my boss called me “disgusting” for not cleaning up my male coworkers’ mess

A reader writes:

I work for a medical facility (think live-in treatment or residential care). I share a desk with the night and weekend staff, “Jim” and “Dwight.” I’m an administrator, and the desk and surrounding area need to be neat and tidy during the day because of the type of work I do. I’m the first person most of our incoming guests see. My coworkers, supervisor, and clients comment constantly on how messy the area is and it’s embarrassing. They never say anything to Jim or Dwight about it.

Jim left a drink on the desk behind the computer that I didn’t find and it went rancid and stunk up the office and waiting area. I got blamed for it. I’m usually wiping boogers, small hairs (holy crap, I HOPE they’re mustache and beard hairs) off my desk. The shared keyboard is almost always covered in some kind of food residue: spilled soda, chocolate. There’s almost always food in the trash. The area under the desk is disgusting with food pieces, dirt, and tracked in snow. I’ve talked to my boss about the night and weekend staff leaving the desk a mess before the pandemic and during and he blew it off and said I was being “dramatic” and being inconsiderate to Jim and Dwight and that I didn’t “dictate their workflow.” I’ve never had a problem with my boss before but he’s very chummy with Jim and Dwight and doesn’t like hearing anything against them.

At that point he seemed to think the mess was funny and was kind of jocular about it, that they’re too busy to keep the area clean and that they’ve got to grab what food they can while they’re working so hard. There were some sexist undertones about cleaning being the woman’s job in the office. Jim and Dwight actually don’t have any major duties over the weekend besides now screening people who enter the building, answering the phone (which they let go to my voicemail anyway 90% of the time, so I deal with escalated issues by Monday morning but that’s a different issue) and keeping an eye on the security cameras/keep an eye on the residents.

Fast forward to now. We’re still sharing a desk during the pandemic and I’m bringing in my own cleaning wipes to clean the used space on top of our cleaning crew sanitizing the space between staff use. It’s still gross even though the area gets cleaned between staff. We have a shred-only bin that’s not for garbage and it started to stink — Dwight had thrown a piece of fruit in it. One of our cleaners reported overflowing food trash and the shred bin to my boss. My boss pulled me in for a meeting regarding how messy the area was and said, “I can’t believe how someone could create a mess like that. It’s disgusting. Your house must be filthy. It’s utterly disgusting.”

I explained that the mess was being left by Dwight and Jim. It got very awkward bordering on red flags because every time I tried to point out it was the evening/weekend shift, which is solely Dwight and Jim, my boss kept putting his hand up and saying, “Let me stop you, it’s your area. You’re responsible for it. Stop deflecting and blaming others.”

I have half a mind to go to HR. I know the pandemic has us all on edge but this feels 1: Sexist as hell, like I’m supposed to clean up after the men and not ask questions. 2: Toxic and dangerous like my employment might be at risk. Who says that to their staff member? I don’t want to work under someone who treats people this way. Should I go to HR about this? There have been some rumors there’s a round of layoffs coming and I don’t want to be a target but I feel like I might be anyway with the mess fiasco as it is.

It sounds sexist as hell to me too.

You had already told your boss that Jim and Dwight were leaving the desk a mess and he blew you off — said you were being “dramatic,” in fact — but now you’re suddenly responsible for the mess and also must keep a disgusting, slatternly house?

It’s incredibly weird that he’s making this so personal. Why is your house coming into it at all? If he thinks you’re responsible for the mess, he could simply have said, “This area is too messy and needs to be cleaned up.” It’s hard not to think he made it so personal because you are Falling Down On the Job of Womanhood.

With a different set of facts, I might have thought you were being blamed because you’re the one who’s there during the day and so it’s seen as more “your” desk than the people’s who use it in off-hours. That doesn’t sound like the case here, because you’ve already told him who’s causing the mess.

Any chance there’s something else going on? For example, have you complained about his pals Jim and Dwight for other reasons in the past, and so he’s digging in to defend them from something he believes is personal on your side? (This is silly since it’s clearly personal on his side, but he wouldn’t be the first person to do exactly what he’s accusing someone else of doing.)

Or maybe it’s just exactly what it looks like, which is that — consciously or not — he’s irate that men he’s chummy with are being criticized by a woman for not doing women’s work.

I’m also curious about whether you’ve talked to Jim and Dwight directly about the mess and, if so, how that’s gone. If you haven’t, your boss has put you in a weird position where if you address it with them now, you might seem to be going directly against what he wants, so that’s … not great.

As for what to do from here, in theory you should be able to take this to HR, particularly given how sexist this looks. In reality, if your boss will have input into who on your team is laid off (if indeed layoffs are coming), reporting him to HR right now risks putting you in a precarious position. On the other hand, if your company has good legal counsel, they should be very cautious about laying someone off right after she made a report of possible sexism because it could look like retaliation, which is illegal. On yet another hand, there are lots of other ways for them to justify the decision, and companies do legally sketchy things all the time.

All of which is to say, it’s a risk … so what to do depends on what you know of your boss (is he vindictive? how does he handle being challenged?) and what you know of your company’s HR and whether you’d trust them to handle this skillfully and not mess it up. What you know of the people and company you’re dealing with will really matter. I’m sorry — I know that’s not very helpful. But if nothing else, know your instincts don’t sound at all off.

{ 240 comments… read them below }

  1. Converse Hightops*

    I would lawyer up and document it all. Depending on what kind of organization you work in, you could strengthen your position, gaining some degree of safety from layoffs, if your employer knows you’re not a pushover.

    1. Ubi Caritas*

      Yes, I came here to say document, document, document. Is there someone who could document the condition of the work area before you get there? And document what it looks like when you leave. But my Spidey sense says this is not a battle you can win. I’m sorry.

      1. Bilateralrope*

        That’s easy enough to do with modern phones. Just make sure it timestamps the photos taken of the desk at the start and end of the shift.

      2. Lynn*

        I would also stop talking to these people about it and start emailing, and be specific and factual. Conversations can become a she-said-he-said, but emails can be forwarded directly to HR.

        Also, your coworkers and boss are a**shats. Sorry you are having to deal with this!

        1. Frodo of the Shire*

          Agree. Had she not already gone to the boss, I would have said to email the group, copy the boss and explain what needs to be done. ‘This is a shared work space so we all need to be responsible for the clean up…and so on.’ If nothing was done, you email the boss privately expressing concerns and go from there. That way you can go to HR with a timeline and documentation that you tried to fix the problem before going higher. A very frustrating situation.

        2. Arvolin*

          Keep personal copies of all relevant documentation (like emails) off-site. You don’t want to be in a position where you’re denied access to evidence you need.

      3. Some Internet Rando*

        Same – take a picture of the desk area when you leave every evening, especially on Friday, and then take a picture again in the morning, especially on Monday morning. Document the complaints you have made. Make sure you note exactly the specifics of what your boss said.

        Does your boss have a boss?
        Are there any women who can be allies to you?

        This is terrible. I am sorry.

    2. I'm just here for the cats*

      On the note of documentation, It sounds like their is a clean up crew that comes between shifts to clean shared areas. Would LW be able to ask them to back her up? If they could or would be willing to say when they sanitize after LW the area is clean and tidy, but when Jim and Dwight leave there is always excess mess.

      1. Grand Mouse*

        As a cleaning person, this would put me in a uncomfortable spot tbh. Her company would be their bosses, or more accurately her bosses would be the client of the cleaning company. Asking that could get them in trouble with both companies. Even if they’re on your side, it is absolutely not something they can get involved in.

        1. anone*

          ^^^^^^^ I just really want to draw attention to the above very important comment from Grand Mouse.

          Otherwise, agreeing about documentation. And maybe look for other potential witnesses (who are not in a similar precarious or difficult position) who can attest to the cleanliness of the space during and immediately after your use of it.

        2. katertot*

          Also- I work with our cleaning team and generally we don’t have them clean up desks to this extent- they dust around items but they don’t know what on your desk can be tossed vs. kept. I realize this sounds stupid (ie the moldy drink obviously can be thrown away) but our team has definitely gotten in trouble for throwing away what you would think would be clearly trash.

      2. Retro*

        I bet the clean up crew would also be grateful to help OP address this problem because it means no cleaning up unreasonably gross messes for them too!

    3. TaDa*

      I agree about lawyering up. A consultation will be the reality check that OP needs. I was subjected to a hostile, sexist work environment. A lawyer gently explained that I needed hard proof. Almost no manager or co-worker is stupid enough to make the case easy for you. It’s nearly impossible to prove discrimination when the perpetrators know how to covertly harass you. Unless you have some basis to suspect that HR will back you up (because they probably won’t-remember, they are there to protect the company, not the individual employees) I suggest you start cleaning, shut your mouth and job search in all your free time. I’m sorry this is happening to you. I hope you find a more professional environment soon.

      1. Tidewater 4-1009*

        I know it’s hard to leave a job you’ve invested time and energy in and maybe had hopes of a good career there and if you feel inclined to fight for it, you should.
        I think it would also be good to prepare for a job search – in case of layoffs, or in case you decide to leave after all.

    4. Tangerina Warbleworth*

      I would add to this: you can open a case file with the EEOC without asking for an immediate investigation. I did this myself, in a case of a toxic workplace due to disability discrimination. I gave my case worker copies of all of the documentation to date, answered all of the questions; then when he came to the end and asked if I wanted to open an investigation, I said no, that I wanted to keep documenting for now.

      My attorney also told me that, once you’re ready to take action, it’s always best to start with an EEOC investigation. When they finish the investigation, if they determine that yes, discrimination based on sex is found, you have a federal agency on your side.

      Hopefully it won’t come to that (it didn’t have to for me) but you will be prepared As Eff.

  2. Essess*

    Take pictures at the start of your shift EVERY day. Take a picture when you leave. Next time he complains, ask him “are you saying this to me because I’m the woman on the team? Have you spoken to Dwight/Jim at all about this?” Go to HR and let them know that you are being designated as responsible for cleaning up after your male coworkers when they trash the area. Bring out those pictures any time he complains and show him how it was left for you.

    1. Essess*

      I would also add, that if you are worrying about being targeted for layoffs after complaining, it would look very suspicious to get rid of you after making a sex discrimination complaint because it would look very much like retaliation. I would speak to HR about the initial issue AND let them know you are concerned about retaliation during the layoff round for this to make sure they are watching this carefully.

    2. singularity*

      I like the idea of taking photos to document what the desk looks like when you come in and what it looks like when you leave. FWIW, if this were happening to me, I would start looking for employment elsewhere and then bring all my documentation with me when I reported the issue to HR.

    3. D'Arcy*

      Yes. Exactly. Take a photo of the space before you leave on Friday. Take another photo when you arrive on Monday. Document this. Heck, make a powerpoint of a few weeks’ worth of the Friday/Monday photos and leave it running on loop on the computer for the weekend staff…

      1. Guin*

        Is there a computer on the desk? Can you leave the webcam running in the background when you’re not there?

    4. Laney Boggs*

      Thats what I was thinking. A photo with a prominent stamp taken first thing every morning and every evening before she leaves.

    5. Ashley*

      I would also add is it possible to take the extra step to enter the shredding bin somewhere and the trash? The cleaner you leave your space the better in this circumstance.
      Also because I know the rouge coffee cup problem a little to well, try to never use the same cups they would if possible. I always have deniability with the rouge coffee cup because I don’t touch coffee ever. Thankfully my co-workers are as bad as yours about blaming me for leaving theirs around but when they leave them through shared spaces I don’t get questioned.

