my boss wants me to lie to coworkers about my commute

A reader writes:

I work in a team of about 20 people within a large organization in a big city. I generally like my job and get on well with the people we work with. However, my boss has recently been asking me to lie to colleagues about my commute to work!

Her problem is that we both commute into the city from the same train station, but I have only been doing this for a few weeks following a move. We are the only two members of our team who commute in along this particular train line. My boss is often late (we have flexi-time and can arrive any time up to 10 am, but she still doesn’t seem to be able to get here on time) and has always blamed the trains being cancelled/late/etc. However, now that I use the same train line, it’s become obvious to me and my team that boss is lying, because I’m making it in on time just fine.

Recently, we had some stormy weather and the train company announced the day before the predicted storms that trains may be delayed the following day. They were delayed, but the frequency of the trains on that line meant it didn’t really matter (e.g. I went to catch the 8:10 and found it was delayed by half an hour, but the 7:45 was also delayed by half an hour and so arrived 5 minutes later). I got to work on time, but boss was late and made a huge show when she came in of saying “Oh, how did you get here? I had to wait hours on the platform!” etc.

Normally this doesn’t bother me and it’s just a bit of a running joke in our office that boss is never to be seen much before 11 am. We all roll our eyes at her excuses, but it rarely affects us in any real way. However, boss and I went to a meeting on Friday and while we were alone in the meeting room (waiting for other attendees to arrive), she brought up the topic of our commute and suggested that I “not mention my journey to colleagues because it might be misleading.”

I didn’t know what to say so I didn’t really say anything and then other people showed up for the meeting so the topic was dropped. It’s not like I regularly discuss my commute with colleagues, but I don’t want to lie to them, especially as they do sometimes ask how my journey was when boss has phoned/emailed with her excuse about terrible train service. Also, sometimes I see boss on the same train as me (sometimes even have conversations with her), but then she won’t turn up to work until an hour or more after I get there. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course (she’s not required to go straight from train station to office), but it often means she is late and will call in with some excuse that I know is a lie.

Any advice as to what I should do here?

Wow. What is your boss doing in the mornings between getting off the train and arriving at work that she’s so desperate to protect, I wonder?

In any case … I doubt she really expects you start making up stories for your coworkers about how the trains are often late or delayed. She’s probably not thinking about the fact that people might ask you directly about the commute, and instead is just hoping to get you not to volunteer anything about the commute proactively. (Not that it’s not still an incredibly weird request for her to make — it is.)

Obviously, you’re under no obligation to abide by that request or to in any way lie or shade the truth about the train line you both use.

I suppose it’s worth thinking about whether your boss is the type to retaliate against you for saying anything that might jeopardize her story-telling. (Hell, some people might even argue that you have something to gain by making a point of keeping her secret, but obviously if that requires outright lying that should be a no-go.) If she is the retaliating type, you probably have bigger problems, so I’m going to assume for now that you have no reason to worry about that.

However, in general, I wouldn’t go out of your way to blow her cover — that has too high a risk of ending badly, and ultimately it’s none of your business anyway. But I’d still continue to answer questions honestly when coworkers ask you about your commute — without drawing any conclusions like “so obviously Jane is BS’ing us all.”

And realize that you have a boss with a weird habit and a willingness to lie in at least one ongoing situation.

{ 221 comments… read them below }

  1. NonProfiter*

    Possibly the boss is attending a meeting they’d rather not have the whole office know about . . . therapy, AA, even just hitting the gym or yoga. I know it’s not likely, but it is possible, especially if the boss is taking the train but then still arriving late.

    1. Adam V*

      Even then, though, the proper response is “I have a daily offsite meeting before I come into the office”, not “the trains were late”, especially when it’s obvious by the presence of the OP that that’s not the case.

      Saying “it’s the trains” now means the office knows she’s lying. She needs to accept that and come up with something better – maybe the truth – instead of asking another employee to lie as well.

      1. Michele*

        Living in NYC my biggest pet peeve is the trains are late or messed up excuse for arriving late to the office. It happens but not that often. Yes some lines are worst than others but if you are using that excuse everyday it really is time to come up with a new line or as Adam V says just say you have an offsite everyday.

        1. Felicia*

          It’s a pet peeve of mine too. My former coworker would come in every day complaining about how horrible the subway was. Um…they announce major delays constantly, so i know there wasn’t one, also other coworker down the hall takes the same train as you , and she’s never late. I take the subway too…not the same line, but not really any better or worse than the line she takes. She always expects me to agree with her about the “horrible subway delays” which are really just normal things everyone learns to work around

          1. AVP*

            Now the MTA will write a note to your boss if there really is a big unforeseen thing that will make you late! I’ve never taken them up on it, because my boss doesn’t care, but I would say there are maybe 1-2 major surprise delays per year on my line.

          2. Bea W*

            When there are horrible delays everyone is late. I work for a large company in an area full of big office buildings, and when it’s really bad there’s a herd of people walking in the door later than usual, as if it’s earlier in the morning.

            When it happens on a daily basis, it’s no longer a delay, it’s a normal commute time you have to plan for. BTDT. I leave an extra 15 min for my commute home that I don’t need in the morning because the train home is more “delayed” than not.

              1. Bea W*

                Not so much here, unless it’s road traffic related or there’s been some accident or a safety hazard, or they will report about a problem after the fact without really mentioning the severity of impact on the commute. No one really reports on the cancelled service, “switch problems”, “disabled trains”, or overflowing platforms of angry commuters. That’s the only reason I keep a Twitter account. It’s my go-to-source for public rail delays. The T isn’t always very good at sending out alerts or sending out accurate alerts, and this information is almost never included in traffic reports. Something pretty much has to be on fire, flooded, or evacuated to get a mass media mention. Tree across the tracks that results in bussing – it gets a mention. Hundreds of people trapped underground for hours due to multiple trains dying on the track – nothing. My normal commuter train has been cancelled every day since Dec 31, and almost half of all the scheduled trips in the past 4 weeks have been cancelled. The only people who have heard about it are the riders and the T (and my co-workers of course – cuz getting home an hour late every night due to “equipment shortages” and “failures” got old fast.)

                1. Stephanie*

                  Oh wow. In DC, the local media was really good about reporting about rail delays due to disabled trains, etc. I will agree that they wouldn’t be the most specific: it would just be “delays on the Green Line toward Greenbelt” which could mean “Train broke down and has been cleared and there’s about a 10-minute delay” or “Person struck by train and there’s a 45-minute delay.”

                2. KC*

                  Salutations from a fellow Bostonian. Though I’m lucky enough to live on the Red Line (I hear the commuter rails have more iffy service). I think I’ve only had one pretty severe delay in the last 6 months.

                  Fortunately, I live about 3 miles from work, so if I’m too antsy to wait for a train and the weather isn’t awful, I can walk home in an hour.

      2. LizNYC*

        +1 This would be the adult way to handle it. I happen to have a weekly doctor’s appointment on my lunch hour, which sometimes runs a little late with traffic, that I’d rather not share the specifics of with the entire office. I’ve simply alerted my manager about my weekly appointment, and left it at that. No rambling stories about 10 car pileups or roving marching bands suddenly parading around town.

            1. Bryan*

              I was going to say I used to live in New Orleans and I was one time delayed on the way to work by a surprise parade.

              1. Elizabeth*

                I once got delayed (to a social dinner engagement, not to work) by a children’s Halloween parade that spent about 15 minutes crossing the street. It was kind of an adorable delay, though.

                1. KarenT*

                  It’s all fun and games until it happens to you! I was on my way to pick up a friend for dinner and all of a sudden I had to stop for what felt like a never ending parade!

              2. Bea W*

                I missed a wedding due to a surprise parade in rural Vermont. It was not a surprise to them, just the hundreds of tourists passing through. There wasn’t any way around it. I tried but the only side streets were just access roads to farm fields. There was one road and it was shut down.

              3. Elizabeth West*

                I’ve gotten delayed going places because I had to wait for a funeral procession, but that was mostly in my *small* hometown. But then everyone would usually know whose funeral it was!

              4. TrainerGirl*

                I found out that “getting around a parade” is an acceptable excuse for arriving late for your dinner reservation during Mardi Gras in New Orleans. The hostess looked at us, sniffed “tourists” and sat us even though we were 30 mins. late.

          1. Melissa*

            I just spit my drink out all over the keyboard. This former band director thanks you for the best laugh of the day.

          2. Just Another Techie*

            That actually happened to me once! Worked from home in the morning, doctor appointment at lunch, then on my way in to the office for the afternoon, ran into a street fair (that I’m sure was announced in advance; it just didn’t occur to me to check the city website for street closings due to music festivals in the middle of the workweek).

