update: “I will confront you by Wednesday of this week”

Several years ago, a reader shared with us this epic email that was sent by their company’s boss after a holiday party gone terribly awry, and every year I reprint it during the holidays. This year,  the person who originally shared it sent in this “update” (or rather, additional details on the original situation).

Every year around the holidays I see my original story reposted by you, and it always makes me laugh how much people get a kick out of it. I often see people asking for updates — at this point in time, the events in question occurred over a decade ago, but I’m happy to give an “update” from what my fuzzy memory recalls.

I was, as you can imagine, gobsmacked by the email, so once a friendly coworker arrived at the office I grilled her for more of the details. According to her, basically everyone got totally hammered; a coworker of ours spotted a friend from another party on the boat and let him rack up his drink bill on our company’s tab; the friend also grinded with the boss’s wife on the dance floor, leading to a physical altercation (my boss punched the guy, apparently); and an argument of unknown origins started between the boss’s son-in-law and a coworker’s spouse, where she called him (a black man) the N word.

None of my coworkers were fired over the debacle. A few shared their apologies by email. The most egregious behavior (the coworker with the racist spouse) was apologized for privately.

Looking at the company website, besides the owner, only one other coworker remains with the company. I am friends with a couple former coworkers (not the one with the racist spouse!) on social media and they seem to be doing fine. The company is still in business.

As for me, I was laid off from my position with that company after a few years, have since moved to a very big city where I work in an adjacent field but a lot further up the ladder. All of my company holiday parties since have been extremely uneventful in comparison to that one. In fact, at my current employer I help organize our holiday parties every year. We do not do open bars!

Oh, and that was obviously the biggest trainwreck of a holiday party during my employment at that company, but not the only awful one. My first year there, our holiday bonuses were determined by a handheld game of Deal Or No Deal. This meant some people who had been there for years got $20 as a bonus, and some who had been freshly hired received $200. It was bizarre and off-putting, to say the least.

To answer the frequently asked questions I’ve seen:

1. It was a very small company. Less than 15 people, closer to 10.
2. While the word “groping” is used, those who witnessed it described the boss’s wife as consensually participating in dirty dancing rather than something like assault. Of course I wasn’t there though, so obviously I cannot confirm.
3. I was able to leave the cruise early because the boat only went out on the water for an hour before parking on the dock again.
4. The “friend” of my coworker got free drinks via my coworker ordering the drinks for him (we had wristbands to indicate we could use the open bar).

{ 95 comments… read them below }

  1. awesome3*

    When Alison said we were going to be excited about this year’s roundup of updates… she was not lying. This is likely one of the most if not THE most anticipated updates around. Update season truly is the most wonderful time of the year! Thanks so much for writing in OP!

    1. LZ*

      This one is right up there with Cheap Ass Rolls – we’ve all been yearning for an update for years. It’s a Christmas miracle!

  2. WellRed*

    For some reason I always pictured it as a bigger company. Where there no consequences for the employee comping his friend drinks? And imagine being known forever after as “the coworker with racist spouse.”

    1. ecnaseener*

      Same, I was picturing the party as a rager with dozens of people or more. It’s somehow even funnier to picture it with like 20 people max.

      1. OhNo*

        It never occurred to me to wonder before how the boss knew who needed to apologize, but it makes sense that such a demand would only really work at a small company. If it was a big company (which I originally assumed, too), I very much doubt the boss would have known half the people there at all.

      2. Heidi*

        So you’re telling me no one was confronted on Wednesday?

        Knowing how small the company is makes the “I will confront you by Wednesday” funnier. I had pictured hundreds of people speculating about who was going to be confronted and wondering what they might have done and not remembered. But everyone had to know who the boss was talking about, which makes broadcasting the threat totally unnecessary.

        1. quill*

          I’m not sure if the fact that everyone but OP knew EXACTLY who would be confronted makes it funnier, but it certainly makes it something.

      3. starsaphire*

        Agreed! Way, way funnier when you realize that everyone in the company knows everyone else, probably really well.

