When I became a mom I was tutoring for one of those companies where rich people send their kids.
Well, actually, when I became a mom I was on unpaid maternity leave from my tutoring job because tutoring jobs almost never hire full-time tutors, and that means you don’t get benefits like maternity leave when you work for them.
I was a dedicated employee. I showed up on time. My students liked me. I kept working until the week before my due date. I did things like play indoor Frisbee and basketball as motivators for my students, even late in my pregnancy.
When I was on maternity leave I received several messages from students who were desperate for me to return.
Things were going well.
But when I came back, I was not welcomed as kindly as I’d hoped.
My availability had shifted a bit, as it does when one has a baby, and I was hoping to ease back into the job by only working three or four days a week. I didn’t think this was a big deal because even people who had been there for years were only available three or four days a week.
But I still offered the necessary time slots and even took on unnecessary hours.
I was instructed to pump my breasts in the bathroom, which really bummed me out at first until I looked it up and realized IT’S THE LAW TO NOT MAKE MOMS DO THAT.
So I brought up some different location options with my supervisors. One told me that the toilet scene had worked for another girl who had worked there before.
I guess I was supposed to buck up and be like her. But instead I said that it just wouldn’t work for me. Not because I have a lot of clout at this place, but because I knew I had the literal law to back me up.
They couldn’t say no. But they could and did make me feel weird about bringing it up. I was made to feel like I was being needy and annoying.
Thankfully, the next day when I came to work they had set aside a tiny room for me to use for pumping. I felt like they were suddenly a little bit scared of me for standing up for myself and knowing my rights, because they kept asking how I liked it.
They wanted to know what I thought of the fancy “new curtain” they put in the room so that no one could see me pumping through the window. I was like, “HEY FIVE MINUTES AGO YOU WANTED ME TO DO THIS ON THE TOILET, so forgive me for being apathetic.”
As the weeks went by, my hours started to get cut, supposedly because there weren’t that many students.
Meanwhile, the company was hiring more tutors. I also noticed on the schedule that tutors who had been hired after me were being given hours that were in my availability range.
Just because I had become a mother didn’t mean I had become an idiot.
I realized then that I was being “phased out.” But I wasn’t going to go without a fight, so I worked my ass off.
As I said before, I was no slouch when it came to teaching (I have many years of teaching experience under my belt), but I started to work even harder, saying all the right things and schmoozing with all the right people. The company gave evaluations to its tutors every week or so, and I was hitting those bad boys out of the park.
If I was going to get “phased out,” I was sure as hell going to know it wasn’t because I was bad at my job.
A few weeks later, I wrote an email to my boss saying that I could use more hours and asking if there was anything I could do to increase my hours.
My boss responded by saying that it was really just the current need (including two full paragraphs on the number of students and the hours they came in for tutoring, etc.). At the end of the email, he mentioned that I should look to my recent evaluations to see any changes that needed to be made.
He then copy-and-pasted the text from my most recent evaluation with a few things upon which I could improve.
Of course, having worked there for a year at this point, I knew that all evaluation sheets included sections for things we should continue doing and sections for areas where we needed improvement.
I had been told on numerous occasions that there were always areas where everyone could improve, so the improvement section always needed to be filled in, no matter how well the employee was doing.
I knew that this was just his way of saying “there is always more to work on!” and that if he actually had a concern about my performance, he would have
1. Emailed me about it first, and
2. Brought it up in person with me at some point.
But he didn’t. My performance wasn’t the issue. I actually thought, “Okay, maybe they aren’t trying to phase me out.” I supposed I could have been imagining it.
I had done what I needed to and requested more hours, so I was confident that my boss would at least do what he could to help.
Going to work was just a strange ritual that had almost no return on investment.
Not so. On the next schedule, my hours were even less than they had been before. Not more; not the same amount; but less.
And the time slots were, yet again, being filled with recent hires.
I knew that my availability wasn’t exactly what they would have hoped, but this was unacceptable. I was already making pocket change at this point, so going to work was just a strange ritual that had almost no return on investment.
Thankfully my husband came home from his job before I had to go to work.
If childcare had been necessary, I would have been making something like $158 a week.
