Help! Someone's trying to fire my mom!
February 17, 2016 6:50 AM   Subscribe

My sweet, wonderful Mom just got an email from her boss that she's starting the termination process. She's a midlevel executive in a large state organization, has been for 25 years, and I think was trying to eek our her last few years till retirement and pension. She got a new crazy-sounding boss a few years ago and the situation has been getting progressively worse.

I know without a doubt that she's doing the best she can and is 100% committed to her job. She's a scrupulously honest and upright person. I just want to help her and be there for her like she was there for me when I was going through rough times. However, I live several states away and have my own stressful job. I have two major questions:

1. What can I do to give her moral support through this? I'll try to call her more often, maybe send her flowers, but is there anything else that I can do?

2. Should I try to give her any substantive advice? I don't know anything about HR or whatever process she's going through...but it seems like she needs to talk to the omsbudsperson or maybe get a lawyer, but is it better to just not get involved and stick with moral support?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Is your mother a member of a union? Because if so, the best thing she can do is contact her union. If not, she her first stop should be an employment lawyer because a) firing people before their pensions is a thing that happens to older workers b) HR doesn't work for her, it works for the organisation trying to fire her.

Is your mother in an "at will" state?
posted by DarlingBri at 7:04 AM on February 17, 2016 [13 favorites]

I would stick to moral support and listening - she may want to vent, or talk through how she sees her options to someone completely outside the process. Unless you have substantive knowledge I would leave it there - as a mid-level exec she may well know the process in some depth already, and if not she's surely better placed to find out.
posted by crocomancer at 7:05 AM on February 17, 2016 [2 favorites]

She needs to see an employer lawyer pronto. Does this company make it a habit of terminating employers a few years off their retirement.

I would definitely give her moral support. If she not taken steps to keep anything related to her situation, she should start keeping notes. I don't know what employment laws pertain to her state, but she needs to start getting ready to either secure her position or make certain she has a better severance package than what they first offer.
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 7:21 AM on February 17, 2016 [8 favorites]

You should definitely urge her to contact a lawyer. If she's hesitant to do so, make it clear that it's not so much about suing the company as it is strengthening her negotiating position; the company will be way less likely to push her around if they know she's willing to put up a fight.
posted by Itaxpica at 7:23 AM on February 17, 2016 [5 favorites]

By "a large state organization" you meant she works in state government? They don't operate like the private sector. They may not give severance pay, but they cannot, AFAIK, deprive her of her pension. Can you tell us what state? How old she is? Is the boss a lot younger than she is? She needs to talk to Human Resources right away, and then maybe a lawyer. You don't suddenly tell someone in a state job that you're terminating them unless they've done something really awful, like being convicted of a serious crime. ( I work for a state agency, not in HR.)

HR may help with some mediation between your mother and her boss. Or they might help by pointing her to another management position within state govt.
posted by mareli at 7:50 AM on February 17, 2016

but is it better to just not get involved and stick with moral support?

I see what you're saying here, but I would definitely say at least do one big round of encouragement and then help gather her resources if she asks, in part because women in particular are very prone to just dropping their heads and accepting abuse* rather than speak up or rock the boat or look "bad". Please remind her that she has a right to be upset and angry, to get answers, and to advocate for herself - with HR, with her state's workforce commission, and very possibly also with a lawyer.

*And it is absolutely abusive to send someone an email - presumably AT their work email - saying "you're going to get fired soon but I'm not going to tell you anything else".

She should make sure to forward any emails documenting this shit to her personal email address right now, as well.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:15 AM on February 17, 2016 [13 favorites]

A number of employment claims have very strict time and procedural requirements. She should contact an employment lawyer that does state employee work ASAP.
posted by mercredi at 9:45 AM on February 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

She is a woman and over 40 (by the sound of it) so she is in a protected class and has rights, even if this does happen to be an at-will state. Document everything, on paper at home, and online in personal accounts. Otherwise she risks losing her documentation if suddenly walked out. She needs to talk to HR. Talk to a lawyer. She should contact her union if there is one. Make sure she keeps fighting back and demonstrably working, and documenting her work - it is easy to get depressed and shut down when put in this kind of situation.
posted by w0mbat at 10:08 AM on February 17, 2016 [4 favorites]

Executives rarely (never?) have unions and the OP's distinction that it is a "large state organization" makes me think of a non-profit or university. So yeah, not much of a chance of a union in those places, especially for management employees.

If it truly is large then she may have the option of transferring to another position within the organization. Even if she has to take a paycut that may be preferable to the alternative. She should be able to talk to HR about alternatives within the organization. If the agency is downsizing due to budget cuts then she may not have many other options except updating her resume and starting to talk to her contacts about other opportunities. The best you can do in that situation is help her update her resume and move on. Maybe help to find opportunities for her closer to your state or help her re-evaluate her path in life. Assuming she's in her late 50's, plenty of people can get started in a new career or consulting at that age.
posted by JJ86 at 10:35 AM on February 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

Please provide the state. I do civil service law.

Basically she needs a lawyer, stat. I suggest seeking a federal employment lawyer in the state that you are in, because the state procedures are like the federal procedures and most employment lawyers do private work and are less familiar with civil service law.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:06 AM on February 17, 2016 [5 favorites]

also HR is not your friend. memail me if you have questions. I can direct you to help.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:08 AM on February 17, 2016 [10 favorites]

I agree with JJ86 unions and executives are rarely (never as far as I know) the same people, I say this as a long time executive/CEO. Agreed with sentiment that HR is not your friend, they are motivated to have her exit as cleanly, cheaply and quietly as possible. I agree employment lawyer is the way to go. I hate to betray my other fat cat executives around the world, but it can/will cost $100k+ to go to trial even against sham termination suits in at will employment states, and I have settled for any amount up to that before I will even go to court (and we were in the right, IMHO, in all those cases). Throw in the fact your mom as an older woman is definitely in a protected class, I can tell you the facts almost don't matter. Ugh, I had to write a check for $100k to an executive we fired for whom travel was a critical component of his job, and he happened to be afraid of flying. He claimed we told the whole industry he was afraid of flying (which was not true, we didn't say anything about him, in fact, it turned out he was already working for a competitor when he sued us). You know what was true, he was afraid of flying and couldn't remotely do the job. I wanted to fight, we had proof of him spending 4-5 days on the train to go coast to coast, instead of flying - that combined with never flying ...lawyers said it was cheaper to write him a check.
posted by ill3 at 12:56 PM on February 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

While career public agency executives are usually not unionized, they usually ARE protected by civil services rules, and the "termination process" letter is a part of that, not a departure from that.

There will be between a few and dozens of lawyers in your mother's state who have significant experience in representing management and executive civil servants in discipline and termination processes. Your mother should find and engage one of these lawyers; if she's not the sort of person who can manage that sort of task, do it yourself or find a family member or family friend who can. (There are going to be a lot of lawyers who will say they do this stuff; your mother wants someone who has handled scores or hundreds of these cases over a decade, preferably two.)

By the way, the first thing that a good lawyer for this kind of thing will do is figure out if it's worthwhile to fight. A 25+ year plus state employee may already be vested in pension income at a very significant percentage of his or her salary and be entitled to medical coverage until Medicare eligibility kicks in. Taking that pension income, moving to a lower-cost-of-living or better-weather place, maybe getting a new job with an uncrazy boss is sometimes not a terrible idea; if the termination process can be negotiated to a buy-out with no loss of pension rights (as it sometimes can) even better.
posted by MattD at 3:19 PM on February 17, 2016 [2 favorites]

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