So you're standing in your company's break room. It's a dingy tile and Formica thing, with a couple of cheap cafe style tables, a single stainless steel sink, and a commercial grade coffee maker. The kind you see at a Waffle House or a truck stop - but I repeat myself.
The company provides the machine and the water, but you have to provide the coffee. No big deal. With what these skinflints are willing to pay, it would have been shitty coffee anyway.
One day you walk into the break room and you see the new girl messing with the machine. They don't work quite the same way as the ones at home, except maybe unless you're talking about the chemistry behind drip brewing. Anyway, you know she must be really new because she hasn't figured out how to use the machine yet.
She has an empty carafe in one hand and a full carafe in the other. It looks like she's trying to swap out the full pot of regular so she can make some decaf, or whatever, but she can't get the carafes to slide into the warmers. They have this funny little lip on them.
Before you can offer some advice, she drops a glass carafe full of hot coffee. The metal bottom hits the edge of the countertop and the whole carafe goes tumbling down. It smashes on the tile floor directly next to New Girl's feet. She's wearing flip flops, and also now, broken glass and hot coffee.
She immediately starts to panic. Fixated on getting the empty carafe back into the machine, she thrashes in the puddle of glass and hot coffee, body and brain warring over priorities. She stars screaming, doing some kind of awful dance where she'll take half a step back, undulate her midsection in an animal retreat response, then lunge with her upper body to try to stab the remaining pot back into its place.
Meanwhile, she's probably blistering from the knee down.
So, you drop your lunch, walk over, and grab the carafe out of her hand with one hand and pull her away from the scorching coffee and glass shrapnel with the other. You sit her down in one of the cheap injection molded chairs, and dump the yet unbroken carafe in the sink while you fold up some paper towels and soak them with cold water.
She's crying and looking at her blistered and bleeding feet.
All you can do now is hand her the wet paper towels, tell her to try to cool off the burns, and ask if she wants you to call 911.
Two days later, you're called into the Human Resources office and informed that because you've violated the company's harassment and sexual harassment policies, you are being terminated effective immediately.
New Girl, after getting back from the hospital, told a manager that she had felt like you were watching her for days, just waiting for a chance to get her alone. That every time she looked up, you were there in the room with her. That you had just been waiting for your chance to strike.
You try to explain that you don't know what they're talking about. That there are exactly five rooms in the office building floor on which you both work - a cube farm, a manager's hallway, two restrooms, and a breakroom - so it's hard to not spend a significant amount of time in the same room as another employee.
You try to explain what happened in the breakroom, but you realize pretty quickly that those facts aren't in dispute. In fact, it's those facts, specifically the fact that you touched her in a way that makes her feel harassed, that are why you're being fired.
It doesn't matter that it was not meant to be harassment or sexual harassment, since the threshold for this is that the victim felt like it was harassment, or at least says they do. It doesn't matter that it was very clearly in response to an emergency. It doesn't matter that you were literally preventing her from further serious injury. None of that is in dispute.
It doesn't matter that she's felt threatened at work for longer than she's actually worked here.
It doesn't matter.
Zero tolerance. Collect your things. Paycheck deposited no later than the 15th. Don't ask for a reference.
This all happened to a friend of mine last week, as I just found out this morning. Completely incredible.
Perhaps you're just as irritated, or even angry, over how blindingly stupid and awful this is. I can't decide what makes me angriest - the completely deficient "Zero Tolerance" policy; the insipid slime who immediately seized the opportunity to become a victim; or the fact that my friend has absolutely no recourse whatsoever either legally or socially.
What makes you angriest? Perhaps what you assume is going unsaid? What the rest of the story might be? That there is too much he-said-she-said to make any kind of judgment?
Well, consider this: I reversed the genders of the two people in my retelling of the story. My friend, the one who was fired, is a woman who happens to have lived through two rapes and an abusive husband.
If you find your thoughts on the policy changed one way or the other, now that you know the full story, consider what it is that you might really have a problem with.