my employee excluded coworkers from his holiday party

A reader writes:

I am the owner, founder, and managing partner of a small law firm. We employ 15 people. Of those 15, we have four leaders. Three of those leaders are “senior associates” or “junior partner”-level lawyers and one is a non-lawyer accounting/billing manager.

Recently, one of the four leaders, a lawyer, held a Christmas party at his house, and invited everyone in the firm except the three other leaders and me. This lawyer is known to be very cliquish, and he and his team are prone to complaining and whining that they aren’t treated as well as others, when in fact they are given the best cases and lavished with the best perks and benefits. They also are known to be less than kind or respectful to the women in our firm. The decision to exclude the other three leaders, all of whom are women, has hurt their feelings and caused acrimony amongst the other teams because the invited kept their leaders in the dark about the party or even lied about it. The decision to exclude me is problematic as it signifies to me an open hostility or a potential threat to my business. Also, I fear that this is somewhat of a snub/sign of disrespect that I cannot ignore since everyone knows about it.

I admit that I am personally hurt since I have taken great pains to include this lawyer in my personal family life, and gave this person significant professional attention in an effort to promote and help him, but this is less concerning than the drama this has caused in my business and professional life. I was planning on giving all four leaders significant raises, official promotion to the title of partner (for the lawyers), and large bonuses. So, I feel that I can (A) do nothing, nothing at all; (B) do nothing but remain vigilant that this person may be planning to leave and perhaps hurt the company, while pulling back on including him in personal and professional events, matters, and opportunities; (C) inquire of this person whether he intended to send a message of hostility and indicate that I have taken it as such and require an explanation and resolution plan; or (D) go ahead and fire him since this level of unhappiness and acting out means we either have an office cancer on our hands or an active threat where a lawyer is scheming/plotting to poach business and go to a competitor.

I answer this question — and four others — over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • Can we ask about our missing Christmas bonuses?
  • Wine as a company holiday gift
  • Bad planning is forcing me to work over Christmas
  • My company is closing the week of Christmas and making me use PTO or take it unpaid

{ 210 comments… read them below }

  1. Buckeye*

    Oh my god. That snowman picture on the Inc website made me laugh out loud. He’s like the Eeyore of snowmen.

  2. Mommy MD*

    It might not be nice but when you have a private party at home, you control the guest list. I’d move on.

    1. Trout 'Waver*

      In the context that this is a law firm, this is a deliberate snubbing and a bizarrely aggressive power play. This guy is on his way out and is going to poach as many employees and clients as he can.

      1. Aveline*


        It’s a boundary testing behavior to see what LW will do.

        Personally, I’d walk him out the door.

      2. R.D.*

        Yep. I’d be shutting down his access to company files ASAP. Also, he sounds like a huge turd. I hope OP fired him.

      3. Bad Partner, no bonus*

        Especially in a law firm, and I disagree a bit with Alison’s advice to stop the family socializing. Law firms naturally tend to have a culture of socializing with other attorneys’ spouses – likely a throwback to the days when wives were expected to help entertain clients, but also because once an attorney makes partner, s/he is literally a business owner with the other partner attorneys (and depending on your state’s laws her/his spouse may also have a legally-enforceable ownership interest in the business). So, your fellow attorneys aren’t just coworkers – they are actual or potential business partners. To me, that means Mr. Senior Associate party host should have invited all the lawyers or none of the lawyers. But he didn’t because he’s going to jump to another firm and drag OP’s associates and clients with him.

    2. Emmie*

      You do. But when your guest list is coworkers and has work related consequences, negative ramifications need to be addressed. This also appears to be one example of many about this person’s ability to represent the form, and lead a team.

    3. MLB*

      Except when you work in an office with a very small group and specifically exclude certain people. I’m not of the “invite everyone or no one” mindset, but when it’s a small group it’s an issue. Regardless, there are larger issues at hand outside of the party that need to be addressed as Alison mentioned.

    4. Artemesia*

      Nah — one could make the argument of not inviting the boss but not peers and especially not peers all of whom are women when one already has a reputation there. Excluding just three is different from inviting 3 or 4 or even ONLY his team; he invited these women’s teams but not them. This is a shot across the bow of the CEO. I would not discuss the party with him at all — I would fire him and redistribute his reports to the remaining three lawyer/directors until a new promotion or hire could be made. And I would do it fast and make sure technology is locked down before you let him go and walk him so he could do as little damage as possible. Accept that you lose some clients to him. But don’t let him whine to others that you were annoyed at not getting a Christmas party invitation. Don’t mention that at all to anyone; focus on his overall behavior and start the new year with a clean slate. Be ready to hire some new people (lawyers are thick on the ground) as some of his nasty subordinates may walk too and in the long run your firm will be better for it. But no mention of the party — make it an ‘end of year re-assessment of the firm and our direction.’

      1. Artemesia*

        Oh and go ahead and promote the three women to partner; don’t let this jerk hurt their promotions.

      2. Aphrodite*

        I wouldn’t redistribute his team because even if you lock everything down so he personally cannot do damage to your files “his team” is still there and able and probably willing to do the damage for him. After all, he’d have an in there as long as any of them are still there. It would be sad if some of them were loyal to you (but treading carefully around him) and were also fired but they are nearly as big of a risk to you as he is.

        1. Artemesia*

          Good point. A clean sweep makes sense. Of course fire him and the rest may well follow anyway, but if the team is corrupt, they are potentials for sabotage so yeah, good point.

          1. SavannahMiranda*

            I imagine the founding partner would fire the malcontent and take his team under his immediate and direct supervision.

            Then watch them like a hawk while requiring debriefings and strategy meetings to bring the founding partner up to date on every client project that team is handling. Then direct them in new strategy on each project, reallocate tasks (and the file access that goes with them), and require weekly one-on-ones with the individuals.

            The founding partner will soon suss out who has been sufficiently shocked into a new frame of mind and who remains discontented. And can make additional decisions accordingly in 4-6 weeks. But throw a cold water bath on this guy’s team in the meantime. Those worth their weight will realign with the founder.

      3. Emily K*

        Yes, that he invited the juniors who report to other seniors without inviting the seniors is where this crosses the line into indefensible territory. Throwing a party for just your own team in your home without inviting your own boss is normal enough in most workplaces. Inviting your peers’ direct reports and possibly having even directed them not to tell their own bosses about it is a power move. Add in that excluded 3 are all women and the snubber is male and this is a heaping serving of no way no how.

    5. Kelly L.*

      The etiquette rule is generally “everybody, or less than half.” You can invite, idk, 4 out of 15 people and have a private party, but you don’t invite 11 out of 15.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Whew, good. I had chills down my back when I read the letter, because I had done it in an OldJob a number of years ago. The first year I hosted a holiday party at my home, I sent the invites to the whole department with plus ones (which would have been a total of 100 people, thankfully only 25 came). In the following year, though, the new owners of the company got a bit carried away with the firings, the layoffs and the reorgs. The department head was fired one day without any advance notice. The next day, his replacement, who’d relocated from the opposite coast for his new job, showed up in the office ready to work, meaning this change had been in the works for a while. This was followed by a wave of random layoffs all through the year. We’d come into work and one of us would be escorted out for no apparent reason. A beloved manager was called out of an all-hands meeting and never came back – turned out, he was called out of the meeting to be given the 15 minutes to put his things in a box, and escorted out. By the time the next holiday party invites needed to be sent, half the people in the department did not want to party with the other half, and no one wanted to party with the new department head – neither did I want him in my house. So I made it a private party with a guest list and invites sent out outside of work. My first thought when I saw the letter was, “if I’d gotten fired for not inviting the entire department then, that would’ve been a new level of toxic, never seen before”. But I did invite less than half, so I guess all was good.