        It truly is The Most Wonderful Time of the Year. :)

    2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Well, even just 15 employees equals 30 people when you add in plus ones….. more than enough to have some very rowdy drunks.

  3. Sharkie*

    I am kinda interested in “the coworker with racist spouse”. Like are they still married? Is her social media feed a train wreck in this social climate? I need all the info lol

      1. INFJedi*

        Well, that or… in jail after what happened on the 6th of January a few years back? (/s or perhaps not /s)


    1. Ally McBeal*

      Seriously. If you don’t immediately separate from your spouse upon hearing them call someone the N-word, I’m going to immediately separate MY presence from your life. I have no space in my life for racists or the people who enable them. But that was probably not the first time the coworker’s spouse has been openly racist, so I’m guessing they’re still together.

  4. urguncle*

    Ironically in this case I guess, the spouse of a former boss once told me while at a company party to never go to a party you can’t leave (ie one on a boat) after I had mentioned a friend’s birthday outing that was going to be on a rented boat. And while I *did* have a nice time at another company’s boat cruise, and with friends on a rented motor boat, I would absolutely not do it with spouses involved.

  5. Wilbur*

    The spectacle of “Deal or No Deal” doesn’t seem to hold up when you’re looking at winning $20-200. Any bonus is nice, just seems really overthought.

    1. Clefairy*

      I feel like what would have made more sense would have been giving everyone $100, and then maybe playing Deal or No Deal for like…tickets or points they could exchange for some fun, silly prizes. Oh, you won 200 points, you can take home this company branded bluetooth speak! You won 15 points? You can exchange it for either a Snickers or Milky Way bar or whatever. Would be fun without making people feel butthurt over actual cash

    2. EPLawyer*

      No any bonus is not nice. These were the expected holiday bonus for putting up with the insanity all year. You don’t make it contingent on how you do in a game. Especially as usually happens, someone who started last week gets a bigger bonus than the person who single handedly saved the Sto Lat account.

      1. ferrina*

        This. Or that person who is difficult to work with and who’ always needs someone else to save their projects gets $200? While you, who pulled massive overtime to save that person’s projects, gets $20? So the bad employee gets a steak dinner with their spouse and you can barely go to 5 Guys?

      2. Candi*

        “the Sto Lat account”

        It’s a good thing Susan tends to be sensible, if strict. It’s her grandfather you have to worry about.

        (Using a game to distribute bonuses sucks.)

    3. pancakes*

      I don’t at all agree that being flippant about thoughtless inequality in people’s pay is nice. The fact that these were bonuses rather than salary doesn’t make any of those characteristics nice.

    4. pancakes*

      A minor point, but I also want to add that there isn’t anything about this scenario that seems overthought to me. To the contrary, it seems distinctly unconsidered.

  6. I WORKED on a Hellmouth*

    It is truly the year for Holiday Magic at AAM! I legit never thought I would see an update to this.

  7. 1,000 Snails in a Lady Skin*

    Just noting that my company has always had open bars at multiple events per year and never had any issues (as far as I’m aware — just occasional drunk women crying in the bathroom with their friends). Love a good open bar! So it’s less about that and more how the boss reacted. He wanted an open bar but for no one to get drunk?

    1. NerdyKris*

      There’s a world of difference between getting a little tipsy at a work event and getting drunk enough that you start fights. Adults are expected to be able to control themselves, and I say that as someone who has ruined parties because I didn’t control myself.

      1. Recruited Recruiter*

        I really agree with you. I was sent to a charity golf tournament for work a while back, and you know what, that beer in the cart kept getting replaced with a full one whenever mine was near empty. I thought that I was almost done with #3, when, in fact, I got back to the clubhouse and went to recycle bottles, and it was actually 6?!

        I played some bad tipsy golf, but I didn’t even use workplace inappropriate language, much less grope someone or start a fight.

        That said, I really prefer for drinks to be limited to 2 at work events, because it makes it so much easier to avoid problems.

