DEAR ABBY: My new boss is a nervy man who barks orders at everyone, and has a huge belly. I'll call him Ralph. Every few weeks on a whim, Ralph schedules office potlucks on company time and orders his employees to bring homemade dishes as a "team-building" exercise.
Ralph frequently reminds us that each dish MUST be homemade. As late as the day before a potluck, he'll post a sign-up sheet in the lunchroom that dictates food categories and limits. (For example, only two people may bring salads, etc.)
I e-mailed my boss asking if I could bring a high-quality store-bought item, because between working full time and my long commute, spending time in the kitchen isn't something I care to do. Ralph never bothered to answer. With great resentment, I ended up making a large tuna casserole at midnight for the potluck the next day.
Abby, are employees like me powerless in these circumstances? How can I avoid participating in the potlucks without being labeled insubordinate or getting punished? No one else in our office has spoken up, but each time that sign-up sheet is posted, the tension is so thick you could cut it with a knife. -- RESENTFUL IN NEW YORK CITY
DEAR RESENTFUL: I don't blame you for resenting being compelled to do something outside your job description, on your own time and at your own expense. I don't know the labor laws in New York; however, many states have labor statutes that could protect you.
Allow me to offer this food for thought: Consider another kind of "team-building" exercise with your co-workers. Confront your boss as a group and tell him how much his demands are resented by all of you. There's safety in numbers. He can't fire all of you, or there would be no "leftovers" to boss around.