Friday, May 21, 2021
Tolerating discrimination and feeling unsafe to avoid the consequences of speaking up
This Friday, we’ve heard from folks across the Province that have taken our survey, and we want to amplify their voices. A common theme found throughout survey responses indicates that workers are experiencing the feeling of being put between a rock and a hard place, with discrimination and added stress in their work and no safe way to speak out about it without employer retaliation.
When asked ‘what would better job protection look like to you?’ workers answered with things like “less discrimination”, “having an honest boss who did everything legally”, and having “mental health days so that I don’t have to worry about the backlash of calling in sick because of my mental illnesses.”
It’s clear that the risk of being fired or cut from the schedule are consequences that workers perceive when they would otherwise be demanding better protections and fair treatment. One worker writes:
“I have feared speaking up about issues in my past because the fact is that most of the time it is better to grin and bare it then be faced with retribution”
The Covid-19 pandemic has amplified stressful dynamics for workers, and without an ability to speak up safely, it prevents them from accessing justice. When asked about how the pandemic has impacted their ability to work, one restaurant worker said “I have never been so stressed out in my life. I am slowing down and burning out and I don’t know how long I can keep it up”. Retail and food delivery workers expressed feeling unsafe in their daily work environment, saying “I felt nervous around the places where I pick up or drop off deliveries,” and “our store is TINY, so it’s super hard to social distance from not only customers, but co-workers too.”
When asked how having better job protection and not facing the risk of being fired for speaking up about their feelings about workplace safety and a desire for better policies, workers stated that they would feel “less stressed”, “happier”, have “better overall health”, and that they would feel “less stressed about bills and more creative.” In reflecting on how the pandemic has impacted their work, one person said:
“It makes me feel I have to tolerate abuse and poor conditions because of job scarcity.”
It’s disheartening to think of how many people across the Province are faced with neglectful bosses and unsafe workplaces for both their physical and psychological safety. No one should be forced to deal with these things in order to make ends meet. That’s why we have employment standards law in B.C.; because things vary so widely based on what kind of employer you have and workers deserve baseline rights and protections. When workers are walking on eggshells and feel that their income may be at risk if they demand a safe work environment, what kind of culture does that create in our communities?
Speak up and share your views, because as a network of workers across B.C. acting in solidarity with one another’s struggles, we can raise the standards, empower others to make a change and improve people’s everyday realities under the oppressive injustices of capitalism.
Friday, May 7, 2021
Fired for expressing discontent to coworkers about conditions
For over 2 years, I was a loyal and dedicated part-time employee at a corporate conglomerate. It was a job I took up to make some extra cash and give me something to do while our young son started school. It paid minimum wage and wasn’t exactly the most glamorous job. In fact, adjusting for inflation, I’m pretty sure I made more money at my job when I was in high school almost 25 years ago. But – because I’m not a horrible person, I did a good job, I only called in sick when I was actually sick, and I formed good relationships with customers and co-workers. The pay structure started at minimum wage, and increases annually to a maximum of $16.00/hr, unless you are a key-holder, then you get an extra $1.00. Despite being told this, our wages never went up, except finally when the minimum wage increased in B.C.
I started googling the store and I couldn’t help but notice that since I had started, the positive internet reviews for the store slowly began to increase. Of course, this wasn’t something head office ever recognized or acknowledged.
Working for this company throughout the pandemic was not easy. You had to deal with a lot of varying degrees of compliance, conspiracy theories, and you could feel the increase in the general social anxiety.
In addition to navigating the public’s varied pandemic perception, we had extremely high performance expectations to achieve; both in sales, and ‘loyalty card’ signups. We were reminded daily to get our numbers up in terms of loyalty card signups and swipes. Notes were posted everywhere, weekly stats were printed out, some embarrassingly right behind the cash register for the public to see!
What was in it for us to do well? You guessed it! Nothing! The only people who would stand to benefit from our performance was management. They would receive bonuses in the tens of thousands of dollars if their store met various metrics. Most of the time, these things weren’t even in our control.
I went into work one day to yet another crime scene of “gentle reminders” posted up behind the till, so I decided to reply.
I wrote, in the same tone that was directed at us, to make sure we all get our sales up so that the area manager can get his big fat bonus! I also took a couple of scrap pieces of paper to write similar messages and posted them up in our private staff room, mostly to make my co-workers laugh but also to be like, wtf? Why is it only management that financially benefits from our performance? We should be paid better to begin with and our hard work should result in us sharing at least a modicum of the profits that results from programs we are trained in and expected to execute.
