Wacky Job Requests

by James McDonough

HR Expertise and Support,  Member Matters

“All other duties as assigned” is a catch all phrase frequently used in job descriptions. But should that include duties like removing snakes from a bathroom, sampling toilet paper, or helping a helicopter land on a roof? Yes, according to a survey of Administrative Professionals. These are just a few of the very strange and unusual tasks described by many employees from across the country.

Is this a problem? Requesting someone to complete a dangerous, illegal, or immoral task is unacceptable. But what if it does not fall into that category? What if it just falls into the “strange” category? What if an employee refuses to do something that is not clearly defined in their job description? How may an employer respond?

As is often the case in the employment relationship, it depends. Engage the employee in discussion about the task and the reasons behind their refusal. Don’t assume it is attitude! It may be that there are underlying issues like a disability that may have to be accommodated. Perhaps they object due to religious beliefs. Maybe they feel singled out, unfairly, and treated dissimilarly from others. That could ring bells of harassment, bullying, or discrimination. Engaging in a calm, professional discussion is essential and provides an opportunity to address potentially hidden issues.

If a reasonable, job-related request is made of an employee and their refusal is something akin to “I wasn’t hired to do this and just don’t want to do it”, an employer has options. Immediate disciplinary action may be taken according to established policy and procedure. Refusal may be factored into performance management or even termination. This highlights the importance of a carefully drafted job description and discussion of expectations with employees. Especially with new hires, there should be clarity and agreement from the start!

Ask yourself the question, “If I were asked to complete this task, how would I respond?” Everyone is different, but most professionals have the ability to evaluate their choices and guide their actions. If in doubt, Employers Council is here to help members discuss their questions with a HR professional or employment law attorney.

This article was originally published on October 2, 2014

About the author
James McDonough

James McDonough, HR Research Consultant, consults with Employers Council members to provide guidance and support on their organizational practices. He writes articles, conducts presentations and trainings on HR compliance, organizational effectiveness and business management topics. A graduate of the University of Colorado-Boulder, James has worked in the public and private sectors in HR and business management.