my employee’s son is scamming her out of money, and I’m worried

A reader writes:

I’m the director of a public library in a small town. I have a part-time clerk (let’s call her Maggie). Maggie has a son, “Ralph,” who is, quite simply, not a very nice person. He’s a former drug addict who was okay for a while, but now seems to have figured out it’s much more lucrative to just get all of Maggie’s money.

About six months ago, Maggie helped him purchase a car so he could get to work. Before that, she was getting up in the middle of the night to drive him home (Maggie also has a full-time job in addition to her job with us). Soon after she signed for the car, he lost his job. Since then, he hasn’t held a job for longer than a couple of weeks. When he applies to jobs, he always claims he needs $150 for drug tests as part of the application. Maggie paid for SEVEN of these before we found out and looked up our state laws regarding drug tests and told her that the law requires employers to pay for testing. Once Ralph gets a job, he claims he needs gas money until his first paycheck when he promises to pay her back. Of course, before he can pay her back, he quits or says they told him they don’t have enough work for him. We also found out he has been getting this same amount of money from another woman in town.

Because Ralph doesn’t have a job, he also moved in with her. While living with her, he has stolen her keys and cell phone when she has refused to let him borrow them. On one memorable day, he came to see her at the library and asked for $20, and after he left he got ahold of her bank card and cleaned out her account.

At our urging, she has talked to the employee assistance program people available at her full-time job. She says they have been helpful, but when she tells Ralph that she can’t help him anymore, he tells her that she doesn’t love him and he threatens to kill himself. She is afraid of the police because of how they have treated her family in the past.

The real turning point has come this week. They have gotten rid of his car because there is no longer any money to make payments. Maggie is once again driving him everywhere. Today she came to see me because he took yet another drug test, but since it came back as “all water,” he needs another one. The employment group helping him find work said they needed to pay $55 for the new test. Since she only had $20, she asked me for money. I was completely taken by surprise, I’d assumed she came to ask for some time off. I didn’t give her the money, and after she left I made it clear to other staff that they were not to give her money.

For the past 2+ years and even while all this was going on, she has been a great employee, always on time, efficient, and helpful. However, I’m worried that Ralph could steal her keys and rob the library. I’m also worried about her safety and her ability to take care of her own needs. At this point, I’m not sure she can afford to buy food. Before all this started, Maggie was happy and healthy. I have warned her that Ralph’s behavior could impact her job here, but I’m afraid if I fire her, there will be no way she can get out of this mess. But after today, I’m not sure she can anyway. I know I need to say something so she knows her request was inappropriate, but I don’t know what else I could or should be doing to handle this.

It doesn’t sound like firing her should be on the table — it sounds like she does great work, and what you’re worried about is (a) her welfare and (b) her ability to ensure Ralph doesn’t cause harm to the library.

Things that would be reasonable for you to do:

1. Tell Maggie that Ralph is no longer allowed to visit her at the library while she’s working, because it’s disruptive. Tell Ralph this yourself if he shows up after that. Be willing to use whatever security procedures you have to enforce that.

2. If you haven’t already, tell Maggie directly that it sounds like Ralph is lying to her in order to scam her out of money. (Sometimes in this situation people choose delicate wording and tiptoe around what’s really happening. If you’ve been doing that, stop and switch to clear, plain language.)

3. Tell Maggie that Ralph’s behavior has been so dishonest that you’re worried about him potentially having access to her keys to the library. Ask how she safeguards them. Consider whether you feel comfortable with her answer and what you know of the situation, or whether your obligations to the library obligate you to take back Maggie’s keys.

4. Investigate local resources that might be available to help Maggie — county social workers, etc. — give her phone number, and urge her to call.

Beyond that … I know it sucks to watch something like this, but there may not be a lot more that you can do. Ultimately this is Maggie’s call, assuming she’s of sound mind. You can name what you see happening and urge her to get help, and you can take action to safeguard your workplace, but beyond that, it’s up to Maggie.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 306 comments… read them below }

  1. Detective Amy Santiago*

    I don’t understand how the LW jumped to firing Maggie because of this. I mean, yes, Alison’s points about her son potentially having access to her library keys is a reasonable one, but if you care about this woman, which it sounds like you do from what you’re saying, why would you cut off part of her livelihood when she is obviously in such an unfortunate situation?

    If you haven’t already, please provide her with copies of the relevant laws showing that employers cannot require people to pay for a drug test and try to point her towards other resources that can help her.

    1. The Cosmic Avenger*

      Because by asking her manager for money she’s shown that she prioritizes enabling her son over meeting minimum professional standards for behavior. I feel bad for her, too, but she is definitely enabling her son, and she needs to stop. He won’t change because he doesn’t have any reason to, when his mother keeps driving him everywhere and giving him money even when she should know that he’s lying about why he needs it. Similarly, she probably won’t stop enabling him until she hits a breaking point, and I’m hoping that this is it, but considering how deeply invested she seems in being in this codependent relationship, I’m not sure if or when she’ll hit bottom.

      1. The Cosmic Avenger*

        I’m not saying she needs to be fired now, but I can see why the director is concerned, especially if Maggie has access to the library keys or cash drawer, because that means Ralph might get access to them. And both Ralph and Maggie have to want to change before anyone can really help them, all the OP can do is let Maggie know what resources are available and urge her to get help, and Maggie did contact her other employer’s EAP, so that might be the limit of what the OP can do until Maggie wises up and decides that her current relationship with her son is actually detrimental to both of them.

        1. Sadsack*

          I agree with everything you wrote. Also there’s the potential for Maggie to approach coworkers for money, which could create more problems​.

      2. Fed Up*

        Rhetoric around addiction really irritates me sometimes. He’s the one with a problem, not her. Throwing around words like ‘co-dependent’ just absolves the addict of responsibility. It’s entirely possible she’s frightened of him, or just loves him and doesn’t know how to handle the situation.

        And at the end of the day, it’s a lot easier to tell a person to abandon their drug addicted child than it is to actually do it.

        1. The Cosmic Avenger*

          And at the end of the day, it’s a lot easier to tell a person to abandon their drug addicted child than it is to actually do it.

          And at the end of the day, it’s a lot easier to tell a person to abandon their drug addiction than it is to actually do it.

          Both are hard, but both are crucial to the mental health of those involved. (And when you say “abandon their drug addicted child” I’ll assume you meant let them hit rock bottom and suffer the consequences of their addiction, as I was suggesting, if they refuse treatment.)

          They’re really very similar issues, addiction and enabling. Just because you don’t like the way professionals talk about it doesn’t mean you’re right and they’re wrong. (I’m not an addiction specialist, but I am a behavioral scientist who is familiar with the study of addiction and addictive behavior and treatment.)

          1. Fed Up*

            If you’re familiar with the science around addiction then you should know that very little is ‘certain’ or ‘right’ or set in stone. Regardless of whether ‘enabling’ as a concept exists, my point was more that it’s interesting that that is the conclusion everyone draws.

            Society looks at a 37 year old man taking advantage of his 64 year old mother and concludes that she is co-dependent, therefore equally as ill (and culpable) as him. She is enabling him. Therefore we can neatly absolve ourselves of any responsibility to intervene.

            1. TychaBrahe*

              The point of labeling behavior as “enabling” is to identify it as a problem.

              It is not enabling to wake your 4yo up in the morning so he will be ready to leave for pre-school on time. It *is* enabling to call your 34yo every morning to make sure she gets to work on time. Unless an adult has developmental delays, getting oneself out of bed on time is expected adult behavior.

              A person who helps someone who is clearly not using the helper to one’s extreme detriment is a sign that a person needs assistance themself. Ralph may or may not be fixable, but Maggie cannot fix him, and she is harming herself in the attempt. Maggie needs support to help her break free from Ralph—a call to Adult Protective Services might be useful—and in the long run could probably benefit from therapy.

        2. Shelby*

          Maggie absolutely has a problem. An addict is obsessed with their substance. An addict’s family is obsessed with the addict. Two sides of the same very thin coin. In many ways, the treatment is also the same. Maggie needs to learn that she can’t control Ralph but she can control her responses to and behaviors around Ralph.

          1. Fed Up*

            Perhaps she isn’t ‘obsessed’. Perhaps she frightened of a much bigger and stronger man. Perhaps she being manipulated and abused. Your last sentence is completely correct, but acting as though the addict and their family are equally culpable is wrong.

    2. Admin Assistant*

      I don’t think OP wants to fire her at all, but given how much OP clearly knows about the situation and how it’s affecting the library she runs, this situation is obviously impacting their workplace in a noticeable, negative way. If Maggie’s enabling of her son* and her son’s BS/abuse is causing a disruption in the workplace for OP and other employees, surely OP has to also think of what is best and safest for the library and his other employees. There’s no good solution to this, but you can feel all the sympathy in the world for Maggie while still acknowledging that it’s not OK for her to ask OP or coworkers for money and it’s not OK for her son to come in and harass his mom at her place of work. It sounds as if the toxicity of the relationship is already affecting OP and at risk of coloring the workplace/other employees (if it hasn’t already), which OP absolutely needs to be mindful of.

      *I’m not judging Maggie for the enabling, btw — I can’t imagine how hard it must be to have such a troubled child that you still love and want to see the best in, so it’s very understandable to me.

      1. Carolyn*

        “I’m not judging Maggie for the enabling, btw — I can’t imagine how hard it must be to have such a troubled child that you still love and want to see the best in, so it’s very understandable to me.”

        This. My heart is breaking for Maggie – my ex husband had addiction issues and it was a nightmare watching him race his way to a bottom that never seemed to get any closer, I can’t imagine having to watch this when its your kid.

        LW – would you be comfortable pointing Maggie towards Al-anon? (12 step programs that are for friends and loved ones dealing with specific addictions do exist, like Nar-anon, but in my experience, Al-anon welcomes the loved ones of any type of addict when there is no more specific meeting the person can get to.) I know not everyone finds 12-step programs helpful, but Al-anon helped me very much – groups vary from very religious to not – I am an atheist and my home group didn’t even blink at my atheism. There is nothing like being in a room with people who completely understand what you are facing and can share their stories with you to help you find your own way through.

        The turning point for me, what helped me stop enabling (because it is torture – the idea of not “helping” is awful – its a good impulse to do anything for someone you love that gets twisted and warped and unhealthy), was learning that getting between the person I loved and bottom was not helping them, it was harming him and putting myself in a position to get dragged down too – that the most loving and kindest thing I could do was get out of the way and let him find bottom because he needed to want to change himself. Until people who had actually been there and made those hard choices themselves were there as proof that it was really the right way, the idea of actually stopping the enabling felt like I was taking away my ex’s last hope … I needed them to show me that it was the only thing that I could do that wouldn’t make it worse.

        The people who loved me wanted to help too, but they didn’t understand what I was dealing with – when you are surrounded by people who have actually walked your path, when you meet people who are further along than you and you can see their lives getting better, you can see your situation and the way forward more clearly.

        1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

          “race his way to a bottom that never seemed to get any closer”
          is one of the most heart-wrenching phrases I’ve ever read.

        2. JJ*

          This was my first thought at well – Al-Anon is an incredible community of people who have helped me with the kind of co-dependent, enabling behaviors described here.

          1. Emmylou*

            Me too. It is hard to explain at first why it works but good meetings create amazing communities of support that help you untangle your own role in the chaos of other people’s addictions. <- grateful member of al anon

    3. Antilles*

      Having a family member like “Maggie” with her own “Ralph”, I can completely understand it. It can be absolutely exhausting and irritating to see Maggie give Ralph endless chances seemingly without recognizing the pattern. And you absolutely get sick and tired of hearing about the same issues week after week after week. At some point, you just get sick and tired of dealing with all the drama and bull and just want to stop hearing about it.
      Cutting Maggie out of your life is not the right response to the situation…but it is a very human one.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        Relative and employee are not quite the same situation. If Ralph is a potential danger to the workplace, the OP doesn’t owe Maggie family-style support (and, actually, families don’t owe family-style support if the enabler and enablee aren’t willing or able to change). The OP’s priorities are as the library director and Maggie’s boss.

        1. L.*

          I agree – a lot of people below discuss family situations and feel empathy for Maggie (I’m among them), and OP herself notes she is reluctant to cut Maggie off from a steady income, but Maggie herself is slipping into addict-like behavior on her son’s behalf. If it continues or even deteriorates, then the OP has good reason to consider letting her go.

        2. seejay*

          This. This this this. It sounds harsh, but the OP’s priorities should be to the company (library) and the employee’s he/she has under him/her. They can have all the empathy in the world to Maggie but their job is to look out for the business first and foremost, that’s what they’re paid to do, not enable Maggie’s potentially destructive behaviour in enabling her son. Yes, keep her employed as long as it’s not getting in the way of running the business, but when it starts to impact that, they have to look at the hard decision of letting her go. I’m not saying it doesn’t suck, it royally does, because Maggie might be relying on the library to some degree (but not that much, since she also has another job according to the OP) but there’s only so much the OP can do. They’re not a trained counselor, they’re not Maggie’s trusted friend or family and until Maggie wants to get help for herself (not her son, she can’t force him to get help), there’s nothing that can be done.

      2. Falling Diphthong*

        That was my thought–that OP is drama adverse (totally get it–so am I) and that being very very very reasonable at Maggie and pointing things out logically isn’t making a dent at all. Get rid of Maggie and the drama that is uncoiling through the workplace goes too.

        It’s NOT the right thing to do–there is no fireable offense happening here (yet)–but I really do get the sentiment.

        1. PM Jesper Berg*

          Why is it “NOT” the right thing to do? Workplaces do not function well when beset by drama, and ultimately Maggie is pestering her co-workers for money.

          1. fposte*

            To me it’s premature even if you set aside the personal involvement; this is an otherwise good employee of several years’ duration who’s asked somebody for money once. To me that calls for a serious “knock it off,” not firing.

          2. The Cosmic Avenger*

            Well, if the drama is not disrupting work or affecting morale, then that’s not a reason to fire someone. If it is, an otherwise excellent employee should be warned not to let it affect the workplace and given at least one second chance. So far the boundaries she’s crossed with her coworkers haven’t been that egregious, and the OP says that she seemed to get the point when she was told not to ask coworkers for money. It’s not clear whether she’s been told not to talk about her travails at work, and those are a lesser offense and IMO would require a higher bar to require action anyway.

          3. Fed Up*

            Asking a manager for an advance and calmly accepting a ‘no’ is not the same as ‘pestering her co-workers for money’.

            1. Ted Mosby*

              The letter says she asked for money, not an advance of her salary. It sound more like she asked to borrow a $20 than made a professional request.

    4. LBK*

      I think it’s one of those painful judgment calls like firing someone who has a significant other than comes into the office and causes scenes. Empathy only goes so far when being understanding is interfering with your ability to run your business, and if it becomes apparent that you can’t control this third party and neither can your employee, I think you have to exercise the only element of control you do have, which is firing the employee who gives the troublemaker reason to be associated with your business.

      It sucks big time, but it’s not fair to subject your other employees to that, either.

