how do I tell an employee he isn’t welcome at our holiday party?

A reader writes:

We have an employee, Steve, who has just resigned. He has a history of being rude, explosive, and verbally abusive. I’ve lost count of how many times he’s yelled at or insulted coworkers, including higher-ups. In fact, he is currently refusing to speak to Dave, his department head.

Steve’s last day will be a few days after our annual holiday party. Our CEO does not want Steve to attend because of his behavior and has left it up to me and Dave to keep him from coming.

I’m well aware of the many, many issues here and how problematic it is that we have an employee who has been allowed to treat others so poorly during his tenure. However, he has an end date and I’m just trying to focus on getting there with as little fall-out as possible.

Given Steve’s history, I’m concerned he’ll react negatively to being told he cannot attend the party and may even try to show up in protest. I want to find the most professional way to let him know he is no longer invited. My initial thought was to make it about the fact that his employment is ending and the party is intended for current employees, but if it were anyone else they’d still be welcome to attend. We’ve also had a few former employees come back to attend the party as the plus-one of a current employee. Should I go this route? Should I make it about his bad behavior? What do I say if he agrees in the moment and later decides to crash?

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

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • I want to personalize gifts for my staff members
  • Holiday gift exchanges
  • Being fair about time off around the holidays

{ 145 comments… read them below }

    1. Ashley*

      When it is a small amount like under $20 I get where a gift card as a giver feels better. This is where you can personalize it at least by knowing your staff and getting for a place you know they shop.

      1. Dinwar*

        Gift cards can also be problematic from a corporate perspective. To guy gift cards in my company requires pre-approval and a very good explanation (and “It’s the holidays” is specifically stated to not be sufficient). Too much fraud happening with gift cards.

        1. Phryne*

          No idea how it is in the US, but here gifts from the employer can be considered as income by the Tax Office. Getting a gift card only for that to push you into a higher bracket and costing you an extra percentage income tax is not exactly festive. Technically this goes for non cash gifts as well, but those are less obvious as long as they are not wildly expensive.

          1. quercus*

            In the US, higher tax rates only apply to the amount of income over the cutoff for the lower rate. So being given more income can never cause you to have less overall after taxes . I’d be kind of surprised if any other country was different.
            (In the U.S. pretty much anything of value from the company should be income; but in reality the tax people have a lot more things to worry about than $20 gift cards not being reported as income)

            1. Phryne*

              You’d not end up with less, but I’ve been in the situation where an increase in income put me in a higher bracket which fully ate up the increase. Added to that I went from no pension plan to compulsory pension plan, and I had less nett income even though on paper I earned more.

            2. Your Mate in Oz*

              Australia has a stupid system of subsidised “private” health insurance where a penalty fee applies to every dollar as soon as you earn more than about $AU90,000. The penalty is about $1500 (it’s a percentage, but the percentage of $90k is ~$1500) so it’s at least possible for some people that $20 of extra income could cost them $1500.

              But this is a very specific fine applied as part of a much stupider larger system that happens to be implemented via the tax system, it’s not technically a tax. Yes, I’m rolling my eyes, why do you ask.

              There have been a few cases in Australia and Aotearoa where the combination of benefits that reduce with income and marginal tax rates produce effective marginal rates greater than 100%. But those are considered bugs and the tax people try very hard to prevent them happening or remove them when they’re discovered.

              1. Phryne*

                In the Netherlands people on low income can get an allowance (subsidy? not sure of the right word) for eg rent or daycare. The amount of that is dependent on income, and even though the Tax Office knows their income and is the authority in charge of the grants, people have to report their income themselves. If at the end of the year they earned more, they have to return (a part of) the money. It is known to put people into considerable debt. So yeah, sometimes systems are broken in ways you only find out once it happens to you.

      2. Elizabeth West*

        One job in OldState would give us $25 Bass Pro cards — I do not shop at Bass Pro. $25 will just about buy a pair of socks there anyway.
        This year, I’m getting a surprise bonus — just in time to pay medical bills. #moneyplease

    2. Love to WFH*

      Cash, please!

      There are very, very few things a manager could give me that I wouldn’t end up adding to my charity donation pile, or throw out.

      1. stripedwolfie*

        At my current company, the boss asks the employees which company they would like an e-gift card from. Everyone is happy.

    3. Caramel & Cheddar*

      I’d honestly prefer nothing to cash, but I think that’s because instead of cash, I just want consistent raises in reasonable amounts and getting one-off cash* during the holidays feels like the opposite of that.

      *I’m also imagining getting like $50. If people are getting cash gifts of like $500 or more, sign me up.

      1. Antilles*

        The company giving out a small sum of cash at the holidays isn’t really tied to raises though because it’s such a small amount. It’s not even *close* to the same ballpark in terms of numbers.

        You’re talking about a $20 or $50 gift card, when by comparison, even a fairly small 2% raise is $1,000 per person for someone making $50,000 annually. And it gets even more noticeable if we’re talking about doing it team-wide; giving everybody on the team a $50 gift card to a fairly trivial sum (in department budget terms) of a few hundred bucks, whereas giving everybody bigger raises is likely in the five figure range.

        1. Caramel & Cheddar*

          Sorry, I don’t think I was clear enough! I wasn’t suggesting that raises should be given *as* holiday gifts (I agree this would be a bit ridiculous and kind of a bummer if you didn’t get one!). I was suggesting that treating me well year round, which can and does include things like consistent raises in reasonable amounts, is preferable. Do that, and I don’t need a holiday gift when that time of year rolls around again.

