DOVER, DE–Bill Tepfer, an associate service-department manager at Shademaster Tent & Awning Supply, was ordered by his supervisor Monday to determine the party responsible for not flushing the second-floor toilet.
"Someone in this company has been neglecting to flush after going to the bathroom," said Tepfer, 31. "And I've been put in charge of finding out who that person is."
According to secretary Shelley Grabisch, three times in the past two days, various Shademaster employees have attempted to use the second-floor bathroom, only to discover toilet paper and fecal matter still in the bowl.
"It's disgusting," Grabisch said. "It's been particularly bad the last few days, but it's been going on a lot longer than that. We're talking at least every other day for a month."
The unflushed toilet has dominated office conversation of late, with Shademaster employees trading anecdotes and details of their own encounters with the toilet, as well as airing their own theories regarding who the guilty party may be.
"Everyone's very curious about who's doing it," said Tepfer, who earned a business degree from the University of Delaware in 1990. "It doesn't really make sense: How could you forget to flush? And if the person is doing it on purpose, why? What could they possibly have to gain by leaving that kind of mess?"
"At first, I figured the fecal matter was being left there because it was too big to be flushed," Tepfer continued. "But every time it's been discovered, it's gone right down without a problem. So we're not even talking about a situation where somebody clogs the toilet and then runs away in embarrassment."
Tepfer has begun checking the toilet at regular one-hour intervals, but he has had little luck. At 1 p.m. Tuesday, he checked and found it properly flushed, but 10 minutes later, a coworker called him back to the area to show him the toilet filled with copious amounts of toilet paper and bodily waste.
"I could hang around outside the bathroom and try to catch the culprit in the act, but I'd pretty much have to be there around the clock," Tepfer said. "Besides, everybody knows I've been assigned this task, so the guilty party probably wouldn't even use the bathroom if they saw me nearby. I've also considered directly asking everyone, but I just can't imagine what I'd say."
Tepfer said he believes a sternly worded sign reminding employees to flush would be an effective measure. However, he noted: "An entry in the employee handbook clearly states that, 'In order to maintain a professional atmosphere, no paper or cardboard signs are to be posted in or around any shared employee areas, including the break rooms, hallways, or bathrooms.' So, unfortunately, that's out."
Tepfer was assigned the task of identifying the non-flusher by his direct superior, service-department manager Milt Trautwig.
"Milt stressed to me that, with only two bathrooms serving all 44 employees in the company, it is imperative that both are in full working condition at all times," Tepfer said. "He also said the smell is really bothering the accounting department, whose area is right across the hall."
"I've gleaned that it usually happens in the early afternoon," Tepfer said. "They're probably doing it right when they get back from lunch."
"Really, it could be anyone in this whole building," Tepfer added.
Despite being given the task less than 48 hours ago, Tepfer is already feeling the pressure to root out the guilty party. Yesterday, he received a lengthy e-mail from senior sales representative Bob Raeder complaining that the situation is "causing huge problems" among his staff.
"Not only is it unpleasant," Raeder's e-mail read in part, "it is cutting into valuable work time, as members of my team are forced to wait in long lines for the first-floor restroom due to the recurring problem in the restroom they normally would use. It is my sincere hope that you can remedy this situation soon."
Thus far, Tepfer has received nearly 30 e-mails from coworkers expressing their feelings about the situation.
"When I find the toilet unflushed, unlike some others here, I will flush it," secretary Diane Huncke wrote. "But that doesn't change the fact that I shouldn't have to."
"This is ridiculous!!!" promotions coordinator Jeanette Wolk wrote. "We are all grown adults here, yet some of us can't seem to observe the most basic rules of hygiene!!!"
Tepfer, a lifelong Dover resident, has been with Shademaster since 1992. Starting out answering phones as a customer-service representative, he quickly climbed through the ranks, promoted to lead operator in 1994, to junior associate service-department manager in 1997, and to his current associate-manager post in 1999.
"I'm not thrilled to be the one who has to find out who's not flushing," Tepfer said. "But sometimes you have to do these kinds of things when you're the associate manager. With position comes certain duties."