        Also agree that in OP’s case, the party is the least of the firm’s problems with this guy.

        1. kitryan*

          I think you’d be in the clear. If there’s a get together and everyone but me is invited, that feels bad, even if I’m not great friends with the host. However, if they only invite IT and I’m HR (or whatever) or if I know that a group of 3 are particular friends outside of the office and I hear they went out last night, those would all be fine in a normal and sensible workplace. In your situation, you invited a smallish number of the whole, didn’t invite new people you didn’t know well, it wasn’t workplace sponsored, and you didn’t rub anyone’s face in it by announcing it at the office. I think those are the essential criteria.

          1. Michaela Westen*

            It’s been several years, but I still remember the man in the community garden who had parties and invited everyone but me. He was also a smoker and knowing I’m allergic to cigarettes, he brought all his smoker friends to the garden during our community work times. (no, they didn’t smoke indoors at his parties). He wasn’t overtly rude to me, but he wasn’t friendly either. I never knew why he excluded me.
            He also nearly killed a tree by ignoring my request to stop pruning it until the manager (who was in the hospital with a life-threatening illness) was back and could direct him.
            The really unbelievable part is when he was looking for a job he tried to connect with me on LinkedIn! Don’t think so!!! *eyeroll*

      2. Ann O'Nemity*

        Right. It’s not nice to invite 95% of your workplace and exclude a few.

        The bigger issue here, though, is that the party host sounds like a bad employee – party or no party.

    6. Not So NewReader*

      It’s a symptom of a larger problem. Controlling the guest list is not all this guy is controlling. This guy is basically running OP’s firm.

      1. Johan*

        Yeah and law firms — I mean, Alison didn’t even get into it in her response, but this type of maneuvering is in Game of Thrones territory. It’s very political and cutthroat.

        1. Emily K*

          Yes – going after people who are not in his management chain and telling them to hide it from his peers at the top of their chains is like inviting your friend’s girlfriend to your party and telling her not to bring or tell her boyfriend/your friend about it. You don’t exclude the person who sits between you on a relationship diagram unless you’re trying cut that person out of the picture and usurp the relationship.

        2. Traffic_Spiral*

          Yup, so screw your damn ovaries on and handle this shit, or let him win because you’re a wuss.

    7. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      As Alison noted, this isn’t really about the party. It’s about a toxic employee. OP should ignore the party and focus on clear management problems with this employee, including their disrespect of women, their “whining and moaning,” and their cliquish behavior in the office (not in their home parties). It’s also worth issuing a strong warning about client lists and poaching.

    8. CmdrShepard4ever*

      While in a pure social setting that is true, when you are having a party for only co-workers it becomes partially a work event, even if a person does it of their own will, on their own time. But inviting 11 out of 15 people that work at the firm is deliberately excluding people, add the fact that the three other leaders that were excluded are women it makes it worse. As Alison has said before if you want to invite a small group of people you work with it is okay as long as the number of people invited is smaller than the number of people not invited.

      I think it would be one thing if a lower level staff person had a party and invited all the coworkers except for management (4 leaders+owner), but even then excluding such a small group (5 people) when 11 are going is not a good idea.

    9. SaffyTaffy*

      I’m surprised that you’d have such a short-sighted view of this, Mommy. It’s not about the party at all.

    10. bookartist*

      That is true. It is also true this guy weaponized that social norm and leveled it right at his boss. LW, get rid of this guy before the poison spreads more than it has.

      1. Shanna*

        Much like saying something offensive – of course you’re free to do it but the people you’re offending are also free to react the offense.

        1. T. Boone Pickens*

          This guy needs to be fired in swift, public and brutal fashion. You should do it tomorrow. If you want to drop a “Rock a bye baby” after you do it, infinite cool points to you.

    11. SavannahMiranda*

      Not unusual at law firms though. Lawyers do involve one another in their personal and family lives, just hopefully not to an inappropriate degree. Attorneys progress in their careers based on relationships with partners and clients, which bleed over into one’s personal life. It’s a fine line to navigate but plenty of lawyers manage it.

      Parties thrown by a senior at their home where everyone but the founder of the firm (!) and the others in leadership positions are invited, is just shy of a declaration of open mutiny. I understand the LW’s hurt in the face of this, and their instinct to clean house and be shed of this malcontent.

      New law firms form from the ashes and bones of old ones. Often by torching those law firms on the way out, taking key clients and business relationships with them along with a cadre of attorneys. So this isn’t just Joe the manager of the Teapot Communications department snubbing his colleagues via a private family party. This is leadership excluding leadership, and the founding partner, which I’m still shocked by.

      It would be akin to a C-suite executive inviting all of the direct reports to the other C-suite execs, but not the C-suite themselves, and having the direct reports keep it secret. Confusing, bizarre, tone deaf at best, potentially Machiavellian at worst. And the CEO of such a company would be well within their rights to pull such an executive up by their breeches and show them the door.

  3. MeganTea*

    Letter #1: “This lawyer […] and his team are prone to complaining and whining that they aren’t treated as well as others, when in fact they are given the best cases and lavished with the best perks and benefits.” But why?? This sounds like rewarding bad behavior ….

    1. Dust Bunny*

      Yeah, what?

      I mean, I feel like in this instance, this guy can invite whomever he wants to his own private party, but . . . at work, why is this being coddled and not addressed? This guy and his team are apparently a bunch of ingrates and it’s getting them, uh, better perks than anyone else? This is backwards, and it’s small wonder they’re a pack of spoiled problem children.

      1. DarlaMushrooms*

        I suspect that OP is intimidated by the guy and probably non-confrontational in general. Letting him run all over them in the first place is what led to this party situation.

    2. Silla*

      Yes, both “rewarding bad behaviour” and, incidentally, giving extra assistance and attention to the only male leader. Have the other three leaders received “significant professional attention”? Intentional or not, OP should reexamine why one of four leads was singled out for special attention. I hope the other three leads still received promotions/bonuses…

    3. Kes*

      I have to say I wondered that too. He sounds awful in a number of ways, why is he getting the best cases and perks??

      1. Emily K*

        Yeah, there’s definitely a bit of, “I hand-fed my puppy and let her use my hand as a chew toy because she was so cute and now my adult dog won’t stop begging and nipping at people during playtime,” going on here.

    4. Jessie the First (or second)*

      Welcome to the toxic world of law firms!

      Of course, not all law firms. But a higher percentage of law firms that should be toxic and sexist are in fact horribly toxic and sexist. Odds are this awful lawyer is also a rainmaker. In some law firms, status as a rainmaker means you can be as awful as you want and still be coddled and protected.

      1. Fact & Fiction*

        Yeeeeep! I temped for a few months at a law firm once where my temp position was SUPPOSED to be permanent, and I was to be a more junior paralegal assisting the senior paralegal of the firm’s biggest litigation rainmakers. It turned out this attorney had gone through SIX paralegals in two years. SIX! I ultimately ended up being EXTREMELY happy that I dodged that bullet when they changed things up on me and tried to get me to take a lesser role making less money that I wasn’t the slightest bit interested in rather than the one I’d initially been promised because that attorney pushed HR into letting his senior paralegal go right before I ended up telling them I wasn’t interested in that other role, which led to them ending my “assignment.” Taking his paralegal “body count” up to seven in two years. I guess eight if you count the fact they baited and switched me, but thank goodness they did!

