In response to the Daily Post writing prompt Sink or Swim
Tell us about a time when you were left on your own, to fend for yourself in an overwhelming situation — on the job, at home, at school. What was the outcome?
In response to Blogging 101 Day 4 prompt Identify Your Audience
Today’s Assignment: publish a post you’d like your ideal audience member to read, and include a new-to-you element in it.
Where was I going to do with this? I really needed to…
“Jill?” What? I looked up and met my boss’s eyes. He didn’t appear too happy.
“HR said you requested a meeting. They asked me if I knew what it was about. I hope it’s not the same issue we discussed last week.”
Why did HR mention anything? I thought HR was… well bound by privacy rules that kind of things. I smiled.
“Actually it’s about something that concerns me.”
It was true… sort of. But I wasn’t going to risk retaliation. I knew it was illegal but seeing as no-one ever complained about anything in this company I’d probably have a hard time proving that I was a victim of it if it ever happened. See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil was an evil in itself. At least I believed so.
“I certainly hope your job is completed. That meeting shouldn’t set you back. I need you to finish everyone’s yearly evaluation by tomorrow.”
“I’m done actually. I was sending you a summary.”
He looked at the screen. He screwed his eyes, as if I were lying. I was indeed writing him an email. I just wasn’t sure where it was going. But he seemed satisfied with the title.
“Let me get this before tomorrow then.”
He walked away. Thankfully. That meeting with HR was stressing me out. I had no idea what to expect. I met the Director of HR when they hired me but I hadn’t been with the company long enough to know if they would take me seriously or just push it under the rug, just like my boss had done. He’d ignored my emails; left nothing in writing but essentially told me to drop the subject.
I wasn’t going to let it happen. At least I convinced myself I wouldn’t. But I knew from experience that sometimes the company weighed down on employees until they quit before they agreed to prune the bad elements. I settled once. I wouldn’t this time. I wouldn’t let another woman go through what I had. And Kelly was too nice. She’d been on sick leave for a week and soon they’d let her go for one bogus reason or another.
My hands were sweaty when I knocked on the HR director’s office. I knew what I was doing was dangerous. Not illegal but not clever. I’d rather be protected. Maybe I was wrong and they’d be reasonable. But opening the door, I knew I could expect a repeat of my own story. It was supposed to be a one-on-one meeting but there were three men sitting there. Not one woman. Weren’t they worried? They should. Or they knew and they were going to bully me into keeping silent. Or try. But not me. Not this time. And I had proofs, but they needn’t know about it yet.
“So Ms. Wilkinson. You wanted to meet us. Have a seat.”
I sat in front of them, like the accused at a trial. I’d had disagreeable encounters with HR before but this promised to be the worst even though I wasn’t the victim in the situation. I knew who I was dealing with though.
“Mr. Smith, Mr. Johns, Mr. Sheffield.” They seemed surprised that I should know their names. A little ill at ease too. Good. “Thank you for meeting me. I’m surprise Ms. Thatcher isn’t here.” A little bit of sweat on one of them. Sheffield. Ok. He was the weak link if there were one.
“Ms. Thatcher is on a professional trip. What was it you wanted to discuss?”
“I’m guessing you have an idea otherwise I wouldn’t be speaking with the three of you. It concerns Ms. Rinneard’s sick leave.”
Mr. Smith’s hand clenched. They knew. They did know but they hadn’t done anything yet.
“What do you know about it?”
Mr. Johns asked, probably more aggressively than he should have, maybe than he intended.
“I happen to know a lot about it. I witnessed the incident. And since it happened in the office I had been meeting the staff for the annual evaluation it is recorded.”
They might have been good actors but neither man were capable of hiding the concern that showed in their eyes. Mr. Smith recovered the fastest.
“It is illegal to record people without their knowledge.”
“Actually, it is illegal if none of the person concerned is aware that a conversation is being recorded. As it is, both Ms. Rinneard and Mr. Peterson knew that all evaluations were recorded and I have reasons to suspect Ms. Rinneard, knowing that she might fall victim to Mr. Peterson’s harassment made sure that my recording device was on before she entered the office.”
“How did you come to be a witness and not stop it? That’s criminal. We should fire you Ms. Wilkinson.”
“I did stop it Sir. In fact, I stopped it twice. And I spoke about the situation to my superior who told me to ignore the situation. That if Ms. Rinneard wasn’t capable of defending herself, she might be consenting. That is a criminal behaviour. So I have come to you. So that you fire Mr. Peterson and make this office a safer place for every woman working here.”
“We need to hear Mr. Peterson’s side of the story. And we’ll need the recording if we’re to put any weight into your story.”
Of course they would.
“I imagine that is what you said to Ms. Rinneard before you told her that she would have to continue working with him and did nothing. It’s been two weeks gentlemen.”
“That is an HR issue, not yours to meddle with.”
But you made it my issue. Because you couldn’t know but I too was victim once. And like Kelly, I chose to say nothing and resign. Not without a nice compensation but I hated myself for years. I was useless for months. And I believed it was my fault. I was young. Not much older than Kelly. She wouldn’t spend a decade thinking she was worth nothing; not if I had any say in it. It was an HR issue but one that everybody should feel strongly about.
“If that is how you feel about this.”
I dropped one of the recordings on the desk and excused myself. That had been a waste of time. Almost. As I stood by the open door, I cast one last glance to them.
“Thank you for your time.”
“Ms. Wilkinson. You are not to speak of this to anyone.”
“I’m very much aware of privacy laws gentlemen. In this instance, they might not help you. Have a good day.”
And I left. I knew this was as clear an overt threat as I could be making. But they had no right to speak of what we discussed. And as such, they had no justification for any action against me unless I gave them cause to fire me. And they had none.
That afternoon, after I was done, I went to meet Kelly. She asked me how it went but I knew she expected it to go the way it had. She faced the same attitude when she formally complained. They’d told her that they’d have to tell her name to the person she complained about so they could defend themselves and until proven that he indeed harassed her, she’d have to work with him regardless. I had gone through the same thing. I knew how it was. Sick leave was the only solution. But no longer. Kelly was more courageous than I was then. She had set it up so she’d have proof. I only helped her where I could. After I heard him harass her the first time, I spoke with her. She asked if I would support hr. Of course I would.
Together we went to Labour Board and she laid her complaint there, providing the recording that we had indeed set up, knowing that Peterson would follow her in the small meeting room, and the one I had from my meeting with the HR Board that day. As I told them, as long as one of the participants was aware of it, it wasn’t illegal to record a conversation. Privacy laws wouldn’t help them this time.