our polyamorous employee wants to bring their 3 partners to the holiday party

A reader writes:

I have an employee who threw me a curveball after receiving their RSVP to our office’s holiday party with the option to include a +1. They are polyamorous and wanted to invite all three of their partners (with whom they share a home), so they reached out to HR and asked if they could do so. HR told them no, and then my employee asked me about it. We found a workaround (they’re asking other coworkers if their partners can come as the coworkers’ +1s), but now it’s really got me thinking about +1s at office holiday parties in general. Can you think of an equitable solution to this that also doesn’t devolve into people having to prove the validity of their relationships, while still respecting the need to limit head counts at holiday parties?

I think you can either say partners are invited and accept that might mean someone has more than one partner or you can give everyone a plus-one (without specifying that it’s for partners) and explain preemptively you can’t offer more because headcount is limited.

However, I’m curious if your HR has ever said yes to someone bringing a partner and kid(s). If they have, this is about polyamory, not headcount.

(One other thing — make sure your other employees don’t feel pressured to give up their own plus-ones to make your workaround work!)

{ 430 comments… read them below }

  1. Thursdaysgeek*

    I prefer the +1, so single people who are not in a relationship can bring someone too, if they wish.

    1. Rainy*

      Same. I think it can be really nice to have a built-in conversation partner at events like this, romantic partner or no.

      1. Richard Hershberger*

        Not saying you are wrong, but the convention explanation for why I have to do to these things is to talk with colleagues I don’t normally interact with, or don’t interact with in a social setting. Importing someone to talk to belies this rationale. So why then do I have to go?

        1. an infinite number of monkeys*

          I don’t think it necessarily replaces talking to other people, but it gives you sort of a safe home base to work from. When my boss and I attend industry events where we don’t know others, we’ll sit together, but we network with others too. For me at least, it feels a lot more comfortable and easier to talk to new people, just having someone I know there.

          1. hayling*

            Agree with this. I brought a friend to my last holiday party and we talked to tons of people, but I was new to the company and didn’t know a ton of people yet or have a “group” and it was nice to never be alone.

            1. R*

              Plus having your partner or friend or whatever around does encourage one to let their hair down and be more themselves. It’s a party, not an strictly networking function, and I think having people from outside work limits the shop talk a little bit and keeps it social.

            2. Cold Fish*

              Really? my experience has been completely the opposite. Been planning company Christmas party for years. On the occasions where we offered +1’s, those who brought their +1’s spent the night talking to their +1’s, and unless their +1’s were complete extroverts, they did little conversing with others. When it was just employee’s, they spent the time talking with all of their co-workers.

              1. Sleeping Late Every Day*

                That’s a strange situation for sure! All the work parties I’ve attended have been plus one (optional), and everyone mingled with everyone else. A lot of us looked forward to the events so we’d get to visit with those plus ones we’d met at previous events, or with coworkers we seldom saw. And I worked in places that were heavily populated by socially awkward types.

              2. R*

                I guess maybe it’s fair to say it’s a heavily cultural thing. The last work party I had where I brought my partner, it was very much a mingling — but it was a benignly gossipy restaurant crew at a harbor cruise/dinner and a karaoke bar, and we were all well-lubricated, so people were very curious and eager to meet each others’ partners and friends.

              3. Philo Pharynx*

                Introversion and extroversion definitely has a big effect. I’m an introvert who used to be married to an extrovert. Being the +1 led to a boring night. But she always had a blast as the +1.

                Another issue is if you’re in a company where people generally stay for long periods. At my current company, we have multiple 20+ year veterans. The partners have been to enough functions that there is enough familiarity to make this easier.

        2. HoHumDrum*

          You don’t have to go. Or you can go and bring your own plus one to talk to.

          If it’s a +1 event then you can bring whoever you want, there’s no difference between a friend and a romantic date.

          1. Richard Hershberger*

            “You don’t have to go.”

            Sadly, this often is not the case. Hence the routine of making sure the boss and the boss’s boss see me.

        3. Lenora Rose*

          I dunno. At my last workplace, we got to know one of my less gregarious coworkers better specifically because my husband and I caught them hiding in a corner playing Ticket to Ride on their phones with each other, and our reaction was “Cool!” not “why are you even here?”

        4. Librarian1*

          Then why allow partners at all? it makes no sense to let people bring romantic partners that they can talk to, but not let single people bring other people that they can talk to.

        5. SimplytheBest*

          I’ve never had a holiday work party rationalized in that way before. Usually it’s to “celebrate all our hard work over the year.”

        6. Pam Poovey*

          Because having someone to fall back on can make you more comfortable overall, which means a you’re more likely to be generally outgoing.

        7. Ace in the Hole*

          Adding new people into the mix can be a great social lubricant. If you bring someone you know well and are comfortable with, you can start conversations by introducing them to people. They may ask questions, bring up stories, provide input, etc. that is novel and interesting to your colleagues and/or gives you something to build off of.

      1. Recruited Recruiter*

        Agreed – I once took my brother to an event with a +1 when my spouse was unable to attend.

      2. MissBaudelaire*

        Or is just not able to. I’ve had friends come so my spouse could stay home with the child(ren), or if my spouse was working.

    2. Blomma*

      Yes, my employer doesn’t have a holiday party but instead has an ‘employee appreciation event/activity and dinner.’ We are each allowed to bring 1 guest and there are definitely people (myself included) who have brought a non-partner as their guest.

    3. pony tailed wonder*

      I like that too. I was a friends plus one to an event and I truly enjoyed it. I got to know her better on a different level and her co-workers were all so nice. I got a great impression of her company. I am single and I do not get to invite anyone to my work parties and it’s awful.

    4. Ray Gillette*

      Plus it frees up the employee to bring someone who will enjoy the party if their spouse can’t attend or doesn’t want to. I’ve had coworkers who were married bring siblings and (adult) children as their +1’s when their spouses couldn’t attend (or didn’t want to).

      1. Fergus the Llama Juggler*

        One year my husband had to work the night of the office party so I brought my dad. He had a great time!

        1. anonymouse*

          I had a work celebratory dinner honoring long time employees. The company is very clear, plus one means one. They understand that in addition to single people, there are divorced people, widowed people. Life is messy. A party for 200 of your closest coworkers should be as simple as possible. And I had a far better time the year I brought my sister than with the date i’d brought the previous decade. And my sister had a great time, as did a couple of coworkers’ adult children.

          1. MissBaudelaire*

            As an older teen/young adult, I used to be my mother’s plus one for many of her events. We always had a blast. I honestly feel like I learned a lot about etiquette and networking at those events.

        2. PhyllisB*

          My son has taken me as a plus one to several events over the years and things were fine. I knew most of his coworkers and he knew he could count on me not to tell embarrassing stories about him. :-)

      2. SweetFancyPancakes*

        I once brought my brother-in-law to one, because he really wanted the prime rib dinner. He’s like a brother to me and we had a great time.

    5. KHB*

      Yeah. I was my brother’s +1 when he was interning at the company where my dad worked. My dad’s +1 was my mom, and my brother wasn’t dating anyone, so it was either my brother go to the party by himself and I stay home by myself, or we all go together as a family. We did have to explain to a few busybodies why we weren’t holding hands, but other than that, it was fine. :)

      If kids are invited too, then you can let everybody have a +2 or a +3. But I’m hard pressed to think of a way to say that Camilla can bring three guests (partner plus two kids) but Lucinda can only bring one (whether it be a partner, brother, friend…) that doesn’t devolve into judging the validity of relationships.

      1. Medusa*

        People asked why you weren’t holding hands? That’s… such a bizarre question. People who are dating or married aren’t required to hold hands at all times…

        1. Rayray*

          Seriously, that sounds like something you’d kids at hear at a 13-year old’s birthday party to the couple that got together 2 days prior.

    6. Alexis Rosay*

      I love that. My spouse is quite frankly usually tired of hearing about my coworkers and work haha so I would love to be able to bring a friend.

      1. Anne Elliot*

        Me too. And I have to say that I would also not like it if a coworker asked me to bring their polyamorous partner — a total stranger to me — so that they could have three guests when for whatever reason I can’t bring even one. I fully endorse “everyone can bring one guest, we as the company don’t care who.”

        1. No Longer Looking*

          I’d like to point out that many people here are fully on board with the “+1 regardless because that way it is fair to the single and divorced,” and ignoring or not understanding the fact that this solution is in no way fair to the additional partners of the polyamorous coworker who are told that they are not allowed to attend despite the poly partners being actual family, while many coworkers are being allowed to bring friends instead of family. It is one of those things that is only “fair” if you don’t consider or understand all the dynamics in play.

          It is not functionally dissimilar to, say, a company saying everyone could bring a +1 but that the +1 had to be someone of the opposite sex to the worker. It would be “fair” because everyone can bring one, but it’s demonstrably unfair to anyone in a same-sex relationship as well as to every agender person.

          1. rosaz*

            The difference is that there’s no difference to the company whether I bring a same-sex partner or an opposite-sex one, even if every employee makes the same choice. But there’s obviously a big financial difference to the company- as far as venue size and cost, catering cost – whether everyone brings 1 guest or 3. So it’s a valid distinction.

            It also addresses the fact that for many people their families are not defined by romantic relationships. What if I’m aromantic, but my 3 platonic roommates consider ourselves family and do everything together? How would keeping them out but letting the poly person bring 3 be fairer than letting everyone bring 1?

    7. Rocket Woman*

      My company has a holiday party and frames it as employee +1 guest. So your guest can be any plus one who doesn’t work at the company. My first year, I was single, so I brought a friend, as did many of my other friends. This year, I am partnered and bringing my partner, but I appreciated the “+1 guest” wording because it opens it to bring any one person.

      I also have a few friends dating others that work here (its a big company, none are in the same department/chain of command) so they often use the +1 guest to bring members of our friend group who don’t work here so we can all enjoy the party as a group.

    8. Mary Richards*

      Absolutely, and if it’s genuinely everyone plus a guest, then it really doesn’t matter how many partners a person has (0, 3, something else)—they get to bring one person, partner or otherwise.

        1. sarah crane*

          That is between (among?) the people in that personal relationship. It’s not the company’s problem. No business can accommodate unlimited guests at functions.

        2. Fergus's Prosthetic Collection*

          The fact remains that company social events do not exist for the purpose of validating non-traditional (or any other, for that matter) relationships and lifestyles.

      1. Rayanne*

        I agree with sarah. This is not the company’s problem at all, and the employee is very immature to demand that they all get to go.

        Make a schedule for whose turn it is or negotiate within the family based on who likes these kinds of events. If you won two tickets to a movie screening, your poly family would have to figure out which members get to use them… but it’s not the movie theater’s problem that your whole family doesn’t all get to go. This is the same. Deciding who gets to go this time is 100% the family’s problem only, not the company’s problem.

        Also, having been poly for over 20 years, if you cannot navigate things like this within the family; without demanding that the company, your boss, and then your coworkers get involved in solving your personal drama, you have no business being poly.

        1. Jenny D*

          I call this a radical interpretation of the text.

          I don’t see anywhere in the text that the employee is asking for anyone to solve their personal drama, or, indeed, their having any drama at all. Nor do I see any mention of a demand – according to the OP, they *asked*. Not demanded.

          Perhaps it might be possible to give the practical advice without projecting drama all over the place?

    9. Dust Bunny*

      Was just getting on here to say this: Just make it a +1 and let single people bring a sibling/friend/their mom/whoever, so they’re not always there alone.

    10. Lab Boss*

      Yup, when I was single I used to always invite a friend to our company’s big non-business-related fun and games picnic. In fact, even after I was no longer single I would sometimes invite a friend- if my wife didn’t feel like she could do justice to whatever all-you-can-eat catering option was on the menu for that year :D

    11. The Starsong Princess*

      To quote my dear father, who said when someone asked to bring their out of town guests to his company holiday party “It’s a +1, not a +troop.” For events where families are included, then yes but a plus one means one.

      1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        Imagine going to stay with a friend and for entertainment they drag you along to their work party…

    12. Momma Bear*

      Our company is doing a +1 of your choice (friend, family member, sig other) who is of legal drinking age. If someone wanted to bring more than one, they would have to talk to HR about the headcount. If people don’t bring a +1, then there is room. I agree that if the problem is specifically the nature of the relationship vs headcount then that’s a whole different discussion.

    13. Nanani*

      I prefer no partners or plus ones at all – if it is a work event for bonding with your colleagues.
      There are places that do something more kid-oriented or otherwise make sense to have family members or community members involved, but most of the time, if it is an event for celebrating year end or getting to know your colleagues better, bringing in partners seems kind of out of place to me.
      At best it’s awkward chitchat with a lot of strangers.
      At worst it feels like a holdover from the All Workers are Straight Dudes, Bring your Accessory Wife to the Party era.

      When I still worked in an office before going freelance, all office parties (including retirements, welcoming new hires, and outside-world holidays) were just for the people who actually work there, so that’s my baseline.

      1. Aggretsuko*

        Yeah, I don’t get why you want to bring your SO who doesn’t know anyone and has to be entertained and is forced to hang around with a bunch of work strangers. Guests are NOT a thing at my work (they’re lunch parties during workdays) but the one time I had a nighttime staff party at my last job, I was kind of glad my boyfriend at the time didn’t make it there. It would have been weird.

        1. Sleeping Late Every Day*

          But bringing a +one, particularly a partner, family member, or close friend, lets them see firsthand why Annabelle in Accounting is such a shit, or why Hugh in HR is an idiot, or why Billy Bob Big Boss is also Bird Brained Bozo Bastard. It puts a face to the names you scream about when you get home.

          1. amoeba*

            Ha, yeah. We generally don’t have +1 for office parties, which is fine with me – but I’d love to meet my boyfriend’s coworkers, I’m very curious! But also, we work in the same industry, so wouldn’t have too much of the ‘boring shop talk’ issues.

          2. MissBaudelaire*

            +1, have also heard “Oh my Gaaaaawd.” after my family meets some co workers and ‘gets it’.

        2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          yeah, it’s ok if the partner is a total extrovert and talks with all sorts. My partner is an extrovert but still doesn’t much enjoy going along to things I’m invited to by my clients (as a freelancer, this is the closest we get to work parties. Since I work with lots of artists and musicians, I do tend to get invites to concerts and exhibitions)

      2. Hex Libris*

        It reflects that employees are whole people with relationships outside work. I generally prefer the company of my family and friends to my coworkers (who I already spend +/- 40 hours a week with), so bringing a +1 improves an event for me. If socializing with new people is a dislike, you might already be looking at that with folks from different departments or location, but at least you can have your own +1 to soften the experience.

      3. allathian*

        Yeah, that’s my baseline too. I work for the government, and while we definitely can have some nice perks here, my employer doesn’t invite non-employees to any of our events.

    14. Felix*

      Exactly. +1 is is relationship-neutral. It could mean a romantic partner, it could be friend, it could be a sibling who is visiting from out of town. Bringing additional people (a) gives people a buddy to talk to if things get awkward or (b) makes it feel like less of a work event.

    15. Bamcheeks*

      Not work related, but we did this at our civil partnership precisely because we didn’t want to litigate which relationships “counted”. (And because my partner has never really forgiven the friend who explained that I wasn’t invited to her wedding because we weren’t married, when that wasn’t legally an option..)

    16. Florida Fan 15*

      This is my preference. It covers a much broader range.

      I’ve been to events with a basic +1 and seen people bring a parent, a friend, their child (sometimes adult child, sometimes not; the actual children were always very well behaved and seemed to think it was the best thing ever to get to do something grown up with their parent). One older widowed lady brought a friend from her church choir.

    17. Elizabeth West*

      Yes, this. I’d rather be allowed to bring a friend than be the only one who didn’t get to bring someone and ends up sitting alone with a whole bunch of couples who end up talking only to each other.

    18. NotAnotherManager!*

      This is how every place I’ve worked has done it. They don’t care if you bring your partner, your roommate, your parent/sibling, someone you met at a bar last Thursday, or no one. It’s about headcount, not policing whether or not your plus-one meets some arbitrary relationship standard. I’ve gone to company parties (both mine and theirs) with my mom, a (platonic) friend from college, someone I never should have dated, one of my roommates, and my spouse.

      And, were it not for the excellent food that my company tends to have at these things, my spouse would be fine with my taking someone else.

    19. quill*

      Yes. Specify no children if you intend to keep the event childfree, but other than that don’t bother anyone about their exact relationship to their +1.

        1. Again With Feeling*

          I think that’s implied by “keep the event childfree.” An adult guest attending as the +1 of their parent is totally different than an actual child.

