Employers shouldn’t demand employees trust them with private information without asking why so many do not

Employers shouldn’t demand employees trust them with private information without asking why so many do not 

Two seemingly unrelated stories were published this week. In the first, a young woman claims she was denied employment by Emirates Airline because she has a history of depression. In the second, a local council has demanded all staff members notify management of any relationships between themselves, to avoid accusations of favouritism.

These are two different cases, involving very different employers, yet both show a similar culture of entitlement on behalf of employers towards employees. In America, employers in some states already have an entitlement to access private details about prospective employees, particularly if they are also the employee’s source of healthcare. In a world where digital advancements put private information at the fingertips of those who have means to find it, perhaps it’s time to finally take seriously the fact that privacy and liberty aren’t just things we need to protect from the state, but increasingly, something we need to protect from powerful private companies, and our employers, whether public or private.

Telling employees to notify their employer about any intimate relationships might not seem like a very invasive thing to ask, but it is by extension commanding a lot more information than just the name of a partner. It compels employees involved with a colleague to disclose their sexual orientation directly to their employer – something many employees still do not feel comfortable doing. It compels employees in polyamorous or open relationships and marriages outside of work to discuss the details of their relationship set up with their employer. It compels employees sexually involved with more than one colleague to discuss their ‘promiscuity’ with their employer – something which many people, particularly women, still find themselves judged for.

Let’s not pretend that all participants in all types of relationship get viewed and discussed in the same way. We all know how depressingly predictable the double standard still is between women with a sex life and men with a sex life. And let’s not pretend that everybody trusts their boss, either in terms of the conclusions they may draw themselves, or who they may ‘confidentially’ share the information with.

Of course, it’s technically illegal to discriminate against an employee for, say, having a same sex relationship. But it’s not illegal to develop a vague perception of someone as irresponsible or easy (women who have casual sex), or immature and indecisive (bisexuals), or volatile, irrational and weak (people who battle mental illness) and subconsciously factor these assumptions into the overall treatment, including that which directly relates to career development. This is the kind of thing that can be extremely hard to identify or pinpoint, because it is part of a broader tapestry of perception about an employee. So, it’s not surprising that some employees may prefer to not disclose information about their sexual orientation, gender identity, sex life, or mental health.

As the law stands, it may well be deemed entirely legal for a UAE employer like Emirates Airline to discriminate on the basis on mental health. The airline has been enigmatical about their reasoning, which leaves a very hard situation to speak up about or prove.

It is a common scenario: applicants are repeatedly finding themselves turned down for work, which may or may not be a result of anti-mental illness discrimination, so try not disclosing their mental health history, get accepted for a job, and then get in trouble or dismissed because they didn’t correctly disclose the mental illness. The applicant will, of course, be assured that they’re not facing discrimination for mental health or disability, but for failure to disclose. If that’s true, what are we to make of all the rejections where they do disclose? And why demand people disclose a part of their medical history at all?

The double standards around mental health issues like depression are enormous. When accessing state support – benefit or NHS counselling, for example – the slightest suggestion that you might be okay, really, can deem you fit for work and totally fine. So in order to access support – sometimes the very support that makes it possible for you to work at all in the first place – you must emphasise the very worst of your dark episodes. Yet at the same time, in applying for and holding on to jobs – sometimes through the very same Job Centre – you must hide your depression, because you have no guarantee that employers won’t form quiet, even subconscious, judgments about you for it. And if you don’t disclose the depression, and make them aware of it, well, that’s your fault too.

I’m reminded of a friend I had at school, who used to make casually homophobic jokes. When I eventually came out to her, she was insulted that I had kept it secret from her for so long.

If you want people to disclose things, then you need to be someone they can tell. When ‘slut,’ ‘dyke,’ ‘mental’ and ‘schizo’ get thrown around in casual conversations, including in workplaces, don’t be surprised if some employees occasionally call in with headaches rather than telling you they’re experiencing a depressive episode, or feel less than enthusiastic about having to inform their boss about a fling with a colleague. If it’s okay for the ‘World’s Favourite Airline’ to remove an offer of a job because the employee has a history of sporadic, situational depression, then don’t be surprised if your employees aren’t rushing to notify you of the full details of their mental health. You want the right to know about our personal lives? Earn it.

