my coworker plagiarized my work, manager told me that I can’t give references, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. My colleague plagiarized my work

I work in communications at a large, private university. Restructuring has changed many of my job duties in recent months, but I was hired as a writer for an industry-specific magazine the school used to published (it has since folded). It recently came to my attention that a piece I worked for months on has been published and distributed by a coworker in the university’s PR department with her byline. I am credited nowhere in the release, so I ran it through the plagiarism checker that our faculty uses. It returned 0 percent original work.

Upset that she was taking credit for my work, I went to my manager, who brushed me off. Is it worth escalating my complaint to somewhere higher, such as HR? Or is it worth reaching out to the department’s faculty academic integrity officer? For students, plagiarism complaints are taking very, very seriously.

Why not email the bylined coworker’s boss and say something like, “I noticed that the piece I worked on for several months about X was recently published, but had Jane’s byline instead of mine. I’m sure this was an oversight, but I’d like to get it corrected. Is it possible to update it to credit me as the author?”

In other words, approach it as if it was a mistake. If Jane actually presented it as her own and this is the first her boss is hearing of it, that’s going to start things down the path of getting it addressed.

Keep in mind, though, that in some contexts this wouldn’t be seen as a big deal, as long as your coworker didn’t actually misrepresent things and was clear with whoever published it that it wasn’t her work. Unlike with students doing classwork, work that you produce for your employer belongs to them — and they’re free to modify it, reuse it, and in most cases publish it without crediting you.

2. Helping a new colleague get used to delivering bad news

I am a government regulator and love what I do. We inspect restaurants and other facilities for compliance. After the inspection is complete, we review the results and hang a letter and numerical grade card. I feel fortunate to work with professionals who truly want to educate the business owners and not arbitrarily drop the hammer.

I have a young new coworker who gets disheartened by the reaction of some people she has inspected. Grades that are lower than normal can naturally cause a passionate response from the business owner. My young coworker feels badly when the owners are upset with her inspection results. Is there any advice to help mentor her through this? She is quite good and I don’t want her to get too discouraged before her confidence builds.

How about: “You know, it’s just human nature that people sometimes get upset when they get a lower grade, but we work hard to be fair and to explain our process to business owners. We make sure people know that we’re available to answer their questions and point them toward resources that can help them improve. Even people who are initially upset understand that about us, and the vast majority of them calm down pretty quickly. It can rattle you at first when you’re not used to it, but I promise that most of these people don’t dislike you. It’s not personal; you’re just interacting with them during a difficult moment for them.”

3. My manager told me that I can’t give references

I am currently a supervisor at my job, and recently my manager told me that I am not allowed to give references for any past employees of the company, nor am I supposed to allow them to use me as a reference. Is this an infringement on my rights or is it legal?

It’s legal. Some companies do indeed have policies that all references need to go through particular people (often HR or a higher-level manager). It’s also possible that it’s not a company-wide policy but rather something specific to you or your team, which could be legitimate (if your manager has seen people giving inaccurate references or references they weren’t in a position to give) or unreasonable.

If what’s really going on is that your company doesn’t give references at all but only confirms dates of employment and job title, that’s also legal — and stupid. Companies with that policy make it harder for former employees to get jobs, and they’re also wildly hypocritical if they themselves solicit references before making hires (which many of them do).

Keep in mind that you’re only bound by your company’s policy while you’re working there. Once you leave, you’re free to serve as a reference for former colleagues.

4. I’m being told to scoop other people’s food out of their containers in the fridge

I work for a youth mental health organization as a reception/admin assistant. I’ve worked here for over 16 months. Part of my role is general office cleaning, which includes tiding rooms, wiping benches, emptying dishwashers, etc. Recently I have been told that fridges also need to be cleaned on two levels (roughly 80 staff). Specifically, I have been asked to scoop food out of the containers and wash them, rather than throw away people’s containers.

I think this is a very unreasonable request. I spoke to my manager about my reluctance to do this, and suggested two options: (1) I email staff to advise of the fridge clean and that they should remove containers they would like to keep, or (2) same email to staff, commence fridge clean at 4 pm and place containers on the sink area, send another email to staff offering a last chance to collect and advising that containers left on the sink after 5 pm will be thrown away.

I’ve spoken to Fair Work Australia and basically I have no rights; I can be forced to scoop food out every week, or be fired. I’m on the verge of quitting even though I love this job. I just think it’s disgusting to ask someone to do this. What do you think?

I think both your suggestions were reasonable, but since you’ve been overruled, you have to decide if this is a deal-breaker for you. I don’t think this is worth quitting over, or that it’s all that outrageous when the job already includes cleaning … but if you feel strongly about it, you’re entitled to decide that you’re not interested in a job that includes this.

5. Is this coffee part of the interview process?

A couple of weeks ago, I had an interview with one supervisor in person and the other over the phone who works remotely across the country. Toward the end of the interview, they asked about availability and I mentioned that I’m available after my vacation in July, where I’m actually going to the same city where the remote supervisor works. They also mentioned that they’re in the middle of the interview process and hope to wrap up in a couple weeks.

After the interview, I sent a thank-you email, and the next Monday the remote supervisor wrote back, copying the other supervisor, and asked if I’d like to meet for coffee while I’m in her town. I agreed, and it’s set for mid-July, but I am having trouble determining the next steps or how to think about the situation. Is it appropriate to email again about the status of the hiring process? Or do I meet for coffee in a few weeks still hoping that I’m being considered?

Assume this is part of the interview process and you’re still being considered. At the end of your coffee, if things haven’t become more clear, you can ask something like, “Can you tell me a bit about your timeline for next steps for the X position?”

{ 317 comments… read them below }

  1. Ann Furthermore*

    #4: OMG. I sometimes get skeeved out cleaning my own food containers, and that’s stuff that I’ve prepared myself where I know what all the ingredients are. I can’t imagine having to clean out someone else’s containers full of mystery leftovers! Sorry, OP, I don’t have any advice for you. But you have my sympathies.

    I agree that this is really unreasonable. At my company there is a big sign on the fridge saying it’s cleaned out every Friday at 4:00, and anything left in there (anything, not just food containers but stuff like bottles of salad dressing) will get tossed. Didn’t take long for people to get the message.

    1. Elder Dog*

      Don’t “scoop” anything. Turn the container upside down over a trash can and bang it on the side. Most of the food will come out and you can rinse the rest out. Be prepared for some backed up drains if you don’t get enough out before you rinse.

      1. UKAnon*

        Yep, the drains are the worst bit, and bleach for 5 mins will kill that. I waitressed for years and second hand food is absolutely normal and… fine. I really, really don’t get the disgust over this. It’s… food.

        Your coworkers should clean up after themselves but clearly they don’t and this is well within OP’s job description given the other cleaning they do.

        OP, how often do you clean your fridge at home? How do you deal with gone over food at home? I really, really wouldn’t quit over this, I think once you do it a couple of times you’ll find it’s fine. Maybe encourage your coworkers to help you; something like a quick email every week listing how many tubs are left, maybe something fun like tracking if numbers go up or down or awarding a weekly award for one of the fridges. But please don’t be phased by food. It really is just the same as your fridge at home.

        1. Pill Helmet*

          There is a difference between 5 minutes old food and 5 day old food. Old food smells, looks funny, takes on weird consistencies, has liquid leakage or gelatinous qualities, and it’s been festering bacteria for however long it’s been sitting there. At least for me, that’s where the disgust comes from. I’ve waitresses too and it bothered me much less than cleaning out old food containers.

          The biggest problem I see with this though is that is gives the coworkers absolutely no motivation to deal with their mess. The problem will probably become worse because they know their containers will be cleaned out for them. It’s also time consuming. Even if it’s only half the employees, emptying and washing 20 containers out of each of the fridges on two floors would probably take at least an hour, possibly longer. The whole time spent gagging.

          1. UKAnon*

            5 day old food really shouldn’t be much different. The purpose of the weekly shop that most households undertake is that in a fridge almost all foods last for up to a week. There might be the odd thing that’s not right, but 90% of food will keep just fine for a few days in a fridge.

            (And with food recycling, we keep food in our kitchens in a bin, and then in our garden for a week at a time… That’s not refrigerated. That gets far worse than anything that’s been in a fridge. People still take out their bins and bins still get collected)

            1. Pill Helmet*

              It depends on the food. Plus, we don’t know how long this food was sitting in the fridge before it was brought to work. Much of it could already be on day 5.

              My trash is only collected once a week. I learned quickly that if I throw meat in the outdoor can the day after it’s collected my trash is swimming with maggots by the following week. So I now leave a lot of it in the fridge and toss it the night before collection. It’s in there Friday to Wednesday, 5 nights. The food that went in on day 1 or 2 is definitely gross by the time I’m tossing it. It’s not horrific, but if it was someone else’s fridge I’d probably be even more grossed out. Many people find cleaning their own mess more tolerable than cleaning other peoples messes.

              I get that you and others don’t find it gross. I don’t get why it’s a big deal that some people do.

              1. MapleHill*

                Sorry Alison, but I’m totally with Ann and Pill Helmet on this. To me it is unreasonable and I would so quit over it. And Pill Helmet makes a great point about the employees being accountable for their own items. These are grown adults, they don’t need a “mommy” cleaning up after their mess. Our building does as others suggested, send a mass email out stating anything in the fridge after X day/time will be tossed.

                That said, different people have different tolerances on what level of grossness they can handle. Old food, even my own, has always eeked me out and sometimes I’ll just throw out the whole container rather than having to clean it out. So if it’s intolerable to the OP, then it may be worth seeking employment elsewhere.

            2. mel*

              Good point. I’m usually “too afraid” to empty a container I found in the back of the fridge, but those would have gone on longer than a week – for sure.

          2. Rita*

            “The biggest problem I see with this though is that is gives the coworkers absolutely no motivation to deal with their mess. The problem will probably become worse because they know their containers will be cleaned out for them.”

            Absolutely this! If they were thrown away people would be more motivated to clean out the fridge. I can easily see people taking advantage of this.

            1. Jazzy Red*

              Amen and Hallelujah!

              My former employer had a policy of tossing everything that was left in the fridge, and the freezer (which is weird, but so were they). The first time one of my tupperware containers was tossed, I was pissed. However, one of the buildings I worked in had a fridge that no one EVER cleaned out and it was the grossest thing I’ve ever seen. I wouldn’t have touched anything in it with a 10 foot pole.

              Their new policy, while extreme, applied to one and all. The Office Manager shopped for steaks on his lunch hour on a Friday, forgot to take the meat home, and went back on Saturday to get it, and it was gone. He openly acknowledged that it was his own fault, and would warn all employees every so often about leaving food in the fridge.

              1. Laurel Gray*

                That sucks about the steak…but a part of me has a hard time believing someone trashed steaks from a freezer with the day’s date. Someone had a great dinner that Friday!

            2. Allison*

              Basically this. One of my first jobs was an usher at a movie theater, and we were basically a cleaning crew. I’m sure ushers started cleaning because some people would forget to take their trash with them (and someone needed to do it, right?) but eventually people realized that they didn’t need to take their trash with them because someone else was gonna take care of it, and now it seems like nearly everyone leaves their garbage behind at the movies.

              1. Heather*

                I don’t get that! You walk right by numerous garbage cans on the way out. How hard is it to carry a popcorn bag (with the pop container inside it) and dump it on the way out?

                1. Allison*

                  Right? If you’re able to carry that stuff in when it’s full, you’re more than capable of carrying it back out when it’s empty, or at least less full.

                  Growing up, my parents always told me to take my candy wrappers out with me and throw them away myself. I didn’t even know that ushers cleaned the theaters, but I grew up with the idea that my trash was my responsibility. Why is this a hard concept for so many humans?

                2. Hooptie*

                  Same thing with motels/hotels. My goal is to leave the room as close to how I found it as I can. Housekeepers are not slaves or servants!

                3. Allison*

                  Semi-related thing, my mom also taught me to return my shopping cart when I’m done with it. I make mental exceptions for elderly people, handicapped people, and people shopping with small children, but it baffles me how many people don’t return their carts and just leave them in the parking lot. how hard is it to take it to the cart corral? it takes two minutes!

                4. Ellie H.*

                  My mom also taught me that you must always take back the shopping cart, and somehow it was impressed on me that this is the one thing that is the ultimate shibboleth for being a civilized person, so I do it religiously, no matter how much of a hurry I am in. We even had a rule (established while I was learning to drive) that the person who doesn’t drive has to be the one take the cart back. The other day we were at the store together and my mom was going to just leave the cart (I guess, in an extremely atypical moment of laziness!) – I was scandalized and said we had to take it back, she had only herself to blame!

              2. Pill Helmet*

                This was one of my first jobs too. People were absolute slobs. But grosser than gross was that some of the other ushers I worked with would eat the leftovers!

                1. Emily*

                  I worked at a cinema for three years. If people didn’t leave rubbish behind, then I would have got 12 less hours on my shifts each week and wouldn’t have been able to support myself.

                2. Blamange*

                  Hey dont begrudge the leftovers some people leave whole uneaten sandwiches and packets of crisps at my work lol. That’s an unpaid lunch!

          3. Ivy*

            I would actually be grossed out by the thought of somebody else cleaning and washing my containers. I would definitely re-wash them afterwards. But then I wouldn’t leave them in the fridge either – so the people who do may feel differently.

            How about the clean containers – what are you supposed to do with them? What if you store them in a place where people have to ask you to get their own – and then you can give them the look and a verbal request to avoid doing this in future? This may have more effect than an email

            1. Pill Helmet*

              I was wondering what she did with them too? Is she supposed to go around and locate everyone to give them back their container? If the employees have pick up their containers after they’re washed then why can’t they pick them up BEFORE they’re washed.

          4. Melissa*

            That’s what does it for me. It’s a signal to the coworkers that they can leave their mess behind them in the fridge for as long as they want and they don’t have to worry – they won’t even lose all their Tupperware over it, since someone is going to be cleaning it out for them!

      2. Daisy*

        Yeah, OP repeating the word “scoop” makes it sound grosser than it actually is.

        1. Jazzy Red*

          That’s probably what her manager said to her, as though she was supposed to scoop out the food with her bare hands. Some managers are sweet like that.

      3. Beth*

        Ooooh… I read it as “they want me to scoop the food out, clean the containers, and put the food back in again” which would indeed be completely nuts and therefore make sense to be writing in about. Emptying and rinsing out the containers? Not that big a deal.

