my coworker is lying about me to my boss

A reader writes:

Part of my job is helping out almost 200 employees with their travel, expenses and training. So, I get a LOT of emails. I respond to everyone right away — even if it’s an “I got your email and will let you know when I’ve completed! Thanks!” message. I also always complete and get right back to the employee when it’s done (I’m a meticulous note taker and have a spreadsheet).

But, recently, one employee keeps stopping my boss (only when I’m not there) to say that I’ve never respond to his emails re: whatever. My boss keeps coming back to me on this and I double check and yes, I’ve responded to all his emails on that and more and there was no further action to be taken. My boss says not to worry about it, but it really bothers me that this guy is lying and possibly badmouthing me to others.

Is there anything I can do?

Wow. I’d do two things:

1. Go talk to the guy. Say something like this: “I’m concerned that you haven’t been receiving my responses to your emails. I’m vigilant about responding to everything I receive — I even track everything in a spreadsheet. It sounds like we must be having some sort of technical issue. I’m going to talk to I.T. to find out how we can resolve it. Can you tell me more about which messages you didn’t receive replies to?”

In other words, handle it the way you’d handle it if this guy were complaining to you that he wasn’t receiving replies from you. You’d assume there was a technical problem and proceed accordingly.

Doing this is going to make it a lot harder for him to keep this up, and it’s going to put him on notice that you will assert yourself when things like this are said about you. But you’re not asserting yourself in an overly aggressive way or escalating things with him; you’re just a normal person looking into these bizarre reports of your messages going missing.

2. Then, go back and talk to your boss. Say something like this: “I want to let you know that I’m very concerned that Bob keeps telling you I’m not answering his messages. As I think you know, I’m practically neurotic about following up with people. I even keep a spreadsheet to make sure nothing falls through the cracks. I’ve talked to him to try to determine what the issue is, and if he reports it’s continuing, I’ll talk to I.T.”

The point here is to convey to your boss — in case there’s any doubt in her mind — that you’re on this, you’re not someone who’s cavalier about responsiveness, and you have a reputation to protect.

Beyond that, there’s not a lot you can do, but you’ll have covered your bases with your manager, whose opinion matters the most.

Theoretically, you could go back and insist that something be done about this guy, in case he’s badmouthing you to others, but I’d only get into that if you start seeing signs that he’s actually been doing that. Otherwise, you risk opening up a battlefield that it sounds like your boss isn’t eager to step on to, and you’d want her to have your back if you went that route.

I suppose you could also begin cc’ing your manager on your replies to his messages, which you could explain to her as you wanting to be sure that she knows you’re responding … but that risks being annoying to her, so I wouldn’t do it for long, if at all.

Keep in mind, too, that usually people who engage in behavior like this don’t have a ton of credibility with others, so you can at least take some solace in that. (You may also mentally award him a badge for dangerously poor behavior, and you may visualize him wearing it whenever you see him.)

{ 132 comments… read them below }

  1. FSP*

    I had something similar to this happen to me at my last job except it was my “manager” (term used loosely) and he was reporting to his supervisor that I wasn’t getting items to him in a timely manner and that was causing him delays and backups and headaches. I am a little OCD and similarly track everything. I spoke with the manager about the items and asked for a revised timeline or if I had missed a change in the current timeline. I also assured the supervisor that I would work with my manager to clear up his concerns.

    The manager insisted (to me only) that there was no problem with my timeliness in providing anything. So, I started time & date stamping everything that I provided him. That way, when it went to the supervisor, it was clear how long an item had been on the manager’s desk versus mine. It all ended up blowing up in his face (along with a lot of other ridiculous things). I would say that it is important to stand up for yourself but in a professional and respectful way.

  2. Jamie*

    Good advice about feigning that the OP believes it to be a tech problem and asking for specifics for IT.

    The collateral benefit is few things piss off a busy IT more than people claiming not to get emails which were received, making us troubleshoot a non-existent problem. So this will get Bob on IT’s shitlist…never a good place to be.

    The other thing is it’s possible he thinks he’s not getting them if he inadvertently blocked your emails or had them sent to a special folder he forgot about. You’d be surprised how often this happens…that’s why people should do searches in their own mailboxes before assuming they aren’t getting what was sent.

    1. ChristineSW*

      I was actually thinking something similar – it very well could be that the person truly isn’t getting the emails. If this is the case, Bob needs to learn patience and independent problem-solving; go check that junk folder before making Wakeen look bad! That’s what I do when I think someone isn’t replying to me.

    2. Shane Watson*

      Not only would reporting this non-existent issue put OP’s coworker on “the list”, it would provide a paper trail showing that there was no technical problem. Having that third party paper trail is something that could easily be brought into a disciplinary meeting with OP’s coworker and supervisor if things escalate.

