update: my employee isn’t doing her job — but I think she’s in an abusive relationship

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and all December I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past.

Remember the letter-writer this summer whose employee wasn’t doing her work, but seemed to be in an abusive relationship and the letter-writer was concerned about making her life worse? Here’s the update.

I’ve put off sending in an update because this year has been a nightmare. I ended up with a staff of truly toxic people this year who didn’t handle their job duties well, colluded behind my back, and generally made this a very unpleasant place to work. I regret to say my own internal exhaustion (I’ve had some serious real-life drama crop up) kept me from dealing with things as aggressively as I should have.

The assistant manager and I had a discussion regarding her performance. It didn’t go well – she made a desperate bid for her job, and I made it clear that openly disregarding things I’ve told her and arguing with me about policy in front of the staff wasn’t acceptable. Things with her attendance improved somewhat…and then she and her boyfriend broke up again, and things improved markedly.

For a few weeks.

I’ve been keeping a log since the beginning of August of her scheduled hours and what has actually happened. Last week, I finally sat down and tabulated her attendance rate, and it turns out that in that period of time, there was a 1 in 5 chance that she would not come in, arrive late, or end up leaving early. Additionally, of the days that she was late or didn’t come, I received either no notice or less than an hour’s notice no less than 45% of the time. There have been zero instances where she made up the hours later, which would have helped mitigate my own stress.

I got all the data ready, wrote up a PIP, and prepared to demote her…and then guess what?

She got sick and was out most of the week. Because of course.

I am preparing to sit down with her and fill her in on the hard numbers, but it hasn’t happened yet. The game plan is to let her know what her numbers are, explain that this isn’t acceptable, and let her know that I can’t keep calling her an assistant manager, as she’s not acting like one. We’re going to start looking for an actual assistant manager shortly after that.

It appears that right now she’s living with the boyfriend again. She’s made comments about how it’s not a good situation, but at this point, there’s really nothing more I can do for her. I have two small children and my own personal dramas to contend with; if she can be at work, on time, and accept a demotion, then we can get along. If she can’t take the job under those terms, I suppose I’ll have to cut her loose. I want to be compassionate, but I also can’t hold the hand of a woman in her forties who won’t improve her own life.

Thanks for everything, all of you. :)

{ 283 comments… read them below }

  1. Ask a Manager* Post author

    Please do not leave further comments criticizing the letter writer for the last sentence in her update.

    She’s left a comment here that will give further context about the situation, and I do not want people subjected to this kind of criticism over a single sentence when they (a) are generous enough to take the time to send in an update at all, and (b) have displayed immense compassion in their attempts to help an employee already. It is a really crappy experience for letter writers and it’s unwarranted.

    The problem with the sentence has been thoroughly discussed, and I ask that we leave it there.

    I’m turning on moderation for all additional comments on this post.

    1. Phoenix Programmer*

      Thank you!

      OP has been so compassionate and helpful the response here was really unfair towards her.

    2. Zin*

      Thank you. As someone who often reads but rarely comments seeing that kind of nit-picking, incredibly unfair assumption about the LW and absolute destructive negativity is something I watch carefully. Too many places don’t moderate that kind of thing and it becomes a very hostile place for people to be.

      I especially wanted to point out that I’ve been in abusive relationships myself, more than once. It is hard but even so, I did not take offense to anything in that letter. I get it and I hope the LW continued to post here after this.

    3. Kevlar*

      I’d also like to say thank you for doing this. The piling on is both disheartening and discouraging as a reader and as someone who’s contemplated writing in before. I don’t understand why it’s so difficult to point something out once, respectfully, and drop it without vilifying the OP as someone lacking in compassion or being judgmental (when her past actions trying to help her employee clearly show otherwise). I believe the person lacking compassion and being judgmental is this employee’s abuser, and hopefully she is able to safely break free someday.

      Thank you for the update OP, and hopefully this situation improves for the both of you. Good luck!

    4. animaniactoo*

      I apologize. I participated in some of that as I felt that it was an important call-out in terms of general perspective for viewing where the employee is at, but I agree that it went far beyond the point of being productive and is detrimental to the LW.

  2. PSB*

    That’s unfortunate. It sounds like the LW’s handling things very well on a professional level, even if it’s taking longer to have the next conversation than might be ideal.

    1. Sloan Kittering*

      Yes, to have been documenting things since August is a flag to me that this has gone on way too long. There’s a phrase that I keep hearing from HR, “slow to hire, quick to fire.” Understanding the special circumstances here, I don’t think this timeline feels right.

    2. Robert*

      I would be curious to learn what LW has done on the abuse support front. Allison’s original advice was two-pronged; the professional issues and the personal one. She advised allowing the employee to live on the property as she had previously and providing a cell phone – neither of which are addressed here. It sounds like LW is just at her wits end and has decided to go with the tough love approach, which I suppose is as legitimate strategy, but it would be nice to know if anything was done to address the abuse.

      1. Perse's Mom*

        There’s only so much that *can* be done when you’re an outside party. If the OP offered the housing situation and was refused, or it was accepted and then later the employee went back to her boyfriend anyway… OP can’t sweep in and carry her coworker away to safety. She can offer to help and be supportive where she can be (which she has been!), but it’s not on OP to fix this employee’s life.

        1. valentine*

          Erika – OP should not address the abuse. She has gone above and beyond to preserve this person’s job, though doing so makes the business, staff, and clients vulnerable to the abuser. Here’s what happened when the employee stayed on the premises.

        2. Robert*

          Absolutely – I don’t think LW necessarily had an obligation to help beyond what she already had done. It’s just unclear from the update if they didn’t follow Allison’s advice, or if they did follow it but it didn’t get better.

  3. Erin Nudi*

    I love this update. I’m a bleeding heart type myself, but also firmly believe you can’t help people who won’t help themselves. As you said, this woman is in her 40s – if she was maybe 18 and with her first serious boyfriend I might be inclined to have a little more patience. But God knows you’ve exhausted your patience. Do what you gotta do.

    1. Oh Non*

      An abusive situation (of that is in fact what is going on) is awful no matter what age you are. Who cares if she’s in her 40s rather than just a teenager?

      1. Less Bread More Taxes*

        I took Erin’s comment to mean that the assistant manager is well aware now that she’s in an abusive relationship. A younger person may not know that and will act accordingly.

        1. Dragoning*

          Plenty of older people don’t realize that, either, and certainly even knowing such information doesn’t make it easy to escape.

          1. Guacamole Bob*

            Yeah, I have a friend who worked with victims of domestic violence in her professional life and ended up in an abusive relationship in her mid-30’s. She got out, but it just goes to show the frog-in-slowly-heating-water nature of abuse (at least sometimes). The shift from nice guy to guy who really screwed up but it really seems like it was a one-off thing, to guy who is kind of controlling, to consistently abusive asshole was gradual and hard to get perspective on, and even in the abusive asshole phase there were still positives to the relationship that made it hard for her to get perspective on the bad stuff.

        2. Jadelyn*

          That’s…really not how that works. Like, at all. People of all ages can wind up in abusive relationships, often because the abuse escalates in classic “frog in boiling water” manner – at first things are great, and then the abuser slowly introduces more and more controlling and harmful behaviors, breaking down and gaslighting the victim when they protest against that treatment, until the victim finds themselves trapped and feels like they can’t get out.

          And honestly, they know that people around them are thinking like this, and it makes older victims of abuse less likely to feel like they can reach out for help in getting away from their abuser. This mentality, actually actively makes things worse for older victims, so maybe rethink that.

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Let’s please not blame DV victims. OP has ample reasons to terminate the employee, without the commentariat suggesting that being in abusive relationships in your 40s is a character flaw or a signal that someone won’t “help themselves.”

      OP, I’m sorry you’ve had to deal with all of this. It sounds incredibly trying.

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*


        It is not easy to leave an abusive relationship, even when you have an excellent support system.

        1. anon for this*

          Yeah, not-so-fun fact – the majority of murdered domestic abuse victims are killed after leaving their abusive partner.

          1. JessaB*

            Yeh or in the process of leaving, and that doesn’t include threats to children or companion animals in the statistics, it’s the most dangerous time in the life of an abuse victim, the planning to leave (if you’re caught, consequences can be catastrophic,) the leaving and right after.

            1. Phoenix Programmer*

              I feel like this is splitting hairs.

              My sister won’t help herself. I have the resources to get her out and crush her BF legally if he even looks at her but .. she won’t.

              You say she can’t because she must have a mental illness to stay with him but the reality is she loves the good times and stays for the frequently fewer and farer between good days.

              Meanwhile I and her other loving family members are stuck watching her children become more and more messed up. Get phone calls in the middle of the night from sister crying that she thinks she is going to die. Meanwhile sister refuses any and all resources we provide. Then she even threatens to cut the children off from us if we don’t “play nice” with the abuser.

              What is left for those of us to do besides say – can’t help those who won’t help themselves? We have to have boundaries to. We can’t absorb the stress of a victim who won’t accept help no matter there reasons. OP isn’t even related to this person and she has already stressed and expanded a ton of compassion to this person and now the sanctimonious commentariate is ripping her a new one for “can’t vs won’t”.

              It’s hard to be a support to DV victims too. It’s far beyond the purview of a manager to be expected to do any more than she already has. OP doesn’t deserve the lecture she is getting here either.

              1. Jules the 3rd*

                Abusers spoil everything, and sometimes there are no good answers.

                But OP has some resources / leverage that not everyone has, like *housing* and a legitimate requirement for a phone. OP is not required to offer these, but it would be… gratifying to hear that she was able to use them to give effective help.

                1. So long and thanks for all the fish*

                  @Jule- in the original letter or comments, OP said she ran a hotel, and had offered the employee short-term housing there before.

        2. Observer*

          In this case, that’s not really relevant, though. The victim DID break up with the abuser – and then moved back together. That’s a different situation.

          1. Jadelyn*

            It…really isn’t, though? Abusive relationships are not easy to break off 100% in one go. The fact that she moved back in with her abuser doesn’t negate that it’s an abusive relationship, and it doesn’t change the fact that leaving is hard. OP’s employee has taken one more step in the process of leaving by even getting out once, temporarily, but it’s still an ongoing process and is still difficult to keep making progress in. “Leaving an abusive relationship” is a process that almost always takes multiple attempts and cycles of getting out/going back/getting out/going back before the victim gets 100% free of their abuser.

            In particular, the physical and financial control aspects of DV are, in some ways, the less damaging and least-lasting part of the effects that DV has on a victim. Abusers convince their victims that the abuser is the only one who will ever love them, that the victim will never really be able to be happy with anyone else, no one will love them like the abuser loves them, etc. Most DV victims take SEVEN ATTEMPTS to fully leave their abuser, according to the major abuse hotline organizations – sometimes for financial reasons, sometimes because they’re still caught mentally and emotionally in the abuse cycle, because their abuser threatened them or their children or their pets, whatever the reason, it’s not so simple as “once you’re out, it’s over (and therefore talking about how difficult it is to leave an abusive relationship is no longer relevant to the conversation)”.

            1. Observer*

              No one said that it’s not an abusive situation or that she deserves that abuse or anything like that. Or even that leaving is easy. And the statistics you cite really aren’t all that relevant here based on what we know.

              The bottom line is that the employee is in a situation that she does have the physical safety net she needs to leave, and a full time job that should have been sufficient financial starting point. So, as hard as it is, from the purely pragmatic POV, she has resources she needs to make it happen, even if not easily.

              The piling on onto the OP for not taking into account the things she cannot know while ignoring the things we do know is just ridiculous. I get that we don’t want to blame DV victims. But could we please back off from blaming people for not being the perfect savior – something that according to your own stats isn’t possible anyway?

      2. animaniactoo*

        Yes. There are a host of reasons as to why dv victims end up in, stay in, or loop in and out of abusive relationships. Chief among them are a belief that good person who does really bad things is really going to work on stopping doing them (especially because they do for awhile so they’ve SEEN that it’s possible), and co-dependent/people pleasing issues that prevent them from being able to prioritize their own safety and happiness over and above the other person’s. Also – based on their own backgrounds, it likely feels familiar – it’s what they’re comfortable with, what they *know*, and anything else feels freaky and unfamiliar. It takes a hell of a lot to untangle all that mess.

        If you’re stuck in that cycle, being 40 just means you’re stuck in it that much harder and are so much more inured to it and have internalized it than being 18. Being 18 actually means you have more hope for being able to escape it before it becomes the way you live your life.

        1. Kelly L.*

          Yep, and victims often worry that their kids, their pets, or themselves will be hurt when they try to leave, which can lead to taking a while to leave because of wanting to have everything in order.

        2. epi*

          Yes. Part of the reason that many victims of abuse do this, is that many *humans* do this or would do this in the same situation. Often, that situation involves grooming, coercion, or blackmail.

