My boss (a Senior Sales Representative) has told me to pack up his office and all three bookshelves for an office move. I am his Executive Sales Support; a Print Production client liaison for his account with a major publishing company. I've worked at that capacity for 3 years.

I am a healthy 57 year old woman (a dedicated exerciser) but have recently been dealing with some arthritis in my mid-spine area. The doctor's orders are to stop lifting and carrying heavy things. I have even had to start carrying my computer, etc. In a bag with wheels.

I hate to say "No" to anything. I am not a diva. I'll roll up my sleeves with the best of them!

What can I do without threatening my value as an employee?

  • 3
    Possible duplicate of How to politely decline a job responsibility?
    – AAM111
    Commented Aug 22, 2016 at 12:34
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    Do you have people working under you? Is your Boss wanting you to delegate it to one of your minions and have you supervise? Commented Aug 22, 2016 at 14:41
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    @OldBunny2800 I don't think this question is about long-term unwanted responsibility.
    – Crowley
    Commented Aug 22, 2016 at 18:02
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    @OldBunny2800 only if you consider not remotely related to be a duplicate. One is about a standard duty of a job, another is asking someone to do something she is not physically capable of doing and to do it outside of her job responsibilities. Please tell me how those are duplicates Commented Aug 22, 2016 at 18:23

7 Answers 7


You're under instruction from a medical professional not to do heavy lifting, so just let your manager know that. Something like

Sorry, but I'm under doctor's orders not to do any heavy lifting and carrying. Would it be possible to find someone else to help you with this?

Hopefully your manager will do the right thing having heard that. If not, you'd then need to decide whether to escalate the issue, which would likely be to HR.

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    Offer to find a good office moving company to take care of it.
    – MikeP
    Commented Aug 21, 2016 at 22:40
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    Perhaps offer to help him find someone who can do the heavy lifting?
    – Pete B.
    Commented Aug 22, 2016 at 12:17
  • Meybe they will facepalm and say "I thought you would organise it, not do it personally".
    – Crowley
    Commented Aug 22, 2016 at 18:44
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    At this point of time, you should probably start by saying "Sorry for the delay, I didn't know how to tell you this without hurting the relation - that's why I didn't tell you before". Commented Aug 23, 2016 at 1:24
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    @Mehrdad Your body will punish you... Commented Aug 23, 2016 at 7:35

I'm sure it's possible for you or someone else to put some empty boxes on a desk or table (not on the floor), and then you can fill the boxes with whatever you can pick up without having to strain, bend or stoop. This gets some of the work done, and you can leave the job of lifting the boxes out (and packing the rest) to someone who is more physically able. (That "someone" might actually be your boss.)

The approach above would demonstrate that you're a team player. You can discuss some explicit boundaries on this with your boss, and if he's demanding that you do more, take the issue to HR but absolutely don't do anything that's going to jeopardize your health.


I suggest bringing your boss an alternative, at the same time as you report you cannot do the lifting on doctor's advice. Get some quotes from moving companies for a few hours packing. You can offer to supervise the movers to make sure no confidential materials are read and that everything is packed properly.


I read your quest is "get the office packed" rather than "pack the office by yourself", so deal with it this way.

Find somebody to do the hard job - moving company, ungrudging colleague(s) (jokingly: fool and strong). Watch them and assist them. The fine jobs (packing a prize, family photos etc.) do by yourself.

In the end your back will be untouched, job will be done and everyone will be happy. It seems to me like classic scenario "I don't have time neither to do it neither to organize it. Get the job done for me."


I'm not sure about your exact position in company, but there are some cases when boss asks his employee to move something, he is not asking him to roll up his sleeves and do it, but to organize and manage the process.

Use his authority to ask other employees to help you with this task. Later after you complete the task, you can tell your boss about your medical condition, and who helped you move things.


In your place I would get a paper from the doc about this, and I would show this to the boss privately.

Theoretically, the Boss hasn't any right to see your medical papers, but you would make with it clear, that

  1. not you are lazy, you really can't do that,
  2. you aren't try to avoid his commands, but you really can't do that.

If you do this privately, it will make from him also make clear, that

  1. you won't directly confront him
  2. you won't make problematic situations, instead you wan't avoid them,
  3. your face is important for you before him,
  4. and his face is also important for you before everybody.

The context should be: "Sorry, I really didn't want to avoid the task, but please see, I really can't do that".

Any, at least a little bit normal boss would accept it and maybe even he would apologize. But, unfortunately, the bosses aren't always normal in this sense.

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    A big THANKS to all of you who took the time to give your advice. All on point. I hope i can do the same for any of you when in need.
    – Alison
    Commented Aug 22, 2016 at 0:25
  • In just about any case that you want to use a medical excuse to avoid some task at work, somebody at your company has the right to request proof of that claim. May not be your boss specifically, but if you expect accommodation, be prepared to show something.
    – cdkMoose
    Commented Aug 22, 2016 at 16:44

This is your office, it's important that you do it, so don't refuse outright and wash your hands. Ask if you can have someone to assist you due to the medical issue. Then do what you can and make sure nothing is misplaced or badly packed/labelled.

No sane boss would have a problem with this, and I see no need why it would escalate to HR.

I have two resolutions for you.

Firstly I am a strong person, but sometimes I need assistance to move server racks, it's totally normal to approach HR for someone to assist me with a specific task, just as it's totally appropriate to requisition a step ladder or trolley if I need one.

Secondly. My mother when elderly moved office a few times, she roped her sons in to help her (didn't pay us a cent, but what a home cooked meal we got!), unsure if you could do something similar, but it might be an option. The one thing she never did was leave it to others, because it makes the unpacking a lot harder.

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    Thank you, Kilisi, it's HIS office he wants me to pack up, not mine. All of my things are at arms level and it will easy enough. THANKS for the great idea! My son said he will come to the office and help. I will give him some walking around money. : ) I'm just going to check with the Office Manager if its a problem with insurance.
    – Alison
    Commented Aug 22, 2016 at 0:17
  • Good luck, mum had five sons, she was never shy to call a couple us. She earned it lugging us around for 9 months.
    – Kilisi
    Commented Aug 22, 2016 at 0:35
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    Just an observation: I'm in the UK and to me it seems very strange to sub-contract even one small task of your full-time job to your children. I'd expect to use company money if some casual labour is needed, not home cooking and personal good will. But this might well vary according to how "formal" employment is -- with at-will employment there's very little difference between an employee and a non-employee anyway ;-) Commented Aug 22, 2016 at 9:11
  • @SteveJessop pretty common in my culture, but others are different.Nothing to do with subcontracting though, we'd all go to considerable expense and inconvenience to go do something for her if she asked. She was a heck of a cook though :-)
    – Kilisi
    Commented Aug 22, 2016 at 9:53
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    @Kilisi: sure, you're happy to do her a favour. The part I question is just whether, when an employer hires her, they're entitled to expect access to her legion of minions (you) and the favours she can pull :-) From their point of view they're paying her for access to you, even if they don't look into the details of how she got the job done. That's why I call it sub-contracting. Commented Aug 22, 2016 at 9:55

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