In the middle of a meeting with my managers, me (a supervisor) and field staff, the manager stopped the meeting suddenly to request that I refill their cup of coffee. I was stunned and tried to joke it off by saying I wasn't his secretary but he then looked at me and said again, 'No seriously can you get me more coffee?'. So since he is my supervisor I felt obligated to refill his cup of coffee, which was located 3 feet behind him.

Later that manager approached me and said I embarrassed him in front of his team by saying what I said, and that no one had approached him after the meeting regarding how I acted. I told him I was embarrassed by this request and he had to understand this from a female perspective. He claimed he would ask this of anyone who was next to him regardless of gender. I don't really believe this. What should I do? Should I go to HR?

So to add more information: I am a female, there is a significant age difference between me and him, I was sitting next to him at the table with about 12 other people. I am fairly new; only been there 5 months and he has been there around 20 years.

From an HR perspective, is this an appropriate task to be asking of others regardless of their position/title in the organization?

  • 58
    Two things aren't clear from your question: 1) Were you the only woman in the room? 2) Where were you sitting? Could it be that he chose you because you were the one sitting closest to him? His request was certainly inappropriate, but I'm not sure it was sexism. Commented Apr 26, 2017 at 14:28
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    "no one had approached him after the meeting regarding how I acted" I don’t get that part of the sentence. Did he expect somebody to approach him and why?
    – idmean
    Commented Apr 26, 2017 at 15:19
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    A few details for clarification: What is your role? What country/culture are you working in? Are you new in this role? Have you ever seen him request this of anyone before?
    – Myles
    Commented Apr 26, 2017 at 15:27
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    So to add more information, I am a female, there is a significant age difference between me and him, i was sitting next to him at the table with about 12 other people. I am fairly new, only been there 5 months and he has been there around 20 years
    – ayrkah
    Commented Apr 28, 2017 at 1:06
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    Hmm. Nobody seems to ask for this clarification: what was the protocol in the meeting? Was your supervisor the highest ranking person there? Were they busy presenting reports to their supervisors, or not? Were you busy with something related to the agenda of the meeting, or not? Commented Apr 29, 2017 at 4:11

21 Answers 21


I agree with your concern. It is far too easy for a woman to be treated as a personal assistant, regardless of her actual job.

However, I think your comment about not being the manager's secretary may have been enough of a warning that you are not going to stand for that sort of treatment. He embarrassed you, you embarrassed him back. Now you need to try to work together, and drop the incident. Making a fight of it will not end well.

I suggest no further action other than trying to avoid sitting next to your manager in future meetings. That way, the manager will have no excuse to ask you to get the coffee.

  • 1
    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Jane S
    Commented Apr 27, 2017 at 11:02

No, it's not appropriate, it's plain rude. In general, what he should have done (and anyone should do) in such a situation is one of the following:

  1. He noticed people's cups were empty. It's an issue literally anyone in the room could fix, and he noticed it. So he should just get up and do it. That would show he gets things done and cares about others.
  2. If for whatever reason he's not physically capable of it, ask the room whether someone can take care of it. That would show that you're all equals.
  • 50
    Poor leaders ask for volunteers. Good leaders take specific action by delegating someone specifically.
    – user52909
    Commented Apr 26, 2017 at 11:12
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    @Physics-Compute Maybe in army. I find this answer quite good. Commented Apr 26, 2017 at 11:14
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    @Physics-Compute Good leaders know when to ask for volunteers and when to delegate. There are plenty of situations where delegating work would lead to far more morale problems than just asking if anyone wants to first. If no one will, then you start delegating (depends entirely on the situation, something like getting coffee is a great example of something that shouldn't be forced unless it's specifically in contracts).
    – JMac
    Commented Apr 26, 2017 at 11:24
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    Asking for coffee in itself is not rude. But the phrasing can make it sound rude or not. e.g. "Are you getting coffee? Could I ask you to refill mine as well?" would not sound rude; the asked party feels free to politely decline if she is not comfortable with it.
    – Brandin
    Commented Apr 26, 2017 at 11:56
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    @Brandin - asking for coffee to be served to him by a professional who is not in the coffee serving industry, in itself, was very rude. Commented Apr 26, 2017 at 14:31

In the USA:

This is not professional behavior. Job descriptions include things, you can see in some secretarial positions that it's included in the job description. The service you are offering is what you agreed to offer as part of your signed employment work for the position hired to. Doing some helpful things related to your job is of course normal, but coffee serving is not likely anywhere near your job description unless it's in concession/barista/etc...

