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

Remember the post from the reader who needed to fire an employee but was afraid that her grown sons would become violent? Here’s her update:

The situation is slowly getting resolved. I finally have the president realizing how bad the situation is and we have started writing her up for the more serious errors she makes. For instance, she just overlooked revising a work order for a drilling hose that ended up getting built wrong and it literally blew up during testing. Once we get three write-ups on her, she will be terminated. The write-ups that we will be doing will be for errors that affect the home office, which is out of state, so they will be coming from the owner instead of the people in this office. We hope that will minimize the threat of any potential violence to the people here in the local office.

I think we are satisfied that her sons aren’t technically part of an official gang; they are basically just low-life drug dealers with tattoos that they hope they will intimidate people. Not that they aren’t dangerous, but we don’t think it’s on the level that we originally feared.

I appreciate all the suggestions and support I received from you and your readers.

{ 79 comments… read them below }

  1. Kelly*

    OP Here, another little update to add; her youngest son was just sentenced to prison for 9 months for Aggravated Assault with a Deadly Weapon for brandishing his gun, while on probation for a drug offense, in a road rage incident.

    The oldest son is due in court on the 24th of this month to begin his trial for possession of a dangerous drug with intent to sell. He is expected to be in jail for about 10+ years.

    The grandmother is still going through the court system for her prescription drug related DUI and is expected to serve 45+ days in jail for that.

    I share this with you because there were a lot of readers who were less than understanding about my fear of this family – I think these developments back me up on my initial feelings.

    Today we notified the employee that she is being demoted to just being a receptionist and we are giving her duties to another person in the office. We told her that we felt she had a lot on her plate to deal with right now and felt this would help her cope with her family issues. She was a bit sad about that, but seemed to take it well.

    1. Jamie*

      I do understand the fear you’ve expressed, but I wouldn’t have told any employee that they were being demoted due to personal issues they are dealing with. The same reason I don’t think bosses should factor personal circumstances into raises I don’t think they should be an excuse for a demotion.

      If she had all this going on but was doing an excellent job, would she have been demoted? Assuming the answer is no, she wasn’t demoted because she was dealing with stuff she was demoted because of her performance and you wouldn’t have been able to budge my laser focus on that during that conversation.

      Sounds like the lines are still blurry.

      1. Kelly*

        Yes, the lines are still a bit blurry. Because of the potential for violence here we have chosen to make the transition as peacefully as possible.

        She is being written up for what she does wrong that impacts the quality of our products or interactions with customers – but with all of her immediate family pretty much heading off to jail we didn’t want to put too much more negativity on her plate. She is a very sensitive and emotional person and we don’t need her losing it and falling apart before we are completely prepared for her to leave.

      2. some1*

        +1. I don’t understand why you wouldn’t tell her that duties were taken away from her because of her own mistakes. If you end up having to terminate her, one way of ensuring it goes well is having an open dialog all along about the fact that she’s making mistakes so she doesn’t feel blindsided.

        1. Kelly*

          We have been writing her up for the mistakes she is making and letting her know that she can be terminated if she continues to make those mistakes (i.e. incorrect job order that causes a hose fail), but as far as demoting her the day after her son was sent to prison and the 2nd son is looking at going at the end of this month we didn’t feel it was necessary to rub salt in her wounds.

          1. TheSnarkyB*

            But you did demote her. You just gave her a bs reason instead of the real one. I’m with the other commenters on this.
            Also, a few things:
            1. You’re getting pretty far from anonymity here and sharing some specific details and somewhat identifying information. Please be careful of that, for everyone’s sake.
            2. You should make your company ready for her to leave even if it doesn’t happen on your timeline. People leaving unexpectedly is part of doing business, and especially when that person has the responsibilities of a receptionist, that should never be a crisis. I can just imagine her quitting, thereby exempting you from firing her entirely, and the company trying to, what… get her to stay on an extra week til the temp comes in so they can.. fire her then? Be prepared. You know it’s coming regardless.

        2. Anonymous*

          What I understood was that they said to her, “You’re making a lot of mistakes, which we are going to assume are stemming from the drama in your personal life, rather than decide you are a terrible employee. We are moving you to the receptionist position so you don’t have so much on your plate and ergo, will not make so many expensive mistakes.”

          Which is different than saying, “Wow, your personal life exploded, let’s move you to reception because you won’t be able to handle it.”

            1. Anonymous*

              I was replying to some1, who thought that the employee’s mistakes weren’t mentioned as a factor at all.

      3. fposte*

        I understand the theory, but at this point, I’m kind of going with “if it’s the way to get the people out of the building, go ahead and pull the fire alarm.”

