Help me sort through an extremely sad employment situation
October 15, 2016 5:51 AM   Subscribe

I'm on the board of a small condo. The building has a small staff that has been here for almost two decades, and last night, a situation arose that resulted in one member getting arrested.

It turns out that our married, middle-aged, live-in super had an affair with another (much younger) staff member, resulting in a child. The mother of the child assaulted the super's wife and was arrested. We were unaware of her pregnancy; she took an extended leave of absence last year which I now think must have covered the period when it would have been obvious. She is also married and has two older children.

The super's son is also on staff, and has been having shouting matches with his father, who then fired him without authorization.

Lawyers are being consulted, but I'm having trouble working out the ethically correct thing to do. I know I will most likely be advised to fire everyone, but if we do, innocent parties will lose their homes and livelihoods. On the other hand, we can't turn an eye to sexual harassment and assault.

The staff is not unionized, and we literally just approved retirement benefits this year. Everyone is outraged and I don't know if I can convince the board to offer severance, or if I should. Please help me come up with a framework to decide what to do.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
You mentioned sexual harassment but don't give any details. Do you think the super used his position of authority to force a relationship on the other staff member, or was it consensual (even if you frown upon it personally)? If you don't have a policy against staff members dating, and it was consensual, then I don't know that that alone is enough to fire the super.

I would consider firing the staff member though. Her assault on the super's wife isn't acceptable.

Regarding the super's son, if he's still employed, I think you might need to sit the both of them down and warn them that this behavior is also not acceptable. If they can't work together peacefully then one or both of them will be out of a job. Then follow through on that if necessary.

You could also decide that the super has brought too much drama into all of your lives and replace him just to turn a new page, even if he didn't specifically screw up at work. And of course if there are any allegations of sexual harassment then you should take that seriously because you don't want another staff member to become his prey or something.

In any case, yes people have to earn a living, but they also are expected to hold up their end of the bargain and behave acceptably in the workplace. I understand that the staff member's situation with the baby might be seriously stressful for her but that does not excuse assault in the workplace (or workplace adjacent).
posted by cabingirl at 6:20 AM on October 15, 2016 [4 favorites]


The super's son was fired simply because he got into shouting matches with his father, not for any work-related reason? Then that part is relatively easy: if the son wants he gets rehired, if he does not want re-hiring he should get severance (and a good reference).

As for the female staff member: her case would depend on the outcome of the assault case plus your employment contract; you'll probably have to wait and see if she's convicted (doubt you can fire her based solely on being arrested), but does the contract say anything about her employment depending on no criminal convictions? It might also matter if the assault occurred on or off the condo property. If she does quit or you do fire her, no severance.

And the super himself probably can't be fired for cause, since committing adultery and arguing with his son aren't within the scope of his job (assuming they happened off the condo property); the most-likely fault he's guilty of is firing his son without a valid work-related reason. If the super does leave, no severance for him either.

(I am assuming throughout that the sexual affair was completely consensual: if it wasn't, if the super coerced her somehow --- through work, money, age, force, whatever --- then that's a whole other bucket of worms, and will give your board an opening to fire the super. But the woman still committed an assault, and is to blame for that; and the son is still caught in his father's drama.)
posted by easily confused at 6:25 AM on October 15, 2016


IA most emphatically NYL. Here are my totally un-credentialled thoughts, see what you think:

So did the assault happen at work? If it did, you have to fire the lady who did it. You can't not fire people who beat up folks on the job. You walk them out the day it happens, generally. (I'm assuming that there's no doubt it actually happened. If there is, this is more complicated and probably merits some sort of suspension until you figure it out.)

The rest of it could go either way based on facts. If the super pressured the woman into sleeping with him because she was his subordinate, then you've got a serious problem. If not, I don't really see why there's an ethical duty to fire him. You could, of course, for having the terrible judgment to have an affair, even a consensual one, with a co-worker; but if there's no rule against it, that's not so fair. But, of course, if he's going to continue to cause trouble (like firing the son) then you will need to.

You may need to re-hire the son if it sounds like his dad fired him for personal, non-work related reasons.

Montana is the only state left that isn't at-will employment*, as far as I know, so unless you're there, you don't need "cause" to fire. You just want to not fall afoul of any specific protections, like the ones protecting victims of harassment.

*just realized maybe you aren't in the US at all... if you're elsewhere maybe you do have "cause" requirements.
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:20 AM on October 15, 2016


What would be your reason for giving severance? The only thing I can come up with is in exchange for a release of any claims against the condo association.

Your concern seems to be about "innocent parties that will lose their homes and livelihoods". So if these two had no children you wouldn't be as concerned? What innocent person would be loving their livelihood? Putting aside the moral aspects that may be assigned to two married with children adults having an affair that results in a child, these two workers are certainly guilty of using poor judgement by putting their own jobs at risk, by putting the condo association in potentially legal jeopardy, and by they themselves exposing their own family to these risks.