    3. A Bug!*

      It’s a generally good policy, I think. Hanlon’s Razor: never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity. A little harsh in the language, but the premise is sound.

      If you always rule out benign causes of a problem before moving on to the malicious ones, you’ll generally come out of it looking better and with less harm to your relationships and reputation. You’ll also have a great answer to “Tell me how you resolved an interpersonal conflict in the workplace.”

      (And, well, for me at least, the Golden Rule: I wouldn’t want someone to think I’m scheming when really I’m just a doofus.)

      I think that’s been kind of a theme with questions, lately; I seem to recall a lot of “treat it like a genuine mistake and address it as such” answers in recent weeks.

      1. Lily in NYC*

        To me, the coworker seems a bit passive aggressive instead of clueless. If he were truly clueless, I think he would have approached OP instead of complaining to the boss.

        1. FiveNine*

          Yep. And because of this, my suspicion is that OP is being used by the coworker as the fall person for something the coworker didn’t get done, ostensibly didn’t know, etc.

    4. The Other Dawn*

      You better believe having me troubleshoot a non-existent problem will piss me off! People love to blame things on IT when actually they just don’t know that they have a junk mail folder and they should check it before coming to me. More likely, though, is that they don’t want to put forth the effort.

      We had a guy who has since left and I hated having to deal with him on anything. He was someone who was totally oblivious about anything computer-related and also felt that he shouldn’t have to learn how to check a junk mail folder or wait patiently if a website takes an extra 10 seconds to load. He would come to me several times a week with petty complaints. It got to the point where everyone saw him as the boy who cried wolf. When something actually WAS happening, I often didn’t respond right away, believing it was another case of a slow website or something.

      1. Jamie*

        I think I’ve also worked with this guy. :)

        He never could understand that my responsibility for his speed and access ended at his DSL – remoting in is important, but that doesn’t make his service provider my problem.

        Then I got a huge thank you note for “fixing” the issue – because of something I mentioned I was doing a few weeks out which had NOTHING to do with his problem…his lack of attention conflated that with his issue and assumed I fixed something beyond my power to fix with a solution for a completely unrelated problem…which wasn’t even going to happen until two weeks in the future.

        Some people you just stop trying to teach…just maintain and try not to let the stupidity drive you out of the field.

        1. The Other Dawn*

          What I used to do, towards the end, is if he complained about slowness or whatever I would just say, “Yeah, I’ve been having that problem too. I’ve checked with X company and they aren’t having any issues today. If I hear anything I’ll let you know.” Inevitably he would come into my office either that day or the next and say whatever I did “solved the problem and thanks!” You’re welcome, buddy. All the AAM reading I did that day cleaned out the T1. ;)

      2. Anonymous*

        At my last job there was some firewall issue with emails not going through. I regularly had problems, even to the point where I was on the phone with a vendor, talking to them as they hit send, and it still didn’t get to me. Not located in Spam, just missing. Most of the time I noticed it on personal emails, so I didn’t really want to bring it up to IT. Finally it happened with a work email so I mentioned it.

        Wouldn’t you know, that one email was one that I overlooked in my in box? D’oh!

    5. Anonymous*

      This happened to me recently and it turned out the guy really was not getting my emails, which was discovered when my company’s spam filter suddenly gushed all the undeliverable notifications out at me all at once (we don’t have spam folders, you get an email with a list of spam messages every few weeks).

      I was pretty surprised. Someone said they didn’t get some emails and *really* didn’t get them?

    6. Hooptie*

      Ah the threat of calling IT! We were just talking about this today. In an effort to save unnecessary emails and time, we have been posting reports, presentations, etc. on our intranet pages so that people can get what they want when they want it. Our VP has given us a directive that we are to send people to the page, never send them the files.

      It regularly happens that someone will call and say, “I’m having trouble getting onto (Intranet); can you send me that file instead?”

      It is amazing how quickly that intranet starts working when we say, “Sure, and I’ll also send a help desk request to IT so they can connect with you to figure out what’s wrong.”

  3. ChristineSW*

    Dont’cha just love when coworkers go whining to the manager instead of addressing the issue with you directly! *eyeroll*

    I love Alison’s suggestions here, particularly step 1. My instinct would’ve been, “but I did send it!”, which obviously isn’t appropriate.

    1. Vicki*

      Well, they have to, don’t they? Especially if the tales they bring aren’t strictly true.

      Twice (two different jobs, 10 years apart), I’ve had a manager come to me to say “Someone (unnamed) has told me that you [insert something I never did or said].” When I asked “Who?” I was told “I can’t tell you that.”

      I said “You’ll need to believe one of us. That never happened.”