        He was toxic on so many levels but brought the firm in so much money that it didn’t matter.

      2. Sacred Ground*

        There’s something of a chicken-and-egg problem here. If this dude is a rainmaker is it perhaps *because* they’ve been given the “best” cases, those that are easiest to win and/or have the highest potential payout?

      3. neverjaunty*

        Or, ToxicGuy insinuated himself in pretty good with the LW early on, so the LW now thinks of him as a good pal and can’t wrap their head around the fact that maybe ToxicGuy is in fact not as cool as originally advertised.

    5. Frances*

      This jumped out at me as well. I wonder if LW was trying win over the lawyer. At any rate, I would think it makes more sense to share the best cases amongst the teams that can handle them.

    6. Ann O'Nemity*

      This stuck out to me too!

      Is it a case of squeeky wheel? Where the noisiest gets the most perks and benefits? And the others who don’t complain get less?

      Or is it seniority? Specialization area?

  4. Psyche*

    I love the answer to the first letter. It isn’t about the party. Why was the OP going to promote someone who was causing so many problems at work? And the only thing that gave him pause was not being invited to a party?!

    1. WellRed*

      Right? He’s terrible in so many ways and the letter is all about how “hurt” people are. I’d love to see where this letter writer is now and how they ended up handling this.

    2. na*

      Maybe he brings in the most amount of revenue. That’s especially important in businesses like lawfirms.

      The letter said the problem employee’s team gets the best cases. Presumably this also means the ones they bill the most for as well.

  5. Hiring Mgr*

    I know this isnt’ exactly what you asked OP, but why were you planning to give a raise, bonus, and promotion to someone who is whining, complaining, unkind and disrespectful to women?

    1. Beth*

      Yeah. My first thought was “Why is this dude still employed by you? Time to cut your losses and get rid of him before he poaches your entire firm.” (Or maybe let him clear out and take the whiners with him. His team are likely to be beyond recovery.)

      In the LW’s place, I’d probably give the promotions, raises and bonuses to the other three and give the dudebro a strong come-to-Jeebus talk, possibly. They DO have an office cancer — time to stop hoping it’s just a pimple and start making plans for surgery.

      1. Arctic*

        It’s not that easy though. If the Whiner has cultivated relationships with clients they will go with him if he leaves. If the Whiner is one of the best attorneys in the firm a small firm will take a big reputation blow if he leaves.

        1. neverjaunty*

          Guys like this are NEVER one of the best attorneys in the firm. And ‘but he’s a rainmaker’ is a BS excuse. When these toxic people leave, you find out just how many clients and good employees they drove away.

    2. Frozen Ginger*

      My bet is that OP really only wanted to recognize the hard work of the 3 women, but knew the other guy would throw a fit if he didn’t get the perks too.

      1. SechsKatzen*

        Or they all started with the OP around the same time and it feels out of place to promote everybody but him. It definitely happens in law firms!

    3. irene adler*

      Because owner created the whiner.
      The whiner brings in enough revenue to justify putting up with the behavior. Until the whiner goes to far. And then management scratches their heads wondering why things got so out of whack as they did.

    4. Arctic*

      I’m surprised this site doesn’t get more law firm questions since they are hotbeds of terrible work environments. (And since going by the comments 45% of the readership are attorneys…)
      People get promoted, raises, bonuses for being good lawyers. Good lawyers can be terrible managers, co-workers, and human beings.

    5. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      And why did you promote him to a lead/junior partner? This employee sounds like they were a cancer before this party. They should not be rewarded with awesome perks, benefits, raises, and the best cases when they cannot even treat people civilly on the basis of that person’s gender presentation.

    6. Autumnheart*

      Not to mention that OP’s big plan to address this problem is to make sure the women don’t get raises, bonuses, or promotions.

      So if you’re a woman who works for OP, not only do you get to be demeaned and excluded professionally at work on a regular basis, not only will you never get a shot at working on the best cases with the most visibility, but that raise or promotion that you’ve been busting your ass all year to earn? Well, you were *about* to get it, but then we figured out that a man would make a stink about it, so never mind. No career advancement for you!

      Never mind being personally mentored by the boss, and included in his social circle. That’s not even on the table.

      This firm has a bad-employee problem, but it also has a major OP problem.

      1. Dr. Glowcat Twinklepuff*

        Right? I was baffled by this mentality of “all or no one”. That’s… really not how promotions work!

    7. pancakes*

      I wondered that too, and wondered if the curiously passive language isn’t a tip-off. “They also are known to be less than kind or respectful to the women in our firm.” As if a fog of knowing settled over the firm as blamelessly as weather, without the owner / founder / managing partner having played the primary role in ushering it in and nurturing it. I can’t help thinking that if the owner was the sort of person who could instead say, “I know they aren’t kind or respectful to women,” the problem wouldn’t have reached this level in the first place. Also can’t help thinking he has to know, on some level, what he’s trying to do by framing the problem in this passive, mushy way because it would never fly in litigation! You’d do pre-trial discovery to identify the person who did the knowing, then you’d make them answer all the most difficult questions as to how they came to know exactly what they know.

  6. Brett*

    Not only are they sending Muslim employees bottles of wine, they are doing it to celebrate a holiday from another religion, and they are implying that sending a bottle of wine is a Christmas tradition. Putting myself in the other shoes, if I am an employee of another religion, especially from another country, I might read this note and think that this is a normal or even expected thing to exchange wine at Christmas in that country (when a lot of Christians do not drink at all either).

    1. Artemesia*

      I worked for a ginormous organization that ended their big lavish expensive Christmas party each year and instead gave all employees — thousands — a turkey. They also did a lottery so that some employees ALSO got a ham or other goodies. They quickly made sure that they also made tofurkeys available to anyone who requested them. It was very popular .

      At the least there should be alternative gifts e.g. ask each employee if they would prefer the gift of wine or the case of pears or fruit basket or whatever. No need to delve into alcoholism status or religion — just ask each person to indicate their preference of one or the other. And focus on year end/new years/ holiday season rather than ‘Christmas’.

      I am surprised they are so dense about alcohol and I say that as someone who once brought a bottle of champagne to a dinner party hosted by a Buddhist. I knew a fair amount about Buddhism or so I thought, but not that they didn’t use alcohol. But any HR department should be aware that there are likely alcoholic employees, and those who abstain for religious reasons — my fundamentalist Christian relatives do and of course do do Mormons, Muslims and Buddhists. By offering an alternative gift, they can lessen the annoyance or embarrassment for those employees.

      1. kitryan*

        I like to think that since I don’t drink because I just don’t enjoy it (I actually do have maybe one hard cider or cocktail a year, but it’s simpler to just say I don’t) *and* I’m open about being a non drinker and my non-reasons, I’m contributing to a more accepting environment so that others who have reasons they may not want to disclose have more cover :)
        And yes, I’d love a secondary option of a gift card or fruit basket in these situations.

      2. cheluzal*

        I’m Christian and do not drink, a choice solidified after my brother was killed by a drunk driver. I cringe every time wine is mentioned as a gift….so overdone.

