I’m about to be the manager of an employee who made my child cry

A reader writes:

I am about to take over in a management position for a nonprofit of which I am currently a client. The organization involves rendering a service to my children, so naturally, I hear a lot about the employees from my teenage daughter.

Recently, my child asked an employee of the organization a question which he misunderstood and became very defensive about. He was somewhat hostile and accusatory towards my child in front of several other children. My child cried when the conversation occurred and when telling me about the interaction, and she cried again a week later when I asked her some follow-up questions.

I felt that I couldn’t let my child handle it herself because of the unbalanced power dynamic and the intensity with which he responded to her question. This employee knows that I am going to be his direct supervisor in a manner of months, and he still was harsh and unfair with my child! This gives me serious questions about how he interacts with other children.

I took my husband with me when we had a discussion with the employee, because I wanted to be clear that I was coming to him as a parent and not as his future boss. I also wrote down all of my questions and had my husband make sure that I wasn’t asking “manager-employee” questions and that I stuck to “parent-service provider” questions. He was apologetic to my husband and me and to our child, and he admitted that he did not handle the situation well. He even became emotional when I explained to him what our child meant by the question she had asked (he had completely misunderstood).

As a parent, I am satisfied with the outcome. If I were his boss, I would have noted this incident in his performance evaluation (for any child).

On an unrelated note, there is another employee who is known to be pretty bad at her job. Thus far, she has been protected by management, but I am replacing the management who protected her. I have had other clients of the organization come to me and ask how I plan to handle her as they have not been pleased with her performance when working with their children.

Do these employees get a clean slate with their new boss? Do I just pretend that I don’t know about these serious gaps in performance? How do I handle knowing that two of my employees need to make some serious changes if the organization is going to advance?

First, was the incident between the employee and your child a misunderstanding that could have happened to anyone or a clear-cut case of terrible judgment on the employee’s part? If it’s not clearly the latter, be careful not to let your understandable protectiveness of your child affect how you’re assessing the employee before you’ve even started. Dealing with kids can be tricky — dealing with people can be tricky — and unless it’s clear that the employee was deeply in the wrong, I’d try to set it aside until you know him and his work better.

In fact, even it’s clear he was in the wrong, I’d still try to get to know him with an open mind. You owe him that as his boss.

Of course, you also owe a strong duty of care to the kids you serve and to the organization you’re working for. But you can meet that responsibility without coming in with preset conclusions about him or the other employee you mentioned.

The key is to do a ton of observation once you get there. This is a smart thing to do as a manager coming into any new job, but it’s especially critical when you’ve heard there are problems you’ll need to solve pretty quickly.

Look for ways to get to know people’s work by observing them in action. Sit in on sessions with kids, watch how conversations go, ask to attend meetings you might not normally be a part of, and so forth. Do this for everyone, not just the two you have concerns about, and explain you’re looking for quick ways to get steeped in the context of everyone’s work and how the team does things. Debrief afterwards too: “is there a history I should know about with X?” … “has Y come up as a concern before?” … how you decide what to do when Z happens” … etc.

Do this for a few weeks and you should learn a ton about how things are done in your new department and get a feel for areas you’ll need to take a closer look at.

That way, you’re not coming in primed to act on problems you’ve only heard about secondhand — you’ll be making your own observations. You might end up agreeing completely with what you’ve been told, or you might realize there’s context that changes things, or you might find other pressing problems you didn’t even know about (which could even intersect with the first set of problems in a way that will need to impact your approach).

From there, you’ll be in a better position to address whatever needs to be addressed, and you won’t be basing it on what happened with your own kid or what other parents have relayed.

Meanwhile, it might also be useful to address the situation explicitly with the employee who had the conflict with your kid. If he has any sense at all, he’s probably a bit freaked out that his new boss is someone who saw him mess up with her kid, to the point that she called a meeting with him about it. He might even figure he should be job searching. It would be good to clear the air by acknowledging the history and telling him it’s resolved and in the past and not something he needs to worry about now. You can say you’re going to be doing a lot of observation with everyone on the team, and that it’s an opportunity to show you how he likes to work with kids normally. In saying that, make sure your tone conveys that this is a good thing, not an ominous “I will be looking for further ammunition against you.” Obviously if you find problems, you’ll address them, but you don’t want to sound like you’re going in expecting them. You want to sound like you’re hoping to be delighted with what you learn. (And sometimes people rise to meet higher expectations when given the chance.)

{ 240 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. SomebodyElse*

    I hope this goes without saying… but the child should no longer be a client of this organization after this point. It’s too much of a weird power dynamic with the parent managing the staff. I’ve learned to take anything for granted which is why I mention it.

    Reply
    1. SomebodyElse*

      learned not* to take anything for granted

      (sheesh… will get more coffee before commenting again)

      Reply
    2. I'm A Little Teapot*

      Agreed. It may be hassle find alternate providers, but the conflict of interest is just too much of a risk.

      Reply
      1. Shawna*

        I work in an agency that sounds similar to what she is describing, and where I work, there are no alternative services. Its a state funded agency and people are served based on their address. We serve a lot of kiddos whose parents work for the agency. Our solution is that the parent cannot oversee the child’s case either as a provider or as a supervisor. When it gets to the management level, it gets tricky because managers serve huge numbers of clients, but we do our best to keep parents away from their kid’s case.

        Hopefully there is another supervisor who can oversee the case, and maybe the case can be moved to a different provider based on the incident that occurred.

        Reply
        1. I'm just here for the cats!*

          Same thing with small rural areas and schools. Principal or teacher may serve their own kids. Coaches might have their own kids on teams, etc. Or services such for disabled people. In some (many) areas of the country, there really aren’t other services. There are checks and balances that can be put in place but it might not be feasible to say that the child cannot be a client anymore

          Reply
          1. TK*

            Not even just rural areas. My aunt taught freshman English at a small suburban public high school, and she taught both her kids. They never lived in the district, but since she taught there her kids were able to attend (it was one of the top public schools in the state, better than the local schools where they lived).

            This is an inner suburb of a major US city, it was just a geographically tiny school district that only covered this one small suburban city of <8K people. There are only something like 50-70 students per class year. At a school that size, it wasn't like they could put her kids in someone else's freshman English class- she was THE freshman English teacher.

            Reply
            1. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

              Sounds like my Jr. High English teacher. It was a very small school, and she was THE English teacher. Her son was in my class. I don’t remember the situation causing any problems whatsoever. (The fact that he was a quiet, well-behaved boy probably didn’t hurt.)

              Reply
            2. PeanutButter*

              We just got done with school board elections where I live, and watching the campaigns I’ve determined there’s no “right” answer that will satisfy everyone sometimes. The local public school district lost its accreditation a decade or so and has been struggling to get it back, so the school board races are REALLY contentious (I just moved here so the politicking was very confusing and clearly there was a lot of historical baggage coming into the race – It includes a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood and another neighborhood that has one of the highest poverty and violent crime rates in the US. Echoes of past red lining.) One superintendent candidate had kids in the district, so most comments were along the lines that they would unfairly favor their children and teachers wouldn’t be able to teach their boss’ kids fairly. Another candidate had kids in private school, so the comments were that they didn’t have skin in the game, their kids aren’t going to be affected by their decisions.

              Reply
          2. eddddz*

            right. im from a teeny town with like, 600 kids in the whole jr high & high school combined, and both my parents are teachers. i did end up in both their classes at different point, and we handled it. there wasnt other teachers with the same subjects, and same for the other teacher kids, most of us ended up in our parents classrooms at some point

            Reply
            1. Rara Avis*

              Pretty much everyone I work with has their children in the school where we teach. Sometimes that means you teach or coach your own kid. (As I am currently doing — no one else teaches my subject.) The school has guidelines and a meeting for faculty/staff parents every year to outline professional interactions and staying on the right side of the employee/parent line. Mostly it works.

              Reply
    3. New Jack Karyn*

      That might not be feasible. If her daughter is, say, getting therapy from the nonprofit, it might be a bad idea to switch providers. If she’s on a competitive sports team through them, might be hard to change.

      If at all possible, people providing direct service to her kid(s) shouldn’t be in her chain of command, but it may be that they can do this with minimal disruption to the child.

      Reply
      1. Monday Monday*

        This is where my head was going too. My son receives therapy through a non-profit and we had a very bad experience with a therapist. We were able to switch providers within the practice.
        However the providers still have access to my child’s information. The prior providers should remain professional and keep things confidential.

        Reply
        1. green beans*

          The former providers shouldn’t be accessing your child’s information without a need – that’s a violation of HIPAA and is a fireable offense. They’re also legally obligated to keep things confidential, even within their own organization.

          Reply
      2. MK*

        In that case I think it was very misguided for the org to hire the OP and for her to accept. The possibility that she might be managing people giving therapy to her child is unacceptable.

        Reply
        1. New Jack Karyn*

          We don’t know that she is! If it is a therapeutic environment, the therapist might not be OP’s direct report. She could be an office manager, and the staffer in question a front desk person.

          Lots of ways this could go.

          Reply
            1. New Jack Karyn*

              Yes, but I was just supposing that it *might* be a place where the kid gets therapy. There’s a whole range of possible services the kid could receive from a non-profit.

              It could be the YMCA, and the kid has gymnastics lessons. The staffer could be a front desk person, or custodian or something, and in OP’s chain of command, but the person actually giving the kid lesson is not in her chain of command.

              Reply
        2. Anonapots*

          You probably don’t work in a small city/town where those sorts of things are often unavoidable. With limited resources already for people who need them, it’s not as easy as “don’t take the job,” or “go somewhere else for services.”

          The OP didn’t ask how to avoid the conflict, which indicates there’s not a lot to be done for that part of it.

          Reply
          1. Jack Be Nimble*

            It’s also possible, even in a bigger city, for there to be really limited options for very specialized kinds of service! For example, I used to live in a big midwestern city with exactly ONE pediatric neuropsychologist (she was the only one in the state, actually!)

            Reply
            1. Turanga Leela*

              There are also a lot of organizations where it’s just really normal. I went to a private, nonprofit K-12 school, and the principals and head of school sent their kids there. It would have been considered weird NOT to do that—it would have been taken as a sign that they didn’t trust the school or weren’t fully committed to it. In retrospect, this was probably not great from a managerial perspective, but there was a lot of emphasis on the school’s culture and the school as community, and it was absolutely the norm that whole families went there and worked there.

              If OP’s organization is like this, her hiring manager probably thought it was a plus that she already sent her kids there.

              Reply
        3. Squeakrad*

          I agree – I think it’s a huge conflict of interest. When I worked in alcohol and drug services, many clients train to become counselors, but they weren’t working with children or with clients they had formally been in the team with.

          Reply
          1. Amaranth*

            I think it should work much like having a family member or spouse working at the same company. If they don’t have another supervisor who can manage the person who works with LW’s child, then they should go to GrandBoss to discuss the possibilities. The staff member also needs to have someone they can talk to about any issues with LW’s child that would normally be done in ‘work mode’ rather than to a parent. It might be as simple as GrandBoss has to sign off on any counseling, review, or issues from either side.