  4. Jen*

    Another thing I’ve done which is slightly passive aggressive is that I find the message I’ve sent in my sent folder and I resend it to the person saying something like “I understand this may have slipped through the cracks and gone to junk mail – just wanted to make sure you have this information” so they now have the e-mail and the time stamp proving that I’d previously sent it out.

    1. AdminAnon*

      I’ve actually had a similar problem, but not to the same extent. I typically forward the original email from my sent box to this person with a note along the lines of “So sorry it didn’t get to you the first time; let me know if you have any issues in the future!”

      (It’s the “kill ’em with kindness” approach–my personal favorite)

    2. EngineerGirl*

      I’m guilty of this one. If its truly a mistake they say Oops. If it is anything else they know I’m keeping records ( and usually stop ).

    3. Jubilance*

      I’d totally do this as well as CC’ing my boss so that they could see that I did indeed reply to that person earlier. But I’m petty like that and I hate when people accuse me of doing things I didn’t do.

      1. The Other Dawn*

        I totally admit I’m petty like that, too. I don’t do it often, but if someone keeps telling me they didn’t something and make a big stink as though I’m not doing my job, you better believe I’m going to send the original with a CC to their boss. I don’t want to look like I’m not doing my job.

        1. MeganO*

          I’m not sure if that actually counts as petty. I guess it depends on the circumstances, but it seems to me that demonstrating you’re doing your job when someone you work with is acting like a jerk is just protecting yourself.

    4. Anonymous*

      I just do this because I’m lazy. I already wrote it once and a quick search in my sent box is going to find it much faster than me going back to find the documentation/rewrite the email etc etc.

    5. Elizabeth West*

      Heh, I’ve done that too.

      I worked with a sales manager who would reply to customer requests by cc’ing me and leaving their sales rep out of the loop (the rep was his primary bullying victim). He was trying to make the rep look bad. I hated it because (1) it was a dick move, and (2) it made it look like I was the sales rep and I wasn’t–I only sent out the material.

      So I would reply to the customer, “Your material is on the way. If you have any questions or would like to place an order, please contact your sales rep, Mr. X, and he will be happy to take care of you,” and copy the rep.

      He also used to sit on emails for weeks and then only send them to me if the customer called and bitched. I resent them to the sales rep so he would have the time / date stamp on the originals, and the To line showing he never got it. I heard he got fired after I left. Oh, what I wouldn’t have given to be a fly on the wall that day. >:)

  5. Yup*

    It does sounds like the best path is to treat this initially as though it really *is* a technical issue. Talk to this guy by phone or face to face and, in addition to asking about your missing emails, ask him if he encounters this with anyone else? Is it always, or just sometimes? Then get IT involved as necessary. And the next few times you reply to his emails, call him up and say, “I’ve just replied to your email about X, and want to make sure it was delivered. Did it come through okay?” Leave voicemails as necessary.

    Then you can update your boss about all the steps you’ve taken. If it’s a legit problem, all is well. If it’s not, well… the next time this guy catches your boss in the hall, your boss can still say, “Yes, OP let me know that she’s contacted IT and regularly does ABC to make sure the process is working. What are you doing about it on your end?”

    FWIW, I personally doubt there’s any real tech issue happening here and that the guy is either disorganized or lying. And I get that the recommended response it more work on your part. But if you take the Missing Reply Issue seriously as a matter-of-fact business problem that needs solving, you keep your professional reputation intact and avoid a weird head game.

    (If it helps, the last time I had somebody insist that I was routinely not replying to their emails, the guy was super sketchy. When he left the company, they found that he hadn’t turned in any required reports for nearly a year, his voicemail box had been full for six months because he never checked it, and he hadn’t turned in receipts for a bunch of business expenses. #validated)

      1. Ruffingit*

        Unless those receipts were on the company credit card. I worked at a place where we were required to turn in the receipts for things we charged on the company card. Sounds to me like that may have been the case here.

        Either way, this guy was obviously not interested in doing his job at all.

    1. Chinook*

      This is one of those times where having a reputation, and the paperwork to back it up, for handling routine items in a set manner can really help you (which it sounds like it already has because your boss told you not to worry about it). By having a spreadsheet tracking communications and the sent emails, it is very easy to bring up details when you go to IT with the issue (thus making Jamie happier with you and even more ticked off at Shavon for blaming it on a non-existant issue).

      I had this happen once when our accountant kept claiming that he couldn’t pay our AMEX on time because I wasn’t sending him the statements in a timely manner. My boss, without even checking with me first (he was at the US office and I was in ON), told him that that was highly unlikely because I always do A, B, and C and the odds of me missing C 4 months in a row (which was emailing the statement to be paid) were smaller than the accountant just not doing it. When he told me what happenned, I took it as a compliment on my abilities.

      1. Ruffingit*

        Right on! So what happened with the accountant, do you know? Did he eventually fess up to just not doing his job?