      1. the cat's ass*

        I feel like alcohol and ANY office related event shouldn’t go together. I don’t drink at, this a work thing, therefore, I don’t drink. I know I’m in the minority on this, but having been to sooooo many office parties, things go sideways EVERY TIME when there’s alcohol.

            1. the cat's ass*

              That’s me, pretty much always. It gets old. I don’t want to hold your earrings while you beat up Jean from Accounting in the parking lot outside the party venue; I don’t want to clean puke off the passenger side door (dang, that sh!t takes the paint off); I don’t want to flight off my attending while I’m driving them home because they got too sloshed to drive. ALL of these things have happened. I generally leave right after dessert/the bonus envelopes get distributed.

              1. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

                Yeah, personally I find being the one sober person in a group where everyone else is drunk to be incredibly boring. Because, frankly, drunks are the most boring people in the world except to other drunks.

                I haven’t gotten drunk in decades, but when I did, I’m sure I was just as boring as all the other drunks.

          1. pancakes*

            For a couple years I worked in a firm where we had an open bar cocktail party on Friday afternoons monthly, and sometimes more often than that during the holidays. I’ve also worked in a post-production facility that had a full working wet bar in a lounge area. Giving people access to alcohol is not synonymous with watching them make fools of themselves! People who know they can’t drink without getting sloppy should certainly avoid drinking at work, but that’s not everyone.

            1. JustaTech*

              Yeah, I think it depends both on the people and the venue. End of day happy hour in the lunch room? The folks who drink might have a beer or two, but nothing close to drunk.

              The holiday party in the days of yore, yeah, people got completely wasted (having to ask the driver to stop multiple times on the ride home to be sick etc). The one holiday party I’ve been to at my company that had an open(ish) bar the drinks were sickly sweet and everyone was already so maudlin (terrible year) that folks just didn’t drink.

              At my spouse’s holiday parties some folks have gotten pretty plastered (one guy actually fell on me, resulting in a lot of cocktail in my hair and his incredibly embarrassed roommate asking security for a hand getting him in the elevator and out to the waiting rideshares), but enough folks were sober enough to keep anything from getting out of hand.

              Maybe part of it is the tone of the venue? (We’ve had enough stories here to know it’s not just about the age or experience of the attendees.)

        1. Vanilla Nice*

          Alcohol is pretty common practice at certain conference’s in my industry, but there’s also an unwritten rule that you don’t get shitfaced drunk.

          1. Candi*

            (Agreeing) Unspoken social pressure is an amazing force in prompting or preventing certain behaviors.

            Now if there was a way to deliberately harness that to upend the useless parts of current culture.

    2. Clefairy*

      I feel like company culture comes a lot into it. It’s not unreasonable to offer an open bar but expect employees to still act with restraint and professionalism. A work open bar shouldn’t be an invitation to take shots like you’re in a club and get blackout drunk, you know? I’m guessing your company culture is healthy and open if y’all can more or less act responsibly around an open bar haha

    3. Richard Hershberger*

      An open bar is scarcely meaningful to me. My limit is two–just barely possibly three for a particularly long event. The limit is not about avoiding drunkenly embarrassing myself. It is that more than that and I feel yucky and bloated and gross (though not hung over in the usual sense) for about twelve hours afterwards. So I stick to two. Who pays for those two is not terribly relevant to my enjoyment.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        My limit is zero because I drive myself. I also do not like to attend work parties outside of working hours.

    4. Observer*

      He wanted an open bar but for no one to get drunk?

      I don’t think that it’s unreasonable to expect people to not get drunk. Even with an open bar. On the other hand, I also know that a lot of people do NOT act reasonably, and you only need a very few for there to be trouble. So I think that open bars are a REALLY bad idea and work events.

    5. DrSalty*

      I mean, there’s a difference between getting tipsy/drunk and starting a fight. I’ve been drunk many times and never been involved in a physical fight because of it. I’m sure many people could say the same.

      1. quill*

        Yep, the last time I was tipsy I taught the underage people how to play BS. They probably already knew and were humoring me. I lost quite badly, and that was the extent of my antics.

