my boss’s relative treats me like his personal assistant

A reader writes:

I work as an administrative assistant for a small professional company. One of the owner’s older relatives, Karl, also works at the company and is a senior staff member. Karl frequently asks me to run personal errands for him on company and my off time, some of which are annoying and others outrageous, in my opinion. I have packaged and mailed innumerable items for him, from Amazon returns to birthday gifts for relatives. I’ve also performed tasks for Karl’s wife’s business on company time and even watched his dog. Previous adminstrative staff were even tasked with making him coffee every morning. His expectations of administrative staff seem very outdated, more like 1950 than 2021.

Recently, he asked that I package and ship a medical device that included a used hypodermic needle without giving me even a warning that there was an exposed needle on it. I easily could have jabbed myself if I wasn’t careful, but thankfully I was. Prior to this his requests were an interruption and annoyance, but I’m livid about this. This item was dangerous and he didn’t have the common courtesy to tell me!

I informed my manager, but I doubt anything will come of it. We don’t have an HR department and I doubt very much that the owner will reprimand his own relative (they are very close). Do I have any recourse to get this sort of behavior to stop? I could talk to Karl, but he is very unreceptive to criticism and, being younger than him, I already don’t have much credibility in his eyes. How do I handle this situation?

I wrote back with three questions:
1. When you do his errands during your off time, are you paid for that time?
2. Do his errands ever mean you’re working more than 40 hours per week? (If so, they’d need to be paying you overtime too.)
3. What was your manager’s response when you talked to her about it?

The response:

When I run errands in my off time for him, it’s usually after work hours and I’m not paid for that time, but I’m also salaried, so overtime is never something I’m paid for anyway. My manager was sympathetic, but she didn’t mention any steps that could be taken to remedy the situation. She was definitely not ok with what happened, but that seemed to be the extent of it.

The overtime thing is a problem (they almost definitely need to be paying it), but we’ll come back to that.

Ultimately how to handle Karl comes down to how your employer defines your job. If your employer wants your job to include running personal errands for Karl, that’s their prerogative — but they should be clear with you that it’s a formal part of your role.

My guess, though, is that packing up Karl’s used hypodermic needles (?!) isn’t an official part of your job, and instead Karl is just taking advantage of the power dynamic and no one has stopped him.

There are a lot of ways you can push back on this.

First and foremost, start being too busy to help. When Karl asks you to run errands or do personal tasks for him (or his wife!) during work hours, try saying, “Oh, I can’t help — I’m on deadline with X this week” or “That’s not something I can help with — Jane wants me focused on X and Y.” If he pushes, you could say, “You’d need to talk to Jane and see if she’s willing to make it a higher priority than what she asked me to work on this week.” (Don’t use this last one if Jane will give in to his requests. If you’re not sure if she will or not, try it once and see what happens.)

Alternately, there’s no reason you can’t be very direct: “I’ve been willing to help out with this stuff in the past, but it’s really not my job. I can help you with WorkTask1 or WorkTask2, but I’m not running personal errands anymore.”

Frankly, you can use the hypodermic needle incident here: “I’m not supposed to be helping people with personal errands. I was willing to help you as a personal favor, but after almost getting jabbed with a used hypodermic needle last time, it’s not something I can help with anymore.” (Make sure to say “as a personal favor” — because that’s what it was.)

You can be even firmer with the stuff he asks you to do outside of work hours. With those things, you can simply say, “I need to leave work exactly at 5 today and won’t be available after that.” For things like dog-sitting (!), you really can just decline: “Sorry, I’m not available to help with that.” If he pushes: “I have a lot of commitments outside of work right now and it’s not something I can do.”

Or if you’re comfortable being more direct, you could just laugh and say, “I’m not a personal assistant, Karl. You’ve got hire someone or ask a friend for that kind of help.”

And here’s where it becomes highly relevant that your company isn’t paying you for the time you spend on Karl’s assignments outside of work: If this is part of your job, legally you need to be paid for that time, including overtime (time and a half) for any hours over 40 in a week. You said that’s not happening since you’re salaried — but being salaried isn’t relevant to what the law requires. What matters is whether the federal government categorizes your job as what’s called “exempt” or “non-exempt.” To be exempt from overtime, you must earn a salary of at least $35,568 and your primary duties must be relatively high-level work (think doctors, lawyers, managers). There’s a longer explanation here of what’s considered high-level work, but the vast majority of the time administrative assistants are not exempt. If your employer isn’t paying you for all time worked, including overtime for any hours over 40 in a week, they’re breaking the law and would owe you back pay and penalties. Being salaried doesn’t change that.

One way to address this would be to go to your manager and say, “I’ve just learned that legally we need to be paying me overtime for any work I do over 40 hours in a week. Karl often asks me to do errands that take me over 40 hours. I’m trying to stop doing those personal errands but if you want me doing any of his requests, how should I report that time so that I’m paid for it?” There’s a good chance that’ll get Karl’s requests shut down pretty fast. It also gives you another way to refuse the requests for help during the work day — you could say, “I wouldn’t have time to do that until after 5, and Jane hasn’t okayed me working overtime because it costs the company more money.”

So that’s the mechanics of saying no, but we need to talk about the psychological side too. You’re clearly feeling like Karl has a lot of power here — he’s the owner’s relative, he’s high up, and he’s willing to throw his weight around. But I suspect you have more power than you think. At a minimum you have the power to say no to doing him favors on your off time — but you probably have the power to refuse much or all of the rest of it too. Karl is relying on you just agreeing to whatever he asks, because so far you have. If you use the language above, he’s either going to stop asking or he’ll have to complain to the owner that you’re no longer doing tasks for his wife on company time or dog-sitting for him on the weekends. There’s a very good chance that he’s not going to have the chutzpah to make that complaint. And if he does … well, a lot of owners in that situation would tell their relative to give it a rest because that stuff isn’t your job! On the other hand, if the owner does come back and say Karl’s tasks are now officially part of your job (which I doubt will happen) and they’re willing to follow the law and pay you for your time, then you can decide if you want the job under those terms.

Also, you said Karl isn’t receptive to criticism, but this isn’t about you criticizing him. It’s just you matter-of-factly explaining what you will and won’t do as part of your job and what the company’s legal obligations are when you do.

But it’s pretty likely that if you’re assertive about setting boundaries, a lot of this is going to resolve.

{ 227 comments… read them below }

  1. lost academic*

    I’m confused about the emphasis on 40 hours/week and overtime required. I didn’t see anything in the letter or response that indicated that working more than 40 hours a week automatically qualified the OP for overtime – I know that salaried employees can earn it, but I was surprised to see the assumption that it was required here. Can someone explain?

    1. BubbleTea*

      As Alison said, being paid on a salary basis doesn’t automatically mean you are exempt, and the information about LW’s job suggests she wouldn’t be eligible to be classed as exempt. That means if she does more than 40 hours in a week, they are legally obliged to pay her overtime.

      1. Self Employed*

        I filed a request for unpaid OT from a company that incorrectly classified me as exempt. The Department of Labor contacted them and they didn’t even dispute it–just sent me a check.

    2. Jennifer Thneed*

      For jobs that are not exempt, companies can decide they’re just going to pay you for 40 hours each week to simplify their bookkeeping. But there is still an hourly rate involved. So, they can (and often do) call it a salary, but if you’re non-exempt, you still earn overtime when you work overtime.

      Unfortunately, lots of people – including employers – falsely equate “salary” with “exempt”.

      1. CmdrShepard4ever*

        A company could also choose to pay you as “salaried non-exempt,” based on a 40 hour work week, where if you work less than 40 hours you still receive the same amount of pay, but if you work more than 40 hours they still need to pay you for that over time based on your “hourly” rate. It is rare for a company to do that but someone could if they wanted to. For payroll purposes most people that are properly categorized as salaried exempt have an hourly rate calculated.

        1. HR-Occam's Razor*

          Salaried non-exempt is common even if they don’t specifically call it that. Yes, OT is required after 40 hours (or 8 hours in a work day in some states) and generally if workers take a few hours off it’s most common to fill the void with PTO or Vacation/Sick pay.

      2. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

        At one point, I was an hourly employee, but because our pay periods were 1-15 and 16-EOM, they essentially paid us as if we were salaried — (hourly rate x 2080) divided by 24 paychecks. The idea was to avoid fluctuations where the last pay period in February had (for example) 8 days on it, the last pay period in March had 10 days on it, and the last pay period in April had 12 days on it. However, if a pay period included a weekly time card with more than 40 hours, the additional time and a half would be added to the appropriate paycheck, and if for some reason unpaid time off was taken during the year (which was normally not allowed), it was deducted from the appropriate paycheck. The final paycheck on leaving the organization would essentially “settle up”, and at any point you could check with payroll and find out what your current “settle” would be, whether you were owed a few extra hours or vice versa.

      3. DaniCalifornia*

        “Unfortunately, lots of people – including employers – falsely equate “salary” with “exempt”.”

        One of the reasons I left my last job. Bookkeeper/admin for a tax firm who wanted me to work 60-70 hours/week. Did it for awhile (didn’t know I was non exempt and the pay/raises were outstanding. Then hours just kept increasing and workplace more toxic, I got fed up and quit.

    3. Chilipepper*

      In addition to what the others said, see the link Alison included in her answer (link says: longer explanation here).

    4. LCH*

      i was once an salaried admin who got paid OT when i stayed late and i was always confused about this since i was *salaried* (but happy for the money!). so glad they were doing it right.

    5. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

      An administrative assistant’s duties generally will not fit the federal government’s categorization. Of course, it does depend on the actual nature of the job and not just the job title, but only very specific types of jobs fall into the exempt classification. Most jobs are actually non-exempt. Many people think it is just about whether you are salaried or paid hourly, but it’s just not the reality. The link Allison included is especially helpful at showing the distinctions.

  2. Hazel*

    I’ve found that it can be pretty surprising how a little push-back will get boundary stompers to stop. Not all of them and not always, but enough that it’s worth trying Alison’s scripts. I hope you do and that you are pleasantly surprised!

    1. Artemesia*

      the hypodermic needle is a gift. THAT is so outrageous that using that as the lever to stop doing personal errands is perfect. I’d stop doing anything outside of work absolutely and also purely personal errands using the ‘too busy’ and ‘I can’t be doing personal errands; I nearly got stuck with a used hypodermic needle last time and I am just not going to run those risks’. And then always busy, and ‘can’t get to it.’ Things like dog sitting — hard stop as vague as you like i.e. ‘I won’t be able to do that.’

      1. moql*

        Yes, absolutely. It frames just how out of bounds he is and gives her a chance to use the “as a personal favor” wording.

