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When should boards stand by their employees?
When should you act and when should you hold back in delicate situations involving staff?
The doorman was fired for being nice to kids.
I was barely a teenager but I remember very clearly when Bill, one of the more popular doormen in our 48-unit Riverside Drive co-op, was fired. It came out of the blue. The problem was that he was found playing catch with some of the shareholders’ kids in front of the building. Everyone was very upset about the dismissal, and I remember Bill sitting in our kitchen, looking uncomfortable as he talked to my father, who had said he’d discuss reinstatement with the board. I now wonder if there could have been more to it than just playing ball. It seems like an awfully harsh punishment for a relatively minor crime. Where was the union? Where was the paper trail of warnings that is usually required to dismiss an employee?
I mean, it’s not like the case of Fastino, another smiling, polite doorman in our building who was there one day and gone the next. But Bill, unlike Fastino, wasn’t working the midnight to 8 A.M. shift with the help of a couple of prostitutes. Or was he? I realize now that I knew very little about the background of our staff.
Which brings me to the topic of the day: when to act and when to hold back in delicate situations. Say your doorman is accused of molesting children – what (if anything) should you do? Some boards have fired the doorman in such a situation immediately, and have then been called up short by the union, which forced the building to take him back. What if the doorman charged with child molestation is found not guilty? Does he get his job back?
No way, says attorney James Samson, a partner at Samson, Fink & Dubow. “It only takes one holdout in a 12-person jury to get a not-guilty verdict,” he points out. Managers and attorneys say that boards must follow strict “paper trail” procedures and have more than hearsay evidence if they want a dismissal to stand up in court. Such situations present moral and ethical dilemmas that every board must face: when do you drop the axe – and when do you stand by your man? What are the consequences of inaction/action? When does your board morph into the Salem witch trials, and what steps should you take to ensure the safety of the residents while still balancing the civil rights of the employees? What about known sexual offenders in your building? You probably should warn residents, but what about a person’s right to privacy?
Attorney Abbey Goldstein, a partner at Goldstein & Greenlaw, says dealing with known sexual offenders (“Emily’s List” people) is full of minefields: if you say nothing and something happens, the board might be held liable; if you announce that you have an E-List person working in the building, you can’t throw him out – but it could affect resales/value if it became known that you employed a former sex offender. “Basically, they have the presumption of innocence, but human nature being what it is, you do what you have to do,” says Theresa Racht, an attorney in private practice. “It can be morally questionable, but if you don’t act, it can be a political disaster.” So watch your step.
In the April issue, in a story I wrote about board president Maryann Hamilton, I made a fleeting reference to the manager at Hamilton’s co-op. Unfortunately, I misspelled the agent’s name and misidentified her firm. She is Jodee Sarisky, and she has worked at Kaled Management for 17 years. She is highly regarded by Hamilton, and also by her boss, Peter Lehr, the firm’s director of management, who notes: “She’s the mother of triplets, and I often say, if she can handle triplets, she can handle anything.” My apologies for the errors.
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