political ramifications to opting out and you can boost your career by attending. In the real world, that is the way it is…I just hate it.

          If surveyed I would be willing to bet that most people don’t have the same visceral reaction to these events as I do. But I would also make book on the fact that not as many people enjoy them as employers want to believe.

          I truly think my place has the perfect system. Catered lunch on the company’s dime…and on the company’s time. Management expresses appreciation for the efforts of the previous year and the whole thing is limited to an hour after which you can head out early.

          You can’t beat that, imo.

  8. Andrea

    Ms. Green:

    For our amusement, I think you should have a post where people could write in about the worst holiday work party they’ve attended. I say this mid-January at an agency that annually compounds the bad employee morale by having no budget or directive on a holiday gathering, leaving things to employee contribution and planning. This year, our floor was told at 3:30 PM that there would be lunch available for $20 the next day. This also included the turkey our big boss was given as a Thanksgiving gift by a vendor cooked up, after having sat unthawed in the employee fridge for more than a week.

    I think this is a key workplace issue that many employers flub year after year. I’ve resorted to taking my team out to a nice New Year lunch that I pay for. We skip the “holiday” craziness and I don’t put the financial burden on them. Holiday gatherings are such a touch point for perceptions about how you do or do not value your staff.

      1. Anonymous

        I missed posting about my former company’s party. A group of scientists and engineers. As one of the newer engineering hires started throwing up in a fake potted plant, one of the older scientists remarked to me, “You can drink until you pass out and no one will say anything, but if you lit up a cigarette everyone would ask you to leave.” I miss that job. No wait, I don’t.

        1. ThatHRGirl

          Or the one where my female subordinates started dry-humping eachother on the dancefloor and making out with eachother while our Director & HR Manager cheered? All the while, my coworker was throwing up all over herself in the bathroom and I had to call her 18 year old child to see if they could pick her up. And then the husband of one aforementioned dry-humper got wind of the activities and showed up wanting to start fights with someone.

          Yep… I don’t miss that job either :)

    1. HDL

      Ah, here’s an excuse to relate my all-time favorite holiday party moment! As a first-year graduate student at my department’s holiday party, I exchanged pleasantries with a much-respected faculty member (an MD/PhD who does some high-profile work in his field). His end of the conversation went something like this: “Goin’ for the beer, too, huh? … I’m so f^&%ing drunk!”

      1. Anonymous

        I worked at a cash-strapped school which had a holiday potluck each year. At the last one I attended (before my glorious departure), one of the professors strode in smelling of alcohol, sampled a few items, and then announced to the room that she was “absolutely horrified” by the “terrible selection of food” and then demanded to know who the caterer was so she could “lodge a formal complaint with the city”.

      2. Anonymous

        As a first-year graduate student at my department’s holiday party, I exchanged pleasantries with a much-respected faculty member (an MD/PhD who does some high-profile work in his field). His end of the conversation went something like this: “Goin’ for the beer, too, huh? … I’m so f^&%ing drunk!”

        I thought learning that you should never try drinking academics under the table was more usually done during the undergraduate years? That said, as a graduate, they will occasionally let you into the SCR, where the good stuff is stashed.

  9. Scott Woode

    I also found it strange that management would place such limits on attendees at a gathering where the “sole” intent is to increase morale. I also agree that because these stipulations are in the handbook that they shouldn’t be treated with much more than a quick suggestion regarding their applicability to the state of “relationships” in today’s society.

    I would like to mention, as an aside, that the OP did comment that “a job is better than no job at all.” If this attitude is truly how s/he feels, then why get so bent out of shape about the policies in place at a particular employer that is only serving as a stop-gap while searching for (and hopefully landing) the “dream job” that is more in-tune with his/her career goals? It would seem more appropriate to simply adopt the thick skin that so many people who work in hospitality wear and bow out of the holiday party after one drink, spending the remainder of the evening with Mom/Dad/Significant Other. That to me sounds like a better holiday celebration than any “local themed hotel” could put together.

  10. Karen

    I’m pretty off-put by this rule. Not only does it exclude same-sex couples who live in states where they cannot marry, but it excludes people who choose not to marry (this includes a rapidly increasing number of opposite sex couples).

