"Could I have the direct number for HR, please?"
February 24, 2017 11:09 PM   Subscribe

My boss asked our receptionist to contact me via my personal email / cellphone. The problem? The receptionist happens to be my wife.

I took a (scheduled, approved) day off last Monday and woke up to an email from my wife. My boss was freaking out because one of the two printers in her area was jammed. She asked my wife to contact me. My wife did not feel comfortable texting or calling but also didn’t feel like she could ignore the request so she split the difference and sent an email.

I am the only IT support person on site and my boss is my boss by default. She approves my PTO requests and that’s the only interaction I have with her on a regular basis. The head software developer is considered my “team lead” and I brought this up at our weekly meeting. He agreed that it wasn’t appropriate but asked me to consider “what I wanted to happen” if I chose to bring it up with HR.

This event brings up a whole mess of other issues that I plan on addressing at my review next month but I’m still on the fence about looping HR in. I feel like my boss’s request is an abuse of a personal relationship and it would’ve made way more sense for her to ask my team lead instead.

For what it’s worth, I am not officially on call. I asked my boss about my on call status a while ago and she said I could check work emails on my days off “if I felt like it”.

All I want is something official from HR that confirms This Is Not OK but I’m worried that this could become something big and nasty for both me and my wife. Is it worth the trouble? Am I overreacting?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
What happened when you proceeded to be out of touch and not respond?
posted by Lady Li at 11:14 PM on February 24, 2017 [2 favorites]

This is not remotely worth pursuing. You should have directed the boss to your team lead. It's overstepping but not so much that you should think about it any further.
posted by vunder at 11:39 PM on February 24, 2017 [22 favorites]

This is both intensely annoying and not something you want to make a huge deal out of. Your wife probably should have said no (and essentially did, with no negative consequences), so I agree with your team lead that it's not really clear what you'd want to have happen differently. If this were a repeat thing then you'd maybe have another issue but if it's not, well, your supervisor made a mistake, your wife pushed back, your supervisor didn't do it again.

Plus, your team lead is alerting you to an important strategic fact: he is not on your side on this issue. If you are going to go swinging for your supervisor in your next review, you should try to keep it to issues other people will side with you on. This is not that issue. Even if you were right (you might be), you don't have backup, so you should focus on other things.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 11:42 PM on February 24, 2017 [13 favorites]

Yeah, I simply wouldn't answer my phone or emails on days off. Your team lead is being a weenie by trying to push this back on you. He doesn't need to bring it up to HR, he just needs to let your boss know that you're not available on your days off. Period. Everyone will learn to deal.
posted by LuckySeven~ at 11:43 PM on February 24, 2017 [2 favorites]

Did you respond to the email? Come back to the office and fix the printer?

I asked my boss about my on call status a while ago and she said I could check work emails on my days off “if I felt like it”.

If there are consequences (even unofficially) for you ignoring work emails when you have agreed-upon time off, that seems like a problem. It does sound like your boss pursuing your personal email carries an implicit expectation of interrupting your time off. But it's really up to you how to respond.

I would email back if/when I had a chance to say something like "Sorry, I won't be able to help today since I'm off - but I'd recommend asking [colleague] who is probably the best bet for getting this resolved today."
posted by reeddavid at 11:46 PM on February 24, 2017 [6 favorites]

This seems like a really bizarre overreaction to an otherwise fairly normal event.

I have never had a boss who didn't have my personal contact information, so other than having the receptionist/your wife call rather than your boss calling themselves, nothing about having them touch base in (what they perceived as) an emergency strikes me as in any way weird.

And having a receptionist make that kind of call doesn't strike me as wildly bizarre, either, though it depends a bit on how big the office is and what the receptionist's normal duties are. Some places they are literally just a switchboard / guest greeter, other places more like an admin assistant.

So, the fact that the receptionist is your wife doesn't really seem to make much difference, though you seem to be viewing it as hugely transgressive in some way.