        1. UKAnon*

          Ha, ok, if it’s that then push back as hard as you can – that’s a Sisyphyian task if ever I heard of one.

    2. Perplexed*

      I don’t get why this is so disgusting at all. I mean, not wonderful but hardly disgusting. It’s food, not poop, what’s the big deal?

      1. Jed*

        It’s beyond me how some people this is an okay request. Is your workplace full of adults or babies?
        What type of workplace doesn’t hold their employees responsible for cleaning out their own lunch!

        Yes it may be food, but what type of food? There are a few health risks that come to mind… you can contract diseases such as hepatitis from contaminated food.

        If you do choose to go ahead with this please make sure you are provided proper training of food handling, and safety equipment such as gloves and disinfectant.

        I do feel sorry for you!

        1. MK*

          This is not a reasonable request, because it puts the OP in the position of cleaning after their coworkers to the point of doing their washing up for them and it absolves them from even the slightest effort of keeping their workplace clean.

          However, trying to make out that this is task, gross though it may feel to many people, is dangerous will just make the OP sound unreasonable themselves. This is food that people brought to work to eat and it has been stored in a fridge for a few days at most. The risk of contracting diseases is minimal and practically none if you wear gloves. By all means the OP should ask for gloves and disinfectant, but trying to make out that this is a hazardous task that they need training for?

          1. A Dispatcher*

            Foof bring there “a few days at most” is highly dependent on how often the fridge is cleaned. I have thrown away food that looks like science experiments plenty of times here when doing a “fridge purge”. Some of the people who do it wash out containers, but most don’t. We do give very ample notice however.

            1. A Dispatcher*

              Just noticed I skimmed over the part where LW mentioned this was a weekly thing. In that case yeah, maybe a little gross but god knows I’ve eaten stuff out of my own fridge on Friday than I put in on a Monday, so…

          2. the gold digger*

            I can understand why OP does not want to do this – it’s a pain in the neck – but after cleaning human feces off the floor of the men’s room at the city pool where I was a lifeguard for minimum wage, it takes a lot to faze me.

            (Although do not ask me to take a shower in a tub that has not been cleaned. I don’t mind my own dirty tub but at someone else’s house? That is gross.)

            1. Soharaz*

              Are you me? I never knew how many people were apparently toilet averse until I worked in a city pool as a lifeguard for 5 summers.
              In my interview I was asked ‘How do you feel about cleaning bathrooms?’ to which I replied, ‘I hate it, but if you’re going to pay me to do it, you wont hear me complain. I don’t get paid at home!’. I was 18 so it was a bit overeager as an answer, but I got the job! (and the question/my answer became a big pool joke that first summer).

          3. TootsNYC*

            I’m falling here, sort of:

            It’s leftovers. OK, some may be rotten (though if you do this weekly or even biweekly, a timing that the OP in fact controls, it won’t be that rotten), and a small percentage of it may have somebody’s saliva germs in it. But…it’s just food.
            Most food in containers can just be dumped out (you don’t even have to look at it); and you can just put it in the dishwasher. For the stuff that truly needs to be scooped, get some rubber gloves or a rubber spatula (or both! and the spatula can go in the dishwasher).

            I’ll be honest, I’d lower my opinion of someone who made a big deal out of how disgusting this is. Maybe that’s not fair of me, but it wouldn’t even necessarily be because I think it’s silly to be that grossed out by leftover food. I’d be thinking, “You can’t find some way to make it work for you? You can’t think of rubber spatulas, and dumping, and rubber gloves all yourself? You’re so focused on your personal reaction that you can’t troubleshoot or think inventively?” The lengthy and involved opposition would be the problem–the idea that you’ve spent more energy going “ewww!” than you’d actually spend doing it.

            I’d actually have more respect for them if they said, “This is not what my job is supposed to be; I wasn’t hired to do housekeeping!” Except…that you were, so….

            I’d be even more on board with the argument that these are people’s –personal- foodstuffs, and you think it’s not appropriate for you to handhold your fellow employees on –personal- matters, maybe. The bench belongs to the company, but the food and the containers don’t.

            And I’d be OK with the person pressuring to be able to send an email that says, “It’s Friday afternoon–dump your leftover food out and put the container in the dishwasher now, because i’m running it at 5pm.”
            Or with them arguing that all containers need to be labeled for the person, and that you’ll deliver the labeled containers, unopened, to people’s desks, and toss the nonlabeled ones. If people love their Tupperware, they’ll label it.
            Or with them arguing that dumping the food garbage will be stinky, and they’ll stack the UNopened containers by the door/fridge/whatever, so people can pick them up and take them home.
            But going on and on about how it’s gross? Or spending a lot of energy proposing all of these alternate scenarios? It would come across as obstructive.

            1. OP*

              Hey TootsNYC,

              Thanks for your opinion.

              I’m the OP and just to clarify I wasn’t hired to do this, so it’s not my job.

              My original job description does not mention cleaning, nor was it mentioned anywhere in the interview process or even in the first few months. As time has gone on I’ve been asked to tidy up certain areas and agreed to do it, since my boss asked me to but some things are a little to far…

              I do like your point about approaching the situation from a different perspective, very helpful. When my boss asked me to do the task I didn’t approach it from a “that’s gross” aspect. I approached it a bit more maturely and told them that I didn’t think it was reasonable, nor did I feel comfortable completing it, so here have some alternative options and hopefully we can come to an agreement that works for everyone. Rather then pushing someone to be the point where they hate there job and leave.

        2. Perplexed*

          I’m not saying it’s “okay”, it’s not great, but how disgusting can one week old food be?

          Massive over reaction IMHO.

          1. Jed*

            I don’t know why everyone is referring to 1 week, did the OP mention how long the food could be sitting there? I know my office fridge often has items looking like a food experiment!

            Finding it hard to believe that you would all be happy to clean out food container for 80 staff when that’s not in your job description, with only the protection of cloves.

            Cleaning companies won’t even go as far as to clean out food containers from fridges.

            Classic case of a worker being taken advantage of but there boss, how degrading for this person to have to clean out all sorts of food in front of the entire office.

              1. Meg Murry*

                I’m wondering whether OP is taking over the responsibility from someone else, or if this is a new policy. If it’s new, the first time probably will be awful and full of science experiments – but after that it shouldn’t be so bad if each fridge is done weekly.

                I’m curious whether people will re-claim their washed containers, or whether there will be a giant pile of cleaned containers sitting there – because if people forgot them up to that point, what makes you think they will remember that is their tupperware now that it’s empty? Or will it turn into a “why did you wash that container, it’s disposable” vs “you threw away my yogurt container I use as re-usable tupperware”!

                If OP otherwise likes her job, I think this is just one of those “other duties as assigned” tasks that you hate but grit your teeth and deal with – every job has those, even people who love their jobs don’t love every task they do 100%. But if she is already on the edge, and could find another similar position easily, I could see how this could be the straw that broke the camel’s back to make her want to move on.

            1. Perplexed*

              OP specifically said it would be weekly. Look, I 100% think people should clean up their own rubbish, it is disgusting to have mould covered food in the fridge. I’ve never been in a workplace that did anything other than give people warning, put old food on the bench, then bin it, and that’s completely reasonable. But if you clean it all out within a week, I just think asking for training in how to do this is ridiculous. Sure, wear gloves, disinfect the heck out of it all, whatever makes you feel safe, but emptying containers of week old food just isn’t that big a deal.

              1. Jed*

                Yep sorry both right, I did miss that.
                I see where your coming from, guess I’m just a massive advocate for personal rights. I feel really sorry for the OP and I don’t believe that people should be force to do something they don’t believe is reasonable.

                OP I think you should stand your ground if you feel strongly about this, especially if your job description does not include cleaning. You’ve been mature and given reasonable options and your boss should try to come to some compromise and protect your rights as well.
                Yes it’s up to you to determine if it’s worth quitting over, and personally I think it is!

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  I’m a massive advocate for personal liberty too, but by definition having a job means that you’ll be doing things that you likely wouldn’t do if you weren’t being paid. No one is being forced to do those things; with any job, you always have the option of deciding if you’re up for what the position requires or not. If you’re not, you get to decline to continue on in the position.

                2. UKAnon*

                  The OP says they do cleaning including the dishwasher, so their job description is cleaning.

                  If it was genuinely hazardous – like poo on the toilet walls (not unknown in restaurants, and far worse than clearing people’s food) I could understand pushing back, but with food I would seriously question absolute refusal. This isn’t unreasonable.

                3. MK*

                  You would find your life very uncomfortable if all people around you only did what THEY felt was reasonable.

            2. MK*

              A) There is nothing degrading about cleaning or having a job that involves cleaning. When a waiter comes to pick up your dirty dishes after you finish eating in a restaurant, you really find it a degradation? Cleaning actually is in the OP’s job description, they do general office cleaning. Why was it ok for them to empty the trash cans and dust “in front of the whole office”, but emptying food containers is degrading?
              B) 80 staff does not equal 80+ conatainers. Some people won’t bring lunch, some will do it in disposable wrapping, some will take their containers home at the end of the week.
              C) Professional people who wash the dishes at restaurants do not, to my knowledge, do so in bio-hazzard suits. Food is not an inherently dangerous substance and it would take pretty extreme circumstances for it to be so from mere contact (not that the OP actually has to touch it, but anyway). Your claim confuses me.

              1. Not Today Satan*

                Because these food containers are personal property of employees, not shared office space/property. While I expect that an office would have cleaning staff, I would never in my wildest dreams expect a coworker to wash my dishes or my tupperware.

                1. the gold digger*

                  Someone repeatedly left a dish half full of oatmeal to soak in the break room sink. For a few months, I would rinse the bowl and remove it from the sink because I did not want to look at it.

                  After a few months, which I think was more than adequate notice (surely that person noticed that she was not the one cleaning the bowl), I finally got fed up and threw the bowl away.

                  I would expect my food and the container it was in to be discarded. I would not expect someone else to wash the container.

              2. Artemesia*

                I think it is in fact degrading to have to clean up after the personal messes of co-workers. This is not doing dishes after a group lunch or whatever,this is cleaning up after the pigs she works with who bring food in containers and leave it in the refrigerator to rot rather than taking care of their own stuff. Being the personal maid of her co-workers is demeaning.

                If she needs this job then she has to suck it up, but it is the sort of thing that might well encourage her to look for a position where she is not tasked to be the personal servant of lazy gits she works with. I have worked in several organizations and many places have staff clean out the common refrigerator– but none of them has ever expected them to do the personal food containers brought in by co-workers. If those people didn’t take their stuff home their containers got thrown away. I once lost a nice plate; served me right.

                1. Sunshine*

                  It’s part of the job she was hired to do. I don’t agree with her manager, I would just throw it all out including containers. But I don’t get the strong reactions of disgust. Food is not a biohazard.

                2. Pill Helmet*

                  There are many things that done = bio-hazard that people don’t want to touch. Bugs, chewed gum, animals, feet, warm seats, recently used gym equipment, greasy food (that’s fresh), elevator buttons, railings in public places, garbage cans, dish sponges. I’m sure I could come up with more.

                  Point is, just because it’s not a bio-hazard doesn’t mean it’s unreasonable to find it disgusting.

                3. UKAnon*

                  @ Pill Helmet, but if your job required you to take a lift to the office or share a washing up sponge, you wouldn’t quit your job over that, surely?

                  a) Food isn’t a biohazard.
                  b) Things which aren’t pleasant but which aren’t a biohazard appear in every single office.
                  c) People who work in the office use them.

                  I remember a letter about a coworker not washing her hands after using the toilet. That would make my skin crawl – literally I would be able to feel germs crawling up my skin for hours after having to use the photocopier and would struggle to concentrate on other things. But I wouldn’t quite a job I otherwise love just because of that.

                4. Pill Helmet*

                  @UK Anon

                  Well, sure. I don’t think she should quit over it. Though, I would not take a job with this in the job description and I would be upset if my job description suddenly changed to include it. It would motivate me to look for another job.

                  I was responding the the “I don’t get the disgust” comments, not the quitting comments. My point is that it’s not unreasonable that some people find it disgusting and the “It’s not a bio-hazard” argument doesn’t change that.

                5. QualityControlFreak*

                  Exactly this. I do enough cat herding that actually is part of my job. Being a personal maid to my coworkers is not; not by any stretch of the imagination. I would find it demeaning, and I would tell my supervisor I was disappointed that she chose to place the responsibility for cleaning up after my coworkers as though they were all 5 years old on me instead of managing them. And then I’d give my two weeks’ notice. But that’s me.

                6. MK*

                  Pill Helmet, I am not saying it’s unreasonable to find this task disgusting. I was responding to Jed’s comments that the OP should ash for “proper training of food handling” and that “only the protection of gloves” is not enough to prevent health risk.

                7. madge*

                  Agree. It sounds as though her job description includes very light cleaning, not maid service (nothing wrong with maid service but if it wasn’t part of the original job description, it would irritate me).

                  OP, I would do my best to shake the food out into the trash, then give it a good scalding but I would not full-on wash dishes for 80 lazy, overgrown children. If a container doesn’t come clean, toss it.

                8. Pill Helmet*


                  I was actually responding to Sunshine, but I didn’t make that clear. Sorry about that.

              3. UKAnon*

                +100 to all of this. The attitude of ‘somebody else will clean, I’m too good to’ comes up so many times in workplace issues (and I am applying that so hard to OP’s coworkers who can’t keep a kitchen clean. One person to wash down the fridge once a week to make sure it’s done, fine; leaving your food around, not ok) and it really grates. I get that it’s different when these belong to co-workers (and I second Not Today Satan and Artemesia as well) but the unfortunate things is that most offices have offenders like this. Aside from anything else, busy professionals do just forget things like this IME. If you need somebody to do this, cleaning and handling food aren’t demeaning at all.

              4. Moldy*

                I don’t think cleaning out the food of others is disgusting at all, it’s a pretty normal thing. But I don’t think it’s something the OP should need to do. She is a cleaning person, not a servant. Just because there’s a cleaning person at schools doesn’t mean that teachers allow kids to throw stuff like papers on the floor all the time either. Now, picking up paper from the floor isn’t a horrible thing to do if your job is already to clean stuff, but they shouldn’t have to do that either?

                People in an office should absolutely learn to clean after themselves. I think this is ridiculous. It’s not a dealbreaker but if it was me I might start looking.

                1. Artemesia*

                  It isn’t even washing dishes used and left in the sink – dishes that belong to the office. It is washing personal containers brought from home by co-workers that they will presumably then take back home to fill again. This strikes me as like being expected to do their laundry or other highly personal tasks — it crosses the line of what is reasonable.