As you mentioned that you are female and the supervisor is male it seems you believe this might be specifically related to gender discrimination and not just a power tripping supervisor. Remember, your perception could be correct, but it's innocent until "proven" guilty in the USA.


  1. Discuss the situation in confidence with your ethics office or representative (large corporations have a separate department, smaller usually combines with HR).
  2. After discussing with them follow their advice, but be sure not to talk about it to anyone else in the office to avoid any triangulation. Usually there is an investigation in which other people will be asked questions and it's best if that comes from HR instead of knowing ahead of time.

Optionally - if you feel comfortable doing this:

  1. You can talk again with your supervisor and indicate there is nothing in your job description about providing any form of concession or administrative services to your supervisor and that the request made you feel demeaned. Please refrain from this behavior as you feel it is discriminating against me as an employee. You might also want to take HR with you if you are not comfortable doing this alone.
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    You switch from third person to first person in your last point, it's really confusing. Might want to rewrite that part.
    – Erik
    Commented Apr 26, 2017 at 5:48
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    I strongly disagree that you should only ever do the bare minimum of what's in your job description. Sometimes a task needs to be done, no matter how menial it is. This question is not a good example of something outside your job description that you should just do, but it does happen. Refusing all tasks outside of it is unprofessional.
    – jpmc26
    Commented Apr 26, 2017 at 7:17
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    @jpmc26 To be fair, I think you're the one interpreting it that way. This doesn't suggest you shouldn't do things if they are outside of your job description. This seems more to be addressing the scenario that you are asked to do something you do not feel comfortable doing. If it is not within your contract, makes you uncomfortable, and there is no professionally beneficial reason to do it; why would you? Getting a coffee for someone is also not likely to be a critical task (unless you are a barista); from the perspective of the company I don't see the value either.
    – JMac
    Commented Apr 26, 2017 at 11:16
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    Remember, your perception could be correct, but it's innocent until "proven" guilty in the USA. Only in courts. In business perception does matter, especially when it comes to ethics. Just having the appearance of being sexist can be harmful.
    – BSMP
    Commented Apr 26, 2017 at 15:12
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    @mutt Well that actually supports my point that perception is important. But the OP never accused the manage of being sexist or of even doing something sexist. In the meeting she only joked that she wasn't his secretary and afterward she explained that he embarrassed her and asked him to see it from a woman's perspective. That's not an accusation.
    – BSMP
    Commented Apr 26, 2017 at 15:48

Whether your manager's request was appropriate or not depends very much on context and details (tone of voice, cast of characters, who was closest to the coffee, etc.)

Calling out your manager right then and there was probably not the best move. Unless the request was obviously offensive ("yo %&*$%, bring me some coffee") it would have been smarter to just do it and then discuss this in private. It's perfectly okay to tell your manager that you are not comfortable with this or that you find it offensive, but that should be done behind closed doors first.

  • 76
    The issue I have with this one, is that she said the coffee was right behind him 3 feet. Turn and your there...why else would someone request more coffee be poured unless you had the pot in your hand or it was in another room and the person was speaking and couldn't get some? I have seen this done in presentation situations and I have helped people there, but it's different than sitting in a conference room and calling someone to refill your cup when the pot is right beside you.
    – mutt
    Commented Apr 25, 2017 at 23:41
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    @Mehrdad if it's so time-sensitive that he wasn't able to get up and get himself coffee, than he should've endured without coffee until situation allowed him to get it. In such very-very-time-sensitive matters you wouldn't have time to drink it anyway. Commented Apr 26, 2017 at 6:54
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    @mutt This answer doesn't suggest it was appropriate. It says that in absence of any established pattern, a diplomatic approach should be attempted. I agree that it sounds weird and that the motives were probably less than innocent, but it's still better to at least see if a polite approach has any effect on a first offense.
    – jpmc26
    Commented Apr 26, 2017 at 7:13
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    I disagree that letting it slide even for a moment is okay. Right in front of everybody? Nope! Commented Apr 26, 2017 at 12:46
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    @mutt I would even argue that the joke during the meeting was also a diplomatic approach. It's clear that by making it a joke (rather than a complaint) the OP was attempting to let their manager save face after making an inappropriate request.
    – BSMP
    Commented Apr 26, 2017 at 15:27

One of the problems with equality is that people aren't replaceable units.