    The logic behind this company’s policy is silly…they don’t have enough of a budget to include a +1 for everyone? Well what if more people start to get married? Where’s the ‘fine line’ where they get rid of the +1’s altogether? I suspect that there isn’t one. It’s either a poorly-made arbitrary choice, or a way of imposing their traditional values on employees. Either way…not cool.

    I totally get AAM’s reasoning regarding this being simply a perk and not an entitlement. But personally, if my partner isn’t welcome simply because he’s not married to me, then I wouldn’t feel terribly welcome at the party either. I’d pass on it.

    1. jmkenrick

      I agree that it’s silly to exclude unmarried couples, but I understand only wanting employees to bring significant others rather than parents.

      1. Karen

        I think it’s odd to bring a parent, personally. It adds a strange dynamic to the event. But, just in terms of fairness with +1’s, it doesn’t seem right to specifically exclude anyone. I’m sort of in the “+1’s for everyone or +1’s for no one” camp.

  11. Elizabeth

    I’ve brought my mom to an employees wedding but I have no friends and didn’t want to go alone.

    The hotel thing seems dumb. There are tons of times my mom will get a hotel room and i’ll go with her. I just don’t go in with her when she checks in. How will they know?

  12. Tyler

    I don’t think it’s all that weird to bring a parent to a one-off party. Some people really get along with their parents like friends, and it’s better than going stag if everyone else is going to have someone else there with them. At least you’ll have someone else there to talk to.

    I don’t think I’d judge someone as being young and “on the nipple” just because they brought a parent with them to a party.

    1. TREX

      I agree. My daughter and I live together. We’re best friends. We are both single. If she is invited to a xmas party and doesn’t want to go alone, I am the logical choice to go with her. It really is up to the management who attends the party as to whether they would judge the employee negatively or not. But I do agree that for certain jobs that you need to “play the corporate game”, you might not want to chance it. But for many other jobs…who cares!

    2. Dawn

      I don’t see anything wrong with bringing a parent to an event once. Maybe mom’s in town for just a couple days and this is one of his/her only opportunities to spend time with her.

      If it happened at every event then, yeah, that would be odd.

  13. Kristinyc

    I think it’s a really unfair policy for unmarried people. For the party, if the company can’t afford to allow everyone to bring a guest, then no one should. My company chose an open bar over allowing guests (but limiting drink amounts). It’s giving married people a special preference, and more opportunity to enjoy the party than everyone else. I think this is different than wedding etiquette, because it’s not like this is a once in a lifetime event. Presumably, the company wouldn’t know spouses any more than boyfriends or parents.

    And for those of you saying, “Well, unmarried people in “serious” relationships should be allowed to bring their partner – how would they possibly define a “serious” relationship? Some people move in together after a year, some after 10 years. Some people get married after 6 months. I don’t think there would be a fair way to tell someone whether or not his/her relationship is serious enough to bring a date.

    Same thing with the hotel room – why should they care if you bring a guest? Is the company super conservative, and that’s why they don’t want unmarried people sleeping in the same room? This is bonkers.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      I agree with you, and it’s not a policy I’d ever implement. But it’s also not an uncommon one, so I don’t think the OP should get too bent out of shape about it.

      1. Kristinyc

        Absolutely. I think if my company had that policy, I just wouldn’t attend the party.

        And I agree with you about how this is a perk, not something the OP is entitled to have, but I think perks like that should be equal for everyone.

        (Of course, I’m saying this as an unmarried-but-in-a-4-year-relationship- millennial. :) )

      2. Anon.

        It’s interesting that so many have described the OP as getting bent out of shape.. now, you say it like that too! There was no ‘getting bent out of shape’. Just a question. From a person with not a lot of experience in office holiday parties.. so I think folks should stop mischaracterising. Also, the ‘being on the nipple’ line was just rude.

        It really just depends on the company culture. I’ve seen folks bring a parent at several companies I’ve worked at. It just depends.

    2. The gold digger

      I agree, but I have far more of a problem with companies that pay the family insurance (all three of them – I guess we’re lucky if they pay the employee share these days) but don’t give an extra benefit to single employees. Basically, you get a pay raise for being married. That bothered me when I was single and even though I’m married now, I still think it’s unfair.

