New Year’s Eve was bittersweet for Lamar Austin.
He celebrated the birth of his son – the first baby born in Concord this year – and he found out the hard way that workers in New Hampshire have little protection if employers want to fire them for virtually any reason at all.
Austin faced a tough choice in a story previously featured in the Monitor – attend the birth of his newest son, Cainan, or miss work and be fired from his new job by his employer, Salerno Protective Services, based in Manchester. Austin chose his son, and his employer informed him that night that he was being let go.
Since New Hampshire is an “at-will employment” state, an employer or employee may generally terminate an employment relationship for part-time or full-time workers at any time and for any reason, with a few exceptions. That means Austin has little in the way of legal protection, no matter how good an excuse the birth of a child may seem. On the job
Austin said he was hired by Salerno Protective Services a month ago for a 90-day trial period as a part-time security guard in which he was expected to be on call 24/7. Salerno Protective Services provides security to clients including stores and college campuses.
When Austin got the job, the company told him they were looking for “dependable people,” he said. He was informed that after his 90-day trial period, he would be notified as to whether or not he would continue to work there.
In the month that followed, Austin said that he did not miss a shift and took on other’s shifts. On Dec. 28, however, Austin said he couldn’t cover for another employee who had canceled because of the snowstorm. He said he needed to attend a doctor’s appointment for his wife, as they were expecting the birth of their baby boy any day.
When Austin was scheduled to work on Friday and Saturday later that week, his 26-year-old wife, Lindsay Austin, went into labor.
He told his boss he couldn’t come in.
“I didn’t want to make it seem like I’m trying to miss work or something,” Austin said. “The second day I told my boss, ‘My wife is still in labor,’ and he just said, ‘You’re forcing my hand, if you aren’t in work by 8 tomorrow we are going to terminate you.’ ”
At 1 a.m. on New Year’s Day, Austin said, he got a text reading, “As of now, you are terminated.” Austin said the text came in a group message with other numbers he didn’t recognize.
He decided not to fight it.
“I just responded ‘ok,’ ” he said. “I was in the hospital, it was a long night, and I wasn’t trying to argue with nobody about a job while my wife was in labor.” Legal perspective
Andru Volinsky, a lawyer and soon-to-be executive councilor, said the company was probably well within its legal rights to terminate a probationary employee.
“Legal niceties aside, this company could have acted more humanely,” he said.
Supporting employees is the “cost of running a good business,” Volinsky said. However, that support doesn’t often come willingly from employers.
“We’ve seen over the years that there are many good employers that act fairly and some that act unfairly, but it’s only when the employees are organized and act collectively that they are able to negotiate for protections that include paid family leave,” he said.Company policy
When asked about Austin’s history as an employ at Salerno Protective Services, and the company’s policy for employee time off, CEO Anthony Salerno said he “does not comment on employee status.” Salerno did not respond to follow-up questions.
Salerno Protective Services often hires retired law enforcement, or military officials as employees, according to the company’s website.Work history
Austin served for 31/2 years in the United States Army, including a six-month stint in Iraq as an ammunition specialist in 2006. He now lives in Pittsfield with his wife and four children.
Before working at Salerno Protective Services, Austin said, he worked for eight months at Pitco, a company that makes oil fryers for fast food companies. Before that, as a part-time crossing guard and at Target.
While unemployed, Austin received assistance from his church, Grace Capital, in Pittsfield. He also has received assistance from veterans programs like Veterans Inc. and the Easter Seals.
Austin said he hopes to get into a trade, like an electrician, which he imagines might provide more stable employment.
“It’s been tough, but God has always provided for me when I needed it,” he said. “Some kind of help always came in the strangest forms.”
He said he never wanted to cause trouble.
“Maybe I just wasn’t working there long enough for them to want to keep me,” he said.
(Leah Willingham can be reached at email@example.com.)