I need to fire an employee, but I’m afraid her family will become violent

A reader writes:

One of my direct reports has two sons who are affiliated with gangs. Both of them are going through the court systems now for weapons and drug charges. Even my employee’s mother is going through the court system for being under the influence of prescription drugs while driving, and she has had three incidents where she has pulled a gun on someone.

My issue is that this employee is not a good fit for our company. Her mother used to work here and hired her (15 years ago) and covered for her all those years. I really want to terminate her employment and bring on someone stronger, but I have two problems: (1) She is truly unemployable and overpaid and losing this job will translate into becoming homeless, and (2) because they’re involved with gangs, I’m afraid her sons or their friends will show up with guns blazing.

I do feel bad for her. She is always kind and tries so hard to be helpful, but I can’t assign anything to her and what she does do has to be double checked (even something as simple as making sure she stamped all the outgoing mail). I need to bring in someone who is useful to me, and the company has already declined my suggestion to simply make her a receptionist and bring in a fourth person; they are not willing to do that.

I think something as life-changing as losing her job could send her and her sons over the edge. They are 21 and 26 years old and neither one of them has ever had a job outside of drug dealing. They both live with her. So, all of them would be affected by her termination, and I fear for my safety if I terminate her. Her sons have lost several friends to gun violence and one was so severely injured that he no longer has the use of his arm. They aren’t just a couple of wannabe punk kids, they are knee deep into the gang culture.

Before I answer this, I want to note that I’m not going to address whether your fears of violence are warranted; I’m not in any way equipped to know if they are. But it’s worth remembering that even people in gangs deal with adversity in their families’ lives without turning to violence, and so your best bet is probably to proceed with caution but not terror.

Fortunately, the best way to avoid violence stemming from a firing is the same way that employers should manage all firings (but too often don’t): by treating the person with as much kindness and dignity as possible throughout the process. That’s always important, but it’s especially key in situations where you fear violence.

That means going through a process of progressive discipline, where you provide clear feedback about your concerns with her performance and what you need to see change, are explicit about potential consequences as you move through the process, and give clear warning before letting her go. And throughout this, you’re kind but firm, offering her a chance to improve, but not misleading her about what it will take to remain in her job.

So you don’t just jump into a “you’re fired” or even a “you might end up getting fired” conversation out of nowhere; if you haven’t already had serious feedback conversations with her about the problems, you start there. And then if you don’t see the improvement you need in a few weeks, then you talk again, this time with a more serious tone to the conversation. The idea is that you’re clear and direct, but the conversation gets progressively more serious if you don’t see improvement, eventually ending with a clear statement that you will need to replace her if she doesn’t meet the bar you’ve laid out in a certain amount of time. At each stage, you’re giving her the opportunity make the changes you’re asking for. If she doesn’t, you move to the next stage.

Additionally, each step foreshadows the next (“If this doesn’t get better, we’ll need to talk about a more formal plan”), so that she’s very clear about where she stands and isn’t surprised by negative consequences. Too many managers give lots of critical feedback to a struggling employee but never explicitly say that the person’s job is in jeopardy — and then the person ends up shocked and often angry when they’re ultimately fired. That’s unfair to the employee, who deserves to know the severity of the concerns and the potential consequences, and it’s far more likely to lead to bad feelings.

If you follow this process, when you have to do end up having to fire someone, the person will have been clearly told about the problems and what needs to change, warned that the progress isn’t what it needs to be, and explicitly told that her job is in jeopardy if specific changes don’t occur. So when the firing conversation happens, it’s more of a wrap-up than anything else; it shouldn’t be a surprise.

And I want to emphasize again: Throughout this process, you are kind and compassionate. You make it clear that you care about her as a person and want to see her succeed — but you’re also honest about what that will take.

You should also offer severance — several months worth if you can do it. Not because you’re paying her off, but because she’s worked for your company for 15 years and it’s the right thing to do.

Employees who are fired in this manner are far less likely to feel they were treated unfairly. They’re far less likely to leave angry or bitter, and you’re far less likely to be a target of any hostility.

In your case, that also means that her family is less likely to be outraged on her behalf. But that’s not guaranteed, of course, and so you should also take additional steps since you’re concerned: You should talk with your manager, as well as HR if you have an HR department and whoever deals with overall administration at your office if you don’t. You should be direct about your security concerns, and you should come up with a plan together — whether it’s having additional security present in the days after the firing or talking with an expert on workplace violence to get more targeted advice. (In fact, both those things might be a good idea, if you’re truly worried.)

Good luck. Please let us know how it goes.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 437 comments… read them below }

  1. Ruffingit*

    This is a good example of needing to separate yourself from your employee’s personal concerns. The OP mentions concerns that she and her sons will be homeless if she’s fired, etc. On the one hand, it’s nice to be concerned about the impact of the firing on your employee, but on the other it’s just not your problem. And it’s not unfeeling to say that. You simply cannot take such an interest in the possible impact of a job loss on your employee’s family that you stop doing what is best for the company and the other employees.

    1. The Other Dawn*

      I agree. It’s not OP’s problem. I was going to say that the employee put herself in this position to be fired, but really it sounds like the mother did so. She covered for her daughter all those years, so the daughter probably doesn’t even know how to function as a good employee on her own.

      1. fposte*

        I’m wondering if the woman has any idea that she’s performing unsatisfactorily. I totally agree she needs to be terminated if she can’t, but it would be really rough to think you’ve been doing okay for a decade and a half only to find out otherwise. As you say, Mom didn’t do her any favors here.

        1. Kelly*

          OP here. Yes, she does. We have written her up and talked to her on a few occasions. It’s hard to do because she starts crying every time you ask her to improve on something. I know she wants to do a good job, but she’s just not very smart and can’t handle changing “how we’ve always done it” even if it no longer makes sense.

          You’re right, her mother did her no favors and it’s very frustrating because I’m left here trying to figure out what to do with her. I am sympathetic to her situation, but more than that I’m afraid for my own safety.

          Just yesterday she told me a new story of how she was out with her mother and they confronted someone who owes them money and when he didn’t pay her mother pulled her gun out of her purse; the employee laughed and said “now he knows we mean business so we should have any more trouble getting the payments!” I was stunned to say the least. She has no boundaries as to what she talks about when she comes into the office.

          I find myself flabbergasted at least once a week.

          1. fposte*

            Okay, you need to shut those stories down. She’s not here to regale you with exciting and possibly fictional tales of her private life, and it’s not helped you to hear them. There should be no opportunity to flabbergast you, once a week or any other way. It sounds like she’s got quite a storyteller habit going, and that’s fine when somebody’s doing their work, but when they’re not, they’re not spending their time on the right things.

            Secondly: tears shouldn’t be stopping a conversation. Alison has good posts about this, so have a look, but basically, give her a Kleenex, tell her that she can take a moment to pause and collect herself, but then continue the conversation. If she doesn’t stop, then that’s a problem in its own right and needs to be articulated as such.

            I know all of this is a lot easier said than done! But I think these are some ways to help you develop more control over the situation and that they’re worth considering.

          2. Sadsack*

            She doesn’t come off as a very sympathetic character. Maybe she just has you fooled. She could just be thoughtless and lazy and knows when to turn on the water works. Probably learned from good ol’ momma. Best to unload sooner than later.

    2. Lily in NYC*

      I think OP was mentioning that as an illustration of why she’s worried about possible violence; not that she’s waffling about firing her.

      1. Kelly*

        Yes, Lily, you are correct. I do feel bad for her, but for $85,000 I could handle feeling bad and bring someone in who is worth the salary. Her mother continued to give her raise after raise to the point that this girl, who would be lucky to have a job in a fast food joint for minimum wage, makes more money than college graduates.

        My biggest feelings are for my own safety.

        1. Lily in NYC*

          Whoa, her mother really sounds so shady. I am flabbergasted at that salary. Good luck, Kelly. Please update us and let us know how it goes!

          1. Jamie*

            Seriously. I wonder what they pay their IT…if you get 85k without being able to stamp mail maybe I could earn a zillion dollars there…


            But I am curious as to how her mom had the power to green light and ridiculously inflated salary for her without that going through anyone else. Every place I’ve worked there is a labor bucket and managers politely and professionally fight for their share for their people…someone else should have done a giant WTF on that at the first inflated raise…long before it made it that high.

            Makes me wonder what the hell the mom made before nosebleeding her way out the door.

            I’m just nosey today (no, not like THAT, ewww).

            1. Kelly*

              We are a pretty small company on this end. The owners are in another state. Her mother had full rein of everything that was going on here and they trusted her. When she said her daughter was doing an awesome job and should have a raise or a large bonus, they believed her and trusted her judgement. It wasn’t until after she was gone that anyone realized how bad the daughter really is.

                1. JMegan*

                  I know. I was just thinking, I need to start working for my mother! She thinks I am awesome and totally deserving of a raise, and she is of course a completely unbiased source. :)

                  Also, that’s some pretty bad management from the owners, if they would just accept a statement like that at face value and hand over the money without asking any further questions.

        2. Forrest*

          $85,000 and she’s living paycheck to paycheck (since you say she’ll be homeless.)

          I’m not a bootstraps kind of girl or financial superior but jeez, I’d like to think (pending emergencies) I’d have some sort of cash fund to keep me afloat if I was making that kind of dough.

          1. Jamie*

            She’s the sole earner in the household…depending on her mortgage that can happen. I don’t know what her family is pulling in from their criminal activity, but odds are she’s the one carrying the bills and health insurance, etc.

            Shouldn’t be a factor – but just saying it’s not that much if you’re the only breadwinner.

            1. De Minimis*

              Unfortunately, I have experience with this through extended family, and even just one or two deadbeat family members with drug habits can quickly drain your income every month, even if you have a solid paycheck.

              1. Ruffingit*

                Yup and not only that, but with the criminal trouble these people are getting into, you’re looking at bail and possibly lawyer fees, assuming they don’t have a public defender. It can drain you quickly.

                Regardless, I’d like the OP to know that I CAN stamp mail and would be happy to quit my current job and do it all day long for a salary of $85,000 ;)

            2. Kelly*

              She doesn’t have a mortgage anymore because she lost her house. She is now in a rental house and can’t afford to move – which is her excuse for why she is still living in a gang-infested neighborhood instead of where her income should have her living.

          2. Kelly*

            Yes! Imagine my shock when she told me that were at a Payday Loan Center to do some business when they confronted the guy who owed them money. How on earth can you be so broke you need to do that?

            1. tcookson*

              Doing that will make you broke! My grandma, while living on her social security check, used to pawn the same few items every week for a little extra cash, and then go get them out when her monthly check arrived. It was actually costing her money to do that, but we couldn’t [successfully] tell her that.

        3. Ruffingit*

          I get being afraid for your safety in this situation, but as strange as it sounds, that’s actually a very good reason to fire this person. You’re basically being held hostage by her if you don’t fire her because your fears for your safety allow her to get away with atrocious work habits.

          Alison gave you some good advice on the safety issue so I won’t repeat that. Do what you can to keep yourself and your colleagues safe and go from there. The firing needs to happen, get through it as quickly, cleanly, and with as much compassion as you can and move forward. Good luck and please come back to update!

        4. Jazzy Red*

          Kelly, the more I read, the more concerned I am for your safety, too. Have you thought about talking to someone in law enforcement and asking for advice on handling this woman and staying safe? I have family members who are cops, so this is something I would think about right away.

          When you do fire her, make sure you are not alone and have have at least one big guy with you. After you do fire her, you’ll need to change the route you take to work and everywhere else you go. I would also get a PO box and not have the mail delivered at home (you might never get it). And report any and all incidents of intimidation, threat, or suspicious events/activities.

          1. JuliB*

            ” After you do fire her, you’ll need to change the route you take to work and everywhere else you go. I would also get a PO box and not have the mail delivered at home (you might never get it). And report any and all incidents of intimidation, threat, or suspicious events/activities.”

            Very good advice. Let’s remember the Gift Of Fear book!

          2. tcookson*

            I agree . . . losing an overpaid job, even with plenty of advanced warnings and chances to improve, is one thing . . . but losing $85,000 salary with no chance of ever hitting that salary lottery again — that’s got to sting!

    3. Chinook*

      Ruffingit, you said it much more kindly then I would, but you are right. Whether or not someone will end up homeless is not a reason to not fire them. Instead, that should be a great incentive for that person to do their best to ensure that they don’t get fired by dong their best at their job. In other words, it should affect their choices, not yours.

      And to look at it another way, most people cannot afford to be fired and many would probably become homeless if fired but does that mean no one should be fired? Of course not. You need to treat all employees with respect by showing them clear goals, giving them the tools to meet them and, if they can’t meet them, letting them know over time so they aren’t shocked when they are let go. No one is owed a job. It is something that must be earned and worked at.

      1. college teacher*

        Chinook, I like the way you put it. Given the consequences, people should be trying harder. Every semester, I have to deal with students who will be expelled if they do not pass a particular exam and they choose to not attend that class and even start looking at the course materials 1 day to 1 week before the exam. Parents and teachers have to enforce consequences, so that people don’t enter adult life thinking that consequences don’t apply to them.

      2. JCC*

        “No one is owed a job. ”

        In the past this may have been true, but the conditions in large cities make true self-sufficiency impossible. The limited space in cities means that nobody owns where they sleep unless they are quite wealthy; even a good night’s rest is only allowed on the goodwill of an employer’s paycheck. There is no available land for farming, making food another goodwill. Even water would be a goodwill, if not for public sources provided by the government, because most lakes and rivers located in urban areas are unsafe for drinking.

        However, many businesses could not function without the population density that cities provide; people move to cities because businesses need them. To my mind that means that if those people are no longer needed, the business community as a whole is responsible for providing them with an exit, either by transferring them about within the city, or, if there is a true surplus, providing them with the means to move to a more rural area where self-sufficiency is possible.

  2. COT*

    I don’t know the answers to these, but I think these could be some other questions to ask if you fire her:

    What time of day do you tell her she’s fired?
    In what office/meeting room do you do it?
    How do you let her leave? Do you escort her out right away, allow her to pack up her desk, give her time to say goodbye to others, etc.?

    I know that you’re more concerned about her family members lashing out than the employee herself, but planning through these things will help you feel calmer, safer, and more in control–ultimately leading to a better experience for you and your employee.

    If you have resources in your area, such as a good work-readiness program or help with accessing public assistance, please offer her connections to those. Her income, housing, and family challenges should qualify her for assistance if it exists in your area. The more vision you can give her for a secure and hopeful future, the better.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      These are good questions to be strategic about. You want to make sure you give her as much dignity as possible in how she leaves — let her say goodbye to others, allow her to pack up her things, etc.

      You don’t want her to leave thinking, “I worked there for 15 years and they wouldn’t even let me say goodbye to people or give me the dignity of collecting my things.”

      1. Jamie*

        ITA. The only time, IMO, someone should be escorted out by security is if you have a legitimate fear of their actions. Otherwise – dignity prevails.

        I know there are different schools of thought on this, but I don’t love the idea of letting someone go end of day on Friday. I guess I would hate to have the whole weekend to dwell and send out resumes when businesses are closed…but that’s me.

        Also, a few key personnel will need to be told (relevant managers, HR, IT, etc.) but make sure it doesn’t leak and it’s a source of office gossip before she even knows. I’ve seen this and it sucks.

        1. Anonymous*

          I dunno, I was let go on a Friday, and the only thing that bothered me was that they kept me around for so many extra days, letting me think I still had a chance to redeem myself when they’d already made their decision. But I do think the weekend gave me an *excuse* to take some time, blow off steam, take care of myself, and regain a little composure before beginning my job search that following Monday. Although I also took that time to reformat my resume and polish my LinkedIn.

          1. Jazzy Red*

            A lot of companies do the Friday thing, for just those reasons. They figure by Monday you’ll have gotten over the worst of it, and you’ll be ready to start your job search.

            There is NO good day or time to lose your job.

        2. Maire*

          I dunno, I sort of think being let go in the middle of the week would be even worse. You are thrust completely out of your routine and know that everyone else will be at work the following day. At least on a Friday everyone is going home for the weekend and it has a more natural finality.

          1. anon*

            Agreed. I was laid off in a large round on a Monday morning, and this was exactly how I felt. I was still too much in shock and fear to jump on the computer and start job searching that day.

        3. Juni*

          I’ve yet to understand why people don’t just tell low performers that their last day will be two weeks from now, on the 22nd (or whatever). That gives them two weeks to finish up their projects, tie up loose ends, say necessary goodbyes, and be prepared. For this woman, it would not be totally wrong to eliminate her position, thus saving her from the shame of getting fired outright. It also lets her collect unemployment, which is compassionate given her 15 years of service.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            It’s not common to do that because of concerns that the fired employee will be bitter and spread toxicity around the office. It takes a fairly mature person to remain pleasant and professional in that situation.

            1. Lauren*

              Who wants to keep working there when they’ve been fired? I’m not good enough to keep on permanently but I’m good enough to keep an additional two weeks? That makes no sense.

              1. KellyK*

                Yeah, I would agree with that. If they’re doing that bad a job, why do you want them to stay the extra 2 weeks? That just seems like pulling the Band-Aid off as slowly as possible.

              2. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Not every firing is because you’re absolutely terrible. Sometimes it’s because you’re okay but not as good as they need. (I’m still not a fan of keeping a fired person around because of morale reasons, but I did want to address that question.)

                1. KellyK*

                  Yeah, good point.