  14. anth

    She has been reading your blog, note the question is not whether it’s legal but whether it’s fair.
    Sneaky posters!

  15. Laura L

    Also, single people get left out. I don’t mean single as in not-married. I mean single as in not in a relationship of any sort.

    I’m usually single. I wouldn’t want to go somewhere alone where people who are married or in relationships get to bring their partner. Unless there are a lot of other single people, I’d be kind of annoyed that I had to come alone.

    1. Laura L

      To be clear, I understand why people do this, I just find it kind of frustrating. Although it’s more frustrating in social settings than work settings.

    2. fposte

      For a work thing, even? I go alone to stuff regularly, and I don’t feel like I’m getting left out (not saying that nobody can feel that, but disagreeing with your blanket statement that everybody does). It’s not about ensuring people don’t have to go alone, after all. And even when I do go with somebody, we’re talking to different people anyway, so it doesn’t make much difference at the event.

      And I do think there’s a difference between a party where everybody brings somebodyorother and an event that’s extended to family, and I think that’s a fair distinction to make.

      1. Laura L

        It depends, really. Mostly on who is there that I can talk to and whether or not I’m in the mood to make small talk with people I don’t know well.

  16. Liz T

    Bringing your mom to a holiday party strikes me as kind of like bringing your mom to a high school dance.

    I miss the holiday parties at the music school I used to work at. They started at around 3. You could attend or just leave early, you could stay after 5 if you wanted, there were great hors d’oeuvres and top shelf booze, and a nice student jazz quartet. So low key.

    1. Anonymous

      LOL.

      I totally agree with bringing your mom to a holiday party as being on par with bringing your mom to a high school dance. Except the high school dance/mom situation is sad/evokes pity– bringing your mom to a holiday party makes you look immature and very dependent on your Mama. And if you are young, as I am– If a coworker of my age brought their mom to a holiday party I would think they were pretty weird. And also, that you said this is your way to show appreciation to your mom by treating her to a nice meal? Sorry, letting you bring her to the event would be THE COMPANY treating her to a nice meal.

      Personally, before I was married I definitely would not go to a holiday party without my significant other (introvert!)– I dreaded them, however the companies we worked at both threw very extravagant events we would be fools to pass on. However, I see nothing wrong with excluding friends/family– I think this takes the party in a different direction. At my old job, a group of salesmen, all single and ready to mingle, invited their other mutual friends to the holiday party– resulting in a frat style partying (think shots, yelling, etc) at a high class event.

      It sounds like this company is just very traditional– in both this policy and the hotel room policy. They are keeping up with the image/values they wish to portray with their policies.

      Regardless, just rent the hotel room, check in, and have your boyfriend join you a few minutes later. It isn’t like they are going to stalk you to find out who stayed in the room, as long as you don’t cause trouble!

      1. X2

        “Regardless, just rent the hotel room, check in, and have your boyfriend join you a few minutes later. It isn’t like they are going to stalk you to find out who stayed in the room, as long as you don’t cause trouble!”

        Actually, I think this is a bad idea. If the OP got caught knowingly breaking company policy (even if its a dumb policy), whether on or off “work” time, it could get her fired.

  17. Anonymous

    I think if I had an open +1 policy and people started bringing their parents, then I would change it to spouses/SOs. I don’t want to hear about your childhood antics from your mom when I’m at a work event. I’m sorry but there is a time and a place and that’s not it.

  18. Anonymous

    I’ve always understood work events to be an opportunity to create connections between employees outside of the regular work day. I understand inviting significant others if the event is outside of regular working hours, but I think the main point of a work event is for employees to socialize with each other, not with their own spouses/signficant others/friends/family that they bring to the event.

    1. fposte

      That’s how it seems to me, and why the “I wouldn’t have anybody to talk to” thing doesn’t make any sense–you’re not supposed to be talking to the people you’re bringing anyway. If the other employees really aren’t people you’d want to be talking to, then it’s probably better just to bail and do something else.

  19. Kelly O

    I will refrain from telling the horror stories about people bringing random family members to office events at my current job, because it would take way too long, and it’s practically unbelievable anyway.

