Ask The Expert -- Alison Green:
Q: Was it wrong for my boss to fire me after a stranger sent in photos of my private text messages?
I’m a part-time retail employee at a clothing store. I left work a couple of weeks ago, got on my bus to head home, and as always, spent the time on my phone.
At one point, my boyfriend texted me asking if I’d left work yet. I wrote back saying something to the effect of ‘Yes…and I can’t be home soon enough. I’m tired and the fat cow sitting next to me is taking up half my seat as well as hers AND hasn’t heard of deodorant.”
I was called into my boss’s office at the start of my next shift and told that someone complained about me. I couldn’t think of any way I could have upset a customer…until my boss showed me a series of photographs the person who must have been sitting behind me on the bus took of me and my phone screen, having recognized me from the store yesterday.
I got fired, but I think it’s ridiculous. I wasn’t wearing anything that identified me as a member of my company at the time. What I do in my own time is my own business.
I’m now struggling to find another job, because my store manager has refused to let any of the department managers give me a reference, presumably because she’s offended because, well, she’s also the type to pin the poor size 2 girl next to her against the wall!
Who was in the wrong here?
Everyone, to differing degrees.
Most of all, your employer. It’s no one’s business what you write in private text messages to other people in your personal time. You had a reasonable expectation of privacy in sending a private text message, and they’re wrong to fire you over this.
The woman behind you was out of line in reading over your shoulder, photographing your phone, and sending it to your employer. She shouldn’t have been looking at a stranger’s phone in the first place, and she must have had to make a point of trying to see what you were writing; it’s not like it was forced into her line of vision and she couldn’t help reading everything you were writing. (And even if she hadn’t been able to help it, the polite thing to do in that case is to pretend she didn’t see it — she doesn’t get to comment on, let alone photograph, someone else’s private messages just because she happened to be able to see them on public transportation.)
But your employer is worse. The woman who emailed them was a busybody, but they’re the ones who actually fired you over this. They’re totally in the wrong.
But for what it’s worth, you yourself aren’t coming out smelling like a rose here — and not because of your actions in this story, but because of your commentary on it: You have a pretty gross attitude toward overweight people. Your comment about your store manager at the end of your letter is rude and out of line. That doesn’t change the fact that you didn’t deserve to be fired for what happened, but you’re going to lose a lot of sympathy in life for talking about other people that way, and rightly so. Your boyfriend might be fine with you calling people “fat cows” (although he shouldn’t be), but making a snarky and insulting comment to a stranger (me) about your boss’s weight says to me that you’re out of touch with how kind people talk to and about each other (or possibly that you’re young enough that you haven’t learned it yet). So: Be nicer.
But yes, your company was wrong here, and that text message should have been treated as private.
Hello, It's janitorgirl,
After reading stories of managers caving to custys, I felt this was too funny not to send.
I was taking out the trash in customer service when I saw a man (tall, 20's/30's) return a massive assembled desk. Which he said was missing a crucial screw.
The coworker I will call M, processes the return- but then the custy asks for something odd.
"I had to take uber to get there and this is the fault of bullseye AND the manufacturer- so what can you do for compensation?!"
WTF?- M called for the cashier manager (as opposed to store manager) and the cashier manager listened to the story. (He paid $28 for his uber ride.)
Cashier manager-"Do a gift card for $28."
Jaws hit floor. Now grant it, it's a gift card; a promise that he will have to shop at bullseye again, but that was an answer no one expected.
Cashier manager is a sweet person and considering what I see when I yelp search my store- we need the good press- but that answer was so unexpected me and M were dumbfounded.
I told this story to all my family members; ask for a manager at my store -and magic happens.
May all your custys be sane and all your managers be fairygodmothers.
From Former Grocery Slave:
I have a short but sweet interaction to share with you that happened in my store today:
Customer: I bought this table from you two months ago "as-is" for damage and I want to exchange/return it because it's damaged.
Me: As-is products are final sale and that is explained at time of purchase.
Customer: But it's damaged.
Me: Hence the damage discount and selling of it "as-is".
Customer: But it's damaged.
Me: As-is items cannot be returned or exchanged. They are final sale and the discount is because of the damage.
Customer: But it's damaged. I want a new one.
Me: You want to return an item you knowingly bought at a damage discount, FINAL SALE, because you don't like the damage that caused you to get it at a damage discount in the first place, and receive a brand new one for the same price you paid for said damaged one?
Customer: Yes. It's damaged.
--Former Grocery Slave
Today was ...scary. Nubs is wondering if crusties really that bad?
So I go just after the lunch rush to KFC to use the restroom and get food togo. I go up to the counter and order and get my bag. I then check it at a table really fast. I find out in my heat exhausted state i had said one thing but meant another. I silently look at my receipt and the menu board and cursed myself for not paying attention.