            Reply
        4. Mr. Shark*

          I think that’s overkill. You may have to mitigate the conflict of interest, but not hiring someone because their child is a client seems far to excessive. For the most part, the child will probably grow out of services like this, while the parent could be there for years and years. If they are good at their job, they should be hired.

          Reply
    4. Jack Be Nimble*

      Agreed. If it’s at all possible to find a different provider for these services, the child should move elsewhere. If it’s something super specialized (say, the nonprofit is the only one in the state that provides a particular kind of therapy to children with a specific disability) that might not be possible, but it’s worth figuring out how to set those boundaries now!

      Reply
    5. Anon for this*

      I disagree. I spent a lot of years working for the YMCA and a huge portion of the employee’s compensation was a significant discount for activities (25% for full-time employees.) This is a big financial deal because YMCAs run daycare, afterschool, and camp.

      So most employees who had kids, had their kids enrolled in programs, often ones they directly supervised. It was expected and it looked bad if you didn’t enroll your kids there- like you did not support the program or have any faith in your staff that they were good at their jobs.

      Reply
      1. Mentil Lentil*

        I agree with you. This is entirely situational. In some cases this is a conflict of interest and in others not.

        Reply
        1. Cthulhu's Librarian*

          It is a conflict of interest in all cases – some organizations are simply more tolerant of these conflicts of interest, and/or have better systems in place to prevent or deal with the fall out from them.

          And sometimes it does lead to the management/employees being more invested, if their child is benefit from a service, yes. That is still a conflict of interest, because it means they are providing a different level of service than they would have if they did not have a personal interest in the service. It is simply a conflict which has lead to a positive outcome in that specific case.

          Reply
          1. Mental Lentil*

            “All” and “none” tend to be logical fallacies. Your comment is taken with a grain of salt.

            Reply
      2. Simply the best*

        I partly agree with this. I’ve worked for several preschools and we always had teachers with preschool-age children in the classes. And like you said, discounted tuition was a major benefit of working there (preschool is ridiculously expensive). But students were absolutely not allowed to be in the same classroom their parents were teachers in.

        Reply
      3. Threeve*

        That’s the case with parents who work for groups like 4H and Girl/Boy Scouts as well. It’s not really odd or offensive if employees’ kids don’t participate, but it’s definitely the norm. I think the fact that kids are kept in groups makes the difference; if they’re normally getting one-on-one attention from an employee, that makes the situation more difficult.

        Reply
        1. Kristinyc*

          It’s pretty common for parents to be Girl Scout leaders for their kids’ troops. (My mom was my troop leader!) And a lot of staff (at least at GS) have kids participating in the programs. It’s good for staff to fully understand what we’re building firsthand – one of our copywriters is a troop leader, and someone in charge of program/badges is a troop leader. They bring incredibly valuable first hand experience to what girls are actually doing when we’re making decisions about marketing, program, and pretty much everything else. A lot of us don’t get direct interactions with the kids/parents, so we’re making all kinds of assumptions, so I see it as a benefit to have staff working with them directly.

          Reply
          1. allathian*

            Same with my son’s coed Scout troop, his best friend’s dad is the troop leader. His son quit, though, because he just wasn’t interested in scouting and probably tried it to please his dad, and his dad was happy to go back to it after about 15 years of not being involved.

            I think it’s a bit different with organizations that rely on adult volunteers, most adults who volunteer do so at least partly because their kid is interested in that activity, although it can lead to problems if the kid wants to quit and the parent won’t let them do so because they’re so involved. My son’s friend got to quit in the end because he ended up missing so much school, on the days of the scout meetings he’d get so anxious that his stomach would hurt. In the end the parents put two and two together, and then his mom asked how he felt about scouting and he said that he didn’t want to do it anymore.

            Reply
      4. Smithy*

        Yeah – I think it’s going to wildly vary based on the nature of the organization and the services being provided. I grew up in a city with a large children’s hospital where my mom worked – and inevitably while parents weren’t treating their children, employees children were very often patients of the overall hospital.

        I think that the nature of the organization will wildly impact how involved a parent is with their child’s receipt of service – whether it’s a YMCA, a hospital, a school, etc. But this is a case where without knowing more about the context of the organization, it would be difficult to make a call around the most appropriate course of action.

        Reply
      5. Roja*

        Agreed. I currently teach one of my boss’s children and it’s not an issue. It works fine as long as the boss is reasonable and the teachers are fair.

        Reply
    6. Rock Prof*

      I had the same thought but also wondered if this could be a situation like a principal’s child at a school, where there might not actually be other options for the kids to do. It would be weird wording for school principal to talk about a school like “organization” and “rendering a service,” but then again it’s not really that much weirder than painting teapots or grooming llamas.

      Reply
        1. Rock Prof*

          Didn’t catch that, so probably not a school, though you’re right that it could be private (or a charter).

          Reply
      1. Joan Rivers*

        Is there a reason no one has mentioned “Survey the kids”? Kids have the right to ask questions and if an adult doesn’t like the question he can:

        1) Clarify it w/the child
        2) Respectfully disagree
        3) Explain why he thinks it’s not appropriate

        But kids do have the right to ask questions, don’t they?
        I’d consider getting some feedback from all the kids who the agency serves. Maybe survey the parents too, so it doesn’t look so obvious, but also survey the kids.

        Reply
        1. OP*

          So, what tipped me off to the whole situation is that my child’s friend called her to apologize for how the conversation went. So, another child involved in the conversation felt that it went poorly.

          Reply
      2. Mary Richards*

        I’m guessing it’s not a principal situation, but that was where my mind went when people said “conflict of interest.” Like, where else is the principal supposed to send their kids?

        Reply
      3. AspiringGardener*

        Would you consider students “clients” of the school? I’m all for trying to anonymize your letter to a public forum, but that term shifts a lot of the usual power and influence inferred in a school/teacher/student environment.

        Reply
    7. PhysicsTeacher*

      This just may not be feasible and isn’t really the norm with organizations dealing with kids. It’s hugely common, for example, for a principal at a school to have their children attending that school. Last year I had my immediate boss’s kid. Currently, I have the child of the anti-mask member of our school board. Can’t really do anything about it (and it would be perceived as very strange if either of those parents chose to send their kids somewhere else).

      Reply
    8. Sara without an H*

      Yes, if at all possible, I think it would be better to find another option for the OP’s child. If other options are not available, she should try to arrange for somebody who doesn’t report to her to work with the child. I would think (hope!) that OP’s own manager and the HR staff (if any) would be willing to help work something out.

      Reply
    9. KLS*

      If this isn’t possible, one model that might work is to have their spouse handle all interaction with the organization that specifically has to do with the child.

      I worked in a large school district for awhile, and the superintendent’s kid went to my school. The child’s dad did all of the normal “parent” things that happen in schools – Parent-Teacher conferences, was the primary contact for us when we had to call home, etc. It’s not perfect – obviously she knew very well what was going on with her kid at school – but it was a little less awkward than having your boss’s boss’s boss showing up on Back to School night.

      Reply
      1. Pocket Mouse*

        Yes, it struck me as odd that it wasn’t just OP’s husband meeting with this employee- only thing I can think of is that he recently acquired the role of step-parent to the daughter. Regardless, I agree he should field interactions like these on his own going forward.

        Reply
        1. Natalie*

          I mean, it’s still incredibly common for hetero couples to split child rearing heavily along gender lines. This wouldn’t be the first and won’t be the last time a dad isn’t the point of contact because of some combination of dad abdicating the role, mom gate keeping the role, and institutional sexism reinforcing all of that.

          Reply
          1. Pocket Mouse*

            All of what you say is true, though I think (hope?) those patterns would have to be unusually strong to override a necessary adjustment for an imminent shift in relationship with the organization, where there is another clear candidate to fill the ‘parent’ relationship role. (Also, I don’t think we know OP’s gender.)

            Seems like it would be easy to switch the point of contact with the org to the other parent, especially in this case where it appears the parents initiated contact with the org about the situation. The dynamic I see here is that the daughter came to the OP with the issue and the assumption seems to be that because of this, OP would then be the one to act on it, but it could just as easily be another parent taking that next step.

            Reply
            1. Amaranth*

              Home life doesn’t happen in a bubble though, and having another parent be the point of contact doesn’t change the fact that OP is in a position of authority over the service provider and if their kid is upset could take it out on the staff member. I think they need another manager to handle anything regarding OP’s child and to be a ‘safe space’ for the staff member to go to if they think they are being treated unfairly due to any issues with the kid.

              Reply
    10. Noncompliance Officer*

      Depending on where the LW lives and what the service is, there may be no other providers for this service. For example I work in the public sector and depending on where an employee lives, they may also be clients of ours, or have relatives who are clients. There are clear policies and procedures in place for how this is dealt with, though.

      Reply
    11. Chris*

      +1

      Managing an employee providing services to your child seems like a conflict of interest on the same order as managing a spouse or relative.

      Reply
    12. JSPA*

      Really depends on the size and type of organization. If it’s something like the YMCA/YWCA/JCC/afterschool program/sunday school/hebrew school/some other, “we provide a space for kids to be kids, learn to be good sports and get exercise” (or do crafts, or learn religious lessons or whatever) it’s very different from something that’s more one-on-one or dealing with specific challenges.

      It also depends on the sort of trigger.

      Example:
      “I thought they were using a pointed racial slur when they were talking about the family of raccoons on the hillside, and whether they were safe.*”

      That’s,

      a) a one-off.
      b) something where a strong response is natural, and expecting there to be an alternate explanation is a stretch if it’s common knowledge that the hillside is a black neighborhood, and you don’t know there’s a family of raccoons.
      c) a learning experience for all concerned.
      d) not something that would render a person unable to say, “Blue team and Red team, you’re playing four-square for the next hour, then lunch, then a half hour of stretching, then volleyball.”

      Some sort of resolution meeting might help–and make it two way, as it’s also good for kids to learn that “meaning well” and “speaking to be understood” are not the same thing.

      “I didn’t realize there was a bad meaning to the word, you’d have been right to be upset if someone had said what you thought you heard” / “I didn’t realize there could be a situation where the good meaning of the word would fit, and in any case, I should have set aside my emotional response and confirmed what was going on, because people don’t all use words to mean the same thing.”

      If there’s more one-on-one, there are ways to shift the reporting structure so that the LW is not even in the chain of discipline, for anything involving their kid.

      But if there’s only one Hebrew school, or only one after school sports program, or only one adaptive-use, supported playground, or only one [fill in the blank], it’s not reasonable for the child to lose access due to the parent’s job.

      *Or the kid was worried about a crack in the sidewalk, and used a word that’s also an asian slur. Or the kid said, “that’s a goy question” and the employee heard it as “gay.” Stuff we’d probably agree should be shut down as “not OK.”