                  I think it would be pretty likely to have the effect of making the fired person feel that the firing was unjustified, though. That is, that “If I was doing *that* poorly, why do you need me to stay for two weeks and wrap up?” would definitely be going through my mind if I were fired with two weeks’ notice. Intellectually, I know it’s not that cut-and-dried, but emotionally, it would be salt in the wound.

                2. Juni*

                  No, that’s fair. But if you’re eliminating a position, there’s no harm in setting an end date in the near future.

            2. Jessa*

              And also even if they’re not dangerous, retaliatory action is not unknown. Even if it’s not permanent stuff, files go missing, projects don’t get done, numbers on a report get changed, oops, the wrong stuff gets shredded. I mean a person in a snit can do a lot of passive aggressive damage to the place. No, if someone is being let go for a cause (not for a layoff or something,) you let them go. If you want to PAY them some kind of severance to give them a few extra weeks pay that’s fine, but don’t have them in to work.

              On the other hand if it’s a layoff, if you’re letting good people go, you give them notice, and possibly let them use resources to help find new positions of course.

          2. Allison*

            I don’t think I’d want to keep going to a job that’s already decided they don’t want me. A) where’s the incentive to keep working? I’m already gone and there’s no chance of changing their minds; B) I’d be miserable and it would kill morale – both mine and my employers’.

            Two weeks’ notice only works when the employee wants to leave.

          3. Kara*

            Toxicity is one issue, as Alison mentioned, but in some lines of work (IT, for example) it can open the company up to retaliation from the fired employee. I wouldn’t want someone I fired to stay on and have the capacity to change vital passwords, disable my network, etc, if they had that access before they were fired. Its best to just give them as much warning as possible with a well thought out PIP, and then when they do not improve, let them go.

            1. Chinook*

              Forget an IT person bein able to sabotage a company – anyone could. All it would take would be gong into whatever you are doing and deleting it, shredding documents, contacting clients or vendors and souring the relationship, etc. There are many things that we do, day to day, that require a certain level of trust that we are doing them correctly.

              I mena, if I really wanted to cause pain, all I would have to do, when coding invoices, is start reversing account numbers and no one would be the wiser until they reconcile the accounts a few weeks later. Vendors would still get paid, the company wouldn’t be hurt in the long term but my name would be cursed for years to come by the people who would have to untangle that mess.

              1. Kara*

                I didn’t mean specifically it had to be IT, I was just using that as an example of a job that could have serious repercussions if the fired employee was bitter and allowed to stay on for two weeks with access to the networks. There are plenty of positions where this could happen – even an overnight stocker at a grocery store could spend two weeks stocking things in the wrong place on purpose, or hiding products. I’m not IT but if I were fired and vindictive I could easily destroy a years worth of marketing materials for the firm I work with. I wouldn’t, of course, but just another example.

                1. Chinook*

                  As a customer I woudl be irritated unless the evil stocker had a wicked sense of humour and start restocking things they way she thought they should be (I am drawing a blank on an example but I knwo it could be fun).

          4. some1*

            All of the co-workers who were let go that I didn’t get the chance to say good-bye to but wanted to were all people I had contact info for.

            1. Jazzy Red*

              One guy who was recently fired deleted ALL the project information for ALL the projects under his control, and IT couldn’t restore any of it. I can’t figure out that one at all. His department is trying to recreate the hundreds of files that are gone.

              1. S.A.*

                That’s an easy one to answer. You open the tool box, write the recursive delete code referencing the file and you can’t get the info back once you delete it. Scary but we did it in my programming class to learn why you don’t use this command unless you really mean it.

                I kept finding that information was being randomly deleted and some employees where I used to work would just throw customer work away physical files. Work wouldn’t be entered properly either so you couldn’t reference previous projects. The bosses were monsters and one employee was sent on a errand only to find that the company they were sent to pick up supplies from was hiring. They were looking for someone with his skills and experience – and were paying a lot more too. He dropped his minimum wage job in less than a week.

                There are a lot of reasons why information can get lost. Frequent virus problems stemming from employees goofing off on facebook was a huge problem. Then their email got hacked too but it was no surprise.

                Some files can also be lost from crashed hard drives on servers too. I know because I worked for an incompetent chauvinist who swore he could do everything perfect. This means he never did anything right then tried to blame it on an employee. It doesn’t take too much to destroy information and the physical work being lost on some files was devastating too.

                I quit because I was tired of being threatened and refused to work for free. I bet the employee was either being mistreated (or perceived their job duties as under compensated) and decided to get their money’s worth out of the employer. I think this happens to bad managers, owners, etc. more than they would like to admit. Let’s not forget there are some not too ethical employees too.

                1. IT Person*

                  Recursive delete code? Huh? Maybe at your company, but that can’t do anything if you have regular backups by IT people that are at least moderately competent.

          5. FRRibs*

            I’ve gone through two plant closings.

            When people know they are losing their jobs and still have access to “the people who done ’em wrong” (their words), they do things like driving forktrucks through walls, putting inportant things in file 13, slash the boss’ tires, etc.

            Rational restrained people don’t usually act this way, but not every one is.

        4. Katie the Fed*

          We had to remove a guy who had become unhinged and starting making threatening comments to people at work. When he was fired, managers actually found excuses for the people who worked around him to be at other meetings (we didn’t know what was going on) so nobody was in the area when he showed up, and then he was escorted to an office and told he was being let go. He was escorted out of the building. He made some other threatening remarks but that was the last we heard of him.

        5. ThursdaysGeek*

          A firing is different from a layoff, but it would be really nice if layoffs also treated people with more dignity. If you trusted someone to do the job, but you need to lay them off, you should be able to trust them to be professional for two weeks notice.

          Specifically to IT, how come in the UK people are required to be given notice (at least in general), but in the US people are laid off with no notice? Are the computer people in the UK more professional? Are backups and security better in the UK? Are Americans more unhinged? Why are US companies so afraid of something that UK companies appear to be able to handle?

          1. JMegan*

            I don’t know about the US, but in Canada (at least in Ontario), the employer is required to give X weeks of notice of termination for every Y years of employment. Or they can do payment in lieu of notice, so instead of saying “We’re letting you go in ten weeks,” they can say “Here’s ten weeks salary, now please hand over your security pass.”

            Most of the time, they will choose payment in lieu, for all the reasons already listed here. Better to get the person out the door the same day, than to keep them around for another ten weeks when they know they’re not wanted.

            1. Lore*

              The last time there was a round of layoffs at my job (divisional merger), I thought they handled it very well. There was a fairly generous severance package, and employees were told they were expected to take the rest of the day (of the layoff meetings) off to process the information and plan, and it was entirely up to them what they did after that–pack up their things right then, or come back for another day/week to wrap up projects. They could come back with the signed paperwork once they’d made that decision. A handful of people did just say their goodbyes and go the next day, but most worked at least to finish out that week to make sure everything could be handed over cleanly.

              1. Poe*

                Ugh, when I was laid off they told me in the morning, then I had to stick around until the end of the day for my formal meeting. It was AWFUL. Then, of course, the layoff notice was actually a month before the last day. I chose to take severance (as outlined in my contract), but still had to work to the end of the 1 month notice period to get paid for that time plus severance, and I really needed the money. I still worked very hard because I also needed the reference and still liked and respected the people I worked with, but that was a really horrible month.

            2. De Minimis*

              The US does have a law requiring notice in some cases, but only for a large amount of layoffs for larger companies–it usually only comes into play in cases where a facility is shutting down. Even then there are ways around it…

          2. LondonI*

            Hmm…I suspect in a lot of cases UK employees are put on ‘Gardening Leave’ – i.e. they are paid for a couple of weeks but not actually required to work. This is not uncommon.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Exactly — they’re often paid for the time but not in the office, for the same reasons that U.S. employers don’t want them in the office after being fired.

          3. Heather*

            Because in the US almost nobody has an employment contract – you’re an “at-will” employee, which means that either party can break off the relationship at any time. We have very few of the protections workers have in Europe, which is why the answer to “can my company legally do this?” is almost always “yes.”

        6. SevenSixOne*

          I’d prefer to be let go at the end of the day before I would have been off anyway. Not just to minimize disruption to my routine, but also to minimize gossip.

          An employee at OldJob got called in to talk to the boss, then when she left, we all assumed she left for lunch… but then she never came back. Management’s stupid policy of confidentiality meant no one even got a one-sentence “Jane is no longer with Company because [neutral, factual reason]” explanation, so for months there was all kinds of breathless gossip about what happened.

          1. FormerManager*

            Speaking of unhinged individuals, I’ve always thought that not saying anything when someone is terminated/laid off/etc. rather dumb because of the possibility that someone who wanted to do harm could just be let in by clueless employees (“I left my keyfab at home, etc.”)

            1. Chinook*

              I agree that staff do need to be notified when someone no longer works there for the same reason. At the very least, let the receptionist know so she won’t give them the visitor’s pass because they left theirs at home.

          2. EM*

            I agree. I was told I was being laid off at around 10 am in the morning and HR told me to go home for the day. They did want me to work out two weeks, but they said they wanted me to leave for the day to allow everything to “sink in” — and I’m sure because they didn’t want me (or the other employees being laid off) crying for the rest of the day.

            I gathered my things and left for the day.

            About a week later, I was talking to a co-worker/friend and she mentioned that she knew something must have happened because she heard through the office grapevine that I “stormed out all upset.”

            I was shocked. I did not storm out nor was I upset at all. Actually, I was thrilled (I hated the job and was trying to hang on and not quit in the hopes I would get laid off so I could collect unemployment & severance).

            I set the record straight right away — not about the being thrilled part, of course (heh) — but that I wasn’t angry and didn’t storm out — HR had simply told me to leave for the day, so I left.

            1. anon*

              Something like this happened to me, too, when I was laid off. I think some people just love to gossip and feed off of other people’s misfortune.

              1. Ruffingit*

                Yup, when I was laid off, I did receive two weeks’ notice and the one thing I did was immediately tell my co-workers. The company I worked for was small and the boss/owner had a reputation for lying about things so I wanted them all to hear it from me so there wouldn’t be any of this “Ruffingit quit in a huff, stormed out, blah, blah, blah.”

          3. Poe*

            This is horrible. My boss was fired very suddenly and it was only coincidence that I had stayed late that day and found out what happened when they were escorted off the property (the whole thing was a mess). The higher-ups had no plan to tell anyone and asked me not to say anything either about the situation. When I pointed out that dozens of people no longer had a boss and suggested/threatened that I would be personally sending out an explanatory email later that day, they suddenly changed their mind and told everyone that my boss had “just left”. Ridiculous.

          4. De Minimis*

            I was let go right before lunch…[at my former job.] Think that is how they like to do it, to make it less uncomfortable for the employee–it makes it look like they are just leaving for lunch.

          5. Girasol*

            My old department did that: people would just vanish and their coworkers would be fuming that they weren’t getting assignments done and hadn’t told anybody how long they would be out. Then word of their permanent exit would get out by rumor and the stories were surely worse than the truth being kept confidential. I tried to talk management into saying just “Jane is no longer with us. If you depended upon her for a task, please see her manager.” But they wouldn’t go for it.

            1. Anon for once*

              This is happening at my company right now. Our CIO left one Friday about a month ago for what everyone assumed was a well-deserved and much-needed vacation.

              Except that he hasn’t come back. And the photos of his honeymoon are gone from his office. And someone was given the job of changing all our network passwords. And a senior programmer has been moved out of the pit into his office.

              The CIO is the CEO’s brother, so he might be gone for six months or he might never be coming back. No one has any idea. And it’s horribly demoralizing. All of us are wondering, was it a family fight, is he helping his wife cope with a cancer diagnosis, was his son in the Army wounded?

        7. Elizabeth West*

          I got laid off on a Thursday, and I was grateful for the one weekday left so I could run errands and file for unemployment while everything was open. Then the weekend rolled around, and I could let it go for a couple of days. I think that worked well.

          1. Ruffingit*

            Yeah, I’d say that’s the way to do it. That does allow people the one day (Friday) to do things they need to do and then allows them the weekend to get over initial shock. I’d vote for that being the rule if we had a vote on it :)

            1. Jamie*

              I agree, I think that’s how I would like it done.

              I have always had a list of the ways I’m most afraid to die and now this is spurring me to start a list on the ways I’d most like to be let go.

        8. My 2 Cents*

          I was fired on a Monday morning and I was pissed that I spent the time getting ready for work that morning and all for nothing. Also, when you HATE your job and your entire weekend is spent dreading Monday, it was two extra days of dread that I didn’t need.

          1. anon...*

            I had a job once that was 28 miles away. I had been there for less than 2 weeks. I got to work and was let go 10 minutes later – no warning and thanks for making me drive back and forth almost 60 miles and pay for a bridge. His ‘reason’?.. he had hired ‘too many’ people and didn’t need me. I did even really respond.. just took my check and left quietly.

    2. Brandy*

      Excellent questions to make sure you have answers to. I was let go without ever getting the “your job may be in jeopardy talk” so it was a shock when it happened (although my employer was crazy so once I got over the initial firing it made so much sense later).

      I would have appreciated being allowed to box up my things and say goodbye but I was ambushed when I walked in the door. My things were in boxes but they did allow me about 2 minutes to make sure they had gotten everything. I didn’t get to say anything to my co-workers and I was walked out the back door. It was definitely a less than humane way of letting someone go but it absolutely taught me things about how I would never treat people in the future.

  3. AdAgencyChick*

    OP, I highly recommend “Firing at Will” by Jay Shepherd. It has a lot of very good specific advice for how to manage underperforming employees out of an organization, but his main point is: people don’t sue (or get violent with) people they like and respect. So if you do, as Allison says, keep the process as respectful and compassionate as possible, you have a better chance of coming out with an ex-employee who understands that she wasn’t a good fit and doesn’t hold it against you or your organization. And if she feels that way, I’m not guaranteeing her family will feel that way — they’re one step removed and may think, “How could you do this to my mom?” — but she’s more likely to plead your case with them and tell them not to even think about retaliating (if they were even thinking of it in the first place).

    1. Kelly*

      Thank AdAgencyChick, I’ll hit the bookstore on my way home. I appreciate it.

      One thing, her kids come into the office all the time. Yesterday one showed up without a shirt on, walked right into our front lobby. This is unacceptable in every way, but considering he is 5 ft. tall and about 350 lbs., well, you know, it was even more disturbing. Thankfully he was gone before our legitimate guest arrived.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        That IS disturbing…especially if you’re worried about them coming back after she is let go. Is there a safety or security department, or even a local security company you can speak with who can help you formulate a plan to deal with this before you actually fire her?

        That’s always one thing I hated about reception work; the lobby is often open even when building access is restricted. I always had an eye on what office supplies I could use as weapons–stapler, tape gun, etc.–just in case. Our safety vendor at Oldjob said if someone like that did come in, he would be more worried about them than about me!

        1. Kelly*

          No security department. We are pretty small. Front office and production area. We are pretty much on our own up here. The offices are spread out down a long hallway.

          1. fposte*

            If you’re no longer paying her $85k, that’s a lot of money that could go to hire security for a few months and probably have plenty left over for a temp receptionist. Check out some firms and see what they quote you for a price.

            1. Natalie*

              Good idea. We did that when we had to let a guy go who had recently had an armed standoff with police. Thankfully the security wasn’t needed, but I’m glad we had it.

      2. Chinook*

        Since you know her family members already flout your rules, it might not be a bad idea to go over your safety plans and procedures with your employees as a general refresher. Things like rules about who can go into secured areas, signing guests in and emergency evacuation procedures all should be in place already.

        As well, making sure your receptionist (or whoever monitors your front lobby) always has a way to subtley call for back-up in case they want help without escalting the situation. At one office, there was an email in the draft box that went out to all managers and above asking them to come to reception. They were all notfied, ahead of time, that this would only be sent in an emergency when the receptionist felt like she shouldn’t be alone with a client in the waiting room but it wasn’t serious enough to call the police. The staff were asked to “just happen to be there” to act as witnesses and/or see if they could help and was started after I had a former client come in that was angry that their bankruptcy hadn’t been discharged and I could find no one to help this man who was feeling more and more insulted that no one would talk to him. It took me 10 minutes of phone calls to empty offices and then explaining that I needed someone to just talk to the guy so he could felt heard.

          1. fposte*

            But she won’t be when she’s fired. This is good advice for the person who will be the receptionist after that. It’s actually pretty standard receptionist protocol, in fact.

            1. Jamie*

              I’m a big fan of the silent alarm under the reception desk. And double doors where people are buzzed in.

          2. RubyJackson*

            But you said in your original letter that the owners of the company refused your suggestion to make her the receptionist and bring in a fourth person. I’m confused.

      3. Victoria Nonprofit*

        Hey, there’s no need for body snarking. It sounds like there are plenty of actual reasons to be worried about/frightened of/unhappy with this family. The way someone looks without a shirt on isn’t one of them.

        1. Becky*

          I’m pretty sure that was less of a snark than to explain the intimidation factor. I took “disturbing” to mean “frightening,” not “ewww.”

          1. Kelly*

            Yes, intimidating – that’s how the guys are on TV for the MMA fighting. It’s not the normal way anyone walks around but a scrawny guy surely doesn’t look as menacing as a larger guy.

        2. Jazzy Red*

          Are you kidding? The guy’s appearance is the least of it – his stupidity/arrogance/preferred method of intimidation is the problem here.

