my boss is assigning me to work for his wife’s company for a few weeks

by Ask a Manager on July 31, 2013

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A reader writes:

I am a salaried employee of a market research company and have worked for this company for about three years (two on an hourly basis and just about one on a salaried basis that assumes I do 20 hours of work a week). I am a market research analyst, so most of my work is related to creating reports and summaries for clients based on the data we’ve collected during our research efforts.

We recently opened a new office in a shared space; half is used by my company, and the other half by a psychological practice owned by my boss’s wife. My boss recently told me that since our company’s workload for the upcoming weeks is going to be light, I would be expected to come to the office in order to work as the receptionist/scheduler/secretary for his wife’s practice. (In the immediate future, we don’t have a lot of research scheduled, and as a result there’s not much slated for me to do in terms of my normal work of creating reports and such.)

As the companies are completely different entities (and not even remotely in the same field), it seems to me that it’s not appropriate for me to be asked to work for my boss’s wife. Am I correct, and if so, how might I diplomatically explain this to my boss?

It’s not appropriate, no. Working for his wife or a different company isn’t a job that you signed up for, and the work isn’t even similar to what you do. It’s not appropriate to lend out employees to one’s spouse, particularly without the employees’ genuine consent.

That said, I’d assume that your boss is trying to avoid (a) paying you to do nothing for however long the research lull lasts, or (b) furloughing you until the work picks back up. However, this isn’t the right way to go about it. If this is the only way he can justify paying you for this period, he should have explained the situation and asked if you’d prefer an unpaid furlough for X weeks or the opportunity to work for his wife to keep your paycheck steady during period. But simply announcing it as a done deal makes him (and his wife) look unprofessional and like he doesn’t understand that a research analyst might not be interested in working as a receptionist.

To be clear, it’s certainly his prerogative to reassign you in this way. There’s no regulation that prevents it. It’s just bad management.

As for how you can approach your boss about it, first you should decide if you’re willing to not work and go unpaid for that period, because that might be your only option. If you’re not, are there other projects that you can propose working on during that period, things that would have value to the company? You’re going to be in a weaker position if you’re essentially saying to him “pay me for multiple weeks of no work” — so figure out what you can propose that avoids that.

And then sit down and talk to him. Say something like, “I want to talk to you about your proposal that I work for Jane in the coming weeks. I’m concerned about taking on a role that is outside my area of expertise, and frankly outside my professional interest. I completely understand that you’re looking for ways to utilize me while our research workload is light, and I don’t expect to be paid for not working — but I thought instead I could do XYZ.” (Fill that in with “take the time unpaid until work resumes” or the specific projects you’re proposing you work on.)

Nothing guarantees that he’ll accept your counter-proposal, of course, but that’s a reasonable way to approach it, and a reasonable manager should understand where you’re coming from. (And being willing to do a furlough for that period is hard to argue with — at that point you’re eliminating the problem of paying you when there’s no work.) But if he won’t budge, then your options would be:

a. Accept this as a condition of the work and deal with working for his wife for a few weeks
b. Accept this as a condition of the work but start job hunting because you don’t like these changed terms
c. Tell him you’re not comfortable working for his wife and accept the possibility that he could let you go (or that it will sour the relationship in unpleasant ways)

Any of these are legitimate choices, depending on how much you like your work the rest of the time, whether this is the only problematic behavior your boss has displayed or one of many, and what kind of options you have for other work. Good luck.

{ 83 comments… read them below or add one }

COT July 31, 2013 at 12:48 pm

I’m not a HIPAA expert, but I wonder if having a “receptionist” not trained in HIPAA is a good idea for a psychologist. Depending on how patient files are kept and how patient data is shared, the clinic might be violating HIPAA by having an untrained employee (OP) accessing this information. If that’s the case, perhaps OP could also mention that concern–Alison has some great columns about how to deal with workplace requests that may be illegal.

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Meg July 31, 2013 at 1:06 pm

Using that logic, medical practices would never be able to hire temps, which they do all the time. As far as I know, HIPAA doesn’t include any provisions on the training of employees, particularly if they aren’t involved in the clinical side of things. I’m not an expert, but I do work in a medical setting, and I would be astonished if this was actually illegal. Bad management isn’t always illegal, as much as we all wish otherwise.