What was wrong with Elliot Rodger? (Short answer: a lot)

Guest post by Emily O’Malley

I read Elliot Rodger‘s whole 140-page manifesto, and have not been able to stop thinking about it all week. From the day it happened, I’ve heard a medley of theories about his pathology. People have blamed mental illness, guns, violent video guns, MRAs, feminists, atheism, racism, and his therapists. Some have taken a leaf out of his own book and faulted women for not dating him. Others have said that no one is responsible but Elliot himself. A guest on Fox News even speculated that he must have been secretly gay and angry with women for taking away the men he desired. After watching his videos and reading his autobiographical screed, I point the (middle) finger at narcissism and misogyny–both his own, and that of the society which fostered it.

Elliot Rodgers was an egomaniacal, emotionally infantile, status-obsessed, classist, racist, sexist, spoiled pig. He demanded that everything be handed to him on a blood diamond-encrusted platter, and for the most part, he got it. His parents bought him everything he could possibly want, along with countless other things he was too ungrateful to appreciate. We’re talking about a guy who went on international vacations nearly every year and always flew first class. He had VIP passes for movie premieres and attended a private Katy Perry concert. He wore Armani and Gucci, ate at five-star restaurants whenever he pleased, and drove a BMW. His dad was friends with Steven Spielberg. Even so, he didn’t believe he was wealthy. He kept pressuring his mom to find a rich husband so he could “be part of a high-class family” in order to feel superior to others. His mom didn’t wish to remarry, but Elliot told her she should sacrifice her own happiness for his sake, because he believed that being rich was the only way he could lose his virginity. He wanted women gifted to him along with all the other status symbols, but found that to be far more of a challenge.

Elliot constantly spoke of being rejected by women, but it was entirely in his own head. From the sound of his manifesto, he never even asked women out. He didn’t approach them. He didn’t flirt. He went out by himself in public and expected women to flock over to him, and felt jilted when they didn’t. How many women are going to approach a man who’s immersed in a book at Barnes & Noble or waiting in front of Domino’s? How many women are going to try to pick up a man they see jogging around in a park? Based on those descriptions, he must have looked busy. He never tried to initiate conversation. There were some encounters in which a woman smiled at him, but he didn’t follow it up by saying hello. He decided she must not be interested because she didn’t fall into his lap right then and there.

The manifesto contained numerous laments about not having friends, but Elliot was the one who drove them away. Whenever he made friends, he became maddeningly jealous of them for attracting women or being charismatic. He snubbed the friendship of anyone he saw as nerdy or unattractive, but felt deeply threatened by attractive and outgoing friends. His jealousy immediately turned to hate. When any of his friends dated or hooked up with women, he assumed they were doing it to spite him. He truly believed that everything they did was directed at him. This wasn’t just his belief about friends; he also applied it to strangers. Elliot thought that every couple out in public was displaying their affection just to make him feel inferior.

Elliot was also racist. He was half-Asian but passed as white, and heaped a generous helping of racial slurs onto black people, Hispanics, and Asians. He seemed to idolize blonde white women as an Aryan ideal, and I doubt it was a coincidence that the majority of his victims were Asian men. He was trying to kill off that part of himself.

His hatred of women burns through the pages, searing anyone who scrolls through. He wanted to own and enslave them. He wanted to establish himself as a godlike dictator, lock women up in concentration camps, and starve them all to death. I’ve heard people ask why no woman ever gave him a chance. After pointing out the fact that he never actually approached any of them, I respond by asking, “Would you?” He was handsome and rich and had myriad Hollywood connections, but clearly that’s not enough to attract someone if you radiate predatory zeal. Clearly you can still scare people, even if you’re good looking and intelligent. Creepiness is a distinct trait that attractive people are not immune from exuding. I strongly suspect that he would have been violent and predatory even if he did have a girlfriend. It was his nature. If somebody can’t handle being denied what they want, they can’t handle it any better from a significant other. With his impossible demands and inability to be satisfied, I also doubt that one girlfriend would have been enough for him. Even if he had managed to win over a woman he viewed as a flawless trophy, he’d be enraged about not being able to date every woman who appealed to him, and he would still feel as if the world were cheating him out of his rightful rewards. The people who blame women for “not giving him a chance” would also blame a woman if she did date him and was murdered. They’d say, “She had to be crazy to say yes!” Either way, Elliot would be absolved of responsibility.

