As an employee, how much can I use the copying machine, fax, and the phone at work? I understand that each employer is different, but how should I find out what is appropriate at my workplace? What if the written rules are stricter than the ‘unwritten’ rules, i.e. what people do, and what people accept and expect?
RABBI BELSKY ANSWERS:
There are two considerations. The first is the expense of using the copying the machine, or the fax, or the phone. Each time one of these is used, an expense is involved that the company absorbs. The second consideration is the time. The time belongs to the employer, and when people take care of personal needs they are taking up the employer’s time.
A person — preferably someone senior in the office — should try to speak with the boss and establish some rules, and people should see to it that these rules are adhered to. If in fact the rules are strict and an employer specifically prohibits the use of certain things, I don’t see how it’s possible to go ahead and use those things. If people are finding it difficult to work within those strict rules, perhaps someone should go to the employer and appeal to him and let him know that the employees are finding it difficult to work in such a strict environment.
In the absence of formal guidelines, people should keep the use of company things to a minimum. It’s common today that people do use things a little bit – it’s almost inevitable. It’s almost impossible to use nothing at all from a company. The Talmud says that during the time of the harvest, workers customarily take small amounts of fruits. And even if taking the fruit was not explicitly made permissible to them, it is still acceptable because it is understood that they will do that. The same is true today. But a person should strive to keep things to a minimum. He should try to use as little time as possible of his employer’s, and try to take care of his personal needs during his lunch hour.
A good principle to abide by is this: always do a little bit less than what seems just and deserving. The nature of a person is to see things in his favor, seeing affairs as inclined towards him as opposed to another person. A person can assume that his sense of justice is probably overblown by 20 to 30 to 40 per cent. So a person should be aware of this, and compensate for it whenever he is trying to assess the fair thing to do. That’s a good way of measuring it, in the absence of specific rules.
How high up on the hierarchy should a person go to determine a rule?
A person is really only obligated to ask the head of his department. But a person is not obligated – nor should he – go any higher than this. If a person would go to the owner, the CEO, or the president, it might be disturbing to the owner, president, etc. that you are coming to him. The issue in question may not be something that the CEO considers prohibited, but on the other hand, he doesn’t want his company to be perceived as having no rules. So to avoid such a situation, a person ought only to go to his own manager.
Each week we will ask a one or more questions to Rabbi Yisroel Belsky, Rosh Yeshiva of Torah Vodaas, and present his answer.
You can contribute questions of your own by sending them to [email protected] – a student of Rav Belsky’s takes the questions to him and provides his responses here.
NEXT WEEK’S QUESTION WILL BE:
I bought a car that I found has an extended warranty that I can buy from the previous owner. However I bought the car at an auction, and the car manufacturer won’t release the previous owner’s name. Can I call the manufacturer and say something such as ‘This is the car’s VIN number [Vehicle Identification Number], and I just want to make sure you have the correct phone number’? In other words, can I be guileful to get the name of the previous owner so I can buy the warranty?
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