      Reply
      1. Birch*

        Totally agree with this, but I also think that even in these sort of worst-case situations there’s no excuse for the adult’s reaction to be so extreme as to make the kid cry! Maybe by being surprised and shocked, it could startle the kid, but this sounds like an amount of harshness that was still bothering the kid later, and OP describes his attitude as “hostile” and “accusatory”. And! The adult didn’t even bother to do the second part of your scenario, the learning and sharing part! In fact, he didn’t even know what the kid actually meant until OP stepped in! I would not trust this person around kids and would definitely want to get to the bottom of this story via Alison’s scripts. I would say this incident speaks (in a negative way) to this dude’s ability to react to complex situations where people might be misunderstood. I would hope he could turn it into a learning opportunity and as his manager OP could help with that. His behaviour at work with a client (OP’s kid) speaks to his ability to do his job, and that’s definitely relevant for OP. It’s less relevant who the client was.

        Reply
    13. GreenDoor*

      This doesn’t always work though. I am a high level administrator where my kids are provided service. As much as I tried to keep my job on the down -low (it’s a huge organization) my kids’ providers still found out. I did the same as OP – always bring my spouse to child-related meetings, let my spouse lead the conversation, try not to use workplace lingo, and try not to refer to my position with the organization. When I’m at that worksite to do my actual job, I don’t refer to my children, ask to visit their rooms, or refer to myself as “Bobby and Susie’s mom,” also to avoid the appearance of using my title to sway an outcome. If a staff member tries to bring in the “other me” I cut them off and very gently say, “I’m just here to be another parent right now” or “I’m here for X work reason. If there’s an issue with my child, let’s follow the standard parental engagement processes” which also helps the staff know I *expect* to be treated with differing standards, depending on the situation.

      Reply
    14. Chinookwind*

      Only if there are alternatives for the child because sometimes there aren’t. In that case, AAM’s advice is spot on and exactly what my mother did.

      My mother was chair of a school board where all of us kids were students. Her first meeting with a new principal (but my mom had been the chair for a few years) was dealing with my sister getting caught skipping to go drinking in the bush. My mother syarted the meeting hy stating clearly that she was there as a parent, not a boss, and would be angry if her child were not treated the same as any other. And my sister was promptly suspended for a week.

      It was later reported back to my mom by other staff (it was a small school and some teachers had been there for years and new her back when she was merely a classroom parent) that the principal thiught for sure my mother was going ro get some type of payback for this and was surprised when the staff were telling her that the principal had no worries (but probably would have had them if there was a hunt of favouritism).

      It has gone on to be a story in the school that my sister has heard through the grapevine as an employee decades later (she even outed herself as the student in question). Dealing fairly with an employee and knowing how to clarify which hat you are wearing will make you legendary among good staff.

      Reply
  2. Bob*

    While i agree completely with Alison i would like to add document the hell out of everything, if either employee (especially the one your child had the incident with) wants to fight you holding them to high standards they will try to play games such as you did come in with preconceptions or you have a vendetta or whatever. So be prepared for this and document with everything from recording the interactions (if legal) to written documentation of every encounter to having them sign and witness notes from meetings (when appropriate) and so on. And if there are complaints against them document those, and if there is video surveillance of incidents you will discipline for get and keep a copy.
    Dot every i and cross every t. Twice.

    Reply
    1. LTL*

      This seems over the top and will make OP look really bad, if not outright suspicious, not to mention that asking for witness signatures (!) will be a huge blow to team morale. Do not film or record your employees or ask them to sign things.

      I do think it’s a good idea to document things, i.e. write it all down. If management is at all competent, they’ll understand that OP didn’t have a vendetta when they can back themselves up with the observations made in the first few weeks, explain that they were observing the entire team as a new manager, and provide the written documentation if necessary. If management needs video proof, there are some bigger problems going on…

      Reply
      1. Jack Straw*

        +1

        I cant imagine a new boss coming in and recording me doing my job. Asking for witness signatures immediately send up red flags. If you’re trustworthy enough to hire as a manager you’re trustworthy enough to to document things without witnesses.

        Reply
      2. Bob*

        You better believe i would ask any employee to sign disciplinary action.
        And phones record, if in a one party consent location then no heads up is needed.

        Reply
        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Recording routine meetings with your employees to cover your ass would be an incredibly weird thing to do and managers should not do it, period.

          Reply
        2. BRR*

          If someone’s management style is to record conversations because they don’t need to legally notify their direct report, that says pretty strongly to me that someone shouldn’t be a manager.

          I understand the rationale behind when people suggest recording. But flip it around, what if someone came up to you and said “btw your manager is recording all of your conversations just in case.”

          Reply
        3. Observer*

          <You better believe i would ask any employee to sign disciplinary action.

          So you are suggesting that every interaction that the OP has with these two people be a disciplinary action? That’s a great way to lose staff – and not just the two who are apparently problems.

          Reply
        4. Keymaster of Gozer*

          Would you demand IT record all emails from them as well?

          Frankly, coming from a data security perspective the idea of all interactions with a member of staff being taped/videoed/transcribed/monitored by IT is the sign of a overcontrolling and paranoid environment.

          Reply
        5. JSPA*

          Rules-lawyering from below is merely a huge PITA.

          Rules lawyering from above–when you already have all the power–is functionally paranoid (i.e. in the sense of common parlance, not as a diagnosis), borderline abusive, and a way to render a workplace toxically authoritarian.

          Nothing in life comes with a 100.000% guarantee. If you try to make yourself safe in your position to a six sigma level of certainty not by making life great for others, but by locking down every risk, you drive off the vast majority of employees worth having.

          Reply
        6. NerdyKris*

          And I thought the employee who started recording every interaction was being paranoid and disruptive. Doing it as a manager is just downright disqualifying. This isn’t a court of law, you don’t need video or audio evidence to manage people.

          Reply
        7. Cthulhu's Librarian*

          If you aren’t recording all of your employees, and are just recording me, you had best believe my employment lawyer is going to have a field day with suing you on the basis of discrimination for any and all protected classes I might conceivably fit into.

          Seriously, recording an employee is a big deal – loop your corporate legal counsel in before you as a manager ever decide to do it. I know of at least two cases where the employer ended up paying LARGE settlements over a manager having done so to only specific individuals on their staff.

          Or just don’t do it. Most employment proceedings aren’t actual legal cases, and you probably won’t need evidence like recordings.

          Reply
          1. NerdyKris*

            FYI, everyone is a member of every protected class. Protected Class doesn’t mean minorities, it means you can’t discriminate on the basis of race, gender, religion, etc. A white straight male is in the same protected classes as a gay black woman.

            Reply
    2. Genny*

      I know you included many qualifiers, but this seems needlessly adversarial. At this point, she’s had one problem with a service provider that has since been resolved. That’s hardly a pattern of poor behavior. It’s also unclear from the letter how serious the provider/soon-to-be-employee’s judgment was, but apparently it wasn’t bad enough for OP and husband to remove their child from the program, ask to switch service providers, or otherwise try to ban this particular provider from interacting with their child again. I think OP needs to go into the job with as open a mind as possible in regards to this employee and preparing from the beginning for him to push back doesn’t really scream open mind.

      For the second employee, I think documenting everything makes sense, but in the sense that OP should be making notes during all her observations. Based on those notes/observations, she can then work with HR on whatever further steps need to be taken to appropriately manage the probably-poor-performing employee. That’s probably going to include more documenting, counseling sessions, a PIP, etc., but I don’t think OP needs to jump the gun and go straight to recording conversations or having her employees witness and sign her meeting notes.

      Reply
      1. Bob*

        I guess i didn’t mention the signing part as well as i should have, i meant as in signing if there is any future disciplinary action.

        Reply
      2. Bob*

        I didn’t explain the signing part well, i meant as in if there is disciplinary action in the future.

        Reply
    3. Esmeralda*

      Documentation is a good idea, with EVERY employee, especially in this initial getting to know how the office works stage. It will keep the OP honest too –not that the OP is going to be dishonest or vengeful or unprofessional — but that careful and objective notes will help remind OP of their own biasses. We all have biasses, feelings, gut reactions — being aware of them and documenting helps keep things objective.

      Reply
    4. Le Sigh*

      If my boss wanted to record our meetings for almost any reason, I’d be weirded out and uncomfortable. It would absolutely affect our dynamic. If they did it without telling me, even if it was legal, it would permanently damage my trust in them and wonder what the hell is going on.

      Reply
  3. MK*

    Frankly, OP, it strikes as hugely problematic that you are going to be managing a department that you used to be a client of. You ask if these two employees get a clean state with you, but you are pretty obviously biased against them, possibly with good reason, but still… the incident involving your child is a clear conflict of interest, and in what capacity did other clients contact you about the other employee? Would they have contacted a prospective manager who wasn’t a client?

    Reply
    1. Mental Lentil*

      you are pretty obviously biased against them

      I think this is terribly unfair toward LW. LW has personal experience with one of them that they handled an incident poorly and verbal comments from multiple staff members about a second. If your organization works with children, you simply can’t wait until the house is on fire before you look for a gas leak.

      With regard to being a client of this org, see the responses to the first comment by SomebodyElse.

      Reply
      1. Xantar*

        I actually think LW handled it completely fairly and professionally. She involved her husband to make it clear this was a parent issue, not a future boss issue. And she says she was satisfied with the resolution. What would be really unfair is if LW came out of that interaction gunning for the employee’s job, but she shows no sign of doing so.

        Reply
      2. Sue*

        Agree. My only caution is that in my experience (25+ years with a children’s art nonprofit), the perception will always be that your child is treated better/ has unfair advantage over others because of your position. You’ll have to work to combat that and not get caught up in your child and her friends’ issues unless they are significant.
        We have many parent/child relationships at our school and it can be great or problematic depending on the personalities and how professionally things are handled.

        Reply
  4. Jls521*

    I don’t think it’s fair to say that the employee was in the wrong without more details. What f the daughter asked a very triggering question? “Are you a man or a woman?”, “Are you gay?”, etc. A person could easily become defensive in that situation. Strongly shutting down that line of questioning could be perceived as hostile by an embarrassed teenager. Doesn’t mean the employee was hostile. This parent wasn’t there and shouldn’t be making decisions based solely on the word of her teenager.

    Reply
    1. disconnect*

      NOPE. If you’re going to work with kids, you need to come prepared. There’s a way to say “that’s an inappropriate question, let’s move on to the next topic” without making a kid cry, and then cry again a week later when reliving the experience.

      Reply
      1. Anonapots*

        I was just talking to a coworker about this the other day. Staff is always the responsible party in these situations. How you respond sets the tone. I’ve struggled with it in the past, but if you’ve worked with children or young adults for long enough, you figure out a way to manage your reactions. Because you’re still the person in charge.

        Reply
      2. Blaise*

        Ok, but also some kids, just like some adults, are much more prone to tears than others. I’ve been teaching for 10 years and I’ve made my fair share of kids cry in that time, lol. That doesn’t mean I was doing anything inappropriate or that I’m a bad teacher; it just means that some kids aren’t used to being told they can’t do something.

        Reply
        1. Blaise*

          I just had a middle schoolers cry in my class last week because he didn’t know the answer to a question on an assignment that has no bearing on his grade whatsoever.

          Reply
          1. Jam Today*

            Sounds like that kid is going through some stuff and his anxiety is coming out in all kinds of ways. I hope he’s OK.

            Reply
            1. Blaise*

              He has a diagnosis so it’s just something he has to keep working on. My point is that kids are people and behave in all kinds of ways!

