employer conflict
May 4, 2010 12:49 PM   Subscribe

Employer uses email to distribute work schedules, all memos and notices. Most staff, me included, do not have company email accounts and take time to read and print emails at home off the clock. Supervisor emails a lot, sometimes 10-15 emails at a time, often several days a week. The work schedules come color coded, for her convenience, not mine and to print properly I need to buy color ink which otherwise I do not want or need. Question: is it proper for employer to require employees to use unpaid time to read, and have to pay out of pocket to maintain internet service, printer and paper and ink to receive the schedule, memos and administration information? If not, what can should one do about it?
posted by NorthCoastCafe to Human Relations (35 answers total)
Can you read and print these at work? Or ask for paper copies?
posted by royalsong at 12:51 PM on May 4, 2010

Not really. Nothing.

You haven't written about what employee relations are like in general, but you need to ask yourself whether this marginal cost is worth fighting your boss over. Fighting your boss is usually not a recipe for success when it's over something as small as what you've outlined.

Also, do you have to print out the schedules in color?
posted by OmieWise at 12:53 PM on May 4, 2010

It's usually better to approach your employer with a diagnosis and a solution rather than just a criticism. So figure out what kind of distribution means your employer would need to use to solve this problem (Giving you all company email accounts? posting the memos on a public bulletin board? Distributing the email contents on hard copy? Cutting back on the memos in general? Or whatever else you can come up.) and then explain the problem and your proposed solution(s) to your supervisor.
posted by orange swan at 12:53 PM on May 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

I had a similar situation to this -- I set up an email account solely for work, and I just didn't check it when I wasn't at work. I just didn't. Have they actually required you to do this, or are you just doing it, and they haven't actually said to you "you must do this at home." What will happen if you stop checking these emails at home, and only do it at work?
posted by brainmouse at 12:55 PM on May 4, 2010 [6 favorites]

If by "proper," you mean "a good management strategy that will keep your employees happy," then no, probably not. If by "proper," you mean "legal, and an employer can discipline or fire an employee who doesn't go along," we're going to need a lot more information about your location, the type of job you have, and the actual nature of the requirements to even begin to hazard a guess.

Have you tried approaching your manager and asking her whether there's an easier way for you to get this information, explaining that you don't have the ability to easily receive and read her emails at home?
posted by decathecting at 12:55 PM on May 4, 2010

I don't mean to sound snarky/treehuggery, but.. do you need to print them at all? Can you just view the e-mails on your PC and copy the relevant information in a datebook? That's probably what your company would argue (to cut their own costs) if you took this to them.
posted by supercres at 12:55 PM on May 4, 2010 [10 favorites]

Firstly, you almost certainly have the option to print in grayscale; in Windows it's usually accessed via a button labelled 'Properties' next to the printer list in the print dialog.

As to the other stuff, it most likely depends on your contract. If having email and Internet access are not integral requirements of your job, then why not just tell her that you no longer have an email account? She'll presumably have to print off the documents herself and give them to you during work time.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 12:57 PM on May 4, 2010

I don't know whether it's legal for the employer to require you to maintain internet service, etc. But if you're classified as a non-exempt employee (i.e. hourly, not salaried), you're entitled to compensation for all hours worked. Requiring you to under-clock your time is illegal.
posted by brain at 12:59 PM on May 4, 2010

I don't mean any offense, but this seems like getting really worked up over something small. I would guess that there are other things going on at work or between you and your employer that make this seem like a big deal, or else this is your first job where your employer uses email.

I don't understand why you would need to print out things in color, or even at all. Just view it on a computer and cut and paste what you need into your own calendar, or print it out in greyscale and use a highlighter for the sections you need. Buying a color printer seems like overkill.

You could propose to your employer that they print out the schedules and send them to you, or that you print them out at work on the company printer, though perhaps the nature of your job is something where schedules change at the last minute (like catering).

