when your boss asks you to plunge the toilet (and the return of the nieces)

Two years ago, my nieces (then 9 and 12) helped me answer a letter here. Since then, there’s been a clamor for their return. They’re back today.

A reader writes:

This happened to a friend once and I always find it amusing to ask my colleagues in tech. He recently got hired at a small company, no more than 20 employees, in a very small office. There were two bathrooms, one for men and one for women. Two stalls in the women’s bathroom; a stall and a urinal in the men’s. My friend had been hired as a sys admin for the company and was being paid a pretty handsome salary for his role.

One day, the boss comes to him and tells him he’s plugged the toilet and he’d like my friend to go and plunge it. Of course, my friend is utterly disgusted by this request. (It wasn’t an issue of the boss being unfamiliar with the procedure.) He politely declines and the boss quickly escalates to him either consenting to plunge the toilet or him being fired on the spot, because this is after all, “other duties as assigned.”

When it becomes clear that the boss isn’t going to budge, he tells him that he’ll save him the time and resigns then and there. The boss is flabbergasted at failing to cow him and goes to get one of the other employees to deal with his dirty deed. My friend never found out who ended up plunging the toilet. He left with no backup plan, but claims he left with his dignity intact.

So here’s the question. Do you bite the bullet and plunge or do you refuse on the grounds that you’re in a professional role and that request is a bit beyond what’s expected? For what it’s worth, the building did have a janitorial company on contract that dealt with, among other things, bathroom “issues.”

Here’s the email conversation the three of us had about this letter.

14-year-old M.: Well, clearly the employee had lots of other choices and could work somewhere else if they chose. However, although this is definitely outside of the job description, if you don’t have other options, I’d say plunge the toilet. Think about it, thousands of people get paid minimum wage or below to clean toilets constantly; you are getting paid a high salary to do it once. If this is becoming a regular thing, I would talk to the boss and consider other job options, and concerning his rude behavior at your refusal there are probably other unreasonable requests he has given you, and you should look elsewhere.

You talk of your friend’s “dignity intact.” But I think he may have done an irrational, on-the-spot thing. This employee is not above anyone else. True, it is the janitor’s job, but for some reason the boss asked him to do it. The boss is not above plunging a toilet and neither is the janitor and neither is the employee, and neither are any of the readers of my strange aunt’s blog. If you can get a better job where the boss isn’t so confused, go get it. But otherwise calm down and plunge the toilet. He didn’t ask you to hide a body.

41-year-old me: This is interesting! Let’s discuss? I came down more on the side of “your boss can plunge his own poo.”

M.: That’s true, and I think that his request was crazy but if the person didn’t have other options, he shouldn’t quit without a plan. This is not an issue that should make you quit on the spot with no other plan, like being attacked.

Me: It’s an interesting question — because I might seriously quit a job if my manager pooped in the toilet, stopped it up, and then told me to plunge it. I feel like I’m selling a very specific set of skills to an employer, and plunging toilets isn’t one of them. To me, it would feel disrespectful and like the sort of thing where I’d be willing to draw a line in the sand and say no.

I also think it’s the sort of thing that you’re more able to refuse the more valuable/senior you are. So maybe you can’t refuse when you’re 20 and in your first job, but you can when you’re 30 and lots of employers want to hire you. Does thinking about it like that change your answer at all?

M.: That’s true, and like I said if you can get a better job you definitely should and he was right to quit. Especially since if the boss has a strange request like that this time, he has probably had them in the past and will have them in the future, so you should be looking for other options anyway.

Almost 11-year-old A.: I think that request is just not ok to give to an employee, even if it is under the category “other duties assigned.” I mean, it’s his boss’s fault that the toilet is clogged, and he should either unclog the toilet himself, or call the janitorial company to deal with the…”situation.” He definitely shouldn’t be telling you or any other employee to do things that far from the job description.

Your friend was completely right to quit the job. It is a professional company, no matter how small it may be, and his boss is certainly not acting as he should at work. Of course, if your friend didn’t have anywhere else to work, he should have just gritted his teeth and plunged the toilet. Besides, your boss should’t be going around telling everyone that he clogged the toilet in the first place. Ew.

{ 478 comments… read them below }

  1. Ask a Manager* Post author

    Apparently many of you are inclined to use profanity in your comments on this letter! Please remember my nieces are likely to be reading, and resist your apparently strong urge to use the s-word (or other profanity!) out of respect for their delicate ears. Thank you!

    1. M-C*

      11 and 14? And they don’t know worse vocabulary than people use online? Wake up AAM, this is no longer kindergarten for anyone :-).

  2. CollegeAdmin*

    I still remember being asked to scrape gum off the floor with a screwdriver in my first retail job. I really didn’t know how to say no to the request, so I just gritted my teeth and did. (And I mean multiple pieces of gum around the store, not one spot.)

    1. College Career Counselor*

      In one of my first jobs as a teenager (fast food), the manager had been feuding with the company contracted to haul away trash. This led to more than the usual amount of…dumpster content over the course of a couple of weeks. The restaurant was not supposed to have “visible trash” in its container, so on the eve of a corporate inspection, I was ordered to climb into the dumpster and jump up and down on the garbage to get the pile below the level of the dumpster/screening fence so it could not be seen from the parking lot. This happened to be during the summer months, in the American South, so that dumpster was, shall we say, pretty ripe.

      I was 18 and needed the job, so I did it. Threw those shoes away as fast as I could, however.

      1. Mallorie, the recruiter*

        I used to LOVE jumping in the dumpster of my first job. It was 98% cardboard boxes, though, so it was not nasty. We would fight over who got to do it!

        Things are a lot more fun when you are 15….

      2. sleepyhead*

        At one of my brothers first jobs when he was 19 or so he was a busser/dishwasher/cleaner at a restaurant and on of his tasks one day was to clean the dumpster. Why?! It’s garbage, does it really matter if the dumpster is ‘clean’?

      3. Rachael*

        I did something similar…only it was an ice cream store, and it was MILK garbage. I still want to puke at the memory.

    2. caraytid*

      why would anyone spit their gum on the floor – inside?????? O_o

      i’m sorry you had to do that.

        1. fposte*

          I’m grossed out by gum, and I once made the mistake of looking underneath the tables in one of our university’s lecture rooms. Augggggggh.

      1. Purple Dragon*

        We had a woman working in the building (not for my company) who used to chew green gum. We’d find it squished in the gap between the mirrors in the lifts, stuck to the wall where the ashtrays are outside, underneath railings and other bizarre places. She was and older woman (couldn’t tell her age due to monumental amounts of plastic surgery).

        We were all glad when she left. Positively disgusting !

      2. Jenna*

        On the floor? I see that everywhere.
        I used to work retail in a fabric store. When straightening the bolts I would discover wads of gum stuck in between the bolts of fabric. Ewwww.

    3. the gold digger*

      I had to clean the human feces off the floor in the boys’ room at the city pool when I was a lifeguard in college. However, cleaning the bathroom was part of my job description.

      Unless it is specifically in the job description – like plumber or janitor – you don’t ask someone else to clean your poop. And even if it is in someone’s job description, if you are any kind of decent human being at all, you will do what you can to keep someone else from having to deal with your problem.

      My husband is on a ski trip with two really old friends and a buddy of one of the old friends. Primo is sharing a bathroom with the buddy. The very first thing he told me when he called last night was that Buddy had left the toilet in – a mess – and Primo had to clean it before he could use it. He did call Buddy out, which I thought was appropriate.

      When you share facilities with other human beings, you make an effort not to be disgusting.

      (Primo is also facing this issue right now with his dad, who had knee surgery a few weeks ago. Primo stayed with his parents to help post surgery. His dad did not understand why Primo was bothered at the idea of emptying and rinsing Sly’s urine bottles and by cleaning the sofa — well, I will stop there. But apparently, Sly and this boss are related in thinking their poop does not stink and it is a privilege to deal with it.)

      1. Mallorie, the recruiter*

        And even if it is in someone’s job description, if you are any kind of decent human being at all, you will do what you can to keep someone else from having to deal with your problem.

        ^The cleaning woman at my office and I used to talk about this. One of the toilets gets backed up ALL THE TIME. I’ve done it a thousand times. There is a plunger and I fix it because I am a grown woman and do not need others to clean up after me. I used to think it was outrageous that so many people left it for her to do. (I would not clean up someone else’s mind you, but I still think that just because there IS a cleaning woman, doesn’t mean we all get to act like we were born in a barn).

        1. myswtghst*

          It saddens me how often I enter our 10-stall bathroom at work and find multiple unflushed toilets. Yes, I understand the auto-flush goes a little quick sometimes, but there is a button you can push to flush again and make sure everything goes down. If you’re really grossed out, you can even push it with your foot so you don’t have to *gasp* touch it! But seriously – we’re all adults, we should be able to flush the darn toilet ourselves!

          1. Kay the Tutor*

            So true! I always double check things like that because it’s just gross to leave it for someone else!

          2. BananaPants*

            It happens to me at least once a week. People apparently have never heard of a secondary flush to clear the bowl, or even worse they didn’t flush to begin with, or they think it’s OK to leave used TP on the floor or period blood on the seat. Or a sink is left running or wet paper towels that missed the bins are just left there on the floor. Freaking CLEAN UP after yourselves! We don’t have that many women working in our building/on our floor to begin with and every time I encounter a mess, I find myself wondering which coworker(s) are the slobs.

            1. Cruella DaBoss*

              LOL…I was a life guard too! Everyone hated bathroom duty because you never know what you would find. We had to have a chore roster so we could cycle off to other jobs. I am not sure what was worse: the men’s room or the ladies (a term I will use loosely here.) I was always surprised that people would just decide not to flush and just leave it! What kind of mentality is that? I think that is why I am an over-flusher now.

            2. la Contessa*

              Do you call around to every woman in the office to ask if they flushed the toilet, though? I got that call on day 4 of my new job, and it was one of the most bizarre conversations I’ve had at work. “Yes, I’m absolutely sure I flushed the toilet. Nope, wasn’t me. I promise you I flushed it!”

      2. Bunny*


        Every office I worked at has had a dedicated cleaning staff, and procedures in place to deal with serious issues that require handling by more… specialist… hygiene-handling people.

        Every office I worked at has also had a toilet brush in every toilet, and a supply of either hygienic spray or cleaning fluid in a cupboard under a sink, and a stored plunger. I have encountered incidents when an unknown person made an awful mess of a work toilet (explosive poop splattering the completely blocked toilet is one example, and period blood/poop on the seat is another), and in those cases someone qualified specifically hired to handle other people’s waste materials was called in. I have never, before now, heard of an ordinary member of staff being asked – by the pooper no less! – to clean or unclog.

    4. Carrie in Scotland*

      I had to clean off gum in ashtrays before the smoking ban came into effect :( yuck.

    5. Anonathon*

      One of my first post-college jobs had a facilities component, so I’ve definitely plunged. And cleaned up after a kid who vomited up and down the hallway. However, it was part of my job, plus I was cleaning up after an outside person — not a fellow staff member. To me, that’s the big difference.

  3. 42*

    >>Besides, your boss should’t be going around telling everyone that he clogged the toilet in the first place. Ew.<<

    Sums up my feelings exactly, A.

    1. Not Today Satan*

      Yeah. Somehow “One of the toilets is clogged. Please plunge it,” seems less degrading than “Please plunge the toilet that I clogged. Yes, that is my poo you will be looking at.”

      1. Mallory Janis Ian*

        Yes, somehow, cleaning anonymous poo is bad enough; cleaning personal poo is the quitting line.

    2. High on the ceiling*

      If you add 1/2 to 1 cup of dish washing liquid to the “mix” and give it an hour or two, the jam will often clear with a simple flush. Some people also advise adding hot water – in my experience, this has never made a notable difference. YMMV.

      1. Dynamic Beige*

        Aside from this being an interesting tip… it would only work if you have an office with a kitchen and dish washing soap and I’ve been in more than one office where that wouldn’t exist. One thing I will say about toilets is, if it looks like it’s going to start overflowing, there’s a little silver knob underneath that turns off the water. Get down there and figure out which way to spin it to turn that off. I had a toilet that was running slow in a hotel room, and after a few days there was that one time where the water level just kept rising. Turned that knob off and called facilities because there wasn’t a plunger in the room. Guy was somewhat amazed that I knew how to do that.

        I find it interesting that some people have washroom facilities with a plunger and/or toilet brush — I can’t ever remember seeing one in an office washroom.

        I’m also kind of… stunned… that anyone who defecated so much they plugged a toilet told someone what they did. I mean, if that had been me who did it, I either would have taken care of it if I had the tools or put an “out of order” sign on the door and called maintenance. I would not have asked an employee to go in and clean up my mess. Nasty.

        1. Sans*

          Yeah, I’d be too darn embarrassed to tell anyone else. I’d actually be appalled that it happened at work.

          And I’m not great with a plunger but I DO know about the knob behind the toilet. It has saved my bathroom floor (and the cat looking on with interest) a few times!

        2. Sans*

          If I was ever so desperate that I actually plunged the toilet, the next thing I would do is go home that night, update my resume, and begin an intense job search to get out of there as quickly as possible.

  4. Stephanie*

    Nononononono. Ew. Ew. Ew. Ew. (If this were a text, I might add The Scream emoji.)

    I get in a small company, there might not be a dedicated janitor to do this, but I don’t need to know that my boss had corn for lunch.

    1. AMG*

      and I am so glad there’s no corn in mine now. I’m going to stop reading until I’m done eating! :)

    2. Nina*

      Yeah, the last thing I would do is let anyone know that I was the culprit. I don’t need my boss knowing my digestive patterns.

      Love the new avi! That is a new one, right?

  5. Windchime*

    It’s great to see the nieces back again!

    I would be really, really disgusted to have to unstop the toilet in this situation. It’s gross enough to have to do it at home; I would never want to do it for my boss. He can plunge his own damn toilet.

    I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that there are a lot of weird and gross requests from this boss. This doesn’t sound like a one-off situation to me; a perfectly reasonable, professional boss just isn’t going to ask someone to clean his poo out of the toilet without other strange, unreasonable requests also coming first. What a whack-job.

  6. Malissa*

    “He didn’t ask you to hide a body”–love it!
    I love the nieces!
    Seriously though plunge or own poo or slink away and act like you didn’t do it in the first place. This is just not something you ask of another person.

    1. Ama*

      Back when I was at a catch-all administrative job that included being the liaison to the janitorial staff, I always wondered how many times the person who reported to me that one of the bathrooms was clogged and the person who actually did the clogging were the same person.

      Thankfully, it was never my job to do more than grab the always handy (it happened that often) “Bathroom Out of Order” sign and stick it on the door until the janitorial staff could fix it.

      1. Natalie*

        Having been the subsequent person who reported the clogged toilet a lot… it seems like they’re almost never the same person.

          1. fposte*

            Our work bathroom’s toilet is old and feeble and it doesn’t take much to clog it. Therefore a clog looks exactly like somebody forgetting to flush, which also happens a lot. I feel like every freaking time I am the person who tries to flush after the forgetter only to find the waters rising and chasing me out of the bathroom.