        1. AB*

          I have been delayed by a zebra, a baby buffalo, the police blowing up a car (suspected of containing explosives), a police car chase, a person who was hit by a train and the interstate having been set on fire for 10-15 miles (as in, someone intentionally was throwing molotov cocktails, or something similar, every few yards down the interstate) along with the usual excuses.
          At this point, I’m willing to believe that someone might be delayed by a roving marching band.

          1. Windchime*

            I once saw a couple of cop cars driving slowly along the road, trying to keep some kind of a huge bird (either an ostrich or an emu?) from running onto the highway. This was out in the middle of rural Washington state. We see some weird things on the road (moose, big horn sheep, eagles eating something), but not usually emus.

            1. Cathy*

              We had a bemused police officer busily herding a camel one day. It got loose from it’s pen and followed it’s owner to work – at a cigarette store. Sometimes you just can’t make this stuff up! LOL

          2. Josh S*

            Where in the world?! You have the most interesting commute of anyone I have ever met anywhere.

              1. AB*

                I once tried taking our pathetic excuse for a train. Lightening hit the tracks, the trains were stopped and a fight broke out over people trying to get on the buses.

                1. Pseudo Annie Nym*

                  Hah! Reading your posts, I was totally like, “that sounds like my commute in Atlanta back in the day!” You’re so right about how crazy it gets.

          3. FreeThinkerTX*

            I was once delayed here in Texas because a tractor pulling a trailer full of cattle was in a minor accident and the cows all got out and started roaming around the freeway. Before the cops could even get there, good samaritans who were towing horse trailers pulled over, saddled up, and herded the cows into a grassy area under a couple of overpasses.

            And once, when I lived in Pocatello, ID, the northbound side of the interstate between Pocatello and Idaho Falls was shut down because gusting winds caused a semi to tip over and spill its contents all over the road. It was carrying potatoes. :-D

          4. Artemesia*

            I was once delayed with tons of police cars and blue lights etc etc and as I sat there wondering what was up, a parade of a dozen elephants nose to tail walked out a side street and down the main street of the large southern city I lived in.

            Apparently the circus was arriving.

          5. HM in Atlanta*

            I knew you were going to say Atlanta. I have also been delayed over the past few months with filming for various movies and tv shows- oh, and the ham truck explosion just before Christmas.

      3. Sunflower*

        I don’t know much about the OP’s office but I know in my office telling someone I have an appointment leads to 20 questions. It’s incredibly rude but happens in small offices. And sometimes being vague about an ‘appointment’ or ‘meeting’ leads people to make assumptions. And people assume because you’re being vague you are trying to hide something big and bad and it, ironically enough, leads to people asking questions like this. I don’t understand why she doesn’t just ‘re-adjust’ her schedule and tell people to expect her at 11am?

        1. Noelle*

          My old boss used to be like that because he clearly thought I was looking for a new job and going on interviews. In actuality, while I was desperately looking for a new job, I had a medical appointment. I was able to get the 20 questions to stop by just saying I had a standing medical appointment and I didn’t want to go into details. I also scheduled them so I was still in the office only 10-15 minutes late.

          1. Sunflower*

            Luckily I was able to change my standing weekly appointment to later in the day so I have to leave work on time to make it. And if I’m really busy and need to leave on time, I just tell my boss I have plans and he doesn’t really question it since it’s scheduled after work.

        2. Just a Reader*

          At my first job I mentioned having a doctor’s appointment as a reason I wouldn’t be at an afternoon meeting. The guy looked at me, looked at my cranberry juice and said, “Cranberry juice huh? So you’re going the gyno? Have fun.”

          SO MORTIFIED.

          1. Sunflower*

            Whoa that’s terrible. I usually just get ‘oh are you okay, are you fine, what’s wrong, are you dying?’ It’s probably because there are some people in my office who give TMI about their illnesses (and everything else in their life) and seem to love indulging that info.

    2. COT*

      Agreed that this is a possibility (although I would think she could fit those needs into her morning and still be at work by 10 am most days). But then she needs to be upfront about her working hours, even/especially if the higher-ups are okay with her not coming in until 11. Making up excuses every single day is ridiculous, and clearly not going to fool anyone. It’s not like her team believed her even before OP starting taking the same train.

      OP, your boss is either dishonest, disorganized, or unable/unwilling to be clear with her team about her needs and schedule (if she really is late for some “legitimate” reason). If her lateness is the only area in which this plays out, maybe that’s not a big deal. But I’d be on the lookout for any other areas in which she’s displaying these same problematic traits, just to make sure they don’t negatively hurt your own career.

    3. thenoiseinspace*

      I agree with NonProfiter – my first thought was along the same lines. While it doesn’t excuse the behavior, it might at least explain it, and if it’s something like AA, then she has my sympathies and best wishes.

      My question for the OP is this: during the times you’ve seen her on the train, did she have anything (or anyone – perhaps a child sitting nearby?) with her that she didn’t have in the office?

    4. Friend of Friend of Bill*

      As for AA, if she lives somewhere that has train service, it’s probably a big enough area that has tons of AA meetings all day and evening long. That might be the meeting that has the best coffee or whatever, or maybe it just suits her schedule best, but I doubt it’s the only time she can find an AA meeting.

      1. Ruffingit*

        That was my thought as well. There have to be other meetings she could attend, but whatever the case, she should just be honest and say “I have an offsite meeting I must attend each morning, I will be in at 11” and leave it at that. If her bosses are OK with that, then it’s all good. The train excuse is just stupid especially now that her subordinate rides the same one. Give it up lady!

      2. OP*

        I think she lives in a fairly rural area (near the small town we both commute from), but the city we work in is big. Also, as I mentioned below, our flexi-time really is flexible so there are plenty of times she could attend such meetings and not be late.

    5. Katie the Fed*

      There’s also the possibility that she’s struggling with personal issues. I had a pretty difficult battle with depression a few years ago and it would honestly take me hours to muster the strength to get out the door.

  2. Ash*

    I am on the side of not lying for the boss. Think about how that would make you look to your co-workers who know about your commute. They would wonder why you’re protecting your boss, does she have something over you, are you trying to suck up, etc.? It also calls your integrity into question. I would go so far as to suggest going over the boss’ head if this becomes an issue with her (i.e. she starts hassling you more about covering for her, or she starts retaliating against you). You have your reputation to think about here.

  3. Ann O'Nemity*

    Wow, this sounds like a juicy one. I’d guess the boss is having an affair or something – at least that would explain the delay between the train ride and the arrival at work. (A scheduled meeting like AA or therapy would like have fixed start and end dates.) Plus all the secretiveness and lying.

    In any case, I would probably try to make a compromise between covering for her and calling her out. If someone directly asks about the commute, try one of the following:

    “Eh, I think I’m starting to get the hang of the new commute.”
    “Not bad, but public transit can be inconsistent.”
    “Whew, I’m glad we have flexible start times!”

    If the boss tried to pull you into her lies, such as by saying “oh how did you get here despite all the delays” you could say:

    “Sounds like I just missed the rush.”
    “I must have lucked out today.”

        1. vvondervvoman*

          I thought affair right away. She probably can’t stay late after work without raising suspicion at home, so taking the time out of her am work time is the best. I doubt it’s drugs/alcohol because apparently gets out of her house on time, and she talks to the OP on the train and doesn’t seem drunk/high. Maybe gambling, but for some reason I doubt it.

    1. thenoiseinspace*

      I don’t know about an affair…she’s been on the same train as OP more than once. She knew exactly when OP would be heading for work and which train they would take – if it were an affair, she would probably want to keep it secret. It would be easy enough to do, really – she’d just have to take a slightly earlier or later train, or move the rendezvous to a different location. The fact that she even talks to OP on the train and risks continued exposure of her secret seems to imply she doesn’t have control of either the time or place of whatever she’s doing. My best guess is that it’s some kind of meeting (like AA, as NonProfiter suggested) or possibly a side job, etc.

      1. OP*

        Because we have flexi-time I don’t catch the same train everyday, sometimes I decide I want to sleep in and I get a later train, some days I have a piece of work with an early deadline and I get an earlier train. But I do sit in the same carriage every day, whichever train I catch, so she could avoid me but avoiding that carriage!

        1. Gene*

          If it comes up again, you might want to tell her, “I’m always in the third carriage back from the engine. If I don’t see you, I won’t have to refuse to lie for you.”

      1. Collarbone High*

        I can’t imagine doing hair, makeup etc., then having to do it all over again an hour later.

      2. AnonEMoose*

        Why? I could see it actually being easier to manage than after work, depending on the schedules of those involved.

