A new hire seems perfect, but her recent purchase of an assault rifle and revelations about her mental health history have a store worried
Running the business end of Geary & Son Jewelers had always been pretty easy for Anthony Geary. The hardest part had always been finding the right people to accommodate the store’s increases.
Six months ago, Geary & Son posted an ad for a jeweler’s apprentice. Among the resumes they received was one from Angela Dane, a former student of metal arts at the local community college who had just left the U.S. Army after eight years and two deployments to Afghanistan. She seemed like the perfect fit. She was disciplined, dedicated and grateful for the opportunity.
The timing was especially fortuitous. Angela was moving back and needed a place to live. Anthony’s sales manager (and cousin), Barbara, had just divorced and needed a roommate. After interviewing Angela, Barbara was comfortable bringing her on as both employee and tenant.
Angela quickly became a superstar new hire, and she and Barbara became fast friends. Barbara told Anthony that Angela had shared some of her difficult Afghanistan experiences, and that there was a good deal of anxiety under her calm exterior.
ABOUT REAL DEALReal Deal is a fictional scenario designed to read like real-life business events. The businesses and people mentioned in this story should not be confused with actual eyecare businesses and people.
One Monday morning, Barbara asked to meet Anthony at the store before opening. Clearly distressed, she said that Angela had gone to a gun show over the weekend and came home with an AR-15 assault rifle. She seemed proud of the fact that the seller used her veteran status as an excuse to bend a few rules so he could sell her the gun without a hassle.
When Barbara asked about licensing, Angela said that she would not qualify for a concealed carry permit, since she’d been treated for depression at a mental hospital, and she’d had an issue with a domestic disturbance. She was happy to be back home, though, because their state did not require a license to own the rifle.
Barbara was uncomfortable with having the weapon in her home and was beginning to question Angela’s stability. Anthony said he would look into the laws and options and would get back to her by the next morning.
Later that day, Don Amos, the store’s lead jeweler, came into Anthony’s office. He said that for most of the day, Angela had been talking about a new assault rifle she’d bought and how she couldn’t wait to try it. Anthony knew that Don was a gun-control liberal and was about to say he had nothing to worry about when Don quoted Angela as saying (with a delighted giggle) that she could “blow off the heads of 50 people” with the gun and not even stop to reload.
Afterwards, Anthony was torn and confused. He supported the rights of gun owners in his state, and knew that Angela was within the law to own the weapon.
He and other other employees talked among themselves about their shotguns and hunting rifles while at work, so he didn’t believe he could restrict Angela’s conversations. At the same time, he was concerned for his store, his cousin and his staff. Was he really dealing with a top-shelf new hire, or had he brought on a troubled, unstable veteran who posed a threat to him and to his business?
The Big Questions
1. Should Anthony terminate Angela’s employment? If so, on what grounds might he avoid a wrongful termination lawsuit?
2. As a business owner, can he restrict conversation in the store that makes other employees uncomfortable, even if it’s within the bounds of the law?
3. If he keeps Angela on, does he have an obligation to his other employees to require that she be evaluated for PTSD?
Expanded Real Deal Responses
Sherwood Park, Alberta, Canada
There are too many side issues. Gun proponent or gun opponent, neither has anything to do with the issue. If Barbara does not want a weapon in her house, it is her house and she can ask for it to be removed. The only issue here is Angela. Two tours of duty with some past agreed personal skirmishes? This veteran deserves to be assisted and the branch of the military she left has resources to help her. Anthony should seek help for her and offer to reimburse some of the costs. He is able to have a business by virtue of the many men and women like Angela who stood a post. The only thing scarier then getting her to someone that understands and treats PTSB is, NOT getting her to someone! It is now our time to stand a post for Angela.
As long as Angela is a “star” employee let her do her job. This gun anxiety reflects the state of affairs. As a veteran I’m sure she was excited about the rifle. I’m not sure about the “blowing off heads” comments — as far as I’m concerned that’s hearsay and not credible, and perhaps Don is jealous. Our vets need all the support we can give them, and let’s not be so paranoid as to let our vision be clouded.
Too often fear prevents people from getting to the bottom of offhand comments, and then they allow their minds to race to the worst-case scenario. When a person says “blow off the heads of 50 people,” I say “Yeah, in case of a zombie apocalypse that will be really useful!” And then wait for the reaction. It’s a simple joke but the person’s reaction will tell me whether I need to call the cops or if they are just excited.
When a person tells me something more intimate about their past I stop them later and say “Tell me about ...” We do it with our customers and it works every time. Why as managers do we forget to do it with our staff? When a person feels safe they will share enough for you to properly assess the situation. If it is something you feel requires professional help, this is the time to say it.
I’m a big believer in the Second Amendment and feel you have every right to protect yourself. But, I also believe that there has to be a system in place that restricts certain people from buying weapons like these. If Angela had to pull some strings and get around the system because she’s had some issues then that’s a red flag. But the biggest red flag here is her comment about blowing off heads. That’s insane! Gun enthusiast or gun control activist ... common sense has to be the player here. I don’t know if you can fire her over this situation but I would think you can certainly have a chat with her. I would tell her that she needs to think about how comments like that would affect people and that if she had true tendencies to act violently with the gun then maybe she should think about getting rid of it and talking to somebody. If she is truly an asset then I would find her some help...and fast!
Bel Air, MD
This is a tricky situation on many levels: legal, safety, as well as a moral one. The vets have some problems yes BUT, most are not violent and a sound bite can be taken out of context. Don the lead jeweler could have an ax to grind as well as be an anti-gun person and may view Angela as a threat to his job. As a store-owner I would call her in for a talk. I would address the gun issue and speaking about it in the store and how it did (could) affect co-workers. I would use this meeting to evaluate for myself the stability of Angela and use this to see if any further action needed to be taken. Terminating Angela would be my last course of action. We have a moral responsibility to support the veterans especially after what they have seen and done.
Always make it a policy to employ staff on a trial period to start with. Also, inform the local police of her comments. She may need some help if she is thinking and talking to other staff members in that way.
This article originally appeared in the January 2017 edition of INSTORE.