          2. sws*

            Oh come on, don’t you remember the first rule of flatulence: “If you smelt it, you dealt it.” Maybe that applies with poop too.

      2. Abradee*

        I had similar responsibilities as an admin assistant early in my professional life. In that job I was tasked with alerting the staff in my department to any “technical difficulties” as well as calling for a request from our facilities or IT departments to have things fixed.

        This one coworker I had there took joy in making my life miserable. We were on the same professional level but I was a lot younger and she had been there forever, so a lot of it I put up with, knowing this job was not forever.

        So when she once wrote me an email asking me to alert facilities and our staff because the toilet seat in the front office bathroom was “inexplicably” cracked and loose and coming of its hinges, I was so tempted to write her back (along copying our whole team): “so tell us how you REALLY broke the toilet, Dolores.”

        Of course I didn’t. If only. Ah, work revenge fantasies…

    2. The Toxic Avenger*

      OK – am I the only one that is laughing my behind off right now?? Seriously – if I clogged the ole toilet I would be mortified and I would plunge my own poo and then pray nobody saw me (I am with Malissa and Lily in NYC on this one).

      1. Kay the Tutor*

        I tutor in students’ homes and the most mortifying experience of my adult life was flooding the bathroom at a student’s house because it clogged and then started to overflow. I looked for a plunger in the bathroom, but there was none to be found! Who has a bathroom with no plunger? Obviously, I couldn’t just let it continue to flood. I did what I could to help clean up, but had to get help from the family… and then had to finish tutoring that student… and return to their house several times for additional sessions. I made a point of never using the restroom in their house again!

        1. Cath in Canada*

          My MIL’s house is on a septic system, and pretty much every time I’m there for Christmas / Thanksgiving / Easter dinner, the loo seems to flood on me about 10 minutes before the big dinner is served. Apparently the same thing has happened several times to one of my brothers-in-law, too, but never to anyone else in the (very large) family. The two of us have concluded that the system is prejudiced against British people.

          1. stellanor*

            I am the only person who has troubles with the toilet in my significant other’s family home. It behaves itself for everyone else but for some reason when I use it, about half of the time it just refuses to flush. It does this pathetic little swoosh that eliminates nothing, and that’s it. I can usually cajole it into flushing ENOUGH after a few minutes.

            It’s not even a dual flush toilet, I asked! I’ve visited loads of times, still can’t figure out what I’m doing wrong. I think it just hates me personally.

        2. VintageLydia USA*

          The FIRST thing I bought when I moved into a home with a second bathroom was a plunger. I’ve been that guest who clogged a toilet and I will not make my own guests embarrass themselves by asking me for one.

          1. Tephraa*

            Annnnd this is why I’m so happy to live in Australia… Haven’t had to plunge a toilet, nor have ever even seen a plunger since I moved here :) (I don’t think they even would know what to do with one). There is nothing you can’t flush down the toilets here = no more embarrassing toilet stories ever! But I am indeed haunted by several such instances when I lived in North America…seriously North Americans, just buy plungers and waste baskets for all your bathrooms!

          2. Hlyssande*

            A turkey in every oven and a plunger for every toilet.

            Seriously, a plunger per bathroom is the best idea. You don’t want to have to scramble to the other bathroom and back just in time for the flood to happen!

  7. simonthegrey*

    I have never had to plunge a toilet, but when I worked retail, I did once have to clean up vomit from around a toilet. Unfortunately, in that case it was “other duties as described.” But in my current role as an educator, if someone came and told me to plunge the toilet, I’d say no. My time is too valuable – and I don’t mean that in a snobby way, I mean I literally am very much in demand most of the time – for me to go fix my boss’s “mess.”

    1. Chuchundra*

      I cleaned toilets back when I worked in a in a fast food restaurant. If cleaning or plunging toilets was my job, I’d do it.

      Actually, if I plunged a toilet now I’d get a grievance. That’s union work.

      When we were in our old building sometime the toilets would get clogged if someone had a rather productive session and, if was during the weekend, we’d have to wait until Monday to get it cleared up. Plungers were verbotten.

      1. C Average*

        “Productive session.” Heh.

        If I am ever asked to plunge a toilet at work, I’m going to say that it’s union work and I don’t want to get a grievance. Heck, I might just say that the next time the plumbing needs to be attended to at home!

      2. Nashira*

        Oh god. That would be… Bad… for Reasons… For some folks I know. There’s a time and a place for union regs, and that should never involve leaving things like that.

    2. Rebecca*

      Yeah, back when I was a retail manager, my (male) boss asked me to go clean up something in the women’s bathroom. (I won’t get into details.) We had janitorial staff but they had already left or something, I forget. That was an “other duties [heh] as assigned” moment and he was like, “I hate to even ask, but it’s in the women’s bathroom…”

      I can’t believe the gall of someone telling you to clean up a mess that they themselves created, though. I mean, really!

      1. jamlady*

        That’s the WEIRDEST part to me – not that there’s a mess and it’s way out of his job description to clean it up, but that his boss was like “hey, I made a super gross mess, you go clean it”. It’s just SO weird. No.

    3. Caath in Caanaadaa*

      I worked in a movie theatre one summer and there was a “situation” in the men’s bathroom that needed immediate attention, during a very busy period. The official policy was that a manager of the appropriate gender should take care of such things, but there was no male manager in that day. I thought the senior manager handled it really well – she asked for a volunteer from among the male employees, and put up $100 of her own money to whoever took care of it.

      1. M-C*

        +1 Situations need to be taken care of, but doing it in a classy (and concretely compensated) way doesn’t hurt..

  8. The Office Admin*

    >>>>>Applause for M & A<<<<<

    Also, if this ever happened to me….I'd be flabbergasted. I mean, what do you even SAY to this sort of request???
    I feel like I would have laughed it off and asked if we were starting a prank war.
    But hey, I’m the only woman employed at the company I work for so maybe my thinking is skewed to the less serious side.

      1. Calliope*

        Actually, the one word that would come out of my mouth in response to this request:


    1. Dr. Johnny Fever*

      “Excuse me, are both of your arms broken?”

      At least, that’s what I would say.

      When I did fast food, I plunged toilets because I was paid to do so. By choice, I will plunge after myself, my husband, and my son. Foreign poo is out, just out.

    2. bridget*

      Although I am fully for equal representation of the genders in all industries, I am super jealous that you effectively have your own private bathroom at work (barring a unisex bathroom, of course). I don’t even have that luxury at home!

      1. Stephanie*

        I am like one of five women (out of 200 or so) at my current job. I effectively have multiple restrooms of my own to choose from. It is AWESOME.

    3. AndersonDarling*

      What I would say:
      “You need to put your request in an IT Ticket. We respond to requests by the order they were received.”

  9. Relly*

    It takes, what, 30 seconds to unclog a toilet with a plunger? The boss could have done it himself it the time it took for him to threaten his employee.

    I think resigning was the smart thing to do. If a boss is going to threaten your job over his turds, there are probably a bunch of other issues going on with them, too.

      1. Stephanie*

        Yeah, I can’t imagine on Monday the boss asked him to work a bit late and then on Tuesday he asked OP’s friend to plunge poo. There was some intermediate batshittery.

    1. INTP*

      It was clearly a power play IMO. And a really intense, bizarre power play at that.

      There is no business case to be made for requiring employees whose job is so far outside that job description to plunge your poop. It takes longer to find someone and explain the task to them than it does to just plunge the dang toilet. (Is dang acceptable language for an 11 year old? I assume so but got in trouble for saying “butt” to a 5 year old so maybe my perception is off, haha.) It had to be some sort of very weird test or display of dominance. And I agree with quitting on the spot unless you have no other options for feeding and sheltering yourself because a boss that engages in manipulative power plays is bad enough, but one who involves their own excrement in these plays has to be absolutely unhinged.

      1. RVA Cat*

        Wow. Just wow.

        I agree that some office politics resemble a grayback gorilla beating his chest and bellowing, but pretty much flinging his poo at you goes a little far into the animal kingdom.

  10. anon23*

    Oh my goodness. Even without the nieces’ imput this may be my favorite letter ever. If my boss ever asked me to do that no amount of poker face could hide what I was thinking!

    1. Adam*

      Same here, and I pride myself on my poker face. I simply would not be able to keep from cracking in some way if my boss told me that.

      1. anon23*

        I would *probably* say something along the lines of- “Are you s**ting me?! I mean, I guess you are!! (badum psshhh)”

        Alison, hope the censoring was ok here- if not, feel free to remove!

  11. AMG*

    Your neices are so cool! The only other thing I could add is whether the person could still collect unemployment if they were fired versus quitting. Also, what do say in future interviews? We had philosophical differences with regards to management style? With regards to poop plunging dookies, er, duties?

    1. the gold digger*

      I would think this would count as constructive discharge. At least it would if I were on the jury.

      And if there were a jury over problems — well, let’s say I would have a hard time convicting someone who reacted to such a request with a punch in the nose.

              1. BeckyDaTechie*

                In this thread a lot of grown up girls (and boys) are laughing at poop. Better to laugh at someone else’s crappy day than have one of our own?

      1. Kyrielle*

        “I think this would count as constructive discharge” – also obstructive discharge. (Sorry, couldn’t resist. Probably should have, but….)

      2. Apollo Warbuks*

        I think I need to grow up a bit because I laughted far too hard at constructive discharge

    2. Journalist Wife*

      I agree — I think in that very moment, I would have made sure everyone nearby could hear the boss literally firing me over refusing to plunge his poop mess, and then made sure I listed every one of those witnesses’ names when I filed for unemployment.

  12. jade*

    M seems very level-headed!

    I wonder if you could say yes, you’ll take care of it, and then go call janitorial staff?

    1. EarlGrey*

      It sounds like the friend was pretty new there – he could have pestered the boss with a dozen questions: “Whose job is that? Do we have dedicated cleaning staff on site or is there a contracted cleaning company? Do you have their number? Who should I ask for? Are they going to charge us extra for an extra visit? Do I need to have the office manager sign off on that?”

      Of course, that’s the snarky response I now have prepared for a situation no one should have to be prepared for…

    2. hildi*

      That’s what I was thinking? If they have custodial staff then why couldn’t the employee just have called them? Unless the boss wanted to physically watch the employee plunge the crapper, in which case that takes this entire situation to a different arena.

  13. Shayna*

    I think quitting was reasonable (though maybe not so impulsively, if he’d let the boss fire him he’d have had a lock tight claim to unemployment and a really great story for when an interviewer asks if he’d ever been fired). Not necessarily because the employee was asked to plunge a toilet, but the circumstance (autocorrected to “circus” hah!) around it and the boss’ reaction. He sounds like a terrible person to work with and for.

      1. AnonEMoose*

        I would. Not only because I’ve seen and heard some bizarre stuff, but because I’d come down on the side of “No one would make this shit up.” (Pun intended.)

    1. Meg P*

      Agreed – my only comment would be that he should have insisted that the boss fire him, and not quit instead. That would really call his bluff. Although it does seem like this is a “tip of the iceberg” situation, and probably not the first thing that upset him about this job.

      1. AndersonDarling*

        Agreed. And I’d like the fire-able offence in writing. Oh, to see the HR admin type up that letter. . .

      2. Leah*

        Yeah, this is a boss who goes wayyyy outside the norm of work boundaries and common human decency. This is not his first offense, I’ll bet.

    2. INTP*

      I think waiting for the boss to fire him would have been a good idea because it seems very likely that the boss was bluffing. Is the boss really going to explain this full situation to whoever handles the HR paperwork? Or to an unemployment judge?

      Though, maybe someone insane enough to make this request would have no qualms about discussing the size of their BMs under oath.

        1. OhNo*

          Oh, lord, I just burst out laughing in the middle of the library. Now all the students are looking at me oddly. Thank you for that!

        2. INTP*

          I could totally see this on an episode of The Good Wife. Alicia would handle the questions with a perfect poker face.

  14. Come On Eileen*

    Aaaaand … any advice I could or would give has been spectacularly trumped by these two girls. Well done. #igotnothingmoretoadd

    1. BeckyDaTechie*

      Don’t you mean ‘doodies’ in this case? (It’s 12:30 on a Tuesday and I’m giggling at poop puns. One day, I might even grow up.)

  15. Joey*

    Obviously this isn’t a peachy relationship to begin with. It almost feels like the boss is trying to get the ops friend to quit and of course it worked.

    Although I would never tell someone to quit without something lined up. I don’t think most people are prepared to go without a check for the time it takes to find another job, go through hiring, then work a couple more weeks before the 1st paycheck comes in. I mean even if you interview and get an offer the following week you’re still talking at least a month without a paycheck….and that’s ridiculously fast.

    Me, I’d do it with a “I’ll show you” look on my face.

    1. Stephanie*

      Yeah, I’d probably end up doing it and then be sure to go home and send out resumes that same evening. It is nice to fantasize about walking out the door and flipping the bird, but you’re right about the time it’ll take to find something new.

      1. AnonEMoose*

        I think it depends a bit on your line of work, too. Me, I have enough administrative experience that a decent temp agency could have me bringing in a paycheck within two weeks. Ok, it wouldn’t be as much as I’m making now, but probably enough to get by until I found something better.

  16. Persephone Mulberry*

    I LOVE the nieces!

    Serious question, Alison: assuming that bowing down to managerial pressure is out of the question (because EW and NO), is it better to resign or be fired? I mean, I get the advantage of resigning so that you don’t have to SAY you were fired, but from an unemployment perspective, or when it comes down to addressing why you left without another job lined up, is there one way that sways better than the other?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It depends. In some cases, it’s better to preserve your eligibility for unemployment insurance; in others, it might be important to you to be able to say you’ve never been fired. There’s not really one blanket rule that applies across the board.

      1. Jennifer*

        As far as I can tell in my state, there’s essentially no difference between “fired” and “quit to avoid being fired.” Either way you won’t get any unemployment benefits and you still have a black mark on your record.

        I think I’m with your older niece on this one: it’s ridiculous, but is it worth being out of work for weeks or months? But then again, this guy seems to think he can get another job quickly and most of us can’t, so I think of it from that POV.

        1. Natalie*

          Most states allow people who were fired to collect unemployment, as long as they weren’t fired for something egregious (stealing, assault, etc). I wonder if this would count as constructive discharge in those states, thus preserving qualification for unemployment.

  17. fposte*

    I love the nieces! I feel M may be my pragmatic soulmate.

    I work in librarianship, where plunging your own toilets is a thing that happens sometimes, so I’m with M on the “it’s a toilet, people have to plunge these things all the time, don’t be a snob” thought. However, the sticking point to me is not the toilet part but the boss’s personal mess becoming my problem to clean up. Your work mess, sure; I’ll tidy your budget and soothe people you’ve ticked off. But I really don’t want to brush your teeth, or carry your pee jars to the bathroom for you, or scrape barf off of your jacket, or plunge your poop in the toilet, or break up with your girlfriend, or other private tasks. I realize there are jobs that do include those tasks, and I don’t think I’m too good to brush teeth or scrape barf. But this is more than just finding something part of a job when you didn’t expect it, which is reason alone to consider departure; this is working for somebody who literally abdicates his dirty personal work to somebody else. My departure wouldn’t simply be to avoid plunging a toilet, it would be to avoid working with somebody who thinks that’s okay.