          I get that it can be frustrating to try to help someone who appears not to be helping themselves. But you can’t possibly be suffering from this situation more than the person who is actually being abused. It takes strength to handle a dangerous situation in the way that you think is best, even when everyone around you is telling you to do the opposite and even insulting and infantilizing you.

          When you feel frustrated with someone who is being abused, remember that the abuser is the one who put both of you in this situation. And when it’s tempting to get angry and say cruel things about how someone who is being abused decides to handle their own life, maybe consider that they’re not the only one behaving unsympathetically and out of character as a result of someone else’s horrible actions.

          1. Just Employed Here*

            “But you can’t possibly be suffering from this situation more than the person who is actually being abused.”

            I don’t think the OP is saying that she is suffering more than the employee here. She’s simply saying it can’t go on like this. She can’t save the employee but she is trying to keep the business going.

            1. epi*

              My comment was a general one about the reactions to this type of situation. It was a response to another comment about those reactions.

              There are many comments in this thread saying a variation on “you can’t care more/do more than someone will for themselves.” I think you are ignoring that context in attempting to correct me.

          2. Temperance*

            So this is not a helpful or useful framing of the situation whatsoever. I’ve noticed that sometimes when dealing with a difficult person, commenters will pressure the OP to see that their life is much better than the difficult person’s. Which might kind of be true, but also like …. doesn’t matter? There’s such a weird push to be “kind” and “compassionate” in all situations that we can be jerks to the LWs instead, who are dealing with difficult, craptastic situations like this one.

            OP needs an assistant manager who shows up and does her job. Instead, her assistant is insubordinate, rude, and unreliable. It doesn’t matter why. Those are the facts of the matter.

          1. FaintlyMacabre*

            And if you’ve moved or made other career sacrifices for a partner, it’s a lot less significant on a younger person’s resume. As an older person, it can sink you. Ask me how I know!

      3. Amber T*

        Preach. It’s a crappy situation all around and OP is in a difficult place. But the “she should know better” attitude isn’t helpful nor compassionate.

        1. Celia Bowen*

          Yep. Abuse means control and loss of power. I am a survivor and am really upset by these comments. The people making them evidently have not had the misfortune to be abused. That’s luck. You’re lucky.

          1. Oranges*

            I actually put it down to a lack of imagination/information (which might or might not be their fault).

            Anyone can be preyed upon. ANYONE. Humans act in certain ways to certain stimuli and predators know this. There’s no way anyone can be 100% “safe” from domestic abuse besides living as a hermit.

            I hope if I ever do end up in an abusive relationship I can break the cycle, I have a good chance to since I’ve studied it. However that doesn’t mean I will. I have book knowledge only.

            Thank gods you’re out and may you never come across another predator in your relationships.

      4. NeonFireworks*

        Yeah, I cringed. That’s so judgmental, and in a way that suggests that the writer has never seen an abusive relationship up close.

        1. Thursday Next*

          In fairness to Erin, it’s the OP who first suggested that “a woman in her forties” should be able to “improve her own life.”

          I agree with commenters that abuse is neither easily avoided or escaped, regardless of age.

      5. Où est la bibliothèque?*

        Let’s not blame victim for being victims. But let’s not NOT blame people who are knowingly not doing their jobs for knowingly not doing their jobs.

      6. Annonymouse*

        I think what she was saying was that she was free but then chose to go back, and at her age, should know better. Why should she try harder to make this woman’s life better than the woman herself? Being a victim isn’t a character flaw, but choosing to go back once you’re free and have somewhere else to go, means other people have less obligation to help you.

    3. beth*

      When it comes to abusive relationships, it’s no easier to deal with one in your 40s than your teens. No matter what age you are, they’re hard to recognize and harder to leave. I don’t think the employee’s age should factor in at all here.

      But I do think you’re right that LW can’t really help this woman. It’s not even about patience–the business needs someone who can complete certain functions in this role, and the employee either can’t or won’t complete those functions, so LW can’t keep her in this role. And being her manager makes it tricky to provide personal support for dealing with her relationship; trying to entangle management and friendship like that generally turns into a mess where you can’t really do either properly. If LW can manage to shift her into a better suited role instead of firing her outright, that’s probably the best they can realistically do for her here.

      1. pope suburban*

        Yes, I think this framing is a lot more empathetic to everyone involved. Obviously, one feels, as a human, that someone should be helped away from a dangerous situation. There can be a powerful pull there to give a hand up. But at the same time, this is not a simple kind of situation. Someone who is not trained in DV, safety, or law-enforcement skills might make things worse for the victim, and for themselves. Someone who is not close to the victim might not be welcome to help, even if they really do mean well. There are limits there. There is no shame in recognizing them and saying, “This here is as much I can do, this is the boundary.”

      2. Irina*

        I didn’t see it as the commenter was saying it should make a difference in how someone can help or be helpful to the person in the abusive relationship. But being in one of those relationships at 18 or 19 and as an older adult is very different, generally but not necessarily always. And for obvious reasons. Most people at 18 or 19 have little relationship knowledge or any, they have no financial means to count on, … They are different but it doesn’t make one worse.

        1. beth*

          The thing is, an abusive relationship is outside of most people’s scope of experience regardless of age–normal relationship knowledge doesn’t really apply, so everyone dealing with one has to learn a whole new body of relationship knowledge to cope with it and figure out how to get out safely. And they also have a well-known tendency to massively sabotage the victim’s financial stability, other relationships, and general ability to support themselves or get away.

          40 year old victims of abusive relationships are not generally better equipped for such a circumstance than 18 year old victims. It’s not something that having more life experience prepares you for. I think it’s important to recognize that because the assumption that it is leads to people not giving older victims the same support that they would younger ones, and that’s not right. The reason LW shouldn’t help here is that LW can’t help here–not that her employee is somehow old enough that she shouldn’t need the assistance.

    4. Heina*

      I understand where the LW is coming from but this age thing makes me sad. My mom married my dad at a young age and moved from another country. Her parents babied her and thanks to traditional gender roles coupled with abuse, she was kept ignorant of even “basic” things about life. She’s learning these things in her 50’s, 30+ years after she was first married. I wish people would be mindful of the fact that age isn’t a guarantee of anything.

      1. Irina*

        But what the commenter said applies to your relative. That person was Very young when they got into the relationship. Someone that would expect that person to have had a lot of knowledge of relationships would be asking so much of someone who got into one when you are describing your relative did. Your numbers say the person you are describing was 20? That’s barely an adult. That’s more to the point. It not that it’s applicable to everyone because not much really is. But a lot of the times, someone who entered into the relationship at an older age would have things that someone the age you are describing would not.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      But still, I appreciate hearing from people. “Only write in if you left for a better job at more money with a better commute” would give a pretty skewed view of how life actually works out.

      1. Zip Silver*

        Ha, funny you say that. My wife got a better paying job in the suburb I work in this year, so we moved. We used to live in the middle of the two jobs and split the difference (20-30 minute drive for both of us) and now we’re each at about 5 minutes.

        1. HarvestKaleSlaw*

          Awww… I want you to illustrate this story and publish it so I can read it to myself as a bedtime story. I’m at 1:15 each way, and husband is at 2:30. Between us, we spend just shy of a 40 hour work-week on transit alone.

          5 minute commute? I’ve got tears welling up. It’s the dream! The dream!

          1. SDSmith82*

            I had the 5 minute commute- but the job was low paying, had no growth potential and it was soul sucking. The short commute kept me there longer than it should- I now have a 30-45 minute commute, but a much better job, and it makes it all worth it. That being said- I work from home at every chance I get. Forget a 5 minute commute in the car- if they give me the chance to work from home full time? ALL OVER IT. Now that’s the dream.

          2. kitryan*

            Once upon a time I lived 4 blocks from work! I walked every day and went past a bakery that smelled wonderful and other little stores that were fun to look at. There was a grocery store two blocks away from work and a drugstore one block from home. I could pick up dinner or prescriptions or whatever with ease!
            I lived the dream for 4 years. And the apartment was beautiful as well! It had never been that good before and will likely never be that good again.
            When I moved away I mourned for my apartment and my commute.

          3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

            I went from 45 minutes for a decade. To 90 minutes. To 7 minutes. To 75 minutes. Now 30 minutes…I’m moving and it’ll be 10 minutes. Lol yeah, life is crazy like that.

          4. Evan Þ.*

            I doubled my commute last winter… from five minutes to ten minutes. Great job; good condo; great location. I usually bike to work, but this morning I walked, and it was great in the brisk morning air.

          5. Jasper's Mom*

            It’s possible! I went from a 30-40 minute commute, to a 2 minute walk to work (at a way better employer with more growth potential and less toxic coworkers). My husband has a 3-5 minute drive, depending on traffic. The worst part for me is I have no excuse to be late on snow days! (I mean, the real trade-off is we live in a smaller town and have to drive 60 minutes to get to Costco, but that’s a once-a-month inconvenience really).

      2. Valegro*

        I didn’t write in, but I did leave a job where my boss used that “sick system” blog posting as a playbook for a much more functional job and much better pay.

  4. Detective Amy Santiago*

    This update makes me so sad for both of you.

    I hope things improve for you, OP. Please let us know how the PIP conversation goes.

    1. Jules the 3rd*


      Much as I hate abusers and sympathize with / work to support survivors, you have to put on your oxygen mask first.

    1. JessaB*

      Particularly to continue that metaphor if there’s an even chance that water has cholera in it. It’s very dangerous to leave an abusive relationship.

      1. Anna*

        It is very dangerous, but it’s also not the OP’s job to save the assistant manager. She has to make that decision (which she has made; this person knows she’s in a bad situation) on her own and then ask for the support she needs to do it. The OP was giving her a lot of leeway because of the potentially abusive situation, but the OP can only do so much. Jane has to do the rest.

      2. SavannahMiranda*

        As someone who has left an abusive relationship, I see a troubling trend toward increasingly infantilizing victims of abuse.

        The prevailing culture used to say things like, “Well, what did she do to deserve it?” And other horrific, cruel, and victim-blaming things. We have obviously passed out of a dark and dangerous era in public opinion towards abused people. This is wholesale a good thing.

        I wonder if the pendulum has not swung too far the other way. Because it’s generally recognized that no one can do for another person what they must do for themselves. We cannot rescue addicts, they have to want to find sobriety themselves. We cannot rescue bad employees (of the non-abuse variety, just plain old garden variety poor employees). They have to want to become better workers themselves. There’s even a phrase for people who try to help inappropriately and without regard for the autonomy of the recipient – “white knight syndrome.” But the understood fact that a person has to want to change their bad situation themselves somehow shrinks back into silence when abuse is brought up.

        When I exited my abusive relationship, action was required on my part. And courage. Despite not feeling courageous, worthy, or brave. Despite knowing I was in danger. Despite knowing he could find me and had already demonstrated how much physically stronger he was than me. Despite the psychological hold he still had on me, which honestly was more dangerous and more affecting than any physical effects. That psychological hold is why I too left multiple times. I left and returned. Left and returned.

        Because of the isolation of abuse, because of the hold it had on me, because it was dangerous – I was the only one who could navigate the final push to truly leave, no one else could do it for me, and excusing me away from making it would have been in it’s own way cruel.

        And yes, a few people were exhausted with me, the few who had an inkling of what was taking place. But they could not direct my course of action for me. No one was going to rescue me or white knight me. It would not have been appropriate. And making excuses for my endless returning would not have served me.

        Not all abuse is created equal. Abusers are as varied as the stars in the sky. Just because I found the fragile grit to get out doesn’t mean what I did or the way I did it would work for others. Life is not one-size-fits-all. I cannot judge another woman or another man who doesn’t have the resources at that particular moment.

        But I do have a problem with messaging that infantalizes victims of abuse. Like unknowingly equating that because it’s dangerous to leave, it’s more or less okay to stay. Which almost conveys the idea that it’s a good decision. It’s not a good decision to return or to say. It may be an understandable decision. It may be a sympathizable decision. It may be a dangerous decision. It’s absolutely a decision no one but the person in the situation is empowered or qualified to make. Literally no one can make that decision but them. But that doesn’t mean staying or returning is a good decision.

        I believe it’s okay for us to say it’s a bad decision. That returning is an objectively bad decision. And that we can believe it’s a bad decision without victim shaming, blaming, or cruelty. Otherwise we have no ethical compass about abuse.

        I know, I know. It’s a fine line to walk with people in abusive situations. On the one hand holding a place for empathy, compassion, and a sense of worthiness, while on the other hand conveying belief in the person’s agency, courage, and grit. While maintaining awareness of our own lack of authority to dictate.

