Bad Employer; A Decision To Make


Roughly two months ago I was introduced to an unemployed Photographer with a long-term goal of owning her own business and studio. After 4 days of working together, she was offered and accepted a job as a Manager of a Photography studio; the kind of place you’d find in a big box store where you and the family might go for some portraits or to have your passport photos taken.

Now this job wasn’t her dream job, but it was in her field, it would put employment on her résumé, and it would certainly bring in some immediate income; albeit not the amount she’d want down the road. Setting aside some of her wages for that long-term dream studio and getting a job offer after a frustrating long job search did wonders for her self-esteem.

Well as happens occasionally, the experience has backfired; she’s feeling used and abused, the position was immediately clarified as employee not Manager, and the wages aren’t consistent with others in the same role. She’s continued to be poorly trained, she hasn’t even got one person she primarily reports to, and if you can believe it, she only interacts with these Supervisors by text; she never sees them in person and works on her own. In this odd setup, she is monitored by cameras, and is told she isn’t selling enough to hit her daily targets, but when asking for guidance and training, she’s told to phone other locations and ask for tips and tricks! Another employee told her she’s on the ‘fire’ list too.

So we sat down together face-to-face yesterday afternoon. My inclination as I listened was to tell her clearly that I believed she should quit. However, professionally, I know it would be better for her to come to her own decision. In other words, my goal was to hear her out, take what she was feeling emotionally and physically, work with that and give it back to her in such a way that she’d have the clarity to make her own choice. What she wanted I felt, was validation of her circumstances, and to understand the impact if any, on her social assistance status were she to quit.

I admired her desire to keep the job until she found a better one. It’s not in her nature to give up on a job. In was here that I drew a parallel where she had in the past been in a relationship where she didn’t want to give up on her abusive partner. Back then, she’d thought she could ‘fix’ him; make him better. That didn’t work, and she eventually removed herself from that abusive relationship and is the better for it, now with someone who treats her better. This was similar; not in her nature to quit, trying to make the situation work because she really enjoys working with customers, but at the same time, being shuffled to and from 4 locations to fill in staff absences. She’s been scheduled to work every weekend so far; despite having asked for one off to celebrate her own birthday, and the schedule changes without her being told herself until another employee calls to tell her. Oh and I saw the texts on her mobile; very inappropriate language and very poor communication.

In the end I made sure first and foremost that she knew there would be no sanctions, suspension of benefits or other penalties for quitting. Sure, we in Social Services generally want people to keep jobs until they find better ones, but this isn’t healthy; it’s someone in a position of being mentally abused. We discussed of course the pros and cons of staying and quitting, and should quitting be her decision, how to go about it a few different ways.

I think what helped her the most was realizing that this minimum wage job, while yes in her field of photography, could be easily replaced by any job with no loss in wages, but where she would likely be much better treated. Perhaps a little wiser, her mental health and self-esteem are worth more than keeping this job and trying to fix it.

By the way, if YOU are in a similar position, I empathize with you. You need the income I understand, but bad employers and being mistreated on a regular basis come with a cost. Is the income you’re getting enough to really offset the cost to your own mental and physical health?

Being August and rolling into September, we’re in the second best time for getting hired. Now – right now – is the best time to ramp up your job search and go at it with renewed energy. You’re worth more than staying in a job where you’re poorly trained and supported, make minimum wage or well below what you’re experience and education qualify you for. It’s definitely up to you and you alone whether you stay or go.

Now if you do quit a job, the worse thing an employer can do is not pay you for some of the wages you’re entitled to, which is illegal, but they might threaten that. You might fight this or just walk away and report them to the Ministry of Labour in your area. You don’t need to put a short-term job even on your résumé, so it won’t haunt you into your next job either.

Bad employer? Is it worth it to stay?