    2. fposte*

      Maybe you counted me as one of them, I dunno, but this is pretty much the family I envisioned–marginal and inclined to drug and fight, but no history of planning workplace revenge even in the face of a previous separation. I still think it’s utterly reasonable for you to minimize your risk in this situation, though, and I’m really happy you’ve found a way forward that looks like it’s going to solve the problem. I think you did really admirable work here, too, so congratulations!

      1. Forrest*

        I think pulling out a gun during a road rage incidence kind of hints towards the possibility of work place violence.

        1. fposte*

          I think pulling out a gun hints at the possibility of some kinds of violence, sure. But it also suggests that he’s the same kind of impulsive posturing spur of the moment guy that he had been portrayed as earlier, and a spontaneous road rage incident (in which no actual battery happened) is very different from a planned vengeance attack on a workplace. Violence/non-violence isn’t a simple binary, where once you’ve waved a gun you might as well be plotting national overthrow.

          And it’s really not my intention to undermine Kelly, who seems to have found an effective way to make what needs to happen happen and who has been around enough to dismiss what people like me say if it doesn’t work for her; my goal was to make her less worried about what she pretty clearly felt she needed to do. I may have missed the mark, but I wanted to give it a try.

          1. Jamie*

            I totally understand what you’re saying and it’s true – impulsive posturing doesn’t mean they would carry anything out.

            But to be totally honest, I’m a hell of a lot more afraid of someone who not only has a gun, but carries it with him and isn’t afraid to pull it out when angry. It could have been just to intimidate – but it shows a more volatile temperament than I would want in someone armed and angry with me.

            1. fposte*

              I kind of assumed he already had one, actually. But that’s the South Side in me showing.

              And really, I’m just happy to hear there’s movement on this. So often the updates are “nothing’s changed,” and I’m really impressed that Kelly put together a way to make this work. It wasn’t easy and it was a sucky problem to be stuck with, and it’s a great, horrible exhibit A of how big a problem can become if nobody does anything about it for a long time.

          2. Forrest*

            I just took issue with your comment on workplace violence. They clearly have a history violence and if they had a history of planning out violence, I don’t think they’d be on the streets. (Since America loves locking up the poor quicker than you can say “cycle of poverty.”)

            1. A Dispatcher*

              All socioeconomic issues aside, the number of violent people (and people who have a history of planning violence) on the streets far, far outnumbers those locked up.

    3. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Thanks for the additional update! I am obligated to add that someone selling illegal drugs doesn’t equal being violent. (In his case, you may have additional info that points to violence, but most people who sell drugs don’t combine it with violence.)

      1. Elizabeth West*

        This may be true, but it was their other behavior that rang alarm bells for me. The yelling, lack of boundaries, and of course, the gun stuff and some of the things the grandmother said.

      2. Chinook*

        I agree. I successful drug dealer would know it is bad business to scare off customers. It is based on repeat business, after all.

      1. Ruffingit*

        As I recall from the original message a couple of months back, the employee has been there quite awhile, the grandmother used to work there too and the family has a penchant for severe over sharing of details that should never be discussed in the office environment.

    4. Harryv*

      I think you are getting TMI with the personal details of her family and what is happening. The more you know the more she may feel you are making decision based on her family situation which isn’t fair. If she is offering you these details, I would draw a line and indicate that what happens to her personal life has nothing to do with the decision that happens when she is employed and is based strictly on her work.

      Tread carefully.

        1. TL*

          If you haven’t read the original post+comments, the amount of detail she knows makes a lot more sense, as does her worries about the possibility of violence. There’s also a lot of discussion about stereotyping in the comments.

    5. Jessa*

      That was actually a good workable idea – to back her down off the critical jobs so that you don’t have to worry. Things failing sound like people can get hurt. So it’s important that the standards are kept.

  2. Jamie*

    Just because I’m nosy – was there a pay cut with the demotion or is she still pulling in 80K even with reduced duties?

      1. Anonymous*

        I can’t believe this person is still getting a bonus, but I definitely understand that you’d want it to end quietly.

      1. Anonymous*

        Maybe you can explain something. Banks seem to have a lot more “VP”s than other industries. Is this just due to some regulatory requirement?

        1. The Other Dawn*

          No. The way my boss explained it (since he’s been around since the dinosaurs walked) is that officers of the bank (branch managers, assistant branch managers, heads of department and some others) are given the “VP” title because customers want to feel like they’re dealing with someone who can get things done for them. The VP title implies importance and knowledge. In my case, I worked in a very small bank and titles carried much more weight. I was second in charge behind the CEO so it’s a little different for me. But, yeah, in a big bank like Bank of America there are TONS of VPs.

          1. Anonymous*

            Cool! I didn’t mean to imply your job wasn’t important or anything. :) Just curious about how it all worked.

