So then...

About Me

Welcome to my blog. My pen name is Eva James. I'm an aspiring writer paying the bills working as a legal secretary. Relentlessly bullied by my former boss, I looked for another job but the recession hit. Feeling trapped, I recorded everything in this blog, which serves as a revealing insight into workplace bullying. WEEK 1 starts the story and, as the weeks progress, you'll note what starts as banter soon spirals out of control. Sadly, it's all true. Whilst along the way I've found alternative employment, my passion for blogging about workplace bullying remains. Trevor Griffiths, legendary theatre, TV and film writer said at the outset, "I like the writing a lot: smart, cool, placed. If you were prepared/able to take your prick of a boss on, you'd marmelise him."

Sunday, 30 January 2011

WEEK 132 Backwards Business

If you missed my Supermarket Sweep blog from a few weeks ago, I wrote the following:-

“British employers are calling for the qualifying period without employment rights extended from the one year to two. Can you think of an altruistic reason they might want it? Me neither. I predict rising numbers of people bullied/harassed and unfairly dismissed at 23.5 months. That’s right, you can treat them how you like, just move them on before their employment rights kick in.

“Employers are also asking for a mandatory £500 payment to be paid by employees wanting to take their employer to a Tribunal. What’s interesting about this is, at present, the £500 deposit is the amount a Tribunal Judge can order to deter a potentially unjustified claim by an employee. It seems employers, envying judicial power, have asked that every employee be treated as though they’re trying it on.

“If you were ever in doubt as to whose side the law is stacked on – here it is... We’ll see if it’s put into practice.”

Only a matter of weeks later, David Cameron and Vince Cable are unveiling their plans to do exactly this. They’ll have a battle on their hands with the trade unions, but I wonder how bad it’s going to get. Vince Cable said that the proposals will “give employers more confidence”. Of course it will. If I had the government in the palm of my hand, I’d be confident too.

The Daily Mail is heralding a return to the good old days, specifically 1999, when employment law was firmly in the employer’s favour.

Turning the legal clock back is the lazy business answer to the economic crisis. Don’t bother changing business culture or philosophy. Don’t bother staying competitive by improving your operation or product. Instead, just invest in lobbying to rewind the law so you can’t be penalised when you treat your workers unfairly or unlawfully.

It’s backwards business in every sense.

BBTB x

Thursday, 27 January 2011

WEEK 131 Careless Whispers

OLLIE’S ex-secretary is still with us and from my perspective it’s lovely working with an old friend. From her perspective, it’s not so good. She’s going through what I did when I started. If someone laughs, she thinks it’s about her. If someone whispers, she thinks she’s in trouble.

More than once she’s apologised for phoning me in panic on her way home. “No need to apologise”, I tell her. I’ve been there, done it and got the t-shirt. I couldn’t have done it myself without help in the form of Ann Lewis of Recover Your Balance.

I was thinking about all this when I picked up the phone to a potential new client. They asked for my boss. He’s away this week so I asked if the caller would like to speak to one of our other employment solicitors. The person on the phone stammered. “It’s about bullying,” they said. “But I don’t want to talk to anyone other than your boss.”

They’d got his name off our website.

This happens all the time, especially when people have been bullied at work. You can hear the fear in their voices. You might think they ask for my boss because of his reputation, but he’s not well known outside employment law. The truth is, they trust a name they don’t know – and they are hedging their bets their employers don’t know his name either. They fear I might inadvertently put them through to someone who also knows their boss or bully. Their faith has been shaken, they’re confidence knocked. They suspect every decision they make will lead to further trouble.

I hoped the person would call back but, as usual, they didn’t.

This is why I wrote my book. This is why I write my blog. As I sit across from OLLIE’S secretary and I end another call from a scared employee, I want to tell them, “Hey, yeah – it made me paranoid and scared too – but it’ll be alright in the end.” I can’t tell the callers on the phone. It would be highly inappropriate.

So I hope it reaches them this way.

BBTB x

Sunday, 23 January 2011

WEEK 130 Punch Line

I’ve made many Aussie friends through my blog, so it was especially sad reading about Geoff Stephens in the papers this week.

