did my office’s holiday lunch cross a line?

A reader writes:

My employer (a state court / government entity) hosts a holiday luncheon each year, where alcohol is served (cash bar) and Christmas carols are sung. The luncheon this year lasted three hours. Employees who attended were paid for the time spent at the party, minus their usual hour-long meal period. Employees who did not attend were told that the additional time other employees spent not working (and drinking!) were a benefit of attending this party and those who did not attend could only take their usual meal period break.

First, I believe it’s a gift of public funds to allow employees to drink off-site while being paid, and secondly, it seems to be a clear example of religious discrimination. Some employees do not attend because celebrating Christmas (especially the FORCED singing of Christmas carols) is not acceptable in their religion. Can employers reward those who attend with longer lunch breaks than those who chose not to attend, regardless of reason for not attending?

Yes, an employer can indeed say that spending the afternoon at the office Christmas party counts as work time and that people who don’t attend need to work the full day as they normally would. And it’s not crazy to do that, since workplace holiday parties aren’t usually just rewards for employees; they’re work events designed to build camaraderie. And that’s why so many managers get huffy when people don’t attend; they see it as skipping out on a work event.

Your office basically said “attend this work event or do your normal work; it’s your choice.” There’s nothing wrong with that. What would be notable is if they had said, “If you choose not to attend this work event, you can just have the afternoon off.” That’s something taxpayers might have more of an issue with — not an office’s decision to engage in a very common end-of-year workplace activity.

As for religious discrimination, holiday parties and even specifically Christmas parties aren’t considered religious discrimination under the law. It could become discrimination if the conduct at the party were particularly religious (for instance, included prayer) and people were penalized for not participating. But that doesn’t sound like the case here.

The forced Christmas carols sound pretty weird — but I’d need a lot more detail to conclude anything truly wrong happened there. Were people seriously forced to participate, as in ordered to sing and punished if they didn’t? And were the carols religious in nature (e.g., “Oh Holy Night” vs. “Frosty the Snowman”?) If people were truly forced to sing religious songs, yes, that’s a problem, possibly a legal one. And frankly, if people were forced to sing anything, that’s stupid and bad management. But without further details, I’m skeptical that we’re really talking about forced carol-singing here; that would be pretty unusual.

As for the public funds aspect of this … telling you exactly where the line gets drawn on that is outside my area of expertise, but I certainly think that as a society we go way overboard in restricting how government employers can operate, like the recent GAO decision that federal agencies can’t supply disposable cups, plates, and cutlery for employee use because they’re “for personal benefit and not a specific government purpose.” Nickeling and diming federal employees over stuff that’s a generally accepted way of creating a pleasant workplace, which in turn is a generally accepted way of attracting and retaining good employees — while simultaneously making it really hard for government managers to fire low performers, something that would actually have major benefits for taxpayers — is ridiculous. And from that perspective, I have zero issue with a government employer hosting a non-extravagant holiday lunch (where employees paid for their own drinks, no less), or with expecting workers who choose not to attend to finish out their work day as normal.

{ 294 comments… read them below }

  1. Anon for this*

    For what it’s worth, my federal agency grants two hours of administrative leave to “enjoy holiday activities”, with the understanding that you can take the leave for the office holiday activity or whenever you want before the end of the calendar year.

  2. Joey*

    How do you know the budget can from tax dollars and not a donation, grant or some other revenue that has nothing to do with tax dollars?

    And even if it did, would you rather work for a place that did not spend a dime on trying to create an enjoyable work environment. Obviously not everyone will enjoy it, but I you’d also be writing in if your employer did nothing for the holidays.

    Lighten up and appreciate the fact that you work for an employer that takes treating employees well seriously enough to throw a party.

    1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

      Holiday celebrations can go overboard, but I am getting a little sick and tired of

      “I don’t celebrate Christmas, but golly gee whiz, I get offended when I hear someone say ‘Merry Christmas’ or have to look at a Christmas tree. Gee willies. Why is everyone so happy? To me it’s just another day. Bah, humbug. I wish it would just get out of the office.”

      Does the word “TOLERANCE” come to mind?

      Does hearing “Merry Christmas” or seeing a garland, or a Christmas tree, cause one constipation, or distress, or nausea, or full offense?

        1. fposte*

          I will officially state I have never, in my face to face interactions with humans, heard anybody object to any of the Christmas things stated, or being greeted with “Happy holidays” rather than “Merry Christmas.” My guess is 95% of the righteous indignation is on the internet (its natural home) and 4.5% is on television, with only about .5% in real life.

          1. Helka*

            I have had people react badly to “Happy Holidays” in place of “Merry Christmas,” but then I worked retail in the Bible Belt.

            1. VintageLydia USA*

              Oh goodness, yes. Retail employees tend to be the subject of most holiday greeting rants. Either too inclusive or inclusive enough.

            2. NoPantsFridays*

              Yeah, same. So that’s why I say Merry Christmas even though I don’t celebrate Christmas and might as well be saying “nice unicorn”.

              1. Helka*

                Interestingly, I found the negative reactions disappeared when I changed “Happy holidays,” to “Enjoy the holidays.” It’s like the outrage is programmed around that one phrase to the point where a deviation from it, even with identical content, slips by completely.

                1. Wanna-Alp*

                  Ah, but to them it’s not identical content. “Happy Holidays” sounds like “holidays” is replacing Christmas as the meaning of the season, thus making it sound to some people like Christmas is being devalued. However, “Enjoy the holidays” can be an elision of “Enjoy the Christmas holidays”.

                  (Not that I’m a fan of Christmas, particularly. Happy to eye-roll along with ya!)

            3. Liane*

              As a retail CSR in the Bible Belt* I find that saying Merry Christmas to people who either have Christmas stuff in their basket or talk about Christmas plans (or ask me about mine) and Happy/Enjoy the Holidays to others cuts down on complaints about either greeting. Though, TBH, I don’t recall ever getting complaints about what December greetings I or anyone else used. Unless you count those “Share if you believe stores need to allow their employees to say ‘Merry Christmas’!!!” FB memes.

              *who is both Christian & very tolerant of many things that, ah, bother, some Christians

          2. fposte*

            Shoot. My math failed to take both retail and the Bible belt into consideration. GIGO, I guess.

        2. H*

          In very recent years I have heard about as many people start complaining about how much they hate Christmas and think people putting up Christmas decorations (even on private property) and saying “Merry Christmas” are offensive and discriminatory as I have heard people complain about “Happy Holiday” and “political correctness.” I guess there’s always someone on either side of the fence…

        3. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

          Not a lot – but read about it at least once.

          Not a garland – but a Christmas tree? Yes.

      1. jhhj*

        None of it causes me offense. When people pretend that all of it is Generic Holiday Season it annoys me, but I think garlands and trees and wreaths are pretty and I like to see them, and though I don’t lead with ‘Merry Christmas’ except on Dec 23-25 (I use Happy Holidays before that), I will say it back to anyone who says it to me and not feel offended or hurt or even mildly irritated.

      2. BRR*

        There needs to be tolerance for people who don’t celebrate Christmas as well. What would happen if you flipped it around? If there wasn’t a work party in December and if the 25th wasn’t a national holiday. It’s not a universal holiday and to those who don’t celebrate it I think it’s a little unfair to tell them to go with the flow. What if everybody had to fast during Ramadan or Yom Kippur if you didn’t observe those religions.

        1. Joey*

          Tolerating non observers is different than tolerating those who complain and question having the celebration at all.

        2. Sarah*

          Well, I don’t celebrate Christmas. I like the day off! However I think forcing people to fast would be more akin to forcing people to go to Midnight Mass than having a party…

          I feel like you’re just a dope if you whine about a party or a day off. All my coworkers who celebrate Christmas had all this stress about the holidays and I had a lovely easy several days off since I didn’t have to worry about presents or travel! And I enjoyed the heck out of my two holiday parties. Happy hanukkah aka “we made this important in the 1940/50s to assimilate” to me!

        3. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

          See comments below. “Tolerance” for people who don’t celebrate Christmas can translate to “not forcing anyone to participate” – which in my humble opinion, is just fine.

          On the other hand, it should not translate to “purge Christmas from the office because I don’t take part / I have another faith / I practice no religion / Christmas things offend me.”

          No – no one would expect me to fast at Ramadan or Yom Kippur – but I can respect the tradition and go along with it. Or other religious-based holidays.

          1. BRR*

            But why is Christmas the default holiday celebrated? It’s great to be not be forced to participate but my office only has one party and it’s a Christmas party. If I don’t participate there is no other option to enjoy an office perk plus I lose out on office politic points by not showing up. For those who don’t celebrate, it’s really in your face. In a way sort of like the Brazilian steakhouse post from this morning. It’s not just bringing out a dish, it’s having them slice huge pieces of meat at the table. It’s hard to just go with the flow when you are not participating.

      3. Ann O'Nemity*

        If anything, I’m hearing the opposite.

        Somehow saying “Happy Holidays” has become an invitation for strident lectures on “Jesus is the reason for the season” and “you can’t take Christ out of Christmas!” It blows my mind that a greeting given with good intentions is taken as an insult.

        1. Katie the Fed*

          Seriously. I find it amazing that the in a country with a Christian majority people believe they’re being persecuted by a fictitious war on Christmas.

        2. AndersonDarling*

          Ditto. It’s like being PC is a threat to the religious. I like to be inclusive and say “Happy Holidays” because it means all holidays… you can celebrate all of them, and all the time around and between them. But I do get the stink eye and accusations of being a heathen. You can’t win.

          BTW, Jesus is the reason for the holiday, but Charles Dickens is the reason for the season. Without “A Christmas Carol,” Christmas would just be another christian holiday instead of a whole month of holly, gifts, and parties.