              Reply
        2. Mental Lentil*

          Yes, but I bet you can react without being “hostile and accusatory” which is how LW described the employee’s reactions.

          Reply
          1. bubbleon*

            exactly, and the person admitted in the meeting with LW and husband that they hadn’t handled the situation well, so I’m giving LW and their kid the benefit of the doubt here.

            Reply
            1. Blaise*

              Oh I do believe the OP, but I think there are a LOT of nuances to working with children and dealing with parents that people don’t think about or realize if they aren’t in that kind of job.

              For example, I’ve apologized to parents LOTS of times when I knew that I was in the right. Part of being professional is ignoring your own ego to smooth a situation over so everyone can move on.

              Reply
          2. Blaise*

            Since OP wasn’t a direct witness to the situation though, we don’t know if he really was. I can only guess at how many kids might have gone home and told their parents how “mean” I was to them over the years… but sometimes you have to be the “mean” teacher and hold students to expectations lol

            Reply
            1. Nia*

              Is there some reason why you’re assuming this is some spoiled child that has never heard no or had expectations placed on them.

              Reply
              1. Blaise*

                I’m only speaking from my own experiences. Children do not need to be spoiled to have a hard time being told no- their brains aren’t fully developed!

                Reply
        3. LTL*

          You’re right. But the main issue with the scenario that Jls521 laid out is that they’re justifying an adult reacting poorly to a teenager asking a bad question.

          It’s also advice column fanfic which is unhelpful to the LW.

          Reply
        4. Susie Q*

          Exactly this. I’ve also worked with kids and have known a lot of kids who cry as manipulative tactics. I literally had one kid who started crying because I would let him hit another kid (they were all 8-10 years old). I told him to go sit until he could recover and he told me he cried because when he cried his mother wouldn’t punish him.

          Reply
        5. Rotate Your Owl*

          I very much appreciate your comments, Blaise. I was both a crier and an asshole in high school. I made life difficult for everyone. I was wounded by everything and took up arms against anything. Thank you for persevering.

          Reply
      3. JSPA*

        Kids are so different in how they receive push-back. “My kid felt terribly wounded and is carrying that pain” is not automatically proportional to the words said.

        I would have cried at, “that’s an inappropriate question, let’s move on”!

        I’d have been mortified to have caused offense, mortified even more deeply to not understand how or why, and additionally wounded to the quick, to have been misunderstood / not given the benefit of the doubt.

        I had classmates who’d have been equipped (as far as social skills) to fix the misunderstanding. Other’s who’d have shrugged it off as, “some people are just ignorant, and today you’re one of them.” Maybe a few, who’d have chewed on it a while, learned something about communication, and not taken it to heart.

        Reply
      4. JM60*

        I agree. Even if the child was obviously trying to be as nasty and offensive as possible, it’s still not okay to become “hostile and accusatory” toward them. I think that children being nasty is something that comes with the job for jobs that involve working with children.

        Since the OP did not witness the event firsthand (if I read it correctly), it’s possible that the employee’s reaction wasn’t that hostile. However, I think the OP should carefully observe how this person typically behaves with children.

        Reply
    2. Jennifer*

      I was thinking the same thing. I have been in situations where a person was rightfully upset by an impolite question but once the other person starts crying then they are immediately considered to be in the wrong. There could be factors at play here we aren’t aware of.

      Reminds me of a letter from a few months ago where a coworker of an OP assumed that the OP’s biracial child was adopted when he was not, and then got offended by the way she phrased her response when she was the one that made the offensive assumption to begin with.

      I’m not saying the OP’s child is a bad person. I’m just saying it’s possible the OP isn’t a terrible person either. It could all just be a misunderstanding.

      Reply
    3. twocents*

      Alison’s rules are that we accept that LW is accurate about the facts of the situation, and this LW has said that the employee realized he misunderstood and overreacted.

      Reply
      1. Jennifer*

        I do take the OP’s word that the employee said that he overreacted. However – what else was the employee going to say? He presumably needs his job and this is his future boss and the husband of his future boss confronting him. Whether the OP had the conversation with him as a parent and not a future manager, that still had to be in the back of his mind.

        Reply
        1. Mahkara*

          Agreed! It’s not hard to imagine that the employee did nothing wrong in this scenario whatsoever, but knew that it was easier to apologize than it was to risk losing his job.

          Reply
      2. Legal Beagle*

        This. And telling parents not to trust their (teenage!) children about upsetting incidents with an adult in a position of power is dangerously terrible advice.

        Reply
        1. Marzipan Shepherdess*

          Yes, it is ! Because the next such report might not be about an adult whose rudeness made the teenage daughter cry…it might be about an adult who’s trying to groom her for molestation. And you do NOT want your kid (male or female) to be reluctant to come to you about THAT!

          Reply
        2. anon ed*

          I see where your coming from, but this is not a black and white advice situation. Parents should always be prepared to investigate any claims, and the more alarming the more forcefully they should be investigated. but young teens especially are living examples of “perception is reality”. In the past year, I’ve seen colleagues accused of racism for mentioning indigenous women in a lesson about missing indigenous women, sexism for calling young boys out on their bullying and homophobic behaviour, and inappropriate touching when a child took a run at the teacher and crashed into the their chest.

          Parents, please, when your child complains, ask questions, dig deeper, contact the school or program, ask your child why they feel that way. If you’re not satisfied, escalate or keep asking, but please, from experience, it’s not as easy as always trust.

          Reply
      3. Genny*

        Agreed. Is it possible that OP’s teenager asked something in an abrasive or unintentionally offensive way? Maybe. Are there some parenting lessons OP could impart to her daughter about the importance of phrasing, tone, the appropriate time and place to ask things, being respectful, etc.? Maybe. But all of that is beyond the scope of the letter/question. The facts at hand are daughter asked a question and service provider got defensive. Had the daughter asked something inappropriately, it’s on the service provider as the adult to either redirect her (and discuss the incident with the parents later if needed), gently explain how her question is problematic and move on, or ask more probing questions to elicit what she really meant if he thought she wasn’t trying to be rude/mean. Getting defensive about it isn’t an appropriate response and OP is right to ask how best to approach the situation as his soon-to-be-new manager.

        Reply
      4. meyer lemon*

        And I think this discussion also highlights the importance of Alison’s advice to the LW to do their own observation. They can’t know exactly how things went down with their teenager and can’t be impartial about that, but they can get a solid sense of how this employee works by paying attention to how he interacts with other kids.

        Reply
    4. Colette*

      Kids ask questions and say things that aren’t appropriate. However, the adult employee needs to be an adult, and redirect, point out it’s not appropriate, or even step away (if that’s appropriate in the situation). Intentionally making a child cry is not OK.

      Reply
      1. Mental Lentil*

        Yep, this exactly.

        The role of “the adult in the room” needs to be played by the actual adult in the room.

        Reply
      2. bork*

        While his approach sounds like it was out of line, it’s a pretty big jump to assume he *intentionally* made the child cry. That would be much more serious than a misunderstanding.

        Reply
        1. Colette*

          You’re right. I was trying to distinguish between a child crying because an adult is behaving inappropriately (i.e. being overly harsh or mean) vs. a child crying because, for example, an adult gave them appropriate feedback they didn’t want to hear.

          Reply
          1. Birch*

            These are great points. In this situation, OP says that the dude didn’t even understand what the kid actually meant until OP themself got involved. So this dude reacted based off of a misunderstanding and his own assumption. I think from that we can confidently say that his feedback was not appropriate, because he had no idea what he was actually responding to! And everything else everyone has said also applies–even in the worst case, with a kid who is actively trying to be mean to an adult, you still have to be the grownup.

            Reply
    5. huh?*

      Also, the OP clarifies below that it was not that kind of question at all, but “to bring a new perspective to the discussion” on an area he is supposedly an expert. You should be able to have that conversation with anyone as a professional. So he was clearly in the wrong and admitted as much.

      Reply
    6. Teacher of the Math Variety*

      No. I’ve worked with teens for more than 20 years. I have been asked inappropriate questions. Sometimes, they are asking them because you are the “safe” adult in their lives. Sometimes, they’re being jerks. Both situations need to be handled in the manner of educating rather than belittling.

      I had a 16 yr old male student ask me in front of my class if I was “a (derogatory term for lesbian).” I said, “First of all, let’s not use that word. It is offensive. Second of all, if I were gay, would it matter to you? If so, let’s discuss why. And third, asking people questions about their sexuality when you have no business doing so is rude. But I’m willing to talk to you because I want you to learn about these things.”

      That stopped him dead in his tracks and he even offered an apology.

      Reply
    7. SimonTheGreyWarden*

      As a teenager and young adult teaching religious education classes and working in the YMCA daycare, and a woman who at the time wore a very close-cropped haircut and dressed in baggy layers (ah, the 90s, and also being nonbinary even though that wasn’t a word then), I was asked MANY times whether I was a boy or a girl. Somehow I always managed to be professional and never snap at those kids, give them plain explanations (“I’m a girl, but this is how I look”; I did then and still do use female pronouns). I never made anyone cry. I think even IF it is a big issue, a painful one, that’s on the adult to work on and not take out on children. I don’t care how old the child is (4 or 14, makes no difference), you are still the adult in that situation. You can be direct (“we do not use that language;” “that’s none of your business;” “I do not want to answer that question;” “I think that is inappropriate”) but any more than that is super wrong.

      Reply
  5. huh?*

    “First, was the incident between the employee and your child a misunderstanding that could have happened to anyone or a clear-cut case of terrible judgment on the employee’s part?”
    He was so hostile and accusatory that:
    – The (teenager, not a young child) kid cried twice, up to a week later;
    – He admitted that he handled it badly;
    – He became emotional when he realized what the real question was;
    – He admitted that he had completely misunderstood.
    In keeping with the spirit of taking an OP’s word for what the situation is, seems pretty clear-cut that this was terrible judgment.

    Reply
    1. Mimi*

      This does really depend on the kid. I could imagine my highschool self crying on multiple occasions over an interaction with a teacher or other school employee, in which the adult might not have managed the situation optimally but did not behave in any way egregiously. (Heck, I’m pretty sure I cried over interactions with adults in which adults took the best course of action available.)

      Some people cry more easily; some people, especially young people, are more likely to cry when the person they’re interacting with seems to be harsh or judgemental. Teenagerhood is less likely to lead to little-kid style crying, but it’s still an emotionally volatile time in one’s life.

      Reply
      1. Blaise*

        Yes! Even some adults are just more emotional than others, and when you add in surges of hormones, it’s not that absurd for a misunderstanding to result in this kind of situation.

        Reply
      2. SaintPaulGal*

        Absolutely this! I can very easily picture my teenage self crying if an adult objected to a question I asked, even if they handled the situation perfectly. I was really, really conflict-averse as a child, and I would have been terribly ashamed if I felt like they thought poorly of me over something I said.

        Reply
      3. Elliott*

        Even as an adult, sometimes I’m prone to crying even after fairly mild confrontations. I just cry really easily, and I’m really sensitive to awkward or confrontational situations. As a teen, that was harder to control.

