our office is having a water cooler emergency and is staffed by loons

A reader writes:

Yesterday afternoon, my supervisor called our entire team of about 10 people into an “emergency meeting.” She explained that the bill for our water cooler was now $400. The bill hadn’t been paid in months, so it accrued late fees, and the company had sent us to collections. She then stated that we would all have to split the bill and foot it ourselves.

Let me give you a little background. When I started with the company, I was vaguely aware of a water cooler, and a few months after I started I was told by a coworker that it was optional. You don’t have to partake if you don’t want to. And that’s exactly what I did, because I’d rather bring in my own water rather than pay a fee. There is a specific person in charge of collecting money and paying the bills for the water. She neglected to do so, and thus the bill just grew and grew each month. She claims she “feels bad asking for the money” and just ignored the problem, hoping it would disappear on its own.

In the meeting, our supervisor told us that the water was “all or nothing” – either everyone participates, or no one does. In a previous meeting, the team voted yes to the water. I was not in this meeting, nor were the other 3 admin assistants. She basically said that even though we weren’t there (and were never made aware of this decision), we better pay up, regardless.

I’ve never even touched the water cooler. Two other people spoke up in the meeting and said, “I’ll gladly pay, but I don’t use it.” Our manager said, “Good, because that’s what I’m requiring you to do.” I feel like I am the only one who finds this ridiculous, and I feel like the admin assistant who screwed up and neglected to pay the bills should be the one to rectify the problem.

How would you handle the situation? I feel that I will most certainly be ridiculed if I speak up (the boss can be an intimidating bully), and I am surprised that everyone else is okay to go along with this. Should I just go ahead and fork over the $40? I feel like since I was never aware it was a requirement, nor did I ever use the water, this isn’t something I should be paying for, but I seem to be the only one feeling this way.

What utter BS. (Do I have to abbreviate that or can I write it out? This situation calls for the full, unabbreviated term.)

Your manager is a buffoon. Requiring you all to pay for something you don’t use? If she wants to offer water to employees, then the company should pay for it. If that’s not an expense the company is willing to shoulder, then she has no business dictating to people what arrangements they use to get their water paid for. Although if she’s going to dictate it one way or another, it should be to eliminate the group-financed cooler since the person managing it is a deadbeat — not to require people to chip in when they don’t want to.

And speaking of that coworker, what the hell is up there? She feels bad asking for money and hoped the problem would go away? Unless she is an inhabitant of some magical fairyland where bills go away if you ignore them (perhaps she is here on some kind of exchange program from said fairyland?), she is also a ridiculous person.

In any case, as for what to do … what are the repercussions of saying no? It’s certainly reasonable to say, “I don’t use this service and I wasn’t involved in racking up late fees, so no thank you, I’m choosing not to participate.” However, if everyone else is going along with it and you’re going to be the one hold-out, then you need to know how that’s likely to go over. In some offices, that would be absolutely fine; it wouldn’t reflect badly on you at all (in fact, it could even reflect well on you for not being a pushover and paying someone else’s late fees). But in other offices, it would be A Thing, and it would be worth 40 bucks as the price of making this idiocy go away. So you just need to know the dynamics of your office well enough to know the likely consequences of saying no.

(Unfortunately, the fact that your manager handled the situation this way makes it more likely that she’s one who would penalize you for not forking over the cash, but you’d know better than I would what she’s like.)

If you do decide to suck it up and pay the $40 penalty fee for working with a lame manager, I’d insist on knowing how this is going to be handled in the future, so that you’re not having a similar conversation in another few months.

{ 272 comments… read them below }

      1. Anna (and lay off the bananas!)*

        Indeed. This boss’s horribleness score is somewhere around 140% Whiskey Tango Foxtrot.

        1. Jessa*

          Not quite as bad as one I worked for, someone damaged some equipment and he dunned EVERYONE including a friend of mine who did not even work for the company when the stuff was damaged (ie could never have been involved in it because they lived in a different state at the time.) I know it’s not legal (it was out of paycheques without a prior signed agreement making someone responsible if they damaged it.) But this was the kind of place it was. Neither of us still work for him.

          1. ITPuffNStuff*

            I’m no attorney but I believe that would still be illegal even with a prior signed agreement. A company can fire an employee for damaging equipment, but they cannot legally make them pay for it. Withholding salary or wages is a violation of labor laws, and (to the best of my knowledge) cannot be justified by performance issues, damaged equipment, etc.

    1. Jake*

      My wife’s boss made her delay surgery where they discovered she has cancer under the threat of getting written up for unexcused absences during the recovery time.

      This boss is certainly ridiculous, but there is a whole different level out there that this boss can’t even touch.

      1. Piper*

        What?! Couldn’t this be grounds for suing later if the cancer progressed and it could have been stopped by earlier surgery. That boss is a moron.

        1. Jake*

          I doubt it. The surgery’s original intent was to remove a gall bladder. They just happened to find ovarian cancer in the process.

          1. Anon*

            I truly hope your wife is doing well and I’m sorry she has such an uncaring boss, but could I ask for a clarification here?

            When she brought it to her boss, she didn’t know anything about the cancer so it was just a request for a gallbladder removal surgery, right?
            I know nothing about those & admit that I am very uninformed, but isn’t that a non-emergency surgery? Was she in pain, etc. or was it just something that had to be done?
            I imagine it must be super scary in hindsight now that you know the cancer was there, but I feel the original way you posted it may have misled some of the commenters below who are berating your boss for being a horrible and cancer-supporting person.

            1. Jake*

              You are on the right track.

              The gall bladder was not an emergency, but it was painful enough to cause her to miss several days of work before we found out what it was. This is the woman that worked almost a full year as an rn without missing a day.

              The doctor was concerned enough to cancel another person’s surgery to get her in.

              But yes, we had no clue about the cancer. It Isn’t as bad as I made it sound, but even minus the cancer it was a terrible management technique.

            2. Callie*

              Maybe a gallbladder surgery is not a true life threatening emergency, but having had gallbladder problems myself, a gallbladder attack can make you feel like you are having a heart attack. IT is severe, unrelenting pain. To me, that pain was worse than unmedicated childbirth. It isn’t something I would EVER ask an employee to put off for my convenience.

          1. Jake*

            I don’t know. She applied a policy from the hospital handbook that said all absences from non emergency surgery must be submitted 30 days in advance in writing.

            When asked what constitutes an emergency the response was “not this.”

                1. valbee*

                  As someone with several RNs in my friends and family network, it’s not surprising to me at all that they made her delay the surgery. Hospitals seem to be notoriously bad at treating their own employees with the same courtesy and respect they demand their patients receive. I wish your wife the best.

            1. Seal*

              What the what?!? I’d hate to hear what that moron considered an emergency!

              I hope your wife is OK. Had anyone tried to pull that BS on me, I would have gone straight to HR with a lawyer in tow. Seriously, how does someone like that get to be a manager in the first place?

            2. Piper*

              Wow. Just wow. This sounds like a case of the manager just wielding power for wielding power’s sake. What an awful human being. That person needs to get out of the healthcare industry. Stat.

            3. EngineerGirl*

              Hospitals have more than 50 people, so FMLA applies if she had worked there more than a year. But what is truly disturbing is that the boss is determining what is / is not an emergency. That’s called practicing medicine without a license. It’s illegal and the hospital knows that better than any other business.

              If there is a medical ethics board or an HR person they need to know. Because this sort of decision making is a tremendous liability for the hospital.