        1. Chinook*

          The accountant was eventually fired after the boss had me track all the invoices that were paid late. Having a VP travelling from one coast to the other only to find that his AMEX has been refused due to lack of payment will do that to you.

  6. fposte*

    I love the idea of an imaginary bad behavior badge–can we call it a demerit badge? And maybe you can award him more, and mentally place them on his imaginary sash.

    1. EngineerGirl*

      Ooh I love this! You could get a gaslighting badge, a bully badge, a clique badge, screaming, etc.

      The sash should be black.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I love the idea of an entire sash that you’d earn badges for, like we had in the Girl Scouts. But opposite from Girl Scouts in that it would be all bad behavior and skills you lacked.

      1. Ruffingit*

        Peter Principle Badge for managers promoted who shouldn’t be. AOL Badge for people who can’t handle their e-mail appropriately…. ;)

      2. littlemoose*

        And a Mean Girls badge for that woman who wanted her former boss to fund a party for some, but not all, of their coworkers.

      3. Erica B*

        the “invisible man” badge for the boss (like me) or coworker who is never there but acts like they are

        (i.e. my boss likes to come in for *maybe* 15 mins/day and then leaves for the day to go do whatever. He just walks out like he’s heading to the bathroom and doesn’t return.)

      4. tcookson*

        There could be all kinds of animal badges: the Low-Down Dirty Rat, the Snake-in-the-Grass, the Weasel, and various forms of Ass . . .

        1. tcookson*

          The Queen Bee (similar to the Mean Girls) for someone who just has to be number one and have everyone else under her thumb . . . not to be sexist.

    3. twentymilehike*

      In my household, we give out “imaginary tickets” to bad drivers. It started as a joke about my dad complaining about people’s terribly driving by saying, “If I were a cop, I’d give her a ticket for …”

      1. Jamie*

        I just fire people. In my head, all the time, doesn’t matter that they don’t work with me. Even other drivers who for all I know don’t even have jobs – fired. Sales clerk snippy because she had to stop texting long enough to take my money. So fired. At a store with lines thousands of customers long and 4 of 30 registers open? Store manager is totally fired along with whomever she put in charge of scheduling.

        I also fire politicians and people on tv all the time.

        I guess it’s a good thing my power is limited in real life – I’d be one draconian world leader if I got the chance.

            1. Rana*

              My first car was an old VW Bug, and it had this weird little button on the dash that did nothing except light up if you pushed it.

              It was great for relieving stress in traffic.

          1. NutellaNutterson*

            I don’t zap out of existence, just to an alternate reality where the annoying folk all have to deal with each other all day long.

        1. A Bug!*

          You and me both. You know how some people like to fantasize having superpowers, and rescuing people and being awesome? Well, if my superpower fantasies were true I’d probably be classed as a supervillain, the pettiest one in history.

          (In my defense, my “winning the lottery” fantasies are much more gracious.)

            1. Frenchie*

              If you invent it, I shall be your very first client. And would probably buy 10 to have spares in case one stopped working !

            2. Trillian*

              The only instant karma device I know of is a snowstorm. I recall the sweet taste (mixed with door-handle gripping terror) of being a passenger on the highway in whiteout conditions, and recognizing the cars in the ditch as the very same ones that had been ripping by and doing stupid cut-offs a few minutes ago.

              Then I saw the folded-up 18 wheeler, which took the grin off my face. There are *those* things out there??

      2. Marie*

        My sister used to have red and yellow cards in her car, for awarding to bad drivers. It started during the soccer world cup, of course, but it relieved stress, and often the drivers would actually laugh and start driving better afterwards.

    4. A Bug!*

      When the technology exists and is sufficiently inexpensive that people can have custom Terminator-style visual overlays, this is the app I want for it.

    5. Anonymous*

      I dream of using a paintball gun on people who: drive the wrong way down my one way streets, drive drunk or technically impaired (ie on the cellphone), yell at pedestrians, etc. I want them humiliated and called out for their excessively dangerous stupidity.

      1. MovingRightAlong*

        In my mind, I drive a super-spy/Inspector Gadget car. It can shoot out the tires of unsafe drivers, then extend the accordion-fold-elevation-wheels to drive over their disabled vehicles. The drivers then step out and shake their fists at me and maybe cry a little bit over their misdirected anger. I have no remorse for these fantasies, nor for the imaginary traffic problems they cause.

      2. Sourire*

        Am totally one of those people who would yell at pedestrians if I wasn’t too chicken. Not all pedestrians, mind you, but the ones who think they’re just so cool strolling at a snail’s pace in front of you as they walk out into traffic, in the middle of a block (no crosswalk) during rush hour. Because they “have the right of way”. Yeah, no… I want those people called out (or maybe just run over) for their excessively dangerous stupidity ;)

        1. Elizabeth West*

          I DO yell at them–inside the car. If you rode with me, you would think I moonlighted as a sailor. ;D

      3. Diane*

        I have an imaginary paintball gun too! And different colors represent different driving offenses. Red = drives with turn signal on. Blue = passing on the right when I’m going over the speed limit. Fluorescent green = general asshattery.