Anyhow, I thought I was pretty clever and didn’t think any more of it. Long story short, the area manager came in unexpectedly, saw it and was furious. During my next shift, HR was on the phone and wanted to speak with me. Sure! Great! I’d love to have a discussion about this.
There was no discussion. I was informed that I was being investigated for vandalism. Except, I admitted to what I wrote and I stood by it, so there really wasn’t anything to investigate. I stood by what I wrote and bemoaned pay structure imbalance and the fact that we are paid absolute garbage and treated the same way. No one cared to acknowledge how well we are doing, or that customers are loyal because they love the staff, not the points card. They asked me why I thought it was my role to inform my peers about the bonus structure and do I understand the values of the company etc, etc. I was backed into a corner and I got up and I left. I was suspended with pay while they conducted their “investigation”, although there was not much of an investigation to conduct.
I was told to come in for my next scheduled shift, where another HR person was waiting for me, this time informing me I was terminated immediately for defacing company property and for my “uncooperative behaviour” towards HR.
I refused to apologize and that was the nail in my part-time employment coffin.
What is the lesson learned here folks? Well, for me I learned that corporations are even worse than I originally thought. Do not get between a company and their profit margins, do not question the inequality of workers VS. executives. I wish my message could be to refuse to work for a company that puts workers’ rights and well being ahead of profits, but unfortunately many people do not have the luxury to just stick it to the man. That is why low-paid people continue to be exploited and why the government needs to intervene and ensure workers can not simply be fired for demanding better pay and/or conditions.
Friday, April 23, 2021
Fired for asking about employment status, after 40+ hours of unpaid training
One former employee of Rumble Boxing Studio shares a story about how their former employer failed to uphold their rights as an employee.
After months of questionable practices like missing pay, this worker (who has chosen to remain anonymous) started asking some questions. Rumble responded to the concerns by terminating their employment, with no notice, and no compensation.
When this worker became interested in securing employment at Rumble, they found out that one of the requirements of being considered for the position was to attend a training, consisting of approximately 40 hours of work, for absolutely no pay. They worked the unpaid “training” week, and were told that a full-time contract would be coming their way.
While waiting for this contract to appear, the worker tells us that Rumble asked them back to perform more and more work, none of it paid. On their website under Careers it currently states that “Everyone working at Rumble Boxing is always hungry for more. You never settle and nothing is ever “good enough”.
According to the worker, this was not an isolated incident, this was Rumble’s practice at all of their locations. People put in hours of hard work, attended and hosted events, taught classes, did promotional photoshoots and brought in new clients to Rumble, all without financial compensation.
No one should be put in the position of giving up their rights for the potential of a job, and not everyone is in a position to easily be able to turn one down.
After a few months of working for Rumble, they didn’t complain, didn’t push back, and didn’t cause a scene. They simply asked their manager if they could finally receive that contract which had been promised to them. Their manager sent them a contract and, feeling relieved, they signed it and sent it back. (The worker’s contract from Rumble indicated that part of a future employee’s pay would be determined by their performance during the training). After sending it back signed, Rumble went quiet.
A few days later, the worker noticed that a staff event was taking place, and sent their manager a message asking what time they should be there for it.
Their manager responded by saying the event was only for staff. The worker then mentioned that they had received a contract and had returned it signed. But shortly after asking this question, the worker stopped hearing from the employer – and hasn’t heard from them since.
This worker would like others to know, especially those employed at businesses with the same owner, that they are not alone, and that, based on their experience, those conditions will not change further into their employment. They would also like to warn others that this employer has a practice of using the promise of a work contract to convince people to perform unpaid labour – sometimes for months!
The worker said that Rumble also didn’t even recognize that their workers are employees; they told them that they were independent contractors, and because of this they refused to uphold the very basic requirements of the Employment Standards Act; Rumble didn’t pay vacation, overtime, or stat holiday pay. During their time there, this worker received no pay from them at all! The stable employment that Rumble promised them never came.
The worker would also like for people who are asking questions about their employment or standing up for themselves not to have to worry about being fired, and for employers to be held accountable when they retaliate in those situations.
The Employment Standards Act doesn’t prevent employers from firing their employees for reasons that have nothing to do with poor performance, and they don’t need to prove that they had ‘just cause’ to terminate anyone. Workers can, and too often do, get fired for standing up for themselves when their employer is mistreating them.