      3. Bea W*

        I had a bf who would drop by my house before I left to work. Often uninvited, under the guise of bringing breakfast. So it apparetly appeals to some people. It didn’t work out. I don’t want to think or talk to people first thing in the morning, let alone do anything that requires way more energy.

        1. some1*

          I’ve never been married (therefore never had an affair), but from affairs that I have heard about, the people in them can sometimes get really caught up and they find themselves doing stuff they never thought they’s be up for…like ditching work, wanting to see the other person whenever they can (no matter what time it is) or do stuff in locations like a seedy motel or car like Sunflower pointed out below.

          1. Bea W*

            ….or in a car on the roof of the company parking garage in broad daylight – not me, but I’ve heard stories!

            Maybe I’m hormonally challenged or something, but I’ve never seen the appeal.

            1. Ethyl*

              That sounds super cramped and uncomfortable! Sorry but I’m not a teenager anymore and I don’t have to squeeze into the backseat of a car!

      4. Sunflower*

        When I used to drive to my old job, I would always see the same two cars parked on the side of the highway around 7am. Never knew what they were doing but every single person in my office had the same guess…

      5. some1*

        You’re right. I’m sure someone who would step out on and lie to a partner would never dream of skipping work and lying about it.

      6. Yup*

        In my very first office job, two of my coworkers were engaged in an affair which they conducted at lunchtime.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      I think that Ann O nailed it. I would just shrug and say “must be I got lucky.” repeat as needed.
      There are times where it is good to be oblivious to things. See if you can come across as if you don’t “get it” and have other things on your mind.

      It could be as benign as she is sneaking off to see her brother who is the family black sheep. Sounds like nothing, right? But it is a big deal to her because the whole family argues about the brother all the time.
      Who knows.
      Just pretend not to notice and see how it goes.

  4. Interviewer*

    She’s desperate to protect her backstory, and also desperate to continue arriving late. She is now overly concerned about her stories not matching with yours. I would be really casual about it, don’t ask questions or appear to be interested in how she got there – focus on work. Really, it’s her boss’s problem that she doesn’t arrive by 10 am. I wouldn’t lie, but commute stories are so boring anyway. If any of your coworkers pry, just laugh, say she must have been on a different train, and change the subject. People will assume you’re on the early train that arrived with no issue, while she got caught up by some late morning drama. Which sounds like it isn’t far from the truth.

    My first thought was an affair, honestly. AAM – can you please flag this one for an update?

    1. Jaimie*

      +1. I agree with this approach. “My ride in was fine, I just have good luck with it.” And then don’t follow up– resist the idea that you need to gossip with your co-workers. I think

  5. Ellie H.*

    I am so intrigued!
    Being asked to lie about your commute to cover some clandestine behavior is weird and off-putting, but to avoid the situation becoming yet more awkward for everyone involved I would probably try to deflect any discussion of commute. I think that people mostly want to talk about their own commutes, not necessarily hear about yours, anyway. I also wonder if at this point, you really want to find out what she is doing in between getting off the train and getting to work or are better off not knowing!

  6. Sunflower*

    I would stay out of it. If someone asks about your commute the answer is ‘fine’ or ‘terrible’, whatever the truth is and if they ask why the boss was late, shrug and say ‘beats me’. If someone starts asking about the discrepancy between when you arrive and your boss arrives, once again I think a shrug is the best thing. It’s really not any of anyone’s business what the boss is up to in this time as long as she is allowed to come in at that time and it isn’t affecting her work or anyone else’s.

    1. Jennifer*

      Yeah. At my job, every dang supervisor and high muckety-muck comes in late–and it’s allowed because they’re supervisors and they can get away with it. Boss probably has enough power and seniority to just show up late with no apologies anyway, because clearly nobody is pulling her aside to give her The Talk. If the higher-ups don’t care, then she can be as late as she damn wants, I guess. I guess I just don’t see why she’s making such a big deal about it.

      1. Sunflower*

        I feel bad for OP. It sounds like people in the office are just super nosy and she is now caught in the middle of their nosiness. There’s a guy in my office who leaves everyday at 1pm and then comes back an hour later. Am I a little curious where he goes/what he does? Of course. Would I ever ask him or anyone else? No.

  7. Mena*

    Don’t let her make this your problem. But, I wouldn’t bring up my commute either. If asked, be vaguely truthful and change the subject quickly.

  8. Bryan*

    Living in NJ I hear people complain about the trains all the time. In my experience they are pretty on time and if they are late you can usually catch the one before as it is also late. It’s really not that hard to plan.

    Also please follow up OP. This sounds pretty juicy.

  9. thenoiseinspace*

    A (perhaps cowardly) way of avoiding the problem rather than dealing with it: can you say that you found a new route to work, such as a bus that goes by your house and not hers or maybe say you’re walking to a new train station? I know it’s a lie, but as it’s not very interesting you may only have to tell it once. More importantly, it gets rid of the problem: if people think you have a different commute, they won’t compare your arrival times. I know lying is never good, but neither is exposing your boss’s secret and risking making her take action to stop it…

    1. AMG*

      I like this the best.

      I would also be tempted to ask the boss if I could just work from home. :)

  10. TFTF*

    If I’m reading correctly, it’s not necessarily the case that the unexplained gap is between getting off the train and getting to the office. The boss could be taking a later train than the OP (but on the same line) because she likes to sleep in in the morning.

    1. thenoiseinspace*

      In the last paragraph: “Also, sometimes I see boss on the same train as me (sometimes even have conversations with her), but then she won’t turn up to work until an hour or more after I get there.”


      1. KJR*

        I wonder what would happen if the OP were to attempt to walk with her to the office, acting as if there is the assumption of them both going to the same place. As in, “we’ll just walk to the office together since we’re already talking.”

        1. OP*

          I’ve wondered about that but I don’t really want to get that involved. Plus, it’s a 20 minute walk at a brisk pace and I don’t really want to have to make that much small talk!

          1. IronMaiden*

            OP, here’s what you have to do if you have any compassion for us at all. Don a disguise and follow her. Find out what the hell she is doing and report back here ASAP. I for one am consumed by curiosity.

  11. Kimberlee, Esq.*

    I really like the way OP put this question. She really makes it clear that this doesn’t really impact her work at all, that she doesn’t personally care what the boss is doing or whether they’re late, and that she has no interest in this being a big weird intrigue; she just needs advice now that the boss has made it one!

    A level-headed and straightforward OP. Not that that is rare on AAM, it’s just always nice to be able to discuss the issue without having to do too much speculation on how accurate the source info is.

  12. Laurel*

    Eh, the boss just sounds like a selfish flake. I don’t suspect an affair – just someone who is self-centered and knows how to get away with doing her own thing (shopping, reading a book, relaxing at coffee shop) rather than going to work. I’d suggest the OP answer all commute-related questions with complete honesty. OP doesn’t need to suggest the boss is lying, just answer the questions directly. Others will reach their own conclusions. S/he is not obligated to cover for the boss. If boss approaches OP about this again (something along the lines of “Why didn’t you say the train was late, like I asked?”), OP can just feign confusion, as though the initial conversation never happened (“What? I’m sorry… did you want me to tell them it was late for some reason? I don’t understand.”) That would force the boss to be completely explicit about the fact that she wants OP to lie on her behalf. Perhaps I’m naive, but I think that would force the boss to confront her own dishonesty in a way that would be nearly impossible for her. She’d probably back off at that point.

    1. teclatwig*

      +1. This sounds a lot like how I lived my life in my 20s. Trains were always late, bus connections were missed, and I was just mystified at how other people were always so on-time. Thing is, I was ADHD and self-absorbed, and I didn’t leave my house until it was late enough that the only way to arrive to the train on time was if all the stars (and light signals) were aligned. Missing the train, I would then miss my connection. Or, I would make my train, decide to buy a coffee during my wait for my connection, but then the coffee would take too long and I would miss my bus….

      I never said “Sorry, I am late because I am incapable of managing my time,” I would breathlessly speak of late trains and early buses, woe is me. There were plenty of times when I was truly, deeply surprised and dismayed that my 10-minute “stop at the bookstore on my way to work” would “somehow” lead me to be an hour late. At that point, weaving half-truths almost didn’t feel like lying because I had little idea of what the truth was.

      Just to reassure y’all, I broke this bad behavior by replacing it with a commitment to arrive early, book/ereader in hand. I am still crap at managing my time, but I have embraced that truth, and don’t let myself believe I can “just” add in lots of side trips.

      1. TL*

        I have a few friends who view being timely as this near-impossible, godly mystery. And (I hate making others wait!) when I’m with them and asking them to hurry, or start getting ready earlier, they’re always sure they have ‘plentttty of time.’

