So then...

About Me

Welcome to my blog. My pen name is Eva James. I'm an aspiring writer paying the bills working as a legal secretary. Relentlessly bullied by my former boss, I looked for another job but the recession hit. Feeling trapped, I recorded everything in this blog, which serves as a revealing insight into workplace bullying. WEEK 1 starts the story and, as the weeks progress, you'll note what starts as banter soon spirals out of control. Sadly, it's all true. Whilst along the way I've found alternative employment, my passion for blogging about workplace bullying remains. Trevor Griffiths, legendary theatre, TV and film writer said at the outset, "I like the writing a lot: smart, cool, placed. If you were prepared/able to take your prick of a boss on, you'd marmelise him."

Thursday, 31 December 2009

Absent Friends

It’s the last day of 2009 and who can help looking back? It’s been a tough year and I can’t believe in a few days I’ll go back to the law firm I planned to leave a year ago. Back then, PHILIP was sacking two secretaries a month. His tempers still intimidate. We lost about two support staff a month to walk outs. Temps came, cried and left. We were always short staffed and someone was always in tears. I tried to find another job and I stopped bothering to ask people’s names.

When HOWARD’S original secretary joined us, she was different. Her sense of humour killed me. When she invited me round for tea, I accepted. She let me borrow her DVDs. I met her boyfriend. Before I knew it, I’d made a real friend. Work felt like different place, and when HOWARD got too much – she stuck up for me. The trouble was, of course, she was disgusted at the way secretaries are treated.

I tried to get her to stay calm, but within six months they’d got to her. They messed her about after she’d been ill, trying to claw back her sick pay. Things got nasty. By the time she walked out I no longer recognised her from the funny, confident girl she’d been when she started.

I should have done this sooner. I’ve sat there for eight hours a day and been too scared of not finding a secure alternative job in the recession. All those times when I wanted to yell at PHILIP to stop swearing; when I wanted to tell OLLIE to go to hell, when HOWARD was going too far - I said nothing.

My friends are long gone. Their names remain in the computer directory to remind me; colleagues who were sacked or left through stress. I’ve been left behind. So here we are. It’s almost midnight. The fireworks will go off and they’ll be singing in the streets.:-

For old lang syne, my dear,
For old lang syne,
We'll take a cup o' kindness yet,
For the sake of old lang syne

To my absent friends. My New Years Resolution is to join you.
Happy New Year. Lots of love, Eva x

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

WEEK 25 Merry Christmas

On the 12th day of Christmas my boss sent to me:-

12 pro suicide e-mails
11 written warnings
10 death visualisations
9 male hookers
8 dating websites
7 make-over specials
6 cans of dog food
5 les-bi-ans
4 hangman’s nooses
3 death threats
2 body bags
And a partridge in a pear tree.

Merry Christmas everyone,

Heaps of Christmas love. See you soon,

Eva x

Friday, 18 December 2009

WEEK 24 Ignorance is Bliss

The Employment Lawyer asked for a word in private. She was cagey about what was happening. Her colleague was the one dealing with matters; she was helping out. She said I’d probably be approached by the office junior’s firm of solicitors asking for a witness statement about HOWARD’S bullying. She also said her colleague would ask me to make a witness statement supporting HOWARD. I swallowed.

Everything is horribly complicated. HOWARD’S problems at home, my problems with HOWARD, the office junior’s sacking…everything seems to be, well, in collision. It’s becoming the legal equivalent of a motorway pile up. The worst thing is that for a few days my Bullied by the Boss blog felt like an oil tanker thundering towards it all. With hindsight it’s a tad overdramatic, but that’s how it felt.

How was I supposed to provide a supportive witness statement for HOWARD when Bullied by the Boss is the mother of all witness statements against him?

I tried talking to HOWARD. “Can’t you put it down to banter?” I asked.

“Don’t you understand how this works? Take you and me, for example. Taken out of context, the man in the suit at the Tribunal won’t be happy that I encourage you to hang yourself. Context is everything!”

I’d totally put my foot in it. Annoyed at my ignorance, HOWARD sent me an e-mail showing how he could convince a Court of law, by tweaking the truth, that I’m the one bullying him. “You see,” he’d written. “Context is everything.”

He began showing off. Everything innocent thing said in front of us by colleagues was magically transformed. This person could be done for bullying…that person for sexual harassment. He could bring someone else up on intimidation. He rammed his message home. Context is everything, he repeated.

When a third e-mail arrived, showing off his legal skills, I was annoyed. HOWARD was trying to prove his innocence by showing how easy it is to prove innocent people guilty. What’s next? Sending them to prison?

I’m not a lawyer so perhaps it’s easy for me to talk. I don’t have any legal angles to take into account. I’m hoping to avoid getting drawn in any further than I am. I don’t know what the outcome will be, but the law being as it is, it moves slowly and it’s a long way down the road yet.

I’m out of the loop. The Employment Team are having regular meetings. I don’t know what’s going on. HOWARD, huffy at my naiveté, eventually calmed down.