          2. Ad Astra*

            Something about cleaning up other people’s food really grosses me out, so I bet the OP feels the same way. I’m especially bothered by certain smells, like ranch dressing or tuna, which could show up pretty frequently in people’s lunches. I would not last long as a bus boy. Or bus girl? Bus woman?

        3. Whippers*

          Yup, the real issue is that coworkers can’t clean up after themselves, not that the job is gross or dangerous. I would be highly pissed off about it too.

          1. MK*

            Exaclty. What I find outrageous about this is not that the OP has to empty conatiners, but that the organization is willing to provide their employees with a free washing-up service.

            1. OfficePrincess*

              Yup. It’d be interesting to see what happens with the number of containers left in the fridge after a few weeks of this. I’d be willing to bet it would increase. Why take your almost empty containers home every night when they could get washed for you if you just leave them till Friday? (Because it’s the right thing to do, obviously, but…people have been known to take advantage).

              1. The Cosmic Avenger*

                I doubt those people plan it that much. A small number of people somehow survive well into adulthood as grownup-sized toddlers. They will do nothing that they don’t feel like doing if they don’t have to. These are the people who leave their trash on the floor next to the trash can, their dirty dishes in the sink, and their print jobs on the printer for WEEKS, until they finally need something and decide to go look for it wherever they last abandoned it.

                This is why I don’t use the break room any longer except to wash one dish at a time, dry it with a paper towel, wipe down the counter where I dripped, and then take it with me. I refuse to clean up after other adults when we’re all supposed to clean up after ourselves. But it’s been ruined by these extremely overgrown toddlers leaving their dirty dishes in the sink for weeks.

              2. Nutcase*

                Personally if I forgot to take my container out of the fridge and it got washed by someone that I don’t know I wouldn’t fancy using it again until I had washed it myself anyway. After living in a shared house with a guy who thought just dunking things in tepid dishwater equalled cleaning I just can’t get that out of my mind. Even now years later I still can’t help but check the plates in my cupboard for dried on food. But yeah, I can see how a lot of people would probably see this free washing service as a perk and leave things on purpose. Why can’t the policy be that all of the containers are binned if left? With clear signage nobody can complain about that.

                1. Sadsack*

                  Yeah, if I had to wash these dishes they would just be rinsed and wiped well enough that there’s no food chunks left in them. I would not be washing them as I do my dishes at home.

                2. Partly Cloudy*

                  “Personally if I forgot to take my container out of the fridge and it got washed by someone that I don’t know I wouldn’t fancy using it again until I had washed it myself anyway.”

                  THIS. I usually re-wash Tupperware that I’ve loaned to friends, unless I know they put it in the dishwasher. But I’m a neat/clean freak.

                3. The Cosmic Avenger*

                  That’s probably a good idea, Nutcase, because if I find dishes in the break room sink for more than a couple of days, and they’re in my way, I just put them in the drying rack as-is. (That’s my compromise, instead of selling them on eBay or tracking down the owner and tossing them into their cube, as I’d like to do.)

            2. AnonAnalyst*

              This. I can see the organization wanting to make sure that stuff is cleared out of the refrigerators and assigning someone to regularly purge the contents, but paying someone to wash employees’ personal property seems like a terrible use of company resources. And I totally agree with OfficePrincess’ point that more people might just leave stuff if they know that if it sits there long enough, someone else will wash it for them.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                But if the company wants to hire someone to do this, why shouldn’t they be able to? The OP may decide it’s not a job she wants, but it’s not an outrage for the company to hire someone who knows up-front this is part of the job.

                1. Katie the Fed*

                  Yeah this is kind of up there with frats hiring “house moms” or whatever. If they want to hire someone to clean up after them – have at it. I’m going to be hiring a maid service myself at home soon.

                2. Allison*

                  They should be more clear about that in the interview then. “Some cleaning” to an admin assistant usually means wiping down tables, tidying up common areas, helping to clean up after events, etc., it doesn’t normally mean handling other people’s leftovers or dirty dishes on a regular basis.

                  Although to be fair, if someone’s told they’ll be doing some cleaning as part of their job, they should probably ask for a clarification as well.

              2. TootsNYC*

                There’s a dishwasher (she empties it, she said). It won’t take her long. Dump food, put container in dishwasher. Push button.

            3. UKAnon*

              I understand that side of things. I wonder if the reason they aren’t allowed to throw them away is that there’s some sort of waste disposal issue (like not having waste over a certain weight or not throwing away certain things or having to recycle so much at such a cost) that the company doesn’t want to cost them. I repeat what I said above that I think the OP can push back on that, maybe by finding ways of encouraging their coworkers to clean up after themselves.

        4. Sadsack*

          We had a post a few months ago about someone who had to clean up after coworkers and I went into a bit of a tirade over it. I won’t do that again but I will say that I feel bad for the OP. Why should anyone have to clean up coworkers’ personal dishes at work? Tending to public areas like wiping down benches, etc, is different than cleaning out someone’s food bowl. This is ridiculous. Not sure I would quit over it immediately, but I would be looking, unless the pay and benefits of this job make it well worth it.

        5. Katie the Fed*

          They’re not asking her to EAT the food, just dump it.

          It’s not a great task, but it’s not THAT bad.

      2. Dang*

        Because it’s belongs to other people who apparently can’t handle getting rid of their own food? That’s your personal property, you don’t just let it sit in the fridge and get moldy and smell until someone else cleans up after you. That’s just beyond.

      3. Emily, admin extraordinaire*

        I have a highly developed gag reflex. Washing yesterday’s dinner dishes is enough to make me gag. This would have me throwing up at work once a week. I would not do it.

        1. Zillah*

          Ditto. And many foods smell/look absolutely disgusting even before they go bad – I never have them in my house, but I’m sure coworkers would bring it in, and I’d be gagging and puking. Hell, I feel like that about meat – I won’t even touch my partner’s bacon pan two hours after he’s used it, and I make him use a different sponge and pan. I can’t imagine meat not being included in this.

          This would be awful, and I completely sympathize with the OP.

    3. Zillah*

      Agreed. It’s great that a lot of people wouldn’t see this as a big deal, but I think some commenters are going too far with that line of thought. Being squicked out by something isn’t generally a logical response, and most of us have responses that are not strictly logical about something. If the OP gets squicked about cleaning out other people’s food… I mean, I don’t see that as being much different than any number of other things people get.grossed out over illogical things.

      1. YandO*

        honestly, I’d rather sit on a duck club couch than deal with other people’s fridge containers.

        Cause sex does not freak me out, but stranger’s old food? Man that’s gross

        1. Ad Astra*

          I’m with you, YandO. Especially if I’m wearing long pants so my skin doesn’t have to touch the duck club couch.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            I sat on the work couch earlier to talk to someone who was lying on the other couch and thought of Duck Club. It was all I could do not to start laughing hysterically.

    4. Ann Furthermore*

      Now I’m kind of amused, because obviously we all have our own triggers, or whatever you want to call them. I’ve read plenty of comments here over the years about people’s different hang ups about food that I just didn’t understand and thought were way over the top. Now there are some comments here that clearly indicate that my reaction is way over the top. Hee.

      To me, for some reason, this feels like crossing a huge personal boundary, like if your boss told you that you had to do your co-workers’ laundry or something. I don’t know why. And that’s on top of it just being ridiculous that people behave like such children and don’t clean up after themselves. Even my 6 year old knows to take her dishes into the kitchen and put them on the counter. And yeah, it’s just food, but something already a few days old on Monday that then sits there until Friday could potentially be pretty funky.

      And I disagree that this is comparable to washing dishes in a restaurant. In that environment, you’re washing dirty dishes that have been sitting for an hour, maybe 2, not days and days. And if you’re a dishwasher in a restaurant, you’re likely to have a big sink with a high-powered sprayer and disposal that will knock off most of the big chunks and rinse the dishes with super hot water. Not at all the same as scrubbing out food containers by hand with a sponge or plastic brush – containers one at a time that have been sitting for up to 5 days.

      1. Sadsack*

        Washing dishes in a restaurant is something a person knows she’s signing up for when she takes the job as dishwasher. I would not go in expecting to have to wash coworkers dishes if I’d take a job as a receptionist or admin assistant.

        1. Laurel Gray*

          Totally agree. A dishwasher in a restaurant actually has the title “dishwasher”. That 1-2 hours a week the admin spends washing dishes in a 40 hour week could totally go toward doing a task that could add value to her career and specifically her resume!

        2. Robles*

          I have never had an administrative position that didn’t involve cleaning up after my co-workers in some way. Mostly fridge and kitchen issues.

          1. Zillah*

            Sure. But, it’s uncommon for that to include washing out other people’s food containers, which is both significantly grosser and significantly more time consuming.

          2. JB (not in Houston)*

            I have. And at my current office, I’m no longer an admin, but the admins there don’t do any clean up at all. It’s not always part of the job.

        3. Elder Dog*

          She’s NOT a receptionist, nor is she an admin assistant. She’s a cleaner. That’s her job. I’ve never worked in an office where cleaning out the fridge at the end of the week was not part of the housekeeping crew’s job. Washing the dishes instead of just throwing them out is a little unusual, but for pity’s sake wear rubber gloves!

          1. Judy*

            She states in her posting that she’s reception/admin assistant.

            I’ve never worked at a place where cleaning the fridge was part of housekeeping’s job. Maybe the kitchen and fridge by the executive offices, but not in the shared worker bee areas.

          2. Sadsack*

            The letter states that she is reception/admin assistant with general cleaning duties. Keeping an office tidy and cleaning up the remains of coworkers’ food out of their containers that they brought from home are distinctly different types of duties, in my opinion.

          3. OP*

            Hi Elder Dog,

            Just to clarify I am the receptionist/admin assistant. My original PD does not mention anything about cleaning, nor was in mentioned in the interview process or within the first few months of the job.

            I was gradually asked to complete a few tasks which I agreed to because you do those kinds of things if your boss asks you too. This was just a step to far over the edge though, and is the straw that’s broken the camels back.

            Just the idea of doing it makes me want to throw up.

            1. Not So NewReader*

              I like what Ann F said at the start of this thread about how we all have our own triggers and it’s not just with food. Mine is ladders. Tell me to do ladder work, okay, I am done here. I have a friend who is afraid of needles. Anytime a work place said she had to go get a vaccine, she left the job.
              I think the trick is to not have a staggering list of deal breakers for the reason that it is easier to stay employed. I don’t think you have that staggering list of deal breakers. But I think it’s important to know ourselves and what our limits are. I try to be fairly consistent about my limits. In the process of deciding not to do ladders (which supposedly cost me a promotion) I ended up thinking about stuff that I don’t like to do verses stuff I just plain cannot do. There is a difference and I was surprised by that. (I don’t know why that surprised me, I guess it was because I never had encountered it before or never put much thought to it.)

              OP, if you cannot do this task, then that is your answer. You can’t do it. Unfortunately, the employer has been pretty clear about their unwillingness to compromise. I would go in and say, “I really cannot do this task and there does not seem to be another solution. Therefore, I must offer my two weeks notice because I cannot do the work that is now required of me.” DO NOT do this unless you are prepared to leave your job. This is not to leverage the situation, rather, you are actually giving notice.

              FWIW, most places I have worked had a Friday Rule. Anything in the fridge on Friday afternoon was going to hit the garbage can. I do sympathize with you, OP. because I have had a few jobs that were a real stretch for me. I know it’s a torturous decision to decide to quit over just one task. I usually prefer to quit a job for numerous reasons not just one reason. And I definitely do not like to suddenly quit a job, I like to take my time and think it through thoroughly before resigning.

      2. Vex*

        Yes. All of this. I’ve worked in restaurants and handled my share of other people’s discarded food, so I’m not squeamish about that, but I would be PISSED if I’d been ordered to clean my coworkers’ tupperware as an admin. Just, no. With restaurant food, as you mention, it hasn’t been fossilizing for a week AND I know pretty much what’s in it.

        OP, I feel for you. Can you invest in those big rubber gloves so there’s at least no direct contact with the grossness?

      3. Ad Astra*

        And, I would think, dishwashers at a restaurant don’t usually clean their coworkers’ dishes. I never worked in a real restaurant, so I guess I’m just speculating.

        1. UKAnon*

          Where I worked we washed all dishes that were used during the day, whether it was customers or co-workers who’d used them.

          1. QualityControlFreak*

            Yup, I did that too, back in my college days when I was, you know, a dishwasher. But I actually applied for that job … as a dishwasher.

          2. Vex*

            Same at the restaurant where I worked… BUT there was a difference between using a restaurant dish and slipping it in with the regular load to be washed, vs. telling the dishwasher to clean out my personal Tupperware containers. I’m pretty sure I would’ve gotten laughed out of the kitchen if I’d tried the latter.

        2. Not So NewReader*

          Yep, everyone’s dishes all go in the same pile. But it’s a restaurant and dirty dishes are expected. Plus, the employee is usually told on the interview or very soon after that there is a person designated for doing dishes OR all employees are expected to take a turn. The new employee knows upfront what to expect.

    5. BRR*

      We take turns cleaning our office fridge and there’s always some science experiments in there, I’m grossed out and that’s not even with opening the containers. We send an email the day before and then another email that the day of anything without a name and that isn’t expired is on the counter and you have 1.5 hours to claim it. Expired and unlabled stuff gets thrown out.

    6. Another HRPro*

      Many jobs require people to do work that others find gross – there was a hit TV show called Dirty Jobs that showcased these hard, sometimes gross jobs that help keep our comfortable world working the way it does. The OPs job includes cleaning and this is cleaning. There is nothing wrong with that. Is the request a little odd to wash other’s dishes in an office environment? Yes, but that is her job. She can recommend an alternative, but if the boss says she needs to empty and clean the containers in the fridge every week, she needs to do it or find a job that does not involve that type of work. Someone else out there will do it.

      1. Bend & Snap*

        Side note, I got to meet Mike Rowe at a press event, with a bunch of foreign journalists. He is smoking hot. A journalist from Spain told me she “just loves that dirty man!”

        When I met him he said, “Hi, I’m Mike.” Just a super humble guy and really nice.

      2. Partly Cloudy*

        I feel like I’m all over the place on this issue, but I agree with this. I personally would be kind of icked out by having to clean multiple peoples’ containers, and the principal of being asked to do this in an office job (vs. food service where you know what you’re getting into, per above) would bother me. But if it bothers me THAT much, I am free to quit my job. I think it’s silly for the company to enable people not cleaning up after themselves, but I’m also free to run my own business differently if I have one.