It wasn't what I wanted but it was food and it was what I had ordered. One of the employees saw my look and asked what was wrong and I told him I had mixed up the order numbers when ordering but it was fine and wished him a good day. He asked me to wait a moment and within a few minutes i had a fresh hot order of what I really wanted and a drink ontop of it when I was planning on just dealing with what I had.
THEY WERE APOLOGIZING LIKE THEY WERE THE ONES WHO FUCKED UP.
Are things THAT bad where fast food workers are expected to drop everything and lick the customers boots if asked? I was entirely annoyed at only myself as they can't read my mind.
I took it because they insisted but I feel bad about it. Like when an older person tries to give you money when you know they need it more but you also know it will upset them if you don't take it.
From an RHUer:
So I was pleased to land a job at PetsRUs. It started out rather well, I was older than other employees. I proved I was hardcore early on, tarantulas? No problem. Rats and rodents of all kinds? My kid has rats for pets and they're cute. Snakes? Don't like them but not afraid of 'em. The bully breed dogs customers bring in? Love them, I have two at home. Okay so tolerable second job.
Then of course things fall apart. One of the first things I noticed was how quickly people disappeared. A co-worker and the manager that hired me POOF, gone just like that...the second week I was there. The next one was finding out which critters various co-workers were afraid of. You work in a pet store and perhaps you'd be pretty open to all creatures right? Wrong.
Next indication of where people stood. I overheard the store manager talking to someone while stocking shelves " Stupid people who spend money for clothes, toys, horseshit overpriced food...they're animals". Okay so obviously he's bitter that he didn't get a district manager gig. The next issue was following corporate guidelines. A shout out to anyone dealing with senior aged underlings, we like to know "why".
Young employees will suck up your commands without question. Us old folks tend to actually think. Wow what a concept. So there was the matter of changing cages. If you have experience with small animals you know there are cedar shavings and various kinds of paper litter for the bottom of a cage. Maybe twice in the same week I was told I "used the wrong litter and the cage had to be changed".
It turns out big corporate had guidelines on exactly the type and color of litter in each cage. It doesn't matter they all basically do the same thing. Okay gray crumble for hamsters, small crumble for other rodents, green litter for birds only and the ferrets get one kind in cage and another in their litter box. Unless the store runs out. Then you take litter off the shelves. When that runs out you cannot substitute another type. Maybe someone has to make a run to a sister store for the right bag.
The event that made me realize what kind of store I was in. They kept sick animals in the back room. They were supposed to be checked regularly. Don't forget people being afraid of certain animals. The guinea pigs did well. The rats, mice and snakes were lucky to get water. This back room was a death sentence. There was one rat that I knew was suffering. Swollen feet, labored breathing, after a week the manager got the vet. She left antibiotic and instructions to hand feed him.
When I was off they left food and water...not noticing he couldn't get to either. Finally the manager said I could take him home. The first day he ate from my hands everything he could. He must have been starving. By the second day I took him to my vet who was shocked he had been allowed to grow so ill. She put him to sleep on my dime. They eventually fired me for not answering the phone in the set script. At will and you don't even get a second chance...bastards.
From Assistant Diva:
So, I wasn't sure if they existed or not, but it turns out that by reading Freeman's books, I was able to prepare mentally for it at my new job: My very own Shoposaurus.
Now, I don't work at a commissions based job. I am actually a customer service rep for a dry cleaner that specializes in silks (though we do other things too). I am unsure of how this happened, but I was trained in everything from checking it in, to the actual dry cleaning, to the pressing, to the bagging, to returning the clothing to the customer and accepting payment. Somehow, my Shoposaurus (who I will henceforth call Beaker, because this is who he tends to remind me of with how high strung he can be) found out that I am trained this way.
When he comes in, he brings a good amount of laundry to be taken care of -- like, two week's worth. He now calls ahead to talk to me and make sure that I am there, as he is quite busy and waiting in line is not an option half of the time. He then asks to make sure I get his starch right and to press his clothes (our presser, "June," tends to "leave creases in (his) cuffs" and he hates that), then can I make sure to not leave cardboard backing in his folded shirts? Oh, and the pants need bagged backwards.
He will then call at the end of the week and ask if I am there and if I can have his stuff pulled from the line and waiting for him. He will then tell me if he is in his BMW or his Volkwagen and with a glance I can tell Beaker is here.
Now, he is incredibly high maintenance and he always leaves me exhausted during his weeks, but he always tips me generously and today even brought me a coffee from the local Starbucks because he remembered me mentioning this week I have a huge math test I need to study for.
I rather like having my own Shoposaurus. It's a lot of work to keep him happy, but he always makes sure I'm taken care of for taking the extra mile to pretty much follow his clothes through the line and accept his called in orders.
May your favorites bring gifts!