You can ask different actors if they'd be interested in playing, say, Jesus in the manger, you'll get a range of valid reactions, and if you ask the wrong person you'll definitely get offense:

  • "Delighted!"
  • "You saying I'm short?"
  • "I'm a buddhist!"

If we're in an important meeting^, and I'm the only member not currently performing a task, then it falls to me to fill the drink of whoever's presenting, if her throat's getting dry. Whether that's my boss, a teammate, or someone under me. Asking me, as a man, to get them a drink is a zero-offense thing, whatever their gender or rank.

[^edit: this previously said "if we're in a meeting with clients" but that was misunderstood to mean "I think the meeting being discussed involved clients". I have rephrased.]

If I'm the one taking notes, and there's another person doing less who is able to do the task, it'd seem a little bit weird. If I'm the one presenting, then I'll assume there's a reason they want me to stop presenting and step aside for a moment, and will be very sensitive to any hints at what the meta-reason for that might be (is my fly undone? Did I say something wrong?)... but still, in no case would I take offense. It would be ridiculous to be offended. Because I'm a man.

If a male asks a female subordinate, that's potentially inappropriate.

[Edit: To clarify, I mean that this is true even if there's no dominance play or sexism involved. It's potentially inappropriate simply because of the configuration of people involved. I am not precluding the possibility that inappropriate behavior can happen with other configurations; I'm just stating that this configuration is particularly fraught with possible misinterpretation.]

It's certainly possible that this was an attempt to show off and make himself "look good" by having obedient underlings, that backfired. In which case, yay and mwahaha. I wasn't there, I can't judge.

But normally, you bring along a subordinate to a meeting to back you up, because you're only one person and can't do all the things. Backing you up includes helping out with questions if they are experienced in the area, and having input into the meeting discussion. But it also includes helping you carry the presentation materials from the car, and so on. "Menial" tasks. It doesn't matter if that person's job description includes those specific things: their task for that meeting is to ease your job of presenting the material and making your case to the other people in the meeting.

From your description of the meeting, it was basically him talking to the field staff.

It would not have been at all appropriate for him to stop the meeting and turn his back to do it himself. That would have been an insult to the field staff.

It would have been even more inappropriate and insulting if he had asked any of the field staff to do it.

As the person assisting him in the meeting, that left you as the only one he could ask. The fact that you were a woman wasn't what it was about, until you made it about that.

If your boss can't rely on you having his back in meetings, then next time he'll ask some guy to take the role instead, because you've scared him off from expecting women to assist him in meetings.

If asking you to perform menial tasks became a pattern of behavior then it's not OK and needs a discussion with him in private, and then escalating to HR in private if that didn't help. But other answers have covered this situation in detail.

From your description, it seems like that's not the situation here. Instead, you let your team down by publicly taking offense where none was offered.

You'll now have a hard time repairing the damage that shows you as "not a team player/quick to take offense" and the loss of trust from your manager.

It's very important indeed that you take the time to discuss it with him calmly, to manage expectations for the future and smooth ruffled feathers on both sides. He was hurt and is human, so that means this will be difficult if you don't lead with an apology yourself. Then honesty and plainspoken openness without hostility will go a long way to getting the apology in return.

You can come out of this smelling better than before you started, because people respect and trust those they fall out with and then patch up better; they feel that they can be honest and disagree with that person without damaging the long-term rapport.

  • 11
    I'm also a man, but I disagree. There were no clients in that specific case. The idea that this meeting was a presentation is your interpretation (which may, or may not, have been the case, but you do not know that). Plus, the fact that she had formal rank over others in the meeting and the fact that her boss called the field staff "his team", not "our team", implies that she's the outsider and the new person in the group and that considering her rank, she should have been the honored guest (not the other way around). Commented Apr 26, 2017 at 17:00
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    By that, I mean that when a new manager comes from the outside, existing underlings can easily rebel against that new manager, and a good leader will make sure to affirm the rank of the new manager to ensure a smooth transition. Or in the opposite case, if a new manager comes in from the outside just to get a peek inside his team without assuming authority over the team, a good leader will still treat that outside manager with complete respect and will get one of his team members to get his coffee instead. Commented Apr 26, 2017 at 17:17
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    Sure, he could be a dick, and could have done it for dominance. But like I said, that scenario's covered fine by a plethora of other answers here. My point with the "if a male..." line was that the act itself, with the best intent in the world, is potentially inappropriate in that particular configuration. You say "actually, no" but what you appear to mean is "yes indeed, and with bad intent it can even be inappropriate with other gender/role configurations." You're apparently not disagreeing with anything I said here, but I shall edit to clarify. Commented Apr 26, 2017 at 18:36
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    @Mandy And while, in an imaginary world, I agree with you that "A person's gender should make no difference" - in the real world, IT REALLY DOES. Context, as I tried so hard to explain in my post, matters. Gender can provide context. Another example: I once told a lady to take the day off. She complained to HR that I was condescendingly sexist. But I'd lazily copied the text to her from an identical message I'd earlier sent to a male employee! She wasn't unreasonable, she was right: the context of her gender made it condescending and sexist. It's vital for managers to understand this. Commented Apr 27, 2017 at 20:12
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    I feel this is the best, most practical real-world answer.
    – Ruslan
    Commented Apr 28, 2017 at 5:06