        The finely tuned communications you’re trying to have with a victim of abuse (or about a victim of abuse) can very quickly and without warning veer towards either victim blaming or infantalization. It takes absolutely massive emotional labor to pull it off. And others can be absolutely merciless when our careful approach wobbles toward either gutter, despite our best efforts to keep it on course.

        I believe OP is acting in good faith. That she has walked that fine line for an exhaustingly long time. That she is more than well aware of the fragile conundrum of conveying compassion along with grit. That she has put in emotional labor towards this situation we can’t even begin to fathom. And that she is in a far better position than any of us to accurately assess whether or not the employee returning to her abuser is making a series of bad decisions. Which is not the same thing as saying the employee is a bad person, or judging her moral character.

        Good people make bad decisions. Worthy people make mistakes. Victims of abuse are frequently worthy people making terrible decisions. And if one wants to say the decisions aren’t theirs, be careful, because you can rob them of the very agency they need to bring about a change. Some of their decisions are the abusers, but some of their decisions are theirs.

        Let’s not infantalize victims of abuse. It does not serve them. Not truly. It reassigns a burden of huge emotional labor onto others who are poorly positioned to effect any real change in the situation. And it neuters our ethical faculties while effectively embroiling people on the sidelines in the fog of abuse they are trying to assist someone in dealing with.

        1. valentine*

          It’s absolutely a decision no one but the person in the situation is empowered or qualified to make. […] I believe it’s okay for us to say it’s a bad decision. That returning is an objectively bad decision.
          You’re having it both ways. One reason it’s not objectively bad is if it saves their life, and you agree they’re the only one qualified to assess that.

  5. earl grey aficionado*

    I’m sorry that things have taken a turn for the worse, OP, but I’m really impressed by how you’ve handled this. This sounds like a lose-lose situation but it sounds like you’re staying both professional and kind throughout. Not an easy feat. Hoping things look up for you soon.

    1. Jen*

      Yeah OP had been beyond kind, but ultimately, she has to have someone in place to do the job. I faced something similar this year, a coworker with a serious illness who did not want us to assign extra help to her position or take leave (to be clear this had no negative consequences for her, it did not affect her pay or job, she was just worried about the optics). But the work wasn’t getting done and stuff was turning into a giant mess. We talked her into taking leave (some of which she got through leave donations) and put someone else in the job for a while.

  6. ISuckAtUserNames*

    I’m sorry to hear you’ve had such a rough year, LW. I hope the conversations with your employee go smoothly.

  7. Anne*

    On a professional level yes of course at some point you have to hold people to minimum professional standards or there will be professional consequences.

    But man the judgment here is not nice – from you or from the commenters so far. “I want to be compassionate, but I also can’t hold the hand of a woman in her forties who won’t improve her own life.”

    This just shows that sadly people still do not understand the nature of abusive relationships. It’s not about “won’t” in most cases it’s about “can’t” or “it’s literally too dangerous” or “the abusive relationship has led to mental illness of the level of severity that I am unable to right now without help”.

    I was in an abusive relationship for three long years. During that time I was a professional with the United Nations, working on, of all things, gender equality. I held it just about together, with immense difficulty. There were days where I was going into work having been beaten to a pulp a few hours before, nursing hidden injuries that made it painful to type or sit up, or forced to stay up all night by my partner who thought a fun way to punish me would be to blast rock music for hours.

    I was lucky….I had an abusive partner, but I also had a great support network of friends and family. I had an abusive partner, but I also had a job that eventually paid me enough to save up enough to leave. I had an abusive partner, but he wasn’t the type to stalk me and attempt to kill me after I left (unusual: the most dangerous time in most abusive relationships is when you leave). I had absolutely everything going for me and leaving was still the hardest thing I have ever done. Abuse in a relationship can and often does cause serious mental illnesses that in themselves would be cause for FMLA to kick in. Studies have shown that being the domestic violence increases a women’s risk of death by suicide 17–40-fold.

    I cared about my job almost more than anything else. I am still a humanitarian worker. I love love love my job. But there were days during that period where I was late or not functioning. There were days I called in sick because I was beaten up too badly or non functional from mental illness. That does not make it my fault for not leaving sooner. Leaving was harder than staying. Leaving was the hardest thing I have ever ever done and I work in conflict zones. I still have PTSD.

    Professional consequences are reasonable. Judgment is not. Treat this the way you would treat someone with a mental illness who was not able to function. Don’t treat it the way you would treat an adult who just couldn’t be bothered to get their life together.

    1. Kyrielle*

      All of this.

      It’s also very possible that she has a health condition that is exacerbated by stress – mental conditions, but there are also physical, and if someone is at all likely to develop one of those, the level of stress she’s under would probably trigger it. Which means “of course” she got sick that week, may really be an of course! I got sick (but didn’t call out – my particular flare was annoying but not enough to call out, just had to take some extra medication) when I got an assignment that was overwhelming, from a coworker. And came right back under control after talking to my boss about it and being told I just needed to work on the part he’d given me, for now.

      I wasn’t just trying to dodge. I was in pain, and in the restroom, I was legit feeling lousy. It may be the same for her.

      I don’t think that should make her immune to business consequences, but like Anne, I do think skipping the judgement would help. Maybe she’s made really horrible choices, and maybe she had few or no choices. Maybe she was taking time off to avoid confrontation just because, but maybe she was legitimately sick, even if it was because of the talk.

      You can think charitably of her motivations and situation, and still know that the circumstances and behavior are not something the business can afford or support.

    2. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

      I agree. I don’t love how the OP is approaching this, and I’m uncomfortable with the “yay you” comments (and, even more so, those casting aspersions on the employee for “not helping herself.”).

      I’m troubled by this line from the OP: “I want to be compassionate, but I also can’t hold the hand of a woman in her forties who won’t improve her own life.”

      But I’m also troubled by the approach she’s planning: confront the employee with the “hard numbers” of her absence. Those numbers are helpful for the OP, to get a clear read on the situation, but she doesn’t seen to present them to the employee (unless, maybe, the employee argues that she hasn’t actually taken much leave). The OP should just explain that she needs someone in this role who can be more present at the office, and offer the employee the option to either be demoted or plan her exit.

      1. soupmonger*

        Well, that’s a shame you don’t agree with her approach, but I think it makes perfect sense. The OP has already done a lot more than many employers would have done. She’s now in a ‘straw which breaks the camel’s back’ situation and is dealing with the non-performance at work. Which she needs to do, to preserve her own sanity.

        1. Detective Amy Santiago*

          I think the OP can do that while also maintaining compassion and refraining from making judgmental comments.

          “I understand you’re in a difficult situation, but you missing [insert numbers here] is no longer workable for the business so we need to either do A or B.”

        2. It's A Bird, It's A Plane, It's SuperAnon*

          +1. I’m dealing with a similarly difficult problem – not an abuse case, but making difficult decisions for an individual vs the business as a whole. While I want to be nice and supportive and give more changes, I laid out very clear expectations and deadlines in a PIP, and some very serious aspects have not been met. I can only coach and understand so much before I say “enough is enough”. Sometimes the hard numbers are the only way you can look at the bigger picture without second guessing a decision. It feels harsh and cold and mean, but it’s a real metric to show just how bad things have gotten.

      2. Smarty Boots*

        Hard numbers: The OP has already taken the approach of “you haven’t been in the office” and “you need to do X Y Z while in the office.” If she’s going to a PIP, I think it’s helpful for the OP and for the employee to have the hard numbers so that there’s no possible disagreement as to why there’s a PIP and what each need to do going forward.

        Really a terrible situation, especially given the OP’s own personal difficulties and the toxic staff she has also been dealing with.

      3. Temperance*

        I think that she should have those numbers ready to present to the employee. Her employee has already been rude, insubordinate, and combative in front of other employees. She needs to be ready with that hard evidence.

      4. suprisedcanuk*

        Hard numbers are good. I don’t think they employee realizes how poor their performance has been. I think the OP has done a good job all things considered.

    3. It's mce*

      Do you think the OP can go to the police and ask for a welfare check on her the next time she calls out?

        1. Guacamole Bob*

          Yeah, I’ve heard that the advice is to not get the police involved unless the victim thinks it’s a good idea. There’s a high likelihood of pissing off the abuser and having him take it out on the victim.

          1. Jules the 3rd*


            OTOH, maybe OP can give the employee a weekend at the venue, with _Gift of Fear_ in the drawer next to Gideon….

      1. Wednesday of this week*

        Probably, but that often backfires. The abused person may simply assure the police that all is well to avoid retaliation by the abuser later. Or the retaliation may happen regardless because the abuser blames the partner for calling the cops or otherwise causing the call to be made.

      2. Anne*

        Absolutely do not call police. Victims /survivors of domestic violence are walking a very very fine line to stay safe and if police involvement would achieve that that is what they would do. The instinct is right to protect but the way to protect is to empower the victim. The abuser will be found everything they can to make the victim feel incompetent and unable to trust their own decisions. The best way you can combat that is to offer the victim options and demonstrate to them that you have full faith in their decisions. Let them know the dangers that you are worried about them. But then reaffirm that they are an adult, you trust their judgment and you will support whatever they choose. You will not judge them if they leave then go back. You will be there if they need. And then offer ways to maintain contact, in secret if necessary. The friends that saved me were the ones who found ways for us to communicate that were safe for me.

    4. animaniactoo*

      And sometimes the risk isn’t worth it until the danger is great enough. No matter how much it other wise messes up your life. My grandfather did threaten to kill my grandmother and their daughter (my birth mom) if she left him. He held a knife to her throat when he said this. She was a sociologist, and it was the 50s/60s. Divorce was not common. So what was her trigger point? Discovering that he was not just physically abusing both of them, but that he was also sexually abusing their daughter. So, she took massive precautions and left him anyway. She was an amazing, strong woman and I can’t imagine the courage it took for her to take that step. And to continue to try and fight for her daughter whose father still had visiting rights. I’ve seen some of the correspondence with her lawyer and social services. It was not a good situation. There was a lot of heartbreaking stuff in there, and the strength it takes to keep fighting that over years? Is strength that you a) don’t have when you’re trying to survive day to day and b) strength that some people will never have.

      Congratulations on being able to get out of that relationship.

        1. animaniactoo*

          Thanks. She’s my hero, and the person I look up to most in my life and I aspire to be as much like her as I can in so many ways. There’s a ton more stuff I could go into about how she went on to live her life and defend those who were weaker even when it came with a personal cost for her.

    5. MLB*

      I’m sorry for what you went through, but I don’t feel the OP is being particularly judgmental.

      You can’t help someone who won’t help themselves, which is essentially what’s she’s saying. You can be compassionate about a situation, but there’s only so much you can do for someone else. And I took the mention of age to mean that someone who is younger, say in their early 20s, doesn’t generally have as much life experience to realize what’s acceptable/not acceptable in a professional work environment.

      1. animaniactoo*

        There’s a key difference between “you can’t help someone who won’t help themselves” and “you can’t help someone who can’t help themselves”. For whatever reason, most DV victims *can’t* help themselves at that point in them… or they would. Nobody in a sane and rational place chooses to stay in an abusive relationship for funsies. This difference between the framing of “won’t” and “can’t” is what people are calling out as judgmental, incorrect, and unhelpful.

      2. griffin*

        I read it this way, too. I get why people are upset about the wording of that one line, but honestly, it’s clear that OP is sympathetic, and what can she really do to help, beyond the leniency she’s already showed?
        And we’re talking about pretty egregious non-performance, not just little things slipping. I’m a soft-hearted person too and would hate to be in OP’s position, but the report has really not been doing her job.

    6. Isotopes*

      I’m so glad you were able to get out.

      I was also in an abusive relationship, for ten years, that I finally got out of a few months ago. The comments here were really disheartening, so thank you for sharing your story (as well as the stats).

    7. epi*

      Thanks for sharing this. I am so glad you are out.

      Your comment really captures my reaction to this update and the comments, as well. It really surprises me how common it is, even for people who seem pretty enlightened in other areas, to not understand the cycle of abuse even though it can be described in a simple diagram. Or to not hear the victim blaming and misplaced anger implicit in this dynamic.

      It’s totally reasonable and understandable to feel frustrated when you are in close contact with someone who can’t escape an abusive relationship. But the person being abused did not do anything wrong here! Certainly nothing that compares to the wrong done by the person harming their partner.

      Being abused is sadly very common. When people share comments about this topic, they should pretty much assume that someone who is being or has been abused may see it. And these sentiments make it harder to feel deserving of safety, harder to feel that you will be believed and helped if you confide in others. If people have (again, understandable!) frustration about a situation like this that they need to get off their chest, they should really be finding an outlet where it won’t be seen by a lot of survivors and taken as victim blaming.

      1. Dot*

        You’re making the assumption that those who hold the OP’s employee accountable haven’t been abused themselves. Why?

        Perhaps some of us know more about this topic than you think, from first hand experience. And telling victims that they’re going to be danger if they leave does far more damage than you seem to have taken into account.