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Mike C. July 31, 2013 at 1:18 pm

I’m pretty sure many of those temps come from agencies which specialize in the medical field, and they are already aware of their responsibilities under HIPAA.

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Meg July 31, 2013 at 1:24 pm

No they don’t. I came from a temp agency, which has given the particular hospital I work for a TON of staff. Many other hospitals in my city use the same or a similar agency.

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Meg July 31, 2013 at 1:24 pm

I should have added: this agency in no way specialized in the medical field.

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Cat July 31, 2013 at 1:34 pm

Not always; I did temp work for a while and was staffed as a file clerk in medical practices where I was given no HIPAA or privacy training whatsoever. (This was a while ago, but post-HIPAA.)

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TheSnarkyB July 31, 2013 at 5:29 pm

Yeah, this is illegal. You can get taught about HIPAA by your schooling, your new employer, the temp agency, or the form you have to sign but if you have access to client/patient files, they do have to somehow think you are informed and sign something to that effect. It’s common, but it’s illegal to have completely untrained, uninformed people with access to that type of information.

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fposte July 31, 2013 at 7:27 pm

Yeah, the HHS site definitely says they should receive training, though it acknowledges that could simply involve being given a policy and confirming that it was read. I suspect that the signed form isn’t so much required by the law as being the obvious way to document compliance, though.

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Jessa July 31, 2013 at 9:59 pm

Yeh the training doesn’t have to be long or complicated. It can be pretty much as simple as signing a form that says “Look it’s illegal as heck to tell anyone anything about what you hear here. If you answer phones you have to verify that the person you are talking to is authorised to get information, this is how we do that authorisation here…the penalties for not doing this are not only on the company but on you personally and they stink.” Sign here.

But you HAVE to be told. And almost every place that has HIPAA requirements MAKES you sign something saying you understand this so they can prove up that they told you. And they keep those forms for nigh on forever to back themselves up if sued.

I used to be the one who did the HIPAA training at the answering service (we were considered agents of the doctor’s offices we answered for so we had to keep the information from the call records private.)

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Claire July 31, 2013 at 3:07 pm

Yup. I temped in a hospital (equipment tech) and I just had to read a brochure about HIPAA and sign a form that I understood/would comply.

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Brandy July 31, 2013 at 1:08 pm

Most entry level employees in health offices are not properly trained in HIPAA. That’s one of the main reasons that so many people are vastly misinformed about HIPAA. There is usually a few minutes of “this is HIPAA and this is what you’re not allowed to say”.

I’m in NO way saying this is a good idea, just saying that not having knowledge of HIPAA isn’t really that big of a deal, as the basics can be taught in a short time. (Oh and I’ve worked in healthcare offices for 10+ years so I am WELL aware of the importance of HIPAA).

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COT July 31, 2013 at 1:26 pm

I know that the basics of HIPAA aren’t hard to learn, but given the potential lack of thought the boss has put into the situation thus far, I think it’s fair to question whether the boss will address all of the legal, financial, and privacy concerns that commenters have raised.

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Meg July 31, 2013 at 1:27 pm

This is true. A lot of HIPAA is using common sense, frankly. When I started at the office I work in now, we did 2 days of orientation, which included an hour-long seminar on HIPAA. It was by no means comprehensive, but it covered the basics and I picked up more of it as I went along.

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former recetionist July 31, 2013 at 12:50 pm

I’m especially appalled that they would do this for a psych practice with the confidentiality issues that could come up.

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former recetionist July 31, 2013 at 12:51 pm

because someone the LW knows could be a patient there.

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The IT Manager July 31, 2013 at 1:04 pm

That could happen to anyone who’s hired to be a receptionist or temp. I’m not a expert, but I don’t think this is a legitimate concern.

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Brandy July 31, 2013 at 1:09 pm

+1. Yeah, this shouldn’t be a concern, as that could happen to anyone put in that position.

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COT July 31, 2013 at 1:28 pm

But it does call for at least a few minutes of training as to how OP might handle a situation like that.

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fposte July 31, 2013 at 1:48 pm

Sure, but, as noted upthread, it’s not like other people working in that position are guaranteed to have had such training.

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KarenT July 31, 2013 at 12:51 pm

I’m assuming your boss is the company owner? If not, I promise you your company will have a lot to say about it.

