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Workplace bullying disrupts the livelihood of a retail salesman

Praneeta Mahajan

Praneeta Mahajan

Hamilton, 17 November 2022

How do you reward an employee who brings in customers, works diligently and offers relentless support to the management and turns up to work even when he has the choice of staying home during a Covid lockdown? How do you treat an employee who is one of the top-ranking salespersons in the country and is defined by his colleagues as a true team player?

While many would say that such employees are an asset to any organisation and should be retained with incentives, that was not the case with a leading retailer in Auckland.

Instead of offering accolades and praises, they deemed it fit to launch an internal investigation based on some computer-generated algorithm and terminate Ahmed (name changed for privacy) despite him providing enough evidence of honesty.

How it began

It all started when Ahmed and a handful of other employees across the country were accused of serious misconduct and called for a disciplinary meeting before the Christmas holidays last year.

They were given the choice of either handing in their resignations with immediate effect or facing a meeting with the senior management to explain their stand in a matter involving a few sales transactions.

Ahmed chose to meet the senior team and clarify his stand since he was confident that there were no wrongdoings on his part. He said he worked tirelessly to collate and provide all transactional details and proofs in his defence.

Later, he was called for a final meeting which took place online. Allan Halse who headed CultureSafe at that time attended as Ahmed’s representative. He said that “at the start of the meeting, the company representatives said that their decision was immediate termination but wanted Ahmed to say the final closing defence. But upon asking a very obvious question by Ahmed and me regarding how much was the amount Ahmed was alleged of defrauding the company, the representatives ended the meeting abruptly and said they will get back with the details shortly.”

After almost two months after the start of the incident, Ahmed received communication from his manager saying that there will be no further action against him and that he can come to work immediately.

Upon being questioned, the company said there were concerns but after evidence was provided, the case was dismissed.

Serious problem

Speaking to Indian Newslink, Mr Halse insisted on asking the question, “How did a decision of immediate termination turn into no further action? When an innocent person who is diligently working every day is accused of theft or fraud, you owe him an explanation and an apology. It cannot just be erased from memory. The damage it has made to the person’s well-being and reputation. An accusation of such a serious nature should have been looked into with utmost care and precaution before the decision of termination was reached.”

Ahmed was simply announced to be “guilty unless he could prove himself to be innocent,” Mr Halse said. “And all it took for him to prove his innocence was a basic insight into initial facts and a question about the dollar value.”

He said “It is difficult for any honest and diligent person to be wrongly accused of fraud and cheating. Had it not been for my timely intervention, Ahmed would have been wrongly terminated. The sad part of the matter is that it has happened many times over in the organisation in question.”

Allan Halse – Anti Workplace Bullying Advocate

The problem of Bullying

Upon being questioned as to why would a top performing employee is removed from his work abruptly, Mr Halse said “It is due to the ‘tall poppy syndrome which is prevalent in New Zealand. Inflated egos and insecurities of certain individuals make workplace environments toxic. That is the case here as well. Ahmed was growing because of his capabilities and abilities to win customer confidence. This was a point of contention with some of his senior managers, who have in many previous instances harassed him by giving him tasks that he was not obliged to do. These included painting the staff room, kitchen area and even the toilets in one instance and scrubbing floors when he was fasting for Ramadan among many other such instances.”

Mr Halse said that while it is disappointing and inhumane, it is not uncommon for people to stoop down and sabotage a person’s life and career due to their insecurities.

In Ahmed’s case, there were repeated instances of workplace bullying even before the instance in question, including silent treatment from seniors, being singled out at meetings, and being told off and ridiculed for asking any questions.

He was made to do extra work and given a laptop with broken keys when he got promoted. His promotion letter was given after repeated requests without even a word of encouragement.

How the Matter is progressing

While the company had clarified that there were some errors on their part and asked Ahmed to come back to work the next day, he was worried that he might be levelled with more serious allegations and framed with false accusations if he does go back. He has since worked with Mr Halse towards a constructive resignation after eight years in the organisation.

He was distressed by the experience and slowly realised it was happening to many others in the organisation, as they started reaching out to him and sharing their own experience.

Mr Halse said several things do not add up.

Why would you have a disciplinary meeting at a peculiar time of the year, when due to holidays, Ahmed had limited access to explore his options and rights with any lawyers, advisors or experts?

What made the company change their stance without any further discussion or new evidence being presented on the table?

Why was there no official apology for the stress and harassment caused?

How is an individual expected to go on as if nothing has happened after such a breach of trust?

The employee’s plight

Ahmed is not working at the moment due to his mental health and loss of confidence. He says he does not want to go back to a ‘toxic’ sales atmosphere but instead would focus on ways to upskill and find alternative career options. In the meantime, his wife is the sole earner of the family, something which has been difficult for Ahmed, who has always been the breadwinner over the years.

Ahmed told us that his son, who is a toddler, was his sole reason to fight this battle.

“My mental health and well-being have been compromised immensely in the process. I have anxiety and episodes of depression which worries my wife and family. I always believed in working hard, and my work graph with the organisation is proof of my hard work and commitment. But accusations that have been levelled at me are heartbreaking. In my religion and our culture, honesty and pride hold great value. I want the wrong done to me rectified, as it is a matter of my identity as a good honest human being.”

Further claims of wrongdoing

All employees who were served with disciplinary charges were of South Asian ethnicities as per Ahmed and one of his former colleagues. Ahmed claimed that many other Indian and Fiji Indian employees have been made to resign through coercive methods along with similar charges without any investigation or explanation.

Impact of our story

Ahmed reached out to Indian Newslink immediately after a story on workplace bullying was published. Knowing Allan Halse,  whose voice fighting against workplace bullying in New Zealand is well known, Ahmed wanted to come forward and share his story.

He wanted the readers to know how this problem has serious ramifications for a person in his life.

He said, “Bullying still weighs on my mind and I relive the horror of what happened at my workplace.”

He is currently working with Mr Halse to explore his options and get some answers in the process.

Praneeta Mahajan is an Indian Newslink reporter based in Hamilton.

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