Can you be fired for not going to the company holiday party?

On Behalf of | Dec 5, 2023 | Workplace Discrimination |

A lot of businesses have scaled back or completely eliminated holiday parties for financial reasons and out of concern for liability. However, if your employer isn’t one of those, you could be facing a lot of pressure to attend an upcoming party. 

Overzealous employees tasked with organizing the festivities and even managers may make you feel like attendance is mandatory – even if it’s off-site and after hours. Can you be penalized or even fired for not attending?

You likely aren’t going to be told that you’re out of a job because you didn’t go to the holiday party. That doesn’t mean it won’t cause problems for you at work. If you’re already considered less than a team player, this can be viewed as one more example.

When could retaliation for not attending be illegal?

You shouldn’t have to provide a reason for not going, but it can help ward off potential consequences. If you really don’t feel comfortable going, it’s smart to be up-front with your boss about why that is.

For example, even in cities as diverse as New York, there are still employers for whom a holiday party is a Christmas party. If you feel uncomfortable and even excluded by overtly religious elements of these parties, you have a right to say so. By doing that, any attempts to retaliate against you for not attending can be viewed as religious discrimination, which is illegal.

Maybe you know from experience that bringing your same-sex spouse or partner will open both of you up to harassment – especially after people get a few drinks in them. Again, if you let your boss know that’s the reason for not attending, retaliating can be determined to be illegal discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Avoiding sexual harassment

Many companies are cutting back on serving alcohol at parties because it’s likely to result in cases of sexual harassment and even assault. If you’ve been the victim of this at another office party or fear that you will be victimized by a co-worker who already makes you feel uncomfortable, you can and should speak up. It’s also a perfectly valid reason not to attend.

Some people just get enough of their co-workers while they’re at work and don’t want to spend their precious free time making small talk with them. If you believe you’re suffering harassment, discrimination or retaliation for not participating in any after-hours work event, it’s important to know your rights. Getting legal guidance can help you protect them.

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