To all of the employers out there—the managers, team leaders, supervisors, and support officers: we need to talk to you honestly and with respect, and we need you to listen to us with respect and an open mind.
I am the employee you hired who aced the interviews, showed up to training every day, followed all of the policies, and handed in the paperwork filled out correctly and on time. I asked questions, took ownership of my mistakes, and played well in the office with the others.
I’m also the employee who in spite of these excellent qualities, took leave early on. A day here, two days there. Never more than two days in a week, and never without calling to advise of my absence—and where appropriate, presented a medical certificate.
I took leave within a month of a beginning the job. Eventually you sat me down and gave me a verbal warning about my frequent unplanned leave. I’m the employee whose face flushed red in shame as the tears welled up, and silently fumed. I take pride in my work, in my ability to do a job well.
A warning like this feels like a sledgehammer to my self-worth—and I understand why you gave it.
I know that from your perspective, you hired me to do a job in exchange for money, and you expect me to keep my end of the bargain. Fair is fair.
What you probably don’t know about me, is that I don’t function in the same way as someone else. My brain is hard-wired differently than the average person’s and as a result, I work differently.
What’s that? I should have said something?
I am the employee who did say something. The one who spoke to you about my needs. I am the employee who during the course of receiving a verbal warning, managed to choke out the terrible truth to you—I am recovering from sexual abuse.
I hated saying those words in the middle of the workplace, to a new employer. I didn’t want you to think that you hired a problem. The anxiety of keeping my secret and the need to make you aware of my circumstance keeps me feeling on edge—and feeling sick constantly.
Now you know—I spoke the words aloud.
You look at me in disbelief—you didn’t know what I was going to say, and you weren’t expecting this. Maybe I should have lied and said I was going through a bad breakup, but that wouldn’t have lasted long. No, instead, I chose to tell you my darkest, deepest, most shameful secret.
You say you will check with your manager about whether or not you really have to give me the warning in light of what I’ve told you. I nod, sob a little, and go to the bathroom to wipe away the tears and blobs of snot forming.
Your boss says you still have to give me the warning.
I know you’re uncomfortable, so I do my best to keep my composure as best I can.
My absences continue, but are mitigated when you give me a rostered day off. I continue to deliver quality work, support my colleagues, and stay out of office gossip. I’m a good little worker-bee.
Then the news comes: our office is closing down. But not to worry, there’s work available to all of us in a new and exciting part of the company, and soon we can transfer there—no interviews necessary.
I am the employee who jumps at the opportunity for a new adventure.
As time passes, my teammates are given their start-dates at the new site. I am left wondering. Each time I ask if there is any new information nobody has an answer for me, and nobody can tell me when they will.
I am the employee who checks her schedule, sees she has time off coming up, and decides she wants to pick up more work, swapping her days off with others. I am the person whose colleagues were told their days couldn’t be covered because I was leaving. I only found out because they wished me luck.
You told them I was leaving when I hadn’t given any notice. You told them before you told me.
Later, another manager pulls me into a meeting room to talk about the new roles. They say they need me to commit to a full-time schedule with full availability between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. five days a week—and they aren’t sure I can because of my constant leave.
My palms sweat.
Please, don’t make me say it again—I have told several managers already.
But you push me for it, hard. You demand to know why I’m not here all the time, when it is expected.
I say it again, for the tenth time.
I am recovering from sexual trauma and pressing charges against the perpetrator. I am attending legal appointments and therapy.
I state that I have already spoken with my direct manager and made clear how I best perform—on a maximum of four days per week. It’s a casual role, so in my employee mind this equals flexibility for both of us.
It does not.
I am told that I will not likely be able to transfer to the new job because I can’t commit to the schedule.
I am the employee who now feels like they are being punished for something they didn’t do, or ask for. I am the employee who desperately wants to be a normal person who comes to work every day, makes money, maybe gets promoted, and lives a normal life.
I am the employee that is also traumatised.
So, dear boss—here is what I wish you knew about me:
I am the employee who would have worked for you for a long time, participated in your office events, made friends, and produced excellent work for you. I am the employee who enjoyed having an income.
I know you need people who are reliable. I know you need people who do great work and make the office a nice place to be.
But here’s the thing: I’m not the only employee who is absent a lot. I’m not the only employee who is recovering from trauma, or who has been abused, raped, or exploited.
Having a job that we feel safe in, and supports us is important. It helps us to recover, and over time we become more engaged, more productive, and less absent. We need you as much as you need us. We want to work, to feel valued, and contribute to something bigger than ourselves. It helps us build our confidence back and keeps depression at bay, by forcing us to be social even if it’s just in the break room.
We are dedicated to our jobs, even if it doesn’t appear that way. We want to work. We need to work.
We might not be disabled in the traditional sense, but the psycho-emotional scars left behind from our experiences are just as detrimental. Our brains are physically wired differently. We are on edge all of the time, expecting to need to fight, run, or freeze at any moment, and it takes an enormous toll.
I am the employee who wished you would walk a day in my shoes, to know the hyper-vigilance, the anxiety, the flashbacks, the uncontrolled crying, and the normalcy work gives me.
Remember that one in three women are sexually traumatized. Think of the women you employ. We aren’t incapable, dumb, or lazy. We are terrified and ashamed. Work provides us a means to find value in ourselves again, and produce results for you.
So please, the next time an employee comes to you and confesses their deepest secret about why they aren’t present—take these suggestions into account:
>> Where possible, work flexibly with us rather than firing us or giving us warnings.
>> Know that we are not “just lazy” or “slacking off”—we’re dealing with horrific things.
>> Don’t create an environment where shame can thrive and grow—we have enough of that already.
>> Educate yourself on trauma-informed workplaces.
Every employee who has lost their job, was forced to tell their story to people they didn’t want to, and was made to feel ashamed of themselves in the workplace.
Author: Ashleigh Rae
Editor: Jen Schwartz
Copy Editor: Travis May