Kate from San Mateo writes: Working in the male-dominated tech field can feel like navigating a proverbial “boys club.” I often feel pressured to participate in rowdy after-work social hours in order to build and maintain relationships with prospective mentors, and sometimes overhear talk of male coworkers’ latest rounds of golf with a mutual supervisor. I don’t know whether my career has been directly impacted by the social alienation I experience, but I can’t help but suspect that it might be. Do employment discrimination laws cover this kind of professional fraternizing? What can I do to change this discriminatory culture within my organization?
Today’s question comes from Janet M. in South San Francisco who asks: “I work for a large contracting firm that does business with the State and other large businesses doing civil engineering and building projects. I am not management and I am union member. I have developed a condition known Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) which affects my breathing. Some of the jobs that we work on have a lot of dust and others use chemical adhesives which make it difficult for me to breath. My job doesn’t involve doing any of the work that is directly involved with these irritants; but, I am occasionally required to go onto job sites where I am exposed.
There are 3 other people that do my job too and I am the second most senior. They could do some job shifting that would allow me to pick up part of my co-worker’s responsibilities, and they mine, so I would not be exposed to these triggers. My doctor recommended I ask for this change in my job, so I asked my supervisor who said no. When I asked her if I could then go home sick when I have a COPD attack she said no. She is mad at me because I have had to take afternoons off when I am exposed to these conditions as it is difficult for me to breath.
She says that I have exceeded the number of absences which are allowed under the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) and if I miss another day of work she is going to move to have me terminated for “job abandonment.” I said I was going to go to an attorney and she said that I was bound under my union’s CBA agreement to use the administrative process set forth in the CBA. My Union Rep is of no help and says that they aren’t going to file a grievance unless and until I am fired. This isn’t fair. What rights do I have?”