Former bank teller forced to work while sick after asking to go home and being refused

Tracey Folly

*This is a work of nonfiction based on actual events I experienced firsthand; used with permission.

I got my first real full-time job six months after high-school graduation. I had decided not to go to college, and I kept my part-time after-school job for half a year after I left high school before my parents convinced me to enter the real world.

My first full-time job was working as a bank teller at the local bank. It was a fifteen-minute walk from my house. I didn't have a car. Sometimes I walked, and sometimes, my mother gave me a ride to and from work.

One hot summer day, I was working when I felt a terrible pain in my stomach. Waves of heat crashed over me despite the cool air conditioning in the bank. Between my stomach cramps and the hot flashes rolling through my body, I could hardly focus on my job.

I could feel beads of sweat dripping down my forehead. I didn't know what was wrong, but I wanted to go home. Worst case scenario, I could walk home. Sure, I didn't feel like walking fifteen minutes feeling the way I did, but it was better than spending the rest of the day at work like that.

The manager walked past me as I was using the copy machine. So I took the opportunity to ask if I could go home early.

"Hey," I said, "can I go home?"

No," he replied. He didn't even slow down to talk to me or ask what was wrong.

I spent the rest of the day in pain, and I didn't go home until closing time. Here's what I didn't realize: I shouldn't have asked him if I could go home; I should have told him.

If I had told the boss I was going home, full stop, he couldn't have made me stay at work. Because I was an inexperienced nineteen-year-old woman, I didn't know I could leave without his permission.

I was a bank teller. If I had gone home early, the bank could easily have kept its doors open without me.

Perhaps one of my coworkers would have had to spend less time on the phone or taking cigarettes. Perhaps the customers would have waited in line for an extra minute or two, but the overall effect on the bank would have been minimal.

Suffering for the last six hours of the day was completely unnecessary. Besides, I hated that job. Even if I had gotten fired for going home sick from work without permission, it would have been a relief.

In the end, my sickness was nothing that going to bed and taking some pain relievers couldn't remedy. But the experience left me with a sour taste in my mouth. Fortunately, I never had another manager tell me I couldn't go home from work sick after that incident.

I've often wondered whether the manager thought I was joking when I asked to go home early, but I'll never know. It's been years since that day. Even if he and I crossed paths now, I doubt we'd recognize each other, and I'm sure I'm the only one who remembers asking to go home sick and being told, "No."

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