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Self Care In A Pandemic (53): Back To Work? Know Your Rights…

Many of us will be going back to working from home this week, after a Christmas and New Year festive break. Others will be on the front line and have hardly had a break at all, and I am so thankful for the many people who are living and working sacrificially to help us all.

I’m not here to offer any sector or service specific advice, but I’m just writing as I encounter life, and want to share my insights, learning and encouragements with you.

In the UK, we are under Government Lockdown apart from certain ‘exemptions’. We should stay at home unless it’s absolutely essential to do otherwise. However, not all employers take this seriously or seriously enough. Some managers allow their pride to dictate how they are going to present things to their staff. And if you are finding yourself feeling stressed because your employer is asking you to do things you feel uncomfortable about, or that make you feel unsafe or that you are going against governmental advice or putting yourself or others at risk in this pandemic, then take a step back and remind yourself that your boss isn’t the ultimate authority in this situation, or in any situation.

It will be difficult for some of you where in the employment setting the buck does stop with your boss. I’ve been in those difficult situations in the past when I was a young, fresh graduate and didn’t know much about the world of work and found myself working in an organisation that didn’t have an HR team, or HR officer….. at all. It turned out the boss bent certain rules to his advantage, and being timid, shy, scared and not knowing my rights I was a bit of a walk over and I wasn’t treated or paid well. Said boss turned out to be a bit let’s just say ‘bossy’ towards the end, and with him being the head of the organisation that was a tough place to be. However, as an employee you do have rights and perhaps depending on the part of the world you are in and the sector you work for joining a union might help.

Since then, I’ve been blessed to work in an organisation that despite its faults does have a proper HR structure, therefore no boss can call all the shots. It took a good few years for me to realise this. My first couple of bosses in this organisation were lovely, kind women. My bosses changed due to changing structures in teams and so the second lovely boss with whom I’m still friends never caused me any issues. We got on great and she didn’t ‘lord it over’ other people. She was merely first among equals and treated us with respect.

After that she retired and my next boss was a bully, and someone I don’t want to spend many sentences writing about. It caused a lot of distress to myself and others and I thought I had no alternative but to just try to suffer through things myself. Everything went through her, even things she should have and said would go to HR through. I suffered and others around me suffered until one day I was having a coffee after work with my boss / friend who retired and she told me that what my new boss was doing was out of order, unethical and that I should join a union.

I realise that this is not for everyone, but it has been such a blessing in my working life, especially as I needed to get reasonable adjustments for health conditions, and was being made to suffer, jump through hoops and denied fair treatment until I did join a union. Even after joining a union the amount of bureaucracy with the employers was just plain sad. For people asking for the smallest, simplest of things, the bosses with their egos wanted to put up so many obstacles and make their employees miserable. I am thankful that my True Boss, My King of kings and Lord of lords Whose servant I am is Jesus Christ – The Servant King who Loves and cares for those who are His.

I found a couple of great advocates and representatives with my union and even this week I’ve been able to reach out to one of them to ask advice because of things I feel I’m being called upon to do in terms of work that I don’t feel comfortable with in light of the government stay at home order.

So whatever situation you find yourself in if you are employed externally, remind yourself that you deserve to be heard, treated with respect and that you have employee responsibilities, but you also have rights. Especially with everything going on with the coronavirus you may be more likely to find information and advocacy support as there will be others in the same boat as you. Know that you’re not alone, and that there are options, even if it takes a bit of hard work, perseverance and researching information for you to get to a better and safer place.

I think back to my coffee with my lovely retired boss and the chance conversation that actually was a game changer for me. Join the union, she advised, and I did and it has helped me so much.

Maybe that’s not the right route for you, but perhaps think of this blog post as a coffee and cake with a friend (me 🙂 ) who is telling you, reminding you that you have options, you have every right not to be bullied or to be made to go against government safety advice in the pandemic and that there are people out there who will advocate for you and support you.

Maybe there is a citizens advice bureau or similar that you can talk to if you don’t want to go down the union route, or if it’s not for you in your personal situation, your sector or industry.

Maybe there is a trusted friend or family member that you can bounce ideas off.

Maybe there are advice and information pages you can read up on online.

Just know that you are not trapped, and that there are options for you as you move forwards. It can be hard to stand up for ourselves sometimes, so don’t be afraid to ask for a bit of advocacy and support and help if you need to.

Take care, and stay safe. You are not alone. x

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