    5. INTP*

      As others mentioned above, I see it, because she’s in an addict-enabler relationship right now and those are generally deeply dysfunctional in a way that can’t be remedied by an EAP or a stern talk about expectations and boundaries. She has already let it disrupt her work by asking her coworkers for money, so it’s not unfair to not give her the benefit of a doubt and assume she’s able to handle her personal situation entirely without it interfering with her job. I’m not saying that she should be fired right away but if one is familiar with this dynamic I can absolutely see how the knee-jerk reaction might be to assume it’s only going to get worse and cut off the working relationship. She definitely shouldn’t have access to keys, money, or anything else of value at work right now.

    6. Jessesgirl72*

      Because that’s an awfully lot of disruptive family drama bleeding over into her workplace. There is no way it’s not disruptive to their work. It’s especially an excessive amount to accept from a part time employee. And if she asked her BOSS for money, she’s potentially asking her coworkers and even friendly patrons.

      The OP has already pointed her to many resources. The drama is still following her to the library.

      At minimum, the OP needs to “revisit the key policy” and tell Maggie, unequivocally, that Ralph isn’t permitted on the premises and that asking anyone connected to the library for money will be cause for immediate dismissal.

        1. Jessesgirl72*

          Whenever you “revisit the key policy” you always need to have everything rekeyed. I would bet the OP can’t really tell you who has all the keys anyway. Susie quit 5 years ago, and they *think* she turned in her key…

          1. sstabeler*

            frankly, it occurs to me that depending on how much it costs- and how much turnover there is- it may be worth rekeying everything whenever a keyholder leaves anyway. That way, it’s irrelevant if said keyholder has turned in all copies of the key they made (and particularly since, to be blunt, I don’t think you can trust that Ralph hasn’t obtained a copy of the key)

    7. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I think OP jumped to firing because they’re not sure what other options they have to assist Maggie while also drawing a firm boundary. That said, OP, please don’t fire Maggie without pursuing every possible alternative, first.

      OP, I suggest treating this as a codependency and DV issue. Ralph’s treatment of Maggie—financial exploitation and stealing, emotional manipulation, etc.—are all forms of domestic violence. It’s difficult, as an outsider, to understand how someone who’s great at their job and who has their life together can be manipulated this way, but it sounds like Ralph has devoted his whole life to perfecting the art of scamming his mother (in addition to the fact that he now lives with her, which allows him to terrorize her nonstop). Yes, she’s enabling him, but it sounds like he knows exactly which strings to pull to devastate and terrify her.

      This isn’t what folks typically think of when they think of abuse, but it’s really similar to what we see in elder abuse cases. I think Maggie needs more than EAP, and I agree with Alison that telling her outright that you’re concerned about her and that you’re worried that Ralph is (1) scamming her, and (2) a security threat to the library. If you feel comfortable doing so, I’d refer her to Al-Anon or a similar program.

      This is a terrible situation for everyone but Ralph, and my heart hurts for Maggie.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Thank you! I tend to over-comment and have been trying to rein it in, so I’m glad this wasn’t too much!

      1. Fed Up*

        It’s probably a pretty terrible situation for Ralph too. No-one aims to grow up as a drug addict leeching off their own mother.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          I think it’s possible to be compassionate towards both people with drawing a false equivalency between what Maggie is experiencing and what Ralph is doing. Folks with addiction deserve access to treatment programs and support, but they do not deserve a free pass on abusing their family members and caretakers.

          1. Fed Up*

            Oh, I don’t think I conveyed that correctly. I am not suggesting there is any equivalency. Merely that saying he is having a good time is also incorrect.

            1. Annonymouse*

              He might not be having a good time but currently he is getting what he wants and has no incentive to change.

              Maggie would clearly like this to change (get her son clean and living a normal life).

              I can have sympathy for Ralph and know that what he is going through isn’t great. At the same time I can feel more for Maggie and not want to see her get dragged down and her life ruined by this.

              (Loss of job and credit rating , no savings for retirement, emotional turmoil from seeing son go through this/being manipulated)

    8. L.*

      I can understand why the thought crossed OP’s mind- the whole thing raises concerns about Maggie’s maybe-deteriorating judgement and professionalism under her son’s influence, even if she was a model employee before. The OP also mentions her growing fear of the son, which I totally understand as well — you want to keep that person away from yourself and your employees. OP may also be fielding fear/concerns from Maggie’s colleagues, amping up the stress further.

    9. Kate*

      What concerns me is that Ralph got to Maggie’s wallet, it sounds like when it (the wallet) was at the library, possibly in a backroom or coat closet where other people’s stuff is.

      1. Different day, different name*

        Yes! It sounds like Ralph is becoming increasingly emboldened. Insofar he seems only to be inclined to victimize his mother knowing full well she won’t phone the Police, whereas stealing from her coworkers will get him arrested. That could change in an instant.

    10. Student*

      Have you ever been confronted by a drug addict who demands money? Many folks like that have perfected being scary enough to get what they want without technically or obviously breaking a law.

      It’s incredibly hard to just kick him out of a library – they’re open to the public!

      Basically, the options there are (1) he needs to voluntarily comply with it, which is not going to happen in this case where his piggy bank is there. Or (2) you need a police officer on-hand (which some libraries have in high-crime areas; mine did when I was a kid), but probably is not the case here or the OP would already have done so.

      That leaves (3) you need to call the cops and deal with the associated hassle every time he shows up, and it’ll take several repetitions to convince him you’re serious. In that case, you are gambling that Ralph doesn’t charm the police or buy them off, and that the police take you seriously, and that the police will show up multiple times, and that Ralph will stick around long enough to actually get confronted by them once they’re called (could be hours in some communities, could be 5 minutes in others). Then you also gamble that they’ll do more good than harm when confronting him. A good cop that knows the problem set can be great at this – my library’s dedicated cop was very good at it. A lousy cop or one that doesn’t know the problem set will probably make things worse by ignoring the matter as a waste of his time, emboldening Ralph, or by escalating to violence way too fast and traumatizing your patrons and Maggie.

      1. It's The Fuzz*

        Re: Option 3, it is indeed possible to get someone banned from places, and I say this as someone with experience in 911 dispatch & communications. In my area, we have an elderly man who is banned from virtually every location in town. All of the dispatchers and officers know him, so if the town is smaller or medium sized it wouldn’t take long for them to know enough of the situation to show up and kick Ralph out. Obviously this wouldn’t do anything for Maggie’s home life, but perhaps there does need to be a boundary line drawn between the two, as hard as it may be. Maggie doesn’t seem to want help, and forcing it into her wouldn’t likely end well, in my opinion.

  2. TL -*

    While setting some very clear boundaries with Maggie – she’s not allowed to ask library employees/patrons for money; she can’t let Robbie in the library or near her keys – it might be good to set some expectations around what you can do. You can’t fix it for her, but you can say you’re willing to help her look for sources of help or support, if she ever needs it. And that if she fears for her safety, to please let you know and you’ll do whatever you feel comfortable. Maybe hang a few flyers/pamphlets at the library bulletin board that you think would contain good information for her. Try not to make her whole library life about Robbie and her problems; just be sure that if she looks for signs of support, she can see them.

    And if you do need to remind her of boundaries, I would always include a gentle reminder of resources she can use. “Maggie, you know you can’t ask people in the library for loans. I’m sorry I can’t allow that, but I do think that this organization could be a good resource for you; they’re experienced in X.”

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Agreed 100%. Right now Maggie feels like she’s up against a wall—and she may be, financially. It also sounds like Ralph is using, again, which will only make things steadily worse for her. This is a good moment to take a step back and figure out if there’s any other hand that can be extended to help lift her out of the muck and away from the spell her son has cast over her.

      I really hope we get an update on this, too. I want so badly for this to work out for Maggie.

    2. rPM*

      This is a good, compassionate idea. What I’m still struggling with is how the OP should handle the expectations around asking for money. While it seems obvious that there should be a clear and strict “no asking co-workers / patrons for money for Ralph” rule, it also sounds like Maggie might (already or soon) be in a position where she isn’t able to take care of her own basic needs. So where does the line get drawn if Maggie, for example, asks her co-workers to lend her lunch money, or just asks them for food?

      1. OhNo*

        The easiest (and probably best) way is to make it a strict no asking for money (or food) at all rule. If OP and their employees are concerned that Maggie isn’t getting her basic needs met, then they can contribute help in the other ways TL suggests – by providing numbers for food banks and other support services.

        There’s also the option, although neither OP nor their staff should feel any obligation, to occasionally bring in food for everyone to share (allowing Maggie access to food), or sponsor a food/toiletries/supplies drive for a food shelf (with an open donation box in an unguarded area, so Maggie can take anything she might need).

    3. Different day, different name*

      I fear that Maggie’s increasing desperation could lead her down the bad path.

      Example: Maggie has closing duties, next day is payday. Ralph phones her with a pressing issue. He needs $20 or else (insert dire consequence). Nobody else is around, she doesn’t have the $20 but her pay check will be in the bank the next day. In a moment of weakness, and against her better judgement Maggie pockets $20 out of the cash bank because if she doesn’t give him the money *dire consequence*. She promises herself she will be there first thing in the morning to replace the money after a trip to the ATM and no one will be the wiser. Because she is an honest person and would
      NEVER steal. She goes home, hands over the $20, and goes to bed – leaving her purse out. Next morning she is out early. Everything is going to plan. At the ATM she opens her wallet… and her debit card is missing!

      Library is open in an hour but the bank won’t be. She phones her son repeatedly and at the 5th call, he answers. Well yes he has her debit card! He has a job interview this morning remember? And he needed it. And no he can’t reschedule, she wants him to get a job right? Also he is across town and won’t make it anyway. Sorry. *click*.

      And Maggie just commited a crime. Yes, taking the money in the first place would be a crime, but desperate people will minimize the risk… otherwise they won’t be able to do what they think needs to be done, because under any other circumstances they are honest people.

      It won’t matter is this is The Straw That Broke The Camel’s Back. The damage is done. Maggie is lucky if the only thing that happens to her is she is fired, but since this is likely a State Institution there will be more. No matter what, she will be ruined, and everyone will care but her son. People will talk about her for years as a cautionary tale, muttering “What a shame, she was such a nice lady.”

      Knowing what the OP knows, I wouldn’t necessarily Fire her but I would absolutely remove her from cash duties and any access to the till.

      Seeing that this poor woman is already on the slippery slope, not having cash duties may actually be a relief.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I think it’s a bridge too far to remove her from access to the till or to presume that she’ll steal on behalf of her son at this point. We can come up with all kinds of scenarios, but we should respond to the one that’s been presented to us.

        1. Different day, different name*

          I politely disagree about the money duties. He has already taken money and stolen from his Mom. Even if she doesn’t herself steal on his behalf, there is no dodging that she will be held responsible if she is negligent, or he gets his hands on her keys and steals from the library.

          The fact that she has given him money again and again, and was trying to borrow more for him from people at work… her professional image is already taking a hit.

          OP mentioned letting her go, and I think at least some part of this has to do with a Money risk since the whole letter is about Ralph taking all of Maggie’s money and Maggie struggling to do everything she can to hold it together.

          So my point was (badly made maybe) don’t fire this woman over asking others for money because she sounds like she does her job well and shouldn’t lose a source of needed income. But if OP is worried about Money, taking Maggie off cash duties could alleviate some concern without taking her job.

          As for a bridge too far, this letter could have been written about one of my Aunts a few years back. I’ve seen far too many of my relatives and friends risk EVERYTHING to fix what their children had done.

          From paying people not to press charges or file insurance claims, pulling strings with connections, replacing stolen goods before anyone noticed they were gone, to the most egregious: providing false alibis, and/or expecting other relatives (including their other children) to cover and take the fall if necessary…

          I doubt they even dreamt they would find themselves doing things like this for anyone. But they did. And when I asked them what they would do if they were caught, why were they risking their friendships, jobs, livelihoods, home, and in some cases their freedom? That I didn’t understand?

          Well, I would one day when I had kids.

          And to their kids: “This is your last free pass.” As much as they meant to mean it, it never was the last time.

          I love, and did what I could to help these people when it wasn’t unreasonable or illegal. But when this stuff was going on, I had to make it clear their kids were not allowed at my work, watched them like a hawk in my house, and never left my keys or wallet unattended around them. Made me real popular too.

          Now it could very well be this is just my crappy family, and no one else in the World is like this. In fact, consulting with my husband just now, I am wrong that honest people can be pushed into doing bad things.

          But if I saw what the OP sees, these would be my concerns.

          Anyway this is my last post, and like the first, it has taken up too much space.

          Thank you for hearing me out.

        2. First time poster, long time lurker*

          By an interesting coincidence I work in a library system that had a staff member with the exact issue. Son lived at home and mom supported him. And yes, she did end up embezzling from the library, which led to her losing her job. The library did not prosecute her, but we now have much more stringent rules regarding cash deposits.

  3. Admin Assistant*

    Woof. I think beyond what Allison said about safeguarding the library keys, banning Ralph from the library, and telling Maggie that it is 100% not OK to ask coworkers for money, this sounds like a problem way beyond what OP can do (and what is appropriate for OP to do). As long as Ralph stays away from the library and his BS doesn’t affect Maggie’s work (i.e. inducing her to ask coworkers for money, making her late to work because she has to drive him everywhere, etc.), that’s really all OP can do. I get that OP is concerned about Maggie’s safety and well-being, but for OP’s own mental health, she should stay out of Maggie’s problems and focus on what she can do. OP sounds way too involved already, TBH.

    1. EmilyG*

      If this is a public library, OP probably can’t (and shouldn’t!) exclude Ralph from the premises. What Allison said is right: Ralph can’t visit Maggie there. But if he wants to do job searching there or whatever, he should be able to.

      1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

        Public libraries, at least the ones near me, can absolutely ban abusive patrons.

        1. Parenthetically*

          Yep, my local libraries definitely have lists of banned patrons. Sometimes people are banned from that branch, sometimes from all the branches.

          1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

            And if you want to lose all faith in humanity, ask the librarians what they did to get banned.

            1. fposte*

              Usually it’s more than asking their mom for money, though, which is why I doubt that Ralph’s current behavior is going to be enough to get him banned. But that’s dependent on the library.

              1. BPT*

                So I can’t tell if the son stole Maggie’s card while she was at the library after asking her for $20, or if he got it from home or something. But if it was while she was at the library, to me that would fall under “patron steals from library employees.” Which could definitely get you banned. It shouldn’t matter that it’s his mother.

                1. BPT*

                  It could be – I just would find it weird if she didn’t have her debit card on her? If it was at home anyway, I figured he would have gone for that first. I took it as coming to the library for $20 was a ruse to get her card, and after that he had it to clean her out. I might be reading to much into it, but it was one possible reading I had.

              2. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

                I think “disrupting the work of library employees” is all the reason needed.

                1. fposte*

                  The thing is, it’s not what you think or what I think; it’s what the library’s protocol says.

              3. Beaded Librarian*

                Actually at my library we absolutely took the first set to banning someone for asking patrons and staff for money at the library. Didn’t have to go to the next step because they never did it again. I’m pretty sure that my director and the local police would be fine with banning Ralph From the library. And at that point it is trespassing.