          1. Pennalynn Lott*

            BTW, the winter solstice is the reason for the holiday. Early Christianity co-opted it from the pagans and Saturnalia celebrations. Jesus wasn’t born in late December, according to almost every biblical scholar everywhere. Which is why my annual holiday cards say, “Axial Tilt is The Reason for the Season”.

            1. Liane*

              Where do I find those? I’d get a kick out of those. And I have friends who’d get a kick out of getting them. Some of them are also Christians.

              1. carolina*

                But if you believe, Easter is the biggest festival.

                Winter solstice has as much reason to be celebrated as Christmas – the returning of light etc, and it is the original festival at that time of year. Belief doesn’t really come into that.

        3. Allison*

          I’ve heard (or read) people who don’t celebrate Christmas whine about how “happy holidays” offends them, because ANY “political correctness” bothers them. Yes, to some it’s political correctness, I see it as inclusion. Happy holidays is meant to wish anyone happiness regardless of what they celebrate, and I don’t understand how that sentiment can bother someone so much.

          1. Anonsie*

            This one always miffs me because there are multiple holidays. There is nothing inaccurate about the statement “happy holidays” for any one individual person. Even if you’re directly referring to good ol’ white bread Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s that’s more than one flipping holiday. It’s kind of insane that so many people are so upset about essentially being told “happy season of days a lot of people get off work or go do something or visit family or whatever” as if that’s some sort of contortionist logic.

          2. Student*

            I just retort that I’m not a Christian, but I do wish people an actual “Merry Christmas” – on Dec. 24 and Dec. 25. I refuse to recognize a one-day holiday for more than that time period. I am certainly not ceding an entire month-and-a-half to someone else’s religion. For Dec. 31 and Jan. 1, it changes to “Happy new year”, otherwise its” Happy Holidays” from approx. Nov. 15 – Jan. 1.

        4. Mike C.*

          Yeah, this is what I keep seeing/hearing as well. Seriously, being told “Happy Holidays” in a generic setting shouldn’t be the start of a fight.

          1. Jen S. 2.0*

            Seriously. Am I supposed to say, “Miserable new year!”? There is more than one holiday at the end of the calendar year, and indeed, some of them affect all of us.

      4. Green*

        Recognizing that the word Christmas is inherently religious but also recognizing that Christmas is also practiced as a secular holiday for many people in the United States, as long as you keep it relatively secular (“Merry Christmas”, “Happy Holidays”, trees and Santa and presents and snowmen vs. nativity scenes) most atheists don’t have a problem with it any more than they do someone saying “God bless you” when you sneeze. It’s a nice sentiment and has come to be more pleasantry than religious. If you start talking about putting Christ back in Christmas and Jesus is the Reason you lose me, but I will eat the heck out of some gingerbread men and take the day off.

      5. Formerly Bee*

        Christians acting persecuted when somebody doesn’t celebrate their holiday does get annoying.

        (And I do celebrate Christmas.)

        1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

          Much more annoying – people demanding you DON’T celebrate your holiday because they don’t like it.

      6. jordanjay29*

        On the other hand, the President of the university I just graduated from would use “Winter Greetings” instead of even the acceptable “Happy Holidays.” I did get a little ruffled from that, not only because it makes little sense (where have you ever heard “Winter Greetings” before?) and also as it seems to deliberately avoid the fact that it’s a holiday season for the majority of people.

        I feel like this is the holiday equivalent of saying “I don’t see [skin] color.”

        1. Ann Furthermore*

          It extends to Halloween too. At my stepdaughter’s elementary school, no one would call it Halloween for fear of offending someone — exactly who, I was never quite sure. So even though there was a day at school when all the kids would come to school in their costumes, and there were games, face painting, and all kinds of other activities, it was still referred to as the “Fall Carnival.” Whatever.

          I took her one year, and we saw a kid dressed up in a Santa Claus costume. So it was either completely awesome — a kid with a really cool, weird, off-beat sense of humor who dressed up as Santa for Halloween (excuse me, the Fall Carnival), or it was really sad — the kid had to put together a costume at the last minute and all he could scrounge up was the Santa outfit he dug out of the Christmas stuff in his basement.

          1. JoAnna*

            My mother used to teach at a (public) school in which they could not celebrate Halloween, because there was a family in town who practiced witchcraft as their religion and they found the secularization of Halloween offensive. So the school did a “Fall Festival” instead.

            1. Ann Furthermore*

              Oh, dear god. It’s not the practicing of witchcraft that I have a problem with — if you want to be a Wiccan, then knock yourself out. But expecting everyone to cater to your beliefs and wishes is not reasonable, and it provides ammunition for the people who whine about things like there being a “war on Christmas.”

          2. Kimberlee, Esq.*

            It might be a JW thing. JW kids probably can’t go to a Halloween party, but MIGHT be able to go to a non-holiday-oriented-activity?

            1. H*

              Between the peanut allergies and the JW population, the school my mother worked at just stopped doing in-school parties of any kind

            2. Linguist curmudgeon*

              I was going to guess garden-variety Christian evangelicals – the types who have “Hell Houses” and so forth.

          3. Barbra*

            In December of this year, my four year old announced he wanted to be Santa for Halloween next year.

          4. NoPantsFridays*

            haha, that Santa costume is awesome. I hope it was the “cool” scenario.

            My high school also forbade Halloween celebrations, but it was some Christian thing (I went to a Christian school), something about how Halloween celebrated immorality/sin and satan and the devil or something. In my adult life I’ve known plenty of Christians who celebrate Halloween, but that was what my school said. (Really weird…)

            1. carolina*

              It’s the feast of all hallows. Quite Christian. And the start/end of a year for Wiccans. Most Pagan!

            1. Formerly Bee*

              That’s amazing.

              They just do trunk-or-treating in the church parking lots here.

              @Ann Furthermore: I live in the Bible Belt and there are quite a few Christians who object to Halloween here. They host their own alternative “fall festivals” and trunk-or-treating, though.

              1. Editor*

                Trunk-or-treating with biblical costume contests on a “Light the Night” event held the same weekend as Halloween — one municipality I know of supported a local woman who organized a “Light the Night” event. When it was publicized the religious angle was clearer, and people pointed out the municipality was favoring one religion and the woman got really upset about the criticism (which amused me, because it was kind of Evangelicals and some Anabaptists vs. Other Protestants and some Anabaptists). Light the Night events seem fueled by conservative Christian values, but it also seems to be an event driven by risk aversion on the part of parents (they don’t see Halloween as a sort of casual street fair, they see Strange Houses and also Strange Children whose costumes might scare their special snowflakes, plus the ever-present threat of razor blades in the Almond Joys).

          5. Callie*

            Yeah, the school where I used to teach called it “fall festival” and we were discouraged from mentioning Halloween because “some people don’t believe in it”. Okay, well, little kids wearing Spiderman and princess costumes is not the same as vampires and zombies and blood and death, or whatever it is you’re scared of…

        2. Robin*

          He probably picked that up from the public schools which now have “Winter Concerts” instead of Christmas concerts.

        3. dragonzflame*

          As someone in the southern hemisphere, I am very offended that greetings are only being offered for people currently experiencing winter.

          1. Kerry (Like The County In Ireland)*

            As someone who lives in Phoenix, I am offended by pictures of snow and pine/fir trees instead of the majestically lit saguaro cactus.

            And some bobcats, coyotes and javelinas caroling together nearby.

        4. LQ*

          I actually like Winter Greetings! So many people get crabby about the beautiful snow and the nice crisp weather (yay -double digits) that it is nice to see people not upset about it.

      1. MK*

        I think Joey means not that the money came from some other source of funding, but that the manager (or the higher-ups as a whole) might have paid for this as a treat for the employees. I have worked in small regional courthouses (not in the U.S.) and there have been times when the senior judge or the judges as a group or the local Bar Assosiation paid for a celebration where the main attendees were the court clerks and interns.

      2. Xay*

        When I worked for a state agency, our office had a holiday party each year that was funded out of pocket by leadership.

        1. JB*

          Ditto. When I worked at an agency, the folks at the top always funded our holiday party and an annual employee appreciation lunch in the summer.

        2. Lia*

          Thirded. I have worked for three state agencies in two states and in every office, the holiday lunch/dinner/whatever was funded by senior management.

        3. Liz in a Library*

          Another yep, here. My husband’s former state agency had a couple of annual parties for employee morale that were specifically funded out of management’s pocket to avoid public brouhaha over misuse of funds.

        4. Marcy*

          I work for a state agency and we are not funded by general revenue (taxes). We are funded by the fees paid by those who use the services. We have a holiday party every year that is paid for by senior management and the fundraising activities our HR department does throughout the year in order to pay for this party (so basically, the employees also pay for it). I think people get pretty wrapped up in the whole “my tax dollars shouldn’t go to parties” mantranand don’t realize their tax dollars aren’t paying for any of it.

        5. lattie*

          I’m a local gov dept head and our holiday party is funded by department heads and the mayor. No tax dollars are harmed in our festivities.

      3. The IT Manager*

        Possibly an employee snack bar or sweet sale fundraising or something like that. But usually the people know that’s what those funds are for and they’ll only be spent on the holiday party.

        I say this a former DOD employee who did this sort of thing to raise money to offset the cost of the Christmas party every year.

        1. the gold digger*

          I stand corrected. :)

          PS And for the record, I am not against tax money being spent on employee morale. My dad was career air force and I remember there was – don’t know if there is now – a Morale, Welfare, and Recreation department. Nobody joins the military to get rich. It helps that there are swimming pools and movie theaters on base!

  3. Juli G.*

    Speaking as a taxpayer, I don’t really begrudge someone two hours of pay to socialize annually. Also, I’m okay with providing them with napkins for a baby shower or the Lean Cuisine they heated up at 2:30.

    I feel OP on forced singing but at least it doesn’t sound like it’s solo or karaoke style so they seem to be ahead of some of the workplaces featured here.