    20. New But Not New*

      It’s nice to have +1 even when in a relationship because my husband doesn’t always go with me to stuff. We aren’t attached at the hip, lol. I can ask my daughter or a friend to come along at those times, and it’s nice.

    21. Nowwhat465*

      Another added benefit of this, is you can bring a friend for networking!

      My industry is close-knit and everyone knows or knows of everyone else working in the industry in this city. Occasionally if someone has a plus one instead of a date they’ll bring a former coworker or a friend who is trying to join our team to see if its a culture fit.

    22. TeaCoziesRUs*

      TOTALLY agree! I’ve been a friend’s +1 a few times – which meant fun and free ladies’ night without our men. :)

    23. yala*

      As someone who is perpetually single (dating while ace in a mid-sized town in the south…not ideal), I see the appeal. I usually bring my BFF to events that other folks would bring a SO to.

      That said, if folks are in a poly relationship, I think they should be able to bring their partners? Otherwise, they’re Having To Choose for something that’s supposed to be chill, like a party, and that just seems unnecessary.

      What’s the phrase about equity and fairness not always being the same thing? Either way, I think if there’s sufficient heads up, and it’s not a huge monetary issue, why not.

      1. Fergus's Prosthetic Collection*

        > What’s the phrase about equity and fairness not always being the same thing?

        Equity here would be working 120 hour weeks.

  2. Aphrodite*

    It seems to me that a “+1” means you can bring one person, whether that one person is a partner or not.

          1. PollyQ*

            My BIL still raves about the shellfish/sushi bar at one of my sister’s company holiday parties back in the high-flying dot-com days.

            1. Sleeping Late Every Day*

              One of my coworkers always got asked if her plus one felt as passionate about the shrimp hors d’oeuvre as she did, so they could make sure to not run out.

      1. CBB*

        I agree this is an uncontroversial stance for office parties.

        However, for other social events (like weddings) it might not be universally accepted.

        1. Spencer Hastings*

          Well, maybe not that uncontroversial — wasn’t there a letter here recently about someone’s friend being in town, and she invited the friend as her “+1” and was met with some skepticism? Maybe it was in the archives. I remember the comments were pretty divided.

          1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

            There was one where married couples were allowed to attend, and even bring kids, but single people had to come by themselves.

            1. PT*

              It depends on how the invitations are written!

              “Fergus Jones and Tangerina Warbleworth” means Fergus and Tangerina, the couple, are invited. If Tangerina has a business trip that weekend, Fergus will go to the wedding alone.

              “Fergus Jones and Guest” means Fergus can of course bring his girlfriend Tangerina, but if Tangerina has a business trip that weekend, he can invite Lucinda, or Sansa, or Robb, or whoever he wants.

              It’s more common to include “and guest” invites at big weddings, and to include the names of the specific invitees at small weddings.

            2. banoffee pie*

              Some people I know would look askance at bringing a friend instead of a partner to this type of event, which is a shame. I’m all for people bringing friends instead of partners if they want. Why should you have to go the this kind of thing solo just because you’re not coupled up?

              Also this letter reminded me of Parks and Recreation, where April brought her boyfriend and her ‘boyfriend’s boyfriend’ to some work party, but I think everyone was too afraid to say anything since she was so terrifying ;)

              1. Alex*

                My favorite detail of that setup was that April and the boyfriend’s boyfriend despised each other. It could have been worse, though, her +1 could have been Orin.

          2. TechWorker*

            Yea my company’s +1 policy has always been intended as romantic partner… I think it used to be more lax and they had a lot of last minute drop outs (because the then nearly all male employees would try to corral any single woman they knew into attendance, and unsurprisingly, some of them bailed. The word used – not mine – was ‘floozy’ ew). So they changed the policy to avoid booking nice dinners for people who didn’t show up… company culture has now changed a lot though so maybe worth revisiting to be friendlier towards single folks!

            1. New But Not New*

              That really sucks. Some people have no romantic partner. If that’s what your company meant, it should have plainly said that, 1+romantic partner.

              1. TechWorker*

                Sorry, they actually do, they say ‘partners invited’. But possibly non-partner plus ones here are less of a thing anyway? (Or at least, I’ve been to plenty of weddings where the only +1s there are partners, and never heard any of my single friends take someone else to a work party).

        2. Mints*

          Agreed, for work events I am firmly team “+1 means anybody” and I’ve brought a platonic friend to a holiday party.

          However, for weddings, the hosts are arbitrating the validity of relations by default. I’m inviting the friends I feel closest to, and I didn’t give single guests +1s. I invited friends with serious partners. That included a poly trio, and they were each invited by name. There was one friend who went from “just dating” to “serious boyfriend” so we adjusted.

          I guess partially because of the smallish size, I knew exactly who I wanted to invite. There was no confusion like “is cousin Alex still living with that guy?”

    1. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

      That’s how my company has done it for as long as I’ve been here – one employee, one guest. Most people bring a spouse/romantic partner, but some people will bring a friend or roommate or other (adult) relative. (The only exception I’ve ever seen was for nursing infants.)

      1. Liz*

        when mine used to have holiday parties, that was the norm. It’s a smaller company, and there are a lot of people who are close friends with others, almost like family, and i’ve seen them bring adult kids, siblings, etc.

        then there was my former boss who got all bent out of shape because she wasn’t allowed to bring her 14 year old daughter! And then got all whiny about how SHE wouldn’t be able to come then, because you know, she was a single mother. First of all, no one care, secondly, the child had friends, so i found it hard to believe she didn’t have one she could hang out with for the evening while mom went to the party. But that was the exception, and she was VERY entitled

        1. Mary Richards*

          Yeah, that’s a bit extreme. I think it’s potentially entirely valid to have a 21+ (or whatever the appropriate age is for the region) requirement. Now, if you’re making the party from 2-4 on a Saturday afternoon, you have less of a case for that. But an evening cocktail reception or dinner? You’re in the clear to set a minimum age, IMO.

          1. Sara without an H*

            Yeah, if your company insists on holding events during weekend afternoons, they’ll be creating resentment if they DON’T let employees bring their kids. Weekends, after all, are family time and employees are justifiably unwilling to sacrifice that. If employers really want to hold the event on a weekend, they need to maintain the polite fiction that it’s going to be “fun for the whole family.”

            I would have no problem with setting an age limit for an evening event, with alcohol, especially if attendees are expected to dress up.

            1. Momma Bear*

              Weekend afternoons are not exclusive family time territory. Like with anything, the company should plan the event they want (or can afford – daytime might be cheaper) and then whoever comes, comes.
              If someone’s kids are young, it’s par for the course to either find a sitter or miss a few things. If someone doesn’t want to be around a lot of kids, they may skip a family-friendly event. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with limiting the headcount or age, regardless of day or time.

          2. Liz*

            And that was exactly what she was told by HR; that while each employee was allowed a “guest”, it was an adult party, in the evenings, with alcohol, therefore all guests must be 21 or older. Not to mention the poor kid would have been bored out of her mind!

        2. Richard Hershberger*

          Fourteen is amply old enough to be home alone for a few hours. And what fourteen-year-old in her right mind would want to go to an adult party, and a corporate one at that?

          1. Felis alwayshungryis*

            Oh, I definitely liked going to my dad’s work parties (though they were usually at someone’s house). He was in academia, and by god do academics know how to party ;-) The kids would generally hang out together eating nice food and letting off fireworks while the parents got drunk as lords and only minimally supervised. Good times!

            1. allathian*

              Both of my parents were scientists, and when I was in elementary school, we lived for a few years at a research station. The average age there was fairly young, especially in summer, with field courses for college students. This obviously meant parties that my parents, especially my dad, attended. Sometimes the kids of employees were also invited early in the evening, and my mom would take us home when we got tired, before they started drinking in earnest.

          2. Goody*

            Not all 14 year olds are able to be left home alone. And it may be illegal in some states. I know my state is deliberately vague about when kids can be left without adult supervision, both in age and duration.

            1. allathian*

              Yeah, legal is one thing, but if you can’t leave them at home for things like behavioral issues, they probably wouldn’t be welcome at a work party, either. A well-behaved 14 year old is one thing, but a badly-behaved one is completely another.

          3. Liz*

            Exactly. that was what we all thought too. This is also the same person who got all bent out of shape when after asking, was told that the company did NOT pay for kenneling her dog when she traveled. and the reason she asked was her normal kennel was full so she’d have to use another that was more expensive. While I know its a perk at some companies, its not at mine. Thankfully I no longer work for her

          4. MusicWithRocksIn*

            When I was 14 I half lived at conventions, corporate parties and car races (behind the scenes). But there were other corporate orphans there so we formed our own little rat pack and spent time together. We managed not to cause much trouble, but we did run pretty wild and unchecked.

        3. alienor*

          Something like that would’ve been fine when my daughter was 14 because she was old enough to stay home alone for the evening (and would have infinitely preferred that option to going to a work party). But there was also a time a few years earlier when as a single mom, I pretty much couldn’t go anywhere that didn’t allow kids unless it was during school hours, so any sort of evening work event was out. I would hope that employers would just say “OK” and not be weird about someone not having childcare.

          1. alienor*

            And by “OK” I mean “it’s fine if you don’t attend,” not “OK, you can bring your child.”

        4. Letting this one be Anonymous*

          Mine at 14 was too old for a sitter, too anxious and suicidal to be home alone, and unwelcome at events (and would have been bored anyway). It was a hard time.

          Be careful with generalizing based solely on age.

          1. NotAnotherManager!*

            Yeah, I have a similarly-aged children who we would not leave alone at night for that long. For one, it’s a maturity/developmental delay issue; for the other, it’s that I’m not sure they wouldn’t try to throw a party.

          2. allathian*

            Yeah, that’s a fair point. As a parent, it would also be very hard for me to enjoy myself if I was worried about what my kid might be up to. He’s 12 and responsible, fine to be left alone at home for a couple hours after school if I’m working at the office, but I wouldn’t attend an evening event if my husband’s traveling on the same day. We had a couple planning and brainstorming days at the office this week. My husband was traveling one of those days, which is why I skipped the dinner most of my teammates went to.

      2. Clisby*

        Well, the nursing infants are unlikely to charge the buffet line and run off with all the good stuff.

    2. SleepyKitten*

      Literally, it does, but convention is that you only take up the +1 for a partner unless you have a good reason (such as needing a carer). So people interpret +1 as partner even when that’s not literally stated.

      1. Office Lobster DJ*

        I think any time we start down the road of conventions, interpretations, and “good” reasons, we are entering very murky territory. To me, if the invitation is a generic “+1,” that’s what you get without question or comment; after all, hosts are never required to offer anyone a +1. When the host in question is a company that has theoretically already budgeted for a certain headcount, and not your dear friend Tangerina who’s already been having meltdowns over her wedding budget, I don’t think there’s a personal motivation to demur.

      2. BritGirl*

        If someone needs a carer or sign language interpreter that really shouldn’t automatically be the plus 1.

        It shouldn’t be assumed their guest
        can push them around, guide them or take them to the bathroom or whatever is needed. This could mean that a blind person with a blind partner couldn’t bring them to work events for example

    3. +1 "kid"*

      This is how my mom interpreted her annual holiday dinner. I would be her +1. Also because she needed someone who could drive at night.

  3. Excel Jedi*

    Just coming here to say that I’m glad to see polyamory represented here. I would never ask to have both my partners at a work party – but I don’t want to be at most work parties to begin with. I would be so happy to see a colleague with more than one partner there, though.

        1. Wren*

          I’ve been at a few events in the arts and activist scene along with my partner’s other partners, but those were a lot less rigid regarding catering and guests.

          My view is that many people have multiple parents, multiple friends, multiple adult children, etc. So in the end it doesn’t really seem unfair if someone has multiple partners but can only choose one. They could choose the person most interested in their work, the person who has normally got a date scheduled that night, rotate throughout the year/s, or even rock paper scissors it.

          Definitely a +1 is a +1 and who to take is a personal choice.

    1. CatWheel*

      Came here to say the same! I’m poly, but wouldn’t have thought to bring both partners as a +1 to an event hosted by someone else. Although they will both be at my Thanksgiving dinner :)

    2. Former Systems Administrator*

      Also polyamorous, also don’t want to be at the work party, and none of my partners would want to either.

    3. Tabula Rasa*

      I once had a polyamorous co-worker bring their two partners to a work party. We knew about the relationship beforehand though because I once asked co-worker if they preferred the term “partner” to refer to them (related to the “Master” post listed above, lol) and they explained their romantic situation, and pretty much everyone in the office was just generally nonchalant and accepting about it. We were a small satellite office though with a pretty open-minded atmosphere.

  4. Madame X*

    I think it’s fine if the event allows employees to bring more than one individual.
    However, for events were there might be space constraints or ticket limits then “+1” literally means just one more individual an d no more. Of course, you’d have to institute that rule across-the-board for everyone, meaning other people in more traditional partnerships will not be able to bring the kids along with their partner. Either way, I think the invitation just needs to make it very clear.

    1. Littorally*


      My instinct is to say that in cases where space or availability is limited, everyone should get the opportunity for a +1 and only after that is assessed can leftover spaces be offered for +2 (3,4,5, etc….) but that seems like it could be logistically somewhat complex to manage.

      1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

        That’s kinda where I was landing — “I would love to accommodate your whole collective, but I can only hold two spots per employee until the RSVP deadline. Assuming that once the deadline passes we have at least two people who have RSVP’ed without a +1, I can add your other two folks at that point, but everyone who works here has to get a fair shot to respond to the invite and we can’t fill in seats until we know they’re empty.” And I don’t know that I’d throw open the floodgates, “RSVPs are in, anyone who wants more seats, sing out,” but if it’s important enough to Chris that they bring Pat, Sam and Leslie, to the point where they specifically came and asked about it, then I can address that as a one-off, and if someone else gets all huffy “But nobody told me I could also bring TJ,” well, sorry, you didn’t mention that you wanted to, bring it up next time and we’ll see what we can do.

        1. socks*

          Honestly I think the “well, you didn’t ask!” method of handling work policies is likely to breed resentment, and it just kicks the can down the road. Once people see that Chris got to bring three guests, the next year you could very well end up with too many people asking for +2 or +3 and you have to figure out a broader policy anyway. I think it’s better to just give a firm +1 OR a firm “partner(s) only” OR have a preplanned method for assigning “unused” slots.

        2. Cold Fish*

          In your scenario, if it is that important to Chris, it is up to Chris to find two coworkers who were planning on going solo and asking if they would mind bringing Pat, Sam or Leslie. There has probably been a lot of work, time, and effort already extended by the planning committee/company to accommodate for the +1’s. Chris could do a little leg work of their own.

          1. MusicWithRocksIn*

            I don’t love the idea of sending someone around the office to possibly pressure people on the fence about inviting someone – or assuming that person X vs. person Y probably won’t have a +1. The idea of waiting until the RSVP’s come in and then assigning extra spots has a lot less potential to offend or pressure anyone unduly.

        3. Your Local Password Resetter*

          Relying on people to ask for exceptions does only work if people know that flexibility is there. If people can reasonably conclude that +1 is a hard limit, then I think you could cause some bad blood by making exceptions.
          It also opens the door to all sorts of things being up for discussion unless you make the restrictions really hard and really clear, which could be a lot of hassle.

      2. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

        One place I worked gave everyone a +1 and, if there was still space after the RSVP, they’d open it up for people to buy the extra tickets for something like $20 (proceeds donated to local food bank) and bring as many people as they were willing to pay for until space was gone. I never heard anyone bring up an issue with it.

        1. fueled by coffee*

          Not the same thing, but my college graduation was like this. Everyone got (I think?) 4 tickets for family/friends. If you needed more than that, you could sign up on a list for extra tickets, and they held a lottery for those who signed up with the leftover tickets once everyone had RSVP-ed. I thought it was a fair way to distribute tickets for a limited number of seats when some people have much larger families than others (or families who can travel more easily, or whatever).

          If everyone is aware of a policy like this (maybe with some stipulations, like all guests being 21+ or whatever), I think making extra tickets clearly about headcount like this is a fair way to redistribute extra tickets that doesn’t (1) unfairly pressure single people to give up their +1’s if they want them or (2) single out the poly partners as not being in a “real” relationship

      1. Clorinda*

        Can’t they word it as “+1, over age 18 (or 21) only” so that if someone has a grown child or a person other than a spouse/partner who might want to come, that would be covered?

        1. Venus*

          It is becoming clear from this post that “+1” has different cultural meanings, but in our case there is no need to be more specific. Within my field and part of the world, I know +1 means to invite any adult, definitely no kids.

