toxic jobs

Personal stories about toxic jobs and workplace woes.

December 18, 2006

anyone for lunch?

Renata is 44, divorced with three young teenagers living at home, and she was delighted to win a job that paid almost twice her old salary. There was, however, a hidden catch that Renata hit head on with the sort of style that often separates the winners from the losers in the workplace.

"Since becoming a single parent nine years ago I've had to do some awful jobs for miserable pay so it was about time I started earning what I was worth," says Renata, "but I was absolutely shocked out of my brain on the first day at the new job when nobody took a lunch break and frowned at me when I got up to leave!"

Apparently, nobody had warned Renata that her new job involved working through the lunch break.

"The boss would send out for sandwiches, at company expense, and everyone grabbed a plate and went back to work at their desks," explains Renata. "I didn't see any chains around their ankles or necks but there may as well have been."

"I was pleased to be earning a good salary," says Renata, "but I had no idea that no lunch break was the price I had to pay for it."

The lunch break, for Renata -- and most people -- is not so much about eating but getting a break, getting some fresh air and sunshine, and getting some exercise. It is also about removing ourselves from a work environment in order to have a proper break. Sometimes it is about removing ourselves from co-workers in order to spend time with people we do not work with. And for busy single working mothers like Renata it is often about doing some shopping to enable an immediate return home at the end of the workday.

Renata has found, through trial and error over the years, that a one-hour lunch break is ideal for her.

"Including the time it takes to get out of the building, and how far I need to travel to get to the shops," explains Renata, "half an hour was really not enough time to refresh myself, grab something to eat and do some shopping."

Without a proper lunch break, Renata was a wreck by the end of the first day at her new job.

After being denied what she considered her right to a lunch break, Renata just took an hour off for lunch the next day and her employer had to like it or lump it.

"When you've been on your own raising a family as long as I have," says Renata, "you get to a stage where you've got a bit of money saved, your kids aren't so demanding, your self-esteem has picked up and you're no longer capable of putting up with the sort of stuff you had to put up with when all the chips were down."

"There were really heavy frowns at first," says Renata, "and then just about everyone but the brown-nosers followed suit. I started a revolution!"

"If my employer had dared to maintain that I had no right to take a lunch break or tried to cut my salary," explains Renata, "then I was prepared to seek legal advice immediately."

As Renata pointed out, we are living in the 21st century not the Dark Ages.

"Forced labor and slavery are crimes against humanity," asserts Renata, "and if employees don’t assert their rights then employers will try to get away with as much as they can."

Renata was lucky in that most of her co-workers agreed with what she was doing.

"Had I been the only employee taking a proper lunch break, I might have found myself out of a job," says Renata.

"I know that kids and immigrants are often subjected to illegal or immoral work practices when they take on a job," laughs Renata, "but I had no idea that some employers try cute tricks on regular workers. This experience has been a real eye opener for me."

"I can’t believe that before I started the new job absolutely nobody had dared complain about being deprived of a lunch break," sighs Renata. "It just goes to show how timid some people are and how one person can make a difference. I’m glad that one person was me."

"Yes," agrees Renata, "my relationship with management remains a bit icy. The big boss is probably mad as hell at me and may be hatching up some plot to get even with me, but I’m doing what I consider to be right not just for myself but for everybody here."

"I work really hard, I'm good at what I do and now that my kids are older and capable of taking care of themseves I don't mind staying back a bit," says Renata, "but I won't work through lunch -- not for a million bucks -- and if my employer can't appreciate that fact then he's a fool."

"He's no fool so I'm not really worried about losing my job," adds Renata, "but you can never tell about these things. He should be smart enough to see that everyone is happier -- and more productive -- now that they get a proper lunch break and he should be thanking me not snarling at me!"

"Like I said before, I was totally incapable of asserting myself when I was newly separated with little kids to support," says Renata, "so if you're a single mom stuck in a lousy job don't feel bad about not being able to change things. Believe me, you'll grow stronger with every day spent in adversity and the day will come when you can tell a lousy boss to stick his job."

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