            1. The Other Dawn*

              No problem. I didn’t take it that way. :) I’ve had that question before. In a bigger bank it tends to be just a title, because just about everyone is a VP and they don’t usually come anywhere close to being part of the senior management. Some do, but most don’t.

          2. Former Bank VP*

            I always compare it to a long ago episode of “Cheers”. Rebecca told her employees that, yes, a raise is nice and they could have one if they wanted, but they’d better not ask for a TITLE. So, of course, they all decided that anyone can get a raise, but they were special so they were going to get titles instead. I’m not doing the episode justice here! lol But I’ve long thought that’s how banks work :)

  3. Chinook*

    Pleease tell me the drilling hose blew up uring QA testing and not after it was given to thee client. My company uses this type of thing and if it blew up during our tests, the enery board, media and various government agencies would hand us our butts. We would never be satisified with her merely being written up (and no one in the industry would buy from you again).

    1. Kelly*

      Yes, it blew up during our in-house testing and we ended up having to build another hose; very expensive mistake on her part and it also made that particular hose late on it’s promised delivery.

      We test all of our hoses 100% and have an impeccable reputation. That’s why that situation was pretty much the final straw for us and we knew we had to start the process of replacing her.

  4. AJ-in-Memphis*

    Hmm…. finally started writing her up and demoting her because of family issues. Based on that info, it just sounds like there’s a lot of bad management practices that have made this situation that much worse. I’m just saying what I’m thinking…That’s all.

    1. Sarah*

      She didn’t get written up because of family issues. She got written up because of a mistake. She was demoted because she can’t do the job. They offer the family issues as a way to soften the blow. We all know what’s happening here – sometimes you lie so that it doesn’t seem as harsh/minimize the blowback.

      OP, I think it’s the best you could do with what’s going on. I’m glad some action is being taken.

      1. Kelly*

        Thanks Sarah – I appreciate that. It was, by far, the weirdest situation I’ve ever had to deal with. I think I was a bit paralyzed at first because I definitely didn’t want to do the wrong thing. This site was a huge help and I was able to get things pointed in the right direction.

    2. Kelly*

      She was demoted because she failed to do her job that resulted in a hose blowing up. The demotion was done as gently as we could because of the family issues she is facing and struggling with; we aren’t jerks who wanted to just throw her out the door – she’s worked here for over 10 years and we do have some sympathy for her current situation.

      The bad management practices came before I inherited her; I just had to figure out how to get the office to the place I need it to be without causing her violent family to retaliate. I personally think I’ve been able to accomplish both without it turning into something dangerous for any of us.

    3. LisaD*

      I agree, though I think OP inherited the bad situation and is in the unenviable position of trying to balance fixing it with the existing management culture which predates her position at the company. That being said, I sure feel badly for this employee, who was done a disservice by her own mother who apparently hired her and let her work for years without training her to meet expectations. Hopefully this story can provide a lesson to people who manage family/friends (as much as you shouldn’t, people do) that you are NOT being kind by failing to hold people to the expectations another manager would have of them.

  5. Laura*

    I’m really glad to see the clarification update, and hope the situation is being handled with as much compassion as possible in the circumstances. She’s likely shouldering an intense burden (even more than you’ve been made aware of), and if she’s at any point been a stellar employee, perhaps counseling or therapy through your Employee Assistance Plan will be helpful to relieve the stress and let her focus on her job instead of family issues.

    Thank you for updating us!

    1. Kelly*

      We are trying to be very compassionate with her. No one deserves what she is going through in her life right now. It’s very sad.

      Unfortunately she has never been a stellar – or even mediocre employee. She was under her mothers wing when her mother worked here so no one knew how bad she really was. Once her mother retired and I inherited her it became clear she was not able to really do the job and it’s been frustrating ever since.

      Counseling isn’t going to make her smarter. She is in her 40’s – she is who she is. Sad.

      1. Sophie*

        I don’t think that the person who suggested the employee assistance program meant it to make her “smarter”, more that it will allow her an opportunity for some counseling about her personal issues which could then make it easier for her to deal with her situation, potentially having a spillover effect of making it easier for her to focus on her work. Or if she is, as you say, completely unable to improve at work, at least she could take advantage of an EAP program before she is terminated.

        1. Laura*

          Yes, this. Thank you!

          It’s really sad that this person wasn’t coached properly and stayed in the position for so long.

          1. Ethyl*

            Ehhhh yes and no. If you go back to the original letter, there’s a LOT of context that makes this person’s situation less than sympathetic, even if her mom could have done a better job preparing her to work for a living.

            Best of luck to the OP in getting this handled sooner rather than later and with a minimum of disruption. I can’t even begin to imagine how hard it is to run a functioning business without adequate admin support let alone all the other craziness going on!