    2. JSPA*

      In a normal year, if venue space were relatively unlimited, there could be a rule that anyone wanting to bring extra family could ask for extra tickets, available at cost-to-the business. (Want to shell out an extra $70 to bring kids or more partners or housemates? Fine.)

      In general, however, venues have occupancy limits.

      Finally, given Covid, and given spread of Covid even among vaccinated populations, space and “number of people breathing vs max airflow” and “increased direct exposure with additional outside people” matter far more than they would otherwise.

      There are probably people bringing just one kid, just one parent, just one sibling (despite having multiple). There’s nothing intrinsic to a +1 invitation that means, “because it’s normative to have just one partner.”

  5. Ms. Hagrid Frizzle*

    Obviously, society has defaulted to offering +1s with the unspoken understanding that the +1 is for a partner. I think it’s great that the employee is challenging that, although if everyone in the company is offered an optional +1, it is not unreasonable for the employee to be limited to one guest. I do appreciate Alison offering a quick litmus test on whether this is about polyamory or budget/headcount (if kids and partners have been permitted, it’s not about the headcount).

    I agree you need to make sure no employees are being pressured to surrender their +1s – even if someone does not have a romantic partner, they may have a friend they would like to bring. It’s also worth considering the size of your team/company – how noticeable/alienating might it be for others if this employee brings all three partners? Would that be, say 10% of the guests in attendance or would it not be noticeable on a broader scale? (Note: not a critique of polyamory, just of social dynamics that could be othering for new staff at an event that typically probably is more about a work team celebration rather than a purely social occassion)

    1. Clisby*

      I am not so sure society has defaulted to the expectation that a +1 will be a partner. It presumably will be another human (no iguanas!)

      1. James*

        I disagree. I mean, imagine if I went to a work event with one of my (female heterosexual) D&D friends. Everyone would assume it’s a romantic relationship–my spouse, her spouse, our coworkers, everyone. The idea that I’d go to a work event bringing someone that I’m not romantically involved with as my +1 simply wouldn’t occur to anyone, and I’d have to push hard to convince them otherwise. I’ve seen the same thing in restaurants, where a coworker and I get a table for 2 and folks start asking if it’s our anniversary. I’ve also seen my wife catch flak for it, bringing our son (who was well-behaved) instead of me to such an event, since I was traveling for work at the time.

        Then there’s the common trope of someone using the +1 as an excuse to ask someone to enter into a romantic relationship. If there was no expectation that it would be your partner, this wouldn’t exist.

        So I think folks are certainly correct–the expectation is that you bring your partner, and the expectation is that you only have one. It excludes poly folks. There may be valid reasons for this, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s a default and deserves to be questioned.

        1. Despachito*

          My experience is different.

          I’ve been to work parties where single coworkers brought a same-sex friend (not romantic) as their +1 and as far as I know nobody batted an eyelid, let alone assumed any romantic involvement .

          There must be various ways how work invitations are worded but I do not think it is the rule that your +1 = your romantic partner.

          I think the +1 wording solves the problem – everyone gets to bring one person, no hard feelings (and yes, I think there could be some if one person is allowed to bring more “plus ones”).

          1. ObservantServant*

            Same – I’ve seen people bring a friend, a sibling, a former co-worker we all wanted to see again, and even an ex-wife (they were still close and going somewhere after the holiday party).

          2. Cat Lady*

            Well, I think part of the reason why your experience might be different is because it was a same-sex friend. Most people, consciously or not, tend to assume that everyone around them is heterosexual (i.e. heteronormativity). Heck, I’m bisexual, and I sometimes catch myself doing this. So bringing a same-gender friend to any kind of social gathering wouldn’t raise any eyebrows, because most people would assume that those people couldn’t possibly be into each other anyway.

            A man bringing a woman, or a woman bringing a man, is a different story. I mean, how many BS articles, movies and TV storyline center around the idea that men and women “can never just be friends?” When men and women are platonically hanging out, people tend to assume that there must be some romantic or sexual tension there, even if there really isn’t. So a different-gendered +1 might garner those assumptions, where a same-gender +1 wouldn’t.

            1. Despachito*

              Yes, you are right (as it was the same, not the opposite, sex partner).

              I think it is time to call the BS about “man and woman can never just be friends” (and I must admit this is a fallacy I fell for, partly because such a lot of people keep repeating it), and also accept that anyone’s romantic involvement is the private business of just those people and no one else’s.

              Any assumptions anybody can have because of my choice of Christmas party partner are -or at least should be – their own business, not mine.

                1. MusicWithRocksIn*

                  I am the most mad at Warehouse 13 – because for its entire run it provided such a great example of a man and a woman who worked well together and became best friends with no romantic nonsense or sexual tension mixed in – and then they threw it all away on the last episode! They came so close to being the gold standard, and just ruined everything at the very last moment!

            2. Your Local Password Resetter*

              But at that point the expectation around the +1 isn’t really the problem anymore. People are fine with the +1 not being your partner, they just make big assumptions based on people’s (perceived) gender.

          3. fueled by coffee*

            Yeah, my interpretation (20-something American) is that a +1 is just that: you get to bring a guest with you. Usually, I interpret this to mean “it can be awkward to attend a formal social event alone, so you can bring someone to sit with/talk to.” If you’re in a relationship, the assumed default is your partner, but I wouldn’t think anything of someone bringing a friend or sibling instead (a parent or child might feel weirder, but only because of my assumptions about family dynamics across generations, not because it’s some kind of faux pas).

            It feels like all of this angst about “what if I think someone’s in a relationship but it’s really just a friend!!!” could be cleared up by a quick “Oh, is this your partner?” / “No, we’re just friends.” I don’t think anyone should take offense that others assume their plus-one is a date, nor do I think anyone should bring a plus-one about whom they would be offended if a random colleague assumed they were dating, nor do I think anyone should be offended if their random colleague brings a non-date as a plus-one.

        2. Coder von Frankenstein*

          I don’t think that has to do with +1s at work parties specifically; rather, it’s that many people make the (unwarranted and frequently obnoxious) assumption that any time you see one man and one woman together, they are romantically involved.

        3. Jetta*

          YOU might assume that a plus one is a partner, as might the people in your company. But that’s definitely not the only interpretation found in English speaking countries; or even seemingly the whole of the US, based on the comments. Where I’m from +1 doesn’t carry any connotations other than ‘This is the person I want to talk to’. If a colleague brought a +1 of their preferred gender people would just ask how they know each other. If I said to someone ‘She’s friendly, is she James’ date?’ and they said ‘No she’s a friend of his from his underwater basket weaving team’ I would be seen as having committed a big faux pas. It would be super impolite to just assume based on nothing other than compatible gender. Here +1 is intended to be inclusive by implying ‘bring a friend or relative!’ and partners-only events are spelled out as such.

          1. Yorick*

            Yes, that’s literally what the words “plus one” imply. But it is in no way true that people would never assume someone you brought to a work party was a romantic partner. Sure, if you bring someone who’s the same gender or way younger/older (so it seems like a parent or child), they may assume a different relationship, and they may not be too surprised or think anything of it if you explain the person is a friend. But otherwise, the default at the vast majority of social events is that your plus one is a date. I don’t think that should be the case, either! But it currently just is.

            1. Despachito*

              Time to change it, then!

              (I do not think it has any implications for the persons involved than – potentially – some gossip. If I bring to a work party Wakeen my underwater basket weaving teammate because my husband is on a business trip/company parties bore him to death, it should not bring absolutely any comments because it is not anyone’s business whether it is the above/Wakeen is my brother/we are polyamorous and Wakeen is my other partner; heck, even if I were indeed cheating, it would be none of my coworker’s business).

              So I’d let them think whatever they want – it is (or at least should be) entirely my business, not theirs.

          2. Ace in the Hole*

            Great, can I move to wherever you are? Because as an asexual person who always brings platonic friends to +1 events, I am SO tired of people assuming my friend is a romantic partner.

            Not everyone will make the assumption… but an awful lot of people will. And a sizeable percentage will not change their minds no matter how the companion is introduced or what I say about them.

        4. JSPA*

          I’ve brought a visiting childhood friend, I’ve brought an ex-lab mate who was in town on sabbatical.

          My spouse is of the “chew off own arm rather than mingle at functions” persuasion. Any other +1 makes both of us happier. People who know us, know this. People who don’t know us are welcome to write their own soap operas or slashfic, so long as they don’t bug me about it.

        5. Hex Libris*

          I think if you have a romantic partner, the assumption is that person would be the default person to bring as a +1. This is a little different from assuming all +1s are romantic partners, but can certainly give that impression when people are surprised your +1 is not your romantic partner.

    2. Gumby*

      Eh, at my company when we had social gatherings pre-COVID, +1s were romantic partners, spouses, friends, siblings, adult children. And possibly others, those are only the ones I know because when I talked to them they were introduced with both name and relationship-to-coworker. (“Hi, this is Veronica my best friend since college.”) Same at pervious companies. Though I did work one place that had an ’employees only’ policy but that was fine since said gathering was during the work day.

  6. generic_username*

    I used to bring my mom as my +1 for my work holiday party, even when I was dating someone. At the time, I lived with her and would talk about my coworkers to her all of the time, so it was nice to give her a chance to put faces to names. Plus, most of those guys weren’t serious relationships. Now that I’m married (and even as I began to date my now-husband), I worked at a place that doesn’t allow +1s at all.

    People shouldn’t have to prove the validity of their relationships to invite someone, but also, +1 means one person (so basically, this is an interesting question and it seems your solution is a good one)

    1. Olivia Mansfield*

      My husband detests work “social” events and barely wants to attend his own, much less mine. I usually bring my grown daughter because she likes the events and we have a good time.

    2. Kimmy Schmidt*

      My mom was in a fraternity in college as a non-traditional student, and I was her +1 for their annual End of the Year Ball. My dad stayed home and watched football. Everyone involved had a blast!

    3. This makes sense*

      I was always my mom’s +1 for her work holiday party. The company was in a small town, so I knew most of the other employees at least a little, and my mom enjoyed being able to bring someone even though she’s not married like most of the other people working there were. I’ve been a +1 for my best friend at hers too. My last job avoided this problem entirely by having a lunch during the work day with employees only (and then leaving work early after lunch.) It’s much nicer for single people if guests are not relationship-dependent or if the party is just for employees.

    4. quill*

      I was a friend’s +1 for her department introduction dinner when she started her masters. I was local to the area and could easily drive her, plus she was crashing at my place anyway! It was a lovely time.

  7. zebra*

    It depends on whether partners were specifically invited or just plus ones.

    “Invite your partner” means you should include all partners someone has, if they want to bring more than one.
    “Plus-one” means one person, regardless of relationship status, and doesn’t need any alterations for number of partners IMO.

    As a perpetually single person, I love a nonspecific plus one. I don’t always use it, but occasionally I’ve appreciated the opportunity to bring my mom or roommate or a friend to a party I don’t otherwise want to attend alone. Why restrict guests to only certain types of relationships?

    1. Ms. Hagrid Frizzle*

      You got at what I was trying to say much more succinctly and coherently, haha.

      I definitely agree on enjoying the option to bring someone to events whether or not our relationship is romantic. It’s good to know that at least one person at the event will be someone I enjoy speaking to and spending time with.

    2. Eldritch Office Worker*

      I had a coworker at an old job bring me as her +1 to the christmas parties for a couple years. It was nice to see people!

  8. Name Goes Here*

    Eh, if there’s a way to allow multiple partners to attend this year, I’d encourage that, versus the poly employee going around asking coworkers to grant them a +1 –– because the burden of that will often fall more heavily on single people, and we don’t want to give up our +1s either (it can be super awkward one of these to attend w/o any +1).

    1. Erin C.*

      I don’t know, I’m perpetually single and I don’t think I’ve ever invited a +1 . It’d be awkward to feel like I need to make sure my friend/sister/mother was included and having fun. So I just go alone and have fun. If someone needs my +1 more than I do, cool.

      1. Liz*

        Same with me, when we had holiday parties. I hate then anyway, but when I was “obligated” to attend, I’d go alone, stay a bit, then leave early. So anyone else wold have been welcome to my plus one.

        1. Richard Hershberger*

          Show up more or less on time, go make small talk with your immediate boss, circle once around the room, go make small talk with your boss’s boss, then quietly slip out. I could usually be in and out in under an hour. This doesn’t work as well if there is a sit-down meal, especially if there is assigned seating. For that, adjust the timing to show up just before when the meal will be served. This still leaves the danger of being trapped in your seat during interminable self-congratulatory speechifying. I never perfected my technique for dodging that little slice of hell.

          1. RagingADHD*

            Phone call with fake family emergency.
            Need to pick someone up from the airport.
            Sudden attack of the vapors/headache/war wound.

      2. Librarian of SHIELD*

        Another perpetual single here, and it really depends on the situation and the other people attending the event. If I have a lot of good friends who will also be attending, I don’t usually feel the need to bring a plus one. But when I worked on a team where I was the only unmarried one and everybody else was bringing their spouse, I wrangled a friend to come with me, and I ended up being glad I did because the couples did tend to stay in their bubbles for a lot of the night.

        1. fueled by coffee*

          Yeah, I think people are also usually sensitive to this when planning invites.

          At my close friends’ or relatives’ weddings, when I’ve been single I rarely get a +1 because it’s assumed that I know most people there and don’t need one to have a good time. When it’s someone I know more distantly (or someone I know well but I’m not friends with many of their friends), I’m more likely to get a generic +1 as a single person because the assumption is that I won’t know anyone.

          In the workplace, I think it’s tricky for an employer to (1) judge whose relationships “count” as serious enough to merit an invite and (2) judge how comfortable people are attending that specific social event solo. An “everyone gets a +1” policy resolves this.

  9. Lacey*

    Yes, everyone should get a plus one. Easy.

    When I was single I used to sometimes ask a friend to work events so that I wouldn’t be the only one there without anyone extra. No one ever said anything, though people did clearly find it odd. But come on, why should I have to be awkward just because I’m not in a relationship?

    Now I’m married and my husband is just grateful I work somewhere that doesn’t let us bring any guests.

  10. Not a cat*

    At OldJob you were only allowed to bring a +1 if you were married. No fiances, no kids, no friends, and no partners. Initially, I thought the strictness was an ignorant only male-female marriage “counts” thing. But eventually deduced that the party was “work”
    and not a “reward” so the CEO wanted to limit the distraction.

    1. Gerry Keay*

      It’s still ignorant; there’s literally nothing more distracting about a fiancee than a spouse.

    2. CBB*

      In that case, the invitation should not use the term “+1”.

      The polite way would be to address the invitation to both members of the couple by name.

    3. Dust Bunny*

      If it’s work they should just have limited it to employees, the way ours are (ours are short and during work hours, so no guests for anyone, at all).

    4. Again With Feeling*

      That’s so weird. If it’s for “work,” why not make it staff-only (and during work hours)? Not allowing kids I get, but spouses are no more or less distracting than non-married partners.

  11. monogodo*

    My wife works for the local Catholic Diocese, and they are not allowed to bring a +1 to their Christmas party. It makes sense to me, because a large percentage of their staff are priests, nuns, or other Religious. It wouldn’t be fair to them to not have someone there, while the lay people do. Plus it’s in the middle of the day on the day before their Christmas break, so it’d be inconvenient for spouses to attend.

    1. Yvette*

      As far as I can remember any company parties I had at work were never +1. So LW company is very generous as far as I am concerned.

      1. monogodo*

        Their Christmas Party is always held off-site, at a fancy restaurant. And they don’t return to the office when the party ends, they get to start their Christmas break early.

        1. Yvette*

          So were ours. Fairly fancy. By “at work” I meant thrown by my company. Not literally at the work site.

    2. Lucy Skywalker*

      Now I’m just trying to imagine how it would go over if a poly person brought their multiple partners to a work party at a Catholic workplace, lol.

      1. Richard Hershberger*

        In practice it depends. Some are more mellow than you would expect. My bride was a practicing Catholic when we married, so we had the ceremony at her local parish. My obvious candidate for best man is a former girlfriend. We were a terrible couple, but turned out to be great friends. Indeed, most of my closest friends at that point in my life were women. So we had an all-female groom’s party. (Tux tops and black skirts, for those wondering.) The priest, who bore a striking resemblance to Richard Nixon, didn’t bat an eye. Indeed, if he caught the “old married couple” vibe from two of the party, he saw no need to say anything. He was a pragmatic man. We got along just fine.

        Oh, and the groom’s party were life savers. When the last-minute tuxedo crisis struck, they jumped right on it and set things right. A bunch of guys would have been too busy laughing their butts off.