  4. eh*

    I want to second the point about explicit language that states lack of improvement will lead to firing.

    Once worked with someone who was fired, but showed up for work the next day because no one told her explicitly “you are fired.”

    Also, the scenario Jamie described is also almost inhumane. Bad enough to be fired, but being the last to know. Wow.

    1. Allison*

      Absolutely! I’ve seen that problem before, where someone figured it was implied that someone would lose their job, or maybe thought that a direct threat would hurt morale. My manager at my old job even denied that my job was in jeopardy when I asked. A few years ago I did get some criticisms, but when they finally stopped giving me hours and I asked why, I was told “IT’S NOT WORKING OUT” as I must have been stupid not to figure that out on my own. For the record I did figure that’s why I wasn’t on the schedule, but managers need to clearly state when someone’s finished.

      It doesn’t even have to be a harsh “fix it now OR YOU’RE FIRED!” It can be worded like “If you can’t fix this, we’ll need to consider letting you go.”

      1. Emma*

        LOL, did you work for a certain purveyor of coffee? At my OldServiceJob, being “taken off the schedule” was code for “you’re fired.”

    2. Anon for this*

      The language I heard was “Your employment at XYZ company ends today.” Very straightforward and non-judgemental. That part was delivered by my manager, and then the HD Director took over and explained my severance package and next steps.

      I was actually delighted (and not at all surprised) to be let go from that particular position. But even if I had been genuinely upset, I would have been very grateful for the dignified way they made it happen.

    3. Kelly*

      OP Here

      Our write up forms do have a space to write what will happen if the corrective actions are not taken; we generally put “will result in additional disciplinary action up to and including termination of employment.”

      When we are writing them up on their final warning we specifically say “you will be terminated without further warnings.”

      1. fposte*

        I would emphasize that orally as well right from the get go, and in more colloquial terms: “That means that you will lose your job if you don’t perform as we discussed.”

    4. Pussyfooter*

      I was once dumped by a boyfriend so vaguely that I had to call him back to make sure the next day. Some people are so squeamish about upsetting anyone that they hardly make themselves clear. It reminds me of an early boss I had who *would not* fire anyone-ever. Both boyfirend and boss showed the same kind of over-focus on the discomfort that makes them forget the realities at hand.

  5. Aj-in-Memphis*

    I guess I’d just like to know the OP translates the family members’ issues into the employee’s potential to cause workplace issues? I would also wonder if the OP needs to separate their own *personal* feelings about this employee from they’ve heard about the family members and to really ask themselves if they are judging this person based on what they know about their family or on this person’s character alone.

    I don’t think I’ve ever ever heard of a story where family members attacked employers but instead of the former employees themselves attacking the former employers. Not all people related to gang members are bad people and also will not actively seek revenge on their former employers for a justifiable firing. It’s clear that this person (and their parent) are not like their gang affiliated relatives as they are/were working, productive members of society.

    If you need to fire them, do it.Worrying about retaliation from family members should not be a reason not to do it. Also in the future, please don’t judge people by the actions of their family members, it’s unfair and just not cool.

      1. Anonymous*

        Agreeing. I wish I had read your response but I was trying to say the exact same thing. I think she’s being really irrational. And you’re right, if you look at workplace violence it’s usually the employee coming back to do harm or in some instances a family member (such as estranged spouse) coming in to harm the employee and ends up killing others.
        What she is describing doesn’t seem rational to me. If I would judge family members of people I work with like that, then I should be in fear everyday in my job–even though I’m not in a position to fire someone. But let’s say I have to communicate not so great news… It just seem way off base to me.

        1. KJ*

          Agree to a point…and that looks good in print, but I can say that when I am the one who has to let someone go, I will sometimes think of these scenarios. A little paranoid maybe, but perfectly understandable.

        2. Ms Enthusiasm*

          I don’t think the OP is being irrational at all. I think she has some valid concerns in this day and age. Just knowing that the mother had pulled a gun on someone more than once makes me feel like the family is irrational. I wonder why the mother no longer works there, was she fired too? It is human nature to judge people. Most of the times it is for minor things we might disagree with or find distasteful. But in this case, IMO, this employee’s family members sounds like criminals just by the actions the OP describes. I don’t think she is jumping to conclusions on their character, the proof is in their actions. I agree with all of Alison’s advice.

          1. Aj-in-Memphis*

            Again, these were not the actions of the person in question – therefore she is judging that person by her family. If people judged us by the actions of the people we’re related too, then where would we all be?

            1. Ms Enthusiasm*

              I see your point and usually I would agree but not this time. Again just my opinion, but I think the actions the OP describes are not the typical actions you would see from family members. I think there is a line to judging someone for their crazy brother who wears his bathrobe all day to people who are involved in criminal activities like the OP described. Yes, I know not all gang members are violent but many are. And it sounds like the OP truly cares for this woman’s well-being and isn’t judging her specifically – she is afraid the family might do something.

            2. Crazy family*

              If you come from “one of those families” then you understand this person’s fears. My mother’s family is crazy with a side of super duper crazy. Let’s say that my uncle ran for local election and not only stole signs but put blades on the back of opponents signs so that someone moving signs was cut badly. When he was busted for it and called on his behavior, my other uncle went after said person (one of my uncle’s employees) with broken beer bottle.

              Yes, it is rare but crazy things can happen and if you have a family that doesn’t understand consequences then there’s a chance someone can go off. She’s not being irrational, she’s looking out for her best interests.

          2. Anonymous*

            ” But in this case, IMO, this employee’s family members sounds like criminals just by the actions the OP describes. I don’t think she is jumping to conclusions on their character, the proof is in their actions.”

            They are criminals. Now the question is will they come shoot up the workplace. Possibly but they (her family–we’re not even speaking about her) are no more likely than the next person who gets fired….
            It’s more than likely that 100+k year executive (who just got fired) with 5 kids and a wife at home will do that….I’m just saying.

            1. Anonymous*


              *It’s more than likely that (non-criminal) 100+k year executive (who just got fired) with 5 kids and a wife at home will do that….I’m just saying.*

            2. Jamie*

              If her family members have violent histories, including the use of weapons, that’s enough reason to be cautious.

              If the 100K exec does not have a history of violence or illegal use of a weapon they are not as likely to become so as someone who does. History and track record tell you what someone is capable of.

              There is always a first time, of course, but yeah I’m going to be more nervous about someone who’s already shown a propensity for violence than someone who has not.

              1. Colette*

                And especially because the employee thought her mother pulling a gun on someone was an amusing anecdote, not something to be concerned about.

              2. Anonymous*

                Again she is being judged based on her family connections. Honestly what stake does her family have in her employment???

                “I’m going to be more nervous about someone who’s already shown a propensity for violence than someone who has not.”
                But the someone is not her. Same as I would expect for the executive children to come shoot up the work place because he got fired….wow

                1. TL*

                  Anyone who is amused by a display of even the threat of gun violence makes me very nervous – and I’m from a very gun friendly family/region.

                  She has access to guns, she clearly doesn’t have respect for them, and both conditions apply to her family. Not a good mix.

                2. Jamie*

                  She is nervous about what the employee’s sons might do, and per the OP they have a propensity for violence. As does her mother.

                  Judging by your last paragraph you don’t see this employee’s sons/mother (with criminal violence/weapons history) as being potentially more dangerous than the hypothetical kids of an executive with no record of violence/weapons?

                  If that’s the case we disagree and I won’t belabor the point. I just believe a track record means something – but not everyone will agree.

                3. Anonymous*

                  It sounds like this family is used to running a con game. Anything is possible in any firing and that’s my point. Even though she maybe the one carrying the family, I’m pretty sure once she get fired–they will simply move on to the next hustle/con to get money (government subsidy in some form) Also OP said the mother resigned after embezzling money. There was no retaliation from the family.

                  The OP just knows too much information about this family (which sound scary) but I would have long shut those conversations down… no personal business in the workplace especially on this level…

                4. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  The OP just knows too much information about this family (which sound scary) but I would have long shut those conversations down… no personal business in the workplace especially on this level…

                  Yes, this a thousand times over. OP, you need to stop letting her bring her personal life into the office in this way, for whatever amount of time she’s still there. You’ve got to set some boundaries.

            3. Kelly*

              She makes $85,000 a year and is the sole provider for her mother and her two gang-banging sons.

          3. TL*

            Actually crime rates have decreased significantly in the past three decades or so (and been more or less consistently decreasing.)

            So this day and age is a lot safer than any other recent day and age.

            1. Elizabeth West*

              True, but this is a specific situation, with specific concerns about the employee’s family members and their behavior. It’s not really representative of crime as a whole.

              Also, the Uniform Crime Report (UCR) only covers crimes reported to law enforcement. Lots of them, like sex offenses, are vastly underrreported.

              1. TL*

                Oh, this wasn’t at all in response to the OP, just to the phrase “in this day and age.” It’s highly inaccurate to say we should be more scared of the world today than, say, in the 1950s.

                And, yes, crimes are underreported but the general trend remains the same and one can safely assume it is at least somewhat reflected in non-reported crimes, as long as percentage of crimes reported hasn’t gone down.

                1. Jamie*

                  We just know about it now. Back in the 50’s they had what – an hour of national news and an hour of local (I’m guessing). Now with 24 hour news cycles and time to fill – not to mention replacing once or twice daily papers with the internet where news is constantly updated – we hear about everything now.

                  Want to know how many sexual offenders live in your town? Website. Crime stats for any location? Website. There were sex offenders and crime in the 50’s, too…but unless it was big enough to make the news you had to hope someone would inform you while you were chatting as you hung up sheets on the line or canned peaches, or whatever people did back then instead of typing and clicking.

                2. Ms Enthusiasm*

                  I’ll stand by my comment. I do think it is different now than, say, the 1950s. Sure, I know there was crime back then too and by some statistics crime has decreased in recent years (although it appears to be up again most recently) but it really is worse now. How often do you think they had mass shootings in the 1950s? Mass shootings like we have seen today like Columbine, Aurora, Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech and so many more I can’t even name them all. It seems like nowadays you should be scared just to be in any public place because any crazy person could show up with a gun and start shooting. That did not happen in the 1950s.

                3. class factotum*

                  There was a lot of terrorist activity (the Black Hand) around WWI. The Wall Street bombing was horrible.

                  Also watch “Wisconsin Death – something. Trip?” There are crazy murdering people everywhere. And read the book about the 16th century German executioner.

                4. fposte*

                  There are definitely certain kinds of crime that become more common in certain times, and some of that is just idea-planting once there’s one big publicized event. But the worst school massacre in U.S. history was in 1927, and there were plenty of mass shootings before the 1970s.

                  The general trend of reporting *doesn’t* stay the same, so reporting is a really bad indication of what the crime rate is like (and, in fact, individual perceptions of crime can depend on what news sources people employ). People’s perception of crime is generally pretty unrelated to actual crime rates. Here’s an interesting blog post about that:


                5. Elizabeth West*

                  Ms Enthusiasm–this happened in 1966, but still close.
                  Charles Whitman killed his wife and then went to the University of Texas and started shooting from the bell tower.


                  Honestly, though, these things are really quite rare, even today. It’s just that we hear about every single one of them all around the world because of the internet and 24-hour media.

                6. Pussyfooter*

                  And don’t forget. As population increases, you can get a lower *percentage* of dangerous people, but still have a higher *number* of dangerous people running around.

        3. Kelly*

          OP Here

          Her kids come into the office on a regular basis. They have screaming arguments in the office (though it’s not as often now as it used to be).

          They make it known that they carry weapons and her when her mother used to work her she threatened me. My fears of violence from this family is not unwarranted. Federal Marshalls have raided their house about three months ago. Federal Marshals don’t get involved in petty crimes.

          The employee told me a story yesterday about her and her mother confronting someone who owes them money and her mother pulled out her gun. The employee was laughing when she told me this story and said “now he knows we mean business so we shouldn’t have any more problems with him making his payments!”

          1. Jamie*

            I’m hoping, with the visits, you have security cameras so you’ve got vehicle id and license plates and stuff? So once she’s gone your personnel know who shouldn’t be there.

            FWIW just given the anecdote about pulling a gun on someone and her finding it funny is more than enough reason to be extremely cautious and yes – nervous, even.

            Not that you shouldn’t let her go – you should because you need to do what’s best for the company and there is someone out there who would be an asset to the job…but I think you’re smart in not seeing this as a run of the mill firing and covering your bases before proceeding.

            What I hope is that they are smart enough not to try anything because of being traced back to them and that nothing happens – but I’d be nervous around anyone who admitted to being a part of pulling a gun on someone and didn’t find that to be a bat-sh*t crazy comment to make at work.

          2. Heather*

            Holy shit.

            I hereby retract any thoughts I had about your possibly judging the woman based on her family. I’m totally speechless.

            Does the employee have a similar attitude to her mom & kids, or is she a relatively decent person who just sucks at her job?

            1. Kelly*

              Until she made the comment about “now he knows we are serious” I thought she was just a relatively decent person who sucked at her job.

              I even mentioned that I was surprised she confronted the guy because she is so meek at work and she said “shiiit, somebody’s messing with my family, that’s different!”

              So, as of yesterday I’m a little concerned about who she really is. Seriously, the US Marshalls don’t raid your house, your kids are being arrested with thousands of dollars in cash, dangerous drugs, weapons – all while they are already on probation for drugs and weapons charges – and you don’t know what’s going on in your own house. If all that was going on in my house I would definitely know about it. I’m starting to think she just plays sweet and innocent in front of other people.

            1. Kelly*

              None. The Vice President has started carrying a concealed weapon, but that’s only helpful if he’s standing right there if something were to happen.

              Because the building is in a bad neighborhood we used to keep the front door locked with a security camera and intercom at the front door. We may be going back to that although that won’t help anyone walking to and from the parking lot. It’s still better than nothing.

              1. Ruffingit*

                It’s definitely better than nothing, but I’d also invest in security to patrol your parking lot for a few weeks following the firing. There are local security agencies who will do this and some of those agents are off-duty cops who moonlight. Check it out ASAP and get your security in place and ready to roll, then fire her.

                1. Jamie*

                  I like cameras and letting people know they are there, they are reliable, and they are everywhere. It’s my favorite deterrent.

              2. Nerdling*

                You may be able to hire local off-duty police officers to do some security for your building, and you can likely arrange to have a patrol handy when you finalize a firing date. It sounds like it’s entirely likely they’ll be more than familiar with the family.

                I’m very sorry you’re in this situation, and I wish you the best.

              3. TL*

                I am going to side note that the concealed carry weapon, unless the VP has extensively and consistently trained in how to use it (and more importantly, how to shoot a person), is not likely to improve the situation at all.

                Trained security personnel is best.

          3. Windchime*

            I would think that the screaming fights in the lobby would be reason enough to let this employee go, let alone the scary “amusing anecdotes” about guns and the poor work performans. Holy moley, this situation would scare me, too, and I can see why you are nervous about it.

            This situation makes me very happy that I work in a locked, secure building.

        4. Chinook*

          Normally I would agree that one should not be judged by the actions of their family workers. But, since the employee’s sons do show up at work and flaunt workplace expectations (no shirt? really?) and the employee’s mother seems to have worked the system to help her daughter, it is something she is right to be aware of. I see it as a very good reason to make sure all your safety procedures are up to snuff.

    1. anon...*

      Did you read OP’s story above about her employee’s mother threatening someone with a gun that owed them money? And then laughing about it as she retold the story to OP? This is a family full of bad apples from top down!

  6. V*

    In addition to giving her severance, can you let her use the office for a period of time while she looks for another job? Or set her up with a company that provides employment search services, including a dek, phone and internet access (and ideally someone to help her with her resume and interview skills). It will provide a transistional time for her (and her sons) to “get use” to the fact that she is no longer working for the company, while getting a paycheck and having somewhere to go so that the firing is not an abrubt disruption to her life.

    1. fposte*

      I’d be uncomfortable with letting a likely very unhappy former employee hang around the office, but I think the connection to a transition service of some kind is an excellent suggestion.

    2. Brandy*

      I can see a transition service being a very kind gesture but anything more is unnecessary and really, defeats the purpose of letting the employee go. The OP wants to make sure they are protecting the business and doing what’s best for the other employees. Having someone who has been terminated come in to use the facilities is probably not in their best interest.

    3. Anon for this*

      It’s a great idea to want to help, but I agree that letting her use your office space is not a good plan.

      There are actually organizations that deal with this exact situation – people who have been fired and need help transitioning to their next career. The one I dealt with also had office space available, with internet, phone, etc for their clients to use while job searching.

      This service was included in my severance package, and paid for by my former employer. My package also included X weeks of access to the company EAP after my termination date, in case I needed counselling, help with financial planning, etc.

      I don’t know if either or both of these options are available to you, but they can be really helpful to your soon-to-be-former-employee (and her family) if they are. Good luck!

    4. Kelly*

      Severance pay will definitely be given. She has been here for a very long time and it’s not her fault that her mother set her up for this. I don’t think allowing her to remain on the property is a good idea simply because of the safety issue, but I would definitely go against normal company policy and write some sort of letter of recommendation if I thought it would help ease the tension.

      1. Jamie*

        If you don’t think well of her work how can you recommend her?

        I’m a big fan of references, but only if they’re true. If you recommend someone and they are incompetent that hurts your reputation. I hope you think long and hard before you do this – because other managers rely on getting honest feedback about potential hires and this will really harm you professionally as well as sticking it to another hiring manager who might give her the job based on your lie.