I think it also depends on what type of company you work for. A publicly traded or non-profit company would be highly unethical for doing what you describe (e.g., taking donor money to pay an employee to work elsewhere).

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Tina Career Counselor July 31, 2013 at 1:06 pm

I was wondering the same thing about the boss.

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FiveNine July 31, 2013 at 1:09 pm

It truly does seem highly questionable (and objectionable) that ANY company would pay an employee to do work for a completely unrelated entity.

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Ask a Manager July 31, 2013 at 1:13 pm

If it’s a small company and this guy owns it, it’s not unheard of in cases like this. It’s his payroll, after all, and he’s not obligated to only put those resources into his own company.

It’s not particularly good practice because the employee might not feel comfortable saying no, but aside from the people-management concern (which is a big one), I don’t think there’s anything inherently awful about it.

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Jessa July 31, 2013 at 10:12 pm

I guess it would only matter if the company is non profit, or publicly traded (it might be some kind of problem to stockholders or the board if the money is not reimbursed.) I would probably feel better about it if the cheque was drawn on the wife’s company if I were working for her.

But my biggest worry about it is the worry about being able to say no, or even whether or not my skills would transfer over to the tasks they would want me to do in the other office. Also whether this would be an ongoing thing with them, or a temporary one time issue. I didn’t after all sign on to work for the wife’s company.

Also well…depending on the job, what if the tasks the wife wants me to do are worth HIGHER pay than the job I have with the husband? What do we do then? Also what happens if I get injured? Will worker’s compensation pay me if the husband’s company is paying in and I am working for the wife? There are issues here that make me nervous from a technical standpoint.

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Cathy July 31, 2013 at 1:21 pm

Just because husband’s company is issuing the checks, it doesn’t necessarily mean wife’s company isn’t covering the actual cost. OP could be invoiced to the wife’s company as a contract worker but paid by husband’s company as regular salaried employee. (I worked for a company that did this very thing but forgot to factor in payroll taxes…yeah, it was a mess.)

Doesn’t diminish the fact that this is a complete whiskey tango foxtrot situation though.

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AMG July 31, 2013 at 2:23 pm

Snaps for whiskey tango foxtrot. Cute!

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Lindsay J July 31, 2013 at 11:40 pm

For a small, privately owned company it doesn’t seem to be a problem to me. When there are no stock holders and no board of directors, donors, or anything like that then the owner of the company pretty much can do whatever he’d like with the employee’s time.

I worked for a small medical type practice where the owners would pay me from the company payroll to come to their house and organize their “home office” area, trouble-shoot their personal computers, set up their new iPod with iTunes, assist their children with homework, sort their business and personal expense receipts, and a bunch of other similar tasks.

They were paying me well enough that I didn’t care what I was doing as long as I was getting paid, and they knew I would do a good job at the tasks while somebody else they found might not, so it was a win-win for both parties.

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KarenT July 31, 2013 at 12:52 pm

I could also see there being tax issues, insurance issues, or liability issues in play as well.

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Chinook July 31, 2013 at 1:07 pm

It is possible that these companies are both “owned” by a larger umbrella company in which case she is still working for the same corporation but just 2 highly different branches. As well, since they are in the same office space, insurance and liability is probably split.

And, if they are two separate entities, it is possible that the wife’s company will issue the pay cheque instead of the husband’s company. If the alternative is no pay cheque, I can see this as being an acceptable solution even if it was introduced in a heavy handed manner.

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hilight July 31, 2013 at 12:53 pm

I’m not clear on whether or not the boss owns the company OP works for. If he is not the owner how can he “loan” employees?

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Ask a Manager July 31, 2013 at 12:56 pm

I assumed he was the owner and it was a small business. OP, can you clarify?

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Meg July 31, 2013 at 1:10 pm

I’m really curious how the boss manages to make this work in regards to payroll. Will the OP be technically employed by the wife’s practice during this time? If not (and she is still employed by her boss’ company according to payroll), what happens in the case of a workplace injury? Or anything that could involve liability issues?

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Ask a Manager July 31, 2013 at 1:15 pm

I think it would be like a contracting company that places employees at other sites (which is very common). The originating company is still the employer and responsible for that kind of thing.

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Meg July 31, 2013 at 1:30 pm

That makes sense! Sort of doing a short term “on-site” project.
It’s still a weird situation though.