    1. State employee*

      Yet when the president takes a vacation there’s a huge outcry, even if it’s less vacation time than others have had and he takes his work with him. Some people begrudge an employee having any benefit at all on the taxpayer nickle.

  4. Emily, admin extraordinaire*

    I work for a state agency, but my department is entirely funded by federal funds, and last year we received a directive: no more food. We can’t pay for any food with federal money. That means that our multi-day conferences where we used to give you lunch and a couple of snacks? Sorry, you’re on your own. Off-site training for support staff? We can’t take you to lunch unless it’s out of your own pocket. And no, we can’t charge a fee to cover the cost of food without approval from the state legislature.

    I mean, we’re saving a ton of money, but it’s really inconvenient to the poor attendees.

    1. Lia*

      I ran into this twice last year — fed funds paid for the off-site training but one location was at a university on a Sunday during a mid-term break from classes and the ONLY thing open there was a little convenience store! The conference organizers were not even allowed to put out water pitchers! We didn’t get any notice ahead of time.

      The other time was in a hotel with an attached restaurant, so we could get actual food, at least.

    2. Callie*

      I’ve had to go to some teacher licensure training meetings recently and the organizer always reminds us that the only reason they can provide lunch is if we work through it. So we don’t even get a lunch break, we have to be “working” so someone doesn’t scream about “my taxpayer dollars”.

  5. folklorist*

    I’m sorry; I’m giggling so hard at this image I have in my head of managers walking up and down a row of employees with a cattle prod, yelling, “SING, DAMMIT! IT’S THE HOLIDAYS! SMITH!! YOU’RE NOT LOUD ENOUGH!”

    1. Gene*

      So, you’ve met my former director? The one who downgraded my evaluation because I wasn’t a team player as wife and I showed up at a Christmas party sans white elephant gifts when no one told me there would be an exchange.

  6. LawBee*

    I agree with Alison here. I don’t really see a problem with a cash bar (so where’s the gift?) and two hours of holiday lunch. Please, use my tax money like that so my government workers can be happy in their jobs and feel invested in them – it’s ultimately to everyone’s benefit.

    As far as the forced caroling goes, we really don’t have enough info about that. Forced like “you’ll be the weird quiet one if you don’t sing” peer-pressure, or forced like “Sing or be written up”? Jingle bells (which doesn’t even have anything to do with Christmas at all) or Silent Night? Regardless, even if this is religious discrimination, those who are being discriminated against would have to raise the issue – if that’s not you, then you don’t have legal standing to do so.

      1. fposte*

        Huh, didn’t know that. And wow, Jingle Bells has one comprehensive (and interesting) Wikipedia article.

      2. Sigrid*

        Isn’t Jingle Bells the one that was written about two teenagers getting drunk and stealing a carriage to go joyriding in?

          1. Kelly L.*

            I sometimes get a kick out of explaining the Phaeton myth as “the original story of the kid who borrows Dad’s car and wrecks it.” It probably isn’t even the first, though!

  7. Case of the Mondays*

    I know someone who works for the feds and has a job where people frequently cry in his office. The office will not supply tissues because it is a “personal benefit.” He is trying to get a tissue budget if he promises to not use the tissues himself. For now he just buys the tissues out of his own pocket to avoid the awkwardness of sitting across from a crying person and not being able to offer them any. At least the office pays for toilet paper!

    1. Natalie*

      It seems like the amount of labor-hours that goes into determining what is and isn’t a personal benefit and monitoring budgets to make sure no one is buying illicit government paper plates and processing whatever paperwork is needed to get approved Kleenex has to outstrip the cost of piddly little crap like Kleenex and paper plates. Sheesh.

      1. Temporarily Anon*

        I work for a federal agency, and I feel the same way.

        I’m also at a loss as to why toilet paper is a covered expense, but tissue isn’t. They’re both for wiping off bodily fluids? It’s not like I can do my job with snot all over my face.

      2. Katie the Fed*

        We are so, so broke right now. Sequestration is still in effect and money is so tight. Travel and office supply budgets have plummeted and it’s just miserable lately. At least we got the 1% pay raise this year – we went three years with no pay raises.

        1. Dan*

          The feds are doing a wonderful job of making federal employment appealing to the younger generation. During my last job hunt (late last year) I took a serious look at a fed position with the DOT, strangely not in the DC area, which is home for me. They took so long to get anywhere with the paperwork that I ultimately accepted a different job locally, with the thought that when they got around to making an offer that I’d bail on the current gig. While the feds could make a competitive starting offer, the notion that I’d be locked into ~1% raises for the foreseeable future didn’t sit well with me. (I’m talking about step increases, which are longer-than-annual in the mid- and later steps.)

          Add that to all of the hatin’-on-the-feds from congress, and who *wants* to sign up for that? IMHO, one of the biggest perks about being a fed is that when the government shuts down, you guys get paid eventually. As a contractor, if the government was shut down to the point where we weren’t working, we weren’t getting paid, period. Although, we can better weather the first day or two, as we typically had the cash on hand to get the work done.

          One thing that I do think will get raided for new feds is the pension. At some point, it’s going bye-bye, the only question is when.

          1. Nerdling*

            And even getting paid eventually is a crapshoot. It literally takes an act of Congress to get paid if you are considered non-essential and therefore don’t work during a shutdown. As for the pension, it’s not like that’s even that great at this point — and certainly not compared to the older employees who fall under the previous pension system. Most of my money goes into TSP, and that’s got mostly crap returns at the moment.

          2. Katie the Fed*

            Yep. We had offers out to people and then had hiring freezes for budgetary reasons and lost our best candidates. ARGH.

          3. Katie the Fed*

            Oh and I agree about the pension. I’ve done my financial planning with the expectation that neither my pension or social security will be in place, so I max out my TSP. It might be there but I don’t want to count on anything as a certainty.

      3. Linguist curmudgeon*

        I agree completely.

        The other side of this is that in science lab type places, KimWipes end up getting used as de facto tissues because if you just sneezed out a horrific booger, you’re going to go for the nearest paper product, regardless of its status. So the organization is effectively subsidizing really expensive “tissues.” Yay.

      1. Annalee*

        My agency provides various types of counseling though our employee assistance plan. I’ve never used it so I’m not sure if it’s in-house or just referrals or what, but I could see why the employee assistance office might want to keep tissues around–they’re dealing with folks who are having a tough time.

        Possibly also HR? If it’s a specific person’s job to off-ramp people who are leaving the agency or similar?

      2. Xay*

        Social worker? Public health case worker? Public health nurse?

        6 years of consumer facing public health and I had people crying on the phone to me at least weekly.

        1. Anonsie*

          Not sure your specific circumstances, but this happens to me as well. I think because they don’t get to talk to anyone else very often, and then I reach out to them for information… Hey, here’s someone! Maybe someone who can help!

      3. dot.*

        not government, but my last office was an advising office in a university and crying was a daily occurrence during advising sessions, especially during the end of term when people discovered they had failed out of university.

    2. Liz*

      Private company, but my previous employer tried to ration toilet paper a few years back. It … didn’t last.

    3. Marie*

      I worked for a government office that heavily relied on volunteers. Since volunteers definitely need some niceties to stick around, we had some allowed amenities other departments didn’t, like a fridge, sink, microwave, and office decorations (government grey and brown is not overly exciting to volunteers).

      One of the biggest issues was food and beverage. We provided coffee for free, which the employees also drank, and then employees from other departments started coming in to drink it, too, some of whom we really didn’t want to say no to because they were directors and such. Then one employee who was a tea drinker complained that the other employees got free coffee so why didn’t they get free tea. My boss didn’t feel like they could say no to that unless they started enforcing the “coffee is only for volunteers” rule, so they had me send out a survey asking how many volunteers drank tea so we could prove it was a necessary business expense (but then we were limited to the kinds of tea named in the survey).

      We were not, however, allowed to purchase food for volunteers for ANY REASON. It was an unwritten expectation that the boss fill a candy dish (though they routinely tried to convince the secretary it was her job, and the secretary wisely suggested adding it to her official job description, and that was the end of that). They had to purchase the grossest possible candy, however, because other departments would immediately arrive in our office to pluck out the best candy (or, worse, stand by the candy bowl and loudly complain that it was empty).

      We were required to make volunteers attend mandatory day long trainings in a location with no nearby restaurants or kitchenettes. So staff had to “potluck” to provide the volunteers food, though we were allowed to purchase paper plates and utensils (for volunteer use only!).

      By the time I left the higher-ups were beginning to look askance at the $500 we had set aside yearly for coffee, or the $500 for birthday and thank you cards, and we were being told to cut those items because “they’re volunteers, they shouldn’t need rewards.”

      Anyway, Alison’s statement about nickel and diming until high performers leave and making it difficult to deal with low performers could not have hit a deeper nerve. I promise you, the free coffee was not killing us, but the six month turnover rate was!

  8. Rex*

    “Nickeling and diming federal employees over stuff that’s a generally accepted way of creating a pleasant workplace, which in turn is a generally accepted way of attracting and retaining good employees — while simultaneously making it really hard for government managers to fire low performers, something that would actually have major benefits for taxpayers — is ridiculous.”

    This + a million. Also, begrudging federal employees decent benefits, when they often take a major pay cut to work in the public sector, often because they believe in helping people.

  9. Jenee*

    As a fed, we will receive none of the “perks” employees expect their employers to provide. We all chipped in for the office microwave. We bring (and hoard) our own tissues because the taxpayers shouldn’t provide those. Papertowels and napkins for the lunch room? We buy our own. Coffee? Hahahahahha…again, we had to chip in for the coffeemaker and of course we provide everything for it.

    These are items that most employees take for granted and it amazes me how many people are ok with spending billions of dollars on a single jet but begrudge the $10.00 or so a year per employee it would take to provide basic workplace necessities.

    Our Christmas lunch is everyone deciding where to go and then paying for ourselves.

    And yes, I buy the pens I like with my own funds because the scratchy government pens they give us are awful.