          It’s like when companies try to fix morale with pizza parties: I like pizza and I’m happy to eat it, but I can buy my own pizza. What I can’t do is give myself more vacation days or a raise or better hours or something else that the company themselves can do to improve things year round. If they’re good on the latter stuff, I don’t need pizza parties for morale boosting.

        2. Your Mate in Oz*

          This is why the gift/lunch/leave early is a case of “it’s the thought that counts”. It really isn’t about the money, it’s the company doing something nice as a gesture of appreciation.

          Or, in far too many cases, doing something thoughtless to annoy their staff then wondering why those staff aren’t grateful.

      2. Michelle Smith*

        I agree with this.

        I heard that we’re getting like a $20 gift card this year and I haven’t bothered to figure out the logistics of picking it up. I just don’t care. I’d rather them acknowledge me with a pay raise or substantial bonus or just not bother at all.

        1. Michelle Smith*

          As an aside, it costs me about $60 each way to get to the office right now because I don’t drive and can’t take public transportation due to hopefully temporary exacerbation of some medical issues. So I’m not trying to be elitist here – but it would literally cost me more than any card is worth to go to the office to pick it up.

          1. Caramel & Cheddar*

            Even if the monetary cost wasn’t a consideration, there’s also a time cost. In 2021, most of my company was still working from home but they wanted everyone to show up on a specific day to pick up a gift. Based on the gift from the previous year, I declined because it just wasn’t worth my time (or covid exposure!) to show up with everyone else en masse.

    4. K*

      I think people say this until they realize how little money is being spent on these gifts. Then they get offended at being handed $5.

      1. Lexi Vipond*

        That’s how I always feel about the ‘cash or time off’ thing. We get kicked out at lunchtime on the last working day of the year for free – I’d find it pretty weird if I was being given a fraction of an hour at some other time as a formal ‘gift’.

      2. Coverage Associate*

        Yes. It’s nice to be remembered, especially if other people in the office are getting gifts in the office, but one year my bosses’ gift was a chocolate bar. Getting $3 instead would have been very awkward.

      3. AcademiaNut*

        Yeah, there’s a big difference between raises/bonuses/vacation days and a token gift.

        Would I prefer a $1000 bonus to a $5 Starbuck’s gift-card? Certainly! However, I work for the government, and they don’t do bonuses, so that’s a moot point.

        Would I prefer a $5 Starbuck’s gift-card to the food we had at the office party last week? Not really – it was a fun, totally optionally couple of hours socializing that I quite enjoyed, and the anti-social people were free to come, grab some cake and mulled wine, and go back to work without speaking to anyone.

        And if I were unhappy about my job, would a $5 gift card or office party make me feel better? No, it wouldn’t.

    5. Gumby*

      I prefer gifts of cash from my *company* (and they do end-of-year bonuses so I am set).

      I don’t expect anything from my boss. And I would actually feel kind of weird if I received a gift of cash coming from my boss as an individual.

    6. ENFP in Texas*

      Broad-use gift cards are always appreciated! if you want to customize it, a handwritten note is a great accompaniment.

    7. Fluffy Fish*

      If it’s from the business, I would love cash.

      If it’s from my boss? Cash would make me exceedingly uncomfortable. In fact anything from my bosses pocket would make me uncomfortable unless its a token or something like lunch for everyone.

    8. Jane Bingley*

      We don’t have corporate gifts, but my boss often gives me a Starbucks gift card as he knows I’m a big fan (and sees me drinking it on Zoom meetings regularly), which I always really appreciate! My old work gave cash bonuses, but after tax it was a pretty small amount, and every year someone forgot it’s taxed and then complained when their paycheque came in.

    9. Wintermute*

      it depends on the budget, really, to me.

      Yeah cash is king but if all you can afford is a small sum per person giving someone a five-dollar bill feels like a pointed insult in a way that some tchotchke doesn’t, even at an equivalent value.

      It’s also worth pointing out that business-to-business barter is a thing that is far more common than people realize. A business can trade their products with another business to make their money go far further, they might only have to give someone else a few hundred dollars wholesale value of product and in exchange they get goods that would have cost them ten times that if bought retail. Both businesses can drastically reduce their costs doing that if they can find businesses that want their product and have products that would make good gifts.

      1. Your Mate in Oz*

        One year the bike shop I worked in had a Christmas party invite from a wholesaler. Those of us that went (it was ~60 minutes by PT from the shop) were very, very happy. Wholesaler had a stack of product next to the BBQ area, all brand new in retail packaging, that they were selling off at their cost. So 50%-90% less than retail price. Including a few bikes (in boxes) that were two years old and hadn’t sold. Only caveat was that we couldn’t re-sell it, it was “no warranty, no returns except for manufacturing defects”. Don’t care, give me the shiny toys :)

    10. Cold and Tired*

      My company gives a nice crisp $100 to every employee that works in person (though it is reported as income so you pay tax on it), and remote employees get a nice little direct deposit or ~$80 with your taxes already taken out. And everyone gets a cute generic card. It’s the best! Everyone is happy and no one has to find the time or money for other gifts.

    11. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

      I have appreciated a token gift card ($15-25)to our local supermarket at the holidays. It’s easy enough to spend and I get to say “gee, I can get this ridiculously fancy cheese with my gift card” instead of feeling bad about my budget.

      We also had a big boss who gave out lottery scratchers. Usually a few people won a few bucks, it was a moment of excitement, and when you don’t win, so be it.

    12. Ess Ess*

      Gift cards are not good from employers because they have to be declared as income and income tax is applied to it, so if you get a gift card, you end up paying a portion of the value in tax. Anything that makes me have to pay for part of it without my consent is not a gift, in my eyes.