                1. fposte*

                  Did you ban the kid who asked his mom at the circ desk for his allowance? Right now Ralph isn’t asking strangers–he asked his mom.

                2. Beaded Librarian*

                  @fposte I did mention it was the first step which was making sure he understood that he couldn’t ask for money from patrons or staff (which was a whole other fun thing getting him to understand that) and letting my director know the next day so they would be aware of the potential problem and if he did it again.
                  But also in the OPs case we are talking about an adult not a child. Even though she is his mom it’s still a problem we have the same policy about panhandling even when the patrons know each other. They cannot do it on library property.
                  I will admit at the time this particular incident happened we were already having problems with people loitering in the library and most likely selling drugs burbthat is a whole mother issue.

                3. sstabeler*

                  fposte, how I would handle said kid is to quietly- and gently- tell the kid that he shouldn’t ask his mom for his allowance while she was working. But yes, if it happened repeatedly? the kid *would* eventually get banned. The difference is that the kid probably either doesn’t know better, or isn’t thinking it through. Ralph is coming to the library to demand money from a staff member- even if it is his mother.

            2. Snarky Librarian*

              My library has multiple branches, and if a patron does something bad enough they will get banned at all of them. Staff gets an email when this happens with a description of the patron and what they did. My faith in humanity has definitely been lost!

        2. Joa*

          Soliciting from staff and patrons is a bannable offense at many libraries. However, you wouldn’t get banned for a first offense, which it sounds like this is. You’d get a warning and be asked to modify your behavior.

          I’m a director of a public library in a small town, and it brings a special set of challenges for establishing personal and professional boundaries. Many patrons are also family and friends of staff, and legitimately use the library at the same time. I have to coach some staff to ensure that there isn’t preferential treatment or excessive time wasted. We’ve definitely had conversations to the effect of “Your offspring can use the library while you work, but you need to limit your interactions to the type that you would have with any other patron.” If the boundaries are set and the family/friends don’t abide by them, then it becomes a patron behavior issue. But in those situations, the patron needs to receive a warning well before banning occurs.

          Also, as a director, it is important to understand that the behavior of staff as they work is separate from the behavior of their family as they use the library. Many of us have relations that are problematic in ways we can’t control. Unlike most other workplaces, when you work in a public library, it is a place where they can follow you. So far, the worker asking for money from colleagues is a serious issue and reflects poor professional judgment. However, from a library management perspective, a patron asking for money from another is not really a big deal, as long as it stops when addressed.

      2. fposte*

        While I don’t think Ralph’s behavior rises to that level, you absolutely can ban individuals from a public library; most libraries will have guidelines on what constitutes bannable behavior (and how long a ban might be).

        1. EmilyG*

          My comment comes from working at what is, admittedly, a very liberal public library. But I don’t see anything Ralph has done that would come *close* to violating the rules of libraries I know or allowing OP to ban him. That’s why I said “can’t.”

          The only thing I see here as having definitely happened at the library is him asking his mom for $20. Bannable behavior is more like drug use at the library, stealing (did he take his mom’s bank card at the library, and can they prove it?), threatening or attacking people, etc.

          Again, “very liberal public library person here,” but this problem does not (yet) seem to warrant depriving this person of access to an important public resource (that’s why I said “shouldn’t”), and I was just highlighting the fact that Allison’s reply carefully stepped around that.

          1. fposte*

            I think we’re agreeing here–I wasn’t sure whether you were speaking generally or to the specific case, so I went off on a general tangent :-).

            1. EmilyG*

              Right! You can ban people, I just don’t think you can ban Ralph. And you can tell Maggie not to let him visit her at work… you have a lot more power as a manager than as a public library head, so that’s the better angle to pursue here.

          2. Watermelon*

            It was more than asking for $20. At one point, it sounds as if Ralph stole personal belongings from Maggie while at work.

        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Agreed, and they can certainly ban him for cause. In this case, harassing his mother, disrupting the library’s operations, and attempting to solicit money from others (which Maggie also should not do!) sounds like an adequate basis for banning.

        3. Student*

          Stealing from a library employee and intimidating/abusing her definitely rises to the bar of “banned from library”. Domestic abuse is not a somehow lesser form of crime! He is stealing from a library employee! You wouldn’t even blink if that happened between a stranger and the same librarian, except that the “he’s her son” thing has somehow blinded you to the “he’s stealing from her” here.

          If you want to be dismissive about the domestic abuse, though, we can play that game as well. Ban him for panhandling at the library – asking his mother for money while she’s at work and getting her to ask her co-workers on his behalf would squeak in under that, and libraries often ban panhandlers.

          1. fposte*

            I’m not blinded, I’m just seeing things you’re not :-). It’s all about the ban protocol, but lots of libraries aren’t going to ban somebody just because somebody else said they stole from them at home. And we can’t ban him for panhandling just because he asked a relative for money, any more than we can can ban the husband who drops by to get cash off of his wife or the twelve-year-old getting a few bucks from her mom.

            If you’re not used to working in public space I get that this makes sense to you, but libraries are full of less than ideal people; if you start banning by twisting fairly normal behaviors to suit prohibitions, that has a real chilling effect that’s the opposite of the library’s goal. They may well have a protocol that allows him to be banned now, and that’s fine, but you don’t start making up reasons because a particular person looms closer to you than your other patrons.

            1. Anna*

              I think, as the director, the OP probably has some discretion in determining if this meets the criteria or not.

              1. fposte*

                In general, you want all the librarians to be able to interpret the policy (there may only be one other in this case, from what the OP was saying; I’m speaking broadly); you would want to avoid any individual *stretching* it, though, because the policy generally is approved by the board as representatives of the community.

        4. Lurker Librarian*

          Another librarian here! I agree with fposte & EmilyG that Ralph may not be bannable. The library should have policies that outline what behaviors aren’t acceptable, what steps may be taken to deal with unacceptable behavior, etc. If the library doesn’t have a policy like that, ALA has some great resources. But those policies should also be enforced equally and across the board.

          1. OhNo*

            Librarian here as well, and you’re right. What Ralph has done so far wouldn’t meet the criteria for even the strictest of library policies that I’ve seen – and I’ve definitely seen some strict ones.

            That said, it might be worth it to let Maggie know that the option exists. As in, “if you want him to stop bothering you here, we can start building a case to ban him from the premises”. Whether it’s for harassment, panhandling, or theft would depend on the policy and Maggie’s own preferences, but it’s worth telling her outright so she knows her options.

      3. FDCA In Canada*

        In many municipalities it is certainly possible to ban someone from a public library. It’s just not necessarily easy–usually it will take a documented pattern of behaviour and refusal to correct, and discussion with the administrator or board. Whether or not it’s the right thing to do is another question, but it’s certainly possible.

        1. Aveline*

          It’s also not just the behavior in the library. If, say Fergus has a restraining order barring him from seeing Joan and Joan’s sister works in the library, he can be banned b/c of the potential for him harassing the sister.

          This is why OP needs to talk to the library’s lawyer.

      4. Admin Assistant*

        I don’t think that the library being public precludes OP from banning someone from patronizing the place, especially if the person is coming in to harass one of his employees, but maybe I’m wrong? We don’t know what the nature of Ralph’s previous interaction with Maggie at the library was (if it was argumentative/abusive/disruptive), but it sounds like Ralph’s antics have become enough of a disruption that OP should prevent him from coming around, if it’s legal for him to do so.

      5. Aveline*

        In the 4 states in which I have been licensed to practice law, city libraries, schools, and other “public” places could absolutely ban individuals for cause. There is cause here.

        A quick check of google shows that most US states allow libraries to ban patrons for reasons such as “not being a resident” of the area served, repeated misuse of facilities, behavior (severe incident or repeated conduct), and interfering with the use of the facilities by others.

        If the library has legal counsel, OP should speak to them and ask them to write the letter. If they do not, the board should write the letter.

        If there is no policy in place about banning disruptive individuals, they need to get one. Then they can point to it and say “you are violating X policy, so we are banning you.”

      6. Allison*

        I get wanting him to be able to use the library for job hunting – clearly, he needs every resource he can get access to, although it’s also likely he won’t actually use those resources properly and then say they’re useless, he’s hopeless, and he’s just never going to get a job. That said, as others have said, they can ban him, although maybe they could consider allowing supervised job hunting activity when Maggie isn’t there.

      7. MegaMoose, Esq*

        I’m sure that the OP can exclude Ralph from even a public library if they believe he’s a safety concern, but right now it sounds like they should just make it clear he can’t be visiting with Maggie while she’s working – a full ban probably isn’t justified at this point.

      8. Anon Librarian*

        Hi, EmilyG. I’m a public librarian, and I can and have banned patrons, with full blessing of administration and TPTB, for everything from theft to verbal fights to physical altercations to racist remarks that had been overheard. The youngest age I’ve banned is 11. Public libraries are a wonderful resource that need to be protected and kept peaceful for people to use– that includes banning problem patrons before they convince other people to go elsewhere.

        1. EmilyG*

          As I commented above, me too–I’ve just worked in an environment where we lean much harder in the direction of preserving people’s access.

          1. Temperance*

            I’m in Philly, and our local library tends to attract many rowdy patrons, including people with untreated mental health issues and the homeless (often the same). I always assumed that you pretty much couldn’t ban people unless they committed a crime in the library.

            1. paul*

              You may have local ordinances or your library’s board may just be really tight about banning people.

              The debate over banning people that could benefit from services vs ensuring as many clients as possible have a safe environment is always a PITA when it comes to public services–libraries, shelters, hospitals, you name it, and someone will *always* say you’re doing it wrong. One of the things I do not miss about working at a shelter!

              1. Temperance*

                I seriously don’t envy anyone who has to walk that line. I always dreamed of being a librarian, but pivoted when the model became more of a social work job than the Dewey Decimal system/Library of Congress. I think it’s different elsewhere, depending on the local population needs, but the library near my office is also a block from a very large homeless encampment.

                1. Treecat*

                  I’m an academic librarian for basically this reason. (Also the pay is somewhat better.) We still deal with difficult patrons–and I’m at a public university where the public does have access to the stacks, so we do deal with the public–but it’s not nearly the same volume that it would be in a true public library.

            2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              Each library has different policies and tolerances for whether or how it bans patrons (e.g., the SF Public Library has amazing resources for homeless patrons, and its staff are usually pretty well-trained in helping to deescalate situations for folks with mental illness who are not receiving treatment). But you can do much less than commit a crime to be excluded.

              1. EmilyG*

                You can definitely be excluded for much less than a crime–libraries’ rules are based on experience and might seem kind of weird or arbitrary if you haven’t worked in that environment. For example, I worked in a library that was really strict about no sleeping. Because it’s hard to tell the difference between someone who’s dozing and someone falling into a diabetic coma or ODing.

      9. Jessesgirl72*

        Aside from the “yes they can” part.. the rules that govern library employees are also different than the rules for the general public.

        If Ralph were 3 and Maggie was bringing him to the library during her shift every day, and it was disruptive to doing her job, or for others doing their jobs, she would be told to leave Ralph at home if she wanted to keep working there.

        Because Ralph is an employees son, the threshold is much lower to have cause to keep him away, than if he were a random person.

        1. fposte*

          That’s not quite true and not quite equivalent, though. That’s not banning the son from the library; you’re just abiding by standing library policy, which is that you can’t have unsupervised kids under a certain age, and Maggie is working and therefore not supervising her kid.

          You can forbid Ralph from coming behind the circulation counter or the office area, which is a rule that patrons are expected to obey in general, but unless you’ve got a really unusual library policy the rules for relatives of library employees aren’t different from the public when it comes to access to the building.

  4. CBH*

    While I think it is obvious Ralph is emotionally and financially abusing his mother. I’m glad the assistance program was able to somewhat help Ralph, but it sounds like Maggie could use some support too. Ralph has made his bed, let him figure it out. Maggie should distance herself from Ralph. If he is old enough to have a job he can figure out how to get to work and pay his mother back. Perhaps show Maggie some support and help her realize that the library is a safe zone for her.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      That’s the problem: She won’t.

      She’s been shown support–the OP even directed her to the EAP available through her other job. It’s not that he can’t pay his mother back, it’s that he won’t and she won’t make him.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I don’t think that’s a fair assessment. Being referred to EAP is not adequate “support” for ensuring that an employee who is experiencing financial and emotional abuse is safe. There’s a great deal more that employers can do, and given that Maggie is excellent at her job and that her colleagues clearly care about her, I think it’s worth examining what more can be done before jumping to the notion that she’s to blame for her own mistreatment.

        1. Casuan*

          Princess Consuela, the OP didn’t think it was enough either. That’s why she sent in her question to Alison. :-)

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            I agree! I apologize if it sounded like I was criticizing OP—I’m not. I think OP is good-hearted, cares about Maggie, and is trying to navigate a really difficult and dicey situation.

            I’m pushing back on Dust Bunny’s framing. DB has written a series of posts that I think are a bit harsh and that advocate an approach that I think is too severe at this stage but may be appropriate down the line. That’s why I’m pushing back on the idea that OP should fire Maggie becomes she’s somehow responsible for being abused by her son. Maggie certainly has agency in this situation, but she may not have as much agency, in this moment, as someone who is not being abused by their child.

    2. CBH*

      Hi All thanks for your comments. Just to clarify, by “show Maggie some support” I meant more as an emotional support. I am aware that this is not required by coworkers or even the boss but if the group is as close as OP is saying, Maggie’s coworkers might be the shoulder to cry on and the reality check she needs. OP is headed in the right direction by referring to Maggie to company sponsored programs, but sometimes someone in need, needs a help from someone she knows.

  5. Karen from Finance*

    I think Allison has given great advice. OP I also do not think you should fire Maggie. If it’s possible to take her keys back for the library’s/everyone’s safety, please do so.

    I know it sucks to see someone in such a situation, but Maggie has to make the change and stop giving in to her son. I do hope she gets help and that things do not turn violent. His taking of her keys and phone is an act of aggression and leaves her stranded.

    1. Newby*

      I think taking back the keys is a good idea. That was the one part of the situation that seems to actually affect the library. It might have the added benefit of helping Maggie to see that her son’s behavior is so far over the line that it brings her professional judgement into question. Once there is no risk of him gaining access to the library though it seems like it will really become none of the OP’s business.

  6. SanguineAspect*

    Real talk is helpful here, as is being supportive of Maggie. She loves her son and she wants to believe the best of him–any mother would. But she may need someone to tell her what she already knows, in very plain terms.

    The opioid epidemic hit my family very directly last year. We were able to help my sister, but it took a pretty drastic intervention coupled with my sister genuinely wanting to get help. Opioids are extremely addictive and it’s very, very hard to kick the addiction without support (family, mental health, medical). Fortunately, a lot of cities have programs to help low-income folks with these issues, so if you’re aware of any community resources that could help her (and her son), definitely let her know. Sometimes, that can include temporary housing and help with finding work.

