my coworker wants me to give him a false reference and lie about his salary

A reader writes:

There is at least one coworker with whom you hit it off with since day one and you trust and help each other. I have a coworker like this.

Last week, this coworker took me out to lunch and told me he was planning to start interviewing, because he found that he is being severely underpaid. He said he was making $30k versus others in the same field making $60k. I am in a similar situation, so I can empathize.

He wanted to know if he could use me as a reference and claim that I was his supervisor, and that he was making $60k, believing that the new jobs would offer between $65-70k. He has my home address, and promised to thank me and send an offer my way if he gets in somewhere.

I like and trust the guy, but something sounds a little weird. I feel bad that he is getting screwed like this, and would like to help him if this is a legal and moral way to do it. I told him I would think it over the weekend. What are your comments?

You can’t do this.

First of all, it’s hugely unethical. I assume you know that though — I mean, you’re talking about directly lying. Are you someone who tells bald-faced lies? Premeditated bald-faced lies, no less? Who conspires with others to tell these lies? I’m going to assume that’s not someone you want to be.

Second, this could come back to bite you in the ass, in a big way. If your company catches you doing this, you could get fired over it. If you’re thinking you’re not likely to get caught, realize that it could happen very easily. Thorough reference-checkers don’t just stick to the references a candidate hands over — they also do their own research. And in this case, it wouldn’t even take that much — the reference checker could simply decide to call the company’s main switchboard and ask for this guy’s manager (since he’s telling them that it’s okay to contact his current manager). When they put through to the manager, they’re going to notice the name discrepancy, and it’s easy to unravel from there. You’d have a decent chance of getting fired at that point, because it’s an integrity issue — you’d have shown you’re willing to lie and misrepresent the company.

Moreover, it’s not even in this guy’s interest to ask you to do this. Plenty of companies that make offers based on past salary history ask for salary verification late in the process (such as by requesting W2s or paystubs), and will yank an offer if it turns out that the candidate lied. So your friend could get an offer, resign his current job, and then have the offer pulled when they discovered he had lied.

A far better bet is for him to simply make a case for his desired salary based on the market value of the work, leaving salary history out of it entirely.

Either way, tell him you can’t do this.

{ 118 comments… read them below }

  1. Katie the Fed*

    Jeez. Aside from the ethical considerations, if you’re going to lie, at least make it worthwhile for you. This is all risk and absolutely no gain. Terrible idea. What a crappy friend for even asking you this.

    1. Audiophile*

      That promise would disappear real fast once he lost his offer.
      I could see this person blaming OP for not lying “well enough” and then his offer got pulled.

  2. Sunflower*

    If you want to help, direct him to this website!

    As someone who is currently making less than I should, I’ve found tons of good information on this site about how to navigate this less than desirable situation.

  3. Joey*

    Something sounds a LITTLE weird? I’m finding I hard to believe that this op isn’t sure about the morality of doing this?

      1. Anon*

        I think Joey is saying that there’s something weird about the fact that this OP is even asking the question. Not b/c it’s unethical but b/c it’s so clearly unethical and OP seems to know that, so… why write?
        (Joey feel free to correct me if I’m wrong)

        – TheSnarkyB on a different computer (no cookies-clearing permissions granted)

        1. TK*

          Joey (and Jen) are quoting/referencing the OP’s letter, and noting that this request would strike any rational person as more than just a little weird. It’s, like, a lot weird.

    1. Emma the Strange*

      That jumped out at me too. Here’s the best explanation I can think of: the OP described this guy as the sort of coworker “with whom you hit it off with since day one and you trust and help each other.” To get that level of trust so quickly, I think it’s safe to say that he’s very charismatic at the least (and possibly also really good at deliberate manipulation). So it’s entirely possible that the coworker was really good at making it seem to the OP that lying was a totally reasonable, normal thing that friends to do for one another. Some people are really good at convincing their intimate friends to doubt their own sense of normal and right and wrong. If the OP is relatively new to the workforce (not clear if s/he is), this explanation makes evenmore sense.

      1. fposte*

        That’s my thought. I was going to say it was like something unethical were recommended here, but I think the public nature of the response means there’s more obvious pushback. Think of this as like the people who write in saying “My parents told me to to [really stupid thing] in my job search.” They feel the advice is off, but geez, it’s their parents, and they really don’t want to disappoint and displease them them by refusing to do what they want.

        Still, though, a big “hell, no” to the OP.

