The Real Reasons You Can’t Force Your Employees to Buy Donuts

I want to be clear that I love donuts. This post has nothing against donuts. I believe that every office that I visit should have donuts available. I think this is a good idea.

However, I ran across a Reddit post about an office tradition involving $100 worth of donuts. The tl;dr summary: The Original Poster (OP) works for a company where once a month an employee buys $100 worth of donuts for everyone to share. This tradition has been going on forever. The employee who pays for these donuts does so out of pocket. OP is a part time employee, earns $10 an hour, and only works 12 or so hours a week. If he bought the donuts, his real pay (after taxes) would have been around $11. OP refuses. The office hates him and the boss makes cryptic comments about taking it out of his pay.

So, what’s wrong with this scenario, besides everything?

Major FLSA violation

If the boss requires this, then it takes the OP way below minimum wage for the week. You can’t require any deduction that brings someone below minimum wage.

OP isn’t the only one who can’t afford this

$100 is not a lot for some people. For others, it’s their entire grocery budget for the week. Or it’s the difference between paying their rent and not paying their rent. $100 is a significant amount of money. Even, though you’d only have to purchase the donuts every once in a while, it’s not something that any business should ask of their employees. It’s putting people in a huge financial burden.

The OP points out that everyone else makes more money than he does, so it’s not a big deal for them. We never know anyone else’s finances. Someone may be supporting an ex-spouse, six kids, two elderly parents, and paying off student loans. Or, has gambling debt. It doesn’t matter. Your paycheck is your paycheck and (outside of taxes), you get to decide how to spend your money.

This can be morale destroying

The OP’s assumption is that everyone loves this but him. It may be true, but it’s probably not. Traditions like these come with pressure to conform. And seeing how the boss reacted when someone objected, you can be sure that other people didn’t object because they predicted such a reaction.

Fun things need to be fun. This has stopped being fun.

The OP is now looking for a new job. I suspect he’s not the only one.

Not everyone loves donuts

I realize the above statement is shocking, but it is true. I love the idea of a monthly donut day–because I love donuts. But, you are excluding people without realizing it. Change up your monthly offerings.

The business buys the treats

If an employee loves to bake and wants to bring in cupcakes, yay! Cupcakes for all! But, otherwise, any treats are business expenses. If the boss wishes to treat the employees, fine. But it comes out of the boss’s paycheck, not not the employee’s. Period.

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9 thoughts on “The Real Reasons You Can’t Force Your Employees to Buy Donuts

  1. $100 worth of donuts is a lot of donuts. This company is large enough to have money in its budget to finance the donuts, if it’s that important. I love donuts, and will — gladly — help myself to one if someone leaves a bunch in the break room. But, I rarely buy them on my own. Like most Americans, I could stand to lose some weight and to eat a healthier diet. Furthermore, there are some — diabetics, for example — who are medically-restricted from enjoying donuts. A healthier option — if management deems that free snacks should be available — might be fresh fruit.

  2. Whiskey. Tango. Foxtrot. May the fleas of a thousand camels infest that boss’s armpits!
    I buy donuts for my office every year on National Donut Day but that’s my choice! I don’t know where I’m going to get them next year as my beloved Puck’s Donuts burned down in the Almeda fire last month and I don’t know if they’ll rebuild.
    But, wow, just wow!

  3. As a person with multiple food allergies (wheat, eggs, and milk among them) I detest these ‘forced’ food events. The company I formerly worked for had monthly potlucks just before the mandatory company wide meeting and the pressure to participate was unpleasant. Not only that but the meeting was held at a location 1 hour away from my usual work place. To attend, I had to close up the office I usually worked at and drive over. They informed me that I could not put the drive time on my timecards after one boss had told me I could. They changed my timecard, then laid me off, then demanded at the ‘exit interview’ that I sign the changed time card. I did it but it left a very bad taste in my mouth and since then I have not felt good about this local ‘family friendly’ nonprofit company. I had worked there for 11 years, but the management changes over the last year made this a horrible place to work.

  4. Oh boy. Kathy – FYI, drive time from a work location to another work location should be compensable. And I might just ask your local state department of labor about that sneaky bit. As for the forced donuts – Holy Cow. Whenever I bought treats for the office I expensed them, no questions asked. To force a low level, low paid employee to fork out $100 is definitely not right. The company should grow up and just buy the treats, and as others said, vary what they’re offering!

  5. When I first saw the headlineof this article I was under the impression, that the pickup, not the paying of the cost was a rotating job, but after reading it, I understood. First of all, this appears to be a company decision to have a monthly donut day, I guess as means of giving joy to the workers. Plus when it started, donuts were much cheaper. I think someone forgot that, but still has the urge for donuts. Times have changed and this company needs to make a change.

  6. What a terrible idea. I mean, not the donuts because donuts are always a good idea. But $100 worth, out of pocket? I wouldn’t have been able to do that as an intern, or even in the first several years of permanent employment after college. My money was all tied up in things like rent, and later a mortgage and a car payment and utilities, which took up almost all of my paycheck at that point. Back then, $25 for a meal out was an extravagance.

    Even something like a donut fund jar would be a better idea than this. If everyone contributes what they’re comfortable with, and employees take turns picking them up on donut day using the funds from the jar, that would make it much more equitable.

    The employee making $10/hour might be okay with chipping in $5/month, even if he can’t spring for $100 worth of donuts at once. And those who can’t/won’t eat donuts for whatever reason shouldn’t be obligated to chip in.

  7. This sounds like Cargo Cult management. Successful, happy teams composed of people who like each other and work well together tend to have these sorts of things–doughnuts or cookouts or whatnot. If we have those things, we will therefore have a successful, happy team and everyone will like each other and work well together! It’s inverting cause and effect. The doughnuts are the effect of a happy team, not the cause.

  8. I have celiac disease and couldn’t even eat the donuts. This is crazy! The office mgr used to lean on people at a previous job to chip in for the boss’Christmas present. Luckily I read Suzanne’s blog!

  9. I used to work at a very small company (4-10 employees) where one of the employees (not the owner/manager) liked to plan a potluck Thanksgiving lunch, but this was inconvenient for me. I almost always took a bus to the office, and I would have had to drive my car (which I shared with my spouse) to carry my lunch contribution. Some of the other employees reported that they did not want to have a Thanksgiving lunch at work, because they had enough to do making preparations at home for their own celebration. So, we, in effect, refused to participate in this work-Thanksgiving. The owner took us all out for a Christmas dinner or lunch each year.
    I believe that I was the only employee who did not drive to work.

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