        I left some roommates behind one time in college, actually, and after that, they seemed to understand that “leaving at 6” means “we are walking out the door at 6” not “at 6 or 6:05, we should probably start thinking about the 15 minute process of getting ready.”

        1. Felicia*

          I have friends like that too. I’ve never had any trouble being on time and I’ve never understood thinking being on time is hard, so thanks for the perspective! I think the excuses I know aren’t true – like blaming the bus, when i had to take two buses and travel farther, is far more annoying to me than the lateness. I had a friend who would live at 8, to get to work at 8:30, but she lived 45 minutes away from work on a good day, an hour away on the average day, and an hour and 15 minutes away on a bad day. Yet she would consider leaving at 7:30 when i suggested it after she complained about being late.

          1. TL*

            It doesn’t bother me when someone knows they have a problem and they try (and when I say things like “let’s get ready now; if we get there 15 minutes early, that’s better than 5 minutes late” they’re really receptive.)

            But others I know just don’t think other people’s time is as important as theirs and don’t understand why everyone gets frustrated when they’re always late. :(

          2. Gene*

            A former coworker had a lot of problems getting to work on time. “Reasons” ranged from “The bridge was up.” (we have to cross a drawbridge to get here), to “I got stuck behind a schoolbus stopping every two blocks”, to (I s4 you not) “There was a possum on my doorstep and it wouldn’t let me out of the house.” When she moved to a house a block from me she asked how I avoided all the problems and got to work on time consistently. I told her that I leave at x time and offered to honk as I drove by her place. She still was consistenly, though less often, late and moved after her 6 month lease was up so I couldn’t queer her “reasons” anymore.

        2. fposte*

          I had an old colleague like this. The other manifestation was when I’d ask “Is [thing I have to get from her to complete] done?” “Yes, it’s done.” “Okay, can I have it?” “As soon as I finish the thingy and the whatsit part.” So, not done then. It’s just a conceptual leap that her brain didn’t make.

          1. Victoria Nonprofit*

            I have to admit that I’m like this when it comes to getting ready to leave. I’m actually rarely late, but I drive my husband crazy by telling him I’m ready when I still need to take out the trash/put on my coat/check to make sure I have my keys/etc. I guess I mean something like “I am ready to leave, aside from the things I will do while you walk from wherever you are to the front door,” whereas he hears “I am walking out the door right now and will meet you at the car.”

            1. Felicia*

              I am just like your husband, and my mom is just like you. It used to annoy me so much as a kid when she’d say she was ready to leave now, and we wouldn’t end up leaving for 20 more minutes. I’ve mostly learned to chill about it a bit. I always say exactly what I mean when it comes to when i’m leaving.

            2. Rana*

              Yeah, I’m like this too, unfortunately, and it’s a bad thing on the occasions when I actually am ready to leave when I say I am. I’ve “solved” this problem by narrating what I have to do while I’m doing it (“I need to pee, then I’m going to get my hat, and grab the trash bags, and then I will put on my shoes and grab my coat…”), so my husband doesn’t have to find himself standing there in his coat waiting for me while I pother about. It also helps me remember that each of these things takes time to do; they don’t just happen in a timeless void somehow.

              Of course, now that we’ve added a baby to the mix my sense on how long things take to get ready is shot to bits. Even my old rule of “take twice as long as you think you need, then add half again as much time” isn’t working. :/

        3. Bea W*

          I would be that person. Whenever I am visiting my early speedy morning friend I make her nail down a time we areleaving because I can’t set alarms to “whenever” or “We have to be there around 11 am” (because i’m thst bad at time). I need to know exactly the time you want to leave and then I need to calculate back from that point and set alarms to minimize the amount of nagging she needs to do. Plus she only needs 45 min bed to door. I need 45 min just to get from bed to floor. If I leave it to her to decide when to roust me out of bed, we’d always be late.

      2. COT*

        Thanks for lending this perspective–perhaps the boss has some of the same struggles you did. But it’s obviously still not okay for the boss to be asking OP to lie in compensation (not that you’re saying it is, because you obviously aren’t). If her lateness (or other inability to manage time) is causing issues at work, she needs to take the responsibility you did to find a fix.

      3. Jennifer*

        In my experience, folks that perennially run late really just have zero sense of how fast time passes. They think it takes five or ten minutes to do EVERYTHING. Drive across town, go to the grocery store, anything.

        It might help to actually time how long it takes you to get places and do things, perhaps? Five or ten minutes really doesn’t allow anyone to get as much stuff done as they think they can!

        1. Bea W*

          That pretty much sums it up, and for some reason I just can’t seem to learn from experience past realizing that my sense of time is really horrible. I’m actually good at working out how long something will take. It’s the getting started on time thing that messes me up. (Thus the Outlook reminder to leave the office for the day.)

        2. TL*

          Oh, one of my favorite conversations about scheduling ever!

          Friend: My shift ends at 9, so the meeting should start at 9.
          Me: Uh, it takes 10 minutes to get across campus and you’re always 10-15 minutes late to work and stay 15 minutes late to make up for it.

          Friend: Oh, I just won’t be late anymore. So we’ll start at 9:10.

          Me: You’ve been late, every shift, for the past 3 years. Plus, this year you have a class right before your shift, so you’ll want to grab food, which’ll take another 10-15 minutes.

          Friend: No, I’ll be good.

          (The start time of the meetings ended up being 9; they always started 10-20 minutes late and we were always urged to hurry because Friend was hungry. Sigh.)

        3. Rana*

          folks that perennially run late really just have zero sense of how fast time passes

          Yup. And it compounds when there are several things in a row that need doing (see my comment, above), or seem to need doing, first.

      4. Elizabeth West*

        I have to make sure I get ready for something way earlier than necessary, or I’m late. I have trouble gauging how time passes (I have no idea why, although that was a listed symptom of my LD), but I can make preparations the night before, etc., which mitigates it somewhat.

        At Newjob, people routinely arrive late and leave early, but they aren’t policed the way they are at other places. I have to drive clear across town, so I often deliberately leave a bit closer to time to avoid the horrible, unpredictable, industrial traffic in my part of town. (I can leave early to go somewhere and STILL be late, even if I’m going ten minutes away. It’s maddening.) But there’s a window where the worst of the rush hour abates and before the giant trucks hit the road, and if I make it, I can get there really fast with much less aggravation.

        What I really want to do is fix up my house and move closer to work and to a better part of town, but that isn’t going to happen as soon as I’d like. :(

        1. Ellie H.*

          Me too – I have to make a HUGE effort and actively attempt to be ready way ahead of time in order to leave just on time. Things somehow always expand to fill 5-10 minutes longer than the available time. The funny thing is that I think I am pretty accurate at ascertaining the passage of time, estimating how long things may take, etc. However I am pretty good at catching the bus (it comes infrequently so is important to catch!) or anything else for which being on time is really important to me, like a concert or movie or important social function. Which leads me to think it’s just a conscientiousness/focus thing on my part, which is pretty awful.

    2. Anonymous*

      I agree, it sounds like the boss has a hard time getting to work on time and now her “excuse” is not usable any more. I don’t think it’s anything juicier than that.

        1. tcookson*

          That’s my take on it, too. She’s probably always been promptness-challenged and has felt ashamed or judged for it, and she’s not making the conceptual leap that she’s now in a position where promptness doesn’t matter so much. She’s not being judged for the hours she keeps or doesn’t keep; she’s being judged for making ridiculous excuses about it.

      1. OP*

        This may well be the case, but she does seem to be capable of being on time when there’s an important meeting or when bigger bosses are going to be in the office.

        1. TL*

          There are a lot of people who are capable of being on time only when they know they’ll face consequences for being late. Some people have honest time management disorders type stuff but usually that becomes a huge deal because they do end up missing important things.

          1. Felicia*

            This . I know a lot of people who are constantly late, unless they have an important meeting, or they get a talking to from the boss saying they must be on time. So they can do it when they feel it’s important enough.

            1. Rana*

              Yes. I struggle with this myself, and the degree of consequence is important. This is not to excuse myself, because I know tardiness is annoying, but I think sometimes that timely people don’t realize how challenging and stressful it can be to be punctual if you’re not inherently that way.

              So unless there’s a severe consequence for failure, it’s tempting to go about things at one’s usual pace, because otherwise it feels like you’re being harried and rushed and bullied by the clock, and who wants to endure that feeling every single time you leave the house?

              1. Rana*

                In other words “can do” doesn’t mean “easy to do” or “pleasant to do” if you’re chronologically challenged.