        1. Jadelyn*

          Even coming from other survivors of abuse, referring to outright victim-blaming as “holding [the victim] accountable” is not okay.

      2. Temperance*

        Actually, she *did* do a lot of things wrong here relating to her job, and it’s silly to suggest that she should be treated with kid gloves. LW’s employee is the problem. Her abuser might be causing some of the problems that are relating to her bad work ethic and other issues, but LW can’t control the abuser. She can only control her employee, to a certain extent.

        It’s actually kind of offensive to assume that people who are supporting LW must not have been abused. I lived through child abuse, and I don’t think that we need to treat this employee any more gingerly than she already has been.

    8. What's with Today, today?*

      Having been in an abusive relationship in my late teens, early 20s this is spot on. I’d been in a terrible accident with him, and had a (new) awful big, thick and red scar. Dude had me convinced no one would ever love me with that scar. It wasn’t until he threatened to throw our new puppy into the wall that I left. I knew he’d always use the puppy as leverage. Had that dog 15 years, he accompanied me through several moves, a few jobs and boyfriends and eventually was with me when my husband came along. Hands down best decision I ever made. BUT IT WAS HARD TO DO.

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*

        This reminds me of the situation I helped a friend leave. She had a pretty serious medical situation and her boyfriend helped her through the recovery. And then proceeded to gaslight her into believing she could no longer care for herself or her child. I met her a couple of years after the medical situation was over and when we became friends, I didn’t immediately recognize the situation for what it was. In fact, I lived with her for quite some time before I realized it. Some of our other friends also realized it and we banded together to help her get out of it, but it was hard.

        I’m glad you got out.

    9. WakeRed*

      I’m so glad you got out of your situation, Anne, and I hope this poster’s employee can too. My biggest concern is that it doesn’t seem like the OP took Alison’s advice to be sure to engage with the employee – due to her own issues, which I understand take precedence. But I wish before she offered the PIP she would take Alison’s advice to offer a phone, check on a safe place to stay, etc. I appreciate how very realistic this update it but… it’s definitely bleak, on all sides.

      1. Observer*


        Look, the abuser is unequivocally a bad guy. But given what else is going on, actually expecting the OP to try to embark on a rescue mission here is really out of line.

    10. Dot*

      Yeah but she already left. Then she went back.

      Let’s stop treating victims like they have no autonomy. That helps no one.

          1. Not Today*

            You derisively commented about the DV victim going back. That does not recognize that multiple attempts are typically needed before the victim permanently leaves. The victim was exercising autonomy and should be encouraged for taking a first step, not derided for going back.

            Seriously, some of you don’t have a speck of compassion.

            1. Dot*

              I didn’t “derisively comment.” I just stated a fact. I was going off the information shared by the OP. You reading into tone is your issue, not mine.

              Here’s another thing to consider: sometimes victims of abuse become abusers. Think about the OP, and everything she’s suffered at the hands of the employee. Why is she not allowed to express “This is BS, I wash my hands of it.”?

              Misplaced compassion and virtue signaling don’t help anyone.

            2. Jules the 3rd*

              If you read Dot’s other comments, there’s a strong implication Dot’s been in an abusive relationship and got out, and understands her version of the dynamic.

              I don’t agree with Dot, but it changes how I read her comments.

              1. Dot*

                That’s quite a stretch.

                I can’t imagine going through life discrediting people because I’ve made an assumption based on very little that they were abused, but to each their own, I guess.

                1. Jules the 3rd*

                  I’m basing it on your comment that we are all ‘assuming that the commenters don’t have experience’. I don’t think it credits or discredits your comments – they stand on their own. It just means, to me, that ‘compassion’ is maybe not the metric I would apply.

                2. Jules the 3rd*

                  Based it on ‘Perhaps some of us know more about this topic than you think, from first hand experience. ‘

                  My comment doesn’t speak to credit / discredit, it’s trying to speak to maybe ‘compassion’ isn’t the metric to use, because it’s too complicated to assess someone’s ‘compassion’ through the internet in brief notes.

              2. Dot*

                I’ve screen-shotted this comment and will be sending an email about it.

                Just to clarify–the OP can’t make a judgement about someone she knows in real life making poor choices, but you can make an assumption about me based on a few sentences, and not only that, your assumption about my past justifies you in not taking my observations at face value?


                1. Jules the 3rd*

                  Weird – I was saying that Not Today should not assume you have no compassion.

                  I disagree with your observations being applicable to this situation, but their applicability is separate from how you feel about the situation, and other than ‘I disagree’, I was not commenting on your observations / their credibility.

                  But you’ve come back to this twice now, with what seems to me to be an extraordinary level of anger – is there some back story between us that I’m not aware of?

      1. Witchery*

        Cruelty is such a stretch here. Really what we are dealing with is that not everyone knows how to deal with this nebulous situation, which may not have a right answer. The only one who is cruel in all of this is the abuser.

    11. Jaybeetee*

      On a side note, can I just say how important your story is to me? Half a year ago now I finally severed contact with a boyfriend I had finally fully realized was emotionally abusing me (after a lot of false starts and stepping back from the idea). And like above, I had all kinds of internalized shame that a) I’m old enough to know better (early 30s, not my first relationship), and b) that smart, pulled-together, educated women don’t find themselves in such situations or don’t “let” people treat them that way. When I read about someone working for the United Nations that still was in that situation, I just immediately had this feeling of, “Oh, this really CAN happen to anyone.” I always find it very meaningful when very prominent, accomplished women come out with their stories, and help reduce the stigma and change the image of “what an abused woman looks like.”

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        oh, it can happen to *anyone*, any age, education, income. Googles, if you want, some stories from survivors:
        Leslie Morgan Steiner
        Halle Berry
        Pamela Taylor
        Malia Espinda

        You are not alone, and it is not your fault. It’s *his* and no one else’s.
        Abusers spoil everything.

      2. Anne*

        @Jaybeetee Thank you it means a lot to me that my story is helpful to you. I think it’s really important as you say that we change the perceptions around the “type” of woman this happens to. Ironically after I got out I found that another woman in the same organisation, someone I looked up to and admired, had been through the same thing. It can happen to anyone. So so proud of you for getting out. It is the hardest thing and the recovery is hard too. I hope you are able to enjoy life on the other side and start to get some perspective on the situation. Holding you in my thoughts in solidarity.

        I won’t get into a huge debate with other commenters – just to say I didn’t post this to attack the LW. I posted it because I know first hand what it is like to try and hold down a job whilst going through abuse. I think holding people to professional consequences is absolutely reasonable but it is really really important to be careful about the language we use and not to ever place blame on /infantilise victims. Victims know better than anyone what is safe or not safe in a situation and sometimes their hand is forced in ways we can’t see. I didnt pretend to make any assumptions about whether the LW or anyone else commenting were victims /survivors themselves. Other survivors are completely entitled to their own view on this but this is mine and clearly it’s been helpful to some people to hear. I do think the LW has been compassionate in responding to this situation but knowing how many people read this blog, including other survivors, I wanted to make sure that particular sentence wasn’t read and internalised without thought…. Reading that kind of thing when you have been through abuse can reinforce everything your abuser has said. Every abuse situation is different though and I respect others views on this also.

    12. She Who Must Not Be Named*

      “I want to be compassionate, but I also can’t hold the hand of a woman in her forties who won’t improve her own life.”

      While I don’t think LW should say that to the other employee’s face or anything, she wasn’t being cruel to summarise the situation in this way. The concept of personal choice aside, it is horrendously difficult to support someone go through DV.

      Ultimately we can’t rescue every person in a crisis. LW can only do what she feels capable of doing within her own reasonable limits.

  8. Less Bread More Taxes*

    “Treat this the way you would treat someone with a mental illness who was not able to function. Don’t treat it the way you would treat an adult who just couldn’t be bothered to get their life together.”

    OP *has* treated her as someone with a mental illness. She moved her onto the property to help her and she’s given her a lot of leeway in this job. If you care more about someone’s situation than *they* care about their own situation, something is wrong.

    1. animaniactoo*

      It’s not that you care more. It’s that you can’t put so much more effort in than they are (able to) that you drain yourself. You have limits and recognizing your own limits of ability or reasonability is how you keep yourself sane and do not drag yourself into a toxic/abusive relationship yourself. You can recognize your limits without condemning someone who is lost at sea for not being able to save themselves.

      1. fposte*

        Yes, exactly.

        I understand how people get to blaming somebody, psychologically, especially in a situation where you’ve put in effort and you’re making a choice that’s going to be hard on the other person, whether it’s a firing or a breakup or whatever. But it’s not necessary. All that’s necessary to cut her loose is that her work isn’t good enough to be sustainable. It doesn’t matter if you cared more than her or had better judgment or did something nice; she didn’t owe you health and recovery, and it’s not appropriate to blame her for not delivering it. Just stick to the fact that she’s not doing the work she needs to do, and demotion will happen as a result of that.

        1. Less Bread More Taxes*

          I think that’s a good way of putting it, thank you. That it’s an issue regardless of the circumstances.

    2. Jessie the First (or second)*

      “If you care more about someone’s situation than *they* care about their own situation, something is wrong.”


      That is exactly the kind of judgment that is uncalled for. And having worked with plenty of victims of violence, I can say with confidence that is simply untrue as a general rule.

      As Anne says, professional consequences are reasonable and the OP has to think of her own health, mental well-being, and the needs of the company, and cannot solve the problem the employee is having.

      But throwing this kind of judgment in about the victim is not only unnecessary but really and truly not an accurate read on how violence in the home works.

    3. WellRed*

      I think the LW has gone about as far as she can. Giving someone a place to stay is pretty major. I am slightly reminded of the letter from someone who was in an out of an abusive situation, to the point her job helped her get away from the situation and then she went back to him. (Yes, we know this happens). She wondered if it was OK to bring the abuser to a work function. There’s only so much help others can give you and I think this LW has hit the max.

      1. Anne*

        I also went back to my abuser. Not once, not twice, probably twenty plus times. I am so fed up with being ashamed of this and made to feel shame for this. I was doing what was necessary at the time. I was doing the absolute best I could under circumstances many people could not imagine having to live through. I was effectively under surveillance. Every message I sent was read. I don’t know how he hacked it but he did. If I was outside the house and didn’t answer a phone call on the first ring I would have to send photos to prove where I was. Imagine trying to plan an escape route when living through that. The psychological impact has been shown to be similar to that of prisoners of war.

        1. Detective Amy Santiago*

          You should not be ashamed of doing what you had to do to survive.

          I appreciate you sharing a painful, personal story and hope that you are happy and healthy now.

          1. Anne*

            Thank you this means a lot. It is so so hard as someone who has been abused to get over the feeling that you somehow deserved it for not caring about yourself enough or not trying hard enough to get out. It’s really hard once you have managed to find the strength to get out to keep hearing that. So thank you :)

  9. NW Mossy*

    One thought for you to chew on a bit, OP – do you think that this employee will perform well in a lower-level role?

    I ask because demotions tend to be most successful when someone’s moving out of a role where they’re struggling to achieve results specific to that role, but have a track record of having performed well in the lower level role they’re being moved to. In my company, this is what tends to happen for those who struggle to manage well but are still worth keeping around for their individual contributor skills.

    However, the issues you’re describing (absenteeism, not following directions, failing to follow through on assigned duties) aren’t role-specific and may easily follow her into the lower level role. The issues may have less impact if her role is less critical, but it doesn’t look to me like the role change itself will resolve these problems. It’s probably worth your spending some time thinking about whether you’d want to keep her if she continues to behave the same way after the role change. If you wouldn’t, you may be better off terminating her employment now and sparing both of you another round on the roller coaster.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      I think the point is to make it less of a burden to the business when she does call out. Right now, she’s theoretically an assistant manager, which is a role where people rely on her to make decisions, etc. Only she’s not there 20% of the time to do that. Demoted, her attendance may not improve but at least her absence won’t hold up the workflow for other people.

      1. NW Mossy*

        I think you’re right that this is probably the thought process. However, demotions that are driven by an impulse to minimize fallout tend not to go as well. It doesn’t set this employee up to be successful, and as they underperform in the new role, the desire/need to fire them comes back again. The ongoing frustration that comes from watching someone chronically underperform can also be corrosive to the manager’s ability to extend compassion, which is particularly worrisome in this case based on what we suspect of the employee’s home life.

        I speak from experience on this one, having inherited a team with a recently demoted employee on it. The lower role helped reduce the risk from her mistakes, but it didn’t fix the fact that she struggled with the technical content of the role and wasn’t receptive to feedback about her work product. She ultimately wasn’t able to perform to the requirements of that role either, and it was a pretty crummy situation all around. Sometimes, as much as it sucks to do so, it’s better to make a clean break.

