Before accepting any temporary assignment, I ask questions. I ask what qualifications are required for the assignment, how to get there by transit, and if I need to have special equipment for the work at hand. At first glance, this might make me appear finicky, but the questions asked are for good reasons.
For starters, if I do not have the qualifications to do the job, I won’t do the job. Why make a client unhappy if I show up and can’t do the job?
The transit question is important to ensure that I not only arrive at the assignment on time every day and with ease, it also ensures I can get home safely.
I also will not buy any equipment — such as a hard-hat, tools such as hammers or screwdrivers, computer software, or protective clothing — that I end up using only one time. Makes sense: why buy something that not only cuts into my temporary wages, it sits there collecting dust because I won’t use it again? Why can’t the assignment supply the equipment required? When I worked in the information technology field, I didn’t buy a computer, local and Internet network access, and a programming IDE to do my job.
These questions ensure that nothing goes wrong that could affect the success of the temporary assignment. I’m the type of guy that makes sure his t’s are crossed and his i’s are dotted. Having said this, there’s nothing I can do about employees at a temporary employment agency who decide to operate in a footloose and free-wheeling manner. This blog post is a story about one such maverick at one such agency. For legal reasons, I’ve chosen — for now — to block out the name of the contact, the name of the agency, and the assignment location. All you need to know is that the assignment involved working in an area that was very dirty and required some physical effort.
One afternoon, I received a phone call from a contact at one temporary employment agency. She wanted me to go the next day (way to give me the advance notice, people) for a 4 day assignment that required some physical effort in a filthy environment. I asked about past work experience and physical lifting, and was told it was light lifting with no previous experience required. I asked about transit access, and was told it was a short bus ride away. “Good, good”, I thought, and asked the final question about equipment, and was told that while safety glasses, gloves and earplugs would be provided, steel toe boots would be my responsibility. Since I was not going to buy such boots for one assignment, I said “No, can”t take it, do not want to buy boots for a short assignment”. My contact put me on hold to check on the steel-toe boot rule and after about 10 seconds, she returned to tell me the boots were in fact not a requirement.
Satisfied that my requirements were met, I waited for the assignment description to arrive in my Email. On my way to get a submarine sandwich later in the evening, I received the Email, but a part of what I read shocked me:
“You will need to wear steel toed safety footwear and dress appropriately for the weather.”
What the hell just happened? I was told on the phone that the boots were not a requirement and now it becomes a requirement? I wrote back with the following reply:
Hi (deleted). Acknowledged reciept (sic). You mentioned on phone that steel toe boots were not needed. Can you text (deleted) to confirm change in instructions? I will be going in without boots come (deleted) morning.
The response I was waiting for came about 10 minutes after in the text (see image embedded in this post). As you can see, it clearly stated no boots are required. I assumed those requirements were shared by the client she was working with.
Wrong. Upon arrival at the site, I was told that steel toe boots WERE a requirement. Good grief. While keeping my anger in check and putting on my best poker face, I stated to my client contact that I have a text stating the opposite was true, and offered to leave the site. If the steel toe boots were that serious a safety issue, I should have been told, “no, you can’t work here, go home”, and I would have understood. I would have probably given the temporary employment contact an earful for wasting my bus fare, but I would have done what was told. My client contact said I could stay, but I suspected he may have contacted the temporary employment agency because he did ask for my name while he was on the phone. At this point, my temporary employment agency contact should have called me. Since she didn’t, I assumed the issue was settled.
It was not settled. On my second day of the assignment, the client contact looked down at my shoes and said, “No steel toe boots, I see”. Wonderful. He didn’t send me home and allowed me to work. During my morning break, I sent the following Email to my temporary employment agency contact:
I’m trying my damn best to smooth out a situation that clearly has put everyone in a very uncomfortable situation. For the record, there was nothing obvious on site that was a risk to my feet. Most of the items being disposed of was around 10 to 15 pounds and, with the running shoes I was wearing, would not have caused more than a minor ouch of pain if dropped. Because I am extremely careful carrying things around, I never dropped a single thing on my foot. Still, my temporary employment agency contact has screwed up, and it was suddenly my job to clean up the mess I was put into.
The reply came later in an Email later in the afternoon but not from my temporary employment agency contact that gave me the assignment. It came from another person:
The position required steal (sic) toe boots from day one, as mentioned in the assignment. Without them, you were unable to perform the job that was required of you.
Please do not return to the job site.
While it was true that point was originally mentioned in the assignment, the person writing this Email had no idea my immediate contact overrode the requirements in the text (again, view that image! very important!). I sent the image of the SMS in a separate Email. There was no way I was taking fault for this. I did not return to the site as ordered, having only worked two out of the four days.
I will always remember how hard I worked at this assignment, how I arrived on time each day and did whatever it took to complete this assignment. Unfortunately, I will also remember how the contact at the temporary employment agency cut corners to send me on site, how she put everyone, including myself, into such an awkward position and quite possibly endangered my personal safety.
Needless to say, I’ll never take another assignment from this place again.
Thanks for reading!