        I really hope you don’t do that.

        1. Kelly*

          Honestly, I would simply write the dates that she worked here and that she was very dependable and pleasant employee. I wouldn’t talk about her skills in any way.

          1. Ruffingit*

            Don’t do that. A reference letter is something you write for someone when you believe in their skills. Dependable and pleasant says nothing helpful whatsoever and I would think most employers would look at the lack of skill discussion in such a letter as a red flag. I get wanting to help her, but given her lack of skills there’s really nothing you can do for her at this point except to provide severance pay and some information on transition work services like the local unemployment office, etc.

            She has worked there a long time and that should garner her some degree of care, but going against normal company policy for this person is not appropriate.

            1. Kelly*

              That wasn’t so much in wanting to help her but thinking that she would be appeased by that and smooth her ruffled feathers as she is going out the door.

              1. Pussyfooter*

                She may be reliable, but supporting this situation in her midst is not being “pleasant,” especially the off-hand comments about pulling guns on people.

                Please do not fib to some other less informed people at another company. You might set them up to be abused and financially cheated, as you and your company have already been by this messed up family. There are other ways to be compassionate for this employee without setting up innocent bystanders for future trouble.

                1. Ruffingit*

                  Exactly this!! This is the point I was trying to make, but you said it so much better Pussyfooter!

                2. Editor*

                  Instead of a letter of recommendation, tell her outright that when people call there for references, “we will not discuss why you aren’t working here any more, we will just confirm the dates you worked here and your title.”

                  That’s what that kind of policy is for. You aren’t providing misleading a possible new employer, and she doesn’t have an explicit reason to think you’re “messing with her family.”

                  In the wake of all the court action, I hope her other family members are locked away when she is terminated. And also, could your company find new quarters in a cheaper but safer part of town without losing business?

              2. expat in Germany*

                If you want to both be honest and nice, you might get some help from German recommendation letters. German employers have to give employees a letter of recommendation, so there are ways to write a letter which looks good to the employee but does not look so good for the potential employer who reads it.

                You can praise everything she does do well, like coming on time every day and listening to your instructions and trying hard while leaving out everything she does not do, like not following the instructions successfully.

                Here is an explanation in english, so maybe you can get some ideas from it: http://andrewhammel.typepad.com/german_joys/2006/10/getting_hired_o.html

                1. Ruffingit*

                  That would be fine, except she explicitly stated above that she’s going against normal company policy by providing a letter at all. Not a good idea especially because it’s clear (to me anyway) that she’s doing it to try and limit the possibility of violence after she’s let this woman go. That’s not the best idea. Get some good security measures in place and then let this woman go and move on.

    5. Elizabeth West*

      No, bad idea because of the raucous family members coming into the office. I would absolutely provide her with contacts, etc. for any organizations that can help her transition.

    6. Aisling*

      This would be highly unusual… “You’re fired but we’re going to keep paying you while you look for another job, using our resources”? The employee in question has been warned what will happen if things do not improve. Things have not improved. Ergo, employee is terminated, and that is the end of that. Giving referrals to unemployment agencies and the like is perfectly fine, but it is not fine to have the fired employee continue to use the office resources for personal reasons.

  7. Anonymous*

    First, I think you’re way too close to this situation. Not to minimize or discredit your fear, but I highly doubt the sons or their friends will come and blaze up the workplace. That’s just a little irrational. How did the mother (grandmother) leave? Was she fired or did she quit? I like AAM response. I’m sure, pretty sure, even gangs recognize respect and dignity.

    Now if you just fired their mom without a thoughtful approach (the way AAM suggest)– then yes, you might possibly have an issue on your hand just as with any other employee… and you could fire her thoughtfully and still have a problem just like you could with any other employee. Some people are just–not mentally stable.

    1. BellaLuna*

      I just don’t understand how you can say “I highly doubt the sons or their friends will come and blaze up the place?” OP has provided SEVERAl examples of their violent behavior that justifies her fears and taking safety precautions safety for herself and the other employees. When the mother loses her job the family will lose their home and they are likely to be angry and want someone to blame. And from the examples provided it sounds like they are not logical and could retaliate in a violent manner.

      1. fposte*

        I think they justify taking safety precautions. But it’s also worth remembering the same workplace has fired a senior family member previously and banned at least one of the kids without any inappropriate response from the family, so their track record on responding in a similar situation isn’t violent.

        1. Kelly*

          We didn’t fire her, we let her resign with a very nice severance package. But, at that time her daughter was still employed here. She said she expected to be let go when her mother left, but since we didn’t know how bad she was we assured her that her job was safe. Fast forward three years later and the reality is that she needs to be let go now, so their reaction may be a little bit different than it was then.

            1. Forrest*

              You know, if one doesn’t have morals, this is the best place ever to work for! You can get $85k for doing pretty much nothing, steal money and get a severance package!

          1. fposte*

            But it’s likelier to be the same. And you can let the daughter technically resign with a nice severance package as well if you like, and point out to her the similarity and how well it worked before, if you want to emphasize the parallel.

    2. Forrest*

      Wait, you don’t think her sons or their friends will come and blaze up the place based on nothing and the OP is being irrational?

      And then you say that as long as OP does XYZ, it won’t happen? You can’t say someone’s being irrational about a situation and then be all “well, yea, if you do this way it may happen.”

      Its either irrational or its not.

      1. Anonymous*

        “And then you say that as long as OP does XYZ, it won’t happen?”

        Can you tell me where I implied that.

        my quote:

        Now if you just fired their mom without a thoughtful approach (the way AAM suggest)– then yes, you might possibly have an issue on your hand just as with any other employee… and you could fire her thoughtfully and still have a problem just like you could with any other employee. Some people are just–not mentally stable.

        My point is it’s possible in any situation. Whether it’s well-planned or not. And yes, I believe security measure should be in place as any other situation. I just don’t see this issue being heighten beyond that. The OP is worrying about this stories upon stories that this woman keeps telling her.
        The fact is the mother/grandmother w left without retaliation and the OP said she has talked to the mother before performance or something (I’m trying to read through everything) and again no retaliation..

        1. Forrest*

          And my point is that you shouldn’t call the OP irrational in one paragraph and then deal with it as rational in the next.

  8. Yup*

    Off topic question —

    OP, could you elaborate at all on the description “she is truly unemployable”? This question is based solely on my own curiosity and lack of experience with managing direct reports. Any examples or details that you (or any other posters) can share would be very interesting. I have a general impression about what “truly unemployable” might look like on paper but I’m curious what it looks like in the day-to-day reality of a workplace.

    1. dejavu2*

      I’m also curious about this. I’m envisioning developmental disabilities, based on the entirety of the letter.

    2. Jessica*

      Or maybe a drug problem. If she can’t even stamp envelopes reliably, it sounds like maybe she’s having some medical/psychologigal or substance abuse issues that you might try to offer help for.

      1. Kelly*

        I had her make file labels for me once. She put the labels in the printer backwards so the colored strip was on the bottom instead of the top; she put them on anyway – and when some of them were crooked she just wrapped the extra around the back of the tab.

        I have considered having her drug tested but our company policy is to drug test upon hire (15 years too late for that) and after any work related injury. So, until she hurts herself my hands are tied on that one.

        1. Forrest*

          ummm…I’ve never paid attention to which way the colored strip goes.

          I feel sheepish.

          1. Jamie*

            Thank you – I had no idea there was a right and wrong way with the strip either. I’m very bad at labels and to be totally honest – I’m not to great at working the postage machine either.

            Too technical.

            True story I once accidentally changed the label maker language to Romanian and had no idea how to get it back to English (before I had knew Cat and Jen from here who could have walked me through it). Struggled with that longer than any server bottleneck and ended up sheepishly putting it back in a drawer still in Romanian.

            I have other skills – honest, I do.

            1. Chinook*

              I think I did that once to a DVD player – I changed the language to German and couldn’t remember who to cahnge it back. I think I ended up googling for a translation.

            2. Pussyfooter*

              Clearly, you have become fluent in Romanian, so as to make expedient use of the Romanian label maker.
              I would expect nothing less from you, Jamie. :)
              *you’re a victim of your own success*

          2. Stevie*

            Maybe it’s only important in this office? If files are color coded, it makes it easier to scan through if it’s at the top. So you only look at the purple folders if you want X and yellow if you want Y. But not everywhere needs that. Probably depends on how often physical files need to be pulled.

            1. Jessa*

              I was an assistant for 8 departments, the very first thing I did was colour code the whole place. I would have gone absolutely berk if I had not done. Nobody would have been able to keep the paperwork straight. I even (since I worked at the State Institution and they had shops where the people who lived there worked and learnt trades,) had the trades shop group spray enamel my file cabinets colours for each manager. I was actually the assistant to the trades managers – we had a working farm, a shop, a Chapel, a printing group and all kinds of things going there.

              I had a rainbow office, the people who I was training to help me (basic office tasks,) loved it like crazy. And when I ultimately left, I was replaced by three people. One of them replaced the fact that I had a Special Education certificate on top of my secretarial/admin skills. So in addition to doing the clerical work myself, I could also case manage the workers.

              But colour coding ROCKS totally.

          3. Anonymous*

            I’m sitting here thinking that I may have wrapped a few labels around folders too. And I have whited out tabs and handwritten names instead of getting another sheet and printing it off. I think it makes my co-worker cringe. What a waste of time to do all that for one folder. I’m not big on everything looking exactly the same (in the filing cabinet) as long as I can find the information I need. I’m good.

            1. Forrest*

              For me, I really only use files temporary for certain projects and then once the projects done and all the master files saved on the computer, I reuse the folder.

          4. Kelly*

            It goes on the top of the label. They are colored coded so you can see the difference between types of files. If the color strip is on the bottom, you can’t readily see it.

            1. Forrest*

              Makes sense.

              For what its worth, I wasn’t mocking or suggesting it wasn’t a big deal. I would image if she could do bigger stuff and file labeling was her only weak spot, it wouldn’t be a big deal. But she sounds like she just sucks over all.

          5. The gold digger*

            I believe the purpose of the colored strip would be to easily identify a file or a category of files without having to look at the actual folder, so having the colored strip on the bottom defeats the purpose, as it is no longer visible.

            1. The gold digger*

              And now that I read through all the other comments – which I didn’t see because of the comment I was replying to – I realize that my belief is indeed fact!

        2. AdminAnon*

          To be fair, that just sounds like someone who doesn’t want to waste resources. I work for a small non-profit and we hate to waste anything, so putting the colored stip on the wrong end of the label (which does not impact the function in any way) would not be a good reason for throwing them away. And, yes, crooked labels do not look great, but again, the function is the same.

          I’m not saying that she shouldn’t take more care with her work, but that doesn’t sound terrible to me.

          1. Anonymous*

            Agreeing. I know my co-worker has this thing about organization and everything looking exactly the same. So sometimes I just let her do it so she feels better. I don’t like wasting. I’ve seen times where she has thrown away a sheet of labels because the printer was offline.

          2. Kelly*

            You also can’t read the label when it is so crooked that part of the words are hidden by the contents of the file folder.

            1. AdminAnon*

              Fair enough. I’ve also read through the rest of the comments since posting that and it’s clear that she has many other problems that go well beyond the inability to properly label a file!

    3. Kelly*

      OP Here

      Yes. She does not know how to effectively use, and I think is maybe incapable of learning, basic programs like MicroSoft Word and Excel. No matter how many training sessions I go through with her or how many classes/seminars I send her to she is not able to use the programs. Everything she works on has to be redone by either me or the other gal in the office before it can be sent out.

      I have to repeatedly tell her that you don’t type letters or emails in all caps. She can’t spell. She can’t file alphabetically no matter how many times I tell her that you file by a person’s last name or the first letter of the company name, etc. She can’t make simple decisions on her own and I have to tell her what to do all day, every day. She is quiet, doesn’t know how to interact with people so getting through an interview would be really hard for her. She definitely wouldn’t outshine anyone. She has gained so much weight while she has been here that she has difficulty walking. She also, no matter how many times I have politely tried to tell her to utilize her dental benefits, has gum disease and you can smell her breath from up to 5 feet away. It literally has made me gag on many occasions. It’s not fair, but it’s a fact that many employers reject applicants based on appearances and she is about 350 to 400 lbs.

      There are so many people out there who want jobs that a 45 year old woman with health/weight issues, bad breath and really no job skills – on top of how to explain why you were let go after 15 years – is going to have a difficult time getting on the top of anyone’s list. She wouldn’t even have a clue on how to make a resume.

      I really hate to take away the only thing this girl has good in her life. I know her family life is awful. There is a huge amount of guilt that goes along with letting her go. I don’t want to do that to anyone. I would feel better letting her go if I thought she would eventually land on her feet, but unless someone gives her a job, like her mother did so many years ago, I just see it as devastating her life.

      Even if she found another job – it would never come close to the $85,000 a year she is getting now. She would still lose everything she has – so there is no upside in any of this.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        Then if she can get into a transition program, if there is one around, she might be eligible for some kind of help. If she does have a disability, there are resources where people can assist her with all kinds of things–housing, counseling, getting on public assistance (or off it), etc.

        I feel kind of bad for her, and I kind of want to kick her mother’s ass. It sounds like she not only thoroughlyscrewed up her kid, but her grandkids as well.

      2. fposte*

        Ughh. I’m so sorry you’re where the buck stopped on this–it’s really not fair. But, as you clearly realize, it’s not fair for everybody else in the office (and somebody out there who could really be an asset to your organization) that there’s a $85000 a year (really over $100k a year, with benefits) money sink in the organization. (Though if she’s 45 years old, she’s a woman now and has been for some time; I’d stay away from calling her a girl, even if that was her mother’s phraseology, because that’s the kind of diminution that’s gotten her where she is.)

        The only possibility I can see aside from firing her is offering her a the alternative of a “transfer” to a much cheaper sinecure so she can do nothing at a less exorbitant rate. But that’s a lot of admin for a conscience salve, and I think that’s more useful if this is a group decision and some members of the group can’t bring themselves to back a straight firing.

        Sorry you’re faced with this, Kelly. This is an excellent example of how a problem can metastasize if it’s left to fester.

      3. Kristen44*

        I’m so sorry you are going through this. You seem like such a patient person for putting up with this for so long, and such a kind person for being so concerned about how this will affect her. I don’t have any good advice, but you have my sympathies and respect.

      4. Chinook*

        I see what you mean that she is nearly unemployable and she is most definitely not right for the job. The poor thing probably has a learning disability (if she is having issues with simple alphabetization and spelling), self-confidence issues (since she can’t do simple tasks, needs to be told what to do and has overbearing family members who make it their business to take care of her) and it is affecting her health. Again, not reasons to keep her on but definitiely good reasons for why you are trying to show her compassion. She was set up to fail and it was so unfair to her. Pointing her in the direction of an agency that can help her with her job search (under the guise that she hasn’t done it in 15 years) would defintile be a good thing.

        1. Jessa*

          I’m still trying to figure out how management let it get this bad, how do you get anyone in a “small company” to 85k without management having ANY clue to how bad it is? Did they never visit? did they never meet her? Ever?

      5. Yup*

        Thanks for taking the time to reply to this side question in the midst of all the other stuff you’re dealing with! Your examples were illuminating. I visualized “unemployable” as the way you described the mother – aggressive with threats of violence, theft, etc. But now I can completely picture the dilemma you’re facing: a nice person with an unmanageable combination of skill/learning/professional/interpersonal issues all going on at once.

        You’re right, her chances of successfully navigating a typical hiring process sound low to non-existent. I second the suggestions about maybe referring her to support organizations as part of the termination process. And you (and everyone else involved) certainly have my sympathies in dealing with a really terrible situation. I really wish I had some decent advice to offer on the core problem.

        1. Jamie*

          You never know, though. How many times do we all run across people in life performing so badly we wonder how the heck they are employed. But they are.

          And this woman had a job before and she likely will again. There are plenty of people out there getting hired and doing jobs badly and lucky for them work in companies where they don’t fire you for that.

          Companies where the managers don’t read AAM, but they are out there.

        2. Jennifer*

          Yeah, if it were up to me I think I’d just leave her there out of guilt. Not saying the OP should, just that I would look at this mess and think that there is no way I can take it on. But this is also why I am not management.

          Whatever happened to her mother, anyway? Retirement? Why isn’t the mother taking care of the kid now?

  9. Anonymous*

    Hey, Juni’s comment above made me think–if you’re really concerned (and you know better than we do just how bad the situation is) can’t you just tell her the position is being eliminated in a month or so? It’s certainly common enough. If you’re already babysitting her work and redoing half of it, I would think it wouldn’t matter much if you’re short a person for a while so she won’t see an ad posted (or you could get a temp). Maybe the temp will work out, or if you do advertise, you can restructure the job to where it looks like a whole new position with new requirements, etc.

    1. Aj-in-Memphis*

      No need to lie. When the job get posted online or otherwise, the person will know OP lied and besides, it’s just not the right thing to do. Firing someone is apart of any manager’s duties and I think there’s no reason for the OP to just go ahead and let this person go.

      1. anonymous*

        Years ago I worked for a company that used layoffs to let underperformers or people who were disliked go. They would tell the employee the position was being eliminated, but would hire someone else in the same position after that. Sometimes they would advertise the position before the person was even let go.

