(Illustration by Jefferson Miller @ARTOFJEFFERSON)

Dilemma of the Month: Can the Boss Take Zoom Calls in the Shower?

Back Article Apr 23, 2024 By Suzanne Lucas

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How do I, the HR director of a remote company, tell the owner and manager that his behavior is inappropriate? “Steve” expects us to behave and dress professionally and work our assigned shifts, but he comes and goes when he pleases, appears to be in pajamas on video calls, regularly doesn’t work 40 hours and sometimes has meetings with staff while in bed, taking a shower, etc. Other staff have noticed, and a couple have even said something to me about it. I want to be respectful, but I would like to discuss with the owner that they should show the behavior being asked of the rest of us.

He takes meetings in the shower? That is a very serious issue you need to address immediately. Now, if these are just phone meetings, then I guess it’s just weird and inappropriate, but if it’s a Zoom meeting — even if no one can see anything below his neck — taking a meeting while people know you are naked is serious. Like, sexual harassment serious.

This is the one thing I would focus on at first. You might say something along the lines of, “Steve, you cannot shower while in meetings. It’s putting the company at risk of a sexual harassment charge. Even if we won in court, paying the lawyer’s bill could cost a minimum of $50,000.”

As the HR director, you can’t fire the company’s owner, but you have an ethical obligation to stop sexual harassment that you know about. You must hold firm if he balks that it’s not a big deal. Call your company’s attorney and explain the situation. Get the attorney to call him. You cannot be in the shower during a business call — the end.

As for the rest of it, let me tell you a story. When I was 8 or 9, we learned in school that “the surgeon general” (whoever that was!) “has said that smoking cigarettes is hazardous to your health.” Well, then! Our next-door neighbor, Joe, smoked. And, in my third-grade brain, I realized that Joe must not know that this surgeon general person had declared smoking bad! Someone had to tell him, so I did. To which he replied, “Shut up, little girl.”

That was not nice of Joe. I was, after all, a little girl, and I assumed that if someone told him that it was hazardous, he would stop. But he already knew it was bad.

Steve should already know that having one set of rules for himself and another for employees is terrible. He knows he shouldn’t be doing these things. Unlike the naked meetings, this isn’t a hill to die on. Coming and going as he pleases, dressing in pajamas and working from his bed is annoying, but it’s his business, and if he wants to do this, he certainly can. 

I’m not saying that what he’s doing isn’t dumb. It is. Leaders should set an example. They should dress how they want others to dress. If they want people to work at desks with proper posture rather than slouching on their beds, they should sit straight back. You can bring these things up, but a man who showers during meetings is not likely to care about these things. 

But does he actually care about people dressing professionally? Is there a dress code stated in the employee handbook? It’s common for companies to use the same handbooks for years, letting them grow outdated and dusty as culture both inside and beyond the office walls changes. As the HR director, it’s well within your purview to suggest updates to this document. If he doesn’t mind his employees wearing pajamas on video calls or joining meetings from bed, make that clear in the handbook, and make sure the employees know about it. 

Depending on the kind of work your company does, it may be perfectly appropriate to require employees to stick to assigned shifts while the boss makes his own schedule. It may also be worth discussing flexible schedules for employees, if they’re complaining that they could do their jobs just as well without strict hours. 

If you make these adjustments and people still complain about his pajamas, you say, “Yes, it is strange, but that’s a perk of being the boss, I guess.” Steve is the owner, and you still have a job, so he must be doing something right. You push like crazy on the shower thing, but otherwise, embrace your inner Elsa, and let it go.  

Send questions to evilhrlady@gmail.com.

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