The Accommodation Conundrum

Working at a company whose culture is fairly accommodating; I try to afford employees with flexibility when it comes to scheduling working hours and time off.  However, being a 24-7 business, I do require some employees to work on weekends.  One such employee—who shall remain nameless—was hired on a one year contract to work Friday through Monday.  After a few days on the job, he approached me to request a religious accommodation; he was Muslim and wanted to have Fridays off to observe the day of prayer.  I asked if he was able to leave work for a little while to attend the mosque, but he insisted that he really needed to have the entire day off on Friday.  Despite the fact that I hired him specifically to work Friday through Monday, after a discussion with my boss, I conceded and changed his schedule to Saturday through Tuesday. After all, we work in a small office and truly try to foster diversity.

A couple months passed, and he approached me again, this time to let me know that he was switching to Christianity and would like to have Sundays off.  Knowing that we had other employees who chose to observe a day of rest on Sunday, I decided not to court a discrimination suit and allow him to take Sundays off, with the proviso that he return to working Fridays.  After rearranging the schedules of several other staff members to accommodate He’s request, he started working a Friday, Saturday, Monday, Tuesday schedule.

Not a month later did he approach me again to request that he be allowed to leave work on Fridays to attend the mosque in addition to having Sundays off to attend church.  This time I drew a line in the sand and told him firmly that he had to choose.

A few weeks later He submitted a vacation request for time off following the completion of his 12-month contract.  Presumably, he thought that he would be receiving a permanent offer of employment, which.  Despite the fact that he still had several months of his contract remaining, and I hadn’t intended to inform him that his contract wouldn’t be renewed until 30-days beforehand, I felt obliged to let him unfortunately was not the case know early so he could make an informed decision about purchasing an exorbitant vacation.  This didn’t go over well.

When I told him that he was trying to book vacation past the end of his contract and that we wouldn’t be offering him a permanent position, his response was “You can’t do that, I’m disabled!”  I was in complete shock as he had never requested any accommodations for a disability, nor had he ever informed anyone of said disability.  I tried to explain that the decision not to renew his contract was a business decision based on performance metrics and financials and not anything to do with his disability status.  He screamed at me, “Are you saying my disability doesn’t matter?”

No, that’s not what I was saying at all. I respected and worked with all of this individual’s accommodation requests. To accuse me of being insensitive to a disability that I didn’t know existed, AFTER being informed that his contract wasn’t being renewed, was ludicrous.

Ah, the joys of being in HR!

Post resignation letter


Dear Mr. Oblivious VP of Ops,

As you know, on May 23, I resigned my position as Human Resources Specialist at <name removed to protect the guilty>, after working there for four and a half years.  I am writing to you now to detail my reasons for leaving your employ, and share my concerns about the working atmosphere at your organization.

Since the arrival of Mr. Atrocious HR Manager in the position of Human Resources Manager, my job duties have been diminished to that of an administrative assistant, to the extent that Mr. Atrocious HR Manager has me performing all his administrative tasks such as faxing, typing letters, and retrieving his mail from his mailbox.  Mr. Atrocious HR Manager has also insisted that I perform duties outside the scope of my position, such as: escorting a recently terminated and potentially volatile employee out of the facility; and on a separate occasion suggesting that I kick another associate’s ass.

In addition to the aforementioned issue, the conduct of the Plant Manager Mr. Highly Inappropriate has been increasingly intolerable over the past eight months.  Mr. Highly Inappropriate subjects staff to degrading, racist and sexually suggestive comments on a daily basis.

Mr. Highly Inappropriate’s random tirades include yelling obscenities at staff, threatening individual’s jobs, and undermining manager’s authority.

Examples of his sexually harassing behaviour include: Mr. Highly Inappropriate requesting that I sit on his lap; draping himself across my desk while making sexually suggestive comments to me; and threatening to pull a female co-worker’s pubic hair.