        1. Dust Bunny*

          Again, I don’t think that’s the immediate concern. The employee is not going to succeed in her current role as things are going, so success or not is not really the issue at this point. I suspect it’s unlikely the employee will succeed in the demoted position, either, but I think the OP is trying to not make things worse for her by firing her when she’s especially vulnerable. I think the goal is to see if she can do enough that the OP doesn’t need to take this support away from her, and “succeeding” as we’re probably imagining it is not really the goal.

          Also, it doesn’t sound here like the employee in question is unable to learn how to do the job. Her skills are not in question; it’s her living situation that’s the problem.

          1. NW Mossy*

            If the OP is making a clear and conscious choice that the demotion is an act of charity rather than one of business need, then this approach makes sense. But based on her letter and her follow-ups, that’s not what I’m hearing – it sounds more like she’s extended a lot of charity already to no meaningful improvement for either of them, and she’s wondering if she’s now at the point where it’s time to stop trying to solve a problem with causes far outside her sphere of control.

            That’s why I think the demotion plan needs another look to assess whether it’s likely to produce the desired result. It can feel like the right thing because it doesn’t take away income from someone who needs it, but that decision can end up doing quite a bit of collateral damage to the OP and her business if nothing gets better. Only the OP can decide if she’s willing to bear that cost, but she’s not a monster if she realizes that she can’t.

  10. Ros*

    This was not originally my letter, but I looked it up because it reflected a situation I had a work almost perfectly.

    Mirror update: my employee started paying more attention to detail and fixed her work (to about 80% satisfaction – wasn’t perfect, but it was livable), and then a month after that, she changed her living situation and her job performance DRASTICALLY improved. On a personal level, she seems so much happier, and on a professional level, I’m able to keep her in her job. I’m so pleased it worked out!

  11. Erika - OP*

    To everyone stating that I am being unkind: I’m sorry that you feel this way. I’ve been trying to remain as compassionate as possible, but as someone with two small children I rarely see because I end up picking up the slack, I am tapped out here. This is not a short-term problem, but one that has gotten steadily worse over the last four years.

    I myself was in an abusive relationship. While mine never crossed into physical abuse, I left my husband earlier this year due to emotional and financial abuse. I am not unsympathetic to my employee. I am simply tapped out.

    1. WellRed*

      Erika, I think you have been very kind and compassionate with this employee. Ultimately, there’s only so much anyone can do to help another person in any kind of a tough situation. Four years is a long time without any light on the horizon.

      1. valentine*

        Erika – OP, you don’t have to wait to see the employee in person or for her to evaluate the offer. You can demote her at any time and communicate that to her. What if you center yourself and your family? You’re going to hire a reliable assistant manager. Do you need a third person to cover if either of you are out? Removing the current employee from consideration, look at your staffing and see what resources you need in order to have the work-life balance you want. Is the demoted role sustainable or would you need to overstaff to ensure coverage? A strict policy on absences, especially no-call/no-shows, is probably going to be a great help to you. I hope this situation improves for you soon and that you will know peace.

    2. Dragoning*

      I don’t think anyone (or at least most people) think it’s wrong that you stopped helping so much. I think we all understand that’s reasonable.

      But framing it as someone who won’t help herself and “won’t improve her life” is quite harsh.

      1. Myrin*

        I think people are getting a bit too hung up on that very last sentence in OP’s letter (the one with the “won’t improve her life”). It is not ideal wording for sure and I’m sympathetic to people reacting strongly and negatively to it, but what I mostly see in it is exhaustion and frustration bleeding through (as well as the fact that this is an online advice column and people might not put as much thought into their exact wording as they would into, say, an official letter to the tax office).

        1. Washi*

          Yeah, I think this is a really common thing in this kind of situation: see someone really struggling -> go above and beyond for them -> see they are still struggling -> feel like your sacrifices were for nothing -> frustration is expressed through anger at the person.

          This is why boundaries are so important; if you set limits and take care of your own needs, you’re less likely to burn yourself out to the point of blaming the other person. OP, it sounds like you’ve absolutely done your best, and I would take the comments on your language as a sign that you are totally wiped out and it’s time to replenish your own well.

        1. Lindsay Gee*

          I agree. There’s obviously a lot of difference in choosing the word ‘can’t’ vs ‘won’t’ in the context of the sentence used, but I’m more than willing to give OP the benefit of the doubt on this one.

      2. Où est la bibliothèque?*

        But “won’t improve her life” isn’t exclusive to the relationship.

        The employee is letting her work slide and letting her manager down, and that is also part of her life–context that she won’t even admit to doesn’t change that fact.

      3. Observer*

        Maybe so. But they are also making a lot of assumptions about the OP and what they know about DV – and those assumptions are clearly false. So instead of doubling down on telling the OP how they are insufficiently woke, perhaps people should just back off a bit.

      4. Phoenix Programmer*

        Lots of people have commented and agreed that it’s wrong/unkind of the commenters stating “good for you” in response to the letter.

        Like it or not that comes across like saying the OP is wrong. She isn’t. She went above and beyond and doesn’t deserve the comments towards her today.

      5. Annonymouse*

        It’s not harsh. It’s what’s happening. She didn’t pass judgment; she stated what was happening and said she wasn’t taking it on any longer.

    3. soupmonger*

      That comes over clearly. You have done a lot more than most employers would, and have given her a lot of leeway. I think you’re doing the right thing – you cannot live someone else’s life for them, and you can’t make someone leave a relationship which may be abusive. You can help, and you have, but at some point you have your own life to lead and your own responsibilities to carry. I think you should ignore the commentary calling you out for what you’ve done and know that many of us think you have done the right thing.

    4. President Porpoise*

      I support you in this, OP. You were trying to save a drowning victim and getting drowned yourself. You are right to step back and say “I can’t do this anymore, sorry”. Best of luck to you.

      1. WellRed*

        You were trying to save a drowning victim and getting drowned yourself.

        This is a really good way of describing this situation. And so appropriate coming from a porpoise.

      2. Jen*

        This is also true for hiking and climbing. If someone is falling, you do not let them grab you or try to grab them. Then you both fall and the situation is worse. Does it seem callous? Sure, but getting dragged down helps nobody.

        OP needs a real assistant manager. She is not responsible for everything else going on in this person’s life.

    5. animaniactoo*

      Thanks for posting and updating us. Completely understand on being tapped out. Completely reasonable to be tapped out and unable to do more to help/extend lifeline. It may, in fact, be beneficial to her in terms of arriving at a line where the relationship is more cost than it is worth it for her to have harder lines drawn at work. Maybe yes, maybe no. But agreed that it is not something you can take on responsibility for. All I would ask is that you take a step back on your framing from “won’t improve her life” to “can’t improve her life (at this point in time)” and let it be okay that she can’t do it right now and you can’t do it either. Yes, it leaves a sucky situation – but one without judgment or condemnation for where either of you is.

      Congrats on getting out of your own situation.

      1. Kj*

        I don’t love the idea that this woman can’t improve her life. It means she is stuck and has no choices. She does have choices. They are hard choices. They are dangrous choices. Thwy might even be bad choices. But they are choices. Saying she can’t do anything different is a recipe for people being abused to stay put. I don’t judge her for staying, but I think it important for people being abused to know there are ways out. There are organizations and people who can help. There is the choice to seek help. I see this as akin to my anxiety disorder: I have choices about how to manage my anxiety. It is not easy. It sucks some days. But I have choices, even if I don’t feel I do. We don’t do people being abused any favors by framing them as helpless victims. She might not be ready to make the choice to seek help. That is her right and her fear is very real. But I hope she knows there is hope. There is escape.

        1. animaniactoo*

          I hear what you’re saying – it’s important to note that “can’t” is relative. It may be can’t because the choice would cost too much at this moment in time* (and that’s why I’ve tried to be careful to say “right now” as opposed to “ever”). Or because their viewpoint hasn’t evolved enough to see this as not worth any more effort in the name of “fairness” or “might work out”. But it is more “can’t” than “won’t” at this moment in time. It doesn’t mean there is no hope ever.

          *I know someone who stayed in abusive relationship because she was able to impose enough boundaries and limits and could handle it well enough to deal – but leaving would have meant her husband having unsupervised access and visitation with their daughter and that was a greater danger than staying until the kid had enough ability to defend herself/walk away. She’d already tried separation once before and saw how it was being handled by DCS/courts/etc. It was years of her life, but she did it and she finally left when their daughter was 15 or 16.

            1. animaniactoo*

              Sometimes, nuance matters. Particularly when it is the basis of an overall perspective rather than a shade of definition difference.

              I’m not sure what you’ve been through, but you’ve been particularly hostile to the idea that there is even a middle ground or more nuance than perhaps your particular experience(s). I’d like to suggest that it’s maybe not helpful to you either to live in that space and it may be worth taking a step back and getting some distance from it.

              1. Dot*

                So it’s fine for you to suggest that I haven’t made the right choices for myself, but it’s not fine for the OP to suggest that her employee hasn’t made the right choices for herself?

                Do you see the double standard?

                Step back from your “nuances” and take a clear look at the whole picture. That’s what you’re missing. Something about a forest and trees.

                1. animaniactoo*

                  This is what I mean by being hostile to it. You took something I said and went to a reductio ad absurdum to reach conclusions from it that are nowhere near what I was saying. It takes quite a lot of stretching to get that out of what I said – particularly with the qualifiers that I used – and I’m saying that I think that may be worth taking a look at for you.

                  That said, I’m going to stop here because I don’t think it’s productive to continue this further.

        2. Marthooh*

          Nobody is saying “can’t improve” to the abuse victim. We’re saying it to the OP, as shorthand for “the victim feels she can’t leave this situation, for reasons we’re not aware of but that are worthy of compassion.”

          I don’t blame the OP for getting exasperated at this point — I’m sure I would be, too. It sounds like it’s been a really tough and stressful year, and you treated your employee as kindly as you could in spite of the all the irritation she caused. That counts for a lot more than expressing yourself with perfect propriety in an advice column update.

        3. Elizabeth*

          How about “isn’t” improving, vs “can’t” or “won’t”?

          The fact is, we don’t know what any person is capable of inside – we can only look at their actions. Her actions show that she is not improving. That’s not judgemental and it’s not underestimating her capabilities – it’s just a factual observation of her track record thus far.

          1. Dot*

            How about don’t nitpick word choices? It is against site policy, and it’s actually, quite frankly, a form of abuse.

              1. Dot*

                Disagreeing and nitpicking word choice are two different things. “I don’t like what you’re saying so I’m going to wear you out by telling you how you actually should have said it differently” is a very common form of emotional abuse.

          2. Jules the 3rd*

            That’s a good way to frame it. Thank you for trying to put a positive concrete script suggestion in response to the unhappiness over ‘can’t vs won’t’.

            Since the word choice discussion is already out there.

    6. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Don’t dwell on anyone who wants to chastise you right now. You’ve got a business to run, she’s drained you of your compassion. Everyone loves to think about how we can all be white knights saving the world. It’s unsustainable to subscribe to that.

      Your health, well being and sanity are no less important than someone who is in a bad spot of their own.

    7. CRM*

      It sounds like you have a lot on your plate! It’s understandable that you are feeling emotionally tapped out. You are doing the right thing- having an employee who misses work roughly once a week, nearly half of the time without sufficient notice, is not tenable in most circumstances.

      I hope you find peace and happiness in the new year. Sending good vibes your way.

    8. Rainbow Roses*

      I don’t think you’re being unkind. You don’t actually know what’s going on in her personal life and I’m sure you’d help if she actually ask for your help. You can ask if she needs anything you but that’s about all you can do.

      Your job is, well, doing your job. A boss can’t speculate on every single employee and play the “what if” game to excuse their poor work performance. All a boss can do is concentrate on the business and the best way to get the job done.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        She HAS helped. She moved employee onto the property for awhile and has been incredibly generous with time off.

    9. fposte*

      I may have missed it, but I haven’t seen anybody saying that your actions have been unkind; they’ve been extremely kind and generous.

      But I think the point is legitimate about blaming her in your words here, and I also worry about how you got into a situation where you’re tapped out because of how much energy you’ve spent on her. That’s a kind of sacrifice that isn’t something a manager should be doing, and I think maybe it’s your frustration with that that’s coming out as implications about her. It’s hard to detach yourself from an experience like this, especially if it’s close to the bone for you, but I think you’ll find it better for both you and her if you can look at this more dispassionately as somebody who isn’t in when their job needs them to be, even if they want to, and it’s too bad but other arrangements have to be made.

      1. Myrin*

        It’s interesting that you bring up the “dispassionately” because I actually think the OP did quite a good job of that in this update – the majority of her letter consists of facts she gathered and mostly (though not completely) centrered around the business’s needs and how “other arrangements” are going to take place in the near future.