This is especially relevant now, when many people are in dire need of a job and may accept working conditions that they otherwise wouldn’t. It may not be unheard of in the industry for an employer to use the promise of a job to benefit from unpaid labour, and to stifle the voices of their workers when they speak up, but it is appalling and unjust. Workers know it’s wrong, and they know they deserve better. What they need now is employment protections that enable them to address it without risking their livelihood.
Friday, April 9, 2021
Fired for needing a mental health day
This #FiredUp Friday, a former employee of Fairmont Chateau Whistler shares her experience of being unexpectedly fired by her employer after 3 years when, as a result of her employer’s failure to address a toxic work environment, the stress she faced at work led her to taking just one day off of work to care for her mental health.
Having moved to Canada to work on a temporary visa, Alina was hired by Fairmont Chateau Whistler in May of 2018. Over the 3 years that she worked there, Alina did well in her position, and Fairmont knew it. Year after year, they renewed her contract, giving her a well deserved raise, and occasionally, a promotion.
Throughout her last few months of employment, some of Alina’s coworkers began treating her poorly and making it difficult for her to do her job. Alina did what many others would do in that situation and brought up the issue with her supervisors.
Her supervisors scheduled meetings, and asked the staff to speak to each other, but after having gone back and forth several times, the employer did not resolve the issue, and the bullying and harassment did not stop. Alina found it more and more difficult to work at a job she enjoyed and hoped to stay at, not only for her career, but also as a requirement for her visa.
Finally, after a particularly difficult day of bullying and harassment at work, Alina told her manager she was struggling and that her doctor had recommended her to take a sick day off from work, to care for her mental health. She tried to find someone to cover her shift, as is typically expected of workers in the service industry, and followed all the policies in place. The manager approved her sick day, as long as she provided a doctors’ note upon return.
It just so happened that Alina took her mental health day the day before some previously approved time off. She needed to fly into Seattle after work, in order to renew her visa, and continue her employment at Fairmont. This had not interfered with her previous shift, and Alina did not expect to encounter any issues. This did not stop the employer from using content from Alina’s social media to construct false arguments among staff, accusing her of lying and using the sick day to ‘party’.
When Alina provided her manager with the doctor’s note, her manager responded by listing all the things Alina had to return to the company, and telling her that she needed to vacate staff housing in the next 72 hours. She had been fired.
Not only did Fairmont conflate an immigration appointment with her sick day to use it against her, they refused to pay her the compensation that she was owed for being terminated without just cause.
Fairmont arbitrarily chose to disregard the doctor’s note that she produced at their request, because they didn’t agree with it. We would argue that someone’s boss is not in a better position to make decisions about their employees’ health needs than their own doctor.
Fairmont should absolutely not have made decisions about an employee based on what they believed the “right” medical decision should have been.
Alina had worked hard at this job for nearly two years, with no record of disciplinary action against her. These false accusations didn’t only affect Alina’s feelings, they also affected her ability to secure future employment. This had been the only job Alina had held during her time in Canada, and now, despite years of hard work, she found herself without a reference.
In addition to all of that, Fairmont also refused to pay her compensation for length of service, more commonly referred to as severance. Under the Employment Standards Act, Fairmont was able to fire Alina for nearly any reason, and without just cause, with their only obligation being to pay Alina two weeks of compensation. Alina then had to submit a complaint through the Employment Standards Branch in an attempt to recover that compensation.
A couple of weeks of pay coming months later than when she needed can hardly be called justice. Fairmont failed to address the negative consequences of Alina’s work environment, and then punished her for trying to address them and care for herself.
When Alina refused mediation and wanted Fairmont to be held responsible in any way at all, Fairmont was able to go behind her back, pay the money to the Employment Standards Branch and have the matter considered ‘settled’. She was not after a large sum of money. Rather, a simple acknowledgement that she hadn’t done anything wrong, and a letter of reference that reflected her performance during her time there. Like so many workers we speak to, one of Alina’s primary concerns was that no other employees at Fairmont should have to experience the same things that she did.
Alina did everything right. She followed all the policies, and did her job well. Fairmont failed to reduce the amount of harm she was experiencing as a result of bullying at work, and then fired her when her mental health suffered as a result. Alina has since left Canada and has been unable to find justice through the complaint processes that are supposed to protect her. She wants other workers to be aware of these situations, to know that they’re not alone, and she hopes they too will be empowered to speak out about how damaging and unfair the lack of worker protections are.