All of that is related to the procedure followed to contact you, and not the fact that they actually contacted you outside your regular working hours. That's also not wildly unusual in a white collar, professional job, though for IT support people there is often a need to draw the line regarding whether or not you are on call. If you regularly get called in for stupid ass things like a printer being jammed, then you should bring forward a case for either being paid for on-call time or being paid a minimum of per-call time if you are called (and even more if you have to show up in person) during your off-hours. So maybe every urgent off-hours call is an hour of overtime, even if it only takes 5 minutes to handle. Or 3 hours if you have to travel to the office to resolve the situation.
posted by jacquilynne at 12:07 AM on February 25, 2017 [13 favorites]

The reason it's invasive is because someone might answer a call from their wife or look at a text from their wife, thinking it was an emergency or important, only to have it be work bullshit. If it was just "call from the work phone" then whatever, but the mention of texting makes it sound otherwise.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 12:09 AM on February 25, 2017 [7 favorites]

Plus, your team lead is alerting you to an important strategic fact: he is not on your side on this issue.

Not necessarily. I think it's smart to identify what you want the outcome of an interaction with HR to be before you instigate anything, and good leadership for the team lead to prompt you to think about that. Some HR depts might see this as a good opportunity to clarify the company's culture around PTO. Others are going to see this as evidence that you are quick to blow things out of proportion, which is not a reputation you want to establish. You need to know what you want to gain, and what you realistically can gain. Not knowing your HR department, none of us can help you with that question, but your team lead likely can.

I understand how transgressive it feels, but I agree that the receptionist being your wife is a red herring. There's nothing illegal, immoral, or unethical about what your boss did, and I doubt you'll get HR to take a strong stand on this. Instead, I'd encourage you to use this opportunity to get on the same page with your team lead and your boss on a couple of questions. What is the expectation for you to be available during PTO? What constitutes a legitimate reason for you to be contacted during this time? And what are the appropriate channels they can use to contact you? Your company many require you, as the sole IT support, to have fewer or different boundaries than you'd like. Your job here is to figure out what those really are; it sounds like "check your email if you feel like it" may not be the full picture.

Whatever you find out from your team lead and boss, I'd encourage you to get that in writing so you can refer back to it if something comes up in the future. One way to do that would be to follow up any meeting with an email. "Thanks for talking through this with me! My understanding of our meeting is [A, B, C]. Does that accurately reflect your expectations as well?" or somesuch.
posted by zebra at 12:46 AM on February 25, 2017 [4 favorites]

Ugh, I hate being contacted on a day off for stuff that literally five other people in my department could handle.

I'd advise you not to bring this up with HR. I think it will backfire. On you and/or your wife. You cannot prove your boss was using your personal relationship to get to you. I can see HR interpreting/twisting this as you being unable to handle working with your spouse somehow. Unless for some reason your HR is really anti-management, which is rarely the case.

If your boss consistently has you working off the clock on your time off, that would be an issue, but even then you'd need proof of a pattern and they'd want to know how you first tried to resolve it yourself, not just one incident.

I do think it was a bad call on your boss' part, and annoying as hell, but I don't think this rises to the level of taking it to HR unless there's a pattern of inappropriate requests you've left out here. It's reasonable to have to contact someone at home occasionally and it's reasonable to have a receptionist make contact-- If I'm your HR person that's what I'm going to have to say.

I will also caution you against saying or telegraphing the "my boss is only my boss by default" thing. This might be so, but in the eyes of your company, she's your boss, period.
posted by kapers at 3:48 AM on February 25, 2017 [2 favorites]

Also, I think your team lead's advice to think about what you want this to accomplish is a wise way of making you consider that this probably won't shake out as you hope.

You have the option of approaching your boss directly to clarify again what the on-call expectations are. Do that before escalating. You can also do what I do sometimes before a day off and warn your boss you won't be reachable because you'll be traveling/off the grid/whatever.
posted by kapers at 4:01 AM on February 25, 2017 [1 favorite]

I am the only IT support person on site

This is half of the problem. If you're the only person who knows what to do when a business-critical thing happens, you're getting a call by any means that will work. You need to have someone identified to "be you" while you're out, and make sure the boss knows who that is before you go. Un-jamming a printer isn't exactly work that requires the specialized degree. You can (and should) train someone yourself. Give THAT person your number for any true disasters beyond their capability.

