My name is Ramona Bennett and this is my submission in support of the New York Healthy Workplace Act.
I had a job I absolutely loved. I worked for The HOPE Program, a small non-profit located in downtown Brooklyn New York. The agency provides employment readiness training to adults. The mission of the agency is to improve the lives of disadvantaged adult New Yorkers thru education and training. I was a senior instructor and I worked for the agency for almost 10 years.
After a series of very frightening events, I requested that my employer install safety alerts in all of the classrooms throughout the program. I attempted on more than one occasion to have a conversation with my managers around safety, not only my safety but the safety of the students and staff members alike. In fact, other staff members made strong written and verbal recommendations for safety as well.
Directly after making this request I faced a series of retaliatory actions by the executive staff of the program that ultimately resulted in my being forced out of my position.
My workload tripled; I was given assignments that were impossible to complete, given my already demanding schedule. I had the responsibility of being in the classroom from 9 AM to 5 PM, teaching anywhere from 20 to 30 students at a time. I was held responsible for things beyond my control; the lateness of guests, the temperament of students, and their thoughts and actions. My office was changed to a fish bowl work space in a high traffic area. The noise and traffic were a constant and it became impossible to work. I was told I would be under constant surveillance by my managers. My students even came under constant scrutiny while in class. In addition, I was told I was frightening other staff members because I was not smiling enough. The criticism and bullying were constant and unrelenting. After almost 10 years, and a stellar record, I was suddenly unfit for my position. My manager would constantly tell me that this was not the job for me, or it would be better if I left.
Late in December of 2011 at 5 PM, I was called into the executive director’s office. I was surrounded by senior management. I was essentially told that I had failed to perform the duties of a senior instructor, my existing job, and I failed in the performance of the expanded duties; responsibilities that I had plainly stated I could not do because of my existing heavy work load. I had previously stated on more than one occasion to more than one of my managers that I felt overwhelmed and could not handle any additional work. I was issued a Final Written Warning with no specific reason why or indication on how to improve. In all my years of work I have never received such a review of my working performance.
The next day, while at work, I had a cardiac related event and was hospitalized for 3 days in the cardiac care unit of a local hospital. I was out of work for over 3 weeks and under a doctor’s care. When I returned the bullying and retaliation continued.
A heated disagreement between 2 co-workers erupted at a weekly team meeting. My manager blamed me for the fight and said I should have known there was bad blood between the co-workers. For me this was the last straw and I left.
The bullying and retaliation have had a devastating effect on my emotional, physical and professional well-being. I am still working thru the emotional toll with no end in sight. The financial loss was and is devastating. I was forced out of my job and initially denied unemployment compensation and my vacation pay. My hope is that by telling my story no one will have to endure what I went thru. I made a reasonable request for a safe work environment and received bullying and harassment instead of support.
I call on the New York State Legislature to hold those in positions of authority to a standard of accountability. My case is especially troubling because the agency promotes itself as a beacon of hope for those who are underserved and unemployed, while internally promoting a hostile and toxic environment for those who made reasonable requests for safety.
Ramona C Bennett