        There are two sides to the coin of this approach: 1) the employee would inevitably find out and take a hit to the ego. 2) The employee would be able to collect unemployment and tell future employers they were laid off, which looks better than being fired.

        1. Jamie*

          I see that as a kindness, actually – because it gives them unemployment with ease…not a cheap price for an employer to pay.

          I prefer honesty, too, but I think the employer is well intentioned. Wrong. But well intentioned.

    2. Kay*

      I tend to think that lying never does any good. It seems like a disservice to the employee and always seems to bite people in the ass. In this case the worry about violence might mitigate some of these concerns but I still feel a bit squidgy about it.

      1. Anonymous*

        No one should ever feel ashamed to lie if they feel they’re in danger. If the OP’s gut is telling her to lie, that’s what she needs to do.

        Also, everyone lies when they feel they need to. Why they’re suddenly up on the high road when it’s about someone else and that person’s needs has always been a mystery to me.

        1. Autumn*

          No, not everyone lies. It is true some people talk a lot about honesty who don’t really mean it and just use that to try and cover their lies. But others do mean it, but end up falling short of the mark and immediately regret not living up to their own standards. And some do live up to the standard who just never bother to talk about it (too busy living it). And finally, yes, some both live it – never lying no matter what – and are willing to talk about it, too.

          1. Liz T*

            Everyone lies, but not everyone realizes they’re lying. (For example, people often lie in conversation to make the other person feel good about themselves–feigning interest, etc.) A LOT of research has been done on this, and everyone lies.

            1. Autumn*

              How can you lie unintentionally? I’d call that a mistake, not a lie. And, it is a problematically broad claim to say “everyone lies.” If even one person doesn’t, the claim is false. I think the breakdown I originally presented covers most of the possibilities and I would really hesitate to say that there is no one anywhere at all in the world who falls into the third and fourth.

              Now, if you are going to broaden the definition of lying to include making eye contact and smiling at someone while they talk, when you would rather look away and not listen, I would certainly agree that more people do that than not (I would still hesitate to say “everyone”), but I would have a hard time classifying that behavior as a lie. I would generally limit the definition of lying to “saying untrue things.” There are other ways of being dishonest that have other names.

  10. Really?*

    So no one thinks OP’s fear of violent retaliation is warranted? Everyone seems to skating by that issue. I think if she is genuinely concerned for the her own safety or the safety of others in the office then that should play a big part in how the termination is done. If her sons are genuinely heavily involved in gang culture (and from the sounds of it, they are) then her concerns are valid. You can offer her all the resources and performance plans in the world but if it’s not the steady pay check she’s come to expect then there could be a huge problem. Any time a termination occurs there is a chance for retaliation, even a minute one. Workplace violence happens every day, all over the world; why would this situation have any less opportunity for it to happen? Having said that, I have no advice for the OP, because honestly I don’t know how I would handle that in a way I felt confident about. OP has the safety of others to consider, as well.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I don’t think everyone is skating by that issue. But you can’t not fire someone out of fear, and it’s generally accepted that the way you avoid bad aftermaths to firing is being being as kind and respectful throughout the process as possible.

      You’re right that there’s always a chance for retaliation. That’s true in any firing, not just this one, as well as in many other situations in life — disputes with landlords and neighbors, breakups, and plenty more. You treat people as well as you can and move on.

      1. Another Ellie*

        It sounds like the family’s gun-violence tends to manifest itself in threats not revenge (threatening somebody w/ a gun is violent and considered a crime.) If the OP takes the approach Alison has outlined and makes several clear statements that a certain benchmark must be met or the employee will be fired, then she can see whether the family responds at all, responds violently, etc. Then she may have a better chance at determining whether the final termination might result in violence or not. I’d also look into whether the sons can be told that they aren’t allowed to come into the office anymore, and whether they can be escorted out by police if they cause disturbances. I don’t think family members should be regularly coming into work, and they especially shouldn’t be if they are acting inappropriately.

    2. Anonymous*

      I don’t think anyone is discrediting her entirely. To me based on what she said I don’t see an issue. Has the OP used disciplinary action toward the mother before? Did or have the sons come up to the workplace and cause a disruption? We know that the mother (grandmother) covered for her for 15 years….but how did the mother (grandmother) leave?
      The OP should follow her own instincts about safety. Usually workplace violence is done by the employee (his or her self) or in some cases an estranged spouse…. I’m not saying it can’t happen just doesn’t sound likely.

    3. Academic*

      I totally disagree. Drug and weapons charges are drug and weapons charges, not violent crimes. I’m not going to write a manifesto on gang culture and the justice system, but it’s a really big leap from “this person got busted selling crack” to “this person is going to shoot up an office building,” and there’s more than a little racism/classism embedded in that leap.

      1. Anonymous*

        +1000 You may have to write the manifesto. People often fear what they don’t understand. I didn’t want to go there either

      2. annie*

        I think that you are right, its unlikely a gang member would shoot up an office building, however my experience with relatives of gang members in places I have worked is that you’re MORE likely to have situations of petty vandalism type of things. For example, a tire slashing or a window broken in the car in the parking lot – I’ve seen those both.

        1. Anonymous*

          There are gangs, and there are gangs; there are people in gangs, and there are people in gangs. While this may be true generally, there are some very violent gangs and some very violent people. Violent retaliation does happen. A family friend had a similar situation several years ago, and as a result his wife was raped. I am not making it up, and it was not a coincidence – the rapists gave her a “message” for the husband/manager. OP, I do not want to scare you, because I do not think this is the norm, but I agree with Really?. You know the situation best. If you think violence is a real risk, follow AAM’s advice and talk to HR and an expert in violence. It is always better to be over-prepared.

          1. dejavu2*

            +1! Where are all the people who usually get all worked up about The Gift of Fear? If I were OP, I’d be totally freaked out, on top of feeling guilty for completely ruining this woman’s life. Up thread OP mentions she’s being payed $85k! I’m an attorney in private practice and I don’t make anything near that. This woman’s family probably sees her as a gravy train, and it’s not unreasonable to think they’d flip if the money stopped flowing. People keep saying stuff like this doesn’t typically happen, but this is not a typical situation.

            1. dejavu2*

              I mean, this probably makes me a terrible person, but I keep picturing Spinner from “Death to Smoochie” and his family…

            2. Liz T*

              I was wondering about that too. Normally when someone says, “This guy vaguely gives me the creeps!” the comments fill up with Gavin de Becker plugs. But, “I’m actively afraid of my employee’s gun-toting, law-breaking family” gets minimized?

      3. Jamie*

        I totally disagree that you can separate weapons charges from fear of violence or retaliation.

        And I fail to understand how it is racist or classist to be more cautious when dealing with people who have violent criminal histories than those who don’t. Being fearful of people capable of harming (by past history) others has nothing to do with race or class…it’s being fearful of people harming you.

        It’s racist if you assume everyone of a certain race is violent. Or everyone of a certain income bracket…but being wary among people with a history of violent offenses or illegal use of weapons? That’s just common sense.

        1. TL*

          It depends on the weapons charge, really. I knew someone who got charged for an old, dysfunctional Civil War gun that didn’t work and they didn’t have bullets for. (They were an idiot and brought it on campus during the end of semester room checks.) I also know students who have really big pocket knives who could easily get charged – I doubt that’s what happened here but not all weapons charges are violent.
          (And certainly drug charges are not indicative of violence.)

          The mother/grandmother, however, has pulled a gun on someone three times. There’s a history of violence I could get nervous about.

          1. Kelly*

            The first weapons charge was being in possession of $20k in cash, $35k in drugs and a 9mm – in a back pack in their car. The son was put on probation. Fast forward 6 months he is driving down the road and someone made him mad so he pulled a gun out and pointed it at him. The guy called the cops and the son was arrested for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and probation violation for having a gun while he was on probation.

            The other son was on probation for possession of marijuana with intent to sell. Fast forward a few months he is arrested for probation violation because he never paid his restitution to the court. They give him more probation time and higher fees. Fast forward ONE MONTH and he is arrested for possession of dangerous drugs with intent to sell.

            1. Kelly*

              Forgot about the drug charge when the 2nd son was originally arrested for possession of marijuana with intent to sell…he was also convicted of misconduct with a weapon during a drug offense.

      4. Chinook*

        But bragging about how her mother used a gun to intimidate someone who owed her money and laughing about the story does show that the employee thinks that guns are an effective way to solve a problem. I live with a man who carries a gun for work and have been taught that anyone who draws a weapon has to be assumed they mean to use it because if you don’t assume that and you are wrong, you are possibly dead.

        1. Jamie*

          Me too – and I’ve never heard him joke, even once, about using a gun.

          It’s serious business. You don’t pull it unless you are prepared to use it.

          1. Chinook*

            Jamie, you scare me sometimes. I think we must be the same person in two different bodies.

            1. Jamie*

              Trade ya – my escapist fantasy is moving to Canada. I have a whole live in Inuvik all planned. The life in my head is way better than my actual life.

              1. Chinook*

                Inuvik? really? I like my sunshine in the winter, even if it is only for an hour or 2.

                Actually, if you are interested in the Far North, watch the CBC series “Arctic Air” (available online at CBC.ca). As a bonus, it stars Adam Beach (hunky native detective on half a season of Law & Order SVU). It is set, and filmed, in Yellowknife.

                Now, I am not sure I want to move to Chicago. the weather there sounds a lot like Toronto’s and all I really know about the place I learned on “ER.”

      5. Crazy family*

        So in my caucasian family–upper middle class, see above example, it takes out the classism and racist element. People with “that kind of family” come from all walks of life. To say that there isn’t a legitimate fear for Kelly (our OP) is beyond anything I understand. My family is crazy and can and would retaliate.

      6. Anon for once*

        You must have different sorts of gangs where you’re from.

        Most recently, I’m from Southern California, where the MS-13 group has been causing all sorts of violence. When I was growing up in Chicago, one of the local gangs was arrested by the Feds for attempting to negotiate with Libya to purchase anti-aircraft missiles.

    4. Natalie*

      “If her sons are genuinely heavily involved in gang culture (and from the sounds of it, they are) then her concerns are valid.”

      Nearly all gang violence in the US is intra-gang or, less commonly, people who live in gang areas and are bystanders during a shooting (gang members generally have terrible aim). The situation the OP is concerned about has either never or virtually never happened.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        Well, remember, the whole drug/gang culture is suffused with violence anyway, even if it’s mostly intra-gang. They think of that as a way to solve problems.

        But what’s most concerning is that clearly the family is a very volatile one, with the screaming arguments and the complete lack of any boundaries (who wanders into their parent’s workplace with no shirt on? Or has arguments there in the first place?). While I don’t think the OP needs to be terrorized by it, their behavior would give me pause even if they weren’t involved in gang activities.

        1. Kelly*

          To me, this whole thing is like a poorly written reality show. I would not believe this stuff happened if I wasn’t here seeing it with my own eyes.

    5. Lydia Pinkham*

      I was wondering that myself; here in Chicago gang violence is usually the lead on the news. I might contact her local police department’s gang violence unit for advice.

      1. Anonymous*

        Are gangs going in to target workplaces??? I’m confused. This is very specific situation that has nothing to do with gang culture on a whole….

        1. Jamie*

          Actually the Chicago area has task forces for law enforcement reaching out to businesses because of this very thing. How to identify gang members, prevent gang violence in the workplace. Apparently the infiltration has been a huge issue of late and a lot of theft etc happening via legitimate businesses that way…and with that comes the violence of rival gangs working in close quarters. This is not unheard of at all.

          1. Anonymous*

            I think this is specific situation that has nothing to do with gang culture on a whole. At least it wasn’t identified as such.
            **Unless there is a vested interested directly related to ‘gang activity’ then I could agree. For example, If OP fires the mom, who is a network for them on the inside… **

        2. Kelly*

          She has made it a point to tell me that her family gets pissed when people mess with them. Her sons would consider her termination “messing with them.”

          When her mother worked here we had a run in. I stood my ground and she told me “You leave me alone …” then she glared at me and said “And I mean it”. This was when I learned that she keeps a gun in her purse.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            And she didn’t instantly get fired for showing you that?

            I’m having a lot of trouble understanding how your company allowed both situations to go on for as long as they did. This is truly shocking behavior (all of it — from the guns in the office to the kids coming in and screaming to the extreme incompetence), and I’m stunned that it wasn’t dealt with immediately after appearing, with each of them. It would have been a lot easier to deal with right away, rather than being allowed to fester for so long. (And I’m not blaming you, Kelly — I’m blaming the people above you.)

            1. Kelly*

              No, she didn’t show me the gun…that’s when the other gal in the office told me that she carries a gun. After she saw her verbally threaten me she thought she should warn me that she carries a gun.

              Yes, I’m with you Allison. I am stunned that this company has such a tolerance for the kind of stuff that has gone on here. It’s beyond my comprehension. I am finally in a position where they listen to my recommendations (it’s taken me five years) so your column has been very helpful to me in getting to this place. But, we definitely have a ways to go. I can guarantee you this though, when I get through this mess – it will never happen again.

            2. Jennifer*

              What did her mother do that was so important that she got away with stuff like this? I’m assuming she must have been really high up in this company to get away with everything.

              1. Pussyfooter*

                If I remember right, from waaaay upthread, the mother used to be in charge of the entire office at this satellite location of a larger company.

          2. fposte*

            Is this a different incident from the threat, or is that the threat? Did she then allude to the gun in her purse (I’m not clear what you mean with the “This was when”). Is there security at your office building at all? Is there a gang section in your local police force to talk to?

            Like Jamie, I’m thinking of Chicago, where gang activity is pretty common, and where there’s no shortage of people getting fired whether they have gang connections or not or are activity in gangs or not (though there’s also no shortage of people with municipal/government employment who don’t do anything). This isn’t all that unprecedented. If you’re in a city with a similar situation, the police might be able to help with context or point you to people with more relevant information. (Though be aware that the police are just as capable of spreading uninformed advice as anybody else, so don’t take their word on the law, etc., as gospel.)

        3. Forrest*

          I wouldn’t think a gang is going to roll into my workplace and shoot me but I would be concerned about walking to my car or being at out alone at night.

          1. Pussyfooter*

            I’m not sure anyone is worried about the sons’ *gang* showing up for vengeance.
            But the mother who pulls guns on people and has already threatened the OP; the daughter who thinks threatening someone with a gun is funny and that retaliation is ok; and two sons who pick screaming fights in the business’s lobby and are currently under multiple indictments for having or threatening people with guns?
            I can see how the OP might worry that any one of them might react violently to major bad news. Remember, the employee’s $85K paycheck is being used up monthly by this family. It’s going to hit them all hard.
            And they all seem to be pretty comfy roaming in and out of this workplace at will.

            1. Forrest*

              I was directly responding to this comment:

              “Anonymous August 8, 2013 at 2:44 pm
              Are gangs going in to target workplaces??”

              1. Pussyfooter*

                Yeah, the little line guides aren’t always enough to make clear who is responding to who. I hate when I think I’m posting something relatively adjacent to the prompting comment, only to discover it three conversations below.

    6. Kelly*

      OP Here,

      Thank you. I think the firing part is what everyone has experience with – the violent retaliation is something I just don’t think many people have had to deal with. It’s definitely different and nothing I’ve ever had to concern myself with before.

      Allison did tell me that she wasn’t going to address that part of it, so I expected that and figured I would give details and answer questions that might be posted about that. Of course, all suggestions are welcome as this is way out of my norm.

      1. Chinook*

        With the extra details you have given, I would recommend going to the local police (in their office, NOT 911) if they are someone you can trust (and I right the last part with great regret but I do know that different forceshave different relationships with their communities). If they are good at prevention, they will be able to give you some advice on how to deal with the situation in general and possibly specifically with these people. They would also be able to put a little note for your address so that, if there was a 911 call, they would know not to assume it is a misdial and, more importantly, have some background on what might be happenning (i.e. possible participants).

          1. COT*

            My city has “crime prevention” officers in each area, and they tend to be pretty in tune with the criminal activity and who perpetuates it. When I used to work for a housing nonprofit our local officer was more than happy to tell us what he could about specific individuals and help us make safety plans when needed. He could even provide mugshots for us to share with security staff, or let us know when a troublesome individual would be released from jail. If your neighborhood has something like that I’d recommend checking in with them.

        1. HR lady*

          I was going to suggest the same thing that Chinook wrote. Assuming they are halfway competent, local law enforcement would be happy to be notified ahead of time so that they can be on alert. They might have advice for you, too.

          (As an HR person, I’ve had to think about the possibility of violent retaliation many times. Thankfully I’ve never had to call the police.)

      2. Joey*

        I have. Not the actual violence, but a real concern for violence. I called PD and the local police officer offered to be there when I fired the person. He ended up giving us his cell number and said he could be there within minutes. The person outside of my office was prepared to call if anything happened. Afterwards, he stopped by for the next few days to say hi until we felt better.

  11. nyxalinth*

    I had a call center job in Florida where I worked for about a month, then suddenly one day they said, “You’re not working out. Sorry. Bye.”

    Up to this point, I never once had any coaching, any feedback, nothing. My supervisor would say “You’re doing fine.” I never found out from them why this happened the way it did, but it seriously sucked.

    1. Jessa*

      Call centres are NOTORIOUS for this. Seriously bad. I was in one in Ohio as a Kelly Temp and I finally went to the Kelly rep and said “absence of you’re doing badly does not equal you are doing good,” can you please find out if we’re doing what they want us to do? The permanent reps get statistic reports, please don’t tell me they do not have numbers on us. I don’t want to be blind sided here. They figure they have so many people lined up for the jobs they don’t really care about the people in the seats any more.