    2. Hmmm*

      Thank you for bringing up the point that some Christian groups do not drink. There are a multitude of reasons why someone does not drink.

      My only alteration to Alison’s response would be to not call out the Muslims in the office specifically because unless the LW knows for a fact that all of the Muslims in the office do not drink, that is making a presumption. Anecdotally I have known many Muslims who drank in spite of religious rules just like I have known a number of Jewish people who didn’t keep kosher. Instead I would say something along the lines of, “Some people in the office do not drink alcohol for a variety of reasons – including religious.”

    3. Ann Perkins*

      Yeah, as someone who has been pregnant two out of the last three Christmases, wine as a present would kind of annoy me. I know it’s hard to please everyone but it’s easy to steer away from alcohol as a gift for everyone. Our boss does the flavored popcorn tins for everyone.

    4. Aurora Borealis*

      I think it is possible that HR has an alternate plan. Not everyone needs to know the details, because frankly, it’s not everyone’s business. Jumping to the conclusion that they are out to offend, is off-base I think. (This is not a direct response to you, Brett, just couldn’t find a better place to put this.)

      1. Zombeyonce*

        If HR plans to try and identify the people that don’t drink without offering some sort of opt-in/out option for everyone (which OP would have known about as they are an employee), that causes a whole other set of potential problems. And of course they’re not out to offend, they’re just being clueless. Which HR should definitely not be when it comes to religious restrictions and other related issues.

    5. KayEss*

      I interviewed at a place that made a lot of noise about how they gave every employee a ham for Christmas. My first thought was, “So not only are you giving Jewish and Muslim employees a gift for a religious holiday they don’t celebrate, but you’re giving them a gift they are unable to use because of their religion.” (Okay, it was my second thought. My first thought was, “What the heck would I, a young professional with no family, who doesn’t cook, do with an ENTIRE HAM?”) I wound up not pursuing the process beyond that interview because it was abundantly clear that they had the sort of company culture I really didn’t want to have to deal with.

      I feel like wine falls more on the end of “clueless” than “deliberately other-ing,” but it still indicates a culture where there’s a subconscious bias about what kind of people the employees are (or ought to be).

      1. Tin Cormorant*

        I, a 30-something homemaker/student with a family, who likes to cook and often does, would have trouble figuring out what to do with an entire ham. Because I hate ham. A side effect of having a mother who hated turkey, so we’d have ham every holiday followed by weeks of leftovers.

    6. pancakes*

      It’s extremely unlikely that this office gift is the Muslim employees’ sole source of information as to how non-Muslims celebrate Christmas. You’re speaking as if they’re very new to the country they live and work in but there’s no indication in the letter that that’s the case.

  7. Lizabeth*

    Was there ever an update to #1? I’d love to find out that the problem lawyer got bounced out of the firm.

  8. Mommy MD*

    Heck yeah you ask about promised Christmas bonus! As in, which paycheck will include the Christmas bonus?

  9. CM*

    This is really messed up. It sounds like the problem lawyer should have been fired, but there was a good chance he’d take people with him or people would be left who were on his side and would become disgruntled employees. I wonder what happened with this one. For those saying “it’s just a party,” in a firm this small, it’s more than that — especially since everyone who attended felt the need to keep it a secret. I agree with OP#1 that it’s open hostility.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      He’s going to try to take people, no matter what. But if they’re all lying and cliquish with him, then let them all leave. OP should be prepared for a battle over client lists and trade secrets.

  10. Emmie*

    (1) This person cannot be promoted to partner. He has serious performance issues. He cannot be partner despite his billable hours and knowledge. His issues also present a liability to you. Focus on each member you’d like to promote to partner separately. It’s okay to promote the others and not him. You also need to address these issues with him about his own behavior, and how he manages his team. It’s also time to think about succession planning. What will you do if this man leaves? Who can provide equal or superior quality work? I recommend re-evaluating how you divide work so there are others who can serve this book of business.

    1. Pomona Sprout*

      These are very good points. Addressing some of these ossues may be difficult, but the sooner o.p. starts laying the groundwork to transition this guy out the door, the better it wll be.

  11. Hey Karma, Over here.*

    The forced holiday PTO…that sucks, I feel for you. How far ahead did they tell people? By the time Christmas rolls around, I have 2-4 days, tops and that’s out of four weeks vacation.
    If I went into October not being aware of that week, I’d have lost my freaking mind!

    1. Doug Judy*

      I’m of the mind that if you are going to shut the business down the last week of the year, then it should be all paid time off that is separate from other PTO. Forcing people to either use their PTO (which may only be two weeks a year, so they’d only have 5 days to use at their discretion) or lose a week’s pay isn’t a perk.

      1. Artemesia*

        Both my kids have worked for firms that close over the post Christmas week and they have always been paid. The thing that particularly rankles in this letter is that this was their policy in the past and now suddenly it isn’t. If you are going to have that policy it needs to be clear on January 1 that that is the deal so people can budget for a week or no pay or can plan to vacation then and used their PTO.

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I’m of that mind, too, but unfortunately it seems like a lot of employers are willing to push the costs onto employees.

      3. Arctic*

        I think forcing people to use PTO is unconscionable. It may be legal (emphasis on the may depending on status and whether it’s the whole week) but it’s completely wrong. PTO isn’t a genuine perk if you have to use it at specific time. And making some people who dared (DARED!) to use their benefits over the year go unpaid at Christmas time is just ridiculous.

      4. Bigintodogs*

        YES. My firm literally closes all their offices but you HAVE to take PTO from 12/26-1/1 if you’re not at a client or doing “important internal work.” If you don’t have it, you have to borrow against next year’s.

    2. doreen*

      I have a question about a related, odd practice at my husband’s employer. About 2-3 years ago, they began requiring everyone to take one of the last two weeks of the year off ( this year it’s either this week or next week) although the company does not shut down and the sales those two weeks historically weren’t much different from the adjacent weeks. They have to take it unpaid if they don’t have any PTO left. I have never heard of this anywhere else – does anyone have any idea why they might do this?

    3. Totally Minnie*

      My sister’s office is closed the week of Christmas. They do it by not having as many paid holidays during the rest of the year. So she has to work on Memorial Day and Veterans’ Day and Presidents’ Day, but not the week of Christmas. That seems like an easy way to make it work.

        1. K. A.*

          My spouse and I are long-time white collar professionals in different careers, and every office we’ve worked in (with the exception of the federal govt) has been open on Veterans, Memorial and Labor days.

    4. londonedit*

      It’s fairly typical in the UK. The usual way it works is that you’ll either have something like 20 days’ holiday allowance, but the office will shut over Christmas and you won’t have to take any holiday to cover that period, or you’ll have 25 or 28 days’ holiday but you’ll have to reserve some of that to cover the time in between Christmas and New Year, even if the office is officially closed. That’s in addition to the (usually) 8 national holidays that most people get as standard (in England it’s New Year’s Day, Good Friday, Easter Monday, the first Monday in May, the last Monday in May, the last Monday in August, Christmas Day and Boxing Day). Or, some places don’t close, and then you have the normal issues around who’s taking which days off.

      Where I work, we get 25 days’ holiday as standard, but the office closes at lunchtime on Christmas Eve and we have to take 3.5 days’ holiday to cover the afternoon of the 24th, then this year the 27th, 28th and 31st. They are being nice to us, though, and closing the office for the whole day on Christmas Eve, as it’s a Monday, and we don’t have to use holiday for the morning.