    However, I will say that if you want to discuss whether something is fair or not, it’s a very difficult topic to broach. What one person finds perfectly fair and reasonable might be completely out of the question for another, and vice versa.

    The other thing the OP said that kind of bugged me was about taking mom for a nice dinner. Now I realize that could be perfectly innocuous, and maybe I’ve worked with vultures too long and am completely cynical on this process, but there are people who will try to “stick it” to their company for whatever they can get – office supplies, meals, even working the clock to their advantage. By limiting their employees to spouses (or significant others, or whatever they choose because it IS their party after all) they eliminate those who might want to bring their adult children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, neighbor kids… you name it.

    (And before anyone suggests that wouldn’t happen, I submit the recent Holiday Party I attended at my office, in which someone brought random neighbor kid along with two adult daughters, another who brought random woman who works on another floor (and THEN invited her back to have leftovers the next day at lunch) and the one whose daughter and grandson are up here so much I don’t even keep things in my cubicle drawers because Hurricane Hellion will just pull them out and put them on the floor and no one ever puts things back.)

    1. Elsie

      Wouldn’t a solution to this just be to limit all employees to one guest, and then let the employee decide who that will be? I think it would be silly to allow more than one anyway, then it implies that this is *supposed* to be a spouse/SO if you have one, but if you don’t and want to bring a friend/mom/child anyway, you can.

    2. Ask a Manager Post author

      What baffles me that is anyone other than employees would WANT to attend. Spouses/significant others go because it’s somewhat obligatory — but neighbors, kids, parents? I can’t imagine the appeal.

      1. Hm...

        I used to tag along my friends’ company parties when I was young and pretty :)
        Mostly to meet guys at their work. I became a regular and got invited whenever they had parties :)

      2. ThatHRGirl

        Definitely depends on what type of event it is… typically for my company the events are very kid-centric (holiday events with reindeer sleigh rides and Santa, or summer carnivals with cotton candy, pony rides, lion tamer shows (yes really) and trapeze people). So it definitely increases the desire for people to bring as many people as they possibly can to this “free” event – forgetting that it can cost the company upwards of $100 a head sometimes.

        What really shocked me was the last event we had – where guests are limited to employee, their spouse or sig. other, and any children under 18 living in the home..
        An employee decided to bring her 21 year old son (along with 6 other family members) who we had rejected for employment TWICE – putting me and the hiring manager in a very awkward position of having to coexist with this person the entire party. And on the way out he insisted on taking a “goodie bag” that was intended for children 10 and under. I gave him one just to get him out the damn door!

  20. Jamie

    “I will refrain from telling the horror stories about people bringing random family members to office events at my current job, because it would take way too long, and it’s practically unbelievable anyway.”

    I love practically unbelievable stories…they are always the most amusing!

  21. Anon.

    The parent issue is only strange depending on the circumstances of the party. My company has thrown a massive Christmas party where they bring in nationally recognized musicians to entertain the guests. It’s really a concert followed by an extremely, extremely long hors d’oeuvres line where you small talk and mingle with your coworkers and higher ups. It’s really not at all strange or out of sorts for an employee to bring their spouse, parent, significant other, friend, or even kid. No one bats an eye if Mom comes when the entertainment is Lionel Richie or Chicago. Just like no one thinks it’s strange to bring your 14-year-old daughter when Carrie Underwood performs.

    1. Joey

      You do realize that going to a typical company holiday party is far different than what you’re talking about, right?

      1. Jamie

        Yeah – I would consider an event like that more along the lines of when your company lets you use the season tickets to a sporting event, or gets you comped to a concert. Socializing with co-workers isn’t the deal there.

  22. Stacy

    Maybe I missed it, but I’m kinda confused about how the hotel would even know that you brought someone who wasn’t your immediate family as your hotel guest. I suppose they could require everyone to individually register. But otherwise, unless it’s a very small staff and everyone knows about each other’s personal life, how does the person checking you in know who that person joining you is in relation to you?