      2. Kit M.*

        Yes. And even if someone is not super charismatic, just being with someone who’s acting like something abnormal is normal can really put a dampener on your reasoning skills.

    2. Magda*

      Maybe it’s a case where someone pulls such a whopper that you go into “I can’t actually be perceiving this correctly, can I?” mode?

  4. A Bug!*

    Is it really that big a disaster to just be honest when that comes up in an interview?

    I mean, does it really make a person look overly mercenary to ever mention salary as a reason for seeking other work? If someone’s making fully half of market rate, isn’t that reason in itself to support a job hunt?

    “Although I enjoy my work where I am, my salary is half of what I know is market rate. I was willing to accept the lower salary initially because I was new to the field and felt that I had few choices, but now I’m confident in my value and would like to find an arrangement that will work better in the long-term.”

      1. dejavu2*

        Well, then you don’t take that offer. Because interviewing is a two way street, and the whole point is you’re done with being exploited.

        1. thenoiseinspace*

          Most people don’t have that option, though. In this market, you’re lucky if you get ONE offer…most people aren’t in a position to turn it down, even if it’s awful.

          1. tesyaa*

            This reasoning is specious. If a person is truly earning half the market rate, they should be able to get several job offers at that salary.

            1. anomnomnomimous*

              um, have you been in the job market lately? There are plenty of people who have been stuck in intern jobs for almost a decade who can’t get a single paying job at all, much less at “market rate.” I think the NYT did a piece on it recently that quoted TAPA – it was a good (if depressing) read.

              1. tesyaa*

                If every employer is paying zero for a certain type of work, then the market rate for that work is zero. I think the confusion is because the OP says the guy is being paid half of market. If every employer is paying “half of market”, the lower rate is the *real* market rate.

                How else would market rate be determined other than what the market is paying?

                1. Anonymous*

                  I think it’s not that every employer is paying half of market. Every employer, except his, is paying market. The problem is that all of those employers are not hiring. And anyone (the few remaining employers) who is hiring is going to say, “So you’ll take anything more than half of market, yes?” because of course they would as that’s just economically rational, even if they WOULD pay market to someone else.

                2. Laufey*

                  Except it’s really not in those companies’ best interests to do that. The second a company willing to pay market rate has a position open up, they’re going to loose that employee. Hiring and integrating new employees is a costly and time consuming business, and (for most companies) it’s better in the long run not to have that turnover.

                3. ThursdaysGeek*

                  @Laufey – yup, it’s not in their long term best interest. But lots of companies do it anyway, and they do have high turnover. Those are the companies advertising jobs the most, too.

                4. Mike C.*

                  Illegal collusion? Abuse of workers on visa? Information asyemmetry? Abusive contract clauses?

                  Come on, there are tons of ways for this sort of thing to happen.

              2. Dan*

                I have. Within two months of being laid off in October, I got two offers, both worth at least 20% more than the job I got laid off from, both doing similar work to said job.

      2. A Bug!*

        “That’s certainly an improvement over my current salary, but that’s still well below market rate. My goal is to find a stable, long-term employment relationship, which means not job-hopping from one below-market job to another just because it pays slightly more. I’m looking for something in the range of Y-Z.”

      3. Positivity Boy*

        The new company would have to be pretty tenacious to lowball the candidate that hard when he clearly already stated he knew the market rate for the position. If I tell you I’m going for the position because I know it normally makes $50k and you offer me $30k, I’m probably going to think you’re an idiot, even if you know I’m only making $25k now. You’re still offering me an insulting amount of money.

    1. Sunflower*

      I just think there are much better ways to answer the question.

      Remember in interviews the interviewer is trying to figure out who YOU are. They want to know what things are going to make you want to do your best at this job. If salary is the first thing that comes up, it could give the interviewer the idea that money is all you care about and you will jump ship the minute you get a better offer.

      No one takes a job based on JUST salary. Sure it’s huge and could be the main driving factor but there are always other things you are looking for. Just better to focus on that stuff IMO

      1. A Bug!*

        Okay, so the message I’m getting here is “Never ever offer salary as a reason you’re dissatisfied with your current employment.” And I understand that it’s generally distasteful and it comes across as mercenary.

        But in this particular situation, the discrepancy between the guy’s salary and the market rate is just so glaringly huge; is there no point at which “I want a competitive salary” is a valid reason on its own?

        1. Sunflower*

          It’s a 100% valid reason but he isn’t the only person competing for the position(I assume).