I am a woman and I get where you are coming from. I get sick and tired of being asked to do these sorts of things no matter how senior I am when the men in the group (including ones way junior to me) NEVER get asked to do them.

However, there is a time and place. And in the middle of a meeting is not the place. So while he was wrong, so were you. The first rule of business is never publicly embarrass your boss. If you have a problem with him or her, take it to a private place to discuss. What you should have done was get the coffee and then confront him after the meeting and request that he never embarrass and diminish you that way again.

Most men who do this, don't even realize they are affecting how you are perceived by the group and diminishing your ability to be treated as a respected member of the team when they do this. This level of behavior was usually learned at home when they were very small and generally they have never thought about it until a woman objects. It is best in cases like this to assume he didn't mean to embarrass you, but to let him know that it did (privately) so that it doesn't continue to happen. If it does continue after you have politely requested that he not do anything, then this is harassment.

It is especially important to bring this up when you are a supervisor. Anything that makes a supervisor look less than is far more damaging to your ability to work than it is for people in lower organizational roles. Your boss needs to understand this. When you treat a supervisor like a junior employee, other people will too and they will assume he doesn't respect or value your work.

The best thing you can do at this point is to talk to your boss, apologize for getting mad. Explain to him exactly why it made you so mad and request that he never ask you to get coffee again unless you are the most junior person in the room. If you are the most junior, then get the coffee.

  • 4
    This is a really, really good answer. A lot of time is spent interpreting our own feelings in these kinds of situations, but it's extremely important to consider the mindset of the other person. If sexism did occur, it may have been completely unintentional.
    – Litty
    Commented Apr 30, 2017 at 8:07
  • I agree: there's a time and place. A presentation would also be the wrong time for a boss to berate an employee: not the time for resolving HR issues. I do disagree that coffee should solely be a seniority thing though. Neither presenter nor audience can do that task; that only leaves the person brought along to assist, regardless of seniority. If that assistant makes it about gender or seniority, rather than assisting, then the presenter will feel they can only ask male subordinates to assist in future, and everyone loses. Commented May 24, 2020 at 17:45

Whether your reaction was an over reaction probably depends on the exact situation, and how you all relate normally.

If a very formal structure normally then I don't think it is an over reaction as their actions come across as a very rude way (and certainly not formal) to try and stamp their authority.

In a very informal structure (where anyone and everyone might grab to coffee for others whatever is convenient) then it probably is an over reaction.

Reality is your environment is probably somewhere between these 2 points, and how the request was presented is the major factor (and from your perception it wasn't done in a friendly way).

I suspect my reaction would have been to offer coffees to the junior staff at the same time, trying to remove the toxic boss / underling perception.


Yes, you did overreact.

In the middle of a meeting with my managers, me (a supervisor) and field staff, the manager stopped the meeting suddenly to request that I refill their cup of coffee.

While it's true that it wasn't part of your job description, I'm guessing that was a private meeting, and, as such, there wasn't a [insert title of person that's paid to deliver coffee to people in your company].

If you were all in a meeting, then (and correct me if I'm wrong) the goal is to discuss one or more nuances of your business as effectively as possible.

Again, correct me if I'm wrong, but in that meeting your boss was addressing the field staff wasn't he? At least that's the most logical explanation for why someone would be in the same meeting of someone else, two tiers above him.

With that said, him asking for you to get coffee was because you weren't needed at that moment, and you getting coffee would disrupt the meeting as little as possible.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – enderland
    Commented May 16, 2017 at 16:27

This is a difficult question because a lot depends on the individuals. But if it's not your role then in theory you don't have to do it. I told my managers manager to get effed when ordered to get him a glass of water, but it would have impacted on my employment status if I hadn't had one foot out the door already. Later in my career I would have refused a bit more politely, but refused nontheless.