        1. JB*

          Yeah, at this point my experience is that Catholic churches (in America – can’t speak for elsewhere) are very welcoming these days, because their attendance is so low that they can’t afford to be otherwise.

    3. BubbleTea*

      Nuns are married to Jesus and He is always with them, which makes it a very efficient +1 situation – just set one empty space. He will even BYOB!

    4. TiffIf*

      This doesn’t actually make sense to me–why can’t the staff who are priests or nuns bring a friend, or congregant, or volunteer with whom they work closely or something?

      1. monogodo*

        Some of them have no family in the area, and all of their friends are work friends. Since it’s the Chancery office (the Diocesan headquarters), they don’t have congregants. Then there are those whose ministry doesn’t lend itself to bringing a guest (Prison Ministry, for example).

        1. Sporty Yoda*

          I beg to differ, prison ministry is PERFECT for a +1
          “Hello Sister Mary Joseph, who have you brought to dinner this year?”
          “Oh, this is Snake-eyes, he was able to get out on good behavior this year!”

          (Jokes aside, I cannot imagine how emotionally difficult prison ministry is, and I appreciate everyone who takes time to reach out to prisoners, be it offering sacraments/services, counsel, or just an ear because no one else will listen)

    5. Pool Lounger*

      I know some Buddhist monks and nuns and even the celibate ones have friends and family they would +1 (or +2 or 3) for December holiday parties at the monastery. One had a sister and nephew, others had close friends outside the religious community.

  12. Yvette*

    It seems as though the invitation did go out with a generic +1 rather than “partner”. The onus will be on the Letter Writer to “…explain preemptively you can’t offer more because headcount is limited…” next year. Hopefully this year’s work-around won’t be construed as policy. Because as the Letter Writer said you don’t want to “…devolve into people having to prove the validity of their relationships”.

    1. Mme. Briet’s Antelope*

      Yeah, if other employees are able to bring the poly employee’s other partners as their +1, this is probably not a case of “invite your partner”. And I also hope this year’s workaround won’t become default policy, for the sake of the people who’ll wind up pressured to give up their +1s if it does!

      1. Mary Richards*

        I can totally see the reverse letter being published here: “we’re being asked to give up our plus-ones for the holiday party so our polyamorous coworker can bring all of their partners.”

        Which just affirms that if the intent is for people to bring their partners, the policy has to change. If it’s for any other individual to be a guest of the employee, this solution sucks, but the poly employee should understand going forward.

      2. Bex*

        Yup, if everyone got a “+1” then it’s probably fine for an employee to ask co-workers who wouldn’t otherwise bring anyone to invite one of their partners (I’ve worked places where many co-workers were friends and shared outside of work friends, and would sort of coordinate who invited whom as a plus one, then all sit together – it was a little odd because most other people brought only partners or no one, but it still fit within the spirit of the invitation), but there should not be any involvement from management in that process! And honestly, if someone asked me for my plus-one for this reason, I’d think it was a pretty selfish request – we all have multiple people who are important to us, and we’re all choosing just one of them to invite to this work party. Doesn’t mean I’d necessarily say no if I wasn’t bringing anyone myself, but I would really resent a boss’s involvement in coordinating the whole thing! I know that polyamorous relationships are in the minority and generally less privileged than monogamous ones, but having anyone with authority suggest that I (as a hypothetical single person) should give up my plus-one for one of someone else’s partners would feel exactly the same as if they asked me to do it so a married coworker could bring both spouse and a kid: like my employer was prioritizing other people’s types of relationships over mine.

        1. No Longer Looking*

          “we all have multiple people who are important to us, and we’re all choosing just one of them” …I hope you are joking?

          Poly relationships are serious and committed relationships. Framing it the way you did – well, just imagine if on Bring your Child to Work day, you had 3 children and were told “it’s CHILD, not children – you need to pick just one. We all have family who are important to us…”

          1. allathian*

            Yeah, well, I’m sorry, but if a polyamorous person got to bring as many people as they have partners (some have more than 2 or 3), and single people can’t bring anyone just because they aren’t in a romantic relationship, how fair is that? I honestly doubt it would increase the acceptance of polyamory among monogamous and single people, that’s for sure.

          2. Rayanne*

            Yes, if a company had a 1-child-per-event policy, I’d just bring one kid one year and another kid the next year. I mean, I did that anyway for take your child to work day, because that way each kid gets more individual attention, and they can go to a different parent’s job each year instead of the same one over and over.

            But Again, this too is solely a family’s issue to solve on who gets to/has to go to each event. It’s not that hard to discuss and solve, with kids or with partners.

  13. Ray Gillette*

    Has the employee asked their partners and confirmed that all of them actually want to attend? Some companies have great company parties that lots of people want to attend, but not everyone wants to attend a partner’s company party and some people don’t like parties at all. They may be putting the cart before the horse here.

    1. jj*

      This seems a lil weird and presumptuous to me… Do you genuinely believe LW took the time to go to HR, finagle extra tickets from colleagues AND write to Alison, and in all that time … Never bothered to mention to their partners what they were doing? So I don’t really understand your comment …

        1. RagingADHD*

          The sitcom story would of course unfold that the employee, after going to all this trouble, feels that they have to invite two different people to pretend to be their partners, just so their coworkers won’t be upset about sacrificing their extra tickets.

          And, of course, one of the stand-ins is the ex (or new love interest) of another co-worker. And one of the real partners changes their mind at the last minute and shows up anyway.

          Misunderstandings and hijinks ensue.

          1. Richard Hershberger*

            Make it a rom-com and they can all end up in one giant poly household. Which sounds exhausting to me, but different strokes….

      1. Ray Gillette*

        LW is the manager of the person making the request. But yeah, I’ve absolutely met people in the polyamory scene who get tunnel vision around the idea of other people accepting all of their relationships as equally legitimate, even in contexts where the partners themselves are unbothered.

        1. Anon, good nurse*

          It can just be an exhausting daily battle, as I’m sure most folks can intuit. The government doesn’t see your relationships as legitimate; most likely your parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles don’t; your friends may be pretty split on the whole thing. Clawing a recognition of legitimacy from an employer may feel like a rare win.

    2. Rebecca Stewart*

      Yes, exactly!
      Poly person here, and if there’s a social partner-bringing situation arising, I will bring Boyfriend or he will bring me, as my Girlfriend is intensely anti-social. (And since she already has lung issues, COVID has made her even less willing to go out.) I certainly want people to recognize that there are three people in our family, but she is always very happy to stay home, fire up World of Warcraft, and hang out with her other group of friends. Thanksgiving is being handled by us bringing her home plenty of leftovers.
      I find it hard to believe that all three of the person’s partners want to go. What I can believe is that someone is insecure about their “ranking” and wants to be ABLE to go if they want to. While this isn’t going on in my family, I see it often in other poly groups, where the symbols of being a partner, such as being the +1, getting invited to family dinners, etc. are seriously important and cause great issues and heartache.

      1. Ray Gillette*

        Yeah I can see that happening – or the LW just assumed all their partners would want to come, because why wouldn’t they?

  14. Falling Diphthong*

    Asking other employees to donate their plus ones is not the first solution I would hit on.

    I could see a hypothetical where this worked just fine–everyone saw the need to cap attendance at 2 x number of employees, and a number of employees were happily single and had plenty of work friends to talk to at the event. But I could also see this landing like campaigns to donate a chunk of your PTO, which can engender some bitter feelings in those who feel pressured.

    1. bee*

      Yeah, I don’t think it’s a great precedent to set, and can lead to a lot of pressure-y situations. Having something like “Everyone gets one guest, regardless of romantic relationship” is cleaner

    2. Dust Bunny*

      Same. I could see a lot of people justifying a lot of pressure on unmarried employees to give up their plus ones, not unlike they are often pressured to work holidays in place of people with children/families.

      1. Rayray*

        This is exactly what would happen. If you’re long-term or perpetually single, you know it would. We’re always the ones being told by workplaces and society that we as people are less important and our needs less valid.

    3. Cold Fish*

      As a perpetual single, I’d have no issue relinquishing my +1.

      As part of my company’s party committee, don’t make me jump thru hoops on top of all the other work I’m doing to get this party together. The invites were +1, not +3. The company does not want to spend the money for everyone to bring 3. All that will happen is someone on the party committee running around looking for unused +1’s so that headcount (budget) will stay the same. You can exert a little effort if it’s that important to bring 2 more.

    4. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      I don’t see a problem with “if there are any spare spaces, they can be auctioned off” or similar, but the letter gave me visions of the employee going up to individual coworkers and saying something along the lines of “You look like you won’t have a plus one for the party – would you invite one of mine instead?” which could land very badly indeed.

      1. Rayray*

        Yeah. I’m single and in the past have brought a friend, roommate, or sibling to work functions. Even if I hadn’t made plans to bring someone, I’d find it very off-putting for someone to go around asking for other’s +1 tickets. It honestly seems incredibly entitled.

  15. OP*

    “However, I’m curious if your HR has ever said yes to someone bringing a partner and kid(s). If they have, this is about polyamory, not headcount.”

    OP here. Not aware of this ever coming up, however it is worth noting that some folks have brought their adult kids as their +1s before, and it’s common for former employees to show up as other folks’ +1s. Def not a “partners only” expectation at our party, so I think HR considers it a headcount thing. Thanks for the response, Alison! As for other folks not feeling pressure, I was not involved in that aside from telling the employee that it was an option and I’m pretty sure they approached folks as asking for a favor and not saying “hey my boss told me to…” etc.

    1. NYC Taxi*

      But they shouldn’t be asking coworkers for a favor either. Some people are going to feel pressured to say yes so they don’t seem like they’re against their coworker’s lifestyle. +1 is +1. Let the coworker figure it out.

      1. Despachito*

        “Some people are going to feel pressured to say yes so they don’t seem like they’re against their coworker’s lifestyle”

        If so, I’d be very concerned about the overall atmosphere in the company.

        Nobody should be intimidated into accepting something they do not want for fear they would be accused of “not having the right opinions” (of course, if they are not rude or dismissive about it, just refusing to give up their place) . And if the overall atmosphere is such that it is a substantiated fear, something is very, very wrong.

        It should be up to the HR and/or the managers to avoid this.

        (It also seems awkward to me for the polyamorous (polyamoric?) employee to go around asking their coworkers if there is someone without +1 who could abandon their place to one of their partners. Will someone really be willing to do this? It would come across a bit greedy.)

        And to be honest, I find weird even the original request (to bring 3 partners while most of my coworkers will bring just one). Not because of the polyamory thing (I think that this is everyone’s private business) but because of the disproportion (I’d equally side-eye if someone asked to bring their husband and kids to an event where everyone brings just one person).

        But at least they asked…

      2. Tell Me No Lies*

        I’m confused. Are we never supposed to ask for something because some people can’t figure out how to say “no”?

        This seems like an Asker vs. Guesser situation. Here’s my regular plea for more people to become “Askers”. (feel free to Goog “Askers vs Guessers”)

        Asking is not a demand. And if someone is pressured into giving up their guest simply because someone else politely asked, well, that’s the Pressured Person’s problem.

        1. Despachito*

          I see it very similarly (unless there is an extremely toxic environment where you get punished for not being fully obedient, but in such a case I’d think the problem lies somewhere else than somebody politely asking)

        2. So Very Anonymous*

          I’m polyamorous and I am totally an Ask evangelist AND I would never dream of pushing that envelope.

        3. BadApple*

          I sort of feel like the function of a plus 1 is for each attendee to have someone to talk to / feel comfortable with. So if someone doesn’t have a +1, they don’t really have an out to say “no” to the person asking, but on the same token they may not really want someone else’s partner as their companion. It’s sort of like if someone asked coworkers to give plus ones to their adult kids or their parents (in the same household), imo. It’s not a big deal so OP should sweat what’s done but my reading of the tea leaves is not to ask.

        4. Anon, good nurse*

          I’m Queen Guess over here (and honestly I get chafed by the Ask Brigade claiming that it’s “better” to be Ask than Guess; cultural differences are just neutral distinctions unless they are “these people are subhuman” or the like) and even *I* am like, what on Earth is wrong with the poly employee just asking folks?? Sure, they shouldn’t pressure a subordinate, but other than that — ??

        5. Tali*

          I mean, Ask vs Guess is very culturally dependent. It’s important that the two groups learn to understand each other and we all become fluent in both, rather than demanding that people change how they communicate to make us more comfortable.

          It’s pretty rude to perceive the difference and then say “well if you feel pressured, that’s your own fault.” Why not compromise and give the Guesser an out so they can feel comfortable too?

        6. Tell Me No Lies*

          I should have clarified that giving them an out is also appropriate. “Can I use your +1? It’s okay if you say no.”

    2. Mme. Briet’s Antelope*

      I know you’re not involved in it, but since you’re the boss, do be aware that asking as a favor doesn’t necessarily mean people won’t feel pressured to agree! There’s a lot of social pressure to not rock the boat and go along with favors asked of you by your coworkers, even – and in some office cultures, especially – when it involves accommodating nontraditional relationships.

      (Not that there’s anything wrong with nontraditional relationships, but “oh god am I going to seem like I’m discriminating against them if I say no” is very much going to factor into some people’s decision-making here.)

      Next year you should probably take Alison’s advice and preemptively indicate that it’s a +1 due to space considerations, to avoid all this.

      1. EinsTwo*

        >Next year you should probably take Alison’s advice and preemptively indicate that it’s a +1 due to space considerations, to avoid all this.

        But that won’t work, now that the precedent has been established that it’s okay to ask single people to give their plus ones to someone who has more than one person they want to bring. They need to say each person only gets 1 special person due to space AND it’s non-fungible/non-tradeable.

    3. High Score!*

      You may want to have them NOT do that work around. Some people are reluctant to say no to a request from their managers or HR BC they don’t want to look bad.
      Honestly, work parties should not include any partners and should take place during work hours. It’s work, team building, whatever, and I’d rather get a small bonus or a gift certificate to a local eatery than bring some one in my personal life to a work function.

      1. thatjillgirl*

        Oh, I disagree! Work parties can be a really nice opportunity to spend time with your coworkers in a non-work setting and introduce them to the people in your life. Of course, this does assume that you *like* your coworkers and would like to spend additional time with them and get to know one another better. If you dislike your coworkers, the entire thing is moot. But yeah, it can be really nice to get to see a more casual side of your coworkers.

        1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

          In the olden days, my big law firm employer had two holiday parties – the employee-only lunch within half a mile of the downtown office, and the employee+1 dinner-dance-bed-and-breakfast at a good hotel between that office and the satellite office (people at that office having had a separate lunch together). Nearly everyone’s +1 was a romantic partner, but they tended to recognise each other from previous years and have an additional social catch-up at that party independent of the employees.

          The big party was the first thing to go when savings needed to be made, and although that was sad it probably cost about the same as someone’s annual salary, so we understood. If you’re only having one party then employees-only is probably the one to keep.

    4. zebra*

      I agree with some others that you should perhaps try to shut down these headcount negotiations among staff. At the end of the day, your company is budgeting a certain amount for this party based on double your employee number, and convincing your coworkers to take less than their share so you can have more than yours isn’t a great precedent to set. Regardless of whether it’s John and his three partners or Jane and her three children or Hortensia and her three best friends, starting a culture where people are bartering for more guests is not great.

      It’s not like your company is specifically planning a party for X number of people [where X is twice your employee number] and it doesn’t matter what the makeup of X is; they’re throwing a party for your employees and they’re willing to go up to X if that makes it a better party for people. The point of an RSVP is so they know what the specific headcount is, or else they would just plan for X and not bother collecting responses. I’m not normally too concerned about saving money for the company, but I am involved in event planning, and a plus one is already very generous without people trying to get more free food and booze for their family unit.

      1. batcat71*

        I agree, so much. It also makes the event odd when you are at a table with your plus one, and the ENTIRE rest of the table is employee, plus one, three kids and mother in law. I felt as though I was at THEIR event. It makes for a less than fun event.

    5. Anon, good nurse*

      I’m genuinely astonished by the number of folks thinking that people will feel pressured into giving up a +1 lest they be thought to be against polyamory. Being against polyamory is very much the cultural norm and almost no one outside very progressive/majority queer spaces is going to feel like they need to make a gesture they don’t want to make in order to put their stamp of approval on someone’s place on the mono/poly spectrum. A much more likely reaction from the average person is thinly veiled disgust.

      In point of fact, I have to give OP’s employee props for coming out at all at work, because the absolute consistent received wisdom in the poly community is to never ever do so.