      1. AMT*

        On that note, does anyone have any ideas for gift cards that might be considered “de minimis” by the IRS? My understanding is that a few specific types of gift certificates can be excluded from taxable income. Per the IRS, a “certificate that allows an employee to receive a specific item of personal property that is minimal in value, provided infrequently, and is administratively impractical to account for, may be excludable as a de minimis benefit.” I’ve heard mention of certificates for food items like ham and turkey being excludable, but plenty of people don’t eat these things or have specific preferences around them. Same with pretty much any specific food or gift item. I was hoping to be able to get my staff Uber Eats gift cards or something similar, but it looks like that’s probably taxable (though I guess I could just include more money in that paycheck to make up for the tax). Ideas welcome. I have three staff members and I’m hoping to spend $50-$100 each.

        1. Daisy-dog*

          I have imported $10 Starbucks gift cards into the payroll system for tax-tracking before. Not sure if we had to, but we did it to be safe. I do not think the IRS cares about gifts that go from person to person, so if you are spending your own money and not company money, that’s not a taxable event.

          1. AMT*

            Silly me, I forgot about the option of just taking off my business owner hat and buying them with personal funds.

            1. AcademiaNut*

              Be careful with that – I’m sure the IRS has seen the “but it was a gift from me as person, not a bonus from me as business owner” excuse to get around taxes before.

              1. BatManDan*

                If the amount is not being deducted from the siness as a business expense (if it’s paid from the owner’s salary or profits, after that money has “left” the business and has therefore already been taxed), the IRS won’t then attempt to ALSO tax the employee for receiving the gift / gift card / cash. They don’t exist to tax every dollar that changes hands (although it sometimes seems like it), they function to tax income, and as long as it’s reported as income by SOMEBODY, then the exchange or granting of personal gifts is of no consequence to them.

        2. Willow Pillow*

          One org I worked for had a points catalogue, and you’d get points for anniversaries, retirements, etc. People also had a limited number of points to gift others in small quantities as a way of saying thanks. I don’t think something like that would be worth it for 3-4 employees… My Dad worked for a similar-sized org as yours, however, and his boss would just buy him whatever he wanted within budget, like the BBQ he got one year. Can you just say “pick something up to $75 from (Amazon, a big box store with free shipping, etc.)” to everyone?

    13. Elves Have Left the Building*

      I actually would like what my hubby and son get as Federal Civilians: they are asked for their bonus if they want cash, extra PTO or a combo of both. I make plenty of money, but I NEVER have enough PTO it seems. By the end of the year I’m going into the hole around Xmas/NY. So, for example, my son got $1200 and 3 extra days of PTO. I’d be thrilled with JUST the 3 extra days. Not sure how complicated it would be to do in a corporate environment, but if the govt. can figure it out, it feels like industry should be able to!

  1. Old Woman in Purple*

    It’s even better than gift cards: No “My Favorite Store! YAY!” vs “Ugh! I never shop THERE!”

  2. Caramel & Cheddar*

    For #4, before doing anything else, I’d assess whether or not you actually *need* to be open. The letter didn’t mention needing coverage, so unless you’ve got a customer-facing or customer support element to your business where someone absolutely needs to be in the office to respond to queries from this group, consider just closing all together since you say that it’s a week “that all would like to have off” anyway.

    Don’t take those days out of people’s PTO, though! Do it because having rested and recharged employees is good for the business.

    1. I Have RBF*

      Yeah, at several places that had a “holiday shutdown” in December, they all take about a week out of your PTO. If I started to recently, I end up having to borrow PTO against the next year, and that kinda sucks. I much prefer it when the company just makes the whole thing paid holiday.

      1. Hannah Lee*

        Though in LW’s case, if everyone is asking for the time off, they are expecting to take PTO for it.

        So, LW saying that no one is going to have to work, gives everyone the time off they wanted, using PTO they planned to use for that time.

      2. Judd*

        I enjoy going to work that week. Since so many people are off, I can work on long-term projects, clean out my office, all that sort of stuff, without the usual constant meetings and emails.

    2. Lola*

      My thoughts exactly! My boss pulls this idea that we “need coverage” around holidays and then whoever is on ends up sitting around, twiddling their thumbs – no emails, nothing. At least now with WFH, it’s a bit easier, but it’s still pretty sillly. I’m not in a job that needs 24/7 coverage, or really even 9 – 5 coverage at the holidays.

      1. LCH*

        ah, yes, reminds me of when NYC was having rolling brown outs because of the power grid and we all sat in the mostly dark office doing nothing because… how? no one was/could call. computers did not work. we had to walk down 15 flights of stairs to leave at the end of the day.

        sometimes bosses make very poor choices about keeping people at work.

      2. CommanderBanana*

        Ugh, yes, the whole “but we need coverage!!” over the holidays.

        Do you? Have you actually looked at how much email/phone traffic you’re getting? I’m in an industry where everything stops for the week of Christmas through New Year’s, and it’s really annoying to end up sitting in an empty office with nothing happening because ZOMG COVERAAAAAAAAGE. I miss working for a university where they just closed for that week entirely.

    3. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      I work in a field where skeleton coverage is genuinely required unless it’s a public holiday. Typically it’s expected that everyone will work *one* of the days between 24 Dec and about 3 Jan, and use PTO for the other working days. Enough people can happily do this that there is always sufficient staffing for last minute emergencies, but anyone genuinely needing longer eg for travel can do so.

      It’s quite a nice time to work, mind you, because it’s so quiet you can just get your head down and get ahead or catch up. If anything comes up, it tends to be moderately interesting. And a full working day is rather closer to six hours than eight, with a leisurely (possibly pub) lunch.

