Age Is No Guarantee Of Respect

, , , , , | Working | May 29, 2020

I’ve been working for a local optician since I was thirteen. I started by doing their filing on Saturday mornings and progressed to doing full Saturdays or Sundays, working with customers selecting glasses and doing the pre-screen tests.

Eventually, I’m promoted to Sunday manager when I’m sixteen. This isn’t a big role and I’m mostly given it because often I’m the only permanent staff member working with one or two external contractors. Really, all it means in practice is that I have shop keys and the alarm codes.

This takes place on a Friday when the normal manager and the owner both aren’t around. It isn’t really a problem as we all know our tasks and everything has been fine until closing procedures. The team today includes me, a few others who are in their twenties, and a man in his late fifties who isn’t a manager but took the shop keys from the owner when he left.

Importantly, we all have the same status in the business; the older man has the same training level as I do. The shop closes at 5:00 but we’re paid until 5:30 to finish closing out. It’s currently ten past 5:00 and I’m doing paperwork, not noticing that a lot of others have already left.

Older Man: “Okay, stop what you’re doing. We can finish the last bits tomorrow. A few of us have a train to catch so we need to go.”

I’m doing closing paperwork.

Me: “Oh, it’s okay, [Older Man]. I’ve got my keys so I’ll finish this bit up and I’ll lock up.”

Older Man: “No, we need to go now. I can’t miss my train.”

Me: “No, it’s fine. You can go, and so can anyone else who has a train, because I have keys to lock up.”

Older Man: “No, I need to show you out of the building.”

Me: “Why? I have my own keys and I lock up by myself on Sundays.”

Older Man: “Don’t argue with me!”

Me: “But I don’t have anywhere to be, and if I don’t finish this paperwork, [Owner] will be really angry. We are paid for another twenty minutes, anyway. I’ll finish this and do the last closing out bits, but it won’t take long, so you can go. It’s fine for me to lock up; I do it every weekend.”

Older Man: *Shouting* “I will not be spoken to like that!”

Me: “Like what? I’m saying go get your train; don’t worry about me.”

Older Man: “That’s it! Go and get your coat and bag and get out! I’m not leaving you alone in the building!”

He’s about an inch away from my face and shouting. I’m sixteen and not used to confrontations, I also suffer from social anxiety disorder, so this is a huge situation. I feel my throat starting to tighten, so I wordlessly leave what I was doing and walk upstairs to get my coat.

Older Man: “Go! Faster! You’re making us all wait for you!”

Me: *Crying* “You don’t have to wait for me!”

Older Man: “Go! F****** H***, WHY DON’T YOU LISTEN!”

I grab my bag, accidentally leaving some of my things behind in a panic, and practically run out the door, still crying.

The next day, I’m called into the owner’s office and I expect it to be because of the unfinished paperwork.

Me: “Yes, [Owner]?”

Owner: “I want to speak to you about your behaviour yesterday. [Older Man] said you were really rude to him.”

Me: “What?! No, that’s not what happened! He wanted to leave early because of his train and I told him he could go but I needed to finish things up so I would stay and lock up.”

Owner: “That’s not what I was told, and it doesn’t matter anyway; I won’t have people arguing here. You need to go and apologise.”

Me: “I’m not going to apologise for offering to cover for him while he left early and being shouted at.”

Owner: “I’m telling you to go and apologise. If you don’t, well…”

He trails off but glares at me in a meaningful way.

Me: “No, I’m not going to.”

Owner: “Then I guess you’ve made your decision. Good luck finding another job at your age.”

I walked out of his office and then out of the store without speaking to anyone, upset and very angry but too righteous to ever apologise when I hadn’t done anything wrong. I wrote my resignation letter that night, and then I updated my CV and emailed it to a few rival opticians. 

Thankfully, because I had years of experience and had been trained on everything that didn’t require a degree, from pre-testing to dispensing and fitting glasses despite having the low minimum wage and salary expectations of a teenager, I had a job offer within two days.

I’ve since been back to that optician as it was the cheapest place to get new glasses and the older man came over to say, “No hard feelings, eh?” I blanked him and walked away.

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