Additionally, Mr. Highly Inappropriate has been observed by numerous individuals in Management meetings referring to Mr. Asian Quality Manager, as “Zinky-Doodle”, mocking the way that Mr. Asian Quality Manager speaks and demanding that he speak English.

These are just a few examples of the unacceptable and illegal management behaviour that has lead me to pursue alternative employment.  I, like many other employees of <name removed to protect the guilty> who have confided in me, felt the need to keep quiet about this poisonous work environment out of necessity and fear for my job.  However, now that I am no longer a <name removed to protect the guilty> employee, I felt bound to inform you of the poor management practices that occur at your facility, and request that you take action in order to avoid future legal implications.


**Yes, I really did send this.

The Fashion Gas Mask

Oops... the picture is missing!After a couple years in retail, I thought I had seen it all.  Apparently, I was wrong.

One of my associates in the Fashion Department suddenly and inexplicably developed a sensitivity to scents.  I have allergies—I get it; however, instead of getting a doctor’s note detailing her condition and the required accommodations, the employee decided to start wearing a mask to work.  No, not a surgical/SARS precautionary-type mask, but a half-face, dual-cartridge gas mask!

Not surprisingly, the response from customers was less than pleasant.  On one occasion, several girls were seen posing in front of the associate and taking pictures (undoubtedly, to post online).  On another, a customer queried management as to whether the store should be evacuated due to a toxic substance which necessitated the staff wearing gas masks.

Despite my insistence that she provide medical evidence of her need to wear the mask prior to working on the sales floor, the associate ignored my requests and continued to show up for her shifts wearing the mask.

After telling her that she wouldn’t be allowed to work until she provided medical documentation, the associate, visibly upset but hard to understand with her Darth Vader-like mask voice, admitted the following between wheezes, sobs, and more wheezes: while her doctor was sending her for tests, he did not support the use of the mask (wheeze, sob, wheeze).

I explained that in the absence of medical or religious reasons, we couldn’t authorize her violation of the company dress code in such a manner and would require her to remove the mask.

In response, the associate chose to publicize her discontent with the company on Facebook (and basically, sign her own pink slip), alleging that we were discriminating against her and infringing upon her human rights!

Was Darth Vader actually human?

Methods of Recourse in Ontario

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Knowing where to turn in challenging employment situations is critical

It’s unfortunate that more people don’t know their rights under the law, especially when it comes to workplace situations.

Typically what happens when there is an issue in the workplace is that an employee goes to his or her supervisor and makes a complaint.  In the absence of a union or proactive HR department, the complaint often falls on deaf ears because, more often than not, managers and payroll people aren’t familiar enough with pertinent employment legislation.  Having been in this situation before, I know firsthand how frustrating it can be when no one seems to care that your vacation pay wasn’t calculated properly or that you weren’t paid the overtime that you were entitled to for working on a holiday or, worse yet, that you were injured on the job.  So what methods do you have for recourse?

Well, first of all, if you belong to a union, you should definitely start by speaking to your union representative.  In the absence of a union, you have several options, depending on the nature of your complaint.

Ministry of Labour (MOL) – If you have a complaint related to holiday pay, overtime pay, minimum wage, parental leave, or anything else covered by the Employment Standards Act (ESA), the MOL is the place to go.  Generally, this is the quickest way to resolve the issue as the MOL will contact your employer on your behalf and require the company to respond to the allegations within a specific timeframe.  However, an ESA complaint can cause animosity between you and your employer if you continue to be employed.  As such, most ESA complaints are filed by ex-employees.

Of interest is the fact that the MOL publishes a list of Ontario companies that have been notified of their ESA violations and have yet to make the appropriate amends, and so have been fined.

Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario – This is the place to go if you have a human rights complaint and feel that you have been discriminated against, or harassed, based on any of the prohibited grounds for discrimination named in the Human Rights Code.  A word of caution here—this can be a very time consuming route, and you cannot concurrently seek retribution via this route and the ESA as the Tribunal has been known to dismiss complaints that are subject to another proceeding.  Decisions of the Human Rights Tribunal are also available online.