While working in Canada, Alina didn’t have enough protection to ensure her employer didn’t subject her to bullying and harassment. She didn’t have the right under employment standards to take a paid sick day. And she didn’t have the right to a job. The only right she had, was to 3 weeks of pay, that the employer broke the law by refusing to pay.
When Fairmont was reluctant to follow the laws already in place when terminating Alina, how can we expect them and other employers to go above and beyond that? The current lack of protections for workers only function to allow employers to continue to do this to their workers. When employees don’t have the right to paid sick days, and they don’t have the right to a job, what is stopping employers from firing people again and again? This is unfortunately a common experience. Alina and other workers who have been in this position deserve better, and you deserve better too.
Friday, April 2, 2021
Enduring harassment to stay employed
Enduring harassment should never be ‘part of the job’. Unfortunately in B.C. it is not uncommon for workers to experience unwanted implicit or explicit sexual overtones. One of the workers we’ve recently supported has shared with us that “a customer asked me to lower my mask, and said that way he’d know how much to tip me”. Jackie (their real name has been kept anonymous for privacy reasons) experienced an inappropriate promise of financial reward in exchange for harassment.
“I never really complained about it because I don’t want to be ostracized for speaking up,” Jackie told us.
Marginalized women are disproportionately represented in precarious employment sectors where there are few protections from sudden dismissal, no matter how long they’ve worked there. When a wrongful dismissal does happen, they are also less likely to file a complaint against the employer following the event while they search for a new source of income. The quality of our current job protection laws – in combination with the way our system is designed for those who are wronged – effectively limits access to justice for many in a very realistic sense. We’d like to raise the standards, and improve our experiences as a strong and growing network of united but non-unionized workers.
To all the workers that have faced sexual harassment or abuse in the workplace or by a coworker or manager, we hear you, and we believe you!
Friday, March 26, 2021
Fired for requesting missing wages
When Jane, a former Rebar Restaurant employee, asked for her wages in the Fall of 2020, the employer fired her, sent her intimidating texts, ignored any further request for wages, and ignored letters from the WSN. Jane was missing an entire Summer’s worth of wages.
Jane’s boss knew that employment protections for low wage workers in B.C. are virtually non-existent, and they used this gap to neglect their obligations to the employee.
One of the texts read: “Following the labour law guidelines on severance, an employer can terminate services of an employee at any time, no reason needed.” The employer then advised Jane to ‘file a claim with the employment standards branch’ if she wanted to seek payment for her labour, delaying any financial repercussions and leaving the employee in limbo.
But when you have the support of collective worker power behind you, you have nothing to fear. In the end, it was the 160+ petition signers who got their attention, and within a couple of hours of posting our petition, the employer reached out to the worker and agreed to pay her. Thanks to an incredible demonstration of care and support by the community, members of the Worker Solidarity Network completed their efforts by arriving as a team to Rebar Restaurant to pick up an envelope on behalf of the worker, which contained her missing wages, in full, just before Christmas.
“It’s crazy to me that after months of attempts to rectify this with no response it took social shaming to finally force his hand to do the right thing. I really hope this all makes him think twice the next time he fires someone with no explanation and wages owing, but I’m not sure it will. I watched him do this to two employees before me while I worked there, and everyone left quietly. I’m so grateful those at the worker solidarity network crew for fighting for me on this and I hope my experience will encourage others to reach out for justice and fight for their rights in an industry which has so far to go in protecting its workers.” – Former Rebar Employee
Read more here
Did you know?
Currently, B.C.’s employment standards (our laws that set a bare minimum of rights) look like this:
- Employers in B.C. do not need to have “just cause” to fire you
- Within the first 3 months of employment (the “probationary period”) an employer can fire you without giving you advance notice or a reason.
- After 3 months, an employer must either (a) give you written advance notice, or (b) pay you compensation depending on how long you’ve worked for them (they can also do a combination of a and b).
If you’re fired, your rights to pay or advance written notice look like this:
- After 3 months = 1 week pay and/or 1 week advance notice
- After 12 months = 2 weeks pay and/or 2 weeks advance
- After 3 years = 3 weeks pay and/or 3 weeks notice
- Beyond 3 years = add one additional weeks pay/ or advance weeks notice up to a max of 7.