        Separately, for things not on work time, I would start leaving early. “Boss, because your relative asked me to go to the post office after work I’ll be leaving at 4 instead of 5.” That seems way easier to push back on than explaining the exempt/hourly thing.

        1. Colette*

          That’s not likely to end well. She could ask (“Since Karl asked to run this errand for him, should I put in for overtime or leave early) but she can’t just decide to do that, and even asking will go better for her if she explains that she’s non-exempt.

      2. There's probably a cat meme to describe it*

        Yes. As much as I hate corporate jargon, this is a time I’d use the phrase “lean in”. Lean into that outrage because it’s so justified.

        This letter horrified me. I mean, there’s garden variety disrespectful behaviour but then there’s the ‘couldn’t care less about your personal safety, slave’ level. Karl is a pig and I’m livid just reading it. I hope we get an update.

      3. TootsNYC*

        It wasn’t clear–was the needle used? I mean, it’s outrageous either way. And I can’t think why an unused needle would be in a package (though, a used needle would be even harder to comprehend)

        it doesn’t matter to the question, but I was just wondering.

    2. Farion*

      Years ago I was hired as exec assistant in a hospital and soon had to have the “talk” with my boss. I calmly explained to him that nowhere in my job description did personal assistant appear, it was never discussed during interviews, and I would only be doing company related work. He turned bright red and said he thought we discussed. I only did hospital related work for 7 years!

    3. Kate*

      Really trying to teach this to my teen; when you’re known as someone who has firm and friendly boundaries, people no longer try to push them. It’s when you cave, or set a boundary but then don’t follow through that people will learn you actually *don’t* have boundaries, and in the future they’ll ignore yours, or argue with you about them.

      Which is exhausting and difficult and so much harder.

      This came up with mask wearing and my teen’s friends in the fall. A few of his friends set up a get together outdoors, and one of the group texts said “social distanced get together, bring your mask!” and 6 kids arrived wearing their masks, and yet when 3 others arrived – those three looked at all the kids wearing masks, and then walked up unmasked. I saw my kid freeze, and so I stepped in and said brightly “hey guys – put your masks on please!” and they sheepishly did.

      Two weeks later the group wanted to do another get together, and I had reservations based on what I saw last time. I wouldn’t be there, and I saw my kid freeze the last time, so what might he do if they showed up without masks again?

      I explained “friendly and firm boundaries,” and how if you are known as someone who has them, that’s when people don’t push back. After some back and forth roll playing, he sent a group text suggesting the get together, and added: “hey – some people showed up last month without wearing masks after we said it was an outdoor, distanced and masked get together – during covid I’m not hanging out with anyone who’s not social distanced and masked up; would love to see everybody Saturday – let me know if you can make it!”

      Within a few minutes two other kids chimed in saying “yep, our family too! Socially distanced, outside, masks on!”

      They all got together at the park that Saturday, and the kids who hadn’t worn masks before wore them this time, they all had fun, and my kid is now encouraged to keep being friendly and firm in the future.

      Boundaries are such an important life skill.

      1. Tired of Covid-and People*

        “Boundaries are such an important life skill.” Say it louder for the people in the back.

      2. Caroline Bowman*

        Absolutely this! And so often people think that objecting or setting a boundary in a pleasant, non-aggressive, non-humiliating way is ”being argumentative”, but it’s not. It’s absolutely okay to ask questions, to say ”I’m not able to spend my weekend dog sitting” or whatever. Very, very often it’s the ones doing the asking who are being extremely rude and entitled. Not always, sometimes it’s plain thoughtlessness, but a courteous ”unfortunately I’m not available to do that” is NOT rude or ”difficult”.

        Boundaries people. Boundaries. Firm ones. Be clear when you are doing a favour that it will be on this specific occasion, not regularly.

    4. old curmudgeon*

      I agree – pushing back effectively is often all it’ll take.

      About twenty years ago (so when I was in my early 40s, not exactly a spring chicken), I was working as a combination office manager/database administrator for a small business. The owner had a friend who he allowed to use one of the offices in the building to run his own sole proprietorship business, and this friend was a really old-school male chauvinist. I had a couple of run-ins with him early on, but he quickly learned to take his demands elsewhere.

      First episode: Chauvinist Friend (CF for short) walked up the stairs to my office, stood in the doorway and announced, “there’s no more coffee in the coffeepot.” I, deeply engrossed in a conundrum in the database, responded “well, you’d better make another pot, then,” not even looking at him. He stood there for several minutes and repeated “the coffee is gone.” I responded “you can make yourself some more or you can do without. I am not your barista.”

      Second episode: I am in my office on the phone talking with a client who was unhappy about something on their account, very involved in trying to troubleshoot the problem and figure out a solution, when CF walks into my office, sees me on the phone, and starts telling me loudly and in detail exactly how he wants me to handle a particular call for him (NB – I refused to answer his phone line). I turned my chair around so my back was to him and continued my conversation with my employer’s client. CF walked around my desk, stuck his face in mine and started his spiel over again. I told the client “I am so sorry, please excuse me, there is an incredibly rude person here demanding something, can you please hold a moment?” Then I told CF, loudly enough for the client on the phone to hear, “I do not work for you, I work for Employer and I am taking care of Employer’s client. You get OUT of my office right now and do not EVER tell me to answer your phone again.” When I put the receiver back to my ear, the client was laughing out loud, and we were able to quickly and successfully arrive at a resolution to the problem.

      After that second episode, CF never tried his BS with me again. He also wouldn’t look at me or say a word to me, which I took as a mitzvah. And there were zero repercussions from my employer.

      Now, all that said, if I had been in my 20s when that happened instead of in my 40s, I very well might have gritted my teeth and made CF his stupid coffee and answered his stupid phone. The older I’ve gotten, the more I’ve insisted on boundaries and the less crap I’ve been willing to put up with, but it was definitely outside my comfort zone to say “Nope” when I was much younger. If that is true for the OP, I recommend practicing at home, getting the words into your memory so you can just zip out a response without having to stop and really think about it. Good luck in any case – hope you are able to get your version of the CF to back the heck off and let you do your work!

      1. Ellen B Thomasson*

        One thing I loved about my interesting but certainly-not-perfect job: I was one of the first to arrive every morning due to being dropped off by my spouse, whose job started earlier. I’m a tea drinker and never drink coffee, so although I was in the break room for a half hour or so before work each morning, I never made coffee. When the vice-president arrived a short time later, that’s who made the coffee for all the coffee-drinkers, every single day, for the almost 20 years I was there – through three different vice-presidents. Little things mean a lot.

      2. allathian*

        Yes, this is great. I’ve been lucky enough to avoid this sort of stuff because the only time I’ve worked as an admin, in my first office job as a new college graduate, it was literally in my job description to help everyone. I guess I got lucky, because nobody ever asked me to run personal errands after work or during working hours…

        Now that I’m in my late 40s it’s fun to realize how few F’s I have to give these days…

        That said, at the office I’m surprised how often emptying the dishwasher is done by the women. To be fair, our administrative director, who’s in his early 40s, occasionally does it as well, but there are certainly a few older male senior specialists or directors who would never dream of doing that. Just one more reason why I’m happy to be WFH…

        I hope LW can get this annoying behavior to stop.

        1. wee beastie*

          I had a textbook abusive boss at my first post-college admin job. It was a tiny office. Only 4 ppl there most days. One day my boss asked me to make coffee, tho i’d never ever seen anyone use the little Mr Coffee we had. Honestly, i’m a tea drinker, I didn’t know how to make coffee and this was before the internet. I didn’t want to admit that. I just said “no.” When he said why not? I said, “because I don’t want any.” That was that.

          1. Caroline Bowman*

            I’ve said ”I’m just running into a meeting, won’t be able to, sorry!” before and to one very sexist, very pushy demander-of-coffee ”okay, just this one but it won’t be in a cup! Kidding!” and then – crucially – didn’t make the coffee.

            Screw that for a game. No. I will certainly participate in any and all admin tasks, such as emptying the dishwasher, taking turns to refill water bottles, even make coffee for occasional meetings, but that’s very much ”take my turn”.

      3. jojo*

        When I was in the Navy, fresh boot and school. I arrived at my duty station. The entire office was like, great, someone to make coffee. My reply was ” l’m not drinking it and I’m not making it.” They were shocked. But never mentioned coffee to me again. Tail end of the 80s.

    5. Sparrow*

      That is sometimes true. When I was graduate school, the “super star” professor in my department had gotten so used to his long-time RA never saying no to him that he was treating her like a personal assistant (my favorite was when she was tasked with corresponding with the contractor for his vacation home). After she graduated, the new RA wasn’t having it and basically acted like he was joking when he asked her to do those kinds of things. And he stopped. He was well aware this wasn’t part of the job and kept pushing it with the previous RA, not because he felt entitled to that kind of assistance, but because he knew she would say yes. When he started hearing no, he stopped asking.

  3. Colleague’s Dog’s Viking Funeral*

    I did a full stop at “I’m salaried so overtime isn’t an issue,” and my brain sort of popped. You are an administrative assistant. That is not a managerial job. There is no way it meets the criteria. They are effing you over hard. And they know it.
    They hired an admin and classified it as manager.
    Keep that in mind when you set boundaries for your job.

    1. Rusty Shackelford*

      I doubt they’ve even bothered to classify the LW as a manager. They’ve simply assumed (as many people do) that being salaried means you’re exempt from overtime pay. So yes, they are effing her over, but not necessarily in a premeditated, Machiavellian kind of way. Just in an ignorant way. Which doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be stopped. And backpay should be provided.

      1. Snailing*

        Yep, especially in a smaller business (and OP mentions they don’t have HR, paired with the family favoritism, it sounds like it could be a small business), it’s likely just ignorance that’s been passed down manager to manager.

        My first management position, I had no idea about this law and it was normal in my 15-person company to be moved to “exempt” so they wouldn’t have to pay you overtime (but also so you could fluctuate 38-42 hours per week without needing to truly keep track), but they thought salary and exempt meant the same thing. I was promoted from a salaried position to manager directly without any true manager training, and we didn’t have HR, so I didn’t learn about the true rules at all until I read about it by chance on AAM. When I brought it up to my employers, they also had no idea it wasn’t just the minimum salary test. I felt horrible that I had perpetuated that system, but I had no way of knowing until I did my own research of my own volition, and you can bet I made a point of bringing it up any time the bosses wanted to promote someone to a salaried position – Hey boss, let’s check if this is exempt or non-exempt!

    2. Let's Just Say*

      I would assume ignorance over malice here. But now that LW knows the law, she’s in a position to advocate for herself (and for her employer to avoid legal liability).