      1. Elves Have Left the Building*

        Yes, and also this is the time of year I (gov. contractor) use to clean out my 2000+ emails, organize my file folders, delete the 23 different versions of 1 document, etc… I do a lot of “starting the new year with an organized computer” stuff.

    4. Flor*

      Agreed! And if there *is* a business reason for being open, I’d also suggest considering if there’s a way to make those days less desirable to employees. I think people often assume that of course everyone wants them BECAUSE CHRISTMAS, but equally it can be because the schools are closed (which they also are in the summer and, depending on where you are, at times like Easter, end of October, etc.) or because the concentration of bank holidays means you can get more time off work for the same number of days of PTO (this year, 3 days of PTO can get you TEN days in a row off from work, including the weekends).

      In that case, maybe the answer is more generous PTO, so that people don’t feel the need to scrounge together PTO to get a proper break, or offering first dibs on the spring school holidays for people who worked at Christmas.

      1. Michelle Smith*

        Yes, do not make any assumptions about what people will want when presented with choices that require them to prioritize! Agreed! Given the option, I will take my birthday, Thanksgiving, and Christmas off. I’m an atheist whose family really cares a lot about Christmas. I don’t care about other holidays much at all and I don’t actually care about Thanksgiving nearly as much as Christmas. I’ve often worked Thanksgiving and Jewish religious holidays (that sometimes fall on the dates I’d otherwise take off for my birthday) in exchange for my Jewish colleagues who didn’t celebrate Christmas covering that week for me. I also tend to take off a random week during the summer so I can see my family more than once a year (they all live several states away), but don’t care at all about which specific week it is (don’t care about July 4, for example) and am perfectly happy working during spring break because I don’t have kids in school.

        Bottom line: Ask people what they prioritize and let people swap things around too if they want. A schedule that rigidly rotates holidays in the name of “fairness” or whatever might not be as effective as letting Jack and Jane swap their shifts so that Jack gets the Christmas vacation his family prioritizes and Jane gets her High Holy Days without having to fight for an accommodation.

        1. Mongrel*

          I’ve always been a fan of a rota as a baseline for the popular holidays as it at least sets a baseline ‘fairness’ and if that’s impractical then at least sort it out early in the year, half the problems seem to be “Everyone applied for Xmas week in November”

    5. Dasein9 (he/him)*

      I worked at a place that surprised us all with a paid holiday for the week between Christmas and New Year the last year I was there. People who’d taken PTO got it returned to roll over into the new year and we all just got the week off.

      The goodwill that generated had a huge effect on morale.

    6. Disgruntled corporate minion*

      Ours quietly and permanently reappropiated our 2 floating holidays to shut down between Christmas & New Year 2 years running and they never came back.

      Eid? Yom Kippur? Diwali? Use vacation time.

  3. I Have RBF*

    On the guy that’s leaving? I agree with Alison that he should just be walked and paid out for his notice period. Unless he has some major project wrapups to do, it benefits both him and the company. The company says “Oh, hey, since you’re leaving anyway, don’t come in. We’ll pay your notice period, you get a paid break.”

    Ordinarily an employee in good standing without anger issues would be welcome to stay and wrap stuff up, but that’s not this guy. Phrase it as a nice parting gesture, ask him not to come to the holiday party, and make sure security knows not to let the guy back on campus.

    1. jtr*

      Absolutely agree!!! I don’t really understand why this guy resigned rather than being fired long ago. (Well, I do understand, but it’s really bad management in play.)

    2. Cinnamon Boo*

      We have everyone leave as soon as they give their notice. (they get paid for their two weeks and everything, just we ask people to move on the day they give notice.)

      1. ESC*

        This is brilliant. So many worry about having to leave as soon as they give notice but this is a wonderful accommodation.

        1. Jaydee*

          Plus, if it’s official policy, resigning employees know they need to get projects ready to hand off and start taking personal items home before they give notice. Makes it a lot easier to prepare for than just maybe you’ll be walked out the same day and maybe you’ll work out your notice period, who knows?

      2. perstreperous*

        Yes. I have always argued that the 1-month and sometimes even 3-month notice periods in the UK are far too long. Someone who has declared they no longer want to work for you keeps working for you for what feels like forever!

        (Legally, someone who leaves before their notice period completes is in breach of contract. However, I would never dream of following that up – if they go, they go).

        1. Mongrel*

          “Someone who has declared they no longer want to work for you keeps working for you for what feels like forever!”

          I think it depends why they no longer want to work there and how well it’s received, it’s not always “I don’t want to work here anymore”

        2. Phryne*

          I work in education and we have 3 months, but it has a reason, because teachers can be asked to finish the period. If there is no urgent reason to keep them to the full three months generally shorter is agreed on by both parties, but other educational institutions have the same three months so will not expect a sooner starting date.

        3. Holiday Llama Tree*

          I’m in a field where the norm is 3 months and it is so strange working with someone as if everything’s normal when they’re on their way out for that length of time. I think it encourages people to micromanage their leaving and legacy in a way that’s not always helpful. (and it doesn’t give time to recruit a replacement because everyone else is on 3 months notice too!)

    3. Artemesia*

      It was perfect advice. You cannot bar a guy who is a current employee from the party without being a total jerk. End his job with pay now and let him know the party is also off limits.

  4. Heather*

    I completely agree with Allison, cut the rude employee early with pay for the rest of the period. Cut his access to company email, take his ID, parking passes, etc. You can even offer him a small gift card for the cost of the seat at the holiday party “as you won’t be attending”.

    Also, stop allowing employees who don’t work at the company anymore to attend. That was a bad idea from the get-go.