      1. Rebecca Stewart*

        I’m impressed with that, because in most situations my family uses the lie that my girlfriend is my younger half-sister who lives with my boyfriend and I. My family of origin knows her as a roommate. My sons know that we’re poly and don’t care, and don’t tell the rest of the family of origin. (We figure they’re doing well enough with coping with Younger Son’s figuring out the right man to be in a relationship by dating all the ones who are not good relationship material.)

        The received wisdom in the poly community is indeed “stay in the closet at work”. It works very well for us because he is the one who works and he does have a very sibling-ish sort of relationship with my Girlfriend. So he just says, “My sister-in-law” and no one notices, and that’s fine with us.

      2. thatjillgirl*

        I’m surprised by the blowback because at times when I was single, I would have happily donated my +1 (as others have commented that they would do as well). What’s the harm in just asking? If nobody wants to give up their own +1, they don’t have to. They can just say, “Oh sorry, I’m already bringing someone,” and the polyamorous employee can take that in stride. But there may very well be some people who are happy to contribute their +1, and I don’t see the harm in simply asking just to check.

      3. Mme. Briet’s Antelope*

        Yes, but given that the employee a) is out at work, b) is out at work to such an extent that they feel comfortable asking HR for a rule change to let them bring all their partners to the holiday party, and c) has apparently been successful in getting other employees to help them get all their partners into the holiday party, I think we can safely assume that this workplace is at least reasonably progressive. And in progressive workplaces, “oh god are they going to think I’m a bigot if I don’t say yes to this request” becomes a very real consideration. (Which is mostly a good thing! But in this case, not so much.)

      4. anon here*

        I would feel pressured, because I don’t want to upset or disapoint my colleague. It has nothing to do with being thought to be aginst polyamory for me. It has to do with being a team player. I would probably resent the heck out of the request.

    6. Llellayena*

      For all of the company holiday parties I’ve ever been to, I’ve had the option of a +1 but never used it (single or partner couldn’t make it), so if a coworker walked up and asked if I could invite their partner #2 (or #3) as my +1 I’d be happy to help out. I think if you need language for a policy maybe “unused +1s can be used for additional spouses/significant others by request on a first-come, first-served basis as long as the primary +1 is used for a spouse/significant other.” This (or something like this, my wording sounds a bit awkward) covers poly- people but still prevents entire families, kids and all, from showing up.

    7. H.C.*

      OP, I think by “if your HR has ever said yes to someone bringing a partner and kid(s)” – Alison meant if HR has made an exception to the +1 rule by letting employees bring partners AND kids (so effectively +2 or more), which would make it clearer if it’s just a headcount issue or not.

    8. WoodswomanWrites*

      I used to work at a place that’s well-known as a fun destination, and when we had our annual party we were each allowed to bring a guest. It was common for staff to ask their colleagues if they had an extra spot they weren’t going to use. It had nothing to do with the kind of relationship they had with their guests. Sometimes I brought a friend, other years I gave my extra spot to someone else who wanted it.

  16. Chairman of the Bored*

    The beauty of +1 is that the “1” can be any one person who the employee wishes to bring. This eliminates any judgements on type/duration/whatever of their relationship with that person.

    When I was younger I absolutely brought my platonic roommate to a holiday party, it was a blast. I had somebody to chat with through the night, they got to enjoy food and booze on my employer’s dime.

    An arrangement where “every employee gets to bring 1 guest” doesn’t strike me as unfair or unreasonable. It’s great if an employer can accommodate more people, but I don’t think they’re obligated to.

    1. Maggie*

      Agreed. My work best friend and I don’t work at the same company anymore, but we do work in the same industry/city. We both have introvert partners who are not enthused about events so we often bring each other as plus ones and have a lot of fun, the excellent part is that it occasionally doubles as networking

    2. CupcakeCounter*

      Hey I did that too!

      Except we eventually failed at the platonic thing and will be married 19 years next month…

      1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

        I’m going on nine years with the friend who just needed a couch to crash on for a couple nights. (He never left.)

  17. harrowhark*

    I don’t like the workaround. If it’s partners only presumably OP’s employee is asking single people to lie and claim a relationship with a colleague’s partner? Or is it +1s of any type and employee thinks it’ll be fun for single people to not have their own person to hang out with at the party while they have all 3 of their partners?

    1. High Score!*

      Exactly. Some people will feel pressured to agree and bring one of the others partners instead of their plus 1. I feel bad for them.
      Best to push for an employee only function next year and divvy up the rest of the holiday funds into gift cards.

      1. nora*

        Or someone could quite willingly agree, and later their circumstances change but they can no longer bring their desired guest. I have been in this exact position before with a wedding.

    2. Blue Eagle*

      Right. It’s actually no fun if a co-worker leans on you (as someone without a SO) for the favor of bringing a second SO thereby depriving you of having a friend or other +1 to hang out with. At one work party with no SO in the picture I brought my Mom and we both had a great time.

  18. Kau*

    I have nothing against polyamorous people (what consenting adults do is none of my business and they should be left in peace) but it really bothers me that other people have to use their +1 to bring a stranger just to accommodate one person. The employer can do something to fix this but even making a suggestion to other workers is unfair and I would be really angry if this happened at my job. This workaround isn’t a solution at all in my opinion.

    1. All depends on the caterer*

      I think it’s important to ensure that no one is feeling pressured to give up their +1 but…if there are two people who aren’t planning to bring anyone and OP’s report wants to bring three people, what exactly is the issue with “assigning” two of OP’s partners to two coworkers? If it’s just about headcount, it doesn’t make a difference.

      I don’t know, I am married but never bring my spouse to work things because that’s just not where we get the most value out of our limited babysitting budget. I would be happy to be a colleague’s third partner’s escort on paper. No skin off my nose. (I might ask to take 10% of their allocate hors d’œuvres as a finder’s fee, though.)

      1. Loulou*

        Yeah, it seems similar to someone with a small family giving someone with tons of siblings their extra graduation tickets. It’s just a nice gesture and it seems like it goes without saying that if you are already using the tickets, you’d say no!

        1. Anon, good nurse*

          Right, this is totally accepted behavior at graduations with tickets, and in fact part of the normal script around them! The finale of The Cosby Show revolves around Theo calling around to finagle college graduation tickets from his friends.

    2. Clorinda*

      The orchestra I play in puts unused comp tickets back into a general pool, and anyone who wants an extra comp can ask for it, first first served until gone. This reduces the one-on-one requests for “can I use your comp” and it is a very efficient system.

      1. WellRed*

        Adding: I don’t love the workaround but I’m always skeptical there are that many people out there who want to attend someone else’s office party. As the perpetually single person, I’m sure I’d be at the top of the list to be asked.

        1. Rebecca Stewart*

          I have to wonder if there aren’t some relationship dynamic things going on there. I have seen several cases where there were three people, two of whom had a legal marriage in place, and the other person had a deep feeling of insecurity that led to a lot of issues over the silliest things… like who sits in the front seat of the car next to the driver. Or getting invited to family gatherings like Thanksgiving….they’re fine with people just showing up with extra people, but the third wants to be specifically invited along with Husband and Wife to show that they’re part of it. So I can see the others demanding to go not so much because they want to go but because it proves they’re all equal.
          (Yes, I am rolling my eyes very hard.)

      2. fueled by coffee*

        I think it just really depends on the nature of the coworkers’ relationships (in the platonic sense) with each other. If a good friend asked if I could give up my +1 for their poly partner, I would feel comfortable saying “no” if I wanted to use it myself and also feel like this was truly being asked as a favor. If someone I didn’t know well or had some kind of hierarchical position with me at work pulled a “hey you’re single so can I have your +1,” I’d be pissed.

        There’s no way to know from the info in the letter what the workplace dynamics are with these specific employees, so who knows.

      3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        They are, but if I had a dollar for every letter I read on there about people being pressured into something at their work, and believing that they couldn’t say no without damaging their career, standing in the office, being marked as a team player on their next review etc, I’d have a lot of dollars.

        As someone who’s gone to (personal) events alone a lot even when in a romantic relationship, and has gotten crappy treatment for that from the couples there, it did make me wonder how the request was worded. Was it really a totally voluntary thing, or was there pressure, or were people led to believe that they don’t deserve a plus one if they do not have a romantic partner?

  19. Presea*

    I don’t really love the workaround of having other employees give up their +1 to accommodate someone who wants to bring more than one +1 for any reason (whether its partners or romantic partners or friends), though I can’t put my finger on why… it’s not about the validity or type of relationship at all in my eyes. It just feels like a really weird subversion of the system – one that’s potentially harmless, but one that maybe sets a precedent for unequal treatment. (I am saying this as a polyamorous person myself, though of course I am open to the idea that I might have some subconscious biases affecting me anyway.)

    As Alison said, certainly make sure nobody is being pressured to give up their +1, and certainly consider whether HR is being anti-polyamory or just enforcing a headcount!

    1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      In my singleton days, I probably would have declined the party outright and offered the polyamorous employee both of my headcounts.

        1. Phony Genius*

          This feels a little like high school and college graduations that have limited attendance and give each student a certain number of tickets. If a student has unused tickets that they don’t need, they contribute them to a pool where they can be reallocated to those who need extras. The reallocation may be by lottery or by first come-first served.

          A similar method could take a little pressure off employees if there’s no indication of whose extra ticket went to whom. You could even create a few more extra +1’s in the place of any employee who can’t make it. (Yes, there could still be some pressure here; it’s not a perfect solution.)

      1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        Didn’t read your comment about both people until I commented. Yes, seems simple enough.

    2. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      I think the better way would be to bypass the asking employee completely. Go directly to HR and confirm someone not attending. That offers two extra spots.
      Is it fair? Why can’t other people bring two more people? Will this start a rush going forward?
      Does any of that matter?
      I don’t know. That’s why I don’t work in HR. But I do ask questions, because you never know.

      1. thatjillgirl*

        I think it’s perfectly fair, and as for the risk of a “rush” in future years….well, I’m not sure it super matters? If it was somehow an issue, they could just make a sort of +1 waiting list and then if people RSVP that they won’t be using their own spot and/or their +1, you could just move down the wait list according to who signed up first.

    3. not that kind of Doctor*

      It feels icky because it suggests that any people in the coworkers’ lives are less important than the polyam person’s additional partners. It’s very hard to imagine that no one will feel pressured or awkward about it – especially if they think they might be accused of being anti-polyamory if they decline. It devalues non-romantic relationships and leaves single people out in the cold AGAIN.

      If “families” were invited, and polyam partners excluded, you’d have something. This is not that.

      1. Presea*

        I think you hit the nail on the head here on what’s bugging me about this solution! Also – I feel that it’s the company’s job to accommodate people’s life circumstances in these situations, not their coworkers!

        1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

          OH! Like those places where employees give their sick time to a coworker in need. Um, no. If my coworker is sick, I’ll pick up the slack, I’ll make personal efforts to help. But the company can step in an eat some days.

      2. miro*

        Yeah, this!
        OP is (rightly, IMO) concerned about making people feel like they have to prove the validity of their romantic relationships and I think it’s also important to make sure that solutions like this don’t set people up to feel like they have to prove the validity or value of their non-romantic relationships.

        From OP’s clarification in the comments, it sounds like this company frames +1s as “bring a person, any person! (limit: one)” rather than “bring your partner!” which I personally tend to think is the better way to go. I hope that this solution doesn’t start to reframe things in favor of partners only

  20. Polivia Ope*

    The “workaround” OP posted about isn’t the great solution they think it is. It doesn’t sound very fair to the others who were asked to give up their plus one. It’s certainly not the magic problem solver OP thinks it is. It should have never even been a question.

    1. JB*

      I don’t believe OP said it was a “great solution” or “magic problem solver”. They just said that’s what the employee is doing.

    2. thatjillgirl*

      I would agree if people were being *told* to give up their +1. But if they’re simply being asked if they would mind having one of the additional partners as their “+1” and they’re totally free to say no to the request, then I don’t see any harm in asking. There are people who would happily give up a +1 in that kind of situation, and you just don’t know if any of the other employees are that type of person until you ask.

    1. Rayray*

      The best kind of holiday party if we must have one is to shut computers off, have a good catered lunch and take time to actually eat and enjoy yourself, get your Christmas bonus and/or company gift and then go home.

  21. Anonn*

    I can understand offering a generic +1 for something like a wedding, but it seems strange for a company party. Those parties are usually a way to celebrate with the employees of the company, and it makes sense for those employees to bring their partners or spouses (even if there are multiple partners!) because they’re part of the “work family” by extension.

    But I think it would be really weird to bring an unrelated friend to a work party. Do people really do that? I feel like if it’s going to be so awkward to socialize with your coworkers that you need to bring a friend, you should just not go. It feels almost rude to me to bring someone who is completely unrelated to the company and spend your time in conversation with them instead of the people you work with!

    1. zebra*

      It totally depends on the company, in my experience. Mine alternates; one year we’ll have an employees-only party during the workday, and the next year they’ll throw down for a larger party on a weekend evening with +1s allowed. They are both fun but they have very different vibes and different goals. And different budgets, frankly; they go bigger on the weekend party because they only do it every other year. It would be weird to bring a guest to the smaller one, but the larger one is a bigger party with better food, free booze, and a loose vibe — it’s really fun to chat with people’s guests at that one.

    2. nora*

      I have done it when I had a close friend visiting the same weekend as my holiday party, and not wanting her to stay at my house by herself or missing my work party. We had a great time (she is a delight) and my coworkers still ask about her. In contrast, my husband HATES these things and if/when I bring him he is not memorable and we always leave as soon as it is polite to do so :)

      A colleague who was out to me but not necessarily publically brought a close friend to these things because they didn’t want to out themselves at work, nor go alone. I had another who went through a painful and embarrassing divorce, and if it hadn’t been for the first person bringing a platonic friend as an example, she would probably have skipped the party. In the end she brought her teen daughter and they also had a great time.

      I think an evenly-applied plus one is a fine practice and a good way of not prioritizing certain types of relationships or stops on the life journey over others.

      1. squeakraAD*

        This is my take as well. The plus one is a plus one. I actually know several polyamorous families and I don’t think any of them would’ve asked to bring more people to a holiday party then the plus one everyone was entitled to. What if n someone who lives with their parents wants to bring both their parents?

    3. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      Our annual parties were huge events with hundreds of people. They were simply parties.
      Beginning with a cocktail hour, then a thank you for coming speech over the salad course. Then the meal, dessert, then a performance by a musician, a comedian (someone you’d buy tickets for.) If you weren’t looking out for a particular coworker, you may never see him/her. You probably ate the meal with your core group of work friends, but the performance after was not assigned seating and we really just wanted to watch.
      I didn’t always have a partner at the time, but was able to bring someone and it was nice.
      Reading here about these work meetings under the guise of holiday events regularly blows my mind. Glad I never had to deal with that.

      1. TiffIf*

        Yup this was how my company parties were too (pre-covid–they’ve all been cancelled since March 2020) The summer party was often at a water park so you might be over on a slide and your coworkers over at the wave pool or whatever; when not at a water park it was at a venue with an outdoor amphitheater with performance of a play or musical (past performances included Fiddler on the Roof and Footloose). December party was always a nice sit down dinner at a very upscale hotel with entertainment.

        (They actually tried for a few years to make the December party more entertainment focused, and so stopped offering the good food, and instead just had like cheap snacks/appetizers. Participation/attendance dropped off significantly, so they brought back the sit down dinner.)

        These are just parties. I think at the summer party they did recognition awards for service length, but half the people there never went to that part. At the December party there was a drawing for door prizes among employees. That was the extent of any “work” done.

    4. harrowhark*

      A romantic partner is as related or unrelated to the ‘work family’ as any other potential guest. My parents, sisters and closest friends have listened to me talk about my career for twelve years, they’re a part of it to me. Whereas I could date a partner for nine months, bring them to the party, and split up in January. Unless you really do want to get into ‘no ring, no bring’ and other judgements on relationships.

      1. miro*

        Totally agree! The idea that it is *rude* (to whom?) to bring a friend rubs me the wrong way, as is the corresponding idea that employees’ family members are part of the office’s purview

        1. Self Employed Employee*

          And the idea that everyone gets to have a family or partner. Some of us will never have that, so, what, we don’t get to bring anyone? Have to drive there and back alone?

    5. Chairman of the Bored*

      If I bring a person to a work party who has a good time and behaves themselves why would my employer or co-workers care whether or not I am currently sleeping with that person?

      I see the fundamental arrangement being “the employer provides hospitality/entertainment/etc as a thank-you to their employees (and the guest of their choice) at the end of the year”. Unless the organizers make it explicit, there are no other expectations.