      1. Colleague’s Dog’s Viking Funeral*

        I have argued ignorance over malice here, but this one is personal.
        My first full time job in my field, I was told, “look, you are a temp. You are great employee. We want to offer you a job. Your title will be manager. Probably not. Your job will be the same. That’s how they do it here. Is it legal? You will lose the 20 hours overtime you make a week, but we are upping your salary 20%, medical, sick leave and vacation. Still interested?”
        me: “Let’s do this thing.”
        So they may not know, or they may know and not care.
        I’m very interested in how the manager responds if OP says she’s been reviewing her employment situation and they say “it’s salary”.
        OP: get very familiar with SALARY NON EXEMPT

    3. Annabeth*

      So my most recent office job had me salaried. In Ohio, if it matters, I was being paid $36,000 and regularly working 45 hours a week. It was an entry level job that they typically filled with temps, but I got hired in directly. Is there anything I can do? They worked me to death– I didn’t take a lunch break for over 6 months and always had to stay after and come in early. I quit when Covid hit because they refused to take any precautions and I was so burned out I had to go. I also know they’re still paying the few employees they have left this way.

      1. Littorally*

        Your state DOL is a great place to start. Alison’s link in the post has more information about the kinds of jobs that can be treated as exempt (meaning, exempt from NLRB rules about overtime pay) so you can determine for sure that your situation qualifies. The pay is over the threshold, but an entry-level job very likely won’t past the job duties test for exemption… unless you were, idk, an entry-level lawyer or something.

        1. AndersonDarling*

          Yes! Call the DOL! Especially since you have quit, you have nothing to lose and you have a lot of wages to get back!

          1. Self Employed*

            I did that back in the 1990s and the employer didn’t even dispute the claim. I got a check in the mail while I was working at my new job.

      2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        You will usually need documentation of your time worked. Did you keep records? If not, can you go back and make them? Like a calendar with “start/stop” times, to show that you were working 45 hours a week?

        They won’t just take your word for it. It’s why they require businesses to also keep track of time records. If you signed off on a card saying 40 hours, even though you worked 45, you’re in a pickle. You’ll need to have some of your own records.

        The DOL is a good place to start but keep your expectations low. They often do not collect penalties or interest for you, so you’d need a lawyer for that. But if you lawyer up, you can’t use the DOL on that side. It’s one or the other around these parts. You’ll want to consult an attorney in your jurisdiction. Most will say that without extensive documentation or a collaborating witness on your side, you’re not going to get far.

        1. AndersonDarling*

          There still may be a chance if the company is continuing their dirty practices. Then the DOL can check on the current situation.

    4. Not Your PA*

      LW here. I think this is more an ignorance thing, but now that it’s been pointed out to me, I’ve been sifting through my initial employment documents, paystubs, employee handbook, etc. I can’t find a single mention of my position being labeled exempt or non-exempt anywhere. I vividly remember being told that I was salaried only because I would occasionally need to stay late and they didn’t want to calculate overtime. They framed it in a way that made it sound like I was paid well (which I am) as a compensation for occasionally staying for an hour after 5 PM. I’ve been with the company 5 years now and I stay late typically one to two nights a week. I’m going to be researching my state’s labor laws so I can at least get paid in the future for overtime. With no record of past overtime (we don’t do any formal timekeeping), I don’t know how successful I’d be asking for back pay. I wouldn’t begin to know how to calculate it.

      1. Elizabeth*

        Do you keep a calendar, like in Outlook or Google that would show meetings that occurred after your scheduled work time ended? Or email chains that show you responding to requests? Especially if meetings are recurring and regular or you are obviously working, that would assist with documenting the hours.

        1. Not Your PA*

          I have some email chains that would show I was still in the office after hours, but that would be about it. I don’t keep a calendar since my workflow is erratic and I’m usually hopping from one thing to another.

      2. Sunshine's Escatology*

        I AM a lawyer, and I winced so hard at “I vividly remember being told that I was salaried only because I would occasionally need to stay late and they didn’t want to calculate overtime.”

        “Not wanting to calculate overtime” is not one of the tests courts use to determine whether an employee is exempt! Grrrargh! For most positions, including yours, there’s a salary PLUS duties test, and I 100% agree with Alison that the duties is almost certainly not met here. Definitely research and–okay, I’m a little biased–call an employment lawyer! Many will be happy to chat for a free initial consultation and absolutely no obligation.

        And keeping records of hours worked is the employer’s obligation! It’s helpful to keep your own records–and it wouldn’t hurt to start doing so now–but many cases go forward solely on employee testimony.

        1. Not Your PA*

          I reviewed the link Allison posted and my job definitely doesn’t fall into any of the duties she listed, you couldn’t even argue anything to the contrary. I’m a bit hesitant to go the lawyer route with the job market the way it is.

          1. Sunshine's Eschatology*

            Totally understandable!! Retaliation for complaining about unpaid overtime is illegal but sadly all too common. Like I said I’m biased, but it can be helpful to have a chat and keep that information in your back pocket. We’ve had people call us just for info and never move forward for whatever reason; we’ve had people call us and decide to move forward six months later after they’ve found a new job. Both are fairly common, in fact.

            Good luck with whatever you and also with the sheer WTFery of Karl! Because WTF, Karl.

          2. Myrin*

            A former regular commenter who was a lawyer always preached this and I’ve kind of internalised it and am continuing her legacy (she didn’t die or anything, just stopped posting): Just talking to a lawyer doesn’t automatically mean you are planning on suing your employer or similar drastic measures!
            If that’s not what you insinuated by “the job market the way it is” – as in, you fear to be fired over this – please ignore me, but if it is, the talk with a lawyer is just to get a professional’s opinion and to find out what exactly your rights are.

            1. Princess Trachea-Aurelia Belaroth*

              Yes, especially you can consult them about the timeline. It might be possible to wait until the job market is better, or at least until you do move on, to bring a wage complaint.

          3. NothingIsLittle*

            I’m pretty sure that the statute of limitations for backpay in this situation is two years, but you should probably consult a lawyer to be certain.

            If I were you, I’d start documenting all that time going forward so that you can decide to do or not do something about it later. If you have the documentation, that makes it much easier for you to decide you want to pursue something later on and, if nothing else, is a great way to prove that you don’t have time for these personal tasks.

      3. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

        A lot of employers make that mistake. They are not always acting in bad faith, but they just don’t realize that “salary” does not necessarily mean “exempt.” They think that salary is how you get around it, but it is not legal and they could owe you a lot of back pay if you pressed the issue with your labor board. You should bring it to their attention not only to get out of these odd requests from Karl, but also because they should know. Ignorance of the law in these cases does not prevent them from getting slapped with some major fines and owed backpay!

      4. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

        Get copies of any emails asking you to run to the post office after hours or emails about or during the pet sitting etc., date/time of phone calls after hours, maybe put in an “innocent” email something about the hours or tasks you’ve worked that your manager can acknowledge/respond to. Even though you say you didn’t keep a calendar, you can also just document after the fact if you remember the specific day/time/activity. I’d love to think that this will turn out for the best, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they just fire you if you push back. But…if you’re successful, you should have extra compensation coming to you that might help while you look for a better job. But if you’re NOT successful, or choose not to pursue it, nothing changes and you will continue to be cheated out of your time and compensation until you leave.

  4. TallTeapot*

    Karl is behaving like a turd, OP. You’re not the one being unreasonable–he is. I’m sorry that you’re in this situation.

    1. Monty & Millie's Mom*

      Yes, I was just coming here to say I’m hopeful we can get an update! Hopefully it’s a boring update, that the OP set boundaries and held them and Karl subsided. But there’s so much potential for drama here, unfortunately!

    2. Bob*

      I thought i had hit surprise me and was going to search for an update then checked the date and realized its a new post.
      Perhaps i should scale down my reading the archives :D

    3. Anon for this*

      Totally, Karl is the worst and I’m already picturing the OP’s triumphant story of shutting him down!

    4. Cookie Monster*

      Me too! As a fellow administrative assistant, I’m very curious to see if the LW takes Alison’s advice and what happens. I don’t have high hopes for Karl but you never know.

  5. sssssssssssssssssssssssssssss*

    People will push as far as they can take it, if it means less work for them. I had to push back ages ago when the team member, not even a manager or director, wanted me to fill in her forms for insurance reimbursement as I didn’t have her personal info and most certainly not part of what I needed to do. They backed off (but pouted).

    Be prepared for Karl to try to work around the boundaries you set up; he’s used to getting his own way and this could be ugly.

      1. sssssssssssssssssssssssssssss*

        Some of the support team would do their expense forms for them and even enter their hours in the time keeping system. In her head, it wasn’t a stretch to ask me to fill in her insurance forms either.

        I eventually pushed back on both. The team was just too large to take that on full time for everyone.

        My very first job I did do two personal errands for my manager. But only two. I was so young and new, I didn’t know better than I shouldn’t be returning the earrings to the girl he slept with the night before and she had left them behind at his place…

        1. Quill*

          Jeez, at least when my first boss at a place we didn’t have to card in and out of wanted me to pick up milk and cookies for his personal use it was while I was already running to target for office supplies.

      2. Jules the 3rd*

        I also can’t believe someone would ask for that – ‘if we get married after I turn in the insurance paperwork and it has to change, then you’re filling it in’ was a significant factor in the timing of my courthouse wedding. Neither of us wanted to do it more than once.

    1. Leap Year Conspiracy*

      Word, some folks will try anything. Years ago when I worked as an office manager, I had a sales person tell me to complete a form for him – one that he had started himself and messed up on. He presented the form and a bottle of white-out to me to get started. I just stared at him until he fumed “You’re not very good at taking directions” and then stormed off to do his work himself.

      1. Autistic AF*

        I subconsciously filled in “wine” for “white-out” and I am even more disappointed now! Your response was *chef’s kiss*, though.

        1. Leap Year Conspiracy*

          Haha! At the age I was then, I might have completed his stupid form for a bottle of wine.

      2. Le Sigh*

        I had a previous job with a senior staffer like that, who would just poke around until he found someone who would do his work–not even admin, usually just whatever young woman he thought he could pressure into it. I had just enough seniority as a project manager that shutting him down wouldn’t cause issues for me, so when he’d try it with younger staff on my team (who, to be clear, I didn’t supervise or manage) I would just interrupt him and say “oh sorry, she’s busy doing stuff for me all week, nope, sorry, can’t help! Yeah that’s too bad oh no! I’m sure you’ll figure it out!” I’d be lying if I didn’t enjoy seeing his face fall.

        1. Alexander Graham Yell*

          I had somebody try to pull that with me – I told him I’d look at it with him, but couldn’t promise I’d get around to do it because I had to prioritize my own clients (there was 0 overlap). Days go by, I don’t touch it. He comes to my desk to start to bug me about it, will I look at it (No, I’m building something for my client right now), it’ll be quick (literally still working in Excel), come on just a quick look. FINE. So I open it up, read it, and laugh. It was high level analysis I was not trained on but he should have been able to do, it was several hours of work, and what he had asked if I could do was so woefully inadequate that it was funny – plus it was for a manage who was notorious for wanting things done 15 minutes before she’d asked for them.