    7. Ella*

      Yuck, OP. I clean out my work fridge sometimes, but that’s voluntary (me and one other coworker CANT HANDLE the grossness, so we clean it because it’s easier than expecting our coworkers to hold to our standards). But I have 20 coworkers, not 80.

      I think your email idea is a really good one, even if it’s a step prior to the scooping, rather than a replacement. If people aren’t used to the fridge being cleaned, they can’t help you out by pulling out their own old food first. If you can revisit this aspect of the plan with your manager, I would do that.

      Also ask your manager if there’s rubber or latex gloves you can wear. I’ve found that knowing I won’t get unknown food on my fingers helps me a lot. (Talking out loud to myself helps a lot, too. “EW EW EW WHAT IS THIS WHY. WHY DO PEOPLE DO THIS.” etc. Keeping my mouth engaged helps my stomach stay out of it.) Wear a shirt with sleeves you can roll up. Listen to music or podcasts.

      Don’t wash them thoroughly. Just rinse them so they don’t have lots of food bits in them. Anything moldy, don’t scoop it, just dump the Tupperware into the trash, food and all. Your manager probably won’t notice that much.

      1. Jessa*

        Honestly, a pair of housekeepers gloves can be had cheaply at most supermarkets in the detergent aisle. And it is in no way unreasonable to use them to wash things (forget whether things are icky, dried out hands from dish detergent is a pain.)

        And as someone who has worked around dead bodies in the past knows, there are ways to deal with the smell of bad food (if it’s gotten to that point, and it makes you ill,) the old vapo-rub under your nose works wonders. Heck if it’s that bad, a swimmer’s nose clip also works (cut the strings that hold it around your neck if you don’t want it to be noticeable, and do not make a big deal of it.)

        But there are ways to do this job and not have your hands in ick. And for an expense of less than $10 (even $10 Aus,) you can get a pair of reusable rubber gloves and a spatula/large spoon and a handled scrubber. You may even own them already.

    8. Michelle*

      About 5 years ago when we expanded our business, we got full-time housekeepers (before that they worked part-time a few hours in the pm to clean the building). They take care of fridge cleaning now, but their manager emails me when fridge cleaning time comes around and I email the staff to clean out their stuff, check expiration dates, etc. I also print out several signs and post them by the time clock, the fridges and doors to the break room. We also ask everyone to label & date their food and provide the labels and markers. After all of that, if they choose to leave containers, food, etc. in the fridge, it will get tossed. The housekeepers will check expiration dates on condiments, but everything else that is not labeled gets tossed.

      When the housekeepers worked just part-time, the assistant director and I would clean out the fridges. Much smaller staff so I just told them, we are cleaning the fridge, get your stuff or it gets tossed.

      These are presumably adults, who pack or purchase lunch. If they can’t be bothered to get old, outdated, expired food out of the fridges, it goes to the trash, period. I hate washing my own dishes, I’m sure not going to clean out and wash coworkers.

      Send the email, which the boss gave you permission to do, then if adults don’t come collect their stuff, toss it.

    9. Elizabeth West*

      That’s what happened at Exjob, and our fridges here get cleaned out twice a month–if you leave something in there, you lose it. Container and all.

      I wouldn’t want to pitch other people’s food, either. What if they were saving it to take home that day and it was their dinner!?

  2. Mike C.*

    Re: 2

    I’ve always worked in quality, and I the past, it was dealing with food safety (lab testing), precision equipment calibration and the related certifications, paper work and audits that go with. We dealt with large food processors and national recalls.

    Frankly, I’m a little surprised at the tone of the letter. Those safety regulations are in place so that people don’t die. I’m not exaggerating here, food poisoning not only makes you feel like you want to die, it may actually do the job for you! The regs are well publicised, there are tons of resources out there for help, and many public health agencies will perform mock audits to further pinpoint specific problems. If an owner is being cited, is because they screwed up – they need to suck it up and put their customers first.

    What your coworker needs is an understanding as to what had happened in the past when these regulations were not followed or weren’t in place. Have your coworker read up on what happens when E coli, listeria, salmonella, hepatitis c and so on get spread around during an outbreak – it not a pretty sight. She needs to understand the role she plays ensuring public safety.

    Anyone who works in QC/QA/regulatory needs to be a hardass. That doesn’t mean you can’t educate or help ensure compliance (you should!) but if you start feeling bad about having to remind people not to negligently kill others, then they need to find another line of work.

    1. Steve G*

      I’m not sure empirical knowledge would help the OP’s coworker, or whether reading case studies will help, but in the rare case it does, I’d love the OP to share this story….

      It is BS when people are sick for a day and say oh, I had food poisoning, no, food poisoning can be deadly…

      2002, I started to get serous anxiety and a stopped up stomach. I stopped eating. I went from being able to sleep 10 hours/night to staying awake all night. This lasted for 4 nights. I coincidentally have a Europe-US flight, felt dizzy, out of if the whole time. Day 6, back in NYC, started vomiting, skin breaking out like crazy (not normal for me), crazy fever, dragged to doctor, took samples for various diseases. Day 10ish, start to feel better….but day 12-14ish (can’t remember exactly, but there was a gap), felt like my head was going to explode, I was only 21 so too young for a stroke or heart attack, but it felt really serious, I was purplish red, begged mom to bring me to hospital, went in, rushed ahead of everyone in ER because of how I looked, started throwing up……find out its ECOLI. 4 nights in hospital. Released with lots of antibiotics. It comes back, I feel like my head is going to explode. Go back to hospital for a night. Released, sleep 12-13/hours a day for weeks. Following 5-6 months is a rotation of flus, colds, rashes, skin outbreaks, weight loss, chronic fatigue, red eyes, depression…..anything that comes from a seriously weakened system. It took a year to recover, and in certain respects, it took much longer than that…………………

      Wow that looks long but I type fast, but I think it is important to share with the subject of the OP’s letter that these aren’t quick little illnesses that happened. I firmly believed that I would have died, the way my head felt when we went back to the hospital the second time was such a pressure and feeling of dread, similar to what people describe before heart attacks, it was indescribable but really, really bad, this stuff is fatal…..

      1. Nursey Nurse*

        While you’re absolutely right that food poisoning can be fatal, it’s also true that people can be sick for only a day with food poisoning! There are a huge range of pathogens implicated in food poisoning and also a huge range of clinical presentations. What makes one person mildly ill could kill someone else. That’s part of the reason prevention services like the OP and her colleague are offering are so important.

        Glad they were able to figure out the problem and get you on the road to recovery!

        1. blackcat*

          In particular, norovirus is transmitted through food.

          While it is an incredibly unpleasant experience, it’s also quite brief (severe symptoms for only ~12-18 hours).

          “Food poisoning” is used for a huge array of food borne diseases, some bacterial (such as e coli) and some viral.

          1. Nanc*

            Oh Lordy, Norovirus barfing! I strained abdominal muscles I didn’t know I had. Even my belly button hurt! Recovered just in time to go back and hold down the fort for two days while the rest of the office took turns at home.

          2. PurpleGerber*

            When I worked in OH&S at a hospital, we had norovirus make the rounds through the units. Most cleared up eventually but we had a unit that it kept reoccurring on and couldn’t figure out why. It was found out that the nurses on the unit were popping popcorn in the microwave and keep it in the break room to share. Basically, everyone shoving their hands into the bag and sharing the germs!

            To this day, I can’t share a communal bag/container of anything that doesn’t have utensils. Once had a co-worker reach into my container of blueberries with his hand and take some without asking and before I could say anything. Dumped the rest out.

            1. Rana*

              Yeah, when I went on a few remote expeditions, the rule was that you poured food into cups/hands/bowls/whatever instead of reaching in, and food was stirred and served with a spoon that was never, ever used as a personal spoon. And if you shuffled members of cook groups, all of the communal cooking gear was dunked in boiling water before the reconfigured group started cooking. (Intestinal distress in the backcountry is no bueno.)

        2. neverjaunty*

          Thank you for this. I really do not get the attitude that because some kinds of food poisoning can be life-threatening, it’s “BS” if you get food poisoning that *merely* means you spend an entire day curled up in the bathtub.

          1. fposte*

            And even less than that–a lot of minor tummy bugs (the old “stomach flu” stuff, which doesn’t really exist as named) are food-borne illness. I think the old term “food poisoning” makes it sound inherently drastic, but it’s covering “Lucinda the chef gave you a bit of a bug that wouldn’t have happened if she’d washed her hands properly” as well as “Undercooked hamburger killed several kids.”

            1. Anna*

              Exactly. Most people have had food poisoning of some variety; very few have had anything as serious as e. coli or salmonella.

          2. Steve G*

            I meant that because so often people call in sick to work saying “oh I ate something bad” even if they just were mildly sick that people don’t always get that food poisoning can be a much longer thing. Lots of people thought I was “being dramatic” when I was still stick with ecoli a couple of weeks in, a lot of people thought it should only last a few days.

    2. Engineer Girl*

      I was thinking of the Trini and Carmen’s botulism episode. No one died, but some came very close.
      How about the Odwalla e.coli outbreak? People did die.
      I remember working in test on some critical systems. Some people would get very nasty with personal attacks etc. when you pointed out an error. In the end I realized that you had to have thick skin for a job like that. Don’t engage, stick to the facts. Repeat. Work with the person with the focus to make the product better. Be professional when they aren’t. That’s the only way to get through it.

    3. Deb Y*

      My co-workers and I do understand the importance of what we do and why we do it. But preventing foodborne illness is in actuality an abstract concept (as all successful preventive programs are), while requiring a small restaurant owner to discard all the food in a refrigerator is a very real, financially devastating, necessary and all too frequent part of the job. That said, the regulations that apply directly to food safety are easier to enforce than those type of things that fall under “good retail practices”. In our State, we post grade cards that are easily visible to customers reflecting the grade the establishment earned. She is good at her job, but her youth might give some of the more assertive owners to take out their frustration in her. We’ve lost other newer employees who take these personally and can’t put it in perspective. I don’t know if some of these past employees could have adjusted in time if the office environment was more supportive / nurtering. I just don’t want to lose someone else without exploring some options to help.

      I think so many of the posts will be helpful, practicing potential answers as well as remembering why we make the decisions we do, could be helpful so she can have time to grow thicker skin. Thanks!

      1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

        Great suggestions. Role playing responses might help him feel less uncomfortable when someone is upset.

        1. Another HRPro*

          Yes! Role playing definitely can help. Practice dealing with the worst possible responses to poor inspection results will help your co-worker feel more prepared for dealing with irate managers. Also share your own “war” stories of what you have experienced and how you dealt with it. Knowing that it these may feel like personal attacks but are actually not can help your co-worker. Understanding that all inspectors deal with this will make it less personal.

      2. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

        You know, somebody who has to deliver bad news who is also genuinely compassionate, that’s the best that it gets. The person who enforces rules firmly, wisely and also compassionately, that’s what we want.

        You sound like you’re doing a great job. If you can get the new compassionate worker to understand: the best thing that could happen to these restaurant owners is to be in her hands, even if they don’t realize it in the moment. That might give her a larger goal, doing good for the universe by being good at her job.

      3. Mike C.*

        Perhaps note to your coworker that an extended stay in a hospital with a possible funeral on top is also financially devastating. With that sort of perspective in mind, it’s easier to hand out bad news.

        Look, if you were a cop pulling someone over for DUI, would you feel bad about it, or would you be happy that you got some drunk off the road before they could harm someone? It’s the same thing here.

        1. Cat*

          I think that’s harsh. It’s not really the same thing for any number of reasons, one of which is that while food standards and regulation are important, they’re also not global absolutes. We have to come to particular standards for our purposes, and that’s fine, but there’s not a bright line between “safe” and “toxic.” And the restaurant industry in many sectors is a low-margin industry often staffed largely by immigrants, many of which come from places with vastly different cultural practices regarding food handling.

          Yeah, you have to educate people, yeah you have to grade them accurately, and yeah, you have to enforce standards equally. But setting it up as “oh, they’re bad guys, screw them” is both unhelpful and inaccurate. They’re usually not.

          1. Cat*

            And by the way, while drunk driving may seem like an easy example, in general? I absolutely thinks cops should be thinking pretty carefully about how they treat people they’re arresting and how they feel about those arrests even when it involves seemingly neutral laws and standards. A ton of problems result because they don’t and because they think it is a good guy/bad guy dichotomy.

          2. fposte*

            Totally agreeing with this. Kitchens are funny because most home kitchens would fail restaurant inspections (there was a great New York Times piece about a guy who got his home kitchen inspected by a restaurant inspector–a cat is an automatic five point strike, for a start), and many great kitchens get nailed on stuff. I think if you act as if the cracked tile (hat-tip to Chef) was a murderer on a rampage, that’s going to end up making the job harder, not easier.

            Not that I’m against restaurant inspections–I’m all for them. But I think they’re about encouraging a collection of behaviors that together minimize the chances of food-borne illness more often than they are catching somebody doing hideous thing A that will immediately kill X percent of customers.

            1. Mike C.*

              Again, I fully support whatever it takes to ensure compliance. I talk about systems all the time here. But at the same time, if you’re going to be responsible for the health and safety of someone else, then you need to comply. If you catch someone who isn’t, don’t feel bad because you’re protecting other people by doing so.

              1. fposte*

                I think we agree on compliance. But when we’re talking a situation where the uncertain co-worker is going to be issuing lower grades for stuff that isn’t, on its own, going to kill people off immediately, so I think the emphasis on lethal and drastic consequences as a self-justification has a high potential of backfiring for her. Ensuring compliance is important even when it isn’t correcting an immediately devastating situation, and that, I think, is what the co-worker needs to internalize more firmly.

                1. Mike C.*

                  Why might just have to agree to disagree on this, but to me, it’s a combination of these sorts of issues that lead to serious injury and death.

                  Look at airline crashes – they’re certainly rare, but outside of gross pilot error, they happen or are aggravated by of a combination of small things – things which on their own are small issues. If you don’t stamp down on the little stuff, you open the door for worse things to happen later on.

                2. Steve G*

                  I’m 100% agreeing with Mike C on this, the OP needs some situations that click in the head of the coworkers and are memorable, not necessarily a 100% parallel.

          3. Mike C.*

            You right it’s not the same – drunk driving isn’t contagious and it’s a lot easier to find patient zero.