    I don’t know that I’d walk on the spot–as I said, the actual toilet-plunging isn’t the point to me, and I kind of like the idea of plunging the thing absolutely beautifully, better than any toilet has been plunged before (don’t ask me how that’s measured), and *then* resigning, to make it clear it’s not about the poop in the toilet but the poop on the org chart.

    1. Adonday Veeah*

      “it’s not about the poop in the toilet but the poop on the org chart.”

      I love you, fposte!

    2. Jenn*

      As another librarian, I love your comment, fposte. Plunging is something that sometimes happens no matter how many degrees you have or how many years of seniority you have. This is very much about the (admitted!) origin of the problem, not the problem itself.

    3. Colette*

      I’m with M, too – not that it’s a request I would expect someone to make at work, but … it has to be done, and I can think of circumstances where it would make sense for the boss to delegate it to someone who wouldn’t normally do it. (I.e. Important clients are waiting for the boss in the lobby and it needs to be fixed ASAP.). Quitting makes sense if the boss is being a jerk; it doesn’t if it’s a request that’s affected by circumstances.

    4. jamlady*

      “However, the sticking point to me is not the toilet part but the boss’s personal mess becoming my problem to clean up.”

      Yes! That’s what keeps getting me. I’ll do what needs to be done, but he just wandered over like “I made a huge, gross mess and now you’re going to clean it up”. Nope.

    5. rPM*

      Yeah, my initial reaction was that the friend should absolutely draw the line and quit, and for me it really was about being asked to clean up someone else’s poop who is presumably able-bodied enough to do it himself. But when M. pointed out that “…thousands of people get paid minimum wage or below to clean toilets constantly; you are getting paid a high salary to do it once,” it really stopped me in my tracks. What a great way to think about this. Plus, bosses do ask their employees to clean up messes for them all the time… just usually not in such a literal way :) On the other hand, I agree that a boss who asks a sys admin to plunge a toilet for him and then immediately threatens to fire him if he refuses is probably not an otherwise reasonable, great guy to work for. It’s that second part about escalation to firing that still brings me down on the side of quitting.

    6. BettyD*

      Ha! As a librarian, I was scrolling through previously posted comments about NEVER plunging a toilet and thinking “sometimes the toilet, she must be plunged.” In fact, there exists a picture of me on my 30th birthday, pants rolled up and plunger in hand, in the ladies’ toilet taking care of business.

      Then again, these circumstances are generally the nebulous “public.” I would have a hard time understanding why a boss can’t clean up the mess he or she created as well.

    7. Not So NewReader*

      Nice catch, fposte.

      I would have had a problem holding back from asking the boss if he would clean up my mess for me if that should happen. I mean, if I am going to be fired, might as well go out in a blaze of glory.

      To any bosses who might be reading and not understanding all the finer aspects here: It is also a VERY BAD plan to order your help to clean up a nasty mess and then joke about hiding in your office while the task is being completed. Annnnd adding that you yourself cannot stand that type of thing. The correct thing to say is “Thank you. You can leave an hour early today and you will be paid for the time.”

    8. Elizabeth the Ginger*

      Yes, this nails it exactly. Cleaning up human waste is not part of my job description, but I can envision scenarios where it would be the professional thing to do for me to step up and take care of something gross like that. Even, maybe, maybe, if the boss had found the toilet clogged by who-knows-who and had passed off the plunging to the OP’s friend… though there’d have to be a good reason why the janitorial staff couldn’t do it. (Maybe if they only come in at 5pm and this was 10 in the morning?)

      But when the boss made it clear that he caused the problem? No, nope, not at all. If you hired me to do IT work, I’m not going to walk your dogs, I’m not going to wash your car, and I’m definitely not going to plunge your poo. These are your own problems to take care of.

    9. Vancouver Reader*

      “plunging the thing absolutely beautifully, better than any toilet has been plunged before”

      After you plunged, it’d be shining like the sparkle on Steve Trevor’s tooth at the start of the Wonder Woman shows.

  18. Ordinary Worker*

    I’m obviously in the minority here but I guess I don’t see the big deal.
    I’ve plunged a toilet before I’m sure I’ll do it again, if my boss wants to pay me my ‘handsome salary’ to take a few minutes to do that then whatever.

    Perhaps it’s a one-off request, perhaps not. If it turns out that it’s an ongoing trend of the boss being crazy, then I’d start looking for a new job for certain.

    In my working career I’ve done many, many ‘other jobs as assigned’ and, for me, this would just be one more to add to the list.

    1. EarlGrey*

      To me, the big deal is:
      Gross (but not difficult!) task that takes 30 seconds to do, and is pretty universally understood to be the job of whoever made the mess…
      …but the boss flouts convention and practicality to go out of the way to ask this person to do it. So it’s obviously a power play or childish bullying. I just don’t see any way to frame it as a reasonable request.

      1. Ann*

        Totally agree. I’m blown away that the boss admitted that he clogged the toilet and then told the person that he admitted it to to clean it up. There has to be something else going on there (like a power play, as you said).

        1. EarlGrey*

          exactly – the comments here have plenty of scenarios where “please plunge the toilet” is a reasonable request. But I’m gonna trust OP’s friend to not have misinterpreted a reasonable request!

          I wonder if it was hazing the new guy? And if it happened in front of other employees or if it was one-on-one? I can’t decide which would be more embarrassing…

          1. Creag an Tuire*

            …and now I’m envisioning everyone standing in the men’s room going “Where’s Gary? The boss went to invite him to his surprise Welcome-Aboard Party twenty minutes ago.”

      2. Elizabeth West*

        That was my thought as well. And I doubt very seriously it was the first incident. Walking out is generally something people do when the straw breaks the camel’s back, and in this case, “other doodies as assigned” was that straw.

        Sorry, I couldn’t resist. :)

      3. INTP*

        I agree with this. It would be one thing if employees were occasionally required to plunge after themselves or after customers had clogged the toilets. But in this case, the boss spent more time than it would take to plunge the toilet tracking down someone for whom that was totally irrelevant to their job to attempt to bully them into doing it. It seems like a very weird power play or test – a way for the boss to only keep around employees subservient enough to literally handle his poop.

    2. Traveler*

      Depends on what your handsome salary is though. Don’t plumbers get to charge a pretty hefty service fee?

  19. Hermoine Granger*

    This is just…I can’t even. What?!?!?!

    Why couldn’t he just plunge his own…situation? Asking someone else who isn’t maintenance or a janitor to take care of it is bad enough. Demanding someone else do it and then threatening to fire them is just downright crazy. I’m pretty certain this wasn’t the first time this boss made a crazy demand. I don’t fault the guy for quitting. Had he stayed there would have been all other kinds of…stuff to put up with.

  20. YandO*

    No. Just NO.

    And at the next interview:

    – Why did you leave your last job?
    – My boss clogged the toilette at work and then demanded I go unclog it. I said no, so he threatened to fire me. I resigned.

    1. Jennifer*

      I shudder to think how the interview would go after that was said.

      Honestly, a lot of my desire to just put up with the crazy and do what he said would be so I don’t ever have to explain this in a professional setting.

      1. Stephanie*

        I mean, I’d believe it. The interviewee would have to be a pretty serious fabulist to pick that as a reason for why he left his last job (and why that particular lie? it’s just too weird with no real gain on his part).

        But yeah, that’d be awkward. And I’d worry about it derailing the interview too much (“Ok, so let’s get away from the topic of my deranged ex-boss with power play issues and talk about my experience as a systems admin.”)

      1. Dynamic Beige*

        “My boss pooped very bossly in the washroom one day… then demanded I clean it up.”

    2. Jady*

      I’m honestly curious how someone would explain this in an interview. The old ‘don’t talk bad about your last job’ thing is hard to side step here. I’m trying to think of something and I just come up blank.

  21. Tiffy the Fed... Contractor*

    I had to stop reading this because I’m eating my lunch. I’ll come back to it later after my stomach has settled.

  22. Artemesia*

    I’d actually feel differently if the toilet had just been found plugged and the worker had been asked to take care of it. The fact that the boss plugged it up and then asked him to plunge it is a dominance behavior — he is just trying to push this guy around and if he is sure he can move on to another position quitting is appropriate. This was bullying.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I agree — there’s a difference between “I’m so sorry to ask you this, but the visitor toilet appears to be clogged. Do you think you could handle it?” and “I clogged up the toilet. Go plunge it for me.”

      1. Jessa*

        Yes, this is where my brain is going too. The request smacks of pushing someone around and kind of very minor bully behaviour. What other distasteful things does this boss do? And to go straight to threatening to fire someone? That’s just extremely odd. Some people cannot do this kind of thing without adding to the issue by becoming seriously ill over it. It’s just such a strange behaviour on the part of the boss.

    2. Former Diet Coke Addict*

      I think that is the key distinction, actually. If a client did it or the toilet was found clogged thanks to a Mad Pooper, it really would be a different situation than the boss clogging and then having someone else clean up his mess. And while no one is too good to plunge a toilet, that extends to the boss as well–he is not above wielding the plunger his own self, and asking others to do so verges on power-play behaviour.

        1. C Average*

          Maybe the boss in this scenario is the guy in Ohio who’s been in the news for pooping on cars and in people’s yards.

          1. KJR*

            I live about an hour away from there…I hope he doesn’t decide to take any little side trips!

        2. Dynamic Beige*

          You just reminded me of something that happened… There were a fair number of homeless shelters near where I worked along with the various problems such as drug addiction, mental illness and prostitution that often follow. One day a colleague came into the stairwell to find that someone had used their poop as a form of creative expression on the walls. Mad Pooper, indeed, the person was caught in the act and found to be one of the homeless. I think not too long after that, security cards and locks were put up throughout the building.

      1. Poohbear McGriddles*

        It definitely sounds like a power play to me. The boss seems to be asserting his dominance by literally forcing someone to deal with his… mess. Makes me wonder what kind of TED Talks he’s been listening to.
        The one word that sums up the situation is “Ew!”. I don’t care if you’re POTUS, if you drop the kids off at the pool and can’t flush it, roll up your sleeves and TCB unless you’re needed in the Situation Room (and not the one with Wolf Blitzer).

          1. Loose Seal*

            Did you see the one on The Walking Dead last week? That guy had to “send a fax to Cleveland.”

            I laughed. A lot.

        1. BeckyDaTechie*

          I’m sorry but after reading this comment all I can say is “Thank gods I haven’t started my new job yet.” I’m at home with tears rolling down my face from laughing so hard. My cats are looking at me like I’ve cracked, and they may not be wrong.

          So thanks, I needed that. :)

    3. Adam*

      This was my reaction. Clogged toilets happen and while there was a janitorial staff if necessary taking care of one yourself here and there isn’t a big deal to me.

      Having my boss decree that I need to clean up his commode mess, which society has decided is ultimately his responsibility,…yeah, no thank you “Your highness”…

    4. NickelandDime*

      I took it this way too. This wasn’t about insubordination. This was about power. He did not like the employee and wanted to take him down a peg or two. He was right to quit on the spot. If the employee had done this, it would have just gotten worse.

    5. A Non*

      Yep. He just made it clear that he expects everyone at the office to deal with his $*#&. In a spectacularly literal manner.

      I’d be out of there too. I’ve had too many nasty bosses to put up with another one for a day longer than necessary. Of course, I also have savings and can find jobs pretty easily, so it’s actually an option – my heart goes out to anyone who can’t.

    6. Whippers*

      Yeah, I never actually considered that the boss’s behaviour would have just got worse if the employee had went ahead and plunged it.

      What would have been a good way to have handled this if you couldn’t afford to quit on the spot? Would you say “Ok, I am going to do this, but only because you have threatened to fire me. I don’t think it is appropriate you have asked me to do this”. Any ideas?

      1. OhNo*

        I can think of two options: protest a reasonable amount, do it anyway, and then complain to anyone who might hold sway with the boss (other long-time or high-level employees, the boss’ boss, HR) and hope they give him a serious talking to, OR keep refusing until he fires you, then file for unemployment.

        Those are the only two options that immediately come to mind, but I’m sure there are others.

          1. Dynamic Beige*

            Learned helplessness to the rescue!

            In a loud carrying voice so that everyone in the office can hear:
            “Uh… I’ve never had to use a plunger to unclog a toilet. Could you show me how?”

      2. Not So NewReader*

        I knew of one individual that handle a similar situation this way- he did the task AND told every. single. person. in the company that he encountered for the next three days. (The boss failed to factor in that this was a company of several hundred people. The nature of this individual’s job made it very easy for him to spread the word.)

        It is very difficult to lead several hundred people if they are all laughing at you.

        1. Whippers*

          Yeah, but there the boss could also fire you for telling everyone, if he was willing to fire you for not doing it.

    7. Traveler*

      “Dominance behavior” – exactly (and my mind is swimming with anthropological reasons for this behavior). I also just can’t imagine ever dictating something like that to a lower level employee even if was “found as is”. If you found it, you clean it up – regardless of your position on an org chart. The only exception would be if you already had someone like a janitor assigned to that sort of thing.

  23. Cajun2core*

    I have to disagree with everyone else on here. I do agree with everyone that the boss should *not* have asked him to do that and that it was absolutely disgusting.

    However, I see the workplace as a team. Sometimes, you have to “take one for the team”

    Once during an interview, I was asked what my definition of “teamwork” was. My response was, “Never saying, ‘That’s not my job’.” I didn’t get that job but I could tell the interviewer loved my answer. Another answer to that question would be, “Doing what is best for the team even though it is not best for you.”

    Granted, this was an exceptional case, but I don’t know if I would want to work with someone, who had a “That’s not my job” attitude.

    Again, I do want to stress that I believe the request was totally out-of-line. If the original letter-writer thought he could get away with walking out (deciding that he did not want to be part of that team), that is great for him. He just has to realize the consequences (not having a job).

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yeah, but isn’t the fact that the boss himself was the one who clogged relevant here? As Artemesia said above, it’s not like it was found that way. The boss himself did it.

      1. Cajun2core*

        It is not really relevant.

        I still agree that the boss should have unclogged the toilet himself but he is the boss and unless you want to lose your job, you do what the boss tells you.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          But surely you agree that bosses can make absolutely outrageous, inane, insulting, and/or unacceptable requests and that there are times when it’s reasonable to say no? He’s not the king; they’re in a business relationship and they both have standing to decide what they’re willing to let that look like.

          1. Ordinary Worker*

            Of course! I totally agree the boss was flexing his power, no doubt about it. It was a pretty silly request imo.

            But, it’s not something that I personally would QUIT on the spot over… that seems a bit overboard.

            1. Jessa*

              There has to be something the OP is not saying. For the boss to resort to “or you’re fired,” and for the person the OP is describing to quit on that basis…we’re missing a big piece of important info. Is this constant ? Asking for the outrageous? Threatening to fire people?

              I mean the boss obviously wasn’t taken by the OP to be joking about “or you’re fired.” They quit. That’s huge. I wonder if the OP would be willing to address why the boss would instantly go to “or you’re fired,” and it would be taken so seriously that someone would quit on that basis rather than go “Yeh right Charlie, go clean your own mess. Ha ha hahah.”

