I spend a lot of time talking about what ex-offenders can do to get and keep a job. But listening to an NPR report today about the mine disaster in West Virginia reminded me that knowing when to say no to certain jobs– and certain employer requests — can be just as important.
Just to be clear: I’m not saying mine owner Massey Energy Co. was responsible for the explosion that killed at least 25 people. While some reports suggest there had been several safety violations at the Upper Big Branch mine, investigators still need to sort out what happened. What caught my attention was a guest on the radio program who commented that mine workers needed to be better educated about the hazardous conditions they work in every day — the high incidence of black lung disease, for example, which is on the rise again even after air quality safety measures introduced in 1995. Even now, he said, young people continue to follow their parents into these jobs, despite the inherent dangers, because they feel they have no other options.
This took me back to a story I heard from an ex-offender last year. The man felt his employer had taken advantage of him because as a former felon he had no where else to go. For example, while other workers at his construction site used safety harnesses on upper floors and scaffolding, this man wasn’t given any safety equipment. Later, when he injured his back on the job, his boss declined to get him treatment. In fact, the man’s supervisor told him that if he took work off to see a doctor, he would be fired. This particular man had two kids to support. He feared his probation officer would be disappointed if he didn’t keep his job. What do you think he did?
The truth is, when you’re grateful to have any work, as many ex-offenders are, you can find yourself in a tough position if an employer wants to take advantage of the situation. I’m not suggesting anyone go looking for problems, or that you quit the minute you’re assigned a task you’d rather not do. In many cases the only position you may be able to get with a record will require you to start at the bottom. Moving beyond the criminal mindset often means going from an attitude of entitlement to one of humility.
But there’s a difference between a job that requires you to get your hands dirty and one where you’re endangered or subjected to outright abuse. And regardless of what you’re done in the past, it’s important to remember that you have certain rights as an employee and as a person.
So what should you do if you feel you’re in a work situation that is unhealthy?
- Seek counsel from someone you trust. Talk to your job counselor, your p.o., or someone else who understands your situation, but can also be objective. Lay out the facts. See what they say. You want to get a reality check to make sure this isn’t just you feeling paranoid or persecuted…
- Evaluate your other options and the viability of finding another job. They say the best time to find a new job is when you’re currently employed. So start looking around for something better.
- If you feel your health is truly endangered or you’re being subjected to outright abuse or harrassment, you may be better off leaving the job immediately. People will treat you the way you expect to be treated. Remaining in a bad situation will only breed more resentment on your part, which can lead right back to old behavioral patterns. This could be more detrimental to your reentry than leaving the job.
Readers, how about you? Has anyone had a bad employment experience following their release? What did you do? Or how did your counselors advise you to handle it?