            It doesn’t matter if there isn’t a “bright line” between safe or not safe – there is a bright line between “is this food cooked to/stored at the right temperature or not”. Those sorts of discussions happen at a much higher level and don’t excuse noncompliance on the ground. They are absolutes so far as they are standards set by the local municipality and failing to follow those rules after all the help available is really negligent. I’m not saying, “they’re all bad guys, screw them”, I’m saying, “they knew the rules, they knew where to get help, you shouldn’t feel bad about ensuring they don’t harm other people”.

            Also, I really don’t understand what being an immigrant has to do with anything. Either employees are trained and are supported by their management to follow the regulations or they’re not. I’m pretty sure most cooks don’t going through a full three sink wash system at home, for instance.

            1. Jessa*

              The issue with immigrants comes in when they open a restaurant and are not aware that the things they did in country x and were acceptable, are not acceptable here. While there are requirements for restaurants to have people certified in certain food handling tasks, that is a baseline thing, not the be all and end all of every single regulation and there is no test or requirement for them to learn those regs before they open up a restaurant.

              I mean watch any “fix this restaurant” food show (Ramsay, Irvine, Taffer, Vincent, Valastro, etc.) and you find a lot of places that have major food storage issues, dirt issues, etc. First you wonder if they were ever inspected at all (big shortage of inspectors vs venues.) Then you hear the fix it person explaining about holding temps, and cooked vs raw, and you realise that on balance a whole heckuva lot of ignorant people are opening restaurants, bars, pubs and other food and beverage service businesses.

              Couple that with someone who maybe did own a successful restaurant in a locale with far less regulation than the US or Britain or wherever those shows are made, and you have a big issue that is NOT born of people being lazy but people being ignorant.

          4. Steve G*

            I think its a good easy-to-understand comparison for the OP to use, regardless is it is a 120% parallel to the situation.

            Not getting the use of the word “harsh” here. Harsh implies being mean-spirited or aggressive, which is totally not the case here. “Harsh” doesn’t = not 100% correct.

      4. AnonymousForThis*

        It’s not the same thing but I work in a role where I certify businesses to participate in certain programs. It can be really difficult when a firm doesn’t meet the eligibility requirements and you have to deny them. One thing that has helped me is recognizing that they are coming from a very emotional place. For many small business owners, their personal identity is inextricably tied to their business so if they feel you are somehow criticizing their business (or business practices), it feels like a personal attack. When I remember this, it’s much easier for me to let them take some time to process their emotional reaction before I bring the conversation back to any kind of logical explanation. It’s just not possible to reason with someone who’s in an emotional instead of intellectual space.

      5. hildi*

        Deb – go check out the book “Defusing Hostile and Difficult Customers for the Public Sector.” I am a government employee trainer and I worked with the author to make this a class and offer it to our state employees. Many of them are social services, revenue agents, community health nurses, driver licensing. It has been a wildly popular class because of the concepts from this book. It’ll teach your employees how not to take the bait when the owners start to get really upset; how to detach and depersonalize from the whole thing. It’s an amazing reference for government workers.

        Also look up the author (Robert Bacal) on YouTube. He has quite a few videos of himself explaining the basic concepts from the book. Might be a helpful resource.

        1. hildi*

          And while I understand what the others are saying about trying to put it into perspective about WHY you have to do the regulations, I suspect your employee’s struggles stem more from the treatment/reaction she’s getting from the owners. And that’s very, very hard to rationalize away with logic without some additional perspective on their behavior and why they are behaving the way they’re behaving. Some are angry and just need to blow off steam, sure. But some are trying to have a purposeful, manipulative effect on the employee and there are ways to deal with that. This book will walk you through it.

          I just wanted to say that I think I understand the nature of what you’re saying – it’s not very cut and dried. There are a lot of emotions at play and you can’t deal with logic until you’ve dealt with the emotions.

          1. fposte*

            That’s a really good point about the purposeful pushback that comes in emotional camouflage.

            1. hildi*

              That concept of baiting and the effect they’re trying to have on a person is one of the most profound things I’ve learned/taught in the past few years. It’s helped me in a lot of ways just understand the dynamics at play when you have an angry reasonable person vs an angry unreasonable person. The script you must follow is different. Not all anger is equal; like you say some of it is masking a deeper motive.

              1. Not So NewReader*

                Not all anger is equal…

                Love this, how true. Very helpful insight for the OP.

          2. Lynn Whitehat*

            Some people have the personality to get yelled at all day and let it roll off them, and some people just don’t. Of course there are things you can do to help the employee, like role-playing and explaining the importance of the work. But some people are never going to not get upset by those encounters. I’m one of those people; I could never do that job.

            1. hildi*

              I agree!! I couldn’t either. The state employees I work with amaze and humble me by the stuff they encounter on a daily basis. It must be very, very difficult at times.

      6. themmases*

        I work in public health so I really agree with Mike C. here. No one’s business is so important it justifies preventable harm to others’ health.

        I used to have to give bad regulatory news to my coworkers and boss, and stand firm and not let them do things even when they insisted. They weren’t bad people, but they didn’t understand the rules because that was my job.

        It helped me a lot to pretend I was a TV lawyer or something– I need to advocate for my side as strongly as possible and trust other people to advocate for theirs. My boss’s job was to treat patients including rolling out promising research to them ASAP. My role was to protect research subjects and make sure no one was taken advantage of. Those are both great goals, but the system breaks down if I don’t push hard for my side.

      7. TootsNYC*

        Part of what’s going on here is that we all still think of tests as “a valuation or judgment of us,” instead of as “an indicator or measurement of how well we’ve learned something.”
        If you are, say, building a tower, and it’s supposed to be 100 feet high, when you get close, you’re going to stop and measure it. That’s what these inspections are supposed to be, really.
        Sure, they’re an enforcement tool, and there are punishments & negative consequences when people don’t hit the mark. But they are also measurements. Measurements that –can change- once the restaurant owner is aware of what they need to do.
        If you and your colleague can begin thinking of them that way, and presenting them that way, it might defuse some of the tension and ameliorate some of the negative reaction.

        Also–if you guys find the problem before someone actually gets sick, the restaurateurs can avoid a really serious problem. In a way, you’re helping them, even if they don’t like it. (Sort of like being a parent: You point out the undone chores, and you punish the kid, but eventually he’ll do his chores the first time, and then he’ll be a responsible employee and get raises and promotions. Think long-term with these restaurant folks.)

      8. I'm a Little Teapot*

        I wonder if the problem is that the restaurant owners are upset or that they’re angry and threatening. Is your coworker afraid for her safety when dealing with them?

        1. Not So NewReader*

          This could very well be, I have seen all kinds of crazy stuff go on with these inspections. Maybe, not mention it OP, but be on the look out for tough questions about managers/employees getting extremely upset with their bad news. How do you handle yourself? These people do have knives, so how does the new hire keep herself safe?

    4. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

      This. Help your employee by tying his role back to the big picture and purpose. “The work we do is so important. It prevents people from getting sick or even dying. The elderly, babies, and people with compromised immune systems and especially vulnerable. The little things we point out can feel picky, threatening, or frustrating to owners, and we want to be helpful, educate them, and encourage compliance. But we’ve got to keep our eye on the big picture: public health.”

  3. Gene*


    I’ve been a regulator for over 30 years, including restaurant inspections from a different perspective. And I’ve had many new hires who have had to learn the lessons. AAM’s language is good for a start. Delivering the bad news should never become easy, much less fun (we had someone who enjoyed it, he created more problems than he solved). But as you know, it will become easier.

    There are some people who just aren’t cut out for regulatory work; they can learn to do it, but they hate every minute of the regulatory part. They tend to not last long. The real test is going to come when she has to shut a place down. The first time I had to do that, the manager was a good friend from high school whom I hadn’t seen since graduation.

    1. Jeanne*

      I worked a job where all I delivered was criticism. I reviewed paperwork we had to send to the government and had to tell them what was wrong. At first it was a little tricky because I wanted to be liked. (And in my job I saw the same people every day not different restaurant owners.) It really only took a few months until I was used to it. I had a boss who showed me what needed to be done and showed me what I had missed. Keep being matter-of-fact about the job expectations and model how difficult interactions can be handled. Maybe practice the reactions you get with her so she knows some phrases to use when confronted. But within a couple of months she should be able to handle discussing the reports.

      1. Deb Y*

        Although we don’t work with the same facilities daily, we return 2 – 4 + times a year. And many times our only relationship is regulatory. You eventually get to know some of the food workers / managers, it some times takes a while.

      2. Another HRPro*

        I know this is shocking, but oddly enough not everyone likes folks in HR. :)

        I’ve always said that if I’m doing my job properly there is probably a manager somewhere that is frustrated with me. If everyone was always happy with the guidance I provide them I wouldn’t be doing my job well. I see many HR people who get into this work because the “like people” become either an ineffective pushover or very frustrated because of the constructive tension the role requires. It something that anyone who is successful in a job that requires pushback learns over time.

      3. the gold digger*

        a job where all I delivered was criticism

        You were paid to criticize people? Oh, how my husband’s father would have loved that. He does that for free.

    2. Loz*

      Are there no training/support programs for this pretty obvious aspect of the job? Assuming there is a process for dealing with upset, disagreement and outright aggression/confrontation, how to manage feeling bad should also be part of the process. It does not really seem to be something that has to be tackled on an individual basis either by the people doing the grading or their manager.

      1. Deb Y*

        Good point. There are some communication trainings that can help. One that was developed by folks in our proffesion is only offered annually. I’ll look into it.

  4. Panda Bandit*

    #4 – Get a set of dishwashing gloves with thick material. They rinse clean very easily and they keep yucky stuff off your hands. Bill them to your employer.

    1. Jeanne*

      For me it’s the look and smell. I have a weak stomach. Gloves are a good start though.

      1. TootsNYC*

        Work fast.

        That’s one good thing about this–she really doesn’t need to inspect the food. Just open and dump. At arm’s length, if you want.

        1. Zillah*

          That’s what everyone keeps saying, but IME, it doesn’t really work for all foods. There are some that I’ve found I have to scrape out.

      2. Jessa*

        Smell can be handled. Looks not so much. Get one of those swimmer’s nose clips. Clip the strap off them and it can be very discreet. If someone asks why, explain your poor stomach, and just go on. I am very sensitive to certain smells, the vapo-rub under the nose trick works for me also, but for some people that’s too strong a covering odour. If you have a perfume you like and are not allergic to perfumes, using a stick or solid perfume under your nose will also distract you.

    2. Christy*

      It’s true, gloves are amazingly helpful. Also those sponges on the soap-dispensing sticks mean that you can often avoid sticking your hand in things entirely.

      1. Jessa*

        Exactly. Honestly, if I was stuck with this, if I had to and the company wouldn’t help, I’d buy my own – gloves, handled scrubber and one of those silicone spoonulas that Rachael Ray swears by, to use to get rid of ucky stuff in the containers. Make it the completely silicone kind (not the wood handled ones, cause wood takes up smells easily.)

  5. Roman Holiday*

    OP1, no suggestions, just sympathy. I found a similar situation in my first job after university – I was asked to edit a predecessor’s research, and found that about 80% was copy/pasted from outside sources, but with zero credit given. It was not an oversight, it was verbatim passages from published research linked together by a few original lines of text. I was shocked, but documented everything and passed it up the ladder, but there was never any response. I stopped working on it after that, because I felt like I was tacitly approving of plagiarism if I kept working on the document, and in any case, it would have had to be completely re-written. There is no harm in contacting your colleague’s boss and asking if leaving your name off was an oversight, but my most important take-away was that you can’t force your workplace to work to your standards, and maybe the only thing to do is make sure you are covered in terms of ethics. That was my first instance of uncovering plagiarism, but unfortunately not my last.

    1. Artemesia*

      To me the key in the plagiarism case is that is appeared under someone else’s byline. If it had been published with no byline in a company journal of some sort, that would not unusual. What makes this unacceptable is that someone else’s name was put on work the OP prepared. Sometimes it is the job of an employee to write for a boss and it is understood that this is the job. I am pretty sure most celebrities for example don’t write those novels or even memoirs. But this doesn’t sound like that.

      I’d do what Alison suggests and ask for the ‘mistake’ to be corrected and see what happens.

      1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

        I agree. This doesn’t sound like a normal case of an employer reusing content. It would be totally different if this were a blog post or some basic content from a newsletter or similar. Those are PR documents and you should use whatever byline makes sense for the context. If this is research, it is dishonest to change the byline.

        1. Bend & Snap*

          Right. In PR, it’s totally acceptable to attribute the article to someone other than the writer. I’ve been doing this more than 15 years and I don’t think I’ve ever put my name on an article I wrote.

          It’s the fact that the OP didn’t know anything about it that’s strange. I wouldn’t make a stink about it but I would make sure my coworker never had access to my work again, at least not without a bunch of people on the CC line.

          1. Artemesia*

            I have published under my own name professionally and I have also prepared articles that have gone out under a boss’s name in things like alumni journals (if it is a refereed journal than it is not unusual for the lead author to have not written the piece, but everyone else involved is a co-author at least). But when I wrote something for the boss to put out under his name, I knew that was what I was doing. If the OP’s piece went out under the Dean or President’s name then that is probably what is going on. But if it was just another co-worker who got credited for her work, well a little kick back should occur. It feels like a co-worker knowingly passing off someone else’s work as their own i.e. plagiarism.

          2. TootsNYC*

            Ghostwriting is OK in PR, but I can’t believe it’s OK to republish something that’s already had someone’s byline on it.

            1. Bend & Snap*

              Right. This is the crux of the second part of my comment. The way this happened isn’t normal or acceptable.

      2. JB (not in Houston)*

        That’s what got me. I get that you might right something that shows up republished somewhere else, but when someone else actually gets credit for it, I have a problem with it.

      3. Jessa*

        Yeh if it was being published by the company under the “Smith & Co Teapots Ltd” byline, that’d be different, but, even work made for hire doesn’t get to be renamed as being done by someone else. The company may own it, but it’s unethical to claim someone else did the work, unless there’s a ghost writing agreement there. And if there was, the OP would not be complaining.

  6. Cam*

    #4: My last office had a kitchen with a sink and a dishwasher along with detergent and soap and a sponge and everything you’d need to do dishes. Still, most people would just stack their dirty dishes in the sink, not even bothering to take the minor effort to rinse them off and stick them in the dishwasher. When the receptionist went on vacation for a week, there were so many dishes stacked in (and above) the sink that the weight of everything was literally too much and the sink broke through the counter top and most of the dishes ended up broken on the floor.