      It’s a party. Why be judgy about whether somebody brings a friend to a party?

    6. H.C.*

      I’ve gone as a “friend +1” before because my friend is the only single (& non-dating, at that time) person in a whole team of marrieds & couples. I made decent small talk with her co-workers and their partners, we all still had a good time & got a good chuckle over whoever assumed I was a S.O. too.

    7. kt*

      It depends if the party is a “reward” — supposed to be fun — or whether it’s supposed to be another work/networking/politics event in which the +1s are expected to be people who contribute to the business, in essence. Some companies have an expectation that spouse will participate in social events, ensure the home is clean and ready for entertaining, etc — a very old-school point of view in which a couple is a business unit in the community. For those, the dinner with +1s is another work performance. Other companies want to thank employees with a fun time. There I think bringing anyone desired for a +1 makes sense.

  22. Lilo*

    I agree the workaround is terrible. If the other employees had the idea themselves, sure. Pressuring an employee to “bring” another employee’s family member is massively unfair to the pressured employee.

    Everyone gets +1, done. Otherwise you end up looking like that wedding RSVP where someone added 16 people.

    It’s a work party, not Thanksgiving at grandma’s where all family should be invited.

  23. h*

    A similar situation came up in a Dear Prudence letter I remember in the context of wedding dates. Dear Prudence is pretty poly-friendly, but took the position that a +1 isn’t supposed to represent all the important people in a person’s life, but rather give the person someone to hang out with at an event where they might feel awkward/not know a lot of people.

    I think that’s a good way to think about +1’s in the modern age. Plus it’s inclusive of single people as well.

    1. Anonn*

      I agree with this approach for weddings, where you’re asking people to come celebrate with you, but isn’t the point of a company party to socialize with the people you work with? I don’t think an employer is obligated to make sure everyone can bring a conversation buddy on their dime.

      1. h*

        So the LW’s company should do away with +1’s altogether in response to this conundrum? It seems like that would be an overreaction since this particular company appears to have already budgeted for everyone to bring one other person.

      2. Alexis Rosay*

        It really does depend on the intent of the company party. In my experience, part of the intent of the party is to make employees feel appreciated, and some employees feel more appreciated (because they have a better time) when they can bring someone. If the party is to force people to socialize with other employees, then yeah it probably doesn’t make sense to bring +1s.

        1. Data Bear*

          I think this is exactly it. It all hinges on why there are guests in the first place, rather than having a company party just for the employees.

          Is it a big blowout shindig which is an attraction unto itself? Would you expect that the response to an employee describing it to a friend would be something like “wow, that sounds fantastic, I wish I could come”? If so, then fixed headcount and a strict +1 policy makes sense.

          Or is inviting employees’ spouses a move to encourage people to attend, because they’re more likely to come to an extracurricular work thing if they can share it with someone really important in their lives? In that case, it would be better to redesign the event for a flexible number of attendees to accommodate the fact that people may have more than one of those.

          In particular, if it’s some kind of fancy awards ceremony to show appreciation to employees who went above and beyond, you should let the guests of honor bring as many important people as they want, or you risk them not actually feeling appreciated. (I.e., you don’t want to send the message “we appreciate your work enough to buy you a chunk of engraved glass, but not enough to pay the caterer for an extra plate at dinner…”)

          Given nature of the question, I’d bet that OP’s event is the first type, but that commenters who feel a little put off by a strict headcount are probably thinking about the second.

      3. JB*

        Nobody said that they were obligated? The company is already offering +1s, that’s not in question. The question is whether poly people get more than a +1.

      4. Librarian1*

        My employer always did our holiday parties in the afternoon during the work day and no one who didn’t work at the company was invited. It solved a lot of problems and it would be nice if more employers did that.

    2. Alexis Rosay*

      Yes. I think hosts often assume that attending an event–be it a wedding or a company party–is a privilege for guests, when it’s actually closer to a burden. (Esp for weddings which are likely to involve travel.) A +1 is a way to lighten the burden by giving the guest a chance to share it with someone they genuinely enjoy.

      1. Despachito*

        But if someone wants to invite you to an important moment in their life (wedding) or for free food and booze (company party) it IS indeed a sort of privilege – but of course it is up to you to decide whether to accept it.

        If you feel it as a burden, and there is nobody else than your potential +1 you genuinely enjoy, what is easier than politely decline?

        1. fueled by coffee*

          Actually, for weddings especially I think this is really easy to answer! If I’m close with one (or both) of the people getting married, it’s a privilege for me to be able to enjoy their special day.

          But if I’m not also close with their *friends*, it can be awkward to attend a social event alone (and the couple getting married can’t possibly be expected to entertain me given that it’s, you know, their wedding). So a +1 gives me someone to chat with, dance with, and sit next to amidst a crowd of strangers. It should never be expected, but it’s nice to have the option!

    3. JB*

      Yes, I think this is the best way to look at it.

      A +1 is a +1, and I can’t imagine (as a poly person myself) asking to bring more than one person just because I have more than one partner.

      Many people in the room likely have more than one person they would have liked to invite, even if those other people aren’t additional romantic partners/spice. Maybe Sally would have liked to invite all three of her adult children. Maybe John would have liked to invite his parents along with his partner. If it’s not that kind of ‘free-for-all’ party, why would I get special dispensation to walk in with a crowd while monogamous and single people only get to pick one guest?

  24. Just Another Zebra*

    I know OldJob (wedding industry) is definitely coloring my opinion of asking for more seats than invited, but I don’t know that this is that much different. OP says upthread that people have brought non-romantic guests before, so it’s truly a headcount issue. A better way to have handled this would have been to advise the employee that due to budget/ space/ social distancing reasons, they could only accommodate one guest per employee. Especially if this is a more formal party like a catered dinner, one person can add costs quickly.

  25. nnn*

    I’m idly wondering what the effect on the headcount would actually be if people were allowed to bring as many partners as they want, or as many guests as they want.

    On one hand, there are likely more polyamorous relationships than we’re currently aware of. Added to that, if people are allowed to bring as many guests as they want, some people will bring their kids rather than arranging for childcare (or bring their spouse and kids rather than having their spouse stay home and provide childcare), and there are a few contrarians in the world who will try to bring 20 people just to make a point.

    On the other hand, even if there are more polyamorous relationships than we’re aware of, there likely aren’t that many in total, even if just for logistical reasons (it’s hard enough to find one compatible partner!). Added to that, office holiday parties aren’t that great, and it’s likely that not everyone who’s entitled to attend is going to want to attend.

    1. Just Another Zebra*

      Once Upon a Time, I planned a wedding with a bride who was having a very casual backyard wedding. She left invites very open. When we discussed guest lists (for catering / chair / favor purposes) she said she was expecting between 100 and 150 people. I planned for 200.

      Almost 400 people showed.

      People brought spouses, and kids, and friends who were in town. People brought cousins (not related to bride or groom) who brought spouses and kids. It was chaos. I ordered pizza from three different places and we still ran out of food. Never underestimate what people will do if there is food and they don’t have to pay for it.

    2. anonymous73*

      In the early 00s, I worked for a bank and they had fancy holiday parties. I never went, but it I remember correctly, you had to buy a ticket for any plus one. The employee did not have to pay. I hate these types of parties myself, but this would resolve any headcount issues.

      1. Moira Rose*

        Oh, this is actually a perfect solution. Let people have as many companions as they like, and just charge per head. Done!!

    3. Bamcheeks*

      I feel like the number of poly relationships where >1 partner would actually enjoy going to someone else’s work event is very, very small. Surely the point of being in a polycule is being able to say, “oh hell no, you take Joe, I’m going to watch Holby City reruns.”

      1. Cthulhu's Librarian*

        Not the sole point, but it is definitely one of the perks.

        In all seriousness though, it’s important to remember that every member of a given polycule experiences it distinctly (and not all of them even accept that term for the unit). Person A may only be romantically/intimately invested in Person B, while the whole unit may consist of A, B, C, D. So, it may not be quite as simple as person B being able to say “nope! take person C” to Person A.

  26. RagingADHD*

    Do single people get to poll their coworkers for extra/unused plus ones so they can bring more than one friend? Do monogamous people get to collect extra tickets as a favor so they can bring extended family?

    If you’re going to have a policy that everyone gets one guest, and then encourage ticket-swapping, then it seems like you’re just rewarding pushiness.

    1. Presea*

      Agreed!! If you have multiple partners, only bring one or else bring someone who isn’t a partner. Or get HR to formally make an exception for your case if such an exception is truly warranted within the office culture. Signed, an actual polyamorous person.

  27. Public Sector Manager*

    Removed because off-topic — we’re not debating holiday parties in general here! – Alison

  28. Lab Boss*

    If everyone gets a straight +1 then it’s equitable- as other threads have said, you could invite one of many partners, or your one partner, or a non-partner-friend. My company used to do some events where it was “You get a +1 but if you have a family you can bring your entire immediate family” with the subtext that “immediate family” meant “spouse and kids.” I don’t know as anyone ever complained about it but it seems in retrospect like a problem waiting to happen, for cases like the letter along with many other iterations.

    1. James*

      “If everyone gets a straight +1 then it’s equitable….”

      Equitable, but not necessarily equal. It’s necessarily going to remind the employee that their lifestyle is abnormal and generally not accepted by society. Plus, you’re forcing the employee to choose between their partners. It’s likely that they have a plan to account for this–they are in a relationship that doesn’t follow cultural norms, so it’s almost certainly come up in the past–but regardless, it’s a type of stress that the monogamous workers don’t have to deal with.

      That’s the problem with equitable accommodations: by their nature they favor those who conform to whatever the society considers normal. If everyone has to use the stairs it’s equitable–at the expense of those who are unable to use stairs. If everyone has to live within 5 miles of the office it’s equitable–at the expense of those can’t afford to live there.

      1. anonymous73*

        But it’s not a graduation ceremony. You don’t get to invite your entire family to your work party. You get a plus one, end of story. You either choose to use it or don’t.

        1. James*

          That’s akin to saying “It’s the cake owner’s business, if he doesn’t want to sell to homosexuals that’s his right, end of story”. Given a certain perspective you’re not wrong–the company, as a private entity, can make any rules they want that don’t violate the law or the rights of others. I somehow doubt many people on this board would find that argument convincing, however.

          Further, the whole concept of the +1 originated to include heterosexual monogamous partners. The idea was to allow workers to bring a date or spouse. That people sometimes bring others with them is rather beside the point; the intent is clearly to bring your monogamous romantic partner with you. It’s a type of soft discrimination, akin to saying “The gays can have a civil union, why isn’t that good enough? Why does it have to be marriage?” Again, I doubt that in any other context folks here would find that argument acceptable.

          As for the financial arguments, many won’t use their +1, and there’s always fluff in these things (if there’s not, you have a bad planner). If having 2 people instead of 1 breaks the budget for the event, the event was incredibly poorly planned. Remember, poly relationships are fairly rare, and while some are going to be large groups most are going to be fairly small; the idea that they’re going to catastrophically impact planning–especially when the folks involved are open about it and thus allow for planning–is simply ridiculous. We’re talking about one or two extra people, not 50 or 60 here.

          Please bear in mind, I’m monogamous. Never been interested in a poly relationship. I’m arguing purely from the perspective of one interested in inclusivity. Poly relationships neither break my bones nor pick my pockets, and the tide of history is swinging towards increasing acceptance of non-standard relationship styles between consenting adults. We’ve accepted interracial marriage and homosexuality; there’s no logical reason to refuse to accept poly relationships as a valid relationship style for other people. And yes, by demanding poly people conform to norms created for monogamous people you are refusing to acknowledge that.

          1. Anon, good nurse*

            I really appreciate this. I’m looking forward to a day when I can bring both my partners to a family event or wedding. The discrimination is way too real and toxic for us to even consider it at this point.

          2. Jennifer Strange*

            That’s akin to saying “It’s the cake owner’s business, if he doesn’t want to sell to homosexuals that’s his right, end of story”.

            Whoa, no! That is not at all the same thing! In one case two different groups are being treated differently. In this case, all employees are being given the option to bring a plus one; it can be a romantic partner or not, but everyone gets one guest. They are being treated exactly the same.

            1. James*

              I was specifically referring to the logic behind the argument–the business gets to make the rules. You are discussing the outcomes, which I will certainly grant are different in scale.

              “They are being treated exactly the same” is not accepted as a justification in any other situation on this board. I mean, would you accept no parental leave for anyone as long as everyone’s treated the exact same? How about requirements for hairstyles (remember, this was used to discriminate against black people for a LONG time)? One reason people are pushing back against formal dress in businesses is that, while it’s the same for everyone, the impacts are disproportional on those who have less income. We as a culture expect companies to make reasonable accommodations ALL THE TIME. We expect them to accommodate different dietary requirements, different religious requirements, different medical requirements, different social expectations.

              In this one single instance–marriage–folks are suddenly okay with saying that because everyone’s treated the same it’s perfectly fine. It’s Special Pleading. Or at least, it’s glaringly inconsistent, with no logical justification provided for that inconsistency.

              1. Jennifer Strange*

                There is a WORLD of difference between requirements that disproportionately affect people of a certain race or financial situation negatively and limiting each person to one guest as a means of keeping within a budget.

                As others have pointed out, this isn’t a “bring your partner” situation; it’s a “bring one guest” situation. That means someone may also have to choose between bringing their mother or their father. They may need to choose between bringing one friend or the other. A single parent may choose between bringing one child or the other. That doesn’t make it wrong. There are plenty of situations in the world where you are limited to a single guest. This is one of those situations.

                1. Cake or Death?*

                  It doesn’t matter how many times you tell them it’s “guest” not “partner”, you’ll still get a wall of text lamenting about how all employees partners should be treated equally

            2. Data Bear*

              For quite a while, one of the arguments against same-sex marriage was “But everyone is being treated exactly the same! Gay men can get married all they want, as long as it’s to a woman!”

              You want to be very cautious about using arguments that “everyone is being treated equally” when discussing gender and sexual minorities. A lot of nasty prejudice has been dressed up as “treating everyone the same”.

              1. Jennifer Strange*

                Except that in that case they weren’t being treated the same because one group was allowed to marry the person they loved and the other group was not. In this case it is a blanket policy that is going to affect everyone equally. Parents can’t just bring their 7 children. People can’t just bring all of their BFFs. Folks can’t bring their parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, neighbors, plumbers, etc. Each person gets one guest.

              2. Cake or Death?*

                That has nothing to do with this. Telling every employee that they can invite one person of their choosing, regardless of relationship, is not treating poly relationships differently or excluding them in anyway. If the invite had been for one romantic partner only per employees, then you’re point would be valid. (And I agree with it!).

          3. Cake or Death?*

            Your stance is akin to “there shouldn’t be any paid parental leave because it reminds all the people that are childless by choice that they aren’t conforming to norms created by people who choose to have children.”

            1. James*

              Actually, it’s more akin to “There should be parental leave for fathers as well as mothers, as both are affected by childbirth.” I’d be perfectly okay with offering equivalent leave to non-parents if they ask for it and they have some reason that’s on par with childbirth. I’m literally saying that companies should be willing to make minor adjustments to accommodate different lifestyle choices, especially when they are brave enough to ask for it. (And yes, adding one or two people to a party is a VERY minor accommodation.)

              Those opposing my argument are the ones saying “A company can have no parental leave for anyone, so long as everyone is treated equally.”

              I’m in favor of inclusivity and not discriminating against people for different lifestyle choices, including romantic relationships. I’m against maintaining outdated cultural institutions that serve only to discriminate against those who deviate from the norm. As far as I’m concerned, anyone arguing against allowing those in poly relationships to treat their partners as spouses is in opposition to both those ideas. It’s interesting to know that so many people disagree with those stances as soon as romantic relationships are on the table. It shows that for all the progress we’ve made, there’s still a tremendous amount of work to do.

              1. Cake or Death?*

                “There should be parental leave for fathers as well as mothers”

                Uhhh dude. PARENTAL leave. I literally said that. As in, for parents. Because of was for mother’s only, it would be maternity leave. And since I literally said parental leave, it’s flabbergasting why 1. You’re explaining that you think a parent should get parental leave 2. that you failed to grasp that my use of parental leave meant parents, which includes both parents. And for someone who is all preaching about equality and fighting discrimination and societies norms, it’s assuming that you went straight to a heteronormitive relationship. So a father should but not the other parent on a gay relationship?