        1. AnotherFed*

          The leak isn’t anything new wrong with the roof – just that the guy they paid to empty the buckets every day retired and now no one is emptying the buckets anymore. After all, they’d need O&M money to pay for roof repairs, and that’s not the kind of money our org gets from Congress.

    1. JB*

      Ditto on the pens thing at my state govt job. And the pencils. If you went into the supply room to get pencils, half of them were used pencils with no eraser and only half the pencil left. You could sometimes find a used mechanical pencil, but never any lead for it. And the no coffee thing. I always hated telling interns “not only can we not provide you with free parking, we cannot provide you with free coffee.” Because we weren’t paying them wages, they were basically paying out of pocket so that they could get experience with us. I used the public restroom on our floor instead of the restroom for our offices because our officers were in a county-owned building, and so the public restroom had better toilet paper and paper towels.

    2. Anon for this*

      I work for a municipal government. A few weeks ago, I went to an all-day training event where coffee was provided. No juice or bottled water, and heaven forbid there should be muffins, but at least there was coffee. And the MC led us all in a round of applause to *thank* senior management for approving the budget for the coffee, because otherwise there wouldn’t have been any.

      As ridiculous as that is, it’s still better than working for the provincial government, which actually doesn’t provide coffee for mandatory all-day, off-site training events.

      1. De Minimis*

        I’m in the federal government and we have a similar practice…come to the party and get an extended lunch period, otherwise just take your usual lunch hour [which is actually a half-hour, not an hour.] Employees chip in for everything at the party, because official use of funds aren’t allowed.

        We kind of have a situation where a lot of our money is not technically “tax dollars” since we bill insurance companies for patients that have coverage, but I think it would still not be permitted.

        Oh and don’t get me started on the government pens! I bring pens from home….

        1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

          You can buy ten plastic BIC pens for under two bucks. At Wal-Mart you can get a notebook for under a buck.
          And yellow pads – yep. Cheap at Staples/Office Depot, etc. And pencils with lead — I have to buy my own office supplies, for the most part.

          I don’t think I spend ten bucks a year.

          1. De Minimis*

            We order our office supplies from Staples, but they order the lowest quality pens that just don’t write for anything after a short time. There’s no issue with getting pens on request, but I’d rather just bring a reliable pen of my own.

            I usually bring pens that I get from the bank, hotel rooms, etc…pens are the only thing I have a problem with…no issues getting anything else I need.

            1. Liane*

              I doubt it’s any consolation to you, but my Big Giant Private Employer also supplies only the lowest quality pens that don’t work for very long. Especially not when used on the thermal register receipts.

            2. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

              If I may be permitted a plug – the original, classic “BIC stick” pens – the transparent ones – those are my favorites, they’re inexpensive, reliable, easy to use. And they last. When the school opening season (August) comes ’round, they usually are 10 for around $2 – as I said. Those are my pens for the year.

              Yes, pens from the hotels, conferences, etc. tend to be good, too. Price is right.

    3. Katie the Fed*

      Ahh Skillcraft.

      And yes – we had to have an office fundraiser when the last microwave and fridge went kaput. There’s no office coffee machine. I’m used to it by now but it’s definitely unusual.

      1. De Minimis*

        We have a coffee maker but have to provide the coffee. I think some rules may have been bent to buy the coffee makers [they are the Bunn pour-over kind, and are pretty expensive.] But no *direct* tax dollars went to purchase them, so that might be how they justify it.

        The microwave was provided by employees.

      2. Chrissi*

        For some reason, I love the terrible Skilcraft mechanical pencils that look like they’re from the ’70’s. Other than that, yeah, I buy my own pens. We once had an employee have to go through a 3-month long process to get approval to buy a $7 calculator (it was during a continuing resolution on the budget and everything was frozen).

        1. De Minimis*

          That’s one of the main headaches of my job, trying to pay for necessary things [especially contracts] while dealing with a CR.

      3. AnotherFed*

        Skillcraft – “made with pride by Americans who are blind!” If only the notebook pages were square or the margins were even. :/

        1. Linguist curmudgeon*

          Wasn’t there some awful expose (can’t type accents on phone, sorry) recently about how those people aren’t getting paid even minimum wage, too?

    4. Rindle*

      +100,000 Another federal employee here. My supervisor picked a restaurant for our holiday lunch that several coworkers were literally stressed about being able to afford. Also, we don’t even have drinking water in the office. If you have someone on your team willing to organize a “water club,” you can pay dues and share a water dispenser. But nobody wants to do it because you have to collect money (ugh), find a place to put it, guard it from free loaders, deal with the delivery (especially fun with security), etc. ad infinitum.

      1. Jenee*

        We had to get rid of our water club because one of our coworkers was filling up multiple gallon jugs every day to take home. There was a revolt.

        1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

          My company provides free soda for employees during the day. However, we once had to yell at someone who was taking three cases home .. this was also on a weekend where some movers and construction folks were coming in to do work …

          Said employee could not understand that the movers, or construction guys, or even the night cleaners might want to have a cold drink….

    5. Brett*

      Same thing here with local government. We have a kitchen (because we sometimes work long disaster response shifts), but have to buy our own utensils, pots and pans, napkins, etc. Coffee is a real sore point because not only do we have to provide our own coffee, but it frequently gets raided by visitors who actually assume they “own” it because it is coffee in a government office. (And when I say raided, I mean that costco sized containers of ground coffee disappear along with sleeves of cups.) We also get to buy cleaning supplies beyond those used by the contracted cleaning company (e.g. dish soap, air fresheners for the bathroom, dusting spray).

    6. JC*

      My husband’s off-site, after-hours holiday party for his federal government agency cost $25/head to attend for appetizers only and a cash bar. And even though it was a cash bar, they only served terrible cheap wine (think Sutter Home and Woodbridge).

      I left my federal government job in 2012, soon after GSA got in trouble for their lavish Las Vegas conferences. In the aftermath of that, we were told that we couldn’t have off-site parties at all without taking leave for the time we were at the party. Our holiday party was a potluck in a conference room (that we thankfully did not need to take leave to attend).

    7. Dan*

      It’s fascinating how much true waste exists in the government, and yet what gets “eliminated” is stuff the private sector pays for. And when I say true waste, there are programs that “everybody” agrees should be cut, because they no longer serve the purpose they were originally designed for. Yet they don’t get cut.

    8. Anon for This*

      Yes to all this! I work for a non-profit with lots of government contracts, so we follow many of the same cost-cutting rules that government does. Sometimes it truly is the little things that count.

    9. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

      In the private sector, they sometimes pull stunts like things like this, too.

      I worked for a company that was highly profitable, but they were trying to impose a “poverty mantra” on us. No paper towels in the galley – they wouldn’t even pick up the soda cans, because they claimed “no funds”, even as the bugs began crawling.

      A 24-hour control center was moved to a particular floor – and when drinking water, paper towels, and toilet paper ran out in that area, the office manager came to the conclusion that people were stealing things! Yeah that’s it – they’re taking those big drinking water bottles down 22 stories….

      You might even come into the office one day – and the lights were out – you were expected to work at your computer terminal in the dark, because there were no funds to keep the lights on.

      Try working under those conditions. I guess it raised morale because it quickly became a joke. And gave employees some good “Dinner Table Stories”.

    10. State employee*

      Same here at the state level. The taxpayers want us to take a vow of poverty and live like monks.

  10. illini02*

    This seems a bit much to be upset about. I’ll be the first one to admit that I don’t understand the ins and outs of what a government agency can do. But to be upset that some people chose not to go to a party and still had to work while others had the option to buy themselves drinks seems like you are grasping for something to be angry at. I could almost see if you were mad that they provided drinks to people, although even that seems like just being a kill joy. But it almost seems you want to punish people who made the choice to socialize.

  11. Eliza Jane*

    The whole “tax dollars” argument always ticks me off, as someone who has never worked directly for the government. Basically, what it seems to say is that we don’t want to pay for quality, so we’ll keep nickel and diming until all the good people leave. And the people who gripe about their tax dollars paying for IRS employees’ free coffee or holiday party are inevitably the same people who grouse that the IRS person they talk to on the phone is incompetent. Yes. Because “good stewardship” has made the job completely freaking unappealing, so the only people who will take it are either not good enough to get a better job in the private sector or passionately dedicated to public service — which is getting rarer and rarer.

    1. Eliza Jane*

      Addendum: I realized right after posting that this could be read as a slur on those who work for the government, and I really didn’t mean it that way — there are a lot of people who are very competent and awesome in the government, for a lot of different reasons.

      I just mean that the whole compensation package for government work is a lot less appealing than the package for private sector work, so the best people (who can get multiple offers) will be giving up a lot to take government work.

      1. Anonsie*

        No, I got it. There’s something to be said for the amount of vitriol that gets spewed at government employees/agencies for not being effective, but when you talk about trying to give them tools and people to be more effective suddenly it’s a waste of money.

        It’s similar with a lot of non-profit funding scenarios. It is insane how much people want you to get done off teeny tiny budgets– then the more people fail to meet their funding terms, the more the funding agency tightens the rope and makes it harder and harder for anyone to get and use the money, which just exacerbates the problem.

      2. JB*

        I didn’t take it as a slur. It’s really hard to find someone who is competent, driven, hard-working, AND willing to put up with low salary, being nickel-and-dimed on everything, and what many in the general public think government employees should put up with. It was always hard for my employer to fill vacancies with good people, even in the recession, because most people could make more money at a job that also provided coffee and post-its.

          1. Judy*

            And the 3 F50 companies I’ve worked for don’t have coffee for free, it’s in the cafeteria, vending machines or employee supplied.

            The company I’m working for now is small, and we do have coffee in the break room.

            Usually office supplies are pretty much available, though. Except they don’t restock during back to school time. I’ve never worked anywhere where they supplied tissues, although some places supplied paper towel rolls.