    3. EM*

      This is what I was going to say. I bet it’s nothing terribly juicy or illicit — on the days she does actually take the same train as the OP, she’s probably just running errands, sitting in a coffee shop for an hour, etc before she heads into the office. On the days she catches a later train, she’s probably just sleeping late, taking her time to get ready, along those lines.

      It’s definitely selfish and perhaps not the best work ethic (though maybe she stays until 8 pm at night regularly, no idea), but I doubt something crazy is going on.

  13. Sunflower*

    Also she is obviously freaked that you are now aware of her commute so I wouldn’t be surprised if she ends up changing her excuses soon

  14. J*

    I really don’t see the difficulty of this situation. If probed about your commute versus the bosses commute, you could say the following: I can’t speak to the boss’s arrival times to work as we commute separately, but if you have concerns about when she arrives you should ask her. All done.

    With regard to your boss asking you to keep hush hush, I’ll admit that’s a little weird. Still, you’re under no obligation to lie to your coworkers.

    Note: Even if the boss wasn’t perpetually late and we shared the same commute I still wouldn’t offer information to coworkers because it is not work related and is nothing more than office gossip.

  15. Ruffingit*

    I don’t know why the boss is even bothering. Everyone already knows her cover story is a complete lie. It’s already been made clear to everyone that she is lying just by virtue of the OP getting to work on time when the boss hasn’t. So, that train has already left the station (pun intended). It would be a favor to the boss for someone to just tell her that everyone already knows it’s not the trains making her late. I’m not saying someone SHOULD tell her this that is very dependent on the type of person the boss is, but it’s pretty sad when someone not only continues to use obviously bogus excuses, but then asks their subordinate to lie when it’s already very clear that it’s a lie.

  16. BCW*

    I agree with Alison, why even make it an issue. You don’t have to “lie” as much as just not volunteer information. Honestly, me and my kind of supervisor take the same route in, but we arrive at different times all the time. Sometimes one train will be delayed and the other isn’t. Maybe she slept late. I don’t care really. I mean, if people are really asking you a question about her commute, than I’d just say “I don’t know”. Its easy enough.

    1. Emma*

      Agreed. Just because you occasionally ride the same train doesn’t mean you commute together. A simple “sorry, couldn’t tell ya, we don’t commute together” should do.

      Rinse and repeat, perhaps with a snarky “I’m not her keeper” thrown in when people become too persistent.

  17. HR lady*

    When I first read this, I thought the simple explanation is that the boss is just a person who’s always late, and so she has been lying and saying the trains are making her late (instead of acknowledging that the truth is that she’s just been getting up late and getting on a later train). I certainly know people like that – who struggle with always being late, and are willing to lie to cover up that it’s a chronic problem.

    But then I read the part about them being on the same train and the boss still coming in late. That does add an interesting twist. However, I still think there could be a reasonable explanation. It reminds me of a former coworker who was always late and disorganized. She was the kind of person who’d get off that train and “just have to stop quickly at the drugstore,” which would turn into stopping at several stores and yadda yadda yadda, an hour later, she’d be there. Or two hours later.

    Her whole life was constantly disorganized and she did everything at the last minute – she’d run out of deodorant so she’d have to be late to work to go buy some to put on for the day, or she wouldn’t buy a birthday present for someone until the very last minute so she’d be late to their birthday party, or she’d need to mail something using extremely urgent Fed Ex (because it was already late) so she’d have to take a long lunch, or she hadn’t gone food shopping so she’d end up eating dinner at 11 p.m., etc. etc. I could go on. And she was a manager :) Anyway, reminded me of a possible explanation for OP’s manager. (And yes, the one I’m thinking of commuted by public transportation.)

    1. Piper*

      This was my immediate thought as well. I’ve known so many people like this. There’s no sordid tale to tell. It’s just a case of terrible disorganization and time management skills, and some people’s cases, I’m sure legitimate issues like ADHD (as mentioned by a poster up thread). But I’d guess the majority of people with this issue are just suffering from bad organizational and time management skills, not a disorder that causes it.

    2. some1*

      Ugh, my mom is like this to some extent and it drove me nuts when I was younger before I drove. Anytime I needed her to drive me anywhere, we always had to stop at a drug store and get “one thing” and it turned into a half-hour thing. And she was always late picking me up.

      1. Bea W*

        This is why I don’t let myself make a “quick stop” on the way to work or any place I have to show up at a certain time. It’s all over once I walk into a store, worse if I don’t have a list in my hand. Things like stopping to fill the gas tank, or get a cup of coffee (not in a convenience store though!) – very specific tasks where there is nothing else to distract me from completing them, are okay. Stores…oh hell no, only on the way home when I have plenty of time to waste. I swear as soon as I walk into a store time passes at warp speed.

  18. Penny*

    I agree with those that say shrug it off or say you don’t know her situation and nothing more. It’s odd that she can’t manage to make it in by 10 but if that’s a problem for HER manager, he/she should address it. If your boss’ manager came to you about her tardiness, that’s when I’d be absolutely upfront. It’s not your job to cover for her and if she can’t make it on time, she needs to leave earlier.

  19. Jamie*

    You know who this really hurts is the future candidates for this company who may get a red flag because they live in the bosses area and take the train, because it will raise doubts about reliability if people bought the bosses stories.

    Lying about public transportation when it’s in fact reliable does contribute to the preference of hiring people who will be driving in – and it’s out there.

    I don’t take public transportation, but I’d hate to see someone ruled out when it’s reliable enough that it’s a non-issue.

    1. BCW*

      Does that really happen too much? I mean the 2 places I’ve lived and worked have been Chicago and NYC, and based on the amount of people who constantly take public transportation, I can’t imagine it being a huge concern. Now if I lived in a city and the job was 20+ miles from home, I could see it being a concern, but if the person is the best person for the job, then I doubt they would not give them the offer due to that.

      1. Jamie*

        It happens. I am also in the Chicago area and I’ve seen it happen. It may not when you’re in a location off a major line, but if not and if it’s a place where there’s a history of being late/out because of transportation issues it can create a bias.

        Which is why creating one artificially sucks, because it’s one more thing to factor in when it’s a non-issue.

        But yes, often when employers ask if you have “reliable transportation” it’s code for car. Not always, but enough.

        1. Eric*

          I’ve always read “reliable transportation” to mean “car”, which really sucks, because it’s yet another way that poor people can’t get a leg up.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            It definitely is here, because although you can take the bus to get places, it takes an hour-and-a-half to get somewhere you can drive in fifteen minutes. And that’s all we have for public transit.

        2. Stephanie*

          It’s definitely code for “car”, unless you live somewhere that has really extensive transit where it’s common to commute via public transit.

          Where I live now (Phoenix area), if you told someone you were taking the bus to work, people would just assume you’re going to be perennially late (even if you were responsible and planned out your trip) just due to the inadequacy and perception of transit here.

          1. Jamie*

            Yes, the assumption is late and unreliable – and the people who assume that their co-workers are obligated to drive them to and from the train station/bus stop ruin it for a lot of people who reliably use public transport.

          2. Felicia*

            It’s not code for car here, because there is extensive public transit, and pretty much everyoen who works downtown in the big office buildings takes public transit because it’s easier than driving there. But in some places when the public transit isn’t as good it probably does mean car. Here jobs that require car say car specifically, because every job you could get in the city would be reasonably accessible by public transit.

            When there is an actual real major delay, you’ll see a LOT of people in that part of town walking into those office buildings late. Not everyone, because there’s a few lines, but definitely more than one person if it’s a real delay.

        3. Anonymous*

          FYI, cars are not even reliable ALL the time. What’s there to prevent you from getting a flat or break-down or involved in a huge pile-up on your way to work? That could happen just as often as the train being late. So if an employer wants to take the definition of ‘reliable transportation’ that literally, I would argue that you could not say your car is either. The only ‘truly’ reliable method would be walking, biking, or horse/mule (and even then, your horse or mule could get injured…and where do you park them when you get there? No one has hitching posts anymore…)

      2. Natalie*

        Really big cities with excellent transit, NYC in particular, are anomalous compared to the rest of the country in this regard. NYC has the lowest rate of car ownership in the country, and I suspect that may be further skewed by all the livery vehicles.

        I grew up in a mid-sized city and when I was applying to lower wage jobs it was very clear that “reliable transportation” meant “car” to many hiring managers. Personally I always found this funny as my co-workers generally didn’t have well-maintained, late model cars so they weren’t especially reliable anyway.

    2. Stephanie*

      Well, plus lying about public transportation perpetuates the stereotype of terrible, unreliable transit.

      I remember people in my Dallas suburb always joking about the DART bus and saying how horrible it was. And then I actually took it…and it was fine and timely.