            4. fposte*

              Wow, that hospital sucks. (Though around here you wouldn’t get in for gallbladder surgery within 30 days anyway.)

              I hope your wife is doing okay now.

              1. IronMaiden*

                Healthcare is well known for lack of compassion to its workers. They are just work units to the bean counters who control everything these days and if they break down, onto the scrap heap without a backwards glance.

                1. TW*

                  I feel sad at how much I agree with your statement. I could not believe how much leaving a non-profit healthcare job for a for-profit big business job would make me feel like I was providing a greater good.

      2. Zelos*

        I’ve no idea if that was legal in the strictest sense, but your wife’s (I hope ex-) boss sucks as a human being.

    2. Zelos*

      I’ve a story similar to Jake above (but his was worse), so I’ll throw it into the ring.

      Couple of years ago, I was rather sick and in a good deal of pain. Went to doc, doc gave me Good Meds, and told me it’ll probably take a few weeks to pass completely.

      So one Wednesday night (I worked nights back then) I was working, it was around 5 pm…and instead of working I was curled up in the break room gritting my teeth and trying not to cry. I’m not talking about a bit of pain; I’m talking white-hot I-can’t-function pain.

      A supervisor from another department saw me and told me to go home. Two of my coworkers, who were leaving, saw me and took me to the hospital. (We were close enough to the nearest hospital that it might have been faster than calling 911, given rush hour traffic.)

      (That same night my brother’s car broke down en route to the hospital to see me and my father had a flight out of the country. Good times.)

      Next morning, I called in to my boss, updating him to full speed on the hospital debacle (though my coworkers have told him the gist of it), and asked to take the next two days off. It would be unpaid, it was slow as molasses there, no one had much to do, and after a night at the hospital I really needed the time off.

      His reply? “You can take today (Thursday) off. Call me tomorrow morning and we’ll see about Friday.”

      This after being escorted to the hospital from the premises. Yeesh.

    3. WM*

      For crying out loud. When offices get this worked up over the water cooler… doesn’t it make you wonder how any real business gets done?! Sorry OP, your office is run by loons. Also, sorry to all the other commenters with their stories of crazy, out of control managers.

    1. Lillie Lane*

      I started laughing hysterically (especially at the “loon” part) and everyone around me must have thought that I’m nuts.

    2. Catzie*

      +1 I think this title wins best of the year. It made me laugh out loud too, and now everyone at works thinks I’m nuts…You’d think they’d be used to it by now.

      1. Chinook*

        I agree – this title is perfect though I was wondering what a water cooler emergency was. I momentarily had an image of a water cooler on fire with two loons flapping their black and white wings, calling for help.

  1. Katie the Fed*

    This is absolutely unethical and wrong.

    I’m the manager for our group water cooler (a total pain in the butt gig but I’m the only one who seems capable of doing it right, based on past experience.)

    It’s REALLY not that hard, and there’s no excuse for why the water cooler manager wasn’t getting it right. She shouldn’t be in charge of it anymore, and if she was collecting fees and not paying the water bill, then she’s essentially been embezzling money from the water fund and that needs to be addressed ASAP by management instead of her flipping those costs to you guys.

    Here’s how you run it:

    Figure out the average monthly cost per person, based on past consumption patterns. For us that’s $7 a month. Collect money and keep a list by the water cooler of who has paid. Those people get water. Pay the bill monthly. If you find the money you’re collecting isn’t keeping pace with the cost of the water, you raise the rates.

    This isn’t rocket science. Your manager is an idiot and is encouraging irresponsible and unethical behavior by the water fund manager. I would probably stand my ground on this and not pay.

    1. Kaz*

      I think she was neither collecting money nor paying the bill, so there was no embezzlement. However, you are correct, this should not be so freaking hard! If she couldn’t do it, she needed to be an adult and hand it off to someone else.

      1. Anonymous*

        Ditto…W. T. Actual. F? There are multiple workplaces in which employers require the employees to fund and MANAGE their own water cooler?

        1. Anonymous*

          Government employees pretty much don’t get to have anything nice because if we do people freak out about things they take for granted at their work places.

          (My government org just doesn’t have water other than the bathrooms because it would be extravagant.)

          1. Seattle Writer Girl*

            As one of my co-workers once said after our office water cooler died for the umpteenth time:

            “Aren’t prisoners guaranteed rights to free water?”

              1. Anon*

                I think they shouldn’t be supporting the bottled water business anyway, but they may not have a tap. (My office has no kitchenette or anything and the bathroom sink isn’t deep enough to get anything in there. It’s also grody as hell.
                Also.. depends on the state. I won’t drink the tap water where I live…

                1. Vicki*

                  Keep in mind that when people say “people should stop drinking bottled water” they usually mean “stop drinking those 1 l bottles that get thrown away” not “stop subscribing to refillable 5-gallon bottle that are delivered and picked up.

              2. Marcy*

                Nothing is wrong with tap water except for the days it is cut off because of a problem with the pipes, the days we get an email saying not to worry if the water is purple and the days we get an email mid-morning saying “don’t drink the water today” after many of us have already used the water to make the coffee we just drank.

              3. Vicki*

                There are plenty of places where tap water really isn’t of the quality you might want to consume.

                Many Silicon Valley businesses either provide 5-gallon bottled water “coolers” or filtration systems.

          2. Emily K*

            Yeah, this has always bothered me. When a for-profit company spends money on employee perks, they’re making a smart economic decision to improve morale and attract/retain the best talent. When a government office tries to give its employees sandwiches for a business lunch, they’re wasting taxpayer money. And then these same people will complain about how ineffective the government is….well, these miserly policies are driving away a lot of the best talent, so what do you expect?

            1. Marcy*

              I agree it is stupid. We aren’t allowed to have anything even for an all-day training session unless we buy it ourselves. No one complains about private sector companies giving things to their employees even though the cost is factored into the prices consumers pay. We can’t even have a cup of coffee during a long meeting.

          3. E.T.*

            A friend of mine works at the CA Dept of Water Resources. Ironically, they manage and move water around in the third largest state, but they don’t have drinking water in their offices and have to pay out-of-pocket for their own water cooler.

              1. E.T.*

                Ha ha, a water cooler moved from Sacramento to LA sounds like a mirror of the larger Northern and Southern CA water struggles at the state level.

            1. Chrissi*

              Yup, at our agency, whoever wants it pays for our own water cooler and water (it’s called the Water Club – so silly), and we also have a toaster and 2 microwaves in a break room 5 floors away that we all pitched in to replace recently after the old ones bit it. I do wonder where the refrigerator in the break room came from, though.

              1. Anonymous*

                For us the refrigerator came with the space, so when we rented the building the fridge was included which is why we have one.

                One of our directors recently replaced our busted microwave from his own pocket which goes a long way to give a plus to morale when everyone knows it was him personally. (He doesn’t work on this floor so he can’t even use it.)

          4. Xay*

            Exactly. When I worked for a state agency, we had to chip in and buy our fridge and microwave for the break room.

        2. Bea W*

          It’s a weird, but if your company won’t pay for a water cooler and people want one, the alternative is to pay and maintain it yourselves. I’m thinking it’s very similar to what happens when a company doesn’t supply a coffee maker and supplies. Employees will just procure their own.

          1. Windchime*

            Our building now has a filter on the kitchen sink so the water is drinkable, but before that it was horrible. I just bought a Britta filter pitcher, filled it from the tap, and had purified, tasty water at my desk. Much cheaper than renting a water cooler.