  7. Chriama*

    I’d like to remind everyone of the “never attribute to malice what can be attributed to incompetence” quote that’s been mentioned in a few recent posts. IMHO the most likely explanation that he’s technologically incompetent but also one of those guys who assumes it’s the other person’s fault without double-checking themselves first. I think he’s probably “tattling” to your boss because he thinks he can’t get a response from you (although he probably does want to get you in trouble a little b/c he’s annoyed)

    Alison’s advice is perfect — approach the problem as if no-one is at fault (except the poor IT guys, I guess). He’ll think twice about running to your boss before checking to see if the problem is on his end.

  8. Tiff*

    When it pops up, just forward the original to the guy and cc your boss. Once Mr. Liar realizes he is just highlighting his own incompetence he’ll have to find a new excuse as to why he can’t get his work done.

    1. Wubbie*

      I’ve done this in similar situations. Usually my boss forgetting I sent him something.

  9. Joey*

    I’m not so sure about taking the IT approach. To me that gives him an easy out and causes more unnecessary work. Here’s what I do when people say they never recieved my emails. “So boss let me know you haven’t received responses from me on a few things. I’m positive I don’t have anything outstanding from you, but let me check. Tell me exactly what you were waiting on and I’ll check me emails. Yes, I see that I sent it to you on Friday the 5th at 4:34pm. Can you check your inbox at that time to make sure you received it? I’ll wait just to make sure. Oh, you can’t find it. Let me forward it to you again just in case. Do you see it now? You might want to check with IT if you’re not receiving emails.” Step 2. ” Boss, that was weird. Wakeen says he didn’t receive my emails, but I double checked and sure enough I sent them as I always do. I’ll let you know if it continues to be an issue.”

  10. Sourire*

    Are you able to start adding a “read receipt” to the emails you send him? That way you can see if he is actually getting and ignoring them, or if they are actually somehow getting “lost” (possibly in the same place where the dryer monster keeps all those socks).

    Or would that be passive aggressive? It seems like a good solution to me, but I’m wondering if it would read badly.

    1. Jamie*

      I hate read receipts as they are usually used inappropriately, but this is a perfect case for them.

      It’s not passive aggressive – it’s allegedly trying to solve a problem with the technology available. She’s trying to make sure he gets what he needs…if he extrapolates any pa from that…that’s his problem.

      1. Chriama*

        But does it tell you if the email has been delivered? I’ve never used a read receipt but as I understood it, it just tells you the email has been opened. If it’s gotten lost, or the person hasn’t opened it, or they’ve chosen not to send a receipt (outlook asks you if you want to send one), how do you tell?

        1. Evan (now graduated)*

          There’s also a received receipt which can solve that problem. Unfortunately, some email clients are set to refuse to send those receipts automatically… so you can’t rely on the lack of them actually meaning there’s a problem.

    2. Shane Watson*

      I used read receipts while working for an organization where my expense sheets were lost. I sent a delivery and read receipt with every email after it became a repeated problem. Not only was the use of receipts noticed, I was looked at suspiciously by upper management because of it. I’d be very careful about how you use it.

    3. Calla*

      I’m so tempted to do this sometimes. I coordinate a weekly presentation slot where people get the schedule months in advance, a reminder right before the schedule starts, a reminder the week before their date, and a reminder the day before. The number of times I’ve had people respond *the day before* saying “Whoops, I didn’t know I was presenting, I can’t do it” is astounding. I’ve been sooooo tempted to add a read receipt to prove to *them* they got the email and read it, but I think it would risk being perceived as a little passive aggressive.

      Though in this case, it’s being directly blamed on the OP — maybe that’s an option she can discuss with her boss if this continues.

    4. Vicki*

      Those only work if the recipient opens the mail / in a certain way / clicks the button.

      He may truly not be seeing / reading the mail. He’s certainly not going to click the button.

  11. Ruffingit*

    It’s weird that he would choose something entirely provable to complain about. That leads me to believe that he either doesn’t know how e-mail works (that is, that you can prove you sent it and you have a time/date stamp on it) or he really isn’t receiving the messages.

    Either way, Alison’s advice is excellent as always. And, I think it is important to remember that if this guy is badmouthing you to others, he’s the one looking bad because everyone else knows that you’re answering their e-mails/dealing with their issues straight away. They can only be concluding that something is wrong with him if he’s doing that so take some comfort in that.

