Many job descriptions contain a disclaimer that prevents you from being able to say, "But, that's not what I was hired to do," or, "That's not in my job description." Employers include a final item on most job descriptions that states something like, "And other duties and responsibilities as required." This clearly suggests that your boss can assign anything to you, including shopping for her husband's anniversary gift, to substituting for her children's nanny, to collecting her kids from after-school piano lessons.
Private sector employers in virtually every state subscribe to the employment-at-will doctrine, which means that you or the employer can end the working relationship at any time, for any reason, with or without advance notice. If you're fed up with being an armchair psychologist to your boss or taking care of personal errands for which she and her family are responsible, you can walk out at any time. Likewise, if you refuse to be a part of your boss's personal affairs or refuse to act on her behalf in a personal capacity, she can exercise the right to terminate you.
Federal and state laws don't govern what employers can require of their employees with the exception of youth, who can't be required to work in hazardous occupations or work during hours that interfere with their schooling. As an adult, your boss can legally involve you in her personal business by requiring you to handle tasks that benefit her or her family, even if it includes listening to her personal woes as part of your daily responsibilities. The only thing a boss cannot legally involve you in is personal business that's unethical or illegal. In this case, you're likely to the be the one who has to prove that your boss required you to be a party to unlawful activity.
When you interview for a job, always clarify the job offer and your responsibilities by asking questions about any additional duties you would be required to perform. Also ask about the phrase 'any and all other responsibilities' in the last paragraph of the job description entail. Since hindsight is always 20-20, you may have gotten yourself into a situation where your boss is relying on you to be involved in her personal matters against your wishes.
Take the initiative and talk to your boss about your duties. If you have the kind of relationship where you can speak candidly, it will make it that much easier to broach the topic. However, if you feel you're in a powerless position compared to your boss's role, you may need to cautiously bring up the topic. Two primary messages that you want to convey are that you feel that the skills and qualifications you bring to the organization aren't being used to their potential and that you feel uncomfortable with the level of knowledge and input that you have on your boss's personal matters. Tell her that you'd rather get back to a strictly professional relationship that will benefit your professional development.
The only way you can honestly convey these messages to your boss is if you don't reciprocate in the exchange of personal information. Stick to your professional responsibilities and resist the urge to spill details about your personal life in conversations with your boss. Maintaining what's called a professional distance between the two of you will serve you well in your attempt to extricate yourself from your boss's personal business.
Ruth Mayhew has been writing since the mid-1980s, and she has been an HR subject matter expert since 1995. Her work appears in "The Multi-Generational Workforce in the Health Care Industry," and she has been cited in numerous publications, including journals and textbooks that focus on human resources management practices. She holds a Master of Arts in sociology from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Ruth resides in the nation's capital, Washington, D.C.