          I had so much fun reading it, and saying, “Not only is this something I cannot help you with, you have fundamentally misunderstood what was being asked and this should have been completed days ago. Go call Manager if you have questions, I have to go back to the work she asked me to do.”

          He never asked me for anything again….and, to nobody’s surprise, was let go a month or two after that.

          1. Alexander Graham Yell*

            Relevant details I forgot: I was the only female analyst and he continued to ignore my male coworkers, who were both far more experience than I was (and capable of doing the work he’d asked me to do) and much bigger pushovers. So he could have had it done if he had picked a different victim, but I was the only woman so I was his only target.

  6. Kathryn*

    This is slightly off-topic so apologies, but this question has brought up a related question I’ve had for a while! I run a small business and while we don’t have any admin staff right now, our previous admin used to offer to make coffee for me pretty often, and I would usually accept. She would also offer coffee to clients/potential new employees/etc who came in for meetings, which was part of her job and discussed at the original interview. Is it weird for a boss to ask an admin person to make coffee for them in 2021? We were both women of similar ages if that matters at all, though I assume it shouldn’t. To be honest I loved it and would love to go back to that (among many other things post-COVID!), but I don’t want to do something that makes anyone feel belittled.

    1. Not a Real Giraffe*

      This is a good Friday open thread question, but in case it doesn’t get moved there – I’m of the opinion that if you’re upfront about this in your interview process, then people who find it belittling can opt out. I think I personally would be annoyed to make my boss coffee every morning but probably not so annoyed that I would reject a job over it — but I’d love having the information ahead of time so I could factor it into my decision-making process.

      Some assistants I know genuinely like this kind of EA work. It makes them feel like they’re taking care of their executive, and their enjoyment of their job is fueled by that “caretaking” sentiment. So, I think as long as you let people know during the interview that will be part of their daily routine, it’s not a problem to expect it once they’re hired.

      1. Rachel in NYC*

        I’m not an admin- in any way, shape or form- but I will help out by offering to get drinks for people who are in our office for meetings because that’s my personality. I’m a helper!

        So I’m happy to get a co-worker who’s in there a drink at the same time. If they asked at any other point, I’d look at them like they were crazy but right then, no problems.

        (Well my supervisor could ask me- we share a diet coke problem and are always getting diet cokes from the fridge, so we’ll offer to grab one for each other. Back in day…)

        1. ..Kat..*

          As a woman (based on your user name), you risk getting sidelined into “women’s work “ – fetching coffee, cleaning up, planning birthday celebrations, etc. None of this will help you advance in your “non-women’s work “ role. In general, you don’t see men stepping in to do this work.

          1. Not a Real Giraffe*

            You’re absolutely right — but I think there’s a large divide between occasionally offering visitors/guests a drink and getting sidelined into “women’s work” that falls outside the scope of your job. It absolutely could happen as a slow creep and I think women should be aware of it, but the difference between “hey welcome to our office, can I get you some water?” and “Rachel, you’re in charge of planning our holiday party” seems vast. I don’t think there’s an issue with being the “helper” type so long as you also set boundaries about taking on the work that tends to fall to women, using any number of scripts that Allison has suggested in past posts.

    2. former admin*

      I was an admin for 4 years and my duties involved billing, invoicing, helping with budget prep, event planning, facilities management, and by the time I left I was managing contracts and actually preparing budgets. If we had visitors I would absolutely get them water/coffee/whatever as that was part of event planning. But if any of my coworkers had asked me to make them coffee as a matter of course I’d probably tell them to go back in time and ask the steno pool. If it came from a man I’d be extra insulted. Admins are not the office helpmeet and have a very specific set of tasks. Some AAs and especially EAs have a lot of responsibility and their time is better spent doing other things.
      To be fair, this was never an expectation that was brought up in advance, so I think your situation is different. But it’s definitely not the norm.

      1. Former call centre worker*

        I have also worked as an admin and have the same view. It’s not my job to bring coffee to people who know where the coffee machine is, and even if it is in the job description (which it hasn’t been for any admin job I’ve ever had), it devalues the work of admin assistants to lump this kind of thing in with actual administrative tasks. If the boss is thirsty, that’s her problem. She doesn’t expect me to put a jumper on her if she’s cold, or make her a sandwich if she’s hungry, why should thirst be any different?

        I should add that when I was an admin I would offer to make hot drinks for my boss if they were around and I was making one, but it was very much with the expectation that it would be reciprocated

      2. AndersonDarling*

        Yeah, when I was an admin asst, I resented every time I was asked to go on a fetch quest. “I printed something, go get it from the printer.” “I’m hungry, go get my lunch from the fridge.” “Is Jenny here today? Go find her.”
        I started out as a dept clerk and picking up lunch for the boss was a regular part of that job, but she always got me lunch or a snack. I was never asked to make her coffee that she could make herself in 2 min.

        1. sssssssssssssssssssssssssssss*

          Ohhhhhh, I so resented the person who would print two pages, stand in front of my counter and ask me to hand them over to her when it was another dozen steps to walk over to pick it up herself. Hated that manager.

      3. Brigitte*

        Admins are not the office helpmeet

        The job is what your employer says it is. If your company has admins make coffee, then that’s your job, so long as it applies equally to men and women. If you don’t like it, you can find a company where the job description better aligns with what you want to do.

        1. tamarack and fireweed*

          There’s a difference between rules and norms. You’re talking about rules. Many others are talking about norms.

          Affirming norms has for one of its effects that rules are less likely to be made in breach of the norms, or that rules are getting challenged, or that if rules are merely unwritten, they get ignored as outdated. The norm in question is: unless explicitly part of the job description and discussed & agreed with the employee at the start of the job, administrative employees can expect not to be treated as the general dogsbody of the office.

    3. Dr. Rebecca*

      If by “make coffee” you mean “start up a pot, from which anyone can get what they want,” not weird, and I’ve done the same at various levels in various jobs. If, on the other hand, you mean “start up the pot, pour, doctor to your liking, and hand it to you,” then…bit weird, tbh. My significant other does this for me, or I for him, on occasion, but that’s literally the only person in my life I’d expect to do that for on the regular.

      1. Let's Just Say*

        This. The admin being responsible for turning on the coffeemaker in the morning is pretty standard, I think. But I would find it weird and old-fashioned to have an admin personally making and delivering cups of coffee to staff. Visitors are a different story because they don’t know their way around the office kitchen and most likely don’t even have access to that area.

      2. Not Your PA*

        LW here. He definitely expected previous staff to get his coffee, add sugar and leave it on a specific spot on his desk. When I started, an older administrative staff told me she did that for him for years and I made it clear I wasn’t going to do that ever. To me, it’s a weird, outdated power play.

        1. Sparrow*

          And he didn’t push back on you refusing his coffee demands? I hope that’s a sign he’ll respond reasonably well if you start setting other boundaries now. Good luck!

      3. londonedit*

        See, this came up the other day – but in UK office culture, the ‘tea round’ is very much a thing. Anyone who’s making themselves a cup of tea is expected to ask people in their immediate area whether they’d also like a cup of tea. Then you make tea for the people who want a cup. And yes, you’d make each cup to that person’s specification. It’s not a big deal, it’s just what happens. Some offices have tea charts where everyone writes down their tea preferences (nothing out of the ordinary, just ‘Bob: milk, one sugar’, ‘Terry: black, no sugar’ etc) but in many offices you just get to know how the people you usually make tea for take their tea, and they know how you take yours. Yes you’ll get the occasional issue where there’s one person who always accepts an offer of tea but never makes it themselves, but in most cases the tea-making load ends up being shared out fairly evenly throughout the day or week.

        1. Media Monkey*

          i was just going to say this! but someone who never makes the tea/ coffee would probably find themselves excluded from the round fairly quickly (or with everyone’s mugs on their desk and lots of thirsty people staring at them…)

          1. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

            If everyone takes a turn, and the office isn’t too big, this can be quite nice. Most of the companies I’ve worked at are very big – even the departments are very big – and it’s not practical to offer tea or coffee when you go to make for yourself. At my current workplace, when we were in the office, I was in an open plan office with perhaps 20 or 25 other people in close proximity! But when I did work at a tiny company, we used to do this all the time. Not in the UK but the culture is similar in some respects.

    4. Lady Heather*

      As long as it’s part of their job duties, sure. If their job is very “responsive” in general – answering the phone, sitting at the reception desk greeting visitors, fixing the printer when it jams, doing filing in between – I think you can ask for cofee when you want it, but if their job is more “planned” – start the morning by answering emails, then research Project, then have a meeting, then research Other Project, then finish the day with filing – it’s nice if you just have a general duty of “Make a pot of coffee at 10, 13 and 16 and bring Manager a cup” so that they can plan around it.

      1. Lady Heather*

        I do wonder if it’s the best use of time in either case. The thing with thirst and hunger is that you likely don’t notice you’re thirsty or hungry when your focused, but when something distracts you or you’re getting stuck in what you’re working on or it’s starting to bore you, then you lose focus, then you want coffee. You’re already distracted. You won’t get *more* distracted by getting your own coffee.

        On the other hand, when you get thirsty/notice you’re thirsty, and then you interrupt your admin to get you coffee (or your admin knows they have to make coffee at 10, so around 9.45 they start being distracted from their work by remembering they have to make coffee, and then they get up at 9.55 to make coffee, and are back at their desk at 10.05, and then it takes them until 10.28 to get back into their work) you’re distracting your focused admin from their work because you are unfocused (and therefore noticed you’d like some coffee).

        The 10.28 isn’t just a made-up time, by the way, it’s 23 minutes after they got back to their desk and according to a study, it takes 23 minutes to refocus after a distraction.

        1. Koalafied*

          That statistic is actually frequently misquoted/interpreted. What the study found is that when shadowing workers in a real workplace, the average interruption takes 23 minutes and 15 seconds for a worker to complete, not that it takes an average of 23:15 to resume focus after the interrupting task is completed. There are about a dozen popular articles that all seem to originate from an interview the researcher gave to Fast Company, where in one sentence she referenced an observational study where they’d seen this 23 minute statistic, and in the next sentence she went on to talk about more recent research she’d done with a laboratory simulation experiment. All these popular articles cite the 23 minute figure from the observational study and link to the researcher’s lab simulation experiment abstract, which isn’t even where the 23 minute figure comes from. A sadly classic example of something that happens way too often in science reporting – one reporter misunderstands the original source material and then a whole bunch of other reporters just repeat the claim assuming the original reporter must have had it right.

