Living a nightmare: student jobs from hell

When a creeper calls: Unfortunately Danielle Bodie is no stranger to surprise sex calls at her call centre job. (Megan MacKay/AQ)
When a creeper calls: Unfortunately Danielle Bodie is no stranger to surprise sex calls at her call centre job. (Megan MacKay/AQ)

Everyone has had a terrible job- but when do we say ‘enough is enough’?

It’s the dead of summer.

It’s a boiling hot 36 degrees and Madison Reid has been given all the rooms a rugby team had stayed in the night before.

The hallway has no air conditioning. She knocks on the door and yells “housekeeping!” praying the room is somewhat tidy. She turns the knob to feel the wall of heat and sweat hit her in the face.

Then she sees the sunflower seeds. They’re everywhere.

There are Spits on the floor, in all the mugs, on the bed sheets, and on the night stand. She cringes. Sitting on the bed for a moment, a bead of sweat drips off her forehead. But instead of running away screaming, she uses all the energy she has left to prepare for the cleaning process.

She has to. She is a housekeeper. It’s her job.

Most part time gigs a student takes on are lame, but doable. You put your head down, and you muscle through it until you get your degree, and hopefully you wind up with a real job you love. However some student jobs are a detriment to your health and your sanity. In a bad work situation it’s important to know who to talk to when things go sour- and when it’s time to bail.

Danielle Bodie, a journalism student, works at a call centre that handles hotel bookings. She said sometimes the calls can be anything but reserved.

One day, she got a call from a man reserving a room at a fancy hotel.

“He sounded normal,” she said, “I just thought he had a breathing problem.”

She went ahead with the regular booking procedure, until at one point she called him “Sir.”

“He was like, say that again,” she said. “So I said, ‘Sir?’ I still wasn’t getting it!”

He continued to ask her to repeat strange words and phrases, until finally she heard something knock against the phone. She then realized it was a sex call.

Bodie hung up the phone and put her head down on the desk.

“I felt like I saw it,” she said. Although it was “extremely creepy,” she feels as though it was a learning experience. “No one can do that to me now. Even if they have asthma, I don’t trust them.”

Jason Scarbro, the director of human resources at STU, says while most student jobs don’t have an HR person on hand to help out, there are a few steps students can take to solve the problem. The first step? Take the problem to your supervisor.

“The best [supervisors] have the skills to deal with a situation,” Scarbro said “Even if they don’t [know how to help], they might know someone who can, so it’s a good place to start.”

But sometimes the problem isn’t just the customers, or even fellow employees. Sometimes the problem is the boss.

Last fall, fourth year student Julie McLellan took a job as a waitress at a restaurant in downtown Fredericton. The other waitresses told her the owner tended to yell and get angry, but not to take it personally. But when her boss began getting aggressive immediately during the first shift, McLellan felt uncomfortable.

“He would yell so loud that the customers could hear,” McLellan said.

Her boss started to call her a “fucking bitch” if she made a mistake. If she was making a salad too slowly, he would say things like, “if you don’t make them, who will, my fucking grandmother?”

McLellan held on to her job for as long as possible, but after a few months she couldn’t take it.

“He would completely rob the waitresses of their self-worth and make them feel like total idiots for making mistakes,” she said.

Scarbro says there are many ways to handle an abusive boss–from quitting to suing, or depending on the severity of the situation, filing a human rights complaint.

“One of the first things you can do if you can, if you’re comfortable, is just approach the person,” Scarbro said. “It’s amazing, but sometimes people are unaware that they are having the type of impact that they are having on you. If you’re uncomfortable in a situation the onus is on you to make them aware that you are not comfortable. If they continue to do it, that’s when it becomes a problem.”

Communications student Laura Baurle spent one summer working at a bar in downtown Fredericton. On her first day, her boss started coming on to her.

“He asked for my number, I thought for business reasons, and started to text me the next day asking me to come to his house.”

Baurle went on to say that he made several sexual advances, including touching her hips from behind, calling her sexy, and trying to kiss her neck.

“I didn’t want to lose my job or ruin his reputation, so I kept quiet,” Baurle said. She continued her job until she saved up enough money, then quit at the end of summer.

“I have a feeling this happens more than we’d like,” Scarbro said. “Something employers have to pay attention to when they have a lot of young people working for them- you guys are incredibly powerful because you have such a network. If a number of those employees are getting on Facebook… and saying ‘this place is a terrible place to work and I had to quit’ and another one does the same thing, well, Fredericton is a small place. That reputation could be built quite quickly.”

Scarbro says if a situation gets too hard to deal with, don’t be afraid to pull the plug and quit.

“Fortunately enough… the job market is still fairly strong for young people,” Scarbro said. “I know it doesn’t seem fair because you are the victim, but sometimes you just say ‘You know what? This is not the right place for me, and I’m going to find an alternative.’ And you find an alternate that is a more positive working environment for you.”

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