Office of the Worker Advisor (OWA) – Non-unionized employees seeking assistance with workplace injuries and other Workplace Safety and Insurance Board WSIB matters can access free advice and representation from the OWA.  In addition, as of April of this year, the OWA provides support to non-unionized workers who have been threatened or punished by their employers for following workplace health and safety laws or trying to enforce them.

Talk to a professional – HR professionals, paralegals, and lawyers may all be able to offer assistance if you find yourself in a tough employment situation.  As opposed to the options above, engaging a professional will likely involve a cost, either by way of a retainer up front or a portion of the monetary amount recovered.  Ensure that you ask lots of questions and are completely comfortable with the terms of service before hiring an HR professional, paralegal, or lawyer.

HR Horrors

Uh oh... where'd the picture go?So just for the record, it’s not just retail managers that can be incompetent and oblivious to appropriate workplace behaviour; unfortunately, questionable behaviour can occur in any workplace and at any level in the organization.  Prior to working in retail, I worked in a variety of other industries, including construction, tool and mold and automotive manufacturing.  However, as I was very junior in my career, I tolerated behaviour from senior managers and executives that I wouldn’t dream of putting up with now.

For example, on my first day on the job at the construction company, which was my first real job after graduating from university, my boss took me out for lunch with the crew.  I watched in astonishment as the three site foremen each downed several beers with their lunch.  Wide eyed and safety conscious, I questioned my boss on the way back to the site, and he assured me that this was typical behaviour and nothing to concern myself with.  Fantastic.

This is the same company where I became familiar with the practice of greasing the plant security guards with sports tickets, company swag and bottles of booze; selling old computers out of the back of the shop; tradesmen helping themselves to construction equipment and supplies; as well as the prevalence of extra marital affairs.  What an educational first job!

Following this, I did a brief stint working directly for a tyrant of an owner of a tool and mold company who routinely made fun of our gay financial controller and ruled by intimidation.  The safety practices at the plant were archaic, and the owner wanted no part of rectifying the issues until he was forced to in response to 28 orders from the Ministry of Labour.

The automotive company wasn’t much better.  The plant manager was an insatiable flirt and thought he could say whatever he wanted in my presence, and because I was in HR, I had to keep it confidential.  This included requesting that I sit on his lap, draping himself across my desk while making sexually suggestive comments, and threatening to pull a female co-worker’s pubic hair—not to mention his constant belittling of anyone foreign who spoke with an accent and his unauthorized personal use of company vehicles.

To top it all off, I’m embarrassed to say that I even witnessed pretty inappropriate behaviour from the HR managers at this company.  For example, one suggested (in writing) that an appropriate way to handle an issue with a co-worker was to “kick her ass.”  Another was involved in a pyramid-type sales scheme selling pre-paid legal services, unbeknownst to the company.  He insisted that every employee attend a mandatory session with one of his colleagues with the intention of scamming them,  I mean, selling them pre-paid legal services.  Only after all the employees had attended the sessions did I become aware that my manager was receiving a direct financial kick back from every sale that was made.  Brutal!

HR Manager Mom

Sometimes I just want to fire everyone… including my family!

Sometimes I feel like an HR manager at home, except that unlike work, I can’t fire the people who live in my house with me—at least not easily. I’d like to sometimes, believe me. For example, this evening, I walked into a war zone when I entered my house after work. My two boys, ages 10 and 13, are swearing and screaming at each other. While I know they have foul mouths, I have zero tolerance for this sort of behaviour when the windows are open. (The neighbours think we’re obnoxious enough already.) My soon to be 15-year-old daughter is buried in her cell phone and computer, with the TV blaring loudly in the background.