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Ruffingit July 31, 2013 at 1:30 pm

Also, I have seen set-ups where one receptionist is shared by various businesses that are in the same office space. I don’t know how they handle the payroll, etc. for that, but I see it often so clearly there is some way that shared receptionist plan works.

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Elizabeth West July 31, 2013 at 8:57 pm

But the OP isn’t a receptionist–she’s a market analyst. She’s having to do a completely different job than she was hired for. It may be only for a few weeks, but it’s not even the same company. A shared receptionist would presumably be hired with that in mind, I would think.

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Ruffingit August 1, 2013 at 9:34 am

Oh definitely agreed! My comment was addressing the situation in general regarding how a shared receptionist would be paid. As to the OP, I think it’s outrageous that she’s been asked to do this and I would absolutely look for another job if I were her.

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Rana July 31, 2013 at 7:13 pm

Though isn’t there usually some sort of contract between the contracting company and the client company that spells all of that out? If so, it seems that in this situation there’s no clear delineation of risks and responsibilities, and that would make me uneasy as the employee caught in the middle.

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Katie the Fed July 31, 2013 at 1:20 pm

I’m going to go full bureaucrat here and say I wonder how this would work for taxes. She’d have to be paid by the wife’s company – I hope they plan to pay her themselves. Otherwise there’s potential fraud.

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Ask a Manager July 31, 2013 at 1:23 pm

No fraud — if these are small private businesses, he can hire her out as a contractor.

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Cathy July 31, 2013 at 1:27 pm

My experience is related to that wacky state of California, but I don’t think it’s necessary for the wife’s company to issue the OP’s payroll checks. Many of the details have been lost but previously I did significant research in “loaning” employees and it comes down to a contract to provide *this* employee for *that* amount of money. Employee paid by “original” employer.

The company I worked at that did this only invoiced the paycheck amount though…so the “renting” company ended up with a balloon payment when someone with a brain finally did the math.

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AnonHR July 31, 2013 at 2:18 pm

We’re not a very small business, but lot of our HR/finance team has additional duties for other companies also owned by our CEO (which are either smaller or seasonal, a couple of them get charged a flat annual management fee). We’re all under common ownership by IRS guidelines (and as far as I know, companies owned by spouses get the same treatment), so it’s not any more messy as far as tax/benefits/employment regs because while we file a lot separately, our numbers get rolled in together ultimately anyway.

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Brittany July 31, 2013 at 1:31 pm

This is one of those questions where I find myself thinking, “There is no effing way this is legal.” and then finding out otherwise. It’s honestly kind of scary to think about how much freedom employers actually have if they can “re-assign” you to a completely new and seperate business at will.

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The IT Manager July 31, 2013 at 2:01 pm

This seems like it completely legal (for a small privately owned business), albeit very, very ill-advised.

He’s having an employee do work for his wife. It’s like people who complain about being asked to run personal errands for their boss. A small business owner doesn’t have the controls other businesses have to prevent this kind of misuse.

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Ask a Manager July 31, 2013 at 2:16 pm

Yes, I don’t see any legal issues here.

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Jill July 31, 2013 at 3:19 pm

+1000

I’m really surprised there is no legal gray area regarding this.

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Mishsmom July 31, 2013 at 1:38 pm

i’m not sure what he’s thinking, since the OP is not an admin nor does she have experience in it, she might do more (unintentional of course) damage than good. i’m sure boss thinks “it’s just answering phones/making appointments” but there are more layers to being an admin than he realizes.

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TychaBrahe July 31, 2013 at 8:14 pm

Honestly, if you’re not supervising medical assistants or other staff or filling out billing codes, it really isn’t.

My parents are doctors and worked out of an 8-doctor office when I was a teenager. They had the receptionist arrange her vacation time around my school holidays, and I filled in. It’s really not difficult to keep a schedule book—even for eight doctors—assemble new charts, file lab work, take messages, and call transport to have those patients in wheel chairs taken out. The hardest part was doing the filing, because the second I got up out of the chair to do it, the phone would ring. Every single time.

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Elizabeth West July 31, 2013 at 8:59 pm

The hardest part was doing the filing, because the second I got up out of the chair to do it, the phone would ring. Every single time.

I am SO glad I’m not on the front desk anymore.

