employment horror

“It’s a tough job market out there.” You hear this everywhere now, in almost every industry in the United States, and even more so in the six years since the Great Recession of 2008. U.S. employment figures have recovered only very slowly from that disaster, and it’s still unfortunately the case that there are far more applicants for every position than can ever be hired. But the one good thing–well, maybe not good–about hard-luck employment stories is that there’s always someone out there worse off than you are. Let me tell you about one job so horrible, outrageous and desperately unfair that it’ll make your hair stand on end. And every word of it is absolutely true.

Even in an employment market where almost any good job is tough to get, this one puts them all to shame. The number of people hired by this company is a tiny fraction of a tenth of a percent of the number of people who have applied–and there are thousands more extremely qualified people who have simply never applied at all, figuring it’s hopeless. It’s a basic white-collar office job and the salary is competitive with middle management, but that almost doesn’t matter, because the hidden costs of even applying for it vastly outstrip the salary. The pay was raised a few years ago, but the last pay raise before that occurred in 1969. Think about that–trying to raise a family in the 21st century on 1969 wages! The hidden expenses, which the company basically expects employees to shoulder themselves, have ruined some employees. On the up side, the company does have a lunchroom, and the food is said to be excellent.

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This former employee, an elderly man, was almost killed after being on the job less than two months, never given worker’s comp, and never even given a day off to recuperate. 

Exactly what the job entails has never really been made clear. It bears little resemblance to the written job description, which in any event hasn’t been updated in many years. There is heavy phone work and lots of soliciting for money, though the company refuses to define it as a “sales” position so as to avoid paying commissions. The hours are absolutely outrageous. Employees are literally expected to be on-call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The scope of the job’s responsibility is undefined too. The company often blames employees for things that are totally beyond their control.

Employees also have to deal with the public, but the horror stories from this line of work make WalMart look like a love-in. Customers shout and throw things at them regularly. Not long ago one employee was nearly hit with a shoe thrown at his head. The company did nothing about it. Employees are constantly the target of harassment and even threats. The company insists they “take threats seriously,” but privately employees know there’s not much they can do about it.

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This former employee’s story is very sad. Refused family leave to care for his terminally ill son, he himself died after being assaulted by an angry customer.

This is dangerous work. A shocking number, 18.9%, have actually died on the job. The company doesn’t care. One employee was actually shot in the head in broad daylight on a business trip. Another was killed at a theater just blocks from the office, gunned down right in front of his wife and a crowd of horrified onlookers. In one particularly egregious case, an employee was shot while on the way to a work-related function. He spent a year recuperating but was not given a single day off. He was 70 years old. He didn’t even bother to file a worker’s compensation claim. What kind of company treats a 70-year-old gunshot survivor like this?

The company’s family leave policies are beyond barbaric. The company is so stingy with vacation time it doesn’t even track it; recently an employee was yelled at for taking part of an afternoon off to play golf–this after working nonstop for weeks. In one sad case, an employee was still expected to go to a company social function while his son was seriously ill. Not only was the employee not granted leave to take care of his son, but when the son died, the company demanded the employee go right back to work. He did–he worked about an 18-hour shift on the day of his son’s funeral. This employee himself later died on the job. His wife was so distraught she literally went insane. The company refused to pay her survivor’s benefits.

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Despite the horrible working conditions at this company, employees are too terrified of the job market to dare quitting. This former employee did quit, but only after learning he was likely to be fired. He never worked again.

The company is not very diverse, either. In its entire history it has only ever hired one African-American employee. It has never hired a woman, although there are signs that may change soon. Even if it does, it’s too little, too late. In addition to being racist and sexist, the company discriminates on the basis of religious orientation. Only one Catholic has ever been hired; a Jew, never, and a Muslim, forget it. Somehow this company avoids being sued for employment discrimination even though it’s extremely blatant. It’s also rife with nepotism. Sons, grandsons and distant cousins of employees get hired without much trouble. If you don’t have the right contacts, though, you haven’t got a chance, even if you’re clearly more qualified than one of these legacy hires.

This job is also a virtual career-ender. There is no potential for advancement. Turnover is high; not a single person currently employed was at the company 6 years ago. Almost no one who’s let go ever works again. One former employee has been out of work for 14 years, relying on his wife’s income. A father and son, each of whom worked for the company, both remain unemployed. If nothing I’ve told you has made your blood boil, consider this: one particularly unfortunate former employee was abruptly fired in 1981, over thirty years ago, and he has never worked again. He survives on odd jobs doing charity work, and the public dole. At least he has health insurance.

Who would even want to work for this company? Astonishingly, people do. And as long as there’s lines of would-be employees swamping the place with applications, this company has no incentive to treat its people better. But that’s the reality of the job market in America in 2014. Even working at McDonald’s is preferable to this horrific job.

Do you want fries with that?

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“The Scream” parody used in the header image is by Gabriel S. Delgado C. and is used under Creative Commons 2.0 (Attribution) license. The photo of the Presidential seal is copyright (C) 2014 by me (Sean Munger).