          2. Cajun2core*

            I agree completely that it was unreasonable, outrageous, etc. However, the employee has to decide if that is something they are willing to be fired for or not. Even if not fired, possibly the boss ending up with a negative opinion of them because they were not willing to do what was asked.

            An employee always has the right to say, “No” but they have to be willing to face the consequences.

            1. Natalie*

              The employee in this letter did face the consequences – their boss continued to be completely unreasonable, and so they quit.

            2. Jennifer*

              Yup. It does boil down to “Do I want this on my permanent record of life, to never be able to use this job as a reference, to have to explain this when I job hunt again?” and also “Can I afford to be out of work indefinitely rather than unclog a toilet for a minute?”

            3. Traveler*

              If my boss has a negative opinion of me because I refuse to clean up his mess, he’s the one with issues, not me. I’m not his mother or father, and that doesn’t make me a bad employee. If he is responsible enough to be the boss, he’s responsible enough to clean up after himself on something that has absolutely nothing to do with work.

          3. Chinook*

            “He’s not the king; they’re in a business relationship and they both have standing to decide what they’re willing to let that look like.”

            And thinking of places like Downtown Abbey where it is someone’s job to take out the full commode, it would absolutely be a powerplay to insist someone deal with your bodily fluids who is not normally assigned to do it. It is one thing to demand someone to take care of what has come out of others but it can only be seen as putting someone in their place when you demand they deal with your own.

            1. Jennifer*

              I can just picture Carson glaring at Moseley for saying he’s not a footman, or valet, or whatever his title is now and making him do it anyway.

              1. fposte*

                It’s a weirdly understaffed house, but the second footman would have to empty and clean all the male servants’ chamber pots. That’s a reason right there for him to insist on being first footman.

          4. MashaKasha*

            Completely agree that there are times when it’s reasonable to say no. I’d say in addition to the situation described, if the boss requires you to do something illegal, it’s fine to say no and quit or be fired. Much better than the alternative, when the boss gets caught, claims innocence, and blames you.

        2. JAL*

          To be honest, I’d much rather lose my job than unplug my boss’s poo from the toilet. But that’s just me.

        3. jamlady*

          But it IS relevant. His boss walked over and said (in my words) “I made a huge mess in the bathroom – I take full responsibility for making this mess – and it needs to be cleaned up. This task has absolutely nothing to do with our work or what you were hired on to do and it’s a task that I should be taking on because it’s totally my fault and it’s totally personal, but I’m going to come over here and make you do it – or you’re FIRED.”

          The fact that it was the boss’ mess and his request is absolutely relevant because why in the world would anyone want to work for someone like that?

        4. Jennifer*

          I second that. If you want to tell people what to do, you have to be the boss. Otherwise you’re a peon and have to take what they dish out. Or pay the price of having no money.

        5. Not So NewReader*

          And this is the way retail and fast food jobs go. Some factory jobs also go this way. You do as you are told or you no longer have a job. In the past, we have gotten into white collar vs blue collar. And this is a great example of why there seems to be a divide. Very seldom do you hear of a white collar worker getting fired for not plunging, not killing the rat, not changing that light bulb that is 40 feet up, etc. But if a blue collar worker refuses – oh, boy- it’s very different from the white collar world. Key point is that it’s not in their job description, either.

          My knee-jerk reaction to the question here was “Yeah, okay, do it, then start sending out mega resumes.” It depends on your life experience I guess. A friend was asked to pull a dead person’s body parts out of very large machine. Sometimes jobs are more than you bargained for and sometimes bosses are more than you bargained for. I think it boils down to a personal decision about limits/boundaries.

    2. Joey*

      sorry “taking one for the team” is doing work that benefits the “team”. This isn’t much different than if the boss asked you to wipe his ass thinking that you should just because he’s your boss.

      1. Cajun2core*

        I fully understand your comment. I agree that he should not have asked the employee to do that.
        However, the employee has to be willing to face the consequences if they refuse.

        1. Whippers*

          I don’t understand why you keep saying the employee “has to be willing to face the consequences”. There is no question that the employee in this case was willing to, and did, face the consequences of refusing. In fact, this is the crux of the whole post; should you quit rather than do something you think beyond the pale.

      2. Windchime*

        Yep, wiping the boss’ butt would be the next disgusting demand. No, thanks. I work at a place with a lot of employees and I’m pretty sure that HR would have a field day with this one if one of my bosses insisted that I plunge the toilet after Boss clogged it with poo. It would be Boss that was packing up his office, not Employee.

      3. MashaKasha*

        I had a different analogy in my head, that I didn’t want to post because the nieces will be reading this. But yeah, butt-wiping is great analogy, and completely in the same realm as this boss’s request was.

    3. LBK*

      I have to heartily disagree with the philosophy of never saying “That’s not my job”. There are countless good reasons to say something is not your job that don’t make you not a team player (which, frankly, I hate as a phrase to begin with because it’s used almost exclusively in context of guilting people into doing things).

      1. AnonEMoose*

        +1 million. I’ve had “not a team player” lobbed at me so many times, when what it really seems to mean is “not willing to let me trample over your reasonable boundaries any time I see fit.”

        1. C Average*

          I like this.

          I used to be not a very good team player and, once I figured out I had some work to do in that area, worked very hard to become one.

          As part of that process, I’ve paid a lot of attention to how and when people use that phrase, and I agree with you. It’s very often a workplace-approved way to say “I want YOUR boundaries to look more like MINE” or even “I don’t want YOUR boundaries to apply to ME.”

          1. Windchime*

            Exactly. I’m a great team player, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to do your work for you every time you refuse to do it. If you’re sick and need someone to fill in? Absolutely, don’t worry about it for even one minute. You’re frantically trying to reach a deadline? Call me; I’m happy to do whatever you need. But you’re lazy or feel like watching kitten videos online? Sorry. You’re on your own.

            1. AnonEMoose*

              And you’d better be up for returning the favor every once in awhile…I’m happy to help out whenever possible, but it needs to be a two-way street if you want that to keep happening.

          2. Not So NewReader*

            “I don’t want YOUR boundaries to apply to ME.”

            Right on, C Average. Usually when I hear the word “team” there is no sense of team at all. It’s everyone for his or herself.

            When you have an actual team, people pull together and help each other through the tough spots. And the boss does not need to step in and tell you to do it by yourself because it’s already been handled.

    4. MashaKasha*

      In general, I agree with you on “this is not my job”. However, this boss’s request is so far from being work-related, what he’s asking isn’t anybody’s job – it’s not a job at all, not in an office setting. And it’s not best for the team at all – as an employee, I’d be utterly demoralized if I found out that my boss can make this kind of request to my teammates and get away with it. To me, that’d mean I could be next, and I’d start looking for an exit route.

      I’d walk out too if I were him. The benefits of not having this particular job, to me, far outweigh the consequences of not having a job. It’s not that hard for a sysadmin to find a new job where he doesn’t have to clean up his boss’s body waste.

      1. Desdemona*

        Oh my stars, I laughed out loud at this! Remember being in college and imagining what your future workplace would look like? Who would have ever dreamed the bar could be set so low?

  24. tesyaa*

    This question makes me wonder how you determine the veracity of the letters you post. Is there any fact-checking involved? Because I can imagine someone being asked to plunge a toilet, and I an imagine someone quitting on the spot, but the way this letter is written makes me suspect it might be for entertainment purposes.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      There is no fact-checking. Occasionally a letter sets off my spidey senses and I usually handle that by simply not printing it, but this one was so wonderful that it seemed worth printing no matter what.

      That said, I would very much like to send someone on a fact-checking mission on this one.

        1. LBK*

          The pragmatism of your serious comments contrasts so wonderfully with the irreverence of your funny ones.

        1. A Non*

          Yeah, it definitely falls under the “even if it isn’t true in this case, I’m sure it’s true for someone” heading. It’s not a waste of time to provide advice and discussion, even if the original person won’t be the one to benefit from it.

          Teehehehe. “Waste”. I apparently have the brain of a kindergartner today.

        2. AndersonDarling*

          This could, and possibly did happen at one of my old employers. Some people believe that owning a company means that you own the employees.

        3. Adam*

          I’m relatively un-phased these days as well. It never even occurred to me to think this letter might be untrue. In terms of outrageous bosses have “asked” their employees to do this doesn’t even rank that high.

          Obviously it’s still jerk move though.

      1. BRR*

        I was skeptical on the woman who said she muttered ” keep your hands off of my man” to her husbands coworker. This one seems pretty legit though. One entertaining glass door review.

      2. The OP*

        It’s about ten years old now, but it is indeed a legitimate anecdote. I didn’t work for my friend’s nightmare company, but I did know him at the company we mutually worked for (before he departed for the disastrous one). While I didn’t witness the drama first hand, I did later have drinks with him and one of his newly ex-coworkers – who verified the boss’s outlandish demand. He had only been at his new workplace a few weeks. I’m not even sure he had received his first check yet. As for why no one called the janitorial company, I’ve always assumed it was one of those “heat of the moment” things where that just didn’t occur to anyone at the time.

        Would I have plunged it? Only if I lacked a backup plan. If it was “unknown poo” vs. the boss’s? I probably would have plunged, especially since I would have been the “FNG.” (The expansion is a tad profane.) I know our janitorial company at the old job charged per call, so I can imagine a small company wanting to save money. I don’t see myself as being responsible for cleaning up after the boss’s mess though, especially with the attitude that was presented. If he had asked nicely, maybe; though, I’d wonder if it wasn’t some passive-aggressive move for later…

        Oddly enough, I’ve had to perform a couple cleanings myself in my professional career. The banes of being a night shift supervisor (at the time). One mess involved the aftermath of one of our janitors plus an unruly doorjamb and the other involved a very sick coworker. I donned gloves and protective gear in both incidents and set to work. I’m not opposed to “getting my hands dirty,” but I won’t let someone’s power trip dictate my deviation from typical job functions.

        Feel free to ask any follow-up questions.

        1. fposte*

          Thanks for the verification! Though your story of the janitor and the doorjamb makes it sound like you were cleaning up dead bodies. I’d rather plunge :-).

  25. Cajun2core*

    Alison, I would assume that *legally* one’s boss could ask one to do something like that and fire them if they don’t?


        1. Jennifer*

          Just imagine how they’d write out the law if someone tried to forbid this specific thing.

      1. Hermione*

        Alison, I also wonder what you would suggest the worker who quit should say in subsequent interviews about why he left? I feel like “Oh I didn’t want to unclog a toilet” may not go over very well…?

        1. Kyrielle*

          “The scope of the role changed after I was hired, in ways I didn’t feel comfortable with.”

          And then if they ask, say those ways included janitorial duties.

          This avoids mentioning plunging, toilets, or that it was a one-off requirement (thus far).

      2. Chinook*

        “Yes indeed. No laws against this.”

        Not even ones around employee health and safety? or PPE equipment? Would it be okay to turn it down because there are no gloves/plunger available to do the work?

        1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

          I see what you’re asking, but I don’t think you can resolve one-off issues like this by figuring out if there’s a possible legal angle. Since cleaning/unclogging toilets isn’t what their business does, trying to get into OSHA stuff feels overly complicated and perhaps a distraction from how to approach this kind of situation. It would be different if this were a janitorial company. Most businesses don’t have PPE policies for things that have nothing to do with the purpose of their business – it would be really hard to try to imagine any possible situation and be prepared with a legal argument.

      3. Alma*

        Alison, my immediate response to the boss would be along the lines of “we have not had training – nor are we provided with the appropriate protective gear – to know how to do what you are telling me to do without risking my health.”

        I don’t think I would have quit, but either way I would have put the same statement in writing to bolster my case with higher-ups, unemployment, etc.

        If I had followed the boss’s order, and come down with an intestinal bug, or e coli, or anything else that could be transmitted by splashback or aerosolized bodily fluids I would fire back with Health Dept complaints, and anything else I could do.

        1. CreationEdge*

          I was just thinking this exact thing.

          I worked at a truck stop for awhile and cleaned some nasty stuff, but I had a variety of disinfectants, gloves, cleaning tools, and even face masks/filters. I went in fully “armored” for the worst cases.

          I wouldn’t do it for any job, ever again. *Especially* without the full equipment. If you’re clogging toilets you already make me think you’ve got a health issue that I don’t want to be so directly exposed to.

        2. fposte*

          But it’s plunging a toilet. There is no protective gear or training required. The Health Department isn’t going to care, and you’re not going to get E. coli from this unless you’re doing something really unsuitable in the bathroom. This is on a par with flushing the toilet when you walk into a stall that’s been used.

  26. Jake*

    I see a lot of myself in M’s answer. That rationality will serve her well in the future.

    It is as simple as this, if you got better options, take them. Many will have a better option, but many will not.

  27. James M.*

    Wow! New on the job and blowing off a 2-minute assignment… then quitting over the resulting kerfuffle? Sorry, but in that situation (I’m a software engineer, fwiw) I would undo the doo then inform the boss of my success and ask if he’s feeling OK and what we might do to avoid such situations in the future.

    1. Cajun2core*

      James, I wish I could hire you (unless you were being sarcastic).
      I am not a boss, so I couldn’t hire you if I wanted but I would if I could.

    2. hildi*

      I wish this was as Choose Your Own Adventure story and we’d get to choose James’ path and see how that ended up. Hilarious!

      1. EarlGrey*

        yes! I’m loving all the alternative suggestions here. I can imagine the ongoing concern for the boss’s health…maybe send a bouquet of flowers and a Get Well Soon card a few days later…

        1. eee*

          the only possible explanation I could come up with that would make the boss’s behavior seem reasonable would be if the boss was feeling so unwell that they thought they were going to pass out/other such medical emergency, and there was truly no janitorial staff to deal with it. or perhaps being already 15 minutes late for an incredibly important meeting with a client who is visiting, and there’s no janitorial staff, and you’re worried the client will want to use the bathroom and be disgusted??? Pretty much all explanations require the boss to be in some way deeply incapacitated.

          1. Absolutely anon for this this one*

            Um okay. I have inflammatory bowel disease and it sometime has made me faint, during certain uh episodes. Please trust me, even when you do need help fixing the toilet, and you’re barely staying conscious… You are incredibly embarrassed and polite, even when you’re asking your beloved spouse to do it, in your own home.

            Having an episode like this at work is my worst nightmare. Oh lord. I’m gonna go make the Sign of the Holy Immunosuppressant to ward off the risk… How mortifying!

          2. Valar M.*

            Nope. No way. I say this as someone who lived in the dorms, and if we didn’t clean up after each other (vomit, tampons, clogged toilets, etc.) we had to pay $50. I was always ready to pay the $50. I will happily clean up after myself, but not anyone else. I cannot handle other people’s bodily functions/fluids. I’ve made a point of working in a field where I don’t have to, and if my boss suddenly sprung that on me I’d quit. Not just for the grossness, but also the fact that I had a boss that was incapable of cleaning up after himself. I don’t want to work for a child.

