*This is a work of nonfiction based on real events that happened to me. Names have not been given to maintain confidentiality.*
Three years ago, when I was still a high school student, I received my first ever job offer.
I had been extremely anxious for the interview and spent all night rehearsing possible questions and answers with my mom, then spent a couple hours going through my carefully highlighted interview notes with a friend in the sushi restaurant next to the movie theater I had applied to. I paired a professional blouse with the fanciest skirt I could find, trying to assume an air of impenetrable confidence.
The interview was pleasant enough. The employer asked me a few questions about my previous volunteer experience, then promptly hired me on the spot.
I walked home giddy about finally entering the workforce, texting all my friends and family who had prayed for me about the exciting news. I remember the sun making the movie theater behind me look golden, like everything was just as it was meant to be.
Even though I would just be a low-paid cashier at a seedy movie theater, I felt an immense sense of accomplishment as I boarded the bus home, humming to the music blaring through my earphones.
Instead of being a simple job to provide savings for college and perhaps some spending money, the position would be my foray into the volatile world of workplace politics and harassment.
It wasn’t long before I learned something extremely disturbing about my new place of work.
I quickly became friends with some of my co-workers, since we were often scheduled to work together. Most of them were around my age, with the oldest being in their early twenties. For most, working at the movie theater was their first job experience.
One day, sitting around a round table in the break room, one of my co-workers casually mentioned one of the junior managers.
I admitted I had never formally met the manager she was referring to. I had seen him lurking around the storage room, but I assumed he was taking stock of the supplies. He was incredibly tall, with narrow features and nearly translucent eyes.
My co-workers began telling me about the junior manager and his obsession with younger girls. He was known to follow female employees — many of them being far younger than himself — on Instagram and send unsolicited memes to their accounts. Yes, internet memes. They weren’t even funny, either.
He also illegally dated a sixteen-year-old whom he met at work. It seemed like he was using his position to pick up underage girls and women he was supposed to be in charge of.
One of my male co-workers also warned me the manager would inevitably approach me, suggesting I stay as faraway from him as possible.
He also told me the manager had harassed a fifteen-year-old girl at work, forcing her into his office and making crude comments about her physique, which had been overheard by other employees. The entire team had subsequently banded around the employee and reported the manager’s inappropriate actions.
Nothing was done.
Over the next few weeks, I was terrified of being approached by the junior manager. Thankfully, he was rarely scheduled to work during my shifts and when he was, I was manning the cash registers with several co-workers. Once, the male co-worker who had provided me with a warning even took my place so I wouldn’t have to speak to the junior manager.
It wasn’t until I was left alone on a slow Tuesday afternoon that I finally had an unsettling encounter with him.
I was sweeping popcorn from the floors when I felt a pair of eyes burning the back of my head. At first, I thought I was crazy, since there was no one else in the movie theater lobby. All the showings were in progress and few patrons had come to the venue that day because of work and school.
I spun around, coming face-to-face with the aforementioned manager, whose tall frame was bent over the counter.
His pale eyes were completely unblinking and fixed upon me as I worked. He didn’t bother to say a single word to me. He just stared.
I think I frowned, but the manager did not look away. He kept staring at me — making me feel like I was in a circus ring.
I was never subjected to the silent advances of the creepy manager again. He was promptly fired, since one of my co-workers threatened to report his previous inappropriate behavior to the police if action wasn’t taken.
However, the culture of sexual harassment pervading my workplace did not end with the junior manager’s termination.
One of his best friends also worked at the establishment, mirroring the same creepy behaviors. He worked with me often and never ceased to make explicit comments about my body, even after I had told him to stop. Despite several others reporting his misconduct, he continued to work at the movie theater long after I finally left.
Poor working conditions persist
Before beginning my first job, I had thought working conditions were relatively positive for workers across North America.
Extensive legislation and workplace guidelines give the impression workers in the twenty-first century no longer face abuse in their workplaces—at least not mistreatment approved by employers.
While positive changes have been made, many workers — especially those from marginalized communities — still endure cultures of abuse and bullying. People living in poverty are especially at the mercy of these toxic work environments since they cannot easily quit and find a new job.
Abusive workplaces can also produce the ripple effect, where employers and employees who exhibit abusive behaviours can influence others to carry on the same actions.
Rather than ignoring these instances of abuse, employers and organizations should enforce workplace rules at all times instead of only acknowledging them when its convenient.
This way, more workplaces will provide healthy and positive work experiences, rather than perpetuating cycles of abuse.
Although we are obviously a long way off from achieving utopian working environments, if more people like my male co-worker — who I am grateful for to this day — spoke out against abuse, the world would be a better place.