    1. Sourire*

      “It’s weird that he would choose something entirely provable to complain about. That leads me to believe that he either doesn’t know how e-mail works (that is, that you can prove you sent it and you have a time/date stamp on it) or he really isn’t receiving the messages.”

      Agree entirely. It is just such an odd thing to make up. Has LW also made sure to troubleshoot on her end as well (typo in his email address or his address changed and her contact info was never updated, etc)?

      1. Sourire*

        Aaaand I need to go to bed. Obviously I am too tired to think clearly, because, duh – if she is replying to emails, it’s obviously not a problem on her end.

        1. Jamie*

          Heh – you saved me the typing…I was just posting to point that out.

          And I am very jealous of anyone going to bed right now…because I totally need a nap.

  12. VictoriaHR*

    “I suppose you could also begin cc’ing your manager on your replies to his messages, which you could explain to her as you wanting to be sure that she knows you’re responding … but that risks being annoying to her, so I wouldn’t do it for long, if at all.”

    You can ask your manager if she minds if you do this, and have her set up an archive folder and inbox rule that automatically sends your emails in that format to that folder, so she never even sees them unless she needs to look one up.

    1. Chinook*

      I like that idea about asking your manager first before before copying her on emails and recommending the rule for autofiling the items she is copied on. It covers all the bases and doesn’t fill up the boss’ inbox.

  13. Sadsack*

    I think that this guy is more being a jerk than just being incompetent or technologically challenged. If he were truly not receiving the emails, why would he go to the manager instead of just going to OP and asking about them? Going to the manager first when he hasn’t attempted to address the issues with OP first is petty and a waste of the manager’s time.

    I also think that OP may want to consider just having the email system notify her when emails have been delivered and read by this particular person and save the notifications, rather than starting out copying the manager on all emails. If the manager didn’t seem concerned about the issue after speaking with OP, she may not be happy about being copied on all the emails without having asked to be copied.

  14. OP*

    OP here –

    Thanks for all the great suggestions.

    Just some more detail: A lot of these emails require a response from him, so I am sure he’s getting my emails and he’s not having any actual technical issues. I also sometimes get a “Thanks!” back. I usually delete those emails, but I am going to start a file on him and keep all them! lol

    My plan of action in the future:
    – Should he complain again, I’m going to call him (I can’t really go see him, he works at an offsite secure facility). I am going to pull the “I’m really concerned you’re not getting my emails, please help me help you” just so he knows I know he’s been complaining

    – When I send him something, I’m going to put a read reciept on it. So he knows I’m watching.

    – Give him a mental demerit shash when I see him. A shiney one.

    I’m going to hold off on Ccing my boss because he’s the “keep me out of it” type of manager. I just don’t want these complaints to affect my performance review – especially as they’re so petty!

    1. Chriama*

      I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt by assuming incompetence, but it’s weird that he would respond to an email you send him and then turn around and say he never got it. I like your plan of action but I definitely recommend talking to your boss ASAP. The extra details you provide make it sound like he’s laying the groundwork to get you to take the fall for his screw-up (or he really has it in for you for some weird reason). You need to tell your boss that you’re confused about his complaints but you’ve addressed it with him and IT. Do it NOW, in case something happens later.

    2. Anonymous*

      I’d hold off on the “read” receipts. I hate those. I always choose not to send the receipt as it aggravates me so much. If your system lets users not send the receipts as well, it might not do anything for you anyway.

      1. P*

        I’m wondering if OP could work in use of read receipts in the conversation with him – tacked onto “I’m really concerned you’re not getting my emails, please help me help you,” I think something like “once we’ve tried fixing it, could I add read receipts? I would feel so much better being sure that you got it!” would seem pretty reasonable.

      2. Sadsack*

        I don’t think I have ever seen the read receipt notice on an email that I have received. I just thought it was an automatic thing that gets sent when the email is opened and the email recipient doesn’t know about it. At least that’s my experience in Outlook.

        1. Jamie*

          I use Outlook, also – I get a notice saying that “X requests a read receipt” and I have to select either send or don’t send.

          I wonder if there is a setting where you can select to automatically send read receipts. I didn’t see it with a cursory look through the tracking settings, but maybe it’s somewhere else?

          I always hit don’t send unless it’s for a valid reason, like to create an audit trail. There are good reasons for using them, i.e. audits, it’s just the widescale abuse of them gives the whole idea a bad name.

          1. Cathy*

            In Outlook 2010: File / Options / Mail — then scroll way down to Tracking. You can choose Always send a receipt, Never send a receipt, Ask each time.

            1. Jamie*

              Duh – I was looking RIGHT at that when I posted and read it wrong. Absolutely right – my life will be much easier once I learn to read.

          2. tcookson*

            My Outlook email options have checkboxes for both sent and received messages.