A lot of people think making themselves indispensable is a good idea. It's not; it's miserable. And it turns out, continuously teaching everyone how to not need you at all has the opposite effect on your perceived value.
posted by ctmf at 5:36 AM on February 25, 2017 [12 favorites]

Yes, you're overreacting and no, this is not worth the trouble of making it an issue with HR. I agree that the receptionist being your wife is probably a red herring. Most companies have personal contact information for all employees and, even in positions when someone isn't on call, there is a possibility work may contact you through your personal accounts when you are out of the office, as annoying as that is. As Rock 'em Sock 'em noted, you are more likely to answer a call/text/email from your wife than from work, but if she uses her work email (or phone) to contact you instead of her personal one that's a clear signal to you that it is work related. I suggest focusing on establishing a protocol for when IT issues arise and you are using your PTO. It may be as simple as sending out an email letting people know what the procedure is and going forward making sure your out of office email and voicemail state, "If you need immediate assistance, please contact team lead." Good luck!
posted by katemcd at 6:56 AM on February 25, 2017 [2 favorites]

Unfortunately, contacting you fits within the purview of your wife's job. Doesn't make it right, but makes it a legit request. I doubt going to HR will go anywhere in this case.
posted by xammerboy at 8:35 AM on February 25, 2017

You want to go to HR because your boss with whom you rarely have any interaction had your wife call you on your day off to ask how to fix the jammed printer and you're the person who generally fixes jammed printers? Overkill.

You live and learn. Next time, if I were your wife, I would say, "I will send him a text, but I am not sure he is reachable today. He is taking the PTO you approved." Then I would have tried to show some initiative and said, "Either I will fix it myself or find the right person to do so." Then she could have either asked you how to fix it and looked good to boss man or asked the team leader who should fix it and looked good to boss man.

If I were you, next time I have a PTO day, the day before, I send an email to your boss and maybe the firm that says, "I am out of the office tomorrow. I will be unreachable. If you need immediate assistance call Team Leader."

I do think that the boss, out of ignorance on the scope of the technical expertise needed to fix a jammed printer, over reached in asking your wife to contact you, but to rise to the level of HR? not so much. Your team leader was correct, what is your hoped for outcome? If it is HR tells boss to not use your wife as a way to contact you on day off, tell him yourself.
posted by AugustWest at 10:06 AM on February 25, 2017 [3 favorites]

I think you feel like they used your relationship with your wife to gain access to you. That may be true, but it may be just as true that they would've had your personal contact info and tried to contact you even if your wife didn't work there.

I think the way to handle this is to ensure there is a protocol for dealing with IT issues when members of the IT team aren't there and what the escalation procedure should be. If you aren't required or expected to handle work on your day off, then don't do it. I'd use this as an opportunity to re-clarify whether or not you are on-call or not, and make sure that's established.

With your wife, you can have a rule that if she is being told to call you on a day off for work purposes, she uses a work line, but when she is trying to reach you for personal matters, because she's your wife, she should use her cell phone. That way you can compartmentalize this and avoid letting your relationship blur the lines.

I think this issue is already documented, so I wouldn't get involved with HR and turn it into A Thing until it happens again or there is repeatedly an issue. For now, just keep track on these things on your own and monitor them.
posted by AppleTurnover at 12:48 PM on February 25, 2017 [1 favorite]

All I want is something official from HR that confirms This Is Not OK

Unless your company has a written policy forbidding contacting employees on their day off, I'm not sure why you think HR would do that.
posted by grouse at 3:06 PM on February 25, 2017 [2 favorites]

Why would you want to drag HR into something that essentially throws your wife under the bus for contacting you? To me it seems like that's the not cool thing happening here.

You don't have to respond on your days off if you are not on call. And you didn't. And nothing happened. So why do you feel wronged? It sounds like this is about some other greater issue. Either with the company or with your wife.
posted by KMoney at 5:42 PM on February 26, 2017

There is something to feel funny about here because it is quite possible that this boss would not have asked your wife to call anyone else on their day off and was only doing it because they know you're more likely to answer her. Also, they may count it as a strike against both you and her if they didn't get an answer the same day. It is not right, but many people have no sense of boundaries between their employee's work and home lives when there are relatives working in the same office.
I would not bring in HR in at this point, but I would ask your team lead for some acknowledgment from them that A) your relationship with your wife should be kept out of work decisions and B) they should back you up on that with the boss. Check in with your wife about the way you both want to handle this incident and future incidents.
Draw your own bright line between work time and PTO. Don't do things for work when you are on PTO, even if "you feel like it," which are just weasel words. If you get any feedback about reliability or turnaround time - make it clear that without a formal policy, you have drawn the line yourself.
posted by soelo at 9:11 AM on February 27, 2017

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