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by Abigail Van Buren

Shop Owner Reluctant To Fire Employee in Personal Crisis

DEAR ABBY: I own a small retail shop. One of my employees (I'll call her Sara) has been with us for a number of years. Until recently she's been a stellar employee. She has been through several traumas during the past year, including the death of her father, unexpected injuries and medical bills, and finding out that her husband had molested her teenage daughter and other girls as well. It has been enough to drive anyone over the edge of emotional stability, and she has been noticeably struggling.

Sara has seen a doctor and is seeing a therapist for this, but she's still having a difficult time. These things don't heal overnight. I understand that.

Brick-and-mortar retail pretty much runs on presenting a cheerful face, happily engaging with customers and answering their questions -- something Sara has been emotionally unable to do. Customers have begun complaining to me about her moodiness and saying she has been ignoring them. I've talked to her about this a couple of times now, and each time she says she'll do better, but she hasn't.

Abby, she's been through so much, I'm reluctant to add to her trauma by letting her go, but I feel I'm being backed into a corner here. Is there a solution I'm not seeing or something I can say that will help resolve this without having to let her go? There isn't any work currently available that doesn't require customer interaction, or else I'd ask her to do that. -- BAD FOR BUSINESS

DEAR B.F.B.: You are a caring employer -- more than most would be, considering the shape that retail is in these days. Talk to Sara again. Explain that you are receiving complaints from customers and what they have been saying. Give her another chance to improve. If one of your other employees can cover for Sara for a week or two, let Sara have a brief leave of absence to regroup. However, if the complaints persist, let her go, because what's going on isn't about her or you, it's about the health of your business.