  7. Lilo*

    I understand why the LW is thinking about firing – it was the asking for money. If Maggie kept her personal life out of work, that would be one thing, but it is leaking into work and becoming a distraction. I definitely would not fire Maggie at this point, but some clear boundaries need to be established. Trying to get money from coworkers for her son can easily devolve into son harassing coworkers for money (I’very seen it happen). OP should set clear boundaries and hold them, while referring Maggie to appropriate outside help. OP and the employees do not have the proper resources to deal with this, nor should they be asked to do so.

  8. Former public librarian*

    Just as a caution, the OP needs to check with admin, the board, of legal counsel before restricting Ralph’s access to the library, especially if this pattern of behavior isn’t documented. (which she probably already knows, but still).

    1. kittymommy*

      Yeah, if it’s a public library there’s likely a protocol they need to follow. Here w have to call local law enforcement and our administrator had to request their removal from the property and that they are not allowed to return. After that they’re trespassed.

      1. Aveline*

        It really depends on the state, though. In some states, you can proactively ban without warning.

        They really just need to talk to a lawyer.

        1. fposte*

          Usually a library protocol for banning is written with knowledge of the law, and it may have more tolerance for patrons than the law requires; you want to be on the right side of both your library protocol and the law when you take action, not just the law.

          1. Former public librarian*

            This. Ralph’s behavior wouldn’t be bannable from what we know in the OP letter at my former workplace. My comment above was more to point out that Alison’s wording in her response is, effectively, what we would have considered a ban, and we had procedures in place which would have made this sort of statement not ok. A lot of people don’t realize this, and since Alison isn’t a librarian, I wouldn’t expect her to, but I wanted to point out that it may not be possible and shouldn’t be done without due dilligence.
            At my level, which sounds similar to the OP’s level, I was authorized to issue a 7-day ban in writing on the spot, usually with the support of law enforcement, in response to a serious incident. Other than that, administration would actually administer a ban for a certain period of time, in writing, to the patron. They also have to be notified that if they disregarded the ban they would be arrested for trespassing. They also had a period of time to contest the ban in writing.
            But simply telling someone straight up that they can’t come back to the library would have been a big no-no for me and would be completely and utterly unenforceable.

  9. sub rosa for this*

    The hard part is that it’s really on Maggie to decide when she’s had enough. It is absolutely horrible to sit back and watch someone you care about be used and abused like this. I know; I watched my parents go through it with my addicted sibling. You can pretty much guess how that all ended up.

    Alison’s point about Maggie being of sound mind and being allowed to make her own choices is an important one to remember. I think that Maggie shouldn’t be allowed to have the keys to the building at all as long as Precious Ralph is around, but other than that and making sure she has resources to reach out to as Alison advised, there is very little you can do.

    I’m really, really sorry you have to deal with this.

    1. Been There*

      I agree.

      I watched my mother go through this with my brother and until Maggie decides she has had enough and stops enabling him, there’s not much OP can do. This may include evicting him from the house and possibly a restraining order if he becomes violent and/or aggressive.

      My brother stole my mother’s car (took friends out joyriding while she was at work and brought it back before she came home. She used to carpool with my stepdad to work), stole money, stole things out of the house, etc. One day she finally had enough, kicked him out, got a restraining order and called the cops every time he violated it. It was very hard to watch but when she realized that her safety, security and ability to safeguard her things was more important than helping him, she took action.

      1. Anon today...and tomorrow*

        I have a close family friend who hasn’t learned this. She’s 80 and her 52 year old son is still jerking her around with his manipulations. It’s awful to watch. He insists on having her live with him to “protect her” but he treats her like a piggy bank. I’m very close to her granddaughter and recently my friend asked grandmother to come live with her. It lasted for 5 months before grandma ran back to her son. He would send her these long emails and text messages begging her to come back, that he needed her, that he’d change his ways. My friend discovered that the money that her grandmother had been living on, that had over a million dollars in investments and annuities just over 10 years ago had less than $100K in it. Her grandmother said “well my son needed it more than I do.” He’s not going to change, he likes drugs too much, and she won’t change…she likes being needed. It’s so sad.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          This is straight up elder abuse. There are resources out there, if you would feel comfortable accessing them or referring them to your family friend. Some counties/cities even have elder abuse divisions in DFC or the police department.

          But this is awful, and I’m so sorry. These kinds of relationships are extremely painful, particularly for outside observers who care about the person being victimized.

        2. paul*

          If she’s 85, she’s within the age range for APS in every state I’m aware of; please contact them.

        3. The Cosmic Avenger*

          What’s really sad is that she’s gone through 90% of her retirement money already, and her son will abandon her as soon as her money runs out. Then the realization that she wasn’t needed, she was just being used, will be too late.

        4. Anonny*

          Are we related??? My grandma’s been in a similar situation with my deadbeat uncle. He keeps trying to move back in with her, says it’s so he can take care of her, but she ends up doing everything for him and giving him money that he says is for rehab but really uses to go on week-long benders and destroy stuff while blacked out. She just can’t say no to her son, no matter how many times he disappoints her.

          The only thing that’s really made is a difference, sadly, is that she’s not very independent anymore and has to depend on my parents and aunts more for stuff, who ARE willing to say no (and call the police when necessary).

    2. CR*

      I’m also watching my parents go through this with an addicted sibling and it’s the hardest thing to watch them enable him and be unable to do anything about it.

      OP, give Maggie all the support you can and please don’t fire her.

    3. JeanB*

      I’ve watched my parents deal with more than one sibling with drug and/or alcohol addictions. My parents wouldn’t let my sibs live with them, but they did send money and listen to them on the phone whenever they called to complain about their horrible life. I don’t know – some people just don’t have it in them for whatever reason to completely cut someone out of their life.

      Sad to say, the only thing that stopped my siblings was their deaths.

  10. Stranger than fiction*

    Been there done that. The only way toget this to stop is to stop enabling him. It’s really really hard because they will continue to try and guilt you until you finally say No More one day. Op, unfortunately Maggie has to realize this on her own.

  11. Elizabeth West*

    Alison’s advice is sound. I feel bad for Maggie; it can be very hard to stand up for yourself in these situations. I had a neighbor go through something similar and it was very painful for her to tell her daughter she could no longer help. The daughter fortunately did not harm her physically, but she cut herself off from her mum and the neighbor didn’t even know where she was for a long time.

    Please, OP give us an update when you can. :(

  12. RVA Cat*

    Such a sad situation, but this isn’t your problem to fix except where it affects her job. Also how the heck is firing her even on the table?

    Sounds like the library needs to review their security in light of this. Anyone could have their keys stolen.

    Has she reported the fraud to her bank? She can tell them the funds were withdrawn without her consent (even if she doesn’t implicate Ralph) and they can get her a new account and card, while you work with her to change her direct deposit over ASAP.

    1. Lisa B*

      Usually the banks require you to sign something saying that you don’t know who did it before they’ll cover funds. She’d either have to lie and say she didn’t know who did it (which would make her part of a fraud) or say she knows who did it (and then the bank will want to know who and if she’s pressed charges). She could of course say she wants a new account number and card without alluding to theft, but how will she protect the new information better than the old?

    2. Dust Bunny*

      No, not anyone could have their keys stolen. Mine are on a lanyard around my neck at work, and nobody in my home has an addiction problem so there is no reason on earth for them to take them. Maggie is at high risk because she can’t enforce boundaries with her son and he’s shown he’s willing to do just about anything for a little easy money.

      She can get a new account, but if she’s going to keep giving him money it won’t matter.

      Firing her is on the table because she asked her boss for money (which means it’s at least a possibility she’s asking other employees for money), her son is disruptive, and she’s not doing anything to stop him. The OP doesn’t owe her endless support in this if she’s not willing or able to help herself, especially if it places a burden on library staff and patrons.

    3. RVA Cat*

      TBH, I think she should press charges against Ralph. She could tell the bank she suspects him – note that if he used an ATM they will likely have him on camera.

      We had a “Ralph” in the extended family, long story short he ended up fleeing from police in a borrowed car at 100 MPH and causing two accidents. Luckily no one was hurt, but he easily could have killed someone.

  13. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

    It absolutely needs to be a condition that Maggie never again ask anybody at work for cash. And Ralph can never again show his face, ever, at the library. He needs to be explicitly banned.

    People like this make me cold furious. I have nothing but respect for addicts in recovery, but this loser is pretty clearly using again, and letting his mom fund his addiction. And I guarantee he gets fired from every job for cause – probably lifting merch or cash. I ache for Maggie, because I know people in the same spot, and it’s brutal.

    That said, there’s only so much OP can do for her. I’m a pretty big believer in a big, fat line between the personal and the professional. Beyond a strong suggestion to take advantage of the EAP, and a one-time “I am concerned that your son is abusing your financially and emotionally to fund his ongoing, and yes it is ongoing, drug addiction, and I think you need to get professional help to establish boundaries and restrict him from cleaning out your accounts,” I honestly don’t think it’s OP’s place to go much further. It sucks to watch, but getting this involved in an employee’s personal life is a minefield, and I’ve seen it blow up badly. And she is, at the end of the day, still his mother, and when parents get codependent with their children, they can defend them like mama bears.

    1. Parenthetically*

      I agree with you on all points, and I think your script about laying everything out on the table is great.

    2. Detective Amy Santiago*

      You’re more generous than I am. I don’t think he’s even had the jobs to get fired from.

      That being said, I agree with the rest of your advice.

    3. Unlucky Bear*

      I agree. I just watched my BIL squander every opportunity he had to get clean because no one understood how awesome he really was (in his own mind). Responsibility was for lesser people. His family enabled him every step of the way because putting any sort of consequence on his terrible behavior was “too mean.” We buried him a few weeks ago and now his unpaid bills are catching up with his widow because he had secret credit cards no one could get away from him.

      1. The Cosmic Avenger*

        I’m so sorry for your loss, Unlucky Bear, and for you and your family having to clean up the aftermath. My father left multiple huge messes for me to deal with, all of his own creation, and I begged him to take care of them while he was alive. Luckily for me he at least left me enough money to deal with them, which is no consolation, but it does mean a little less added stress and grief on top of mourning him.

      2. Natalie*

        In most states (the non-community property states) your sister/SIL is not responsible for his personal debts. Debt collectors will *lie through their teeth and on-fire pants* to try and collect from people who have no legal obligation to pay a decedent’s debts, so if she is listening to them she should stop and consult with a lawyer.

        1. Adam*

          They can try to get it from the decedent’s estate (their debts repaid with their stuff), but beyond that then yeah they can’t drag in a third party, even a relative.

          1. fposte*

            Though if you’re in a state with the doctrine of necessaries, that may allow medical creditors to collect from the surviving spouse.

          2. Natalie*

            The estate issue gets a little more complicated when there is a surviving spouse, as a lot of the decendent’s property is held in common with the spouse, but in most states individual debts are not held in common. Hence the advisability of a lawyer.

            (Bottom feeding debt collectors are one of my personal hot button issues, but I’ll step back from this derail now.)

              1. Natalie*

                Kind of you but it’s really just a lot of swearing from me. Probably more than Alison is comfortable with. Just happens to be one of those areas where I’ve known many people to be taken advantage of and it really enrages me for Reasons.

    4. L.*

      “It sucks to watch, but getting this involved in an employee’s personal life is a minefield, and I’ve seen it blow up badly. And she is, at the end of the day, still his mother, and when parents get codependent with their children, they can defend them like mama bears.” Indeed, I agree have the talk ONCE, but be wary that both the mom and son could decide that anyone who tries to intervene is the REAL problem (drugs and codependency do strange things to the mind.) I had such an attempted intervention in my family — long story short, the codependent parent didn’t change at all but now occasionally texts the well-meaning interventionist just to say she hates her and hopes she dies cause she “tried to destroy my family,” years after the fact. Good times.

  14. Temperance*

    LW, rather than firing her because her son is a drug addict and thief, why don’t you a.) ask for her keys back, so he can’t break in to the library with them and b.) have a frank conversation about how amazingly inappropriate it is for her to ask you or her colleagues for money under any circumstances.

    Maggie already knows that jobs don’t make you pay for drug tests. She’s desperate and doesn’t want to face the very real truth that her son is a shyster and a drug addict. His behavior is not the behavior of a person who has beaten addiction, but the behavior of a person who is in the throes of active addiction. I feel tremendous sympathy for this woman, but I’m not sure how to best help her when she’s clearly put her head in the sand.

    1. Anon today...and tomorrow*

      “She’s desperate and doesn’t want to face the very real truth that her son is a shyster and a drug addict. His behavior is not the behavior of a person who has beaten addiction, but the behavior of a person who is in the throes of active addiction. I feel tremendous sympathy for this woman, but I’m not sure how to best help her when she’s clearly put her head in the sand”

      There’s little a person can do to help an addict who doesn’t want to be helped…and there’s little a person can do to help someone who loves an addict who doesn’t want to admit that their loved one has a problem. Maggie is enabling her son. She’s making excuses and her inability/unwillingness to say no is making things worse.

      LW should remove any access Maggie has to locks / codes / petty cash box / borrowing funds from others at work / etc. LW, you can feel bad for Maggie and her situation but it’s really up to her to put a stop to her part in the situation. Your job is to protect the workplace and the staff from her issues. Allison’s advice is pretty spot on!

      1. ThursdaysGeek*

        Right, because while it is reasonable to have empathy and compassion for Maggie, she needs to see that there are consequences for her enabling too. OP, don’t enable Maggie to continue enabling her son.

  15. Aveline*

    If you have legal counsel for the library (or entity that owns it), have them write Ralph a letter stating he is not to come to the library. Then it’s not coming from you.

    If there’s no legal counsel, I’d ask for it to come from the BOD, if there’s someone on it you can trust.

    Also, I would take her keys from her (then she’s not responsible if he steals them, but can keep her job), and make sure she has no access to the security system (e.g., the codes to get in) if there are any.

    This way, she keeps her job and you can protect the library.

    This may necessitate some shifting of her start and stop times and who opens up the library. It’s the best way to protect you and be kind to her.

    Note: You are under no obligation to do so, but it seems you do want to help her while protecting yourself.

    Does she has any religious counsel or friends that you can reach out to without violating her privacy?

    1. Temperance*

      Your last sentence is really overstepping. Yikes. I can’t imagine a way to involve her pastor or friends in trying to intervene on what is clearly an active addict doing whatever he can to support his habit without violating her privacy. She very likely doesn’t tell people the truth of the situation, and leaving aside the impropriety of her boss reaching out, it’s just going to cause her to isolate herself from people. She’s humiliated that her son is an addict, she doesn’t want him to be an addict, and she’s in ridiculous, serious denial.

      1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

        Seconded. There is no standing here for the boss to connect with religious counsel or friends, and it would be deeply, deeply overstepping the bounds of a professional relationship to do so. If I were Maggie, I’d be offended beyond words if my boss did that to me. No, no, no, no.

      2. TotesMaGoats*

        Wait a second. If she knows that Maggie is active in a community of faith, due to Maggie’s own comments, then it’s not inappropriate to suggest that she might want to talk with a pastor at her church. If Maggie has never mentioned anything about a faith background, then yeah, out of bounds. But it’s not a bad suggestion if the OP knows that Maggie participates in that.

