Dodge & Burrow has this fantastic upside-down thing going on. The hierarchy goes:
- Managing Partner
- Equity Partner
- Senior Secretary (SS)
- Assistant Senior Secretary (ASS)
- Deputy Assistant Senior Secretary (DASS)
- Office Junior / Apprentice
Now that seems to make sense, right? Looking at those job titles, you might wonder how else a law firm might possibly arrange its workers. (But you’d rightly wonder what kind of moron makes up a job title where the acronym was “ASS”? The answer is Shirley, Queen of the Senior Secretaries. You’ll meet her soon.)
Stay with me guys. Now I’m going to merge all of the job titles together so you can see who is most important in the building.
- Managing Partner & Shirley, Queen Senior Secretary
- Senior Secretary (SS) (other than Shirley)
- Assistant Senior Secretary (ASS)
- Equity Partner
- Deputy Senior Secretary (DASS)
- Charles Manson, Jimmy Saville, any other person ever…
- Office Junior / Apprentice
The Office Juniors / Apprentices (known by me collectively as “Apprenti”) all were under the age of eighteen. You got a cup of tea every time you made one cry. You got promoted if they needed to go off sick with the stress. I was told to step down from management because I kept bounding off the company line, by calming them down when they cried, asking management to be kinder to them, and giving them straightforward instructions with no hidden tasks, so they could actually complete their tasks without someone leaping forward and going “A-ha! But what about this thing I never told you about? How could you be so stupid as to not do that?”
Naturally, in an environment like this, you find yourself getting ill very often, because in an environment so stressful, you’re always run down, so everything hits you like a tonne of bricks.
To call in sick, you must speak to a Senior Secretary. Why? Because when you’ve got a Senior Secretary, you don’t need an HR department. And if your managing partner is an employment specialist, they really know how to sidestep all of those pesky human rights.
As you can tell from the above list, a Senior Secretary is better than God (whether you believe in God or not is irrelevant, I’m simply using “God” as a placeholder for any supreme being that could have theoretically created an entire universe in six days). Seniors know better than you the state of your emotional, physical and mental health, so they were advised by Shirley, the Queen Senior Secretary, to argue if someone tried to call in sick. The way to argue? Give alternative medical advice.
(It goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: not a single person in Dodge & Burrow had any kind of medical qualification beyond being a Fire Safety Official… and I’m not sure telling people not to run down stairs really counts as a medical qualification.)
Here are some examples – all but one of these happened to me. I can’t remember which Senior I spoke to each time – some are burned into my mind, some are not.
Depression Part I
Me: Hi, it’s Dove. I’m afraid I’ve been signed off for three weeks, and I won’t be coming in until [date].
Joy: What for?
Joy: Depression? What on earth have you got to be depressed about? My mum died last year, and I’m not kicking up a fuss like you.
Me: *tears up* Well, uh…
Joy: *sharp tone* Yes?
Me: I, uh, I have a history of… this.
Joy: Well, you’ve never told me.
Me: *starts crying* Well, that’s because we’re not friends… we don’t talk.
Joy: Honestly, if you were depressed, I’d have seen signs.
Me: I picture killing myself in the third floor bathroom so that my boyfriend won’t have to find my body.
Joy: *huff* Fine. I’ll note your absence.
Depression Part II
Me: Hi, it’s Dove. I’m afraid I’m not coming in today. I’ve been signed off with depression. I have a note for the full week, I’ll be back next Monday.
Senior: *disappointed silence* Fine. *sigh* I suppose you’ve been given medication?
Senior: What kind?
Senior: Why don’t you try some St John’s Wort instead, and come in at lunchtime when you feel better?
Me: Uh… because I’ve been signed off for a week.
Senior: Take the St John’s Wort, and call your doctor. They can do a note saying you are fit for work.
Me: *abject panic because I physically cannot leave the house, I haven’t even brushed my hair. I went down to the doctors in my full-length coat with my hair knotted up in a hairband. The only thing I managed to do was brush my teeth, and that was more down to my obsession with my teeth than the energy to do so*
Senior: So, will I see you at… say, midday?
Me: *gulp* Uh, I’m not ready.
Senior: *sullen silence* Fine. Call tomorrow morning if you’re not coming in.
Me: … but I’m signed off, I don’t know–
Senior: Well you might feel better after the St John’s Wort, so let me know. I have to go now, Dove. I can’t keep talking. I’ve got to somehow find some cover for your work, now that you’re off… “ill”.
(Yes, I could hear the speech marks.)
(This happened in person.)
Me: Hi, Senior, I need to be off on [date]. I have a lump and the doctor wants to remove it. Here’s the letter to prove it.
(Always provide evidence. You could be missing a limb, but unless you have a letter from a doctor to prove it, your situation is utterly meaningless.)
Senior: Oh, I’m so sorry. Of course you can take that day off – take all the time you need. Don’t worry about booking holidays. We can arrange cover. Do you need to talk? I’m sure Room 5 is available. *picks up tissues on her desk and moves towards Room 5*
Me: They don’t think it’s cancerous.
