Asking worker to fetch coffee may be old-school, but is it harassment? — Business Management Daily: Free Reports on Human Resources, Employment Law, Office Management, Office Communication, Office Technology and Small Business Tax Business Management Daily
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Asking worker to fetch coffee may be old-school, but is it harassment?

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Hiring,Human Resources,Leaders & Managers,Performance Reviews

A Pennsylvania sales company hired Tamara Klopfenstein as a receptionist. She had performance problems right away. But the real trouble began when Klopfenstein received an e-mail from a VP that said one of her “many responsibilities … is making and getting coffee.”

He even placed a recurring reminder on her electronic calendar to bring coffee to him and another exec at 3 p.m. each day. (When she interviewed, Klopfenstein wasn’t told that coffee service would be part of her duties. But the company mentioned it soon after she was hired.)

Klopfenstein quickly e-mailed back, “I don’t expect to serve and wait on you by making and serving you coffee every day at 3:00.”

Nine minutes later, the VP fired her. She sued for sex discrimination, saying her bosses created a hostile environment by requiring her to perform the “degrading” task of getting coffee for male bosses.

The result: The court tossed out her lawsuit. Klopfenstein had argued that the coffee-fetching requests “reinforce outdated gender stereotypes.” But the court said that the act of getting coffee “is not, by itself, a gender-specific act.” It was simply part of the job requirement linked to the position, not the sex of the employee. (Klopfenstein v. National Sales and Supply, LLC, No. 07-4004, ED PA)

The lesson: Always start with your job description; it’s your shopping list of skills you are looking for. Make sure it lists everything so that you set realistic expectations and don’t surprise the employee.

Also, when interviewing, follow the “tell then ask” motto. Tell the applicant, “This job requires ‘X’.” Then ask, “Can you do ‘X’?” It’s that simple.

Do your job descriptions include 'serving coffee/beverages'?

Yes, when it’s part of the job                                                  6%

No, even though it’s part of some jobs                                7%

No, we don’t require it of any workers                                37%

No, but it’s covered under “all other duties assigned”    51%

Source: Case in Point,

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