And it isn’t what you think.
I worked in restaurants for a long time. I was a lead. I was a trainer. Before this incident, I had of course always felt all the differences between men and women at work. I had been undermined and undervalued for being a woman. I had been hit on, unwelcomingly so, by guests and fellow employees alike. I had been held back - literally told that I couldn't learn to work in the kitchen because the manager was afraid of how the men would treat me. He meant well, but rather than actually address the way the men might treat me, his instinct was to protect me from it, which really meant holding me back from learning and growing.
I had “gotten used” to all the standard elements of being a female in the workplace. It was annoying, but I knew what to expect.
I had been annoyed. I had been pissed. I had been offended. But never before had I been scared.
And then that changed. It wasn't even a dramatic event either. I was on the road as a trainer, getting ready to open a new restaurant. One of the managers at this restaurant always seemed off to me. Something wasn't right. I told myself not to judge. He was tall and not very friendly and had a cloudy glass eye that creeped me out. I told myself that my unsettled feeling about him was really me feeling uncomfortable with his appearance, which wasn't right. I needed to give him a chance and be nice and if I did that, if we all did that, he'd open up and show some personality.
One day he came up to me and asked where the iced tea guy was (the machine was broken, so a repair guy had been out all morning). I joked, thinking this might be an opportunity to loosen him up, and said with a smile, "sorry, it's not my turn to watch him." He was clearly not amused. He stared at me. I adjusted, "sorry, last I saw him, he was working on the machine maybe an hour ago. I haven't seen him in awhile."
His stare continued, and then it happened. In less than an instant, I was being choked.
He put his hand around my throat and he squeezed. Not so hard to leave a mark, but enough to know that he could. It took what felt like hours to react - I think my brain needed to catch up on how we went from work to a joke to a choke.
"Don't do that." I said. An odd thing to say really. He didn't flinch, his stare unwavering. I said it again, this time more forcefully and while taking a step back. He let go and left.
I got back to what I was doing because I was in the middle of running a training session. At break, I found my team leader and told her about it, starting with, “so...something weird just happened…,” hedging a bit, worried that I would somehow be in trouble. She immediately got me out of the building and brought the GM with.
Everyone was pissed. Which I didn't really get, because it hadn't set in for me that it was real yet. He was sent home. The regional was called. HR was called. I told the story over and over. I answered all the questions, including (and yes, seriously) HR asking what I did “to provoke him” and “what attitude” I was giving.
A few days later I was in the restaurant and noticed all of the other trainers staring at me from all over the building, with concerned looks on their faces, and my team leader making a beeline my way. A chill went down my neck and I turned around to see the manager standing two feet behind me. As my heart jumped into my throat, I felt my hand pulled - my team leader rushed me out of the building.
We went for a walk and she was screaming. Horrified that he was there. That she didn't know. That they hadn't protected me. The day of the incident and again. Apparently corporate had decided to have him come into the restaurant to sign his write up and suspension. Apparently they didn't think that anyone else needed to know. A warning. An opportunity to orchestrate the run-in, or avoid it altogether.
She got a call that he was gone and we were OK to go back in. I asked her if we could wait a minute, and for the first time since his fingers wrapped around my neck I let myself feel it, and sobbed in the parking lot.
The manager was suspended and moved to another restaurant. I heard he got fired a few months later for another incident with a team member in the middle of the restaurant. Apparently you can choke people without getting fired, as long as no one else sees it.
Leaders in the region tried to comfort me with comments like, "I never really liked that guy" or, "I was surprised we hired him" or, "I can't believe he made it through training." Well meaning, but it only pissed me off more. So all of you knew this guy wasn't the right fit, but you rolled with it anyway? You put me, you put other team members through working with this man because you needed, what, to hire someone more than you needed to feel good about it?
About the Author: Jessica is a full-time traveler by day, but first, a full-time human, seeking to write and share about important issues impacting humans, and what we can all do about it. She's on a mission to visit every country in world, sharing her trip, pictures, video, stories and observations at How Dare She. Follow her on Instagram or Snapchat (jess_ismore) to see the whole world through her eyes [slash camera].