        1. TotesMaGoats*

          She shouldn’t reach out on her own but offering it as a suggestion isn’t a bad idea. I just reread the statement and realize she meant the OP should reach out to the church/friend.

        2. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

          Even if she knows Maggie is active in a faith community, that’s a level of involvement in an employee’s personal life that is just completely off the table. Your boss should not be talking to your pastor behind your back about your son’s drug issues and financial abuse. It’s just not the done thing. Yes, she theoretically could do it. No, it’s absolutely not within professional boundaries.

          1. Aveline*

            I didn’t say “behind her back.” I would absolutely not want anyone to do this behind her back.

            However, I do take issue with this: “that’s a level of involvement in an employee’s personal life that is just completely off the table”

            Right now, Maggie is bringing all this into the workplace. It’s on the table. OP’s two choices are to tell Maggie to take it off the table or to tell Maggie that it’s on the table and we are going to deal with it as a team.

            1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

              There’s no way a boss can reach out to a pastor without violating privacy, boundaries, and standing. Even if it’s being brought into the workplace, the workplace and boss doesn’t have a legitimate claim on getting involved outside the workplace. I’m sorry, but I really think you need to stop defending that suggestion.

        3. Aveline*

          Thank you. That”s while I said “without violating privacy.”

          I wasn’t talking about White Knighting, but trying to help Maggie see she’s not alone and create a network of people to help her.

          The propriety of this depends entirely upon a lot of things we do not know. If it’s a gross overstep, then OP would know that and will disregard my advice.

        4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          I think a referral is fine (i.e., encouraging Maggie to speak to someone).

          But unless OP has an independent and close relationship with a shared friend/relative of Maggie’s (and even then, it could still be an overstep), I think it’s important not to reach out to those folks at this time. I think the sentiment is on point, just not the prescribed method.

      3. Aveline*

        That’s why I said “without violating her privacy.”

        That’s a very key part of that sentence. If it is violating her privacy, then it should not be done.

        If, however, it is a very small town and OP knows that the employee is getting help from somewhere, it would be ok to ask her employee to allow her to help form a support group.

        Chances are if it is a small town, everyone knows already.

        It’s also possible for OP to go around and ask for resources that may be available without outing OP’s employee.

        OP’s employee has brought this into the workplace. If OP wants to help, she can’t do so without finding out what’s out there. If she doesn’t want to help, that’s fine.

        1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

          There’s no way it doesn’t violate her privacy – or at least, her boundaries.

          1. fposte*

            Or ask too much of the OP. It’s wading deep into the inappropriately therapeutic for her to form a support group for her staffer.

        2. Temperance*

          I honestly don’t see how this could not violate her privacy, even if they’re in a small town. She’s an enabler with a loser son; everyone in her life knows that her son is a waste, but there’s a polite fiction where they pretend not to. OP is so enmeshed that she’d likely just cut herself off rather than have people know that her son is awful.

        3. Kate*

          I used to live in a small town. It is actually possible to keep things quiet/secret there. And even if everyone does know that Maggie has a drug-addicted son, that doesn’t mean she wants them to know all the gritty details or to cry in front of the support group someone else put together.

    2. TCO*

      OP should work with her town’s police department to have Ralph legally trespassed from the library.

      Also, while I admire OP’s care for Maggie, OP shouldn’t get further involved by talking with Maggie’s friends or clergy. No doubt they’re already aware of the problem, and it feels like a big overstep in this situation. OP needs to create some distance from the problem for her own well-being.

      1. Aveline*

        ” OP needs to create some distance from the problem for her own well-being.”

        I agree, if she can and she wants to.

        If it’s a town of 10,000 she can. If it’s a town of 100, she’s likely stuck dealing with it.

        Also, the police won’t do anything unless Ralph is actively causing a scene. So she needs to have the board or a lawyer deal with it, not her.

        In the end, she’s either got to say “don’t bring your personal issues to work” or she has to allow her to do so and then try and mitigate. If it is a very small town, there’s almost no chance that they will be able to keep the personal separate. Nature of small towns.

        1. fposte*

          There’s no indication this is a very small town, and the size of the library would strongly suggest it’s not.

          And I think you’re suggesting a binary where I would see a spectrum. Your choices really aren’t “keep it to yourself” or “I will help you solve your family problem.” The OP can put in place some safeguarding, suggest resources as appropriate, keep a sympathetic ear open while limiting workplace focus on Ralph, which would keep her from falling into either extreme.

          1. Dust Bunny*

            OP seems to have done that, though, without results.

            I’d like to add that if I were another employee here and Ralph wasn’t banned and ended up breaking into my car or something, I’d have a whole lot to say about it, both to his mother and to the director.

            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              Why would you think he’d break into your car? I mean, he could break into anyone’s car or escalate his already ridiculous pattern of lying and theft, but so far there’s no indication that he’s terrorizing anyone other than his mother.

              And to be honest, anyone could break into your car. You shouldn’t penalize Maggie for her son’s criminal conduct—he’s the only person to blame for that. It would be a different thing if he were stealing her keys or otherwise breaking into the library, but it’s important to distinguish between “things clearly related to Maggie’s employment and access” and “things related to an addict’s out of control behavior.”

              1. Natalie*

                For that matter, firing Maggie doesn’t remove the risk in any way – her son is probably still free to come to the library until he passes whatever ban threshold that library has in place, and he’ll still have access to all of the cars in the parking lot.

                1. fposte*

                  I guess it would remove his home access to the library keys, at least, but good point about the rest of the risk remaining the same.

            2. OP*

              OP here: it’s a “smallish” town, about 4,800 people so it is a little harder to keep the personal separate. For example, a lot of people know where I live and what car I drive. I’ve pretty much done what fposte thinks: safeguards, suggesting resources, sympathetic ear when necessary (though other staff have stepped in with that so I can remain a little more removed). However, Dust Bunny voices my fear, though at the moment he seems to know his limits for staying out of real legal trouble. I don’t know for sure if he’s on drugs or if he’s just a really crappy person who has figured out exactly how to manipulate his mom. She’s a giver to an extreme degree anyway and he’s using that to full advantage.

              1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                OP, would it help to go over your library’s policy for banning people? Or do you think that’d be throwing fuel on the fire?

                To be fair, if he’s breaking into cars that’s not on you. As Natalie notes, anyone can break into a car. But if he breaks into the library because you didn’t confiscate Maggie’s keys, you’re in dicier territory (if I were a Board member and heard that the director knew about this problem and didn’t take low-cost preventive action, I’d be concerned).

              2. fposte*

                I’d fix that cash drawer situation, consider taking the keys away from Maggie (she is unfortunately not a reliable narrator on the safety of personal goods), and get up close and personal with your ban policy; get it buffed up if it needs it. Clarify security practices–lots of libraries are right near police stations, so it’s sometimes easy to get a little extra scrutiny.

                But this is also one of the realities of librarianship, and I guarantee Ralph isn’t the only patron you’ve got with addiction troubles or possible car vulnerability to, nor is he the only one you’ll ever have. We set up protocols because it’s hard to take the personal out of the situation, and right now you’re at risk of becoming to Maggie what Maggie is to Ralph; you’re reluctant to set limits because of all the good stuff and the guilt. In the abstract, if you knew an employee was living with somebody who stole from them and who frequented the library, would you be comfortable telling the board that you *didn’t* take away their keys?

              3. Kate*

                I don’t want to go off-topic, but that sounds like a huge town to me, well more than double my hometown’s population!

            3. fposte*

              There’s not going to be a result. Or, at least, probably there won’t; Ralph isn’t going to get clean and straighten up, and he’s not going to go to jail as long as he only steals from family. This isn’t a situation where the OP can be done and dusted with this without firing Maggie, which isn’t appropriate. What she can do is be clear about her goals and limits in managing this longterm, look into fixing the weak spot on the cash safety, and be explicit with Maggie about where Ralph isn’t welcome and what might cause him to be banned from the library entirely.

              And banning from a public library isn’t like banning from a private business; Ralph has a right to enter that library that he doesn’t to enter private property, and that’s not a right that can be removed from him lightly.

  16. Thatlibrarychick*

    As someone who has had an addict in the family and personally dealt with issues like this, it is devastating the toll that happens to the family members. If there are Nar-Anon groups in the area (for the family/friends of addicts), whenever Maggie is ready, they are good support. The only thing is most people don’t know they exist or don’t think they need it but when you finally reach that point, going helps A LOT.

    1. Venus Supreme*

      I second NarAnon. As someone who lived under the same roof as an addict, I noticed similar behaviors in Ralph as I did with my addict. NarAnon helped me process my feelings, create a plan to get out of my situation, while also talking to people WHO ALSO GET IT. NarAnon members would be a better source of advice for Maggie than her employer, IMO.

    2. Government Worker*

      I didn’t know Nar-Anon existed, but I was wondering if OP could recommend Al Anon to Maggie? My impression is Al Anon groups are much more common, and OP mentions that they live in a small town.

      1. ThatLibraryChick*

        Al-Anon is fine to attend too. I attended those as well. The format is still the same (circumstances are different of course) so if that is all that is offered, I recommend it. You may think you’re alone going through all of this but really, you are not alone. And that helps so much.

  17. MommyMD*

    Maggie has enabled Ralph to the extreme. To the point where it has interfered with her job. No employee should let their personal lives infiltrate this much into the workplace. Maggie is a grown adult and makes her own (very poor) choices. Your concern that Ralph may cause problems for the library and its patrons are very well founded. Maggie is not helpless in this chaotic situation. She’s a major player in this drama and frankly if I were an employer I would not want to deal with it anymore. She may be on time and perform her duties but she has imposed her personal issues onto your workplace to an extent that is totally unacceptable and potentially a safety risk. Those keys are not safe.

    1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

      Mmmmmnnnnnghh. Yes, people with this kind of chaos in their lives can, personal concern and empathy aside, become an untenable liability to their employers, I really don’t think we’re there yet. We’re not far away, but we’re not there. I think the first step is making sure that Maggie no longer has keys, codes, and/or access to the petty cash or registers off-hours. Then, if it keeps getting weirder, it’s time to review her status.

    2. Fed Up*

      ‘She’s a major player in this drama’.

      Oh please. This is something that is happening *to* Maggie, not something she’s doing. Asking her manager for an advance could well have been a covert way of asking for help. She’s probably screaming on the inside because society has somehow got to the point where when we see a mother being used and abused by her own son, we sniff and sneer and conclude it’s entirely her fault.

        1. Fed Up*

          Yes, I know enabling is a concept in one particular treatment modality of addiction. My objection is that Maggie is in a situation where she is trapped by a person who is abusing her. Do we describe domestic violence victims as ‘enabling’ theit abusers? Generally, we offer them help, rather than dismissing them as drama queens.

      1. PlainJane*

        It’s not entirely her fault, but she does have choices. I’m torn about these kinds of issues. On the one hand, I understand that people get into situations (like domestic violence) that warp their thinking and diminish their agency (and put them in serious danger if they try to leave). On the other hand, if we collectively throw up our hands and say, well, people in these situations have *no* agency, they’re helpless victims, then we reinforce the idea that they really are helpless, and their situations are hopeless. I hear that a lot about addicts–they’re victims, addiction is really hard to overcome–and yeah, that’s true, but people do overcome addictions. And people escape abuse. We don’t help people in these situations by blaming them, but we also don’t help them by telling them they’re helpless. It seems most productive to focus on what people can do in a situation rather than what they can’t do and to hold them accountable for the impact of their actions on others. OP is under no obligation to put the library at risk to help Maggie.

        1. Fed Up*

          OP is under no obligation at all, I totally agree. But I see dismissing the relationship as ‘he’s an addict, she’s an enabler’ is a neat way for society to ignore the situation. I think it confers helplessness. People live up to their labels.

  18. Anon today...and tomorrow*

    It’s a hard situation that Maggie is in. She loves her son but her behavior is enabling him. She doesn’t want to abandon him but she doesn’t seem to understand that her sons behavior has far reaching impact on other parts of her life. It seems that the LW has been watching this from the outside, giving advice when necessary, but now Maggie’s son is starting to impact the work Maggie is doing as well as the workplace. That’s not cool. I think Allison’s advice is spot on here. LW, you need to make it clear to Ralph and Maggie that Ralph is not welcome on the property. I also think that pointing Maggie in the direction of services available to her is a start. LW, how close are you to Maggie? Would you feel comfortable suggesting an Al-anon meeting (or similar group program) to her – perhaps going with her for that first visit? My uncle battled a drug problem for several years. During that time he was not the wonderful man that we all remembered but because we remembered who he was before drugs it was hard to not be manipulated. My heart breaks for Maggie. LW… your work is cut out for you. :(

    1. Alex*

      This is what I was going to suggest. Al-anon is free and is for just these kinds of situations.

  19. Master Bean Counter*

    OP-I have my own Ralphie. You can’t help people who don’t want to be helped. Efforts in that area will be stomped on and crushed. What you can do is set boundaries for your relationship with Maggie. If it means taking keys away from her to protect the library, then that’s what you need to do. It’s up to you to set the boundaries and enforce them. That’s not something Maggie can do at the moment. As for Ralphie, treat him like any other problem patron. If he’s there and causes problems, make him leave. I’m sure you have guidelines and procedures for that. Don’t give him any leeway just because he’s related to an employee.
    Keep showing Maggie compassion ans support, she will need it when she’s had enough of Ralphie.

  20. LSP*

    OP, you and Maggie, and even Ralph, have my deepest sympathies. I come from a family so filled with addicts that, thanks to the dedication of some family members committing to sobriety, I am only now able to build a real idea of my family medical history, aside from cirrhosis of the liver and suicide.

    Before my grandmother passed, my aunt (an otherwise kind and gentle person) drained her of energy and money. It’s easy on the outside to tell someone they should abandon their toxic loved one for their own good, but it can be nearly impossible to do in practice, especially if she has alienated other people in her life through supporting her son.

    Alison’s advice is great, but you have to recognize that there is only so much you can do to help someone is such an impossible situation. As a mother, I’d like to think I’d make the decision to use “tough love” if my son ever develops an addiction, but it is impossible to say.

    Just thinking enough to seek advice on how to help your employee is a wonderful thing to do. Be there for her as much as is appropriate, and do your best to safeguard your other employees from Ralph’s problems.

  21. Robin B*

    Can you contact an Elder Abuse program for her? There should be one in your city or town. This is definitely abuse and authorities are cracking down on this now.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I was thinking about suggesting this, but then realized that Maggie could be, like, 50 or otherwise on the younger side. But yes, if she qualifies!

      1. J*

        I’d make the report regardless of the age as age isn’t the only factor being evaluated (mental capacity, physical abilities, etc.). Its the state’s duty to determine if someone qualifies or not based on the information being reported.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Agreed! I think just notifying someone could be helpful, even if she’s not old enough to qualify for this programming. In general, many states dealing with addiction epidemics are getting better about support services for family members who experience the fallout of their family member’s addiction.

