Most student jobs are enjoyable as well as being great money earners. But if you’re unlucky enough to find yourself overworked and treated unfairly in your workplace what would you do? Some people think the only option is to put up with it or walk but you do have employment rights.
Martha, aged 20, started a job in a fast food restaurant the summer before her first year in college: “I wanted to earn money for myself for going out and college and I wanted to become more independent.
“I really enjoyed the job initially. I loved greeting customers and I got on well with my other employees and manager. He was really nice and helpful,” says Martha.
She was working at the restaurant two weeks when a new manager was appointed. “I was told in advance she was strict and even my previous manager was intimidated by her as he had dealt with her before.”
It wasn’t long before the new manager created a difficult working environment. “Sometimes I made slight mistakes but only because I knew there was a pair of eyes watching me the whole time,” says Martha. “Every time I made a mistake she would give out to me in front of customers.”
Workplace bullying from her manager was another problem Martha encountered. “She talked to me with no respect whatsoever and she called me ‘missy’, not Martha.”
According to the Employment Equality Act 1998 harassment is defined as “conduct that is unwelcome to the victim and may reasonably regarded as intimidating, humiliating or offensive”. There are nine grounds under which an employee can be discriminated including age, gender, disability, sexual orientation, religion and race.
Martha was employed as a waitress but under new management she was ordered to clean only. “My shifts were usually 10 hours, and for those 10 hours I would be washing the walls, floors, toilets, tables, table bases. For cleaning the floors I used a scouring pad and j-cloth. I asked if I could use the mop and the reply was ‘no’”.
A well as this, Martha was over worked. “I would work night shifts on Friday (6pm-5am) and they would schedule me in at 12pm that Saturday for a nine hour shift. That was seven hours between those shifts and I became exhausted.” Under the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997, it states that “an employee shall be entitled to a rest period of not less than 11 consecutive hours in each period of 24 hours during which he or she works for his or her employer”.
During one of her shifts Martha quit her job. “I had cleaned a utility room downstairs and she told me to do it again. When I had asked her to check it again she told me to do it another time.” On her break, Martha rang her parents in tears and told them she had had enough. Another employee had quit the day before due to the manager’s treatment.
Catering was the second worst industry for compliance of employment rights legislation with 41% compliance rate when NERA carried out 106 inspections from January to March 2012. As an employee, you shouldn’t be forced out of a job. Keep a dated record of all misconduct that happened and quote the law to your employer if they are treating you unfairly. An organisation that can help is the National Employment Rights Authority or NERA. It was set up to inform people of their rights, visit employers and carry out inspections, prosecute unlawful employers and enforce remedial action.
Martha wants her experience to be a lesson to others. “If you feel trapped then talk to someone or if it’s horrible and you can’t stand any second then quit. Everyone should feel happy and safe in their workplace. It’s not worth having your summer ruined or weekend ruined by this god awful job.”