    6. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Look, I was married to a legit alcoholic, coming from a long line of alcoholics who’d died of it, who was friends with other alcoholics, and I have still never been to a party (not even a private party with a group of friends) where guests brought in extra guests, groped the host’s spouse, called the host’s family member the worst racial slur in existence, and then acted all bewildered about why the host would be unhappy about all of it. “Why did they react so badly? what did they think was going to happen? Can’t we get drunk anymore in this free country?!” Not even at private parties where half the people in attendance had a drinking problem. Never seen this in my life. Much less at a work party and with the company owner instead of the party host. “How the boss reacted” was very mild compared to how I probably would’ve (reason number a million why I shouldn’t be a company owner).

    7. generic_username*

      My work generally has an open bar (beer/wine and usually 1-2 specialty cocktails), but it also is at 4pm and has so much delicious food (10 food stands/tables compared to 2-3 bar areas generally) that it’s almost impossible to get drunk. My husband one year worked somewhere that had a party that started at 9pm, and had a full open bar and only a few passed appetizers. Nearly everyone was wasted by the end and it was a mess (thankfully not like LW’s infamous party, lol). I talked about how bad it was for ages – it was a successful tech company so I had high expectations and I was so dissatisfied. I even had to buy my own (fairly expensive) dinner before the event when we went out with his coworkers.

  8. Funbud*

    The real surprise is the confirmation of how small this company was. Like many others, I was picturing one of those fairly small, fake paddlewheel type tour boats, out on the water, and packed to overflowing with drunken employees!

    1. Person from the Resume*

      Remember there were multiple company parties in the boat. The open bar (via wristband) may have been for the LW’s company only it sounds like they shared the dance floor and the bars so there was more than 20 people there.

    2. Pikachu*

      In my experience, the smaller the company, the higher the blood alcohol concentration at parties.

      I think it’s because of how close people get and how blurry the lines between coworkers/friends become in groups that small.

    3. Ann O'Nemity*

      I, too, imagined a much larger company with many people doing these egregious things. When the boss’s email said things like “Other staff and spouses got multiple drinks at once for themselves and for people not even in our group,” I was imaging many people getting rounds of drinks for the other group, but it sounds like it was one person. Or, “Others decided it was OK to get openly drunk and belligerent, to the point of making racial slurs,” made me think that multiple people were making racial slurs. So it sounds like the scale was much smaller, but that doesn’t make it any less humorous!

      1. quill*

        The boss’ hungover thesaurus barf is what made me think there were at least two people in one of those instances!

    4. the cat's ass*

      open bar AND on a boat? My exjob a few back did that one year and it was…memorable. Hellbeast boss commanded fancy/cocktail dress and spouses/partners attendance was mandatory. High heels on a boat, always a great idea. A few of us (actually the sober bunch) sung the theme from “Gilligan’s Island’ and got shushed; a tech fell overboard and the Coast Guard was called; there was much drunken clownery including sex in the galley. Boat was turned around and docked early and DH and i went home as soon as possible.

      As we were eating pizza at our fave place (a tad overdressed, but what the hey) DH turned to me and said, “I’m NEVER going to a work party with you again. EVER.”

      1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        Watch out your story will be republished every Christmas too if you carry on like that!!

      2. marvin the paranoid android*

        I’m remembering now that in one of my early jobs, I went on a drunken boat trip with a bunch of coworkers as well. I don’t think any memorable antics occurred, but fortunately there were no racial slurs or fist fights either. Mostly I just found it extremely awkward, as the youngest, most junior and soberest person in attendance.

      3. allathian*

        My employer’s holiday parties normally provide two drink tickets to each attendee. One particularly memorable party was on a cruise ship, and because they had an all-inclusive buffet, some people drank *a lot*. I admit that I didn’t enjoy the party very much after narrowly escaping a coworker I barely knew who just happened to sit next to me throwing up in my lap during dinner. The cruise started at 3 pm and some people were too drunk to stand up at 6 pm. The ship returned to port at 9 pm, but with the crowds, it was nearly another hour before we got out. After that cruise I decided that I’d never attend another of our holiday parties again unless it was held in a downtown location with good public transit so I could go home before the drunks got too drunk.

