After working for a company for several years and climbing the ranks, some may find it disrespectful to be asked to perform a task as dirty as emptying bins. However, this does happen – especially when the workplace is trying to save money by cutting down the cleaning staff. In some cases, it may not be unreasonable at all but it largely depends many factors including the specific boss-employee relationship, what the worker’s contract specifically states, and what is expected of everybody else in the workplace, regardless of position.
There’s nothing that can legally prevent a boss from asking an employee to empty the bins – it could, however, be seen as a violation of contract in some cases, or at the very worst, workplace abuse and harassment (which is of course illegal). Legal action would rarely come to fruition in a case like this unless the employee strongly felt that they were being discriminated against, and more importantly, had appropriate evidence to back up those claims.
The key to finding out whether this is acceptable behaviour from a boss is to look at the employee’s contract. Many contracts, even up to higher positions will mention some form of “general duties” which is a catch-all term to ensure that anybody can be reasonably called on to help get the workplace in order. However, some contracts may specifically state which duties are to be performed and may even state certain things that the employee is not obligated to do. In this case, the boss absolutely could not ask an employee to empty the bins.
There are many circumstantial factors that should be taken into account when a boss asks an employee to do something like this. Automatically assuming that the boss is flexing his or her power and trying to belittle the worker may not be helpful or even accurate. For example, if the workplace is very busy and there’s a lot going on, the bins may be overflowing and creating an unsanitary workplace environment. Even in this scenario, the worker may still ask why they were specifically picked out to perform this duty, but the reality is it has to be somebody and in most cases, nobody wants to do it. It’s also important to take note of whether or not the boss is asking everybody to chip in and help with smaller jobs during a difficult time.
The personal context of this designation is also important. If it’s the employee’s first day, the boss may simply be testing how able the worker is to help out on all areas and be a team-player. If the boss had previously always been very friendly and reasonable with a worker, there may not be any cause to believe this is motivated by something personal. However, if the designated job is between a boss and an employee who have had their share of feuds there may be something more to it.
Most of the time, it would be a bad idea to immediately confront the boss about being asked to empty the bins as this will create a sense of tension that could very well be unwarranted. Even if the employee accurately suspects that the boss is being unfair and purposefully mean, accusing them will only anger them more and inflame the situation for everybody. It’s far more important to assess all of the legal, contractual and personal circumstances and then come to a rational conclusion based on the facts. If the worker still believes they were victim of workplace harassment, then they should file a complaint through the proper channels.