            The tap water is fine, now that it’s filtered.

        3. Cassie*

          Yup, both my sis and dad work at places (local gov’t agencies) which have “water clubs”. My sis used to be in charge of the money – I think they would have the newest employee do it so that employee could meet people and get to know them. Anyway, it was a pain to do because people would ask for discounts if they were out on vacation/sick leave or wouldn’t have change or didn’t pay up. After a particularly frustrating collection incident (the coworker was adamant about not paying, etc) – the top boss took over. Well, his secretary did, but same diff.

      2. ThursdaysGeek*

        There was something like this at LastJob, although I wasn’t willing to pay for water, so I don’t know if there was a water cooler manager or not. After awhile, the company took over and paid for it, and then I’d sometimes use the water cooler, if someone was using the tap and I didn’t want to wait.

      3. The IT Manager*

        Yes. AAM saying that the company should pay for it is funny to me b/c in a government office that can’t happen. The taxpayers don’t pay for employees to have a water cooler. (Which is fine by me because I drink tap water.)

        I’m much more familiar with and expect there’s a lot more office problems of who carries and lifts the heavy water bottles. This situation sounds very … unique, but most places staffed by looms would be.

        Thinking about it, what would be fair is for the woman responsible for paying the bill to pay everything that is owed. She could choose to collect what is owed from other, but she should suck up the all the late fees because it’s a nice way to drive home the fact that ignoring a problem does not make it disappear.

        1. ThursdaysGeek*

          I agree. If she took on the job initially, and then did not collect the money nor pay the bills, it’s still her responsibility. Of course, if she was bullied into taking it on by this manager (and I could see that too), then it’s not so simple.

      4. Katie the Fed*

        We’re lucky when we can find new Skillcraft pens and notebooks. Government work is not the luxury gig people imagine :)

        1. Natalie*

          Jack Donaghy: Do you need a pen?
          Cooter Burger: Nope. I’ve kind of gotten used to it.
          Jack Donaghy: You don’t have pens?
          Cooter Burger: We’re not in a recession.

      5. Dana*

        Yup, definitely a thing – I’m the proud owner of that task in my group at work :)

        But agreeing with Katie the Fed – it’s really not rocket science!

  2. Kevin*

    Ugh. There are way too many things wrong with this. The one admin messed up and it’s wrong on so many levels to just say your money will be taken. There is now precedent that money can be taken from you by vote.

    See if you know others who do not want water. They might just suck it up and pay but if you band together it might work better.

  3. Lizabeth*

    I want to hear what happens on this one. I “thought” I had read everything that could possibly happen here but this one takes the cake (water)!

    1. periwinkle*

      My reaction precisely. Just when you think you’ve heard the goofiest story of workplace idiocy, AAM publishes another letter that makes your jaw drop. Yikes.

      1. Anonymous*

        If we haven’t already, I think AAM should sponsor a poll about what constitutes the craziest thing she’s covered this year. We could vote.

  4. Kerry*

    Well, thank you for the perspective, anyway. My office now seems a little less dysfunctional in comparison.

  5. fposte*

    If I were brought in to an emergency meeting that turned out to be about a water cooler, I would be convinced that I was being punked.

    1. Katie the Fed*

      Actually, as the resident water cooler manager, I can assure you that there is no issue as important as anything related to water. The second we are on our last bottle of water, I get a constant parade of people coming by to tell me “hey Katie, we’re looking a little short on water.” Yes, I know, that’s why the delivery is scheduled for this afternoon. We’ve never been out of water for more then 3 hours, so calm the eff down, sit down, and wait nicely for it.

      1. fposte*

        I think my condition on having a water cooler would be that if I had to talk to anybody about it, it would no longer exist.

        1. Patti*

          +1 zillion. I’d get rid of the thing so fast! I’ve never heard of something so ridiculous (except possibly the break room refrigerator saga). A “water cooler manager”? I can think of 187 things that my people better be doing before this could even be mentioned in a whisper.

        2. Katie the Fed*

          Yeah I threaten to refund/remove anyone who annoys me too much :)

          With absolute water power comes absolute water corruption!

      2. AVP*

        Oh gods, when I was an admin I used to manage the company water deliveries. When we got down to 5 (!) extra jugs people would start emailing. (That’s, like, a week’s worth at least.) Finally I started ordering a ton extra, so we always had SO many, and then people would complain about where to store them instead.

      3. Cassie*

        I had some students ask if I could request a special delivery of water, even though the water was scheduled to be delivered the very next day.

        Needless to say, I didn’t bother responding to that request. (We have water fountains with perfectly drinkable water).

      1. KarenT*

        I thought it was going to be an actual water cooler emergency!
        Yes, there is such thing. A couple of months ago my office had a true water cooler emergency. We have those water coolers that are attached to the wall and get water from the buildings pipes. A pipe burst on the weekend and by Monday when people came in we had a flood. Water was everywhere. A lot of stuff was ruined–both company property and people’s personal belongings. The carpet smelled horrid and had to be removed immediately. A lot of offices and cubicles were uninhabitable so they were stuck trying to find somewhere to work. It was a hot mess!

        1. TW*

          Wow that sounds bad. It was enough of a problem when I once dropped a 5 gallon bottle trying to load it in. The bottom cracked off and near instantly 5 gallons of water was everywhere.

          1. AVP*

            It’s amazing how much five gallons of water is, when it’s spraying everywhere and gushing and flooding!

            -Someone who also did that :/

            1. TW*

              Yeah – I was never allowed to load it again. Though I am really short so it was amazing I had loaded it correctly before.

          2. Ellie H.*

            When I was in high school, a friend and I were taking an independent study that met in the office of the department chair – he had the department water cooler in his office. One morning one of the teachers came in to get water and replaced the bottle – and it turns out the new bottle was slightly cracked, so it didn’t form a seal and water began pouring out over the mouth of the tank. It was so exciting! Ten years ago and I still remember it!

        2. Catzie*

          +1 I was picturing someone walking into their office where exactly what you described happened, except loons (the birds) were swimming around. That would be a true emergency.

  6. Jamie*

    If a company won’t pay for the water cooler I’d be super concerned about their financial stability. The fact that they had a meeting about this and it was decided to strong arm money from employees to address the issue…I’d be really concerned.

    I have read about some nickle and diming work places, but this is absolutely ridiculous and very red flaggy.

    1. Cat*

      I think some government offices have restrictions on that, and I’ve also seen teachers in schools pool money for a water cooler (which doesn’t excuse dealing with the collection like a lunatic as in this office, of course).

      1. De Minimis*

        In our facility the individual departments have to pay for it out of their own pockets if they want it. Some departments do have a water cooler but no facility funds go toward it so I assume the employees pay for it. It may fall under the category of providing meals, which is very much against the rules.

    2. some1*

      “If a company won’t pay for the water cooler I’d be super concerned about their financial stability.”

      When I worked in government, employees paid for the water and coffee. It had nothing to do with financial stability — we were funded by taxes and weren’t allowed to use the budget for that.

      1. Jamie*

        I can see that – my whole career has been in the private sector so I sometimes forget the different rules that apply to the government, academic, non-profit, and Californian organizations.

        But in my world, they start charging for water and I get my resume out because it would mean we’re in trouuuuble!!

        1. some1*

          Funny you should mention that, at my last workplace the COO asked people to come up with cost-saving measures if they could, and my co-worker (who hates coffee) kept insisting that the coffee service should be the first thing to go. The same vendor provided coffee, water, and plastic utensils and I had seen the bill — less than $200 a month for all of it.