In your case bringing it up with HR might be your only recourse, but think carefully about how much your job means to you first, because it will make you an enemy, and it's an enemy with a lot more push than you have.

In such situations it's sometimes best just to do the task, and perhaps oversugar it if you're feeling a bit petty (which I would be).

  • 2
    Was the manager in the middle of longer speech or discussion and requested politely the refill or did he just point and shout: "You. Coffee. Now."? If the first, turning back in the middle of speech is a show of disrespect to anybody in the room and OP's reaction was overkill. If the second, escalating to HR is the way to go.
    – Crowley
    Commented Apr 26, 2017 at 11:24
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    I don't like involving HR, but in this OP's situation its the only way to go if they ( the OP and asking MGR ) cannot work it out. +1
    – Neo
    Commented Apr 26, 2017 at 14:32
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    @Crowley On the other hand, stopping in the middle of a speech to ask for a refill seems just as disrespectful.
    – JAB
    Commented Apr 27, 2017 at 2:06
  • If he was i nthe middle of talking and wanted a coffee he should learn to be a real leader and now and asshat and say something like "how about we all take a quick break?" Commented May 1, 2017 at 19:37
  • @Crowley I've never been in an internal team meeting where the person leading the meeting, or even a subordinate presenter, was unable to say "excuse me one second; I need to grab a refill" for fear of being "disrespectful". This includes Fortune 500 companies, as well as small startups.
    – Beofett
    Commented May 2, 2017 at 13:39

In short, in almost all cases keeping calm is better, but keeping calm does not mean tolerating inappropriate behavior.

For (in a wide sense) western job culture this is not normal. But keep in mind that sometimes people make mistakes and letting them that they've did so in a polite fashion could resolve issue completely.

Let's for a moment think of a following, completely different situation. Say, you have an important meeting, to which junior assistant was supposed to bring some analytical docs. Now, in the middle of the meeting it turns out that assistant failed to do so. What options do you have? One would be in publiс reprehend him, the other would be to keep poker face and discuss this later in private.

Now see, this is definitely assistant's fault, but we are just people and they way how we are treated can affect our further performance. There's a huge difference between: "Oh gosh, what an idiot you are" and "Now that we are alone I gotta tell you, Bob, that this never ever should be a case again. We are in serious business and just can not afford such kind of carelessness. But I do trust you, so don't let the company down again".

Back to your situation. It's up to you to decide whether you want escalate this during the meeting or not - just like I've told already, it's inappropriate to ask you to make a coffee. But the probability for better outcome is higher if you won't do so. By "better outcome" I mean the boss will figure out that it's better not to ask such thing anymore and you'll just keep working together.

I'd rather wait till the end of the meeting and than ask him for a word. Then, very calmly but confidently, I'd admit that I just didn't wanted to escalate this during the meeting, but we should settle this once and for all - I'm not paid for bringing you coffee. Please avoid this kind of behavior in future.

This is sort of first warning. If it is ignored, it would be appropriate to reach HR.

  • 4
    I disagree. With the increased power of a managerial role comes the increased responsibility of not embarrassing your juniors. Doing it the other way round (in a fairly minor way like this) strikes me as entirely appropriate. Commented Apr 26, 2017 at 11:03
  • @MartinBonner I've never stated the opposite - it is 100% inappropriate.
    – shabunc
    Commented Apr 26, 2017 at 11:04

It seems to me people are making conclusions based on very little information here.

  • Where were the other people located with respect to the coffee pot?
  • Was the manager in the middle of a big presentation and/or discussion where he had been talking a lot and stopping to get coffee would be disruptive?
  • Are you the person he works most closely with he feels(felt?) he has a good relationship with?
  • Has this happened before or is it a one-time thing?

There are any number of scenarios where I can see that you could be the most appropriate person to ask. On the other hand, I don't think there are any in which that response is appropriate during the meeting.

Personally, I don't see anything sexist from the little information given. You might not think its a part of your job, but we are all asked to do things we don't think are part of our job description from time to time. I think you were a bit out of line to push back, it would have been more appropriate to do what he asked and discuss it in private later if it really is a problem.


This could be tolerated in Asia, especially if you are far younger than your manager. Helping older people is not a shame. The way to define if that was inappropriate behaviour is by analyzing the tone and the words he used. In my country, if he politely asked for help and you didn't do it (refill drink case), you'd be the one considered as a rude person with no manners.