In any event, unless you're getting paid minimum and this is really a deal breaker in terms of expenses, I'd say it either live with it or suggest one of the solutions above. Life's too short to sweat stuff like this.
posted by zippy at 1:09 PM on May 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Also, an alternate solution. Ask Employer if they can include the category info as text that's currently represented solely by color. Let's say these are schedules. Where a line is in yellow indicating that it's your shift, just insert some label in the text so that it's easier for you to follow. It's a positive suggestion that doesn't require much effort on your employer's part.
posted by zippy at 1:12 PM on May 4, 2010

While at work, you can look at the email, then, using a pencil, write your scheduled hours down on a sheet of paper. Put the paper in your pocket. Refer to it when you need to.

posted by General Tonic at 1:20 PM on May 4, 2010 [3 favorites]

I don't have a printer so I don't print out work things at home. If something work-related needs to be printed out I print it at work. What are the obstacles that prevent you from implementing this same habit in your own life? Does your workplace not have a printer?
posted by kate blank at 1:22 PM on May 4, 2010

Are you paid on Salary or a Hourly Wage?

Does your job have a dress code (which you must purchase yourself & on your own time)?

Are you responsible to pay for the transportation that brings you in to work in the morning?

These things aren't necessarily out of line, but if you want to draw the line at emails & printing supplies on your own time, then you should let your boss know how much of an inconvenience this is for you and try to (amicably) arrange something else.
posted by MesoFilter at 1:27 PM on May 4, 2010

Sounds ridiculous to me. Something I'd never do.

As constructive criticism I'd tell them straight up, let them know your opinion and explain the grief their system is giving you and possibly other colleges or future. Perhaps they may work with you for a better solution.

Worst comes to worst I'd just get a smartphone and view their "documents" on that.

Surely those 10-15 emails they send musn't all relate to you. It really does sound like their system is bad.
posted by Bacillus at 1:30 PM on May 4, 2010

"Oh hey Mr. Supervisor. ... Yeah the kids are great ... No, I'll probably just rent Avatar on DVD. Oh hey, by the way, my computer at home is on the fritz. Viruses or something like that. The neighbor kid said he'd look at it, but until then, is it possible for you to print out the for me for the time being?"
posted by Mach5 at 1:35 PM on May 4, 2010 [4 favorites]

I agree with those asking why you're printing them out. If you absolutely have to print them out, just copy-and-paste into a Word document and change the font to black.

This is absolutely not something that's worth wasting your boss' time. I would have serious concerns about an employee who demonstrated such a lack of initiative/independent thinking about how to solve an exceedingly minor problem.
posted by ewiar at 1:41 PM on May 4, 2010 [6 favorites]

You should not bring this "problem" up with anyone. Instead, you should solve it yourself by writing down only your own schedule. There does not appear to be any reason to print everyone's color-coded schedule.

If you are having this sort of issue with your boss, and are planning to bring it up with her boss, you will look like an unsuitable worker, and should prepare to be fired.
posted by grouse at 1:59 PM on May 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

I feel like we are missing something here.

My boss sends my work schedule by email

I see no problem with this.

I print it out...

If you want a hard copy, that is your preference. It certainly is not required of you (as far as I can tell from the question).

"...in color"

Why? Are they illegible in B/W?

"Is it proper for employer to require employees to use unpaid time to read, and have to pay out of pocket to maintain internet service, printer and paper and ink to receive the schedule, memos and administration information?"

If you are honestly maintaining internet service solely to read your schedule, then maybe you should approach your supervisor and suggest an alternate means of receiving your schedule. Printing out emails is purely a preference thing. If the memos you receive are so onerous to read that they require a large block of time, perhaps you should approach your supervisor and request to review these documents at work and on company time.
posted by 2bucksplus at 2:23 PM on May 4, 2010

Employer uses email to distribute work schedules, all memos and notices.

I think people are missing this - the boss is sending ALL this stuff to their personal email addresses, not their work addresses. It sounds like it's expected that all this be dealt with on personal time, if the employer does not provide email addresses or access.
posted by tristeza at 2:28 PM on May 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

Color printing is because the boss is color coding stuff.
The grey-scale will not pick it up.