          1. Laufey*

            Now you see, I hate coffee. Hate the taste. Can’t stand the smell it. Have to be careful about scheduling early morning meetings so that coffee smell doesn’t overwhelm the conference room. Et cetera. But I would never deprive my coworkers of coffee.

            Who wants to work with decaffeinated coworkers on Monday mornings?

            1. AJ-in-Memphis*

              My sentiments exactly (on coffee and coworkers). I just let them have the breakroom in the morning and life is so much easier.

            2. some1*

              I am a coffee snob. I buy my personal coffee at coffeehouses and have them grind it for me to drink at home in my top of the line coffeemaker. That being said, cheap coffee left to burn on a hot plate *is* a really gross smell.

          2. Seattle Writer Girl*

            I work for a very small start-up and for a while I was in charge of ordering office supplies. In a passive-aggressive attempt to get people to start buying their own coffee instead of expensing it, I switched out our Starbucks-brand coffee with Costco brand. One month of that and my boss ordered me to switch back. So now we are paying over $100/month just on coffee beans alone at a start up with only 20 people that isn’t yet profitable after 4 years…..

            1. Annie*

              Fun fact: Costco brand coffee is roasted in the same facility as Starbucks-brand coffee. Costco contracts all its roasting to Starbucks, except at a few Costcos where the roast in store.

              1. FRRibs*

                I worked in an office that was one floor over a coffee roaster. You would get contact highs like you were at a concert in the 80s.

        2. Holly*

          Private sector: employees still have to pay for coffee (in fact, all coffee makers are from an employee’s house) and for ice. ICE!

        3. jesicka309*

          My BIL used to tell me stories about how his GM owned car company would charge them 50 cents for each coffee. And how they had to take annual leave to attend the Christmas party, which was a BBQ held off site at a local park during working hours.

          Last week, GM announced that they were shutting down operations over here. I can’t help but roll my eyes…as if any of the workers should be shocked after the ‘cost cutting’ that’s gone on! But apparently everyone is shocked by this news, despite every other car company in my country leaving, and increasing lay offs and cost cuts over the past 10 years.

          I think sometimes people blind themselves to reality when it doesn’t match what they want it to be.

      2. Beebs*

        At my public institution, we can’t buy tissues because they are a “personal item.” However, I can’t offer crying students in my office my shirtsleeve, so I bring my own.

        Water cooler? Ha! BYOW or use the drinking fountain.

        1. Anonymous*

          You should advocate for the fancy modern fountains with water bottle refills (basically just a tall spout) and, more importantly, filters for the water.

        2. pgh_adventurer*

          I worked in a 100-year-old government building and the tap water was undrinkable. Full of rust and god knows what else! Water coolers were the only way to hydrate.

    3. Joey*

      Eh. Plenty of people consider a water cooler an unnecessary expense. Based on that I can see companies saying they can’t afford it.

    4. Bea W*

      If it was private sector I’d assume they were cheap and uninterested in proving any kind of perks to employees.

  7. Mike C.*

    Wait, is clean running water not available where you are? If not, why in the hell isn’t your company making sure you have access to water in the first place?

    1. Kelly L.*

      I’m sure they have tap water. A lot of places have these coolers anyway, because the water comes out colder and theoretically cleaner.

        1. Anonymous*

          I don’t know about you, but my bathroom hot water tap doesn’t come out with anywhere near boiling temperature water

        2. Windchime*

          We have one of those hot water dispenser things hooked up to the sink. There is also one on the coffee maker, so there are alternatives to getting boiling hot water besides a water cooler.

    2. Clever Name Goes Here*

      It depends on the city. Some places, the city water is technically clean but smells/tastes foul. The last place I lived, it was like drinking from a swimming pool. And in some places (lookin’ at you, Orlando), you basically get Eau de Poo Water.

      1. Kelly L.*

        I grew up in a town with horrible air and perfectly good water, and then moved to a town with clean air and awful water. It tasted like milk sometimes. (Note: I don’t like milk.)

      2. AVP*

        I once tried tap water (from a water fountain in a government building) in Midland, TX on a dare. You could practically light it on fire.

      3. Malissa*

        Where I live the tap water may be potable, but it is salty! Everybody has water service or a reverse osmosis system for drinking water.

    3. Christine*

      It may be that they have tap water that is fine to drink, but tastes terrible. That’s the situation at my work – when the water comes out brown several times a month and tastes like rust, I’d rather bring my own!

      1. Jamie*

        If it’s brown ever or has a discernible taste it’s not okay to drink – at least imo.

        Drinkable tap water by definition is clear, tastes like water, and is rated potable by the local government.

        If that’s the case fine – the water that comes out of the door of my fridge is tap water – but if it’s gross it doesn’t meet the standard for drinkable water, imo.

        1. Josh S*

          Says the person in Chicago, where our filtered tap water contains all sorts of hormones and prescription meds. No thanks.

          1. A Teacher*

            Chicago, Joliet, Matteson, and several other suburbs, YUCK! Now Bolingbrook and parts of Plainfield and Naperville had decent water but not Chicago or Joliet at all.

            1. fposte*

              Really? My water was fine in Chicago (though my neighbor who worked for the EPA did tell me always to use the cold water for drinking). Maybe there’s a neighborhood component?

              Now, the rural areas of Libertyville were notorious for sulfur water in my youth. It won’t hurt you, but it’s the foulest damn thing.

              1. Jamie*

                Ours tastes fine here – so yeah, this might be a neighborhood thing. Or there could be horrible things I can’t taste, but still meets the safety code.

                But the suburb where I grew up (north) and where I live now (south) both have water that tastes fine.

                When I lived in Wisconsin the water smelled weird and I could smell it in my hair. But I’ve had good luck in Illinois.

              2. Shoshie*

                Huh, I grew up in Wheeling, and our tap water was always fine. The flavor changed a bit in the winter, but it was always plenty drinkable.

                The cold drinking water is probably because of metal leaching from pipes.

                1. fposte*

                  Right, because the infrastructure in Chicago is pretty ancient. That’s actually not a directive that’s limited to Chicago, either.

                  I’m not sure if the sulfur water thing was a particular rural aquifer issue or something, but a relative and I who had separate Libertyville experiences in youth both noted it. My experience was at a stable that had a great water arrangement where you could turn on the tap individually in each horse’s stall–and leaning through the stall wall gap to do that got you a big noseful of sulfur. Blech.

        2. Bea W*


          When I go south, the tap water is drinkable and clear but it’s really heavy on the chlorine. I don’t normally drink bottled water, except when I’m visiting friends. I always ask them to pick up a gallon, because the I notice the chlorine compared to my local water, and find it undrinkable.

          Then there was that time I was staying in Baton Rouge and the taste was just beyond foul. I think I might have described it as “feet” or possibly “ass”. It may have been clean, but it wasn’t drinkable!

          1. Nichole*

            When we visited Louisiana, we didn’t notice anything wrong with the water, but my then-infant daughter got sick when she drank juice mixed with it. We all drank bottled the rest of the trip, just in case.

        3. Cat*

          Nah, there’s a lot of tap water that tastes worse than other tap water but is still 100% safe to drink. Every time I go back to visit family in Portland, Oregon I guzzle the tap water like it’s going out of style because it tastes so much better than what we have in D.C. But it’s totally safe here.*

          * Okay, you probably want to run it through a Britta filter, granted. But you don’t need to buy bottled.

