Note: Long post ahead.
- Rural southern Spain
- Medium-sized public company (+500 people) without HR
- Toxic workplace
- My mother is in her late fifties
- She has been in this company for 20 years working as a secretary
- Her husband used to be the director of the company for 30 years until he stepped down last year
- New management (hand-picked by the stakeholders, which basically is the political party of the region) has wreaked havoc chaos and fear via threats and layoffs (including those who started legal action against them)
- Constant friction with the new management and my mother's husband (ex-director)
Today my mother told me that she has received an official warning letter from management (first ever received). The letter brings to her attention the fact that an undisclosed coworker has reported her for not doing her job. The source implies that my mother didn't mail one letter when she was supposed to do it as per her responsibilities. Yes, that's all the report says (in three pages).
This warning will penalize her with half a month without pay. Next warning(s) will penalize her with a full month without pay and may be reason enough for firing her.
This is a case of he-said-she-said as there are no witnesses involved, no proof of the mails that needed to be mailed, no proof of all the mails that my mother mailed (which were in the "mail-pile": around 5kg of mail, according to my mother) no report/communication stating "don't forget to mail the really-important-mail hidden behind the wardrobe", etc. Amusingly, nobody can even find the secret mail my mother was unable to send. Of course, according to my mother, she mailed everything there was to mail.
Moreover, there are no fixed hours for picking the mail pile and driving to the post office to mail it in her contract/responsibilities, but everybody knows that it happens at around 10am every two days. This doesn't prevent any of their coworkers from putting a mail in the mail pile right after it has been emptied and complaining that their mail was forgotten, which may have been what have happened (first time ever though).
The issue at hand is that somebody made an unreasonable complaint without proof/impact to management and they are in the process of punishing my mother. The person who made the complaint could report my mother again in the future, without providing any proof, making my mother work for free or having her fired without severance. Conveniently a win-win for the company in either case.
This is obviously very illegal but there's no easy choice here as:
- Finding an applicable job for her in the region she lives (or even in the nearest city) is next to impossible given her age, work experience, lack of jobs, and possible political ties to the company
- If she sues the company she will be left without a job anyways (or demoted to a redundant position and then laid-off, like some of her peers) if she can even afford a lawyer until an agreement is reached
- Accepting the warning will be like admitting that she is guilty of what she didn't do, making her position weaker should she sue the company at a later date, on top of what it was mentioned in the previous section about future extortion
- Even if she refuses to sign the warning and complains, the current director has already signed it, implying that the company recognizes that this was indeed insubordination
I have insisted her to go to a lawyer and refuse to sign the warning but I am unable to see a way out for her where she preserves her job.
It shall be noted that not signing the warning (until tomorrow) will also result in insubordination.
What puzzles me is the fact that the new management has been giving her more responsibilities and authority (to the point that only the director is above her) while still being officially a secretary. Certainly they could have tried setting her up for failure with the new responsibilities but my mother was able to adapt and prove her worth, and now they are trying a petty tactic.
Is there something else I am missing where no lawyers/suing is involved and she gets to keep her job without being extorted?
PS: Since the chaos started I advised her to document everything, especially communications via email, and it has saved her a couple of times but her evidence has also been dismissed by management when it was convenient for them. This time she didn't have proof of the thousands of mails she picked up and it is unreasonable to expect her to note each one of them just to (try) prevent being accused again of wrongdoing in the future.
Update to answer some of @obe questions:
Q: Who's "new management"?
A: "New management" is composed by the director of the company (which is basically a CEO who responds to the politicians from his party, who are above him) and his administration (hand-picked members of the political party). To this day, according to my mother, nobody outside this new administration really knows how many people are there.
Q: Who's above my mother and her boss?
A: Above my mother is the new director, and above him you can find the stakeholders/politicians.