    2. Xay*

      The “tax dollars” mentality and how it has impacted the way government workers are treated is exactly why I left government employment. The nickel and diming is demoralizing, especially in areas of the government that require high levels of education and experience for well below market income. And the end result is the growing field of government contracting where the taxpayer pays a lot more than the cost of a government employee.

    3. Nerdling*

      Things that were considered luxury items when they built our current office: A mailbox. A fridge that contains an ice maker. Ice trays to stick in the freezer of our fridge that doesn’t have an ice maker. A coffee maker. A shower for folks to clean up after going out in horrible conditions/locations to do job duties (they have to detour home to get cleaned up).

      Penny wise, pound foolish.

  12. TotesMaGoats*

    As a state employee, technically, I appreciate that my employer is able to provide a holiday luncheon and other small things to us. In general, happy employees are hard(er) working employees. I don’t begrudge federal employees the same thing. I’d rather my tax dollars be used for a lunch party than for some of the other things that it actually does get wasted on. We want people to want to work for the government, right?

    Allison is right. It was a pretty straight forward, come to the party or work option. There is nothing wrong with that. Hanging out and eating with coworkers in a holiday celebration atmosphere isn’t going to convert anyone to any religion. And to be honest, neither is singing a Christmas carol of the religious variety. Unless you were held at gun point or bosses were holding your performance evaluation hostage, there was nothing forced about the singing.

    1. Cat*

      I completely disagree with your second paragraph. The test–on a moral rather than a legal level–isn’t (or shouldn’t be) whether it’s going to forcibly convert someone. It should be whether you’re excluding employees or making them feel uncomfortable due to their religious beliefs or lack thereof. Employers, particularly public ones, should be conscious of whether they’re doing the latter and singing religious Christmas carols is extremely likely to cross it. (I actually think singing secular ones is a bit over the line too but not to the same level as exposing your non-Christian employees to employer-sanctioned references to “Christ, our Lord” at work.)

      1. MK*

        The thing is, I am finding very hard to believe that people were forced to sing anything. Frankly, I before I read the comments, I had assumed that the carols were sung by a choir or other group (perhaps with the participation of some coworkers) and that the OP was complaining about being forced to listen to them (in the sense that they gave a religious tone to the party).

        1. Kelly L.*

          My guess was that the OP was one of the non-attendees and might not know every detail about the actual goings-on in the party (i.e. what the songs were or how voluntary the participation was).

        2. State employee*

          It’s coercion if the boss is looking, whether they say “for those who care to join in” or not.

          1. Graciosa*

            I really don’t think it is without some other factor.

            “For anyone who wants them, there are cupcakes in the break room” is an optional invitation. So, to my mind, is “For anyone who wants to join, there is caroling in the lobby.”

            I assume reasonable adults can figure out whether or not they want cupcakes or caroling, even if the boss is present. In order for it to be coercive, there needs to be something more – like having your performance evaluation depend upon the number of cupcakes you consume and the creativity of your praise for your baker-boss.

  13. The IT Manager*

    LW, you seem to be whining. I’m not sure what about because that Christmas party doesn’t sound terribly fun. You really seem opposed to the Christmas carols (which I do agree sounds wierd) so you probably would not have enjoyed participating.

    Do you really feel the people who attended got that much more fun than you did by remaining at your desk? Did you really want to particpate, but were unable to because of religious prohibitions? Do you hate work that much that it was less fun than a work party would have been?

    Let’s be honest, of your collegues that did attend who would have attended if the option was go home or go to the party? You have work hours parties so people don’t have to go to work parties on their own unpaid time. (Something alison suggests!) You make the party or work mandatory because most people would choose home over the party given the option.

      1. Katie the Fed*

        It’s different. This one is a complaint about what other people got to do, not something that personally affected the OP. This is a very “Teacher you didn’t assign us enough homework” kind of complaint.

      2. MK*

        I think it is, because the OP seems to feel a sense of moral outrage about a very reasonable thing. Most OPs either have a more toned-down reaction or a genuine cause for grievance.

  14. WorkerBee*

    It sounds like OP is looking for a fight – I’d bet they aren’t happy with a lot of other small things that happen in this workplace, and this is something they think might have legs.

    I don’t have a problem with an office Christmas party, even if taxpayers (gasp) did contribute to the cost. I know many public employees who can’t even get their office to provide coffee (which IMO is a borderline 8th Amendment violation).

  15. JMegan*


    Nickeling and diming federal employees over stuff that’s a generally accepted way of creating a pleasant workplace, which in turn is a generally accepted way of attracting and retaining good employees — while simultaneously making it really hard for government managers to fire low performers, something that would actually have major benefits for taxpayers — is ridiculous. And from that perspective, I have zero issue with a government employer hosting a non-extravagant holiday lunch (where employees paid for their own drinks, no less), or with expecting workers who choose not to attend to finish out their work day as normal.

    …is probably too long to stitch on a sampler or print on a coffee mug. Perhaps I’ll get it printed on an extra-large t-shirt instead.

    1. BRR*

      In an effort to not be wasteful it probably costs more by keeping low performing employees and high performing individuals choose other careers.

  16. soitgoes*

    The Christmas carol thing strikes me as odd, largely because a government office should know better than to even tread there. That said, can they really do anything if people simply don’t sing? When you take other religions and the secular-zation of general Christianity, I’d be surprised if many employees actually knew the words to these songs. Do grown adults know the lyrics to “Frosty the Snowman” off the tops of their heads? I couldn’t tell you any of the lyrics to “O Holy Night” besides, well, those first three words.

      1. soitgoes*

        Same here!

        This is very YMMV, but my mom is an English professor, and she’s been noticing for a while that today’s young adults are very non-religious, even if they culturally identify as Christian, Jewish, etc. It’s actually a bit of a problem for her as an educator, since a lot of curricula assume that students have knowledge of the Bible. It’s uncomfortable to teach something like The Grapes of Wrath, and for her (a Jewish woman) to have to explain the references to Jesus, the 12 tribes, “You don’t know what you’re doing.”

        This is a long way of saying, “LOL, hey OP’s boss, your employees don’t go to church and have never heard ‘Away in a Manger’ before.”

        1. Alter_ego*

          I was raised as an atheist by atheist parents, so until I took a comparative religions class in college, if it wasn’t Noah’s ark or Adam and eve, I probably hadn’t heard of it. I still remember the response in high school when my tenth grade English teacher said that something was a reference to pontius pilot, and I said “that’s a funny name, who is he”. You could have heard a pin drop as every head in the class slowly turned to took at me incredulously. The teacher thought I was being a smart-ass at first.
          Which I guess is a long way of saying, yup, you can’t ever assume religious knowledge, even when it’s the dominant religion.

          1. Cath in Canada*

            The primary benefit to me of the religious instruction I endured at school is that I get all the religious analogies that pervade much of Western literature. I’ve had some mutually entertaining debates with Sikh and raised-atheist friends about why Aslan is an analogy for Jesus – they still aren’t convinced!

            1. Adam*

              I find that very interesting since Lewis Carol was pretty intentional about how he wrote those stories, particularly with atheists as in my experience they are often fairly well-versed in the basics of the Jesus story.

              I suppose if you aren’t looking for it or expecting that part it could be something that would be easy to miss even if it is pretty blatant allusion. I have an a friend who was raised atheist and is very intelligent and she had no idea what Aslan was representative of until much later. Unfortunately, the realization actually took a lot of the enjoyment away from the stories for her.

                1. Adam*

                  Durr. Thank you for the catch. If my rampant typos in the original post weren’t evidence enough I probably shouldn’t be on the internet today…

              1. ReanaZ*

                I was raised super religious (I got better) and know Christian stories and the bible very well, and I totally missed Aslan was a jesus stand-in for many, many years. Maybe I was too steeped in it?

            2. Alter_ego*

              Unless there’s blatantly a scene that involves the Jesus allegory with his arms spread and his legs crossed at the ankles, a la The Matrix, I tend to completely miss religious allusions. I didn’t find out about Aslan until later, but I know all about C. S. Lewis’ religiousity, so I’m not surprised or anything.

            3. Linguist curmudgeon*

              I really enjoyed my “The Bible as/in literature” unit in 9th grade English class.

          2. NoPantsFridays*

            I was raised in a non-Christian faith, and now identify with a different non-Christian faith. I was reading aloud once in middle school and I kid you not, I read the “Christ” in Jesus Christ as “Ch-wrist.” That’s probably not too clear, but what I mean is, I read the “rist” part of “Christ” as “wrist” because I didn’t know it was pronounced. My classmates started laughing at me. My teacher thought I was trying to insult an entire religion. I was confused. Only then did I realize that Christ was not just another name, but that several Chris* (Christopher, Christy, etc.) names actually originated from Jesus Christ!

          3. Anon1234*

            Ditto on that. It was fun explaining to teachers that I really, really had no way to answer questions asking me to compare something to a religious concept because I had no background in that religion and no way to find out on one day’s notice (pre-internet).

      2. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

        We three kings of Orient are
        Tried to smoke a rubber cigar.
        It was loaded, it exploded…

        We two kings of Orient are
        Tried to smoke a rubber cigar.
        It was loaded, it exploded…

        I, one king of Orient are
        Tried to smoke a rubber cigar.
        It was loaded, it exploded…

        I did hear “Melchemazar” in place of “Orient are” but don’t know of that significance.

        1. Andrew*

          I’m guess you heard Melchior, Balthazar, and/or Gaspar and conflated them together. Those are the names ascribed to the three wise men. I’m not really sure where they came from.

          1. Mephyle*

            Not the three wise men; but their names. Where did they come from? Not the Christian Bible. The Bible doesn’t even say that there were three of them. It’s all from tradition.

        2. soitgoes*

          It’s beginning to look a lot like syphilis…

          You know what? I think I WOULD like to sing some Christmas carols at a government luncheon.

