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Small town mofo

I'm posting this for my mom, who is a library board president in my hometown. (Yeah, the library thing runs in the family).
It's a tiny, rural town--population 2,000 or less. Everyone knows one another.

There were 2 staff members--the library director and a library assistant. Then, the library expanded and they decided to hire a third staffer, another library assistant.

This woman is well respected in the town. She is a girl scout leader and her husband is a town councilor. At first, she seemed fine, but then they started having a lot of problems with her. First, the director had to speak with her about her attire--she constantly wore old sweatpants to work, and even in a small town, it wasn't acceptable. She was also spoken to about socializing at the desk (not just a short conversations, but talking with friends so long that it stopped other patrons from approaching). Also, the director would often see her posting to Facebook during her work hours.

Then, she started conducting girl scout meetings at the library while she was on the desk, leading the meetings and "working" at the same time.

A few days ago, she didn't show up to work. She claimed to have spoken to the other library assistant about covering for her, but that wasn't true. The other assistant was in the hospital having surgery. A board member had to open the library and work the desk.

Earlier today, my mom was talking to one of her tutoring clients, and the client told her that they no longer wanted to meet at the library because this assistant made them uncomfortable.

Her behavior probably warrants her being fired. However, my mom and the director are worried that doing so would alienate a lot of people in the town, and in a community this small, it could have a serious impact. What advice do you have?


( 11 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
May. 17th, 2014 02:20 pm (UTC)
Yes, I agree with this.

I would give the woman one more chance to improve and if she doesn't then she should be let go. Also agree 100% on keeping paperwork because if the woman ever files a lawsuit or anything paperwork and documentation will be key in finding in the library's favor.
(Deleted comment)
May. 17th, 2014 06:12 am (UTC)
No question about it - it will already be all over town. Document, then discipline, then dismiss. I'm hoping that you've been documenting, you have apparently tried to discipline, next step is dismissal. And believe me, having lived in a small town for the past 9 years, I can tell you - even if she is well-respected, people know what she's like, too.

There may be some people who will raise a stink but I really think that you'll earn some respect from the patrons who have been on the bad end of her crappy work habits.
May. 17th, 2014 11:53 am (UTC)
May. 17th, 2014 07:42 am (UTC)
As the others have said... small towns... it's already all over town. I live in a small town and people get hired and fired - it's a fact of life. If you have solid grounds and good reason then do it, people will understand. If it's wibbly wobbly then make sure you document and get a solid answer... counsel her and if it continues then it's solid and you can fire.

Don't talk around town though about why she was let go, what might have contributed to it, get engaged in discussions about her performance, attitude or general likability - THIS is what people will remember most.
May. 17th, 2014 06:21 pm (UTC)
So much on this last part. If people are already talking about it, then people already know. By just saying "It wasn't working out so we had to let her go," you have a better chance of coming off like it wasn't a personal thing but a professional choice like it would be letting anyone else go. Besides, if you bad mouth her around town she can just come back with complaints about you doing so.
May. 18th, 2014 11:26 am (UTC)
I'd go one step further and just say "Yes she's left the library" or if pressed for why she left "She no longer works here, that's all I can say, why don't you check with her?" and leave it at that. That way you aren't telling people she was fired even.
May. 17th, 2014 09:51 pm (UTC)
I live in a town about that size, and as others have said, document, document, document.

I had a part-time employee several years ago who, while not from our town, still presented some challenges in getting him fired. He was very good about having an excuse at hand if you called him on anything.

I kept a very lengthy document on a computer he had no access to, and kept track not only of what I was seeing as the director, but what the public was telling me when he was not around. For example, if I wasn't there, he still had to take a Diet Coke and cigarette break, directly outside the library door, whether or not there were people in the library who might need help. People were also put off having to walk through a cloud of smoke to get into the library.

I gave him notice on what he needed to improve on, there was no improvement, so at the end of my warning time, the library president met with him privately (there was some thinking he might not be listening to me because he was old enough to be my father), and told him his continued employment was my call, and the board would back me 100%.

Shortly after that time, he was supposed to give a presentation to the library board. He was hired because he had grant writing experience, and that was supposed to be part of his job once he got the hang of things. Day of the meeting, he called in sick. Then during the weeks that followed he might call in sick, or not call in at all.

I gave the abridged version of the documentation to the Mayor, who has the actual hiring/firing authority, and he was amazed I hadn't kicked the guy to the curb already. In the literal sense. We typed up a letter to be sent by certified mail advising him he was fired, and if his key to the library (and stuff he had checked out) were not returned within the week, one of our police officers would be paying him a visit (and I was totally gonna call shotgun for that ride). The day it was to be mailed, he showed up at the Mayor's office, offered no apologies, but at least we got our stuff back.

Even though this situation is different, in that it's someone from the community, I still think the end result is the same. What she's done more than justifies firing her, especially since she's been given a warning.

If you've had one person say this woman has made them uncomfortable, from my experience that means there's a lot of people who haven't said anything. Oh, the stories I learned once we'd finally fired that part-timer. I had enough stuff to fire him three times over.
May. 19th, 2014 06:13 pm (UTC)
The thing is: you can't take the last statement any further unless the client has something particular that is actionable - it is because she is spreading gossip at the desk to this client (and therefore again, being too social with patrons?) is she giving the client some reason to believe she is violating confidentiality of library records? Is the employee badmouthing other patrons to the tutoring client? Without something more, all your mom can say is, at best, there has been concerns, and to please report any specific problems to the director.

This is where I really really hope the library board and the library director have a written personnel policy. (One that covers what happens when an employee violates procedures, how they get written up, and more importantly, at one point they get fired.) An important part of that is that an employee can grieve a disciplinary action to the Board.

But with those in the place? The employee gets disciplined, and eventually fired. they may or may not take it to the Board. But it is very important that library director - and eventually, if it comes to it, the Board President - can both say that the library employee was given due procedures and it didn't work out. But the key to preventing blowback will be having the procedures in place and being very very consistent with them.
May. 20th, 2014 07:36 pm (UTC)
I agree with everyone who has urged you to get the problems documented and follow through from there. I wouldn't worry about the small town aspect too much. The people of your town most likely expect professionalism from the library and if you behave in a professional manner, they will respect you and how you deal with problems that arise.
( 11 comments — Leave a comment )

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