The Boss Has a New Baby: Are Employees Obligated to Help?

Some managers have employees attend to the manager’s personal duties, much to the chagrin of those employees. Time that an employer spends distracting an employee from his or her essential duties costs not only the organization, but also the employee. Employees are hired to perform specified duties at a specified salary. By focusing on one’s essential tasks, employees gain familiarity and experience in their chosen field, increasing their productivity and increasing their marketability.

Attending to the care of a new baby is one such personal errand that some managers assign to employees. While some employees may be happy for the manager on a personal level, most employees would prefer to work towards fulfilling their annual objectives. Unfortunately, refusing to glorify the manager’s new offspring can bring his or her ire. To make matters worse, there is little that employees can do about such menial tasking.

At-Will Employment

Most workers in the United States are employed at will. This means that the employer or the employee may terminate the employment arrangement at any time without any prior warning for any lawful reason. If an employer makes an employment-related decision based upon a person’s membership in a protected class, such as a particular race, religion or ethnicity, the company will be liable for wrongful termination. However, no law protects an employee’s right to refuse to perform a trivial task.

This is not to say that employees have no recourse. If a manager is tasking employees with personal work while the employee is on company time, the manager is effectively using corporate assets to enrich himself or herself. If a highly paid or indispensable employee is being tasked to address the manager’s personal issues, the manager’s superiors may stop the conduct. If the manager is well liked or if the employee’s duties are vaguely defined, going over the manager’s head is likely to backfire.

Another option for employees who unwillingly become babysitters is to seek employment elsewhere. This may not entail leaving the company; many companies prefer to hire employees already familiar with their processes, and transferring to another department is often a possibility at larger companies. Managers who task employees with personal errands rarely have a focus on departmental efficiency and moving yourself away from what could become a financial time bomb could be a wise move if it is feasible.

Employment Contracts

Employment relationships are often governed by strict employment contracts. Some of these contracts allow employers to terminate the relationship only for specified reasons, but not all do. Most such contracts allow managers to terminate the employee for insubordination and employees who refuse to perform their assigned tasks are likely to be terminated. However, not all contracts are drafted properly.

If the clauses of the contract specifying the employee’s duties or the permissible reasons for termination are ambiguous or clearly confine the employee’s duty to specified tasks, the employee may be able to refuse without being lawfully terminated. Ambiguous contracts are typically construed in the light least favorable to the party who drafted the contract and performing personal child care for the employer is generally not a provision in most employment contracts.

The employee’s options hinge upon the exact wording of the employment contract. Anyone who has been threatened with termination for refusing to care for the supervisor’s child should seek an attorney experienced in both employment and contract law. If the employee is wrongfully terminated, he or she may sue for wrongful termination.

Potential Sources of Compromise

While attending to the boss’ latest offspring may be highly undesirable to skilled employees, employers may have reasons for refusing to leave their children with a babysitter. Keeping one’s child close at work allows for the mother or father to bond with his or her baby during the child’s formative years. However, supervisors should realize that distracting employees with a baby is likely to reduce the office’s productivity. Placing a child in a well-constructed, convenient playpen such as a washable play yard (like pack and play) with age-appropriate toys in the supervisor’s office allows for the parent and child to bond while avoiding any distractions in the office.

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