      1. Eric*

        People sometimes have a vested interest in convincing themselves that others’ life choices are wrong because they’re unhappy with the ones they’ve made.

        1. TL*

          I can say in most Texas cities, the public transportation isn’t actually unreliable so much as generally useless. It doesn’t run often enough or go to a wide enough variety of places to make it more valuable than owning a car.

          So horrible public transit in Texas (though I’m not sure what she heard about DART) means generally that it’s not a viable replacement for a car, rather than it’s not reliable.

          In Austin, which has probably the best public transit in the state, it would take me 3-4 times as long, at least, to take the bus somewhere than it would to drive and park. And at night, the buses only run once an hour and stop really early.

          (And, when it’s as bad as it is in Texas, generally only the very poor and the homeless take the bus and some people will not want to ride it for that reason.)

          1. Stephanie*

            Yeah, it was a combination of classism/racism and inconvenience. It definitely didn’t run frequently enough, so only people who took it regularly were those who couldn’t afford a car (or were 15 and trying to get home from midday summer band in my case).

            I think that’s the case in a lot of cities. Transit is often just so inconvenient that you only take it if you necessarily have to. Plus, a lot of times there is no disincentive to driving.

            1. TL*

              In Austin, a number of my friends they’re just fine without a car – but the same friends bum rides off me and others so often that I’ve ended friendships over it.

              (Nothing like someone telling you it’s not that big of an inconvenience for them to not have a car when you’re driving an extra 15-30 minutes every time you want to see them and their house mate is responsible for all their doctors’ appointments and grocery runs. Of course it’s not that big of an inconvenience for you.)

              1. Stephanie*

                I know exactly what fight you’re talking about. Back in college, people would have to move off-campus (we had an on-campus housing shortage). Houston has a very short light rail line. You could live in specific areas of town and take that directly to campus. Problem is, you need to go elsewhere than campus (like the grocery store). I didn’t mind giving rides, but the fights started with me asking for gas money or scheduling issues on one or both our ends.

              2. Anonymous*

                Yeah but when every time you insist on going somewhere on the absolute other side of the city 30 or so miles away instead of the fantasic (and acclaimed and cheap) neighborhood the carfree person lives in and then get upset about giving them a ride even though they asked to go some place walkable for both of you I have very little sympathy.

                I know that there are always many examples of how horrible people who don’t have cars are so I’m just trying to show that there are counter examples of people who do have cars being jerks about it too.

          2. Windchime*

            Yes, this. I used to live in a rural area that only had a bus system, and it was this way. My son tried to use it to attend community college and it would take him over 90 minutes on the bus, but only 20 minutes to get there by car. So yes, there was a bus system, but you’d better have all day to get there.

            1. TL*

              I have a friend who takes the bus (in Austin) to work. He lives 3-ish miles from his work; I live 40-ish miles from mine- and drive – and my commute is shorter than his.

                1. TL*

                  Yup! I will say, in Austin, if you’re only interested in staying in the popular area of the city and are brave, you can be okay with just a bike and a bus pass.

            2. Elizabeth West*

              I used to live in Santa Cruz, CA and the buses there were awesome. They went everywhere I needed to go, and it didn’t take forever. But SC is a city where it’s strongly encouraged to be green and save the earth, etc., so they’re vested in having that alternative. Or at least, they were when I lived there (early 1990s). Plus, the weather was always good. I often just walked to work.

              I miss it. :( Can’t afford to live there now; houses are insanely expensive.

        2. Victoria Nonprofit*

          Or (speaking from personal experience here) because I feel guilty about the choice I’ve made (e.g. driving to work when I really could take the bus, except, gee, that bus is to unreliable! It’s actually super responsible of me to waste money and damage the environment by driving myself all alone in my SUV… sigh)

    3. OP*

      Luckily in this case our organization is big and I’d say at least 50% of employees get to work by train or bus or a combo of the two, so boss’s actions shouldn’t impact on the perception of public transport as a commuting option. We’re given incentives to use public transport (like interest free loans to buy annual season tickets for the train, discount cards for the bus, etc.)

  20. Amy B.*

    What’s that line in Manic Monday? “Blame it on the train; but the boss is already there”?

    Except in reverse.

  21. Bea W*

    Boss lies about her commute on a regular basis. Asks employee to not talk about her own commute because “it may be misleading”.

    *snicker*, *snort*

    1. Jamie*

      Ha – yep, “Stop being more professional and punctual than I – you’re making me look bad” is more like it.

  22. Just Found Your Blogsite*

    I’m not sure where this is taking place. Maybe asking what the labor board would think about such situations and repercussions with regards to following the actual policies and obligations of a job. Or how this does not follow the laws, policies, or conditions of that employment. There will be more repercussions with their work if that employee is found lying for their boss.

    I’m Canadian and Canadian Labor Laws are different than other countries federally, territoriality/provincially. So, depending if this is taking place in a certain country, province/territory/state, and city. I would look up my rights and obligations of being an employee of such a geopolitical location.

    This situation does not create a good team working basis. Or actually a lot of what I have been reading on this site.

    Bosses, managers, and anyone in power should be made to be aware of the power that they have, and that they CAN NOT abuse it. Either in overt or covert ways. There must be a pipeline or something for these people to go to, if that was the route that these people choose to take because of these nonsensical requests and work behaviors.

    Where I work there are directors (bosses), board members, and then the district manager and then after that the government sector. You can use either one of these people, and request information, inform them of the proceedings of the work place to keep in line and balance the team atmosphere. That’s what any place should look at, is how this helps the team, not themselves. I use this pipeline whenever I believe there is a nonprofessional proceeding/proceedings going on at my place of work.

    I would ask that person/boss for the real reason why they are late, if they refuse to tell that person, then I would refuse to lie, simply because it creates a non cohesive team relationship. This is not a team building exercise nor is it a professional request. This is unprofessional in every sense of the word.

    If all else fails and there are covert negative repercussions then may I suggest that this person gets a hold of their Human Resource Center in either that city or neighboring one (if they/or anyone lives in a small city). Where I am from, if there is a foreseeable problem then they usually go to that location and consult with the workplace/or individual, which puts them on the Labor Board’s radar.

    Managers, bosses, directors, or anyone in a place where they are in a form of power must realize that they do NOT have absolute power over their employees, and there can be massive consequences for them as well (including legally binding ones) for not treating their employees with inherent dignity and respect.

    We should not appeal to the person to whether or not this is right or wrong, but ask if this is professional or non professional.

    1. Colette*

      Why would the manager owe her employee an explanation of where she is when she’s not at work?

      If this is something her manager cares about, that’s different, but it’s none of the employee’s business unless it is affecting the employee’s work.

      And I’m in Canada and I’ve never heard of a Human Resource Center – if you mean Employment and Social Development Canada (which is what Google identified), I can’t imagine what sort of influence they’d have over a private company.

      1. Just Found Your Blogsite*

        If you look up under the Employment and Social Development Canada you will see contact us which says: HRSDC which stands for Human Resources and Skills Development Canada. All you had to do when you looked that up, was click the ‘contact us’ on the google site underneath the little blip it gives about them, it’s right beside “temporary foreign workers”.

        Human Resources is an umbrella term, I don’t know what the American equivalent of ours is, which is why I stated that and I didn’t want to look it up in case I would be stating the wrong sector.

        And if you have to inform an employer if you are going to be late for an appointment, then usually they request that they know what it is, mainly so if it a doctor’s appointment they can estimate how late you will be. As long as they don’t request that they know what it is for (personal vs. professional requests). If it is for a meeting, they can say meeting. They don’t have to say “I’m going to meet with my guidance counselor or lawyer because my husband and I are getting a divorce.” The employee can inquire: “John/Jane Doe may I ask why you are late every morning and why it is impertinent that I mislead my colleagues?” Which they may say: “Billy/Susie Doe I wish not to disclose the specifics as it is a personal matter, but it is for a meeting I must attend.”

        Plain and simple, that way if employees inquire they can say that it is a personal matter that you can not further discuss.

        If it is none of the employee’s business, then they do NOT need to request for them to lie unless there is confidential reasons.

        This is no different than that daycare charging for a mom a fine for providing potatoes which they said is not a grain (but it is a fine substitution for a grain) and they charged her 5$ for the Ritz Crackers. The government then stated that daycares cannot charge parents for not providing the five basic food groups. And if anyone has read the daycare regulations then they would find that it states in the guidelines that THE daycare must provide (if providing food) the five basic food groups.

        Its not about who said what, it is about understanding policies, regulations of that place, private or not. Locally/internationally owned. It’s about understanding a person’s right as an employee and what they can accept and refuse.

