This story is by Ruth Berman and was part of our 2016 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the Winter Writing Contest stories here.
“It’s Miller Time!”
During the course of our professional life, an innocent action that tarnishes your reputation forever may occur. And unfortunately, it recently happened to me. Who knew the celebratory phrase “It’s Miller Time!” when expressed by an outsider like me, inside the non-profit world, could generate a tidal-wave of conflict and disillusion. How can one explain this life changing event without another thinking it’s ridiculous and possibly fabricated.
I was recently employed at a very well-known healthcare non-profit company as the executive assistant to two upper management executives. I came into this role as an outsider and did not ‘know’ anything relevant in the non-profit world. I did not realize that transitioning from a corporate sector environment to a non-profit environment would have such a leap in culture and organizational dynamics. I believe, for this reason, another executive assistant was tasked as my mentor and she was to help me over the bumpy parts and fully train me on their way of doing things. What I did not realize was that my mentor belonged to a ‘clique’ that I was never going to be allowed to join. From the get-go, she with the others began plotting against me wanting to discredit me in the eyes of my bosses and the other important VIPs.
This ‘executive assistant clique’ was a pretty big one and the leader of the pack was not a very pleasant individual. She was a negative Nancy and didn’t ever smile—at least not in my vicinity. They were all looking out for number one while stepping all over, the number 2’s. They would do things like retain my boss’ calendar rights and change the meeting details or just add a meeting without telling me. This new meeting would just pop-up on his calendar after I had painstakingly reconciled his entire day or even worse his work week.
I will never forget that on my first day of employment—at a scheduled team meeting where I was to be introduced and have the opportunity to get to know each member of my new management team. My mentor very superficially declared to the team, I was the new executive assistant to the team and in the same breath, told me to take the notes to later compile the meeting minutes–knowing, I knew nothing of what was going on in the company or even the team; and in the end, I was going to produce meaningless twaddle for the entire team to waste time reviewing.
My bosses were very busy men. They were always attending back-to-back meetings every day of the week. One would get highly perturbed when his calendar was not flowing correctly and would let me know he was not a happy camper. It was in scheduling a very important and complex meeting with the executive assistant team when this defining moment happened.
It was approximately the last weeks of January when, I was tasked to schedule a meeting with internal and external VIPs in which all of their calendars had to properly align. This was harder than giving birth to triplets, I can assure you. This meeting was already in its fourth week of scheduling and was becoming increasingly harder to complete.
Finally, after successfully completing the scheduling of this very complex meeting (which included members of upper management); I innocently sent a celebratory email to only the members of my EA scheduling team which had just scheduled this very important meeting: in other words, my fellow executive assistant team. A member of this team was offended and brought it up to her supervisor’s attention—who in turn, brought it up to my supervisors’ attention.
Two weeks after I sent this email, my boss requested my presence in his office and asked me if I had sent an email that said, “It’s Miller Time!” and I gave the affirmative. He then stated that I was not to do this again and was the one and only verbal warning I received. I concurred and did explain that it was a celebratory email and not meant to offend anyone. I continued further, “You remember like that commercial?” He acknowledged with his eyebrow but did not comment further. By now, I had accrued enough time off to attend a family function scheduled in Miami, Florida and left on vacation for a week. On the day I returned to work, I was asked to meet my boss in one of the conference rooms—that he had to speak to me. I figured I was in trouble for something but could not imagine what.
Upon entering the conference room he asked me to sit down and go over a memo. In this memo it explained why I was being fired. I thought I would pass out and began to feel the blood draining from the top of my head and my fingers becoming damp with sweat. As I read this memo, I could not believe their reasons for firing me. You know when watching cartoons and you see the color on the character’s face change abruptly and see as it slowly scrolls down his body and exits via his feet? That is what I am talking about. It was beyond ridiculous not to mention flat out unreasonable. Maybe I had taken crazy pills and couldn’t remember. What I did know is that I couldn’t be responsible for what might spout out of my mouth! I desperately wanted to ask him if he was on crack. Man, it pained me to refrain from speaking.
They had the audacity to accuse me of not knowing how to schedule meetings tagging it to my job performance and for writing the “It’s Miller Time!” email. Personally, I thought it comical because I hold four Microsoft certifications and know the Microsoft applications quite well. So, THE reason I was fired and according to this memo was because I sent that email. That email was a simple graphic copied from Google Images which simply stated, “It’s Miller time!” I never wrote those words nor did I add anything to this email. It was simply an icon depicting the Miller Beer logo which stated “It’s Miller Time!” and solely contained in a little pretty square.
During this conversation, he asked me if I wanted to write a letter of resignation because there was still time; If, I wanted to resign. However, he very nicely proclaimed, “This memo will be filed in your personnel file and sent to the Workforce Commission.” I declined his offer of writing a letter of resignation and proceeded upstairs to the HR Department for further clarification and to see exactly what other options were readily available to me. When I spoke to the HR Business Partner, I asked him a few more questions like was it possible to apply for another position. He very calmly told me that I could but should the hiring manager request to see my file, this memo would be in it. Therefore, I concluded my chances of being re-employed by this company, was not in my future and I should sever any and all ties—here and now.
My only thoughts while driving home were exactly, how does one explain “It’s Miller Time!” to a potential new employer? How did an ordinary misunderstanding get the best of me? Pressing the send button suddenly took on a whole new meaning to me. I never anticipated an everyday, ordinary action could touch my family with such extraordinary deep consequences.
When I arrived home, I immediately filed for unemployment. True to their word, they sent that memo to the Workforce Commission and my unemployment benefits were denied. In speaking with my husband he encouraged me to appeal it. I didn’t know that was an option and quickly did.
My case manager opened with a question referring to the contents of the email (in question) and simply asked if others didn’t send emails as invitations to happy hour during the workday. Why would the email sent by Ms. Jones be any different? However, my favorite question was exactly which policy or procedure was that Ms. Jones violated that would warrant her dismissal? They could not answer because this policy or procedure did not exist. They tried to paint a picture of my incompetence and poor job performance. However, they did not succeed.
After careful consideration and upon hearing all sides, the Workforce Commission’s original decision was reversed and my unemployment benefits were retroactively granted. Grounds for termination were unsupported and it was noted that I had not violated any policies or procedures nor violated any company confidential information.
Fate has brought me back into the corporate sector as I begin a new job in two weeks. Looking back over the last nine months, I am grateful for all the conflicts I experienced and gracefully survived. I never would have had the courage to sit down and write this story much less, entertain having it published. Guess what?…”It’s Miller Time!”