    1. KateM*

      These were as plus-ones. I think telling employees that they are allowed to bring their partners UNLESS these have ever worked for this company would be a pretty bad PR.

      1. Nancy*

        I think it may have been more of a friends bringing former employee friends kind of thing rather than someone’s significant other

    2. Yours sincerely, Raymond Holt*

      What’s your concern about former employees attending as plus ones? I’ve worked in a few places where former employees join holiday parties on invitation and lots of people are really excited to see them.

      Naturally this is only when the employee left on good terms.

      If they’re still in the sector they can also be useful partners, contacts, etc.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        Agreed, I even went to a former job’s holiday event all on my own (with their cheerful invitation).

        Playing letting the former employee really should be a case by case basis, and especially if the person has stayed in the field.

        But either way this former employee can be excluded- based off of his temper alone.

      2. Kuddel Daddeldu*

        We have a year-end party where company ‘alumni’ (including retirees) are explicitly invited. They might be working for our customers, in entirely different fields, or even competitors.

        1. allathian*

          We have an event during the day that’s specifically for retirees and current employees who want to catch up with former coworkers. It’s actually supposed to be *today*, but public transit is on strike and everyone who can is WFH.

  5. Medium Sized Manager*

    LW4 – we have to be open during that week and have low turnover, so we implemented a policy this year that essentially alternates time off. If you got the week between Christmas and NYE last year, then this year you can have the week before Christmas off. We gave priority to people who didn’t get the prized week last year, and it worked out pretty fairly. We also did it well in advance so everybody was aware of how time would shake out so they could plan accordingly.

    Normally, it’s just first come, first serve, but we had five people request it off on January 1st, so we made an exception for this part of the year. It was also helpful because our PTO doesn’t roll over, so everybody knew that they needed to use their PTO before December if they didn’t want to lose it because there would be no last-minute approvals (outside of emergencies).

    1. Disgruntled corporate minion*

      Now work in a reward for your employees who don’t celebrate Christmas — someone who volunteers to work Christmas, gets THEIR choice of a “free” paid PTO day next year in their holiday season.

  6. A. Nonymous*

    If you’re not someone with the ability to walk a disruptive employee like Steve off the premises immediately (which, based on his behavior, is really what should have happened), I would go “not my circus, not my monkeys.” Don’t engage with the unstable. It’s never worth it.

  7. r.*

    Yeah, it is at the very least gardening leave time for Steve.

    That being said, if I had an employee that just outright refused to talk to their manager without extenuating circumstances — for example because they have an ongoing grievance against their manager and would like to talk to their grandboss or HR instead — then that is “immediate dismissal for cause” territory. Especially for an employee with a history like Steve.

    Do not collect go, do not collect your notice period, your employment ends here and now.

    1. Busy Middle Manager*

      The fact that they’re still there tells me that a transition is happening at some level. I have seen things in corporate roles repeatedly described in a hyperbolic fashion so am assuming “refuses to speak” means “didn’t pick up phone a couple of times” or “is tired of having the same conversations so didn’t go to a meeting” or “prefers email after a bad conversation” or something like that. I’ve seen people say so and so had a fight when it was just a slightly heated professional debate. Stuff like that. Especially when the person is just telling another story, they’ll frame things in this sort of way to save words. Never seen someone walking around yelling at people for no reason etcetera and not get fired at some point.

      Things like you described are actually not grounds for immediate dismissal at many places, I’m sort of surprised that that’s the go-to at your job. I’m not saying I approve of the immaturity of it, but when people aren’t speaking to eachother it means something happened and I’d be finding out what, not just getting someone fired or firing someone. If you don’t know what happened, maybe it’s going to repeat with another employee. Who knows, maybe Dave is completely unreasonable or clueless and the employee is just mentally done with trying to communicate with them. That is actually worth investigating. Obviously it’s job and industry dependent

      1. virago*

        Given Steve’s history, I don’t think that he’s an otherwise reasonable person who “is just mentally done with trying to communicate” with his department head:

        We have an employee, Steve, who has just resigned. He has a history of being rude, explosive, and verbally abusive. I’ve lost count of how many times he’s yelled at or insulted coworkers, including higher-ups.

      2. r.*

        > Things like you described are actually not grounds for immediate dismissal at many places, I’m sort of surprised that that’s the go-to at your job.

        Of course there are situations where refusing to engage directly with your manager should not be ground for immediate dismissal (or other forms of disciplinary action) and/or instead should be investigated; hence my comment about extenuating circumstances. They cover just such eventualities.

        As a general rule I do try to take LW at their word (amongst other things because I think that’s what Alison would want us to). Given the description of the circumstances I am inclinded to believe that Steve’s behaviour is not that of a reasonable person, and I don’t see a reason in the post to doubt that LW’s description of the situation is a reasonable representation of the factual. I also do have the distinct impression that Steve’s refusal to engage with Dave is not an isolated incident, or one that is limited to refusing a single meeting request or not picking up the phone.

        Most of the work I do is under considerably more pro-worker jurisdiction than the US, so things work slightly different. For example, even if you are dismissed for cause you can still collect unemployment benefits, though it obviously does have some financial implications for you (with or without cause). The grounds under which it is permissible to dismiss someone immediately for cause is not something a company can choose for themselves in their handbook; they are taxatively enumerated by law.

        The long and short of it is that refusing to perform work that is lawful, appropriate, does not expose you to undue hardship, and is in line with your job description amounts to refusing to do your job, and obviously is a reason you can be let go for under the notice period per your contract. Persistent and/or repeated refusal to do your job without good reason is one of the reasons you can be dismissed for cause, which ends the employment immediately and regardless of notice period.