        You see it all the time with immigrants coming to Canada. I knew a person who wasn’t given time off in four months! And they were working at a fast food restaurant. I’ve worked for this person and had been friends with them who did this to this employee, and his former manager came in a blasted him out for it and threatened to call the labor board because they have the same rights as any citizen.

        Just because someone does not understand their policies, or their rights as an employee does not give an employer the right to abuse the employee with requests that they cannot provide ethical reasons for stating or asking for such requests. They don’t have to go into specific details, but if it is a personal matter, then it should stay a personal manner.

        When I was training as a manager for a Hotel chain the trainer said that “if there is something personal going on in your life, it does not need to come to work unless it affects your ability to perform. If you need help or support, please discuss it confidentially with your boss, or someone in management whom you feel comfortable with. They are required under confidentiality to keep that information confidential within reason.” And that is what we were suppose to inform our employees as their right as employees.

        And this does affect this person’s ability to perform and to work in a team environment. This request puts them between a rock and a hard place with being honest with their team as stated in these statements:

        “my boss has recently been asking me to lie to colleagues about my commute to work!

        now that I use the same train line, it’s become obvious to me and my team that boss is lying, because I’m making it in on time just fine.

        I got to work on time, but boss was late and made a huge show when she came in of saying “Oh, how did you get here? I had to wait hours on the platform!

        Normally this doesn’t bother me and it’s just a bit of a running joke in our office that boss is never to be seen much before 11 am

        boss and I went to a meeting on Friday and while we were alone in the meeting room (waiting for other attendees to arrive), she brought up the topic of our commute and suggested that I “not mention my journey to colleagues because it might be misleading.”

        It’s not like I regularly discuss my commute with colleagues, but I don’t want to lie to them, especially as they do sometimes ask how my journey was when boss has phoned/emailed with her excuse about terrible train service”

        Not only is it affecting the employee’s stress level, how can they trust or put their faith in their boss? Or how can they take their boss seriously. We don’t know what else goes on, but not taking your boss seriously can have serious implications.

          1. KarenT*

            I can speak for Canada and I will eat a pencil if the HRDC (or any other government body) is interested in this.
            No discrimination is taking place and no laws are being broken. That pretty much takes the government out of the equation.

        1. Colette*

          A lot of employment law in Canada is provincial, I believe, so I’m not sure what the federal site you’ve pointed to twice has to do with the situation. I’ve checked the Contact Us info, and it’s what I thought it was – i.e. federal programs like EI, getting a passport, etc.

          If one of my colleagues went to a government agency because of something like this, it would definitely tarnish my view of them (and I remain unconvinced that there is a government agency that would care).

          1. KarenT*

            Imagine being the government worker who recieves the complaint! (Although, as I write this, I’m sure government employees working in employment regulation/law receive all sorts of out there complaints!)

              1. Waerloga*

                In canada, and perhaps JFYB is referring to lying to the government (in cases where one is receiving government funds such as EI) That’s a huge “no-no” in the sense that even a small discrepancy can cost you the entire funding amount, repayment of same, and a fine to boot.

                Case in point, you can travel outside of canada while on EI, but you darn well better make sure that you indicate that you were not available for work in that 2 week time period. Even 1 day away negates that period of EI.

                Apart from that, the government does’t care . You can lie to others as much as you want, so long as it isn’t a government worker (including and not limited to police, fire, health, courts, social workers, etc)

                Take care


                1. KarenT*

                  I agree with you about lying about EI, because that would be fraud.
                  However, it seemed to me like JFYB was talking specifically about filing a complaint about the boss lying about her commute.

  23. Joey*

    Maybe she stops off for breakfast everyday. I’ve seen lots of people waste the first hour of the day without fail doing that.

    Something more juicy is probably just wishful thinking.

    1. Wilton Businessman*

      Something more juicy is probably just wishful thinking.
      Much more interesting that way.

    2. Just Found Your Blogsite*

      We had a person who did that, after we just accepted that fact and then started pooling money so that they could grab food for the rest of the staff who also would like some.

      Took something negative and made it positive. That way they were still kind of doing something for their job.

      Worked for everyone! Timmies for the win!

    3. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

      I’m going with Super Hero who has to stop to fight crime before coming to work.

      Think about it. It all makes sense.

      The trains being late are a false flag.

      Got it now?

      1. Woodward*

        This! I love it! Because it’s impossible to predict if TODAY is a 20 minute crime-fighting moment or an hour!

        1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

          Super Villains can be pesky time wasters. I don’t know how Clark Kent ever made a deadline.

          1. Zelos*

            considering how fast he can fly, I don’t think he’d have a problem.

            in contrast, I think Spider Man is usually pretty flaky…

          2. Ashlee*

            His job was to gather reports on Super Man for Lois Lane to condense into a cohesive article.

            And Super Man was a regular enough sighting that if he (Clark Kent) was a little late, well… “So I saw him fly up the building to catch that man, his name’s Bob Shoe by the way, I interviewed him while I was there waiting for the city to finish cleaning the streets enough for people to get to work and all.”

  24. Clever Name*

    What I don’t understand is why the boss feels like she needs to explain herself to her subordinates. At least based on the information presented in the letter it doesn’t sound like boss’ bosses are talking about boss’ commute. She’s making a bigger deal of it by making up silly excuses. If she just came in when she came in, I doubt there would be as much gossip about it. I had a boss who would make up stories about his whereabouts during the workday. Really, none of us cared because it really didn’t affect our work. I think some people still have the “cutting class/tardy” mentality from school and have a hard time realizing that in many professional atmospheres, it really doesn’t matter when one shows up or leaves as long as the work gets done.

    1. Ruffingit*

      I thought about that too. Maybe it’s a situation where the manager wants to give a “valid” excuse for being late because she’s had to counsel her subordinates about tardiness and therefore she wants to have some credibility in that area so she uses the trains as an excuse. Don’t know, but in general I would agree with you. I also think this manager just needs to set her start time at 11, assuming her bosses are fine with that, and be done with it. Enough with the excuses.

    2. Sunflower*

      This is exactly what I was thinking too. Especially since this seems to be occurring so much it doesn’t even count as her being late anymore. If I was an employee there, I would that is just the time she comes in at. The only thing I imagine is she is also sneaking out of the office earlier than she technically ‘should be’ so she thinks by feigning the unreliable transportation excuse she doesn’t have to work the full day that maybe everyone else does?

    3. Cassie*

      Maybe it’s one of those situations where the boss wants to feel important, like people who are always talking about how busy they are. It’s as though she wants to make a grand entrance, make sure everyone knows just how difficult it was to get to work because of the commute, and everyone should be grateful she is gracing them with her presence.

  25. Anonymous*

    If it were me, the next time the boss brings it up in private I would say:

    “Boss, no one cares why you’re in at 11. You’re the boss, you decide what hours work best for you, and the rest of us will work around your schedule. There’s no need to justify it to anyone – please just set clear office hours that work for you and tell the rest of us when you’re available to us.”

  26. MR*

    I think partially why this is such an ‘issue’ with everyone in the office, is that the staff is being held to a different standard than the manager. Everyone has to be there by 10, and the manager frequently shows up later than that, often with the same lame excuse, so of course, nobody buys it.

    If it was known that the manager works a different schedule (say 11 a.m. to 7 or 8 p.m.), nobody would blink an eye. The OP doesn’t mention this, but I wonder if the manager is also cutting out early in the evening.

    There is definitely the appearance that there are some kind of shenanigans going on with the manager (as others have mentioned). Her work is likely suffering as a result and I wouldn’t be surprised if there were some kind of repercussions down the line. An update at some point would be terrific.

    1. Jennifer*

      Well, where I work, staff being held to a higher/harder/different standard than management is pretty dirt common. Anyone who has to be in during certain hours and isn’t exempt has to be in from 8-5, period, but managers usually are on exempt status and are paid the same no matter how many hours they work, so it doesn’t matter if they show up late every morning. Though to be fair, they probably end up working later/on weekends more than us lackeys.

    2. OP*

      We have flexi-time, so we’re only required to be at our desks until 3:30pm. I’ve rarely seen my boss leave before then, but I do think she probably doesn’t stay late enough to accrue enough hours to make up for coming in at 11am or later.

      1. Penny*

        So you can work 10 to 3:30? What kind of job is that? I’n in!! Those are my ideal hours, my boss hasn’t gone for it so far. :)

        1. Eli*

          Right, but you’d need to make up the missed hours another day. It’s flexi time, not optional time!