        Reply
      4. Marillenbaum*

        That’s fair. In this case, based on the other things, it sounds like it was still bad judgment, even if the provider had had the same interaction with the sort of teen who would just go “Wow, you are the WORST” and develop a devastatingly cruel nickname for the adult in question.

        Reply
      5. Birch*

        But the point is that the kid’s intention was good. Even if the kid’s intention was to be as mean as possible, it’s not appropriate for an adult to react that way to them! Kids are still learning how to be good people–it doesn’t help by treating them like the enemy when they do something mean. And all of that is irrelevant because this dude reacted based off his own misconception, which is just extra inappropriate. This clearly isn’t a case of the kid being super sensitive, because it’s the dude’s reaction we need to focus on. It’s never OK to react like that, regardless of how the kid is behaving.

        Reply
    2. Anonapots*

      That struck me as odd, too. If a kid is crying after their interaction with you, it’s probably not because of a misunderstanding anyone could have had.

      However, OP really does need to step back and evaluate this as objectively as possible. If they had heard about this from their kid in another setting rather than this one, what questions would they have asked about what happened? What knowledge about their child would they have included.

      Reply
    3. meyer lemon*

      The LW has more nuance about what the substance of the misunderstanding was, but I can imagine a scenario in which this wasn’t a major error. The employee’s reaction was probably somewhat more charged than usual because of the power dynamics here, where his future boss was also the parent of an upset client. I’m guessing that if the nature of the interaction had been clearly troubling, the LW wouldn’t be contemplating giving him the benefit of the doubt.

      Reply
  6. Jennifer*

    Alison’s last paragraph is super important. I would probably be job searching if I were this employee. He may continue job searching even if you do have this conversation, but I still think it’s important to have it so he knows you aren’t planning to use this as future ammunition. However, is it really possible to be an unbiased manager to someone that seriously hurt a person you love? I’m not sure that it is. We can pretend, sure, but it’s always going to be there. Maybe it would be better for everyone involved if he moves on.

    Reply
    1. Snark No More!*

      I think that’s a really bad precedent. It was a misunderstanding. It’s not like he cause permanent bodily harm. The teenager needs to learn that people can be afforded second chances with grace.

      Reply
      1. JM60*

        I think the fact that it was a misunderstanding is somewhat of a red herring. It’s not okay for an adult professional to be “hostile and accusatory” toward a child they are working with, even if the child is deliberately trying to be as offensive as possible.

        That being said, it sounds like the OP’s heard it through their child. It’s possible that the employee’s reaction wasn’t that hostile, and that the child perceived it as more hostile than it was. However, I think the OP should carefully observe how this person typically behaves with children.

        Reply
    2. MCMonkeybean*

      It sounds like they already knew that OP was going to be their boss when the incident occurred so I wouldn’t assume they are job searching. It also sounds like OP isn’t trying to hold a grudge but more is concerned about whether this is common behavior for the employee–which I think it is too soon to say (though if they have already heard multiple complaints about another employee but not this one I would try to start from a place of assuming this was a one-time incident and go from there)

      Reply
  7. Smithy*

    This response is really important – because even though the OP likely does know more about the organization than someone starting who’d never been a client – there may be a lot of subtle dynamics with management that will still be new to the OP.

    I worked for a team where someone who had been a consultant was brought on to lead as the VP, and was hearing from the CEO and COO that they wanted her to let go the two most senior leaders. Her immediate take was to come to their defense and figured she could work well with them based on her consultancy experience and knowledge of the CEO.

    About two years in, she realized why there had been the push to let them go and that while it was more subtle than just “they’re bad” – it was significant. At that point, she felt unable to let them go because COVID was just kicking off. This led to ongoing and revolving management issues that likely could have been addressed much more comprehensively had there been a more conscientious effort to review the larger team without that bias.

    Right now the OP has the experience as a client, whereas my former VP had the experience of a consultant. But sometimes that weighted experience can lead to blindness in reviewing the whole context. Taking the time to step back from that can only help.

    Reply
    1. Bernice Clifton*

      Yes, the part about the woman who is up to par but is protected by management was concerning. The LW might find be exactly right about that situation, but she needs to proceed as though she has no knowledge of that employee’s performance from a client perspective.

      Reply
      1. Smithy*

        Absolutely. People can be performing below par for a range of reasons, but as a client typically the primary experience is the “customer service” aspect. And we see that being poor as a fault above other aspects that may be in play.

        For all we know, this woman has been given a workload larger than it should be because she’s the only person certified in XYZ, and therefore has a job with more demands than it should. And so her being protected by management is a desire to retain the only person who can do XYZ, but a workload that’s impossible and resulting with high stress/poor customer service. Or a number of other subtle reasons that contribute to general “bad attitude” issues.

        Take the time to learn the whole situation….because there really might be a lot more in play.

        Reply
      2. Andy*

        I have seen exactly that kind of gossip maybe 4-5 times. If turned out sorta kinda true once. The rest were either simply untrue or highly exaggerated, mostly because that person said no or otherwise was in legitimate conflict. (Meaning said no in situation where she was supposed to say no.)

        Peoples reputation has some correlation with theit performance. But the “incapable but uniquely protected” combination is sort of rare. There are managers who have favourites or who protect incapable people. But somehow they are not the same ones people spread rumors about. People generally don’t care about such thing, unless there is conflict and emotions in play.

        Sometimes rumors are true. Often, but nit often enough.

        Reply
  8. Anonya*

    IDK, even though Alison’s advice is sold, I’m left wondering why the OP took the position. The risk for a conflict of interest seems very, very high. IMO, it’s wishful thinking to believe that you’ll be able to push your parent role aside and view employees only from a boss’s perspective.

    Reply
    1. Insert Clever Name Here*

      Because they’re passionate about the mission of the organization, because they have a unique skill set that is needed, because it’s a small community and there aren’t a lot of job opportunities, because it has excellent benefits… there are lots of reasons to take a position at a place where your child attends. From commenters upthread, this appears to be fairly common in organizations serving children and can be done well.

      Reply
  9. Kittykuddler*

    Totally agree. If the OP can’t come into the role with an open mind, they need to step back and think about whether this is the right position for them. There’s usually a lot more happening within an organization than a client is going to be aware of, and I would hate to be one of those 2 employees who are starting a new managerial relationship with a strike against them.
    People get fiercely protective of their children. And there’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but but all the knowledge the OP has of the situation so far is second hand through children and parents of upset children.
    I don’t think this OP can be objective managing someone who is interacting with their child.

    Reply
    1. Mental Lentil*

      Nope. Nothing said about “upset” children with regard to the second employee. Just “they have not been pleased with her performance when working with their children”. Nothing there about children being upset.

      In all fairness, OP asked a great question about how to deal with this knowledge and got a great response from Alison. The fact that OP even asked the question shows that they have an open mind.

      Please read letters carefully without reading your own biases into them.

      Reply
  10. Allypopx*

    I’d really like to push back on people saying the OP shouldn’t have taken the job. Jobs are not exactly growing on trees right now and the people who hired OP probably knew she was a client and considered that in their hiring decision. We don’t know OP’s location/situation/qualifications or any details about the nonprofit so this speculation seems really unhelpful and derailing. Also she DID take the job, so we should be helping to navigate that.

    Reply
    1. Threeve*

      Agree. “Possible conflict of interest” can go on the con list, but I wouldn’t tell a prospective employer OR an applicant that it automatically outweighs everything in the pro column!

      Reply
    2. Mental Lentil*

      Agreed. There are plenty of responses to the first comment here explaining why this is the norm in certain situations: small town/norm for the org/etc.

      Reply
    3. Koalafied*

      “Why don’t I strap on my job helmet and squeeze down into a job cannon and fire off into Jobland, where jobs grow on jobbees!”

      Reply
    4. BRR*

      For the letter, I agree that we don’t know enough to say anything as an absolute and the LW already took the job.

      But I do need to push back a little because there are plenty of times a conflicts of interest means you can’t take a job, no matter how hard it is to find a job. And I’m projecting my own experience here, not saying it’s happening at all in the letter, but employers don’t always do a good job considering these things. Bad employers would be very likely to consider it and then make the wrong call (like my last employer who hired the daughter of the only HR person which protected the daughter’s job when her performance turned out to be awful).

      Reply
      1. Chantel*

        “there are plenty of times a conflicts of interest means you can’t take a job, no matter how hard it is to find a job.”
        —–

        When you’ve got bills to pay, kids to feed, and homelessness to avoid, this just isn’t realistic.

        Reply
    5. Clorinda*

      Yes, this sounds like the equivalent of a parent becoming an administrator at their child’s school. It’s not that outrageous a situation. You wouldn’t want a parent as the teacher of their own child, but as a supervisor of teachers . . . it happens.

      Reply
      1. Dahlia*

        Meanwhile almost anyone who grew up in a small town knows at least one person who had their parent as a teacher.

        Reply
        1. EchoGirl*

          Happens even in larger districts; I knew a couple of kids whose parents taught at our school. In a lot of cases the parent was there first, so they’re not going to make them leave just because their kid is now attending the school.

          Reply
  11. OP*

    Thanks Allison,
    The employee was leading a discussion about his area of expertise (this is key part of his job). The intent of my child’s question was to bring a new perspective to the discussion. Rather than listening to the question objectively and answering her based on facts, he allowed his personal opinions to cloud the waters. Frankly, his response indicated some fundamental misconceptions and lack of knowledge on his part on what is supposed to be his “specialty” area. He read her question as an attack on his personal opinions rather than as a genuine inquiry into the way things actually are. He was very remorseful when I explained what the intent of her question was.

    Lots of observation and feedback is my number 1 goal for my first year on the job! Thanks for confirming that I’m on the right track.

    Reply
    1. Mary Richards*

      If he acknowledges that he was in the wrong, apologized across the board, and shows no other obvious lapses in judgment, I think you owe it to him to make it clear that you’re able to put this aside to focus on what he does going forward.

      Reply
      1. Smithy*

        I agree with this.

        Also, knowing that the issue at hand was around politics and religion, if part of the reason the OP was hired is to steer the organization or team in a different philosophical or strategic direction around politics and religion, then it’s important to separate that from specific incidents. It may be that the OP is being brought to make some really big changes around the strategy, purpose and direction of the team – but I still think it’s better to focus on those larger changes and not necessarily the OP’s experiences as a client.

        I went to a number of supplemental religious schools as a kid that were partially staffed by educators and partially by parents. Parents had a very different connection to the material, curriculum and direction of the programming than the educators. And it makes sense, they were part of this community as a feature of their religious life and what they wanted to impart with their children. So when educators got reputations for “being mean” and kids not wanting to come to religious school – those were problems for parents that had nothing to do whether or not the educators were good at their job.

        From a detached perspective as an adult – this tension makes more sense now. But I still think that there are ways to approach this more philosophically. Essentially “we want kids to happily connected to their religious community” vs “we want kids to learn the content in this curriculum” can be wildly at odds with one another. And it’s possible to make that the overarching focus more so than one on one situations between staff and a child or a class.

