update: I’m being penalized for not participating in monthly athletic events at work

Remember the letter-writer who was being penalized by her manager for not participating in monthly athletic events at work — things like 10-mile hikes, 5k runs, rock climbing, and parasailing, all in the name of “team-building”? Here’s the update.

After writing to you and your blog and seeing all the responses, I knew I needed to take some sort of action to resolve this. In February, we had our annual meeting with the head of our entire department. When she brought up how high our team scores were for the “Etc.” category of our Metrics (things like team activities and going beyond your job duties), another member of my team brought up our team activities. I was able to gather enough courage to pipe in that we got marked down for not attending these events and how taxing they could be, and I was delighted that most of my team went off on a rant about injuries, expensive clothes/shoes for the marathons, not being able to take kids to these events, etc. Apparently I was not the only one who hated these team outings, I just didn’t go along with them.

Shortly thereafter, my boss decided we would hold only a few team outings a year and they would be at a local park so friends and family could participate. I was a little disappointed to not have the issue of participation addressed but I can deal with crossing that bridge if I come to it. Thank you again for the advice!

{ 75 comments… read them below }

  1. Mike C.*

    If I was injured after having to go to one of these things, you bet I’d be filing for Worker’s Comp. That should get the company’s attention.

    1. Observer*

      I suspect that this issue DID get upper management’s attention. That would explain why the number and nature of these activities changed.

    2. Jamie*

      In my state work comp no longer covers this:

      “If you get injured during employer-sponsored athletic events, parties, picnics, etc. you will not be covered unless your employer ordered you to participate.”

      From one of the many legal sites that popped up when I went to check, since I didn’t think this was covered.

      From a cursory Google it appears “ordered to participate” is where it’s a condition of employment, not encouraged or incentivized. Is there a gray area if participation was technically voluntary (not fired to non-participation) but it affected your standing at work? Morally, yes, IMO – but the state of Illinois clearly doesn’t see it that way. This will vary by state.

      1. KarenT*

        Seems to me like the OP is in a grey area. I’d say having it put as a negative on a performance appraisal is more than encouragement, but IANAL.

        1. Jamie*

          From a logical standpoint I absolutely agree with you – as an employee I would feel compelled to attend. But before I brought suit I’d go through the case law to see which interpretation was being favored for these kinds of things.

          No one in this scenario is suing or injured – just a general comment about how just because something makes sense doesn’t mean the courts see it that way.

          Creepy aside – as I was looking this up I found the official chart the government uses to determine permanent partial disability benefits. So kind of gross to see a chart which sets a finite time (and thus dollar) limit on the loss of body parts. And I was so confused by testicle 1 – 54 weeks and testicle 2 – 162 weeks. Because for the life of me I couldn’t figure out which was 1 and which was 2 – and why was one more disabling than the other. Then it dawned on me, duh, loss of the first one and then losing the second.

          I didn’t get much sleep last night, combined with poorly worded document from the state left me quite befuddled.

          And I don’t get why if I lose my index figure I’m entitled to 43 weeks but only 22 if I lose my pinky? Ring and middle fingers (27 and 38 weeks respectively.) I type for a living – I’d think I’d need the same amount of rehab/therapy to learn to compensate for the loss of any of them.

          1. Office Mercenary*

            Fun fact: this exact issue contributed to Kafka’s depression. He wanted to write great literature but spent most of his early adulthood writing technical manuals for the government office that handles worker’s comp. His museum in Prague has a really creepy installation with graphics of the technical drawings of missing fingers and whatnot.

          2. Turanga Leela*

            I’m laughing over your confusion about testicle 1 vs testicle 2. You’re right, it sounds like they’re compensating you differently for the left one and the right one.

            I find those charts fascinating. How do they come up with these numbers? There are similar issues in dividing up funds for victims of tragedies. There is a man named Kenneth Feinberg who has developed a weird specialty in developing formulas for administering victims’ funds–he handled the 9/11 fund, the money donated after the Boston marathon bombing, and some others.

            1. IronMaiden*

              I’m at a loss to understand who a testicle is worth more than a finger. Fingers are a damn sight more necessary for daily activities, especially employment related ones.

              1. Turanga Leela*

                I have a couple of guesses, but who knows what the official logic was.
                1) Losing a testicle is more physically painful or requires more follow-up care. (Is this true? I don’t know if this is true.)
                2) Losing a testicle is emasculating and embarrassing.
                3) Losing a testicle, or especially two, impacts your ability to reproduce, which is more serious than the life impact from losing a finger.