    My point is that a lot of office workers are really lazy and inconsiderate about cleaning up communal space. Somebody must be tasked with doing it, otherwise it just won’t get done. This is, unfortunately, your job. It’s kind of annoying that adults can’t be expected to act like adults, but that’s the office world for you. I think your first suggestion, of having a policy of throwing everything out at the end of the week as long as fair warning is given, is perfectly reasonable. The second, to expect people to clean their containers out themselves as long as you take them out and put them next to the sink, is bound to end in infestation when inevitably some people don’t bother.

      1. James M.*

        They put everything in the kitchen sink…. then needed to replace everything and the kitchen sink. Double un-pun-dre FTW!

  7. TL17*

    #4 – I once cleaned the office fridge (after giving lots of notice, and nobody removing their own stuff) and emailed a series of photos of moldy food to the whole office. Some were so bad that I gave them captions in haiku. This didn’t really encourage people to clean the fridge, but I got banned from fridge duty for a while.

        1. TL17*

          One was:

          Fur-covered muffin
          Lonely in its Tupperware
          Meets the great trashcan.

          They weren’t great but I giggled a lot.

          1. Chocolate lover*

            Love it! There’s a smell issue going on with our large communal fridge, but I stopped using it months ago and use a co-worker’s mini fridge, so I’m not going to worry about it!

    1. Ella*

      Ha! I have a coworker who sends out emails with photos. But I see that as a) we probably deserve it and b) it makes him feel better. He’s never tried haiku, though.

      Honestly, with chores like this, anything that makes it sort of silly instead of gross and demeaning is helpful.

    2. Melissa*

      It’s morbidly amusing that you got banned from fridge duty mostly for putting evidence of people’s disgustingness in their faces.

      1. TL17*

        The banning was mostly so that other people would take turns cleaning the fridge. It’s a small office and everyone thought it was funny.

  8. Jen*

    #3 – That stinks that the company won’t let you give references. I worked somewhere for almost five years and when I left my manager said the same thing that it’s company policy that he can’t give references. He said inquiries have to go through HR.

    But he also told me he doesn’t care and he’d still give me a reference. So I’ve used him anyway and he’s been a great reference for me. He said he’d continue to do it for the employees who worked hard for him and did good work. He never agreed with the policy. He also keeps it quiet if he does get a call for a reference check.

    Like Alison said, my former boss said that since he does reference checks he doesn’t see why he can’t give a reference. And on top of it my former company requires reference checks before any candidate is hired!

    1. Another HRPro*

      In many companies managers still give unofficial references even if the policy prohibits it. It is a very common policy to have on the books that is typically ignored. Heck, my company has it and I provide what I categorize as “personal” references. I explain I can not confirm titles, dates, etc. – those have to go the HR call center – but I can share my own personal experience in working with an individual. I understand the risk I take in doing this, but it is extremely normal.

      1. A new employee*

        Our HR lady operates as though she’s still working in 1985, one of her her policies is that no one can provide outside references for an employee who leaves the organization. Most of the managers in the company do what you do and offer “personal” references from their cell numbers so there is nothing professionally connected to the organization. It still seems crazy to me that these supervisors are taking clandestine phone calls in their cars during lunch off the property so that the HR lady has no idea that they’re providing references for former employees.

        Of course she had no problem calling all five of my (professional, former supervisor and colleague) references, holding them on the phone for 30-60 minutes each, and asking them a form list of questions–most of which didn’t apply to my previous work experience or the position for which I’d applied. This was for a fairly entry-level position that started off as an office manager type of role.

    2. Graciosa*

      I agree that it stinks – and that people do ignore the “rules” which is completely understandable.

      However, I do have one caveat to Alison’s comment that you are only bound by the company policy while you’re working there – that’s not always the case.

      I have seen commitments on certain personnel issues (like non-solicitation) written into the language for stock or option grants that explicitly survived for some number of years after employment. There are also sometimes more general commitments written in as well which would cover this.

      I’ve even seen these written into click-through language on internal policy pages, or added to the end of required training materials (meaning you have to explicitly agree to follow a policy – and your agreement survives your employment).

      These are not yet ubiquitous, but do not assume you are not bound just because you’re no longer employed. The moral of the story is save a copy of *every* written agreement to with your employer – including “boilerplate” language – in case you have questions later.

      I would obviously prefer that people read these in full before they sign them, but at least having access to the language later is a step in the right direction.

      The company generally has a larger legal budget than any of its employee – assume the money is being fairly well spent to protect the employer.

  9. Micky*

    Regarding item 1 – While AAM is right, in some businesses plagiarism might not a big deal (rightly or wrongly). That’s the business logic. The OP works at “a large private university” where, “For students, plagiarism complaints are taking very, very seriously,” as in failing a class at least, probation, and/or expulsion. In academia one’s intellectual property is the product, so unattributed quoting is theft – hence all the complicated rules on footnotes and all that stuff we hate to learn, to give credit where credit is due. And those are for small quotes, not whole articles or the whole product.

    You state that in a communications department, that person is writing for the school, and so the school owns the writing. However, if a professor published another prof’s work as their own, when the academic community discovered it, that person wouldn’t get another job as a professor in any well thought of school or department, ever again. I would think that example should go through all employees of said school, after all, that’s what the standard is for academia – and publishing of any sort, actually – though practice is getting more and more blurred with more internet/social media publishing, which runs ‘fast and loose,’ (and many would question that such places are ‘intellectual” – heehee!) but note how often attributions are made in formal, public situations. Even a current popular tv show ends every episode with a quote and states the author. Ever wonder why?

    AAM’s advice to approach the manager as if it was an honest mistake is a good one, but if satisfaction is denied, I’d take it further. Let the ‘powers that be” decide if staff needs to hold to the same rigorous standards as the profs and students. At least they should all be aware of that, because I don’t think it’s expected to be different in this situation.

    1. Jane*

      Agreed. Faculty and staff are held to the same honor code as students at the university where I work. This would be taken very seriously.

    2. John B Public*

      Yeah, this answer surprised me, specifically because OP worked in academia. The incorrect byline would be irritating by itself but perhaps understandable in another industry, but in the university setting, where “publish or perish” is a driving force for many, this is extremely worrying.
      Escalate if necessary, because this is also work you want to be able to show to future employers.

    3. Another HRPro*

      I agree. In a normal business environment this would not be that big of a deal. I used to work in higher ed and this would have been taken very seriously. After all, you really can’t have staff putting their names on work that isn’t theirs when you hold faculty and students to a higher standard. Imagine if a faculty member published someone else’s work? That would be grounds for termination – even with tenure.

      1. neverjaunty*

        I’m scratching my head at the idea that this is usual in the business world, either. It’s not uncommon for things to be published with no byline, or for an underling to write an article specifically for BigBoss knowing that BigBoss’s name goes on it. In the legal field, you often see articles written by a big-name partner and an associate and it’s often the case that the associate did all the work.

        But putting a colleague’s name on the material without the author having any idea? That’s not a normal business practice, that’s the coworker trying to get credit for work she stole.

        OP’s manager gets no points either here.

      1. LauraQuinn*

        I’m actually confused in the opposite direction. In the world of PR and publishing, things are often ghostwritten and given a byline that has little relationship to what they wrote. Public figures (say Obama) often get bylines on a million things they didn’t write, and there’s people who write for them for a living who are never credited once. I work for a nonprofit publishing organization, and things come out with my name on it that I didn’t write, and with other’s people name on it that I wrote. It’s just part of the way things work.

        It kind of sucks that it wasn’t clear to the OP that s/he might not get credit for all the work s/he did, and unfriendly of the org if they want the OP to continue to do high quality work, but to me it’s nothing like plagarism. To me, it’s bad policy but not unethical. The org clearly owns the work and can put whoever’s name on it that they want.

        1. Jessa*

          True but normally these things are part of the contract. The people writing for the President, for instance, understand that and are usually paid quite well accordingly, and the line on their resume saying they worked for President X, is enough. In other industries where what you publish is important (academia, law,) you should know at the time of writing whether or not you’re going to get credit for it. It shouldn’t come as a surprise.

          1. Rachel*

            Not necessarily. I’ve worked as a writer and editor at many organizations, but I can’t think of a contract that explicitly spelled those things out for me. The first article I wrote as an intern at a nonprofit was published under someone else’s name. At the time, I was shocked that would happen, but now I know that is a common practice in many situations. Organizations are trying to fulfill many purposes with written materials, including putting certain people in the spotlight (because of their credentials, role, or connections or whatever), so that’s how things go sometimes.

  10. Brett*

    #3 Something I just found out recently is that in my state it actually is illegal for an employer with more than 7 employees to refuse to provide references. This explains a lot about my application process for my current job. I was nearly disqualified and my offer withdrawn because one employer would not provide references; after a bunch of phone calls and pleading I finally got one out of them and passed my background. But employers refusing to provide references is a factor in a lot of background check failures (both for our agency, and that we run for other people), and obviously puts out of state people who are more likely to have employers that can ignore our state’s laws at a huge disadvantage.

    1. Mike C.*

      Can’t an employee provide paystubs or old W-2s to show that they were employed at the particular place, or does the failure occur because you can’t confirm titles?

      The last time I went through a background check I provided W-2s from my current employer so that they didn’t have to be contacted, but you might be doing more in depth research.

      1. Laurel Gray*

        The only problem I have with providing W-2s is that now NewCompany knows your salary at OldCompany, which I don’t think is any of their business but in your example, I am assuming that the offer (containing salary) was contingent on the background check.

      2. Brett*

        Not really, because it is more of a character check than a verification of employment. The reference provider actually has to go through a short interview.

  11. Josh S*

    For OP#1 RE: Plagiarism, I think that the stance around that may vary significantly since it is an academic institution. It’s not as though the OP ghostwrote the piece for the institution to use as they saw fit. She wrote it for publication under her own byline.

    For someone else to come along and appropriate it without attribution… Well, if it went from a published piece to a PR piece for the institution, that would be one thing. But having it under the other person’s byline as though it were her work…. Disingenuous at best, and horrible at worst.

    I think approaching as a mistake is a good start, but it is a serious allegation if the other person used it as her own.

    1. PontoonPirate*

      This is my take on it as well. I write a lot of our internal and external communications for our company and don’t expect a byline on most of it. But it’s not okay for my colleague to take it and pass it off as his work without so much as a by-your-leave, byline or not. That has implications for my professional reputation and portfolio.

      I agree to approach it as a mistake, though … I’ve worked in academia, and the cliche about absent-minded [fill-in-the-blank] can be true.

      1. Ama*

        Yeah, when I was in academia there was an issue with a lecture by a guest speaker our department had sponsored being reprinted without proper attribution by another department. What had actually happened was the guest speaker had provided a draft of his lecture notes to one of our faculty for the express purpose of sharing and as it got passed around it was like the game of Telephone happened with regards to who the source was. The department that printed it truly believed it was something their own faculty had produced, and was horrified when they realized what had happened.

    2. Mike C.*

      Yeah, I’m having some serious ethical issues with this, and this would really run afoul of many ethical policies found in the private sector as well.

    3. Anon Ymous*

      Re: #1 … I work in the PR office of a large university, and depending on other circumstances, it’s likely it was just an honest mistake. Our CMS defaults authors to the most recent name used, and sometimes we just forget to update it — a stupid error, but not deliberate plagiarism. I agree that AAM’s suggested response is the best way to handle this one.

      1. TootsNYC*

        #1 I find it interesting that you got a 0% on the plagiarism checker. Does that mean that it went into the publication with literally zero changes? Not even a small edit?
        Would that mean that her boss/editor didn’t edit it at all—no weaks, etc.? That would so surprise me—I’ve yet to meet and editor that didn’t change SOMEthing. I suppose she might be her own editor, with no one reading behind her.
        But if there is someone reading behind her, and literally –nothing- changed, that might indicate that it truly was a matter of them deciding to reuse a previous article, and then a clerical oversight of whose byline goes on there, by someone other than her.
        All of which is to say: Yes, approach it as an error, and ask for them to correct it. Say, “If it gets reused again, I’m worried that the attribution will be wrong if people rely on this iteration with someone else’s name.” Maybe even ask if they’d go into the computer files for that story and change it there, in case someone picks up the keystrokes for a future use.

    4. fposte*

      I agree, though not necessarily even because it’s academics, and I don’t think it’s the same as student plagiarism, so the OP should let that go. This was a pretty big leap–it sounds like a piece was planned for publication in Engineering Alive!, an industry and presumably paid subscription journal, and somebody used it whole cloth in the Whassup at Wassamatta U newsletter. While it’s likely the university owns the copyright to both, that’s not the same thing as the work being interchangeable. If somebody at my university ran part of my university-owned journal under their byline, I’d hit the roof.

  12. SLG*

    #5 – I just accepted a job where the recruitment process was a lot like what you’re describing. I had a call with the hiring manager, followed by coffee with her and another decision maker on the team, then a call with a recruiter, then an in-person interview for the position. Not to say this is exactly what you’ll experience; just giving you an example of how this can go.

    I had never experienced that before, so wasn’t sure what to expect from “coffee with the hiring manager.” I ended up treating it like an interview in terms of the questions I asked and the info I shared about myself, but acted a little more casual (brought my resume but didn’t end up pulling it out, etc.).

    What made this work was that the hiring manager and the recruiter were very clear at every point about what I could expect next (i.e. “thanks for meeting us for coffee, we’re going to discuss this internally and will be in touch soon”). If you don’t get that kind of clarity, Allison’s script is a great way to ask for it.

  13. TotesMaGoats*

    I feel for you OP#1. I had a similar thing happen to me. We had a program at my university (non-credit business related for business owners type thing) that I was in charge of. Before starting the second year one of the sponsors gave us an opportunity to answer some questions for an article in our local big newspaper. Even though a lot of the questions were business related, which I no NOTHING about, I still answered them and they rocked. I got a lot of praise from my higher ups. It was great. I was looking forward to seeing my name in print. The paper came out and…nada. They have some generic PR persons name in the article. I was furious but there was nothing to be done.

    1. Lia*

      Same thing happened to me. It actually was the catalyst in leaving that job, as the lack of recognition for it just got under my skin (I complained, but since it’d already been printed, nothing could be done).

      1. TotesMaGoats*

        It did speak to a larger issue of recognition for work at my place to. It only took me almost 8 years to get out! You let things go but then sure enough something else crops up later that really gets to you. It’s a nasty cycle of hoping for the best and then getting crapped on.