        Reply
        1. Observer*

          Essentially “we want kids to happily connected to their religious community” vs “we want kids to learn the content in this curriculum” can be wildly at odds with one another.

          Nope. The two goals absolutely should NOT be at odds with each other. If they are, then SOMEONE is doing something wrong.

          Reply
          1. Insert Clever Name Here*

            I think what Smithy is trying to say is that if it is important that kids have Happy Feelings about going to the religious school and also that they Must Learn The Curriculum that there are times when those things are at odds, which absolutely makes sense. If Bobby really hates practicing pronunciation, but he has to master pronunciation as part of the curriculum, one of the two principles there (Happy Feelings or Learn The Curriculum) are going to suffer. That doesn’t mean Bobby’s teacher shouldn’t be there just because they can’t inspire a kid to want to learn something.

            Reply
            1. Smithy*

              Absolutely this – and certainly kids happily connecting with their religious community & learning content is the combined desired effect.

              However, in my specific example as a child I was referring to Judaism, where you can have a really wide range of curricula religious school (i.e. afternoons after school and/or Sunday mornings) can include. There’s learning Hebrew as a modern language, there are prayers that can be learned by memory or by reading Hebrew, there are holidays, there’s history – it can go on.

              And what’s the ultimate objective of this education? Being able to read Hebrew? Being able to lead a service for Bar/Bat Mitzvah? Being a religiously literate member of the Jewish community? Being an enthusiastic member of the Jewish community?

              Reply
              1. Observer*

                While it is true that kids are not going to enjoy every interaction they have with their religious education, if your goal is to raise kids who are going to remain positively engaged with Judaism, you cannot treat teaching the curriculum as something different and separate from engendering positive feelings.

                Yes, there is an enormous range. And experience (as well as lot so studies) backs my claim. Judaism is a religion that requires knowledge to engage with so if you don’t teach the material you run into a problem on both a practical and emotional level. But ignoring the emotional component never goes well either.

                But here is the thing. You don’t need every single interaction to be great or be doing something that a kid enjoys to make the OVERALL engagement positive. That’s a very fundamental issue that a LOT of people get wrong. And it winds up causing some real problems.

                Reply
    2. Cranky lady*

      OP…thanks for the additional info. As others have said, the adult in the conversation needs to be able to say “that’s not an appropriate question” or whatever fits the situation. It sounds like a misunderstanding in this case but there are going to be teens (and kids, adults, etc) who do ask questions as an “attack on his personal opinions” and how to handle that needs to be addressed as well.

      Also, many have talked about whether you should/shouldn’t have taken this position/kept your teen in the program. There are lots of parents that have navigated this terrain before (sports coaches, teachers/principals, non-profit orgs) so don’t feel like you are alone.

      Reply
    3. Heidi*

      The “fundamental misconceptions and lack of knowledge” about his own specialty sounds problematic. I wouldn’t be surprised if deficiencies in knowledge are part of the reason for the overly defensive response. I’ve found that real subject matter experts are used to fielding challenging questions and have thought about them extensively.

      Reply
      1. LTL*

        This, and I’ve also found that some adults simply default to defensiveness when they’re dealing with children or teenagers.

        Alison’s advice still applies though, the best thing would be to go in with an open mind.

        Reply
        1. Kaiko*

          Some adults are allergic to the phrase “I’m not sure I understand, can you tell me more” when they’re dealing with kids. Stepping out of the expert-who-knows-all role is deeply uncomfortable for them…and that’s really on them to figure out how to navigate. OP, has the man apologized to your teen? If he embarrassed her in front of peers, he might apologize in front of that group. Has he acknowledged it at all?

          Reply
          1. OP*

            This is exactly what happened! He wasn’t comfortable with the depth of the question asked by my child. I know that there has been a lot of speculation that perhaps my child was being disrespectful or asked an inappropriate question. My child is VERY non-confrontational (hence the tears). Honestly, if I had been part of the conversation, I would have raised the same point that my child was trying to raise. She wasn’t able to articulate her question super clearly because she’s a teenager and lacks the relevant background knowledge that could have helped to clarify her question. She was actually so shocked by the response that she said “I must have misunderstood something, because I don’t understand why you are reacting this way. Can someone help me understand what I have missed?”

            Reply
            1. DKMA*

              So I think you have to take Alison’s advice about how to approach this as impartially as possible, but if this was a story you were telling as a manager not a parent, with no other specifics changed, this would be really concerning.

              I could see accidentally making a teenager cry if the subject matter was something intensely personal, and a misunderstanding led to a harsher than realized tone and a message that was harsher than they realized.

              But, to respond negatively enough to an intellectual query that you made a kid cry when your job is to be the subject matter expert on the topic is just really bad. Show’s really bad people skills with children, a concerning inability to converse on supposed subject matter expertise, and a tendency towards defensiveness that may indicate difficulty changing behavior.

              So you have to give this guy a fair shot, but these are real problems that you don’t have to convince yourself aren’t real just because your initial warning on them came from a non-professional experience.

              Reply
        2. DarnTheMan*

          The first time I ever realized adults weren’t always right was when I was 12 and got in an argument with my history teacher; I can’t remember the full context but it had something to do with oral traditions and me asking how someone could be expected to learn the history of another group if they didn’t have someone to learn the oral history from (and the history had never been recorded) and she thought I was challenging her, rather than asking a genuine question.

          Reply
      2. Marzipan Shepherdess*

        Yes, that was VERY troubling! If he isn’t up to par on his own specialty, that warrents a sharp eye out re: his job performance. (Wonder how he got the job in the first place?) In any case, the LW will probably be keeping a close eye on him from now on – and it sounds as if that’s exactly what she SHOULD do!

        Reply
        1. Chantel*

          You know, people mess up sometimes. It’s not the end of the world, and this particular employee acknowledged that he was in the wrong.

          “How’d he get his job?” “Watch him closely from now on?”

          Honestly, I cringe at how unforgiving people can be.

          Reply
          1. tangerineRose*

            I cringe at the people who are more worried about the employee and less about how this employee is treating the kids.

            Reply
      3. BB*

        I’m going to take that with a grain of salt. Parents can have clouded judgment about their own children. There’s a good chance OP’s child wasn’t actually all that insightful and that the employee displayed a lot of (maybe too much) frustration, rather than that it revealed some deficiency in his knowledge.

        Reply
        1. Penguin*

          THANK YOU. As a teacher, so many parents take their child’s word as gospel and don’t consider any nuance. To be honest, lots of kids lie about little things (which is natural and normal) and most of us retell a conversation in a way that makes us look better, even kids. This smacks of not respecting both perspectives.

          Reply
    4. Confused*

      Can you give a little more context? It’s hard to understand what your kid’s question could have been misinterpreted as. You don’t need to give the real details but can you explain the question and how he answered?

      Reply
        1. Manders*

          OP, is there any chance the question involved a hot-button issue that’s personally impacting the kids your employee is dealing with? I know everyone’s a little on edge right now, especially people who are working in person with kids! I’d still be very concerned to see an employee getting defensive and snappy about, say, queer students or mask safety protocols.

          Reply
          1. caper cat*

            Huh, I remember these kinds of interactions from my childhood. The teacher is trying to teach kids about racism. A kid raises his hand and says “some black kids told me I couldn’t play with them because I am white, isn’t that racism too?” and gets yelled at. Or a teacher is talking about climate change and a child points out it was actually a really cold summer. The child probably has no hostile agenda (though with teenagers you can’t be sure, they might also be repeating the point-of-view of their parents). But they get such a disproportionate reaction that they cry. I do think the teacher is in the wrong here, but on sensitive topics people can lose their cool. They should apologize later though.

            Reply
            1. DKMA*

              A teach who is trying to teach about racism or climate change should be prepared to either respond or lead a discussion on either of those questions without being hostile or having such a disproportionate reaction that the kids cry.

              That doesn’t mean they have to agree, they can even explain why, to many, the act of asking those questions will come across as hostile because of the way our political/media system has weaponized “just asking questions” about certain things. But in a school setting they absolutely should be expected to handle those sorts of responses professionally. That’s part of what they are teaching kids.

              The racism against white people one is complicated to address, but the climate change one is a tee ball for explaining the difference between weather or local impacts, and global climate change.

              Reply
              1. Observer*

                Actually, the racism question is not hard to use.

                It’s a great starting point for discussion, in fact. Do you think that was fair? How do you think you would feel about this if this weren’t just a one off, but something you got told EVERY DAY? How would it affect your life if it weren’t just a game of ball that you were kept out of, but the school you wanted to attend?

                Obviously you can’t center discussions of racism around singular experiences that kids have. But if a kid asks a question like this take it and run with it. And if the kid was trying to be obnoxious, this is going to work much better than yelling them. Certainly, it’s going to be far more effective with the other kids who are watching.

                Reply
        2. JSPA*

          First day, I’d instruct every employee that in depth, “how do you reconcile X with Y” questions are properly met with,

          “I can tell you what [group A] thinks or what [person B] has ruled or what [organization C] councils and promotes. Beyond that, it’s not appropriate for me to share my personal stances as if they were dogma.” And, “Reasonable people within our [faith or political tradition] differ on interpretation, so that is a good question to discuss with your parents.”

          There may already be some guidance in place for questions involving sex and certain specific hot-button topics (and if not, there should be!). Nobody’s kid should be told by some random employee that they (or a family member) are on the road to damnation or that they’re not a good [fill in the blank] if they ask questions, or break from dogma on certain points, or recognize logical gaps in arguments.

          Reply
        3. Clisby*

          Those are subjects an adult should be able to stay calm about – especially in interactions with children.

          Reply
          1. tangerineRose*

            Yeah, I’m side-eyeing this employee. He doesn’t sound like he’s very good at controlling his emotions. If his job includes working with kids/teens regularly, that might not be a good thing.

            Reply
      1. LTL*

        I’m insanely curious too, but I’m not sure it’s relevant. OP didn’t write in to ask whether the employee behaved appropriately, though a lot of commentators seem to be trying to figure that out. The real question laid out in this letter was answered beautifully by Alison.

        Reply
    5. Ray Gillette*

      From the additional details here it sounds like he interpreted the question as a challenge to his authority rather than simply taking it at face value. Understandable that he’d feel bad about misinterpreting that situation. But if he’s going to be working with teenagers he’s going to need to be able to keep a cool head when someone does challenge his authority. Sounds like you’ve got the right approach moving forward. Good luck!

      Reply
      1. Myrin*

        Yeah, it sounds like your first sentence is where it’s at and I’m surprised so many commenters seem to be having a hard time imagining that – I can come up with half a dozen scenarios involving exactly that kind of dynamic off the top of my head simply because it seems pretty common to me, especially when you involve teenagers.
        (I have a brand-new coworker who is seventeen and recently said to me, a person who is pretty open about her asexuality, something along the lines of “WOW! You really aren’t interested in a relationship?? I’ve never heard something like that before!!” and she said it in such a way that if someone who is insecure about their sexual orientation were to hear it, they most likely would’ve bristled and become defensive. I took her at face value, though, and explained as much about the basics of asexuality to her as our 15 minute break allowed and she turned out to be initially confused (which is 100% understandable if you’ve never encountered the concept before) but also genuinely curious and I feel like I really managed to open a door for her mind there, so to speak.)