                1. Jamie*

                  I live with three men – I’ll take a straw poll when I get home but I’ll tell you the results right now. Everyone of them would give up a finger first. No hesitation.

                  Also, with the loss of 2 they’d need hormone replacement therapy – and I assume as with women that can be tricky to get right. Because otherwise I’m assuming a loss of secondary sexual characteristics?

                2. Turanga Leela*

                  I’m sure you’re right about the straw poll.

                  Interestingly, now that I think about it, I’d much rather lose an ovary than a finger.

                3. Chinook*

                  I think the loss of a testicle may affect hormones in men (similar to how losing an ovary can affect women), which could cause longer term issues.

                  Or maybe the list was created and reviewed by men who are two-finger typists.

                4. OhNo*

                  I wonder if that number changes if it’s pre- versus post-vasectomy? Then part of the equation regarding reproduction can be factored out.

                  Man, those tables are WEIRD.

                5. Mallory Janis Ian*

                  @Jamie — I took a straw poll of my one son, and I can attest that he shouted “finger” with absolutely no hesitation.

                6. NoPantsFridays*

                  This is interesting because I would much rather lose an ovary than a finger…and if it were just one there are other remedies to compensate so I probably wouldn’t have to go on HRT, even.

                  I’m going to ask my brother tonight if I can do it with a straight face!

              2. Jamie*

                They are compensating you for a loss sustained at work – not that the loss has to affect your ability to work. It has to account for the use of unrelated things – because if I’m left facially disfigured because of something that happened on the job I don’t want them to be able to say they don’t have to pay disability while I heal because I don’t need my face to do my job – who cares what I look like?

                Although should that happen I want to go on record right now of saying that I’ll need a lot more than the 162 allowable weeks allotted.

                It’s not a payout, it’s how many maximum weeks you’d be on partial disability which I assume is based on a formula for medical recovery and rehab/physical/occupational therapy to regain functionality or learn to compensate.

                Like amputation above elbow is 270 weeks. I’m assuming that takes into account learning to use the prosthetic?

                I’m curious as to the formula they use – I’ll see if I can find it.

              3. Laura*

                I also wonder about recovery time – and whether the loss of the second testicle especially might affect hormone levels, complicating recovery. Not to mention the psychological impact of realizing that you’ll never have more children of your body – if you didn’t have any, well, that’s that.

              4. Turtle Candle*

                I know that it’s not an exact correlation, but I’d rather lose a finger than an ovary, even if the loss was somehow painless, because of the potential long-term hormonal and reproductive impacts. I mean, obviously I’d rather lose neither. :P And people can live long fulfilling lives with absences of either or both. But I can see the logic there in terms of long-term life impact.

                1. Callie*

                  I had an ovary removed (not because of a work accident, ha!) and there’s no hormonal impact from losing one, and if your remaining one is healthy you can still get pregnant. Losing both, though, means instant menopause.

            1. Turanga Leela*

              I used to have a medical textbook with a chapter called “Industrial and Agricultural Accidents.” It’s ugly.

            2. Luxe in Canada*

              Ahem. I can answer that question with some scenarios, but I want to make sure it’s not a hypothetical question first.

            3. Mallory Janis Ian*

              I worked at a factory where a guy lost a testicle at work. It has to do with how close one stands to the operable parts of a machine with one’s crotch.

            4. anony*

              DH lost his in the Marine Corps. They were deploying out the back of a truck. With one leg planted in the bed of the truck, he stepped over the tailgate onto the slick, snow covered bumper. Foot slipped off bumper… I’ll spare you the rest of the details.

              He did not receive time off (except for a little surgery recovery time) and certainly did got receive disability.

              1. Cucumber*

                He did not get disability for that? Was this a long time ago? My understanding was that there was special help for guys who had received those kinds of injuries, including if they were having trouble conceiving.

          3. Phyllis*

            Jamie, I am going to have to quit reading your comments while drinking anything. I have nearly choked to death/short-circuited my keyboard at least 3 times this week. I shared this one with my husband and he cracked up, too. My daughters and I are still laughing at the “magic boots” and baby talking the zoomba.

          4. Layla*

            Not from the US but i’m wondering, what constitutes an order.
            if an employer sends an email and says “XX staff conference is mandatory” does it really mean it’s a condition of your employment? because i don’t really think anyone will be fired over this (normally) , they’re just saying to get more attendance

            and the discussion about testicles had me LOLling at work.