        You work not just according to your job description, but also as directed by the person with managerial authority over you. It hence is part of your job to enable your manager to engage in good faith efforts of actually managing you, which they can’t if you just keep on refusing to engage with them.

        If you believe your manager does not interact with you in good faith you can go to their grandboss, you can go to HR, you can go to your union representative, or any other avenue for raising grievances the employer and/or applicable law provides for.

        What you cannot do is to simply refuse and do none of that. At that point it becomes equivalent to refusing to do your job. Hence persistent refusal to engage is also persistent refusal to do your job, and hence something you can be dismissed for.

        We could of course choose not to and instead pursue other forms of disciplinary, but in Steve’s context, I don’t quite see why we would.

        Then again I don’t see why we would’ve even allowed us to get to into this situation in the first place. I agree wholeheartly with Alison — if it is as described, action should’ve been taken far sooner. Obviously tone and culture differs between workplaces, some places are just a bit rougher than others, but the description of the behaviour does seem to go beyond rougher tone into abuse behaviour.

        We do not tolerate yelling, insults and other abusive behaviour. Not between coworkers, not between manager and report, not between report and manager. Steve would’ve learned that a long time ago.

  8. Nobby Nobbs*

    My first thought after reading the first letter was that part in Sleeping Beauty where Maleficent crashes the christening and Merryweather bluntly tells her she wasn’t wanted. Let’s hope Steve was at least prevented from cursing any babies!

    1. Dinwar*

      A bit off topic, but I have young kids and have given this way too much thought….Given the politics of the Middle Ages, Maleficent was the one in the right in the Disney movie. Christenings were inherently political events, and politics at the time was based on interpersonal relationships. Not being invited would have been a very, very bad sign. When she did show up she acted with courtesy (seriously, she gave him at least two chances to save face here), and was openly insulted. At best this was the king telling her that any agreements they had were null; more realistically, it was a declaration of war. Her holdings were declared outside the king’s protection and friendship, which means they would be subject to raids, foraging (read: more sophisticated raids), and attacks. If anything, Maleficent was remarkably retrained in her reaction–a more typical reaction would have been to lay siege to the castle and take over the kingdom (or at least try to). I’ve read literature from the Middle Ages about such events, and they typically got very bloody. Targeting one political opponent would have been considered restrained to the point of being saintly (seriously, look at what militaries at war were praised for; this was INSANELY generous on Maleficent’s part).

      To bring it back to the topic: This raises the question of what the party is for. If it’s to celebrate the work done that year, the employee should be brought in. He’s a jerk, but he was part of the group. Have a contingency plan to remove him if he gets too bad. If the purpose is to built the team, don’t include him. He’s all but out the door and no longer is part of the team. (If the company hadn’t started the official process it would be different–learning someone’s out by them being uninvited to a party is just crass.) If the purpose is “This is what’s done culturally this time of year”, do whatever is easiest for you–which typically means: Don’t invite him. He’ll take it the right way (as a snub), but he’s on his way out anyway so it’s not like you’ll avoid hard feelings.

      1. Coverage Associate*

        I love the Sleeping Beauty analysis, but now I have to read something closer to the original!

      2. Orv*

        Besides all that, snubbing a powerful fairy at a christening seems like a high-powered level of stupidity normally unavailable to the average mortal.

      3. UKDancer*

        Yeah the king really screwed up not inviting Maleficent given the politics of the time. It was a major insult and she wasn’t wrong to be annoyed. He should have done some high quality grovelling at this point rather than doubling down.

  9. Love to WFH*

    I worked at a high tech hardware firm that liked to pretend that they were full-steam ahead right through the Christmas holidays. They also had use-it-or-lose-it vacation time, and pushed people so hard that they tended to not take time off during the year. The result was a LOT of people suddenly realizing that they hadn’t taken their vacation, and all vanishing for the last 2 (or 3!) weeks of the year.

    My first year there, I volunteered to work the week of between Christmas and New Years. It was also the most relaxed work week of my life. The factory would email me asking for information needed for a build, and I’d tell them that they needed to ask the business unit’s manufacturing engineer, who was on vacation. Someone else would email me with a technical question, and I’d refer them to the design engineering team, who were all on vacation.

    I answered about 3 emails a day, tidied up my files, and read novels. I’d only worked there about 3 months, and this lazy week earned me so much good will! Everyone was effusively, genuinely grateful.

    1. Turquoisecow*

      Same thing happened at my old job. We were open for business but so few people were actually there that week that I always wondered why we bothered. Same for the day after Thanksgiving.

    2. Clisby*

      Yeah, until I had kids I didn’t mind at all working the week of Christmas. (At the places I worked, you always got off either Christmas Eve or Christmas day, so I could spend some time with family anyway.) By the time I had children, I was working remotely anyway so whether I was technically on vacation didn’t matter.

    3. DannyG*

      The hospital my late wife and I worked at together was able to handle this on a mostly voluntary basis: non-Christian staff and childless couples (like us) covered Christmas holidays, Christian staff covered the high holy days. Easter/Passover worked the same unless they fell together.

      1. RetiredAcademicLibrarian*

        While overall this sounds like a good idea, there are childless people who want Christmas holidays off for visiting their own family or for religious reasons. I live several hundred miles from my parents and sibling, and would have been a bit salty if the fact I had no children meant I worked *every* Christmas.

          1. DannyG*

            Yes, it was voluntary and generally worked out well. One Christmas the wife and I covered was a long weekend, we then got the rest of the week off (quick trip to ski resort as our reward to ourselves).