                And no your example is not a correct analogy. Because you still fail to realize that you’re asking for a certain group of people to get additional benefits do to their relationship status at the exclusion of others. You’re elevating romantic partnerships in a situation where they are currently at the same level as other relationships. You think romantic relationships should get an exception, which excludes a lot of other relationships and people.

          4. anonymous73*

            “That’s akin to saying “It’s the cake owner’s business, if he doesn’t want to sell to homosexuals that’s his right, end of story”.”

            Ummm no, not even close.

        2. RagingADHD*

          Who gets to invite their entire family to graduation? Every graduation I’ve been remotely connected with since the 1990s had strictly limited ticketing. Nearly everyone has to leave out someone.

          Sure, its’ more than one ticket. But not unlimited.

      2. Presea*

        As true as this is, it’s incredibly reasonable for HR to enforce a headcount, and if you change the +1 to a +3 across the board to accommodate this employee, that’s potentially quadruple the original guest count if everyone takes advantage of that. (And it would still be unfair for polycules with more than 4 members). Giving polyamorous units an across-the-board exception to the +1 rule might be appropriate in some offices, but it doesn’t sound like the right solution in this particular case. Creating an across-the-board system to allow anyone to bring multiple +1s or donate their +1s is reasonably fair, but it might result in a lot of resentment when people inevitably feel pressured to give up their +1. Sometimes fair and equitable is the best you can do in a given situation, due to competing needs across different groups – in this case, the ‘need of the employee to bring all of their partners vs the ‘need’ for HR to stay within a given budget.

        (FWIW – I am myself polyamorous. I don’t expect this to be a “get out of being problematic free” card, but I feel like it’s important context to give when I’m saying things that might come off as anti polyam or harsh against polyamorous people)

        1. fueled by coffee*

          I think this is maybe where the difference between an office party and an event thrown by a friend (like a wedding) is really important?

          If I’m getting married and I know one of my friends is in a poly relationship, but I still only give them a +1 because “‘normal’ relationships are between two people,” then that’s me being an asshole. (Akin to how I would be an asshole for giving a +1 to a male friend’s girlfriend of two weeks but not to a gay couple who had been together for years).

          But your employer is not your friend. They are hosting an event in the hopes that their employees will continue doing good work for them. They are offering everyone the option of bringing a guest, because sometimes people feel more comfortable with someone they know at social events, and that might make them have a better time and do better work for the company.

          Now, should they make an exception for the poly employee? Maybe. But I think they’re well within their rights to say “we have a headcount, everyone can bring one person.” Your employer is not your friend, and can’t or at least, shouldn’t be making moral judgments about the quality of their employees’ relationships.

          (If the employer had banned ticket-swapping among the employees who didn’t want to use their +1s in order to prevent additional partners from attending altogether, that would be asshole-ish behavior. But they have no problem with all members of the polycule being present, they just have limited space which they divided equitably).

      3. Cake or Death?*

        I disagree with this.
        1. The meanings of equity and equality are mixed up. Because equality means each individual or group of people is given the same resources or opportunities, while equity recognizes that each person has different circumstances and allocates the exact resources and opportunities needed to reach an equal outcome. However, something can be both equitable and equal at the same time; depending on the desired outcome. And if the desired outcome is that every employee of your company have the opportunity to bring one person with them to the company party, then offering all your employees a plus one invite is both equal and equitable.
        2. With the idea that an employer should be wading into trying to figure out how planning their company holiday party is going to effect the inner workings of their employees relationships. Also, asking the employer to start judging the relationships of their employers; like what level of relationship they have with people in their lives merits extra invited to the party. If the invite was for partners, then a poly person should be able to bring all their partners. But then, you are excluding single people. It’s also elevating partner/romantic relationships over other relationships. If the company issues every employee a plus one, but Jane gets 2 extra because she is poly, why can’t Sara have 2 extra invites for her siblings? Why can’t Joe get 2 extra for his kids? Offering a blanket plus one to all employees is the best way to do it, because then there are no value judgments being made. Whether it causes a headache in the employees personal dynamics in their relationship is absolutely nothing the company should be getting involved in. The employee isn’t being denied being able to bring their partners, because they
        invite isn’t just for partners. It’s for any one person that a coworker wants to bring with them.

        And your staircase equitable example doesn’t make sense. If everyone has to use the stairs, but there are people that can’t use the stairs, then that is not equitable.

        1. James*

          “1. The meanings of equity and equality are mixed up.”

          Eh, probably. I’m a rocks guy, not a languages one. The concepts are the important thing: Just because the rules are the same for everyone, doesn’t mean that the effects are not disproportional to certain groups, and that disproportional burden is worth considering when making policies. That’s accepted as a truism in our culture at this point–it’s even enshrined in law in many cases–so if you want to argue against it the burden of proof is on you. In my opinion you haven’t met that burden yet. All you’ve done is provide the standard Slippery Slope argument.

          As for the rest, I’m not going to argue against it piece by piece. In order for your argument to be valid you need to demonstrate that poly people are sufficiently different from other minorities to allow companies to refuse to acknowledge them. Anything else is simply saying “I’m okay with THIS discrimination, but not THAT discrimination”–which is another way of saying “I’m okay with discrimination I agree with”.

          Your arguments are Slippery Slope Fallacy (I do not find the fact that you didn’t take it to its logical conclusion to be a good thing on your part; you were going there, you just refused to go all the way, and I don’t play the “I’m not touching you” game). They are almost verbatim the arguments I’ve heard in favor of outlawing poly relationships by the Religious Right. For that matter, they’re the same type of argument I’ve read in historical documents against allow homosexual marriage or inter-racial marriage. The idea is the same: Once we allow this, the floodgates will open and [insert institution here] will be irreparably damaged. Historically we’ve found it goes one of two ways. Either the institution isn’t (marriage, astonishingly, has survived despite homosexuals being allowed to do it!), or the institution wasn’t worth preserving in the first place and society is better off without it.

          I will also point out that your entire Point #2 exists solely because of discriminatory laws still on the books. Western culture outlaws polygamy because it enforces the rules of specific religions (don’t argue that polygamists are discriminatory against women–the reason is because we’ve made it illegal, so only people who don’t care about legality do it). If we didn’t have these discriminatory laws on the books it would be much simpler: Bring your spouse(s) or a +1, let us know how many. As I pointed out above, the idea that we should comply with laws intended to enforce the rules of a particular religion would be a non-starter in any other context; I have yet to see a legitimate reason why this is an exception.

          It’s not unreasonable for an employee to ask for a reasonable attempt to be made to accommodate their relationship when that relationship isn’t the norm in the culture. And if you can’t see the difference between “I’m in a poly relationship and would like to bring more than one partner” and “I’m going to bring whoever I want”, that’s a problem on your end.

          1. Cake or Death?*

            I’m really not sure what you’re going on and on about. It’s like you’ve made up a response from me in your head and have climbed up on the soapbox.
            You’re making this all about the employee being able to have their relationship accommodated…when that has nothing to do with it. THE COMPANY ISN’T EXTENDING PLUS ONES BASED ON RELATIONSHIPS.
            This is what is so irksome about your comments. The company offered every employee a plus one to take whomever person they want to take; partner, friend, parent, sibling, etc.
            you literally say “bring your spouse or a plus one”. But the company isn’t inviting spouses! Like I don’t get what you’re arguing about. You’re trying to paint me into having some kind of bigoted point of view, based on literally nothing I’ve said.
            You keep arguing about how poly people should have their romantic partners treats just the same as non poly people. But this invite is not about romantic partners! If the invite had said “you can bring one romantic partner”, then your argument would be valid and we wouldn’t even be so discussing this because I agree with you!
            But this isn’t that. This is them saying”you can bring one person with you”, no value judgements on the relationship. Which means one employee might bring their spouse and one might bring their friend one might bring their sibling and and one might bring a tinder date. You are the one who is limiting this to romantic partners.
            If employee Jane is single and has two sisters, should the company be worrying that their going to create friction in the sibling relationship if they don’t let Sara invite both? Are they going to be worried about the dynamics of Joe’s relationship with his two best friends when he can only pick one to attend? Also, you’re elevating romantic relationships above other relationships; is a romantic relationship more important than a friendship? Says who? Why make accommodations for romantic relationships and not others? And especially in a situation where the employees can invite any person they want, why should romantic partnerships be elevated above all others? How do you think that makes all the single employees feel? “Well Jane has 3 romantic partners so she gets extra invites, but you’re single so you only get one because clearly romantic partnerships are the most important”

          2. RagingADHD*

            If the concepts are the important thing, you will never be able to have a constructive conversation about those concepts if you are using words to mean the opposite of what they actually mean.

            If nothing else, it makes people start with the assumption that you have no idea what you’re talking about. And the longer you persist in saying the opposite of what you claim to mean, the more convinced they will be that you aren’t making any sense.

      4. harrowhark*

        No, because +1 doesn’t imply partners. This thread has plenty of examples of people saying they don’t automatically bring their partner as their +1 for multiple reasons. +1 means everyone gets to bring one person without meaning single, monogamously paired, or poly people get a worse outcome.

      5. Rebecca Stewart*

        Except you’re not required to bring your sweetie.

        And it’s only “choosing between your partners” if more than one partner feels that their relationship is impacted by not going. Right now when I go clubbing, I take a friend, not either of my two partners. They’re introverts. They don’t want to go. They are happy to stay home and we all have fun.

        1. Lab Boss*

          Right? When my company used to do picnics with gut-busting BBQ Buffets I would never bring my wife, because she’d had gastric surgery and could only eat a small portion of food and none of the free beer. She actively encouraged me to take a friend instead who’d really enjoy the benefits of that particular event.

      6. Lab Boss*

        When I was completely single I would use my +1 to work events to bring a friend I felt like hanging out with. When I was dating non-monogamously I would pick one dating partner to be my +1. Now I’m married, and sometimes I STILL pick a friend as my +1 if I think that friend would have a better time at the event than my wife would. You are painting a whole lot of meaning into “you can bring one guest if you’d like” that simply isn’t there.

  29. Bernice Clifton*

    I give the LW’s employee credit for asking about it at least. As an admin/EA I have planned plenty of holiday/retirement parties where at least one person either RSVPed for a partner who wasn’t invited, or showed up with one.

  30. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

    If the company is good with +1s being swapped, and this is entirely about headcount and not relationship status, why not take the one-on-one requests out of the equation altogether. Each employee has to RSVP to HR and indicate 1 or 2 attending. After that round is done, there are X number of “unused” seats that can be given out — could be lottery, first come first serve, or Thunderdome contest. The extra seats are then distributed until all seats are claimed. \s (maybe)

    1. Presea*

      I actually really like almost all of this except the Thunderdome thing. It seems a lot more fair and equitable than having one coworker ask (and potentially pressure) another for the same thing.

  31. H.Regalis*

    I think it’s fair if it truly is just a headcount thing. Catering gets expensive! It’s okay to limit party guests for budgetary reasons, but not for value judgements on who should or shouldn’t be a +1. Where it becomes a problem is if Wakeen can bring his seven kids, but Joaquin can’t bring both of his partners. Or Jane can bring her husband but Fergus can’t bring his sister.

    I don’t love the workaround either, but I can’t think of a more equitable solution.

    1. Rebecca Stewart*

      This right here. I personally prefer the plus one, with no commentary on the plus one, but if you’re going to say, “family” then family is how people define it. Period.

      1. Lab Boss*

        I said it upthread but my employer used to use “family” to mean “spouse and children” and hoooo boy they’re lucky it never bit them on the butt. Does “family” include your multiple poly spouses? What about permanent platonic roommates? Your spouse and children along with your ex-spouse and their new partner that you co-parent alongside? Only people who live in your household? It’s a loaded word.

  32. Minerva*

    Yeah employee+1, irrespective of relationship status seems to be the most neutral way of handling this if the idea is to limit headcount while still giving employees room to bring someone to bring *someone.* At least going forward. It completely takes the validity of the relationship out of the question.

    Though I am waiting for the follow up question to revolve around someone wanting their pet* to be their plus one.

    *Unless we are talking about a ALWAYS ALLOWED service animal of course because OMG I can’t even comment on today’s other letter without devolving into rage.

  33. What She Said*

    I’m in agreement with those saying asking others for their plus one is not a great work around here. Sounds like she is already doing it so nothing to do about it now but in the future something needs to be in place. Since this appears to be a headcount situation I do like the idea of opening up spots after the RSVP deadline to the whole company not just this person. “Looks like we have 10 seats available for those interested….” If you get more requests then spots at that point you can do it via a lottery system to determine who gets the extra spots.

    **If this is intended to be an adults only party then I can also see saying kids under 18 or 21 not allowed as the +1.

    I’ve been invited to and attended two holiday parties in the past with friends and the parties were their parent’s office holiday party. These were both big events with dinner and dancing. I didn’t stay the whole night but they were fun for a bit.

  34. Texas*

    Since there’s no expectation that the +1 be an SO, saying an employee can only bring one guest isn’t making any comment on the employee’s relationship status or making assumptions about what their relationship looks like. If other people aren’t looking to bring anyone and are happy to offer over their guest slot, cool, but it’s not invalidating the employee’s relationship to have a headcount limit.

  35. Student*

    I’m still boggling that four people, three of whom do not work there, want to attend a work party of any sort. OP, we need details on this work party, please. Perhaps in the Friday or Saturday open thread.

    I have never been to a work party that I enjoyed, let alone one I wanted to bring my spouse to. I want to understand what these look like and what industry they are happening in.

    1. Morning reader*

      I’m with you on this! To me, an advantage of poly is having relationships with people who are different from each other. The idea that you are partnered with three people and they all want to go to your holiday party defies all odds. Is your family all extreme extroverts?

      (I’m picturing here the old army joke of asking for volunteers for an assignment, where all the savvy soldiers take one step back from the line, leaving the new recruit dangling and looking like he volunteered.)

      can you ask your three partners which of them wants to go? Odds are, only one, maybe, wants to or is willing to go.

      1. Morning reader*

        Oops, a misread, the employer, not the poly employee, raised the question. I’m still boggled though. Is this a young employee, or one who has never been to a work function before? I favor the plus-one approach.

      2. F.M.*

        Sometimes I get tired of being the “not all introverts” person, but I really wish people wouldn’t assume that “introvert” means “hates parties” and “extrovert” means “loves parties”. I adore certain types of parties–especially nicely catered ones where I can just hang out in a seat at a table while stuff happens–and I’m introverted as heck. It just means it’s exhausting, like many other enjoyable activities, like rock-climbing or translating Homer.

        I’ve been to two work parties as a +1 myself; once as a friend, once as a spouse. Had a pretty good time at both. Sometimes it’s fun to get dressed up fancy, eat food I never make for myself at home, and meet a bunch of random people I don’t work with myself and thus don’t have to worry about remembering names/faces for.

    2. londonedit*

      Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always really enjoyed work Christmas parties (we’re British, they usually involve going out for lunch and having a lot of drinks and then going on to the pub, or a proper party with music and food and lots of drinks) but I’ve never worked anywhere where partners/+1s were invited to the work do. To me that sounds like a hangover from my parents’ generation – my dad was the boss and my mum would always go along to the work Christmas party, but it feels like something that died out in the 1980s/90s. Work parties to me have always been about getting colleagues together, whether it’s a smaller team lunch or a whole-workplace party – the idea of bringing guests has never come into it.

    3. Lab Boss*

      We used to have two annual events that were worth bringing an “outsider” to: A summer picnic (free BBQ and beer and sno-cones, prize raffles, carnival games, giant inflatable toys) and a Christmas/Holiday party (high-end catering, full bar, dressing up, photo booths, music and dancing, even fancier prize raffles). If you were willing to suffer through a generic 5-10 minute speech from the CEO they were both pretty fun.

  36. Rebecca1*

    This question inspired me to speak to someone who used to attend business functions in a country where polygamy is legal and accepted. She said the custom was that it was still plus-one, and only the first wife (chronologically) came along. That could be adapted in a gender-neutral way, as one option.

    1. Poly At Work*

      That can be fraught. My not-legally-recognized partner very much appreciates being introduced with the word “wife”, even if not recognized that way by the state; and privileging the chronologically-prior relationship can have pretty much the same effect. People who know the history in terms of which commitment ceremony was when can figure out the legalities, and similarly anyone who has a legitimate business reason to know which partner is on my employer-provided insurance (or, I suppose, who snoops around in public records) — but it’s not really anyone else’s business, and I would be pretty put off by anyone trying to figure out who my “real” spouse is, or otherwise establishing a rule that consistently privileged one partner over the other.

