My Employer Died. What Now?

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about death of employer:

I have worked as a personal assistant for an amazing couple for the last 5 years. almost 2 years ago the woman who I was originally hired and worked closely with passed away. She was more than a boss she was my best friend and like a second mother to me. Her husband was married to her for 52 years and I believe went into complete shock and reverted to acting like a teenager the last 21 months.

After the wife passed away I kept my job and assumed all responsibilities as if I was the wife (only domestically of course). The husband and I began a close friendship as well and dealing with him on a personal level (dating a young Venezuelan girl who he just threw money to and treated him terribly) and even on a business level (he brought personal arguments into my job, etc.) has been an absolute nightmare and huge burden.

Yet there was no way I would ever leave him because I loved and cared about him. He passed away unexpectedly a couple of weeks ago and whether there was foul play or not, he’s gone:( This also leaves me without a job apparently because his children (5 total and 10 grandchildren), who considered me family as did I and talked me through a lot of hard times dealing with their father, seem to have turned on me. Either they are paranoid out of the craziness and their own issues of anger towards their father while he was alive, I don’t know but either way there is still a lot of work to do and I know absolutely everything about their new “assets” yet and I’m being jerked around with uncertainty about where I stand, if I will be paid, etc. So I feel like I just want to break free from all of their drama and find out what is a normal procedure when a boss dies? He only had 3 employees that took care of him, it’s not like he had a huge company that someone can step up to the plate or a bunch of people need to be taken care of, there’s only 3 of us.

I have been Googling this and I can’t find any similar situation. I believe I am entitled to a severance pay of some kind and then move on with my life. Also, I should mention that for him to save money on taxes he paid me half of my salary through his company and half through his personal checking account. PLEASE HELP guide me on what to do!

Signed, Worried

Dear Worried:

This is a situation in which you need an attorney to help you through the process. That is especially true because of the odd payment situation and the fact that it appears the business had no plans for continuity after the death of the principals. It sounds as though you and two other employees should combine your efforts to ensure you are all paid appropriately and that the family either closes the business or reorganizes and keeps it going.

In addition you should contact your state’s Department of Labor to ask if there is a state law about Final Pay requirements. They won’t provide legal advice, but they may be able to give you guidance about ways to request or demand final pay, if that is necessary.

The family probably is aware that they have legal responsibilities after the estate is settled and I would expect their attorney will advise them about how to either close up or reorganize and continue.

In the meantime, continuing your salary or finding out if you are unemployed, is crucial for you to establish. Thus, each employee should write to the executor of the estate (perhaps the senior family member) to make a claim regarding wages owed at this point and what final pay will be required if the business is closed. In that letter you could also offer to stay for X amount of time to wrap things up, for X salary or to help with reorganization to keep the business going.

You can soften that letter a bit by expressing sympathy for what has happened. However, your salary request should be presented more formally, so they know it isn’t just a request, it’s a demand (in the legal sense, even if you don’t word it that way.)

If you have an attorney for more than basic legal advice, they could write the letter for you.

Best wishes with this.
Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.