Elliot’s affinity for Men’s Rights Activist websites has caused many to wonder if they fueled his fury toward women. I’d say that was more of a symptom than a cause. He already felt alienated from women and blamed them for his misery, so he sought out an online community with others who shared his grievances. Very few of his partners in commiseration would actually commit murder, but the support he received for his massacre is chilling. Not all MRAs condone Elliot’s actions, of course, but a great deal of them are choosing to derail the topic (or possibly rationalize it) by immediately reverting to, “Well, women kill men, too!” or “There are women who commit domestic violence.” Yes, there are women who domestically abuse men and women who kill male partners. No one is denying those facts or using this tragedy to excuse female-on-male violence. However, we are currently talking about a man who committed a mass shooting based almost entirely on his acrimony towards women, and many MRAs seem unwilling to discuss this without seeking out a way to blame the female gender.

A large portion of Elliot’s alienation from women, and social struggles in general, seemed related to his Asperger’s Syndrome. That being said, Asperger’s alone doesn’t account for his actions. Plenty of people with Asperger’s are able to date and have active social lives. It may take more effort for them than it does for others, but it can be achieved. Elliot’s astounding level of narcissism kept him from finding love and keeping friends. He wanted the world to drop down and worship him, and refused to take responsibility for any of his flaws. That’s not attributed to Asperger’s Syndrome. It’s not psychosis, either. One striking aspect of Elliot’s manifesto was its lucidity. His ideas were outrageously inaccurate, but coherent and consistent. He couldn’t relate to others’ joy or connection, so he resolved to destroy it.

I’d diagnose that as bare evil.

Ukip and the myth of the alienated oppressor

Ukip and the myth of the alienated oppressor

This week I can’t turn my head without seeing articles, tweets, blogs and comments about how Ukip is representing alienated voters, and if we ‘label’ them as racist or bigoted we will further alienate those people. This is where journalists start to opine about the ‘white working class’ – presumably hoping that class is so rarely mentioned explicitly that everyone will be distracted by ‘working class’ and forget that they’re specifying ‘white people.’

I guess it’s easier to pretend you’re standing up for working class people who happen to be white and conservative than to say you’re standing up for conservative white people, some of whom happen to be working class.

Anybody who did GCSE history knows that it’s common to turn towards extremism when people are alienated, particularly in challenging economic times. But that doesn’t mean we have to pretend in some patronising way that everybody who turns to the far right is ‘alienated’ or that there’s no other factors involved. Ukip voters are slightly more likely to be working class than Labour or Tory voters but  overall they span all different class demographics – and that’s before we even analyse the backgrounds and wealth of the party officials themselves.

The thing is, lots and lots of people feel alienated, and don’t turn to extremism. And a lot of those people don’t get pandered to like this. A lot of those people don’t get heard at all. Is it because they aren’t scary? Is it because Nigel Farage, with his fag hanging out his mouth is ‘likeable,’ while disability rights campaigners, or asylum seekers asking for basic rights, or trans people denied healthcare, are somehow less fashionable to leap up and defend?

Is it just me or are some people just a tiny bit too enthusiastic about listening to the voices of the ‘alienated’ racist, homophobic, sexists – out of compassion and decency, they insist – but not the voices of the alienated people who end up on the receiving end of that bigotry? It’s not to say all those trying to engage have an ulterior motive but fake concern for the alienated far right voter can be a way of expressing sympathy for the bigotry without owning it.

It’s a pretty common thing, after all, for people in politics and in journalism to project less than pleasant views on to us, the public, rather than defend them. They like to present their ‘discomfort’ at same sex marriage or women having casual sex or ‘Romanians moving in next door’ as the views of ‘ordinary people’. And I don’t know about you, but as a member of the public, I don’t want that kind of crap said in my name.

If someone feels alienated and they turn to a far right party, there are two things happening. One of them is alienation. The other is what they do with that alienation. If you choose to take your vote and use it to show the ‘political class’ (a term increasingly applied to anyone who watches the news and dislikes Ukip) that you care more about sending them some vague message of being pissed off than you do about racism, homophobia, misogyny, rape apology and Islamophobia, then expect me, and others, to conclude certain things about your priorities.

