my manager threatened to fire me or lower my pay if I don’t help clean the lunchroom

A reader writes:

I work in the IT department at a small company. There was a company policy enacted that all employees are required to clean the lunchroom when it’s their turn. Our lunchroom is shared by everyone, including our warehouse staff (they regularly make a mess and leave it behind.) A cleanup schedule was created and the decree was passed down to the staff without any discussion. I disagreed with the policy for a few reasons. I do not use the lunchroom. Because of that, I feel that I am being punished for other people’s actions. The biggest reason I disagree with the policy is because it doesn’t address the issue at hand: people not cleaning up after themselves.

I’ve really created a stir by disagreeing with the policy. My main point has been that as an IT tech, I shouldn’t be tasked with cleanup for other people’s messes. My stance on this issue has come to a head recently, and my manager has threatened to reduce my pay and even mentioned that my job could be at stake if I don’t take part.

Can they actually do that? What would recommend that I do?

Yeah, they can do that. They can make your job anything they want (assuming you don’t have a contract to the contrary, which most U.S. workers don’t). They can’t change your pay retroactively, but they can change it going forward.

Not that they should, though. Your argument is exactly right: You shouldn’t have to clean up other people’s messes when your job has nothing to do with keeping the office presentable.

My answer would be different if (a) you were using the lunchroom yourself, in which case it’s reasonable to ask you to be part of keeping it usable for everyone, or (b) you were in a junior role where keeping the office presentable was part of your responsibilities.

But neither of those appears to be true.

As for what to do now, your choices are basically to deal with it (and it’s probably not going to take up a significant amount of your time or happen very often, right?) or  go to your manager and explain your concern. If you do the latter, you could politely say something like, “I want to explain why I’ve asked to be omitted from the cleaning rotation. First, I don’t use the lunchroom at all, so I’m not contributing to any mess there. Second, I’d like to stay focused on the work that I’ve been hired to do. I’m absolutely willing to pitch in when needed, but having cleaning become part of my regular job here is really far afield from what I came on board to do. This isn’t about thinking I’m too good for it; it’s about wanting to stay focused on work that can’t be done outside of our department.”

If your manager is reasonable, that should be an effective argument, because this is really just about assigning staff resources sensibly. Specialized employees should stay focused on the tasks that only they can do well and which they’re paid to do. That’s why VPs don’t coordinate office supplies and IT staff don’t stuff envelopes. It’s a bad use of resources. It’s also not a great way to retain top performing senior employees, who want to spend their time on their actual work.

However, your manager probably isn’t particularly reasonable, given that she’s threatened to lower your pay or fire you over this. And if she holds firm, ultimately that’s her call to make. At that point, you’d need to decide if you still want the job, knowing that it now includes occasional lunchroom clean-up in addition to your other responsibilities.

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