Problems at work
Hi, my name is Sara, and I'm new to the forum. I had an issue come up at work today that I wanted to be able to discuss with other stutters in hopes that maybe someone else could understand.
My boss told me yesterday that people have been complaining at work because I stutter on the phone (first I've heard of it being a problem) and that it's been a "concern" and that it would be an issue on my surprise job evaluation next week. I was upset, tried to explain to her how and why that's troubling, but was really too shocked and upset to say everything I should have. So today, I went back in and talked to the executive director of my organization.
The executive director told me that people who call our organization have complained about not understanding me (I can, by the way, answer a phone most of the time and be perfectly clear), that the "customer is always right" (we are not a customer service organization), and that if he decided my stutter made me incapable of being a receptionist, he could and would fire me. I tried to explain things like the ADA, and how it's a disability, and he can't use my stutter as cause to fire me. So he said there's "other things," like me "not performing job duties." When I asked what job duties they are, he got angry with me, said I should "just know" even though he didn't, and asked me didn't I read the want ad when I applied for the job in May. He then said that it was on me to be "assertive" and that I should be held responsible for my boss not meeting with me to tell me what to do as my job. I said all of this was derailing, and the issue was whether or not I would be evaluated based on my stutter. He said he has the "right" to fire me if he thinks that this job isn't a "good fit" for me because of my stutter and that he "isn't a lawyer" but he doesn't agree with me calling it discrimination.
After a frustrating hour of being told I was "too angry" for asking to not be told I might be fired over a stutter I, admittedly, started to cry. (Not something I'm proud of), he told me I was "too upset to work and should probably go home." Oh, only if I wasn't suicidal, though! (Seriously, he asked if I was going to kill myself. Why, I do not know.) I said all I really wanted to be know was that I wasn't going to be fired because of my stuttering, and he said he couldn't guarantee that.
I was shocked that anyone would think that was okay. Most of the time, I can handle the phone. It's stressful, sure, but it's not like I didn't know I was going to be answering phones, and I thought I was doing fine. He could not understand how telling me that my stutter could get me fired was making a hostile work environment.
It's been a while since I've dealt with discrimination at this level, and I'm still reeling from this. I obviously can't lose my job, since I need the money, and while I plan to file an EEOC complaint, I hate that it even has to get to that level. Especially because this is a non-profit who often works with people with disabilities!
Has anyone else dealt with something like this? I don't get to talk to other stutterers very much, and I'd love the opportunity to talk to other people who know what it's like to live with this.
As the company works with the disabled, and they were aware of your own disability when you were hired, they are being hypocritical. To criticize you for your stutter at this point is ridiculous. The senselessness of their position is shown by the false accusation of your supposedly not performing job duties that they can't specify. In my opinion, some people at your workplace are uncomfortable with your stutter and don't want to have to deal with it. I experienced that sort of prejudice many times. People who see themselves as tolerant but can't handle your stutter will sometimes blame you for their inability to deal with their discomfort. They can't really say why, but somehow it's your fault. Discrimination is usually based on ignorance and fear, and people will sometimes go to amazing lengths to justify their hateful and stupid beliefs. My suggestion is to file the EEOC complaint, file one on the state level as well, and (if you can afford it) contact a lawyer who has handled discrimination cases. Protect yourself.
This really is very shocking, and I feel for you. But maybe it's also a warning bell that maybe this employer / organisation for which you work is not worth working for? Lodging an official complaint is certainly your right and maybe a good idea, but it could also create a lot of unpleasantness and stress for you within the workplace - and as much of stuttering is stress-related, it could further impact your speech. If I were you I would rather start looking for another employer who is of higher quality - there are many, many people out there who are sympathetic toward people who stutter. Whatever you do, all the best. PS maybe also place your post on the Community's Facebook page at [url]https://www.facebook.com/groups/98233252577/[/url] as many more people will probably see it there.
I have had this sort of thing happen to me at my previous past 2 jobs. It has been braught up in every performance review that I have received and when I call them on it they backpeddle and say it affects my job performance. For example: one employer said it seems like I dont know what I want to say and that clients have complained about it. the other one said it was a safety aspect (I had a field job). If i were to give any advice, I would say go find a job at a huge international company. At my current job which is an international company with 10,000 plus employees. The bosses dont care about those kind of things; they only care that I perform and make money for the company. They dont sit there, micromanage and nit pick you.
I have always found that the more education a person has AND the more confidence they have in themselves, the better they treat me. So, I suggest that you more up the food chain, so to speak. Get more education and get a higher skilled job. People higher up seem (at least to me) more patient.
Hope this helps. But, I am so sorry for what your going through. I have been there as well. :-(
Last edited by manlystanley; 12-18-2014 at 01:00 PM.
What kind of industry are you in? Do people know you stutter? Objectively, there are instances where if it's really bad it's just an inconvenience, but it's pretty socially inept for your coworkers to complain about it. I've stuttered my socks off, and never had any complaints... I'm sure I've been judged based off of it, but the only time someone directly brought it up were very poorly educated girls I was set up on religious dates with. I have found a pretty good correlation b/w education level and how much people care. Job wise, most employers wouldn't be dumb enough to bring it up. If I was him I'd state a different reason, and never touch on a stutter, wheelchair, race, gender. It's just plane suicidal from a public relations and business standpointl.
I'm still just a law student so this isn't legal advice but you both make valid points, and you should consult a lawyer. Stuttering is kind of a double edged sword in the sense that it's only protected if it's a disability, but if speaking is an essential part of your job then there's something called a legitimate business reason for firing you based off of it. If your job is being a customer service rep then communication is key, but it's fallacious to say that stuttering = poor communication. Even on the phone, tone of voice and the actual words you say are probably more important than fluency. There are some new changes, and I'm not so informed so consult a lawyer but it may be possible your stuttering doesn't have to be horrendous to be a disability if others regard as disabling. Based off your boss' response, it seems s/he certainly finds it disabling.
Feel free to e-mail me firstname.lastname@example.org. Again, this isn't legal advice. I just want to make sure a fellow stutter isn't walked over. It would also be totally normal for you to have an emotional reaction to this. Your livelihood is threatened because of a somewhat immutable trait you were born with and didn't ask for. Duh, you'd be emotional.
In general, I've found that the perception of it changes once people get to know you. It's not that you're more comfortable stuttering so much as it is that other people realize that it's not that you're nervous, inhibited, insecure or awkward. We know what stuttering is and anybody can find this out on their own, but people aren't gonna spend the time to research it. I think in general there's an inborn bias to discriminate against any abnormality, but people don't want to treat others unfairly. The only instance where hiding it is beneficial is if you never stutter. That may be useful at a job interview, but not on the job. Your boss knows you do now, but do your coworkers? Why are they complaining about your stutter? It all seems bizarre. Don't they have jobs to do?
Last edited by rer262; 01-08-2015 at 04:10 AM.