      1. TootsNYC*

        I agree that moving some of those “places someone could hide a mess” might eliminate things like…a food container in the shredder?!

    6. Essess*

      I keep having additional thoughts… sorry about the repeated replies to myself.
      One more thought, on especially bad/disgusting messes that they leave for you at the start of your shift you should take a picture and email it to Jim/Dwight and cc the boss stating that this mess was left for you by Jim/Dwight and is unhygienic and remind them that every shift is responsible for cleaning up after themselves. This documents that Jim/Dwight have been made aware of the issue and are deliberately leaving it for you.

      1. singularity*

        And if the boss is the type of person I suspect he is, then make sure you take a picture with a clock showing the time that the photo was taken, in addition to the date. Honestly, however, I don’t think boss is being reasonable and that the documentation is more for HR’s benefit for reporting purposes. It at least shows that OP tried to communicate with coworkers about it.

      2. staceyizme*

        I’d consider declining to work in a space that was left in that condition and request a different desk. That’s the least that they could do to accommodate you, since they don’t want to clean. As it is, you’re being penalized for declining domestic servitude, if on a small scale. But that boss is beyond pitiful! And use your words- “do I really understand you to say that you expect me to clean up after other adults…? Because I’ve never left a mess in this shared space and believed that all of us are supposed to avoid contaminated surfaces… (maybe use the word “contaminated” liberally and quite literally… every time that you have to communicate about this). Your boss is a bully and a petty one, at that.

        1. Dove*

          I’d consider declining to work in a space that was left in that condition and request a different desk. That’s the least that they could do to accommodate you, since they don’t want to clean.

          The problem is, OP states that she’s working in the reception area. She can’t exactly request a different desk, since there likely is no other desk and she wouldn’t be stationed in reception if she moved desks.

    7. Not Me*

      Check the handbook first to ensure taking pictures at work is ok. I wouldn’t put it past the jerk boss to throw a policy violation at LW for trying to prove her case with photos that he wishes weren’t taken, and plenty of workplaces have no photo/video/audio recording rules.

      1. Kathlynn (Canada)*

        Yeah, I’m not supposed to have my phone in the same room. Or be able to send myself anything via email for security reasons. Also no pens or paper in the room. (working with a virtual desktop with access to people’s personal information). My first thought was, while I totally get the security concerns, this makes documenting anything very risky (I can get fired for breaking the privacy policy) or hard to prove (since I can only record things after the fact, vs in the moment).

      2. Glitsy Gus*

        If that is the case then you could write a description of the situation and ask a third party person (one of your coworkers that isn’t part of the front desk rota) to sign off on it. That way you would still have some kind of confirmation, even if it isn’t quite as good as “a picture is worth a thousands words.”

        Keep in mind that, while you are sending this to Jim, Dwight and Michael (your boss) it isn’t about them; it’s about being able to show HR you communicated the situation clearly without malice.

    8. Bagpuss*

      I was going to suggest something similar.

      Also either e-mail, or leave a note, for Dwight & Jim saying something like
      “Boss has flagged up that the desk /reception area needs to be kept clean and tidy so it looks professional.
      Can you make sure that you clean up before you leave, and of course I will do the same at the end of my shift on Friday”

      (I’d think given Covid it would be reasonable for everyone to be cleaning more, not less, generally – we have to still have some staff in the office and we have a rule that you shouldn’t touch or use anyone else’s keyboard, phone etc. at all, if it can be avoided, but if it is essential (reception is, as we have 2 part time receptionists) then each person has to clean the phone, keyboard and desk with antibac when they finish, and each person has their own individual headset)

      Is it worth you speaking again to your boss, if he is approachable,?

      If not, I would be inclined to document it with HR and express your concerns that as the only woman using that space you are being expected to clear up not only after yourself, but also after your male colleagues, and that they are not being asked to do the same even though you are doing the same job (or, if your job involved more / is typically busier, then make that point) . I would also flag up that you are being expected to clear up food residue and that especially given Covid you are uncomfortable with that, and that there is an issue with the other 2 failing to dispose appropriately of of food waste which is resulting in food waste being out in the shredding bin and causing smells and other issues

      1. Two Dog Night*

        Also either e-mail, or leave a note, for Dwight & Jim saying something like
        “Boss has flagged up that the desk /reception area needs to be kept clean and tidy so it looks professional.
        Can you make sure that you clean up before you leave, and of course I will do the same at the end of my shift on Friday”

        I don’t know… I think it’s entirely possible that this would cause Dwight & Jim to get extra-slobby, and OP would still get the blame. OP, talk to HR, and start job-hunting. Your boss is an ass.

        1. Threeve*

          I have a feeling that Boss has specifically made Dwight and Jim aware that they aren’t expected to clean up. Because he’s a sexist ass.

          1. Colleague’s Dog’s Viking Funeral*

            This. She’s told him before that Jim and Dwight left the messes he’s talking about. He doesn’t care.

          2. Tisiphone*

            Even more reason to ask them. If they do say that the boss exempted them from cleaning their own messes, that’s more ammo to take to HR.

          3. Nea*

            I have a worse feeling that Boss not only told Jim and Dwight to not clean up, he probably “joked” that they go out of their way to be gross.

            After all, if layoffs are coming and she can be driven out, that makes the boss’s pals a little bit safer.

            1. TardyTardis*

              And then who’s going to sit at that front desk and clean up their crap? If she’s gone, it will all be on those who are left, because if there are layoffs, most people laid off don’t get replaced for eons.

          4. staceyizme*

            It would be tempting to put all of these items on boss’ desk since “I didn’t know who these things belong to or whether they are finished with them”, attached via sticky note. Carefully preserved in baggies or a box, of course. Trash wars… Every abandoned drink, chip bag, detritus or residue- all carefully scraped up, preserved, packaged and presented…

      2. Snailing*

        And make the tone of this email as if you’re assuming that boss has talked to all three of you because of course it’s a shared space and a shared problem – this way, boss can’t get on OP’s case for insubordination or something like that (which would be ridiculous, but boss seems pretty dang ridiculous).

        Like, “Hey Dwight and Jim, I’m sure you’ve heard from boss that there’s been some stray trash around the shared desk. Let’s all make an effort to clean up our space before leaving so it’s clean for the next person and also ensures we’re sanitizing well enough for covid.” etc etc. It’s puts OP in a more “innocent” position for when she inevitably will need to bring this to HR.

    9. Ann O'Nemity*

      I agree with this. Before and after photos. CYA.

      Though it’s entirely possible that even when confronted with the photographic evidence, the boss will just switch gears and make it formally part of the OP’s job. To me it all sounds sexist and unfair, but it’s also possible that there’s some justification for putting the responsibility on the day worker. Maybe the night/weekend staff are there at times when they don’t have access to cleaning supplies, can’t ever leave the desk, are insanely busy, etc. But even then, it’s bs they don’t dump their garbage, crumbs, and hair(!) into the desk trash.

      1. Bagpuss*

        I agree that with a petty enough boss that kind of justification impossible – but I’m struggling to see a situation where they can’t have a package of antibac wipes at the desk to clean down the phone, desk and keyboard, even if they don’t have access to (say) a vacuum cleaner, and clearly they have access to a bin!

      2. Jennifer Thneed*

        Insanely busy? Nope. They have “sitting behind a desk being security guards” type jobs.

        OP says: “Jim and Dwight actually don’t have any major duties over the weekend besides now screening people who enter the building, answering the phone (which they let go to my voicemail anyway 90% of the time, so I deal with escalated issues by Monday morning but that’s a different issue) and keeping an eye on the security cameras/keep an eye on the residents.”

    10. JSPA*

      This. Send a picture of your clean space before you go home. Send a picure of the dirty space, when you come in. Daily.

    11. TootsNYC*

      if you can’t take a picture, then get a colleague to agree to be your witness.

      But honestly–you’re supposed to open the shred-only bin every day to check for food?

  3. Colleague’s Dog’s Viking Funeral*

    I think you are writing because you need impartial/outside perspective.
    Your boss sucks and isn’t going to change.
    Your boss is a sexist asshole.
    Your boss is breaking the law by creating a hostile work environment.
    It sucks, but unless you want to be the clean up crew in addition to being treated as less than (doing what he’s asking is not going to improve your relationship with your boss. It is going to confirm that you, a self respecting woman could not live with being considered slatternly. Of course your job in the office to clean up after the men. You can play at doing what you were hired to do after that)
    If you want outside/impartial confirmation that you need to document and report, you got it from Alison and from me.
    Sorry you work for an asshole.

  4. Mrs. Smith.*

    Shut this shit down IMMEDIATELY. Go to HR with it. I worked for a boss who treated his female direct reports like on-call nannies and we were not having it. HR recognized it for what it was, thank heavens. I think it contributed to his sudden departure in the spring – in addition to just being crap at his job, literally all the women in his orbit were so over it.

    1. Librarian of SHIELD*

      I would add that if OP decides to go to HR, she should tell them explicitly that she’s concerned that boss will retaliate against her for filing the report. Flag it for them in advance, so that if your name comes up in the list of layoffs, HR can go “Hang on a second, that’s the person who reported her boss for gender discrimination and warned us he might try to retaliate.” If your HR is worth anything at all, they’ll take care of it.

      Also, it doesn’t hurt to start job hunting now, just in case this goes sideways.

  5. ap*

    Take photos of clean keyboard and desk at the end of your day. You could either print them with a note to night staff “this is how I left it; this is how it should look in the morning” or
    you can just email them to yourself or a coworker ally for reference. And then take photos in the morning as well.

    These people suck

    1. Elbe*

      Agreed! This guy is terrible.

      This part made me rage: ” Stop deflecting and blaming others.”

      The person deflecting his duties IS HIM. The person misplacing blame IS HIM.

      This guy probably has some pretty sexist views, but I’m guessing that he also probably doesn’t want to be a “downer” to his friends by asking them to stop leaving rancid fruit around. There’s a pretty decent chance that a simple conversation with them about being more tidy would improve the issue (are they misunderstanding the role of the cleaning crew? do they even know that the LW is getting blamed for their mess?) but he’s making a huge deal of it to her.

      Managing your friends isn’t a great idea to begin with, and it’s particularly bad when the manager doesn’t have enough backbone to ask his friends to make even small, common sense changes.

    2. Mannheim Steamroller*

      I would immediately email each set of “before” photos to Jim, Dwight, and Boss. Copy or blind-copy HR if necessary.

  6. old curmudgeon*

    There is one tiny possibility that occurs to me, though it wouldn’t apply in all states or in all situations.

    OP, does this facility receive a significant amount of funding and/or revenue from the federal government? If so, that might give you slightly more leverage in your favor, because the feds tend to look askance on giving federal funds to organizations that retaliate against those who report discriminatory practices. It’s a faint hope at best, but if the entity receives federal funding, you might mention to HR that you are looking to work with them, not against them, in helping to ensure that they don’t jeopardize those federal dollars.

    Good luck – it really sounds like you’ve just got a sucky boss, and ultimately you’re probably going to wind up looking for a job elsewhere for that reason, but I hope it happens on your schedule, not theirs.

