By Matt Allen G.
I have never felt discriminated against in my life, not for anything: race, religious beliefs, nor disability.
Not until yesterday at my equal opportunity employer. When I was first interviewed at this retail location (that I have always loved and was excited to work at) I disclosed my Multiple Sclerosis limitations right off the bat. My disclosure was met with the assurance that everything would be done to make sure that my limitations would be properly accommodated. I was happy.
Things were great for the first week or so. I was hired to cover the electronics department and I was told that sometimes I would have to venture into other areas of the store. I didn’t mind that; a small department working on things I was knowledgeable with, low temperatures, probably low stress, and little physical work. Just what I needed.
After a week or two though, I started noticing subtle changes in the way people talked to me as well as what they expected of me. Soon I was in charge of electronics and toys and then infants and then seasonal and then I was running around all the departments of the store while trying to cover electronics. There was much more physical work and I was now breaking a sweat. I started noticing my schedule saying that I was working the floor instead of electronics. It was like they noticed I was more reliable than others to get things done so they threw them in electronics and had me doing the tougher stuff. I didn’t complain because I was happy to have a job and I don’t like to say “I can’t”.
But it was becoming too much. Helping customers find products all over the store, unlocking things in electronics, running to seasonal to help a customer, answering a phone call for electronics, running to the hardware department to help another customer, answering a call for toys, trying to run back to electronics to help a customer ring a product up, searching for an item back in seasonal that a customer on the phone would like me to hold, trying to find and pull another product in the back room for a customer in electronics; all the while people are asking me to do this and that on the walkie, kids are screaming, more phone calls, products being dumped on my counter to stock, and so on! I was popping more Klonopin in a day than I usually did in half a week! So much stress and so much noise! I couldn’t hear people talking to me from 2 feet away! It all mixed together…
Yesterday was even more hectic because a huge truckload came in that we had to stock and an item everyone wanted was on sale for the last day. There was so much to be done and no one to help me. Though I answered everyone’s calls on the walkie no one answered mine. Over and over I asked for back up in electronics so I could take my break and no one responded to my calls so, I didn’t get a break. Still, I pushed on.
A customer wanted a movie that we had one of in the back so I made it happen despite how difficult people made it for me. No one wanted to help me and I was not going to make that lady feel the same way; she was getting that movie. When I handed it to her, she wanted to know where a manager was so she could tell him/her how much I had helped her. I then asked that same manager a little later to help me pull a 50 inch TV from the back since I am not qualified to do that. He asked for the product number on my scanner and I said the TV would not scan. He said to me “well the number is on the sign you know?” I told him “Yes I know but I didn’t see it, maybe I missed it because when I get stressed my vision blurs”. He just looked at me like “really? Is that your excuse?” so after a moment of us standing and looking at each other, me wondering if he was going to help, I said “I’ll check again” and I walked back out. I found the tiny number and wrote it down. After I pulled the TV out to the customer (feeling like I had been treated like an idiot) the customer changed his mind about the TV he wanted twice. I needed a manager to pull the TV each time and each time I called for help I got no reply.
