Lynne Curry, Ph D. SPHR
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My supervisor just held a meeting with the three of us that stunned us. We all know he’s a nut but this surprised even those of us who long ago decided that things couldn’t get worse.
A lot of customers come in and out of our sales offices all day long. While some of these customers have appointments, most are walk-ins. Down the hall, near the elevator, there’s a men’s bathroom and a women’s. At least six other offices share the bathrooms.
Apparently some individuals frequent the women’s restrooms don’t practice good manners. I’ve noticed this from time to time but since there are four stalls, I simply go into another one. Unfortunately, several of our customers recently complained to our boss who thinks it’s our job to police the restroom.
Our supervisor’s bright idea is that we develop a rotational schedule so that one of us “patrols” the bathroom every two hours and handle the problems we find. According to him, we can simply “tidy” things up, flush the toilets if needed and pick up trash.
I’m a sales associate and I know that I’ve got “every other duty as assigned” in my job description but this is too much! When I told my boss I wasn’t a janitor, he said he didn’t have the money to pay the evening janitors to come in during the day unless he laid one of us off. He also said the men’s bathrooms didn’t have this problem, thus implying it was a “woman’s” problem and not a problem he should not have to deal with. I asked if the other business owners in the building were asking their employees to share the load and he told me if I wanted help I had to go “door to door” and ask for it myself.
When I asked what happens if I say “no,” he said he’d consider it insubordination. I can’t afford to lose my job. Can he get away with this? If he fires me for saying “no,” won’t I win because it was unfair in the first place for him to ask?
If your boss makes you clean the bathrooms when you don’t want to, he pay a hefty three-part price. First, he damages your and your co-workers’ morale and thus the productivity on which his business depends. Second, he risks losing you and your co-workers because you may decide you’ve had enough. Third, unless he provides you and your co-workers with hazardous material training to protect you should you encounter bodily fluids when you handle the floor trash, he risks an Occupational Safety and Hazard Administration (OSHA) violation. You can call OSHA anonymously if you want them to investigate.
Unfortunately, if your boss orders you to patrol the bathroom and you refuse, you risk being fired for insubordination. If you then sue him for wrongful discharge, you face legal bills and a probable losing battle. Courts almost invariably find for the employers when an employee insubordinately refuses to do duties, even ones they find distasteful. Says attorney Joan Rohlf, "Courts simply and generally support an employer's decision to terminate an employee who refuses to obey a reasonable directive. Asking an employee to pick up trash, wipe the sink and flush a toilet is not likely to be viewed as "unreasonable" when the owner has a business that needs to portray a clean appearance to customers. “
Since you and your supervisor both stand to lose in the current situation, perhaps you could provide him an alternative solution. Offices adjacent to high traffic restrooms use a variety of creative methods including professional but funny signs to remind bathroom visitors of simple courtesy. Alternatively you and your co-workers could team up with the businesses in adjacent offices to discuss the problem. Through team effort you may create a solution you all can feel good about.
If creativity fails, you may be left with passive resistance as a temporary stalling technique. In the manner perfected by every teenager avoiding chores, you can patrol a dirty room without looking. If you leave a copy of the classifieds in the bathroom, you can even use this ten minutes as a paid break to search out a new job before your employer realizes that you’re patrolling in name only.
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