  7. Myrin*

    Ugh, how absolutely infuriating! I’m seething just from having read this!

    I do have to say that I think Alison is on the right track and on the wrong track at the same time here (sorry Alison!).
    What I mean by that is that I don’t really see the boss making anything “personal”, at least not in the sense it’s used in the answer – just because OP’s house got brought up doesn’t automatically mean that the boss is answering to a perceived personal grudge OP might have against Jim and Dwight (which she would be very justified to have, btw, because they sound like complete pigs); it read very much to me like boss simply wanted to twist the knife a little deeper and show even more how ragey he was.

    However, I think that Alison is 100% right when she asks “[H]ave you complained about his pals Jim and Dwight for other reasons in the past, and so he’s digging in to defend them […]?”, only, there is no need for “other reasons”. OP had complained about Jim and Dwight about not other things but this very thing in the past and boss was already annoyed then and he’s both annoyed and embarrassed now because someone from the outside (the cleaner) complained, and since he’s Man Friends with Jim and Dwight, OP gets to feel all of his annoyance and embarrassment.

    I’m so sorry, OP. This sounds hellish. I do hope this guy – as well as Jim and Dwight – will get their comeuppance through whatever means. Whatever you decide to do, I’m rooting for you!

    1. Dust Bunny*

      Honestly I cannot see how this could be interpreted as not personal. If it were just that the area needed to be cleaned he would go to Jim and Dwight . . . but he’s not. He’s insulting the OP’s housekeeping skills based on conjecture and seems to be assiduously avoiding saying anything to her two male colleagues.

      1. Paulina*

        Yes, but it’s not conjecture on his part. He specifically blamed the OP for *creating* the mess, when he knows she didn’t. He did get personal, and essentially said that she produced the mess herself, to blame her for the cleaners’ complaint (when she hadn’t even been there). And very little of the mess seems related to the job, not that they’re doing much of it. If there’s layoffs, those two need to go, and if you’re very lucky that boss as well. Who’s going to get anything done around there if they lay off the OP? His slacking buddies that mostly just hang out there on the weekend? That won’t stop a lot of bosses from trying, though he sounds the sort to use layoffs as a threat to push the OP “into line” whether she goes to HR or not.

      2. Myrin*

        It seems I might just be having a different understanding of “personal”, then (this might also be language-related, now that I think about it).
        What I meant is that I’m fairly sure that he’d have given that exact same lecture to any woman in OP’s situation, which makes it not-personal to me (which isn’t better in any way, but I firmly believe that his motivator is sexism, not OP’s OP-ness in particular).
        But it’s also not the salient point of this answer so I won’t belabour this topic.

        1. Shad*

          I agree that it’s not personal in the sense that it’s because OP is a female-shaped person, not because OP is that specific person. But he has made it a judgment about OP’s whole person, not just her alleged work, with comments about her housekeeping at home, which is another kind of making it personal.

        2. Batgirl*

          I see what you mean and in this case it helps to think of personal as ‘overstepping into personal territory’. Sexist people do get very personal in that sense with women because their bodies and lifestyles etc are seen as up for debate and judgement. It’s not *individually* tailored to the OP, but only because sexists don’t tend to see women as individuals.

    2. daffodil*

      I think he made it personal in that he’s attributing the problem to OP’s character, not just a work environment problem to be handled collaboratively.

    3. Colleague’s Dog’s Viking Funeral*

      I feel what you are saying us the his attack on OP’s house keeping ability is not a personal attack on her, but an attack of women overall. Is that it? “Of course, a woman, you would want things clean. And as a woman, you would clean them yourself. If you, as a woman, aren’t cleaning up after your coworkers, then you are failing as a woman, not as an individual person. (Because you Are mit, OP, you Are a Woman figure. Madonna/whore Mother/daughter feminine/masculine)

    4. LTL*

      It’s personal because the boss directly insulted OP when he could have said, “this mess is unacceptable, you cannot keep your desk this way.”

    5. Workerbee*

      Boss knows she’s not creating the mess.

      By choosing to bring up the state of her house, he is either doubling down on pretending she’s this godawful disgusting person, or thinks that as a woman, she is responsible for cleaning up after everyone else and that if she takes a stance against it at work, goodness me, her house must be awful! After all, any mess created by a spouse/children can’t possibly be taken care of without a woman’s touch!

      It’s also weird that he’s encouraging the menfolk to stay helpless, unaccountable, and incapable of basic human functions.

      1. TexasRose*

        IME, actually not weird at all. In boss’s eyes, OP is an uppity b*tch, expecting his cronies to demean themselves and clean! To put food orts in the garbage instead of hiding the smelly bits like some frat boy-level shrimp-hidden-in-the-car’s-doors smelly trap! To *throw away* their own precious bodily by-products (boogers, etc.) in the trash, in a tissue! The horror! The entitlement, that they must not make an egregious mess! Why, it sounds just like their moms and ex-missus(es), just before they were thrown out of the house for being lazy smelly pigs! (And an apology to pigs: given a choice, pigs (at least house pigs) choose a remote latrine area and are NOT any more messy than a similarly-sized dog.)

        I’d be willing to bet that boss or one of the cronies has undergone an ugly break-up, including accusations of abuse, unfair fighting, etc. so you are now their target for bullying. It gives them a sense of power, and each time you show signs of frustration, each time you clean is a win for their childish egos. If you have never had experience with this kind of crazy, look up Bancroft’s _Why Does He Do That?_ about controlling men.

        The bad news, OP, is that you’re already on the tentative lay-off list in the boss’s mind. The only way off is to roll over and show your throat, and act as mommy/maid to the gaggle of sexist underlings.

        So, my suggestions, depending on your own comfort level:
        1. Your boss is not going to change, and will likely up the abuse (because “deflect” is vocabulary from someone who has been accused of fighting unfairly – which means the harrassment is, in fact, targeted at OP BECAUSE she is a woman under the boss’s power.) Be sure to bring up the word choice when you
        2. Consult an attorney. IANAL, but it seems to me the personal attacks on your housekeeping leads the boss’s behavior squarely into discriminatory behavior.
        3. Call the EEOC, and ask about what kind of process is needed for filing a sexual/gender harrassment suit. At the moment, just gather information, but if you’re fired, you know what is needed to help file a suit.
        3. Start a serious job search.
        4. Decide how you want to handle your remaining time there: comply with their unreasonable requests, or fight back (malicious compliance and call in the authorities).

        Warning: malicious compliance could easily get you fired, and your boss will double down on harrassing you. But (depending on your personality) you may take some comfort in making it difficult for him, and setting up for some serious consequences. [Or at least you can enjoy the revenge fantasies.]

        In this case, malicious compliance may include:
        * Ordering cleaning supplies – from boss’s boss, because you are having to spend your own money to keep the area clean
        * Clean the area on Monday, then have someone take a time-stamped photo with you in the picture of how pretty the area looks and how you are so proud of having cleaned it! Display the photo proudly in your area all week! Balloons here might be a good touch, so everyone notices! Take a twin photo before you leave on Friday, and another on Monday when you come in, and mail all three to HR.
        * Label what are and are not appropriate food receptacles. Ask boss for training for the cronies when they do not follow directions. Using elementary-school level signs might be a nice touch.
        * Put a carefully chosen* artificial plant behind your monitor, so they can’t leave surprises there. Carefully chosen = allows air flow, is not just a different hiding place. (Or alternately, an easily cleaned hiding place.)
        * I don’t know enough about your industry to know whether there is a compliance officer, and whether there is any avenue to pursue there. (I know I’ve worked in certain clean rooms where random food waste would be a Big Deal.)
        * Talk to HR again, and ask them how to deal with the name-calling and the double standards from the boss. You are not making a complaint here; you are asking for *suggestions* on how to be a good worker bee.
        * Talk to boss and HR about training on basic cleanliness in the work area: Be specific as to how the weekend guys are sabotaging your work at keeping a clean work area (food improperly disposed of, etc.)
        * Does the boss have other female workers? How does he treat them?

        OP, I’m sorry you’re going through this. I don’t see anyway this is going to get better easily or soon.
        Take what control you can, decide your own fate, and do your job well – and enjoy it – during the week.

  8. Dust Bunny*


    This is way, way, out of line and you don’t sound half mad enough about it (maybe because you’re used to it?). Nothing about this is acceptable.

  9. hbc*

    This is all kinds of messed up, but I’m kind of confused about the cleaning crew complaining to your manager about the trash and shred bin. If they’re coming between every shift, then it was someone cleaning after Dwight or Jim who complained, right? So are you being held responsible for the fact that a bin was overflowing while you were off the clock? I’m thinking this is where you’ll be able to nail the irrationality of the complaints when you bring it to someone in HR.

    I’m assuming that the cleaning crew is only on sanitization duty and not supposed to do anything else, because my first instinct was to say that it’s pretty rich for the cleaning crew to complain about things not being clean enough.

    1. Forrest*

      It’s not really “rich” for the cleaning staff to complain about that! If your job is to clean 20 offices in two hours and one person seems to have trodden crisps into the carpet at their work station and there’s something sticky on the desk which doesn’t come off with the normal cleaning fluid, it is ENTIRELY reasonable to complain about that!

      1. I'm just here for the cats*

        Ditto, if something is so bad that it hinders the cleaning/sanitizing then yes they can complain. Especialy if something is so bad that it causes problems for the cleaning crew. For example and overflowing trash can, or trash littered on the floor around the trash can. It takes more time to pick up the individual pieces of trash than it would to empty the can.
        Also. it sounds like there was fruit in a recyle or shred bin. Now where I’ve worked the recycling wasn’t picked up everyday, but regular garbage was. So a piece of fruit could be left for a couple of days before it was found.
        Also, if the shred bins are just bins that get taken elswehere to be shredded, a piece of rotting fruit is bad. It leakes all over the papers which could gumm up the shredding machines. This would need to be addressed by the cleaning crew.

        1. Paulina*

          It’s also possible that the regular cleaning staff wouldn’t be able to access what’s been put into the shred bin. If their setup is similar to ours (documents with confidential information go into the shred bin, bin is sealed other than the entry slot, every so often someone from the shredders comes for the bin contents) then neither the cleaning crew nor the OP can clean up after this. The only solution is to stop it from happening.

          1. Colleague’s Dog’s Viking Funeral*

            This. Cleaning crew is getting crap cuz the office is stinky, so they must not be doing their jobs. There job excludes shredding bin, because “privacy” and yet they are supposed to dig thru and pick out fruit bits, but not bag up the whole thing? Forget that.

        2. EventPlannerGal*

          This, totally, they are within their rights to complain – they’re there to carry out specific tasks on schedule every night and if one area constantly requires extra attention then that needs to be accounted for. The cleaning company will likely have a list of duties they need to carry out every night specified in their services contract, and probably also a list of things that they are specifically *not* to do – for example, at my company the cleaners are instructed not to touch any computer equipment/keyboards/cables/plug sockets. If they are not supposed to touch shred bins (for example if those bins might contain confidential shredded documents, which they might do in a medical facility) then leaving them a mess might get them into less trouble than emptying them when they’re not supposed to.

      2. Lily Rowan*

        Yeah. I was buddies with the office cleaners at an old job (because I was always there late), and one day I apologized for something, and the woman was like, “Oh no, don’t you worry” and brought me into a coworker’s office, where the floor was covered in crumbs! And apparently it was like that every day!

