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How can I communicate my needs to my boss in a client facing role where I can not leave my post without getting dismissed or ridiculed in front of customers?

Note: Although I no longer work at the job in question, I never learned how to deal with this. I would like to know how I and others in similar situations, like my sister working there now, can handle such a thing.

Background: I worked in a supermarket as a cashier. This is a huge international chain. Multiple situations happened where my colleagues and I got treated badly after requests to our boss. Boss here refers to the person that is in charge of my department and is my direct supervisor. All cashiers including me are between 16 and 20 years old, the boss is in her forties.

Example 1: I was running low on change. I asked my boss if I could have some more change when she walked by. She was constantly running around, so I could not phone her up. She told me no, she would not open the safe for just me. Half an hour later, I was completely out of change and was unable to pay out a customer exactly. Protocol says I have to round up their change at that point. My boss, walking by while I was doing that, asked what I was doing in a rude manner, since the customers had hands full of change (4 euro in 10 cent coins). When I told her I didn't have the proper change, she scoffed at me in front of the customers.

Example 2: It was extremely busy in the shop and we were understaffed. It was 30 degrees Celcius and I had been working for 5 hours straight without a break or even a drink (no drinks allowed on post, company protocol). Normally our boss tells us when we can have a break. When she walked by I asked for a break, but she told me I could not have one. Two hours later I still hadn't had a break, but bakery department's boss noticed. He sent me on a break.

Example 3: It was extremely busy in the shop again and we were again understaffed. I had been working from 8 till 2 without a break, so I asked the boss if I could have one after dealing with the customers who had queued up at my cash registry while I was asking. She disparagingly asked why I didn't ask one before, as I had messed up her break schedule, in front of the customers.

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    Sounds like you already did the right thing by leaving. However, in a large chain, you will have an HR department. Your boss has broken a bunch of rules there. You could have contacted them after your shift(s) – Jane S Jul 6 '16 at 9:55
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    In UK supermarkets the cashiers have a bell or a flashing light they can use to call the supervisor when they need to - is there really no mechanism? In example 1 you could have made your case stronger: I need more change, I'm about to run out and will have to use 10 cents and round up. If she still says no then you can still ask again later, and you should definitely tell her as soon as you do actually run out. (When she said she wouldn't open the safe just for you, you could have said "It's not for me, it's for our customers!" - if you think you could get away with that.) – Rup Jul 6 '16 at 10:32
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    @Rup the flashing light is also ubiquitous in the US, and used for the same purpose. – alroc Jul 6 '16 at 18:27
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    Sounds like a horrible supervisor. As others will say, HR or another supervisor (supervisor's boss?) would be who you'd need to report her to. – SiXandSeven8ths Jul 6 '16 at 20:52
  • We only had an intercom system. I could call over the boss, but she always got annoyed when I did, so I stopped doing it. I like Rup's advice and contacting HR would probably be a good idea as well. The more I think about it, the more I see she was not a good supervisor. She even got angry at customers pointing rules out to her. By the way, why the downvote? – Cyonis Jul 6 '16 at 23:41
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In your case your took every reasonable action in the moment. Further action could/should have been taken in a one on one at end of shift or beginning of next shift.

"Hey boss, yesterday I was on the floor for a long stretch and was pretty surprised you rejected my request for a break. What are your expectations for requesting a break?"

Listen to her expectations, there may be some protocol that you are missing. If she brushes you off, escalate to HR as her actions are hurting the business.

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