      2. hayling*

        Why do you think the OP’s boss told her that her employer “can’t” order them to participate?

        1. Artemesia*

          Exactly — she isn’t REQUIRED to participate but she will be penalized if she doesn’t. HOw is that different from ‘there is no rule against promoting women, but we won’t promote women.’

          1. Dulcinea*

            As an attorney, that is exactly the argument I would make if I were trying to argue that participation is essentially mandatory and therefore workman’s comp should apply. There are a lot of grey areas (though not as many as some people would like to think) in the law where there is room for interpretation like this.

      3. neverjaunty*

        But “employer-sponsored” could mean just events where an employer puts up money for the event, like sponsoring Race for the Cure or whatever. OP was talking about team-building exercises run BY her employer.

        Suffering adverse employment effects probably does not make an event “technically voluntary” as long as they stop short of actually firing you.

        But this is why talking to a reputable lawyer in your state/provincr is ALWAYS a good idea if you really need to know if something is legal.

  2. BRR*

    I’m glad it worked out for you OP!

    Alison (and others), would you recommend not calling someone out in a group meeting like this though? I know the preferred first method would be just bringing it up directly with the manager.

    1. Vancouver Reader*

      Maybe she did and it didn’t have any effect. Plus, she wasn’t directly pointing fingers at the manager and this way, it brought out a group response which doesn’t make the OP and one other co-worker seem like the only ones who didn’t like these activities.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I’d say ideally you’d talk directly to them first, but it sounds like this came up organically and it was relevant, and that it was useful to have the full group talking about it.

  3. Andy*

    I would have found it hard, nigh unto impossible, to have kept my big ‘ol trap shut about this.
    this very athletic manager is doing jumping jacks upon my VERY last nerve.
    Way to keep it classy, OP; you’re better people than I.

  4. Waiting Patiently*

    I think you should go to your manager, one on one, before the next event to express your concern about the mark on you evaluation. Since the meeting was in February, not sure if you had another event. I would definitely bring it up before your next review. You can say since the number of events has changed, have any consideration been made for not marking evaluations negatively for those who do not attend.

  5. Jamie*

    This goes to show how easy it is to think everyone is cool with something because they aren’t complaining about it. I’ve seen it time and again, no one wants to be the one to say something, but as soon as someone does there is a deluge of support.

    I’ve seen it in company meetings so many times – you need one person to ask a question to get feedback from 20. It’s a valuable person who will be the first person to mention the emperor looks kind of naked.

    1. Waiting Patiently*

      It happens so much. Now we vote on every. Single.thing. I never in my life voted as much as I did this year. Should we do secret santa, should we celebrate this or do that.
      That gets annoying but nobody ever wants to be the one to rock the boat yet no one is happy rowing along either with nonsense. I mean, I suppose I’d rather row than rock…I don’t know…

    2. Turanga Leela*

      I have made myself unpopular with a few group leaders* by being the person who says, “Why don’t we vote on this?” I’m proud of my willingness to do this, but it’s not fun, and it can strain your relationship with the person leading the initiative.

      *This tends to come up less with actual supervisors and more with “first among equals” situations–committee chairs, team leads, and so on. I’ve worked with a few people in this situation who thought that the way to be a leader was to pick a course of action, move forward with it, and assume everyone else would be on board.

      1. Turanga Leela*

        To clarify, I never suggest that people vote on our supervisors’ decisions. That would not be helpful, and I would probably lose my job. I’m talking about situations where the consent of the group is required, and the team lead is assuming that we have it.

      2. LQ*

        I will say that I often like that person. Because they are doing something. Having a room full of 20 people who want to discuss possible courses of action until it’s irrelevant are worthless imo. Yes talk about it, but at some point someone has to make a decision and move forward or you manage to invalidate any action because you’re too late.

        (I may be a little frustrated because I’m in a situation now where no one ever wants to move forward so I keep ending up as the person who picks a course of action and moves forward since no one else ever steps up or speaks up. DO SOMETHING.)

    3. Colette*

      Yeah, I’m often that person, because I gets sick if listening to whining when no one is willing to bring it up. My theory is that if the leader doesn’t know it’s an issue, they can’t fix it.