      2. Rayner*

        Then it’s not drinkable. You have contaminants in the pipes, or something is wrong in the system. That is not drinkable water, if it tastes excessively strange, or is a wrong colour.

        Tap water that is fine to drink doesn’t taste chemical, is clear, and flows consistently.

        One is okay to drink, the other is not but nobody says you have to drink the unpotable one.

        1. doreen*

          Yes, but it doesn’t have to be an excessively bad taste or a chemical taste for someone to not like the taste of tap water. I am a water snob. I live in NYC, and not only do I not like the tap water anywhere else , when I bought my house I made sure it was connected to the NYC water supply not a private company that used to supply this neighborhood. Doesn’t mean tap water out of NYC is undrinkable- it just means I don’t like it, in the same way that I prefer Pepsi to Coke

          1. Lindsay J*

            +1 on the water snobbery. My parents have well water, and ours has almost a sweet taste. It spoiled me, so now I find pretty much any city water unpleasant to drink – I can taste the chlorine or whatever other additives they put in it, and I just don’t like it.

    4. Rayner*

      This is something that baffles me about office water coolers. Unless your water is from a well or something without a purification system, tap water is generally cleaner, and plenty cold enough for most people. Or, have two bottles and rotate them out of the fridge every hour or three.

      Water coolers are a waste of time, money, and if they’re from a big company that promises ‘mineral’ water, or ‘health’ promises, they can be dangerous for the environment.

      Buying water is a manufactured process, that causes ecological decline, and massive social deprivation in the areas of extraction.

      Buy a reusable bottle/a cup, and use the tap.*

      *Unless it’s contaminated.

      1. Jamie*

        That’s what I think. We have a water coolers at work that taps into the water line – so it’s literally just temp control. It cools it for the cold and heats it so you can have tea or whatever. The rental on those machines is like $10 a month per cooler, or something nominal.

        I’d only do the water bottles if the tap water wasn’t potable.

        1. Rayner*

          Barring the non potable situations, I think coolers are more trouble than their worth in and of themselves – because of the expense and logistics of sorting out the bills/payments, if it’s not provided by the company, as the OP found out.* And also, because of the fact that people get themselves wound up with “who should change the bottle?!” / “People keep using the last of it and not changing it and I’m sick of doing it!” / “People keep gathering around it to gossip!”

          Just… use the lug a mug campaign or something, and encourage workplace environment sustainability in a small way.

          That said, the manager is a monumental as*waffle about the whole thing. As is the woman who should have been collecting the money but didn’t.

          1. Del*

            The ones like Jamie is talking about (the same as my office has, too) don’t have those issues, though. They’re hooked to the water line, so there’s never a bottle to change and it never runs empty. The purpose of the machine is cooling and heating only.

            1. Rayner*

              I was imagining the ones with the bottle that requires changing.

              They are the ones that cause more grief than they’re worth.

              1. Jamie*

                Yes – I forgot about the filter. But you’re right – no bottles to change because they are connected to the water line itself. It just heats/cools/filters.

          1. Jamie*

            Same here – free soda, bottled water, and coffee/tea.

            They also buy lunch an average of 3 times a week – so I’m spoiled. I get that the lunch and soda/bottled water is not all that common…but I’ve never worked in a place without free coffee and water.

            1. plain jane*

              My last job didn’t provide free coffee. It wasn’t because they were cheap, it was because they had contracted out the cafeteria, and that was part of the food services’ contract. They also enforced no coffee machines in team areas (though we could have kettles).

              Most newbies complained until they discovered that the cafeteria had really well priced meals (like grilled cheese done to order – multiple options of breads and cheese – for $2), which evened things out.

      2. ExceptionToTheRule*

        At my part-time job, the office doesn’t have a tap. You have to go down the hall to the floor’s communal bathroom or drinking fountain to refill your bottle. So we have a water cooler for convenience.

      3. ThursdaysGeek*

        Lots of tap water, both individual and municipal, comes from wells — coming from a well has nothing to do with non-potability.

        1. Rayner*

          I meant literally a hole in the ground, pulling it up from the ground in a bucket, not municipal wells.

          Thinking more Little House on the Prairie, rather than anything else.

      4. TL*

        Not to mention, most bottled water is collected from the state it’s sold in (because the regulations are much looser that way.)

        So, if you’re, say, in San Antonio and you complain forever about the tap water and how awful it is and then you buy H-E-B’s (local grocery chain) bottled water, you’re buying San Antonio tap water that’s been bottled for resale.

        Which happened all the time at my university. :)

        1. Rayner*

          You’d do far better to buy a bottle that isn’t plastic, and keep refilling it. Or use a bigger bottle with a cup. *shrug*

          Water companies take people for a ride, and they laugh all the way to the bank doing it. It makes no sense at all to pay for a product that a) is not spring water, despite advertisements to the contrary, b) causes mass environmental meltdown, c) costs far FAR more than it’s worth and d) destroys health and communities.

          Water regulations are crap across the world – companies are fighting to keep water from being declared a right, instead of a necessity. Because of that, companies can keep on flogging the ol’ bottles and water coolers* and they don’t have to worry about a thing – people will buy it, and not think about how damaging it is.

          Sorry. High horse. I loathe bottled water**, with a passion.

          *the ones that are supplied by a bottle, not through the water line.

          **on a day to day basis. Health crisises, drought, and soliders on missions etc aside.

      5. Bea W*

        I agree with you. I drink tap water or filtered tap water (like in a Brita) unless I know the stuff from the tap is iffy or tastes really bad, and often filtering takes care of those issues. I lived in a city where there was known to be higher levels of lead in the water due to old lead pipes. I bought a Brita filter just for peace of mind. Bottled water in most parts of the US is such a racket. I only buy it when I don’t have another option. I have water bottles I fill from the sink when I want to take water with me. When I want it cold, I put a bottle in the fridge or use ice.

        The only benefit of the water cooler to me is the hot spigot. I love it for that.

        1. Rayner*

          It’s more than just a racket, it’s terrible to buy bottled water. Literally, one of the worst products you can buy.




          And check out nestle in pakistan too – it’s happening again. Seriously, don’t buy it. *general psa*

          1. Bea W*

            Ugh Nestle. Don’t even get me started. Water is only scratching the surface there.

            Check out Tapped, a documentary about Poland Spring and the bottled water industry in general. Very eye opening what these companies to do local communities to profit off water. http://www.tappedthemovie.com/

          2. LCL*

            Speaking of racket, a few of our (gov) facilities used bottled because the water had actually tested non-potable in the ancient pipes. The driver of the private company that delivered water damaged the fence at one location, and his company made him pay for it!

      6. V*

        The water from the tap at my company isn’t contaminated (no high bacteria levels, no chemicals which would make you sick), but it tastes absolutely nasty. I drank it exactly once; I’ve been in swimming pools where the water tasted less like chemicals.

        My current group has a water cooler (paid for by the company); when the previous group didn’t have one, I just brought in two 32 oz water bottles every day.

      7. Prickly Pear*

        Slightly OT: my grandfather had a water cooler, and as a child, I thought that was the most special, best water ever. It had one of the old glass bottles too. After he died, my grandmother switched to the plastic jugs until the cooler itself wore out, and she didn’t bother to replace it. I mentioned to my dad once that the water was so good and we needed to get water service and he basically laughed in my face and told me that they basically filled up the glass bottle in the bathtub, and that he himself had done that plenty of times.
        I drink tap water now, and my job sells bottled water (and we have filtered water too, its just not cold) so no water issues here! Yet another letter that makes me grateful for where I work.