      3. DarnTheMan*

        We had cleaning staff when I lived in residence in my undergrad and they had a specific set of things they would do/were tasked with doing (i.e. vacuuming floors, cleaning bathrooms, etc) but some people who were absolute slobs assumed that meant that they had to clean up any messes, even those outside of the ordinary (i.e. trays with plates of molding food being hidden behind the regular garbage cans, biological matter being left in the shower, etc.) I loved my cleaning staff but everyone who knew her knew if your room was a pigsty, she just wouldn’t clean it.

      4. MCMonkeybean*

        Yes, the mess as described all sounds majorly outside what a cleaning crew would usually expect to find when cleaning an office area and definitely worth complaining about.

    2. londonedit*

      The cleaning crew’s job is to keep the place clean and sanitised, not to clear up people’s disgusting food messes that they could quite easily clean themselves. It’s really disrespectful of the cleaning crew’s time and job to leave all sorts of horrible mess for them to deal with.

      1. Media Monkey*

        absolutely. there will be a list of tasks that they are expected to do in the time slot they are allocated. i have never worked in an office where cleaners were expected to tidy desks (in fact in a few offices they aren’t allowed to touch the top of the desk), clean keyboards, remove coffee cups or old food as they probably don’t have time. generally the cleaners i know about will empty desk bins (if they exist), hoover the floor, empty the main bins and wipe down the kitchen. jim and dwight sound horrible and the manager is awful.

        1. UKDancer*

          Definitely. Cleaners do what you pay them for and fulfil an agreed list of tasks. I pay my cleaner for my flat to do certain tasks. Her job does not entail moving stuff to clean underneath so the day before she comes I put stuff away, tidy up and make sure she gets a clear run at the surfaces. If I want her to do something else in addition I have to pay more. Once per year I get her to do a deep clean on the oven and pay her for an extra 30 minutes for it.

          The cleaners at my company’s office mop and hoover the floor, clean the surfaces that are free of paper and empty the bins (we don’t have desk bins just central ones). They also do kitchens and bathrooms. They don’t move food or coffee cups and we’re all told we’re responsible for clearing up our own messes.

      2. kittymommy*

        This. We have a cleaning crew but they are absolutely not responsible for dishes left in the sink or cleaning of dirty dishes/cups on our desks. Luckily I work with people that respect that sort of thing.

      3. Dust Bunny*

        Yeah, our housekeeping service vacuums, empties trash (but not recycling), and cleans bathrooms and general areas but they are 100% not responsible for my dishes and personal workspace.

        1. OyHiOh*

          Yes, this is the set up in the shared office suite where I work (private offices around a central corridor, with a small conference room, shared file room (yes, I know, archaic, I’m working on my boss), and shared kitchen.

          The housekeeping staff do bathrooms, vacuum, trash, and (for the past year), wipe down desks if desks are clear of paperwork as well as door handles and other high touch surfaces. I sanitize my keyboard and mouse when I come in as those aren’t on the cleaning checklist but even if they were, I’d want to do those myself anyway. Those who use the offices are responsible for dishes and cleaning the microwave/fridge.

      4. Hotdog not dog*

        In my industry, we are expected to leave our desks clean at the end of each day because we deal with sensitive information. The only thing that changed with covid is that now instead of dusting the desks they sanitize them. Everyone is responsible for their own area, which is how it should be.

      5. Collarbone High*

        This is the heart of the problem – Jim and Dwight are thoughtless and disrespectful, and until someone above them forces that to change, I don’t see this situation being resolved.

        One thing I’ve had some luck with lately is straight-up asking people about this angle. “Do you think it’s right that someone else has to clean your moldy fruit out of the shredder?” Sometimes forcing people to say the quiet part out loud makes them think a bit. (Sadly, other times it doesn’t.)

    3. Colette*

      There’s stuff that is reasonable for them to clean. In an office, that means dust, stray bits of paper, sanitzing keyboards, etc. There might be coffee stains on the counter in the kitchen, or paper towels on the floor in the bathroom.

      And then there’s stuff that isn’t reasonable as part of that job – food waste piled on the floors, a slow-cooker with baked on food, syringes, medical waste.

      Now, the OP is in a medical facility, so medical waste is likely part of the cleaning job – but that doesn’t mean that everything is part of the job. They are entitled to complain when people are making messes outside of the norm (particularly when it’s a regular occurrence.)

      1. Media Monkey*

        i’ve never known cleaners to clean keyboards or electrical equipment beyond wiping a phone receiver.

        1. Colette*

          I don’t think they normally would, but since the OP says they are responsible for sanitizing between shifts, I assume they are wiping down the keyboard mouse – otherwise, what are they cleaning?

          1. Dragon_Dreamer*

            Wiping down isn’t cleaning out stuff between the keys. Hopefully, if they ruin enough keyboards, the wrath of IT will be brought down upon them.

          2. Mockingjay*

            For COVID, sanitizing is often a spray/fog on most surfaces, including keyboards, to kill germs. That’s not the same as wiping a keyboard to remove particles.

            1. Doris Thatcher*

              Someone else used my office for a while this past year and it was “sanitized” before I started using it again. Everything was presumably sprayed in place, including the dirty coffee mugs, stains, spills, dirt on the floor etc etc

    4. Ann O'Nemity*

      It depends what the contract with the cleaning crew entails. It sounds like the condition of the work station is going outside of what’s expected, eg finding stinking food in the shred bin.

    5. Malarkey01*

      This was one of my questions because in a normal office cleaning contract a drink sitting so long it became rancid and smelled up an office, a piece of fruit in the recycling bin so long it rotted, and the general food crumbs should be caught by cleaning. It’s also entirely reasonable for custodial to say one area is way messier than it should be, but for a general customer intake area to be this bad sounds like custodial needs to also be addressed.

      I’d go to your boss like you are sincerely working on a solution (even though so much is BS). I’d say you understand the area needs to be improved and have come up with the following and would like his help to implement:
      -a checklist of what is done at the end of each shift (include throwing away all drinks and food, emptying trash and recycling, wiping off counter (assuming that doesn’t interfere with sanitizing), and returning all office supplies/papers/whatever else you use at the desk to wherever they live. Then everyone, including you, are responsible for completing the checklist at the end of the shift
      -a list of the general custodial stuff that isn’t being done (vacuuming would be a big one) and whether you can be more explicit on cleaning tasks
      -Things like wiping the phone and keyboard I think come down to planning a daily or weekly wipe down on your own. As someone who always cleans my phone I know there are different standards to this and mine might be rigid. But, if you do it daily it’s a 60 second task. If it’s really really bad you could ask for a separate keyboard that you plug in for your shift.

      Then I would take pictures and every time there’s a mess left behind go to your boss and say I came in and found this, what can we do?

    6. Snailing*

      Same as what everyone else has said, but for the shredder incident in particular, it sounds like some fruit was put in the shredder, but then it didn’t start rotting/smelling for a while, maybe even a week, so it would have been impossible for the cleaning crew to know who did it, just that it was totally gross and shouldn’t have been done in the first place.

    7. LizM*

      Not rich at all. It’s not the cleaning crew’s responsibility to clean up personal messes. It’s not too much to ask someone to not leave boogers and food waste that’s going to sit over the weekend. Our cleaning crew will wipe down clean surfaces, but they won’t move personal items or other things on tables and desks. If I want my desk wiped down and sanitized, I have to leave it clear or do it myself. This is the standard of every office I’ve worked in.

  10. Kimmy Schmidt*

    It’s been a while since a letter made me rage-scream.
    Document, document, document. How reasonable are Jim and Dwight? Is there any chance they’re just clueless, but amenable to change?

    1. AKchic*

      Generally, if people are leaving their boogers on shared furniture as adults and *purposely* leaving food/drinks to go rancid in hidden spots as “jokes” for the female coworker to have to deal with, while making messes knowing that they themselves don’t have to clean it up; then no, they are not amenable to meaningful change. Once upper management comes down hard on them, they will trot out the “I was only joking, I thought we were all having a laugh” line (or similar) and then give a half-hearted attempt at reducing their own personal messiness so they don’t lose their job, but they generally won’t do anything above keeping up appearances.

      1. TechWorker*

        To be fair the ‘purposefully’ leaving a drink behind a computer was added by you.. OP doesn’t say that. It’s not at all difficult to imagine someone putting a drink down in a weird place because the phone rang (or the desk was so messy it was the only place left) and forgetting about it.

        That said, there’s a reasonable chance they know exactly what they’re doing. But from what’s in the letter they could also just be messy and clueless.

        1. Snailing*

          Also it takes a while for drink to start to smell rancid, so there’s absolutely the chance that Dwight/Jim would have found their drink the next weekend and then still didn’t clean it up. I can give benefit of the doubt for forgetting once (I’ve totally found a month old coffee mug stashed in a super weird and out-of-the-way spot in my own house) but they cannot be exempt from investigating smells themselves and then thinking “Gross, that’s my coffee; I’d better clean it up!”

        2. AKchic*

          Yes, I do say purposefully, because at the office, we are all responsible for our own dishes/trash, yet they are not because the boss does not make them responsible for their own dishes and trash. I can find no reason why coffee needs to be hidden away, or why fruit needs to be secreted into the shredder bin. That seems very purposeful when they already have a trash can and they seemingly know where the break room is.

          Why bother acting as if they are just so clueless that they don’t know what the function of a trash can is? Or that they are so inept that they simply cannot fathom how to throw things away? It would stand to reason that this is more purposeful. But to what end?

  11. Tisiphone*

    I’d go to HR. Your boss refusing to even listen to you and making assumptions about your personal life is unacceptable.

    If you can remember dates and times or have emails or meeting requests when you took this to your boss, bring those to HR. Take pictures of the beginning of your shift and the end of your shift. Time stamp them if you can.

  12. Forrest*

    LW, it might be too late for this now it’s become contentious, but have you ever clarified with your boss, “Just to be clear, I am responsible for cleaning up after the other users of this area?”

    It sounds like your perspective is, “I use this desk; and Jim and Dwight use this desk, and we’re all responsible for cleaning our own mess.” I think it’s possible that you’d bis thinks this is, “LW’s area which is her responsibility and it’s her job to make sure it’s clean even if it’s been used by other people.” There are lots of jobs where that is true: if you manage a reception area or a client-facing area, it Is your job to keep it clean and tidy, not just your responsibility to tidy up after yourself. You pick up coffee cups used by clients or other staff, you wipe things down, you put leaflets and newspapers straight— it’s just part of the job of making it a pleasant area for clients.

    If J&D’s job description is the same as yours, then there is no excuse for them not to have the same responsibilities. But if your job is “client care” or “maintaining a client-facing space”, or something like that, then it’s not an unjustifiable position for your boss to have (though I think the fact he’s not capable of explaining that clearly is still sexist— it’s just “why should I have to explain this to a woman, it should be obvious this is part of her job” rather than “she’s a woman so she should be cleaning up after the men”.

    1. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

      This is a good point about job description. If it is part of your job, you might have to suck it up, or at least be given the correct supplies, and not have to bring them from home.

      ALSO, look online for silicone keyboard covers to match the model of keyboard! Or, and this sounds kinda petty, bring your own keyboard from home and take it with you off shift. I have done this before in particularly nasty situations.