  12. Frieda*

    Concern the OP is unfairly judging her employee based on her family’s actions is missing the point: Alison’s advice about how to go about firing her is something that the OP (or any manager) should be doing regardless of whether they suspect retaliation or not. The same goes for security procedures; every office should have these in place (employee badges/access control, emergency plans, evacuation procedures, IT security) whether you know about a specific threat or not. This employee might or might not be a threat, but there is always the chance that someone’s vindictive ex will show up. “Homicide is the leading cause of death for women in the workplace.” https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/workplaceviolence/

    1. fposte*

      To clarify the picture on the homicide profile, that’s 78 homicides in the year studied, and they were mainly intimate partner violence or victims of robbery. So it’s actually a pretty rare phenomenon and it’s largely unrelated to the current situation.

      However, that being said, I totally agree with the first part of your post–that care should always be taken when firing or disciplining people, both out of integrity and self-protection, and that offices should prepare for emergencies, whether they know they have a troubled employee or not. It’s too late to prepare if you get surprised.

      1. Frieda*

        I wasn’t intending to be sensational. Being unrelated to this case was the point–you should have a safety and security plan in place not because you have a specific threat from a specific employee, but because it could happen in other situations, such as intimate partner violence. And I wasn’t trying to argue that it’s common, just that it does happen and it something you should be prepared for, but I think we’re in agreement on that.

        1. fposte*

          Yeah, I don’t think we’re disagreeing; I just have a thing about risk ordinals vs. actual risk rates so wanted to expand on that a little.

  13. some1*

    +1 for letting people go at the end of the day. Less gossip and disruption for the people left behind, not to mention some people carpool or take public transportation that doesn’t run (often) in the middle of the day . If you must let someone go before then, call them a cab on the company dime. I worked at a place that would make another employee drive the let-go employee home in the company van and it made an awkward situation that much more so.

  14. some1*

    One more thing: Don’t tell any other employees the employee is being let go beforehand unless they really need to know (receptionist, security, IT, etc).

    1. Kelly*

      We are just a three girl office so there would be no gossiping etc. The other gal in the office and I are the one’s trying to figure out what the best way to handle this is and to feel some measure of security in the process.

      1. HumbleOnion*

        Since there’s only 3 of you (soon to be 2), are you able to stay away from the office & work remotely for a while?

  15. Joey*

    Two comments:

    Was there violence when the mother worked there?

    Why was her mother allowed to “cover” for her for years? This makes me think you did a poor job of setting and keeping expectations. Isn’t it unfair to her to allow her to continue to be unsuccessful in a job for that long. Wouldn’t it have been far more fair to allow her to go on her way instead of both of you living through the misery that is a problem employee?

    Frankly, I’d be pissed if you allowed me to be misled for so long thinking that everything must not be all that bad.

    So my advice is to grow a pair and have some tough conversations with her and give her a real opportunity to see that you mean business before you actually let her go.

    1. Kelly*

      #1 Yes, there was some violence issues when the mother worked here. Whenever the older son didn’t get his way he would come into the office and be screaming obscenities and slamming doors, etc. He was finally banned from coming into the office at all.

      #2 I was hired in under the mother and was promoted only after her resignation.

      #3 I only have control over the daughter; who I have written up and have had several conversations about her poor performance. I have restructured her job trying to help her be successful and she just seriously isn’t working out. There is only so much she is capable of doing.

      #4 I have a pair, I’m just not sure how to terminate someone with gang affiliations without getting myself killed.

      1. fposte*

        I don’t know you, them, where you are, etc., and I can certainly understand that you’re concerned here; it’s a sensible thing to be, and I would be as well. But I also think that you’re taking their stories and random details and spinning them into something even larger and scarier for yourself than the situation genuinely warrants. People fire gang members and their families, give them detention, kick them out of libraries, and otherwise displease them with some frequency; it’s not a death warrant. That’s another reason to talk to the cops, if there’s a gang division (or the library, for that matter–they have programs in some cities): you can get some perspective from people for whom this isn’t unusual. It’s particularly tough and unfair when you didn’t professionally sign on for this in the same way, but that doesn’t mean you’re more at risk than the people who are more accustomed to this particular challenge.

    2. TL*


      I think the OP has legitimate reasons to be nervous, given the incidents she’s described.

    3. Lily in NYC*

      This comment is harsh. The mother worked there 15 years ago, before OP if I read the post correctly. There are ways to give advice wthout being condescending or telling someone to grow a pair.

      1. Kelly*

        The mother has been gone for about three years. The daughter has been here for 15 years. I know, lots of details.

        I understand why she said “grow a pair” because she didn’t realize that I’m in charge “after the freaky facts” played out and am here to try and pick of the pieces and bring some normalcy to the office. But I appreciate you sticking up for me. :)

        1. Joey*

          My apologies for incorrectly assuming you created or contributed to the mess.

          Real question. Is the money worth the headaches? And did you sign up for this when you accepted the job?

          1. Kelly*

            Sometimes I’m not sure the money is worth is. And, I knew the mother was a difficult person to work for (she had run three predecessors out before me) but I had no idea there were guns and drugs and stolen money, etc. I had no idea her daughter was so inept. I thought my issues would be that she would feel upset that they were actively seeking her replacement for when she retired (instead of passing it on to her daughter). This is NOT what I bargained for.

  16. Allison (not AAM!)*

    I’m curious, too, about how the mother left. Was it her own choice? Were there any repercussions at that point? How was that handled?

    1. Kelly*

      The mother left because she was caught stealing out of petty cash to the tune of $1500 per month. After 35 years of employment they still gave her a nice severance package and accepted her resignation and did not press charges.

      When she realized she was caught stealing the petty cash she started jamming her finger up her nose causing it to bleed like crazy and bled all over her desk. She did similar things during the last few months of her employment. I figured it was her way of deflecting the attention on her misdeeds. She definitely has mental issues.

        1. Jamie*

          Great point – and I agree with your other post about all the isolated incidents combining to make this seem scarier than it is.

          Not that I don’t think caution is warranted, because I do, but yeah – if I hid under my desk every time there was cause to be concerned with displeasing someone with dubious connections I’d have to bring a laptop down there with me or I’d get nothing done.

          But the first time I was exposed to it I definitely went worst case scenario in my head, too. It’s amazing how much used to scare me until I got used to it…now I’m very brave.

          So long way of saying be careful, OP, but don’t let worry hinder you. You can’t let fear get in the way of someone worthy and awesome taking her place and making a decent living.

          1. fposte*

            I hope that what I’m trying to say is bolstering Kelly, and not coming across as undermining her, because I sure as hell wouldn’t want to be in her shoes either. But it’s so easy to fix on the dramatic and scary parts of the story (her mom said something ominous) and to overlook the parts that don’t stay in your imagination the same way (and then left without retaliating in any way when she was fired). Don’t let the one kind of experience run the consideration; weigh them both. I think it might help you sleep better at night.

          2. Chinook*

            I have to agree that the first time I saw behind the curtain to what some people have to deal with in their lives, I just wanted to curl up with my blankie and hide from the world. Luckily, that urge went away clearly and it empowered me to realize that it is a small section of the world and that I can do stuff to protect myself. Sometimes, it means choosing to accept that risks exist but not want to notice them and sometimes it means walking into a place and noting where the exits are and what I can use as a weapon if I have to (and thanks to a little martial arts training, I know how to “bonk”, “poke” and “trip” (not actual Japanese terms) with anything resembling a long stick (and flag poles and crosses are long sticks).

            At the same time, I live alone in the bad part of town (cuz DH and I are separated and it was what I can afford) and I don’t freak out if I forget to lock the front door (and only partly because I know where the long sticks are).

  17. Anonymous*

    I know people who are like these, the only seemingly responsible person in a family of drug addicts, law-breakers, and people who are on welfare or SSI just because they just don’t want to work. These people usually have mental health issues of their own too. IMHO I think they only reason OP knows what’s going on in the employee’s life is because she’s playing the guilt game. She’s telling her manager every bad thing that’s happened in her life so they will sympathetic towards her and not fire her. She using her manager to cover for her bad decisions. She doesn’t want help to make her situation better because that would require work on her part. And while there were some great decisions about how to help the employee, they’re likely not going to work, because in the end this employee is not trying to help herself, so someone else trying to help isn’t going to work either.

    1. Anonymous*

      “I know people who are like these, the only seemingly responsible person in a family of drug addicts, law-breakers, and people who are on welfare or SSI just because they just don’t want to work. These people usually have mental health issues of their own too. IMHO I think they only reason OP knows what’s going on in the employee’s life is because she’s playing the guilt game. She’s telling her manager every bad thing that’s happened in her life so they will sympathetic towards her and not fire her. ”

      Yep especially after the incident of telling her that the mother/(grandmother) pulled a gun on someone for owing them money…. Odd mental behavior. Shock value…

    2. Kelly*

      That’s a possibility. I was shocked when she told me she confronted they guy who owed them money. That’s not the personality type I see of her in the office. I can’t get her to get rid of sales people and not give out my business card here in the office. She is like a timid mouse who is afraid to speak up. I hadn’t considered that might be her way of us not expecting much out of her and babying her. Obviously her mother has babied her all of her life, so this is definitely a consideration.

      1. Jamie*

        Learned helplessness. If you don’t know how, no one will expect you to do it.

        I’m convinced that’s the only reason my ex-husband was incapable of making a sandwich while we were married…but post-divorce he manages to get the meat and cheese between the bread with no problem. Can even spread Miracle Whip…which is a miracle (pardon the pun).

        1. Elizabeth West*

          Exactly. I had a coworker who would do this–pretend to be really bad at stuff he wanted to shove off on me, or do it poorly so I would say “Oh here, let me do it.” Grr.

        2. Pussyfooter*

          A friend’s mom used this to positive effect:

          She had just married her husband and he’d brought her home to his working farm. One day he insisted that she drive the tractor. She said no, didn’t want to, etc…but he was being a jerk about it, so she gave in. She started it up. She pulled forward. And kept going forward, and forward, while he yelled at her to turn! or shut-it-off! or whatever….It stopped after crunching through the side of a barn.
          And he never asked her to do any work with the tractor ever again.
          (this is the same woman who later trapped all 50+ barn cats in the garage and vaccinated them single handedly–not timid or incapable at all.)

  18. Anonymous*

    I’m more concerned that perhaps this “gang” culture may actually be inside the workplace. How is the virtually “unemployable” woman making 85,000 a year and the company doesn’t want to fire her ( a woman who can barely stamp mail for the past 15 years. Hell, it sounds a lot like nepotism to me. I’m sorry this just smells fishy to me.

    1. Kelly*

      Believe me, I know it sounds bizarre! That’s why I’n writing. There is nothing fishy about this. Here’s a better run down for you.

      This company does very well. We are all paid very well, and more than what we would be worth at any other company. We are lucky that it is a family owned business and the patriarch of the company always believed in taking good care of your employees and they will take good care of you. I’m sure it also helps that the more profit you can pass on to your employees the less taxes that go to Uncle Sam.

      The mother had been working here since she was 18. She was promoted over the years and ended up the Controller/Office Manager. It was a two person office. Her daughter worked for another company and was fired after five years. The story the daughter has told me was that she was there for five years and then they hired a new person. She trained the new person and then they fired her. Now that I have had experience with her I can see why they gave up after five years.

      During her employment here her mother was responsible for her reviews and pay increases. She always gave her glowing reviews and continued to increase her base wage. She is now making $16.50 per hour plus quarterly bonuses which range anywhere from $5000 to $15000 per quarter. We work 10 hour days, five days a week and she does get over time.

      It didn’t matter that she wasn’t capable of doing the work. Her mother covered for her the entire time. When her mother left I took her place I saw that she wasn’t capable of doing much so I tried to structure her job where she could succeed. That has helped to some extent but I have come to realize that she is not capable of doing this job. She is not worth even half the money the company is paying her. I could hire someone at half her pay and get three times the amount of work out of them.

      All the while her boys have been arrested on gang related and drug charges over and over and over. Her mother has gone off the deep end and wields a gun whenever she is pissed – even pulled one on her own mother – she is going through court ordered psychological evaluations as we speak.

      This is the most bizarre thing I have ever had to deal with in my life. The Vice President and I have had discussions about what to do and/or the latest unbelievable situation and have said many times that if we told anyone these things they would think we were full of it. Obviously, that’s true.

      I can understand you thinking there is something fishy going on, but I can only assure you it is as crazy as it seems. I’m left with my mouth gaping open in disbelief on a weekly basis.

      1. Anonymous*

        I’m sorry. It sounds like they are carrying you and the company for a ride . The mother(grandmother) was fired for embezzlement and there was no type of retaliation on the family’s part though. I think you have unfortunately listened to one to many of this woman’s stories and offered a little too much sympathy (which is sad for me to say). I wish you the best in resolving this in a quick and safe way.

      2. Elizabeth West*

        It’s no wonder the daughter is like this, being raised in such a way by such a parent. It reminds me of an episode of Hoarders I saw once–the one with Hannah, the animal hoarder. She abused her kids when they were young, and clearly had mental issues, was very aggressive, etc. The adult kids could not even have a conversation with each other without screaming and/or throwing down.

        I would definitely keep the safety aspect in mind and perhaps have a plan to deal with any potential issues, but you need to get her out of there. It’s not your company’s or your boss’s responsibility to carry these people.

      3. Rana*

        I have no good advice to offer, just sympathy. I once found myself teaching a student with serious anger issues – as in, she once started yelling at me and threatening me in the middle of class (and this is college level) and freaking me and the other students out in the process – and she was weirdly proud about the way her anger allowed her to get her way in some situations (while also very “poor me” about the cases where her overreactions brought negative consequences).

        It was both the strangest thing I’d ever encountered in over a decade of teaching, and incredibly stressful – I had knots in my stomach every day I went to campus and I had campus security on speed dial on my phone – so I really empathize with how one can be both freaked out by the situation on a practical level, and astounded that one has to be dealing with it at all.

        I hope you get this matter resolved soon, with minimal fuss. You deserve better than this.

  19. Anonymoose*

    Wow, I had a somewhat similar situation at a previous company, and I thought about writing in to AAM but thought I’d be presumed a liar – lol.

    Of course it occurs to a person to be concerned for their safety. Why wouldn’t it?

    Its easy to sit on the Internet, safe and unthreatened, and dismissively call people “irrational” when they’re facing a real situation that for you is merely a blurry hypothetical. It’s also kind of hateful.

    1. Kelly*

      Thank you Anonymoose. I’m hoping my reply changes her tone. I didn’t come here to be chastised. I came here because I’m truly concerned, not only for my employee and what being fired would mean to her life, but for my own safety and that of the other gal in our office. It’s frustrating and scary.

      1. fposte*

        “Her tone” meaning Alison’s tone? I didn’t see her as chastising, and I think the point she made stands in light of your reply. Approach with caution but not terror.

          1. Joey*

            By the way I think you definitely have a pair both for replying to so many comments and dealing with this.

            Ps. I’m a he.

            1. Chinook*

              OP, you not only have a pair but they are most defintiely brass because you are replying to these comments in a very level headed manner.

              1. Kelly*

                Well, thanks Chinook. It’s easy for me to understand that this is so bizarre that it’s tough for people to believe. I guess that’s why the questions and disbelief or snide comments aren’t upsetting to me. I get it. I’ve been driving home from work for the past three years trying to reconcile the craziness in my head, too! Just when I talk myself into believing that I’m overreacting and making a big thing out of nothing something else happens and I’m jolted back to reality. It is, by far, the weirdest place I have ever worked.

      2. Anonymous*

        Kelly, I think it would be best if you don’t worry so much about what the firing will do for her life. She will have either sink or swim and I’m sure mom will be right there with another scam to run on the next person or company…

        1. Ruffingit*

          Agreed. Kelly, you are way too over invested in what will happen to this woman’s life after the firing. Boundaries would be helpful here so you can let go of the guilt and move forward with what you know you need to do.

          And for what it’s worth, I totally believe you about the craziness of this workplace. In my working career spanning a couple of decades now, I have seen some CRAZY things go down, things I would not believe if I hadn’t personally witnessed them. Sometimes you just encounter some weird people and situations in life and it does leave your mouth agape on a regular basis.

      3. JMegan*

        It sounds *incredibly* frustrating and scary. Have you thought about contacting the police for help with the safety issues? Even if they’re not the right people to help, they might be able to direct you to a private security company or someone who can.

      4. Joey*

        I’d contact PD to see if you can ask the local patrol officer to be nearby when you fire her and to make a few extra passes by your business for the next couple of days.

      5. Chinook*

        I feel so bad for you having to deal with this situation. Part of what is probably frustrating is that your gut is telling you have a reason to be fearful (and “The Gift of Fear” is often reccomended here). Others here are claiming it is because of outward markers that are sterotypical when, in reality, something in your gut is telling you something could happen and you need to be aware. LDC did describe one way a firign can be dealt with if you are worried about immediate violence, but your fear probably is of it happenning over the near future. I think that being aware of the possibility, making plans in case it happens, having your boss on your side and then following through with the firing are all necessary. If you are wrong and nothign happens, then you get to hire an employee who can do the job. If something does go sideways, then having a plan on hwo to deal with it can make it easier.

        Good luck and stay safe!