      8. joanne*

        It’s probably all in my head, but there’s just something I hate about having to drink water out of the bathroom sink at work. I would love it if they got us a water cooler!

      9. Natalie Anne Lanoville*

        The proof of this can be found right in my home town Vancouver Canada. A top bottled water company was fined for using a fire hydrant to fill its tanks!!

        What makes bottled water taste better is that it sits long enough for the gases like chlorine to dissipate, and it’s cold.

    5. Parfait*

      Depends on your municipality. Los Angeles tap water tastes terrible. Santa Monica tap water, right next door, tastes fine.

      1. Ethyl*

        Sure, but “bad-tasting” tap water is pretty subjective and is not an indicator of the cleanliness or potability of said water. Like was said upthread, if it’s an off color or has some sort of noticeable chemical odor (like, if it smells like gas/paint thinner/tar), then it’s fine. The variations in taste between regions have a lot to do with where the water comes from (as in geologically) and sometimes how it’s treated.

        1. TL*

          Yeah, all tap water tastes weird to me because I grew up on well water. So even “really good” tap water tastes…off.

          But so does bottled water.

          1. Windchime*

            I grew up on well water, too. Mmmmmm. So yummy and taste-free, just good, cold water. So now everything else tastes like “city water” (in fact, that’s what I still call most tap water). I drink filtered water from my fridge at home, and filtered “city water” at work.

    6. Emily*

      I both live and work in Boston and it is well known that we are spoiled by the great quality of our tap water.

        1. Tina*

          I live in Boston and drink the tap water all the time. My husband still uses the Brita, though I don’t understand why.

  8. Colette*

    perhaps she is here on some kind of exchange program from said fairyland?

    This made me laugh.

    I agree that this manager will likely penalize you for not chipping in, and I also agree that this is not a sign of a business that is well run. I’d be alert for other warning signs.

    1. Yup*

      I concur. This is mostly a crazy manager problem, not a water cooler problem. The issue shouldn’t have happened in the first place but there are ways of sensibly rectifying the problem. And this solution isn’t one of them.

      Personally, I’d probably go down on fighting on this one. I’m not recommending that you do this, OP, just stating my own instinctive response to an unreasonable request by someone described as being generally a bully. If she wants that $40 for water I didn’t ask for and didn’t drink, frankly she’ll have to wrest it right out of my fist. But your mileage may vary. In any case, you have my sympathies on being forced to deal with a totally stupid and infuriating situation.

    1. Wilton Businessman*

      See how that works come April when you tell the IRS you don’t use Obamacare so you don’t think you should have to pay for it.

      1. KellyK*

        Right, because comparisons between your workplace and the government are totally relevant and productive.

        Telling the IRS you don’t want to pay for the ACA will work exactly as well as telling them you don’t want to pay for Iraq, or Afghanistan, or science grants, or the Smithsonian, or military pensions, or education, or your Congressman’s salary because you didn’t vote for him and think he’s a jerk. They’re called taxes. Anyone who doesn’t like a given country’s tax structure can always campaign for it to be changed, or move.

  9. CollegeAdmin*

    I thought this was going to be a gossip issue – you know, “conversations around the water cooler.” I was not expecting conversations about the water cooler.

    Also, I’m loving the sass, Alison. “Perhaps she is here on some kind of exchange program from said fairyland?” A+

  10. MR*

    If this kind of issue rises to the level of needing a staff meeting to address, I’d hate to see what other kind of meetings occur in this office.

  11. JW*

    I sincerely hope you stand up for what’s right and refuse to pay! Even if you are the only one in your office, you have a world of blogger commenters behind you!

  12. Just a Reader*

    No farking way would I pay that. What is the matter with people?

    I once got a water bill after I left a company, for water consumed AFTER I LEFT THE COMPANY.

    I did not pay it.

  13. Nonprofit Office Manager*

    If it were my office, I’d suggest that the company close the account. If the employees want to continue the water service, someone can step up and open a personal account. That would cut the crazy supervisor out of the picture (since the company is no longer involved), and virtually guarantee that the account gets paid in a timely manner going forward. Also, I vote for not paying the $40. You’d have to pry it from my cold, dead hands.

  14. TL*

    ha! My grandmother deals with bills this way – if I ignore them, they’ll just go away. (Which is how she ended up owing the IRS nearly $10,000.)

    This is ridiculous, by the way. I would seriously advocate for getting rid of the darn thing if it can’t be managed. Even if the tap water’s awful, you could bring in your own water filter pitcher and use that!

      1. Kelley*

        Then they’ll probably have an emergency meeting about people not refilling the Brita pitcher, and demand everyone chip in for filters.

          1. Bea W*

            They make personal water bottles with filters, perfect for individuals at work who aren’t keen on the tap water.

            1. Emily, admin extraordinaire*

              I have one I take with me when I travel, because who knows what the local water is going to taste like? I’m going to Orlando in July. I’ve been there before– my Brita bottle is going to be my best friend. :P

  15. LabRatnomore*

    This makes me happy my company has reverse osmosis filters at every sink, and carbon filters in every refrigerator! If you aren’t happy with those choices you can drink from the tap or bring your own water, I am fairly certain nobody ever complained about water here. I still don’t understand this though, if you don’t like the tap water at your office what is so hard about bringing some from home?

  16. AMG*

    What a total a-hole! Isn’t there someone to whom you could escalate this and alert them to what this dum dum is asking you to do? Please give us an update later.

  17. JEN*

    My government office had to get rid of the water cooler because one of our coworkers was filling up gallon sized jugs to take home every night for his family. No amount of shaming would cause him to stop, so we just closed the account. I miss the cooler!

      1. veggie*

        Nope, probably just stealing from his coworkers. In every gov’t office I’ve worked in, if you want a water cooler, you pay for it.

      2. JEN*

        As everyone stated, in the government we pay for our own water and coffee. It isn’t supplied by your tax dollars, sorry to disappoint you.

        1. Callie*

          At the last school I taught at, teachers had to bring our own toilet paper for the faculty bathrooms. They supplied it for the kids, but not for us. I think that’s going a little far on the whole “my tax dollars shouldn’t pay for your workplace perks” business.

  18. Anonymous*

    I’d really like to know more about this company. This can’t be the only awful/weird thing happening. I am so sorry, OP.

  19. K-Anon*

    I’m so used to reading stuff about the holidays and thinking “Suck it up, do it, buy the gift, it’s not worth hassling this and risking damaging your rep”

    This one however is simply over the line. I’d politely tell my boss to stuff it, and the more she insisted the less polite I’d be.

  20. Brett*

    I’m curious just “who” got sent to collections.

    If the company itself got sent to collections, there is something seriously wrong with making the employees foot the bill.

    1. Trillian*

      If it’s the company, then the manager may be panicking because of potential consequences to her – the expense may not have been cleared through channels, and she was obviously not monitoring expenditure. Can’t see company being thrilled to be sent to collections.

      Not sure what I’d do – but whether I paid or not, I would be putting in writing that I had not been included in the original decision, and did not wish to be included in the future. And then making very sure that I was never alone in the room with the water cooler.

    2. OP*

      The company was sent to collections. While the bill is in the company’s name, it is not paid for by the company itself, as they do not budget for the water cooler. A few of the employees decided they wanted one and agreed to pay for it themselves, even though it was in the company’s name. This would have been fine if the appointed person in charge had taken care of paying the bills, but obviously that didn’t happen.