As I type, I know what the response will be. Farage doesn’t care what I think. I’m not his target voter. And his voters don’t care about these issues. (Well, quite.) So it isn’t ‘productive’ to talk about the party’s problems with bigotry. But I’m not here to filter every opinion I have through the prism of political tactics. That suggests to me a mindset too obsessed with positioning, a world where opinions aren’t rooted in anything real, but are only expressed as a means of political strategy.

It also gives an awful lot of power to ‘oppressor’ or dominant groups, as soon as you allow them to dictate what counts as an acceptable response to their behaviour, and what does not. If we’re not allowed to call things sexist in case we alienate sexists, if we’re not allowed to call things racist in case we lose the approval of racists, if we make the broader debate about what is oppressive or bigoted and what is not conditional upon appealing to the most oppressive and bigoted mindsets, then it’s over, we’ve lost, we might as well go home. It’s wrong to police people’s reactions to bigotry and, worse, actually blame those reactions for fuelling the rise of the far right. Bigotry isn’t caused by people standing up to it. Racism isn’t caused by people talking about racism. Homophobia isn’t caused by gay people demanding too many rights too fast.

I know what else people will say. That I should shut up and listen more. I agree. I do listen to people. I listen to friends who say they’ve no interest in politics but they are thinking of voting Ukip. I listen to other people too. I listen to all sorts of people, some I agree with and some I don’t. I listen to a lot of people that many of the ‘don’t-call-Ukip-names’ brigade never even notice exist.

So I do listen but not just to you: I don’t think that by virtue of being angry and loud, you are entitled to my attention any more than the voice than, say, an asylum seeker being held in a detention centre without basic medical care. You are not entitled to a larger platform than the Muslims on the receiving end of hate crime which spikes dramatically when the far right up their rhetoric. You don’t get a bigger microphone than gay people who want to get married and feel safe in the streets. You aren’t entitled to a bigger platform than everybody else just because you’re loud and aggressive, and claiming to be ‘alienated by the modern world’ rather than intolerant.

Listening is good, but listening is an active thing, and if you’re listening properly to things, they usually spark a reaction. To assume an ‘alienated’ person isn’t capable of engaging with any kind of disagreement is far more patronising than telling them you disagree with them and having a conversation about it. That’s what you do, ironically, when you don’t actually care about what they’re saying. Let the disillusioned Ukip voters have their rants, they’re almost saying, because it’s all they have. Ignore them, don’t challenge them, they don’t know any better and can’t be expected to expand or explore their ideas.

It’s telling that so many of the apologists feel the need to frame discussions about bigotry with phrases like ‘screaming racism,’ ‘shouting racism,’ or ‘playing the race card,’ or spike accusations of sexism or homophobia with words like ‘hysterical.’ The assumption seems to be that in calling an opinion racist or homophobic or misogynistic, you aren’t engaging with it, or you must be seeking to silence it. But defining things is part of how we debate them. Words like ‘racism,’ ‘homophobia’, and ‘misogyny’ exist for a reason – and bigots hate them for a reason, too. Those words allow us to name and challenge broader structural issues behind what they say, instead of treating each occurrence as a random, isolated incident – which is exactly what Ukip want us to do when they demand we only use words they are comfortable with.

Saying that Ukip aren’t intentionally a racist party and it’s just a coincidence that they attract so many bigoted people isn’t good enough for me as a voter, and I’m entitled to say so. When I say there’s a problem with bigotry in Ukip I’m including people who are quietly okay with other people’s bigotry. When we say we shouldn’t focus on racism, or homophobia, or sexism, because that’s not why their voters are voting for them, we are accepting an ugly premise: that those things are side issues, not important to most people. We are saying that people’s views on equality shouldn’t be a central part of how we judge them. We are accepting that we can only talk about racism if the racist actually wants to be called a racist, and isn’t a potential voter. In other words, we can never talk about this. The fact that the bigotry isn’t a factor one way or the other in how so many people choose to vote, far from being a reason to change the subject, is exactly what I am so concerned about.

Ukip want to present the case that the party is accidentally stirring up racial tensions with their xenophobia, and accidentally riling up homophobes, but they don’t intend to do that. I don’t think it matters as much as they do what their intention is. If you vote for someone you know could be a racist or a homophobe or a rape apologist, then what use is it to me that your vote was cast because you wanted to send Westminster a message? If pissing off ‘the political class’ is really more important to you than whether the person you’re choosing to represent you and pass laws on your behalf is hateful or not, then, well, what exactly are we supposed to conclude from your priorities?

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