do we have to put on going-away festivities for a disliked coworker?

A reader writes:

Our manager sent out an email today notifying us that one of our employees has given his two weeks notice and will be leaving the company.

Last month, we had another coworker leave, which was very sad for us since she got along well with everyone and she contributed well to the company. We got her a card, took her out to lunch, and had a nice pleasant goodbye. This particular coworker, however, is not well liked, continually slacks off, and, in general, is not a good employee.

Are we obligated to treat him the same way as our previous coworker and get him a going-away card/lunch? If so, would it look bad if I were to opt out of going to the lunch and/or signing the card? I am not trying to be persnickety about this, but he has made much of my time here miserable in the last year or so and, honestly, I am glad to see him go. It is a huge relief that I can now come to work and not walk on egg shells around this person for fear that he will retaliate against me for something I say. How bad will it look if I quietly bow out of both activities if someone decides to do them?

Sure, you can bow out. This isn’t like grade school, where your mom is going to force you to treat all the kids in your class the same. You like some people, you don’t like others; that’s normal.

Don’t make a big deal about it though. Don’t go talk to the person circulating the card and solemnly explain why you won’t be signing it, and don’t make a big production of explaining why you’re not attending the lunch, if there is one. Just quietly don’t participate if you’d rather not.

And as for your coworkers, they’re not obligated to get a card or take this guy to lunch either, if they don’t want to. (Although leave that up to them. Don’t lobby them not to.)

That said, while it’s perfectly appropriate for you and your coworkers to either do something or not do something for this guy, the guidelines are different when it comes to your company and your manager. If your company or manager has a habit of throwing goodbye lunches or circulating cards when people leave, they should do the same for this guy. Not doing it would be equivalent of your fourth-grade teacher observing everyone’s birthday except for that one kid in the back who she can’t stand.  The company and your manager should adhere to a different standard than you and your coworkers in this regard, because it shouldn’t look like they play favorites with something so petty.

But you and your coworkers have no such obligations. If you don’t feel like taking him to lunch, don’t. And if your company or manager organizes a lunch, you can go or not go. It’s your call.

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