    2. paul*

      Depends on age mostly. In Texas if they’re under 65 APS won’t touch ’em (unless they are very severely disabled).

    3. CatCat (was LawCat)*

      I’d be really careful though if that’s not something Maggie wants. She has already said that she does not want police involved and is fearful of them.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Some Elder Abuse programs aren’t housed exclusively at police departments. In some states, there are separate (civil) departments devoted to the elderly and aging, some places have elder abuse practices in the DA’s office, and other states include elder abuse within the responsibilities of the Department of Children and Families (or its equivalent). But it may be worth researching the services in OP’s locality before making a report, just because you don’t want to inadvertently trigger a process that you later cannot stop.

      2. Temperance*

        I’m guessing she dislikes police because her son is a habitual criminal and is known to local officers. I’m worried that she might continually avoid them.

        1. OP*

          OP here: sort of this. I imagine he’s known, but I know for sure that Maggie’s ex-husband is known to them.

        2. paul*

          There may even have been blowback along the lines of “any more calls about/from this address and we arrest everyone” if there were frequent enough calls. It isn’t kosher, but it happens.

        3. Detective Amy Santiago*

          She may also be a POC and have good reason to fear the police.

          Which doesn’t mean that she may not eventually need to involve them, but it could add another layer of hesitation.

      3. Natalie*

        Adult Protective Services (or whatever they are specifically called in OP’s area) generally are social workers, not cops.

      4. CatCat (was LawCat)*

        I get that APS workers are not necessarily cops, but that may not be a meaningful distinction. They can bring the cops in (I mean, is that not a likely outcome here?) and she just may not want agents of the state nosing around her business and questioning her because it can be invasive and humiliating.

        I think it would be worth giving her information about APS if she’s at an age where they would even be involved, among any other information about resources, but I would not report her under the circumstances here.

    4. OP*

      OP here: I looked at what services are available for Maggie through her full-time job and suggested them. She says she has talked to them and they are helpful. But when she goes home and tries to assert herself using their advice, that’s when Ralph tells her she doesn’t love him, doesn’t want to help him, and that she’s just trying to get rid of him. Ralph refuses to go to these meetings with her to get help for himself. Maggie is 64 and Ralph is 37.

      1. paul*

        It sounds like she isn’t willing to give him the boot. And as a parent, I can get that, but it sounds like anything other than total ennabling is going to be met with manipulative complaints. She probably has to get the point where she’s willing to let him out of her life.

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Oy. I think Maggie really needs Al-Anon and/or a professional therapist. But unfortunately, it sounds like you’ve reached the limit of things you can suggest, OP, and now the ball’s in her court. This is awful; I’m sorry.

      3. Detective Amy Santiago*

        I commend you for doing what you can to help Maggie. It’s so sad to watch someone go through this.

      4. Dienna Howard*

        This woman is probably terrified (emotionally, physically, mentally) of this man, so I can see why setting boundaries with him is hard. She needs a support system. She needs to know that there are people who’ll have her back when times get tough. There’s a safety in numbers. Does Maggie have anyone outside of work to act as her support system?

      5. jwg*

        In my state APS is housed within the Dept of Social Services and it would be social workers reaching out to her – but my understanding is that in most states you can call them and ask to give them a “hypothetical” situation, which allows you to describe what is going on and find out whether they feel it’s “reportable” – in other words, whether they feel they would want to take a report from you in order to potentially investigate further. You can stress to them that you’re worried for her safety and worried that she may distrust workers/agencies because of legal histories of her family members, and suggest that if workers contact her, they should probably not do so at her home. You can also request anonymity when reporting if you fear any kind of retaliation.

        Piggybacking on the idea suggested above on this page, of treating this more like a DV situation – you could also call a DV hotline or a local shelter and ask their advice for how you can offer help/support. Describe the situation to them and tell them you’re worried about financial abuse, elder abuse (if applicable), emotional abuse by her son, and you’re not sure how to support her; they might have some helpful insight and suggestions.

  22. Artemesia*

    I’d have Maggie’s keys yesterday. This guy steals her car keys and cell phone, of course if he decides to vandalize or rob the library he will if he has access.

    And be blunt with Maggie and send her back to counseling but there is no reason to fire her unless Ralph continues to come to the library. Feel sad for poor Maggie and so lucky my kids turned out well — you never know till they are grown if they will.

  23. Mimi*

    Oh Maggie. Seriously I hope the OP shows this all to Maggie.

    Please please call Samsritans or one of the free mental health charity helplines. For yourself and Ralph. You have to distance yourself. I know he might say you dont love or he will harm/kill himself but you have to set and enforce a boundary. He needs that firm boundary. And he will test it so please please get some support. But ultimately you are enabling him right now to keep quitting and lying and stealing. If you have to keep helping financially (and you dont and shouldnt) then demand to see proof of the money, where its going (emails and statements from the companies directly) and pay that money direct to his “workplace” not to him. He will keep acting this way if he knows you will keep letting him. And the next time he says you are hurting him or dont love him. Reverse it back to him. He is hurting you. He isnt loving you. He is using and abusing you and manipulating you. He doesnt respect you or your boundaries and cares more about his own needs than about you or your financial stability.

  24. Employment Lawyer*

    You can’t control Maggie, or her son. You can only control your business. (which may include asking her for her keys back) and , sadly, firing her at some point in the future.

    Personally I would tell her something akin to this:

    Your son appears to be lying to you and scamming you for money. I have not commented on it before, but it became my business when you asked me to borrow money: you should know that is totally inappropriate, and that was unlike you.

    I do not want to be involved in your personal life, but you need to understand that I must protect the business. Your descriptions of your son’s behavior have made me concerned for the safety of the business, and I will have to ask you to surrender your building/cash keys. I will also have to ask your son not to visit us here. Furthermore, if this issue continues to intrude into your business actions, you may be fired.

    I am sorry that this conversation is needed; from what I know this does not seem to be something you caused. In case you don’t know about them, (hands over some papers) here are some resources which I have heard may be helpful. I respect you as an employee and hope you can get past this issue soon.

  25. Allison*

    Ralph sounds like my ex. I don’t know if he’s ever struggled with drugs, we broke up 10+ years ago (but our area is struggling with an opioid crisis, so I wouldn’t be surprised), but he was the type to always have trouble and it was always someone else’s fault, or convenient strokes of bad luck. He was a sociopath, emotionally abused me while we were dating, and I did hear he held a knife to his mother’s throat once, and I wouldn’t put it past him to at least try to con his mother out of money.

    Anyway, I’ll echo what others have said about boundaries. He can’t come by to see her, she can’t ask for money. I know her presence could become a liability, but don’t fire her unless you absolutely have to. If Ralph ever were to steal the keys and rob the library, you’d have a suspect, a location, and a clear description, and the police would almost certainly find him.

  26. Backroads*

    I feel bad for Maggie. I have personally seen similar stories among coworkers, including a woman who become an emotional wreck after trying to provide for her three adult children, their boyfriends, and all their children, on a low-paying non-profit wage. Why? Because drugs and Coworker was too loving a mother/grandmother to toss them out into the street. It was a good/bad scenario, good because Boss was also dealing with drug-addicted moocher kids so was very empathetic and helpful to Coworker, bad because, geeze, that drama sure took a lot of energy and office time.

    But… it’s ultimately Maggie’s problem. Her boss has every right and reason to draw professional lines where Maggie’s family problem affects work.

    Though on a personal note, yeah, I’d be using blunt language to tell Maggie is doing something incredibly stupid. Let the kid hit rock bottom.

  27. Watermelon*

    I highly recommend calling 2-1-1 for resource navigation, if that service is available in your region.

    1. 211 Resources Coordinator*

      Professional mode: If their local 2-1-1 is good they might be able to direct them substance abuse counseling options for her son, possibly family counseling/individual counseling for her, but there isn’t a lot you can do if someone doesn’t want help.

      At my call center we get calls regularly from people in Maggie’s shoes that want someone to force their children/spouse/parent to get help or go to inpatient rehab…without actually involving authorities. That, of course, presents problems since you can’t really force an adult to go to rehab or get counseling without a court order. And let’s be fair, you do not want to live in a society where random third parties could do that–can you imagine the potential for abuse?

      Unless Maggie is willing to involve authorities (APS if she’s old enough, law enforcement if she’s not considered within APS’s jurisdictions) there’s not much people are going to be able to actually do.

      Maybe hearing that from an I&R specialist would help her come to terms with the reality of the situation–sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t.

  28. animaniactoo*

    Please do not leave the question of whether the keys are safe in Maggie’s hands. Just take them back.

    At this point, it’s fairly clear that her judgement around this whole situation is off/shaky/she doesn’t have the fortitude to stand up to him. I don’t think you can rely on her opinion about whether or not the keys are secure OR whether she would hand them to him if she felt sufficiently pressured. No judgment on her for that – but you can’t give her control over that question, because what control she has herself is rapidly eroding in the face of her inability to handle Ralph.

    Figure out what you need to do to keep her on staff, but without keys. It’s okay if this is a problem for her. Ralph doesn’t change because he doesn’t need to make other choices when what he’s doing works (well enough). Similarly, Maggie isn’t significantly changing her handling of Ralph because she’s finding stopgap measures, and likely won’t change until it becomes a big enough problem in her own life to make a larger change. Her choices are hard and awful, but she needs to be able to experience the realistic – even with compassion – results of the ones she’s making. There may be no good way out of her situation, but as with the question of the loan, you need to limit your support to the things you can do without making the situation worse on your end.

  29. OP*

    OP here: I originally wrote in for a couple of reasons. First, I wanted to make sure I’m doing what I can without overstepping, and second, because I want to be sure there are options I’m not missing. I am new at being a manager of this many people, so I want to make sure I handle complicated situations correctly. We (assistant director and I) have tried to make clear that we think Ralph is a liar and that Maggie can come to us with questions.

    As for firing Maggie, it’s the last thing I want to do. My main concern there was my own accountability to my tustees and the public. Say money starts disappearing. I then have to explain why I did nothing when I knew we had a potential problem. Ralph does come to the library to use our computers for job searching. Our cash drawer is not very secure (and I can’t fix that easily), if he’s ever noticed, it could be a problem. However, as for Maggie’s keys, I asked and she keeps them hidden and completely separate from her car keys.

    I did speak to Maggie about her request for money. It turns out she was glad I said no. Apparently she gets flustered and panics when someone is yelling at her and right before she came in Ralph was telling her how useless she was that she didn’t have $30. One the plus, that seemed to be a breaking point and she’s accepted that it’s not her that is the problem and overall, she has seemed calmer lately. She says she’s not going through another winter like this and it sounds like she’s making plans to get Ralph out of her apartment.

    1. fposte*

      How literal are you being about “cash drawer”? If you’re not talking about part of a cash register, you can move the cash to a locking box that gets put into another locked cabinet at close.

      1. Holly*

        I would be shocked if a public library didn’t at least have an office with a separate lock where cash could be placed at night. During the day, I presume the library already has policies that no more than petty cash is kept at the reception desk for change for people paying 50 cents in fines or whatever. If the LW is concerned that Ralph could easily steal the cash with the key given to a part-time clerk, then she should be concerned that anyone can steal the money. Any employee could have their keys stolen.

        1. fposte*

          Yeah, that’s what I was thinking; this seemed like a vulnerable arrangement, not just a vulnerable location.

          1. Former public librarian*

            Yeah. Just in general this would be a good practice, a locking desk drawer, a spare employee locker, a cheap safe, anything that locks separately from the register.

    2. Anon a Bonbon*

      I was hoping that a blunt conversation would be enough to help Maggie realize the situation she is in. This is such a tough problem, and it could help just to have a work associate speak up and place it in perspective.
      I came to suggest that if Ralph is asking for money, then Maggie should write the check out to the recipient. If another “drug test” is at the Acme Testing clinic, then that is who the check gets written to. No cash, no check to Ralph. That will slow the demands for money.
      It sounds like you are trying your best to handle the situation as compassionately as possible. Good luck to you both!

    3. Artemesia*

      I would still have Maggie’s key back. It sends a very very powerful message to her and it is clearly not really secure if he is stealing her car keys and phone and otherwise running roughshod over her.

      Tough situation.

      1. Marisol*

        Yeah, especially if it’s for CYA purposes. She can have them back when (if) the situation resolves.

      2. Another person*

        Agree. Maybe taking the keys away can be another wake up call for Maggie. I think it’s generally best practice for fewer people to have keys anyway.

        I know it may not be easy, but I would also definitely do whatever it takes to secure the cash box. Even if not Ralph, someone else could get into it if it isn’t very secure.

        If you don’t want Maggie to take it too personally though, maybe you can frame it as a review and revision of the library’s security procedures?

        Best wishes as you and Maggie and the rest of your colleagues as you navigate through this.

    4. Laura*

      This is good to hear. Good luck to you OP and to Maggie as well. Seems like good steps are being taken.

    5. Dust Bunny*

      You still need to get the keys back. He’s not out of her apartment yet and I wouldn’t put anything past him, and she also needs tangible consequences to reinforce how serious this is for her job. You can give them back once you see her following through on what she says she wants to do, but until she’s made progress, she shouldn’t have keys no matter how well she thinks she keeps them hidden.

    6. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I really hope you’re right, OP, and that she kicks him out of her apartment. He sounds like he’s totally out of control, and there’s not much she can do. And I’m glad that you enforced a boundary that helped her realize how inappropriate her request was and how insane Ralph is.

      I’d see what you can do about securing the cash, and I’d still ask for her keys back. I know she thinks they’re hidden, but based on my own experience with people struggling with addiction, those keys are not as well-hidden as she think they are.

      1. Natalie*

        And if she gets flustered and panicky from him yelling at her, it’s going to be pretty easy for him to get them out of her in a confrontation.

    7. Jaybeetee*

      I’m glad to hear that she seems to distancing herself from Ralph a bit. I was going to say, prior to reading your update, that if she’s really enabling him so much that she can’t buy food for herself, she’s really in deep. It’s brutal for her to have to live this, and brutal for you to have to watch it happen (and while Ralph doesn’t seem particularly deserving of sympathy, I’d bet it’s brutal to be him too – addicts are rarely happy people).

      For most part your hands are tied unless he or she actually DOES something disruptive at work – if her performance takes a dive, she’s suddenly late or missing work a lot, money’s going missing, etc., you have grounds to have a serious talk about her situation. If she’s still showing up and doing well, and Ralph is annoying but not disruptive or abusive, not much can be done.

    8. E*

      Please tell Maggie how much you see her as a loving caring, and strong mother. It’s not easy to see family go thru problems, and takes a lot of strength when they withhold loving words from you.

    9. Fed Up*

      “It turns out she was glad I said no.”

      Not surprised at all. I’m really glad things seem to be working out.