      1. HigherEdAdminista*

        The other thing to keep in mind is she is being punished for things that happen when she isn’t present to correct them. She doesn’t come in and decide to ignore the boogers all over the desk or a rancid hidden smell. She is already cleaning the area every day for herself, but on the weekends, the cleaning crew comes by and finds a mess and OP gets in trouble for it, even though she is not physically present for those 2 days to do anything about it.

        It would be perfectly reasonable not to want to clean up after a coworkers intentional and disgusting mess, but she is essentially being punished for something she has no way to stop or remedy. Even if she comes in Monday morning and cleans up first thing, if the cleaning crew has already reported leftovers rotting in the garbage at the end of business on Saturday… it doesn’t matter, because OP wasn’t there and won’t be there for two days to fix it. It is essentially like a car accident happening on the street in front of her house while she is away on a road trip in another state, and her car had nothing to do with the accident, but she is being held accountable as if she was behind the wheel.

        OP, I am inclined to say you have nothing to lose by going to HR. If there are going to be layoffs, it sounds like your boss is already hostile against you. In fact, he could be making a case for why you should be laid off versus his pals, since he solely blames you for the state of the desk. I would document how you leave the desk every day, including photographs, if allowed, and a log book of “closing tasks” completed. I would speak to HR about his sexist comments and what has been going on, including the health hazard posed by employees wiping mucus all over company property during a pandemic. I would also document any future conversations you have with your boss. Report to him as much as you can in writing, and if a meeting happens, follow it up with an email to let him know of actions you have taken or to reflect back on events. It is possible HR won’t do anything or that your boss will amp up his terrible behavior. It is possible they will lay you off or try some retaliation, but legally I think that would put them in a bad spot. But the writing seems to be on the wall as far as your boss is concerned, so whatever you need to do to protect yourself is the best course of action.

        1. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

          I totally missed that point, that she’s responsible for what happens when she’s not there. This is key.

    2. Artemesia*

      Ask if you are ‘responsible to clean up after the. men’ and the answer is sure as hell going to be ‘yes’ — don’t frame a question that lets this become your womanly job duty.

      1. Tisiphone*

        Right! Don’t do it. There’s no reason why the men wouldn’t have the same expectstion as you when it comes to maintaining a professional-looking workspace. They’re night shift – how would that change the job description to include cleaning duty or not?

        1. Forrest*

          If their role is security rather than reception and they’re not expected to welcome clients, for example.

          To me, there’s a big difference between the levels of tidiness and cleanliness that you’d be expected to leave a desk as a general office-worker rule, and the level of tidiness and cleanliness you’re expected to have in a client-facing area. I’d absolutely expect someone working on reception to have a much higher standard for a cleared desk than someone working in a back office or on a security desk, for example.

          So for me, there’s a difference between the standard expected of, “You should keep this desk tidy because other people use it”, and “You should ensure this area is clean and tidy to the standard our clients would expect to see.” If Dwight and Jim aren’t meeting and greeting clients on the nightshift, and instead are there to take mail, deal with emergencies and generally keep an eye on things, then it’s completely legitimate that “responsible for keeping this area to client-facing standards” ISN’T part of their job descriptions.

          By the LW’s description, J&D aren’t meeting the expectations of the former, either. But if the boss DOES have that expectation, then LW needs to be clear in her complaint to HR that the level of cleaning which her boss is expecting her to do goes way beyond “keep the area tidy for clients” and into “clean up drinks, rubbish, food packaging etc left by previous occupants of desk”. The complaint will be much stronger if it’s very clear about what the similarities/differences are in job descriptions and how the standards are being applied.

          1. AKchic*

            For security, I’d expect a clean desk too. For security purposes. Anything can be a weapon. Documents could have sensitive information on it. A clean desk is a secure desk.

      2. Forrest*

        If the answer is, “yes, it is your job to clean up after the men” rather than, “keeping reception tidy is part of the Client Manager’s duty, but not part of Security’s duty”, your complaint is going to go a LOT easier.

    3. kt*

      I don’t think it should be in anyone’s job description to clean up someone else’s boogers except for preschool teachers and daycare workers (and I wish they didn’t have to, but it’s inevitable with the five-and-under set). Adult men who are employed in this manner can clean their own boogers.

      1. Forrest*

        I agree, but if LW is making a complaint she needs to be clear on the difference between “I’m being asked to clean this area and they are not, it’s not fair” and “reasonable cleaning duties are part of my job as the client-facing person, but this is well outside reasonable”.

      2. Batgirl*

        I have a horrid feeling that there might be some kind of mention in her job description though; one that’s just vague enough to escape notice. I’ve met this kind of boss before. The one who has no earthly idea what he is doing and who hires a couple of guys to horse around with. Then things start going to shit, either because of their poor people skills, physical organisation or cleanliness. He thinks “Hey we should probably hire a woman. They are nice and clean and organized. That’s why men don’t have to be!”
        Of course they don’t see it as deceptive that they hire the woman with legitimate wording like ‘admin’ or ‘receptionist’ and never spell out that she’s a dogsbody to wait on them hand and foot.. down to cleaning up their bad fruit and boogers. There may well be something in the job description about her having responsibility for keeping the area presentable and ‘orderly’. They aren’t dumb enough to spell out “clean up after the men”, but they think if they give a woman a certain space to look after (as in “this is your area”) her inner Snow White will take over and she and the bluebirds will have the place sparkling before lunch. While singing and looking pretty. If you don’t sing, and are annoyed by your coworkers Dirty and Lazy, then you’re being dramatic. Also, if you haven’t got that inner knack with bluebirds then your house is definitely a mess too, obviously.

        1. J.E.*

          It’s that lovely phrase “other duties as assigned” used as a catch all for everything else that isn’t strictly related to the job.

    4. Charlotte*

      I feel like this is the case, that the boss DOES see it as part of her job since she is the one manning the desk during the weekdays in the daytime when people are coming and going. We also haven’t seen any evidence that she does clean the area, it sounds like she just wipes the desk and tries to ignore the rest of the mess. I say this because she said:
      “…the desk and surrounding area need to be neat and tidy during the day because of the type of work I do. I’m the first person most of our incoming guests see. My coworkers, supervisor, and clients comment constantly on how messy the area is and it’s embarrassing.”

      It sounds like she’s just leaving the mess there, so not sure how taking photos would help. Maybe if she did a big clean up and left it sparkling, there would be more to complain about how the men leave the area. But sounds like it’s just never clean anyway, so then feel like they are leaving it the way they found it. And it just perpetuates.

      The boss should see it as the responsibility of everyone using the desk, but since he doesn’t, it sure sounds like it’s her responsibility.

      1. Insert Clever Name Here*

        I read this part as she’s keeping it neat when she’s there, but maybe OP can clarify: “I’m bringing in my own cleaning wipes to clean the used space on top of our cleaning crew sanitizing the space between staff use”

    5. Metadata minion*

      It might be reasonable for her to be responsible for keeping the workstation clean, but the level of mess described I think goes well beyond what it’s reasonable to ask someone to clean up. It makes sense for one person to be the one to periodically wipe down the desk or corral stray post-its because otherwise that’s the sort of thing that everyone puts off forever, but that shouldn’t mean cleaning up other people’s food waste or policing appropriate use of recycling bins and paper shredders(!). In my office there are professional cleaning staff for the common areas and floors, but this doesn’t mean I leave trash on the floor and expect them to pick it up.

    6. LizM*

      While I can understand this perspective from a “this area is starting to get cluttered” perspective, if it is OP’s responsibility to keep an area clean, she’s not out of line for asking for a basic curtesy of “don’t leave boogers in a shared workspace.” Basic respect for your coworkers doesn’t need to be explicitly listed in your position description for a manager to expect it.

      1. Forrest*

        No, I don’t think she’s out of line at all. But I think I’d she wants to make a complaint she needs to be precise about what the complaint is— “we all have the same responsibility to keep the area tidy, but I’m the only one being held to it” is different from “I have a duty to tidy the area, but that should not include disposing of bodily fluids or rotting food”.

      2. jojo*

        I my work we are all expected to leave our shared desks clean at the end of shift. The company does not provide cleaning supplies because they employ a janitorial company. Of course, right now they provide basic sanitizing wipes per covid. But other than that no cleaning supplies. Except a broom and dustpan. I would get a manager if there where boogers on my desk. And I would not clean them up.

    7. Mockingjay*

      Maintaining the space does not mean cleaning up after coworker slobs. A client may forget to dispose of a cup, but Jim and Dwight are sexist jerks who damn well know where refuse goes. OP is NOT responsible for this level of slovenliness. No one is, unless you work for a Hazmat team.

    8. The problem with people*

      It isn’t a good point about job description. Even if your job is to wipe up after clients it in no way means you clean up colleagues own personal mess. Plenty of people at my workplace fulfil that role but that doesn’t mean they play mom to colleagues! Also, the manager outright abused her when he called her disgusting and made the comment about the house. And the sexist crap about men not having to clean up after themselves is just that. I would be ashamed if I was a chav like that.

  13. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

    When he brought up her house, I pulled my glasses off my face and took four deep breaths.

    1. Bagpuss*

      Yes, I think that needs to be explicitly raised with HR so they know that he is making this incredibly personal and that there is no suggestion at all that he has, or would, make any similar comments to the male staff members.
      OP, do you have any male co-workers who you get on well with? Have any of them been subjected to that kind of personal attack?

      1. yala*

        Yeah, that line SPECIFICALLY needs to be brought to HR’s attention, because it’s just so beyond the pale.

    2. Keymaster of Gozer*

      I reached for my painkillers.

      (Was in a bad accident at the weekend and still a bit loopy)

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          Thanks guys. Falling onto frozen concrete when you’re disabled hurts so, so much.

          (Although, if you want a laugh, I tripped over a ‘Safety first’ sign)

          1. Seeking Second Childhood*

            When life beats art — if that were in a book or movie we’d not believe it.
            Feel better soon.

          2. 'Tis Me*

            Ooh, ouch! I hope you recover soon!

            Also, that sign doesn’t sound as safe as I’m sure it thinks it is… It’s like when they hang a dangling down sign warning about a low ceiling, and reducing the head clearance by another 3 inches or so.

  14. Jessica*

    Time to throw the whole boss away! (Be sure not to inappropriately put him in the shredding bin though.)

    Though I think any reasonable person would see this as the sexist garbage it is, the one loophole that occurs to me is that your duties are different because you’re the day shift/they’re the night shift. Do you and/or they have written job descriptions? Is there any conceivable case to be made that they’re busier than you? Sounds like it’s actually the reverse; is that quantifiable?

    Document everything and save it somewhere that’s not your work computer.

      1. AKchic*

        Paper shredders can’t take that kind of load generally. Not unless it’s a special industrial kind.

        Always get the right tool for the job at hand.

    1. Starbuck*

      I think regardless of the difference in duties, OP should not be blamed for messes made over the weekend by her coworkers that the cleaning crew is apparently noticing and complaining about. Because she can’t do anything about that, even if she leaves it spotless when she leaves Friday evening. And it sounds like that’s part of what boss is taking issue with, which is absurd.

  15. Peeped EA*

    A lot of people are going to suggest taking pictures, and that was my first thought, too. It’s a good idea, and it’s great for documentation. I’d say go ahead and clean it just once so you have a starting picture of what clean actually looks like, and then take the photos of what that space looks like at the start and end of your shift, making sure to include dates and times.

