Manager refuses to allow female teen employee to go home sick

Tracey Folly

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

Being sick is never fun. You feel awful, you can't focus on anything, and all you really want to do is crawl into bed and sleep for the next week. Unfortunately, sometimes being sick is unavoidable. And when it happens at work, you rarely want to tough it out and stay until the end of your shift. But what if you're working a low-wage job and your boss won't let you go home sick? That's exactly what happened to me.

I told my manager I was feeling ill and needed to go home, but he refused to let me leave. As a result, I worked an eight-hour shift while I was sick. The experience left me feeling humiliated and degraded. Too often, workers are forced to choose between their health and their job. And that's not right.

Here's how it happened: I was eighteen years old when I got my first full-time job. I exchanged a part-time job as a cashier at a grocery store for a full-time job as a bank teller. My family thought it was a step up; I wasn't so sure.

One hot summer day, I began feeling unwell at work. I was too shy and anxiety-riddled to speak up ordinarily, but the bank manager was walking directly past me. I figured it was my chance to ask if I could go home.

"Excuse me," I said. "I feel sick. Can I go home?"

"No," the manager replied without slowing down.

I was having stomach cramps, hot flashes, and dizzy spells, and I was stuck at work for the rest of the day. Now, I also wanted to cry.

I felt humiliated that my manager had refused to let me leave, and I was worried that if I didn't tough it out, I would get fired. It was a dilemma.

So I stayed at work, even though I felt awful. By the end of the day, I was so sick that I could barely stand up. All I wanted to do was go home and go to bed, but I had to take the bus home because I was too sick to walk, and I didn't have a car.

When I got home, I slept for fourteen hours straight. The next day, I woke up feeling a little better, but I still had to go to work.

If it happened to me today, I wouldn't ask to go home sick. I would notify the manager I was leaving and then leave. No questions asked. No permission needed. None granted.

Things have changed a lot since I was a teenager. Back then, I was too afraid to stick up for myself. Now, let's just say it would be an entirely different story.

I think my old manager should be ashamed of himself for dismissing my request so quickly. I wonder whether he would have had the same response if I had been a middle-aged man and not a teenage girl. What do you think?

Has anything like this ever happened to you? Comments are welcome.

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Writing about relationships online since 2009.

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