Unless I was contractually or legally required to give severance or I got a release in exchange for a payment, I would not give these two anything other than 30 days notice to vacate the apartment that comes with being Super.

As for the Super's son, if he was fired by someone who does not have the authority to fire him, he is not fired. Who hired the son? Who had that authority? That person or that group has to decide whether or not to fire the son.
posted by AugustWest at 8:09 AM on October 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


Assault aside, it really bothers me that the super seems to be getting off easy while the women involved are suffering the most. I can't speak in terms of legal context but this feeling is what sticks out to me ethically.
posted by smorgasbord at 8:39 AM on October 15, 2016 [20 favorites]


Keep in mind that while these people are employees, and you can fire them at any time (for any legal reason), they are also residents and you will have to follow your local laws regarding termination of their residency and possible eviction.
posted by bq at 9:08 AM on October 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


As for the female staff member: her case would depend on the outcome of the assault case plus your employment contract; you'll probably have to wait and see if she's convicted (doubt you can fire her based solely on being arrested), but does the contract say anything about her employment depending on no criminal convictions? It might also matter if the assault occurred on or off the condo property. If she does quit or you do fire her, no severance.

And the super himself probably can't be fired for cause, since committing adultery and arguing with his son aren't within the scope of his job (assuming they happened off the condo property); the most-likely fault he's guilty of is firing his son without a valid work-related reason. If the super does leave, no severance for him either.


Nothing makes me viscerally appreciate the U.S.'s income inequality like the assumptions the better-off often make about the working conditions of lower classes. You think you need to fire for cause, to find some fault? You think there has to be a conviction? The condo can't fire the staff members because of their membership in certain protected classes, their refusal to have sex with their bosses or colleagues, or their involvement in certain kinds of union-related activity. Barring a specific contract providing otherwise (and, since these employees are not unionized, there is probably no contract governing their employment), that's pretty much all the restrictions in the U.S. on the power of an employer to terminate. Not an employment lawyer, and I definitely wouldn't advise anyone skip the step of consulting one (especially because a few localities do provide broader protections), but I see no obvious legal reason the condo couldn't fire all of them, if it wanted to.

Whether the state unemployment insurance agency will take the position that these were firings (vs. layoffs) is uncertain. For the woman who committed assault, almost certainly. For the super, engaging in unauthorized firings, probably (and if there is actual sexual harassment here, though that this is the case is not established by your story, even more so). The son? Much more questionable. But the only difference this makes is in the UI rates the condo will end up paying.

From the ethical point of view, I'm looking at a bunch of employees who have engaged in extended unprofessional behavior at the workplace (and that's assuming there was no romantic action OR sexual harassment at the workplace involving the former romantic couple, which is a generous assumption considering how these people have conducted themselves) that climaxed in the police coming and arresting one of them. I'm not sure there's an "innocent" in the bunch. The woman who committed the assault: definitely not. The super, even if it's just firing people without permission: nope. The only one I'd be inclined to possibly offer a second chance to is the son, whose chief offense seems to have been some yelling, and even then it would have to be on the condition that he behave more appropriately going forward. And firing for a good reason means no severance for anyone.

The condo needs to pay a lot more attention in the future to who it hires and what they are doing. It sounds like there is no one paying any attention to how the staff has been carrying on. That opens you up to liability issues much more than firings now would.
posted by praemunire at 1:36 PM on October 15, 2016 [4 favorites]


Who's the innocent party here? I'm guessing you mean the super's wife and child, but you're not going to be able to protect them from the madness that has happened. If you're in charge of firing people, you can't keep crappy employees who are having fighting and drama from a well deserved firing. And I don't think it'd be easy to argue severance under these circumstances--it's not like they're leaving because they're laid off but otherwise good employees. This is a ton of drama, and I feel sorry for your other employees (if there are any) that have had to be dealing with that. There's a reason why you don't date employees, especially while married and knocking them up.
I think firing is kind of a necessary action to clear the place of drama, which is your responsibility.
posted by jenfullmoon at 3:52 PM on October 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


If the super has hiring/firing power over the staff, him sleeping with one of the staff constitutes economic harassment. If he has a relative in a position under him, your condo board needs an anti-nepotism policy.

In my opinion, if the woman allegedly attacked someone outside of work and it was not related to work, I have difficulty making a case for her to be fired because of that. If she is convicted of assault and you have a non-violent criminal history requirement for hiring, that could be another story.

I think the son should be offered his position back if he was fired simply for disagreeing with his dad/boss and the super should be fired for two clear instances of abusing his professional power for personal motives.
posted by kitarra at 5:42 PM on October 16, 2016


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