    However, deep down, I’m a petty person, and I’m just the type of person to use my personal time to go in at night and/or the weekends and confront Jim and Dwight directly WITH the photos of the clean desk they started out with and a list of whys broken down as questions to help me understand. “Hi Jim/Dwight, I just wanted to talk to you directly to help clear a few things up. Could you help me understand why you left food in the recycling bin? I’m just not understanding why there was a beverage left to spoil in a place no one would see it. Honestly, I’m having a hard time understanding why the keyboard is left sticky with food so often. I thought, as a team, we could sit down and Jerry Maguire the situation a bit since this is a shared space, and I’d hate for people to think that any of us are incapable of keeping a space tidy, as adults should. Help me understand what needs to happen here so that this space is left clean. Do we need to set rules on how to keep an area tidy? Would that help here?”

    But, again, that’s deeply passive aggressive, and I don’t recommend it. I would, however, recommend you actually talking directly to them. It’s entirely possible your boss has not and will not given his relationship with them. If you do talk to them and you get feedback that, yes, the boss said something, but, yes, this is your job because you’re the woman, then it’s defiantly time to lawyer up and get HR involved, in that order.

    1. Rose*

      What would the point of being so passive aggressive even be? If you’re going to say something why not just ask them not to leave things a mess?

      1. Quill*

        More to the point we’re in a pandemic, please don’t interact with these slobs unless it’s very, very necessary

      2. Insert Clever Name Here*

        The point would be that it would feel good to be saying “WTF is wrong with you” without actually saying “WTF is wrong with you,” with an added bonus of hopefully seeing them squirm uncomfortably.

  16. EPLawyer*

    I’m going to be the major downer here.

    We already have a manager who is friends with his (male) reports and thinks the woman’s job is to clean up after the men. Layoffs are coming. I don’t think going to HR is going to help.

    OP, get your resume together and get out. Your boss sucks and is not going to change. your place of employment sucks and is likely to be more focused on the coming layoffs than fixing the Boss. Get out on YOUR terms.

    1. Rose*

      Going to HR will help if HR is competent and wants to avoid a discrimination law suit. It’s a big if but it’s not like there’s no chance here.

      1. yala*

        Yeah, honestly if layoffs are coming, then to me it makes the most sense to get out in front of this and go to HR asap, because otherwise this could be used as justification for laying off OP. But if she does make a formal complaint, then laying her off shortly afterwards is definitely Not A Good Look and could get the company into legal trouble.

    2. Happy Pineapple*

      But don’t quit without another job lined up. At least if she get laid off she can file for unemployment until she starts another job.

      1. J.E.*

        The thing is, in the current employment market having another job lined up could take quite a while. Even if OP stays and Jim and Dwight are reprimanded, they could make OP’s life difficult by stepping right up to the line but not crossing it trying to drive OP to quit. Even if it’s not an ideal time, OP may end up having to leave without another job lined up.

    3. EngineerDE*

      I agree. One can document, but the boss can make cleaning part of the administrator job and that would be reasonable, if aggravating. I don’t think that there is much point in documenting the messes that others make. I would definitely be seeking another job.

      OP, I’m very frustrated on your behalf and I hope that your situation improves.

    4. mcfizzle*

      LW could do both – fight the good fight with HR and also be job-hunting, to be safe. Though I appreciate your practicality, I do hope her current HR department can help her with this.

    5. Anononon*

      But getting her (valid) complaints “on the record” may help show retaliation if she is part of the layoff. Not a slam dunk case, but in my experience (depending on state laws) a retaliation claim along with a discrimination claim is a major add-on in a law suit due to the types of damages allowed.

  17. boop the first*

    Why base a decision on a fear of lead to retaliation when the current situation is already leading to retaliation? If we already think you’re first on the chopping block, where does the hesitation come in?

    1. Paulina*

      Yes. Boss is already being awful to the OP about this; there’s no “keep your head down and hope” option here. Since there was a complaint from the cleaners and he blamed the OP for creating the mess, I expect he’s already telling a similar lie to others in authority.

  18. Coder von Frankenstein*

    I agree with Alison. If I were in your shoes, I’d a) start a low-key job search, and b) consult with a lawyer specializing in employment law about your options.

    This is NOT saying “quit your job now!” or “sue them into oblivion!” It’s about being prepared in case things go south. If your HR department is remotely effective, they will take care of it all and things will be fine. But if they don’t–if your fears come true and you get laid off, or if you don’t get laid off but your boss decides to make your job a living hell–you’ll be ready.

  19. Frodo of the Shire*

    This is a tough one because there are so many ways to handle this. I also work with a slob of a co-worker on 2nd shift. same stuff: residues on the computers, coffee stains, crumbs, disgusting under desk junk, stinky foods. And he doesn’t do a single damn thing to clean. It’s to the point where everyone else is so tired of cleaning after him, they too have stopped so the filth just keeps building unless I get in a mood on a Friday and decide to deep clean everything. I just take pride in having a decent place to work that customers actually want to come to but that’s me. I also don’t have a sexist boss who expects it of me; it’s my own choice so maybe a little different then your situation.

    The key here isn’t the cleaning. it’s the sexist remarks, the personal house remarks and the idea that it is your job to clean up the other shift’s mess. That is absolutely nonsense. If you are working with someone that makes you uncomfortable or acts disrespectfully towards you, then you have every single right to report it without retaliation. I would even say the food in the shredder was a retaliation tactic as well. No way, this guy would NOT know putting food in that bin is not allowed; he did it on purpose. All the more reason to report it.

    You can’t worry about pending lay offs because of this. It’s a situation that will drive you nuts if you let it go on. If it does go on, you’re better off leaving that job anyway. Document everything said from this point so if it DOES comes to lay offs and you are selected, you have something to fight with.

  20. Yes Ma'am*

    Dear God, send me a manager who tells me it’s my job to clean up after my male colleagues and then tells me I’m disgusting when I do not. I would have a field day with this. Amen.

    1. Abogado Avocado*


      Were this me, I would first take before-and-after photos (with date and time stamps) of the work space so I could document how clean I left it and what Dwight and Jim are doing to it. I’d also take photos of overflowing waste baskets and what’s in them. If there are signs in the workplace admonishing people to put stinky food waste in the kitchen trash, I’d photograph that, too.

      Second, I would advise HR in writing of the hostile work environment that Bad Boss is creating due to his gendered expectations and comments. I’d be sure to include pictures, too, of the mess Dwight and Jim are leaving.

      Third, I would send a written memo to Bad Boss with the time-stamped before-and-after photos from several consecutive days. In this memo, I would note my own efforts to clean and reorganize the work space, but would state that the space is now so filthy from Dwight and Jim’s usage that a professional deep cleaning is necessary, especially since this is a medical facility and cross-contamination of microbes of any type is dangerous in this age of COVID. Not only would I copy HR on this memo, I also would copy whoever in the org deals with the state’s regular inspections of your facility. (This is the sort of memo that all inspectors are very interested in.)

      And then I would sit back and watch the fireworks commence.

      1. Essess*

        And be sure to include that part of the microbe issue is body waste/boogers being left between shifts as a contamination hazard!

  21. Kaiko*

    Ughhhhh, the comment about “deflecting” raises my hackles so much. It’s not “deflecting” to tell your boss that your co-workers are actively stinking up the area. One question I have is: is there anyone else in the office while Jim and Dwight are in there? I get the sense that they’re treating the reception area like their own personal frat house common room because they know they can vouch for each other, and because no one is going to tell them to knock it off (I would bet that even if OP asked them to make the area a food-free zone, it wouldn’t stick). But if there was someone else in the office who could wander by and check out the front office, or even someone who had a bit of standing who could comment when the reception area gets gross….I dunno. Maybe letting them know that their behaviour is being seen could be enough to help curb it? A bit?

  22. Llellayena*

    Assuming the guy is at least slightly reasonable (ha!), can something like this work: “I realize that keeping the area clean is part of my responsibility, but it is impossible to do that effectively without some help in PREVENTING a mess to begin with. Can the night/evening shift be responsible for making sure their trash is in the right container and that spills and crumbs are wiped up when they occur so they don’t spoil by the time I arrive?” Highly likely that this will get ignored (or you’ll get dismissed again) but if you back this up with the documentation and approaching HR (with both problem AND solution in hand) it might help with the sexism claim and preventing retaliation.

  23. Rose*

    I don’t even get what OP is supposed to be doing in this situation if the issue was fruit in the paper trash. Sift through the trash each morning??

    This whole thing was so disgusting and sexist.

    1. Charlotte Lucas*

      That’s what I was thinking! And it sounds like some of the issues are affecting weekend cleaners, but wouldn’t even be something that she has any way of controlling, as she’s out for the weekend.

      It sounds like these guys aren’t even doing part of their job (besides cleaning up after themselves like any functional adult), so she has to clean up the angry phonecalls that they ignore.

      1. Paulina*

        Why are there two of them, when they’re not doing much? Since layoffs are coming, how about one of them? With the other leaving once their buddy weekend hangout is gone. Sigh, if only. Would still leave the nasty sexist boss, though.

  24. Dasein9*

    Boss: Let me stop you, it’s your area. You’re responsible for it. Stop deflecting and blaming others.
    OP: I’m not sure how to manage both my duties during the workday and coming in on nights and weekends to clean up after Jim and Dwight. Which tasks would you like me to prioritize? Will we alter my schedule to accommodate your needs or will I be working and earning overtime each week?

    1. Batgirl*

      “Why consult your magical inner womanly intuition. I have no idea how you ladies manage to pick up after us so effortlessly without any need for recognition”…. Would be the response except it’s too polite. So probably a repeat of how her continued complaints are “dramatic”.

    2. mcfizzle*

      And, in my estimation, it will take approximately 10 hours a week to properly clean! Or enough time to make sure management’s eyebrows go up. :)

      1. Dasein9*

        Yep. Might have to do the damned cleaning, but might as well make some serious money at it before this layoff hits.

  25. HotSauce*

    Document everything, bring it to HR. I’d even ask the boss to clarify via EMAIL that it is your duty to clean up after your male coworkers due to your gender and save that document in multiple safe places. If they do lay you off make sure to get an attorney and give them all the info you have documented.

  26. Colleague’s Dog’s Viking Funeral*

    Looks like the engineer who went in the cruciferous diet to fart his female coworker into leaving her job has been promoted to management.

  27. LTL*

    OP, even if you leave aside all the sexism and work issues and the fact that it’s not your mess, your boss is MEAN.

    “It’s disgusting. Your house must be filthy. It’s utterly disgusting.” What???

    I also wanted to flag something you said in the beginning of your letter: “I’ve never had a problem with my boss before”

    Bosses like this can really twist your norms. It may very well be the case that your boss never behaved this way before, but I think it’s worth reflecting on what you count as a problem. Because with people like this, it’s common for us to normalize their behavior so our minds stop flagging it. I don’t know how long you’ve been in the role, but I’d be surprised if this was your boss’ first lapse in judgement.

    1. Batgirl*

      I think the real mind bender with a boss like this is the way like they behave like things are normal. So they don’t react to actual boogers in the workplace, call you dramatic, have obvious favourites.. but they do it so confidently and calmly you actually start wondering if your own cleanliness/professional standards are too picky. Then they contradict themselves about the mess being no biggie, say something too wildly sexist to ignore and you realize your instincts were on the money all along.