Speaking about non job task, age factor comes first rather than position. Even if I am a manager, it's considered rude to ask for a refill from my subordinate who is older than me.


I assume I wouldn't care (it wouldn't bother me) if someone asked me. I'd do it willingly (fetch a coffee) for a friend or for a family member if they asked me to.

I'm a guy though, for what that's worth; and I wouldn't ask someone else (and perhaps especially I would not ask a girl) to get me a coffee.

Also I have worked as a secretary; and, worked as a professional, in start-ups where the exact job-roles (and the lines between colleague, friend, and boss) are a bit vague.

From an HR perspective, I don't know: I'm biased against HR, in that I think that their job is to protect the company from harassment lawsuits (rather than protecting employees): i.e. I think they're on the company's side (and the manager's side), not on my side.

If you did want to take it up with HR (which, as I said, I wouldn't myself) I wonder if it would help to phrase it to them as, "the behaviour didn't bother me but in case it might bother someone else perhaps somebody ought to talk with him", to paint yourself (to HR) as being not a threat to the company yourself. I've next to no experience with HR though so beware that my advice is uninformed.

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    I think a lot of people would willingly fetch coffee for someone, whether for a boss or a subordinate, as a little favour. I know I would. But unless your arm is in a cast or something, asking someone to bring you coffee from within reach of the machine, is not asking for a favour; if you just wanted the drink, you'd get it yourself. It is instead an implicit announcement that the other person is there to serve you. Commented Apr 26, 2017 at 17:59
  • 4
    So what? Maybe you are there to serve them, and maybe you'd rather remain happy and comply, cooperate, than take offense.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Apr 27, 2017 at 10:52

It seems to me that everyone seems to think that refilling a cup of coffee from a pot that was apparently 3 feet away is a "task" - something that should have to be clearly defined in your employment contract before you should be expected to do it for anyone. I'm not too sure I agree with this. I see this sort of thing as more like a "favor" than a "task". If I'm in a meeting with my boss (who's running the meeting) and some other people, and he's drinking something and runs out, turns to me and asks me to get him some more - I'm just going to go and do it - not because it is part of my job, but because it just makes more sense for me to do it. And I have done it before. Wouldn't it be much worse for him to stop the whole meeting, walk away, refill his drink, etc... all the while everyone else is just standing there?

In my opinion, you did overreact. Unless he turned to you and said "Go get me some more coffee toots!", I really don't think he meant it in that way. I also really don't think in this day and age, unless you're 90 years old, that you grew up having secretaries (women) fetch you coffee; so you wouldn't really be used to a thing like that and wouldn't even think to act that way. I don't know, maybe you really do have that boss that is stuck in the 1950's, but I doubt it.

If your boss was a woman would you have felt the same way? I don't really think so. If your boss asked a man next to you to do the same thing instead of you, would you have thought it was inappropriate for him to ask that guy? Probably not.

  • 11
    It this were a favor, he would've dropped it after she said no. You can't MAKE people do you a favor. This was clearly an order.
    – Erik
    Commented Apr 27, 2017 at 18:05
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    A very clear and valid order after he said, "No, really..." At that point you say, "Okay boss."
    – user52909
    Commented Apr 28, 2017 at 5:09
  • 1
    He might not have dropped it if he thought that she thought that he was making a joke - she clearly said that she tried to "joke it off", so he had to clarify that he wasn't joking when he asked her for the "favor" of refilling his coffee. Commented Apr 28, 2017 at 13:44
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    I was going to write an answer, but this one pretty much says what I was going to say. I'll add: My view on the employee's responsibility, in the absence of a specific contract, is to do anything that is not unlawful or immoral that the employer requests. Boss wants coffee, sure. Boss wants me to install new blinds on the windows, absolutely. Boss wants me to write an interface for the API we just subscribed to, I'm on it.
    – TecBrat
    Commented Apr 29, 2017 at 12:03

It is generally bad idea to go into unplanned conflicts and disagreements with your direct supervisor in the view of the current or potential customers, higher managers or even just co-workers. It is better to do as asked and later discuss between the four eyes.

A good supervisor should normally not ask for things outside the contract-agreed working duties in front of the sensitive audience without warning and agreeing with you first. It was unprofessional for him to do such a mistake.