I second, nth or whatever, only checking for work e-mail work while at work. Is that possible?
posted by SLC Mom at 2:40 PM on May 4, 2010

What is the problem you are trying to solve? If it's unpaid time, put it on your time card. If you're exempt, then you're exempt.

Is it using your own email? It is unusual at this stage of the game for an employer to not provide e-mail addresses, but even if this were up to your immediate supervisor, you would still be accessing work webmail through your own connection when you are not actually in the office, wouldn't you? So, it can't be the cost of email, which is ubiquitous and free.

Is it the cost of your internet connection? If you have any case at all in this situation, this might be it, particularly if there others who are voicing this as a concern. However, would you actually argue to your employer that you wouldn't have service if they didn't send out schedules via email? Is there no other way for you to get your schedule? I'm not clear if you have computer access at work. If they don't use email, what would you suggest instead that could be more efficient?

As to the printing, I understand that there are people who really, really want a hard copy of something. If this is you, this is a very good time to break that habit. Create email folders to store and organize what is sent to you. If your schedule is complex, consisting of appointments and specific assignments, and particularly if it changes, then having live access to your current schedule is probably more important than having a hard copy. If you are particularly mobile in your job, you may wish to invest in a phone with access to email, or see if your employer will provide one.

Most jobs have some out-of-pocket costs. Since you are making the choice to print things, I can't see how this could be a cost that your employer should pick up. If you must, must, absolutely must have a printed version of anything, just copy it into Notepad and print on Draft.
posted by sageleaf at 2:43 PM on May 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think people are missing this - the boss is sending ALL this stuff to their personal email addresses, not their work addresses. It sounds like it's expected that all this be dealt with on personal time, if the employer does not provide email addresses or access.

To me, that makes it sound like this is because the emails are announcing shifts and other things that cannot wait until each employee's next known shift. If that's the case, it's way more convenient than having to go into a shop or restaurant to look at the schedule each week, and no more or less intrusive than getting a voicemail or phone call on your personal number with the same info.

I think a company email address and reading email only at work would make sense for someone with a 9-5 office job, but this sounds like maybe retail or food service or something of that ilk. It's 2010 and I don't think it's presumptuous to assume that most people have access to email.

Unless there is some important detail about how long/time-consuming these emails are to read, or why you would need to have a color print-out of everyone's schedule, and why you would have to print out all memos and announcements, it sounds like an overreaction to something that just shouldn't be a big deal. I'm sure it comes down to a matter of personal preference -- I can tell you I would certainly prefer getting an email about a schedule change than a phone call (which I find annoying and intrusive).

So, yeah, I would just let it go. Pick your battles.
posted by tastybrains at 2:48 PM on May 4, 2010

If you are doing it for your own convenience, then there is not a problem. If you are doing it to save your company from having to set up proper internet access for employees (including company email and printing, if necessary) it is a work issue. Is it a requirement of your job that you have internet access at home? Do you have a union?

I would tell my supervisor that to cut household expenses you have given up internet access at home. Cancel the email address you gave to your employer. If it is not a requirement of your job, then they cannot expect you to have it.
posted by fifilaru at 2:50 PM on May 4, 2010

I would be interested to know what your employer would do in an instance where an employee suddenly found themselves without internet, or if someone who did not have internet at all applied for a job at your place of work.
posted by yoyoceramic at 2:54 PM on May 4, 2010

Is this this same supervisor/job you were having trouble with last month? If so, it sounds like you're unlikely to be able to change your supervisor's behavior. If you're reading, coming back with a little more information about the specific nature of your job would be really helpful. Your profile says "journalist" but I'm having trouble figuring out how variable schedules each week figure in to that, so it makes your question hard to answer.
posted by donnagirl at 3:06 PM on May 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

I think this question need more clarification.