  17. Katie the Fed*

    So, at my place of work, I can authorize up to 8 hours a year of administrative leave for my employees for morale-based activities. It’s a new policy, but I really like it. It gives me the flexibility to have a nice going-away lunch for a departing team member, or let everyone blow off some steam with an afternoon baseball game, etc.

    I use it very carefully – it’s not much. But it’s a small thing that can really go a long way toward building morale, which does have an effect on how well we do our jobs.

    I understand being good stewards of taxpayer money, but employees aren’t as effective if they’re doing nothing but work all the time. Sometimes a little fun is good for everyone, within reason. I get that this wasn’t fun for you – that’s understandable. But nobody was forced to go either.

    1. TotesMaGoats*

      I’m both saddened and surprised. Surprised that you even have that flexibility and then sad that you only get 8 hours.

      1. Katie the Fed*

        I think it’s ok. That’s enough for a couple team lunches and a daytime ballgame in the spring. The holiday party didn’t count against it – it was held here so people just dropped in all day.

        And none of this includes the never-ending parade of CFC fundraising events.

          1. Katie the Fed*

            We’ve done it so we attend. We each buy a cheapo bleacher seat and go to a game together. Depending on the time of the game we just leave work an hour early or so. It’s a nice spring activity.

            1. JMegan*

              That would be so much fun! For me, anyway- I’m sure it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. But I think it’s a great down-time sort of activity. Something to direct people’s attention, but a ball game is usually quiet enough that you could have a non-baseball related conversation in the stands as well if you wanted to. And baseball is easy enough even for people who aren’t familiar with it – just cheer (or boo) when everybody else does, and you’re good. :)

              1. Katie the Fed*

                Exactly! And I’m sure this would rile up the LW, but it usually involves a fair amount of drinking. At Nationals Park at least there are some bars with good views, so we usually just sit out and have some beers and enjoy the weather, while barely watching the game. It’s great in the spring when the weather is great and nobody wants to be inside.

                1. TotesMaGoats*

                  My boss took us to Nationals Park for a game last summer. It’s a really nice park! I’m not a baseball fan at all, so I was able to sit and chat with my coworkers. I would’ve rather go to Camden Yards, as I know the area better and could’ve taken light rail instead of paying to park in a fairly shady looking place but it wasn’t a bad evening out.

                2. Elizabeth West*

                  See, I would hate this. Sitting in the sun (no!) watching a boring sporting activity (snore) drinking beer (yeah, who’s gonna drive me home?) when I could be off doing something else (inside!).

                  What about people who don’t want to go? Do they just get to go home early?

                3. Katie the Fed*

                  No, it’s similar to the OP – you get the administrative leave for the particular activity. If you don’t want to go, then you have to be at work or take your own leave. But hopefully you could come to another team activity.

              2. Anon for This*

                Our company has a mandatory ball game (watch, not play – it’s our city’s MLB team) in June. I would rather work, but I can’t – it’s mandatory. I have to: sit in the sun all afternoon; sneak water into the stadium, since it costs $3 a bottle inside and my private-sector company doesn’t pay; be blasted with extraordinarly loud music and random, piercing noises for 3-4 hours (immediate headache); attend afterparties and after-afterparties at multiple bars even though I don’t drink and don’t want to frequent alcohol-focused establishments; and have the choice of either riding with the least intoxicated coworker to get home, or parking my car in the unsafe area around the stadium (last year, a coworker had her car’s window smashed and two company laptops were stolen out of the vehicle). We start at 12PM and go into the evening, though I left at like 7-8PM (which is already a few hours longer than I’d have to stay at the office), others stay out much later. Plus I’m exempt so I don’t even get paid for that time.

                The weird part is that I actually like baseball, especially from the comfort of my air conditioned living room. (I pretend like I’m clueless so I don’t get into betting or debating/arguing with my coworkers.) I even used to attend games in my former city, where the stadium was in a safe and highly populated area and I could leave right after the game to get home. And I’d only go in April or September, because heat.

                I realize you can’t accomodate everyone – but I don’t even want to be accomodated, I just want to be left the hell out! I’m glad to work at the office until 7, 8, 9 PM (though I don’t have enough work for that honestly) to avoid the ball game! My company is pretty reasonable otherwise and I attend all other forced fun events, I would just like to opt out of this one because it takes me like 2-3 days to recover.

                1. Katie the Fed*

                  FWIW, I ask my team what they want to do – they were the ones who came up with the ballgame idea and it’s been a hit. My team is REALLY social.

                2. Anon for This*

                  Katie, your posts here give me the impression that you are a good, reasonable, manager so I don’t doubt it. :) Does *everyone* on your team really want to go to the ball game? Do they have the option of not going and working instead? I ask because most of my team loves baseball-and-alcohol day, but I truly hate it. I like virtually every other aspect of my job but this alone makes me want to start job searching. It’s that bad.

                3. Katie the Fed*

                  Oh of course – nobody has to go. If you want to work and then leave at your normal time instead of going out, that’s totally fine. We have one guy who doesn’t really like socializing and he’s happy to stay away from those things – that’s fine.

        1. Anon for this*

          I am SO GLAD the CFC campaign is over. My favorite was always getting the agency-wide emails forwarded from my division rep, even though he could see that the whole agency had already gotten the exact same email.

          1. De Minimis*

            I’m really glad no one here seems to be interested in doing CFC at all. Been here over two years and have never heard one word about it.

          2. Also anon*

            My favorite was the ‘we can’t talk personally to contractors to ask them to donate, but we CAN send them endless emails!’…guh

          3. AnotherFed*

            We have fun with our CFC fundraising – the coordinator for our immediate org (~100 people) usually volunteers to take a pie to the face if we meet our goal, and then if that’s reached, anyone else can donate a set amount to pie him or her themselves. Since the coordinator is generally one of the more senior people, this is a ton of fun – who wouldn’t want to get to pie their boss or chief engineer?

        2. Chrissi*

          I would love to have that at my agency. Each year they encourage us, as a division, to participate in a volunteer activity during work hours. The first year a bunch of us went to a homeless shelter to do lunch duty. When we got back, they told us that since we were gone longer than our lunch break was, we had to take leave for the remaining time we were gone (which was about 1.5 hrs over our break). Guess how many people have volunteered since then?

          1. ThursdaysGeek*

            So, that’s not really a recommendation to participate in a volunteer activity during WORK HOURS, is it?

  18. justine*

    I think I understand your concerns, letter writer. You might love to have a party and get paid for it but it’s the perception of the situation. You might have values that include working for every second you’re getting paid to work and get miffed when you’re caught between going along to get along and keeping your values.

    As a taxpayer, I agree with you, I don’t approve of paying for 2 hours of partying for your department and who knows how many others and tons of other things the government spends money on.

    Keep to your values, do the best job you can, be polite to everyone, and try (i know its tough) to let it go. Deep breath. Big hug! And maybe next year you’ll be manager and will choose to not have a party and, from what i read a lot in this blog, many people will be happy.

    1. MsM*

      Allison, Katie the Fed, and others have said it better above, but government employees are still employees, and employees are people, and people even in positions of public trust occasionally need an hour or two to relax. And if the budget is so stretched that it can’t accommodate a modest refreshments stipend, that speaks to a much bigger systemic problem that canceling the holiday party won’t solve.

      1. Adam*

        Exactly. Believe me I will rant about how much the government wastes, but the waste isn’t whether or not the local DMV gets to have a pizza party once in a while. You can trim the fat from the budget as much as you want, but so long as the big things are draining the cash it’s just additional stress and misery.

        Compared to my own budget: I’m not broke because I decided to eat chicken instead of refried beans for dinner this week. I’m broke because my rent is almost half my salary. Within reason there’s no need to make the regular staff work like minimalist monks just to save a dime.

        1. Natalie*

          For that matter, even for someone who believes government employees should be robots who are just popped into a charging unit at the end of each shift, it’s not possible to prevent every single instance of waste. There’s some level at which the time required to make and enforce the rules costs more than the “waste” involved, so if your goal is cheapest government possible it’s better to live with the “waste”.

          1. Adam*

            Right. At a certain point saving money on little things ends up costing more time and energy, which are also valuable resources, than it’s worth. It is true sometimes you have to cut back on even the littlest of things when times are tough, but if the main focus of your budget woes is forgoing Starbucks for office coffee (or nothing) odds are there are larger issues that need addressing.

          2. Katie the Fed*

            Yeah, this is a problem in both government and private industry with reducing the amount of admin support. A good admin can save us all time in processing timesheets, travel vouchers, etc. Instead they push that stuff to people who are paid more per hour, who aren’t used to the processes involved, and who take infinitely longer to get those things done. I have spent HOURS unscrewing travel vouchers – that all costs money.

            1. Mathy*

              2 million federal workers at $15 an hour for two hours is $60 million.

              I think that’s a lot of money and if they do it every year for Christmas, retirement parties…one manager in my federal office makes us have a super bowl party every year, too, it adds up.

      2. Koko*

        I shake my eternal fist at the Puritans and the legacy of their “if you’re not working your knuckles to the bone, somber-faced from sun-up to sun-down, you’re slacking off [which is a sign you’re morally unfit and going to hell]” work ethic that has been stamped on American culture in particular.

        There is so much research showing that productivity and accuracy are actually improved by things like:
        -Letting doctors/nurses get adequate sleep and rest periods
        -Giving employees vacation time to decompress
        -Letting employees work flexible hours
        -Morale-boosting activities

        But it’s like, research be damned, if you’re happy, you’re not working hard enough.

          1. Editor*

            Some jobs seem like eternal hazing processes — get up at the crack of dawn, work 12-hour days (my brother calls that a “half-day” schedule), commute home, work from home, get some sleep, get up, and on and on and on. Meanwhile, allowing people to come in later, says an article I saw, allows them to work more efficiently because they get more sleep.