      On the other hand, “+1 means +1” is reasonable for most circumstances where there are legitimate practical constraints; I’ve been lucky enough not to have had situations where more than one partner _wants_ to attend a thing where only a single +1 is welcome — either an event is too crowded for the more introverted partner, or at a venue in a climate that’s not to one-or-the-other’s preferences, or there’s a conflict with one or the other’s employment schedule or so forth.

    2. Cthulhu's Librarian*

      Polygamy and polyamory are typically hugely distinct and different social structures, with vastly different rationales for being adopted, and impact on the people who are part of them. While I applaud you for reaching out to people who have experience with polygamy and expanding your personal experience, a lot of the polyamorous community would bristle at someone expecting them to ascribe to those particular social structures.

  37. mkl*

    If you have to have guests, a +1 is genius. It’s inclusive of people who aren’t in partnerships- they can bring a friend- and covers a lot of ground. That said…

    I love meeting co-workers partners/friends/spouses in small team sized gatherings where we already have friendships and can welcome them into the circle. I hate bringing guests to big 100, 200+ events where everyone just gets lost in a loud crowd. The presence of the guests sort of oddly slows down the socializing between teammates, and the presence of so many co-workers you don’t know slows down the chance for your partner/spouse/friend to get to know the teammates they hear about every day. How about big celebrations just for staff, and 5-50 person size team gatherings for +1?
    (That said, I still remember the last large all company Christmas party at a certain large telco based in Seattle, before 1000 people was deemed too big for one party. Since it included the local retail staff who skew very young and outnumbered the corporate team 10:1, it was like crashing somebody else’s prom. The outfits! The glitter!! The fun!!! It was a riot but in no way did it give my partner a chance to meet any of my co-workers.)

  38. Whole lot of stuff!*

    We had this same situation (I was HR in the situation and responsible for the holiday party). I said yes, bring your partners. The additional 1 headcount didn’t impact the budget or space in a significant way, and the employee was happy. Equitable doesn’t mean treating everyone the same.

  39. Working Hypothesis*

    One of my most cherished memories is of being invited to a close friend’s wedding. I was her maid of honor because she didn’t want to elevate either of her sisters over the other, and my husband and I had just come out about being poly by moving in with a group of three other people to form a five-way family. My friend was (and is) pretty conservative, and I didn’t know how she’d take it. I prepared to attend alone.

    Instead, I got an email from her asking for the full names of my new partners, so that she could make sure everything was correct on the invitation. Two of them were people she’d never met, and the third she didn’t know well, but she was determined to abide by the standard rule of etiquette: partners who live together are a social unit for purposes of invitations, and it doesn’t matter how many of them there might be.

    Obviously there are cases where you just can’t do that, because the finances or the space is too tight. But usually those are also the cases where you’re better off simply inviting individuals anyway, and leaving out most of the monogamous partners just as much as the polyamorous ones.

    I think that office parties which use +1s at all are making a mistake. People who have chosen to be a family together, no matter what numbers and combinations they involve, should be invited together to anything that doesn’t happen during the work day and doesn’t strictly limit itself to the employees alone. But they should be invited by name, individually, and whoever’s arranging the party needs to ask around and find out from each employee the name(s) of their partner(s) in order to send specific invitations to those people.

    I can understand choosing the alternate route and saying that everyone can bring one person and it doesn’t matter if they’re a partner, a cousin, or somebody they picked up on the bus on the way to the party. I don’t think it’s exactly wrong, and when I’m offered such an invitation I abide by it — by coming alone, so I don’t need to designate one partner for the purpose ahead of the others. But I do think it’s really lovely to make people feel seen by sending them individual invitations by name… whether or not there are more than one of them per employee. It makes monogamous partners feel seen too, in a way that a +1 invitation just doesn’t, and although they don’t have as great a lack of that kind of being seen as most poly people do, it can certainly still be pleasant.

    So why not? I’ve never met an office whose budget is so constrained that it cannot afford to expand its parties to accommodate the very few polyamorous families which are likely to exist among their staff.

    1. Jennifer Strange*

      Except that once you give one group of folks the right to bring as many people as they want why shouldn’t everyone be able to? Why shouldn’t Jane be allowed to bring her adult children and all of their children? Why shouldn’t Bob be able to bring his bowling team? An organization has the right to keep numbers down to fit their budget.

    2. harrowhark*

      As a single person, romantic and/or sexual relationships being elevated like that doesn’t sound really lovely at all, it sounds alienating. Single people – especially childless/childfree women of a certain age – are also considered non-normative and disruptive to the social order and we deserve to feel seen too.

    3. AnotherLibrarian*

      I’m so glad your friend found a great way to make you feel affirmed on her wedding day, but I think it is flawed to compare a staff party (company picnic, holiday shin-gig, whatever) to the major life changing event like a wedding. Yes, in the case of a wedding, get folks names right. But weddings are sometimes planned over a year in advance.

      In the case of a staff holiday party, I think it’s going a little far and runs the very real risk of making folks who do not have partners feel deeply excluded. When I was single, I sometimes didn’t know who I was dragging to the company party to keep me from going bonkers until the day of. Asking me to name someone before hand would have felt sort of invasive on the part of my employer.

      1. allathian*

        Yeah, this. I know that HR knows my husband’s name, because they have access to the national population information system, heck, they even know his social security number, because it’s listed right there in the database.

        But it would feel weird, if not downright intrusive, to get an invitation in any other way except by email.

    4. TPS reporter*

      I completely agree with this and don’t understand the overwhelming sentiment in many of the comments.

      There are a few reasons why you might want to bring a guest to your office party. To feel more comfortable, to share a fun experience with someone in your life that is important to you, to show your colleagues who you are. Not everyone will feel any if those things and that’s okay. but for the incredibly rare poly person to say I’m out and proud and want to share my genuine partnership with my co workers? The employer honestly can’t make an exception for this very rare instance which will be a blip in the budget.

      Elevating a non traditional romantic relationship to one of special importance that deserves an exception makes sense to me. Many of these comments sound like the old arguments against gay marrige- the slippery slope fallacy that people will just want to marry their friend or their dog.

      I feel it would be a lovely gesture of inclusivity to allow the plus 2.

      1. Jennifer Strange*

        but for the incredibly rare poly person to say I’m out and proud and want to share my genuine partnership with my co workers? The employer honestly can’t make an exception for this very rare instance which will be a blip in the budget.

        As I stated above the issue isn’t that there are going to be multiple poly employers, it’s that once you allow one person to bring more than the allotted +1 you can’t really tell others they can’t, whether those extra guests are extra partners, children, parents, friends, etc.

  40. SentientAmoeba*

    Maybe this makes me a jerk, but I wouldn’t be trying to find a workaround. I’d be, everyone gets a plus one. If you would like to work something out with your coworkers who don’t plan to bring anyone, that’s between you and them, but if there is any coercion or inappropriate pressure, then it goes back to one and done.

    I can quickly see this escalating to various people wanting to bring multiples and depending on how the company has budgeted for the event, it could turn into a mess.

  41. Poly At Work*

    While I don’t believe a company has an affirmative obligation to accommodate polyamorous family units, it’s certainly appreciated when it happens.

    One of the core members of a startup I used to be part of brought their full polycule (including kids) to the company’s in-person family-welcome get-together. That did a lot to help me be comfortable being open/out among my coworkers, and in considering future employment opportunities today, I’m seriously considering joining the same people in a new venture — despite there being other options where the remuneration is less speculative.

  42. CouldntPickAUsername*

    for my holiday work parties it was simple, you the worker are invited at no cost, you can bring guest for x dollars. “ok, well it’s x dollars per each guest, we’ll need it by y date” or “we are allowing 1 SO for free, you can bring others but it’s an additional cost of X”

  43. Beth*

    If the invitation said +1, it’s weird to ask for more +’s. That’s a headcount thing. You can bring up to one person of your choice, presumably as a perk to make the event more enjoyable for you; it doesn’t matter who they are, it could be a friend or a sibling or a partner or a kid or anyone you want, but it can’t be more than 1 person because the event can’t support more than that.

    If the invitation said “and partner,” on the other hand–or if it was communicated that the expectation for this party is that it’s for employees and their spouses/partners, even if if the invitation technically says +1 but it’s clear from other sources that this means a partner or spouse and not a general +1–then I think this was a legit request and should at least be considered. The motivation to include partners (as in specifically partners rather than a generic +1) is usually some combination of “we want to know our employees/coworkers better as people via knowing the people important in your life,” “we know our employees’ work is facilitated partly through the support of their partners, so we want to include and thank those partners in this celebration,” “we want our employees to feel like this is a welcoming and caring workplace, and we’re showing that via welcoming their families as well as them,” “we know people’s partners are an important part of their lives so we want to be familiar with our coworkers’ partners,” etc. If someone has multiple partners, all of those could easily apply to more than one partner–letting people bring +2 or +3 may well do a better job of meeting the event’s goals! (Not to mention avoiding the potential alienation of telling your employee that yes, this event is for employees and their partners, but having multiple partners isn’t considered real enough to count and they have to pick the one ‘real’ one.)

    If the invitation is intended for partners but the party planning can’t currently allow for multiple partners to attend, the result might be that only +1 is possible this year, but the planning committee should adjust their thinking for future years now that they’re aware of the blind spot in their planning.

  44. cheeky*

    Employers don’t have to accommodate someone’s polyamorous relationship, though, correct? I have a poly coworker, and they’re not terribly shy about it. My reaction is to treat the scenario like I would for any other kind of relationship (which is to say, polite disinterest, haha), but since we do not live in a culture that supports polyamory, I feel like it’s a matter of time before it becomes a problem for this employee.

    1. Beth*

      Employers don’t have to invite partners to work events at all; they could easily say that it’s employees only and that’s that.

      The question isn’t whether employers HAVE to accommodate this kind of situation. The question is which outcome will best serve everyone’s interests, including the employer’s. If part of the goal of the holiday party is to meet your coworkers’ partners (as in, the invite isn’t a generic +1, it’s specifically their partners that are invited to join them), why wouldn’t you accommodate multiple partners?

  45. E*

    Bring polyamorous isn’t a protected class like race or sexual orientation. You don’t choose to be Asian or gay, but you do choose to have 3 wives. +1 means each person brings one guest, not, each person brings their spouse(s).

    1. Anon, good nurse*

      The question of whether one chooses where one falls on the mono/poly spectrum is hotly debated, and there are many poly folks who attest that it was not a choice for them.

      Besides, “is this a choice?” is not our standard for whether something should be protected. After all, religious protections are very robust, and religion is a choice.

      1. allathian*

        I’m not sure religion is altogether a choice, either. Most people are brought up, or brainwashed, into believing in a certain way as children. To choose differently from one’s parents requires an act of active rebellion, which in some cases comes at a high cost, as it may involve being shunned by your family and most of your social circle. Obviously it can be done, but the vast majority of people the world over stay within the faith traditions of their parents.

        I can well believe that polyamory is not a choice for some people. I’m about as monogamous as you can get (I’m pretty sure that if my husband and I were to get a divorce, or if he dies before me, I wouldn’t be interested in having another romantic relationship with anyone else), and I definitely don’t have the empathy or the emotional resources to deal with more than one romantic relationship at a time.

    2. Cthulhu’s Librarian*

      Just because a thing isn’t a protected class doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be.

      Imagine if everyone tried to live ahead of the curve, treating everyone with as much respect and care as possible, simply because they were human, instead of a world where everyone is trying to get away with providing only the bare minimum, because they’ll be punished if they don’t.

    1. sigh*

      Just so I don’t sound flippant when I don’t mean to: one of the most happy and successful family units I know is made up of a four-way “couple” of two women and two men; one of my best friends is poly and she and her two partners have a very successful, happy relationship; and I admire anyone who can keep a romantic relationship going with one person at a time, let alone more.

      I also can’t imagine any work party I’d want to bring my own partner to. I’d rather avoid the damn party myself.

  46. Amethystmoon*

    At least they’re allowed to bring someone. At my job, the holiday party was always held over lunchtime. You pretty much had to attend unless you had a really good reason not to, like business partner meetings, out sick, etc. Thus was before COVID, of course. They didn’t even do an online party last year.

    1. Rayray*

      I honestly kinda prefer this way. Have lunch or a treat, get your bonus or company gift and be done with it. No going home to get ready just to drive back out somewhere and see my coworkers again.

  47. agnes*

    Glad to see the OP respond and clarify. Sounds like +1 is simple math–you can bring one person with you. Period. We don’t care if its a friend or a partner or a relative.

  48. Jenny D*

    I’m polyamorous. TL;DR: saying “bring a +1, regardless of relationship status” is fine with me. Saying “bring your partner” and assuming that there is only one partner, would feel a bit unwelcoming.

    Long story:
    A few years back, the company my husband worked at had an event where partners were invited. My husband asked if he had to choose which partner to bring. The manager was somewhat taken aback but after some consideration said that I and the girlfriend were both welcome. As it turned out, the girlfriend couldn’t go anyway.

    The next year, the invite said “you + one partner” instead of “you + partner”. Which was totally OK, and none of us minded, because the event did cost the company money per person, so limiting the number of people made sense. But the change of wording meant that they weren’t making assumptions about other people’s lives and we really appreciated it.

    Later, I started working at the same company. At that time, my husband and his girlfriend had broken up. But anytime we had the opportunity to bring a +1, I brought *my* girlfriend. It was great fun watching the gears turn inside the brains of some of our coworkers…

    Currently, I have at least two other coworkers who are poly. The fact that my husband (who has since moved to another job) and I have been open has made it easier for them to feel secure at the office. It’s not a question about talking about sex, but simply being able to talk about my girlfriend in similar terms as I talk about my husband. When someone asks if I did anything fun during the weekend, I can answer “I went out to dinner with my husband” or “I went horse riding for two hours in the woods” or “I went sailing with my girlfriend and her husband”, and I don’t face any sort of discrimination or prejudice over it.

    For me, the way the company treats people with non-default relationships – whether poly, or non-straight, or otherwise unusual – is a large factor in whether I want to work there.

  49. PoisonIvy*

    I’ve never had an employer that had +1s for holiday parties, it was always done as an employee appreciation thing. It’s always been a great way to get to know other people. My previous employer always included a fun activity that was participation optional, “booze optional”, not overly physical / overly competitive (e.g. treasure hunt, themed quiz, themed bingo, indoor mini golf, bowling, mini casino/roulette table for silly prizes). We had assigned teams so that were designed to mix teams together so avoiding cliques, pairing mixes of personalities and mix of people different seniority levels. I always wound up getting to know people that I don’t work with day-to-day. One caveat is that my industry tends to be quite social so that could explain why no +1s is rarely an issue.

  50. AJ*

    I’m a little stuck on this one. On the surface, Alison’s solutions feel equitable but I’m not sure they actually are. If only partners are invited, then people who are single don’t get to bring anyone (which could be especially alienating for some aromantic people). If everyone only gets a +1, while they are all getting the “same” this affects the polyamorous person differently. Monogamous people get to bring all their partners (1) and the polyamorous person has to choose 1 of their 3 partners. I would venture a guess that the history of providing a +1 for events (as opposed to +2 or more) in some part has to do with the assumption that people usually bring partners, of which they have one. How might that differ if polyamory had been the norm? It feels like, although unintentionally, polyamorous people are being excluded in this solution. To an outsider it seems fair but put yourself in their shoes. Imagine you were invited to a wedding and they said each person can only bring 1 kid. Those with 1 kid are golden.. those with more now have to pick which child should be invited? There’s not a simple solution but my idea would be to combine the two: all people get a +1 but can request additional for multiple partners if there is additional room after getting a headcount.

    1. Jenny D*

      You’ve got a point there!

      Still, I can see how the company wants to have a limit on headcount if the event is an expensive one, e.g. a sitdown dinner, or a show, where they pay per person. Maybe the company should consider having different types of events so that some can be “bring your family” and others “bring one person” or “only employees”.

      Also, the idea of having some way of distributing spare +1s if some people don’t bring anyone is a good one!

    2. A*

      Thanks for saying this. As a polyamorous person, I’m not sure people are quite able to see how, as you succinctly put it, “Monogamous people get to bring all their partners (1) and the polyamorous person has to choose 1 of their 3 partners.”
      I understand that food costs money, and the inclusive intent behind +1, and this would not be my hill to die on if it happened at my workplace, but…if I am ever in the polyamorous marriage I hope to find, and have the courage and social safety to be ready to be out in my traditional field (which I’m not sure will happen any time soon) in the first place, it would not feel awesome to need to only bring one of two people in an equal and loving marriage to a social event colleagues use to socialize and introduce significant others.
      Hopefully the world is more inclusive by the time that comes up for me. :)

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