  • 3
    I agree with the first paragraph, but the second paragraph bears no relation to any job I've ever had. Doing miscellaneous tasks of various kinds including occasionally getting coffee are a perfectly normal part of working life.
    – user44634
    Commented Apr 27, 2017 at 15:59
  • 3
    Always make your conflict planned. Carefully planned.
    – Octopus
    Commented Apr 28, 2017 at 1:17
  • The supervisor could have easily prevented conflict in unwanted place by coordinating the planned actions in advance. If it was important for the team to perform well, there is a room for improvement for the supervisor.
    – eee
    Commented Apr 28, 2017 at 7:09

Depending on job and company culture, asking a subordinate to make coffee can be acceptable, or incredibly offensive. But this story looks like bad judgement by the boss.

I'd go to HR but not making a complaint, but simply stating you were left confused by the situation and are asking for guidance what the proper response is the next time a manager asks you to make coffee.

The variety of answers suggests the only way to figure out what you should have done is to ask a third party who is familiar with your job description and company culture, i.e. HR.

That way you achieve the following:

  • The event is logged, which is important if it becomes one out of many.
  • You get clarity of what your job consists of.
  • Ideally, you get closure and don't have to worry about the incident anymore.

Other answers warn that the boss might take offense when you contact HR. However, asking HR for clarification makes perfect sense and a reasonable boss will not take offense if you do so. And if your boss is unreasonable he might have taken offense already.

  • And if HR backs the boss you know it's time to find a new job. Commented May 1, 2017 at 19:45

I can't pass judgement on your reaction. I dont live your life or deal with the same forces you deal with. I can't properly assess if it was "right" or "wrong".

I'm a dude and I would have got my boss the coffee. I wouldn't have thought twice about it. I might even have asked what he wanted in the coffee. Again, I'm a dude, the thought of him treating me like a secretary would not have occured to me. I'd understand that my role as a subordinate is in small part to add to the aura, and prestige of my boss.

If I had a problem, I would have brought it up to him in private. In hindsight, seeing as how your boss seems very image conscious I might have brought it up in a way that resembles: "The coffee thing, next time you should watch it, if someone didn't know you...yada yada sexism" That way you'd bring up the point, sensitize him to the issue and done it in a non-confrontational manner.

That's me personally, I tend to be a "loyal soldier" in public or when it's time to execute and a rebel when it's time to reflect and plan, and I don't pretend to think that my approach is the one and only best approach for you.


I feel that your reaction was completely unacceptable, and that by doing what you did you have shown yourself to be a poor employee. So that we have a clear understanding about the magnitude of what you did, in your question you gave no other indication that your boss behaved in any inappropriate way toward you or toward others. If there had been any indication of a pattern of inappropriate behavior it would be a very different situation and none of what I am saying would apply.

During the meeting, you did not know why your boss asked you to get the coffee. The only acceptable behavior would have been to have gotten the coffee. After the meeting you could have addressed him privately and asked him why he wanted you to get the coffee. If you weren't satisfied with his explanation, then you could have told him that you felt that it was demeaning and that you would prefer that he not ask that of you again. If after telling him how you felt, he had asked you to do the same thing at another meeting, then your reaction would have been acceptable.

Depending on the manager, you may have only done minor damage to your career, or what you did may have been a career limiting move. You and a lot of other people may wish that was not the case, but it could be. In my view, you have two roles when you work at any job: Do your job as well as you can, and do your best to make your manager look good. You really did embarrass your manager yesterday.

In any situation in life, it's best to try to resolve problems with the least amount of force necessary to solve the problem. How do you think your manager feels about you now. It would be completely inappropriate for your manager to retaliate against you for not getting him a cup of coffee, but it would be completely understandable for him to be very displeased with you for the embarrassment that you caused. You can make a parallel between what you should have done, and a first-offender program. This was the first time that something like this happened, what he did was a small infraction. You could have let him off with a warning, but instead it's like you chose to give him a 5-year sentence.

I think that instead of going to HR, you should go to your manager and apologize for embarrassing him. Make this apology in a sincere and heartfelt fashion and really mean it. During this conversation, you can still make it clear that you won't ever get him a cup of coffee. With a sincere apology, you might be able to undo all that you've caused here.

