UPDATED with comment from T-Mobile’s Larry Myers below
ORIGNAL ARTICLE: A former T-Mobile employee is speaking out about her terrible last few months working at a call center in Nashville, Tennessee. According to Kristi Rifkin, her ordeal started when she became pregnant with her second child and her pregnancy forced her to take a few extra breaks.
As Rifkin tells it in a blog post on MomsRising.org called Why I Believe in Paid Sick Leave, everything was going fine at her job until she got pregnant.
“It was a very, very rough pregnancy. I was taking medication to keep me from going into labor. I was going to the doctor twice a week, seeing both a regular obstetrician and a high-risk obstetrician. I had to drink a lot of water and go to the bathroom pretty frequently, which is what normal pregnant women do,” she says.
But her supervisor quickly warned her that frequent trips to the bathroom may cause her productivity to drop, which could result in her termination.
“Being on the phone was my job, so if I wasn’t, I risked being written up and possibly fired. Essentially the message was, ‘You can go, but understand that if you don’t meet that metric at the end of the day, week and month, we have the opportunity to fill your seat.’ They didn’t tell me that I couldn’t use the toilet. But the reality was that this is a metric on how your job is measured and if you don’t meet it, then you do not have your job.”
Eventually, her supervisor told her that if she really had a medical necessity to use the bathroom so often, she should get a doctor’s note. Of course, she and her doctor thought it was ludicrous, but she complied.
After a sit-down with H.R., it was decided that Rifkin could use the bathroom as much as she wants, but T-Mobile wasn’t going to pay for it. That meant that she had to clock out and back in for every bathroom break.
“At the same time, I was under so much pressure to keep my sales up. I would sprint – as much as a heavily pregnant woman can — between my desk and the bathroom to make sure I squeezed every second I could out of my work day. Everything I did was scrutinized. I felt picked on. Someone was always watching over my shoulder, monitoring my performance,” says Rifkin.
In the end, she says she wound up using vacation time just to go pee.
Eventually, her doctor ordered full medical leave. The Family Medical Leave Act requires that employers provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave and job security for eligible employees – so Rifkin’s job was there when she got back after 7 weeks.
But not for long. According to ABC News, she was soon fired over what amounted to a small clerical error; apparently she “failed to remove an extra-charge feature from a customer’s account, the commission for which was 12 cents.”
“Moms shouldn’t have to choose between their jobs and the health of their families. But too often, companies that are fixated on their bottom lines force women to make this choice. I know. It happened to me,” says Rifkin.
T-Mobile has made a statement. Although they won’t discuss specific employees, a spokesman said this:
“T-Mobile employees enjoy generous benefits including paid-time-off and short and long-term disability coverage. The company has leave of absence policies in line with regulatory requirements.”
UPDATE: I’ve received a lengthy and detailed comment from T-Mobile U.S. Chief People Officer Larry Myers:
Sensational headlines are hard to ignore. Here are some facts you should know:
• Of course we make reasonable accommodations for all of our employees when they need time away from servicing our customers’ needs – and we did that three years ago in 2010 for this employee.
• Our industry-standard policies have been in place since 2008 and are understood by all of our call center employees.
• Beyond the breaks that are built into every shift for all of our call center employees, we have additional flexibility to give employees the time they need – especially when there is a medical need.
• After all reasonable accommodations have been exhausted, employees have a choice – they can take additional, unpaid breaks, or they can choose to apply their paid time off benefit. These decisions do not result in adverse performance evaluations.
• When a medical situation is involved and there is even more need for time away from the job, we work closely with our employees to consider potential Leave of Absence (LOA), then consider Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) time off.
• For this particular former employee, all of these things were discussed and utilized.
• T-Mobile is a values-based organization that has 5 times in a row been awarded as one of the “World’s Most Ethical Companies.” And our employees continue to tell us that they enjoy working at T-Mobile. In a recent anonymous third party employee satisfaction survey, 78% of T-Mobile’s employees said they are satisfied with their job and 83% said they are proud to work at the company, placing T-Mobile on par with the top 25% of all companies surveyed in the United States.
Please consider the facts, and judge for yourself.
Larry Myers, Chief People Officer
T-Mobile US, Inc.