Teen worker forced to attend unpaid work events and parties 'off the clock'

Tracey Folly

*This is a work of nonfiction based on actual events I experienced firsthand; used with permission.

I worked as a teller at a local bank from my late teens until my early twenties, and one of the things that I didn't like about the job was that the company expected us to attend events outside of work hours. Multiple times per year, they would hold things like team-building exercises or company picnics, and they expected everyone to participate, even though we were technically off the clock.

While I understand that it's important for employees to build relationships with each other, I didn't think it was fair that they expected us to give up our free time for these events. In my opinion, if an employer wants us to attend these things, then they should pay us for our time.

I don't know why I didn't just say, "No."

The events were always interesting, and I got to meet a lot of new people. But I always felt like I was being taken advantage of. After all, I was working at the bank because I needed the money, not because I wanted to go to parties. In any case, it was an experience that I will never forget.

I remember a mandatory company picnic. One of the regional managers brought his two ferrets. They were wearing harnesses and tethered to leashes tied around a tree.

One of my coworker friends approached the ferrets with caution. She crouched down to get a better look, making sure she was beyond their reach. Just in case.

"Don't worry," the regional manager who owned the ferrets told her. "They don't bite. You can pet them."

My coworker friend reached down to pet a ferret, and it bit her immediately. She left the picnic before it had even started in earnest. I left, too, because she was my ride.

I hoped she would seek medical attention lest she find herself with a bad case of rabies, but she just washed her hands and applied bandaids over the tiny bite marks on her hand. Fortunately, she did not get rabies. That was the most memorable company event I attended, and I was there for only five minutes.

I also attended fancy dinners; rubbed elbows with local politicians, including the mayor; and drank free Champagne. It might sound glamorous, but it was still unpaid work. I wouldn't have been there if the boss hadn't said it was mandatory.

Plus, I still had to get up early and go to work the following morning. Afterward, I always went home and crashed on the couch. I was so exhausted one time that I didn't even hear my alarm the next morning. I overslept and ended up being late for work. My boss wasn't too happy about that. Needless to say, I learned my lesson and made sure to set my alarm clock extra early the next time we had an event.

What are your thoughts on unpaid company events? Do you think they're a valuable way for employees to bond, or are they a waste of time? Let me know in the comments.

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