Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Sick, Or Just Pretending?

Cold Begone! I'm tired of you hanging around and making my otherwise lovely days miserable. I'm tired of sniffling and coughing. You have worn out your welcome, so leave me in peace! When I worked in restaurants, one thing that constantly amazed me was the way that managers reacted to sick employees. Unless a worker was sick enough to need hospitalization, the best they could hope for was a manager with no sympathy. More often than not, you'd get accused of faking illness to get out of work. And if you didn't come in, none of the management would ever believe you were really sick - they had always known that you were a lazy good-for-nothing, even if you did save their butts on more occasions than you can count by answering their 10:00 AM summons on your off days - and then working double shifts. I saw this up close in my last job, where I went from being a waitress to being the Administrative Assistant (capital letters more than deserved, as I worked for 7 managers - usually all men). Whenever a server would call in, whatever managers were present would have five minutes of conversation about the fact that the employee was obviously faking. They would inevitably try to convince the employee to come to work anyway. If that failed, then the server would be told to get a doctor's note before coming back to work. Even when the servers provided the note, they often still weren't believed. Even if the doctor told them that they had strep and needed to stay away from every living soul for at least 3 days, the managers would be suspicious. Only if said employee were actually admitted to a hospital and had an IV tube inserted would they be believed. The end result? In the 5 1/2 years I was at that restaurant, I called in sick for a total of 3 days - and two of them were because of some horrible pukey-sickness that made my doctor tell me not to go near anyone. 99% of the time when I felt ill, I went to work sick and let them see how miserable I was. About 33% of the time I would be sent home. I vividly remember waiting tables with a cough so bad that I had to leave a table of four on three separate occasions - while I was trying to take their order. They did not appreciate the fact that I was working while sick. And I'd be willing to bet that most people would rather their server not be sneezing and coughing more often than not during their shift. And heaven forbid you should make a joke, smile, or in any way display anything other than complete misery while you're "supposed" to be sick. The second you do, a manager will jump out at you and declare "OH! You must be feeling better! Told you that you didn't need to go home." And that attitude is considered putting the customer first. Well, this weekend I got the cold from Hell. Luckily, the worst of it has been amazingly short-lived. Or it might be the fact that I took such a large quantity of Day-Quil (or Day-Quil knock-offs) over a four day period that I am actually still medicated, 24 hours after taking my last dose. Monday afternoon, though, I was not feeling quite this well. I work 1-10 PM on Mondays, so I got to sleep in (which is always good). But the hour-long drive to work made me realize that the drive home - at 10 PM - would seem a lot longer than usual. And then I got to work, and was reminded that sometimes supervisors don't want their employees to come in sick. My supervisor happens to be on vacation this week. But by 6 PM - my dinner break time - I had been asked by more than one person why I felt the need to come to work while I was sick. "Don't you know we get sick leave for a reason?" And then, two other supervisors said the magic words. They told me that if I'm sick, I shouldn't come to work, because A.) I won't get better any faster and B.) No one else wants to get it. I should stay home and rest. And they sent me home. I think I was actually a little shocked. I felt like a wimp. "Wait!" I wanted to yell. “I can handle a 4 table station on a Friday night when I've lost my voice and can't breathe without coughing up mucous! And you won't let me sit behind a desk for 4 hours because I have a cold??!! I'm not a wimp!" And then I realized: I'm now in the real world. Not the artificially-ego-centric world of restaurants. I can go home and still get paid. And if I don't feel good tomorrow, I can call these people and tell them I'm not coming to work because I’m still sick ---- and they'll believe me. It was a weird feeling. Still is. But I like it.

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