        1. fposte*

          I think so too, for the update. But then the comments sound more personally involved. I think that’s understandable, especially with that close a parallel to your own situation, and it sounds like the OP is pretty beat with all that’s on her plate. So I really don’t mean “OP, you blew this one”–I just am a little concerned about some of the implications here and for the OP in general.

          For instance, right now the OP describes herself as being behind things she should be more on top of, which seems plausible. I can’t tell if she is also thinking of *herself* as a “[whatever]something woman who won’t improve her own life” because of this, and her frustration with herself is splashing out on the OP, or if she’s not seeing the similarity there of people who are letting things drop for personal reasons.

          It’s also made me think about what kindness means as a manager and as a human, especially as a woman. I think women especially can fall into model where kindness requires sacrifice, and I detest that model in general but also think especially it doesn’t belong for managers. Kindness in a manager is more like clear and reasonable expectations and courteous communication. You do not have to do your employees’ work for them to be kind, and that is true even if the employee is suffering.

          And I think there’s a possibility that the OP got a little sucked in here, given how much labor it’s taken, and if so I’d stress the point that it would be okay and even advisable not to do quite so much of that kind of labor; it’s often not good time use or behavior to model, and it tends to make the frustration level rise unnecessarily. And sure, it’s sooo much easier to say this in retrospect, but it sounds like OP still has a pile of drama going on, so maybe permission for her to labor both literally and emotionally would be useful. So, OP, if you need one, consider me a voice in your ear saying “This is not all your load to carry.”

          1. Myrin*

            Wonderfully insightful comment as always, fposte, I agree completely without ever having been able to articulate it as well! :)

            1. fposte*

              I’m still kind of thinking out loud on this one, because I think the situation is more complicated than just the problem presented. But then I think St. Augustine was way off and we have a lot less free will than we like to think.

    10. BethRA*

      I’m guessing that most of the people coming down on you haven’t read the first letter – I think you’ve gone above and beyond what most people would have, and I hope things get better for you soon.

      1. JB (not in Houston)*

        Actually, I haven’t seen people saying that the OP should do more than she did, or that the OP is *acting* unkindly. People have taken issue with the OP’s statement–that she can’t do more for someone who -won’t-help themselves. That language is victim blaming, and people are right to call the OP out for it. I’m sad that the OP is misreading that calling out as taking issue with her behavior, which people are not actually doing.

        1. BethRA*

          Yes, people are focusing on her language – and I agree that language matters. But I think it also matters that OP has gone to great lengths to be supportive and kind to her employee – and done so at great emotional cost to herself. Most human beings would find that frustrating to say the least. I know it would wear me out. So maybe people could show her a little of the understanding and compassion that they want her to show her employee? As opposed to finger-wagging?

        2. Observer*

          Well, actually, people are doing a lot more than just calling out the one statement. They’ve called her unkind and judgemental overall. They’ve also questioned why she hasn’t done more for the employee including giving her a cell phone and moving her onto the venue. It’s ridiculous.

    11. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Also in order to detach from a nasty emotionally draining situation you MUST flip the switch off. The “judgements” are your self defense. Much like when you “stop loving” someone who abuses and manipulates you. You say awful things and paint them differently to remove yourself, to save yourself.

      Stay strong. You are a good hearted person with a limit.

    12. submerged tenths*

      Erika, you have truly done all that can be done in this situation. I suspect that many of those giving you negative comments never read your original letter. But, regardless of what the commentariat here thinks, you must take care of yourself — and you’re STILL offering this employee to keep the job, just at a lower level.

      I think that makes you an awesome boss.

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*

        Some of us actually commented on the original letter.

        No one is suggesting that Erika should do more than she’s done. We’re simply pointing out that one of her comments in the letter was unnecessarily judgmental.

        1. Dot*

          I disagree. It can actually help a person more to hold them accountable for their choices. She sees the choices this woman has made and she’s calling her out as irresponsible. That’s a fair thing to do. It can be the only genuinely kind thing to do, in fact.

          Telling an abuse victim she has no autonomy is enabling.

          1. animaniactoo*

            And pushing that they absolutely have more autonomy than may realistically exist for them at that particular moment in time is isolating and potentially dangerous for someone who is in that situation.

            1. Dot*

              I’m taking the OP at her word. I believe that’s site policy? I assumed she had good reason to believe the employee was making poor choices.

              I don’t know what “may realistically exist for them” because I’m not sitting here pointlessly speculating that I know more about the situation than the OP does, which you seem to have no problem doing.

              1. animaniactoo*

                Nope. I’m speculating that the OP may not know as much as they think they do and saying that it’s actually pointless for them to even speculate about it because ultimately it’s entirely fair to say “I’ve done what I can, I cannot do more.”* and that it’s a better thing not just for the employee but for the OP themselves if they can view this from that point without needing to assign more responsibility or blame to anyone in this situation than that.

                *This is true whether OP feels that it is a matter of personal harm (mental, emotional) to try to do more, because they’re not seeing enough results to attempt to try to continue to help at this point in time, or because they feel it’s not beneficial to the employee to offer so much accommodation.

    13. ThisIsNotWhoYouThinkItIs*

      Erika, you’ve tried. Now, however, you are out of spoons. In the words of the airlines, put your own oxygen mask on before helping others. Giving her clear, explicit requirements is compassionate–you are telling her what the limits are for what you can do, and the consequences if she can’t do that. If it comes down to it, that also gives her time to look for a job that may more meet her needs.

      As you right your ship, you’ll be able to help her (and others!) out later.

      Best of luck to you and the kids. Take care. If you can give us another update later (I understand if you wouldn’t want to) I’d appreciate it–at least to let us know that you personally are doing better.

    14. Secretary*

      Thanks for sharing that Erika! I think at a certain point you can only control so much right?

      I was always fighting whether or not to go above and beyond to help, or if I was hurting my friend by trying to help. I’d do everything in my power to get my friend out, only to have them run back. I eventually learned that I can’t control what they do and I can’t say or do anything that will make them leave. What I CAN control, is how I treat them so that they feel safe enough to come to me when they’re ready to leave.

      This woman is trapped in her mind, caught in a web of lies and manipulation and gaslighting woven by her boyfriend. From the outside, we tell her the web is abuse, and that it’s just a web… she could literally just break the web and run.
      Where she sits, however, she only sees one or two strands at a time, and has been convinced by her spider that she’s incapable of breaking the web. Even if she did, she sees that spider in the corner that hasn’t killed her yet, and she’s trying to convince herself that it won’t happen, as long as she does what the spider says. Even if she physically leaves the relationship, she may still be mentally caught in that web. She’s not staring into eight eyes, she’s staring into one eye at a time what keep her off balance enough that it’s hard to see the reality of how much danger she’s in.

      This woman who works for you is caught in a web that you can’t pull her out of unless she makes the decision to come out. All you can do is call her out of the web, and let her know you’re there for her when she’s ready.

    15. GreyjoyGardens*

      Wow, it sounds like you’ve got a lot on your plate over and above the employee situation! I think you are doing the right thing, and the best you can.

      It occurs to me that, most times, it “takes a village” to help an abuse victim leave their situation. If all the helping is on the shoulders of one person, that person often gets depleted or burns out. If Erika is the only support person her employee has, then no wonder she’s at the end of her tether. Not to mention the effect on the business and the *other* employees.

      I wonder if there is a way to hook the employee up with professionals who can help her.

    16. Dot*

      I didn’t read your letter that way. It is very hard to leave an abusive situation, but it’s still the right thing to do, as you know. A person choosing not to walk away is choosing not to do that hard thing, and that creates a burden for others if their problems spill over into other’s lives. Which they usually do. Good for you for not infantilizing this woman.

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*

        Wow, this is stunningly awful.

        The most dangerous time for an abused person is when they are leaving/have just left the relationship. It’s not a simple matter of “choosing not to do that hard thing”.

        1. Dot*

          So abuse victims should never leave and have no options but to stay?

          What do propose happens next to these people?

          Abuse victims are already afraid to leave. Your comments here are incredibly unhelpful.

          1. Detective Amy Santiago*

            You’re the one making the incredibly judgmental comments. No one is suggesting that abuse victims should remain in an abusive relationship. The fact is that it is not easy to leave and it usually takes multiple attempts for a victim to leave.

            I will not be responding to any of your further comments.

            1. Dot*

              You and others are talking about victims as though they have no healthy choices to make and want attempt to leave would be dangerous. That is *very* different from suggesting that abuse victims brought the abuse on themselves. What you and others have been saying is infantilizing and dangerous.

              Learn the difference between victim blaming and treating someone like an adult.

              1. Karyn*

                People are saying that DV victims are probably the best judge of when or if it’s safe to leave. Lethality increases when the victim attempts to leave. This is true. Letting people know what resources are available, what supports will be in place, what kind of help the workplace can provide are all really good things to do. But if the victim genuinely feels that they would likely be tracked down and killed if they leave–that’s not ‘giving up’ or ‘failing to do the hard thing’.

    17. BadWolf*

      Hey OP, I understand where you are coming from. I’m sorry you’re getting a lot of blowback. The work has got to get done. It would be one thing if she was out a lot, but called in. Was out/late a lot, but made it up (at least some of it) at different times.

    18. Temperance*

      Sometimes the commenters here will attack an LW unjustly and do backflips to defend a bad actor out of misplaced “kindness” or “compassion”. It’s nothing you did. You have a lot going on and can’t keep picking up her slack. You sound burned out and frustrated, and in your shoes, I would, too.

        1. Phoenix Programmer*

          I very much see the entire can’t vs won’t discussion which has taken over this thread in this light. There have also been people posting that they feel the “Good for you op” and other similar comments are rude to the Victim They aren’t.

    19. Jule*

      You have done what you can. There is a performative aspect to some of the comments here flaming you that belies the reality of the situation at hand.

      1. griffin*

        There is a performative aspect to some of the comments here flaming you that belies the reality of the situation at hand.

        It reads that way to me too. Erika, it sounds like you’ve really done a lot for this employee. It sucks that she’s in this situation, but it’s not your problem to solve.

    20. Phoenix Programmer*

      Erika you have done nothing wrong. I really feel for you. I am struggling with something similar with my own sister. I’ve had to stop giving her money and listening to her complain about abusive partner. It just became too hard for me to hear the issues while she refused my help and threatened to keep my nephew away from me if I wasn’t nicer to the abuser.

      My own sister who I love dearly. You went above and beyond for a coworker. It’s very commendable.

      1. animaniactoo*

        That’s a tough situation to be in. I feel for you. It’s easy to say something alone the lines of telling your sister “I would be disappointed if you chose to do that, but it would be your choice.”, but the reality means that you end up with a nephew that you’re concerned about and care about and can do even less to help.

        Have you talked to or thought about talking to a therapist yourself to try and help you work out some of your emotions and some tactics for what you can and can’t do? Sometimes, it’s easier to draw and reinforce boundaries if we can root them in places that are really thought out as to why that’s the point that’s too far for you.

    21. Guy Incognito*

      Hey, Erika – OP

      I lurk here a lot, I comment a little, but I wanted to say that I don’ t think you’re being unkind. I survived an abusive relationship myself, and it wasn’t until I got to the point that someone very close to me told me something similar. Later, talking to this person, they admitted how hard it was for them to say this to me. So, I’m sorry to see so many unkind comments. You’re did the right thing, and thank you for the update.

    22. RUKiddingMe*

      Don’t beat yourself up. I work with DV victims. It can be so frustrating when they go back to their abuser…again. It’s really not their fault, they are victims of so many abuses, physical, psychological, financial, etc. etc. etc., but we can all do only so much when they choose to stay involved.

      Hopefully you choose to be there, personally if not as an employer if she needs help to get safe, but really that’s about all you can do at this point. Even if you can’t do that…that’s ok too. We all have limits how much we can do/take.

      My own sister was surprised that I am a finite resource and that she has to show some self-effort/progress before asking me again. So like I said, do what you need to do for you.

    23. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

      Late, but just wanted to add that you’re doing the absolute best you can and no one can ask for more. You need to protect yourself and your children first. I think you’ve been very compassionate and helpful. You’ve done more than a lot of other people would.

      I hope you and your children have a great time over the holidays, and that you have a chance to rest and recharge. You deserve a good break. I wish many good things for you and your children in 2019!

  12. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    You’re a compassionate person and it shows greatly. It’s okay to burnout when dealing with someone who is acting this way.

    You’ve given her more slack than most in your situation and tried hard to take her personal demons into consideration. That’s awesome and despite how poorly it’s ending up, you did the right thing. I hope you continue to give people chances, sometimes that’s all they need and they are gold. Other times it’s the age old “you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.” setup.

  13. Lady Phoenix*

    I feel so bad and it is definitely affecting hwr work, but you’re right that there comes the victim needs to take the step—and right now she hasn’t.