        A few years later I was persuaded to attend a party at a somewhat remote location. My employer had chartered buses there and back, and calling a cab early would’ve been expensive and I wouldn’t have been able to expense it. So I stuck around longer than I really wanted, and although there was no open bar this time, some of my coworkers got stinking drunk at their own expense. I really don’t want to see my coworkers in that state ever again.

        I’m not one to spit in a glass when I’m out partying with friends, and I’ve made a drunken fool of myself often enough when I was younger to firmly know my limits now, and I also know that my tolerance for alcohol at 50 is a lot lower than it was at 25.

  9. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

    I would like to think that the lesson of this story — NO OPEN BARS — has been heard across the land and that this letter has prevented innumerable incidents of awfulness.

    1. OhNo*

      One can only hope. It’s one of those things that sounds like a good idea when you’re sober and are assuming that everyone will act responsibly. But once the drinks start flowing… it gets harder to control.

      The original (and now this follow-up!) will certainly be the first thing I send to anyone who suggests an open bar at a work event, just to make sure they’ve truly thought the idea through.

    2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      I’m in France so I doubt that my boss reads AAM. But we only ever had one open bar at the annual meeting, and the sales guy who was just working his two months’ notice period drank at least half a bottle of the best whisky and got pretty unpleasant. At one point I was sitting between him and a project manager who kept saying shut up and eff off and was trying to get me to back her up, and I was wishing I could be anywhere else in the world but there. The next year, we had tickets for two drinks each and could then pay for our own drinks if we wanted more. People were much more sober overall.

      1. Mr. Shark*

        I’ve been to open bar Christmas parties, which we were doing shots, and thankfully no one ever got that drunk that we had racial slurs and boss spouse grinding!
        I’ve also been to the Christmas parties where you were given two drink coupons, but then people would get coupons from those that don’t drink, and people who controlled the coupons (you’d find out which managers had them pretty quickly) would distribute extra coupons.
        Fortunately in both instances, taxi rides were paid for and encouraged, or we had it at a hotel and a lot of people would just stay and party at the hotel overnight.

    3. pancakes*

      No open bars for racists, the belligerent, and/or people who don’t know their own limits works just fine, in my experience.

    4. Echo*

      I’ve been to holiday parties with an open bar that were completely fine and uneventful (at both a midsized nonprofit and a biglaw firm), and having an open bar was a nice show of appreciation to staff. I think there were some deeper cultural and management issues here; it wasn’t just about the bar.

      1. Candi*

        Well, small businesses/NPOs/startups often do tend to have issues on several levels.

        Maybe it was that those issues were brought so clearly to the CEO’s attention that enabled the startup to survive as long as it apparently has. He realized something had to change, or something had to give, and maybe break.

  10. Wednesday Eve*

    So first and foremost, this is one of the best updates. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

    I’ve read this story for years, and I have to admit I was always put off by the paragraph about being responsible for your spouse’s behavior and actions. But now that I realize that the spousal behavior was calling a black man the N Word, yeah, I now agree with that paragraph in this context.

    Anyway, this is excellent. This has been living in my head for years, and it definitely filled in some gaps.

    1. Clefairy*

      I mean, I think even with smaller infractions, it’s not unreasonable to expect employee’s spouses to behave at company functions and for the employee to have consequences if their spouse acts inappropriately.

      1. The Prettiest Curse*

        Yeah, if you bring your spouse or partner to a work event and they do something truly awful, they’re responsible for their behaviour, but you’re responsible for exposing people to their behaviour. So unfortunately, their behaviour will reflect badly on you, even if it’s not your fault.

