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Saturday, January 10, 2015

An Elevator Ride And A FAB Dress

It was the beginning of another work day. Trent and I stopped at the restaurant in the lobby of our building to pick up some breakfast to eat at our desks and headed over to the elevators. Although there were several elevators going up to our tower of the building, their response time was not very fast, so when I saw that one was getting ready to depart, I stuck my arm in to keep the doors from closing. There was one other person in the elevator, and even though we apologized for the (all of ten seconds) delay, he was visibly upset that we had made him wait. And when I say visibly angry, I mean that he was almost trembling with fury, as well as cursing and mumbling on the ride.

When the elevator stopped on his floor, I was overcome with a mixture of smart-aleckiness and genuine good wishes. I wanted him to have an improvement in his day, and I wanted to give him an opportunity to hit his attitude reset button. So I cheerily said as he departed, "I hope you have a really great day!" He turned on his heel and shouted, "I hope you do, too, you fat-a$$ b!tch!" Trent hollered, "Hey!" and tried to go after him, but I stopped him. It wasn't advisable or necessary. 

When I told my co-workers about what happened, they were adamant that I needed to call Human Resources or the person's manager and complain about his outburst, because I was a victim of workplace harassment. I called someone I knew who worked on the floor where he was working and described his attire, which was black trousers and a black-background flowered shirt. She found out what his name was and, as I recall, connected me with his manager. I went about my business and started to train my class. At one point, I looked up and saw a man standing in the doorway wearing black trousers and a flowered shirt. For a moment, I was almost paralyzed with fear. Luckily, it was someone making a food delivery and not the angry employee, but my reaction told me that if his anger was intense enough to leave me in fear, it was important that I had notified his manager.

At the time of the incident, I did not have a local manager. Our department had downsized, and the closest person I had in a management position was in Minnesota. In other words, I was on my own. Later in the day, I was contacted by someone in HR and asked to attend a meeting with Angry Man's manager and their HR representative. This was fine with me. I let my upper-level manager know what was going on, and went into the meeting. 

The manager in question told me that she had discussed the incident with Angry Man, who was employed through a temporary agency. He told her that I had egged him on by saying what I did. Right. She made me do it. Isn't that one of the oldest excuses in the world? She also mentioned that he had never been in any trouble. And then I spoke. Although I was hurt and angry because I felt like I was being told that everything was my fault, I spoke calmly, and almost eloquently. I freely admitted that my comment to him was delivered with mixed feelings, but that I did, indeed, want him to have a nice day. Then I offered some food for thought. What if I had been a customer on her way to a meeting? Even worse, what if I happened to be someone who was on the brink of suicide because she was so terribly upset about her weight? 

I continued. As a trainer of newly hired employees, one of my responsibilities at that time was to stress the importance of understanding what constituted workplace harassment, as well as stressing the company's zero-tolerance policy regarding workplace harassment. Was I not training what the company believed? Should I discontinue telling my trainees that the bank would not tolerate abusive, harassing behavior, the very type of behavior to which I had been subjected that very morning? Additionally, if Angry Man had such a volatile temper that a delay of his elevator was enough for him to violently explode, was he someone that we really felt safe having in our building? He was obviously furious even before Trent and I had our encounter with him.

The manager and the HR representative looked at one another and agreed with all of the points I made. I am not vindictive. If the person in question was an employee, I would have wanted him to have some much-needed HR training. But since he was not technically an employee of the bank, he would not be losing his job. He was simply no longer welcome to work at our bank. The manager expressed that she would love to have me working in her department, which was a wonderful compliment. I went back to my office feeling that I had done something important that day. I had refused to be victimized by Angry Man, or further victimized by a failure of the system. And through it all, I retained my composure and my integrity.

The dress I wore to work that day was one of my favorites. It was a long, and very comfortable, t-shirt style dress with red at the top, a band of white, and then navy blue down to the bottom. Every time I looked at that dress after that incident, though, I thought of it as my FAB dress, the dress I wore when I was called a fat-a$$ b!tch  by someone who was uncontrollably and violently angry. I only wore it a couple of times after that, because the association was always in my mind, and always bothered me. It made me both happy and sad. Happy because the bank stood behind me, but sad that I had encountered someone who was so full of anger and hate that a ten-second delay made him start cursing and screaming. In retrospect, I realize that I was fortunate that he didn't come completely unhinged and harm either Trent or me. Needless to say, I no longer own the dress. I wasn't able to separate it from the event in my mind. But I kept my self-respect and my knowledge that my company would protect staff by doing the right thing. That was what was most important.

Note: Someone being abusive or violent to you in the workplace is not okay. Sometimes a person who behaves this way is on the path to a tragically violent outburst. If you have an encounter with a fellow employee that is inappropriate or frightens you, notify someone in management or HR as soon as possible to protect yourself and others.