Maybe Bob's not very good at doing his job. Perhaps he always shows up late, misbehaves, or just isn't reliable when it comes to getting things done. Or maybe his superiors just hate him. Whatever the reason, Bob gets punished by getting stuck with the nasty, boring, and utterly thankless tasks.
Common examples of the sorts of tasks used for a Punishment Detail include:
- Something related to sanitation and toilet functions, or anything else that involves unpleasant odors and getting extremely dirty.
- Boring, repetitive tasks, like manually copying the exact same letter hundreds of times.
- Something extremely demeaning, like assigning a highly-trained professional to menial tasks normally left to unskilled workers.
- The task itself is completely pointless make-work, like digging a bunch of holes and then filling them back up again.
What unifies the concept is the idea that just having to perform the task is a form of punishment.
Frequently Truth in Television.
A common subversion is to have the person being punished actually wind up enjoying the work, and maybe even doing the job well enough to earn some amount of respect from their superiors.
If nobody has been misbehaving lately, a lot of these duties will end up falling on the New Meat instead, or will just be rotated around the group so everyone is equally miserable.
Peeling Potatoes is a subtrope about a specific type of Punishment Detail. Closely related to Reassigned to Antarctica, which is about being moved to an undesirable location as a form of punishment. If the unpleasant task comes along with a promotion, the character might have been Kicked Upstairs.
See also Writing Lines.
- In just about any work put into an office setting, being put in charge of getting everyone else coffee or other refreshments can be used as this, especially when it's being framed as a deliberate snub/form of exclusion.
Boss: We have important things to discuss. While we're doing that, you can go get everyone some coffee, Bob.
- In Asterix in Corsica it's established that the vast majority of the Romans stationed in the titular island were transferred there as a means of punishment. The only people there who don't fall into this category are the naive, over-eager and aptly named Legionary Courtingdisastus (who volunteered to go to Corsica due to "good chances of promotion", an action which makes the men he's later given command of think he's completely insane), a Corsican that hit his head and joined the Roman Army and (probably), the governor's crack troops.
- In the Naruto fanfic Cutting Loose a fairly common means of dealing with most levels of misbehavior among the ninja corps is to assign those ninjas the nastiest, most unpleasant jobs possible, like sewer-cleaning.
- In Magical Girl Noir Quest Heartcatch Squad (with the possible exception of Erika) were de jure getting off scott free. However it was perfectly clear their de facto punishment was their first mission, Death Notification. As you can imagine, this was really unpleasant. Hanasaki cried so much she passed out.
- In The Last Castle, Irwin is ordered by the Warden to move a massive pile of rocks from one end of the prison yard to the other. When that doesn't break his will, Irwin is subsequently told to move all the rocks back to their original position.
- In Police Academy 2 Mahoney and his partner are assigned to the inside of the Lincoln Tunnel (or some other traffic tunnel), ostensibly in case there are any civilians who need help but actually as punishment, being forced to breathe the traffic fumes and such.
- Will Stockdale in No Time For Sergeants is assigned to latrine detail, but he takes to the job and gets them ship-shape.
- In the Codex Alera series Tavi gets assigned with measuring and evaluating all the latrines after calling his immediate superior out selling for selling the legion's supplies on the black market.
- Tyrion Lannister from A Song of Ice and Fire gets put in charge of managing the sewers in King's Landing, since he's horribly unpopular. In something of a subversion, Tyrion goes on to make the sewers incredibly more efficient than they used to be.
- Ciaphas Cain is fond of handing these out instead of harsher punishments (to reenforce the illusion of a The Men First attitude), particularly to soldiers who've watched his back (or at least he likes to give them the impression he does to encourage them).
- CHERUB Series - Performing menial (though always necessary) cleaning jobs on Campus is among the most common way of punishing CHERUB agents for misconduct.
- In Lords and Ladies Soon-To-Be-Queen Magrat makes two attempts at threatening Shawn Ogg with punishment detail. The first time she threatens to have him clean the privies, and he responds with a blank "But I do clean the privies". The second time she goes for a more general "all the dirty jobs", and when he comes up with much the same answer adds "I shall see to it there are dirtier ones".
- In the first episode of Young Blades, the Musketeers get assigned to dungeon cleaning duty as punishment for fighting.
- In Red Dwarf, the punishment of choice was repainting the ship's hull. Bear in mind that you have to wear a spacesuit, and a safety tether, and said hull is 6 miles long.
- In the first episode of Reaper, Sam's boss decides to punish him the for the damaging the store by assigning him to the Gardening Department (where he has to pile forty pound sacks of dirt all day). Fortunately, the Devil arranges it so that his love interest is there to keep him company.
- On Community, the study group are forced to wash down the school's newly acquired space simulator as punishment for creating—and permanently voting into use—an offensive school flag.
- It is hinted in The Elder Scrolls: Morrowind's Bloodmoon expansion that most or all of the soldiers stationed at Fort Frostmoth are there because of punishment. It's a freezing island filled with werewolves, naked barbarians, tree-women, and undead warriors.
- Being assigned to Operation Rusty's Blanket was a punishment for Brock Samson.
- Phineas and Ferb have to clean a latrine with toothbrushes (several times) as punishment for being creative in "Phineas and Ferb get Busted."
- When Oggy is once mistakenly enrolled, the angry drill sergeant yells at him, pointing at the latrines and hands him a toothbrush. Seconds later, the WC are squeaky-clean.
- A very common practice in many military organizations. Expect to see the people in question doing various menial labor such as painting parking space stripes, doing yardwork, etc. Sometimes they will also be used for "make-work" jobs with no real purpose, such as painting rocks.
- However, in some cases these tasks will go to the New Meat instead of people on Punishment Detail.
- KP, or Kitchen Patrol, is a common form of military punishment in media (classically taking the form of Peeling Potatoes). In Real Life, it's not nearly as common as it once was.
- There is somewhere worse than mainland Alaska in the U.S. Military. An island called Shemya in the Aleutians, a group of islands off the coast of the Alaskan Peninsula. According to legend, the wind never drops below 60 knots, the temperature never rises above -20 C and there's a 10-foot visibility fog 300 days of the year. Primary duty there is clearing the runway of obstructions. Every time someone left, they took a rock with them so someday there would be no more island and no would ever have to go back. Or so that legend goes.
- A possible form of a sentence of "Community Service."
- Clean-up duties are often used in this fashion just about everywhere.