This same manager by the way, had previously made me feel this same way a few days prior. He was walking me down and isle trying to explain to me how to “straighten” it up for the night. I told him I knew how, I have worked retail for years, I did merchandising, and even helped convert over 13 Longs Drugstores to CVS pharmacies in southern California; I have a decent amount of experience. Still he wanted me to pull things forward on the shelves while he watched. I felt like a child. That same day a customer wanted a bike pulled down from the bike rack. I called him for assistance and told him I simply needed help lifting it down. He said “all you have to do is pull this lever and the rack lowers,” “I know I-” “-then lift it off the rack, and lift the lever to put it back up”. “Well, I know how the mechanism works but I physically can’t lift it down, it’s one of those MS limitations I was talking about?” “Oh, OK…”
Back to yesterday; later on, after my lunch and much more craziness, it was time for my break again. I had someone to cover so I pulled out my walkie and chuckled sarcastically “-managers name- I am going on my final, well, first break, I’ll be back in 15”. “OK, just come see me when you get back”, “No problem!” When I finished my break I found my manager (who can’t be more than 2 years older than me) and asked her what was up. She said she needed me to “lose the attitude”. “I’m sorry, did I miss something?” I asked with a smile of confusion. She claimed that when I told her I was taking my last/first brake that I said it in a rude and hostile manor. She repeated what I said in a way over the top ugly voice… it was almost comical. “Well, sarcastically? Maybe, but with attitude? Definitely not, I was just trying to keep things light”. “Well, some people may feel like that was attitude and also, you’re in charge of taking your breaks and lunch on time, not us, so you need to be on top of that”. No she did not just tell me that. I was trying so hard not to snap. “Well,” I said, “I kind of feel like I am being treated like an idiot and like no one is taking my disability seriously because I look fine. Trust me, I may look OK but that doesn’t reflect how I feel. Also, I called several times asking for someone to cover electronics so I could take my break and no one responded and I was swamped with customers so I had no choice but to keep working”. “Well, I didn’t hear anything”. “That’s really funny because I heard everyone else on the walkie and they all heard me when I was helping them but no one heard me when I needed electronics covered”. “I don’t know but also, if you feel you’re having a problem with an employee we can’t help you unless you tell us”. “I am well aware of that, and I talked to him so if it happens again I will talk to HR but I am not pointing fingers right now”. I forget how it ended but I simply walked back to my department and finished my shift.
I clocked out, called over the walkie that I was leaving for the day, and shut it off before I heard a response; I went home. I was so stressed out I felt sick and my legs were tight. I was dizzy and I couldn’t see small print very well. I got home, took a bunch of Baclofen, some more Klonopin, and knocked out without eating dinner.
Today I tried hanging out with some friends but I was feeling really sick after a bit. Both “MS sick” and upset stomach sick. When I got home I checked my email; my old bank account was overdrawn and they decided to charge me an overdraft fee early and twice for whatever reason. I tried calling but I forgot; it’s Sunday. I was feeling stressed and super sick to my stomach which of course was screwing with my MS.
I called work and talked to another manager. I told her how I was feeling and how if I came to work tomorrow I would be useless and it might not be safe for me to work. “I know this is short notice but I can’t really help it so what should I do?” “I’ll just mark you as a no show” “OK thanks,” – wait a no show? That doesn’t sound right? Before I could ask what that meant she just hung up on me! What the heck! So I feel like I have been busting my ass for them, doing more than I should be, more than I signed up for, and doing it all top quality instead of half ass like everyone else and this is how they treat me?
This store is so short handed because everyone is leaving and they can’t hire people fast enough to fill the spots. I feel like everyone knows that and they are abusing it because the store can’t afford to fire anyone. I am calling the actual corporate HR tomorrow and telling them I am being overworked despite the fact that I explained my limits
due to MS and also how I am being talked to and treated is making me feel discriminated against. I want it on record. Then I am going to apply for another job that I know is hiring and I am also going to contact the National MS Society who’s headquarters is 30 minutes away from here and see if they have any opening I can fill.
I can’t deal with this store anymore; it’s damaging my health that I have worked so hard to stabilize. I need something less hectic with people who will actually try to understand my MS or at least respect that it’s real. If I could get in with someone like the National MS Society that would be amazing because A) they obviously understand MS and what limits it can cause and B) I could go home feeling like I helped make a difference in something I am passionate about instead of going home knowing I helped someone find the right car charger for their cell phone… I feel like my knowledge, experience, and potential are being horribly wasted here. Even if I can just get a job at a bookstore with less noise and stress I would be happy.
My point is, I finally feel like I have been “discriminated against” because of my MS. I am not entirely sure why I feel that way because it doesn’t fully make sense to me, but that is how I feel and I have never felt this way before.
I hate it.
Reprinted with permission from Matt’s Multiple Sclerosis.