  23. Jeanne

    We used to have a big fun summer party at a place with games and lots of fun things for kids. If you were married, you could bring your spouse and all your kids. If you had grandkids you could bring up to 4 of them. But because I wasn’t married I could only bring one niece. They wouldn’t let me bring 2 nieces. I thought that was mean. It’s not just about what is legal. If you make your employees feel worthless for not having a traditional family you have missed the point of these “perks”.

  24. Anonymous

    I’m going to start bringing my pets to work events. We are very close and I know they will enjoy the free food.

  25. Anonymous

    Bringing a parent certainly depends on the company culture and type of community, so it the OP thinks it’s ok based on his/her work culture, then I would hope that the OP is using his best judgement.

    I grew up in an urban area and don’t believe in bringing a parent to work, even work parties; however, about 200 miles from there, I once worked in a very small “city”/rural area where the majority of the residents lived there their whole lives. When I first started at the company, I overheard my manager say to one of my co-workers “I didn’t get a chance to meet your sister yet.” First thought, was “omg, he did not just say that” b/c it certainly wasn’t something I was use to hearing growing up in a large city. So I guess that type of situation really does depend, but I agree with AAM, that it might look naive to bring a parent to a work party.

  26. TrixMix

    It’s considered a mildly positive sign from a management prospective for employees to bring their spouses to events. It tends to indicate an engaged employee who foresees a future with the organization. Dates? Parents? Not so much. That’s really all it means.

    I must ask though, is this a key issue for you with regards to job satisfaction? Different generations have vastly different perceptions, needs, and desires. The youngest members of the workforce tend to require a sense of fairness, and acceptance of their social decisions. If there is a plurality amongst them on this issue, it seems to me that a savvy employer would see it as the perfect opportunity to engage their youngest employees!

    (The Miss Manners in me suggests leaving your Mom off your dance card, at least some of the time. It’s charming that she seems to be such a hit, but the mother is, off all relatives, the one most likely to elicit raised eyebrows. Your coworkers do wonder, they just don’t say so. If you must have someone at your side to feel comfortable attending the party, at least mix it up with other relatives or friends.)

  27. JuliB

    Thinking of the hotel room being restricted to spouse only, the Marriot is owned/run by a devout Mormon , so I can see the sticking point there.

    You may not like the rules, but it’s better to respect them than to get caught breaking the rules like some are suggesting.

  28. FrauTech

    Hey Allison since no one else pointed it out you said the OP was behaving “Millenial in all the worst meanings of the stereotype”. Then she piped up and turns out she’s in her 30s, probably Gen X. Just want to say negative stereotyping never pays off, all the attributes people associate with “millenial” seem to come with every age! *mutter* Talkin’ ’bout mah generation…

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      The OP hasn’t weighed in here, so I’m confused about where you’re getting her age. (I think you might be looking at the comment from Onery PR, who wasn’t the OP.)

      That said, the OP could certainly be older, for all I know. But she’s still sounding like the stereotype of a Millenial. Note I said “the stereotype,” not actual Millenials. Because it doesn’t apply to everyone in that age range, but it’s easy shorthand for the concept I wanted to convey.

  29. Chris

    Yeah…late here (just got back to my news feed after a week) but I just gotta say, I’m in my early 30s and I brought my Mom as a guest to my last Christmas party. It was a restaurant/event space that was nice and she always wanted to go to. My father left my mom a month before I was born; her life after that was a long string of sacrifices so I could go to college, have a career etc. This place she had seen on TV and always wanted to go (but I doubt she would ever let me spend the money to take her) so I brought her as my guest to the Christmas party and we had a glorious time. She didn’t make it to the next Christmas. She died of a heart attack at the age of 58. Some things are more important that what narrow minded co-workers think of you. Did they think it was weird? Yeah…I’m sure. My mom had never in her life had a reason to get dressed up and eat raw salmon in the “special event” section of any place nice. She wanted to so I took her and she loved it. Let people sneer and
    think I’m a millenial. Because someday you’ll want to
    give it all back (money, career, status, etc.) For one more dinner with your om.

    1. Forrest

      No offense, but I think you’ve overlooking that your company was really the one that did something special for your mom.

      Companies are not required to do these things. If you wanted to do this for your mom, you could of. But companies are not required to let moms come along, even though its a nice thing to do.

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