            For the sent messages, there are two options for all messages sent:

            1)Request delivery receipt confirming the message was delivered to the recipient’s email server, and

            2)Request read receipt confirming the recipient viewed the message.

            For received messages that include a read receipt request, there are three options:

            1)Always send a read receipt
            2)Never send a read receipt
            3)Ask each time whether to send a read receipt

            I have mine sent to never send a read receipt, but that is because we had a paranoid receptionist a few years ago who was convinced everyone was out to shirk their duties and blame it on her, and she burned out everyone in the office on read receipts.

            I also wish there was some setting to undo the “Important” exclamation point that some people attach to even the most non-urgent emails. Is it passive-aggressive if, when responding to these, I change the orange “high-importance” exclamation point to a blue “low-importance” down arrow??

            1. tcookson*

              Is it passive-aggressive if, when responding to these, I change the orange “high-importance” exclamation point to a blue “low-importance” down arrow??

              Because I did that once (maybe twice) to an email from a co-worker who drives me crazy with indiscriminate use of the high-importance setting . . . and then after responding with the setting changed to “low-importance” it seemed like maybe I was getting a little carried away in my irritation . . .

          3. Liz*

            There is a setting. I always change set Outlook to ask me every time before sending a receipt. My home email is set to never send receipts.

    3. Wilton Businessman*

      I’d do the receipt, but say in the message that you’re getting a receipt to make sure our technical problems don’t continue. If you don’t get a response in a reasonable time, send it again.

    4. Flynn*

      “I’m going to hold off on Ccing my boss because he’s the “keep me out of it” type of manager. I just don’t want these complaints to affect my performance review – especially as they’re so petty!”

      That’s something AAM didn’t mention, but – wouldn’t his constant complaining over such a minor thing, without coming to you first, end up hurting HIM directly? Whether he’s incompetent or malicious (or just unlucky and really does have a gremlin eating his emails), your boss is probably just getting annoyed with him.

    5. Mimi*

      If he’s actually replying to your emails, then maybe he has memory issues? Or some other ailment in which he legitimately can’t remember that you responded to him?

      I dunno, I’m trying to give him the benefit of the doubt, since it’s easy to prove that you’ve replied to his emails. I’m just wondering why, if he really thought you weren’t replying to his emails, he wouldn’t just pick up the phone and call you?

      1. Sourire*

        Wouldn’t memory issues like that show up in other facets of his work (and life) though?

      2. OP*

        IDK, my working theory is that for some reason he thought I wouldn’t have any of the evidence and is just looking to make trouble. Some people are just like that. He doesn’t have a job where he can be forgetful and continue to perform, so I don’t think it’s a mental health issue.

  15. OP*

    I may also try to give him just a little more attention – things like check in with him to ask if he’s doing okay or needs anything. Maybe what he’s looking for is more attention?

    1. Jamie*

      Is that your job? To make sure they have enough personal attention? If not, I’d be careful not to reward bad behavior. He didn’t bother to come to you with this, he bad mouthed you to your boss. Not sure this should net him special treatment.

      1. A Bug!*

        I agree with Jamie’s advice. You can try to improve your working relationship with him if he’s receptive to that, but one-sided special treatment from you to him is rewarding unprofessional, anti-social behavior (if he is in fact lying about not receiving his e-mails).

        He may well just be looking for attention by his actions, but if he is, he’s not looking for it from you, OP.

        Purely hypothetically, if a person is not an objectively great performer, and knows it, one way to look like a more valuable employee is to make one’s coworkers look worse by comparison. (A poor strategy, to be sure, but one I’ve seen often enough that I’m not surprised by it anymore.)

    2. Anonicorn*

      Maybe I’m reading the statement incorrectly, but could this be something he’s confused about?

      I’ve responded to all his emails on that and more and there was no further action to be taken.

      Is this a situation where he needs travel reimbursement or requests training, but for whatever reason his request is not approved and he thinks you can do more for him or doesn’t agree with the decision (and this is somehow your responsibility)?

  16. the_scientist*

    Oh wow, I have another reason to de-lurk for the second day in a row!

    When I was an undergrad, I did an 8-month co-op term at a large, multi-national pharmaceutical company whose name shall remain unknown. I had a co-worker there who LOATHED me. It started off fine- I was undergoing the rigorous training process and was with our team leader most of the time. But once the team leader went on vacation, this co-worker got nasty REAL fast. My theory is that he was concerned I was going to steal his job. He was careless, and made frequent mistakes in a lab where mistakes are costly and dangerous. Luckily, most things had to be signed off, so it was easy to track mistakes back to him, but in one situation I noticed a critical error and immediately alerted our lab manager. She alerted the group manager, and the four of us (including co-worker) had a little conference about what to do. Co-worker said “well, it was the_scientist’s mistake. She makes similar mistakes all the time, I’ve seen it”. I turned around and dead-eyed him and said “Really? That’s so strange, because you’ve NEVER said anything to me or alerted me about a mistake before! This is really important- I’d hate to think that I’m compromising the integrity of our results through mistakes that I haven’t noticed! What was your reasoning for not telling me I was making a mistake immediately after it happened?”. Needless to say, the managers saw what was up right away.

