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Can my leader force me to attend a dinning in or dining out?

Can my unit commander force me to pay for an evening function? He's announced a mandatory Dining Out, but the Soldiers have to pay for their own meals. I can't afford this!

Company Command: The Bottom Line - Army Leadership Guide

Dining Outs are a great way to pass on military traditions and to build morale and esprit de corps. Attending these events is an important part of being a leader and being part of a team. Unfortunately, commanders will sometimes try to force Soldiers to pay money to attend a mandatory event. Your commander cannot (legally) do this for a number of reasons. Nevertheless, it does happen.

Why does this problem come up again and again? Consider the situation from a leadership perspective.

Dining Outs are expensive

Leaders are often put under significant pressure to have a good showing at these types of events. Organizing a Dining Out is usually rather expensive. The cost can be reduced by increased attendance–the more people who attend, the cheaper the price for everyone.  If the unit does not reach its projected attendance goal there can be expensive penalties. The money for this penalty usually comes out of the unit fund, but sometimes it comes out of the pockets of the individuals who organize or attend the event.

This pressure can create tense situations and some leaders are willing to bend the rules to make ends meet. So what can you do about it?

Refuse to attend, citing financial considerations

If a Soldier is having financial difficulty that causes him to be unable to attend and event, he can usually resolve the issue by approaching their immediate supervisor. Tell your supervisor that you cannot afford to pay to attend a Dining Out. Your supervisor may try to help you make arrangements to make it possible for you to attend in light of this problem. Perhaps you could pay a reduced amount. Maybe he could help you budget to save enough to afford the price by the date of the event. Someone may be willing to spot you the money until you can repay the debt. If no solution can be found, or if a very serious money problem exists, the chain of command may allow you to forego the event. In these cases, most chains of command will be understanding of your situation.

Refuse to attend out of principle

Because this so-called Mandatory Fun cannot officially be made mandatory, you may be tempted to abstain out of principle. While I applaud you for your steadfastness and your adherence to regulation, I suggest that you pick your battles wisely. You may also elect to attend the event and not buy a meal as the commander can make the event mandatory but not make the payment for a meal mandatory.

Attend the event and support the team

A career in the Armed Forces involves much “give and take.” It is not right for your commander to pressure you into this situation, but it may be better to suck it up and play the game instead of causing pain for your superiors. This decision is yours to make. Be sure to collect your references and be ready to defend your position if you decided to dig in. Depending on the leadership climate in your unit, you may receive resistance. As always, remain professional and do not lower your standards of conduct based on the way people treat you.

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Mark is a Retired Command Sergeant Major with 26 years of military leadership experience. He held 3 military occupational specialties (Field Artillery, Nuclear Weapons Tech, and Ammunition Ordnance). Mark is one of the leading military authors in the fields of leadership, counseling, and training.

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    Comments

  • Part-Time-Commander

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    As a Soldier you should want to attend these events. They are fun and are an important part of being in the military.

    Being “forced” to attend these events can “turn off” a lot of Soldiers. I understand that. That’s why leaders should encourage Soldiers to attend these events and find ways to lower the costs as much as possible, so they are affordable for all ranks. And they should “talk up” the event so it sounds exciting and people want to attend.

    On a side note, if you worked for a civilian employer, and they had a similar event, you would be expected to attend the event. I don’t see why the military should be much different.

    As far as the cost involved, I would simply tell my supervisor that money is tight and see if he/she could offer any viable solutions to help you me afford it.

  • Eck

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    SPC Permenter,

    What I thought would be an easy answer, turned out to be a lot more research than I anticipated. I consulted with a couple of my legal experts and we determined the following:

    There really is not a set regulation I can refer you to. It falls under what is determined to be an “official” function versus a “non-official” function.

    If it is an official function, then the command can make it your appointed place of duty. Official functions are ones that are specifically provided for by law or are essential for successful completion of a DoD function, action or operation.

    There are a number of criteria that must be met in determining if a function is official or not. This determination should be made by an ethics attorney reviewing the Joint Ethics Regulation (JER).

    . Inviting or designating a speaker to discuss command issues does not create an official event, nor does simply declaring an event to be a “training event” or “official place of duty.” Without a prior legal review by an ethics counselor, government resources should not be used in support of the above listed functions.

    * The following are examples of functions that may be considered official. Even so, a pre-event legal opinion should be obtained from an ethics counselor:

    – Unit organizational days, staff rides, conferences and seminars when there is a training benefit;

    – Receptions when Official Representation Funds would be authorized;

    – International liaison functions; and

    – Official ceremonies when the government employee is actively participating in the ceremony or attending if the ceremony is determined to be of significantly high interest.

    * Examples of unofficial functions that do not support the use of appropriated funds, government personnel, equipment and NTVs, except in very narrowly defined exceptions are:

    – Hails and Farewells;

    – Dining-ins/outs and regimental balls;

    – Office birthday, anniversary and holiday parties, regardless of whether they are at the place of duty or not;

    – Office luncheons; and

    – Social functions at private or government quarters, even when the command or staff is invited, e.g., birthday parties, weddings, picnics and block parties.

    As you can see there are a number of issues that go into determining if a function is official or not. If you have to pay out of your pocket to attend, then the event definitely is not an “official” event and cannot be made mandatory.

    I realize this does not provide you the hard answer you were looking for but each event needs to be reviewed by an ethics counselor to determine the type of funding and support allowed and whether it is an “official” function or not.

    If you have more specific questions feel free to post your question here or email me at doug@asktop.net.

    I hope you found this information useful.

    Eck
    “The views presented by the author are his own and do not necessarily represent the views of the DoD or its Components.”

    Disclaimer: I am not an attorney and any views presented are my own and are not to be interpreted as legal advice. Furthermore, my views do not necessarily represent the views of DoD or its Components.

  • SPC Permenter

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    You said that a CDR cannot legally force you to attend “Mandatory Fun” events. Where is this stated in the regulations?

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