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A co-worker is taking family leave to take care of his father. Is it OK for his manager to take down his personal items from his cubicle and give his desk to someone else?

I am a co-worker/friend who was asked to take down the personal items and I refused.
It is not a space issue or resources issue. I do believe it is a way to jerk this guy around more than he has been.

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    I'm sure it's allowed, but it's certainly not very nice. – David K Aug 14 '15 at 16:04
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    Why would you refuse? If you are the person's friend, you are the person most likely to take proper care to get the all the stuff packed up. I had to do this for a coworker who got diagnosed with cancer and I am positive that she preferred having me do it than someone she didn't know well. – HLGEM Aug 14 '15 at 17:18
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    @user40142: and I refused That is a serious problem and you're probably going to need to do some damage control. You generally need a very, very good reason to flat out refuse a request made by your manager. That goes double if the request is perfectly reasonable. – Lilienthal Aug 14 '15 at 18:38
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    I'd say it's somewhat relevant what kind of office/job this is. Difference to me if this is a phone center, for example, versus a professor at a university. – Joe Aug 14 '15 at 20:00
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    Generally, the answer is that yes, its fine. With your feelings that this is somehow an evil thing to do - has this desk location been some kind of issue before that person left? Why did you feel the need to refuse? I get the feeling of details being left out, which may influence the action you should have taken, but probably not the overall answer – DoubleDouble Aug 14 '15 at 20:05
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Since you reference Family Leave I am going to assume this is a longer term absence (in the US the Family Medical Leave Act provides for up to 1 year unpaid absence and I am guessing most countries have something similar).

If this is a 1-2 week absence (or what ever is the normal maximum vacation time per year is) then I would say this is abnormal but most likely OK since the cube / desk is the employer's property.

However if this is a longer leave (6 months to a year), is the employer expected to lose the use of the cube / desk until the employee's return?

As long as the personal items are properly secured and it is a longer term absence I don't think there is any issue.

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    During an extended leave the employer may really need the employee's usual space for someone who is covering for the employee to sit near the people who know best what the employee does. – Patricia Shanahan Aug 14 '15 at 16:59
  • He will be gone 6 weeks and we plenty of extra cubicles (2 right next to his). – user40142 Aug 14 '15 at 17:06
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    @user40142 those cubicles might not be available for your coworker's team and/or they might not be considered allocated/ready for use. You don't know. Maybe I'm imagining this, but you're giving an attitude like you think your manager is purposefully trying to do something against your coworker. In reality, organizations, particularly bigger ones, have myriad byzantine rules including those about workspaces. – Chan-Ho Suh Aug 14 '15 at 17:52
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It is preferable if the employee or a relative can come in and take away his personal stuff if he is going to be off for a long period of time. Unfortunately due to the nature of this type of leave, it is not always possible.

There certainly should be no expectation that the desk will not be turned over to a different person (such as a temp replacement) or even that the office will still be in the same location when this person returns.

When you are out for an extended period, the company may need to use the space. We had one person who was out for six months for an illness whose possessions got moved 6 separate times in that time period as we hired many new people and tried to find the space to put them in.

The critical thing is that the supervisor take care to make sure the personal possessions are not lost.

But remember, this is not an employee's desk, it is a company desk. The company can do what it like with it. The person's computer may also get reassigned as it too is company property. After all if I hire a temp to do your job while you are out on six months of leave, I am not likely to buy a new computer for that person. This is one reason why it is almost never a good idea to store much personal stuff on your work computer.

People get attached to their space. But remember, you don't own the desk, you don't own the computer, so don't leave anything there that you would not want others to see or that it would pain you to lose. Most companies will try hard not to lose your physical stuff if they need to take the space for someone else, but if the time period is long enough, it is easy to lose stuff.

  • Strategically, these personal items remind everyone "Joe works here". When the family takes them away, this could trigger official removal from the company. It's better to come back after half a year and half your personal stuff is gone, than to come back and being told your job is gone because your family took your personal stuff and someone though you were not coming back. – gnasher729 May 28 '17 at 14:54
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Honestly if I was going to be away for an extended period of time, even a 2 week vacation, I take as much of 'my things' with me as I can and the rest I put away neatly in my desk.

My job was in transition during the summer and they were moving another group out within a month. My boss hired for some of the vacated spaces and just had new people move to whichever desk was open because the employee was on a 1-2 week vacation. I didn't find that offensive in the slightest.

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If you refused to take down personal items from a co-worker/friend I would say that is not a good position to take.

That is a fairly simple request from management and clearly the intent is to preserve the personal items and return them to the co-worker when they return.

There may be some office moves planned.

It could be out of respect for privacy so people don't ask where is Bill to be told he is out on a family care leave.

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