Saturday, August 5, 2017, 07:50

A reader writes:

Yesterday afternoon, my supervisor called our entire team of about 10 people into an “emergency meeting.” She explained that the bill for our water cooler was now $400. The bill hadn’t been paid in months, so it accrued late fees, and the company had sent us to collections. She then stated that we would all have to split the bill and foot it ourselves.

Let me give you a little background. When I started with the company, I was vaguely aware of a water cooler, and a few months after I started I was told by a coworker that it was optional. You don’t have to partake if you don’t want to. And that’s exactly what I did, because I’d rather bring in my own water rather than pay a fee. There is a specific person in charge of collecting money and paying the bills for the water. She neglected to do so, and thus the bill just grew and grew each month. She claims she “feels bad asking for the money” and just ignored the problem, hoping it would disappear on its own.

In the meeting, our supervisor told us that the water was “all or nothing” – either everyone participates, or no one does. In a previous meeting, the team voted yes to the water. I was not in this meeting, nor were the other 3 admin assistants. She basically said that even though we weren’t there (and were never made aware of this decision), we better pay up, regardless.

I’ve never even touched the water cooler. Two other people spoke up in the meeting and said, “I’ll gladly pay, but I don’t use it.” Our manager said, “Good, because that’s what I’m requiring you to do.” I feel like I am the only one who finds this ridiculous, and I feel like the admin assistant who screwed up and neglected to pay the bills should be the one to rectify the problem.

How would you handle the situation? I feel that I will most certainly be ridiculed if I speak up (the boss can be an intimidating bully), and I am surprised that everyone else is okay to go along with this. Should I just go ahead and fork over the $40? I feel like since I was never aware it was a requirement, nor did I ever use the water, this isn’t something I should be paying for, but I seem to be the only one feeling this way.

What utter BS. (Do I have to abbreviate that or can I write it out? This situation calls for the full, unabbreviated term.)

Your manager is a buffoon. Requiring you all to pay for something you don’t use? If she wants to offer water to employees, then the company should pay for it. If that’s not an expense the company is willing to shoulder, then she has no business dictating to people what arrangements they use to get their water paid for. Although if she’s going to dictate it one way or another, it should be to eliminate the group-financed cooler since the person managing it is a deadbeat — not to require people to chip in when they don’t want to.

And speaking of that coworker, what the hell is up there? She feels bad asking for money and hoped the problem would go away? Unless she is an inhabitant of some magical fairyland where bills go away if you ignore them (perhaps she is here on some kind of exchange program from said fairyland?), she is also a ridiculous person.

In any case, as for what to do … what are the repercussions of saying no? It’s certainly reasonable to say, “I don’t use this service and I wasn’t involved in racking up late fees, so no thank you, I’m choosing not to participate.” However, if everyone else is going along with it and you’re going to be the one hold-out, then you need to know how that’s likely to go over. In some offices, that would be absolutely fine; it wouldn’t reflect badly on you at all (in fact, it could even reflect well on you for not being a pushover and paying someone else’s late fees). But in other offices, it would be A Thing, and it would be worth 40 bucks as the price of making this idiocy go away. So you just need to know the dynamics of your office well enough to know the likely consequences of saying no.

(Unfortunately, the fact that your manager handled the situation this way makes it more likely that she’s one who would penalize you for not forking over the cash, but you’d know better than I would what she’s like.)

If you do decide to suck it up and pay the $40 penalty fee for working with a lame manager, I’d insist on knowing how this is going to be handled in the future, so that you’re not having a similar conversation in another few months.


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