  • 20
    I think that it's abhorrent of you to compare this to a police officer killing a child. It's disgusting to make that comparison. Someone getting embarrassed is not the same as shooting a child.
    – Catija
    Commented Apr 27, 2017 at 21:34
  • We work hard and get things done to make my manager look good. I highly doubt her manager's ability to manage team and organize the meeting. If he cannot get his own coffee under stressed(assumption) meeting, what he can do?
    – exiter2000
    Commented Apr 28, 2017 at 18:25
  • 1
    I'd have upvoted except for this line "If after telling him how you felt, he had asked you to do the same thing at another meeting, then your reaction would have been acceptable." Calling out your boss in the middle of a meeting for asking for a simple thing is not acceptable.
    – TecBrat
    Commented Apr 29, 2017 at 12:08
  • Itsme, can you bring me some coffee? :) Commented Apr 30, 2017 at 2:37
  • @CountIblis. If I worked for you or even if I was a peer of yours at work I'd be glad to bring you the coffee in a meeting. I'd sort it out later as to why you asked and if you should do it again. The shoot first and ask questions later approach is a terrible way of doing things at work.
    – Itsme2003
    Commented Aug 27, 2020 at 1:58

Don't make grudges and don't show yourself like an orthodox feminist.

But also make clear, this is not a part of your job description.

In your case, I had made the coffee, but I had also mention to the boss, it would be better if he used some other worker for this task.(*)

Notice also the possibilities to compensate some disadvantages or mistakes what you made. For example, if you were late today, it can be quite useful to compensate it with a cup of caffee, at least in a psychological sense.

The boss committed a serious mistake - humiliating an employee without getting a high price for that is clearly a bad deal. But don't use it against him. Help him to understand it from his own mind.

(*) Extension: best if you package this into a nice comment.


Let me give some male perspective (i am male, 42y, Physics PHD, experience in subjects, broadly positioned, and within the subjects which i followed as PHD/postdoc probably within the top 5% - just to indicate that my self-confidence is ok)

  • if my boss is talking to other managers in the office, and i currently don't contribute to the conversation and he ask me get coffee, then I do it.

  • if my younger female colleague talks to the common customer and i don't directly contribute, the I also have no problem fetching coffee or anything else (that actually happened) for her which is needed that the meeting can continue efficiently.

  • When my boss asks me to keep a door open on a conference (that really happened), I do it.

  • when I really have a problem with my bosses orders, I tell him not in front of the customers or other colleagues.

I would have a problem if

  • i actually was talking/contributing and being interrupted
  • this would be a pattern over some time

So yes, I get your problem, but if this was a singular event (and not a recurring pattern - which may be a different story), you might want to reconsider your standpoint on this and potentially apologize.

Oh and BTW: secretaries also have important jobs beyond fetching coffee.

  • 3
    You are a male, but this is not male perspective; this is your perspective. I am a male and do not share your perspective, so clearly this is not a fitting claim to make.
    – Forklift
    Commented May 26, 2017 at 16:14
  • That is why I did not call it "the male perspective" but "some male perspective" (which actually was meant to hit exactly in the spot of considering all behaviors in this context, but that seems to subtle)
    – Sascha
    Commented May 26, 2017 at 16:24
  • Then you may as well represent it as "physicist perspective" or "PhD perspective" in as much as your perspective is representative of a trait that you and some other unrelated people share. It's not constructive. I suggest something more like "let me give my perspective" which makes it more clear that you only speak for yourself.
    – Forklift
    Commented May 26, 2017 at 17:38
  • Yes, i may have done it using "some physicist perspective" or "some PhD perspective", however as a contrast to the others i found it fitting. Before you continue to try to justify your comment by trying to insinuate me having spoken for all men please consider that "some" was the first word in my comment and look up the definitions of "some" (merriam-webster.com/dictionary/some), i refer to the following: "used to indicate that a logical proposition is asserted only of a subclass or certain members of the class denoted by the term which it modifies."
    – Sascha
    Commented May 27, 2017 at 7:02

I don't think we'll ever get enough information to stay objective here. OP has already perceived whatever happened as some kind of slight and that's fundamentally changed what the manager said, his tone and his demeanor.

However, consider the following: you are the new person (<= 5 months). I'm going to let that preface the conversation here.

Now, what if the manager leading the meeting:

1) Asked you to get the door out in the hallway. Someone is knocking or has rang the doorbell and reception is unavailable.

2) Asked you to go complete some other task, as the part of the meeting you're needed on is over.

Those are just two cases where it might be a little awkward, but nothing so different from being asked to grab everyone some drinks. Especially in a meeting with nothing but managers. Who is whose secretary? The person leading the meeting has but two options: task someone below them or do it themselves.

I think the major misstep here is letting your ego get in the way. So many office conflicts have nothing to do with anything but egos clashing. It's important to apologize because I see that the manager in question didn't make it about gender, and frankly if a subordinate told me "I'm not your secretary," well, subordinates don't typically have that relationship with their superiors.

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