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Duties that are not mine

Boss just asked you to help out. Now your stuck with the task. What do you do or nor do? Duties that are not mine is important reading it can happen to anybody in the workplace.

Jobs Outside my contracted duties, demeaning tasks, or not trained for.

Sometimes it is hard to separate work and personal lives. However, what happens when the lines are too blurred and your boss is asking you to complete their personal tasks or commitments. Employers do not have authority to control employees every action. However some employers may feel as though they are entitled to manage their employees like sims characters. Without regard for job description, policy, or bodily autonomy. 

In most cases it is not expected for an employee to wash their bosses clothes, walk their dog, or run other personal errands. Unfortunately, not all employees understand what the scope of their role should or can include. Employers will rely on vague workplace clauses and intimidation tactics.  You do have workplace rights and are allowed to say no to ridiculous and irrelevant tasks. 

Work contracts and conditions

Typically an employee will understand the scope of their role through their job description and statutory requirements. There are legal minimums that every employer must comply with, per the National Employment Standard (NES). The NES is what dictates minimum wage, annual and sick leave entitlements, rights surrounding public holiday and more. 

Furthermore, some industries and roles will also be subject to certain awards and agreements. In most cases an award cannot have clauses that provide less than the NES. However, they do often enforce additional entitlements that become industry standard. Including higher minimum wages, different remuneration packages, and safety requirements. 

Some professions, such as those in the healthcare industry, do have different workplace awards and parameters due to the inherent functions of the role. For example, health care professionals are not bound by a maximum 38 hour work week as they can work up to 16 hours in a single shift and often easily exceed 38 hours per week. Therefore, certain agreements are made to reflect roles more accurately.

Employer said “can you just help me out” “we are short staffed”. Sure says the employee, now she is stuck outside in the muck and dirt. This is not uncommon. They are not sure how to resolve the situation because of the fear of being dismissed.

Job description 

The purpose of a job description is to outline the responsibilities, entitlements, and expectations of an employee. This will be more specific and tailor made to the employee and employer’s needs. Often including information on salary, type of work, and expected number of hours worked in a week. 

An important inclusion in a work description or contract is what jobs are expected of the employee. This should always reflect the core essence of the job. The difficult part is that almost all contracts will include a segment stating duties and “other related tasks” may be necessary. However, “other related tasks” is a vague description and allows employers to include additional responsibilities for the same pay. 

Most additional tasks will be assessed on a level of reasonability. Whether the additional task is similar to current responsibilities, whether there is anyone else more educated on the topic, whether the employee has completed similar tasks in a previous role, length of time needed to complete the task and so on. There is no exhaustive list, however there does have to be some kind of logic or explanation as to why an employee is tasked with additional “related tasks”. 

Many migrants are forced to do whatever is demanded of them. They are not aware of their employee rights in Australia. It’s also better than being deported. Everybody has rights regardless of who you are.

Why would I do anything outside my contract? 

It is imperative that employees are careful and know how to advocate for themselves. Not all employers, especially toxic employers, will take advantage of their employees in order to benefit their business or themselves. This could include asking the employee to work overtime, or even expecting it. Placing undue amounts of pressure to get work done. Or making employees fear taking their breaks for the sake of productivity. 

Not all employers will use fear and intimidation. Some employers will prefer to befriend their employees. Making the argument that they are friends and friends help each other out. Therefore, why wouldn’t the employee want to help them? At first it may be a “once off favour” that the employee is happy to do. However, this can easily spiral to a consistent expectation at the employee’s expense. 

Finally, some employees are victims of workplace culture. It is not that one employee is being used, but it “is just the way things are”. There is no culture of advocating, or questioning why things are the way it is. Everyone enforces that this is how the company has chosen to run the business and it is not an employee’s position to question it. This is a dangerous mindset as it allows toxic behaviours to go unchecked and blindsided. 

There is usually an ultimatum when an employee does want to advocate for their workplace rights. Such as “you can complain but then you will definitely not be considered for that promotion next month”. Leaving the employee to either feel used by the employer, or suffer from knowing they will sabotage their chances for success at the company.

Female employee lying on the floor. Accident in warehouse. Many employees who take up temporary roles are not fully trained.

What can I do about it? 

Employees will always have the right to complain that the company is infringing on their workplace rights. A workplace right can include having access to entitlements, receiving the correct pay at appropriately timed intervals, or to have all the equipment needed to complete the job. However, there are also some less explicit workplace rights. Such as having the right to feel safe at work. The right not to be manipulated or bullied. And the right to complete your role as described without having unreasonable additional duties. Especially without fair compensation. 

If you believe your employer is asking you to do a job completely outside your scope, especially an inappropriate or personal task, then the first step is to speak to your employer. In the eyes of Fair Work, a discussion with a more senior member of staff regarding a workplace issue can be considered a ‘complaint’. Making a complaint allows for the employer to reflect on the issue, investigate, and resolve any disputes. 

