Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Envelope Company from Hell's Kitchen - Workplace Harassment - Part II

Copyright ShutterPlum Photography

Let me make this clear.  I do not believe in Hell.  But I do believe in Hell's Kitchen.  Well, I believe in the Hell's Kitchen of the 1990's.  And I believe that this Envelope Company could've been the flagship of that infamous neighborhood.  There were even coke addicts working there.

The main source of my misery was my coworker. She was supposed to train me, mentor me in all things envelope manufacturing.  This was by default really.  I was assigned the desk next to hers and I was to have similar accounts.  She let me know right away that she was not happy with this arrangement.

I didn't care for the arrangement either, I just wanted to get it over with so I could get on to shipping those envelopes and paying down my credit cards.  Besides she had this nasty thing on her lip.  Almost immediately she started making excuses to get away from having to train me, including taking calls from her boyfriends and having hour long conversations about personal matters I did not need to hear.  I did start to understand the thing on her lip.

So untrained and all I would march off to production meetings ill prepared for the conversations we would have there.  My supervisor and the others giggled and shook their heads at my lack of production knowledge at those meetings, but I took notes and made sure not to make the same mistakes again.  I tried to be "adorkable".  So I laughed with them and faked a lot, just to get through the day.  The customers liked me because I was honest and attended to them well, inexperienced and all.  They forgave me if I 'dropped the ball'.  Mostly.

I made little mention of the 'episodes' for the first few months.  I call them episodes because I am sure she was a sociopath off of her meds.  They consisted of answering personal phone calls and carrying on inappropriate conversations with her many boyfriends for all to hear, as I already mentioned.  Clipping her toenails in my presence and letting the yellow, diseased clippings fall on my desk.  (I would Lysol them as she looked on because I thought she had an STD.)  Berating me while I was tending to customers on the phone. Cursing at me.  Answering my phone calls while I was away at lunch and commenting to my customers about my supposed lack of work ethic.  Making disgusting comments about what she perceived were the details of my own personal life and religion. Barking orders at me for all in the office to hear.  Criticizing my phone manner and threatening to go to the supervisor for neglecting her phone while she was away, which was often.  Taking unauthorized breaks and making me cover.  And a slew of other hateful things to sabotage my stay there.  You get the picture right?   She existed only to punish me for her miserable existence and possible childhood traumas.

She thought she could get rid of me much sooner.  I held on tight for eleven and a half months. It was a stressful and trying eleven and a half months.  If stress takes years off your life, I certainly managed to shave off two to five in those months alone.  Her jabs, especially those geared towards my family and religion, were what most fueled my stubbornness and determination.

I didn't go silently but I didn't yell either.  I held myself from bursting and spoke only when it mattered.  When she would underestimate me and put the ball in my pocket, I would lunge out and use it.  I had to prove my innocence daily.  I stood up for myself and made it known to everyone who mattered that what she was doing was illegal.  The downside is that in a private, family owned company with certain ties; you don't have as much protection.  You are at their mercy and for me they had none.  I was patted on the head and was told to soldier on, so I did.  I did it my way.

I covered my back to the point I was practically paranoid. I had to have everything in writing and well documented.  I could not leave the walls of the city unprotected - my defense had to be impenetrable.  Her advantage was her seniority, knowledge of the business and she was “close” to someone higher up but I was younger, smarter and stubborn.

I made it my business to pay attention and I took the legal route. I blindsided her a couple of times leaving her feeling less confident.  She took my inexperience and innocence for granted and I hit her, continually, where it most hurt.  I made her look bad in front of the ones that so protected her.  I documented everything, even the meetings with my supervisor.  I was fighting back.  Maybe too much so.

By this time I was getting heart palpitations during work on a regular basis that would leave me out of breath.  Then I found patches of hair missing. I ran out into the parking lot once when I felt I couldn't take it anymore and I screamed in absolute anger.  I cried out of anger.  Nobody saw me.  And I cooled down and went back in to finish the assault. 

I couldn't sleep peacefully and would have dreams of knocking her head into her desk repeatedly. These thoughts made me happy - that honestly worried me.  I was never that person before.  I knew how to take the high road but I felt that option had been taken away from me.  Although my home life was normal, healthy and my refuge, I began to suffer there too.

That is when I decided the fire pit needed an ice water bath.  I had gathered all my evidence and I had witnesses who had looked me in the eye and told me they would speak with me.  And I told them I would hold them to it.

I walked into my supervisor’s office and dictated to him what my rights were, what the labor law said and how my rights had been abused and the law transgressed.  And I told him my lawyers would contact the company.  That sent his brain into a panic; I could see his pupils shaking. He called in the Sociopath and tried to hash it out between the two of us like preschoolers at the principal’s office.  But this was no kiddy spat and I was not going to let him off the hook.  My eyes were sending sparks. 

None of this, however, was good for my health.  So I decided against suing them as long as I could leave peacefully and collect my unemployment.  They had shady lawyers that would have dragged this out for years using every shady loophole.  They were very close though - I had my lawyer on hold awaiting my decision.  She was itching to get her hands dirty.

I instead filed a complaint against them with the Labor Department for workplace harassment and gave the caseworker copies of all my documentation.  I gave them the Sociopaths information.  I also listed all the violations from sexual harassment to smoking in the office, which also affected me, and others left behind.  Then I quit via resignation letter sent to the higher ups and not my direct supervisor and I took a 6-month paid vacation.

Later, the company was sold to a much larger institution.  The larger institution’s clean-up guy had been working on the inside with the Envelope Company for some time during my stay and after my departure making sure the acquisition went smoothly and that the Envelope Company's property was in good shape pending the sale.  But not many knew this.  He was said to be "one of us" and instead rumors of growth ran rampant instead of the truth.

Because of all the visible renovations, many of the employees anticipated growth and prosperity but I had my doubts about this from the beginning.  It smelled to me of exodus.  And that is what happened.  Many hard-working people ended up without a job after decades working for the Envelope Company.  The higher-ups were said to have left in a huff, giving the impression that they were dissatisfied with the deal and setting off some of the blame to the newer company.  But million dollar deals don't just happen over night and you can bet every detail is polished before the big day.  Things don't just slip through the cracks in business.

The clean-up guy called me into his office one day and told me that I had not been shown the same consideration that the girl previous to me had been shown.  I can only guess that meant I had no real connections there to warrant my complaints being heard.  The girl that I replaced was a friend of the owners.  And what did that matter - I had walked into that office on my first day of work with every legal right as any other employee.  There should have been no difference.


Even now I can see that I haven't completely taken back control and my happiness at work sometimes suffers.  But more on this tomorrow...

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