30 March: The past week has led to terrible consequences in relation to both my work and home life. I cannot sleep; when I do, I have nightmares and wake up with terrible foreboding. I have issued a grievance, I am off sick and I am the victim of a disciplinary action. I am sleeping in the spare room because Dominic now finds my restless nights problematic. That is understandable – he has a demanding new job and I am now an insomniac. The children get on with their lives, and I have become a mechanistic mother of two. I meet their basic needs in a way that disguises my trauma at work.
Dominic keeps asking me to resign and get out. These requests are episodic and often a reaction to the constant stream of letters through the post – about my grievance, about the disciplinary action, about appointments with occupational health. They come by first-class post, recorded delivery and special delivery. It feels like mechanical harassment – faceless. Nobody phones. I have no contact with work. I think of Alan, who will be leaving soon. I cannot read work emails, I cannot make any contact with anyone at work. I cannot socialise with anyone at work. It is as if I have committed a cardinal sin. I write a letter to the administrator who is dealing with the disciplinary action, explaining that a friend is leaving the division soon and will have a farewell party. I ask about the possibility of attending this social function. I receive an email from HR on my Google Mail account, and it reads like it was written by some robot devoid of emotion:
“Your disciplinary procedure requires you to have no contact with your work colleagues. Specifically it relates to all work matters – this includes any contact with any staff at this university. A pre-disciplinary investigation needs to take place, which may result in full disciplinary procedures being implemented… Your question about whether you can socialise with colleagues at work is that this is included in the directive – you may not have any social contact.”
Dominic reads the letter and wants to phone the university immediately. I begin to cry, and I plead with him not to make matters worse. He reluctantly agrees but phones an old friend who is now a barrister in London. Dominic takes the letter from me and reads it over the phone. He reads it again. He remains silent while his friend talks to him. When the call ends, Dominic goes into the kitchen and makes a drink. He comes back. He explains that his friend says that the organisation can stop me talking to work associates about work-related issues but that it cannot stop me socialising with them. He quotes The Human Rights Act 1998, Article 11, Freedom of Assembly and Association. He also explains that this puts the university in a vulnerable position. He suggests that we ask the union to sort this out but goes on to say that I should do nothing to aggravate this situation. Although what the university has said is illegal, I could end up making matters worse – it would be difficult to prove that I was not having work-related discussions instead of socialising.
31 March: A date comes through for my grievance meeting – it’ll be on Thursday. Colin Horrocks will attend with me. The grievance is to be undertaken by a dean from another faculty.
I now ignore and avoid most people. I want to blame someone for all of this and think of Marcus, Helen… but there seems no point. I’m optimistic about the grievance because most of my experiences of Marcus and Helen are that they have harassed me, discontinued my work and marginalised my contribution. It all looks so one-sided in my favour.
2 April: I look dreadful, I’m not really eating, I am isolated and I feel totally pathetic. I feel like I have not slept for weeks.
Dominic gives me a lift to the university. I meet with Colin first. We go through each of the key points I need to explain:
• The unplanned meeting raising issues about my attitude
• My increased workload
• The “closing-down” of my key areas of work without negotiation
• Being sidelined in the research bid
• No support for my book launch
• Unwillingness to act on my problems with stress
We go to the meeting. The dean introduces himself along with a person from human resources, who will take minutes. One by one, I explain my points. I am interrupted only for clarification. Within an hour, the meeting is over. We are told that there are meetings later that day with Marcus and Gail. Everything will be written up and emailed to me on Friday morning.
Colin seems to think the meeting has gone as well as can be expected. As we leave the building, Dominic is waiting and takes me home. It was a terrible ordeal; I feel like I have done something terrible.
3 April: Dominic is out at work, and the children are away camping with friends for a few days. I am terribly anxious, waiting for the results of the first round of meetings. I veer between hope and despair. Hope: included in the report is a recommendation that I return to work. Despair: goodness knows. At 10.15am, the report comes through and I speed-read through the salient points. I start to shake, half with anger and half with bewilderment. LIES, terrible comments, made-up documents that never existed:
• I do what I want
• Constantly challenging with no reason
• Oppressive and insensitive about the religion of others
• The changes in my workload were discussed on three occasions, as is clear from a document (which I have never seen) in the “appendix”
• The social services department suggested that I should not be involved in the research
• Marcus had suggested on two occasions that I see Occupational Health because of his deep concern for my health – there is a letter attached to prove it
• I rarely work 35 hours a week
• I constantly turn down requests to help other staff who are overstretched
• Disorganised in my work
• Late giving exam marks in to administrators
This is my grievance, but the information in it seems to be a vendetta against me. There are lies all the way through the document, which refers to information that was supposedly sent to me but that I have never seen. I am bewildered and cannot believe that people not only lie but also, by the tone of the report, are backed up by the dean carrying out the investigation. If this is what my grievance is like, what on earth will the disciplinary be like? I should have gone quietly. What did I expect? I expected better of a university.
Are you experiencing problems at work?
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