      2. Ashley*

        I am curious to see how this plays next year at places where you trade Holy Day coverage when the first night of Hanukah is Christmas.

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          Presumably they’ll take Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, not Hannukah. The autumn holidays are the High Holy Days.

          1. DannyG*

            We actually had a fairly large percentage of staff who were Greek Orthodox and their calendar dates were offset from the standard Western calendar, so that helped spread out the coverage, especially Easter/Passover, but Christmas, too.

    4. Skytext*

      But it sounds like the poor factory workers were all forced to come in, but couldn’t do THEIR jobs because of the office people that they needed info from being out on vacation.

  10. Crumbledore*

    LW #1: Please, make sure your CEO (or whoever can make this decision) hires security (or extra/better security) for the party. You already know Steve is hostile and think he may show up uninvited. Don’t ignore your intuition. I hope he goes willingly and leaves it at that, and that you all have a great and safe celebration!

  11. Sally Rhubarb*

    Sorry but I disagree with #3. Last year we did a Secret Santa and I got the CEO. Even though there was a spending limit, it felt like there was a LOT more pressure on me to get him something he’d like vs Cindy in Accounting.

    1. Godbert*

      Agreed. It’s never pretty when you mix levels for this sort of thing, no matter how cool your boss seems to be / how cool of a boss you think you are. Let people at the same level do Secret Santa or White Elephant, and the boss can buy everyone’s food for the unwrapping party or something.

      1. Ashley*

        If not formally at least rig it a little so another senior person has the CEO and no one gets their immediate boss otherwise.

    2. EvilQueenRegina*

      At my old job, this one guy got the CEO and then promptly forgot all about Secret Santa, only remembered on the morning of the draw when he saw other people bringing their gifts in and had to rush out and panic buy something.

  12. I Like Gin Too*

    I’ve had some nice personalized gifts before. But I’ve also received thoughtful but not well thought out ones. For example, someone might know I enjoy to drink craft beer and buy something related to that. But they don’t know just how tiny my apartment is and that I really have no space for this kind of cute but weird and not practical at all large wooden six pack holder.

    So keep in mind: Is it useful? Is it going to take up space? Is it actually just something junky that will end up in the box to the thrift store?

    1. Coverage Associate*

      I once dumped an office gift into the toy donation bin in the lobby. Didn’t even have to bring it home. It was a game, so appropriate for the toy donations, and it was part of a white elephant, so was sort of supposed to be a bad gift.

      I buried it under other donations so my coworker wouldn’t see.

      How much do people prefer praactical gifts? One year, the most popular white elephant was a kit where you made a battery out of a potato and a sack of potatoes!

      1. I Like Gin Too*

        Haha, that’s actually a great gift for White Elephant. Science is fun and you can eat the potatoes when you’re done!

  13. Mmm.*

    I’d much rather the gift cards from previous years than a personalized gift. I’m not a minimalist, but I like having as little in my home as I can stomach. And when it comes to pop culture fans, you run a high risk of getting them something they already have.

    If everyone in the office drives, then a gift card to a local gas station (preferably one with good snacks!) would always be appreciated. Not as much as cash, but still.

    1. I Have RBF*

      He has a history of being rude, explosive, and verbally abusive. I’ve lost count of how many times he’s yelled at or insulted coworkers, including higher-ups.

      So, the difference here is that the Steve is rude and hostile to other people, not just the occasional trashcan. It’s the difference that matters.

      IMO, there’s an ocean of difference between being frustrated and yelling to yourself and hitting an inanimate, tough thing like a punching bag, and being insulting, rude and hostile toward other people.

      Yes, I know that most people don’t see it that way, and expect everyone to maintain perfect professional composure at all times otherwise they should never even be allowed to earn a penny because they are broken, bad people. But the real problems are people like Steve who lash out at other people.

      I don’t care if you mutter at your screen, or kick a wastebasket. But if you insult me, cuss me, and are rude to me and others, that’s over the line.

  14. Factory Girl*

    #2 Please just give me cash. Or a generic gift card, not one to a specific store. Please don’t give me a mug with GoT on it. Or a calendar with puppies.

    1. Sunflower*

      Companies should give cash if they provide a bonus. I also don’t need another knick-knack either. However, if the boss (if they are not the owner) pays out of pocket, they may not have a large personal budget. I don’t need a gift, but if given one, I’d rather have chocolate or cookies from the dollar store than the boss handing me the $1.25. The value is the same but how it’s presented is different. At least to me.

  15. cindylouwho*

    #1: As soon as I read “Our CEO does not want Steve to attend,” I was like ‘sounds like the CEO’s job to tell him/fix it then.’

    1. mlem*

      CEO gets to delegate, but I would 100% be telling Steve, “The CEO says you’re no longer invited to the party.” (I also agree that walk-and-pay-the-period is the ideal general solution.)

    2. Hannah Lee*

      ^ This!

      Or at the very least, “our CEO does not want Steve to attend” means CEO makes and actual decision instead of a wishy washy waft of preference, and tells HR his decision and someone in HR tells him … as they are letting him know that actually today will be his last day, they will keep his benefits in force until the end of his notice period, and send him on his way with a check for pay through his notice period, any other money he’s due, COBRA, other required paperwork.

      Why does this company’s management prefer to keep a non-productive, hostile employee floating around? Keeping him till the end of his notice period means paying him through the end of his notice period. So just pay him now and be done with it.

      (If I was his coworker, saw how he was acting and heard him grumbling or being hostile about anything *I’d* be likely to skip the holiday party myself, because maybe he’d suddenly behavior normally, but he could also go off at the gathering and I’d rather not have a front row seat to that, thank you very much.)