  14. The Guacamolier*

    This book helped me to understand the nature of abusive relationships better than any other book I’ve read on the subject. I think everyone should buy a copy in order to support the author, but I also know that many people in abusive relationships are cut off from financial resources so I wanted to put this out here in case it could help someone else.


    Abuse doesn’t work the way most people think it does. It affects people of all ages, income brackets, education levels, ethnicities, nationalities, sexual orientations, races, sexes, religions…and any other thing I forgot.

    I was in an abusive marriage for ten years. I got out and it was the hardest thing I’ve done. However, the second hardest thing I’ve ever done is parenting 5 kids alone. There’s never enough time or money. I have a consistently tense relationship with my employer, despite their happiness with my work, because I take more sick time than anyone else and have had to take time without pay when my sick time has run out. (Less than 2 hours, but I still was written up.) It has been almost 8 years since I left and to this day, if I ask for help, he tells me that this is what I signed up for when I left.

    1. Temperance*

      Hey this is a copyright violation unless the author/publisher has specifically allowed the book to be shared in this way. Flagging in case it might cause some issues for AAM.

      1. SB*

        The author has stated that he is fine with this work being shared freely on the internet. I don’t have a source for that, but maybe someone else does!

    2. Observer*

      Your boss sounds like a jerk, to be honest.

      There are jobs that are more family friendly. If you could find the time and energy to start some job hunting, it could pay some pretty good dividends to find a job with a boss who is a bit ore reasonable.

      1. The Guacamolier*

        Oh, I’m sorry, I may not have been clear…it’s my ex who says that this is what I signed up for when I left. Not my employer. I’ve been at my current position a little over a year and was at my previous position a little over 7 years and had the same experience with both…constant tension because of missed work while going above and beyond to prove my worth (and hopeful indispensability) so I could hang onto my position.

        1. Observer*

          Ah. Well you know that your ex is a jerk, so that’s unfortunately no surprise. (Not that it makes it easy, of course.)

          I still think that your boss is being a jerk. There are industries and jobs that are not family friendly. But it doesn’t sound like you are in an industry that is inherently difficult for families. It’s a shame that both this job and your last job are still that family hostile. I hope you can find something better.

    3. Jules the 3rd*

      Hugs and sympathy, if you want them Guacamolier. Abusers spoil everything, and make everything they touch harder.

      _Why Does He Do That_ and _Gift of Fear_ are useful books for anyone dealing with abuse, at any time, before, during or after. Lots of ‘oh, that’s what is / was going on’.

  15. AnotherKate*

    I think focusing on this employee’s actual performance is the right thing to do. It’s ultimately not your business or responsibility to manage the “whys” of her bad performance–even if you’re compassionate to them, it’s not something you even have the right to meddle in, even if you had the power. That, I think, is another reason (apart from the actualities of abusive dynamics and the judgmental-ness of it) not to frame it as “I can’t help someone who won’t help themselves.” Not only can’t you, not only is that not really what abusive relationships are, but ultimately? Your job as a boss is not to “solve” this woman’s home life. Your job is to ensure she does the work.

    As a human being, I think a lot of us want to be able to help someone in an obviously horrible situation. But I believe in compartmentalizing at work, especially when someone else’s bad situation starts bleeding all over everyone else’s work. You’ve really tried with her, but it’s fair to be tapped out. She hasn’t been able to get her work done, and your relationship with her is boss-employee. It’s actually healthy to operate only within those confines, because you simply don’t have the right relationship with her to be able to insert yourself into “fixing” her bad relationship.

    I think it might be more valuable, though, as a human (not just as a boss) to frame this as: “It’s a shame that she can’t get her work done now, knowing what I know about her circumstances, but this is not my problem to solve.” Not about her “failure” to help herself, not about her inability to take the help you’ve tried to give her and spin it into workplace gold. Simply that there is a really sad problem in her life, but that it isn’t anything you can personally fix.

  16. Anon for this*

    To all the commenters who are questioning how the OP is handling this, particularly ones with personal stories of abuse: what do you suggest the OP do?

    I don’t see any good solutions here, which is incredibly depressing. I think it’s a bit unfair to criticize her if you can’t suggest a workable alternative.

    1. JB (not in Houston)*

      I don’t see people criticizing how the OP is handling this? Criticizing her language choice, yes–and some people suggesting that she don’t handle her conversation with the employee slightly differently–but nobody saying she shouldn’t fire the employee or that she should do more for the employee.

      1. Où est la bibliothèque?*

        Lots of responses are just about criticizing her language, though; if people are trying to say “you’re handling everything as well as you can except for this one phrase I take issue with” then they’re…not.

      2. Anon for this*

        Quoting directly from Victoria Nonprofit in a nested comment: “I don’t love how the OP is approaching this, and I’m uncomfortable with the “yay you” comments (and, even more so, those casting aspersions on the employee for “not helping herself.”).”

        There are others. I’m not trying to be combative, am genuinely asking.

        1. Jules the 3rd*

          I read that as discomfort with ‘won’t help herself’ / wording, not actions. My understanding of the discomfort / criticism is that people are perceiving OP as coming from a place of judgement .

          What can OP do?
          1) Self care: try to get some breathing room
          2) Self check: Make sure OP’s not projecting (I got out, so she *could* if she wanted to)
          3) Make the talk collaborative – ‘Employee, the absenteeism (#s) is causing x problem. Do you have any suggestions on how to address it? (listen) ‘
          4) Don’t pressure / judge her for not getting out. Use ‘isn’t’ instead of ‘can’t’ or ‘won’t’.

    2. BelleMorte*

      It’s impossible to help someone out of a situation when they don’t want to be helped.

      It’s also completely unreasonable to expect OP to swoop in and save her employee (whether or not she wants the help) at her own family’s expense.

      Yes, the domestic situation sucks, but it won’t change until OP’s employee wants it to change and makes steps towards that.

    3. Dot*

      I agree. I think the comments critiquing the language the op used are incredibly unkind and insensitive. She went over and beyond and came to the realization that the employee was making poor choices. To be attacked for expressing that is really inappropriate. It seems to indicate that the OP has to adhere to stringent set of behaviors and will get called out if she doesn’t, but the employee is held to no standard at all.

      It makes no sense, and it’s rude to the OP.

      1. President Porpoise*

        Plus, I personally believe it violates the “don’t nitpick language” rule. People are doing a lot of judging off of one phrase in a way that is harmful and negative to the OP.

    4. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      It’s a hot topic with spiking emotions.

      Many of the stories still don’t compare to what the OP has shared. The stories including how the people still showed up and bent over backwards to keep their jobs while in abusive relationships…uh the whole point is this person isn’t able to do that. At some point you lay the blame anywhere else to escape your own personal hell, even if it’s at the feet of a victim.

      The world is cold enough without the wording police. To the point the OP feels stuck and ashamed when she did so much but had to tap out.

    5. fposte*

      I think that’s a fair question. And I may be doing some overreading and/or projecting myself here, but I think the OP should consider firing this employee rather than demoting her. She needs an assistant manager, and she’s been doing too much of the assistant manager’s work already. I don’t think it makes sense to normalize that pattern. It sounds like she’s seeing the demotion as a measure of what the employee is actually doing, but that’s not how you want to assign jobs.

      I think the OP may be in a bending-over-backwards habit that’s contributing to her frustration. I’d encourage her to stand up straight, emotionally disengage more, and develop a clear plan to follow for both her employee and herself so that she doesn’t have to wallow in the emotional and grey areas of “What do here?” any more. If she does keep this employee on, [num] unexcused callouts are a firing, period. (Check your state and municipal laws to make sure you know what the legal protections are for domestic abuse victims at work, too.)

      And also consider the hiring, both for this employee and for the seasonal crowd. What are you going to look for in your new assistant manager, since it’s likely the job has changed in four years? What went wrong this last year with the seasonal hires–was the assistant manager supposed to be doing the hiring and screwed it up? Was there somebody hired who shouldn’t have been? Should they have been fired midway and a new crew brought on? Figure out some protocols that will help you in future.

      But mostly, unless you can hire a second year-round employee to pick up the slack, it’s fire this person and get a real assistant manager. Because demotion just sounds like it’s just setting an unfair arrangement for you in stone.

      1. Jen*

        Yeah, that’s the thing. She is more that justified in firing this person and is just demoting her. Unless she makes changes, OP will probably have to fire her eventially. But thatbisnjustbhow itnworks. You can feel sorry for someone but when your attempts to accommodate are at a serious cost to you and your org and employee isn’t meeting basic standards, that is over. To analogize to the ADA, the accommodation must be reasonable. Having an issue is not a get-out-of-work-duties-free card.

    6. griffin*

      Yeah, the pile-on about her imperfect word choice is really disheartening, especially when it seems like in many ways she’s really gone above and beyond for this employee (moving her onto the business’s property, being generous with leave, and putting up with the kind of absenteeism where most people would have been fired long ago).

      1. Salamander*

        I feel that she’s doing the best she can, and she really has gone above and beyond for this person. Piling on to the OP like this probably has a chilling effect on her decisions to help someone else in the future. I sure feel chilled as a bystander…I mean…she’s done so much and she’s trying. Can we give her a little credit and a little kindness here?

        While I’m sure that everyone here piling on to her would be *thinking* about it in the correct way, would they be *doing* as much to help the victim? I somehow doubt it.

        1. fposte*

          Though part of what concerns me is that I think the OP went farther than was good for her and might still be doing that. So while I generally approve of kindness and I don’t want to ding the OP for having it, I think that this isn’t a model of kindness to follow–it relies too much on sacrifice.

          1. animaniactoo*

            I agree with this concern. One of the things I spent a lot of time on in therapy is figuring out what my limits were, so that I was not helping someone else so much that I was hurting myself in the process. Among that was sorting out how much was reasonable to give of myself – both when it was clearly beneficial to and working for someone else, and when it wasn’t.

            I applaud the care and concern that OP has shown for the employee, but I think that as a matter of ongoing approach, she may need to pull back and try to find a better balance for herself before getting to feeling so emotionally tapped out.

  17. Anon for this*

    Quoting directly from Victoria Nonprofit in a nested comment: “I don’t love how the OP is approaching this, and I’m uncomfortable with the “yay you” comments (and, even more so, those casting aspersions on the employee for “not helping herself.”).”

    There are others. I’m not trying to be combative, am genuinely asking.

  18. Goya de la Mancha*

    I think focusing on the performance is the only way to go with this. Abusive relationship or not, her work is severely suffering and causing hardship on the very business that pays her to make things run smoother. If this were another issue like ADA or serious illness (which one could argue the psychology of an abusive relationship is), there’s only so much you can do as a business owner before you have to cut ties.

    1. fposte*

      I think that’s a good comparison. And mostly, I realized as I evolved my long screed, I’m a little concerned for the OP, and I hope she’ll find ways to support herself, not just her employees, effectively.

  19. Leslie knope*

    I think I’m going to sit this one out because the victim-blaming language from the OP (and the people saying she’s in the right and has nothing to apologize for) are grossing me out.

    There’s being kind to letter writers and then there’s skipping right over obvious places where a “hey, wait” is necessary.

    1. Dot*

      You’re not sitting it out if you’re commenting.

      No one has blamed the victim. That would be a suggestion that the employee was responsible for her abuse or deserved it in some way.

      Big difference between that and the OP’s observation that she hasn’t made the healthy choice to get the help she needs. As the only person who’s close to the situation, and as a victim of abuse herself, she deserves to be taken at her word and not nitpicked about the language she used.

    2. Jule*

      That’s too bad, because I’m really interested to know what you think the practical solution is here.

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        It’s abuse – there often *isn’t* a practical, good solution. Abusers spoil everything they touch.

        This is why OP’s having such a hard time figuring out what to do – OP can’t get this to a good solution with normal behavior, the way most problems can be solved. Abuse warps everything around it.

        1. Jule*

          I think you might have missed the point of my comment, and my earlier comment upthread about whether you’re seriously suggesting the LW offer housing to this employee.

          1. Jules the 3rd*

            I guess I did miss it – I take things very literally.

            I wasn’t suggesting the OP provide housing, I was bringing back up the fact that OP has provided housing in the past, so that’s a resource she has. OP said this is hospitality, I’m guessing a small hotel or large BnB.

            The ‘practical’ solution is ‘fire this unreliable employee’. But OP isn’t happy with that solution. My recommendation is that OP splits this into two phases: first, somehow carving out some breathing space for herself, and then looking at what she can do with her unreliable employee.

            The suggestions I made are possible ways to get that breathing space: Demoting, or asking unreliable employee to spend a week on site, or finding another part-timer for a week or two and just cutting unreliable’s hours for a bit.

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I find the shaming of the OP is in just as poor of taste.