    2. Aj-in-Memphis*

      “Its easy to sit on the Internet, safe and unthreatened, and dismissively call people “irrational” when they’re facing a real situation that for you is merely a blurry hypothetical. It’s also kind of hateful.”

      This is assuming that no one in the entire world outside of this poster has ever heard of workplace violence or fear of retaliation. There are security companies out there that will do temporary contracts and other methods of creating a safer and more secure environment. No one live in a time where a person can’t just into a building unprovoked and start shooting. This is coming from a person who grew up in a bad neighborhood and has seen friends die from gang retaliations. Most drug dealers aren’t going to mess with the people that their mother and sister have worked with. Drug dealers are in it for the money not for the violence. You need to get rid of her – ASAP – and put a real viable security plan in motion the second after you do it to make yourself feel better.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        True, but the family has already shown that they are aggressive and violent and have no boundaries. Drug dealers or not, gang members or not, it’s worth thinking about simply because of what Kelly said they told her about dealing with people who mess with them.

  20. LDC*

    I once worked at a company with a somewhat similar situation.
    (These are not their real names.)
    We had an underperformer, Bob, who had worked there for years. He was chronically absent and late, mentally unstable and spent most the day shopping on eBay.
    This employee’s partner, Sam, worked at the same company at a different branch and was terminated after threatening a coworker. Sam sued the company and they settled with him. After that, nobody wanted to deal with Bob’s performance issues. Finally a new HR person was hired who was willing to deal with it.
    I was not privy to what led up to the termination in terms of a PIP etc. We were a small 8 person office. The day before the firing, our manager took me and the other person who reported at the same time as Bob aside and told us to come in an hour later. When Bob reported the next day, he was told he was terminated and banned from entering the office again. He was then given time to gather his things and go. Our manager and the HR rep had a security guard on present. (We normally only had security in the afternoon when the office was open to the public.)
    When the rest of us came in, we were told that Bob was no longer employed there and that if he or Sam were to call or come in, we were to notify management immediately or to call 911 if we felt threatened. The company had the security guard come in extra hours for the next week or so. Luckily, we never heard from either of them again.

  21. Rose-Anna*

    I really don’t think family should be an issue when firing. He can fire John Smith and not know he has a murderer son and have the son shoot him because he is pissed his dad was fired. Basically, this could happen with anyone. Follow the firing guidelines and hope for the best at that point.

    1. HR Competent*

      But John Smith’s son is a non-entity. The original post and follow-ups have clearly shown a history of violent behaviors, means, and threats.

  22. Mena*

    OP, why not just lie and say it is a lay-off and not a firing? Plead rising costs and competition, tell her the company can no longer afford her, offer a severance and get her on her way. Make is sound like you’re so disappointed to see her go. It may be worth the cost of unemployment.

  23. Cat*

    Honestly, everything about this office and this situation sounds completely disfunctional; I might be inclined to put my energy into getting a new job instead of trying to clean up messes that appear to have festered for decades. Maybe I’m being too harsh though?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      That was actually my thought too after reading some of the OP’s replies in the comments. This is an incredibly dysfunctional company, and I’d want out.

      1. Chinook*

        I agree that the OP may want to find another job, but the employee still needs to be fired and someone will have to do it.

      2. Jamie*

        Unfortunately a lot of really dysfunctional companies way overpay…because the more you make over fair market the harder it is to walk out the door.

        That said, I’d be looking if it were me.

        1. Cara Carroll*

          I agree. The company I am currently with is small and run very poorly. I have been search for a job, and I am finding that I might not be able to find something to match what I am making now. I think I can come close but money aside if you aren’t happy it just isn’t worth it. I have been very mistreated here and no amount of money will keep me. The toughest thing I have dealt with is caring about the owners, but that is over with now. I have moved past it because after years of putting in effort with no return, assistance, or support I have finally given up.

    2. Kelly*

      I’ve thought about it many times. But if someone who can’t put labels on a file folder straight and right side up — what do you think someone who does monthly financial statements and handles all the companies finances makes?

      I am very well compensated and have a profit sharing plan that is bar none the best I could hope for. I hope I don’t end up regretting that decision.

      1. Kelly*

        Ugh, lost part of my sentence, try again…

        I’ve thought about it many times. But if someone who can’t put labels on a file folder straight and right side up makes $85,000 a year — what do you think someone who does monthly financial statements and handles all the companies finances makes?

        I am very well compensated and have a profit sharing plan that is bar none the best I could hope for. I hope I don’t end up regretting that decision.

        1. RubyJackson*

          Sooo, you’re putting more value on the money than on your life. Is your life really worth that price?

          1. fposte*

            I don’t think that’s a legitimate binary. Her life isn’t dangling by a thread here, and she’s not going to be safe from everything in the world anywhere (she’d probably be raising her risk if she changed to a long driving commute, for instance). Lots of people undertake jobs with considerably more risk for under what this employee is getting, let alone for what Kelly intimates she’s getting. I think it’s utterly within reason for her decide it’s not worth it and move on, but accepting risk isn’t the same thing as deciding money is worth more than your life.

          2. Pussyfooter*

            This is a Temporary situation.

            And I’m willing to bet that OP will not let problems fester and question her own judgement for 3 years the next time a hairy life situation comes along. Took me a year and a half to get rid of my problem customer/friend/abuser at my job. These bizarro situations are major learning curves for lots of people. Now I understand the dynamics and my own abilities to act, and I’ll jump on any nonsense like that before it gets out of hand again.

            It’s taken OP a while to figure things out, but she’s “naming and claiming” the problem and actively seeking options to stop it.

            (Everybody has already given the advise I’ve thought of. The only thing I could add–not sure how to say it right–is that I love my Uncle. He is so overwrought about his life’s problems that he asks me anguished questions, but repeats the same question again after I give an answer. He just stares at me uncomprehendingly. He’s just not able to process new info right now. I can’t help him….I’m trying to avoid homelessness; my Mom is hoarding and I could be held liable for some of her issues; my Uncle lives with her and adds stress to her inability to cope with stress. If he won’t take state help, I am not bringing him to live with me. He may wind up homeless and alone.
            I can’t sacrifice myself or the other people I’m responsible to because it hurts to see him spiraling down. It would not fix his emotional problems, but could hurt us both….sort of like how you aren’t supposed to jump into a pool if someone’s drowning because then you get two victims instead of one…but mostly because I know I can’t reach/fix him and I can’t go back to the lifestyle he shares with my Mom without mentally breaking down myself….So fire her OP. She may fail in life, but you can’t stop her from hurting herself. You owe it to you and your other co-worker to remove the sick and stressful behavior problems from your shared work environment.) Ask the cops where to start, call 411 if your city has that, call mental health facilities and ask about prepping for firing violent people…etc. Educate yourself. Put safety measures in place. THEN tell her it’s time to go as kind and calm as you can.

    3. HR lady*

      I was thinking the same thing. I also read OP’s comments about the high salary. The thing is, this job isn’t a guarantee for you (the same way that none of our futures are guaranteed). The company could go out of business, they could turn on you and decide they don’t want your sensibleness and reasonableness, whatever. And if that happens, you’d have to figure out what to do next. I’m not phrasing this well but I’m suggesting you think about your long term career (and, of course, mental well-being). Are you learning the kinds of skills there, and getting paid comparably, to what you’d experience in another job? Or are you creating a situation where you won’t be able to leave because you are so dependent on the salary?

      And lest I sound too harsh (I don’t mean to), let me also assure you that not all workplaces are like this. Many places function very well, and get rid of underperformers, listen and take action when reasonable people like you identify problems, don’t tolerate guns (!!) in the office, pay people appropriately, use logic and reason to make good business decisions, hold people accountable for results, train and develop their employees, etc. My hope for you is that soon you will be working for one of those places :)

      1. Kelly*

        Prior to getting this job I had my own painting company. At 50 years old I’m not able to climb ladders and dangle from scaffolding any more. In fact, heading in for surgery on my knee in the next few weeks. :( This was my first step into corporate America in many years. My husband works in the production department – it’s nice that we get to car pool and the job has profit sharing that is paid completely by the company (19% of our annual salary), some benefits you know you will never see again. So, I’m trying to make the most out of a great opportunity and try to get the office environment to a normal place. But, who knows if that will ever happen. I can retire in 15 years – if I’m lucky!

        Thank you all for your input and great questions and suggestions. I realize this is way out of the normal range of questions that are usually on this blog. Thank you Allison for putting it out there; I really expected this to be one that ended up in the trash because it is so out of the norm. I appreciate it.
        I will keep you all updated.

        1. fposte*

          You’ve been a really good and resilient sport in the conversation, Kelly. I hope your surgery goes well and that the workplace drama settles down for you! Keep us updated (and keeping filling up that retirement account! You’re earning it for sure).

        2. Rana*

          I look forward to the update. I really hope you can resolve this weird and stressful situation without too much more in the way of this family’s drama.

  24. ro*

    I’m sorry you are having to deal with this.

    Could you hire a firm such as this- http://gavindebecker.com/- to help you come up with a plan to handle this situation? Seriously. I don’t know how much a really good security firm would charge, but for your safety, it would totally be worth it.

    And any company who can afford to pay a receptionsist (no offense to receptionists) and a poorly performing one, $85K, should be able to pay for this temporary service.

    I’m sure you’ll do this, but make sure whatever plan you come up with also takes into consideration your personal life outside of work. Does this person already know or have a way to find out where you live? Follow your car home? I don’t think you can be too cautious when it comes to your safety, at least in the initial couple weeks after the firing. The good news is, I think the threat you’re really facing is an impulsive, immediate one. These don’t sound like a group capable of a well-thought out, complicated revenge plot that unfolds several months down the line.

    Good luck!

    1. Kelly*

      Yes, they know where I live and I have considered this. With any luck both of the boys will be sentenced to jail terms during this month and they will at least not be as much of a concern.

    2. Jessa*

      You know with how all of us recommend “The Gift of Fear,” it should have occurred to more of us before this point to recommend HIRING Gavin in the first place. This is, after all, what he does for a living.

  25. Cara Carroll*

    I have a question for the Kelly. Sounds like you have been with this company for quite some time now and these issues the whole time (please correct me if I am wrong). I understand you appreciate the owners being nice and the pay is good (sounds too good for some!). However, is there any reason you haven’t simply left the company yourself? Did all these occurrences with this family not leave you wanting to search for a new work environment? The reason I ask is because I myself work for a small company and while it seems you really care about the owners it sounds like they have their head in the sand, and you and the few others in your office are left to deal with some very tough issues. Again I work for a small company and have had to deal with some very tough issues myself and it has left me feeling drained because no matter what suggestions I make, no matter what I try and do to help improve things, nothing is ever done and that isn’t fair. I have cared about and given to the company for so long and not really gotten any support that I am drained and really have nothing left to give. It took me a while to learn I have to do what is right for *me*. I am just wondering if you have ever felt this way and maybe you are caring too much that you aren’t thinking about yourself, well-being, and safety.

    1. Kelly*

      Yes, first off – the way I found out about the company is that my husband is the shop supervisor. His brother is the President. I got lucky to fall into such a great company – but the dysfunction is mind boggling.

      I knew the mother was going to be an issue when I was first hired. It was no secret that I was brought on to one day replace her. She did everything manually – meaning no computer at all, whatsoever – and it was my job to computerize the company. She couldn’t grow with that and she tried all kinds of things to sabotage my work. I stuck it out and ended up here. What I didn’t know – and what I think no one knew at that time was how seriously crazy it all was. I’ve almost walked out on more than once occasion.

      1. Cara Carroll*

        This now makes more sense of why you feel such a strong connection to the company. However, this sentence seems contradicting “…I got lucky to fall into such a great company – but the dysfunction is mind boggling.” I thought my company was “great” too, then when I figured out what was going on I realized it wasn’t so great. But you have mentioned the money is important to you so it seems to be a huge factor of why you are sticking it out, in addition to the family ties. You also are a very dedicated employee, too dedicated in my opinion! Good luck and I hope if you are able to get this family out of the company for good things will continue in a positive direction with the next hire!

        1. Kelly*

          Before I was hired here I had my own painting business. When my 1st husband and I divorced it was ugly. He left me without a vehicle and living in a house that was too far out for the buses to even come. I lost everything I had. We had just adopted my son and the ex literally left us high and dry (pregnant girlfriend :/). So I haven’t forgotten what it was like to have to scratch and crawl out of poverty and start over.

          My current husband and I went to high school together and got in contact through a high school reunion. We were both divorced and had son’s and ended up being together. I was getting my painting business back up and running and he suggested I put in for this job because it could potentially be very good for our future as a family and our retirement. He knew the lady was weird but also had no idea how weird or how crazy the family is.

          The family that owns the company lives in another state. They are very good to their employees through excellent wages, bonuses and profit sharing plans. They will give you the shirt of their back if they think you need it. Truly an awesome family and company to work for. They aren’t involved in the day to day business of this division. They handle sales and we are the manufacturer. All they see is the work is getting done and the customers are happy. I’m sharing more and more of the realities I deal with down here and I’m getting more support as we go along. But they are like some of the people on this blog – it’s too unbelievable to totally accept. ha ha! Can’t blame them.

      2. Anonymous*

        So when you say family business, it’s your family’s business? I can see why you’d be more invested in the company than the average worker.

        1. Anonymous*

          See this is why I said sounds like nepotism earlier. This kind of dysfunction can only have some close connection. The sons coming in with their shirts off, hollering and screaming cause they didn’t get their way. The mother jacking up the daughter’s pay… I’m just wondering if all these people (excluding the OP) are related some way.

        2. Kelly*

          Members of my family have worked for this company for over 30 years – but they aren’t owners.

  26. saro*

    I’m sorry if I’m being paranoid but Kelly, you’ve offered a lot of identifying information about your company, the family in question and I see your picture as the avatar. Please consider asking Alison to change it (if she can).

    1. Anonymous*

      I think with Gravatar, OP can probably change the associated picture herself. Alternatively, I imagine Alison can manually delete the email address associated with the comments.

        1. Kelly*

          Missed that. I changed my avatar but apparently it’s not doing anything for old articles. :(

  27. A Teacher*

    I can see where this could happen, maybe it won’t be an issue maybe it will. I also have a crazy family that would pull crap like this (and it is crap) but moreso, I’ve seen parents’ go absolutely nuts toward teachers and administration over grades and discipline.

    While much less minor: We had one teacher assaulted 3 years ago because her son was failing a class that would keep him from graduating. The parent confronted the teacher in the classroom during P-T conferences and ended up cornering and punching the teacher when the teacher wouldn’t change the grade. Never mind that the child didn’t come to school more than once a week or turn in any assignments. Families can and do react when a family member faces negative consequences.

    1. Jessa*

      Yes, it’s crazy, I remember seeing a political cartoon where there are two panels and they are identical the parents and teacher are facing each other with the kid and a failed paper of some sort, in each picture the furious parents are yelling “what are you going to do about this?”

      In the “older” version the one taking place in the past they are yelling at the child. In the “newer” version the one supposedly taking place in the now, they are yelling at the teacher. The obvious point being that in this circumstance it used to be the child got in trouble for failing, not the teacher for having given a failing grade. Now obviously this is simplistic, there are teachers out there who cannot teach and systems that fail the children, but there are as many or more kids who do not show up or work and then the parents still expect that they will pass.

      It struck me as very … telling of how society is right now. Nothing seems to be the fault of the individual any more.

      1. A Teacher*

        Which sadly illustrates how a family member can retaliate, sometimes its just a threat, sometimes its physical, and sometimes it can be emotional. I know in my second year of teaching I had a parent calling me at 10 p.m. and again at 12 a.m. on a Saturday night about her child. When that didn’t work it was a barrage of emails. Some families don’t understand boundaries and the fact that the OP is worried about this family’s lack of boundaries doesn’t surprise me. I mean the employees mom clearly crossed all professional boundaries for her daughter for 12 years and now OP is stuck in the muck. Good luck OP– I’m a person from a family that would retalitate and I’ve seen it happen to fellow teachers. Usually it isn’t anything major but better to be overprepared than underprepared.

        1. Pussyfooter*

          “Usually it isn’t anything major but better to be overprepared than underprepared.”
          This. Well put A Teacher.

  28. ALex*

    OP claims that she is aware that the employee’s sons are drug dealers and they have thousand of dollars of cash at their disposal and that the employee’s mother lent someone money (so much money that she would need to threaten them with a gun to get it back) I think that if this is the case then OP doesn’t really need to be concerned about the employee having financial trouble if she is fired. It sounds like her family will take care of her if she loses her job.

    Drug dealing is a job – an indecent one, but still a job nonetheless, so technically her sons will still be able to provide for her should she become unemployed.

    Also, coming from a person who used to be involved with drug/gang activity (and who’s family members still are) it is HIGHLY HIGHLY HIGHLY UNLIKELY that her sons will come back to the jobsite and kill everyone. It’s a high risk situation that has no reward for them. I’m sure they are aware that they will be probably apprehended almost immediately and will get a hefty sentence – and for what? To teach you a lesson?? AT WORST – you’ll be threatened by her sons and/or her mother. Which is still not good but I do not think there’s any chance you will be killed. C’mon.

    I’m not sure how you are qualified to assess whether someone is “knee deep in gang culture.” Based on your theories, it sounds like you don’t have any idea what “gang culture” it is, outside of snippets from TV shows and movies.