Any reasonable employer would have a discussion on what was done, what was asked of the employee, and why it may or may not be an appropriate task for them. However, if an employer ignores the complaint, pushes that the task must be done without providing any explanation, or negatively changes the employee’s role (demotion, termination, etc) then there is a significant problem. 

Employer bullying an employee to do whatever they see fit. Workplace harasssment should not occur regardless of the bosses demands.

How Fair Work helps you

In the situation where complaining and having a discussion was not successful. The next step may be lodging a claim with the Fair Work Commission. When there is a problem about an employer infringing on workplace rights the most common type of claim is a General Protections claim. This claim can be lodged if the employee is still employed, or has been terminated. Unlike an Unfair Dismissal that can only be lodged after the employee is terminated. 

Beware that no matter the type of claim, if an employee is dismissed then there is only 21 days to lodge a claim. 

General Protections can be lodged when an employee has complained that their workplace right has been infringed. In some cases, such as those involving safety and the employer is already aware that an issue has occurred, complaining may not be necessary. However, in most circumstances it is, or highly recommended. The second criteria is that the employee has faced some type of adverse action or reprimand due to their complaint, or exercise of a workplace right. Typically resulting in a dismissal or demotion, but can include bullying, isolation, or worsening of workplace conditions. 

The outcome of a General Protection claim is varied. The employee can ask for changes in their workplace to ensure they are not completing menial inappropriate tasks, have fairer working conditions, or financial compensation, just as some examples.

Employee forced to do the duties of others who just watch. This is a common occurance in the workplace. Some employees pass difficult or manual tasks onto others. These are signs of toxic workplace culture.


Boss forcing employees to spend money on a farewell gift

One example includes a London employee being asked to send their employer the equivalent of $95 AUD for a colleague’s farewell gift. The employer had told their employee that it was “mandatory” despite the employee explaining that they did not have enough spare money to chip in. 

All things considered it is never reasonable for an employer to demand money from their employees for a matter that is not the employee’s responsibility. In this situation, it may be related to the workplace. However, this demand has nothing to do with the employees job description or responsibilities. 

Employee wins almost $40,000 AUD after being asked to pick up dog poo 

A female employee working in North Wales, United Kingdom, was asked to pick up dog poo in her hairdressing role. Which clearly was not in or relating to her job description. Within the first six months, the employee was also asked to do a number of other menial tasks outside of her daily duties. The employee claimed this was in response to her boss finding out she was Muslim. 

The female employee was also a victim of false rumours. That she was making sexual comments towards young boys while cutting their hair. Due to the working conditions it was hard for the female employee to work as he developed anxiety and depression. In the end the store owner, and bosses mother, terminated the employee’s employment after working there for two years. 

After going to her local tribunal, they decided in the employees favour. Awarding her the equivalent of over $37,000 AUD in damages, and almost $2,000 in unpaid wages. 

Not only was the employee asked to perform duties outside of her role, but it was done due to racial discrimination. Also pointing to the issue that a respectful workplace would never subject their employees to cruel or degrading tasks for no reason. If you are being forced into similar work then there may need to be reflection as to why this is happening.

Burnout employee under pressure in the office. Others just keep loading her up with more work. This may be a forced resignation. Get advice

Boss forces kissing in morning ritual 

There was international distress when a video of a Beijing company showed all female employees queuing up to kiss their boss in their morning standard operating procedure. The company itself produces brewing equipment. The boss in the video stated that it brought the employees and management together. First the employees were deeply embarrassed, however now they were supposedly used to it. Now when the boss is overseas the female employees miss him. However, two employees were forced to resign when they could not adapt to the new morning ritual. 

In Australia no employer can reasonably ask an employee to kiss them. If the individuals have a romantic relationship then there may be some conflicts and a discussion with Human Resources. However, an employee is always allowed to refuse instructions regarding their own autonomy. Whether this is regarding kissing, hugging, holding hands, or anything similar. 

If the employee were to be reprimanded or terminated for upholding their own autonomy then they would be eligible for claiming an Unfair Dismissal or General Protection application. As long as all other requirements are satisfied. 

Conclusion to: Duties that are not mine

For all employees, it is imperative to thoroughly understand the scope of your role and responsibilities. This is to ensure that your employer is not intentionally or accidentally taking advantage of you and your time. Just because instructions have come from management, a boss, or director, does not always mean they are reasonable or legal. 

If there is a task that does not seem appropriate or make you feel uncomfortable the first step is to always discuss your concerns with your employer. There may be a serious issue, or a simple misunderstanding. However, if that does not work, then the next option may be lodging a claim with the Fair Work Commission

Call 1800 333 666 for confidential advice.

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