          Interestingly, in the lab simulation study, the researchers actually found that people who are interrupted get all their work done faster than people who aren’t interrupted – but at the cost of dramatically higher subjective reports of stress and dramatically higher self-reports of being overworked. The group with no interruptions took an average of 22.77 minutes to complete one set of tasks, but rated their stress level at 6.92/20, frustration at 4.73/20, and effort involved in their work at 9.5/20. The groups that were interrupted (split into two groups based on whether the interruption was related to the interrupted task or completely different) took an average of 20.3 and 20.6 minutes to complete their tasks – a full 2 minutes faster than the uninterrupted group – but rated their stress at 9.46 & 9.13/20 (32-37% higher than the uninterrupted group), frustration at 6.63 & 6.48/20 (37-40% higher than the uninterrupted group), and the effort involved at 11.04 & 11.52/20 (16-21% higher than the uninterrupted group).

    5. Butterfly Counter*

      I’m in academia, so I’m pretty far removed from these politics (and also working from home), so take my thoughts for what little they are.

      The person who wants the coffee should make the coffee. If the person who wants the coffee finds no coffee has been made, they should make the coffee and not wait until someone lower in the hierarchy (in whatever shape this takes in office places) offers to make it.

      If you, as the boss, have a vague inkling you want coffee, but not enough to make it, I don’t think you should feel you have to. Further, if you have this vague inkling and someone volunteers to do so for you (vs. you specifically asking), I also think this is fine as long as you thank them for the favor they have done you. I also think it would be fine to ask if you are too busy to leave your desk/area and they are not, but should really consider taking the 3 minutes to make it yourself.

      However, if you see people playing “Coffee Chicken” (the first person who caves and makes the coffee is then followed by a rush of other people who were too stubborn to just do it themselves) within the office, you might need to address this differently because gender roles so often play a part in who caves first.

      Again, my two cents. In my house, whoever is awake first makes the coffee.

      1. lemon*

        Yes, thanks for bringing up power relations as it relates to “Coffee Chicken. ” In my office, it was “water cooler chicken.” I was literally the only person who ever replaced the water, and noticed that when I did, I’d suddenly hear a line of people going to get water. I’m not the admin, and we’re all women, but I was new and the only woc on the team. I definitely felt resentful about it, because I experience chronic pain and have a shoulder injury, so… I really shouldn’t be lifting heavy things, but… I was so thirsty and didn’t feel comfortable speaking up about it, being so new.

        So, just because you see someone always doing the work doesn’t mean they’re happy about it. Something to keep in mind for folks so they feel encouraged to sometimes be the person who replaces the water bottle or make a fresh pot of coffee.

        1. Koalafied*

          Yep, this is part of a larger phenomenon where people basically know in their heart of hearts that they should be doing things differently, but they rationalize that as long as nobody directly asks them to do it differently, it’s OK because they totally would be happy to do it differently if somebody asked them! Totally discounting the various barriers and reluctance someone might have to raising the issue directly, and that other people shouldn’t have to ask you to please do the considerate thing.

        2. Quill*

          I’ve played water cooler chicken before because absolutely NO ONE wanted to deal with it inevitably spilling all over their shoes.

          It was the worst in terms of “she’s old, you do it” “no, you’re significantly larger than me, you do it” “but I am REALLY not supposed to be lifting it because joints” as an endless roulette that only ever ended in us trying to jury-rig some sort of lift system that would end up soaking all our shoes.

      2. JB (not in Houston)*

        Ah, yes, Coffee Chicken (how nice to have a name to apply to that situation). In my office there were 2 men that would just not drink coffee all day rather than make it themselves, but they were in the break room like a shot if they noticed someone else making it. (One of them was also great about taking the last of a pot and then walking off without making more *and* about getting the microwave dirty and not cleaning it up, but he was far from alone on that one) They liked to do that helpless man thing where they pretend that it’s just too difficult a task for them to learn how to do properly (despite having been shown how and despite instructions being taped on the wall right above the coffee maker). I ended up bringing a Keurig in putting it my office just to save myself from slowly starting to hate those guys. For all I know they still play coffee chicken but now I don’t have to know about it.

        I totally agree that if you see this happening in your office and you’re in the position to do something about it, you should pay attention to who is caving first and what you can do about it.

        1. Butterfly Counter*

          Re: Coffee Chicken.

          I call it that because my husband and I are regular players of “Vacuum Chicken” and “Lawn Mow Chicken.”

          It is 100% tied to SO MUCH resentment that I can’t even imagine “playing” it with people I don’t love.

        2. RecoveringSWO*

          And that’s why I started hand washing my dishes instead of using the dishwasher at my last job! No more “unloading the dishwasher chicken” for me!

    6. Acronyms Are Life (AAL)*

      I don’t see why not, especially since she is offering, not that you are demanding that she do it. But I would probably just have a conversation with her expressing your appreciation and denoting that you recognize her job isn’t ‘maker of the boss’s coffee’ and if she would like to stop at any point that you would not be upset with her about it.

      But I would still say that ‘if you finish the pot, you have to start the new one’ law of the office applies!

    7. Picard*

      My admin makes the company coffee every morning when she comes in and cleans up/turns it off when she leaves. She also handles all food setups when we have visitors (obviously not so much these days)

      But that was made clear as part of her duties during the interview.

      (I dont even drink coffee so… ;P )

    8. Artemesia*

      I’d be comfortable with expecting them to make a pot of coffee on arrival but would expect if I found the pot empty to make another. And when I did that, I would ask her if she wanted a cup as I just made a new pot.

      1. Quinalla*

        Agreed, having a person who is the designated first pot of coffee maker often falls to the admin since they are usually there everyday at the same time, but yes after that whoever finds the empty pot should make a new one. Bringing someone coffee is unusual to me except for bringing coffee/water to guests to the office sometimes, but I still think that is kind of weird too personally. I’d rather someone direct me to where I can get it myself! I’ve seen admins who do it and some even like doing it, but I don’t think it should be a regular expectation.

        And if there is no admin in your office (we don’t have one since we are a regional office), people who drink coffee are responsible for sorting out all things coffee – making it, cleaning the pots, etc. Anyone that asks me about coffee in the office is met with a chuckle as I don’t drink coffee, have only ever made it poorly when I lived in a sorority as it was part of the task of whoever had early wake-up duty, and have always made sure no one tried to have me make coffee in the office. I have accidently put in 2 filters, used not enough or too much coffee (though I think this is more personal taste than anything else), etc. I am not part of coffee culture, but I’ll make you a cup of tea anytime :)

    9. Louise*

      As someone who hates the smell of coffee this would be a huge turnoff if it was a job requirement. I do think the coffee offer could be like I am going to get lunch at Z do you want anything, and occasionally accepting the offer (with cash in hand to pay for your meal) is acceptable, I think daily it can become draining. At some point get a small keurig and a handful of reusable pods so you can fairly easily make your own.

    10. Jaybeetee*

      Yeah I’ve met a number of admins who might, say, start the coffee in the morning, keep the breakroom stocked with snacks (if that’s a thing), provide meeting refreshments, etc. But always in the context of “for the office” or at least “for a group”. I haven’t seen a lot of, say, making coffee for the boss and bringing it to them. If someone offers, that’s great. But if I were working somewhere where that was *expected*, I’d feel icky.

    11. Librarian of SHIELD*

      I feel like there’s a difference between the admin saying “hey boss, I was about to make a pot of coffee, want me to bring you some?” and the boss saying “ADMIN. I want coffee. Make some and bring it to me.”

      Also, like so many other things between employers and employees that could run the spectrum between okay and not okay, it depends pretty heavily on the pre-existing relationship dynamic. So, a boss who’s generally demanding and doesn’t respect the time of their employee asking that employee to make them coffee is going to be a lot more annoying than the same request coming from a boss who’s usually very sympathetic and kind and is just really overworked at the moment.

    12. I'm A Little Teapot*

      I’ve been in offices where it was the admin’s job to make a pot of coffee in the morning, and then empty/rinse the pot in the afternoon. They didn’t take cups to people though.

    13. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      It’s standard practice still for an administrative assistant to do this kind of thing. They shouldn’t be acting like a server, taking orders or refreshing your cup through out the day.

      They do this so that you can focus on your work instead of getting up to grab a cup of coffee, unless that is something you prefer to do to “get away from the screen” or whatever.

      Usually they stock products, keep your stock of favorite pens in place and do small house cleaning tasks. It’s absolutely the norm and not demeaning. It keeps them busy too since do you have a full schedule of actual work for them? I have always had plenty of time to do the “work” and the “chores” involved in administrative assistance.

      Now if you have 40+ hours of work for them and they’re being asked to do this stuff, then you’re stretching someone thin and that’s the sort of stuff you axe from their duties first!!

      1. Caliente*

        Um yeah- when you wrote the admin can do it so boss doesn’t have to be distracted I was like WTF! But then I got to the end.
        I’m an admin and let me assure you that I do WAY more work than either of my “bosses” could ever begin to do. One of them will, in fact, bring me stuff or ask me if I need something when she’s going out or to break room or whatever, because like yeah you’re not busy cuz I’m doing it. These are the type of women who, like, we will have a morning meeting and determine who’s doing what, then I go back to my desk to start my stuff and then they start calling or emailing me to ask me how they should do whatever their part is, or send them a file (don’t know how to use shared docs) send them someone’s contact info (don’t bother to use shared company-wide database), how should they word this letter blah blah. So no, do not ask me to go get you coffee.
        And I do meeting/food setup or breakdown or whatever, no prob, but that personal stuff? No. I never even asked if they’d want something when I would go grab lunch. You’re not busy and we all know it.

    14. None the Wiser*

      My company leases a fancy-schmancy machine where you put your cup in the holder, press your drink of choice (dark coffee, xtra strong; espresso; cappuccino; hot water for tea; etc.) and it magically grinds the beans and spits the drink in the cup. Our admin does some minor maintenance (e.g. refills beans, empties grounds, calls the company when the machine needs service), but such a setup really democratizes the whole coffee question.

      1. blackcatlady*

        I was wondering if the advent of Keurig/Nespresso had killed off the make a pot of coffee duty. Worked in science, everyone was responsible for their own, including rinsing out their cups. LOL – we did find the boss’ cup left behind all over the place and everyone took turns returning it to its proper desk.

        1. Paulina*

          As of last year, we had a hybrid — there was still a regular coffeemaker with a communal pot (probably gone now), an office Keurig machine, and a lot of individual coffee/tea setups in people’s offices. I got into high-end coffee and make my own the way I like it; as a byproduct of this difference, I would occasionally offer coffee to the admin assistant I worked with (who supported some functions of my job) if I was making coffee when we were meeting, but it wouldn’t make sense for her to reciprocate.