        1. Marie*

          Yes! This is awesome. I, on the other hand, am a master only of the hot-headed retort – good for putting down creepy male strangers on the street; not so good for work.

    1. tcookson*

      Wow, quick thinking! When someone says something really egregiously wrong like that, I am so taken aback in that moment that I can’t even think of anything to say . . . there’s an overwhelming rush of disbelief that just dumbfounds me.

      We have had some turnover at work within the past three years, and it used to be that nobody on the staff would do that to anybody else, so we all trusted each other. We have a couple of the “new” ones, though, that you really have to watch out for. Time to stop being naïve that everyone plays nice, and to start being prepared with a great response such as this one.

      1. the_scientist*

        Honestly, I don’t know where it came from! I was like 20, maybe 21 at the time, without much work experience outside of day camps. I’ve never been one to take crap from people though, and it was the latest incident in a long string of bullcrap from this guy. Unfortunately, things only kept escalating. I fairly skipped out of there on my last day and have nothing but horrible memories of that job.

  17. Elle*

    OP, are you female? If so, read Nice Girls Don’t Get The Corner Office IMMEDIATELY. Your responses are so passive (maybe, I should give him more attention?), they are a bit scary. This isn’t pizza night with your best friend’s boyfriend, who doesn’t like you. This guy really has the ability to damage your career with these lies. TAKE THIS SERIOUSLY and act strategically.


    1. OP*

      I’m very proactive and very CMA in my daily life. This one just threw me off because, honestly, it’s really bizarre. It’s why I asked here what the recommendations would be (and I am going to take action as has been recommended here).

      I do like to try to resolve and PERSONAL issues someone has been having with me before I go on the professional defensive/offensive mode because, often, that resolves the issue a lot faster and makes for a much nicer working environment. This doesn’t mean I roll over and let someone beat on me – it means that when someone is beating on me, I look for a way to make them stop and part of that may be trying to figure out what triggered it with that particular person. It’s conflict RESOLUTION rather than conflict “make it stop, make it stop!”

      So, you don’t have to shake your head and trust me that I do take this seriously and am looking to protect myself :)

  18. AB*

    This question reminds me of a podcast from, in which they teach managers to discourage this type of behavior in their employees, asking them to make sure they address the issue with the colleague and giving them time to resolve it before going to management with a complaint.

    If that had happened with me, besides doing what AAM said, I would add, at the end of the conversation:

    “Meanwhile, until IT figures out what could be happening, now that you know I’m not failing to answer your emails, I’d appreciate you coming directly to me any time you don’t receive a timely response.”

    (He/she might very well continue to go directly to my manager, but if I was informed that was still happening, I’d make sure my manager knew of my request, and it would be clear who was behaving in an inappropriate manner.)

  19. Vicki*

    What bothers me most about this letter is this part: “My boss keeps coming back to me on this and I double check…”

    How often has this happened? It should only have happened _once_.

    – Coworker goes to boss and complains
    – Boss comes to OP to check
    – OP proves “I sent the email. See?”
    – Coworker goes to boss again
    – Boss says “She’s shown me that she’s sending the email. If you’re not receiving it, you need to talk to IT.”

    1. Ruffingit*


      The boss really needs to step out of this. There’s nothing else the boss can do at this point nor should she. Except perhaps tell complainer to quit being a jerk and to take all further complaints about this to the OP and IT.

    2. OP*

      Yeah I was thinking about that as well.

      My boss is very… he’s very much the “I’m just passing along what he said! If you say you’ve done it, I believe you and I consider the matter closed” when I DON’T consider the matter closed. I want the fact that it was opened in the first place to be addressed!!

      1. OP*

        Meant to add – when I wrote the letter, it was the 3rd time he’d come to my boss and said I hadn’t responded to him on something.

  20. Karen*

    Just had a bad situation with a co-worker, one that I talked our company into hiring. Long story short threw me under the bus for something he was doing and added a few lies to boot. I was off for a few days and when I came back to work I had to go see HR I was told, got my very first write up after 12 years with a perfect work record. Not sure what to do. I am actually still in shock over it. I am rather well respected in my position but I am known for being blunt but in my profession I have to be or our company would not get paid by insurance companies. Now I have to sit in the same office as this guy and it is not easy. I just do my work and don’t say a word. I have been with this company 12 years, but I am not sure if I should move on. I am very disappointed how this was handled. HR was useless, they always have been.

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