            If I could pass one law to change employment in the U.S., it would be to change the rules for exempt employees so that excessive schedules — more than 50 hours a week routinely or five 12-hour days or whatever — had to come with a pay rate above $100,000 indexed to inflation (with provisions to fire or discipline people who just want to live at the office). Basically, I think the exempt category has been over-used to soak up the impact of layoffs.

    2. LBK*

      I fully approve of my tax dollars going towards treating government workers like humans instead of indentured servants. If I were the owner of a company I’d be happy to spend money on a holiday party for my employees because it’s a decent thing to do and it shows that I care about them. I don’t see this as being any different – 99% of the year these people are working for me, often at lower pay and with zero perks that the rest of us in the private sector get. The least I can do is chip in a negligible amount of money (I’d be surprised if my share of the cost of the party even came out to a full cent) to show my appreciation for them.

  19. Bend & Snap*

    Yuck. This feels like the equivalent of telling a cop your taxes pay his/her salary. People need to lighten up about what government workers do “on the taxpayer dime.” It’s not like it was a hookers & blow party.

    1. Callie*

      I used to have parents constantly reminding me that as a teacher they “pay” my salary, so I should do whatever they said. :|

  20. CAinUK*

    Yeah, sometimes you have to suck it up. I worked in a gov’t office, and we had an…interesting…director who LOVED guns and LOVED off-roading. Our one staff outing that year was going to an ATV park and shooting range (same place!). That might’ve raised some taxpayer eyebrows…

    I went along because it beat going into the office, but some coworkers didn’t (some because they hated guns and/or off-roading, some as a protest to mandatory bonding events) – but those coworkers were still expected to go into work that day if they didn’t come to the office off-site event.

    Solution? They brought in DVDs and cake to the office that day.

  21. Oryx*

    Without knowing more about the specifics regarding the song selections, I don’t see the issue. My old job did this (well, minus the singing). We would have a holiday party in the middle of the work day that lasted 2-3 hours. Some people spent the whole time there while others would stay for part then leave, or others would arrive late, and some would pop in and out throughout the afternoon. Like Alison said, the office is giving the workers an option to attend or have their normal work day. I would normally stay for part of it and go back to my desk and do work. That was my choice and I didn’t begrude the employees who took full advantage of the full time.

    Plus, if it’s a cash bar I don’t think that’s a gift or misuse of tax dollars.

    1. Rindle*

      Start with _Cleveland Board of Education v. Loudermill_. Then read up on federal employee unions.

      1. De Minimis*

        It’s actually not that hard especially if someone is really messing up. And yes, we do have a union.

        1. fposte*

          Whereas at my state university most of us non-union folks are on yearly contracts, so it takes longer to get rid of us. (I’m sure there’s some kind of loophole for genuine malfeasance, but mostly you just get notified that this will be your last yearly contract.)

    2. Katie the Fed*

      There are a lot of processes and steps that need to be taken to do so. And if you have any particularly lazy or risk-averse manager in the process, that can derail the whole thing.

      Let’s say I have a problem employee. I can’t just say “Seamus, it’s not working out – Friday is going to be your last day.” I have to do this:

      – Give a verbal or written warning
      – If the behavior continues, I have to escalate – go to HR while notifying my boss and sometimes my boss’s boss.
      – HR will help me draft a formal warning with consequences. I give it to the employee and the employee can appeal.
      – Now I have to escalate further. We’re probably looking at a performance improvement plan and perhaps a suspension or some kind of corrective action. The employee can appeal. If they get a lawyer they can drag it out for months. If ANY of my bosses start to get uneasy, the process is derailed. If I say “screw it, not worth it” and allow the employee to move to another office, the employee becomes the new office’s problem.
      – Eventually we make the decision to terminate. The employee can appeal.

      So what happens is that while there is a process and it’s possible to do, a lot of managers take the path of least resistance and decide to let the employee do a lateral transfer within the organization, or go on a rotation, and these people get passed around like a bad penny.

      But, what also happens that people don’t realize is that once an employee is in the disciplinary process, they often quit. I had someone I was putting through the process and he decided it was time to go back to school. That’s actually quite common.

      1. My Fake Name is Laura*

        So basically the process is fine, but bad or lazy managers are the problem? Having been on both sides of union/management I can say this doesn’t surprise me at all.

        1. Katie the Fed*

          Honestly, I think it’s a combo. I think it’s a matter of Column A being a stupidly painful amount of paperwork and process, and Column B (doing nothing) being way easier. Managers would probably be less lazy/risk averse if the process were easier.

        2. OOF*

          It’s important to remember that many managers have primary responsibilities outside of managing. So if you’re a fundraiser for a state university and the vast majority of your time is to be spent fundraising, which then informs perception of your success, it is a very difficult decision to undertake the process to terminate.

          Additionally, institutions may be more or less risk-averse. The Employer Relations team may decide that someone who is a low performer but not spectacularly disastrous cannot be fired because they fit into a protected category.

          1. Joey*

            That’s the problem. HR shouldn’t be deciding Someone cannot be fired. They should only point out the risks and the steps you can take to minimize them. It’s up to you (and your chain) to decide after that.

            1. OOF*

              It depends on the institution. Employment Relations is not equivalent to HR – they are tasked with the legal side and with risk assessment. We can “should” all over this, but my answer is focused on what “is” rather than what “should be.”

      2. Hanukkah Balls*

        I agree on the voluntary quitting point. I’ve never actually had to fire an employee, but whenever I did start a disciplinary process (at my private, non-government, non-profit) for an employee I knew I needed to get rid of, they’ve quit of their own volition. Generally that makes everything easier and we’re able to part on better terms. I also respect them a lot for being able to recognize where that process would end.

      3. Rindle*

        Katie, this is a years’ long process though, right? I’m not a supervisor, but that’s what I’ve seen / heard from multiple supervisors here. I had one excellent manager (a DAS, no less) who spent about 5% of her time for two years trying to deal with a worthless employee. After those two years of doing the things you describe above, when she thought she could let him go, HR gave her a whole new set of hoops to jump through (and step one of the hoops was another YEAR.) She finally gave up.

        1. Katie the Fed*

          It can be. It depends on the people involved. How shall I say this diplomatically – HR is a crapshoot.

          1. De Minimis*

            I think it also depends on the level of the employee and the nature of the issue. Think it can depend on the agency and the type of work too. We had a high level person here removed and the process took a couple of days at the most. The union played a role in that they were able to negotiate to where the employee was permitted to retire.

            1. De Minimis*

              I should add, without getting too specific, this was a situation where a law was broken, not just a garden variety performance issue.

          2. Rindle*

            Just seeing this comment now. Thank you for the response! I always appreciate your public-sector perspective.

      4. State employee*

        … and then if you’re a manager and your boss doesn’t want to deal with it, you have to limp along with your inadequate employee dragging down your department

    3. Brett*

      Short answer: the 5th (and 14th) amendment.
      Basically, most government employees have a right to due process of law because of the 5th amendment. Because of this required due process of law, as a supervisor you have specific procedures to follow in order to fire an employee. If you do not follow the procedures, then the employee can have a takings claim. (Cleveland Board v Loudermill basically establishes that a job is a property interest for government employees, establishing that due process of law is required to deprive a public employee of their property interest in their job.)

      The 4th amendment protections against unlawful search and seizure can make this more complicated since it limits what can be used against an employee in a termination proceeding (e.g. you cannot use their private email against them even if they used a government system to access it). And 1st amendment protections can come into play as well in a few limited circumstances that would not affect a private sector employer.

      1. LBK*

        Does due process of law really have anything to do with it when there are no laws about termination aside from protected category discrimination? I can’t see how that would apply in this situation, unless the termination procedure for government employees is actually outlined by law (which I don’t believe it is).

          1. LBK*

            Okay, so in reading more, the part that I was missing here is that Ohio is (or at least wasn’t at the time) an at-will state and that there were termination procedures outlined by law that weren’t followed. That makes more sense now.

    4. Joey*

      Two reasons:

      1. The public has a hard time comprehending how the government can hire a manager so inept to fire someone without being able to show that the employee got a fair shake.

      2. its hard for a judge and jury to comprehend how a manager with all of the resources of the government can fire someone without much documentation without breaking the law.

    5. Student*

      A lot of people perceive the work as not mattering. They feel like nothing they do can positively influence results, so why bother trying? They just come in, do enough to keep getting a paycheck and not rock the boat, and leave at the end of the day. There’s a lot of politics, regulations, and other agencies that tie your hands so you can’t do anything meaningfully different. Your funding levels are largely set by what’s popular with politicians, instead of what’s needed to get work done or to deliver results. And woe betide you if your government agency is highly micromanaged by Congress itself, like Homeland Security. You might as well not show up, because your job has been rigged to fail by politicians you’ve never even seen.

      So why bother to manage for results in such an environment? You as manager can’t change department goals or policies, can’t reduce any of the red tape, and might frequently lose inter-department squabbles. Why not just make sure the people you like under your charge keep getting paid for as long as possible until your funding gets yanked for reasons unrelated to your department’s performance?

      It’s a system of overall bad incentives, managed increasingly by politicians who aren’t interested in doing something good as much as getting the most popular tweet that week. It’s not that government inherently can’t do things well, its’ that you have to elect people who care about getting things done at least a little bit.

  22. Adam*

    In regards to the use of funds for government worker parties: I grouse about how much money the feds waste as much as just about anyone, but I really don’t see the problem with letting them use organization funds for some little festivities here and there. It’s not like their chartering private planes or anything and these are regular people who make regular salaries. My perception is that working for the government has enough aspects to the job that are challenging or just straight up suck without also penny-pinching to extremes out of fear that Johnny Q Taxpayer will get upset that the staff aren’t buying their own coffee filters for the office.