    4. Artemesia*

      I have wired a couple of meetings as a participant by understanding this. We wanted to move policy to X but someone ‘important’ wanted Y — (not the boss) — Our plan was for our team of conspirators to jump on the first comment that fit our agenda and praise that as an insight and build on it. i.e. ‘Susan has made such an insightful point, perhaps we should reconsider doing the toffee teapots.’ Then co-conspirator two says ‘I hadn’t thought of that but Susan is on to something. We hadn’t really fully considered the melting point of the toffee, maybe we ought to look at licorice instead.’ Then third co-conspirator says ‘Good point there is a lot of evidence that the market niche for licorice teapots hasn’t been tapped.’ By then others pop up who were not part of the group and it turns out lots of people didn’t agree with important person’s attempt to impose Y on the group. Susan is feeling brilliant by the end of the meeting.

      It is remarkably satisfying; it has to be used very sparingly.

      1. NutellaNutterson*

        This reminds me of the recent Freakonomics podcast about using an internal betting pool to get an accurate read on the thoughts of employees. It’s a rare company where people will stick their nose out, but give them the chance to win some cash? They’ll bet on what they think will REALLY happen.

  6. No thanks*

    I’m glad management has made some compromises here, though it still seems like too much forced participation for my liking.

    My company has started putting more pressure on us to donate time or money for organized charity drives, volunteer activities, and 5k events. Up until now, I’ve participated in the majority of these, especially when I like the cause. But I can’t give blood and I’m sick of getting emails pressuring me to participate in the drive. I guess I should be thankful that my performance isn’t getting docked for it.

    1. LBK*

      Yikes, giving blood is a reeeeally dangerous thing to push people to do – since as you mention, people are barred from it for a lot of reasons. You could very unwittingly be pushing someone to disclose a health issue or their sexual history by pressuring them to participate in an event like that.

      1. Liane*

        The forms you fill out when donating generally have a place you can check if you feel your blood should be discarded &/or a number to call later on for the same reason. Just for these kinds of situations.
        Still, it is wrong to insist people participate on so many levels. It does risk disclosure or private health issues; there are risks to donating, however small; and it wastes a lot of time, and supplies, for the donation centers.

        1. MinB*

          Even then, some people just can’t give blood in the first place. My husband’s work has frequent blood drives and he has a rare blood type so he gave as often as he could. Turns out, he can’t give that often – he ended up dangerously anemic. So now he can’t give blood any more and he’s had to start taking iron supplements.

          I wish workplaces would knock it off with ‘health initiatives.’ You never know what your employees are going through. Maybe you think a work Biggest Loser is a great idea, but it turns out you’ve got a handful of employees with eating disorders and it’s going to cause them to relapse. That’s not going to improve the health of your workforce, no matter your intentions. You just never know.

          1. Cucumber*

            That is a great point. My neighbor’s workplace had an initiative that was similar to the Biggest Loser. He did lose some weight, but as it turned out, Type 2 diabetes had been triggered. I don’t know whether it was the change in diet (to a lower fat, higher carb intake) or if they just simply missed something that had already begun. Thank God they got him before he went into a coma, but he became extremely ill.

        2. LBK*

          Huh – I’ve always just been straight up rejected because they won’t accept blood from men who have sex with other men. I wasn’t aware that was an option.

    2. Artemesia*

      Pressure to give blood is heinous. I remember once being rejected because I had recently worked in the Middle East and that was one of the barriers because of some kind of health problem that arose after the Gulf War. So after the little conference with the intake person, I had to walk past all my colleagues giving blood as ‘rejected.’ We all know that you are rejected for promiscuity, drug use and various infections like HIV or Hep — Not a comfortable moment.

      1. Ruffingit*

        Ugh, seriously who would think it is a good idea to have a blood drive as a work activity? It’s cool to have the blood bank bus pull up outside and offer it up to anyone who wants to donate, but to require everyone do it? NO.

        1. Carrie in Scotland*

          I can’t stand needles and even reading this comment thread with the word “blood” repeated within it is making me feel faint…there is NO WAY I’d be able to donate. Ick. What a horrible practice to bring in :(

        2. Elizabeth West*

          That’s what my company does. You don’t have to. You can just delete the email that says when it will be here. I always do it because I used to do it and then the blood bank changed their hours and I couldn’t. Now I get to do it on the clock and right in the parking lot. So convenient.

      2. Episkey*

        I’m often rejected because my iron is too low. It doesn’t have to be something embarrassing and I wouldn’t even think to feel embarrassed about something like that!

        I was also rejected because my husband & I went on vacation to Central America and the area was considered “moderate” malaria risk. They wouldn’t allow me to donate until a full year had passed since the date we returned to the US.

