DEAR MISS MANNERS: I’m a university professor and a part-time curator at a museum where we sponsor lectures by prominent figures in my field. After the evening lecture, the speaker and his or her spouse, if present -- in addition to any local friends, my wife, my assistant and possibly a few of my students who have attended -- all go out to dinner together at a good restaurant.
My assistant pays the bill with his credit card from the museum. From time to time, my assistant’s spouse attends the lecture, too, and has never been included in the dinner party. My assistant is pestering me to include her. We know her, but are not members of the same social circle.
My assistant argues that once the lecture is over and we go out, the occasion has become a social one, and spouses who are present should be included. I feel that it’s still a work event, despite the presence of people who are not getting paid by the museum.
Which is it? I will abide by your ruling.
GENTLE READER: It is so long since business hours had a definite end, after which workers were free to spend time with people of their own choosing, that Miss Manners is not surprised that you are both confused. Pseudo-socializing for professional reasons is so common that many only find out who their real friends are when they leave their jobs.
So here is a double answer:
Yes, these dinners are part of the job. Your assistant is there to work. If the lecturers were not there, you and he or she would not be out on the town together. Rather, you would both be free to spend time with your respective spouses or friends.
But you have taken your assistant’s evening, probably without paying overtime. You are even sending the wife home after she attends the lecture, in sight of all the other spouses accompanying you to dinner -- including yours.
You can justify this because your assistant is working. Nevertheless, Miss Manners asks you not to do so. It may be justified, but it is mean.