Senior: Oh. *drops tissues* In that case, book it as a holiday. And sort out someone to cover for you. And you will be in the following day, right?
(A bit of background: I had a lump removed from my inner thigh. It was not cancerous, but by the time it was taken out, it was about the size of a golf ball. I had no holidays left except for the day I took for the operation. When I got back to work, I told management that I needed to take it easy – not rush around and tear open the wound. Naturally this was ignored. It did not heal, and the pain of the wound got worse, not better, which led me to making an appointment with my doctor.)
Me: Hi, it’s me. It turns out that the wound where the lump was removed has become infected.
Senior: So, you’ll be in late?
Me: No, I’ll be back next week. I have a doctor’s note. *pause, then fuck it, let’s do this* He thinks it’s because I didn’t get enough rest after the operation. I did specify that I had to take things easy.
Senior: So you’re calling in sick because you didn’t take enough holidays after the operation?
Me: *flails* Uh.
Senior: Have you tried some ibuprofen?
Me: … for the infection?
Senior: No, for the pain. Take some ibuprofen and drink a glass of water, and I’m sure you’ll feel better. You can take the morning, but be in by lunch.
Me: I’ve got a sick note.
Senior: You can get it cancelled by the doctor – actually, you’ve not handed it in yet, so it doesn’t count.
Me: I’m… uh… going to stay home, because I can barely move.
A Death in the Family that doesn’t matter
This isn’t calling in sick, but it’s another example of the empathy shown by Dodge & Burrow. The firm had an overtime rota. Once you were down for it, you were down – nothing would get you free, as this example will show. The Seniors would write it every month with no respect for your commitments. For example, at the time, every Wednesday we would have friends over. Jodie, on my floor, went swimming every Tuesday. I was always down for overtime on Wednesday and Jodie was always down for Tuesdays. We would have to swap. And every time we did, Joy would tell us, “I can’t keep making exceptions for you two, you know.” Asking her to just swap us over as she wrote it out initially was ignored. Because reasons.
So, on the day in question, my step-father died. Actually, he wasn’t married to my mother, but as my dad died when I was nine, and then Philip had entered my life when I was thirteen, and I was at least twenty-nine when this happened, I had a lot more memories of Philip than my actual dad.
On the day I found out of Philip’s death – mum called me at six am to tell me, and miraculously, I was awake and picked up the phone. I was devastated, but I had also reached that strange place in my relationship with Dodge & Burrow where even though I hated them, they hated me, I was never going to progress, I was underpaid by about £9,000 a year, and my mental health was hanging by a thread, I was determined not to be beaten.
Most people reach this point with Dodge & Burrow. I can’t explain it. People either walk out before their first week is over, or stick around for years, becoming increasingly more mentally distressed, until their entire life collapses and they realise they don’t have to stay.
So I went to work, and I was hopeless. I couldn’t work. I kept crying at my desk. I ignored the phone, I messed up dictation. If I could do anything wrong, I did. The lawyer I worked for spent most of his day shouting at people to leave me alone. (Not Ken. By this point I was working for probably the nicest lawyer I’ve ever met in a work environment.)
Just after lunch, I got an email from management on another wing saying that overtime had been called and their overtime girl was off sick (ha, I bet she had fun calling in on an overtime day), so I was being called.
Given that I’d cocked up almost every single technological interaction that day, I went straight over to the other wing in person to explain why I was in no fit state to cover overtime, so they needed to find someone else.
In response, the senior said, “Wait. Did you just say step-dad? So he’s not your real dad?”
In most cases with management, I would get tearful and fall apart, but this time I was furious. “But he is, nonetheless, really dead. And I am really sad. I’m also really not going to be here when overtime rolls around, so you can either find someone else or be really embarrassed when you have no cover for your really important overtime.”
She said, “I’m calling Shirley.”
“Yeah, still not going to be here. You can fire me if you feel that strongly about it. My step-dad died this morning, so I don’t give a flying fuck whether your overtime is covered.”
And then I walked off.
I wasn’t fired.
But I don’t think I was forgiven.
This did not happen to me, so this is paraphrased from a bundle of texts that were sent straight after, and multiple, “No, seriously, I have the worst Dodge & Burrow story ever!” bragging sessions.
As far as I remember, she called in sick first thing in the morning with a generic “I feel bad, I’m going to casualty now,” and agreed to call back when she knew what was wrong and how long she’d be off.
Friend: Hi, I’ve seen a doctor, and he said that I’ve… um… become allergic to my… um… my… internal contraception.
Friend: I use the coil. I’m allergic to it. For the moment they’ve given me something for the pain, and as soon as they can, they’re going to remove it. I don’t know how long I’ll be off, but definitely today.
Senior: Are you sure you can’t make it in?
Friend: … bwuh? I’m in hospital.
Senior: If it’s allergies, why don’t you grab some antihistamines and come on in. I’ll get an admin to run about for you. Have a nice glass of water, and that should help.
Friend: … I’ve got to go. They’re going to remove my coil. Bye!