    1. Katie the Fed*

      FWIW, it’s not always us wasting the money. If you look at defense procurement, it’s often Congress that keeps programs going that even the Pentagon wants to cut, because of jobs in their districts. The F-35 program is an epic clusterf**k with cost overruns that you wouldn’t believe, but production is spread out in almost all of the 50 states and many districts, so nobody in congress wants to step up and kill it and lose jobs in their distrct. So Congress ends up being a huge part of why so much money gets wasted. Then they’ll raise holy hell over $15 muffins at a conference (which is also ridiculous, but nothing is more ridiculous than F-35)

      1. Adam*

        Exactly. The people who waste the money are the ones who are in charge of it, which is a VERY small percentage of the people who actually work for Uncle Sam. Like I said in another comment, my lack of cash these days isn’t because I sometimes opt in for meat instead of bean burritos for meals; it’s because I choose to shell out so much in rent each month. :P

      2. Xay*

        And the same thing happens on the state level. There are few things as frustrating as being unable to dedicate resources to an effective, high functioning project/partnership because a legislator or the governor has an influential buddy or a crucial district.

  23. Brett*

    Out of all the things in that letter, the one that raises red flags is allowing employees to consume alcohol while on the clock. From my experience, the court systems are a lot more likely to have their own rules outside the rest of state government, but many states have executive orders forbidding the consumption of alcohol while on duty. In some cases this restriction is so severe that it even covers the entire time an employee is travelling for training and education (so, no consuming alcohol with colleagues at 10pm while away at a conference).

  24. Anonsie*

    This is kind of unrelated but all I can think of is when I briefly worked for the federal government working on parks land, and they had to train us about how to tell people in the parks who we were and what we were doing because people would get really angry at us wasting taxpayer money trying to repair the trails and clear dead hazard trees and whatnots. Apparently people are totally happy to see you doing this unless they get a whiff that you work for the government, then how dare you. This is especially funny because we made crazy low wages such that most of our staff were also on food stamps and other assistance. I couldn’t help but feel there was some irony in there.

    I wasn’t there when it happened, but apparently one of my managers was confronted by some protesters at one point who angrily told him that trees don’t pay taxes. That one got added to the training.

    1. Z*

      Wow, was this parks service? I volunteer with the Parks Service and people are usually so so nice and tell me how great I am for deciding to take a career with the NPS, then I have to tell them I’m a volunteer. I feel like it’s the one government agency most people can agree on. Sad to hear you are dealing with nutters.

      1. Anonsie*

        Oh we got a lot of that, too, but we also got angry people often enough that dealing with them was part of the standard training. Most people were, as you say, happy to see their parks being maintained.

        I also found that a lot of people assumed we were volunteers up front and only got mad once they found out we weren’t, so there’s that.

        1. VintageLydia USA*

          FWIW I love the NPS and take every opportunity to go to the parks near me. Thanks for your hard work!

  25. Observer*

    +1M for your comment on penny pinching. But, when did the GAO make this decision? Where can I find more information?

    1. Student*

      It’s also rather explicitly guidance from the GAO. It’s not a government-wide edict. Some departments will adopt it, some will ignore it. I assure you, Congress will still have as many plastic spoons as they want.

      1. Observer*

        I’m sure congress would have found more than enough bipartisanship to fund whatever they want for lunch, even before this new term.

        But, even as guidance- what on earth? Do these guys know ANYTHING about management?

  26. Lisa who who likes common sense*

    Loved your response, Allison. Thank you for being a breath of fresh air.

  27. Nerdling*

    Thank you for this reply, Alison!

    Look, I get it. The taxpayers pay our salaries; we need to be good stewards of their money. Well, guess what? Last time I checked, we are also taxpayers, which means we pay our own salaries, so we’re also kinda self-employed. ;)

    Here, we just moved into a new office. A refrigerator with an ice maker was deemed a luxury, and the government doesn’t pay for luxuries (apparently ice TRAYS were also luxuries). Right at the moment, the government doesn’t pay for much of anything that might carry a whiff of excessive or unnecessary expenditures or “luxury” (I’m still surprised toilet paper isn’t yet considered a luxury). Unfortunately, the quickest and easiest way to accomplish that is to cut things that boost employee morale. It makes it look like changes are being made, it satisfies the ravenous taxpayers who assume those of us who work here are automatons, and it allows the major projects that are massive money pits to be continued. It’s penny wise, pound foolish.

    Why is it penny wise, pound foolish to be as upset as you are by an absolutely normal policy that allows for treating government employees as though they’re real people, too? Because it contributes directly to the destruction of employee morale and shores up those ravenous taxpayers’ self-righteous grumblings as being somehow legitimate. Have morale go low enough, and you start losing the really good people — or your agency never hires them in the first place. I’ve been here for almost seven years, and there are absolutely days when I wonder why the hell I’ve stayed. Generally those are days when I read the comments on online articles about government spending or the day after Congress has failed yet again to pass a budget and I’m working for free. (I was also told that that day was the best day of someone else’s life and that I should stop being a leech and get a real, private sector job.)

    Stop being penny wise and pound foolish.

  28. Jill*

    Around Christmas I was playing satellite radio in the car and flipped to a station playing all Hanukkah songs. I didn’t even know there were other Hanukkah songs other than the Dreidel song. And that’s when it occurred to me that, as a Christian, I’ve been totally oblivious as to just how much Christian holidays dominate. Other people asking for their traditions to be considered…or asking not to be forced to participate in mine isn’t a war on Christianity. Good grief.

    On another note, having been a government employee at the municipal level for 15 years, I still can’t get over the things that the general taxpaying public will begrudge us….then they turn around and complain about how many grumpy government employees they have to deal with. You know, if you’d let my boss use $150 of department funds to buy us a small working fridge or a working coffee maker, I’d be a whole lot more cheerful.

    1. illini02*

      But no one was forcing anyone to participate in religious holiday traditions. There was a party, which was optional to go to. It seems that the OP made the choice to not participate, but then was angry at the office for having something that others could CHOOSE to participate in. That I think is where most people have a problem.

    2. AvonLady Barksdale*

      Just as a side note… I appreciate your sentiment. You should also know that there aren’t very many Chanukah songs, so you’re not completely oblivious. :) I waited 25-plus years of my life to get a mainstream Chanukah movie and I got Adam Sandler’s ode to reindeer poop, which was crap.

  29. Worker Cee*

    Today, I was notified of the following:
    On Friday, January 16, the office will be closed from 3 to 5 p.m., at which time no one will be working. We will be hosting Dean Braxton, who entered the hospital to have a routine kidney stone blasted, died in the hospital for 1 hour and 45 minutes and then came back to life. He will tell of his life (death) experience. If you will recall, he is the gentle-man who wrote the book “In Heaven”, copies of which I purchased and made available to you.

    He also will be speaking at the church across the street (First Christian Church), at 7 p.m. on Friday, January 16.

    If you attend either of the aforementioned meetings, you will be paid for the 2 hours that the office is closed.

    These meetings are open to the public and you may invite your friends and family.

    Mr. Braxton will also be speaking at Believers’ Church at 2577 Schenley Road, Warren, Ohio, at 5 p.m. on Saturday, January 17, and at 9 and again at 10:45 a.m. on Sunday, January 18.

    This is a very religious person/pastor, and book. I am concerned that I will be singled out/penalized/possibly harassed/terminated for my non-involvement, or if I even express my opinion of non-belief in this matter. Do I have any legal backing on this issue? I am also concerned that I will be forced to lose more hours in the future due to them forcing me to attend religiously motivated events.

    1. Katie the Fed*

      You might want to email this to Alison – it’s not really related to the above topic and you’re unlikely to get a response on an older post here. Is this a government office?

      1. Worker Cee*

        Thank you for the information, I will do as suggested. As a newbie here, I apologize for the wrong placement. I should have looked into the details more before just posting, but the situation was just thrust on me and I’m scrambling to try to find valid/legal answers as to what my rights would be. I’m also fearful if I don’t attend, I may be singled out for future issues/problems. As for the government agency question, it is not a government agency.

  30. Former Professional Computer Geek*

    AAM said, “And that’s why so many managers get huffy when people don’t attend; they see it as skipping out on a work event.”

    I laughed at this. At a previous job I was given crap for not attending the holiday party. The problem was that the party was held at a place that required going down a steep flight of stairs (no other access available). While working there I became disabled and stairs were no longer an option. I tried talking to the boss about moving the party to somewhere accessible and was told no, because “everyone loves that place!” For three years I got, “Why weren’t you at the party? You should have been there!” Well, sorry. This Dalek never learned to levitate.

    1. Mephyle*

      How awful! Please tell more. What did you answer when they asked you why you weren’t at the party? Did you tell them specifically that you weren’t able to get down the stairs? Did they say “Oh, we would have carried you down!” or what?

      1. Former Professional Computer Geek*

        When a coworker said it I’d respond with something like, “Well, I’m not able to use stairs anymore, remember?” They’d look ashamed, mutter something like “Sorry” under their breath, and either escape or change the subject.

        When the boss said it I’d say the same thing. The boss would look angry and walk away, or excuse themself.

  31. JR*

    “Nickeling and diming federal employees over stuff that’s a generally accepted way of creating a pleasant workplace, which in turn is a generally accepted way of attracting and retaining good employees — while simultaneously making it really hard for government managers to fire low performers, something that would actually have major benefits for taxpayers — is ridiculous.”

    Thank you thank you thank you! I worked at a public agency and morale became pretty dismal when they told us we could no longer take an afternoon off-site for a holiday party (that we paid for ourselves) because some taxpayer group had complained. The irony is that everyone I worked with would work much more than the time they were required to by law WITHOUT putting in for O.T. (which, as government employees, we could have done) and four hours once a year was a small price to pay.

    After that incident, people started putting down 5, 10, 15 minutes overtime when meetings ran late, etc. and it became a petty and terrible place to work so I quit.

    The irony is that the same people who push to make government workplaces joyless hell-holes are the first ones who complain about government employees who are less than cheerful and enthusiastic!

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