So I decide to try to break up the chaos by suggesting that we take the dogs for a walk at the dog park. I get groans from two kids, and the middle one, who has a huge homework project due the next day, happily volunteers to accompany me. I insist that everyone should come … it’ll be fun … come on, spend some time with your mother (not to mention that the dogs are not very well-trained, and I really do need some assistance bringing the two of them to the dog park). So off we go. When we get there, the kids promptly get out of the car and leave me to wrestle the dogs out of their seatbelts, onto their leashes, and through the dog park gate. No sooner do I get them through the gate than they both start barking wildly at all the other dogs in the park. The kids immediately plop themselves on a park bench and don’t come to my aid at all.

I am annoyed.

It doesn’t help that my male dog barks at every man who walks by, my female dog chases and barks at almost every dog that we encounter, and, oh look, my two sons are 25 feet off the ground, up a tree. After three times around the park with the dogs, I decide to call it a day.

So back I go to wrestling the dogs onto their leashes, out through the gates, and buckled into the backseat of the car. The kids are starting to pile in, arguing and yelling at the dogs and each other, when I promptly invite them to vacate the vehicle.

Get out! They look at me in astonishment. Get out of my car!

So they do. The walk back to our house is 20 minutes maximum; the drive back takes three. That gives me ample time to water my garden, feed the dogs dinner, and reset the code on the garage door keypad, preventing them from getting into the house if or when they decide to come home.

The Cosmetics Hand Job

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Of all the things to catch on video…

Working in a retail environment, one must always be cognizant of the omnipresent closed circuit television system and voyeuristic loss prevention personnel.   Part of my duties as an HR manager of a big box store was to review footage in connection with internal complaints or investigations.  This proved very useful for catching employees taking extra-long breaks and using their cell phones on the sales floor, and establishing cause in accident and injury situations.  It also played out like an episode of candid camera when it came to seeing customers stuffing packages of steak down their pants, switching their used shoes for new ones from the shelf, or relieving themselves in a rack of clothing.  It was interesting to say the least.

On one occasion, I was summoned to the tiny security office at the front of the store to review a video of an on-duty female cosmetics employee (in uniform) manually pleasuring an off-duty male backroom employee.  It would have been pretty inappropriate if the incident had merely been witnessed, but the fact that it had been caught on video and viewed by a handful of loss prevention and management personnel before I caught wind of it brought it to a whole new level of outrageousness!

I, of course, had the unpleasant task of questioning each of the individuals involved, hoping they would fess up without too much prodding or embarrassment.  Human nature being what it is, both vehemently denied any wrongdoing—until I produced a copy of the incident on DVD and indicated that I would really prefer not to have to watch it again in their presence.

Both individuals were well on their way down the path of progressive discipline prior to this incident, so needless to say, one was terminated and the other suspended.  Boy, I’m glad I’m not in retail anymore!

Defending HR

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“So what does your HR manager really DO, anyway?”

In front of a meeting of twelve or so store managers, the district manager (picture Elmer Fudd) asks my boss about me: “So what does your HR manager really DO, anyway?”

My boss, a taller, rounder version of Gary Coleman, replies, “Ummm … ummm …” and not being able to come up with a reasonable response, says “I’m skating, aren’t I?”


How many times did I come in on my day off because you insisted that I NEEDED to be there?

How many times did I come in on the midnight shift and work the whole shift while you blew it off?

How many times did I cover for you when you were hiding from randoms that you’d slept with?

How many times did I bite my tongue when you insulted anyone and everyone?

How many times did I politely smile at your girlfriend when I knew full well that you were having sex with a prostitute and numerous other girls behind her back?

How many times did I write your reports and prepare your presentations because you are essentially illiterate?

How many times did I write all the management performance reviews (including MY OWN performance review) because you couldn’t be bothered?

How many times did I put up with your constant belittling, your abusive and degrading language, and your utter disrespect for women?

How many times did I try to do damage control for the path of destruction you left behind you?

And after all that… you can’t even defend me or my position to your boss! You coward.