  12. Aveline*

    As a female lawyer, if you were my friend and came to me about issue #1, I’d tell you to fire him.

    I can tell you one of the BIGLAW firms in one of the places where I occasionally practice had this type of issue and didn’t fire the guy b/c he was a high performer, charming, and rich jerk clients liked him b/c he knew how to stroke egos. They regretted it. I can’t tell you why b/c some of it is confidential, but let’s just say that type of behavior is never a one off and never isolated to whom one invites to parties.

    1. Artemesia*

      So this. Don’t mention the party at all. Fire him as an end of year ‘taking stock of future directions.’ And plan for some temporary loss of business. Look 5 years out. This guy will probably wreak havoc in the near future anyway so do it on your own terms including pre-emptively locking him out of the information systems. Consider letting any of his team likely to be saboteurs at the same time.

    2. Former Employee*

      While I am not an attorney and have never worked at a law firm, I would think that any sort of claim involving discrimination or questionable (inappropriate) behavior would actually be harder to defend against based on the fact that attorneys are supposed to know how this stuff works, what with lawyers being the ones that other types of businesses call in to advise them on how to navigate such matters!

  13. I work on the Hellmouth*

    We’ve had more than a few vendors bring in bottles of wine this year as gifts to the manager, and it blows my mind. I just think about all of the people who don’t drink for whatever reason and how the gift could legitimately be kind of offensive to some of the recipients.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      My husband was a diabetic and couldn’t drink. I don’t enjoy drinking that much. We had so. many. bottles of wine. Oh my. As the years went by the wine started looking a little odd. (Cheap wine I guess.) When it came time to move, I dumped the wine down the drain rather than move it to the next place. This took a while because there were a few bottles. What a waste.
      I often thought just give people cash or gift certificates to larger grocery stores. Let them pick out what they want.

      1. GCox*

        Giving cash or gift cards is in violation of some (many? all?) companies ethics guidelines. It’s a little bizarre, but at Large Tech Company where I work, a client can take me out to a $250 meal, give me a $100 bottle of wine, but I have to refuse a $10 gift card to Starbucks.

        1. kitryan*

          I think you can give gift cards or cash to your own employees- no real ethical issue there, though there are tax issues, as with bonuses, regarding withholding and declaring such gifts.
          The ethical issues as I understand them revolve around such gifting between companies/employees of separate companies where undue influence may be in play.
          There was something in the past couple years about gifts from title companies that went around at my workplace. Luckily or unluckily, I’ve never been in a position to be suborned by extravagant gifts. The most power I’ve ever had was the ability to influence our selection of dry cleaner at the theater I worked for. Wait, actually, I did get a good price on my outside projects through him- and it was probably because he knew that I had at least some authority regarding the larger job… I’m tainted! I’ve been bought by big dry cleaning!

        2. Observer*

          Well, most places with ethics guidelines won’t allow you to accept the meal or the wine.

          If you do work with government agencies, then you can’t do that to government agencies. But also, you need to have similar guidelines in dealing with any vendors that do work related to your government work.

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      My dad gets so many bottles of wine that my sister and I can’t even figure out how to use them for cooking (dad doesn’t drink for religious reasons, mom doesn’t drink because she’s pre-diabetic, and we have several close family members who have died from or are dealing with alcoholism). It’s a frustrating annual “gift” to deal with, despite the warm intentions.

      1. WellRed*

        Can your dad pass the wine onto coworkers who might appreciate it? Then he isn’t even lugging it home. This is what I do with all the maple syrup and stuff I can’t eat.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          He tries! But oftentimes the wine is not particularly good, so it languishes :(

    3. Piano Girl*

      I don’t drink for both medical and religious reasons. One of my co-workers doesn’t drink because her father was an alcoholic. I have several bottles of wine from work – a gift card for groceries and/or Target would have been much more appreciated.

      1. Sally*

        I agree! It seems that a lot of companies give what they want to give rather than what employees would appreciate (like a bonus).

    4. Pomona Sprout*

      As a non-drinker, reading all these replies is blowing my mind. I had no idea there were so many employers that gave out bottles of wine to their staff as holiday gifts. It seems incredibly tone deaf to me. Do these people think non-drinkers don’t exist , or do they just not care? (Never mind, I think I know the answer. *sigh*)

      I realize it’s hard to come up with gifts everyone will like, but that’s why God in his wisdom created gift cards.

      I think these employers are just being cheapskates. I’ll bet they can buy cheap wine at wholesale prices for a lot less per person than they’d have to put on a gift card to make it something more than a complete joke. Fa la la la la la bah humbug!

  14. Coffee with my Creamer*

    For the Wine as the company holiday gift

    I applied and got one of the few very well paid internships out of college, everyone at our school applied for this one because of the perks. It was at our local distillery, that distributes world wide. I was 20, and in addition to the company paying interns well they paid for them to go across the globe visiting key areas within the company. All corporate employees also received a monthly stipend to be spent in restaurants on our alcohol, and was given an account at the company store with a minimum that needed to be spent on alcohol monthly. So since I was underage once a month I had to bring either my mom, dad, or my boyfriend into the company store to buy my alcohol allotment and also had to have them purchase drinks out and save the receipts for me to get reimbursed to meet my quota. It was so embarrassing to have to sign my mom and dad in at work.

    1. kitryan*

      I suppose that considering the industry and that it was highly sought after people knew what they were getting into with this policy, but I can’t help but feel like an exception to the mandatory alcohol purchases should be made if someone’s under age! Otherwise it seems like it’s really missing the point of ‘drink responsibly’.

    2. CupcakeCounter*

      My cousins husband worked for a brewery and every other Friday they could grab a couple free 6-packs but it wasn’t mandatory. He would usually call around to the family and ask for their preferences and then have a great selection available at family events. He never had to buy anything though and got a discount at all their pubs and stores.

    3. LJay*

      I know this must be getting a little bit into the “Not everyone can eat sandwiches” thing, but, what if your parents didn’t live in the same city and there wasn’t another suitable adult you knew to pick up the alcohol monthly?

      1. Someone Else*

        You’d have proven to the company how ridiculous the policy is if they know they hire underage humans.

    4. Iris Eyes*

      Correct me if I’m wrong but that sounds like a way for them to boost sales/inflate numbers/drive demand.

  15. Aphrodite*

    Holy cow to this question. Was there ever any update (or is there any chance of getting one now)? I’d love to know how this was tackled.

  16. Aveline*

    Also, having a man this hostile involved in client matters is a huge issue. Huge. I’m sure your liability carrier would be thrilled to handle it.

    If you cannot explain your inaction to them or to a judge, then you need to get off your hands.

  17. Candid Candidate*

    What kills me about this LW in particular is this sentence: “I have taken great pains to include this lawyer in my personal family life, and gave this person significant professional attention in an effort to promote and help him.” I could be wrong, but these behaviors from the offending employee usually don’t come out of the blue, especially his treatment of women. The LW needs to do some self-reflection on why he would take great pains to provide significant professional attention and promote him if he is so clearly lacking in professional behavior towards his coworkers. This should be obvious, but being good at law is just one part of being a good lawyer and employee. How you treat others and work with a team should factor in significantly. If more employers paid attention to that, we’d have fewer assholes in the workplace.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Yeah, this is not what professional leadership looks like… at. all. These aren’t your friends, OP, they are your employees. They absolutely need you to fill out your role as a boss/CEO. This guy has become the giant he is because there was room for him to keep expanding. Boundaries, OP, boundaries, your people need annual reviews. And you should review the reviews they are giving out to their own people.