  14. Allison*

    #4, I get that your job involves cleaning, but I think handling your coworkers’ food like that is beyond the normal scope of what an admin assistant should be expected to do. Leftover food can be really gross, even if it hasn’t actually gone bad yet. Not dangerous, but gross. It should be fine for you to just throw out food containers (after plenty of warning), and if people really don’t want you tossing out their nice Tupperware, they either need to be better about getting their stuff out of the fridge, or if they can’t do that, maybe they need to start using Gladware instead, or the generic food containers you can get at CVS and Star Market for next to nothing.

    Tidying up around the office is one thing, cleaning up after an event is fine, but there’s something weird about expecting an admin assistant to wash other people’s dishes. It’s not a restaurant where having someone wash up after you is part of the experience, it’s an office where people should be expected to act like grown ass adults and clean up after their damn selves. What’s next, are they gonna tell you to tidy people’s cubicles and wipe down their desks? I don’t care if you work at a law firm or tech startup, no office should be enabling people to act like overgrown children.

    1. Another HRPro*

      I don’t think it is unreasonable to ask someone to wipe down cubes and desks. We have cleaning folks that do that at my company. The only difference here is that this is just part of someone’s job vs. being the entirety of their job. If the OP had written in and said that they were a cleaning person and being asked to do this, would everyone be as appalled at this?

      1. Laurel Gray*

        Actually, I do think it is unreasonable. A few containers of Lysol wipes, or some kind of spray cleaner and towels in a general area where employees help themselves and clean up their cubes is how this should be done. An admin going around dusting and wiping down a desk someone occupies for 40+ hours a week is ridiculous.

        And no, a cleaning person would never write in about this because their job is to clean, it is even in their title. But I think assigning these types of tasks to an admin are ridiculous and really help fuel the stereotypes and assumptions about admin type work. Not to mention why people feel like they need a “special day” once a year to be recognized for all the shit they do and put up with.

        1. Allison*

          Agreed, I’ve never worked in an office where someone else cleaned our workstations. That was our job. I’ve been in offices where someone would take out the trash and vacuum the carpets around people’s workstations, but the desks and everything on them was untouched.

          1. fposte*

            But it’s kind of an artificial line, isn’t it? Why shouldn’t you be responsible for taking your own trash out (which pretty much is scooping stuff out of containers and then replacing the containers right there) and vacuuming your own carpets, rather than requiring somebody to clean up after you? And just about every workplace requires somebody to clean the bathroom up after everybody.

            I mean, if the OP feels it’s too demeaning to stay in this job, then that’s fine and it’s her prerogative. (And I think the proposal is a huge waste of time.) But conversations about what it’s okay to be asked to clean up tend to get into some weird class areas–that it’s demeaning to be asked to do work that people are regularly hired to do and that we all rely on. And I’m uncomfortable with that.

            1. Melissa*

              One argument to that is that trash cans, carpets, and bathrooms are communal. Workspaces and food containers are not – they’re personal effects.

              But the other thing is that at some offices people do empty their own trash cans – maybe the ones at their desks, while kitchen and larger communal space trash cans are emptied by custodial staff.

            2. Allison*

              Everywhere I’ve worked has had a bathroom outside the office suite, and building management had a cleaning crew take care of it. I guess it’s different when an office has their own bathroom, I’ve just never experienced that.

            3. Episkey*

              I have NEVER had to clean the bathroom in any of my jobs — and no one in our office was responsible either. Even in the small business I worked where we did have to vacuum the carpets and take out the trash — the business owner had a cleaning company come in once a week to clean the bathroom.

              1. fposte*

                But that’s my point–you don’t clean after yourself in the bathroom, because somebody is paid to do that. The OP is “somebody” for this kitchen.

                1. Episkey*

                  The OP is an admin, not a cleaning service. She understood there were some cleaning duties involved in her position, this is beyond the scope. If they want someone to clean dishes, they need to hire a service to do that.

                2. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  @Episkey: Except that they don’t need to. If they want to include this in the job, that’s their prerogative. There’s nothing that says some things must be done by cleaning services and others are okay to be done by employees.

                  And then it’s the OP’s prerogative to decide whether she wants that job or not.

          2. Another HRPro*

            Yes, everyone COULD clean up after themselves and restock toilet paper in the bathroom, take out the trash, whatever. But I honestly don’t want to my executives who make hundreds of thousands of dollars spending their time doing that.

            1. Allison*

              Holy false equivalencies, Batman! Wiping down your own desk and restocking the toilet paper are two completely different things.

                1. Allison*

                  Wiping down your desk is a task you do for yourself at your own work station. You can even do it without getting up if you already have the wipes, or if someone gives them to you. It takes about five seconds and can easily be done between tasks as a mental cleanser.

                  When I think of restocking the toilet paper, I’d imagine you’re doing this both for yourself and others, in a communal space, and this task generally means going to a supply closet, and fiddling with a plastic dispenser. That said, if a stall in the bathroom is out of toilet paper, you should probably let whoever is in charge of facilities know so they can delegate that task.

                  Now, if you’re using a small, single-person bathroom where there’s toilet paper right there and all you have to do is put it on the plastic roll, then that is something you should do if you finish the roll that was there when you went in, because it’s easy and takes two seconds. If you’d do it at home, you can do it at work.

                2. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  But how is restocking toilet paper different than restocking paper for the printer? They’re both for communal use, and someone has to do it.

                3. Allison*

                  Depends. If the paper is right there, or close by and accessible, and you know how to put it in the printer, you should do it. After all, it would probably be more efficient than going to the admin and saying “the printer’s out of paper!” If you don’t know where the paper is, and/or don’t know how to load more paper, than it’s understandable to let someone know the printer is out of paper.

                  And for the record, I’m not sure I implied that restocking toilet paper is different from putting more paper in the printer. In both cases, if the stuff is right there and easily replaced, it makes sense to take five seconds to do it yourself, but if the stuff is somewhere else and/or restocking isn’t such an easy process, then it makes sense to tell someone the paper needs to be restocked. What I said was that going to the supply closet to get toilet paper for the bathroom is not the same thing was wiping down your own desk.

                4. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Right, but in this example you’re asking the admin to do it, which is what we’re talking about with the original letter too.

                5. Allison*

                  Not necessarily, you’re just telling someone that something needs to be done. I’d figure it might not be the admin’s job per se, but they’re likely to know who is in charge of it.

                6. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Okay, sure, but someone at work is in charge of it. Same thing here. If they’re going to charge someone with doing this at all, the OP sounds like the most appropriate person.

        2. Another HRPro*

          If this person’s job is part admin part cleaning person then cleaning is their job. They accepted a job that included cleaning. If people aren’t willing to do a part admin part cleaning job, then instead of one full time job, maybe the company should have two separate part time employees – one to clean and one to do administrative work. But obviously they found someone who was ok doing both and the company was able to have a full time employee.

        3. RVA Cat*

          Yes, I think the problem is that the admin being stuck with cleaning is very gendered, pink-collar stuff.

          For a counter example, many years ago I was the admin for a small stockbroker’s office (only admin, and only woman for a lot of that time). Cleaning duties were shared, and the branch manager often took it on – he was a former naval officer and used to keeping things ship-shape!

      2. Erin*

        No, it would not be appalling if they were actually a cleaning person, but they specified receptionist/admin.

  15. andnowlights*

    Going to have to COMPLETELY disagree with the response about cleaning the food containers out. This is not routine cleaning, this is acting as people’s maid. I’m an admin assistant (who regularly tidies our office) and we would have serious problems if they expected me to clean out other adults’ food containers. In my old job (also admin assistant), we gave people until the end of the week to get their containers out and then we just trashed them. Your lunches are your responsibility. Cleaning up after your lunches are your responsibility. Why have we stopped expecting people to act like adults? Absurd.

    1. Anonicorn*

      I tend to agree with this. I work at a place with a dedicated cleaning staff and nobody expects them to empty our lunch containers. To me the difference is company property vs. personal, food containers being the latter.

      1. Laurel Gray*

        This. I have never worked in a place where the hired cleaning people were expected to clean up after people beyond emptying their trash can at the end of the day. I’ve never seen them do dishes, clean out the fridge how OP#4 is doing or wipe down cubes. Just mainly paper and food trash removal, vacuuming, mopping, cleaning the bathroom and that’s pretty much it. I do know if we ask the cleaning staff to wipe our fridge and freezer (inside) down on a specific day they will and we usually will send an email to employees telling them they have to remove things out the fridge by this date or it will be trashed.

    2. LizB*

      Yep, that’s how it’s worked at every place I’ve ever worked at that had a staff fridge. The fridge was cleaned out at the same time every week, and there was an email sent out several hours before to remind people to go get anything they wanted to save. If you missed the deadline, your tupperware was going in the trash unopened. I’ve always been fine with this, because I’m a freaking adult, and my dishes are my responsibility. It’s less about the grossness factor (although I could see this task being pretty gross) and more about the not-babying-your-coworkers factor. If they don’t want to keep buying new plastic containers, they can get in the habit of taking their food out before the fridge gets cleaned.

      1. Allison*

        I’m fine with it too. If people are given warning and still leave their stuff in the fridge, I have no sympathy for them if an overpriced container gets tossed. I get that sometimes people forget, and sometimes people are sick on Friday and aren’t there to retrieve their stuff, and occasionally a nice container is gonna get thrown away.

        Maybe this needs to be spelled out for people in the e-mails. “Anything – and I do mean anything – left in the fridge past 4pm on Friday WILL be thrown out.” Sometimes people think their containers will be spared, or that if they label their food it’ll be left alone.

    3. SevenSixOne*

      I work in an office with ~250 people sharing two enormous refrigerators. There’s a sign on each refrigerator that says everything inside will be thrown away at 5:00 every Wednesday, no exceptions, no mercy. It’s the only place I’ve ever worked where the kitchen wasn’t a disgusting hellscape because the cultural expectation is that if you forget to take your lunchbox home Wednesday night, you have only yourself to blame when it’s not there Thursday morning– most people don’t need to make that mistake twice!

    4. Melissa*

      I agree with this. It’s not that cleaning out other people’s food is demeaning or even about it being gross (which it kind of is, but week-old food cleaned out with gloves isn’t super disgusting). It’s about personal responsibility – the employees can basically leave food behind in the kitchen with few repercussions because they know that the admin is going to have to clean up after them. And I do see a clear difference between cleaning bathrooms and vacuuming (which is caring for communal spaces) and being expected to dump out and clean people’s personal food containers.

      1. PontoonPirate*

        The communal space/private space distinction is so important here. And truth be told, I can’t imagine that anyone who came to me whining about their Tupperware being tossed (assuming an appropriate period of time and warnings) would get a response other than, “Hard luck for you.” Who looks someone else in the eye and tells them to clean out other, grown, adult, allegedly responsible co-workers’ food containers?

    5. Camster*

      This! It’s one thing to do general office cleaning/tidying up, but to wash out people’s personal food containers that are in the fridge? No, no, no. We have a general cleaning out of the fridge once in awhile with a notice posted that food containers will be tossed at the end of the week. That’s what might fall under the category of “general office cleaning”.

  16. Anonypants*

    #1, even if this is normal in some industries (company publishing something you wrote and not giving you credit), it sucks when someone else takes credit for something you did. It may seem silly, after all we should be working together, but at the end of the day, your accomplishments are what determine your pay, whether you get promoted, and sometimes whether you get kept on at all, so it’s not petty to want your name attributed to your work.

  17. YandO*

    I am not a nanny. I am not a maid. I am not in a cleaning services job for a reason.

    In addition to that, I treat other adults like adults. If they behave like spoiled brats that dos not I am going to start treating them like children. Not a chance.

    There is world of difference between: keeping common office areas clean/neat (aka conference room, kitchen table, dishwasher, general fridge clean-up) and cleaning areas of personal use (containers, personal desks, personal phones, etc)

    There are boundaries in a work place and they have to be respected by employees and employers. Just because an employer can demand for those boundaries to be crossed in a legal way does not make it ok, reasonable, or appropriate.

    With that said, OP, your options are limited. You can say “no” and risk getting fired. You can start doing it and actively look for another job. Or you can quit and risk not having a job. You can also decide you will deal with it.

    I don’t recommend doing it with attitude though. That never ends well.

    You cannot make your employer reasonable or respectful. That’s not how the world works.

    1. Artemesia*

      I don’t know why this is such a hot button for me but this person was not hired as a cleaning person but as an admin. She has some office maintenance tasks e.g. the refrigerator — already classic pink collar stuff but well someone has to do it. But washing out people’s personal food containers just crosses the line. If I were in this position and couldn’t move on, I would probably be sabotaging those containers cleanliness. You wouldn’t want to be putting next week’s lunch in it without running it through your dishwasher at home.

      1. Allison*


        I take my containers home at the end of each day and put them in the dishwasher. It’s sofa king easy and I don’t get why some people can’t be bothered to do that.

  18. Rebecca*

    #4 – I can’t help but think if their office inherited the boss from yesterday’s update about the boss who was eating the OP’s lunches that this would be a moot point.

  19. Ad Astra*

    1. “Approach it like it’s a mistake” might be the best lesson I’ve learned from Allison. It’s saved me from looking like a jerk and putting people on the defensive more than a few times.

    4. It’s ridiculous that they’re asking the OP to scoop out people’s old food instead of tossing their abandoned tupperware out. And giving them the option to claim that tupperware on the counter is a great idea. And if she cleans the fridge frequently enough, the abandoned food won’t necessarily be moldy and disgusting. But I definitely wouldn’t quit over this. Is it possible there are other problems and this is the last straw for the OP?

    1. Ama*

      You make a good point about #4. I know when I was in a support position with an already overwhelming admin load and I suddenly got put in charge of a bunch of building maintenance admin because our building manager wouldn’t do it, it felt really insulting. Looking back it wasn’t anything remotely unreasonable (calling a repairman when appliances broke, ordering lightbulbs and air filters, printing out of order signs for the bathroom), but the combination of being overwhelmed and knowing these tasks *should* be someone else’s responsibility but had become mine because my bosses wouldn’t manage the building manager really got to me.

  20. MsChanandlerBong*

    You know, I’m really not one to think every unpleasant thing in life is a case of sexism, but #4 is making me wonder. I really don’t think washing personal dishes is the responsibility of a receptionist/administrative assistant, and I seriously find myself wondering if a male admin would be expected to do it.

