I have been reading various books on the subject of workers rights and the abuses many Americans face in the workplace. It made me think back on all the workplace harassment and abuse I endured throughout the majority of my working life, which is only 11 years long. I wanted to share this because I know I am not alone in having these experiences and I want to drive home the importance of sharing your stories with your family and friends in hopes of changing this predatory system.
I began working in 2009 at Massanutten Waterpark for their food and beverage services. I was 17. I was never allowed to work past 40 hours but I didn’t really understand why. They would have me work up until 39.4 hours and then clock out so they did not have to give me insurance or pay me overtime. Where I worked was constantly understaffed. I was sexually harassed by nearly every employee, management as well as regular staff, on a daily basis. I was asked about my virginity, my body was talked about explicitly, and I had to turn down coworker advances. This was also a job where I was also physically disabled. I had to call orders back to the kitchen because they would not read the order screens. This ultimately damaged my vocal cords and I almost completely lost my voice. They begrudgingly moved me up to the buffet to work as a hostess. I will never forget when we had a terrible snowstorm in 2009. Because I was underage, they would not let me stay in the cabins that they were allowing everyone else over 18 to stay in, they also would not let me leave work early. I had to drive down a mountain at 17, by myself, in a snowstorm, because they refused to grant me lodging. My manager, 25 to my 17, sexually assaulted me at a party. I continued to report to him at work.
I cannot say anything bad about my experience at VCU Recreational Sports. That is one job that provided training, advancement, and a safe place to work. I felt free from harassment and exploitation there.
In 2013 I began working at Baker’s Crust under the most abusive and sadistic manager I have ever worked under. He would pick a target each shift and harass them to the point of tears most shifts. I remember I had to ride my bike to work (no car) and it poured on me the last mile to work. I showed up sopping wet and he was furious with me. A stranger from the kitchen had to let me borrow her clothes lest I be fired on the spot. I remember there being a time where my ride to work got held up in class. I had to find a ride and get to work in a very limited time, as I burst through the door and clocked in with utter glee that I had made it, I remember my manager berating me in front of the entire restaurant that I could not clock in until he saw me and that I was late and an embarrassment. I cried while training the new hostess, she didn’t show up for her next shift after that. I remember oversleeping one morning and breaking into a full blown panic attack, crying. Nick turned to me and said, “no job should make you feel this way.” I was kind of shocked at what he said, it was the first time anyone told me that I deserved anything out of a job. I remember shortly before leaving Baker’s Crust, I attended a private Halloween party held by one of the bartenders. Our manager showed up, uninvited, and scoured the party for an employee he believed to be skipping out on his shift. It was the most egregious abuse of management power I had ever seen.
I got another job at 3rd Street Diner. This diner is a 24 hour diner, with an unsavory reputation for hosting the “ after, after-party” for all the Richmond strip clubs. It had a VERY poor reputation everywhere but it was the only place willing to give me waitressing experience. I took the job, when I told my good manager that I was leaving Baker’s Crust for that job, he said “please Taylor, anywhere but there.”
I lasted 2 months working with the most diverse group of people: strippers, drug addicts, single mothers, college students, and a chef with Alzheimer’s named Ed. He used to put parsley on EVERYTHING; he also could not remember the menu so you had to manually type in what was on the sandwiches. There were 6 managers there during my 2 month stint, all fired for stealing from the cash register. The first manager had a big coke problem and was always making creepy comments. The “uniform” consisted of black shorts (underwear) and a neon tank top. We could wear tights under the shorts “if we wanted” but the manager reminded me multiple times that girls made more money if they didn’t wear the tights. I wore the tights. I got change thrown at me constantly, I got harassed more times than I can remember. It was a truly awful experience and likely a money laundering operation. That’s what we all assumed.
I got out in 2 months and got a job at Home Team Grill where I had a mostly pleasurable experience, though sexual harassment, especially in kitchens, is an unfortunate staple in the American kitchen and did persist there to some degree.
In Florida I worked at the ARC. The ARC, for those that don’t know, is a place for those with special needs to live and work. It has an incredibly toxic culture, rife with sexism. I had a male coworker refuse to let me drive because I was a woman, refuse to help with client meals because he was a man, he would not be reprimanded for this behavior. I would witness clients be placed in questionable hold positions, report it, and be told that I could be considered complicit for reporting it. I transferred to a home placement and the cabinets were full of cockroaches. I was told to just deal with them. It was the most disturbing job I have ever held.
I worked for the Hippodrome Theatre. When I worked there, it was managed terribly- very poor communication, employee morale, poor management decisions based on personal feelings instead of for the good of the company, lack of work ethic for management, overwhelmed staff, lack of understanding when it comes to basic management functions (e.g. having me adjust schedules a week after they were sent out without understanding why that would be a problem for the staff). In retrospect, it was an emotionally abusive work environment. I remember an employee being fired and then essentially blacklisted. No one was supposed to talk to her, I had some coworkers that went to her apartment for a movie night and posted about it online. They got a “stern talking to” the next day. After three years in this environment, I hit my breaking point. I was working 37+ hour weeks, in three positions, with a full school course load. Despite being at work full time, I was getting contacted constantly outside of my office hours. Texts, emails, and calls during class or on my day off. I failed to tell my boss on a Sunday night before my exam about a poor patron experience at the theatre. She then cornered me into quitting my job and told me not to stay for the customer service meeting she wanted me to arrange for my team. I was told that I “betrayed my boss and lied to her,” asked to write down what I did for my job and leave. I was then ostracized. Management did not tell employees that I quit, they simply sent out email explaining that other people would be taking over my position without any mention of me. People thought I got fired. Management and HR then had me come in under the pretext of getting my last paycheck and tried to bully me into what I can only describe as the most ridiculous Non-Disclosure Agreement I have ever seen. I was harassed to sign it multiple times by HR. Management also accused me of theft and wage theft after leaving in order to discourage someone from recommending me for a job.
While working at the Hippodrome, I also worked at Harry’s where there was sexual harassment from the staff on pretty regular basis. It was simply accepted as the culture there and you had to “toughen up if you wanted to work at a restaurant.” People were also made to come in, even when they were sick. This is VERY common in the restaurant industry. I can specifically recall a graduation weekend where one of the hostesses I worked with had to keep going in the bathroom and throwing up between seating tables. She was not allowed to go home.
I felt safe at Florida Museum of Natural History, and mostly safe at Cade Museum, though they also forced their employees to sign an over-the-top NDA. I would have been asked to leave my Cade position had I not complied with the NDA which essentially included a non-compete clause that was extremely detrimental to their workers rights.
I will not leave out my most recent employer, Asolo Rep. I watched the events person there make her assistant and her apprentice’s life a living hell. It was disturbing to me on many levels. She would often deny them lunch while sending them out to collect hers, work her apprentice for over 40 hours at the measly pay of $175 per week, scream and swear at them. I saw all of her subordinates in tears. I felt disgusting watching it unfold and helpless to do anything about it. I was personally treated pretty well by the company, though I believe that the apprentice program is exploitive.
This is the American workplace. And this did not go into the low wages associated with restaurant jobs or touch on the fact that many workers are women in compromising power dynamics with their (often) male bosses. They then have to carefully tow the line lest they end up jobless or worse. We are denied basic protections, avenues for justice, or even a voice. Who do you turn to when HR is complicit? When there is no HR?
All of this weighs on my mind as the vaccine continues to rollout and the question of, “are you looking at jobs?” or “what is your next step?” becomes more frequent.
Forgive me, if I am not so eager, to run back into the arms of my abuser.