Having recently quit a hateful job – a situation so bad I quit without finding my next position first – I’ve been sharing my experiences with friends and family, and I’ve noticed that the responses have been divided between two very distinct options.
Friends who’ve had similar experiences tend to share their POW stories: almost everyone I’ve spoken to had a boss once who harassed them, acted aggressively toward them, intentionally and overtly thwarted their ability to succeed in the position. Meanwhile, friends who’ve had fairly stable careers in jobs they enjoy look at me like I’ve grown an extra head when I describe the treatment I received in my last position. They say things – well-meaning things, like, “Are you sure you’re not exaggerating?” and “It can’t have been that bad!” and “Maybe you should take a step away from the situation until you calm down.”
Okay, I get it. They’re trying really hard to make sense of a situation I’m reporting that just doesn’t make sense, and because they’ve never been sexually harassed, insulted, belittled, or marginalized by their bosses, they’re having a hard time conceiving of a boss that’s like that in the real world. Hearing this kind of feedback when your workplace is already hostile, though, pretty much makes you feel about two inches tall; you start to doubt yourself (even though I’ve been witnessing this behavior every day, am I blowing this out of proportion?), which is already your employer’s goal, and now your friends are joining in on the fun. It sucks.
But, look, you have rights, don’t you? The thing about rights is not that people won’t violate them; they will, all over the place. But your rights are enforceable, which means that when your rights are violated, you have recourse to set things right.
So, how do you handle this kind of situation?
1. Keep records. If your employer is actually stupid enough to put this abuse in writing, make sure you save it somewhere off the company servers. Forward that shit to your private email. This record can be valuable if the situation comes to a lawsuit, or in negotiating the terms of your end of contract. If there isn’t a paper trail, create one by keeping a log of incidences on your own. Also keep records of all praise you receive in writing or in person, and try to keep at least a light log of all of the work you accomplish so unfair accusations of laziness or poor job performance can be put to rest immediately.
2. Collect witnesses. Try not to have meetings with anyone who displays abusive tendencies alone. Ask for other members of management or members of your team to be present for any meetings you have with this person; most likely, this will decrease their abusive output, but it also means that if they do continue to abuse you, you can immediately have someone there as a witness.
3. Keep calm. Seriously. Unfortunately, especially for women, even the slightest emotional response can be used against you. You probably wouldn’t be surprised to hear how often an abusive boss who’s trying to either force an employee to quit or trying to gather a case to fire them will try to level accusations like, “She is unstable,” or “She is emotionally volatile.” Speak in level tones, present your own evidence clearly and calmly, don’t interrupt, and don’t take an argumentative tone. This can be maddening, particularly when faced with such a huge level of unfairness, but don’t let them pander to stereotypes.
4. Know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em. Some work environments will do anything to avoid the appearance of impropriety, so they will work hard to ensure that negative situations in the workplace like this are solved quickly, quietly, and to the broadest satisfaction possible. Particularly larger corporate environments, or, you know, a Human Resources department. On the other hand, smaller companies, newer companies, and situations in which your abuser is everyone’s boss are less likely to want to hush this up or make it go away. They’d much rather make you go away. At that point, you have a couple options: fight for your job (though why you’d want to stay there, I don’t know), press charges, or quit and find something better.
5. Don’t sign anything without consulting a lawyer first. This should be self-explanatory.
6. Make the best choice for you. Ultimately, no one can sustain staying in an abusive work environment for long. Your records can help you obtain unemployment benefits if you don’t leave under terms that would normally guarantee them to you. If you have time to find another job first, that’s great, but do what’s best for your emotional and mental health, and get out of there as soon as you can.
This time around, I was lucky: we had a little cushion saved up so I could afford to quit without having another job guaranteed yet. I’m scared a little about finding a job before we run out of money, yeah, but I’m also so hugely relieved not to be in a situation that has me second guessing myself, come home crying every night, and hating every moment of my workday. You deserve to be treated with respect. You deserve to work in an environment in which you are not abused or marginalized. You deserve recourse if you experience those things. Unfortunately, abusers often continue that kind of behavior because they believe they can get away with it.
Prove them wrong.