        1. Wednesday Eve*

          I don’t disagree with that at all. And yes, I agree that you are responsible for exposing people to a known bad behavior. But I was thinking more along the lines of a spouse getting a little drunk and sloppy in a way that some-to-many of us have been but aren’t proud of, and THAT being cause for termination at your job. This wasn’t the case, and it took pointing out that someone called someone one of the most egregious racial slurs for me to agree with the original Boss’ assessment of the situation.

          1. Clefairy*

            Oh sure, I agree, that would be over the top and unfair. I think the biggest consequence to something like that should be not allowing you to bring your spouse to future events.

        2. Allegra*

          Some years ago I was at a work “ugly sweater” holiday party and I wore one that had spots of reversible sequins (a menorah, so you could “light” the candles) on the chest. I demonstrated it for a group and our chief executive’s spouse (who I think was already drunk quite early in the evening) made an incredibly weird #metoo joke about it. I wish I’d done something beyond just laugh awkwardly, but I was new and he was the boss-boss. It definitely made me see him differently for a while, though in fairness, he looked mortified and I don’t think I’ve seen her at parties since.

  11. Sick of Workplace Bullshit*

    Amazing update! Great work all around. OP, please don’t be too hard on yourself. You had been gaslighted and conditioned by years of microaggressions. The point is you recognized where you could do better and made it happen! You’re to be commended for that!

  12. Rock Prof*

    Add me to the list of people surprised by how small the company was!
    Every time I read this I’m reminded of how I narrowly avoided a similar drinking on a boat disaster. A bunch of my friends in graduate school were going to go on some booze cruise (not a school-sponosored one, just one where anyone could buy tickets). The boat went out but then certain people who I would have been hanging out with got so hammered and were being so obnoxious that they had to come back into dock and banned those certain people from ever doing it again. I think someone might have tried to climb off the boat at one point.
    Luckily, right before I was going to go meet my friends for this thing, my bank’s atm decided to eat my atm card and not return it. So, I was without my card or cash until the bank opened up in the morning and wasn’t able to go. But the stories I heard afterward were very epic.

  13. Popinki*

    Am I the only one disappointed that no one was confronted on Wednesday?

    I also work for a small organization and the wackiest thing that ever happened at one of our holiday parties was that one guy tried a tiny taste of the restaurant’s hottest wing sauce (called “Ouch”; it has Carolina Reaper in it and I won’t go near the stuff) and seriously looked like he was going to faint for a few minutes.

  14. overboard*

    such a small point but i’m so happy to learn how LW managed to leave early from a boat party. the rational side of me always assumed it was something like the update reported – the boat docked back at it’s starting point – but i always enjoyed the visual of LW either jumping over board and swimming to shore or paddling a small life boat, etc.

    1. The Prettiest Curse*

      I always wondered if the OP somehow fit a wetsuit and flippers under their party outfit, James Bond-style…

  15. Mr. Shark*

    Reading the original letter again…it’s just epic! What an e-mail to send out on Monday morning.

  16. Cheap Ass Rolex*

    Maybe it’s just cause I live on the coast and read firsthand about all the maritime deaths, but… don’t get drunk on a boat. At least not one smaller than your average Spanish galleon. You really, really don’t want to plunge into frigid waters fully dressed and mentally on the back foot.

    Also, I second the “what did he think would happen!?” to the open bar. Give everyone two drink tickets – heck, give everyone three if you want it to get that loose! But infinity drinks? Really?

    1. Ann O'Nemity*

      It is surprisingly hard to swim in full clothes! I remember jumping in once on a dare (sober, full daylight), and it was a struggle. I can’t imagine doing it drunk and in the dark.

    2. pancakes*

      I stayed in a “boatel” once and there was a note in our cabin that drunk guests who fell overboard would be fished out and promptly sent to bed!

  17. RedinSC*

    Awwww, thanks so much for posting updates! This really is a “fun” story to hear and see.

    Glad you are doing well!

  18. irritable vowel*

    Every time I receive an obnoxious work email, I think to myself “I will confront you by Wednesday of this week!” and it always makes me laugh and takes the edge off. So thank you for that, OP, as well as for this update. Between this and the cheap-ass rolls update, it really is the most wonderful time of the year!

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