    3. Heffalump*

      Steve should have been fired a long time ago, but disinviting from the party is still a good symbolic move.

  16. Mermaid of the Lunacy*

    I had a supervisor once who picked out books for their staff. Most of them were pretty normal, like a cookbook for the person who liked to cook and a book about a TV show for someone who liked that show. Mine was “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff – And It’s All Small Stuff.” That really gave me a complex. (Yes, I “sweat it.”) Personalized gifts are nice…….but sometimes a gift card is just better.

  17. Olive*

    I once got a personalized gift from a boss.

    She could not have gotten it more perfect… ly wrong. I wish I could describe it here but it’s extremely identifiable. If you had asked me to name 5 things I would never put in my house, this gift would have been at least 3 of them.

  18. DannyG*

    Best gift from a manager: leather tri-fold portfolio with name embossed. Has built in solar calculator, sized to hold legal size pads, and a section for business cards. I have used regularly for 20+ years and still carry to meetings and conferences. I’m sure he got through the hospital’s office supply provider, relatively cheaply, but it is better than most things over the years.

    1. Dinwar*

      I got an embossed leather portfolio with the company logo on it a long time ago, and yeah, it came in handy. The nature of my work requires me to routinely wear jeans, t-shirts or other shirts I don’t care about destroying, and steel-toed boots. Walk into a meeting wearing that and you’re treated as a low-level grunt. Walk in wearing that plus a cheap button-down shirt and carrying that portfolio, and you look like a hands-on crew chief at worst, and a very active site manager at best. You get treated VERY differently at meetings.

      That it was work-oriented is, I think, a benefit here. It accurately reflects the nature of the relationship–it’s a business thing. They don’t need to worry about my personal life here; they know my professional life, and gave a gift based on that. To someone trying to start climbing the chain of command (notoriously difficult in my company) it really was appreciated.

  19. Janeway*

    For #2, give everyone gift cards with personalized greeting cards. That way, the greeting card shows you thought about them, but you aren’t risking giving them something they like but already have, or don’t have room for, or can’t use, etc.

  20. Critical Rolls*

    Please know cash or gift cards from an employer may be taxable, where they are even permitted by policy. Small gifts from a company are meant to be a token, not a bonus, and something like a nice blanket they can get a good price on from a vendor might translate to $8.84 after tax. That doesn’t feel like an improvement to me, although of course YMMV.

  21. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

    I have appreciated a token gift card ($15-25)to our local supermarket at the holidays. It’s easy enough to spend and I get to say “gee, I can get this ridiculously fancy cheese with my gift card” instead of feeling bad about my budget.

    We also had a big boss who gave out lottery scratchers. Usually a few people won a few bucks, it was a moment of excitement, and when you don’t win, so be it.

  22. An Honest Nudibranch*

    Honestly, I am of the belief that “I’m worried if I don’t invite this person to the party they’ll be aggressive about it” is *exactly* the time you should not invite someone to a party. But ya, I agree with Alison that just trying to rescind their party invitation is too little too late – they’re being actively hostile, so just cut off their notice period and get them out.

  23. nnn*

    Another possibility for #4 is if you have other popular vacation times in the year, you can make a rule that people who work one popular vacation time get first dibs on another popular vacation time.

    So, for example, if you work between xmas and new year’s, you get first dibs on time off in the summer.

    1. No Egrets*

      I work in a coverage-based field, and our boss takes a similar approach that I think works well. Usually in late summer or early fall, she asks everyone to let her know what their preferred time off is for winter holidays. It’s understood that usually if you get time off around one holiday, you’ll probably be working the days adjacent to another holiday. Once she knows what days are most important to everyone, she’ll work to try to make sure everyone gets at least some of the time off they really wanted.

  24. Raida*

    Well, I’d have security given his photo so if he does turn up he’s removed/refused entry.

    But telling him? It’s sh*tty that the person who’s decided this isn’t handling it. I guess I’d go with “I have been given the job of informing you that your invitation to the end of year party has been rescinded. You are uninvited, please do not crash the party.” and then see where he leads the conversation – if he blows up, “This is the kind of behaviour nobody wants at the party. I’m contacting HR about this.” if he doesn’t – great, then I can suggest he have a nice dinner, go to the movies, do something he’d actually enjoy with nobody around that pisses him off.

  25. CorporateDrone*

    I much prefer when whether to take time off is left up to the employee, especially if there is a requirement to use a limited PTO bank.

    If you don’t actually have work for people to do I can understand wanting to close but in that case it should be upfront and some of us are going to have to take unpaid leave in order to take vacation when we actually need it, which sucks.

    Also this year at work my department is crazy busy, we have end of year deadlines and we got an email from corporate telling us that everyone would have to take Christmas week off because most clients are off. Lots of folk who weren’t too busy were planning to get mandatory certifications and update their required training during this time, but it has been decreed that they should do this when everyone is back and things are busy. Not sure why, but it means that we’ll end up short while people do training in Q1!

    In my case I got special permission to keep working since otherwise we’ll miss our objectives and the lack of clients doesn’t impact what we do. But there were some days of real stress before that decision was made. Ugh.

  26. Bryce with a Y*

    I’m no doubt saying things that have been said before, but I think they make sense in this situation.

    First, I agree that it makes sense to dismiss the employee before the holiday party while giving said employee full pay for the notice period, along with any back pay for paid leave, etc. Employers are within their rights generally to do so. It would also make sense that since the employee is no longer employed by the organization, that employee is not entitled to attend the holiday party.

    Second, if it makes sense for the organization to do, given a choice between a holiday party and the last week of December off with full pay, many employees would prefer the latter.

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