I was furious. The people I had so enjoyed working for pre-pregnancy now seemed to wish I didn’t exist. I felt like now that I had a consistent life and wasn’t young and new and shiny and willing to put up with the lack of consistency in the schedule, I was being thrown aside.
My employee friends kept asking me why I was taking so much time off and I had to tell them that it wasn’t on purpose. I was being treated like someone who was dispensable because I spoke my mind about my needs.
But I was not going to let that happen. If I was going to be dispensed, at least I was going to speak up about it.
So I responded to my boss’ email with a much longer one. To this day it is one of the writings of which I am most proud, though only two people (my husband included) ever saw it up until this point. I have pasted a bit of it here below:
“I believe we hold the highest standards in terms of our students and their needs.
I do think that this circumstance (and perhaps a few others) prove that _______ could use improvement as far as holding those same standards of for its employees. What I mean to say is that I think if you considered this a little more, you would see that it is just as important to give the employees the empathy they deserve (in my case that would mean understanding that I am using the tools I am given to get the childcare I need, which happens to come at the cost of some availability).
I also believe it is important for ______ to produce consistency in the entire office, which means trying to retain its team members and incentivize their stay. In my case that means seeing that I am one of the tutors that has been at _______ for the longest time. I am sure that the company would prefer to avoid a high turnover rate, and thus would rather retain those team members who have already put in the time to deserve their place. I consider myself one of those people. Therefore, I think it would behoove the center to put those values in place for me in this circumstance. I also think that, though my schedule is inconsistent, there are ways that the center could still fill in the gaps each week – whether it be doing office tasks, preparing for events, or other necessary jobs.
Regarding my performance, I am aware of the necessary refinements that were written on my year review documents, and I have made improvement since then (c.c. my most recent evaluations). Please let me know if you have questions!
Best Regards (I didn’t really mean this at this point),
I sent this email out on a Tuesday, and returned to work the rest of the following week. During that time my boss was conveniently out of the office or on calls during all of the hours that I worked.
The following Wednesday I was told to go to my boss’ office. I was relieved, because I thought it meant he wanted to have a conversation about my email.
But he didn’t say anything about the email. Instead, he told me I was fired and handed me an envelope with information about how I was allowed to talk about the company.
I had been fired for a week now, and he had only just gotten around to telling me.
I was being treated like someone who was dispensable because I spoke my mind about my needs.
I looked in the envelope and found a form that had been filled out the previous Wednesday (the day after he had received my email) that noted that I was to be let go. I had been fired for a week now, and he had only just gotten around to telling me.
Furthermore, the reason for my termination was “poor work performance.” I laughed aloud to see this sit on my desk on top of my recent evaluations (filled to the edges with things that I had been doing well and with only one or two notes about improvements that could be made).
One week prior I was an employee who was only getting cut from the schedule because of the company’s current need and now I was being fired for “poor work performance.”
All of this because I knew I wasn’t being treated fairly and spoke up about it.
My husband urged me to file a complaint against the company with the EEOC. So I did. All of my fellow-employee-friends agreed that I had been unjustly fired and offered to be references for the application.
After months of back-and-forths, the case what shut down because, as I suspected, the company’s requirement to record areas for improvement’ in every evaluation basically meant that the company always had evidence on file to support “poor work performance.” They had the paperwork ready at any given time to fire someone for no good reason.
It was difficult to accept that all of the work I had put into my job had culminated into being fired for speaking my mind about my needs as a new mom.
When I look back I see the struggle of being a working mom in a place where moms are not the preferred employees.
I tell myself to look back on my time there as a learning experience that gave me a way to make money during my transformation into being a mother. But most of the time when I look back I just see the struggle of being a working mom in a place where moms are not the preferred employees.
I see the cowardice of company leaders who are tired of dealing with people who speak up for themselves. I see the pain of this happening a hundred more times for a hundred more moms like me in the future.
My story is not a traumatic one. I know other parents have had it far worse than I. My story is a simple one that can easily be played off by them as “poor performance” and by me as my having a job that “just didn’t work out with my schedule.”
But I choose to tell it like it really was for me because I know there are other stories like it that deserve that same reality check.