    1. Allison*


      It seems like people still think an admin assistant is a nice lady who will do all the women’s work for the important men, who shouldn’t have to do it themselves because they have more important things to do.

      It is true that even now, an admin assistant is there to make things run smoothly, and some cleaning is understandably part of that, but there are limits.

      1. Erin*

        Exactly. Wiping down a conference room table before a meeting is acceptable cleaning. Washing out other people’s dirty containers is not.

  21. Jessie*

    OP #4: While I don’t think it’s that big of a deal to have to dump week old food as part of a job that includes cleaning, my concern with this situation is that it’s going to turn into “be nice and wash out the containers instead of throwing them away” into “this is a service Jane provides for you, so go ahead and leave your dirty containers in the fridge for her”.

    Here’s my recommendation to prevent this from happening: do what you’ve been asked to do. Dump out the containers once a week and clean them as directed. But don’t leave them in the break room to be picked up whenever the owner feels like. Put them in a locked cabinet or somewhere else you control.

    By running it as a kind of “lost and found” you will do three things. One, you will be ensuring that someone isn’t just stocking up on old free containers, and hopefully your boss will appreciate that you want to make sure they go home to the right person. Two, if hardly anyone ever comes to get those containers, it will serve as a justification to your boss that there’s really no point in cleaning them out. Three, if people do make a habit of leaving nasty old food in the fridge, it forces them to be open about the fact. Nobody wants to own up as being the one who left the week old tuna sandwich that’s growing mold. And it will hopefully make people hesitant to use you as a free container-cleaning service.

    1. ConstructionHR*

      I’d just lose two or three containers during the process, probably the more expensive ones.

  22. Laurel Gray*

    I am in total agreement with people who think that OP #4 having to dump the food and then wash and save the tupperware is completely inappropriate. I think in 2015 this is a complete waste of administrative resources. The OP is a receptionist/admin, not a cleaning person. Admins “tidy up” an office, but being expected to wash dishes of able bodied employees who have access to the same soap, running water and sponge? This is absurd. Yes, I know that if that is what was written in someone’s job description it is what they are expected to do, but still, it is a waste of a resource. The OP could be using this weekly “maid” time helping someone in a different department.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      But lots of things companies do could be described as a waste of resource — plenty of meetings, team-building, free lunches, foosball table, etc. If they want to offer this as a (weird) perk to employees, they get to. The OP gets to decide she’s not up for the job if it includes that.

      1. Laurel Gray*

        Oh, I don’t disagree with this and I don’t get that the OP’s employer misled her on her job duties. I just think it takes accountability away from her coworkers and in some ways minimizes her value to her colleagues. My opinion is obviously marred by real life experiences watching admins grow to loathe the job as a whole because of specific workers and managers they had to clean up after.

        1. Erin*

          Many, if not all, jobs grow into more than the original job description. It’s hard to play the “that isn’t a part of my job” card. But in this case I think it’s wildly inappropriate and agree with you that it diminishes your value to your colleagues.

          1. Allison*

            You’re right, but people should have a hand in how their jobs grow. I realized that the more I helped my coworker by doing her admin work every time she asked, my job would morph into that of an admin, so I spoke up. “that’s not my job” isn’t a great thing to say, but something along the lines of “I’m willing to help out occasionally, but I’m not sure I’m okay with X being one of my primary job functions” is a perfectly reasonable thing for an adult to say. Even if that adult is an admin assistant.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Absolutely. But if the employer responds that they appreciate your candor but they do in fact need the person in your role to do this new duty, then you have to decide if you’re willing to continue in the job under those circumstances or not.

              1. Allison*

                Fair enough, and I wouldn’t blame OP for leaving in this situation, or at least starting to look for a new job. However, I also wouldn’t be surprised if this employer finds themselves unable to find/keep admin assistants for this reason, nor would I be shocked if they were purposefully vague when they told OP the job would involve “some cleaning.” Maybe if enough admins leave after being told to do this, they’ll figure out that they need a new way of dealing with leftovers in the fridge.

                1. JB (not in Houston)*

                  Me, too. My concern would be that the manager thinks that it is a better idea to have his admin washing dishes every week than it is to just expect the rest of the employees to clean up after themselves (something that is beyond reasonable to expect of them). It would really make me question how my boss saw me versus the rest of the employees.

  23. Case of the Mondays*

    So random note but on some rare occasions, food is strategically left in sealed Tupperware in the fridge until trash day. Our cleaning crew only empties our kitchen trash once or twice / week. Accordingly, people in my office leave things that would go stinky sealed in the fridge and throw them out on trash day. I do the same thing at home though I normally move things to the freezer so I don’t accidentally forget they are too old and eat them. Trust me, leftover tuna is way better sealed in the fridge than open in the kitchen trash for a week. If not everyone is in the office on trash day, we try to help each other out by throwing out stuff that looks intended for the bin. I wouldn’t throw out someones glassware though. I’d dump the contents and put the glassware in the dishwasher. We are all good about trying to handle are own stuff and it is a very small office. I’m sure it would be different if we were bigger.

  24. AndersonDarling*

    #4 I left a job because I was told to clean peoples dishes. The head secretary sat me down and said we all need to pitch in to make things run well in the office. She was going to distribute the faxes from the fax machine, and I was going to wash the dishes people left in the sink. Somehow, she thought those tasks were equivalent.
    I flat out said I wouldn’t do it. I would put clean dishes in the dishwasher and start it, but I refused to scrub out dishes. The office had a bunch of folks who ate oatmeal and would fill the scuzzy containers with water and leave them in the sink. It was barf-tastic. I said we have an office of grown ups and she should put up a sign saying not to leave dirty dishes in the sink or else the office would stop providing dishes. She put up the sign, the dirty dishes disappeared, and I got a new job in 2 weeks.

    1. Laurel Gray*

      Lmao @ distribute faxes vs do the dishes in the sink. She was a piece of work! But this is yet another example of wasted resources! There are so many tasks that are important that administrative staff could be doing – if they are not cleaning up after able bodied colleagues. The fact that it took the sign for colleagues to know they should be rinsing and washing their dishes out is such a telling sign of people’s perception of admins.

    2. Beezus*

      I would leave over this, too. Washing dishes is one of my least favorite chores at home. I also have some hangups over leftover food, especially of unknown origin and age, and with touching other people’s food or things that may have been in someone else’s mouth. No thank you. Paying me enough to offset the revulsion would not be economical.

    3. James M.*

      I would leave over this; not because of the task, but because that “division of labor” speaks volumes about the head secretary’s personality and I’ve known people like her.

  25. Not an IT Guy*

    #2 – I actually suffer from the same issue, not wanting to be the bad guy. But this stems mostly from the fact that I’m very aware that everyone and their mother can have me fired for getting bad news. Hopefully the OP has assured their coworker that they’re doing their job and that there won’t be any reprocussions from doing their job.

  26. TotesMaGoats*

    At OldJob, cleaning the fridge for about 20 people was a communal effort. We potlucked frequently, so it was a part of routine. However, we never washed out people’s dishes. That’s gross. A sign was posted and email went out 2 weeks before the clean out. Whatever was in the fridge at 4pm and unlabeled/not in a lunch bag, got tossed. Anything out of date, with or without a label, got tossed. And everyone helped to clean. I was director and did it. Everyone makes the mess, everyone cleans the mess up.

    At NewJob, the fridge is atrocious. Opened can of beans on the bottom shelf and it stinks. But I’m not touching that one. Might even get me a mini fridge for my office.

    1. Artemesia*

      Ours didn’t get cleaned very often — like a couple of times a year and so when I saw a can of stinky beans or a moldy container I just tossed it. I didn’t tell anyone or make a fuss about it and I was not in an admin role — in fact I outranked most of the people I worked with, but I thought leaving rotten food in the refrigerator was intolerable. It took up space and it was gross — so if I saw that something was spoiled out it and its container went. If it was a glass container, I would set it on the counter and generally its owner would deal with it. But plastic containers of mold or cans with plastic wrap that were going south — those went into the trash when no one was looking.

  27. Laurel Gray*

    Re: #3

    It is becoming more and more common that employers refuse to give references and tell their employees they can’t give them. How are hiring managers dealing with this? What is the alternative to getting info about candidates when all that will be confirmed is my dates of employment and if I am eligible for re-hire (that one can be a doozy depending on the employer!)?? This just sucks and seems like it creates more roadblocks for job candidates particularly the unemployed ones.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      As others mentioned above, it’s really common that managers ignore the policy. I’ve actually never had trouble getting a reference from companies with this policy; it’s violated on the regular.

    2. TootsNYC*

      Nearly every reference I have check, and almost every reference I have ever given, was someone’s personal contact info.

      A big chunk of that is because the former manager didn’t work at that company anymore. But I’ve also just felt that it was their personal opinion, not the company’s.

      I did once have someone give me a sort of blandly positive reference (for someone who had freelanced for her at her current job) during the day from work, and then ask for my home number. She called me that night and said, “I didn’t want to say this from the work phone, where I could be overheard, and because my company probably wouldn’t want me to say this while I’m representing them, so…this person is great at her job, and really nice, very willing and hardworking. But she never, ever shuts up. Like, not ever. I know some people are talkative, but she’s extreme. I couldn’t be comfortable with myself if I didn’t alert you.”

      I thought that was interesting, that she explicitly framed it as a clandestine, personal communication, distinct from her employer. I don’t think it would have had the slightest effectiveness as a legal defense, but it sure framed it in my head.
      And of course, I never said a word about it when I made my hiring decision. (I’m glad I got that info; I had two perfectly matched candidates.)

    3. I'm a Little Teapot*

      I worked for an employer that won’t even confirm dates of employment or that you worked there at all. I did some stuff that was definitely relevant to my current job search, and I worked there for two years, but I’m afraid someone will contact them and I’ll look like a liar for putting them on my resume.

  28. Erin*

    As a both a freelance writer and an admin I really feel for OPs 1 and 4, although I’m admittedly probably a bit biased.

    #1 – I used to work for a company that never put my byline on anything. I hated that and turned them down when they asked me to come work for them again. But I understand it was “their” piece, and no one else’s name was on it, just the company name. It wasn’t technically wrong.

    What’s happening to you is a clear, gross misinterpretation of who wrote that piece and that is wrong. It doesn’t just have the university’s name on it – it clearly looks like one person – the other person – wrote that piece, correct? Awful. I agree with Alison to treat it as a mistake and don’t give attitude, but do be persistent; do not let this drop.

    #4 – There are very few things I would refuse to do as part of my job and that is one of them. As an admin/sometimes receptionist I understand I’m at the bottom of the totem pole and I have to absorb jobs that fall through the cracks or that someone else doesn’t want to do – this is not one of those things. I disagree with Alison that this isn’t outrageous – I actually think it is. Again as an admin I’m probably a bit biased so take that as you will.

    I do agree with her that you need to decide at this point what is a deal breaker or not for you. It is for sure legal, so you don’t have a real leg to stand on. You’ve already made very reasonable suggestions for alternate ways to handle this – I don’t know what else you can do. This sucks. It falls into the, you can’t really do anything except leave, category. I’m sorry I can’t be more helpful because I really feel for you.

  29. Lizabeth (call me hop along)*

    Correct me if I’m wrong…but if food containers have had serious biology projects growing in them, aren’t the container walls compromised by the mold? And that even scrubbing them out doesn’t get rid of it? That’s reason alone to toss the containers for me. I’m talking about plastic ones.

  30. cv*

    I had a situation that was kind of similar to #5, but where the coffee was more explicitly part of the process. I was moving from city X to city Y across the country, and I had a couple of phone interviews for a job in city Y a couple of months before my move. They were basically ready to offer me the job without flying me out or making me pay for a flight (it was a pretty low-level admin job in a tiny nonprofit), but one of the staff members happened to be going on vacation to city X so we met for coffee. It was a good chance for me to ask some more questions and for them to verify that I came across in person the same as I did on the phone, even though the person I had coffee with wasn’t the hiring manager. They offered me the job shortly after that.

    Flying around for interviews is expensive and time-consuming (or, in this case, flying the remote worker in to sit in on the interviews). When natural opportunities come up to make face-to-face connections, it’s only reasonable for both sides to want to take advantage of it. In OP 5’s shoes, I’d think of it as an opportunity to gain a small advantage over other candidates – the remote supervisor may well view you more positively than candidates she hasn’t met in person, even unconsciously.

  31. Venn*

    I just wanted to add to the chorus that believes it’s unreasonable to ask an office worker to empty out tupperware filled with someone else’s lunch from possibly a week ago — and wash it out for them! Disgusting. Why not have the office worker flush toilets twice a day too from here on out because apparently they can’t take care of literally their own sh*t.

  32. Golden Yeti*

    Re: #1–
    I deal with this on a regular basis currently, and it bugs the crap out of me. So I sympathize.

    I think what makes it so frustrating is that, at least in my case, I’m not usually given any heads up that the piece is going to be used for an article. I just see it when it shows up with someone else’s name on it. Plus, the person taking the credit has a history of misrepresentation and overall passing the buck (even when it shouldn’t be passed).

    I don’t think it would irritate me quite as much if I were at least told in advance what was going on.

    In your case, OP, I think part of your upper hand in the situation might be that you were explicitly hired as the writer. One would assume that means your job is to produce and be credited for content. I agree with Alison for the first step–tread lightly and see what happens. But, in the meantime, I would also say check your contract and see if you can find something to back your case, too, if needed.

  33. Current Admin*

    I am an administrative assistant, and I have been for the past five or so years. The last company I worked for NEVER made me clean out the fridge. We had 80 employees in the office who shared one kitchen and one fridge. There was a very simple schedule kept on the fridge and each department had to clean it. The office was broken down into eight different departments at the time, and no one acted like they were better than anyone else when they had to clean the fridge out on a Friday afternoon. This is NOT an administrative assistants job. It is the responsibility of everyone who uses the fridge to help keep it clean. Oh and in our company, if a container was not labeled, it got trashed.

  34. HR Caligula*

    #2- I can understand providing this type of feedback and direction can be difficult.
    The way I approach it is not frame it as total failure but an an opportunity for better practice and success.

  35. TeacherRecruiter*

    Regarding #4 – so even if she does clean up after her co-workers (which I totally think she shouldn’t have to do in this scenario), what is she supposed to do with the clean dishes? Pile them up in the kitchen? Leave them in the dishwasher? If her co-workers don’t get them out of the fridge in the first place, what’s to stop them from not picking them up off the counter?

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