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Nanani July 31, 2013 at 11:51 pm

I wouldn’t be surprised if at least on some level, he was thinking “You’re a lady, receptionist is a lady job, you can do that for a couple weeks”. Seriously, has this offer been made to any male colleagues? I smell a huge rat.

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Darcy August 6, 2013 at 10:32 am

This occurred to me too. At my first “real” job – an entry-level marketing job for a small business, the (male) owner of the company would make me cover for the receptionist every time she was out on vacation. At the time I was the only marketing person at the company and my job wouldn’t get done for a week because I’d be answering the phone and dealing with all the wackos who walked through the front door.

They never made the guy who worked as an accounting assistant do it, or the guy who worked as a customer service rep – even though both of those jobs are a lot more “receptionist-y” than what I was doing. I even proposed we rotate days or hours covering the front desk, to no avail.

I shouldn’t be surprised, though. I got engaged while I was working there and the owner’s first question once he spotted my ring was “oh, are you going to quit once you get married?” Yes, because it’s 1955 and time to be a housewife!

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Jamie August 6, 2013 at 10:42 am

I agree that the reception chores should be rotated when possible, but I’m curious as to why you would say an accounting assistant is more of a receptionit-y position than marketing?

I agree marketing isn’t, but maybe it’s my personal bias showing but I’ve always fought to keep people in accounting off the front desk. Accounting – even in an assisting position which I’m assuming means AP/AR clerk and the like – suffers greatly from constant interruptions.

And customer service – depending on the volume – I can see that being an issue if they are tied up answering phone and getting POed customers in the meantime.

I guess I don’t see any of those jobs lending itself to reception, so why would marketing be different?

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EJ July 31, 2013 at 1:42 pm

More than likely this is just a ‘small business’ thing. With very small businesses the culture of ‘pitch in where needed’ and trading favors can be pretty strong.

The boss, if he’s the business owner (which it sounds like he is), might not realize how weird this is to the OP. Quite possibly he’s trying to kill two birds with one stone, and just not being very tactful about it, assuming the OP sees things the way he does.

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Ask a Manager July 31, 2013 at 2:21 pm

I totally agree — that’s exactly what I think is happening.

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Joey July 31, 2013 at 1:49 pm

This isn’t that different than an owner asking you to do chores at his house and getting paid by his market research company to do it. I’m not saying its right I’m just saying its not that crazy for a small business owner to work you outside of his small business.

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AdAgencyChick July 31, 2013 at 1:56 pm

I agree, this doesn’t seem off at all to me, but that’s because it’s very common in an ad agency environment that when the client you were hired to work on is slow, you’re farmed out to other accounts. And the other accounts NEVER give you the interesting work to do; it’s always grunt work. Granted, you’re still within the same company — but I think the owner’s just trying to get his money’s worth out of you and there’s nothing mean-spirited about that.

That being said, just as in advertising, if this happens a lot, you have to decide: do I want to work for a client (or a boss) who isn’t giving me the assignments I signed up for? And if the answer is no, you start job hunting.

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Anonicorn July 31, 2013 at 2:25 pm

Despite the work not being for the clients you chose, it still seems like you’re doing advertising work that you both know how to do and expected to do when you agreed to work for them.

OP is being asked to do a totally different job in a totally different field. But I do agree that if this is now a condition of her role then she should start job hunting.

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Anonymous July 31, 2013 at 2:06 pm

I’d consider it pretty crazy for my boss to go ask me to do chores at his house!

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Chris80 July 31, 2013 at 7:27 pm

Crazy, definitely…but on some particularly slow days at work, I think I’d take my boss up on the offer just to have something to do! (Though I’d rather they pay me for doing chores at MY house haha)

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FreeThinkerTX July 31, 2013 at 10:51 pm

At my previous job, we had home restoration technicians that were guaranteed a certain amount of hours per week. During slow weeks (you never can plan on someone’s water heater exploding or a kitchen fire) the owners of the company would have the techs mow their lawn, clean their house, wash their cars, etc. just to keep the techs busy while getting paid their guaranteed hours. It was a major morale killer. The owners genuinely didn’t seem to understand why the techs hated it so much.

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Lily in NYC July 31, 2013 at 2:06 pm

I think that is much, much worse, to be honest. No way in hell would I go do chores at my boss’ house.

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Esra July 31, 2013 at 2:37 pm

Yea… the first time my boss asks me to clean his condo, I’m out.