If the items above are distributed solely via email, that is to say, not printed and posted at all in the break room, then yes, I think it is unreasonable to expect you to print, read and absorb them on your own time.

If, however, they are sent to your email as a convenience, so you don't need to, for example, call in to check a schedule change or visit the office when your normally don't in order to read a memo, then no, I don't think it is a particularly unreasonable practice.

The former situation is easily rectified by having your employer post all the correspondence in a central location and/or provide workstation where you can review the email during the actual workday.

The second situation, I think the tips above about printing double-sided, not printing at all, etc are useful.
posted by madajb at 3:52 PM on May 4, 2010

Frankly, I think it'd be easier for you to buy a bunch of highlighter pens and mark up your printed grayscale e-mails with her special colors than it would be to bitch the boss out for this one.
posted by jenfullmoon at 4:30 PM on May 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

Is the schedule weekly, daily, monthly? Are you expected to read email daily? I'd find that intrusive. I'd use gmail, give employer's emails a tag, and read once or twice a week. If the schedule starts Sunday, I'd want to have next week's schedule by the week before, for planning. Many employers use the phone to call employees to see if anybody can cover an extra shift, but having a phone is considered standard. Email and Internet access have probably become standard.
posted by theora55 at 4:41 PM on May 4, 2010

Have you even asked about a different option? Maybe they could print out a copy of the week's packet and leave it at the local library?

But yeah, while the volume sounds perhaps a bit excessive, this practice doesn't sound weird. A restaurant I worked at just posted the schedule, so I had to drive in to see the schedule (and you never knew just when they'd post it), costing me time and gas. An email would've been a dream.
posted by salvia at 4:44 PM on May 4, 2010

10-15 emails at a time, several days a week? That sounds really bizarre. What type of work is this exactly?
posted by Perplexity at 5:04 PM on May 4, 2010

As noted above, approaching the situation with a solution, rather than a complaint, is a good approach.

If the company is requiring you to have email access, a good approach might be to suggest that the company provides email for everyone in the form of a Gmail account, which includes Google Calendar. That way, things like the schedule can be posted online, with all the colors, but no paper is needed. It'll always be available, easily updated, and the company can get an inexpensive corporate account with Google if they want a unified presence (Email addresses, domain name, website, etc.).
posted by GJSchaller at 5:07 PM on May 4, 2010

At all the jobs where I've worked variable schedules (food service, retail), the schedule would come out once a week. If we wanted our schedule immediately, we had to either call or stop by--on our day off. It sounds to me like your boss is offering an additional convenience for you.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:15 PM on May 4, 2010

Ok, so I work for a labor union. Legally, company has to pay you for time worked, if you are hourly. If you are salary, well that's a different story.

But, many employers ask employees to do work on their own time, it's very common even with hourly employees. For example, in a unionized hourly job I had, the employer asked us to have our computer on and ready to start at 8am. So that required us to get there 5 minutes early to turn the computer on. Most people did, just because it made our lives easier. But some people didn't. And the company didn't discipline people who didn't.

What I would do in your situation (I'm assuming you don't have a union), in order to avoid conflict, is say something like "Oh, I cancelled my internet service at home to save money. Is there anyway that you can print my schedule out for me?" Or say my computer broke. Or something like that. But if the company didn't provide me with an email address, I certainly wouldn't use my own personal email address, computer, printer, and time to do all of that. That just seems like poor management on their part.

But, I also don't know what kind of company this is, so every situation is different.
posted by hazyspring at 8:25 PM on May 4, 2010

When I was an HR manager of many part time employees i'd post the weekly schedule and any related memos in the break room and people would have to COME IN PERSON to get their schedule on their own time. The staff would have LOVED to have the option to get this by email and we finally got this system working to the great joy of the staff.
posted by saradarlin at 9:53 PM on May 4, 2010

It would be cheaper for your employer to hook up these employees with email addresses than buy ink for everyone. Suggest it.
posted by hal_c_on at 11:22 PM on May 4, 2010

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