is it fair for a company to restrict perks to spouses?

A reader writes:

I’m a recent college graduate. Unfortunately, despite many interviews, I have been unable to find full-time employment in my field, or anything remotely close to my field. In the meantime, I have been working at a local themed hotel, because I figure a job is better than no job at all.

My question pertains to some of our employee policies and perks. For our annual holiday party, I was given an RSVP slip for me to say whether or not I’m attending and what my spouse’s name was. I turned my slip in to my manager stating that I would be attending with a parent. My manager then told me that employees were only allowed to bring a spouse, no other guest, and unmarried employees need to come alone. When I asked why this rule was in place, I was told that the hotel had too many employees for each employee to bring a guest, so the only guests allowed were spouses. (Our hotel is very busy during the holiday season, so our holiday party is in mid-January.)

Strangely enough, we also have a free overnight stay guaranteed to us in the hotel anytime during the month of January. When I went to our Human Resources office to request a form for my overnight stay, I was promptly told that I was only eligible to bring a spouse or my family to my overnight stay — no friends or significant others unless it’s a spouse.

My question is, do they have a right to restrict this? It doesn’t seem fair to unmarried employees and also seems somewhat discriminatory. I was wondering if there was a specific place I could complain anonymously about this. All of these rules are actually in our employee handbook. I don’t think I’m asking for a lot here, just to take a parent out to a nice dinner at our party, and to bring my boyfriend to stay with me and enjoy the hotel’s amenities. Can you give me any insight into this? I would really appreciate it.

Yes, they have the right to do this. And it’s not at all uncommon for for a company to restrict holiday party invitations to employees and spouses. I personally think it’s more reasonable to extend the invitations to spouses and significant others, but it’s not uncommon to do it this way, particularly at more old-fashioned companies.

You could certainly suggest that the company invite significant others as well — perhaps pointing out that in this day and age, many people are in long-term, live-in relationships but not married, and that not everyone is even legally allowed to marry the person who is for all intents and purposes their spouse. But I wouldn’t do it as a complaint, just as a suggestion for how the company could make the party (which is presumably intended as a morale-builder) more enjoyable for everyone.

And sure, you could suggest it anonymously, but why? As long as you’re being polite and not pushy, and as long as you’re graceful in accepting “no” as an answer, this is a perfectly reasonable conversation to have and you don’t need to go all cloak-and-dagger on it.

As for the hotel stay:  It’s not uncommon for perks like using the company’s facilities to be restricted to family members — think, for instance, of employee discounts that can be used by family but no others. Now, in this particular case — a one-time hotel stay, rather than an ongoing discount that could be used without limits — I don’t see why they can’t simply offer it to you and any guest of your choice, but again, sometimes companies do restrict perks to family members.

Regardless, I wouldn’t get too worked up about any of this. Remember, these are perks, not entitlements, and the company isn’t doing anything particularly radical with these polices.

Now, a separate issue that I’ve been dying to get to throughout this answer:  You really don’t want to bring a parent to a company holiday party. It would be so unusual to do that it would stand out and get you labeled as young and … well, Millenial in all the worst meanings of the stereotype. Interestingly, this is something that might be charming if an older employee did it, but if you do it as a recent grad, you’re just going to come across as Not Quite Grown-Up Yet.

This entry was posted in Leadership. Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.