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Nursing Home Bullying
I was happy, after graduating from college, to obtain a job at a nursing home as a Social Worker. Since childhood I have volunteered with the elderly (my mother was a cook at both a nursing home for 16 years) and have had long term friendships with several senior citizens. I did not think of elderly people as grandparent types to either be coddled or treated condescendingly; I treated them with the same respect, consideration and good humor I would give to any contemporary.
At first my direct supervisor seemed friendly; apparently religious, but other people's personal faith is their own business. The trouble seemed to start after I stopped going out to eat with my coworkers -- I went once with them to be friendly and polite, but I tend not go out to eat during the work week; I prefer to save my restaurant going for weekends, both for health and financial reasons. At my prior jobs I usually took a walk on my lunch break; no one had ever taken issue with this. My supervisor approached me, asking why I didn't want to go out to eat with them. I explained that I was saving as much income as I could, as I had student loans to pay off. I also explained that I enjoyed exercise; I love to walk out in the fresh air. She made no further comment and I thought that was the end of it.
Within a two week period, she made complaints to me about my appearance. She said my knee length skirts were too short, that my tops were too tight. I was shocked -- I have actually always been self conscious about my chest size, and I always wear loose tops that cover my chest, never showing cleavage or being skintight on either my chest or my torso. She said my long hair was "unprofessional" and that I needed to braid it or tie it back. I was upset about her claims, but said nothing. I started wearing long dresses (even in July heat) and braiding my hair. Apparently that wasn't enough to satisfy her. I once wore an ankle length dress with very nice dress sandals (not flip flops) in 98 degree weather and she complained that I was to wear pantyhose at all times.
She then brought up my unpaid half an hour lunch break. She stated that I could not leave the building on my unpaid lunch break. At this point I was upset, but held my calm and replied that I was aware that my state's law did not allow companies to force people to stay on the job premises during an unpaid break. In hindsight, I'm surprised that she didn't try to fire me then for insubordination or some ilk. Instead she became flustered, then stated I had to ask her permission every time I left the building for my unpaid lunch break. Keep in mind that my coworkers could leave on their breaks without permission, I never was gone for longer than my break allowed, that I had never called in sick to work or in any other way had been derelict in my work. One of my coworkers stayed friendly with me (although I made it a point to never complain about my boss or the job) but I soon discovered that the Social Worker staff was having meetings, without my presence, without my supervisor ever letting me know that a meeting was scheduled. By not participating in the "lunch clique" somehow I warranted being ostracized and harassed for petty reasons.
I stayed because I was young, had bills to pay and I thought that my good work would eventually win out and that she would stop harassing me (what was I thinking?) The end finally came when my lunch break came up, I called her office to get her permission to leave, was unable to reach her, but left a message with her secretary that I was leaving the building. The next day, this unpleasant person fired me by claiming I had not received her express permission to leave the premises on my break. I wasn't allowed to explain myself; I was told to leave immediately and I did. It taught me a valuable lesson about workplace bullying and that a company that allows such behavior to go unchecked should expect a great amount of turnover. However, I was fortunate enough to find another position within a few weeks, a job that I greatly enjoyed for 8 years and where my work was valued rather than ignored.