Do non-exempt employees get paid for the "optional" holiday party?
November 3, 2012 9:43 AM   Subscribe

What are the rules for "optional" but not really optional work-related events for non-exempt employees?

Our work is having an "optional" holiday party from 5-7pm. Work hours typically end at 6pm. Holiday party will include food and alcohol, and will mix the exempt and non-exempt employees.

I understand that even volunteer activities that have to do with work are to be paid to non-exempt employees and that they need to be paid for anything work-related no matter what. (Here:

Does a holiday party that is partly during work hours and partly not count for that as well? Does it matter that it's been labeled "optional?" In a workplace that mandates that non-exempt employees never work over 40 hours, should the non-exempt employees arrange to take comp time for that one hour during the week of the party? (That feels oddly unfair to exempt employees for a change, as the non-exempts get to party AND come in late one day.)

Other possibly useful info: Staff will be mingling with invited board members, who may or may not attend, requiring staff to be "on" during the party. While it has not been stated explicitly, there is the implicit expectation that we must make a good impression and talk to the board members, many of whom are funders to our organization. Many of our jobs include the duty of raising funds for our organization.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (14 answers total)
If you are asking because you set policy for the organization, this is a question to ask your organization's employment lawyer.

If you are asking because you are a non-exempt employee and want to be paid for attending an explicitly optional event that occurs once a year, digging in on this point does not sound like a very good career move.
posted by grouse at 9:53 AM on November 3, 2012 [42 favorites]

grouse couldn't have said it better.

Just to add, whether board members are present or not, you should *always* be "on" at work events, even when it's a "party." And it's generally good office politics to go to these things. I wouldn't really consider them "work" time unless you specifically have duties like working the door or the bar or something. Even though many of them are awful, companies consider these events a a "perk." You're actually extremely lucky that it's partly during work hours and pretty short. Our holiday parties were always on a Saturday night.
posted by radioamy at 10:20 AM on November 3, 2012 [3 favorites]

Here's the deal. Showing up for the board and dressing nice and smiling real big is something you can do to improve or at least not hurt others' impressions of you. Not showing up will probably not get you fired. But it will not be helpful either. It will affect the judgements people make about you, because people judge other people based on intangibles like that. ESPECIALLY in the nonprofit world, where The Goodwill of Others is what makes the world go 'round.

Come to think of it, insisting on getting paid/comped for going to the company Christmas party is a terrible idea on that exact basis.
posted by PsychoTherapist at 10:24 AM on November 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

If you are required to be there, you should be paid. If attendance is voluntary, not at all required, you do not have to be paid. The words of the invitation is what counts here, not what whatever you are inferring or perceiving as an "implicit expectation."

Your options: (a) Go and have a good time, limit yourself to one drink or none at all, smile and score some brownie points. (b) Mention a previous engagement, so sorry, and take off.

By the way, there under wage and hour laws there is no such thing as "comp time," and if the company is requiring you to accept comp time in a different pay period rather than paying you time and a half for any hours worked over 40 in an individual workweek, they are in violation of the law.
posted by beagle at 10:25 AM on November 3, 2012 [4 favorites]

It would be one thing if the employees were ordered to actively solicit donations, but I think "making minimal small talk and not getting embarrassingly shitfaced" does not fall under the definition of work. Regardless, the party seems perfectly timed for anyone who truly does not want to stay an extra hour to take care of their chit-chat duties during the first paid hour, then bounce at 6 pm.
posted by acidic at 10:29 AM on November 3, 2012 [3 favorites]

So you go for one hour, paid. At 6 o'clock, you can either apologise that you had other arrangements this evening, or stick it out another half hour or so until you can leave more comfortably.

I'd probably decide between the two options based on how flexible the company is in general (and leave things open to change my mind that evening). I'm a lot more willing to be generous for a company that doesn't time my hours to the exact second and is reasonable about doctor's appointments etc than for a company that is rigid.
posted by jeather at 10:32 AM on November 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

The very reason it starts one hour before quitting time is so that everyone who can attend the first hour, will. After that, you are free to go, and no-one will be upset if a non-exempt employee leaves at that time. They did this on purpose to avoid exactly the question you are asking.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 10:37 AM on November 3, 2012 [14 favorites]

Yeah, you go to the first hour, and bill your regular time for the day (i.e. you get to count it as working until 5 pm.) It's up to you if you want to stay, unpaid, for the second hour.
posted by fingersandtoes at 10:54 AM on November 3, 2012

Sorry, I meant 6 pm. You're on the clock til 6, of which 5-6 is the paid party time. After that if you stay at the party you're unpaid.
posted by fingersandtoes at 10:57 AM on November 3, 2012

Sounds like a really great free networking opportunity to me.
posted by BibiRose at 11:00 AM on November 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

To answer the actual question, no you do not get paid for attending a holiday party, nonexempt or whatever. Even at my high school jobs at which I was paid hourly, I still went to the holiday parties and didn't expect to get paid. The party IS the payment, whether you like it or not. If you're asking because you are the employee in question, I am nthing everyone else who says you can dip out at an hour into it if you're so inclined. FWIW, I have never regretted staying longer at a company event and have often regretted leaving at the earliest possible chance. For sure be on your best behavior, but some of your bosses may drink too much which is fun to watch! And the more facetime (ooh corporate jargon!) you get with board members, the better off you'll be. Again--never regretted a higher-up knowing my name, often regretted being relatively anonymous.
posted by masquesoporfavor at 11:11 AM on November 3, 2012

I work as an exempt employee, and I still blow off "optional" after-hours events like you describe. The bigwigs who will show up and expect you to kiss ass, well, they don't know you! So if they won't notice your absence, or remember your presence... Why bother?
posted by pla at 2:55 PM on November 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

As an individual, I'd go, have fun, have dinner, and support any unionization efforts. As an employer, I'd tell staff to come in 1 hour late, or leave 1 hour early that week if they stay til 7. As an employee who believes in fairness, I'd check state laws and call the Labor Relations board in my state, and cheerfully take it up with HR/ Union rep./ other employees. Your job should not insert itself into your non-working hours.
posted by theora55 at 4:18 PM on November 3, 2012

I think that in this sort of situation you sort of get "paid" in the food and drink provided at the party. I would go and deal with it, or beg off with some sort of irremediable scheduling conflict.
posted by mlle valentine at 1:32 PM on November 4, 2012

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