      3. Cath in Canada*

        I’m permanently barred from giving blood in Canada because I lived in the UK during the BSE/CJD crisis. There have been news reports recently about how there’s a serious shortage of blood, and people at work have been asking me if I’d like to go with them to donate. I feel like I have to get my reason for refusing out instantly in case they start imagining all kinds of other things…

        Apparently I am allowed to donate bone marrow, though, so I really should look into getting on the registry. I guess if you’re sick enough to need bone marrow, a hypothetical chance of getting CJD is well worth it.

    3. Laura*

      You can always sign up, show up for the appointment and explain to the technician why you can’t donate. You can also ask to speak to them privately about your situation (travel restrictions, etc) if for some reason your site isn’t private. The blood centers generally do not share detailed information about who donated or who didn’t. The employer may have a sign up sheet but that’s all they’d use as “proof” you participated.

      I worked for a blood center for a short period of time and when it comes to volunteering there are LOTS of ways you can help them that don’t involve giving blood. So if you’re really interested just ask.

      The biggest thing I learned though is that we’re still miles and miles away from developing a viable blood substitute. Which means 100% of blood and blood products (plasma, etc) that are used by patients for various treatments, surgeries, and recovery come from donors.

    4. Yuu*

      I would suggest to management that instead of having an annual drive, they give special “give blood leave” you can take once every couple of months with proof from the donation center that you went. This way it isn’t a constant pressure but instead gives people the time to do it if they are eligible.

  7. Not So NewReader*

    You gained major ground here, OP. Bide your time and see where this lands. It might go away entirely within the next year.

    I think for you to be dinged on your eval for not participating in something that has nothing to do with the work itself is ridiculous. I hope you can get a handle on that one. Not everyone is sports inclined and they need to adjust their thinking.

    I give you credit for riding it out- I don’t know if I would have lasted as long as you have. Good job on that one.

    1. Mephyle*

      Good news on the whole, but OP said in the original post, “I have some health problems and cannot do activities like these.” Not just that she preferred not to do them – she can’t.

      As long as the effect of her non-participation on the evaluation stays on the record, she is being penalized for health problems that don’t affect her actual job. If this doesn’t go away, it still needs to be fixed.

  8. Saucy Minx*

    I find it really irritating that an employer demands their workers’ personal time for the company’s so-called team-building events. If it benefits the company, it should be done on company time. If it’s meant as a treat for employees, it still should not require attendance.

    Several years ago I worked for a company that held their summer picnics on a Sunday, had a sign-up sheet for what food items we were bringing, & another sign-up sheet to organize games such as baseball or volleyball. Lovely! I never went either to these or to the Christmas parties, which were held on a weekend evening, & I can’t help but feel that this was part of why I was let go after three years.

    1. Vanilla*

      If that was the reason you were let go, that’s pretty darn awful. Personally, I think requiring employees to participate in off – the – clock bonding activities is really lame. Like others have said, if the company is requiring your attendance, make it during the work day.

      People have a million others things they are doing during their off time. Maybe they work at part – time jobs. Maybe they are in school. Maybe they want to spend time with their family and friends. Maybe they want to lay on the couch. Leave our free time alone and stop with all of the mandatory fun stuff. It’s annoying.

      1. Willow Sunstar*

        Some religions require that people spend Sundays only with their families. If companies are firing people for that reason, it’s probably best not to work for them.

  9. TL17*

    I work for a small company that was recently subject to some management changes. New manager wants the employees to do a “retreat” which seems ok, if it’s an afternoon or something like that. He wants employees to do a retreat that involves going away for a whole weekend. I have said no to this multiple times but he doesn’t seem to get that that kind of demand isn’t ok.

    It’s very hard to speak up and say when you don’t like something, especially when it feels like it’s a requirement, no matter how intrusive it may be.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      That would really annoy me, because I would need to arrange for a pet sitter. And my sitter is very busy. He needs to do it at work or not do it at all.

  10. MissDisplaced*

    Well OP, I hope the new events are more enjoyable and you won’t mind attending something more tame like a simple old picnic!

    Being forced marched to participate in “fitness” rock climbing and marathons would’ve killed me!

  11. Willow Sunstar*

    What would happen if this company had an employee in a wheelchair, or a visually-impaired employee who could not participate in the exercises? This type of thing has got to be illegal. I’m personally very clumsy, have a lazy eye so I don’t care to do risky activities, and might well injure myself seriously doing anything more challenging than walking. I’d rather quit than work for a company like that, I guess.

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