        Reply
      2. Sasha*

        This. And I am happy to take OP Ah her word that her daughter was asking a genuine question, but her follow up (to paraphrase because I can’t be bothered scrolling back up, “I don’t understand why you are getting upset, I was only asking a question. Does anybody else understand why he’s upset?”) could also definitely be read as being a smart-arse.

        Reply
        1. Sasha*

          To clarify, the teacher should still have stayed calm. But if this was a contentious topic like racism, “just asking an inflammatory question, and I have absolutely no idea what you are so upset about”, is something teenagers like to do to show off how clever they are to their mates. Go and watch Catherine Tate’s Lauren character, if you want to see a masterclass in this.

          The best response is often to treat it as a serious question anyhow, but I can imagine it must be maddening.

          Reply
    6. Sleeping after sunrise*

      Honestly OP I think you need to seriously consider whether you can separate being a parent from being a manager with these staff. You’ve had “special insight” from the perspective as a client/parent. But you haven’t yet had any insight from the perspective of an employee. Things might look the same after you do, but they might also look very differently. You need to keep an open mind.

      Your future employee might actually be bad at his job. But it might be that your kids might not be as free of responsibility for how things turned out as you see them. Even if he did misunderstand. Your daughter’s behaviour (then and over time) may have had a lot to do with that misunderstanding. Or not. Maybe she just got a nerve. Maybe she upset him unintentionally just as much as he upset her.

      If you honestly wanted this to be a “parent” rather than a future boss discussion – you would have left that discussion to the parent who isn’t their boss. What choice exactly did your (soon to be) employee have to have an open discussion here? As your direct report – he may have had different things to say if you were having a discussion about work performance. Things that you wouldn’t say in a discussion with a parent (which right now is all you are). In that conversation he was being evaluated as an employee but having to respond to a complaining parent. The only thing you can fairly judge him on there was how he handled a conversation with a complaining parent.

      Honestly, if I was on your team, I’d be looking at you very carefully to see whether you seemed able to separate being a parent of a client from being a boss. I’d be looking for signs that your daughter’s opinions carried undue weight, or that you were ignoring the workplace realities in your expectations of what was provided. If you were driven by gossip rather than fact. If your daughter was anything less than the perfect client I’d probably be dusting off my resume just in case! I’ve worked with too many parents who have rather rosy views of their kid’s actions to not be worried.

      An open mind is the best way to go. But I’d also say, leave the parent role to your husband from now on. You can’t be both parent and boss with the same employee. It’s a significant conflict of interest, and the only way to even hope to manage it is to step aside.

      Reply
      1. Susie Q*

        1000000% this.

        I could never work in an organization that was associated with my child and her care because I know I could not be objective.

        Reply
      2. Mahkara*

        1000%

        I really feel for the employee. It has to *suck* to fear that you might be fired for hurting your boss’ kid’s feelings. (And, honestly, that fear is going to lead to unequal treatment that likely isn’t in the kid’s best interest in the long run.)

        Reply
  12. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

    There wasn’t much mentioned about the 2nd part of the question (a poorly performing employee who was being protected by the previous manager). On that part I think to some degree there can be a “clean slate” with a new manager, especially if (doesn’t apply in this case) it was more about things like personality conflict / work style or a change in company culture.

    I would suggest discretion with how you respond to the service users about details of how you will handle the poorly performing employee. Does she need to be fired/PIP’d or is it possible that you can work productively with her to get her performance where it needs to be. You are in a difficult place here as they are approaching you still with your “fellow service user but now has influence inside there as well” rather than a more arm’s length capacity.

    Reply
    1. LTL*

      The answer applies to every employee OP will supervise. Observe and get a grasp of how the team operates as the new manager.

      Reply
    2. OP*

      Thank you, my response to the fellow client was essentially, “My hope is that all of my employees will respond well to feedback. If they are currently underperforming, then my goal will be to provide the coaching and resources they need to improve.”

      Reply
      1. Fred*

        How this 2nd employee is addressed going forward depends on if she was notified of problems with her performance but was not held accountable by the previous managers or if she’s totally unaware she’s doing something poorly because it was never mentioned to her. As the new manager yes you’ll monitor her but if these issues have not been addressed in reviews already, you’ll want to give her the opportunity to improve, then it’s up to her. If they have, it would shorten the resolution timeframe.

        Reply
      2. rubble*

        I hope that once you start this job you’re not going to continue talking to the other non-employee parents about employee discipline issues unless it directly impacts their child – there needs to be some level of boundaries there

        Reply
  13. Salt & Vinegar Chips*

    Op I love that you are this protective over your daughter, and myself would find it hard not to fire the employee. Which is why I would urge you to appoint someone else over anyone that interacts or interacted with your daughter. My children are still small under 8, but over the past year with Covid we have taken a more involved role in my just turned 13 year old nieces life. (both parents are doctors she has lived with us since March of 2020). In front of us and her parents she is a model child: helping other children without being asked, standing up for bullied kids in groups, polite and respectful to adults. So when she had a issue with an adult and came home crying my husband went off and confronted the adult and got the groups manger involved, however we were the ones put in our place. The group had video of our sweet niece tormenting this group leader several times. The organization did not want to alert her parents because of their status in our area, and their $$$ donations to the organization. When we confronted her she let us know she was doing it because the adult had picked another girl to be the lead in their play. Make sure you know both sides, its not always cut and dry.

    Reply
  14. BRR*

    I don’t think they should get a perfectly clean slate per se, but I do think you need a come in with a somewhat open mind. Now, your manager might tell you to watch out for so and so’s performance but that’s different. I definitely wouldn’t start as this person’s manager dealing with an issue that involved your kid from before you started.

    I would also try to remove as much conflict of interest as possible. Ideally your child would be able to seek the service from another organization but recognizing that might not be possible, can the employee(s) who interact with your children report to someone else (even if it would be an unusual reporting structure)?, can your husband manage all of your child-nonprofit interactions? I would also keep an eye out on maintaining professionalism with other clients. You can encourage them to raise any issues through your organization’s formal process, but as a manager there are limits to what you should say to the clients.

    Reply
  15. Analyst Editor*

    It will happen to teenagers, i.e. almost adults, that someone will speak to them with disapproval or challenge them. Sometimes this will be deserved, sometimes not. You say he was apologetic; take that as sincere and model, for both employee and teenage daughter, the ability to be professional and get past the incident.

    Reply
    1. Momma Bear*

      Secondarily I would circle back with the spouse and teen and reiterate that the previous incident is resolved and that they should not ask nor expect that any further action will be taken based on the past. The employee will be judged on his current/future work.

      Reply
  16. JRR*

    I suppose it’s an occupational hazard of working with children than a lapse of judgement can cause a this type of “incident”. I feel fortunate that in my job I can make mistakes (sometime egregious) with little risk of making anyone cry, and which I can usually correct without leaving a stain on my permanent record.

    Reply
  17. OP*

    I’d also add that removing my child from the organization is not an option. All of the employees’ children attend, including current and previous management. It would essentially send the message that I do not believe in the mission of the organization, and it would involve sending A LOT of money to competitors in order to receive a similar service.

    Reply
    1. Anon for This*

      This is so important. My father was on the Board of Education (and eventually Board President) of the schools I attended from third grade onward. One of my friends was the son of the high school principal. Removing either of us from the school would have almost certainly ended either of their roles.

      Reply
    2. Jaydee*

      My husband is a teacher and worked in the same district where our kid goes to school. His role became increasingly district-wide, and he started having more and more interactions with the elementary school teachers and principals, including at our kid’s school. At that point, he started backing out of a lot of the parent-teacher interactions, and I handled those. We would obviously talk at home about things, but the teachers got emails from me and saw only me at parent-teacher conferences. It made it easier to keep his work role from impacting the parent-teacher interactions, and it made it easier to keep the personal stuff from affecting his work interactions with the teachers.

      I highly recommend doing the same thing in your situation. Anything beyond purely administrative stuff (registration paperwork, pick-up/drop-off, “I’ll check the lost and found for your hat when I go to work tomorrow,” etc.) should be handled by your husband. You can talk together behind the scenes at home all you want. But he goes in alone for the meeting or phone call or whatever with the program staff. That way the conversations involving your daughter are strictly from a parent perspective and your conversations with employees can be strictly from a managerial perspective.*

      *It’s never going to be 100% managerial of course, but it sounds like the organization does want employees to also utilize the services, so they probably want employees to have the perspective of being a client/parent. But they want you applying that generally, not specifically. “As a parent/client, I would lose trust in the organization if I thought employees weren’t following policy XYZ very closely, so as a manager, I will make sure employees understand the importance of policy XYZ to building trust among parents/clients.” Not “I am upset that Wakeen said/did/didn’t do ABC to/with/for my child, so I’m going to use my position as Wakeen’s manager to punish him for that.”

      Reply
  18. Sparkles McFadden*

    I feel for you OP. It’s hard to be objective sometimes, but it’s the way to go. I think you’re off to a good start with how you handled the situation as a parent.

    Alison’s advice is excellent, especially where she stresses that you need to observe ALL of your direct reports, not just the two potentially problematic ones. Have a quick, frank discussion with the staff member who had the interaction with your child and say “I am looking to start fresh and have us all work together for the good of the clients.”

    Be clear about what you expect from the staff. It has been my experience that most people want to do a good job but generally don’t know what “doing a good job” entails. I’ve had a couple of people who absolutely hated me assigned to me. No one else could manage them effectively, and no one was good at documenting to terminate people so I got assigned a lot of basket cases. What was surprising was that, after I observed how they worked and interacted with people, I could guide them in the right direction and it worked out surprisingly well.

    Good luck!

    Reply
    1. 3Owls*

      Normally that would be ideal, but when you are dealing with services being provided tp children, be they through the school, a non-profit, or some government entity, usually one parent is the primary, the one most communicaition is done with. Not that both parents (if there are 2) aren’t involved, but usually one takes the lead/is more aware of the program’s details. The LW is probably that parent, so it made sense for them to more of the talking.

      Reply
  19. JennG*

    I am management in an org where my family received services before and my kids receive services now (very normal for this org.)

    Alison’s advice is solid. Things may look very different once you are settled in and it’s really important to give yourself the professional time and space to get a feel for all the moving parts, personalities, etc. In our family too, I am comfortable asking my kids to do their best (within reason) to remember that they need to model respect, take the lead in activities, etc., because I work there and we’re a family team. That’s not going to be possible for all kids in all circumstances for sure (and didn’t for my youngest when he was younger) but if it works for you, it can be a real benefit for everyone.

    I also do recommend you have your husband take the lead on all parent-only activities. It reduces friction in a lot of ways.

    Reply
  20. hbc*

    I’ve got to admit, I bristled at “This employee knows that I am going to be his direct supervisor in a manner of months, and he still was harsh and unfair with my child!”

    If your employee was doing his job, he should react to your child the same as any other. I know it seems like a little thing if he was objectively wrong to react the way he did, but that’s the kind of mindset that can really corrode an organization. I also want to echo what someone said above about having your husband be the parent who represents your kid(s) to the organization from this point forward. Complete separation is impossible, but grab at whatever you can.