      I hear and see there is a lot of sexism in law, but it does not have to be happening in your firm. And if an outsider brings sexist attitudes into your firm you can put your foot down, and in some cases show them the door, as in “take your business elsewhere”.

      The problem with this guy happened loooong before he had the party. Just concentrate on those facts, there is plenty there to work with. You don’t need to even mention the party.

      1. Aveline*

        Perhaps, but that level of personal connection is the norm in a firm of this size. Maybe it shouldn’t be. But every law firm I know of 3-6 people are all the types who socialize primarily with each other.

        That’s why I’m a solo. I don’t want to socialize with my work colleagues. I love and respect them, but want to talk about something other than the latest SCOTUS ruling.

  18. Wine Anon*

    I have tried to convince my boss (I’m her EA) that she needs to provide alternatives to wine, but she insists. I had thought we weren’t going to do it this year, but she ordered several cases anyway, despite promising no wine this year.

    At least she has good taste in wine, I suppose. That doesn’t help our Muslim employees, though. Or anyone else who can’t or won’t drink alcohol.

    1. WellRed*

      I love getting wine but yeah, this is a bit tone deaf. What would happen if the people that can’t/won’t drink wine were to politely decline (I realize this is not an easy thing to do on so many levels).

      1. Susie Q*

        The reasonable accommodation is to not take the gift or take the gift to re gift it to someone else.

        I don’t think there is a single federal law in the US that mandates gift giving in the office.

    2. kitryan*

      It’s such a popular gift. My parents only drank rarely and my dad was an executive. There were several bottles a year gifted to them, at minimum. I *think* that maybe one was drunk a year, if that. The rest would accumulate or be regifted. I believe they were good quality generally, so they’d make good gifts/hostess gifts for others who liked that sort of thing, which is what I’d generally recommend for any uninterested recipients.
      My company occasionally will gift fancy champagne as a special reward. I’ve gotten 2 or 3 bottles over the years. My parents drink a bit more now (a glass of wine or cocktail on special occasions) though I do not, so when I received it, I’d bring it to the next family celebration – birthday or holiday. The saving grace of this sort of gift is its transferability – though someone from a cultural tradition where drinking is disallowed may have a harder time finding a good candidate, since more of their social circle will be following the same rules. And, of course, it’s a bit tone deaf considering those who are in recovery or otherwise have been affected by addiction.

      1. Totally Minnie*

        My parents didn’t drink for religious reasons, and they would never have dreamed of regifting alcohol to someone else. If you believe the consumption of alcohol to be sinful, giving it to someone else would be enabling that person’s sin. My dad was given wine as a gift on a couple of occasions, and it all went down the kitchen sink.

        1. kitryan*

          Obviously this varies, but some groups believe that not-ok thing is only not-ok for the members of that group. If all non-group members behaved by the group’s rules, the group wouldn’t be as special. Many Jewish observances are this way. Others can work on Saturday and wear mixed fibers and so forth. If one believes that alcohol is inappropriate because members of their group are held to a higher standard, as opposed to sinful on its face, then there isn’t an issue with others imbibing.
          Of course, it’s still not the foolproof gift many seem to think it is.

    3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      At least she has good taste in wine.

      This crossed my mind as I read the letter. Even as someone who does drink and enjoy wine, I would not want a holiday bottle of two-buck Chuck that my employer happened to get a good deal on.

      1. Wine Anon*

        No, she buys good wine, at least. If I had known she was going to do this, I would have purchased fruit baskets or something but she swore all year she wasn’t going to do it.

        Plus, now I have to source dozens of wine bags on December 20th. Festive, but not Christmas-y. They are expensive when you buy them at the last minute!

      2. Ann O'Nemity*

        Haha, yes to this! Getting a cheap-o bottle as a gift is a bummer. I hate to have that attitude about gifts, I really do! But I don’t know what to do with the really cheap stuff. I can’t drink it; I know it will give me a headache. And I’d feel bad re-gifting.

        1. Autumnheart*

          Cook with it! You can always add some red wine to beef or tomato dishes, white wine to cream sauces and seafood, stuff like that. Throw a splash into soup while it’s simmering. If you only use it a few times before the bottle goes bad, so what. But even cheap wine will elevate an otherwise ordinary dish.

        2. Jennifer Thneed*

          Open it, re-cork it, and put it in a cupboard for awhile. Ta-da! Vinegar. (It might not be good vinegar when you’re as imprecise as this, but hey, you didn’t pay for it, did you? And the wine was already useless.)

    4. Zombeyonce*

      If that happened in my department, I think I’d end up sending a passive aggressive email to everyone asking if anyone wants the wine because I don’t drink.

      Knowing my coworkers, there would be a hail of reply-alls from the other people that don’t drink saying “no thanks, I don’t drink either” and someone would eventually send an email with a tally of the number of wine bottles available in the break room for people that DID drink. And the giver would be CCed on all of this. But we’re snarky, so it works.

      1. Pomona Sprout*

        I second this! If more employees did this, maybe some of these tone deaf, brain dead bosses who think EVERYBODY drinks (the subtext of which often seems be that there’s a stigma attached to being anon-drinker) would start getting the message!

  19. Michelle*

    LW#1: Why should he change? He’s an asshole, but his team is getting the best cases and perks, and you are giving him significant professional attention. His behavior is being rewarded, so there’s no incentive to change. Why are you letting him do these things with no consequences?

    1. Sacred Ground*

      Also, why is it even an option to deny the other three team leads the partnerships and raises they’ve earned because of this dude’s behavior? They’ve earned their reward or they haven’t. He’s earned his or he hasn’t. Decide accordingly. Don’t deny others their just rewards for good work because of this guy.

  20. Roscoe*

    I totally agree on the party thing. There are other issues besides the party. As far as the party itself, if its on his own time, I fully think its ok to not invite his boss or anyone he wants to. I’m sure I’ll get pushback on that. However, if he is having a party at his home, and its not a “work party” (which in fairness I wasn’t clear on) just a party that he is having and happened to invite some co-workers, then its fine.

    But I think the other issues should absolutely be addressed separately.

    1. Artemesia*

      He didn’t invite ‘some co-workers’. He invited everyone, his team, the teams of his female peers — and excluded ONLY the three female peers and the boss. This is a hostile act.

      1. Roscoe*

        Its still his party and his business who he invites. People need to not be so sensitive about something. Maybe he just gets along better with the others and doesn’t like his 3 peers. Why should he have to invite people he doesn’t like. If this was a wedding would you say the same thing?

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          If you want to have full freedom over your social relationships at work, then you need to not accept management positions. Management positions come with specific responsibilities that affect your off hours, including not doing things that will create the appearance of favoritism. If you don’t want those constraints, then you can’t really be in a management role. It’s part of the job.

          1. Fact & Fiction*

            Yep! And you can’t just happen to “not get along with” the only managers at your firm that just “happen” to be female. That’s not just being sensitive about something. Managers, especially in the legal field, are supposed to avoid the appearance of impropriety. Excluding only the female managers from a 15-person law firm for darned sure appears improper. And also excluding the owner? This is definitely a power play in the realm of small law firms.

