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Recently, the restroom in our office ran out of soap. The first employee to notice it reported it to management, however, no action was taken. After a day or two of repeatedly asking management to replenish the soap in the restroom, another employee went out and purchased some soap and left it in the restroom. Within an hour or two, management confiscated the soap because it wasn't "company approved" (the company has no written policy in this regard). A day later, the company replenished the soap in the restroom.

Another situation happened where due to the instances of the cold and flu going around, I felt like I needed to clean my desk and all the surfaces people might touch in my work area. I brought some Lysol wipes into the office and cleaned my work area. Not too long afterwards a lady from our HR department came took the wipes off my desk and walked away before I had a chance to say anything.

I am at a loss of knowing what to do. I feel that if the company refuses to, or isn't providing adequate cleaning supplies, there is no reason why we shouldn't be able to bring in our own. To me it's a issue of health and safety regardless of what company does or doesn't want us to do. Is my understanding in this regard correct? I am located in California.

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    "Did you confront the HR lady and ask why she stole your property?" Yes I did. She denied it. – it-guy Dec 20 '19 at 18:07
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    She denied it that seems like the more pressing issue than the supplies themselves. – dwizum Dec 20 '19 at 18:19
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    What industry are you in? Not providing employees with soap to wash their hands is a health hazard. – jcmack Dec 20 '19 at 19:21
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    Usually it is a good idea to wait a day or two before accepting an answer. People don't always read every question every day. – puppetsock Dec 20 '19 at 20:47
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    We’ll sure, it’s not the $3. My point is, even after you have proof they were taken, how far do you push the issue? – spuck Dec 21 '19 at 20:09
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Step 1 is to choose if this is your battle. This feels more like it might be childish antics of the company (or at least some in power) like, “no one is telling ME how to determine and provide what this company needs.” than an outright attack on cleanliness. I could envision HR and management having discussed and that being part of why HR “allegedly” did what they did. If you don’t mind keeping cleaning supplies locked in your drawer, this may or may not be the fight to take up.

If you do find this worth taking to the mat, you are now engaging in a battle against management and HR. Many hate seeing “quit” as the answer, but you should be prepared to do so. This seems a pretty petty thing for them to get so dug in about, but there are already three counts of pettiness: taking the soap under questionable reasons, stealing your cleaners and lying. I’m not sure if California is an at-will state, but across much of the US, they don’t need any real reason to fire people and seem petty enough to do so.

Before you confront them, get proof if you can and check into local workplace conditions law. It seems if any pertinent laws did exist, they would not be in support of removal of common cleaning and sanitation supplies. Proof gets tricky, but if you have a web cam that could keep a recorded eye on your cleaner, put another canister out and record what happens. At minimum document what you’ve seen. It beats nothing, though it alone won’t win the war.

From there, you can ask nicely or threaten with legal action, even skipping the confrontation and going right to the health department (if laws are applicable). Excepting a well-received nice approach, the others will likely pit you against the people who can fire you. Tread lightly if you want to keep the job.

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    This feels more like it might be childish antics of the company... it may also be childish antics of one or two other employees (i.e. the HR rep) and not an actual official position of the company. – dwizum Dec 20 '19 at 19:29
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    @dwizum not when management is involved in this. If it was just the HR lady, sure, but OP specifically outlined managements role in this as well. – Josh Dec 20 '19 at 19:57
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    "Right-to-work" is very different from "at-will employment," which is what you are referring to. "Right-to-work" is (roughly) about whether or not an employee has to join a union to get a job at a union plant. – user62890 Dec 23 '19 at 17:21
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    @Hosch250 Thanks. I too often confuse phrases like those. Corrected accordingly. – John Spiegel Dec 23 '19 at 17:38
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You may not know it but I am going to guess that your company has a chemical/cleaing policy by just being in California.

https://www.dir.ca.gov/dosh/dosh_publications/hazcom.pdf

This is very strict as having an Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for any cleaners/chemicals in a workplace and how they are stored. Because the wipes/soap were not company supplied they probably don't have the MSDS on file with whoever is in charge of the other cleaning supplies/chemicals.

http://www.rbnainfo.com/MSDS/CA/CA%20-%20LYSOL%20Disinfecting%20Wipes%20(all%20sizes,%20all%20scents)%20-%20English%20(Feb%202012).pdf

It may sound dumb for household cleaning solutions, but if someone was to somehow accidently ingest one of your cleaning wipes and were hospitalized and the company did not have an MSDS on file they could be in big trouble.

Your desk is also probably not an approved storage containter. The HR person probably doesn't know the details past 'no outside cleaners allowed'. If you need to clean/disinfect your desk you probably need to talk to the HR/janitorial people.

Also depending on the inststry you work in unmanged cleaning soultions can lead to big expenses for the company. For example, someone's network connection stops working so they figure that the fiber optic connection is dirty so they clean it with your wipes or whatever other random cleaner they find laying around. Now you have a possibly destroyed fiber optic drop and network card. (Yes I've seen things like this happen). It may seem needlessly bureaucratic but it keeps well-meaning employees from making expensive mistakes because of lack of knowledge.

  • Interesting background! I'd guess the HR person was not aware of/guided by this. They likely would have explained or used it to support their theft otherwise. – John Spiegel Dec 24 '19 at 15:40
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    They most likely didn't know about it past 'no outside cleaners', I have worked in places that every employee down to receptionist had to take training on this because we had very expensive equipment laying around the office, and someone 'thought it looked dirty, so they grabbed some windex' to the tune of thousands of dollars of damage. – Plinkey Dec 24 '19 at 16:10
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I would suggest a polite request to know why your cleaning materials were removed. Maybe they are just FUBAR. Maybe there is some company policy about things that might contain allergens or some crazy thing. That is, the FUBAR might be coming from outside the company.

But do try to be polite. No need to burn a bridge before you cross it. A smiling confused look and a quiet voice saying "please" can often get information that stern and demanding will not.

If it's some worry about allergens or some such, maybe you can work with it. Maybe there is an approved brand you can use. Maybe you can even get the company to pay for it.

If you have bumped into crazy, you might have to seek other methods and responses. If it's crazy, do be careful. Be sure to document everything. If you have a union (or equivalent), alert your union rep. Polish your resume.

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    No, since the HR lady already denied taking his wipes, he needs to drop the issue and lock up all his stuff from now on. There isn't much he can do against a liar, except never trust that person again and look for a new employer. – Stephan Branczyk Dec 20 '19 at 21:05
  • @StephanBranczyk I don't see anywhere in the OP question that the HR lady denied it. She walked away before a conversation. Brusque, yes. But no denials reported, at least that I see. – puppetsock Dec 20 '19 at 21:09
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    It's in the comments. Two hours ago. – Stephan Branczyk Dec 20 '19 at 21:12
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    "Polish your resume." But only with company-supplied polishing materials please. – gnasher729 Dec 21 '19 at 23:44

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