I want to put an end to tea duties for women at my office

Dear Troubleshooter:

I am a female contract employee in my 40s. My problem concerns tea duties at my workplace where I have been working for 10 years.

It seems the practice of having only women serve tea existed before I started at the company. Female employees serve coffee in the morning and tea at 11 a.m., lunch time and 3 p.m. and then have to wash the teacups at the end of the workday, even though they are busy.

Tea duty is three or four days a week, and serving sometimes impedes regular work, which can lead to overtime.

The male employees say “sorry” and so on, but they don’t help us. Some female employees say there’s nothing to be done about it, as many of the men are higher-ups who are former high-ranking bureaucrats.

Lately, I have felt particularly nettled by the custom and would like to propose that such duties be abolished.

Rather than abolishing them all at once, I would like to start by asking people to wash their own tea cups. To be honest, however, I’m on the fence about speaking out, as I’m afraid I’ll be criticized by male and senior female coworkers.

I am thinking over how to start the discussion in a way that doesn’t disrupt the harmony of the workplace. I hope you can lend me some support.

— O, Ishikawa Prefecture

Dear Ms. O:

What you described is like a scene out of a Showa period drama, with female employees walking around the office handing out tea from trays.

I can’t believe that such an anachronistic workplace still exists!

It is a violation of the Equal Employment Opportunity Law for only female employees to have to serve tea in addition to their regular duties.

The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry has also recognized such duties as a violation of the law. You are in the right, so first let that sink in.

Then, use your regular observations to formulate a plan for how and to whom to make your proposal.

For example, why don’t you start with, “I am surprised that this workplace is in violation of the law.”

However, no matter what you do, you may not be able to avoid disturbing the “harmony” of the workplace. Regardless, your action will be significant and change the outmoded structure of the company, even if only slightly.

There have been many brave female employees in workplaces across the country who have voiced their opposition to serving tea. Keep that in mind as you take action.

If you are feeling discouraged, you can call the general labor consultation service at the Labor Standards Inspection Office to get advice.

Good luck.

— Tomomi Fujiwara, writer