        2. Berkeleyfarm*

          At my last job I talked the “office team” out of replacing our Keurigs for that reason. Everyone could have exactly what they wanted, when they wanted it, and made their own cup (from the CEO on down).

    15. idkmybffjill*

      When I was an EA I got my boss coffee every morning and drinks/meals/snacks throughout the day. And by got him coffee, yes I brewed the coffee and stirred in the creamer he liked. Added one sugar to his afternoon green tea, etc. I worked at two private equity firms and this was very much the norm – incredibly old school, largely male bosses in surrounding offices with their EA’s seated right outside their office.

      Then I moved to a job in Asset Management and day one, I asked my boss how he liked his coffee and the look on his face! I might as well have asked him what kind of underwear he liked to wear. My previous jobs it had been so commonplace I had no idea it was odd. There were a couple of times I grabbed him a coffee while I was getting my own, and even our colleagues (folks senior to me) looked sort of horrified at me carrying a coffee in to his office and so I stopped even offering as a friendly favor, haha.

      I guess I’m saying all this to say, there are definitely jobs where this is the norm, but there are others where this is really really out of sync with the culture – and it might offend folks if they’d gone the opposite path than I had. It certainly sets up a very particular dynamic. And it might make other folks that work with you feel a bit weird too. Just my two cents!

    16. saassy*

      I am not an admin, but I am a woman in STEM and… I have definitely been put into the ‘you make the coffee’ ‘office mom’ position without a clear discussion, particularly at startups without clear support roles or clear roles in general. It’s really annoying to keep pushing back on or calculate when to push back; it’s wildly, wildly gendered. Being women of a similar age doesn’t really preclude the assumptions and cultural hangups at play in the power dynamics here.

      My favourite (lolsob) were always the clients coming in to meetings assuming that the only woman in the room of men must be an assistant and therefore the person to dismiss to go “make the coffee or whatever” before they’re introduced. My first boss, the first time that happened, stepped up with “I’ll go make the coffee. She’ll be busy running your project, she owns this meeting.” He was a great boss.

      All that to say if the expectation is clear that ‘owner of the coffee pot’ for guests is part of the role, and bringing the occasional cup over is a *favour*, that sounds fine. But it’s worth checking up on, knowing that with power dynamics being what they are your admin may not be in a position to honestly push back. A better check might be to bring her a cup as a nice gesture once in a while as a gauge on how weird/rare that feels.

      1. TechWorker*

        Luckily my company has never been like this (and whilst there is a coffee machine there’s no shared coffee pot in meetings so it just doesn’t come up, if you want coffee you get your own). But then.. our office manager is LOVELY… and also *loves* playing office mum. She’s also the only woman over 30 who works at our site – so I’m glad she’s happy in that role but it feels a bit icky sometimes.

    17. Renata Ricotta*

      As the owner you probably have more control over defining roles, but I think you’d be better off making it clear it’s part of the person’s general duties when you hire them. In my opinion there’s no demeaning work, as long as you don’t demean people doing jobs that are often not respected. I also think it’s not going to read wrong to say part of someone’s job is to ensure there’s always a pot of coffee in the kitchen (versus fixing up individual drinks and delivering them to desks). It’s probably good to have it be the same person who is in charge of fridge cleanouts and restocking paper cups and what have you, to keep it as impersonal and “this is the job” as possible.

      I’ve had assigned assistants throughout my career and personally don’t ask for any personal-task work unless I’m in a position where I have to choose between my substantive work and the personal errand. So asking for a cup of coffee every morning the way I like it would be a no-go, but if I am trapped in a video deposition in my office for hours with no break in sight and am crashing I’ll text her and ask her to bring me one (or order me lunch, or whatever). Basically, the test for me is “is there a work-related reason I can’t do this myself? If so, then it’s within the scope of her duties to facilitate me doing my job.” I’ve always had good relationships with my assistants (I think I’m at number 7 or 8 now, due to switching firms and admins being rotated and such).

    18. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

      I think it’s worth having it be Someone Specific’s job to properly clean the coffee pot each day, whether that be an admin, a custodian/janitorial person, the office coffee enthusiast, or the CEO. It likely makes sense for that person to go ahead and put a fresh pot on after they clean it if they wash it first thing in the morning, since they probably want a cup of coffee anyway.

      I personally will not drink communal coffee in an office without a functional plan for keeping the coffee pot clean, and I do not consider giving it an occasional half-hearted rinse clean. The last time I was in an office where I drank the communal coffee, there were 3 of us who rotated buying it and I honestly can’t remember if it was the office admin or the custodian who cleaned it every day, but they were the other two in the coffee pool and I know it was one of them. I think it was the custodian because she was cleaning the breakroom each morning anyway and was first to arrive. I know it wasn’t something we rotated like buying the beans.

      Other places I’ve worked I’ve just brought my own coffee. My current office doesn’t have a communal coffee culture at all, just a neglected coffee pot in the also-neglected breakroom that I don’t think has been used in years since the guy who made coffee and hung out in the breakroom regularly (and also regularly did communal dishes) left. (He was not an admin, he just liked coffee and used doing the dishes as a way to get a break from his desk job. Current staff mostly ignore the breakroom.)

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        Back in the before days there was a very clear these three people rotated cleaning the coffee pot every afternoon before they left the office. It was also an electronic pot – so in the morning all that was asked was will the first person into the office please press the brew button. Seemed to work well with no resentments. They also had a kuerig for anybody who wanted something other than black.

        (And all the coffee pot crew were guys, the ladies used the kuerig.)

      2. In my shell*

        Same!! Our early arriving early bird starts the coffee and I *night owl who has to work 1st shift* clean the pot before leaving for the day (I’m awake by then and I *know* it’s super clean! WIN-WIN)! Doing what makes sense based on the humans rather than titles makes all the difference.

    19. AKchic*

      I used to be the go-to person for coffee, but it wasn’t actually built into my role as receptionist or PA. It was because I used to work in food service and as a caterer, and when my last company moved into a bigger, fancier building, I was the only one who actually knew how to use the industrial coffee maker that had been left behind.

      I always used my “coffee skills” (or catering duties, when we had bigger events) as a schmoozing technique. I already had to be there for meeting minutes, I already knew where everything was in the kitchen and board room, so helping set things up, and knowing some of the older board members’ preferences (especially ones who were now unable to walk very well but still came in-person to meetings) was an asset. I got more face-time with board members, and they had a “good” memory of me should it be needed.
      I may not be with those organizations anymore, but those connections are invaluable as I volunteer in other areas. Your office person may have similar ideas or not. I can’t speak for her. She may have been using the excuse of getting you a cup as her excuse to get a cup/make a fresh pot/get up and away from her desk.

    20. SufjanFan*

      My first job was an admin assistant to an executive at a nonprofit. I had to make his coffee every morning (and more throughout the day if he requested it), answer the phones for everyone in the exec suite, type his speeches for him, prep conference rooms for big meetings, fill his fridge with Cokes, and pick up his lunch if he asked. This was in 2012, so those responsibilities don’t strike me as old-fashioned.

    21. Blended*

      I always bring people coffee or water because it makes me feel helpful- honestly I think its all in the way you ask. No eye contact and dismissive or abrupt? Not the way to ask for coffee. With a smile, and still being attentive for the good morning part of the greeting? Honey, what do you like in the coffee I will gladly fetch you for eternity?

    22. introverted af*

      I’m a young person so like, doing hospitality/coffee things “for the office” (like making a fresh pot when it’s out and I see it) or for a guest my team is meeting with is fine but I’m definitely not doing it on request for my boss. I think you should make these kinds of things pretty clear in the job description because I wouldn’t want to consider a job with that kind of expectation. There are people who won’t care, but I would personally rather not.

  7. mldrejeq*

    Karl does sound very old-school & very entitled in a way modern executives are just not. If the owner never asks you to do these types of things, then s/he’s probably unaware that Karl’s taking advantage. I do think you should let your manager know you’re planning to push back so she’s not blindsided by an angry Karl in her office.

    Hoping your manager is no jellyfish.

    1. Remote Worker and Dog Lover*

      To me, this sounds less old-school and more typical of a family business. Employing family members adds an extra level of complication to the power dynamic, and it leads to different ways of pushing the boundaries of what you can and can’t get away with. Here, it comes in the form of mailing packages, dog sitting, etc. At a job I had 10 years ago, it was tolerating temper tantrums in meetings from a grown man.

      1. AdAgencyChick*

        Agree. One of my first post-college jobs was working for a family business and family members would take advantage of employees quite often. I was young and didn’t know to push back then, but I suspect if I had, I’d have been told that any number of people would like to have my job and been fired.

      2. AndersonDarling*

        That’s what I was coming here to say…this is spot on family business. If the company has an assistant, then the whole family has an assistant. And the family doesn’t care if OP is a clerk, secretary, admin assistant, or personal assistant, the family just knows that they have a grunt monkey to boss around.
        20 years ago, I was at a family business and I was routinely asked to do ridiculous things for random members of the family. They are having a party and need a cocktail waitress, am I available? Writing the teenager’s college admission surveys. Putting together scrapbooks. I once glued pictures of the owner onto napkins for their thanksgiving dinner. I was just a lifeless robot that they could comand to do anything unworthy.
        Ew. I feel gross remembering all of it.

        1. Kate*

          Yep. There are successful family businesses, and then there are family businesses where the family members at all levels have extra perks, extra pay, and “grace and favor.” If you discover you’re working for one of those family businesses, GET OUT.

          1. AKchic*

            *shudder* Every family business I’ve worked for has been chaos. Never. Again.

            The stories I have are all ending in “why didn’t I bother finding an attorney” and then makes me remember “oh yeah, I was under 23 with 3 kids, no attorney in my city would even *bother* to touch it”.

      3. EventPlannerGal*

        Yep. I’ve mostly worked at family businesses and this dynamic is so prevalent even now. Sadly these attitudes are very much not a thing of the past, including among modern execs – the guy who most frequently asked me to run his personal errands at my last admin job was 24. Alison’s advice is great but I do think the OP needs to be prepared for the possibility that as far as this business is concerned Karl might not be doing anything that far out of the ordinary (although hopefully the needle incident is a bridge too far even for that!).

      4. MCMonkeybean*

        Seems like a bad mix of both–I think it’s an old-school attitude that makes him use an administrative assistant to run personal errands, and a family business attitude that makes him use *someone else’s* administrative assistant as his own personal assistant.

    2. Threeve*

      A good manager would have shut this down right away.

      I don’t want my employees to do personal errands for upper management because they feel pressured; I don’t really want them to even if they don’t feel pressured and are just super accommodating people with plenty of free time. Bosses have employees, not servants, and those boundaries are important.