  27. Woodward*

    I heard once that some people are “Precisionists” and others are “Generalists” when it comes to time. Precisionists believe that “we are leaving at 8:00 AM” actually translates to “walking out the door at 8:00 AM, not 8:02 AM”. Generalists believe that “we are leaving at 8:00 AM” actually translates to “sometime between 7:45 AM and 8:30 AM we will leave”. There is conflict when you are a Precisionist expecting your Generalist friend to conform to your rules and when you are a Generalist wondering why the Precisionist is getting so upset when it’s only 8:05 AM?

    I’m a Generalist and my partner a Precisionist. Since learning this concept, we communicate about time a lot more effectively. “Is that a hard departure time or a soft departure time?” Turns out it also applies to our spending habits. “Is $100 in the grocery budget actually $100 or is it between $95-125?” VERY helpful.

    1. Felicia*

      That’s a really interesting distinction! I am definitely a precisionist when it comes to money and time. But if you want to get somewhere at a specific time , wouldn’t you have to be a precisionist? Unless I guess if late doesn’t start for you until like 20 minutes late.

      1. Bea W*

        That’s why I pad my leaving schedule, because I have such a hard time being a precisionist about time. Or I am but in a weird way where if the plan is to leave at 8 am, and it’s 7:55, I think I don’t have to leave because it’s not 8 am yet., but if it’s 8:10 that’s somehow acceptable to me where leaving at 7:55 is a thought I would reject because “I don’t have to leave until 8 an and it’s only 7:55 so I still have time.”

        I am a precisionist about money.

      2. Woodward*

        For me, the power has been in self-awareness. I KNOW that I’m a Generalist, so if I have to be somewhere at 8:00 AM, I can plan for me being late. For example, we live an hour’s drive from the airport. If the flight leaves at 8:00 AM, it will start boarding around 7:30 AM, and I try to get to the airport an hour before flights board for security and stuff so 6:30 AM, so to drive there I COULD leave at 5:30 AM, but since I know I’m always running late, I plan to leave at 5:00 AM. And I made my flight since “leaving at 5:00 AM” actually translated into “walked out the door at 5:20 AM”.

    2. Anonymous*

      Wow, that is a really interesting way of looking at it. As a Precisionist, I view as a fancy way of people excusing their lateness but it’s still interesting :) (I’M KIDDING! sort of).

    3. the gold digger*

      I am a Precionist married to an Extreme Generalist. This difference causes more conflict between us than our political and religious differences, which are not insignificant.

    4. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

      I’m a reformed Generalist who married a precise Precisionist and converted.

      Still married. :) Just a really rough first year……

    5. Nodumbunny*

      I’m a precisionist married to a generalist and with 3 generalist children. Drives me crazy!

  28. OP*

    Thanks for posting my question! I haven’t had time to read through all the comments, but there’s some good advice in your answer and the comments I’ve read. I was mostly just confused by my boss’s request. This is my first “career” job and I guess I was hoping for some confirmation that this kind of thing is weird. Glad to hear it is! I think I will go with not lying to my co-workers, but not offering any info on my commute unless directly asked.

    FWIW, I don’t think my boss is having an affair (at 9am!) or sneaking off to regular secret appointments. We have very generous core hours for our flexi-time, we can leave for the day at 3:30pm and we can take lunch anytime between 12-2pm (for the whole two hours if we want). So, really, there’s plenty of time she could fit appointments and affairs in to her day if she so desired! I have no idea what she is doing, but if I had to guess I would say going for long morning coffees, browsing the shops, etc. combined with just plain oversleeping some days.

    I find it weird that she makes conversation with me on the train and then saunters into the office 1-2 hours later with excuses about delayed trains. I can’t figure out why she doesn’t just sit in a different train carriage, as I always sit in the same one so I’d be easy to avoid if she wanted to!

    1. BadPlanning*

      This sounds like it lines up with the suggestions that she’s doing silly stuff and the time flies by.

      She probably doesn’t avoid you on the train, because each day is going to be an “on time” day. Until she wanders off for coffee, ends up shopping for shoes, reading the AAM archives for 20 minutes on her phone and then doesn’t get to work for another 90 minutes.

    2. Ruffingit*

      Yeah, it’s bizarre that she has a conversation with you on the train and then comes in and claims the train was late. I can’t imagine why she thinks that’s appropriate when she knows there’s a witness to the fact that the trains are not the problem. This is a very odd situation. I agree with the others that if she makes an issue of it, I might just say (depending on her personality of course) “Everyone in the office knows the trains are not an issue. No one cares when you come in so it’s really not necessary to make excuses to us.”

  29. ew0054*

    Very strange, but I am curious… why???

    The boss signs the checks. She doesn’t need to answer to anybody about what time she comes in!

    I do agree with the writer that this is strange behavior and I wouldn’t partake in it, either. But if it comes up again I would ask why does she feel the need to do this.

  30. Chinook*

    Is it wrong that my first thought was that the OP could also come in late if she coordinated her lies with her boss?

  31. mel*

    Boss must be pretty dumb to think OP has to outright announce his/her commute experience to the whole office in order for others to know what’s really going on here. Or Boss must think everyone else is just really really really really dumb.

  32. Anonymous*

    My vote is with everyone who said to offer up nothing more descriptive than “I guess I got lucky” if directly queried on the difference in arrival times. If it affects her ability to perform her job duties, it will shake out sooner or later, and everyone is probably right in that you don’t want to get drawn in to the situation any more than you already are.

    In my last job, at least five employees had essentially the same commute (no public transit involved), and of those, all but one typically made it in on time, while the one would always call with a story about a crazy delay on the same route everyone else took. It got really old, since we all had to wait around for her to start our day. She was also our superior, although not technically our boss.

    However, even bosses have their bosses. When we had a number of days that went long, ultimate boss started asking questions, and it came out that the one employee was arriving about an hour after we were supposed to get started. She got a talking to, and was somewhat snippy with the rest of us for a while, but since there was no way to refute her arrival times, she started making a concerted effort to arrive on time. Didn’t always work, but it helped.

    In my case, I think the employee had just been permitted to get away with it enough that she ended up feeling sort of entitled. I don’t know what is going on with OP’s boss, but it reminded me of the situation.

  33. Anon*

    It would be awesome if this post ended up being like that one post where a coworker was also being an “escort” at the office…

    1. Ruffingit*

      LOL! I totally thought at first that perhaps Boss Lady had a side business of prostitution or perhaps she needed to stop at the voodoo store to pick up some more eye of newt for the curses she plans to put on her subordinates. AAM has ruined me, I tell ya! ;)

      1. Anon*

        Poe, it’s from Nov 2009 – great post, just Google “ coworker moonlighting as a prostitute”…

  34. Tara T.*

    I agree with Interviewer who wrote on Jan. 7: “f any of your coworkers pry, just laugh, say she must have been on a different train, and change the subject. People will assume you’re on the early train that arrived with no issue.” You can always say you were not paying attention and did not notice whether she was on the train that particular day, if anyone asks. Since she is a boss, she must be exempt and can do the work any hours she wants anyway, as long as the work gets done. I COMPLETELY agree with the posters who wrote that they think it is an affair! It DOES sound like an affair! She is making up an excuse so no one will guess she is stopping off at such an such a point to meet with Mr. Charming. She does not want word to get back to her husband, and she wants him to believe she is on the train and going to work, not taking any detours! This is really intriguing!

    1. Editor*

      As someone who can take an extra half hour or more over breakfast just to read “one more” article in the paper or another post online or just answer one email, I don’t think the boss’s problem is anything more than bad time management.

      The boss should stop talking about her commute instead of asking OP to cover for her. Oh, and face the fact that she’s disorganized or whatever.

  35. Bunny*

    Always worth keeping in mind you don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes. And actually, neither you nor your colleagues may have any right to, either. It’s entirely possible your manager has a personal reason for lateness that is known about and accepted by HR, but that she just doesn’t want all and sundry knowing and gossiping about.

    A few years ago, a coworker started behaving oddly – coming in late all the time, leaving early, being absent a lot. When people asked our manager, they were brushed off, or told she was off sick, or had a doctor’s appointment or some such. Always vague answers.

    My coworkers started suspecting that she was lying to managers and skiving off, and when one of them saw her getting on a bus not far from work when she was “off sick” tried to make a huge deal with HR about it.

    Turned out she’d recently attempted to escape her abusive husband, her children and her own safety had been threatened and she was having to take a lot of time off to go through all sorts of legal stuff to keep her family safe. HR and management knew everything, because she’d told them the truth, but she had a right to privacy about all of that and management had respected that. The full story only came out to the team when management realised that not telling everyone was making the work environment more toxic and unsafe for her than just keeping quiet was.

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