  30. Holly*

    I think the LW needs to mind her own business. So far, it sounds like Ralph has shown up once to the library at which he asked for money then stole Maggie’s bank card. Which is Maggie’s problem. Maggie has asked the LW once for $35. The LW told her no and Maggie accepted that. I’m really not seeing the problem the LW has besides being a busy body. Yes, she should be told that asking for money is inappropriate, but I’m not seeing that Ralph is dangerous or disruptive to the library at this point. Yes, a part-time clerk shouldn’t have keys to the money drawer of a public library (and how much cash do libraries even keep on hand?). And, yes, if Maggie brings up these problems with her son at work the best response from the LW is to say something like, “That really sucks and must be hard on you. I don’t feel qualified to offer you solutions, though, but here are some people who can.” But beyond that, maybe just some compassion.

    1. The Cosmic Avenger*

      Maggie has made it the OP’s business not just by asking for money, but by telling her coworkers all about her plight, because how else would the OP know all this? You do have a point in that there could have been addicts and scam artists coming into the library regularly before, but the OP might not have known, so any security measures the OP takes, like securing the money drawer, should have been taken regardless of the Maggie & Ralph drama.

      And please remember the commenting rules (emphasis mine):

      The #1 rule of commenting here: Be kind to letter-writers and fellow commenters, which especially means being constructive if you’re criticizing. If you want a steady supply of interesting letters to read here, people need to be willing to write in and expose themselves to public critique. Treating them kindly makes that far more likely to happen.

      A subset of that rule: Give letter-writers and fellow commenters the benefit of the doubt. Don’t jump to a negative interpretation of someone’s comment or situation; instead, assume good faith on the part of others, including people whose opinions differ from your own.

      Saying she should not get involved is a valid opinion, and one I’d like to hear more about from you. But calling her a “busy body [sic]” is just plain rude.

    2. OP*

      OP here: I’m trying to be as uninvolved as possible, but I also need to know if Maggie has been asking staff for money as it’s inappropriate. I also need to know if she’s becoming so desperate for money that I need to re-evaluate how we handle things, there are some day-to-day things I am not involved in so rely on staff to update me. This is a small library, part-time clerks have to have access to the cash drawer because they are here when I’m not. We are only 2 full-time staff, so clerks cover Saturday hours, vacations, and sick days.

      1. fposte*

        Oof, so Maggie needs to have the keys, from the sound of it.

        I think either keys or cash handling has to change. If you’re worried about keys, the relevant access isn’t during open hours anyway, so clerk access while you’re open doesn’t need to change; what you can change is what happens to the cash when you close; that’s a move that will limit the library’s vulnerability in general, not just to this specific situation, which makes it more wise and less reactive. Sometimes a specific situation alerts you to the fact you’ve had a weakness all along–sounds like that might be happening here.

        And if you haven’t, make it clear to Maggie that she can’t ask anybody in the library, staff or patrons, for money again, and that her continued employment depends on that.

      2. Natalie*

        Does only one clerk work at a time, or could Maggie have the other clerk open the cash drawer or whatever when needed?

    3. Lurker Librarian*

      I’m a library director (not the letter writer) and I think her concerns are extremely valid. Public libraries are funded with public money. As administrators, we’re responsible for making sure that those funds are used responsibly; not only that, but we’re answerable to our board members and the public at large. That’s a lot of incentive to make sure that employees aren’t stealing/there isn’t going to be a scandal that could have been prevented/etc. This sounds like a very complicated situation and I feel for the LW. Were the LW to mind her own business and risk allowing Maggie to ask fellow employees for money also, that would be extremely bad management, imo.

      1. Holly*

        Yes, telling Maggie not to ask for money from co-workers is appropriate. But that was done and Maggie said she would not ask for money anymore. Done. If Maggie is going on about her son and it’s disruptive to work, point her to more appropriate outlets and resources. The cash is a separate concern and I agree with fposte that this situation seems to be revealing a security weakness. I don’t think security should depend upon knowing the financial situation of employees or their family members.

      2. Student*

        Cash is also not the only thing libraries have that is worth decent money. Many lend out DVDs and CDs, which can have decent street value. They also have electronics, like the public computers, which have both street value and scrap value. Books are also much easier to sell now online, though harder to haul and turn a profit on. They probably have more money in these couple types of easily-moved media on the floor than they normally keep in the register.

    4. Karanda Baywood*

      Being a busybody? She is the woman’s supervisor, and Maggie’s personal issues are infiltrating the work atmosphere.

  31. spaceygrl*

    I have a question about how Ralph could clean out Maggie’s account… If he knew her pin, sure, but if not then that’s theft and perhaps calling the police on him is the help he would need? If he knows her pin, she should definitely change it. If he puts money on her credit card, that’s fraud and the credit card companies should have safeguards against that.

    1. Artemesia*

      If my son did something like this I am not sure I could call the cops on him. Yes I would increase my own security measures, but putting your own child into the legal system is an enormous step since the odds of them being beaten, murdered, raped and acquiring AIDS etc etc are all huge risks. If I thought he were dangerous and might murder someone, maybe, but not for my bank account that I should have had secured. How many times have we read of cops shooting a mentally ill person when a family calls for help? Calling the cops on my own kid would be a seriously last resort and the stakes would have to be higher than money. No matter how big a loser or how awful he was.

    2. fposte*

      When a parent is faced with this situation, they’ll often refuse to claim it as fraud or theft because that would mean their child will be prosecuted, even if that means the parent is on the hook for the money.

    3. Holly*

      Calling the police won’t help him. Our criminal justice system is not set up to help addicts. People who go to jail just end up with a record making it harder to get employed. Once you go to jail, the chances you go back to jail increase a lot. Sometimes local places will sentence people to getting rehab for stealing instead of jailtime – but not always and forcing people to go to rehab doesn’t really work.

    4. Temperance*

      There are two issues here: Ralph being an addict who is untrustworthy and criminal, and Ralph having an addiction issue and needing help. They’re intertwined but, IMO, distinct.

      Ralph seems fine with his choices right now, and there aren’t legal mechanisms to get him into rehab without a court order. He’ll go to jail, probably, and from the context of the letter, it sounds as if he already has a record and is known to police (which is why Maggie doesn’t want them involved; it’s easier to think that cops are biased against your family than it is to admit that your kid is a habitual criminal). Maggie doesn’t want that, even if it is objectively the best way she can protect herself and safeguard her assets.

      1. Holly*

        Ralph doesn’t necessarily have a criminal record. However, most cops are not trained to handle mental illness or addicts well (it’s highly probably that Ralph’s problem is more than just a drug addiction). It’s possible that Maggie has called police before hoping they would help when he was threatening suicide or having a nervous breakdown or similar, and learned they can’t. Either they arrest him for a crime (which won’t stop him from stealing again), do nothing, or put him a mental institution – which is insanely expensive and only temporarily stabilizes, doesn’t cure, mental illness.

    5. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      You can ring a debit card as though it were a credit card, which can let you bypass the need for a PIN number. This is especially true if you use it online. So it’s possible that he cleaned out her account in the non-ATM sense (i.e., didn’t have cash on hand but simply spent all her cash).

      She could try to file a fraud report, but she knows who committed the fraud. The bank’s only recourse at that point is to go after Ralph—which would almost certainly implicate law enforcement, something that makes Maggie uncomfortable. (Aside: I think it’s fair for her to be uncomfortable about contacting the police about this because, as Holly notes, PDs are not well-equipped or well-trained to apply a non-criminal-law-focused perspective to addiction or addicts.)

      1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

        And you can absolutely find ways to get the cash into your hands without needing the PIN. Fraudulent gift card purchases, fraudulent wires, so forth and so on…

      2. Turtle Candle*

        Yeah, I get asked “debit or credit?” when I use my debit card, and if I say ‘credit’ I just have to scribble some kind of signature (and AFAIK the signature is only checked if there’s a fraud report filed). If she’s not willing to file a fraud report that would implicate her son, it’d be very easy for him to get away with it.

        1. That Would Be a Good Band Name*

          When I worked in retail, we just stored those signed receipts for however long we had to keep them (I’ve forgotten the time frame) and then they were pitched. So, yes, no one is checking that signature. They don’t get sent anywhere and the only way someone would look at it is if fraud was reported.

    6. L.*

      Here’s a lesson from one of my useless reprobate drug-addict relatives, who did just that to his grandma – steal a bunch of her checks (she’s 80 something, she still uses them) and then just keep cashing them until the money runs out! Grandma’s a lot like Maggie and doesn’t want to admit she’s been taken advantage of = no police report, $#*+bag relative gets off scot free. Textbook elder and financial abuse.

      1. Anonymous Pterodactyl*

        I work at a financial institution – she should call her bank and ask them to place a stop caution on the stolen checks. No police report is required, and it will prevent them from being used. She does need to know what check numbers to stop, and she can’t recover any money that was already obtained without being willing to pursue a fraud complaint, but a stop caution is a quick and easy way to stop the stolen checks from working anymore. Other check numbers outside the reported range continue to work just fine.

        There may or may not be a fee for this – the place I work does not charge a fee for a stop caution, but does charge for a stop payment (which is placed on a specific transaction/check number for a specific amount, rather than a set of blank checks). YMMV.

    7. That Would Be a Good Band Name*

      Someone once stole my debit card number at a drive-thru (they wrote it down when I paid at the window) and then proceeded to wire all my money to someone else. It was awful. It was the earlier days of online debit/credit card fraud and we lived in a rural area. The bank hadn’t seen anyone do anything like that before and we got a definite “we don’t believe you” vibe from them. As more reports came in, the police were able to figure out where/when it was happening and we got all of our money back.

      But, yeah. You don’t have to have a PIN to drain someone’s account.

  32. J*

    While she may be enabling his negative behavior, it may because she fears for her safety or because he is incredibly manipulative. You could consider filing a report with Adult Protective Services or Department of Children and Families. You provide them with as much information as you choose and they then determine if there is a case to investigate. They shouldn’t ever release the name of the individual who reported the incident(s). While she appears to be of sounds mind, there may be more that you don’t see or aren’t aware of that APS/DCF may be able to uncover.

    1. paul*

      If Maggie’s not considered an elder by APS in her state, or severely disabled (in Texas at least that’s a very high bar to meet, can’t speak for other states), APS *probably* won’t touch this. Most APS’s seem to consider 62 or 65 the cutoff for age.

      If she is old enough to fit under APS in your state, report it. But she may well not be.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I think it’s ok to suggest to OP that they may want to see if this is the kind of thing that would qualify. Worst case, they call APS and are told Maggie doesn’t fall within their jx (and there are many states that are not as limited as Texas in their approach or jx). But there’s no harm in making that suggestion to OP.

  33. Erin*

    Do what you can within reason to help this woman, or guide her to help, and then step aside. You can only help those who want to be helped, and all that. It sounds like you know that, but it’s worth repeating.

    Once you’ve tried to help her, step aside, emotionally. Do what you’re obligated to do work-wise but don’t expend too much energy on someone who refuses to see the light. That sounds harsh, but I’d hate to see you spiral downwards in trying to help her, the way she’s trying to help him.

  34. Ashley*

    Addicts going to addict. Enablers going to enable.

    Step out of her private life unless it effects her job. Legally trespass Ralph from the premises. Start documenting all issues around her as an employee – ie. has disruptive visitors while working. Stop discussing it, stop trying to help, you have done that and right now – it falls on deaf ears. Manage her issues as an employee, document and PIP as necessary.

    I would take a serious look at what she has access to. You mentioned keys and I would look at access to money and private information. She has already gone without food and necessities to enable an addict, she has asked you for money, the (possible) next steps are scary/potentially illegal ones and I would take preventative measures against that. She has proven to have bad judgement – proceed accordingly.

  35. Stellaaaaa*

    One thing I haven’t seen addressed is that OP is not beholden to Maggie’s feelings about that police. That’s Maggie being manipulative too, casting her family as victims when Ralph isn’t one. OP is free to call the police or to report any crime she wants and it might help to tell Maggie that. Whether or not OP would actually do that is another story but I’d bet that Maggie isn’t used to people pushing back in that way. She’s enacting her own kind of control over the entire workplace. She’s used to issuing excuses about Ralph and pressuring people to back down on their boundaries when it comes to him, and even when it comes to how much she’s talking about this stuff at work.

    Think about how you even know all of this specific information about Maggie’s life, about Ralph’s life. You know this woman’s entire sob story and you probably don’t know this much about any of your other employees. Maggie isn’t a bad person at heart but she’s living with a master manipulator and she has absorbed some of those skills. Next time she starts talking about Ralph/trying to drum up pity for the situation, tell her that you don’t have time to listen or find some other way to shut down the conversation. You care about Maggie, not Ralph. You don’t have to let Maggie control the mood and interactions at your workplace. I’ve left jobs over stuff like this – I have all the sympathy in the world for people who are dealing with addicts but after a while I can’t listen to it anymore or have my schedule/workload jerked around by people who talk and talk and talk about their life drama but aren’t doing anything to try to change the situation.

    As crappy as it sounds to say it this way, when you listen to Maggie’s stories, you’re letting her know that you care about Ralph and the broader situation. You need to give her the impression that you don’t care, because she somewhat thinks that the library is some kind of resource for her and Ralph in ways that it’s not – I can maybe 99% guarantee that she didn’t ask her boss at her day job for money.

    1. OP*

      “OP is free to call the police or to report any crime she wants…”
      Actually, I called my EAP to ask just that and was told that they didn’t think I had any legal standing to do so.

      “Think about how you even know all of this specific information about Maggie’s life, about Ralph’s life. You know this woman’s entire sob story and you probably don’t know this much about any of your other employees.”
      I do, though. I try to stay above it as much as I can, but we’re a very small group. Also, we’re librarians and we know that other librarians are great resources when there are questions. And it’s not just my staff, I know lots of personal things about the staff at other libraries in my area.

      “people who talk and talk and talk about their life drama ”
      I don’t mean to give this impression. Generally, Maggie doesn’t come in and talk incessantly about her life. More often, another staff member will ask if she’s alright if she looks extra tired. When she does bring it up, it’s usually because she has a question and she’s trying to confirm that Ralph is lying. On the whole, she isn’t the first to bring it up and I think it’s because she sees the library as an escape from her family. Here she can be useful because she wants to be not because someone is telling her she’s useless otherwise.

      1. Stellaaaaa*

        I’m not sure about your first point. If I wanted, I could call your town’s police and report Ralph for suspected use of illegal drugs. If you had stated that he was selling, I could report that too. Anyone can call the cops about anything they want, provided that the caller is fairly sure their suspicions are true. The cops don’t have to pursue every called-in tip but there’s nothing to stop anyone from making the call.

      2. Student*

        You can absolutely report crimes when you have knowledge of them. You aren’t obligated to do so, generally, but you certainly don’t need some magical “legal standing” to report crimes. If the crimes take place at the library, I’d go so far as to saying you ought to report them.

        Cops often get reports that aren’t necessarily worth charging someone today. But if you make them file a report, then there’s an official record. If they have a record of complaints and a new, worse complaint comes up, they’re more likely to see the pattern and pursue things. For example, today Ralph is stealing, and you have second-hand testimony of it. Police probably won’t arrest him on that, especially if his mother won’t pursue charges. However, if Maggie comes in to work with a black eye, or some other escalation, then you report to the police again – maybe they can’t nail Ralph on the escalation, but maybe they dig up the old accusation of theft, go corroborate it with people other than Maggie (like the bank records), and charge him with that while they try to get Maggie out of harm’s way.