      I think Trillian pretty much nailed it in the first paragraph below.

      1. Saturn9*

        Employees pay for the water but the bill is in the company’s name and if the bill doesn’t get paid, the company gets sent to collects?

        This is a fairly stupid series of mistakes for the manager to have made. First mistake: “Who should be in charge of collecting the money? Oh how about that one person who’s deathly uncomfortable asking anyone for anything? Of course, that’s perfect!”

  21. Young & dumb, yessir that's me!*

    When I was fresh out of college–young, naive, and more than a little dumb–I handled bills this way. Simply ignored them. They didn’t go away, but my electricity sure did. It was a huge hassle to get everything back up again, and it even affected my credit rating. Luckily I wasn’t 100% dim, and I learned my lesson.

    1. Young & dumb, yessir that's me!*

      I still tend toward the ostrich method of problem-solving (stick your head in the sand and hope it all gets better). It works about 50% of the time and the other 50% I have to exert myself 150% harder to extricate myself from whatever idiocy I have ended up with. Really not a plan that pays out over time.

      Luckily, I have realized this about myself and am trying to fix it. This “water cooler manager” needs to do the same or be given no responsibilities including having a job.

  22. A Bug!*

    I hope that admin assistant doesn’t have any actual job-related responsibilities, because holy shamoly, I wouldn’t trust her with a silk plant.

  23. Anon*

    Short story not related to work:

    In high school I very badly wanted to take a limo to prom. The day before prom, I found a girl who had gotten a group together and agreed to pitch in at the stated price. I let her know that it was a little steep but I could do it. (I’m guessing it was $30 or $40 – I was poor lol.) We didn’t agree to any terms other then that I would pay her the next day.

    Not 30 minutes later she calls me back saying the price has almost doubled because a girl or two dropped out and I’ll have to pay the new price. I let her know I didn’t need to take a limo that badly and never mind.

    She then said, “Oh well that’s fine. I’ll need $30 though because you dropped out last minute. That’s only fair.”

    I refused to pay and pretty much became the arch enemy of her and all her friends.

    Point is, some people think everyone has money for random surprise charges and $40 is no big deal. All I have to say is: F-that! I wouldn’t pay a $40 water cooler charge – I would rather be fired.

    1. Kaz*

      I’m guessing she didn’t extract $30 from the other girls who dropped out, or the price wouldn’t have doubled…

    2. Josh S*

      And if you put that in work terms, it means that someone being paid $30k a year would have to work about about 3.5 hours for that $40. (Taking taxes, etc into account.)

      Asking someone to work a significant portion of a day to pay for a boneheaded reason like this is unconscionable.

  24. Mena*

    I think I would suck it up and pay AND make it clear to all involved, and especially to your manager, that you to not partake in the water cooler and will not be paying again, ever. This way, you’re trying to be part of the team, but still protecting yourself from further foolishness.

  25. amaranth16*

    Wow, since the horrible bosses of the year have already been announced, I hope this letter is eligible for consideration in any Best of 2014 lists!

  26. Sarah Says*

    Reader questions next week:
    My employees won’t pay for water they don’t use, is this illegal? How can I make them pay?

  27. Kou*

    While I know not wanting to chip in isn’t a protected class or anything, but surely you’d have some recourse if you were fired for not giving your employer money?

    I’m gussing not, though. And I know, I know, the “is it legal” shenanigans but requiring employees to give the company money to pay a bill they weren’t all responsible for seems like it shouldn’t *only* be unethical.

    1. fposte*

      You’d probably get awarded unemployment pretty easily, but otherwise there’d likely be no recourse.

      1. Kou*

        I imagine it’d be the most cake-walkingest unemployment application in history.

        But man, note to self: 1) Open business, make employees pay for all supplies and utilities and facilities costs 2) … 3) Profit.

  28. AB*

    “If you do decide to suck it up and pay the $40 penalty fee for working with a lame manager, I’d insist on knowing how this is going to be handled in the future, so that you’re not having a similar conversation in another few months.”

    I was looking for this piece in the advice, and as always AAM did not disappoint.

    I would not be surprised if it was exactly what happened a few months down the road. People who are that irrational are not going to suddenly become reasonable and make the necessary arrangements without making employees pay for late fees again. If I were the OP, I’d be very focused on figuring out what are the arrangements for this not to happen again (even if I said no to paying this time and the manager accepted — because it would be terrible to have to go through the same pressure to pony up every time this happened).

  29. Bea W*

    WTH? The company should either offer water or not. If they want to offer bottled water for a fee, they should get a vending machine, not a water cooler with free access to anyone that is impossible to monitor. If you’re going to charge people who use is a flat rate, it’s still not fair. There could be people who use very little and people who guzzle down gallons a week. You can’t make that equitable.

    However, it is what it is. So the OP has a decision to make – is it worth challenging this or is it better to just decide to chip in and be done with it. I got the impression that the water cooler was staying and from now on everyone would be charged for it, but this definitely needs to be clarified before everyone gets hit with another bill.

    1. fposte*

      Yeah, we had a Dasani vending machine for a long time. That seemed like a perfectly reasonable approach.

      1. Elizabeth*

        It’s terrible from an environmental standpoint, though. You’d generate about 30-40 single-use plastic bottles for the equivalent of each 5-gallon water cooler jug (and the jugs get washed & refilled at the water cooler company, right?).

        Admittedly there are environmental issues with water coolers, too, like the gas used for trucks to drive water around. (Though I guess that’s still true of a vending machine.) I think filters attached to a sink are probably the greenest option.

        1. fposte*

          I don’t disagree, but I’m with Rayner upthread on tap water anyway. And we’re one of those government-type places, so it was always going to be something we’d pay for.

          1. Elizabeth*

            Oh, I’m definitely in favor of tap water unless it’s awful. My local tap water is fantastic so I’m entirely baffled by people who drink bottled water here. There are places where that’s not true, though – at my great aunt’s house the water has high sulfur (it’s from a well since she’s quite rural) and so smells of rotten eggs. I hate showering there.

            1. Wren*

              My boss’s wife freaked out one time when she saw me filling my bottle from the tap intead of diverting to the attached Brita. “It’s so dirty!” she shrieked because she is irrational. It is not! Our local tap water tastes great. In fact, I hate the taste of Brita filtered water (and reverse osmosis water.)

        2. Bea W*

          I agree with you there.

          The water cooler where I work is actually hooked into our water supply and filters, heats and cools the tap water, no plastic or delivery needed. They also give all employees mugs and encourage reusable bottles. Wish this were more widespread.

          I say bring bubblers back. When I was a kid, this is how everyone got drinking water, when a sink wasn’t handy, and they were everywhere.

    2. doreen*

      The last “water club” I was in cost me about $4.00 a month. The vending machine cost $2 for a bottle of Dasani. If I had one cup of water a week, I was ahead.

  30. Ann Furthermore*

    You know, much of the time I will just decide to suck it up and go along because it will be easier, or will not make much difference in the long run. Then something will happen that will make me just dig in my heels and absolutely refuse to budge.

    Being told to cough up $40 because some idiot buried her head in the sand would definitely be one of those things.

  31. Wilton Businessman*


    As the manager, I would say the company is paying the late charges and the water cooler is gone. Done, end of discussion. If you want spring water, bring it in yourself.

  32. CaliSusan*

    If it were me, I’d use Alison’s standard response when someone asks me to chip in for a holiday gift: “Sorry, it’s not in my budget.”

