This is a pre-covid lockdown scenario, however I am still asking the question should similar situations in the future arise.
Background: I was a temp maternity cover as a assistant to the Practice Manager of a law firm. The firm had under 100 employees and 20 Partners.
I am incredibly hard-working and diligent in what I do. For example I did not refuse anything that was asked of me even though many times it was clearly out of my job description, I was flexible to cover other duties such as reception cover for lunch breaks, working through my lunch break et cetera. On reflection I think this was a naive strategy and caused a lot of bitterness and resentment amongst members of staff in the support admin office, who felt undermined by my hard work.
There was a tipping point however when one day one of the partners of the firm asked me to look into researching paper shredders for him. Something about it felt off to me and I asked him whether it was for the office or for personal use. He said that it was for his personal use. So I then made a very noncommittal answer of why don't you try Amazon if you're struggling to find one, in full knowledge that he wanted me to source it for him.
This partner then got really irrate and aggressive and shouted 'well I pay you to do what I tell you to'. That behaviour pretty much sealed the deal in terms of me never doing it because I do not respond to abusive behaviour from anybody. Additionally,I was being paid very little for my contracted work and on top of that they were giving me additional duties mentioned above that I didn't have the assertiveness to be able to refuse however - to be asked to carry out personal work for a partner I did not directly report to was the final straw.
The partner then reported me behind my back to the practice manager who said that I needed to do what the partner had asked me to. I still didn't do it as a matter of principle and I don't regret it because it was just a temporary maternity cover and I had to draw the line at some point for my own sanity and frankly, self-respect. I am sure this must come across as me shooting myself in my own foot.
My question is: Do employers have a right to ask you to carry out personal tasks or errands for them?
For example a friend of mine works as an intern and her Manager asked her to buy cough syrup for her whilst my friend was leaving for her lunch break. Again it just seems like an abuse of power because in no way is buying cough syrup on your lunch break for your manager part of your job description or something that you should be asked to do. It makes me wonder that if next week the cleaners don't show up could they Force you to clean the toilets? I know of another friend who had to put mousetraps round the office which again I think is not part of the job description and has health and safety implications to it.
Also this partner was one of 20 partners in a lawfirm so would I then also have to potentially carry out personal tasks for the 19 other partners by that logic? I point out that these partners have their own secretaries as well as there being a designated IT department. I am interested to hear others view on the situation and how I should respond to it in a different firm if it should happen again.
EDIT: Job duties as a 4 month maternity cover temp as Assistant to Practice Manager were
1.HR duties eg ensuring HR records were up to date, organising temps to cover when secretaries went on annual leave, being a point of contact and support for interns, Setting up workstations and taking new staff members for office tours and introduction with other staff members
Organising Partners weekly lunches with the caterer
Organising Leaving functions of 150 clients for senior members (there were 2 that left in my time with them)
Dealing with maintenance contractors for day to day house keeping eg window repairs, air con etc. We also had a move of 9 members of staff to the neighbouring building and I had to arrange this to as well as physically help.
On top of these duties I was asked to man the reception desk when they needed cover but every day pretty much, deliver physical faxes between the 2 buildings, help out in the post room in the mornings, make coffees teas for any clients meetings even though this is usually the responsibility of the respective lawyers secretary, arrange snacks for office meetings, go out to the shops to replenish milk - none of these were my predecessor's responsibility and there were 4 other support staff who did nothing and just saw my politeness as a means of exploitation.