            1. Arts Akimbo*

              Right? Five bucks says he’s starting up his own solo practice and trying to poach the people he invited to the party.

            2. Sacred Ground*

              There’s also the problem of inviting their subordinates and making them keep it a secret from them and from the boss. He kept it secret because he knew damned well it was improper. He undermined their authority as team leads by enlisting their subordinates to keep secrets from them.

              1. Sacred Ground*

                (adding because hit post too soon)
                By admonishing the invitees to keep the secret, he was testing and exercising his own power relative to his peers. He succeeded in getting them to keep his secret and showed their loyalty to him exceeds their loyalty to their actual managers. Definitely a power play and not even subtle.

      2. Kathleen_A*

        I agree. I mean, inviting just a small percentage of the people who worked there – or just his own team? That’s fine. But almost the entire firm was invited, and the way the demographics break down, the ones who were left out were clearly done so with malicious intent, and this is so clear that it’s hard to imagine anybody taking it any other way than as a slap in the face. It’s intended to be disrespectful and mean and, by golly, that’s exactly what it is.

        It’s kind of like at a wedding where you need keep the guest list in check. It’s OK to say “Ooh, sorry – we don’t have room for first cousins once removed,” but it’s not to say “We’re inviting my sisters but not your brother” unless there are major issues with the brother, of course.

  21. Jennifer*

    *facepalm* Dude. You and the other leaders were not invited because you’re the bosses. No one wants to party with their boss. Don’t be a Michael Scott.

    The disrespect to women is a totally separate matter. If this “disrespect” is based on the fact that the three women who happen to be bosses weren’t invited to this party, see above. If it involves other incidents, then you, as the owner, should be handling that. It’s difficult to say what the consequences should be without specific details.

    1. Holly*

      Normally yes, but it’s a party thrown *by* one of the “bosses” excluding the other women bosses who he already disrespects. I agree with Allison’s answer 100% – it’s not about the party, it’s about the managing that needs to be done. But it’s not the same situation as what you’re saying.

      1. Arctic*

        A boss spending money to appreciate his employees shouldn’t have to also spend money to appreciate the other bosses.

        1. Jennifer*

          Exactly. His money, his home, his choice. It’s a non-issue. What’s happening at work is the issue.

        2. OtterB*

          But he didn’t just have a party for his team. He had a party for his team and the non-manager employees of other teams.

          I agree the party is not the main problem, just an obvious symptom.

        3. Holly*

          In a non-law firm environment, I get that is the norm – it’s more divided into different divisions/teams/etc. A small law firm though? It’s a little odd, at least to me.

    2. Kes*

      I could maybe see that if it was just OP left out, but the women who were excluded are peers of the guy who organized the party. And he is a leader, so if his employees went to the party clearly they are willing to party with their boss. In which case having the other leaders there shouldn’t be a problem either. I don’t think you can justify excluding the other women leaders that way.

      1. Jennifer*

        I can understand that it’s rude on a personal level, but it is a party at his private home on his time. If he doesn’t want to spend his personal time with them, he shouldn’t have to. If the staff likes this boss better than their other bosses, they are allowed to do that also. I think the OP is focusing on the party and not the fact that this firm has an extremely toxic environment. Forget the party. Alison’s advice was spot on.

        1. LJay*

          If he dislikes the other bosses so much that he doesn’t want them at a party in his home, then he should not throw a party at all.

          Or he should throw the party but then only invite his staff, not the staff of the other bosses.

          OP should forget the party because there are other bigger issues, and because his own hurt feelings will make it hard to approach the party issue objectively. Not because the party isn’t a problem in and of itself, because it is.

        2. Ceiswyn*

          If it’s a party where only work colleagues are invited, and the colleagues who are invited form around 75% of the workforce, then it’s a work party.

    3. WellRed*

      While you are right about people not wanting to party with the boss, (and I am constantly amazed by the letters we get from managers all “hurt” about being excluded) the problem is that, this guy IS a boss. He’s on the level with the other 3 leaders. He also invited the team members of the other three leaders. It’s a very divisive act.

      1. Jennifer*

        It probably is divisive, intentionally so. That doesn’t change the fact that you don’t get to dictate who someone invites to their private home.

        I’d be hurt too if nearly everyone at my firm was invited an event but me. At least offer and give me the chance to decline. But I don’t get to decide who people invite to a non-work event.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          You can’t dictate who is invited to someone’s private home, but you can absolutely say “if you want to be a manager here, we expect you to treat people equally and not create the perception of favoritism, even in your off hours.”

          1. Arctic*

            But how is it “favoritism” when the people “excluded” were all peers. All subordinates were invited.

            1. Autumnheart*

              Because he specifically excluded the people who were not in his clique. The letter made a point of saying that this guy is known for cliquish behavior. It doesn’t make sense to assume that he was trying to be inclusive for his party when he makes a point not to be inclusive at work.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        We have the right to feel whatever emotion we feel about a given situation, OP. So, I think it’s pretty normal to feel hurt by exclusion. The problem comes in when these emotions block our ability to see what is actually going on. I’m back to the point that the party is a symptom, not the main problem.

        Of the three bosses who were not invited, tell them that you understand there are larger problems going on and you have decided you are going to take action on these larger problems. Explain that exclusion is nothing YOU are about.

        I am saying this because we follow our leaders. You are stung by this one and so are they. This is to be expected that their emotions would go in the same direction as yours. One way to lessen the sting is to let them know that you are stepping in and addressing the overarching issues.

        You can also let them know that you are willing to listen to what their experiences have been.

        One time I had a male subordinate who bragged to anyone/everyone that he did not have to do what I asked. My department head stepped in and said, “Yeah, you do have to do what NSNR asks or you can leave.” Be prepared that your remaining good bosses will need you to do this as, your one bad boss seems to have hijacked their people.

    4. Engineer Girl*

      He invited the female bosses reports. And some of them lied about it.

      There have been several incidents of which this is one. This is a pattern, not an incident.

        1. kitryan*

          The party is a symptom of the sickness at the workplace. It is a capsule scenario showing the lack of respect this person shows to their colleagues (the other three women at their level). Generally, as is often recommended on the site, the focus should be on the in-workplace behavior that is similarly disrespectful and inappropriate and probably a bigger and more important problem for the firm- and the underlying causes of that behavior.
          But— behavior outside work affects work and can have consequences. This person is a manager of other employees and is modeling poor behavior and poor boundaries in his out of office behavior with his coworkers and can definitely be told to knock it off.

          1. kittymommy*

            Bingo. Everything in this comment is spot on about why the party, as well as the behavior at work, is an issue.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        He is undermining the authority of the other bosses. And that has nothing to do with the party. This is part of a pattern, he has done this before, he has told them to keep secrets from their bosses. So keep the party a secret was NBD because this is what they do anyway.

    5. Sacred Ground*

      So, you’d have no problem if one of your peers enlisted your subordinates to lie and keep secrets from you?

  22. Arctic*

    The treating women poorly is obviously something to be dealt with NOW. But I think a firm leader inviting all of the non-leaders and not the other leaders is totally acceptable on its face. It’s a space for the “other” people in the firm to have fun.
    If a manager was excluding regular employees in such a small firm that would be a problem. But everyone was invited. Except manager level.