            1. Dynamic Beige*

              When I was in college, a roommate of mine had a very bad day, indulged in way too many Adult Beverages before noon, came home and for some reason known only unto God, decided to fry eggs. Make an omelet? Whatever they were trying to do, they wound up using the yolks to finger paint a foot square on the counter. They then vomited in what was probably a spectacular fashion in the only toilet in the apartment. I know this because I came back, found the mess (and the stench), found them half naked in bed and tried to wake them up but couldn’t, they were that drunk. I decided I wouldn’t clean the mess on principle because I didn’t make it, but after a half hour, I was gagging and it was too cold to open the windows. So I cleaned it up. A bit after I finished, said roommate wandered out, said something incoherent to me when I asked if they were OK, went to the bathroom then passed out again in bed. Several hours later, they came out and I told them what happened. They didn’t remember any of it but thought it was hysterical. Yeah. I’d like to say that was the only episode with that person where they showed they were trouble… but I can’t.

          3. Devil's Advocate*

            Interesting comments. Everyone assumes the writer is completely straightforward and tells a complete story. I kept thinking that here’s poor Boss, embarrassed and nauseated and already 10 minutes late for a meeting with the Board of Directors, the Chair of which always uses the bathroom prior to his departure, and New Guy is too good to plunge. Embarrassment, stress and poor social skills prevent him from actually handling the situation like we all (like to think we) would in his shoes.

            When I read something this unbelievable, I immediately look for the other side of the story. I’m sort of annoying that way.

    3. James M.*

      No sarcasm here. The follow up is a calculated tactic with a 3-fold purpose: 1) show the boss that you “get stuff done” quickly and discretely, 2) imply that you find the situation highly unusual, and 3) constructively suggest that you never want to do it again. That would leave you in a much better position to continue your job search if that’s the way the chips fall.

  28. Adonday Veeah*

    I am hands-down, completely, totally, no-holds-barred besotted with your nieces. They are smart, savvy and funny. And totally right. Please consider contracting them out. They can run my life.

      1. AMG*

        Yes, but they may end up doing a better job. If only I were that grounded and articulate at that age…

      2. ThursdaysGeek*

        Well, I assume they are written into your will as your replacements for this gig, whether you tragically die young in a freak pogo stick accident or make them wait until they are in their mid-70’s to take over.

      3. BRR*

        Can we get an article on how to raise such smart young adults? I wasn’t that intelligent at their ages (and pretty sure I’m not now).

    1. Muriel Heslop*

      Me too! I love working with and teaching middle schoolers – this post is going to be my new Exhibit A for why. Funny, direct, clever, honest – the best! I hope they make more appearances.

  29. Ed*

    I find this odd because if my company had a full time custodian and I clogged the toilet, I would still grab the plunger and try to tackle the problem myself out of embarrassment. I honestly can’t say how I would react to this request. Having been unemployed for months before, I would probably not walk out. I would most likely just do it and then start looking for another job.

    1. Ann*

      Yes. I just feel like a little part of my soul would die of embarrassment if I actually had to admit to someone that I clogged the toilet. I would definitely try to unclog it myself just out of sheer desperation and then, if all else failed, walk away. But admit to a non-custodial staff member that I did it and then tell them to fix it? Not in a million years.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        I wouldn’t walk away; I might ask a coworker for help, but in a mortified, OMG-I-cannot-believe-this-what-do-I-do type of way. I certainly wouldn’t demand that they unclog my poo.

      2. Traveler*

        “little part of my soul would die of embarrassment”

        Yes. I can’t imagine even thinking of asking someone. That would be mortifying.

    2. Anon just for this*

      I’ll tell y’all a secret behind this veil of internet anonymity: I once threw up all over the floor of my work bathroom >_<

      It was seriously so humiliating. I had to ask the security guard for an out-of-order sign, and I'm so relieved it was a guy so he didn't try to go in. The next day it was like it never happened… I still feel really bad about that. Can you imagine being cleaning staff and walking into a bathroom and… To this day, no one at work knows what happened (except the random stranger who happened to be in the bathroom as I ran in — sorry about that!)

      Another story, since I'm emboldened by the anonymity — I first learned to use a plunger when I was in university. I accidentally clogged the toilet (too much TP, it was an old building, the usual), and I didn't want to walk away and have to deal with the shame of suspicion (there were about 5 people on that floor. I don't know have a great poker face), so I learned how to use it out of necessity.

      The moral of my story is… I don't really know. Maybe I just felt some comraderie with everyone talking about their bathroom issues? Anyway, in every situation to do with bathroom… malfunctions, my driving desire has always been to keep the situation under wraps as much as possible. Hide whatever I can, in whatever way I can. Someone who goes the other way, to force their situation into someone elses' face, has got some sort of issue going on. I think the OP's friend was justified in quitting just because no reasonable person makes that sort of demand (especially in those terms — do it or you're fired), and I don't think this would have been a healthy work environment. This sounds like the kind of boss who lies to reference checkers about your performance or tells employees & clients that you were fired when you actually resigned. I don't think there was anything to be salvaged in this relationship.

  30. MaryMary*

    Our current office building charges a steep fee anytime we call them for maintenance, so chores often get delegated to some unlucky soul. The Director of IT once had to remove a deceased bird from our balcony (the rest of us refused to go near it), but no one has had to plunge a toilet. Yet.

    1. ThursdaysGeek*

      I was the go-to person to remove spiders and creepy insects at one job. However, I considered that a fun break from software. I don’t know anyone who looks forward to plunging.

      1. Dynamic Beige*

        I once caught a mouse. It was eating the sunflower seeds in the bag someone left out. Gotta love old buildings with bad crumbly mortar. Not.

    2. Chinook*

      I can do anything but deal with dead animals. I noticed a decapitated pigeon (I think it was a hawk’s meal) in sheltered spot near our hall door once. After I shreiked, I offered free pie to whomever would go and dispose of the body.

      1. the gold digger*

        In addition to repairing my major appliances and replacing the battery on my car, my then-boyfriend cleaned the dead rat out of my basement. I knew he was the man for me and I was right – he still does all the gross stuff, like cleaning the hair from the shower drain, even though it’s not even his hair.

  31. Cupcake*

    Oh, my! Can I please adopt your nieces? They could teach my college-age children verbal poise, wit and wisdom.
    I hate the phrase “other duties as assigned”, because it can be grossly abused exactly like this. Of course, what one SHOULD do and what one MUST do would depend entirely on one’s circumstances. If I had the slightest amount of financial back-up, I would have quit. I cannot believe that my state’s unemployment compensation case-workers would have denied me unemployment in this circumstance for refusing to plunge my boss’ poop. And, while I do believe in not bad-mouthing a previous job, company or boss under normal circumstances, I do not think I would hesitate to relate this as a reason for abruptly quitting my previous job.

  32. Hlyssande*

    This whole situation could have been avoided if the boss had asked the OP to do it, with apologies whatever justification there was (running late for super important meeting, etc). I would be incredibly embarrassed if I clogged a toilet but had to run for whatever reason.

    That’s the sort of thing you ask someone to do with humility, and make it up to them later.

    1. Relly*

      Exactly. Even then, as someone who has accidentally clogged the toilet at work, it takes maybe a minute to deal with yourself.

      I can’t imagine ever being in a position where I had to ask someone under me to unclog a toilet, but I’d at least have the decency to be embarrassed about it.

    2. A Non*

      Agreed. If the boss’s goal was just not to have to take care of the mess, they could even have omitted that it was theirs. Just “the toilet’s clogged, this is really gross, but could you take care of it?” The fact that they didn’t makes it clear that it was a power play. YUCK.

      1. Jessa*

        Yeh it’s not actually the request that’s at issue, it’s the behaviour around the request.

        1. Hlyssande*

          Exactly this! It could’ve been done with a positive outcome for everyone involved if the boss wasn’t trying to make a power play. He obviously had to test the new guy and see how far he could push.

  33. Observer*

    Your nieces are nieces are absolutely great. And, M’s response is awesome. Honestly, it puts a lot of adults I know to shame. It’s not just that she’s apparently level headed, reasonable and pragmatic. She also seems to have a healthy self esteem (as opposed to a high self esteem, which is NOT the same thing) and a solid moral sense.

    On the other hand, I do think that whoever said that the boss is engaging in dominance behavior is probably right. Seen from that perspective, it makes a lot of sense, while otherwise it just doesn’t add up. It’s not just the TMI and jerkitude. We’ve seen plenty of that. But who, who is looking at his own self-interest to the exclusion of all else asks a very highly paid person to do a job that he can easily have done for a fraction of the cost? Someone who is trying to make a point.

  34. tango*

    Shoot, maybe the boss had no idea where a plunger was so couldn’t do it himself. Maybe he was mortified and felt less embarassed to ask an employee to plunge for him than a janitor. Maybe it wasn’t poop he clogged the toilet up with but something else and felt that the employee would better keep it secret. Maybe he just wanted to play who has the bigger set and that was a challenge to the OP to see how he’d react.

    I think a lot of what we will and will not put up with is determined by how bad we need the paycheck &/or how easy it would be to find another job if we were to refuse or quit on the spot. I’d have to plunge since I would need the pay but you can bet everyone in the company plus the Janitor company would know that my boss clogged the toilet and made me plunge it!!!! And I’d be looking stat for a new job.

    1. Jessa*

      If you don’t know where the plunger is you shouldn’t rise to boss status without learning to ask “hey where’s the plunger? I need it.”

    2. RVA Cat*

      ” Maybe it wasn’t poop he clogged the toilet up with but something else and felt that the employee would better keep it secret.”

      Oooo….my evil mind immediately goes to drugs. That would kind of explain the boss’s outrageous behavior.

      1. Hlyssande*

        That would be so incredibly stupid to involve someone else if there were drugs in the mix, though. This is a new hire – who’s to say he’s not going to go straight to the police?

  35. Amber Rose*

    My husband works at a DMV and when one of his coworkers essentially exploded the single toilet in the shared bathroom, he was tasked with cleanup. It basically flooded the whole place with sewage so it was pretty horrible.

    That said, his boss also sent him out to the nearby mall after and paid for a new pair of shoes. Nice ones.

    In the OP scenario then, I would argue the issue is less “dignity” than it is “my boss is 20 kinds of asshole and no pay is worth that.” Disgusting or demeaning tasks happen sometimes, that’s life, but at least if the person making you do it acknowledges how bad it is, and tries to make it better, the situation is workable.

    Also how frickin’ hard is it to pick up a plunger and deal with your own shit?! Seriously. What an ass.

    1. BRR*

      And I don’t know about anybody else but I would likely throw up (could I then tell my boss I threw up and ask him to clean it up).

  36. Mallorie, the recruiter*

    Wow, your 14 year old niece is very wise. I agree with her point about being “above” plunging a toilet. She is correct that people make VERY little money to do this. So that part I liked.

    The part I thought was OUTRAGEOUS was that the boss was unable to plunge the toilet himself. How long has he lived on this earth? Has he really never done this? I feel like no one taught me how to do this…. So in that way, I am sure I would have reacted in a similar matter. I probably would have said, “So you want me to go look at your poop and unclog your poop from the toilet, this is what you are asking me to do?” in the hopes that the boss would have seen how ridiculous this was.

    But I would not have quit on sight. I would have done it, but immediately began job searching.

  37. Barney Stinson*

    1. Your nieces are uncommonly well-spoken.
    2. I managed a retail store while I was in college. One day, an inebriated gentleman mistook our white laminate counter for a urinal and relieved himself on it.

    After I called the police, we (the woman who worked for me and me) surveyed the ‘evidence.’ I looked at her and said, “Tell every one else on the team that I won’t ask you to do anything I wouldn’t do myself.” I gloved up and cleaned it up.

    Thirty years later, I’m still shuddering.

  38. Lily in NYC*

    What really gets my goat is that the boss wasn’t even remotely embarrassed and found it ok to ask someone else to clean up his own mess. If I stopped up a toilet that other people used, first, I would die. Then, I would plunge it myself and hope really, really hard that no one saw me.

    1. Businesslady*

      “…first, I would die. Then…” really cracked me up. (And also, I completely agree with you–the only thing I can think of that would be worse than causing that problem would be running around telling coworkers about it.)

    2. hildi*

      I totally agree – it’s hard for me to imagine someone being so arrogant that asking someone to clean up their toilet full of poo wouldn’t totally embarrass them. I know intellectually there are people that awful, but I can’t mentally put myself in that place.

  39. Mephyle*

    M., you said, “The boss is not above plunging a toilet and neither is the janitor and neither is the employee.” In this case, though, the boss did think he was above plunging the toilet.
    I feel a certain sympathy to the OP, who drew a line and refused to step over it. It would have been weakening for him to have refused, and then given in. After that, the boss could have felt free to ask him to do anything.
    Upon cold second thought, maybe what he should have done was taken care of it for the boss, and when I say ‘it’ I don’t mean getting close and personal with the boss’s poo, but gone and searched for the person responsible for cleaning the toilets and asked them to deal with it right away.

  40. Michelle*

    I agree with Artemesia- this seems like a power play/bully issue. I don’t care if you are Bill Gates- if you clog up the work toilet, then you could take 30 seconds or so to plunge it.

    OP’s friend could have said “Sure, but can you show me how to do that, as I have never been trained on proper plunging techniques”. Or at least I would have, just to see who would have been assigned to train me.

    1. Soupspoon McGee*

      But Bill Gates has designed self-plunging toilets, though the new updates take 35 minutes to load.

  41. kozinskey*

    While I do think quitting is a reasonable reaction, I can think of two responses that I might try first instead:

    1. “Sure, I’ll be happy to do that if you increase my salary to X.”
    2. “I’m sorry, I can’t do that. I’d be happy to put an ‘Out of Order’ sign on the bathroom door and call the janitorial company for you, though.”

      1. Businesslady*

        Yes, if there was ever a time for the Shel Silverstein “if you have to dry the dishes” approach to a task, this is it!

    1. Gandalf the Nude*

      1a) “Sure, but we to need to re-negotiate my salary first: the $XXXXX I’m making annually now plus license to tease you about this forevermore.”

      My boss would be the butt of my jokes for years if this happened, but I’ve also never had a boss without the sense of humor to allow that. (I actually sent Old Job a bottle of Poopouri for Christmas last year in honor of the men who stank up the restrooms!)

  42. C Average*

    I don’t know if I’d quit on the spot–it depends on how much I need the job overall and the state of my finances and so forth–but I don’t think I’d last long at the job after this happened.

    I think I’d forever after this think of my boss as a person literally incapable of taking care of his own crap. I’d be viscerally disgusted by him creating this situation and then telling his colleagues about it and making them deal with it, rather than being embarrassed and trying to discreetly take care of the problem (as I’d do and as I think most reasonable people would do). I’d be a little embarrassed FOR him, that he thinks this is the way a professional person and a manager acts. I’d question his judgment and have trouble viewing him as an authority figure worthy of my respect and obedience.

    I think one’s boss’s bodily functions, like one’s parents’ sex lives, should remain as black a box as possible.

    1. Ann*

      I think I’d seriously have trouble talking to him with a straight face in the future (meaning, until I found a new job). I wouldn’t even be able to listen to what he was saying because I’d just keep thinking, “Poop poop poop poop poop poop.”