      1. The Rural Juror*

        I work a small company and am occasionally asked to do a personal errand for my boss. Big difference for me is that I regularly use my car for work and am paid a monthly vehicle allowance that would cover several hundred miles worth of mileage. Some months I drive quite a bit, then other months I won’t drive for work at all, so in the long run I’m coming out way ahead. Even during Covid, that vehicle allowance has never been reduced. So if tomorrow my boss asks me to run during work and pick up a cake for his kid’s birthday, I wouldn’t mind at all. In theory, that errand doesn’t cost me anything because I’m already paid for it.

      2. Marillenbaum*

        And even as a person who does have household staff (I live in a country where that is affordable and culturally common), you still treat your household staff like professionals. My housekeeper and my driver might run errands for me, but they do so during their scheduled hours; if something requires overtime, they get paid for overtime (assuming they are open to it. My housekeeper was clear during her initial interview that she does not do overtime, and I do not ask).

  8. Lurker*

    In addition to salaried employees sometimes being non-exempt, certain states have salary thresholds that are higher than the Federal minimum of $35,568. In New York city the minimum threshold for an exempt salary is $1,125 per week ($58,500 annually).

  9. Archaeopteryx*

    Especially in your off-hours, you are and have always been 100% in control of saying no to things like the dog-sitting. You don’t have to be “busy” or have a reason, just decline that request.

    1. Artemesia*

      ‘Oh I have plans and won’t be able to do that.’ What plans? ‘Oh things already scheduled, You will have to hire someone else to do that.’

    2. Louise*

      Sometime the excuse can help keep the working relationship though.
      Also if you really are packaging a lot of Amazon returns there are a few places in our area that don’t require you to package them so you could tell him oh you don’t need me to box that, you just need to drop it off with the label at UPS. And if he can’t request his own label return stuff I would ‘accidentally’ screw up the password and lock his account so he has to unlock.

    3. Threeve*

      Yeah, you gotta put a stop to that. It doesn’t matter what your hours are–if you’re not at work, you get to be Not At Work.

      1. Caliente*

        And to be more specific, not following directions of anyone at work when you’re off. That just isn’t their time or their business! You have to get that straight in your mind. I had to learn this when I was younger.

    4. Just Another Zebra*

      At Old Job, when I was much younger, I used the “my mom made plans for me, so I can’t stay” excuse. As I got older, I morphed my excuse into the generic “family stuff going on – you know how it is.” Your time is your time, especially if you aren’t being paid for it.

  10. 'Tis Me*

    I think that there’s a huge difference between including offering external clients a drink as part of her job and also thankfully (and politely) accepting when she offers to make you one – and ordering somebody to go make you a coffee. It sounds like Karl was more like “I need you to make me a coffee. Now. Black, three sugars. Filter, none of the instant rubbish. I expect you to bring me a cup daily at 9:05.” with an attitude of being annoyed that this essential request hasn’t already been conveyed to the minion. One of these involves treating people with respect (especially if you sometimes repay the favour), the other does not.

  11. Llellayena*

    I’m surprised no one commented on this part yet: A USED hypodermic needle!?!?! WTF! I didn’t think that was even legal to mail. And there are so many health code violations to that that it might be worth reporting to…I dunno…OSHA maybe? I would refuse to send any more packages for him “I’m not risking my health again due to the contents of that last package.” And you are suddenly not available for any errands outside of work hours. Anything during work hours you might be stuck with if the boss says it’s part of your job (yay nepotism), but you can crack down on out of hours work.

    1. Artemesia*

      Absolutely. This is the excuse to make personal mailings and errands a bright ‘no’ line. And transition from ‘dangerous’ and ‘risky’ to I am not available for personal errands.

    2. Temperance*

      I use an injectable medication, and there are ABSOLUTELY serious regulations for how to handle used needles (as there should be!).

      1. LavaLamp*

        You can mail used needles. I send my dad’s off to be destroyed often. The regulations are very strict, and they’re packaged in a sharps box, then double cardboard boxed, with 85 bio hazard symbols everywhere.

        1. 'Tis Me*

          If LW was just asked to pack up and send off some stuff, though, which included a loose needle and no warning about sharps or biohazards – what are the chances the regulations were properly adhered to? Would you happen to know if the company, Karl or LW would be legally responsible for that?

      2. I edit everything*

        It depends on the locale. My parents were allowed to put my dad’s used needles out with the trash, as long as they were in a sharps box or equivalent (I think they often used an empty laundry detergent jug).

    3. Not Your PA*

      LW here. I did send it off in a biohazard bag (plus many layers of packaging), so it was all on the up and up in that respect. It was more that this device, which didn’t look like it would have a needle on it, was in a different box when he gave it to me with no explanation, just “ship this for me.” Luckily in the era of COVID, I’ve become hyper aware of germs and I dumped the box onto a counter instead of reaching in to grab it.

        1. Not Your PA*

          Oh, I did and their reaction was basically “sorry, he’s a jerk” and that was the end of it.

      1. Paulina*

        So you were being expected to do all that, here’s this random potentially dangerous thing, figure out how to ship it correctly and ship it? Without this even having been discussed? That’s ridiculous. Does the boss even know how much is being put on you, by someone who’s essentially leveraging his relationship?

        1. Not Your PA*

          You got the gist of it. That’s essentially Karl’s MO with things he needs shipped,it gets dumped on my desk with very little instruction. When I started, I was told that any work I did with him would require a lot of my time and “hand holding” but that was always on reference to reports, projects, technology, etc, not personal matters.

    4. WS*

      Yeah, I work in healthcare and have been given the occasional random box of “here’s my late parents’ medical stuff” and it had loose, used needles in it, and that’s wrong, but at least I’m expecting medical waste when it happens and have a protocol for handling it.

  12. voyager1*


    Serious Answer: I would just tell Karl you can not do those errands anymore. See what he says. If it stops, great. If not you are going to weigh if you want to go to the owner. Don’t assume that the owner is okay with this arrangement or even knows what Karl is doing.

    Not serious answer: Okay, how badly do you want this to stop. You could send an email to the owner outlining what has happened. You can copy Karl and your manager on it and explain to the owner that your manager has instructed you to stop running these errands and that they are not part of your regular duties. Now I suggest you send this email early in the morning. Mostly so if you do get fired that you have the whole rest of your day left. Doing all this will probably go off like claymore mine, and so only do this if you don’t care if you get fired…..

  13. Ace in the Hole*

    I am beyond appalled at his cavalier attitude towards your safety. You should NEVER have had to handle used needles without training, equipment, and warning.

    Personally, I would go with that alone. Allison’s script is great for dealing with Karl directly… but if you get any pushback from management, I’d say:

    “The last task Karl asked me to help with had a serious safety hazard with no warning. I could have been stuck by a used hypodermic needle! I don’t feel comfortable doing any more work for him outside the scope of my official job duties.”

    If there’s ANY hemming and hawing about how helping Karl even MIGHT be part of your duties:

    “Then what happened is a serious OSHA violation.”

    My bet is as soon as you say that… all of a sudden you will find that helping Karl with these things is most definitely NOT your job, definitely not… no OSHA violations here! In which case they certainly can’t object to you refusing to do personal favors outside of work. And if they do (or if they retaliate in any way), file a complaint. This is serious. You should not ever have been put in that position, and they should be bending over backwards to ensure it will never happen again.

  14. Winston*

    If the employer days that these tasks are part of LW’s job then wouldn’t there be some sort of health/safety reporting to be done regarding the needle incident?

  15. Quickbeam*

    RN here, I can’t for the life of me figure out why anyone would be mailing a used hypodermic syringe. It seems so creepy as if he was intentionally trying to be degrading.

    1. Mirve*

      I read it to be a device which included a needle, not a needle by itself, so maybe some kind of pump or measuring device? Doesn’t make it any better, though.

      1. Captain Dot*

        LW called it a “hypodermic needle,” which is not the term most people would use for finger prick needles. Another commenter said she mailed used syringes for destruction. This is probably better than putting your local trash collector at risk!

      2. Not Your PA*

        LW here. This was not finger pricking type device. Honestly, I don’t know what it was, but it was a hunk of plastic with sticky pad to adhere to skin (with hair on it, so I know it was used!) and a needle in the center of the pad that came out a good half inch. It looked like an attachment for a pump of some sort, but I really don’t know what it was. Either way, not something you ask your admin to ship.

        1. LavaLamp*

          Sounds like an infusion pump of some kind. Some insulin pumps stick on your body so you don’t have a mess of tubes for example. Also, ew. I’m sorry you had to deal with that.

        2. Paquita*

          This sounds like the part for an insulin pump that goes into the skin and delivers the insulin. Needs to be changed every two or three days.

    2. EventPlannerGal*

      I would guess it’s one of those finger-pricking devices diabetics use to test blood sugar – my dad used to use those and had a special container for disposing of them. You wouldn’t just hand them to someone to send in the post! Really bizarre. (Although if it’s a full-on hypodermic syringe that’s even more bizarre.)

      1. LavaLamp*

        I send in all my dad’s used autoinjections to be destroyed. A lot of drug companies have used sharps recycling programs so they don’t end up in places they aren’t supposed to be.

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          >places they aren’t supposed to be
          Like administrative assistants’ fingers.

    3. Ace in the Hole*

      Many companies have manufacturer-sponsored mail in disposal programs for sharps. I’m guessing it’s either something like that, or he was returning a defective device and didn’t properly prepare it by taking the needle out first.

    4. RollerGirl09*

      As someone who takes an injectable medication that freaked me out, too. I have a sharps container for my needles and return it to the hospital or pharmacy for disposal when it gets full and get a new container.

  16. Jaybeetee*

    Lots of people are correctly pointing out that Karl is a tool, but I wanted to emphasize how far *beyond* “old-fashioned” this attitude is.

    Like, back when “secretaries” were considered the office Girl Fridays who just did everything and acted like their boss’ pseudo-wife (and still went by the “secretary” title)? How long ago was that? 1950s-1960s? Maaaaybe some archaic holdouts in the 80s and 90s?

    Karl was very likely not even in the workforce yet when this attitude towards admins was the norm. And if he’s some ancient fossil who actually has been working for 60+ years, he’s had *decades* to realize that’s not how it works anymore. This isn’t just an “old-fashioned” attitude – this is about as reasonable as keeping a dictaphone and typewriter on your desk. It’s incredibly outdated.

    Now, there *are* job titles where some of these tasks might get more reasonable (not the dog-sitting, and certainly not the needle thing). If you’re specifically Karl’s EA or PA, essentially your job is to babysit the man, bring him coffee if he asks. But as an AA for the company? Outrageous.