Mr Stephens was subjected to years of teasing in his Council job because of his Australian accent. His colleagues constantly ribbed him about it, but nobody realised how it was affecting him. The jokes culminated in him taking months off work and relying on a cocktail of anti-depressants. He said the abuse was such that it would “eventually kill him”.

You can imagine how it all started – one person cracking wise now and again. I’m sure Geoff Stephens took it for the light hearted fun it was. But when everybody starts joining in, it’s a different matter. Jokes about one person can all too quickly become utilised as an ice-breaker. Having a bad day or facing an awkward client? Simple – crack a few jokes about the Australian guy. Who doesn’t love a comedian, right?

Geoff was probably world class at laughing off ‘G’day, sport’ jokes and ‘throw another shrimp on the Barbie,’ but the anxiety, as I found myself, comes from the knowledge that all your colleagues see you as a cardboard cut-out. Your role at work, no matter how well you do your job, is one dimensional. They all sum you up in one word. In Geoff’s case, it was the word Australian. In mine, it was the word Ugly.

When you’re the butt of every office joke, you know you’ll never be taken seriously again.

It’s brutal.

They don’t call it a punch-line for nothing. And I guess Geoff finally had enough of rolling with the punches.

BBTB x

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

WEEK 129 National Bullying Helpline

Almost a year after Gordon Brown was accused of bullying workers at No 10, the National Anti-bullying Helpline which brought the story to the media spotlight has listened to its last worried caller and shut.

The Charity Commission didn’t approve of the Helpline’s actions at the time. I admit it was controversial. The normally discrete charity director, Christine Pratt, was so angered by Downing Street’s flat denial of a bullying culture (having listened to 4 calls from No 10 staff) that she went on record with a public accusation.

I thought workplace bullying would be launched into the media spotlight, but what actually followed was a raging argument on whether Mrs Pratt had the right to speak her mind or not.

One questionable outburst from Mrs Pratt has resulted in a struggle to get funding and the subsequent closure of her charity, with its 13 year history of listening to up to 30 calls a day.

Talk about rough justice when Britain has its fair share of horribly run business where angry outbursts are a daily occurrence. No-one is cutting off the funding to these businesses. No-one is giving them a hard time or putting them through trial by media.

There’s one less workplace bullying resource as we head into 2011.

It makes me all the more determined to keep going.

Best wishes

BBTB x

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

WEEK 127 Supermarket Sweep

On Monday I was shocked when I heard the BBC reporting about employers lobbying the government.

British employers are calling for the qualifying period without employment rights extended from the one year to two. Can think of an altruistic reason they might want it? Me neither. I predict rising numbers of people bullied/harassed and unfairly dismissed at 23.5 months. That’s right, you can treat them how you like, just move them on before their employment rights kick in.

Employers are also asking for a mandatory £500 payment to be paid by employees wanting to take their employer to a Tribunal. What’s interesting about this is, at present, the £500 deposit is the amount a Tribunal Judge can order to deter a potentially unjustified claim by an employee. It seems employers, envying judicial power, have asked that every employee be treated as though they’re trying it on.

If you were ever in doubt as to whose side the law is stacked on – here it is.

We’ll see if it’s put into practice. If so, then surely it’s only a matter of time before the Employment Tribunals are made redundant by the retail giants. And your local Court may close – only to reopen as Tesco Extra.

Best wishes

BBTB x

Monday, 3 January 2011

WEEK 124 Slow Burn

I don’t know about you, but for me it’s a psychological slow burn going the New Year, especially when the departing year was a trial in itself.

I met OLLIE’S ex-secretary on New Years Eve for mulled wine and mince pies. We sat in her back garden burning kindling in an old barbeque bucket to keep warm. She confessed she’s not feeling optimistic. The Prime Minister says it’s going to be a ‘difficult’ year too; job cuts leading to escalating employment anxiety. I thought for a second about packing the blog in. Has it helped anyone? Has it changed anything?

Sometimes I’m plain daft. As the smoke rose from her makeshift heater, I realised the blog saved me. And it’s changed me forever. The fire isn’t out yet, and this year may see the economic climate fanning those flames.

So I’ll be here in 2011 to stand next to for a bit of warmth, if you feel the need.

Happy New Year.
Best wishes

BBTB x
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