When it comes to this sort of complication at work - ignorance is bliss.

See you soon,

Eva x

Monday, 14 December 2009

WEEK 23 The Truth and Nothing But...

Now and again you have a day in which everything changes. It starts out normal and then gets more and more – well, surreal isn’t a strong enough word. I’d booked the morning off. With the fuss HOWARD kicked up before I left you would have thought it was a sabbatical. Last week, when I had handed in my holiday form, HOWARD handed in a request that the Sunshine Variety Club replace me with a different “spastic” for him to teach basic typing, preferably one who takes fewer half day holidays.

I knew something was up. I asked HOWARD if I’d missed anything and he said no. He was cryptic though and the PM seemed to know what he was on about. Then HOWARD sent me an e-mail which said to double delete what he sends me. Another e-mail arrived with a single attachment. Opening it, I thought for one horrifying, jaw dropping moment that he’d found notes I’d made for my blog. Then I understood in a similarly horrifying, jaw dropping moment that I was reading something legal – and written by somebody else.

It was an extract of a witness statement, written by our former office junior, proposing to take legal action against the firm for unfair dismissal due to her medical condition. She cites HOWARD’S bullying as a big part of this.

The office junior was sacked months ago due to ill health. I won’t say what it was – she was sensitive about it. She missed a lot of work. The witness statement was specific. Amongst other things it accuses HOWARD of insulting her disorder, looks, weight, figure, her background and the amount of money she earned.

HOWARD forwarded me the lengthy rebuttal letter he’d sent to our Employment Lawyer. He swears he never said a word of it. He maintains she’s after money and maliciously using the insults she’s overheard him saying to me in order to extort it. I don’t know about the other stuff, but she’s certainly telling the truth about HOWARD. I overheard most of it. She’d been the next ‘loser’ in line after me.

Still, he’s adamant she’s personalised his jokes about me to strengthen her case against the firm.

“Why don’t you join her?” He said angrily. “Then you can all bloody well sue me in a class action.”

I wouldn’t waste my time. HOWARD has given me numerous examples of how he can twist things and justify anything. It’s what he does for a living, it’s what they all do, these solicitors. Its one big game and they love it. Taking HOWARD to a Tribunal is like volunteering your team to play football at the opposing side’s home ground knowing you’re a couple of men down.

Now, my job, that’s different. I’m paid to type things accurately – so that’s what I do. Even when the truth is stranger than fiction – it’s still the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

See you soon,

Eva x

Saturday, 12 December 2009

WEEK 22 Christmas Party

The sweepstake for the drunken Christmas party snog was tipped for me and HOWARD. I was told it’s our fizzing chemistry. Never mind that the heat generated between us is dislike on his side and humiliation on mine. And if that wasn’t enough, let’s not forget he’s married. This week, I’ve been questioned five times about my feelings for HOWARD. I just laughed.

If they were looking for signs of romance when the meal began, they were disappointed. He couldn’t even look at me.

“Yuk,” he said. “Cover yourself up, people are about to eat!” HOWARD picked up my shrug and threw it over my head.

“What are you doing for Christmas, anyway? Waking up alone Christmas morning and wishing yourself a Merry Christmas? Will you think about families opening presents together? If you get lonely you could phone the Samaritans. I say that because I’m joining them for the holidays. When you phone up, undecided about suicide, I can encourage you to get on with it.”

I drained my glass, filled it up again and raised it to HOWARD.

“Merry Christmas!”

HOWARD, busy texting his wife during the meal, completely missed a colleague’s request to pull a cracker. When they turned the lights down for the disco, HOWARD angled his phone in my direction to hide the screen. It was hard to avoid glimpsing what he’d written. Why was he being unpleasant about his colleagues? I watched our innocent workmates dancing and joking as disco lights waltzed around them. I couldn’t work out whether he genuinely hated them or was just trying to let his wife know he wasn’t having fun while she was stuck at home.

One of the PI solicitors rolled up, the worse for wear. He fell against the back of my chair.

“Hope HOWARD remembered your Christmas kiss?” he shouted.

“Yuk! I’m not kissing that,” HOWARD replied.

“HOWARD, mate, you should have been a stand-up comedian!”

Even when HOWARD and I were the only ones at the table, he still couldn’t look at me. Between texts, he was scathing about the revellers and about Christmas in general. I snuck out to the ladies, but afterwards checked out my coat and went home. I felt guilty leaving HOWARD without saying goodbye. As I hurried out into the freezing street I looked up at the revellers on the first floor. HOWARD sat alone at the table. I reminded myself how selfish his negative attention is. It’s nothing more than misery loves company.

When I got in I kicked off my heels, switched on my sparkly Christmas lights, put on my NOW Christmas CD and sank onto the sofa. If it comes down to a choice between being moulded into HOWARD’S protégé or being a disloyal blog-happy secretary - at least this way, I still get to celebrate Christmas.