    2. mf*

      Yes, thank you. The boss made this wayyyy too personal. He’s clearly a mean person and a bad manager. That alone is a good enough reason for the OP to job hunt. (And when you add the sexism on top of that, well…)

  28. tg*

    I’m trying to see what is happening here, so I hope I’m not annoying the OP by assuming things!

    I assume the OP is cleaning up at the start of her work day in order to do her work? Then leaving the area clean and tidy at the end of the day? Is here manager actually suggesting that she come in at times when she isn’t scheduled to work to tidy/clean too? Is he going to pay overtime for this?

    1. Batgirl*

      I think the manager is assuming that cleaning happens simply by hiring a woman onto the staff. Logistics like when and how to clean aren’t going to be considered. Or with what tools. That’s women’s work. If a woman’s “area” is dirty, that’s on her, even if she isn’t there. And even if she is, is she supposed to go through the bins to ensure the cleaners don’t have cause for complaint? Logic has left the building.

      1. Self Employed*

        If it’s a medical facility, there’s a pretty good probability the shredder bin is locked and can only be unlocked by the people responsible for shredding confidential materials. (I don’t think we went that far when I was just handling DoE contracts–we just kept it separate from trash/recycling.) So OP or the cleaners may not even have access to the contents of the shredder bin to look for garbage.

    2. Charlotte*

      This was my question. It sounds like they aren’t leaving it clean since people comment to her all the time on how messy it is.

  29. Sandi*

    I’m assuming that there isn’t a union to contact, but if so then I really hope that they can help. These are the types of situations where a good union can make a difference.

  30. AKchic*

    This is already untenable. This is already going downhill and isn’t going to stop rolling to the bottom.

    Start looking elsewhere. In the meantime, document everything. Start taking photos. Consult with an attorney. Go to HR and drop everything on them. Let *them* deal with the sexism and horrible management style they have allowed to exist. Let them deal with the menchildren they’ve allowed on nightcrew. Continue documenting. Email daily status reports to HR about the desk (this is how I left it, this is how I found it) with images. Make it an HR problem. If HR chooses to remove you from the company, that’s on them and an attorney can help you with that. Make sure you’ve cc’d yourself on every email (and forward every email you’ve received from them on the matter). Take notes in every in-person meeting like your life depends on it if you aren’t allowed to record the conversations.

    Regardless of what happens with HR, do not expect things to fundamentally get better. Dwight and Jim aren’t going to change. Your manager is never going to change. As long as the three of them work there, things will stay the way they are, even if HR forces them to be “nice” and clean up after themselves. They will do the bare minimum in order to keep their jobs, but nothing more. There will always be crumbs, rings, stains, and random stuff left behind with the justification of “it’s not that bad”, “it’s better than it was”, and “they just aren’t up to *your* standard”. The goal will be to get you to leave so they can get some other (younger) woman in the position to bully back into their daytime maid.

    1. Batgirl*

      I think documenting is smart because it never hurts and sometimes helps. It keeps you sane and safer from gaslighting. If nothing else, guys like this are really loathe to spell out their expectations so it’s both professional but fun to double check what they are for documentation purposes: “Just to check on actions to prevent another stinking bin which caused issues for cleaners. Since you said I need to manage the area when I’m not here: I was thinking a sign on the bin which says “paper only” will make it clearer to everyone who uses it. Is there anything additional you need me to do?”

    2. mf*

      “Regardless of what happens with HR, do not expect things to fundamentally get better.”

      Yes, yes, yes. OP’s goal in going to HR should not be to fix the situation so she can stay on at this job for the foreseeable future. Her goal should be to ensure HR prevents her boss from firing her so she can buy some time to find a new job. OP’s boss is a sexist a-hole and nothing’s going to change that.

  31. Mandi*

    Take time-stamped pictures of the spotless area when you leave for the day, then another time-stamped picture of the way it looks when you arrive after the weekend?

    It probably wouldn’t help, though. Your boss is a sexist jerk. I’m sorry you’re dealing with this.

  32. Jean*

    If my boss made a personal comment to me like the one he made to you about your house being disgusting, I’d be in HR right then and there filing a formal complaint. That alone is 100% over the line. Everything else is just more proof that your boss is abusive. I agree with everyone who said to start documenting EVERYTHING and file a formal complaint. And if he retaliates, which he will, get a lawyer. The only way to stop this kind of crap is to fight back as hard as you can with any and all means at your disposal.

  33. Watch your back*

    Definitely go to HR. Contact an attorney if it is a large enough organization. Start covering the computer and trash at the end of your shift. If need be, take a photo of the area when you leave. And start looking for a new job. Life is not fair, and it looks like you may be on the chopping block.

  34. Kiki*

    If your boss were somewhat reasonable (which it seems like he is not), I think you could approach him and say,

    “Hey, I think we had a misunderstanding last time we talked about the cleanliness of the reception area. I am ready and willing to do my share to keep the area tidy, but I can’t keep up with messes created when I’m not here, especially issues I won’t be able to know about until they’re really severe, like rotting fruit in the shred-it bin or hidden fermented beverages. I’m not trying to throw Jim or Dwight under the bus, but I really need them to do their part and not create additional messes in the reception area.”

    But it sounds like the boss is not reasonable, so I would go directly to HR. Jim and Dwight are leaving BOOGERS for you to clean up. That is not normal adult behavior. Any reasonable manager or HR person would not expect you to quietly continue to clean that up. Unfortunately, a fair number of manages and HR personnel have shown themselves to be somewhat unreasonable, so I might start putting out feelers for a new job.

  35. Retro*

    Can OP bring this up as a health issue? If Jim and Dwight are leaving OP boogers then OP can inform Boss of the presence of boogers and confirm with Boss that he does indeed want OP to clean up bodily fluids left by other people. I agree with all the other commenters about documenting but this might give you OP more backing than sexism itself because this workplace has shown itself to be unreliable in addressing sexism.

    This post on a whole just ENRAGES me because I worked in a predominately male workplace in which the team kept the kitchen area spotless because it was shared between shifts and everyone honored the code of cleaning up the mess that they make. It’s absolutely possible for OP to have this, so if the situation allows, I’d suggest OP find a new job.

    1. LizM*

      “Boss, since you are asking me to clean up boogers and other bodily fluids, I need to have training on biohazards. I found this training, it takes 8 hours and costs $1234. What account should I charge this training for? Who will cover the front desk on that day?”

  36. Seeking Second Childhood*

    This is what 5s is best at — shared workspaces. If nothing else some of the practices might be things you could start doing. The pictures people discuss, for before and after your shift? That’s not far off a standard 5S thing.
    Good luck… I would be job hunting.

  37. I've Escaped Cubicle Land*

    Booger could be considered a bio hazard even during non pandemic times. I know in the office were I worked only the janitors were allowed to clean up anything like bodily fluids and had to be properly gloved to do it. I ditto everyones suggestions of going to HR. I’d be sure to bring up the fact that 1)t your boss is defending the others behavior and blaming you for messes (Which includes biohazards) he knows they made. To the point where when he had the conversation he specifically shut you down every time you tried to address this. 2) Boogers during a pandemic that spreads thru mucus! 3) sexist expectations that you a female should clean up mens messes. 4) the remark about your house 5) fear of retaliation and that you plan to document EVERYTHING just incase it happens. Good luck. HR either needs to land hard on the boss and Jim or Dwight or you are going to end up happy to be employed anywhere else.

  38. Quill*

    Has anyone, in the history of ever, referred to a man’s work or appearance as “slatternly?” because noting that exact wording to HR could possibly help you make your case.

    1. Batgirl*

      That word was Alison’s when she was very aptly reading between the lines. These guys mean slatternly but they don’t say it; they don’t make it that easy.

  39. Elbe*

    This is awful. I hate it, but I don’t think that this is going to work out well for the LW.

    Even if she starts cleaning up the guys’ mess (which I don’t think that she should have to) just to keep her job, it sounds like she can’t possibly catch every issue. For example, how could she have known about the fruit in the shredding pile, even if she was trying to clean up? If these guys continue to be slobs, and if she continues to be blamed, there’s going to be a ‘gotcha’ sooner or later.

    The LW should start job searching, and documenting everything. If at all possible, she communicate with her boss over email whenever possible so that there’s a paper trail. She should absolutely ask point-blank if cleaning up after these guys is expected of her. And she could also try flagging messes that are there first thing in the morning, so her boss can’t hide behind the “possibility” that the messes are hers.

  40. Renee Remains the Same*

    I feel like the good ship “Reputation” has sailed on this one. OP is … pardon my french… screwed either way. Boss obviously doesn’t want to manage the situation and is laying blame on the person he wants to blame regardless of who is responsible. If Jim and Dwight refuse to clean up after themselves and have been told to do so and boss refuses to hold them accountable, OP will remain accountable whether she cleans up the mess herself or continues to advocate for herself. The thing I’m not seeing here is any documentation. It seems to be mostly oral communication. And I think if anything is going to change, it needs to be in a way that is clear and concise and permanent.

    Take pictures. Hey Boss, it’s Friday evening – I’m heading home for the weekend, here’s what my desk looks like.
    Hey Boss, it’s Monday Morning, I just got in 5 minutes ago – here’s what my desk looks like. I have spoken to Jim and Dwight about their unsanitary desk practices and have been unable to resolve this situation. Please advise. Rinse and repeat.

    I’m guessing boss man is going to come by your desk to discuss the situation verbally. No worries. Email him after – Per our conversation… Repeat.

    Also as others have said, it’s time to meet a nice lawyer.

  41. Firecat*

    Not work related but I had a very similar roommate situation one time. I was abroad and rented a room where I was the only foreigner. Things were great for a few months, then the landlord’s (whose room was downstairs) little brother, girlfriend, and his best friend moved in and the place quickly became a pigsty.

    Well a few weeks of this and suddenly my landlord is treating me very icily. Putting up passive aggressive notes about some items being for “family only” think the blender, kettle, and convection setting of the oven … it was all very strange.

    And then a few months after that, I had become good friends with another sibling of my landlord who lived down the street and they confronted me about the mess! I said this mess was little Bros – and their response in 2010 I shit you not was – “yeah we know he is a slob but you are the girl soooo”

    I told them in no uncertain terms that I was a tenant and not little Bros mom or maid.
    If they wanted to pay me minimum wage in rent discounts to housekeep I’d consider it but otherwise if they wanted to address the mess they should talk to little bro. (Frankly little bro was a kind person. Just a slob and we got on well and I didn’t care about the messes anyway.) My friend dropped it but my landlord treated me like crap and would passive aggressively tell lies about me to her family whenever she could. If the rent wasn’t so cheap for the quality of the room I would have found another place.

    1. Anonymous cat*

      I disagree with the landlord and family, but if they’re going to do the “girl does the housework” attitude, then shouldn’t the work have been done by little bro’s GIRLFRIEND? Especially if she’s living there too?

      1. Jan*

        Ugh, I had a housemate like that when I was 21. Luckily, I was born a combative bitch so I told him he could do his own bloody washing up! He also called me tight-fisted for not giving/lending him money for cigarettes. It’s interesting how it’s always those with more money than you who make that accusation (he was working, I was on the dole).

