Time to Expose the Liar at Work?


I work in a job with specific calling and sales targets that determine employee performance and promotion. Every day, rankings in a variety of categories on these metrics are published. One colleague in particular is always, always No. 1 in every category.

When a few close co-workers and I got suspicious of her consistent first place (which is not close at all, it’s by a landslide, almost unbelievable), we found that in fact the data isn’t true. She’s logging calls that never happened, and falsifying her activity to get to the top.

This colleague now gets special praise each month, got promoted and is in a mentorship role, and makes everyone else’s numbers look bad. I know snitching will make me look bad as an employee in the long run, but what should I do now that I know it’s all fake? Confront her, her manager, H.R.?

— Anonymous

Fake your numbers, too! (I jest.) In all seriousness, this kind of mendacity tends to catch up to a person. I hope her day will come. I never recommend snitching, but doing nothing will only exacerbate this untenable situation. Certainly, you can confront her with what you know, because her lies are materially affecting you and your colleagues. What she is doing is unseemly, at best. All the benefits she’s receiving from her supposed exemplary performance are unearned, which I know is infuriating.

Before you move forward, think through some questions. Do you have credible proof of her misdeeds? What do you think will happen if you confront her? If she is willing to lie so flagrantly, is she really going to confess her sins or change her ways when confronted by a colleague? What do you think will happen if you bring this to her manager’s attention, or if you take the issue to human resources? And what will it do for you to bring attention to what you and your colleagues know?

What you really want is a level playing field. For all kinds of reasons, that doesn’t really exist, anywhere. I still hope you can find a way forward that is more fair and doesn’t only reward someone who’s willing to cheat to get ahead. Just be sure you’re thinking carefully about the consequences of however you proceed.

I have been a consultant for a small nonprofit for close to five years. I have seen a lot of changes and employee turnover. I have a friendly relationship with the executive director, who is not my main contact but has the ultimate say over my duties. Unfortunately their employee turnover has meant a huge loss of institutional memory that has resulted in some massive erosion of process. Additionally, some abrupt changes in structure and nontransparent promotions have created uncomfortable shifts in hierarchy and a general feeling of instability.

I have offered my services to onboard new employees in the new project management system, which they also rashly instituted without any forethought or training. This offer was initially accepted, but I keep getting put off on getting started until things are “settled.”

This, meanwhile, has made my assignments a lot more difficult and disorganized. I’m very concerned that any growth of an organization operating this way will only compound these problems. But since I’m not an employee, would that be overstepping? It is getting to the point that I’ve considered firing them as a client, but I love their mission — and the work itself is very interesting. I am reluctant to get too involved, but their current way of operating is making my job a lot more difficult. Would love to know your take.

— Anonymous

There are many pleasures to working as a consultant. You choose what you do and with whom you work, but there are also elements you have little or no control over, including the professional environments of your clients. You have something valuable to offer the people in this organization, but they have to want your assistance and be in a position to take advantage of it.

Because you’ve already offered your services, I’m not sure what more you can do to get them to follow through on accepting your offer. Certainly, send a reminder that you are ready and willing to help them in this transition to see if that motivates the client. Offer specific information on the problems you can address and how. You can also tactfully share your concerns with your main contact, outlining how the transitional chaos is complicating your work.

That said, I would be judicious in how you communicate your concerns because you are on the outside looking in and may not have a full understanding of what’s going on. If and when you reach the limits of your tolerance, it may be time to fire the client. I hope it doesn’t come to that.

I am a scientist (male) who works in biotechnology. A part of my role is participating in monthly safety inspections of our facilities. Unfortunately, this also includes taking note of employees who are not in compliance with our personal protective equipment requirements. These rules are not arbitrary, and are regulated by the county environmental health and safety agency.

I consistently encounter one employee wearing her lab coat completely unbuttoned and wearing a cropped tube top underneath. This attire is concerning because it doesn’t match the safety dress code for scientific employees.

I feel torn. In other safety instances (like someone not wearing gloves, or safety glasses), I can usually remind the individual during the inspection. In doing so I can avoid having to go to our safety director. For this context, with the employee wearing the cropped tube top, I don’t want to appear to be “that guy” telling a woman how she should dress in the office. In bringing this up with our safety director, I don’t want to appear like I am “tattling” on another employee, but this is in violation of our safety policies that keep us in compliance to run our research center. If a county inspector walked in and saw her dressed like that, we would easily be fined.

Should I pass this case to the safety officer and have him deal with this?

— Anonymous, Boston

I understand your concern and appreciate your being mindful of not policing women’s attire. It’s important to be cognizant of such nuances. Safety policies exist for a reason, and asking someone to follow those policies ensures that the workplace stays safe and helps to avoid sanctions and/or fines.

You have a couple options. Part of your job is to pay attention to how your team is adhering to safety policies. You’ve noted a violation, so it is well within your purview to approach the employee and say something. You can be clear that you have no problem with her attire while reinforcing what she needs to wear to follow the safety guidelines.

If you want to take a more passive approach, send occasional (perhaps quarterly) reminders to everyone about safety policies with general notes on what should be avoided based on what you’ve observed. If she doesn’t take the hint, you can be more direct. If, after you speak with this employee, she doesn’t modify her attire, it will probably be time to take this issue to the safety officer. I am confident you can resolve this before that escalation.

I work with a person who has a child who is special needs. This person is out of the office because of unplanned absences a lot. Because of this, the person’s work is left to me and my team. We are already swamped, and it is hard for us to manage our own work plus take on this person’s work.

We were going to approach our manager to discuss this additional work, but we are not sure how to do this without seeming insensitive. Any advice?

— Anonymous

Handling the workload when a colleague has personal circumstances that require unexpected absences is always a challenge. No one is at fault here. It’s just a complicated situation for which there are no easy answers.

Have you tried discussing the workload issue with your colleague? Is there a way they could compensate for the absences to reduce the burden on the rest of the team? Is there a way the team could work with your colleague to equitably distribute the additional work when they are absent?

The way forward is through open, frank dialogue and a willingness to find a workable solution that doesn’t place an undue burden on anyone. You don’t seem insensitive, and if you do need to raise this issue with your manager, I am confident that you will be as considerate in outlining the issue as you were in asking this question.

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