Once upon a time, Miss Cleo worked for someone we will call The Walrus. The Walrus was an unscrupulous man. Not just by Miss Cleo’s standards, either.
The Walrus had a girlfriend who lived with him. And he had a girlfriend who lived a few states away who he denied being involved with, but everyone, including his Live-In Girlfriend knew the real score. Miss Cleo liked the LIG and felt bad that the Walrus was an asshole to her.
One day, the Walrus went on a road trip. He had the LIG’s cell phone with him. He knew he couldn’t call the other girlfriend directly from the cell phone because then his LIG would know he’d been a bad, bad Walrus. So, he called Miss Cleo at the office and had her conference in TOG. Miss Cleo felt very, very unethical doing this. But she knew she’d lose her job if she didn’t. This was, however, the last straw and it was what pushed Miss Cleo to start looking for another job.
One day, Miss Cleo was on the phone with Ms. Pushypants, someone who was a minor acquaintance of Miss Cleo’s and a good friend of the Lawyerdude. Ms. Pushypants was prodding Miss Cleo about why she was looking for another job. Miss Cleo explained the lack of ethics and morals of the Walrus and Ms. Pushypants asserted that when you are “on the clock” you MUST do WHATEVER your employer asks of you, no matter if it is against your morals or not.
For the record, Miss Cleo is vehemently against this point of view. Your boss has a reasonable expectation that you will perform the job you were hired to do. My job for the Walrus was “Secretary” and never in any job description Ms. Cleo has ever seen has it said “and the Secretary will assist the Boss with cheating on his Girlfriend”. I hear you saying “But, Miss Cleo, couldn’t that fall under “other tasks as assigned”” and Ms. Cleo would have to admit that it might but will assert that you, as an employee, have the right to not do things that are unethical, and this is where I believe the legal term “reasonable person” comes into play (The reasonable person standard is often used legal term that originated in the development of the common law. The “reasonable person” is a legal fiction which represents a reasoned outlook on a legal question. The perspective of the reasonable man is intentionally distinct from that of an “average” person; contrary to popular misconception, the reasonable man is not necessarily average. The question of how a reasonable person might act, or what judgment they might make under the circumstances performs a critical role in legal reasoning . For example, the crime of sexual harassment is deemed to have occurred in some legal jurisdictions when the conduct is unwelcome and when a reasonable person would have considered such conduct sexual.) Miss Cleo would argue that per the reasonable person standard, being asked to help one’s boss cheat on their LIG would be out of the scope of a secretary’s duties. If you argue that ANYTHING can fall under the “other tasks as assigned” clause, then I submit to you that you would be beholden to commit murder if you were “on the clock” and your boss asked you to do so and, really, how many people would actually DO that? If you walked in to work tomorrow and your boss said “I have the person you love the most in the whole world in the conference room tied to a chair, here’s a gun, you will go kill him/her now” would you actually do it? What if you were told “you will be fired and likely shot yourself if you don’t do it.” Does that change anything?
My point in all of this is that we all have free will and I exercised mine in deciding to look for another job. I was being asked to do things I was not comfortable doing. I didn’t ask to not do those tasks, I chose to seek other employment.
The reason this came up again was someone in a forum I read asked if it was wrong to refuse to serve alcohol to an obviously pregnant woman. I’d say that a wait person should have to right to refuse to do so. There are probably other people on staff who would not have a problem doing so, so the customer could still be reasonably accommodated. If you are told by your superior “you are never to refuse alcohol service to a patron”, you then have the decision to make as to whether you want to continue doing the job. I know that there was an issue at some grocery stores where Muslim cashiers would not handle/ring up pork products and I believe they made accommodations for those folks.
So, does your boss have the right to ask you to do whatever he wants when you’re on the clock? I’d say that sexual harrassment laws point at “no”. So, is it only ok for him to ask you to do anything UP TO actually breaking a law? Well, I know that once upon a time there weren’t any sexual harrassment laws and that they came into being somehow. More than likely due to someone not liking behaviour they were expected to put up with. Is cheating on your girlfriend illegal? Certainly not. But it’s not something I want to have to be party to at MY workplace and I have the right to that opinion. Ms. Pushypants, I disagree with your assertion and make a mental note to never work for you.