It makes me glad that I take really good notes and keep all my e-mails and text messages.  :)

The Basic Beliefs

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My previous employer promotes the company’s three core values:

Service to the Customers – aka bend over backwards and give customers anything they want because if they call the district office to complain, the district manager will give them a $100 gift card and you’ll get coached (written up)

Strive for Excellence – aka working insane hours, sacrificing time with your family, and endangering your own health and safety, only to be told that you’re a “loser!” by the district manager

Respect for the Individual – aka you had better be at the beck and call of anyone who has a penis and the title “Manager” on his badge


While numerous books have been written about this company, few accounts have been told from an insider’s perspective, and even fewer from a female or a Canadian perspective.  We hear about the allegations of child labour and sexism in the United States but little of the blatant disregard for employment legislation, overt ageism, misogynistic practices, and tolerance of physical assault that permeate the Canadian division of this company.

Having worked as a manager in the only store in Ontario to ever certify a union, I am in a unique position to have seen HR horrors that wouldn’t occur in your worst nightmares.  From feces in fashion to hand jobs in cosmetics, nothing shocks me anymore.

Perhaps it’s because the company relies on the fact that marginalized associates don’t have the knowledge to pursue legal action against the company for their egregious behaviour or the resources to dedicate to publicizing the company’s atrocities.  In fact, I once had a regional HR manager tell me that the company would be in big trouble if the associates were more knowledgeable of employment law.  If that’s not an admission of guilt, I don’t know what is!

The Business of Law

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Lawyers might be wise to take a lesson from business people

The last time I had to get a lawyer I was thoroughly disappointed with the total lack of communication I received. No one discussed fees or what kind of payment arrangements the firm used with me.  In fact, it wasn’t until I asked outright eight months later, that I finally got the answers.  As I hadn’t been asked for a retainer up front, their terms were 30 percent of the amount recovered plus disbursements—disbursements being payable regardless of the outcome.  Okay, I thought, I can deal with that.  I did, however, suggest to the firm’s representatives that perhaps payment arrangements should be something that their office discusses with clients at the onset of representation. I don’t think it was received very well.

So I, in my ignorance, assumed that disbursements would be taken out of the amount recovered and that I wouldn’t be billed for them, seeing as eight months had elapsed and no one had ever mentioned anything about payment.  Apparently I was wrong.  Fourteen months after initially meeting with the lawyer, I received my first bill for disbursements in the amount of $1155.  Holy crap, are you kidding me! Facsimiles: $13; photocopies: $57; transaction levy surcharge: $50; serving documents: $218, and on, and on.

I was astounded.  I realize that I’m not a lawyer—and believe me, I regret not going into law school after my first undergrad degree, although, on second thoughts, at this stage of the game, it makes absolutely no financial sense for me to take four years off work to pursue a law degree only to start out as a new lawyer earning less than half of what I earn now (see, the future value calculations I hated so much did come in handy)—and that I need the expertise, but really, how much expertise is involved in sending faxes, making photocopies, or serving documents! From a business perspective, how does this even make sense?

Instead of taking my usual defensive stance and writing a letter expressing my displeasure, I opted to take a couple of deep breaths and wait a little while before crafting my response.  A month passed (okay, so I waited more than a little while), and I received a reminder notice from the firm; however, this time the bill was for $730.  At this point I was spitting mad.

Seriously?  It takes eight months for you to tell me what my fees are going to be and another six months for you to bill me, and then you send me two separate bills for TWO DIFFERENT AMOUNTS! What kind of disorganized, unprofessional racket are you running over there? Wouldn’t a payment agreement up front be appropriate?  How about monthly billing from the get-go so that clients aren’t shocked a year into the process by a bill they can’t afford.  Or maybe a little communication?  Or a billing policy on the firm’s website?

I think it’s completely ridiculous that individuals who obviously feel they’ve been wronged in the first place, which is why they seek out a lawyer, are left to guess what their costs are going to be and then slammed with outrageous charges for things like photocopies, which, the last time I checked, can be made at most retail stores for 10 cents a page.


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