See you soon,

Eva x

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

WEEK 21 On the Shelf

On Monday I figured it was time for Christmas decorations. Having happily thrown tinsel around my desk, I asked HOWARD what he thought. He hadn’t noticed. I asked him if he wanted me to decorate his area. “You don’t have time”, he said, pointing at his dictating shelf. It had been pretty empty the night before, but now it groaned under the weight of the files to be typed on.

“When did you do all this?” I asked.

“How the fuck am I supposed to remember?” HOWARD said. “I dictated it last Christmas; back in the days when it was hard to get hold of a WEii.”

Later, when HOWARD helped me carry some of the files to my desk, OLLIE, our criminal solicitor, told him how lucky he was to have a good secretary.

“The joys of a plain secretary.” HOWARD told him. “She’s unlikely to find another man or have kids. Nothing to rush home to.”

“Hey” I said.

“Entirely agree, mate.” OLLIE replied. “In a toss-up between ugly and pretty, I’d take ugly. ‘Specially no kids...if they’ve hit 30 and they haven’t had kids they overcompensate in work. Life’s left ‘em on the shelf. They’ve got to work. Otherwise, what’s the point of them being alive?”

“You can’t say things like that,” I said.

“Don’t take it personally,” HOWARD laughed. “Anyway, I’m not surprised you’re on your own, Eva. It’s written all over you that you haven’t had many serious relationships.”

“What do you mean?” I asked. “I was married.”

“What I mean is - it couldn’t be more obvious that you haven’t had many boyfriends.”

HOWARD repeated it until I believed him. I took him seriously, worrying it meant I’d been on the shelf for too long. I know he thinks I’m too independent. Was it obvious to everyone, and if so, how? And could I do something to change, or at least mask it?

Couples were everywhere as I walked home. Everyone I passed seemed to be linking arms with either Mr or Mrs Right and it wasn’t just the cold forcing them to snuggle closer as they walked. Christmas cheer was everywhere. Was I subconsciously giving out all the wrong signals? What if it was my own fault and I didn’t even know I was doing it?

Yesterday, having driven myself insane, I was determined to get HOWARD to tell me where I was going wrong. I sent him an e-mail asking him to explain.

He replied:-

“You obviously cling. So I imagine that if you have a boyfriend you stay with them unless they leave you!”

I realised how gullible I’d been.

I might be stuck on the shelf at the moment but, unlike HOWARD, at least I’m not blind to the people I look down on.

See you soon,


Friday, 4 December 2009

WEEK 20 Blind Alley

Whenever HOWARD thinks he’s in trouble he plays the ILEX card. He encourages me to become a legal executive. It would mean four years of exams, a personal cost of around £4,000 - £5,000 and a lifetime sentence as a legal exec, probably working for HOWARD. He raised it after learning PHILIP had overheard his last public announcement:-

“Eva doesn’t mind what I say. She doesn’t know any better. Look at her! She’s been treated like shit by every man she’s ever known. Her father, her husband...”

Someone nudged him to warn PHILIP was listening.

That afternoon something frightening happened. I couldn’t read the letter I was typing. I struggled to focus on the words. It was like my brain had disconnected with my eyes and then – WHAM – these crazy zig-zags swam across my right eye.

I couldn’t see HOWARD when he came over to give me work. I felt weird. I told him I had to pop outside for air. I didn’t tell him I suspected I was going outside to die of a brain tumour.

“Wait a minute,” HOWARD said. Perhaps he could see the seriousness of the situation – offer a final word of kindness.

“Take these letters with you. There’s only a few. You can put them in envelopes out there.”

Sobbing with self pity and panic I left the office and stumbled down the side of our building. Mercifully, the alley was free from smokers. This is how it ends, I thought - me at the end of an alley - found dead on a pile of discarded cigarette butts and clutching a pile of HOWARD’S stupid letters. I cried for a few minutes. Then the jagged lines eased a little. Maybe it wasn’t a brain tumour. Socked by a thunderous headache, I realised it must be a migrane. I’d never had one before. When I got back to my desk, shaky and exhausted but thankful to be alive, I squinted in pain at HOWARD’S latest e-mail.

“You should give serious thought to the ILEX.”

I’ve never wanted to do one, not once. I can’t watch the Shawshank Redemption without fantasising about walking out of here carrying a pair of HOWARD’S shoes. Plus, I already know what I want. I want to be a writer one day. It may never happen, but it absolutely won’t happen if I give up on my little dream. When I confessed the ILEX wasn’t for me HOWARD wasn’t happy.

“Any excuse for being too scared to try. Face facts, Eva - your brain is fucking lazy. ” he said.

It’s not that my brain is lazy. On the contrary, my brain appears to be going into meltdown with stress related migraines, which makes the whole ILEX thing a no-brainer. My head’s not in this job any more than my heart is.

Just like the migraine, I suspect the ILEX leads straight up a blind alley.

See you soon,
Eva x
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