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The IT Manager July 31, 2013 at 2:07 pm

+1

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Katniss July 31, 2013 at 2:39 pm

Man, unless I was a personal assistant if a boss asked me to do his personal chores for him I’d be out of there in a heartbeat. I’m not going to do work way beyond/different from what I was hired to do.

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Anonymouse July 31, 2013 at 4:25 pm

Mine asked me to do his ironing while his wife was away. He wouldn’t take no for an answer. Yes, I got paid.

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Ask a Manager July 31, 2013 at 4:30 pm

What if you’d said you didn’t know how? Or burned his shirts?

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Tina Career Counselor July 31, 2013 at 4:50 pm

I’m lousy at ironing, I make a point of buying clothing that only requires minimal ironing. I may not burn it, but you probably wouldn’t even know I ironed it, either.

I’m curious if anonymouse is male or female, and if the boss only asked females to iron for him?

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Esra July 31, 2013 at 5:53 pm

It’s kind of gross. I mean, it’d probably be cheaper to take the shirts to get pressed at the dry cleaner. And a thousand times less skeevy.

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Anonymouse July 31, 2013 at 6:10 pm

He knew that I knew how. Unfortunately.

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Lily in NYC July 31, 2013 at 2:05 pm

It would be so tempting to go be the worst assistant in the history of assistants. But I guess that’s a bad idea. I feel for you LW – I get annoyed if I’m asked to help out in a different department (because we are supposed to get temps in those situations) – I can’t imagine I’d be very gracious about this.

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Ask a Manager July 31, 2013 at 2:21 pm

Would your stance change though if it were clear to you that it was being done to avoid furloughing you without pay for that period?

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Lily in NYC July 31, 2013 at 4:28 pm

Definitely. Honestly, I would work for his wife regardless of the reason. When I said I wouldn’t be gracious, that just means I would go home and complain to my dog. If I knew he was doing it to avoid a furlough, I’d be grateful.

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Chrissi July 31, 2013 at 3:50 pm

I don’t see how this is any different than one division of a company loaning an employee to another vastly different division to do work not related to their assigned tasks. I certainly understand why the OP takes issue with being asked to be a receptionist in an industry she’s not familiar with without being asked, but I would assume she’d have the same problem in the intra-company division example. I’m not trying to be contrary, I just was a little surprised to see how appalled commenters are specifically about her doing work (on her boss’s behalf) for an outside company.

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Tina Career Counselor July 31, 2013 at 4:54 pm

I actually would think it’s a different thing to be used in another area of your own company, versus loaned out to another company. Not illegal as Alison said, and certainly better than being furloughed without pay, but not quite the same thing.

I was once assigned to cover a maternity leave in a related department at my University, but if they told me they wanted to go work for another university, I’d be baffled and probably thinking “if I wanted a job with them, I’d have gone work for them.”

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Adam V July 31, 2013 at 3:57 pm

Alison, if you told the boss “no, this work isn’t for me” and he lets you go, do you have a case for “constructive dismissal” and unemployment because the job that you were asked to do was so different than the job you had been hired for?

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Ask a Manager July 31, 2013 at 3:59 pm

Not a legal case, because there’s nothing illegal about that. But you might be able to get unemployment because they might consider it a constructive discharge for their purposes.

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Mary July 31, 2013 at 5:47 pm

Not sure if I am correct but I recall that being in California – if the OP was terminated or quit, because the OP didn’t want to work for the wife and then applied for unemployment she may be turned down (especially if the owner fights it; and small business owners usually do). But if he is not cutting her pay, I don’t think the OP could quit and collect unemployment. Usually when you accept any type of job, there usually is a provisional sentence somewhat to the effect that the job description does not indicate all the duties that may be required. Unemployment would probably look at the OP’s jobs as ‘office work’.
Sorry about your situation OP; not a good one to be in.

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YouDon'tKnowMe July 31, 2013 at 5:07 pm

OP here. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this question. A few details to clarify:

1) Yes, the small business I work for is owned by my boss, which is why this is such a delicate situation.

2) My company is a completely different entity (tax-wise and legally) than the psych practice owned by the boss’s wife. My company has been around for about 20 years, while her practice (and her LLC) is only about six months old. Were it not for the fact that the spouses decided to share a work space (which is awkward on MANY levels), the issue of any of my company’s employees working for her wouldn’t have arisen.