      It would be like talking to Mr. Hankey from South Park.

      1. fposte*

        Now I’m seeing this as a workplace revenge story and this is how the boss is driven crazy. His computer screensaver flashes “Mr. Poop,” his emails autocorrect his signature to that, and so on. It could be the new Office Space.

    2. the gold digger*

      I think one’s boss’s bodily functions, like one’s parents’ sex lives, should remain as black a box as possible

      I don’t want to know about the bodily functions or the sex lives of either one.

      One of my favorite hobbies is keeping track of all the ways that my husband’s father is a jerk and my mom is a saint. Below is a quick list that comes to mind:

      1. The first time I visited my husband’s parents and met them, Sly (my husband’s dad) told me that Primo and I could shower together in the big shower in the master bath – that he and Doris, Primo’s mom, did that all the time.
      First- ewww. I do not want to think about my boyfriend’s parents getting nekkid and busy.
      Second – I have used public restrooms in Bolivia and Paraguay and stayed in the “G” hotels in the South American handbook, so clearly am not too squeamish, but I get really grossed out at the idea of showering in a tub that someone else – whom I either do not know or do not like – has used.

      2. See comment above about Sly thinking Primo wasn’t grateful enough to be emptying Sly’s urine bottle.

      2a. When Sly got feces on the sheets and on the sofa, he was not even mortified. He is of sound mind.

      3. When my dad was dying and was not in the hospital, my mom took care of him and I helped for a little while. Morphine has some unpleasant side effects (constipation) that require intervention. My mother refused to let me help her with my dad – she said that I did not need to see my father that way. When my dad was in the hospital and needed help – chemo does awful things to bodily functions, the orderlies (who were these amazing young men who always addressed my dad as “Captain Digger, sir”) always asked that the family leave the room during the process, as they wanted to maintain as much of my dad’s dignity as possible.

      1. Vancouver Reader*

        I didn’t know that about morphine, I always thought my mother refused morphine because she wanted to stay lucid, but I know she did have her bouts of constipation, so that was probably why she would rather put up with the pain from the cancer than having to deal with that and the sufferings from being constipated.

  43. MamaSarah*

    As a mother, I have cleaned up my fair share of poop. My four year old crying because she got to the potty at the very last second, upset belly and all, but still missed: not a problem. It is my duty and, in some ways, my honor. I love my kid and she was clearly devastated the time this did actually occur.

    As a water quality volunteer, I would lovingly and safely scoop the poop left behind by undiscerning dog owners…there is no poop fairy.

    But, my boss, taking a massive dump and then requiring me to plunge? No way.

    Anyhow, can one truly be fired for refusing to plunge the toilet in this situation? Legally? I

    1. hildi*

      Yup, there are definitely different contexts where for some of us cleaning poo isn’t that horrible and even expected. But your boss’ is not one of them!

    2. Cajun2core*

      Yes, one can legally be fired for this. I asked Alison in an earlier in this posting and she said that one could be fired for refusing to do any task.

  44. oh god, plungers*

    this isn’t work-related, but I had a neighbor who knocked on our door in the wee hours of the morning (like, before 9am–& I was in college then, so it was basically the equivalent of predawn) & asked to borrow our plunger.

    1) that’s not really something you wanna…lend out widely (& we weren’t friends with this neighbor, at all; in fact we considered our tolerance of his 24/7 stereo-blasting to already constitute an act of goodwill on our part), & b), more importantly, we didn’t have a plunger. so we explained, “sorry, no plunger,” & went back to sleep. there was a Walgreens about three blocks away & the maintenance staff in our apartment building was pretty competent, so we figured all was well.

    then, about six months later, there was another knock at the door. same timing, same neighbor, same request for a plunger, same response–although he seemed weirdly miffed that we hadn’t purchased one since our previous encounter.

    & forevermore my husband & I have been haunted by this question: what did he do last time??

    1. oh god, plungers*

      ha, just realized I have 1) followed by b). consider that a subconscious effort to avoid invoking “#2” given the subject matter…

    2. C Average*

      Years ago I lived upstairs from a woman in her early twenties who’d come from Albania and knew very little English. We’d managed to converse enough that I knew a bit of her story–she’d fled a pretty bad home situation with very little money and worked a low-paying job and was barely making it, but was brave and resourceful and upbeat–and she completely had my sympathies. I’d have happily lent her anything I had that she needed.

      One day she came to my door and said, “Do you have a–” and then she began making a vigorous up-and-down motion. I had NO idea what she was talking about, so I began retrieving and showing her various objects I thought might be the right one–the potato masher, the hammer, the stapler. It was like a demented version of charades.

      She looked increasingly desperate, but was clearly trying to remain polite. Finally she sighed, pushed past me, went to my bathroom, and came back with the plunger. I laughed and said, “Go, take it!” and she went sprinting down the stairs. No idea what happened, but it must have been dire.

      She brought it back later in the day, so shiny that it could’ve been new. Of course.

      I wonder what ever became of Ardiana?

      1. oh god, plungers*

        I’m glad you came through for her! that’s a hilarious story though. it’s amazing how even the most fluent people can have weird blind spots in their vocabularies (& “plunger” isn’t something you’d really want to describe via circumlocution…).

      2. Jen RO*

        Oh my God you made me laugh out loud and I’m sitting here alone in restaurant because I’m on a business trip… I probably looked like a crazy woman.

    3. Lily in NYC*

      The only non frightening thing I can think of is that another neighbor let him borrow theirs (the first time).

    4. BananaPants*

      The apartment that we rented for several years had a toilet-plunging policy that stated that residents who didn’t own a plunger and have it available in their apartment would have to pay for all damage to their unit or other units caused by an overflowing/clogged toilet. Also,if the renter did not attempt to plunge the clog on their own first, they were charged a $125 maintenance fee for the maintenance staff to come and plunge it.
      You’d better believe I went and bought a $5 plunger at Home Depot as soon as we moved in, even though we never had to use it.

      1. the gold digger*

        My husband was embarrassed that he had to ask our host for a plunger for the guest bathroom, but at least he didn’t ask the host to handle the issue.

        We have a plunger for each bathroom. Along with soap and towels and shampoo and conditioner and new toothbrushes, a plunger is just something you stock in a bathroom, even if it is used only when you have company.

    5. Poohbear McGriddles*

      Had a similar situation several years ago when living in an apartment. The guy was super grateful and brought it back when he was done. Of course, Mrs. McGriddles was apparently feeling generous as she was all like “Just keep it!”. Or may be that was her way of saying there is no way that thing is coming back in our place after being in someone else’s toilet.

  45. Dasha*

    This happened at one of my old companies but they just called a plumber, my goodness! I really like the nieces responses- great job. :)

  46. FD*

    Personally, I’m interested by the number of people who wouldn’t just say “Yeah, it’s annoying, but do it.” Honestly, it wouldn’t even make me blink. (Which is probably indicative of having plunged a LOT of toilets in my career. XD)

    It is weird that the manager got this worked up about it though. Resigning seems awfully extreme to me, however.

    1. Jennifer*

      I think some of us are far more likely to be in the position of “eat shit and like it” and some of us are far more able to not have to eat shit.

      1. FD*

        /shrug/ Fair enough! I just think it’s interesting. But pretty much all my jobs have involved some amounts of toilet plunging as a job hazard, so it doesn’t really gross me out.

        1. fposte*

          I’m not hugely grossed out by plunging toilets, but I’d still be hugely angry in this situation. I think there are two separate issues, and only one of them is about toilets.

  47. Green IT*

    I think your teenage nieces did a great job of replying to this reader…but as the reader noted that there was janitorial services available in the building and I am curious why the reader or his friend didn’t offer to call the janitorial service as option and let the weird manager know that actually he can’t assign duties as it would fall under Worker Safety. You have be insured to do plumbing work, seeing as a myriad of things could happen. You could get an infection; you could make the toilet problem worse….there are staff trained to do this work.
    I know I was put in a similar position where an Acting CIO asked me to empty his garbage and I told him that that is not part of my role and we take care of our own garbage. He thanked me for letting me know (he wasn’t crazy – just crazy busy).

    1. Mephyle*

      Yes, this. It would be reasonable for a boss above a certain level not to take time to hunt up the appropriate service to do the job but to delegate that to someone below him.

    2. fposte*

      At least in the US, there’s no law that prohibits a worker from plunging a toilet; I’m not seeing anything in OSHA that would prohibit it, and I don’t think there’s anyplace else that would get a capitalized Worker Safety. There might be a union issue, or a protocol issue, but in most workplaces bureaucracy isn’t going to help you here. And as noted upthread, workers clean up this stuff all the time, even when they’re not janitors.

    3. Jennifer*

      It doesn’t make any sense unless you think the boss was deliberately trying to be an asshole to the letter writer.

    4. FD*

      Yeah, at least in Minnesota, there’s nothing that says you can’t be required to plunge toilets. It doesn’t rise to the standard expected of a hazardous activity.

      I’m slightly curious how you thought that restaurants, small hotels, and other businesses too small to have 24 hour janitorial coverage got toilets un-plugged when a customer gums them up?

      1. fposte*

        I think this is kind related to the belief that things aren’t fair aren’t legal–it’s a belief that things that are really gross must have some rules governing employee exposure. Alas, the only rule is usually that the lowest-paid person available deals with the poo.

  48. Mockingjay*

    I would have plunged the toilet.

    I worked my way through college. My senior year, I received a work study grant from the campus Maintenance Dept. I cleaned the toilets in my own dorm. (We had communal showers and bathrooms.)

    There were a few “trust fund” babies who mocked the permanent housekeeping staff. Regrettably, they never bothered to get to know the housekeepers. The maintenance staff were state employees, and received reduced tuition as part of their compensation. These wonderful people used that benefit for their families. My dorm housekeeper sent her niece to college. The star baseball player’s mom took care of the men’s dorm. The guy with the dreads who did maintenance requests (fixed lights, plumbing, and so on) used to give me a ride every morning across campus to the Maintenance Bldg., so I wouldn’t be late reporting to work.

    Long story short, these hard working people taught me a solid work ethic. It is a blessing.

    Was the boss in the story an ass? Yep. But as Alison’s wonderful, erudite niece M points out: “this employee is not above anyone else…calm down and plunge the toilet.” Your dignity will still be intact afterward.

    1. kozinskey*

      Ugh, that is a rough work study job. I had work/study (mailroom) through college and didn’t do the internships, etc that most of my classmates did because I used the summers to work multiple jobs and save up. That being said, I still think toilet plunging is so far out of the scope of this guy’s job description that I understand his reaction. M’s advice is great, but I just don’t see myself plunging the toilet in this situation unless I really, truly had no other options.

    2. Mike C.*

      The issue here isn’t having to clean up a mess as part of a job, it’s having to clean up the boss’s mess specifically.

      1. Whippers*

        Absolutely, I’m surprised so many people are missing that point. I have worked as a carer for elderly people and have cleaned up urine, faeces, bodily fluid; it doesn’t bother me.
        What does bother me is that the boss is using his position to force an employee to clean up his mess, even though he is perfectly capable of doing so himself.

        1. Observer*

          I don’t think people are missing the point. Everyone agrees that the boss was out of line (to say the least!) But, I, at least, take issue with the idea that plunging the toilet – even for a crazy boss who is trying to play stupid mind games takes away someone’s dignity.

          1. Whippers*

            Well, some people are saying that they wouldn’t have any problem doing this because they have done this sort of job in the past. I think that is missing the point, because if it’s completely different to have your boss command you to specifically clean up his exrement than to clean toilets etc as part of a prearranged job role.

            1. Traveler*

              Yes, this. Its one thing to go into a job knowing that you’ll have to clean toilets. Most people who work in retail and restaurants and the like know they’re getting into this sort of thing, and that when it comes up to be their turn, they’ll have to do it. I think that’s perfectly reasonable and not below anyone’s dignity.

              My boss going on a power trip, and demanding that I clean up his bathroom mess? That’s not the same thing at all – one is a common aspect of the job that everyone participates in, the other is a very specific instance of lording status and power (and in this case the guy’s livelihood) in order to force an employee to do something that most people would find objectionable.

  49. Self-protection anon*

    I would do it, then over time take my revenge. Forever after, boss would find random things poop-related messing up his life. Did you know that if one drops trou and farts into a top desk drawer then closes it quickly, the odour will still be there in near full force for at least an hour? Catbox nuggets in his potted plant? Done. A bit of liquid pig “fertilizer” poured into the HVAC intake vent on his car is always nice.

    I’m good at having plausible deniability and am a vindictive B7. And I’d be sending out job feelers immediately.

    1. Another Evil Anon*

      At the very least, I’d take photos. I once accidentally blackmailed my boss and it worked very well, I’m not averse to doing it again.

      (How do you accidentally blackmail your boss, you ask? Well, he had a conversation with a colleague that he Should Not Have Had. It involved comparing nude pictures of coworkers that they’d gotten off said coworkers’ personal computers without their knowledge. I was sitting at my desk, which my boss did not realize was within earshot. I took him aside later that day and told him that I didn’t care what he said, but I did not want to hear it and he should be aware of how far sound carries. He… treated me very, very carefully for the remainder of my internship. I didn’t realize until years later that he probably thought I was threatening him.)

  50. Jolu*

    I worked as a hotel housekeeper through high school and college. I don’t think this request would bother me as much as it does others. Honestly, you don’t want to know how some people leave their hotel rooms. The delivery of the request was pretty rude. I wouldn’t quit over this one request, but if there is a history of this type of rude request I’d probably start looking for a new job.

    1. Whippers*

      Yes, for me it wouldn’t be the actual fact of plunging the toilet that would annoy or disgust me, it would be the fact that the boss himself blocked the toilet and then demanded that I unblock it just because he thinks he can get me to do anything he wants. There is something peculiarly degrading about being made to plunge the toilet after your boss has blocked it, rather than it being an anonymous person who blocked it.

    2. FD*

      You have my deepest respect. There are very few jobs in the world more demanding, undervalued, and underpaid than hotel housekeeping.

      Dying to know, what’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever found? My weirdest/grossest was a drunk guest who vomited, had a rather heavy bowel movement, then inexplicably threw a lot of leaves (?!) down the toilet, plugged it when he tried to flush the whole mess, and then shouted at me because our toilets were terrible quality.

      The rest I get but…leaves?

  51. Elizabeth West*

    The boss is not above plunging a toilet and neither is the janitor and neither is the employee, and neither are any of the readers of my strange aunt’s blog.

    This made me giggle with unrestrained glee. :D

    I’ve had to clean up poo at work, but it was in a restaurant, and cleaning up after messy customers was part of my job. A really awful, crappy (see what I did there) part, but still within the parameters.

    It was far worse than cleaning up blood after a coworker tried to clean the slicer without the Kevlar glove and sliced a big piece off the top of his thumb. And then jerked his arm back, thus spraying everywhere. No one else would do it. As blood doesn’t really bother me, I did it. I would rather have done that and left the poo to someone else! :P

  52. YandO*

    There are no laws, no regulations, no limitations to what an employer can demand from an employee.