    1. ssssssssssssssssssss*

      In my job in 1999-2001, I had a coworker who shared she was still fetching coffee for her boss in her previous job, on his desk just before he arrived because she could see him pull in the parking lot. I was appalled.

      In 2010, the executive admin for the owner of a biofuel company asked her to pick up his kids until his meeting was done. And she did.

      And she was told to drive a company car, which used our biofuel. This required training to learn to use the pumps correctly. And she took the training. We were all pretty surprised. And there was a sense of “And this was hardly appreciated, but fully expected.” Now, they did pay well, at least.

  17. DaniCalifornia*

    I was an admin for a tax office and one of my jobs was collecting client’s tax docs. We had the range, super organized to receipts in baggies. The WORST offender was a really nice client told his son to come to us. Son did some kind of traveling sales and brought in receipts in fast food bags. Empty cigarette cartons with crumpled receipts for food and gas. Basically he must have just thrown everything in his backseat and then cleaned it and gave it to me. I was disgusted until I reached into a bag and out fell a used hypodermic needle. I freaked out because the cap had been loose, then I was livid. I sent a pic to a friend in the medical field asking their thoughts and while they said it looked like an insulin needle, it was very obviously used repeatedly, which indicated it was for drug use. I swept everything into a bag and we called the client to pick it up. He never did. When his dad came in (the son never replied to any questions so his taxes never got done) I had to take him privately aside and let him know what happened. The dad’s face said it all, he was immediately embarrassed but said something to the fact of “Not again.” I felt so bad for him.

  18. PJM*

    I was once in a similar position. This sounds terrible, but it was 30 years ago, and my solution was to do a BAD JOB at personal errands. I was asked to return a fragile art piece that my boss’ wife bought while on vacation in Europe that she wanted to return. I guess I didn’t pack it well and it broke. Oops! Then they had me ship out electronic equipment that I didn’t pack well and that broke too. They stopped having me ship their personal stuff out after that. Also, if I had to do other personal errands like picking up their dry cleaning, I made sure I did so leisurely and also took care of my own errands too while I was at it. I think he eventually noticed I spent too much time out of the office, so those personal requests stopped too. I really wouldn’t have minded doing personal errands if I wasn’t under extreme pressure and was expected to also keep on top of an unreasonable, unmanageable work load that had me working 12 hour days 6 days a week with no overtime. I was young and didn’t know that it was illegal.

    1. mcfizzle*

      I wouldn’t normally advocate for this method, but given the circumstances OP is in, this might be an excellent “solution”! Also – well done. :)

    2. Ash*

      Good thing they didn’t ask you to pay for the stuff that got broken! That would have been my fear.

  19. Laurelma01*

    Years ago I had a boss, he was the Associate Dean. He put an end to faculty coming to me with requests. They had their own departmental admins. He told me to tell them that I was working on something for him. If they felt that their request/item had higher priority than what I was working on, they were free to discuss it with him.

    Talk about some sour looks. Not a single one of them was willing to knock on his door and ask him of it. Did have a graduate student complain because I wouldn’t print his school papers out for him. They had a lab down the hall to use and I directed him to it. He was the one that got ugly and screamed at me. In this situation, I got ugly right back. Normally I wouldn’t but my tone wasn’t pleasant. I went to him and told him what happened; was told not to worry about it.

  20. KWu*

    I think that was an important point to call out that setting boundaries isn’t actually the same as criticizing someone who doesn’t have a reasonable sense of normal boundaries and keeps trampling them, even if that person would feel like it is.

  21. Marzipan Shepherdess*

    If there were a “Worst Boss’s Relative of 2021”, Karl would already be well on the way to earning that award! But, seriously, LW – become VERY busy after 5:00 PM from now on…much too busy to package and mail used hypodermic needles (WTH?! and other expletives) or otherwise act as an unpaid maid to Karl. You’re not being paid to be his gofer and you suddenly have appointments and classses after 5:00 PM that you simply MUST get to right after work. That should help get you off the hook (that you never should have been on in the first place, of course.) And never mind that the appointments are with a good book / your favorite TV show / fill-in-your-favorite-hobby, or that the classes are pre-recorded / online-accessible any time / non-existent; the point is that you are busy leading your own life after work hours, as you have the right to do.

    And check around the office; are the other staffers expected to be Karl’s personal assistant? Have others successfully refused to do his errands? If so, you might check with them to see how they’ve managed to stand up for themselves and take a tip from them.

  22. Seeker of truth and light and grilled cheese*

    Along with mailing regulations about needles, there are likely state and city and federal regulations around training required before one can handle used needles. Karl could be breaking laws by having you handle that equipment without proper training or equipment. When I managed labs at a university, even my part-time students who just moved rolling carts around, and didn’t actually touch any contents of boxed up needles, legally had to have needle training. To push the carts! So you as an employee handling needles without PPE & training … YIKES. My suggestion would be to look up your city & county & state regulations, or OSHA’s, and see if those can support your saying NO! And maybe even give you leverage by being able to point out how Karl is putting the company into danger re: liability.

  23. Kiki*

    I like that Alison brought up power dynamics and said that the LW likely has more power than they think in this scenario. In all likeliness, the owner probably doesn’t know the extent to which Karl is asking you to handle personal errands, especially since it seems like the owner isn’t asking you to do personal errands to this extent. Karl most likely isn’t doing this because his relative said he could– he’s doing it because he assumes you’ll think you have to because of his relationship to the owner. Generally, just saying no to these types of people works. They know they can’t actually go to the founder and complain about you not petsitting their dog. They know that would make them seem ridiculous– they know asking this of you is ridiculous! They are just doing it because they bet they can and have been right for years. I wish your manager had taken a firmer stance when you asked them about this, but ideally your manager would back you up in saying that dog sitting is not your job the next time Karl asks for something ridiculous.

    1. sacados*

      Totally agreed — and even to the extent that the owner is aware of how much Karl is asking of the LW, they probably just figure “well they keep doing what Karl asks so they must be fine with it.”
      If push comes to shove and Karl actually goes to the owner to say “LW is refusing to do my personal errands, make her do it!” then it’s much more likely the owner is going to tell Karl to chill out.

    1. mcfizzle*

      I’m being cynical, but I’d bet good money that there’s a “other duties as assigned” line in there somewhere.

      1. Ubi Caritas*

        Very likely, but I’d want my manager to know exactly what I was doing and how much time it took me.

    2. Not Your PA*

      LW here. I just may do this. Because if the boss tells me it’s my job to return Karl’s Amazon packages, that’s one thing. But seeing as I don’t do those things for even my boss, I highly doubt that’s the case.

      1. Seana*

        This is a late response, but THAT approach can be effective. About six years ago, two busy admins at a university pushed back hard on doing tiny tasks for random faculty that their boss, the Dean, would never dream of have them doing. Once it was couched that way and the Dean understood the extent of the requests (being asked to print one page documents and deliver them across the building to a suite where faculty had their own printer, arranging flights around personal schedules and then being nitpicked, etc), a scathing email went out from the Dean. It worked. A few faculty loudly complained and the Dean told them to kindly STFU or retire. But that Dean was an incredible manager who didn’t let problems fester.

        If you’re not doing these tasks for your boss, then no one else should expect you to do the tasks.

  24. Elenia*

    All of this is really annoying but it is the damn dog sitting that annoys me more. You got a dog, go and pay for a proper boarder. I hate irresponsible dog owners and if you can’t pay a sitter then you shoudn’t be getting a dog. What happens if your stupid dog bites me or someone I know? Do I get anything out of that? Or just lose my job?

    grr I am super irritated. I’ve dealt with entitled dog owners my entire life, I just could not deal with it at work too.

    1. Pennyworth*

      Surely you can just ‘Nope’ dog sitting requests, or at least say ”If I was available for dog sitting this weekend (or whenever) I would charge well above the standard rate and require payment in advance” then let it hang in the air.

  25. Classiecal*

    I had to do a double take even I realized Karl wasn’t even her manager or employed at the company at all—- what!!

    1. EventPlannerGal*

      ? “One of the owner’s older relatives, Karl, also works at the company and is a senior staff member.”

  26. Hello*

    As some others have said, this can be common at small family run businesses. Been there, done that. I would absolutely not push back to Karl BEFORE talking to manager and/or owner to find out if it IS an expected part of the job. At a regular company no, you could just push back. But here the owner may be fine with it and you’ll be in trouble. You could forestall That by finding that out first. Im not saying you should have to do these errands! Just that you might want to talk to boss before pushing back. This type of place may consider these errands part of your job, and as Alison says, then you’ll have to decide if you want the job on those terms. Good luck.

  27. Blaise*

    Do teachers making less than $35,568 need to get paid overtime if they work more than 40 hours?? Because I DEFINITELY would’ve had a case for the first few years of my career if that’s true, as would most teachers. This is news to me!

  28. Batgirl*

    This is where knowledge of your boss is really key. If she’s an “Oh I can’t be bothered with silly complaints type; you handle it” then turn Karl into the complainer. No matter how many times he whimpers that you won’t do x, she won’t care. If boss is more likely to respond to the most persistent and nagging complaints, keep the problem on the front burner. “Our key priority clashes with Karl’s request to shine his shoes!”
    “How do I submit overtime and expenses for Karl’s package requests going back three years?” Etc.

  29. Lizzo*

    Important advice: “No” is a complete sentence.

    If it doesn’t feel like one, practice, and it soon will.

  30. wee beastie*

    LW, please update us on how you do pushing back on Karl!!! I’ve my fingers crossed he is easily shut down without a fuss.
    I am shocked he was mailing a used syringe. That’s got to be illegal!!

  31. Tea Fairy*

    Proving my Britishness here but it was actually suggested as part of management training that you ensure you take your turn doing the tea round. It is good for team bonding and gives small interactions with each member of the team at least once a day (or more depending on your tea consumption). It gives the team members opportunities to raise something small or if it isn’t so small to say, ‘soon as I give Giles his cuppa, lets go to a quiet room and have we’ll go through it’.

    1. Not Your PA*

      LW here. I’m in the US and getting coffee/tea/water for clients is something I expect to do, along with keeping the communal coffee pot full. But prior admin staff were making coffee for him to his specifications and delivering it to him first thing in the morning. To me, that’s a demeaning power play. It’s one thing to do it for the whole office as a sort of check in, that actually sounds rather nice, but having to do it for one person because they can’t be bothered? Nope.

  32. RedinSC*

    This is so late to the party, BUT LW, if you are in CA, to be exempt the salary minimum is nearly $50K/year. In CA the exempt rule is double the minimum wage, and CA’s minimum is more than the federal minimum. Currently it is $12, so you have to be earning more than $24/hour. But many counties and cities here have set even higher minimum wages, so depending on where you’re working, the minimum level for exempt is much higher than the $50K

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