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Can My Employer Fire Me for Not Attending an Event on My Own Time?

Depending on where you work, there is a chance you will be asked to attend an event during non-work hours. This sometimes happens during the holiday season, when companies reward employees for a year of work well done, but it can also take place any time throughout the year, especially if the company is trying to improve its image in the community.

Though these events are often presented to employees as voluntary, most understand that not attending could have a lasting effect on your future with the company. And in some rare instances, employers tell employees they are obligated to attend.

The good news is employers cannot legally require you to attend events outside of normal paid work hours unless they plan to pay you. If you are required to be somewhere when you are not already on the clock, you have a right to request you be paid. However, despite your right to take action, it could be in your best interest to comply. Employees need to weigh the good with the bad when deciding how far to go in their stance against “extracurricular” work events.

Before making a decision about your participation, ask yourself the following:

What is the impact of missing the event?

Employees cannot force you to attend an unpaid event, but there can be consequences if you choose not to attend. If you are an at-will employee, your employer can dismiss you at any time – even if the only reason is your negative attitude. Unfortunately, many employers consider your refusal to give up your personal time for a work event symptomatic of an overall negative attitude.

In order for an event to truly be voluntary, you must not feel threatened to attend. If you feel your job is at risk for not attending, your employer must pay you for your time. Any time you feel threatened to attend a work event for which you will not be compensated (and you are not an exempt employee) you have the right to take legal action.

What is Your Reason for Not Attending?

Depending on the reason you are unable to attend the event, you might be protected from termination based on state or federal laws. For example, when work events interfere with religious practices, you have the right to say no without repercussions.

The same is true if you believe attendance will expose you to harassment. If you are dealing with an ongoing harassment situation that you have managed by avoiding the perpetrator in the workplace but attendance at an event makes this impossible, you can refuse to attend without fear of losing your job.

Lastly, if you have a diagnosed allergy to a food or beverage served at an event, this can be your reason for not attending. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act and similar state and local laws you have a right to avoid any environment in which your health is at risk. Of course, your employer could always change the menu to accommodate you, so do not expect this reason to be a fail-safe excuse for not attending. You can read more about the ADA here.

Having your attitude called into question in the work place can be difficult, but there are instances in which your employer goes too far. If you believe too much is being asked of you by your employer, we can offer help. Contact Borrelli & Associates, P.L.L.C. to discuss your case.

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