    I am not going to argue whether that’s right or wrong, but I am amazed at the number of comments who think this situation was completely acceptable.

    It is not. Most certainly it should not be. I believe that as employees we can expect respect only if we act like we deserve it. In that situation the OP did exactly what I hope I would do and encourage every other person to do. Boss did not make a request that sounded like this: “there is a bathroom situation. Can you please handle it (aka call appropriate services in”. No, he demanded that the employee goes and cleans up bosses mess himself, because guess what? Bosses can do that with no repercussions. They can do whatever they want, unless it is a small number of instances that need to have paper trail of some sort to prove.

    I think his request was out of line and completely unprofessional. And I can only hope more employees would be willing to stand up to such behavior because bosses can only be bosses if we are willing to work for them.

  53. M*

    No is a complete sentence. Maybe the boss wasn’t used to people saying no. Not my problem. But if boss wanted to I wouldn’t leave unless/ until he put it in writing.

    I’d clean my own mess. I may even step up and clean up after a coworker that was unexpectedly sick. But an employer at a professional job claiming this falls under duties as needed would find himself on the wrong side of a PR campaign.

  54. LawBee*

    I’m at a bit of a loss. Why couldn’t Friend have just agreed to unclog, called maintenance, and then had the conversation with the boss about what is and isn’t appropriate – and then quit? Quitting on the spot feels like a childish response to a ridiculous power play move. There are so many other ways this could have been resolved. I’m not sure Friend kept as much dignity as he thinks he did.

    Even if he wanted to go all passive-aggressive, he could have called maintenance while Boss was standing there, said, “Hey, Boss clogged up the toilet on the 5th floor, can you send someone to fix it?” That still falls within other duties as assigned – and honestly would have been my assumption that it’s what Boss wanted. (Note: I would have assumed that even if Boss put the plunger in my hand, because I’m willful like that.)

    1. Mike C.*

      I’m guessing there was no maintenance to call, and many would see lecturing the boss as childish.

      1. BananaPants*

        The letter writer stated that there was on-site maintenance staff who deal with this sort of thing.

  55. Mike C.*

    A younger version of me, having worked as a janitor (family business!) would have been happy to do it, and then just repeatedly flushed the toilet.

    “Sorry boss, I couldn’t get it fixed! By the way, it got worse!”

    But seriously, I worked as a janitor and everything I had to deal with at the insane college I went to was so I would never, ever have to do that work again. I know it was better than working fast food or retail, but never again.

    1. kozinskey*

      That is also a great way to respond. But I would be worried about getting poo on my feet, especially since I usually wear flats.

        1. HeyNonnyNonny*

          Hahahahaha, somehow I’m picturing someone saying this as they run away.

          I’d try to flush the toilet using a broom handle or something. I know I’m not fast enough.

  56. RS*

    IDK about this call AAM — seems more like this man left with his privelege in tact, rather than his “dignity.”

    1. Jake*

      Thank you. There is no such thing as dignity in this situation.

      It’s not even about refusing to do it and quitting before doing it. It’s about feeling it is more dignified to quit a well paying job over this than it is to just do the deed.

      M made the perfect point, sure if he has other better options then quitting makes sense, but if he had those better options, why is he still in this position regardless of poop duties? Even if poop duties is what pushed it over the line from the best opportunity to not the best opportunity (which is actually understandable in some situations), how does dignity come into play at all?

      I’m sure he’s a millennial with that sense of entitlement ;)

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Just because it’s a privileged position to feel like you don’t need to plunge toilets for work doesn’t mean that it’s wrong to refuse to do it. By that logic, we should all be happy to work for minimum wage too.

      1. Fran*

        Folks, janitors are supposed to be trained to deal with biohazards, which is what this is. As a teacher who has been through many presentations about avoiding Hepatitis and many other viruses – I can tell you that you should not plunge because you are being exposed to all sorts of lovely viruses and bacteria – biohazards. Only somebody trained and equipped (rubber gloves, possibly even something to cover your garments) should have anything to do with this mess.

        What would OSHA say?

        1. Muriel Heslop*

          This. As a high school special ed teacher whose job included teaching hygiene to children who were still struggling with basic self-care, I got more than one inservice training on workplace safety including biohazards. If you aren’t trained and/or don’t have the safety equipment, just don’t.

        2. fposte*

          I can find no indication that OSHA thinks merely plunging a toilet is being exposed to a biohazard in a way that requires training or legal protection, though. If you know one, can you point it out? It must be pretty weak given how many non-janitors have to clean poop in the course of their workdays with training.

          1. fposte*

            Checking more thoroughly, I find that that urine and feces are not “regulated waste” or “biohazardous waste,” according to OSHA. So the biohazard argument wouldn’t get you off the hook. (It wouldn’t get the boss off the hook either, though.)

            Alison, for somebody who doesn’t like bathroom stuff, you were really asking for it with this post!

            1. Jake*

              Yeah, OSHA covers roughly 1% of what people think it does. It’s very similar to the “is it legal” question.

        3. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

          But isn’t this more about interpersonal boundaries at work/power and control issues than it is about whether it’s really a massive health hazard to unclog a toilet?

          I see what you’re saying (and I think this boss is insane), but it’s also likely that we would plunge the toilet on our own homes if a guest plugged it up and wasn’t able to handle the un-clog themselves (without panicking about hepatitis or donning a protective suit), and yet we’d freak about doing it at work – that says boundaries and respect, not fear of hepatitis. I don’t know if this is true or not, but I read years ago that we have nearly identical intestinal flora after we’ve been with a [sexual] partner for 5 years – but this would not apply to your mother, in-laws, , etc. – and I bet tons of parents have unclogged a toilet after one of your kids’ friends clogged it up.

        4. RS*

          Jake — Actually, Millenials, of all generations in living memory, are the first to inherit a job market and economy where their prospects are worse than those of their parents. This is particularly true for those who graduated in or around 2009. “Tech” is probably the more relevant descriptor.

          AAM — I don’t see how that follows at all?

          Fran — But health was not this man’s objection. What hasn’t been considered is how his response and “utter disgust” may have contributed to how quickly the situation apparently escalated.

          Anyway, I don’t really have a dog in this fight. I was just reacting to how instantly AAM’s response acquiesced to his offended dignity. The implication being that anyone who is not ready to sacrifice their livelihood has none.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            I think most people would agree that being ordered to clean up your boss’s feces could reasonably make someone feel undignified and, in a context like this one, even humiliated.

            1. Kyrielle*

              And even more so with a janitorial group on contract to handle such things…. How can you remotely argue “necessity” when there IS someone whose job it is to handle those things?

          2. fposte*

            “Actually, Millenials, of all generations in living memory, are the first to inherit a job market and economy where their prospects are worse than those of their parents.”

            Really? I think Gen X had that too. I was told that in 1984, in fact.

        5. Kat*

          OsHA would tell you that you are so far out in left field if you think it qualifies as hazardous waste AND if you think janitors are trained to handle it.

          a janitor is handed a mop and bucket, gloves, and cleaning solution. There is no specialized training to clean a bathroom. None. And OSHA doesnt require any for anyone that works a job that requires bathroom clean up.

  57. Student*

    This seems more like a workplace-bullying issue than a janitorial issue, from the OP’s description.

    From a stance of setting-reasonable-boundaries-with-the-boss, I think OP did the right thing.

    From a stance of job duties, I don’t think anyone should regard themselves as “above” janitorial work. I think you can make a reasonable argument that the IT guy is not the cost-effective solution, but if the boss wants to waste the IT guy’s time on menial duties while paying a reasonable IT salary, then it is the boss’s call to make. After that, it’s a moral-killer with a predictable impact on attrition when the IT guy starts looking for a new job.

    The IT guy gets to make the cost-effective argument, the boss gets to reject it. The boss does not get to rub the IT guy’s nose in it, as it were, and that’s where this transformed from a business issue into a treating-humans-decently issue.

  58. Us, Too*

    I don’t think it’s a big deal to plunger a toilet. The thing that boggles my mind is that the boss was actually willing to spend (waste) 5 minutes of his time arguing over this rather than just get it fixed himself in 15 seconds. Trifling and stupid and shows that he doesn’t really care about the business as much as his own sense of entitlement and laziness.

    I get that there are tasks that are below someone’s paygrade, but that only applies in cases where asking someone to help you would actually take less time than doing it yourself. JMO.

    1. bridget*

      And willing to lose a skilled employee over it! Replacing OP’s friend will be an expensive and time consuming result of his (maybe bluffing) threat to fire him.

      1. Dynamic Beige*

        The cynical part of me wonders if the request was made to get the highly-paid guy to quit. There’s been a lot of comments up thread about throwing the weight around… maybe there was a reason behind it. Like, if I can get rid of this guy, I can save all kinds of money on his salary and hire someone cheaper to do the same job. Not that I’m saying he clogged the toilet on purpose (although that would be diabolical, and a lot of Ex-lax) but maybe it was an A-ha! moment of sorts “now I have a way to show up that little punk and get him out of here!”

    2. Observer*

      Considering that there is a janitorial service on site, the request is NOT reasonable by any definition, even the definition you posit.

  59. Joolsey woolsey*

    I was once told that part of my job, as an admin was to empty the sanitary bin in the ladies toilets, I flatly refused and the boss pushed back insisting it was part of my job. I threatened to quit over it and the boss gave in and got the cleaners to do it instead.

    I couldn’t afford to quit at the time but I would have because I AM too good to do that, I was contracted to do administrative work, if I wanted to empty sanitary bins I’d have looked for work as a cleaner.

    1. Laurel Gray*

      Whoa – “too good to do that”???

      Why can’t it simply be “I was contracted to do administrative work”? Is your attitude that you are better than the cleaners who are hired to and making a living replacing urinal cakes for your number ones and bleaching down your number twos?

      1. Joolsey woolsey*

        Yes, that is my attitude. If there was something in it for me like it was an amazing company to work for or I was going to get opportunities to advance by mucking in and doing janitorial work I might have considered it, but it was a rubbish little company and it was clearly a power play by the boss to make me feel small, so yeah, I am to good to do it.

        1. Laurel Gray*

          My observation was in your attitude that you are “too good” to do janitorial work. I think the attitude should be “I was hired to do admin work because of my skills and qualifications”. I don’t believe tackling the issue about why and how wrong it is for an idiot boss to ask an employee to do something like this from the view point that being a janitor is beneath them is really necessary, but I get your drift.

        2. Joolsey woolsey*

          Reading that back it sounds a bit harsh, so what I mean is that outside of work I don’t think I’m any better or worse than anyone else but in work there certainly are some tasks that are more demeaning than others, so while I’d be happy to empty a shared waste paper basket I wouldn’t empty a kitchen bin. It’s about having respect for yourself and making your colleagues have respect for you.

          If the letter writers friend had plunged the toilet then he would have forever been ‘that guy that plunged the bosses mess’

          1. Not So NewReader*

            I think there are some bosses that you have to draw a bright line with or they don’t get it. There are other bosses, that you roll up your sleeves and help them because they are already in the thick of it.

      2. AMT*

        I don’t think there’s anything wrong with admitting that certain jobs are less prestigious than others. It’s one thing if, say, you were hired to do grant writing and they tell you to do some proofreading, but a professional being told to plunge the boss’s poop can’t be interpreted as anything but an insult. Also, I get the feeling that the boss was pressing the employee to do the job as an intimidation tactic, not as a matter of necessity.

  60. processimprovement*

    Having worked in a small office I remember each of us had ‘extra’ tasks. I did the dishes and cleaned out the fridge, my boss changed the light bulbs. And the day I accidentally washed my contact lens down the sink, he took the whole thing apart to find it for me. We were all professionals in the office, but none of us thought a bit of manual labour was ‘below’ us.
    I agree this particular case seems to be about more than just unblocking a toilet, but in general if you take a job in a small office, expect some tasks that are not in your job description.
    PS. smart nieces! Can’t wait for their next post.

    1. AMT*

      I think the fact that it was “about more than just unblocking a toilet” is the important part here. I don’t think the employee would have quit if he was given a rotating set of chores that included bathroom cleaning duties and the boss just happened to clog the toilet that day. A small part of my master’s internship duties at a psychiatric program included helping in the kitchen, but if my supervisor had ordered me to wash her personal lunch dishes, I would have felt weird about it.

  61. John*

    Kudos to your nieces. Their responses show them to be bright and articulate.

    Hope for our future!

  62. BananaPants*

    Our kids have been cloth diapered, so I’ve cleaned up my share of poop – but I draw the line at plunging a toilet that was clogged by anyone other than myself or someone I gave birth to (even my husband – sorry, dear). My current job description does NOT include plunging a clogged toilet and the thought of my boss coming to me and demanding I plunge a toilet clogged with his bodily waste makes me feel ill. It comes across as being very aggressive and dominating.

    That said, I would NOT have quit because I’m not in a position to be without income. I’d have made a good show (preferably in front of other employees) of calling the building’s maintenance staff and pleasantly stating that Boss clogged the toilet and we needed it plunged. If he still fired me and had the gall to try to fight my unemployment claim, my attorney and I would have a field day.

    I’m so glad that I work in an office with an on-site contracted maintenance staff. There are no plungers in any bathrooms in this building so an employee who clogs a toilet usually just leaves the stall and tells no one. Eventually someone reports the clog to maintenance and they deal with it.

      1. BananaPants*

        With cloth, once a baby has started on solids, poop has to be removed from the diaper before it goes in the washer. There are a whole host of devices that are used to make this task less unpleasant, ranging from poo-scraping spatulas (DO NOT WANT) to flushable diaper liners to sprayers attached to the toilet plumbing. It’s most-icky during the early days of solids and is the one aspect of cloth diapering that we REALLY don’t like.

        I’m pretty sure I could never be a plumber, not even for the amount of money they can command!

        1. Mom2*

          LOL, that brings back memories! The age difference between me and my youngest sister was 7 years, so I have distinct memories of changing her cloth diapers…I had forgotten about the “rinsing!”

  63. Emily, admin extraordinaire*

    The really sad thing about this whole situation is the fact that those who actually do have to deal with this sort of thing on a regular basis as part of their job are generally the lowest-paid workers– retail, restaurants, janitorial staff, CNAs, etc. Dealing with human bodily fluids and excrement is definitely not in my current job description– but it used to be, back when I worked retail for $5.25/hr at a discount clothing store. There’s a reason such jobs are commonly described as “soul-crushing.”

  64. Bunny*

    I really like the way your nieces broke down this issue and analysed it. I can see merit to everyone’s perspective. (And as someone who generally *really needs the job*, I can see myself going with M’s approach and just gritting my teeth through the experience).

  65. Nina*

    Seriously, these are some great, very cohesive responses from your nieces. 14 year old me would have just said “Run while you still can!”

    I think M brings up an interesting point that the employee is getting a decent salary a lot to do this once, but I doubt it would stop there. I think the OP would be the “person who handles the toilets” after this. There seems to be a real power issue going on here, especially with the boss openly admitting that he clogged the toilet. That’s what baffles me. It’s one thing if the boss was mortified when he approached the OP with something like “Look, someone clogged the toilet, and I don’t have time to fix it” or some other excuse. It’s weird that he was so casual about “Yeah, I did it, and guess what? You get to clean it.”

