Can the boss really make me ... ?


Q: Can my boss tell me to stop using my cell phone while I am driving around for work?

A: Your boss has every right to tell you that you should not drive while using a cell phone to talk or text. But unless he installs one of the gadgets that block wireless communication in a moving car, he has to hope you have the good sense to focus on driving to your next delivery, sales or service call.

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s website at, 18 percent of auto crashes in 2010 were the result of distracted drivers. The website provides many research reports but the University of Utah’s study titled A Comparison of the Cell Phone Driver and the Drunk Driver summarizes them all with this clear statement: “With respect to traffic safety, the data suggest that the impairments associated with cell phone drivers may be as great as those commonly observed with intoxicated drivers.”

Beyond your own safety and the safety of others, your boss must realize that if you are in a collision on company time and you were talking on a cell phone, the company will likely be liable for damages.

If you are expecting an important call and your phone rings, pull off the road and listen to the message or return the call. You may lose a minute or two in the process, but you may also save a life.

Q: Can my boss make me to do all my work on the old PCs at work? I would rather use my own laptop.

A: If your boss wants you to use an abacus, he can do that. Well after PCs were common in the workplace, I had a boss who didn’t trust spreadsheets and he made me run an adding machine tape to support every calculation I gave him. The person signing the paycheck can make the rules.

If you can demonstrate to your boss that you can do the work on your laptop and not create a file access or security problem, he might be fine. But remember – the company owns the information that is stored on its equipment and is responsible for the security of that data.

If you remove files or export data from the company equipment and damage is done because of your negligence or by accident, the boss won’t look kindly on you. You should back up the files you are working on throughout the day and make sure your laptop is secure from outside threats like viruses and sticky-fingered threats like your own kids.

I readily admit that working from your own laptop is probably a low-risk proposition if you are careful, but I have seen so many simple mistakes turn into big problems.

Then again, there was my co-worker Stephanie. She left her laptop in a taxi three times in one month. I was shocked when the first two taxi drivers returned her computer to our hotel. The third time, I believe the driver felt she wanted to lose it. We never saw it again.

Q: Can my boss tell me how to dress? She says I need to dress more modestly, and she doesn’t allow us to wear flip-flops to work. I work in a retail store with four other people and we don’t like all the rules about dress.

A: Rules about dress have been a problem since the loin cloth days, so get used to it. Yes, your boss can tell you that flip-flops, jeans or even green shirts aren’t allowed. If you worked in a windowless room and no one ever saw you the boss could still impose a dress code.

Many retail stores want the sales staff to project the desired image of the store. Ask the owner what she wants the sales staff to wear and use photos or the internet to illustrate different clothing options if it helps to clarify things.

If you don’t have the right clothes in your wardrobe, tell her and she might give you a small clothing allowance.

Modesty is a more difficult subject. Lindsey Lohan and Barbara Bush probably have different definitions of modest apparel. You need to ask the boss to tell you exactly what it is she objects to; is something too tight, too low or too high?

While you are at work you represent the business. Work as a receptionist for a tattoo artist and tattoos will be welcome; plaid flannel shirts are the thing to wear in the hardware store.

If you really don’t fit the store’s image, conform to the rules as much as possible and start looking for a job where you fit in.

Virginia Detweiler provides human resource services and management training in southeastern Washington. Questions can be submitted to her email at Information that would identify the sender will be removed. Also reach her at 509-529-1910.


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