      A tired, worn out, manipulated and abused manager is suddenly being chastised for distancing herself from a case of Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don’t.

      Selective sympathies that ping on personal experience is normal. So yes, sitting it out sounds perfect.

      I’m sympathetic to each person and each has faults. You can’t have your cake and eat it too.

      Boo hoo, we all had to choose sides here. It didn’t need to be that way but welcome to the internet.

    4. griffin*

      Interesting way of sitting things out …

      No one AT ALL has blamed the victim, or even suggested that she deserves her potentially abusive relationship.
      Honestly, the OP has done a lot more, and been a lot more lenient, than the vast majority of employers would. Even if she didn’t phrase things perfectly, her heart is clearly in the right place.
      And maybe I wouldn’t have said it in those words … but OP is not wrong that ultimately, her employee’s life is her responsibility, and she does have to decide to leave the situation, as difficult as it may be. Just like with an alcoholic, you can’t force them to stop drinking, just support them when they make that choice. And OP seems to have really put a lot into supporting her employee.

    5. Owlette*

      Okay, and then what DOES the OP have to apologize for? So she didn’t use perfect language, a shame, but it’s not that damning. The OP was abused herself, went above and beyond for this employee (including moving the employee onto the business property to protect her), and is now drained and emotional herself. The OP is making sure her oxygen mask is on before she can help the person next to her. And that’s okay. Not sure what’s here to be disgusted by.

      Seems like a lot of people’s emotions are running high and are painting this black-and-white portrait of the OP that she’s terrible, when in actuality, she did her best and that’s that.

      1. jolene*

        Yeah, you’re not sitting things out – you’re making the point you want to make then running away. Not cool.

  20. Jaybeetee*

    In the end, the fact that she’s in an abusive relationship is almost a red herring: it’s tough, but the abusive spouse could also be a chronically-ill spouse, or a second job, or a demanding degree program, or problems with a kid or ageing parent, or a mental health flare-up, or a host of other potential “not-work” issues that can end up spilling into someone’s job and affecting their performance – and in all cases, losing the job can be devastating for someone whose personal life is already teetering into chaos for whatever reason. And for all these things, the answer has to be the same: you can be compassionate, sympathetic, supportive, but ultimately, you have a job to do and a business to run, and you need staff that are at least more often than not able to show up and do their jobs.

    For years, my father kept a secretary on his staff who was, frankly, not good at her job. But she was the primary breadwinner at home, as her husband was disabled. She was older, my father was concerned that she wouldn’t be able to find other work or that she and her husband would be financially devastated by her job loss – he knew how tight things were for them already. But eventually, her performance deteriorated to the point where he didn’t have much choice but to let her go (client-facing position, she’d be dozing off at her desk). A friend’s mother was suddenly widowed in her 40s with 4 children and limited work history. Some friends hired her as a receptionist, but eventually had to let her go – with 4 kids in school, she was constantly coming late, leaving early, taking days off when someone was sick, leaving in the middle of the day, etc. They sympathized, they knew it was tough for her – but they needed someone who could show up and do the job.

    Being a boss can be hard. As you were also in an unhealthy relationship, your employee’s problems probably really do strike close to home for you. It sucks to feel like you’re kicking someone who’s already down, it can feel heartless. But it’s not wrong to state clearly that you need someone in your employee’s role who can show up and work.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Also it’s pivotal to look after the entire business in the end. You’re compassionate and sympathetic about the circumstances but that company feeds and shelters more than just any one individual. It’s a source of income for the entire crew. If you allow it to explode under the weight of one person making the place drag or worse, guests/customers suffer, you risk losing your livelihood as well.

      I’ve always had kind compassionate amazing bosses, their kindness was often somewhat detrimental at times to a point but they’d still have to let someone go after the long tired road of bobbing and weaving through a troubled employees issues.

      Other times they’re found gemstones in people who were lucky to rise above the crud the universe rained on them. That’s why they kept trying, since you never know a person’s potential until you give them chances to show it. But you’ve only got so many spins of the wheel.

      I’ve seen many people fired. In absolute rock bottom at times. They survived without that job, they went on to find another one or another way to make it through.

      1. fposte*

        I really like this point; it’s kind but pragmatic about the limitations. That’s why I really recommend having official or even unofficial guidelines about how much slack somebody’s going to get–it’s getting out ahead of your emotions on that decision, and, hopefully, factoring other people, including the kind person, into the decision.

    2. She Who Must Not Be Named*

      I completely agree with you.

      My boss did this as well. Kept an employee who just wouldn’t do her job for the exact same reason above. He lost sleep thinking of how she would deal with job searching in her mid 50s in an industry that would definitely discriminate due to age. He eventually let her go because she refused to work and spent most of her time online shopping, chatting loudly, and dozing off at her desk. But only after a lot of persuasion from me.

      People think sympathy and enabling are the same, it’s not. I feel bad that she will struggle with job search due to age discrimination. But it’s not healthy to carry one non performer at the expense of everybody else. Having this one employee was terrible for our team morale. Everyone else was working overtime to cover her slack. We had other employees tearing out their hair in frustration because she wouldn’t/couldn’t complete simple tasks. It also gave the impression to newer/more junior employees it was okay to not work whenever you didn’t feel like it.

  21. No Good Deed*

    OP, I’m sorry that you’ll come to these comments and see people have turned against you. You don’t deserve it when you have been bending over backwards to help your employee.

    I don’t see this has victim-blaming but as someone at the end of her rope who is letting her frustration show. She wants to help her employee, doesn’t want to put the woman in a worse situation, but she’s left with no choice. When you’re backed into a corner, sometimes you say things that you don’t really mean. We’ve all done that.

    I think we should cut a little slack that the OP has gone above and beyond for her employee, all while dealing with her own issues, that one sentence in what must have been an emotional email should not be the end-all-be-all. This is the embodiment of ‘No good deed goes unpunished’.

    1. No Good Deed*

      Allison, I highly recommend a comment at the top of the comment thread directing people to the OP’s response in the comments and asking people to lay off her for the one sentence that everyone is getting hung up on.

  22. TheBearIsTrying*

    Any other employer would have fired her. Regardless of the backstory, because of all the issues you’ve outlined. The corporation has no heart. You’ve done the right thing and should have no regrets (at least your regrets, regrets that she’s in a bad situation are another story).

  23. Master Bean Counter*

    OP–Let me say that you are a saint for all that you’ve put up with so far. Dealing with Toxic people is never easy. You have an assistant manager who is contrary and lax in their attendance and duties. you’ve gone above and beyond to help on a personal level. If she disagrees with policies in front of you, what is she doing that you can’t see?
    You need to cut her. If the rest of the staff sees you handle this in a professional manner, and sees that you aren’t afraid to get rid of problems, maybe they’ll start acting better as well.

    As for the personal side to this, I understand your feelings. I just cut a very toxic person out of my life. She wasn’t willing to help herself and was dragging two innocent souls down with her. As much as I want to protect those innocents, there are just things that are beyond a persons ability. Looking back the only thing I regret is not ending the relationship sooner, it would have saved me months if not years of frustration.

    So stay strong and take care of yourself!

  24. Penny*

    There is only so much you can do by offering her a safe (paid, no less) place to escape, but if she’s not putting in good effort to keep herself there, you’ve done all that you can for her. I managed a restaurant where one of my servers was in a very unhealthy, abusive relationship which caused her to be late to work regularly (her boyfriend frequently turned off her alarms or hid her car keys). We kept her on because she was great at her job and really, as a server, if someone doesn’t show up that means more money for the other servers and not an impossible problem to have at the time.

    The only time she got written up was by a manager who didn’t know her situation and once they did, they tore up the write-up and kept her on. It was the only place we knew she’d be safe and work hard, intentionally. This happened almost 20 years ago now and I left the job soon after, but I have no doubt that situation would have gone on with or without her working where I did.

    That’s the takeaway, here. Her situation likely won’t change with or without the job you are preserving for her, she at some point, has to help herself too.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I had an old coworker who couldn’t make it on time (technically we worked 9-5:30). Every day he’d be in by 10 or 10:30. The setup didn’t allow to make up for the missed time (production job).

      My boss hated it but dealt with it because nobody kept strict hours (most were within 15-20 minutes at least). Also he knew the guy had a drinking problem. He still showed up. He just needed the extra time to shake the all night drinking fog.

      My boss also found him via a work release program a decade before I showed up. He was a decent worker, not stellar but we can all improve in places.

      My biggest concern leaving that place and if the new owners would keep him around. I found out recently that he’s still employed but in a limited capacity, which is even better in the end as he ages.

      I’m glad the server was able to hang in there. Late is annoying but I’ll give most chronically tardy people a pass unless it’s a time sensitive thing. I am chronically early so I’ll slide into most of those roles anyways. I always just scheduled the few appointments our guy had after 10am. I got a lot of “oooh bankers hours?!” quips about it but I’d smile and tell them the earliest spot was 10am.

  25. She Who Must Not Be Named*

    It sounds like you’ve done everything you can and the rest is up to her. I admire your compassion and patience in what would have been a stressful situation for you as well.

    You can have compassion for a person in difficult situation, but you cannot carry that person on your own. Ultimately, employment is a business transaction – financial compensation in exchange for labour. If she is unable to meet her end of the bargain, it’s not reasonable for you or anyone else to do her job so she can continue receiving compensation for work she is not doing. If a plumber didn’t show up to your house because his father passed away, you can have compassion for their loss, but you have no moral obligation to pay for work he did not complete.

    Frankly, even if you didn’t have two small children or anything else going on in your life, you’re not obliged to keep her in a role where she isn’t doing the job reliably. You don’t have to justify not wanting to keep someone who is not fulfilling her end of the bargain. This is totally different to cutting someone slack when they’re going through temporary difficulties.

    Good luck, OP. Don’t feel guilty because you can’t force another human to make better decisions in life.

  26. Anoynomous*

    Warning long!
    New poster here! I’m young (21) but I do want to let you know that whatever happens it’s not your fault.
    I was sexually assaulted in my sleep by my ex twice. It sounds bad, but it could have been worse. I was lucky to have been asleep and only being told by him upon waking up. In addition to this he also pressured me for sex constantly, and made it clear he could do what he wanted to me. Eventually no just wasn’t an option to him anymore, I tried being sick, pleading with him to just let me take a rest ( I worked 40 hour weeks and was on my feet all day, he worked 20 or less). Heck I even tried throwing arguing that his parents didn’t want us doing that in their house. Nothing worked, it’s all he wanted. I think you get the picture now. Despite the situation, I didn’t want to be alone again, to me anything was better then being alone. This only came to an end when I was going on vacation with my dad and got a text from my ex saying he was considering leaving me because I was being too dramatic about refusing sex and was just generally a B****. My dad saw me crying and asked what’s wrong and for some crazy reason I told him. He was horrified, and said he could never take me back their again. Strangely I was ok with that.
    Now during this entire saga, I managed to have an emotional mask that worked so well, no one could tell anything was wrong. My supervisors had and still do consider me one of the best employees they ever had. I never told them the things I dealt with when work was over though. I feel awkward telling people and would never have said anything if I could not be anonymous. I guess the one thing I learned from this was there was absolutely nothing anyone especially a BYSTANDER could have done from me unless…
    1. I told someone I was in a bad situation
    2. I accepted whatever help was offered to me
    3. I followed through on any help given to me.
    Honestly, even before my ex, I had mental health issues and dependency issues. It took me losing a lot of friends and life experiences like the story above before I found the motivation to get my life together. Point is, if you don’t enforce consequences for her poor work performance what motivation does she have to leave her boyfriend? In her mind, she has the best of both worlds. Sure, he’ll always treat her like crap, but if she keeps going back, it’s because a small part of her needs him and perhaps even believes that her love she can change him. There’s nothing to lose in doing this. She may constantly hear the warnings but unless you act, they will never be real. I mean, in her mind you would have gone through with firing her outright instead of just considered demoting her if the job performance problems were serious right? That’s sort of how some people see things when you suffer from or are vulnerable to abuse. You minimize everything, and believe nothing is as bad as it is. It’s a defense mechanism, another good one is denial.

    The kindest thing you can do is let her go. Is it hard to do that? Yes. Will she find the courage in herself to realize she deserves better? I don’t know. I do know that she’ll never find it, if you keep her around out of guilt.
    I do hope that by reading my story, you might get some insight into what’s going on in her head. I’m sure it’s not 100% the same but the general idea remains.
    I expect backlash and know it’s coming. I just wanted to say what I felt needed to be said.

  27. ..Kat..*

    OP – you have tried to help, at personal expense to you, for four years. And, even now, you are not firing her. You are demoting her because you need a real assistant manager. She still has a job, if she wants it. You have done more than enough, and are still trying to help her by not firing her. You are a good person. Please ignore the pile-ons

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