Young worker’s experience may change labour standards

The way one young woman was fired by her employer might change employment standards in the Yukon. Victoria Pumphrey, 22, worked at a small gift shop in Whitehorse from December to March.

The way one young woman was fired by her employer might change employment standards in the Yukon.

Victoria Pumphrey, 22, worked at a small gift shop in Whitehorse from December to March. Her manager terminated her when she complained about feeling harassed by her assistant manager, she said. Pumphrey sought the help of the NDP after she was fired.

Her case was brought up in the legislative assembly by Riverdale MLA Jan Stick in May to highlight the need to reduce the probationary period in which a worker may be legally fired without reason by an employer. At Stick’s urging, the Yukon Party government has agreed to hold public consultations on whether the probationary period should be shortened from six to three months. However, the government hasn’t agreed to any deadline for when this work will be completed.

“I suspect that there are plenty of Victorias out there,” Stick told the legislature in May. “Maybe we will hear more voices come forward with their stories. Anecdotally, we know that when workers do not have rights, or feel that they do not have rights, and when there is that imbalance in favour of the employer, and when workers are in precarious employment, they don’t speak out.”

Being fired takes an emotional toll on workers, said Stick. “A firing is a traumatic experience. I have gone through it myself. It impacts a person. It impacts their self-esteem, how they feel about themselves,” she said.

Indeed, Pumphrey cried in an interview with the News while describing the day she was fired.

The assistant manager’s demeanour intimidated her during the course of her employment, Pumphrey said. She would sometimes describe how she can be violent. “She’s like, ‘Oh I met somebody at Walmart and I almost punched them out. She was like, ‘I am capable of violence and I’m not adverse to it,’” Pumphrey said.

She increasingly feared working with the assistant manager alone, Pumphrey said.

She was fired the day she told her manager about her discomfort with the assistant manager, she said. Pumphrey said she couldn’t contain her fear any longer after the way her assistant manager treated her when a shoplifter stole pearl jewelry from the store.

Pumphrey was attending to clients at the time and another co-worker called the police. The shoplifter was caught and the merchandise was returned to the store, she said.

After Pumphrey apologized for not catching the thief she was reprimanded, she said.

“She just tears into me, says I’m lazy, not doing the job right, this is not a game,” Pumphrey said. “She was getting puffed up and angry. I got scared, I thought she was going to hit me,” she added.

“I was scared that the doors were locked and she would do something to me. I cleaned super fast and I left half an hour early,” she said.

When she spoke to her manager, she was fired, Pumphrey said. “She was like, ‘If you can’t work with her, there’s nothing I can do, my hands are tied. She’s my replacement, I need her as my assistant manager,’” she said of her manager’s response.

The store owner refused to comment.

Union leaders support the reduction of the probationary period from six to three months. “The Yukon has one of the longest probationary periods in Canada, and six months is a long time,” said Vikki Quocksister, president of the Yukon Federation of Labour.

The Yukon, P.E.I. and New Brunswick have probation periods of six months. It’s three months in Quebec, Ontario, B.C. and Alberta. In Manitoba, it’s 30 days.

Pumphrey’s next employer, Vision Express, fired her on July 12, after she just passed three months.

She was hired in April, but only started working in May. She was only able to work on Fridays, as she was called in for jury duty. Right before leaving for the Comic Con festival in San Diego, a vacation she had informed her employer about during her interview, she was let go.

But Song Lin, who owns the store, said the vacation had nothing to do with her termination. She didn’t take out the garbage or wipe counters, he said.

Being a new employer, he said he wasn’t sure he should tell her to do the cleaning tasks because he did not want to “hurt her feelings,” he said. Lin has since emailed Pumphrey about those reasons, after his interview with the News.

Still, Lin agrees with the six-month probationary period. “In this store, it takes a long time to train the right person to work by himself or herself. I need more time in this industry, in this business,” he said.

Pumphrey is still recovering from both dismissals. She felt like she could’ve finally gotten out of the “cashier loop,” as she worked so many service-sector jobs, she said.

“I like to think that I’m a pretty nice person, that I work hard at what I do. I like to think I work hard and try.”

Contact Krystle Alarcon at

krystlea@yukon-news.com

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