Recently, a friend of mine started a job as a dishwasher in a new restaurant in town. He had been unemployed for a couple months, so he was excited to get back in the swing of things.
But as soon as he started working, there was a problem. He had an allergic reaction to something in the dishroom.
He brought his suspicions to his boss, who told him, “deal with it.”
And for a few days, he tried to do just that. He thought the latex might be causing it, so he brought his own heavy-duty gloves. It didn’t help, and soon, the reaction had spread to his chest and face. He
But he felt like he had no choice but to tough it out. He didn’t want to trouble his boss for a minor issue, and he didn’t want to risk his job over making a big deal about it.
We seem to have this sort of misplaced sense of perseverance in this country. No matter what sort of mistreatment we face at our jobs, we undercut with a pithy “at least I have a job.” I’ve watched hundreds of my friends walk through terrible work situations because having a bad job offered more security than the uncertainty of the job hunt.
Or, worse than that, we don’t think we have any recourse. If our employer does mistreat us, there’s nothing we can do about it.
Both of these are certainly true of my friend, but his is hardly an isolated experience. As a culture, we seem to believe that our employers are above reproach. They can act as they please, and there’s precious little we can do about it. This is especially true where I live, since Indiana is an at-will state. Most workers interpret that to mean that they can be fired for any reason at any time, which simply isn’t true.
It’s in their best interest to keep their employers subordinate and devoted. And if you make them feel like they are powerless, they will put up with anything.
I’ve watched local business owners “make examples” of employees who challenged their authority, and they bring these employees up to new hires.
I’ve heard them mock lawsuits as frivolous attempts to get rich quick. They’re so quick to delegitimize legal action against them that they’ll even dismiss serious malpractice suits or major settlements.
For example, I think we’ve all heard about the woman who sued McDonald’s because their coffee was too hot. Nothing but a woman trying to make a quick buck off of a major company. But in reality, 79-year-old Stella Lieback needed extensive surgery to treat the burns sustained by her near-boiling cup of coffee. Her lawsuit was well within the bounds of reason. Yet the corporate suits at McDonald’s have fought hard to paint the case as ridiculous.
McDonald’s is hardly the only company with painting litigious action as a shameful course of action. And if you look at the case of my friend, it’s easy to see why—if you convince workers that lawsuits are ridiculous or ineffective, then they’re much less likely to file a wrongful termination suit against you, even if they have a solid case.
And so, we have thousands of workers in the same shoes as my friend: enduring mistreatment because they feel they don’t have another choice. They take jobs that pay too little and require too much—such as my $11/hr stint at a factory with mandatory overtime.
It’s not worth it, but if you make them believe they don’t have a choice, they’ll put up with anything.