  36. Dienna Howard*

    Reading through this, I have a feeling that Maggie’s ex (who was mentioned as being known to the police) may have been another abusive, controlling influence on her. Is the ex Ralph’s father? It is awful to see these patterns and cycles of abuse continue to happen. I hope that Maggie realizes that it’s not too late to end the cycle of abuse.

    1. OP*

      Yes and yes. I would imagine Ralph learned how to manipulate her from his father. Maggie has hinted that her own father was an unpleasant alcoholic, which makes all of this harder.

      1. The Southern Gothic*

        Maggie also needs to know that she can call the appropriate agency the next time Ralph threatens suicide.

      2. Dienna Howard*

        Poor Maggie. Growing up being abused and not having healthy relationships modeled for her is why she ended up with a man like her father, and why her son is repeating the same patterns. And reading your story about Maggie being yelled at by Ralph and caving to his demands broke my heart. Maggie feels worthless because of how these loser men treated her (the son’s feeding off of that) and I am hoping that she sees that she is a great person and deserves better than all these losers and leeches in her life. She deserves so much better.

  37. Casuan*

    Besides what’s already been suggested I think there’s a few more things you can do to help Maggie. Your concern is about your staff [their work, work culture & environment], the patrons [their ability to make use of the library & safety] & the library itself. In particular, your employees will be watching how you handle this so they can follow your lead & know more of your management style– most of all they’ll know that you’re concerned about their work environment.

    OP, this is not personal & you’re not blaming her. You’re concerned about your staff & your library’s mission. If one of your staff is under stress then you want to be supportive of that person & it’s your obligation to ensure disruptions in the workplace are minimal.

    Ralph is essentially holding Maggie hostage by saying if Maggie doesn’t do something then he’ll do something destructive. He is also being abusive to her. Both of these are out of your league. Call Alcoholics Anonymous & ask to whom you should be talking for guidance [there’s a Narcotics Anonymous & both have help for the loved ones of an addict; in some places AA covers both addictions]. Your questions should be: How can a concerned employer support an employee with an addictive adult child? How can you best convey to the employee that help is available?
    If you want to be a bit more thorough, then call an abuse hotline with the same types of questions.

    My memory is a bit fuzzy, though I think the abuse topic was recently on AAM…? Someone suggested a hotline & the OP updated that it was an excellent resource for them. Does anyone remember this?

    Talk with Maggie & tell her you understand things are difficult. Tell her that her job performance & work ethics [being on time, et cetera] are excellent. Give her your concerns about Ralph in context of how his disruptive behaviours affect the employees & patrons. Also tell her that you won’t loan her money & you’ve instructed your staff not to do so, either. AAM has several posts regarding an employee asking others for money. It’s the same concept here.

    You should definitely take back Maggie’s keys to the library. When you request them back take custody of them immediately. Don’t over-explain the reason. & returning her keys is not a punishment.
    From your description of her, I’m guessing that she’ll understand & if she doesn’t then don’t try to convince her because she probably won’t get it & that can muddy things up more than they are. Maggie might even be glad to not have the keys any longer so she doesn’t risk being at work alone or any concern she has for the library itself.
    Of course, make sure that Maggie still has the access required for her job. To be safe I’d suggest changing the locks, which should be done anyway if they haven’t been changed out in a long time, although probably this isn’t feasible.
    Explain that you will enforce library rules with Ralph, just as you would with anyone who enters the building. Give your staff the authority they need & ensure they’re clear on what these rules are & how to fairly enforce them. Also set up limits, eg: If a librarian gives two warnings to a patron [or whatever you deem reasonable] & the patron still doesn’t conform then they should escalate the matter to a supervisor. You can also ask to be called if Ralph comes on the premises at all, although this is extreme & should only be used as a last resort. Your goal isn’t to ban Ralph, it’s to let library business be conducted in a safe environment, business as usual.

    Absolutely you should be able to ban Ralph from the premises if he is harassing staff &or patrons, disrupting their work or damaging property [although damage doesn’t seem in question], especially if it’s in the moment.
    Be very clear with him that certain behaviours won’t be tolerated by anyone who comes to the library & that you have the authority to enforce this [even if your authority is short-term because you need to go through some legalities].
    “Ralph, I need to ask you to stop raising your voice/interrupting your mum whilst she’s working/disrupting everyone. If you can’t, you’ll be asked to leave. Do you understand?”

    If you’re concerned about Maggie’s finances & ability to afford food, there are some subtle things to do for help. If possible have some munchies in the break room. If you bring food from home, have an extra something that you don’t have time to eat & you’d probably just throw out, give her a grocery gift card as a bonus or simply tell her you wanted to help in some small way- even just $10 could help. The gift card is so she doesn’t have actual cash that could end up in Ralph’s pocket. If Maggie attends a place of worship you could suggest she seek help from them.

    Really, a great place to start is to just talk with Maggie; assure her that her work is excellent & tell her you’ve been concerned & ask her how you as her director can help. Before you do this, you should be clear what you can do as her director & what you can &or are willing to do as a concerned person. As long as you’re addressing how Maggie’s situation is affecting the library, there aren’t any right answers other than to do what you think best.

    I hope all works out!!

  38. Blaine*

    Calling Adult Protective Services is an option based on Maggie’s age. Financial abuse is reportable form of elder abuse. They are also a great resource for advice and may know of programs in your area for referral. As with CPS the person who gave the report is anonymous.

  39. The Road to Hell Is Paved With Good Intentions*

    I suggest the OP change the locks so there is reason to take back all sets of keys, and reduce the number of sets of keys given to employees, with none given to part-timers at all.

    My former neighbor is a Maggie with a Ralph. She has asked me to let him cut down trees on my property so he could use the wood to start a cabinet making business (he has no tools – I was supposed to loan him money for tools so my trees wouldn’t go to waste…) and asked me to let him live in my house rent free in exchange for mowing the lawn, and to give him my house (both because she heard I was moving and they appear to think I don’t need the money.) When the house was sold, the son tried to burn it down. 15 feet from his mother’s house, both old houses and both would go up like flame throwers if either actually caught.

    People like my neighbor’s son, if they can’t get what they want by withholding love or attention, will use whatever else they can to punish someone who says no to them. If Ralph is like that, he wouldn’t just steal the keys to break into the library. He’d tear up the books and defecate on them. I think OP should listen to her instinct to protect the library, but not communicate it has anything to do with Ralph to Maggie .

    Part-time volunteers aren’t usually given a set of keys most places. Perhaps it’s time to tell people your insurance is questioning that practice at the library.

    1. fposte*

      She’s not a volunteer, though, she’s a clerk, and it sounds like she works on her own in the library some days. My impression is that taking away her keys would mean that somebody not scheduled to work would have to turn up at the library to let her in and to close after her.

      1. Casuan*

        Yes. I keep shifting my thoughts about the keys. The situation might not warrant taking Maggie’s keys, especially if it causes inconvenience for the other staff.

  40. Cafe au Lait*

    Dear OP,

    I don’t have any words on wisdom, but I want to say watching a co-worker be abused is incredibly hard. My first post-college job, I suspected my boss was being emotionally and spiritually abused at home. There were many many times when I wanted to yell “Run, JUST RUN NOW.”

    The hard truth was that she wasn’t ready to hear what her friends told her, and she was no where ready to leave her husband. She wasn’t going to be ready until she was ready. I left that job years ago, and sometimes I wonder how she’s doing and I hope that she left her husband.

  41. Turtle Candle*

    So… one thing I’m wondering is whether the LW even can make sure that Maggie has no keys without functionally firing her, or at least reducing her hours to the point where it’s as close as makes no difference.

    Context: I’ve lived in a number of small towns, some the size that the LW describes. In those cases, it’s very common for a significant proportion of library hours to be done by a single person, because the library isn’t very big and the budget is also not very big. Even if you have two or more people during peak hours, the schedule might look like, Person A: 10am-6pm, Person B: 3pm-8pm, and maybe a volunteer or two on hand from 4pm-7pm to help cover the busiest period. Both Person A and Person B need keys to the front doors (or someone else will have to drive over and let them in/lock up) and to the cash box/payment system (or else will have to show up somehow to handle fees/fines, making change for the copy machine, etc.–or they won’t be able to handle fines, make change, etc., during certain hours).

    In those towns, usually the library was running on a shoestring budget. Making sure that two people were available simply because one of the clerks couldn’t have keys would be a no-go simply because there wasn’t any money there; you’d have to cut back hours to double up clerks. In some cases, even buying something as simple as a separate, heavy, secure locking file cabinet would have been a stretch–anything more elaborate re: lockers and security systems would have been a laugh. (It sucks, but in most cases it’s not the cheapness of the library; it’s that their funding is slim and shrinking.)

    I don’t know if the LW is in that situation, but if so, it makes it more complicated: there’s really no way to say “keep Maggie employed but take away her keys/change the locks.” If you take away her keys/change the locks, she can’t do her job, or can only do her job for the minimal hours that there is someone else there anyway.

    (LW, you have all my sympathy. This sucks.)

    1. Stellaaaaa*

      I think it comes down to whether Maggie is capable of doing the job on her own anymore. She might be the kind of employee who can’t take solo shifts. Taking away the solo shifts looks like it’s punishing Maggie but this is a publicly funded library with other employees (how do they feel about all of this??) and I’d say that OP’s obligations are not to Maggie. This isn’t a private business, and OP isn’t a CEO with the prerogative to torpedo operations by giving Maggie infinite chances. Even seeing Ralph using the computers every day (if word gets around about his behavior) is enough to make other patrons stay away. Maggie doesn’t have to be a bad person to be a problem for a workplace.

      1. OP*

        She is capable of doing her job. I was also concerned because when she asked me for money it was so out of character. But it’s been about two weeks since I sent my question to Alison and in that time I told Maggie what she did was inappropriate. I think that was a real wake up call. Maggie loves working here, she calls it her “happy place” and I think she genuinely finds it relaxing. Right now I believe the thought of jeopardizing her job is far worse than pissing off Ralph. I think she’s reaching her limit… at the end of our conversation she was open to the idea of getting a restraining order. From what I know, even thinking about it is a huge step for her.

        1. Stellaaaaa*

          Forgive me, but I’m seeing you making a lot of excuses for Maggie. It doesn’t matter if Maggie enjoys working at the library if she’s the reason that an unsafe element has been introduced there. You’re walking on eggshells around her and letting her control a lot of your decisions as a manager. For a lot of people, asking their boss for money so their son could take a drug test would be grounds for dismissal. Maggie’s not the one who’s addicted to drugs but she’s behaving like an addict and you need to stop giving her chances that you wouldn’t extend to people who didn’t have such extreme life circumstances. What if an employee with a drama-free life asked for $20 to put gas in her car? A request like that isn’t less egregious just because Maggie’s son is troubled.

          1. fposte*

            It’s a library. The unsafe element lives there all the time. This is just a particular iteration revealing itself.

            I wouldn’t treat a request to borrow $20 for gas from a good employee as egregious. I’d say no asking for money at work, and that means nobody else other than me and never asking me again, and what’s the sitch that’s put you in such a bind? The OP’s pretty much done that. She’s going to have to roll the dice on the key question, unfortunately, given that it would change operations considerably, but I don’t think it merits a preventative firing of an otherwise good employee, because that’s a big step. Do you disagree on the firing? Or is there some other action you’re suggesting?

            1. The Supreme Troll*

              Coming very late to this, but I absolutely disagree on the firing. Everything else that Alison has suggested, I agree with 100%.

              I’m wishing the OP and Maggie the best of luck in what looks like a no-win situation. Hoping for some positive news.

    2. OP*

      This, all of it. We always have two people here for safety reasons, but it would be impossible to say that one can handle money and one can’t. Changing the locks would also be a huge hassle as we share the building with the town offices and the upstairs space is rented to a theater company.

      1. Turtle Candle*

        That’s kind of what I was afraid of, OP. It’s sort of like–I work in software, and if I lived in a house with a relative who was a high risk of industrial espionage (which I realize is a stretch, but stay with me), I’m sure people would say “well keep her working but revoke her access to the source code.” But that would prevent me from doing at least half of my job, so at that point the question gets a lot more complex–can I legitimately do my job to a reasonable degree if you take that away? And I wondered if the same was true of Maggie and the keys.

        I’m glad to see from your other comments that it looks like Maggie has had a wake-up call, and I fervently hope that it turns out to be a non-issue in the long run.

  42. Jill*

    Having a drug addict for a brother….and a housebound grandfather with deep pockets….and divorced parents who both enable him (he takes turns using all three), I can tell you that it is a non-stop facepalm trying to get people like LW’s employee to accept that they are being used.

    LW, you can talk to your employee until you’re blue in the face and you will not make her see the light. Continue to urge her to speak with Other Job’s EAP person and to seek help from other resources in your area. But beyond that, focus on what you can control – the security of your building, reminders about how her personal issues are/may affect her standing as your employee, the message to other employees, that kind of thing. All the best to you – for me, it’s been worse to deal with the enablers in my family than the actual addict.

  43. animaniactoo*

    OP, I don’t know if you’re still reading here. Based on what you’ve said here, I think that you can usefully do two things for Maggie right now.

    1) I am sure I understand her fear of the police. If her situation is what I think it is, she’s pretty much right to be afraid of how she/her son will be treated and what the ultimate results will be – more likely for him than for her. However, I don’t want to speculate on that situation. What I think that you can say is “I get that you’re afraid and you may have good reason to be. But he’s put you in a situation where you don’t have a lot of other choices. If you have to call them or speak to them to save yourself, then that’s because of a situation that he’s put you in and is beyond your ability to help him or save him from. You need help. And you need to be able to save yourself. You can always hold out hope for him. But he’s in charge of his actions. He’s putting you in a space where the only way to protect yourself might be to have to go to the police. Please think carefully about whether potential bad treatment for him – driven by his own actions – is worth what you’re receiving from him.”

    2) Speak to her about talking to a dv counselor/hotline before she does anything. It sounds a lot like her son is escalating and even if he’s fairly steady and it’s just that she’s running out of money/options, when she becomes “not useful” – whether because she has nothing left or because she’s enforcing boundaries – is a very dangerous time and people who have only been verbally abusive, etc. sometimes cross the line into physical abuse/threats at that point. A counselor/hotline can help her navigate this period as safely as possible.

  44. An attorney*

    OP, PLEASE consider calling Adult Protective Services. I work in a field where, unfortunately, I see a lot of financial abuse, and it’s often adult sons taking advantage of their parents. (There’s an acronym I heard at a training recently – Adult Son Syndrome.) In all seriousness, financial abuse can often be a red flag for current or future physical abuse or neglect. This is not something to turn a blind eye to.

    Even if APS can’t do anything, it’s absolutely worth having a record in their system. If they do start an investigation, maybe that would be a first step towards getting your employee some resources or helping her realize that she needs to take stronger action.

Comments are closed.