    PS: your boss is indeed a buffoon.

    PPS: start looking for a new job?

  33. Jack the Brit*

    For goodness’ sake! We have always had a water cooler, and the company pays for it. It used to have another nozzle for fizzy water too, but that tasted foul, and there was only one woman in pur building who liked it.

      1. RJ*

        “I want to negotiate my starting salary and vacation time, but the hiring manager said, ‘I’m going to make you an offer you can’t refuse.'” Is this legal?

  34. PoohBear McGriddles*

    Male Bovine Excrement!
    What kind of admin assistant can’s use Excel to print out a nice table showing who paid in what months? Post a copy by the water cooler so everyone knows if someone’s not paying their share. Hell, if they’re not too sharp with office software, take a crayon and an 8 1/2 x 11 sheet of paper and make one. She doesn’t even have to go around to everyone – have them come to her if they want water that bad.
    Anyway, that’s what should have been done. Right now the crap has already hit the fan because the bills didn’t get paid. The manager may not even know who did or didn’t use the water if there was previously no way to opt out, and may have had people claiming they didn’t use it when she suspects that they did.
    Probably the best thing to do now is acknowledge that it hasn’t been handled properly and ask everyone to contribute to clearing up the delinquent account. Then find someone else to play Water Cooler Manager and let it be known that if payment is not made in full each month, the water cooler will be removed never to be seen again. And then how would people talk about sports, etc.?

    1. PoohBear McGriddles*

      I should add that I definitely think the water should be “opt-in”. That’s how we do it here – complete with a fancy spreadsheet as described above (not the crayon kind).

  35. Tiff*

    I am not 100% immune to bullying, but I’ll be damned if I let some office manager punk me out of my paycheck in that manner. How does this person plan on getting the money? If it’s not taken directly out of my check (a whole nother can of worms) she better show up at my desk with something other than just her hand out.

  36. OP*

    I am really enjoying reading all of your comments, and glad I’m not the only one that found this situation infuriating!

    Here’s an update on the situation: Our manager sent an email out yesterday morning stating that she had reviewed the bill again, and the cost would actually be $25, not $40. So that’s a little better, but the principle is the same.

    I was finally able to talk to a few other coworkers about it who have been with the company for much longer than me, and they agreed that it was wrong to have to pay, but said they were going to because if anyone chooses not to pay “[manager] will make your life a living hell and you will most certainly regret it.”

    While I truly do like the coworker handling the water cooler as a person, working with her is another story. This hasn’t been the only issue, but for some reason her actions never seem to have consequences. Our manager can be intimidating, but seems to shy away from conflict and correcting any issues that arise.

    As for the water cooler, it’s been decided that after this bill is paid they will no longer offer it. And that’s just fine with me, because there is absolutely nothing wrong with our tap water. I’ll be glad when this mess is all over!

    1. Zelos*

      While it would be nice for everything to blow over, it sounds like your particular manager is prone to…to put it politely, bouts of ridiculousness. Hopefully it doesn’t carry over to actual work, but…maybe keep you eye on the door, just in case.

      1. LittleKitten*

        Big ol’ PLUS ONE on this…

        And not “oh, I’ll get it to you later…”; have some thing already written and make the person you hand the cash to sign it.

        If it’s not in writing, it never happened. (My industry’s motto)

        1. Zelos*

          Yes, this. Make sure the receipt has the reason for payment as well on case anyone tries to weasel later.

          Signed receipt (both of you sign), two copies: one for her, one for you.

    2. Kou*

      Really though, in an office of ten people I’m sure you could get enough people to tell your boss to get bent that it would be rather difficult for her to seriously retaliate against all of you in the same way as if it was one of you.

      1. OP*

        I tried, I really did! I told them that I felt like if we all took a stand together then there wouldn’t be much she could do, but everyone seemed to afraid to take that road.

  37. EM*

    I would be very concerned that if you pay the $40 now, you will be expected to do so in the future. If you choose to pay, I really think you need to make it clear in no uncertain terms that you will not be doing so again in the future.

    I’d also ask what the plan is to ensure this doesn’t happen in the future because you might be met with, “There is no plan. Every employee is expected to pay for the water regardless if they use it or not.”

    I worked for a year in a small government agency office. On my first day, one of my co-workers asked if I drank coffee. Not having any idea where this was going, I said I did (true). She responded brightly, “Great! I’ll add you to the rotation to buy filters & coffee!”

    I was shocked. I had never worked anywhere before where employees were expected to pay for coffee. I ended up telling her no thanks, I’ll just brew my own coffee at home and bring it in a travel mug. I didn’t have the money to buy coffee supplies for myself AND the office!

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Well, when it comes time for secret Santa you can explain that you bought everyone a cup of water.
      There. Done.

      I would pay it, too, OP. One less thing to have to listen to the boss explode over.
      One for AAM’s Managerial Hall of Shame, for sure.

      1. fposte*

        “Well, when it comes time for secret Santa you can explain that you bought everyone a cup of water.”

        I love that.

      2. OP*

        “Well, when it comes time for secret Santa you can explain that you bought everyone a cup of water.”

        This is brilliant.

  38. TheExchequer*

    I’m sorry, a bill of the /company/ didn’t get paid and the /employees/ are paying it?!? WHAT. Are they going to charge the employees for the electricity bill next? Or the garbage bill? Absolutely do not pay this, OP.

    1. Saturn9*

      Valid point. Most employees couldn’t use the “I never use it” defense when it comes to paying the electric bill.

      I hope the OP’s manager is reading the comments: imagine the cost-saving initiatives she could implement!

  39. Rebecca*

    I am stunned by this. I didn’t think it was possible that there’s another office someplace that’s more dysfunctional than my workplace.

    I agree with some of the other posters. I’d be really concerned about this company’s longevity, and I wouldn’t depend on the silly woman who was responsible for paying the bill to do anything for me.

  40. Anonymousdr*

    This is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard. OP – I’m sorry your office is a loony bin.

  41. De Minimis*

    Had to chuckle at the heading, I got the image of an office staffed by actual loons—of course water would be an emergency to aquatic fowl!

  42. V*

    Am I the only government employee who has a water cooler in their office? I guess I shouldn’t say where I work, don’t want to end up on Fox News tomorrow :)

  43. Cassie*

    I work for a state university and our dept has a water cooler paid by the dept (although it’s paid with discretionary funds and not state funds). I would imagine certain offices, like the Chancellor’s office, would probably have water coolers – it would probably be considered a business expense.

    We also get coffee (ground coffee, that we brew) which IS being paid by state funds… I assume no one has noticed yet that it’s being paid on public funds – otherwise what is the difference between the public paying for water vs coffee?

  44. mel*

    I’m childless though I’m willing to pay taxes to fund our local schools, but a water cooler? Do a lot of people use it? I might be more easily swayed if it brought the entire office a bottomless bucket of delerious joy, but if it’s neglected in a corner and everyone fights over who gets to change the bottle this means war.

  45. Doug*

    Cripes. Do they charge for toilet paper and soap too?

    Seriously though, it sounds like the water cooler is the source of drinking water available to you and legally I don’t think they can charge for it.

    OSHA requires that employers supply potable water to employees.
    I don’t think tap water from the restroom counts(sec g). Your state may have additional laws.

    An adequate supply of potable water shall be provided in all places of employment.
    1926.51(g) Eating and drinking areas. No employee shall be allowed to consume food or beverages in a toilet room nor in any area exposed to a toxic material.

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