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I work for a landscaping company my friend owns. It’s a very small company (5 employees) and I was hired a few months ago to do light office work a few days a week.

Now that the spring season is picking up work he’s making me do work outside at clients homes. I’m applying pesticide, laying grass seed and doing root drenched to plants.

I am a girl who also works at a restaurant after this ‘office’ job. It was perfect before the spring but now my body is killing me after a 13 hour day of 2 physically demanding jobs.

Is there anything I can do to stop this madness?

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    Welcome to Workplace! Could you please tell us which country this is in, so that we can try to apply the relevant laws. – Glorfindel May 3 '18 at 11:43
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    @NuclearWang also depends on the pesticide and depends on the supervision. In every jurisdiction I am aware of, you can buy full strength 2,4-D by the tank car and apply it according to instructions all day every day without an applicator license (which I have), even though 2,4-D is one of the few herbicides that can maim you in a moment's mistake. – Harper - Reinstate Monica May 3 '18 at 16:17
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    Country? State if US? – jpmc26 May 3 '18 at 16:27
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    As a aside, are you licensed to apply pesticide? There is a good chance you need a license to do that on other people's property. You don't say where you are, but here in Massachusetts you have to pass a test and pay some fees. You also need some minimum continuing education class hours to maintain the license. It's taken rather seriously, and that may be true in your jurisdiction too. – Olin Lathrop May 3 '18 at 16:31
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    Ask him if he's insured for you doing this work, including adequate medical cover and public liability. If he isn't -> grounds for refusal. – user207421 May 4 '18 at 0:52
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tl;dr: You can ask, but you may need a new job.


There are two aspects to view this under: legal, and practical.

Legal view

Your situation will depend on the specifics of your job. In particular:

  • Does your contract say that you are hired for a certain type of work only?
  • Is there an (implied) agreement that you will only do office-type work?
  • Are there local laws or collective agreements limiting your employer's right to assign you a type of work different from what you were hired to do?

However, in most countries and jurisdictions I know of, your employer can assign you new types of work as required. You may have some rights if the work is very different (as in your case), but they are usually limited. In particular, your employer may be able to reduce your hours or let you go if they no longer have sufficient amount of the "old work" available.

Practical view

Unless you have very strong employee rights, this is probably not something you want to go to court over. On the other hand, your employer may be open to negotiating a compromise. So think about what would make your situation easier, and try to reach a compromise. Some ideas about things you could ask for:

  • limit "heavy" work to days where you do not work at the restaurant
  • limit "heavy" work to a certain number of hours per day
  • get assistance from colleagues for particularly demanding work, such as heavy lifting
  • get tools and training, so the work becomes easier
  • allowing you some say in what work exactly you do, so you can avoid things that are particularly difficult for you
  • allow more breaks (possibly paid) before, after or during "heavy" work

You may or may not be able to reach a compromise that way, but it's worth a try. If your boss values your work and wants to keep you, they may be open to a compromise. However, this approach may fail, if your boss is unwilling to negotiate. In that case, you may have to find a different job, so keep that in mind.

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    @JimmyJames Most contracts I have had always had a clause to the effect of "and other tasks as required". – Mark Rotteveel May 3 '18 at 14:52
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    Yeah. Side work / occasional work is totall ok (like we are a small team, but we do an all hands for unloading the every 3 month truck delivering water bottles for the next 3 months). Assigning to a total different job for daily work - I would get out. – TomTom May 3 '18 at 14:56
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    @MarkRotteveel Not sure if this is the US but if it is, the ADA leads to job descriptions with this detail: "Human resources should work with front-line supervisors to ensure that the job description accurately reflects the actual tasks being performed." and "specify the exact amount of weight that an employee is required to be capable of lifting" – JimmyJames May 3 '18 at 14:57
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    If this is in the US, it is most likely that there is no actual contract. An "offer letter" or a written job description, if you look closely, typically contains "this is not an employment contract" fine print. – BradC May 3 '18 at 15:45
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    In Canada (and the UK I think) radically and unilaterally changing the nature of the job would be considered constructive dismissal. – Myles May 3 '18 at 19:03
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If this is truly a friend then I recommend talking to this friend and explain everything you have written in your question. See if a compromise can be reached such as:

If there is no need to do office work multiple days per week you should try limiting the amount of days which you come in so that you come in only when the office work needs to be done.

In small companies, people usually wear multiple hats to keep the company running so it's unfortunate that your friend is abusing you like this.

One thing that is certain, be ready to resign if they don't take your talk seriously.

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    This person is not your friend. They're abusing you via your friendship. No one would expect anyone to "just start" using these chemicals without proper safety training. Pesticides are (generally) neurotoxins, and @Harper is right: 2-4-D is some mean stuff. (I grew up on a farm, had safety training on using these things). You need to find another job ASAP. If you try to pursue "legal" channels, your friendship is kaput anyway. – Wesley Long May 3 '18 at 18:07
  • Indeed - if working for a friend, then talk to him as a friend. Otherwise, he's not your friend and I'd get the heck out of dodge because that's a toxic person abusing what you think is friendship. – Allan S. Hansen May 4 '18 at 5:40
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    @WesleyLong How can you so quickly claim that the boss is an evil exploiter? Nothing indicates that OP actually told someone this is a problem. – pipe May 4 '18 at 7:21
  • I never said evil. Hanlon's Razor would apply, here. He's not a friend because he didn't even consider the other person's stance on switching up the job to something that involves handling hazardous materials. – Wesley Long May 4 '18 at 15:47
  • Wesley and pipe, you kids get off my lawn! – MonkeyZeus May 4 '18 at 15:49
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One thing I would add here (from a US perspective)...

Another answer stated:

In small companies, people usually wear multiple hats to keep the company running so it's unfortunate that your friend is abusing you like this.

I would state it differently - in a small company like this, it's almost inevitable that the lines between different job roles will blur a bit, and everyone will end up helping with tasks that are nominally 'outside scope.' This has been the case when I've worked in start-up sized companies.

A good employer will state this up front, and there should be language in your contract to that effect as well. This would give you an opportunity to more clearly define what you are and are not willing to do, and to understand what they might expect you to do. It does not sound like you had this conversation when you were hired, which doesn't reflect well on the employer. Also, outdoor manual labor is rather different from 'light office work,' although it's not entirely surprising given that you're in a landscaping company.

To answer your actual question:

Is there anything I can do to stop this madness?

You can talk to your employer, since you stated they're a friend, and express your concerns. If that doesn't help you probably want to start looking for a new job. There might be legal solutions in the middle but that depends a lot on location/jurisdiction and likely isn't a route you want to pursue in light of the friendship.

I'm mostly adding this information so that you can have a better idea of what to expect if you start looking for new jobs. Small companies can be great opportunities and great communities, but they don't tend to have the rigidly defined personnel roles of larger organizations. This is something to consider when considering what future jobs to seek, and something to consider when talking with prospective employers.

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This seems to be an interpersonal issue - not a legal issue.

As such, once you discuss this with your employer, I would recommend you take special attention at his/her reaction. If he dismisses your concerns and continues to give you tasks unrelated to your position, I'd strongly suggest you change jobs.

Often we may want to "put up" with abusive employers for the sake of convenience. However, this may lead to more abuse.

Most importantly: As an Office Manager, landscaping work will not be very useful work experience to present in future interviews. This is why you should ensure that your tasks are aligned with your job description.

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