    Reply
    1. OP*

      I thought twice about that statement before submitting, but my point actually goes right into what you are saying “If your employee was doing his job, he should react to your child the same as any other.” I’m not looking for my child to receive special treatment, but people in general do tend to censor themselves when there is a higher likelihood that they are being watched. My child has the privilege of an involved parent who is connected to the organization. What is happening with children who do not have that same privilege? If this is his standard operating procedure for ANY child, then I would have cause for concern. For what’s its worth, this is the first time in 5 years that I have ever felt the need to intervene in my child’s relationships within the organization. My husband and I played equal roles in the conversation, and the employee did offer a sincere apology to all involved. As far as my family is concerned, all is forgiven and in the past. We haven’t spoken about it since, other than my daughter thanking me for supporting her. My goal is to be a fair and objective supervisor, and I appreciate everyone helping me consider potential blind spots or biases. Thanks!

      Reply
      1. cosmicgorilla*

        That’s how I read your initial statement, OP. Not that you expected special treatment, but that folks can be more careful about how they treat the kids of someone in authority, for fear of it backfiring on themselves.

        Reply
      2. hbc*

        I get what you mean–your daughter is likely receiving something between his average and his best, given human nature. I think it hit me in a way that some people’s concerns to tattoos do–where “I would think someone would cover up tattoos because they know other people are against them, even though I’m totally supportive of them” isn’t functionally different than “I’m judging you for having visible tattoos.”

        I guess it just sounds like an organization that’s a bit more…intertwined than I would feel comfortable with. I’ve seen some pretty negative outcomes in situations like this, even when everyone involved is trying to be scrupulously fair. For example, he’s on your watch list just because you have that extra observation of his behavior and in-depth reporting from the other party (i.e.: your daughter) while the other employee sounds like she might have a dozen problematic interactions but end up at the same level of scrutiny. If you let him go for a legitimate issue after you start, there are going to be employees who think, “I guess a dozen issues are fine, but don’t let one of your two mistakes happen with the boss’s kid.

        Reply
      3. JennG*

        From experience – some employees may aggressively treat your child the same or just slightly worse, in order not to be ‘sucking up.’

        Reply
      4. Observer*

        people in general do tend to censor themselves when there is a higher likelihood that they are being watched. My child has the privilege of an involved parent who is connected to the organization. What is happening with children who do not have that same privilege?

        I think that this is a very valid concern and, given everything else you said, that’s how I read your statement.

        Reply
    2. tangerineRose*

      So when you say “If your employee was doing his job, he should react to your child the same as any other. “, are you OK with the employee being harsh and unfair to all the kids? That’s my concern.

      Reply
      1. cosmicgorilla*

        I understood it to be the OP’s concern as well, that if the employee was that harsh with the future boss’ child, he’d be even more harsh with a child who didn’t have that position of privilege.

        Reply
  21. Ginger Baker*

    I know a lot of folks are on the “never okay a child cries” train and I definitely understand that, but when you are discussing teens, I do think there’s more possibility that a teen might have said something…problematic. Obviously you never want to just aim to badger a teen until they cry, but I have read this question several times over and thought “what “area of specialty” could possibly cause so much discord that the resulting pushback could make someone cry?” and the only things I’m coming up with are things along race or LGBTQ issues or similar human rights topics. And having a mother who has on more than one occasion said something pretty racist as an “intellectual inquiry” (for example bringing up some “but science shows IQ not evenly distributed” kind of comment) and then afterwards saying “you didn’t understand what I meant! I MEANT that we should discuss this bias of IQ tests” [but with ZERO INDICATION that was her actual intent at the time…] well…let’s just say there are questions I personally don’t believe belong in every discourse equally. And those are the only topics I can think of that would potentially make someone cry – unless there’s a lot more tears shed over the “Pluto, planet or no?!?” debate than I have previously experienced. [I agree with all of Alison’s advice, just saw some comments along this line and wanted to flag that – I adore my teens but also know they are not 8 anyone and can sometimes say egregious things.)

    Reply
    1. Observer*

      but when you are discussing teens, I do think there’s more possibility that a teen might have said something…problematic

      Even absent the OP’s further information, I would still say “so what”? Unless the kid was actually being abusive, the provider is the one who needs to maintain their composure. And even if the kid is being abusive, the way to deal is to refuse to provide service, not to get hostile and defensive.

      Reply
      1. Anon ed*

        And if the organization, oh, I don’t know, refuses to support the employee against the abusive child for many reasons (the big one being that the child’s mother is a high ranking employee), then what?

        Look, I’m not saying which player in this situation was out of line, the chances are good that it was the employee and the problem might, eventually, lead to termination. But unless and until you have faced down a classroom of 30 teenagers you have no idea what maintaining your composure and reacting in the perfect way 100% of the time takes. It is not easy. There is grace for cranky moments for almost every other profession. Why are teachers held to impossible standards.?

        Reply
        1. tangerineRose*

          I don’t think that not being “hostile and accusatory” toward a kid is one of those impossible standards.

          Reply
        2. Observer*

          And if the organization, oh, I don’t know, refuses to support the employee against the abusive child for many reasons (the big one being that the child’s mother is a high ranking employee), then what?

          Still a stupid way to react, at best. There really are better ways to handle even the most obnoxious kids who are also “untouchable”.

          It’s also not relevant. There is not the faintest shred of evidence that the provider was backed into a corner.

          Reply
  22. Jennifer*

    Agreed, and since nearly every topic can be considered “political” nowadays, that covers a wide range of topics. I’ve had a few conversations over the past year about racial injustice that were quite frustrating. The questions asked weren’t racist per se, but I was taken aback by how little people seemed to know about the issue and didn’t decide to start learning until summer 2020. Then when you point out that the question could be offensive, then come the tears, and “are you calling me a racist!!!” and that whole drama. Plus, a lot of minorities got tired of answering the same questions over and over and I’m sure many of us were defensive and a bit short with people, which in my opinion isn’t “hostile” but certainly was perceived that way at times. It call can just be a misunderstanding.

    I’m not surprised the employee agreed that he overreacted, because, what else can you do when you’re talking to your boss about their kid?

    Reply
  23. Lifelong student*

    Above the OP indicated that the provider read the child’s question as an “attack” on his personal opinions. The issue appeared to be resolved when it was explained that it was an attempt to offer another perspective. My reaction to that is that an adult should NOT take offense and react strongly to anyone disagreeing with his personal opinion- particularly a child. Frankly, I would find that to be as much a red flag as the actual response resulting in the child’s being upset. So yes, even if the current issue has been solved, I would be aware of the potential for future issues.

    Reply
    1. Sleeping after sunrise*

      I think it depends on what the “personal opinion” is. It’s just so wide ranging. That strawberry is the best ice cream I’m with you. But on the topic of religion and politics – too many things that could easily take out front page of the newspaper!

      A sportsman here expressed his “personal opinion” and was consequently sacked for it. Then the legal action started. Depending on the political bent of the media outlet, his “personal opinion” was nothing more than that and nothing for anyone to get upset over through to contributing to deaths. Many people were deeply and personally affected by that personal opinion and the reactions to it – on both “sides”.

      Without being a fly on the wall I have no idea whether it was reasonable or not how the adult reacted. I have no idea whether it was understandable even if not ideal. I just don’t like the idea that the well-being of adults is irrelevant. That adults should just unemotionally accept whatever happens to them because well – children. Children can be insensitive even when they are not being deliberately horrid (as they often are). And sometimes it is good for them to learn that their actions have consequences too.

      Hopefully OPs daughter has learnt that misunderstandings can cause upset. That we can be hurt by others unintentionally. And that we can hurt other people unintentionally too. Does OPs daughter understand that while they did not mean to hurt Adult they did? Just as adults never meant to upset them?

      Reply
  24. Oaktree*

    I find it odd that the LW was hired at an organization of which they are already a client. It’s an obvious conflict of interest – I would say “potential”, but the conflict of interest is already coming to the fore. The whole thing seems inappropriate from the outset.

    Reply
    1. Mental Lentil*

      There are so many comments on here already about how this is the norm in many organizations. You can read many of the replies to the first comment here for examples.

      Reply
  25. Tirv*

    This appears to be a no win situation for the employee in question. If OP keeps her teen in the program it is a definite conflict of interest. I don’t know this teenage girl but in general they can be very emotional. OP met with the employee as a parent , but the employee certainly knew she was also soon to be his boss. The dynamic of the meeting was certainly skewed. Now this employee will be faced with dealing with a teen who knows her mom is the boss and that this fellow was chastised by her mother. This poor employee will have a new dynamic to try to work with if the teen is kept in the program . Knowing his new boss is also gunning for him will result in an impossible work climate. Never mind OP documenting everything , if I were the employee I’d be documenting everything in case I had to file a law suit.

    Reply
    1. OP*

      This meeting was definitely not a chastisement. It basically went
      1. My child was upset about what happened. We’d like to hear about it from your perspective.
      2. Here is what our child was trying to ask.
      3. We encourage our child to ask these types of questions because we want her to be a thoughtful and intelligent member of society.
      4. Here’s how we answered our child when we discussed the issue. (In case the topic ever comes up again, he can have more context)
      5. How can we make this right and move forward?

      My discussion with my child afterwards was “This how adults handle conflicts and misunderstandings. You let the other person know how they hurt you and why, and then you work to forgive and reconcile the relationship.”

      Currently working with my child on expressing her emotional needs. She tends to be a people pleaser and downplay how she really feels. This was an opportunity to model how to do that for her. If this had been a peer interaction, I would have coached her on how to handle it herself, but as it was an interaction with an authority figure, she needed more support.

      Reply
      1. So long and thanks for all the fish*

        You sound like an excellent parent as well as manager, OP. Best of luck with your new job!

        Reply
    2. Retrogradegirl*

      I think it is rather ridiculous to say that teenage girls as an entire gender are or tend to be more emotional. ALL teenagers as a whole tend to be emotional, not just the female ones. This comment certainly could have done without the sexism and the casual martyring of an adult. You said it yourself- you do NOT know the teen in question, so it seems strange your immediate reaction is that she is a conniving person (this also seems unnecessarily gendered and very sexist) who is going to lord this over the male teacher to his detriment, along with her scheming mother.

      Reply
    3. Sondheim Geek*

      I don’t know this teenage girl but in general they can be very emotional.

      So can adult men.

      Reply
  26. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

    She sounds like my jr. high English teacher. It was a very small school, and she was THE English teacher. Her son was in my class. I don’t remember the situation causing any problems whatsoever. (The fact that he was a quiet, well-behaved boy probably didn’t hurt.)

    Reply
    1. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

      I posted this as a reply to someone’s comment in another thread. I don’t know why this showed up down here, too, but now it’s in 2 places. Sorry!

      Reply
  27. pcake*

    I find that some people are on their very best behavior when their manager sits in, so one may not get a full picture of how they treat clients or other employees unless you have a way to monitor unseen. I’ve seen this happen a lot as a manager, an employee and an observer.

    Reply

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