    I don’t blame the OP for quitting, but I would have unclogged said toilet, then started sending out resumes the moment I got home.

  66. Stephanie*

    Can I just say this whole post and thread is making my day? I was sort of out of it today, but the nieces, the crazy power playing boss, the comments, all of it have left me with an [expletive deleted]-eating grin. Thank you.

  67. pinky*

    Nieces – Awesome awesome kids I want to work for right now
    Boss – as Perez Hilton would say, “Gro-oss”

  68. Dr. Doll*

    Cannot. Believe. That someone. Who plugged. The toilet. Would. Ever. Ask. Anyone. Else. To. Unplug. It.


  69. mortorph*

    To me, this sounded more like a power-trip rather than an ‘other duties as assigned’ request. Of course, my response could be a result of the way the letter was written. However, this seems clearly not normal given there was a janitorial service employed at the company.

  70. HR Bloviate*

    I was re-binging Game of Thrones season 4 last night and all I could think of while reading this was Prince Joffreys cruel power plays w/ Tyrion.

  71. DvH*

    I would have tried just saying “No worries. I’ll deal with it.” And then calling the janitor. I would then follow-up to make sure it got done.

    Of course, this might not work. The boss could expect you to do it then and there with him/her watching or could get really angry if he/she found out later that you didn’t personally do it (I wouldn’t lie about getting the janitor to do it).

  72. Dan*

    How about plunge it, then walk into the boss’ office with plunger in hand, poo water dripping off the business end and say, “All done.”

    Too passive-aggressive? :-)

      1. Dynamic Beige*

        Spray painted gold. On a plinth. With “World’s Greatest Boss” engraved. In front of the whole office. And a cake. There has to be a cake. Perhaps in the shape of a toilet. Nah, that’s going too far.

  73. Ruth (UK)*

    I’m totes with M. I wouldn’t quit my job over it. Based on the fact that this boss was willing to FIRE them over refusing (which said boss could not get away with in the UK btw) and the fact the request was made in the first place (in a professional job setting), I would begin a full-on job search following this and then quit ASAP, if I was the employee. But not quit on the spot. I’d basically plunge the toilet, then abandon ship with the first new job I can find.

    back up info: I worked a number of years in retail and have plunged many toilets. The idea of doing it would not be the big deal to me, but rather the inappropriate-ness of the request (based on the job the employee is actually hired to do) and the way over-reaction with the threat (to actually threaten to fire an employee over refusing?? Can’t get over that). It is those things that make it such a big deal to me, not the act of the plunging itself.

  74. vox de causa*

    Your nieces are once again golden in their responses. Thanks to you all for today’s insights!

  75. CJ*

    I would quit on the spot as well – it’s obvious that the manager didn’t care about the fact that the request was offensive to the employee and seemed to be using it as a means to test the employee’s tolerance to do anything/everything asked, regardless of whether it was appropriate. To me, that sends a clear sign that this is not someone I want to work with or for.

  76. Scott*

    This is pure passive-aggressive behavior. Many techies make more than the people who manage them, and I imagine that stokes some resentment among the managers. Good for this guy for quitting on the spot. I would also have called OSHA since feces is a biohazard.

      1. fposte*

        Right. Not technically a biohazard, which is good because what would that mean for changing diapers? (I know that can *feel* like a biohazard.)

  77. Just Visiting*

    This is one of those cases where I think your class status growing up really comes into play. (And to some extent gender, though there are a lot of people I’m reading as female who seem to have an issue with it, so that’s not quite as strong.) I’d have no problem at all plunging the toilet, wouldn’t even blink, would actually feel slightly superior to a person who’s so dainty that they can’t unclog a toilet. But from the perspective of someone raised middle/upper class, I’d be some kind of pushover. And it’s one of those cases where both narratives are valid, and I can totally see the disrespect from the boss’ perspective, but quitting or even looking for a new job over this is so far out of what I could see myself or anyone I’m close to doing that it boggles my mind.

    1. Jules*

      I agree about the class status growing up. Not sure about the gender though, since I am pretty sure most ladies who accidentally made the mess would figure out a way so no one finds out.

    2. fposte*

      That’s a really interesting insight. I think you’re right that there’s a lot of class implications in our responses, and I think this happens not infrequently when we’re discussing kitchen and bathroom stuff–this one is just the most extreme example.

  78. Jill of All Trades*

    Your nieces are soulmates to my pragmatic little heart, and I shall now boil situations down to “he didn’t ask you to hide a body.”

  79. Kathlynn*

    Cleaning the bathrooms is part of my job description. But I probably would have an instant do it yourself response if my direct manager did that (maybe not like the CEO, or someone in a suit.). Because of the phrasing. I could completely understand a “I can’t get the plunger to work” (been there) call for help. But this is one bad boss.

    I don’t think I’d quit though, since I make min. wage, and there aren’t a lot of jobs I can get. And yeah, I need my job too much. I think I’ll probably always feel that way.

  80. Igor Ragusnik*

    “The boss is not above plunging a toilet and neither is the janitor and neither is the employee, and neither are any of the readers of my strange aunt’s blog.” Love this!

    Mainly commenting to say I have now got my name here, because of this story (http://www.angelfire.com/ultra/savvy/story9.html) and the Problem Of The Poo.

  81. Bea W*

    The plunging request in and of itself wouldn’t have done me in, but the “plunge my poop or else” took it to an acceptable level. I can imagine this boss is terrible in other areas as well and this was not a one off thing.

    1. Jill*

      And who on earth wouldn’t be embarrassed to death to reveal that it was THEY who clogged the toilet in the first place? Maybe this is because I’m a woman and we’re supposed to create the illusion that we never stink, but I just don’t get how anyone would be so brazen about saying, “I clogged the toilet with my immense bowels now I want you to know that whatever you see and smell in there came from ME.” Ew, ew, ew!

  82. QAT Contractor*

    Sorry for not reading through the already 400+ first, but this situation is beyond ridiculous for several reasons.

    1. The boss plugged up the toilet, not the employee. It sounds to me like the boss was braging and just trying to assert his dominance by forcing someone to do his dirty work. Even a janitor shouldn’t have to deal with this, but a majority of the time they do.

    2. The employee quit over this with nowhere to go. Dignity is fine and I agree he should have drawn a line in the sand, but just quitting was dumb. He should have drawn his line and if the boss was going to fire him, let him fire you. I’m sure HR would love to hear the reason for being fired was because “he didn’t clean up my toilet mess”.

    3. On the other hand, why wouldn’t he quit when it’s very obvious his boss is a total POS that clearly didn’t get flushed himself. I can’t imagine any boss telling me this; it’s a very personal, private matter that 99% of people (assuming) would keep to themselves and hope nobody ever found out about it. Those same people would either try to plunge it on their own or just sneak away and hope nobody knew it was them.

    In the end it sounds like the boss just got someone else to do it for him or left it and the janitor dealt with it eventually. It’s beyond arrogant of him to even consider “other duties” to include something that’s not at a professional level. If the employee was an order taker/server at a fast food restaurant, that’s different. It is one of their duties to clean bathrooms. But in this case there was a separate service hired for those tasks and it’s beyond unreasonable to expect your employee, hired for a completely different role, to perform this task.

    1. Jessilein*

      I work in an office and my partner is a nanny. She’ll come home with snot and drool and worse all over her, so whenever I have a bad day, I think, “Well, at least I don’t have to deal with bodily functions on a daily basis!” Sounds like the OP’s friend had the supremely unfortunate combination of an office job + bodily functions. No thanks!

  83. fposte*

    The title is Not Safe for Nieces, but there is a highly on-topic and wonderfully raucous piece if you go through Longform to Hazlitt about the women doing housekeeping at a rural Ontario fishing lodge.

  84. Christine*

    I’m a pushover, so I probably would have plunged the toilet. And silently seethed for the rest of my career with that company. It’s one thing for the boss to notice the mess and ask another employee to deal with it (still isn’t cool), but for him to proudly exclaim that he did the clogging? Ridiculous. I envy the guy who quit on the spot. Must be nice to have in-demand skills.

    On a side note, one of our employees had a diarrhea incident a while back. They didn’t make it to the toilet. They didn’t even make it to the bathroom. We have a cleaning crew that comes at night, but this happened in the morning. Another employee took it upon themselves to clean the mess up without being asked, because it truly would have warranted evacuating the building for a biohazard I think. That employee got a $500 bonus the next day. It was well deserved.

    1. QAT Contractor*


      In that kind of situation I would think you can call the cleaning crew for an emergency cleanup. But the employee that cleaned it up totally deserved the $500 bonus. I know I wouldn’t have been the one to clean it up, at least not in business casual clothes and not without a mop, bucket, gloves and sanatizer (hand and floor). Even then, I still wouldn’t be the first person to volunteer.

  85. arkangel*

    I wouldn’t have plunged that toilet. You block it, you take care of it. The end.

    I’ve actually had the reverse problem in the past. I had to STOP my people from cleaning up toilet disasters. This happened in a multi stall bathroom, so it wasn’t a question of having nowhere to go. I explained that healthy people usually don’t do that. Did you really want to touch that? They were just using paper towels and water. Most importantly, the maintenance department was on the other side of the wall! With a door on it! That they could have knocked on!

  86. LP*

    Welcome to IT. Ask him if he’d like you to call the janitor for him.

    At least he didn’t send a poop memo?

  87. mel*

    Oooohhh as someone who has done the math and concluded that I get paid 12 CENTS to scoop day-old piles of vomit out of urinals, I very much appreciate that first answer. Thank you. :)

    And as a snarky person, I would have taken boss’ desperation as a sign that he simply doesn’t know how to plunge. I would do it on the premise that this is a lesson in plunging, in which he plunges and I coach. I just had this similar situation the other day with my supervisor and his inability to replace the paper towel!!!!! Changes nothing, but at least we got to laugh about it and I felt slliiggghhttlly less like a personal slave. But only slightly.

  88. BeckyDaTechie*

    The last place I worked had a ‘designated’ person for this sort of situation, but not a true janitor. Granted, he’d been a janitor before, and claimed to have been in the military, so he knew how to scrub a bathroom.

    But funny enough, if there was that kind of mess in an anonymous situation, there were 3 women on the staff (myself, another manager, and an associate), who were usually expected to clean it up.

    So personally, being told to my face to “go clean up my biohazard or be fired” would not get a well-reasoned, polite response from me, like M. gave, or even an honest and still mannerly one like A. gave. At best, he’d hear “I’ve called the janitor for you. Consider this my two weeks notice.”

  89. Jill*

    I’d say refuse and call the CEO’s bluff. If Employee is valuable enough to be paid “handsomely” then he’s probably hard to replace. Is the CEO willing to fire him over a toilet and lose his talent? I’d take the chance that he’s not.

    My cousin was a teen working a fast food job where her boss told her and a co-worker to clean the parking lot and improperly instructed them to use a concentrated fluid that should have been watered down first. She ended up sloshing it on her bare legs and go severe skin burns. They sued the franchise and won enough money that the franchise owner went belly up.

    The point is, although this situation is just a clogged toilet, some jobs – including those that involve plumbing or human waste/biohazards – should be left to professionals who are trained properly.

  90. Kathie*

    Just curious if your nieces have ever had to plunge the toilet from someone else’s clog? I divorced the father of my child because he couldn’t deal with plunging the toilet after he clogged it!

  91. JCC*

    Sounds like a class issue; someone from a respectable middle-class background not wanting to do a Poor’s job, and having the hubris to think they can afford to refuse. Ms. 14 has noticed something that takes many adults years to learn; if you don’t own where you sleep, it doesn’t matter who your parents or friends are or what you went to school for — when the landlord comes knocking, you’re just as much of a Poor as that janitor whose job you scorned. Is it right that we live in a world like that, where the most one can hope for is that the boss doesn’t force you to rub your nose in it for their own amusement? No, but if you don’t prepare yourself you will have a tough future.

  92. Kathy*

    Why would the boss ask an employee to plunge his body waste? Why didn’t he do it himself? Simple, it was a power pull and a blatant abuse of his power. It is obvious that the employee didn’t work for the janitorial company so that was not a duty related to his job. Other duties as assigned are related to the job or position you are hired for such as filling in for someone who is out for the day, or compiling reports that you may not usually do. It is not being the bathroom monitor and cleaning up the poop of other ADULTS as they see fit, especially your boss! I would lose total respect for him and not want to work for him anymore. Anyway, it wouldn’t be worth it as he would go further with some other ridiculous request .

  93. Dev*

    It’s really unethical work.Boss has no right to do this type work.Worst minded people’s work who do not count lower employee as a human being,It’s muscle power work.

  94. SlimJim*

    As an older worker who knows what it’s like to have a boss make you do items not in your job description simply as an ego-boosting power play, I have some advice: get it in writing. Simply let the boss know “OK boss, I’ll take care of it. But since it’s not in my job description and I rarely plunge toilets, can you shoot me a quick email that you’re asking me to do this/giving me permission? I want to help, but don’t want the janitorial company coming after me if I damage the toilet in any way.”

    Bottom line: the boss is toast. (1) If he complies, then you’ve got a paper trail that you can (preferably) show to first recruiter you can send a (snail mail) letter to along with your resume. (2) If the boss doesn’t comply, you can let the janitorial company know on your own AFTER you’ve plunged the toilet. Again, the email will either end-up in the boss’ boss — where he’ll be in trouble — or forwarded (immediately) to your own personal email for printing and sending later to that headhunter you’re going to hire to get you a new job. Finally, the email can end up (3) on the corporate lawyers desk demanding the boss explain why on earth he has employees doing the work of the janitorial company. Your request — in front of co-workers, hopefully — should have alerted the boss that he should immediately ask the janitorial company to handle it; failing to do so is placing the OP’s company in jeopardy. Preferably I like option (4): the boss gets fired and you get a new “normal” boss with fully-functioning brain.

  95. Just Answering*

    When I was a teen, I worked in fast food. Someone pooped in the urinal in the men’s restroom. I was asked to “take care of it.” I had no gloves, no cleaning equipment, nothing to deal with this huge mess. But, being a teen in my first job, I also had no concept of how to complain or say “no” to such an awful request.

    So, I put my ‘thinking cap’ on and ended up getting two of our heavy duty garbage bags, doubling them together, and then putting my hands and arms inside. Then, I scooped the poop into the bags by grabbing it all with my covered hands and pulling it into the garbage bags as I turned them inside out. All the poop ended up in the bags, the bags were sealed, and I was completely clean. I was pretty proud of myself.

    OTOH, I don’t remember how I cleaned out the remnants (although I know that I did. I think I just used towels from the restroom). I do remember my boss at the time marveling that not only had I done it (I really think she thought I’d refuse), but that I’d managed it without a mess.

    As I think back on it, though, I should NEVER have agreed to that. Not only because I did not have the tools to do it safely, but also because *I went right back to working with people’s food afterward* in the same uniform and all. Of course, my solution meant that I had a clean uniform, and — despite the bags — I had still washed up thoroughly afterward, but regardless … I was scooping poop and then scooping fries right after. Ugh!

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