  6. MR*

    While I can appreciate all of the hand-holding for the incompetent employee, I can just imagine one of the other employees who must be thinking ‘Damn, I can just about do anything and not get fired from this place…awesome!’ Or, on the flip side, someone who is continually frustrated at the lack of accountability in the company.

    It’s not the job of the company to keep an incompetent employee with a roof over their head. It’s to keep in business so that everyone in the company doesn’t lose the roof over their head.

    1. Michael*

      I’m sure that the other employees will appreciate knowing that the management is finally doing something after years of tolerating it. Let’s commend this manager for handling a potentially dangerous situation with competence and thoughtfulness.

  7. Not So NewReader*

    FWIW, Kelly, I think you are doing a remarkable job with a very difficult situation. One of the keys I see here is that this woman is being acknowledged as a human being with family stuff and all the emotions that come with it.
    What do we see over and over with these shooters in the news? They are loners, no one listened, no friends, etc.
    I am not saying it is up to the company to fill these gaps-no,no- however acknowledging that you are talking to a fellow human being can go a long way.

    I had a boss fire an employee. The boss was not worried about the firing- the employee was an average Joe. The employee walked out of the office, went to his car and came back with a gun. The boss talked to the guy for a few hours before the situation ended. The guy had one family problem after another. The firing was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Wisely, my boss remained calm and just talked with the man. (At that point, what else is there?) The guy’s story was very sad.

    In Kelly’s story, she knows there are difficulties at home and she is taking steps to prevent a situation. I think that is wise. My boss had NO clue and was caught totally surprised by what happened next. If we see a potential problem on the horizon, that means we have been given a chance to prevent or lessen the problem.

    1. Gjest*

      Holy crap for your boss. And amazing that he had the capacity to talk him down. I hope he is OK after the incident, and getting help if he needs it.

  8. Michael*

    Good work! When it gets tough, keep thinking about how awesome of a replacement you could find and how you’ll get tons of work done with minimal drama.

  9. AB*

    First, OP, I think you are dealing as best as possible with a difficult situation you didn’t cause.

    I’m wondering, though, how come did this person end up in charge of “revising a work order for a drilling hose that ended up getting built wrong and it literally blew up during testing”.

    Based on the description here and in the original letter, this person is incapable of doing even the simplest tasks well. Shouldn’t management have already removed her a long time ago from any activity that could have any significant negative impact in the organization?

      1. AB*

        Not sure what you mean and how re-reading the original thread will help me understand why a company would make someone responsible for serious tasks when they’ve already proved incompetent in all work areas.

        1. Jennifer*

          Uh….her mother was a higher-up at the company and protected her daughter until the mother got fired. The family is incredibly violent and scary. The company is trying to figure out a way to get rid of the woman without her crazy overprotective gun-happy relatives coming to shoot up the place in her honor.

          That’s why you needed to read the previous thread.

          1. AB*

            I understand all this — what I was arguing is that even though you may have an incentive to keep the person in the payroll to avoid violent reaction, but that’ doesn’t justify leaving her responsible for important work with safety / security impact for the company. The incident described by the OP is proof that it was not a good idea.

            1. TL*

              In the original post, Kelly mentions that she had tried to had the woman demoted to only receptionist duties but her bosses hadn’t allowed it.

    1. Caffeine Queen*

      That’s not the issue here though-in the last post, the OP described all the ways she spent coaching this woman, to no avail. If this woman was truly brilliant or had potential, she would have relished in the chance to learn and would have caught on pretty quickly. Evidently, she did not. A lot of this woman’s issues comes from what sounds like quite a bit of emotional struggles, possible learning difficulties-things that would need to be addressed by a highly trained, skilled professional…….and she has to be self aware enough to realize that she both needs and wants the help. That’s certainly more than the average manager can do.

      1. Ethyl*

        Yeah, there is SO much stuff going on that only reading this update and not the original letter and comments is just not adequate to grasp all the crazy stuff happening. As Kelly has said repeatedly, this is the most bizarre situation she (?) has ever encountered and is really doing her best to deal with it, but that more “normal” job/manager/etc advice just doesn’t apply here.

  10. Tiff*

    I don’t know, something about the OP is just rubbing me the wrong way. Why is she so far into this woman’s business. It’s almost like she enjoys telling us how bad this woman and her whole family are.

    1. Bobby Digital*

      +1. And just totally over-sensationalizing the “low-level drug dealers with tattoos” as violent, head-smashing, workplace-shooting hitmen. It’s hard for me to tell if it’s naivete or prejudice.

  11. hope*

    I understand the concern. It seems that you have labeled the cildren as dangerous.Yes they are drug dealers, But having tatoos shouldnt be included in this at all. The approach for firing her for little things is wrong. This is typical of managers who dont like particular person.

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