  42. ES*

    Having witnessed severely egregious, sexist conduct in a public setting in the office, I can say that Allison is right about knowing your company. HR will flag this but the question is how they handle the flag. I have seen a massive multinational HR take on an employee with a layoff after the manager called his direct report “bitchy” for refusing to be office mom—with the argument happening in front of the team and many coworkers who ultimately submitted depos supporting the claim on the record. And even though she had an airtight case with emails and texts and mor , it was YEARS before she could get the case to court, and ultimately settled for far less than she should have more than 40 months later, thanks to effective corporate lawyering. Her only solace was that her attorney assured her that they spent more than she had asked for in the initial settlement offer on counsel retention alone.

    On the other hand I have worked with HR in my own company to extract this kind of horrible manager before the damage can go on. It just depends on the company and the person/manager in question.

    Do not underestimate the extent companies will go to protect themselves if the leadership likes a bad manager. But also—eff these people. I’d work on finding a new job away from this guy pronto and make sure HR knows why when you leave.

  43. Student*

    Sometimes, the only thing you can do when facing injustice like this is take your talent elsewhere. So, if it helps – please know that there are lots of jobs out there where you don’t need to put up with this level of personal disrespect, sexism, and irrationality from your boss. You deserve a better workplace, and I hope you start searching for it now.

    Fighting it is an option, but walking away from it is also a valid option.

    I sincerely hope that AAM’s recommendations about how to address this with HR help. However, it’s always good to have a back-up plan in case that does not work out. I’m jaded about fighting issues like this in workplaces, after not getting particularly good results in my own such fights. I hope things are changing for the better on that front. Walking away has steadily led me to better jobs, though… and I can’t say I’ve ever regretted it.

  44. Zippy*

    Not sure if this has been said above, but maybe you can pursue this from the angle that this is a medical facility? I work in a hospital in a similar position and there are strict regulations about where we can keep food and drink even though no patient will ever set foot in our work area. Is there someone like a nursing supervisor on your shift who can attest to your boss that a) you are not causing the mess and b) what medical and regulatory consequences there are if the area is not kept clean? I would think the fact that there’s a smell near where visitors enter would be especially concerning. I am sorry that you are having to stress cleanliness to anyone in the middle of a pandemic, never mind the sexism you’re encountering.

  45. Cathie from Canada*

    This may not be helpful because it doesn’t deal with the sexism issue at all, but I am wondering if it might be possible to set things up so that you are NOT sharing all of your personal workspace with these guys.
    Its really not fair to you that your personal workspace is the first thing visitors see, its difficult to live your worklife “on display” so to speak.
    So I am wondering if the entrance area for the facility could be reconfigured — for example, if your desk could be moved out of the direct entrance way and pushed against a wall, it would be out of the traffic flow and less likely to be used as a dumping ground for stray coffee cups, etc? Then a smaller table or desk could be placed in the entrance-way itself, so this is what people would see when they enter the facility rather than your own desk. This table could then also be set up as the main workspace for the night and weekend staff — maybe they could even get their own laptop and keyboard?
    If you can’t move the desk, then maybe try to move every single item off your desk — into drawers or into storage cabinets or boxes – which also makes it more obvious when something is left out. If there are items that must remain on the desktop, like sign-in logs or phone lists, then everything should have a “home” – a bookshelf for manuals, a box for pencils and pens, trays for paper and supplies, a bulletin board for notifications, a clipboard for sign-ins – no stacks or piles, no stray pens or loose sheets.
    Also, eliminate “hiding spaces” by making all surfaces as open as possible, pushing everything to the back or against a wall, etc.
    In terms of cleaning procedures, would it be possible for the cleaners to pick up garbage first thing in the morning, instead of after work? If the garbage from every single garbage can anywhere near the workspace is bagged first thing Monday morning and taken outside, this could make it less likely that something will stink up the workplace. And put a cover on the shredding basket? And designate one garbage can for “food waste” which can be tied up twice a day?

  46. 30 Years in the Biz*

    Would love it if there were a security camera focused on the desk area! no people’s faces, just showing the accumulation of mess and trash that occurs outside of day shift from the bottom to top of desk. That would be great evidence if you can’t have a camera near you at work.

  47. LizM*

    I’m not sure how this situation can be salvaged. I would talk to an employment lawyer so that you understand your rights and any protections you have if you complain. As Alison said, a competent company won’t lay you off as retaliation (and will catch your boss if he offers a pretextual reason to include you on the list), but it’d be good to know how to set yourself up to be a better position to negotiate a severance if you are on the list. And I’d start looking for a new position so that you can leave on your own terms if this whole situation goes south.

  48. Potatoes gonna potate*

    Maybe I’ve been reading too much in my groups but can geese take this manchild manager away? Can he trip on a rake and hit his face? What an absolute garbage human asshat.

  49. OhBehave*

    Start emailing boss to tell him about the gross and lazy night guys. My guess is that they surf the web all night. Take pics too. Is the cleaning crew not doing their job or do they clean before these jerks arrive?
    Can you buy a wireless keyboard and take it with you when you leave? Icky keyboards are disgusting!
    Your boss is a sexist ass. The night guys are pigs and I shudder to think what THEIR homes look like.

    FWIW this is horrible and I wish you luck. Look for a new job.

  50. Anono-me*

    Pleas be careful about photos at work.

    OP Many people have given you additional advice to document with photos. Please check your organization’s policy about taking photos in the workplace before you take any pictures.

    Many companies have instituted blanket no pictures or filming or recording policies. Often most people aren’t aware of them and usually innocent violations are ignored. However, if a picture becomes a problem for the company, the person who took it face problems for violating official rules.

  51. Jessica Fletcher*

    One of my first jobs was as housekeeping in a residential facility. Your cleaning staff is really not doing their job if the front desk is constantly sticky, messy, food and dirt on the floor, etc. Vaccuming, cleaning the surfaces, and emptying trash are not your job.

    Of course it’s everyone’s job not to a slob, but it’s the cleaning staff’s job to fill the gap for slobs.

    What do the cleaning staff think? Have they complained about Dwight and Jim? Make friends with them and get their take. These guys are making their jobs harder, and making it look like they aren’t doing their jobs. Their boss might have more luck making progress, especially if the cleaning staff is unionized, which they sometimes are.

    Does it look trashy when your state regulators come in? I bet not. Who deep cleans the area before your state inspections? Do Dwight and Jim simply take vacation those days, or do they suddenly become able to control themselves?

    You could always file an anonymous complaint with your state regulator, saying you’ve tried to call a bunch on weekends and no one answers, or with your county or state saying you visited over the weekend and were shocked at the filth, in a pandemic when most places are doing extra cleaning.

  52. Sparkles McFadden*

    I’m going to echo others here: Document, document, document. Write up all the past events as well as you can remember them. Save email threads.

    I do think you need to get your boss to clarify responsibilities for day and night staff. Do you all have the same job title? If he decrees it is solely your responsibility to keep the area clean, then you need to take photos of the area after you left it clean, and after Jim and Dwight make another mess. Are you on the clock? Can you wrangle some overtime to clean each day? Bosses fix things that cause them pain. OT increases cause pain. Write up as much as you can remember (dates, times) of any discussion with the boss and his sexist, personal attacks. Include any discussions with Dwight and Jim. Save any email threads.

    I, personally, wouldn’t go to HR if my hair was on fire and they had the only extinguisher. HR is there to protect the company and thus they usually side with management. I never took this personally as I understood their role in the company. However…if you get brought to HR by your boss, and you have a pile of documentation, the situation changes. You might not be able to save your job, but you’ll definitely increase your chances for a decent severance package.

  53. Mathie*

    Maybe I am overly suspicious, but to me it seems like a real possibility that the boss is anticipating the layoffs and wants to have a reason at the ready to let go of OP rather than his friends.

  54. His Grace*

    Hell no. He accused you of having an unkempt home? Yeah, he was way out of line.

    You need to start documenting every interaction with your boss from here on out, take photos (whenever possible), and start looking for a new job.

    I would also consider hiring a lawyer. This type of harassment is sexist AF, and has no place in the workplace.

  55. PlainJane*

    This is something I’m wondering about–do people in traditionally male jobs get flak about neat desks? I really don’t know, having never worked in a male-dominated field, but it’s always struck me as vaguely, “Chicks like to keep things tidy, so of course women will add cleaning to work routines.” I’m not talking about public areas. Just sort of, “Is your desk messy, you slob?” vs, “Oh, ha-ha, see if you can find anything on Joe’s desk?”

  56. L6orac6*

    So on your behalf. I’m sorry but it’s time to start looking for a new job. The boss, your two colleagues not doing their job, letting calls go to voicemail and leaving mess behind. The boss has stated it’s your problem only, except it’s everyone’s problem to deal with. He has no respect for you, your two colleagues have no respect and go out of their way to get you into trouble. This isn’t going to get any better! In the meantime, start documenting and go to HR. Good luck.

  57. Andre S.*

    I think the missed phone calls could be more important. Because there are so many calls on voicemail and become problems i would try to document this. I have a feeling they could blame this on you. It sucks that you have this Problems but i suspect that this could get worse. I would escalate this just so you are on the safe side.

  58. Petunia*

    If the OP is unable to take photo evidence, document in detail.
    23/2/21, 08:30
    Wiped chocolate stains and three boogers off keyboard. Threw out 2 empty drink cups. Noted night shift has thrown apple in shredder bin.

    Also document all the times you have spoken to boss and what he has said. Try to backdate as many of these conversations as you can remember. Quote where relevant eg your house is disgusting.

    I actually don’t think you have much to lose. I really hate saying this but there is every chance HR will throw you under the bus. Be prepared to negotiate your reference and a decent redundancy for signing a non-disclosure and dropping your complaint and not involving lawyers (don’t mention legal options until you are in the corner and prepared to burn and salt the bridge). You want to avoid a legal case but use leverage to get your reference and “redundancy” entitlements. But really, I don’t think your reference is going to be glowing from your turd of a boss anyway. The sudden change in attitude might also signal an intent to fire you rather than give you severance.

    There is a chance that HR will do their job and protect you from retaliation. Perhaps you can sit at a different desk. Can you report to a different manager? Hopefully they will at least word in the two slobs and the turd boss to improve. However, I would job search in earnest until I see significant improvement.

    Good luck and please update us.

  59. Lara Cruz*

    Wow, Allison is giving downright irresponsible advice to the OP – just put up with a discriminatory job because you’ll probably be retaliated against if you report the boss? Really?

  60. JC*

    Years ago, the night shifters (all men) would leave our shared desk littered with the remains of their lunches: half-eaten sandwiches, spilled drinks, fruit peels, crumbs, etc. When I complained to the supervisor, he told me to “just clean it up, what’s the big deal.” One morning I had had enough of this situation, so I gathered it up and put it on the supervisor’s desk for him to find in the morning when he came in. He was livid and grilled the night crew about who left the mess on his desk. Naturally, they each were bewildered and denied doing so, because none of them had left the mess on HIS desk. That’s when I piped up and said, “I put it there because I was ready to work and thought you weren”t done with your lunches, because if you were done, you would have cleaned up after yourselves.” Problem solved. Never came into that slop again.

  61. Bob*

    my boss called me “disgusting” for not cleaning up my male coworkers’ mess
    Hey boss, could you put this in an email using this exact wording

  62. jojo*

    Take pictures of the mess when you arrive each day and before you go home. This will prove when the mess occurs.

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