    1. COT*

      In many situations I would agree that gang culture is unlikely to come into an office–but this isn’t really just about “gang culture.” It’s about an employee and her family (who are dependent on her income) who have demonstrated irrational, unstable, and threatening behaviors, and have brought this behavior into the office in the past. This family knows the office and its staff intimately, knows where they live, and has a long enough history with this company that they might be very upset by a firing.

      I think that’s reason enough for Kelly to be concerned. Is violence likely? No, probably? But is there enough evidence of this employee and her family’s threatening behavior in the workplace to take safety precautions? Yes.

    2. Kelly*

      I understand your comments. I know the names of gangs in our area and both of these boys have the name tattooed on their bodies for everyone to see. The US Marshall’s have raided their house after the gun and drug incidents. As you may know, they don’t get involved when it’s only petty theft or drug issues. These two boys have lost friends to gun violence.

      I don’t think anything they would do would be to teach me a lesson. I’ve seen this family just react without thinking to things and I don’t believe they would expect to gain anything from their actions.

      I don’t live in this neighborhood; my lifestyle doesn’t even cross paths with people who live this way so perhaps I am more freaked out than someone who has lived this type of life on a daily basis – and I hope that you, with your obvious experience in this area, are right and I really have nothing to worry about.

      Thanks for sharing your perspective.

  29. BellaLuna*

    I applaud the OP for having the courage to write to AAM and taking the time to respond to the many reader questions. It is a fascinating example of what can occur in a long time family business. As the discussion has focused the issues related to firing an employee I wasn’t able to tell whether the changes that have been made during her tenure have resulted in an a work environment where she wants to stay or go. A lot of good advice has been provided and I highly encourage the OP to trust her gut and take all precautions to ensure her safety and that of her office mates. When it comes to peoples safety it is better to plan and be prepared for the worst case scenario. OP good luck and please provide a follow up.

  30. Ruffingit*

    For what it’s worth, in my mind, this story officially takes the place of the woman who was putting curses on her co-workers as the worst WTF workplace story.

    1. Jamie*

      It’s in the top 5 – but I’m still sticking with the prostituting in the bathroom is still undefeated in my book.

      1. Forrest*

        The best part of that one is the coworker didn’t care about the prostitution – she was just tired of doing all the work!

        1. Ruffingit*

          Well, to be honest, I wouldn’t care either if my co-worker was engaging in prostitution. Her choice to do that, but I would care if it was on company grounds and I was being stuck with the work. That would be my concern. What she chooses to engage in sexually is her business.

          1. Forrest*

            Yea, but if you read the comments the general response was she should care and the comments are a part of why this so epic.

            Additionally, she also didn’t care that it was on company grounds really.

  31. Susan*

    At my last office, when folks got laid off/fired we would regularly see a security guard posted out front for a week or so afterward. Nothing ever happened, but it gaves those of us left behind a big sense of safety. If and when you have to let her go, I’d definitely recommend pursuing that as one (of several) safety precaution.

  32. LCL*

    Sorry you have to deal with this. Some security related suggestions follow.
    1. Security cameras for the entrances to your house.
    2. Try to get safe parking for your car off the street. At work, figure out which parking area is most visible to everybody else.
    3. Make sure your cell phone is charged.
    4. If your walk from the car to the job or to the car to your house involves you being burdened with bulky bags and purses, try to figure out how to get along hands free for awhile.
    5. Get a PO box for awhile and use it. If I wanted to really hurt someone without getting my hands dirty, I would steal their mail and plan something evil using the information I had taken.
    6. If you have a certain routine when not at work that everyone knows about, change your routine.

    1. anon...*

      I would add make sure you carry your cell phone in a free hand (not with other stuff) when you go from building to car etc. And lock your car door before getting in.

  33. Ask a Manager* Post author

    So Kelly, what is your plan from here? I’m hearing a lot of focus from you on sharing stories about this woman, which is understandable because you’re shaken up, but I think it would help to move from that to figuring out what your next steps are. Do you plan to contact a security company or police or any of the other suggestions here?

    1. N*


      This is another letter where the OP shows up in the comments but doesn’t address the advice Alison gave her at all. OP, you’ve been very actively commenting here and not once have you addressed Alison’s response or what you plan to do.

      1. Kelly*

        N: The threads were moving so fast I could hardly keep up with all the questions which is why I haven’t responded to all of them yet. I’m trying :)

    2. Kelly*

      I think I ended up focusing on that because there were so many questioning why I feel the way I feel, but I agree – time to move on.

      I will be meeting with the President and Vice President along with the owners (they come in once a month) about re-installing the security camera and intercom device at the front door and lock it back up.

      I’ve already talked to the VP and we are bringing in a 4th office person who we will start training as her replacement. We haven’t made a decision as to when she will be let go, but we are going to let her go as soon as the replacement is up to speed. It will be up to the owners on how they want to handle the severance package but I am sure there will be one, along with her profit sharing funds.

      I agree with the people who suggested that I can’t just be held hostage by a fear of what “might” happen. I need to just do my job, cover my bases, and take measures to protect myself.

      Thank you to everyone who gave your suggestions, ideas, opinions. It really did help to take the “crazy” out of my thinking and get methodical about what I need to do.

      I will definitely keep you all posted.

      1. Jessa*

        I’m glad you were able to talk to management and get them to re-install security features, nerves or not that’s still a good idea to have.

        1. Confused*

          I think you posted as I was typing, glad you’re bringing President and VP in on this.

      2. Forrest*

        There’s some dark irony that this lady got fired from her last job after a replacement was caught up and its going to happen again with this job.

        She’ll never trust a new employee again.

      3. ChristineSW*

        I agree with the people who suggested that I can’t just be held hostage by a fear of what “might” happen. I need to just do my job, cover my bases, and take measures to protect myself.

        Believe me, I know how easy it is to be so wrapped up in “what if”. If you keep reminding yourself of the above, I believe it will give you peace of mind.

    3. bobby*

      A couple of OP’s responses under this question (8/8/13 6:28pm & 6:30 pm) are showing her photo again.

  34. CFinn*

    Wow, the demographics of this site are really showing – of course most white collar office workers don’t worry about gang retaliation when they fire someone. But as someone doing a white collar job in a “blighted” city I understand the OP’s concerns. I haven’t had to fire someone in this sort of situation, but I did once have to deal with someone who was mentally unwell and threatened me with violence while moving things out of an apartment. I called the local police for advice, and they actually sent two officers as escorts so we could get all the stuff we needed without interference from the person. They stayed locked in a room the whole time.

    OP, I suggest talking to your local PD. I’m sure they are already very familiar with this family.

  35. Confused*

    Wow. Op, you know too much about this family. Too too much. Yikes.
    You mentioned the main offices are elsewhere and you have spoken with the VP. Have you gone to the head office/owners with more than just anecdotal stories and asked for advice? I know it’s your job to hire/train/fire but it sounds like this warrents additional input/help. They may be willing to pay for private security for a while once you let her go. Something.
    I agree about talking to local police and seeing what they think.
    I say again, WOW.

    1. Ruffingit*

      Oh that’s a given seeing as how we’ve had quite a few workplace shootings in the last few years, many of which were white, middle class non-gang members. It really isn’t a question of demographics as much as it is the work environment and mental stability.

      In the OP’s case, it appears she’s letting her fear of repercussions overwhelm the basic issue at hand. This woman needs to be fired, the OP needs to do it. Security measures should be put in place beforehand, the kind and gentle dismissal done as per Alison’s original instructions in her answer, and that is that. Talking about it and giving reasons for your fears is fine, but at some point the deed must be done. Do it as safely as you can (security, etc.), but do it and move on.

  36. ChristineSW*

    Wow did this thread explode since it was first posted!!

    Kelly – As a regular AAM reader and semi-regular commenter, I just want to wish you the best of luck with this awful situation. I only skimmed through the comments, but I’m glad to see you’ve started to put together a plan.

  37. Anonymous*

    I think the most interesting part of this story is the contrast between the OP’s initial description of this employee and the OP’s description of the employee’s actions.

    The OP describes the employee as kind, but stupid.

    Then the OP tells us this woman has held a job for 15 years where she’s now getting paid $85k. She doesn’t have to do any work whatsoever. Her adult children get to enter and wander the building for no business reason. She has pulled every single emotional thread available on the OP to insulate herself against being fired – she has simultaneously intimidated, charmed, and earned the pity of the OP.

    OP, I hope this opens your eyes – this woman is brilliant. She has it made. I have to admit, with some embarrassment, that this woman is significantly better paid than I am – I have a PhD in nuclear physics and I work quite hard at my job in a national lab. I bet she really did earn (some of) those raises while she was working for her mother. Then she got a different manager, and she managed to figure you out and manipulate you expertly so she wouldn’t have to lift a finger but you wouldn’t fire her, for three full years. When you do fire her, you’re going to feel so bad that you give her a generous severance.

    Your safety fears sound well-founded, but you are an amazing sucker and this woman is much smarter than you are in so many ways.

    Like I said, I work in nuclear physics. I make less than this woman. If I lose my job, I will not be getting severance. I’ve never heard someone contemplate giving a receptionist severance pay unless it was some sort of union issue. The last time we fired a receptionist here, they fired her at 6 PM on a work day, made all of her stuff vanish immediately, and sent us all an email to tell us that she was no longer working there. That ex-receptionist made probably $20k – $35k, had two young children in grade school, no home, and was a single mother mid-way through a divorce.

      1. Ruffingit*

        I don’t think it’s hostile as much as it is honest. I have to admit I had the same thoughts about how well this woman has played the OP. It was a bit daunting after awhile to read through all the OP’s messages without seeing anything about what she planned to do to remedy the situation. Even Alison asked her at one point to tell us now what she planned to do.

        This situation has been way too out of hand for way too long for many of the reasons Anon laid out (kids allowed to wander the building, etc.). Time to move on. Of course there are safety concerns, but that can’t stop you from doing what needs to be done. Put safety measures in place and move forward.

        1. fposte*

          I don’t know whether the employee is consciously playing the OP or not, but I’m not sure it matters as long as the OP makes a thoughtful choice and sticks to it. I do get the impression that this workplace has really gotten into the habit of sharing stories about this family and that practice has taken a life of its own as essentially an adaptive behavior, and I think some of what the OP was doing here was reflecting that even as she looked for ways to move forward. I’m on board with nudging her away from that tendency and toward a focus on moving forward because it’s actually destructive rather than adaptive, but I’m not sure I could do that kind of regrouping within the space of an AAM post myself; I think it might be asking a lot of an OP to do.

          1. Ruffingit*

            I think it can be done, it just takes a little bit of time and an ability to put a time limit on the storytelling. At some point, you have to let go of the storytelling and move to “So what’s the plan?” Because really, that’s why the OP wrote into AAM in the first place. She knows this situation is out of control and she was looking for some guidance. Part of the problem with continual storytelling is that it feeds the fear the OP needs to move away from so she can get into the mindset of “OK, what needs to be done here, let’s get a plan.”

            Giving the OP credit where it’s due, I see that she did answer Alison’s “nudge” upthread toward solutions rather than discussion and it appears she has a good plan in place now to move forward with what needs to be done.

            1. Pussyfooter*

              I don’t have a problem with Anonymous’ factual points. It’s the implication that the OP is stupid because she didn’t know how to handle the situation and has made mistakes. That’s what seemed so hostile to me.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      I was a receptionist and got severance, but it was a layoff.

      I kind of agree, to a point. The whole family is taking advantage of the situation. Why not, when the mother stole money from them? They’ve probably pegged the owner as a sucker. But the OP knows something has to be done and she’s trying to do it.

      I’m also guessing you didn’t go into nuclear physics because you wanted to be rich. ;)

  38. Gary*

    Holy cow anonymous! I just read mostly the whole thread and was thinking how professional and level headed op is, and is treating her co worker w respect, even though she may not want to!

    Btw – you might want to look around for jobs in other places, a physist phd could teach in the public schools in my state (the NE) and make 85k+. I teach special ed and make 80k, so not sure you can really put op down bc this rouge worker makes 85k.

    Op I would hire you so fast – you have been so professional throughout!

    1. Kelly*

      Thank you Gary. I have tried to let the rude comments role off my back; they aren’t going to help the situation.

      I inherited the situation and the person. Upper management has not been affected by any of this because her mother always covered for her; of course they don’t work with her on a daily basis so most of what I’m telling them now after trying to improve upon her abilities for the past three years is new to them and they want me to keep trying, but I know it’s hopeless. She may be a smart manipulator as anonymous said – but when it comes to being able to function in an office environment she is not at all smart and more of a hindrance in the office than helpful.

  39. Anonymous*

    We once used this plan to eventually fire a sales-type employee who wasn’t producing. We tried to help him in so many ways, letting him know continued employment (and receiving draws on commission) depended on his improvement. That didn’t stop his wife coming in after his firing, armed with loaded hotdogs, throwing said hotdogs at my boss while yelling “You want the food off my table? Here it is!” Employees don’t always tell their loved ones when their job is in jeopardy.

    1. Kelly*

      Ohhh my! When I was about 19 I got fired from my job because I stuck up for someone who was being mistreated. I threw my cupcake in my bosses face (chocolate frosting and all). Not a great move on my part… but not as bad as fully loaded hot dogs either.

  40. Anon*

    Read lots of comments, didn’t see anyone suggest this: OP, I would start looking for another job and leave the management there to deal with firing her (or not – its their problem not yours).
    It’s defo what I would do!

    1. Ruffingit*

      Someone did suggest that and the OP replied thus:

      I am very well compensated and have a profit sharing plan that is bar none the best I could hope for. I hope I don’t end up regretting that decision.

    1. Flabbergasted*

      Kelly, With all due respect, I can’t believe how you have trashed the employee and her family, in writing here, in public form- I find it unprofessional, although it does sound like a very unusual set of circumstances. It is the employee who works for you not her family. You have paid her $85000 a year to be a receptionist for 15 years – this is a strong case for her for a wrongful dismissal claim. Was she always that bad at her job….. for 15 years …. and your company has continued to pay her for unsatisfactory work? While we would all love a perfect family, I don’t believe anyone or very few have one – every family has at least one crazy relative, some more than others. One’s personal life and their family is not a reason for dismissal or judging. Address the work concerns with the employee and leave the family out of it by banning them from the office in writing. Stop the drama in your office with the stories. Did you see the gun in her purse? Have you offered her training? Do you have a grudge against her for action of her family? I simply raise these questions/ comments to you as it may come up in a lawsuit. Stick to the facts about the job not the drama. Yes, I am concerned about the comments about gangs, guns, etc. for personal safety of your staff – extra security measures should be implemented and your new receptionist needs to be aware. I wonder if your plan to train a new receptionist with the existing receptionist there is wise as it may create a grudge against the new receptionist. Is there a way to install a bullet proof enclosed locked area that persons can not enter through without someone giving them access – look at your space and see how you can implement changes for safety.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Wrongful dismissal requires the employer to fire the person for an unlawful reason, such as the person’s race, sex, religion, etc. It’s perfectly legal to fire someone for the reasons Kelly has presented here.

      2. Kelly*

        With all due respect I don’t think you have read all of the comments and replies. I have not trashed her or her family. I am in a very unusual situation that I am trying to figure out how to proceed with. I cannot feasibly get good advice if I don’t provide the details that are concerning me.

        I have no grudge against her at all. I want an employee that can function at a level that is useful to the company and she is not it. Unfortunately this fact had been covered up by her mother for most of the 15 years of her employment here and I have only recently inherited her and have done everything I feel I can do to bring her up to speed. I’ve tried for over 2 years to make it happen and it’s never going to happen.

        1. Anon*

          Would you mind providing us with an update on your situation? I haven’t posted before because I don’t have any advice for you, but I do hope everything turned out all right.

  41. Mel*

    Wow, Kelly your situation sounds scarrrrry! Can you ask the police for help at all? Or can you afford some security? I think the advise given was good – treat the girl with care and respect etc but this sounds like a family that will gun you down for looking at them wrongly! I think you should lodge a police report, fire this girl (With as much care and respect) and then get some security, at least for a few months. The person who answered your Q said don’t be act out of terror or something, i disagree, this family sounds like you ARE in terror!

  42. Business owner*

    You have failed to utilize this woman’s skills. Given her story of the mother pulling a gun on someone who owed money, put her on a commission only basis and put her in charge of collecting on delinquent accounts. You receivables will shrink, and she will feel like a more effective employee while at the same time putting more money in her pocket.

  43. kaitee*

    I hate to read this kind of thread (and I’m the one reading it!). You kept rambling forever about this employee despite so many people here are giving all kinds of feedback – you simply cannot make up your mind. You already know what your options are.
    This makes me so very angry. Do you understand how many people just dying to be in a half of her predicament? So many people with high skills and sound work ethic are unemployed today. I am one of them. I went back to school and get a master’s degree in one of the STEM fields. I know odds are still against me in this bad economy in 2015! At 42, I’m no spring chicken anymore but yes, people DO discriminate your appearance. So I make sure that I stay in the best physical shape.
    A friend of mine always worked two jobs throughout her life. Her day career job and evening retail gigs. She has no job now. She wants to be a receptionist – she’s 71 or 72 now but she is in great shape and sharp as a whip as well as very healthy. She’s extremely hard working, competent and so very disciplined. YET her chance of getting such a job is next to none due to her age. And here you are – you feel sorry for her? Really? I’m sorry but you are being nothing more than an enabler.

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