Thursday, December 11, 2008

Small Business in a Small Town

Lately, I've discovered one more…inconvenience?...of being a small town business owner. Ex-employees do not just disappear into the general population. You meet them at the grocery store, they come to the café with their families, they stay in touch with current employees. You hear from them and about them all the time. And that is not always a good thing…

One girl in particular has been a thorn in my side the past few weeks. This is the smart-ass little high school student I fired last spring. Such a smart girl, but circumstances of her seventeen years have molded her into a cocky, brash loser always a breath away from doing the foolish thing that will land her in real hot water. How she has managed to stay out of jail thus far is beyond me.

It became obvious after I hired "S" that she had real problems with authority, and I was, apparently, going to be the authority she chose to have problems with. For whatever reason, she projected all her teen-age rebellion and angst on to her relationship with me. She hated my guts, and was not shy about making that perfectly clear to anyone who would listen. I ignored it for awhile, tried to let it slide by having my shift supervisor deal with her, rather than having any direct interaction with her. But eventually it became obvious that things were never going to change or improve; and I decided that if I had wanted that kind of crap from a seventeen-year-old, I would have had kids of my own. So I terminated her. The circumstances of the actual firing got out of hand, and I ended up losing my temper. It wasn't pretty.

For several weeks afterward, I watched my back. Not that I was afraid she would do violence to me personally, but I did have a nagging fear of coming to work in the morning and finding the front window smashed in and the dining room trashed. Possibly the only thing that saved us from that fate is the fact that the restaurant is right across the street from the police station, and this IS a small town. After a while, I relaxed and let the memory of "S" slide into the past. Only to be rekindled when she began looking for a new job and didn't have enough sense NOT to use the café as a reference. I did not trash her to any prospective employers, but I felt it would be unethical to perpetuate the fantasy that she had quit her job at the café.

Well, she eventually found another job. She works at the little grocery store up the highway from the café. My favorite little "Grocery Outlet." (My default supplier of things like lettuce, fruit, eggs—things we often run short of at the restaurant.) Wonderful. I'm happy for her. Maybe she can be successful there. Would that this could be simply a "let bygones be bygones" situation. But, alas…

A couple of weeks ago, I ran in to the store to pick up something, and saw "S" out of the corner of my eye—she was the only cashier at the only open front register. "Oh, great," I thought. "I really don't want to have this confrontation today…" I was in the back of the store sorting through the bags of romaine when I heard her call for back-up. Score! I rushed through my shopping and attached myself to the end of the back-up cashier's line, which was at the other end of the bank of registers from "S." Made my purchases and left, thinking that the Universe had smiled on me in the matter of dealing with surly ex-employees, at least for that morning.

A week or so later, one of my current employees mentioned that she had seen "S" at the grocery store. And that "S" had regaled her with this story about how I had come into the store, stood in her line but wouldn't speak to her, was extremely rude to her (I'm not sure how I communicated this rudeness if I wouldn't speak to her) and she finally had to call a manager to ring me up. I was ready to believe "P" might be embellishing this story a bit until another employee reported having the very same mystifying conversation with "S" a few days later. Oh, and "S" went out of her way to tell both of them that the only reason she QUIT her job at the café was because she was offered a job as a nanny for $15 per hour, cash. Talk about choosing your own reality!

I'm not so much angry at "S" for making up a story about the confrontation that never happened as I am irritated by the thought that now I have to be aware of what she might say about me every time we meet…or don't meet, as the case may be. I don't have time for that.

I'm utterly mystified that someone would go through the trouble to construct such an elaborate lie for what was, in the end, a non-event. What's the point? Isn't "Get Over It!" the big mantra of the younger generation these days? It bothers me that not only has this girl not gotten past her largely self-inflicted bad experience of working for me, but in her own weak and pathetic way, she's bent on continuing to paint me as the Wicked Witch of the West to anyone who will listen.

In a larger gene pool, like suburban Chicago, or Portland, or even Eugene, she could spread this crap to two hundred of her closest friends, and I would still probably never be aware of it. But out here in this two-horse town, it is right there in my face. Not only do I have to hear about her conversations with my current staff, but I have to worry about how her behavior might influence potential customers. And I don't like to be in the position where I feel like I have to be afraid to do what I need to do when it comes to staffing my business. Ugh!

This concludes today's rant. Now I have to get out of bed and get ready to face another day at that place that is the fulfillment of all my dreams and the source of all my ulcers…

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