    1. WellRed*

      But by your argument, they still couldn’t have “fun” because…there’s still a boss/manager at the party. He’s not doing this out of the goodness of his heart.

      1. Arctic*

        He spent his own money for a party for staff. There is no reason at all he should be forced to spend money on his peers too.
        There are a lot of other problems. But the fact that the other bosses don’t give a darn that he has issues with women and other issues until they weren’t invited to a party for the employees speaks volumes. It’s not this guy that’s the only problem.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          I do agree the party issue is not useful in gaining traction on the real issues. The party is the last straw. Fortunately, OP is a lawyer and has background training in how to set aside the emotional components of an issue and get down to the actionable parts.

        2. WellRed*

          “the other bosses don’t give a darn that he has issues with women and other issues until they weren’t invited to a party for the employees speaks volumes. It’s not this guy that’s the only problem.”

          Excellent point, Arctic!

          1. Rachel Green*

            We don’t know they don’t have an issue with it!
            “They also are known to be less than kind or respectful to the women in our firm.” The owner is aware that this guy has a reputation for being sexist, so someone at some point spoke up about it, but the owner didn’t address it!

        3. Sacred Ground*

          Inviting 11 out of the 15 people in the firm makes it effectively a work event, not purely a social one. Thus, the other team leads ought to have been invited and the boss at least informed. He held a work event without even informing the boss, and actively kept it a secret from the boss and his peers. Why do that if there’s nothing untoward about it? Why ask their team members to keep it a secret?

          What other secrets areOP’s other employees keeping for him, at his request and on his behalf? She has to ask herself that now. That’s a huge problem.

          I mean, yes, he can manage his own social life, and include *his own team* in it (though that alone can be a problem for all the many reasons Allison has said), however he wants but that doesn’t mean there aren’t repercussions for his choices. Here, he chose to snub his peers and boss socially thus publicly disrespecting them and undermine them professionally by getting there own people to keep secrets from them. Choices like that have consequences. And this comes after developing a poor reputation, so he is, or ought to have been, on thin ice in the first place. This really seems like a last straw kind of thing.

          Taken with everything else, he’s either telegraphing his intention to poach the firm’s employees and clients to start his own shop (and now I’m wondering if there were clients at that party and what else might OP’s employees be keeping from her? See what I mean by undermining?) OR he’s signaling his ability to do so. He’s saying,”I can publicly undermine and disrespect you and there’s nothing you can do about it.” It’s an intimidation tactic, a power play. It’s long past time to send him packing.

          As for “the other bosses don’t give a darn”, as Rachel Green said earlier, there is nothing in the text to support this. OP notes it has been a problem but has said nothing about how it’s been addressed. OP may not have addressed it, and that’s a problem by itself, but that doesn’t say his issues with women wasn’t a problem before now. All it really says about OP is that it never should have gotten this far but now it has and she’s forced to act before this jerk destroys her firm.

  23. Possibly Enough Detail to be Identified?*

    Re: the wine.
    Our company has done just this for the second year in a row. It’s not ‘marketed’ as a Christmas gift, but as a “Thank You for all your work this year” gift (that’s what the tags say – no mention of Christmas at all). Since our office closes on Christmas Eve until the day after New Years Day, it’s ok to be a Year End Thank You gift – applicable to all.
    This year, as opposed to last year, there was an alternative option – I got a box of chocolates! Because hubby also works for the company, last year we ended up with two bottles of wine (we ended up re-gifting!), and this year we’ve got two boxes of chocolates.

  24. Stuff*

    #1 the party is just another symptom. My big concern is that he is gathering your other employees together and fostering an us vs them mentality. The fact that employees lied about this party is a huge red flag. You didn’t mention it but I’m assuming he is a high billing lawyer? Otherwise I can see NO reason to keep him and even that reason is tainted as you said he whines until he gets the good assignments. This needs to be nipped in the bud and he needs to be let go – for heavens sake don’t make him a partner. Partner has legal implications (as I’m sure you’re aware of) that you don’t want to give to a problem employee. This is YOUR company, why are you even hesitating on letting him go? If you are seeing what a bad employee he is then even though many attended his party I’d be pretty sure that other employees see it and he’s bad for overall morale. Do not bring up the party – I repeat do not bring up the party. This will come over to him and other employees that you have your tights in a bunch over it instead of focusing on his bad behavior in other things and let him go.

  25. From That Guy*

    1. Let him walk in the office.
    2. Lock down access.
    3. Within 10 seconds walk him out the door, do not let him take anything out, tell him his personal belongings will be shipped to him.
    4. I don’t have enough info on his direct reports, however a clean sweep may be the best solution. He will do whatever he can to steal your clients. For all we know he already has.
    5. If you decide on the direct reports, repeat 1-3 at the same time.
    5a. If you do decide on his direct reports have them all (including the leader) in a conference room at the same time inform them they are not longer employed and escort them out. Be careful not to force them to stay in the room. That opens you to liability. Again, good luck and carry on.

    I wish you luck with this situation. You have provided him a living and he stabs you in the back, the party, like others have mentioned, is not the issue. His other behavior is. You will breath easier with him and his ilk gone.

    1. Magenta*

      “You have provided him a living and he stabs you in the back”

      He does a job and gets paid for it, it is a business transaction, not an act of generosity on the part of the employer. You seem to imply that people should be grateful for “a living”.

      1. Sacred Ground*

        It’s not about gratitude, it’s about trust. A person in their employ was in a management position, a position of trust. He betrayed that trust. He used his position to undermine his peers and his boss, lying, keeping secrets, and worst, enlisting the entire firm except them to keep this secret, thus damaging the firm’s trust in ALL of its staff.

        “Stabbed in the back” refers to betrayal of trust. That’s exactly what happened here. Nothing above implies that he should be grateful for a living, but that his job carries with it a requirement that he not actively undermine the boss and his peers.

  26. Rachel Green*

    Why is this troublesome, sexist leader’s team “being given the best cases and lavished with the best perks and benefits”? This guy needs to be managed, and if he refuses to be managed, he needs to be fired.

  27. Sacred Ground*

    You’d think I’d have learned by now.

    The Inc website is not viewable on my 5 year old iPad. The ad takes over the entire page, opens a new tab when I try to close it or “scroll down to continue” like it says, then it crashes my browser. Every damned time.

    In the year or so I’ve been reading this blog, I’ve been able to read, maybe, two or three of Allison’s articles elsewhere. Usually I don’t bother trying anymore, but this looked like a good one so I gave it a shot. Nope, crashed again.

  28. Bilateralrope*

    On the wine thing. I’m a security guard, currently working at a site for a Muslim client. So I assume that they don’t drink alcohol.

    Imagine my surprise when they gave me a bottle of wine for Christmas. For further amusement, I don’t drink alcohol but was the first guard they gave wine to.

  29. Former Employee*

    Wine as a gift is a terrible idea. People keep mentioning Muslims and others who don’t drink for religious reasons (or can’t drink for medical reasons), but religious Jews can only drink kosher wine. So, something that a Jewish employee might enjoy has to be given away because it is not kosher. In fact, they probably can’t even take it home.

    While it’s difficult to get something everyone will like, at least a fruit basket isn’t likely to offend anyone or be something they literally cannot have in their home (think ham for Muslims, Jews, many Seventh Day Adventists and Buddhists, vegetarians/vegans).

Comments are closed.