3) This isn’t just an issue of exceeding the limits of a job description. Although technically employed as an analyst, I’ve been given a variety of work to do throughout the company since I’ve changed from being an hourly employee to a salaried one. Even though I don’t *love* packing up boxes of samples or hanging fliers around town, I accept that these duties are related to our company’s success and therefore not unreasonable for my boss to ask me to do.

4) My underlying concern about THIS situation was that the “loan” to his wife’s business was intended to be somewhat punitive–my boss has lately been erratic and frequently expresses dissatisfaction with all of his employees (mercifully not just me–and as an aside, I’ve asked him multiple times for his feedback on my performance and/or to explain his concerns about my work, but to no avail). To me, it seemed as though this was mostly intended as a way for him to show his authority by essentially saying, if you’re my employee, you’ll do anything I tell you to.

If I’d been given any choice in this matter, I wouldn’t be so flummoxed by it–but when my boss stated, at a staff meeting, “And [X], you’ll be coming in to the office to ‘slide glass’ for [his wife]” it didn’t seem that there was any room for discussion. Most likely, I’ll be sharing my concerns with him (explaining that this is out of my professional league and that my time might be better spent on a different project that actually benefits our company), and if the “do it or be furloughed” conversation comes up, I’ll probably take the latter option in order to avoid setting a precedent whereby my boss feels like he can farm me out to his wife anytime our company is slow. I may also suggest that we work out an arrangement where I go back to being paid hourly, rather than given a set salary, which would avoid the whole issue.

Many thanks again for your comments and suggestions!

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AB July 31, 2013 at 8:13 pm

OP, given the additional context, if I were in your shoes, I’d gladly take the furlough and use that time to job search, write some amazing cover letters, and hopefully get some interviews.

It looks like your boss is terrible in other ways too, and because you can list a current job in your resume, this would be a great opportunity to shop around for a better job. Good luck!

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Anonymous July 31, 2013 at 10:35 pm

I’d go back to hourly pay and start applying for a new job.

Don’t lose sight of the fact that your employer doesn’t have enough work for you – unless you see a really good reason to believe that will change, take that sign for exactly what it means. Jump ship before it sinks!

Personally, I view receptionist work in the same way I view janitorial work. I’d actually prefer janitorial work if it ever came down to that. While you certainly have zero legal claim, I think assigning an analyst to be a receptionist smacks of potential sexism. He’s putting you into a position that sounds like it is much lower than your qualifications. It’s degrading, and you make is sound intentionally degrading.

If I were ever stuck without an income source, I’d take a job as a receptionist in a pinch to get by. But I’d take it on my terms, never as some weird punishment.

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Ask a Manager July 31, 2013 at 10:50 pm

Seeing sexism here seems like a stretch. The role of receptionist isn’t inherently sexist, unless only women are considered for it and aren’t considered for other roles. But he wants to help out his wife, and the thing she has a need for is reception work. It’s a therapy practice; he can’t assign the OP to be a therapist, obviously. (And I don’t think we even know if the OP is a man or a woman.)

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Brett July 31, 2013 at 6:11 pm

The first thing that stood at to me here is that the OP is currently in a salaried position, and most likely being classified as an exempt employee.

Working as a receptionist is -not- an exempt position. Working as a contracted office temp is not an exempt position either. All the other random duties assigned to the OP are not duties of an exempt position.

Second thing. The wife’s company is a new company (<6 mo), which in most states means that it has a clean slate for unemployment insurance purposes and may even be exempt from paying unemployment insurance. I wonder if the wife is even the sole employee of the company. This probably varies by state, but in our state the contracting company in a temp worker situation pays UI and UI is based on their unemployment insurance rating for that company. This could be a dodge to avoid paying unemployment insurance on the OP. More importantly, this could have serious implications if the OP is laid off while working for the wife's company. Similar situation with workers comp insurance, and if a workers comp claim arises.

This little arrangement could be dodging a lot of different state employment laws.

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Jazzy Red August 1, 2013 at 9:44 am

I’m having a hard time with the expression “loan” out a person. We’re human beings, not desks or chairs. You have to own something to lend it, and it’s illegal to own a human being.

I know it’s just semantics, and that the OP is mostly upset that the boss didn’t ask her if she would mind filling in as receptionist at the wife’s psycho office, before making the decision.

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