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Q: The holiday season is approaching and now is traditionally the time when we plan events allowing for us to enjoy the season with our family, friends and co-workers. Most popular is the office holiday party or a unit’s holiday ball. Are there any limitations?

A: Yes. Such events are, indeed, important to the morale of the office. However, they are not official events. The Defense Department defines an official event as one conducted in support of an assigned mission. Accordingly, taxpayer dollars cannot be used to plan or execute such events. Here are a few common areas of concern with holiday celebrations:

Use of government time. The general rule is that your time during the duty day is an official resource that must be used to complete official business. There are limited authorized exceptions to the general rule, such as an office potluck lunch which extends an hour or two beyond the normal lunch hour. However, the safest approach to planning and conducting a holiday celebration is to do so after the duty day is complete, or during lunchtime.  

Contractor employees. Contracted employees are certainly members of the team, but are subject to different rules. For instance, the issues of whether to grant time off and classification of the time spent away from the office to attend such gatherings (i.e. leave, personal day, administrative absence), are to be settled between the contractor and its employees. Thus, is the responsibility of the contractor to decide if, and according to which conditions, its employees may be absent from the workplace.

Use of government resources. The general rule is government resources are to be used only for official business. There are limited exceptions whereby a supervisor may authorize limited use for non-official purposes. For example, the holiday celebration can be held in a government conference room using available furniture. Using a government vehicle for facilitating travel to the event, however, violates the general rule and is considered misuse of government resources. Another common misuse is the use of government printers to print holiday greeting cards or invitations.

Holiday celebrations are an important part of military culture. Plan early, combine common sense with good judgment, and host a modest celebration to ensure your organization acts in accordance with legal guidelines. If you have any questions, contact your local legal office.

This column is not intended as individual or specific legal advice. If you have specific issues or concerns, you should consult a judge advocate at 421-4152/civ. 0711-729-4152.