          If 2 people walk in for the same job and one guy says ‘I really want this job because I want a competitive salary’ and the next guy says ‘I really want this job because I’m interested in x and you do a lot of that here and I’m looking for a job that also incorporates y..’ who do you think is going to get that job?

          And I don’t think that’s unfair or unreasonable. The company knows they are going to have to pay someone for this job so why not pay the guy who wants to be there?

          But really this is why company’s should just list their range and then everyone is on the same page until the offer is made.

          1. Elizabeth*

            I think it’s the difference between the answer to the questions “Why are you leaving your current job and looking for a new job?” and “Why are you interested in THIS job?” The answer to the first question could be at least partly about salary; the answer to the second one shouldn’t be.

      2. Observer*

        In this case, it’s a bit different, though. The issue is not “I want a bit more money” but “I’m tired of working for an organization the blatantly under-values me and so willing to exploit me that they don’t even try to meet market norms. I don’t want to work for people have zero respect for me.”

  5. KLH*

    “There is at least one coworker with whom you hit it off with since day one and you trust and help each other. ”

    No, not necessarily. Maybe you should rethink that assumption. Also rethink the “like and trust” too, since he’s just shown himself to not be honest and to want to drag others into his dishonesty.

    1. Vicki*

      When I read later “I like and trust the guy” I thought, seriously? I don;t even know him and I wouldn’t trust him with my coffee money.

  6. Interviewer*

    “No, I’m sorry, I can’t do that.”
    “Why not?”
    “I just can’t. But if you want me to be a reference, here’s what I can do: I can speak to your work here at the company, how well you work with the team, how much you have helped me in my own role, and my observations on how well you get along with your supervisor – I can give them good concrete examples of all of that. And if they ask, I can tell them that the only reason you’re looking for another job is while you truly love both the work and the people you work with, you really need to find a place that compensates their team closer to market rates for this area. But maybe you can tell them that yourself. Being truly honest with your interviewer is a lot easier than the setup you’re describing.”

    1. Sunflower*

      Yes- I was trying to think of a way to explain this but this is perfect. I think in this economy it’s not shocking to hear someone is being paid less than they should be. Obviously this guy is looking to get out because he wants to find a place that values his skills. He probably wants to find a company that doesn’t care about his past salary.

      I think the OP should really direct him to this site. This guy seems to have a very misguided idea of how salary negociations go. He seems to think every company will use his past salary as a marking point for a new one. Since I started reading this site, I’ve found that it’s quite easy to avoid the salary question. It also doesn’t sound like he’s desperate for a new gig so he has time.

      This guy is in a good spot. He has a great reference and just found out he can be making double want he makes now. I’d be bouncing off the walls. He is going to ruin that if he asks someone else to do it too.

  7. Mena*

    Eek! Wrong of your colleague to ask you to lie, and wrong of you to consider it (or at least consider it enough to write in here). Please don’t do this – it could really blow up in YOUR face (your colleague wants out so he is less concerned about the fall out, I think).

    Please, please re-read Alison’s paragraphs 1-3.

  8. Magda*

    Wow. The most charitable way I can read this situation is that his emotional reaction to being underpaid is making your friend slightly delusional. I think this is a case where the best thing you could do for him as a friend is give a diplomatic reality check about what a bad idea this is.

    1. Ruffingit*

      Agreed because there are so many places along the ugly highway that is this idea where things could go off the road. It seems the OP’s co-worker thinks this is a foolproof idea, but it’s really, really not. As Alison said, they may check his references by calling the company, they may ask for W2s, etc. It is so not even close to being worth it for OP or this guy.

  9. Ruffingit*

    No offense to the OP, but I cannot believe anyone even needs to ask the question. This is so beyond not OK. There isn’t even a grey area here, it’s just not ok, way bad, seriously don’t do this ever territory.

    1. Anonymous*

      Its so ridiculous that I laughed at the question, OP if you’re not trolling us then you are severely ethically challenged.

    2. Sunflower*

      I’m not super shocked that someone would ask this only because I’ve read stories on here about co-workers asking things like this and although it is shocking, I guess there are people who things like this don’t occur to.

      I’m more shocked someone on THIS SITE would ask this question. I’m assuming this can’t be a reader if only because any reader would know Alison’s stance on this. I wonder if maybe he googled this situation and found AAM? I hope he reads further into the site and realizes just how bad this situation is

    3. Artemesia*

      And if ‘unethical’ doesn’t faze the OP then the fact that s/he will almost surely be found out and fired for it should. There are lots of mistakes you can make that you can weasel out of by ‘no knowing’ or ‘misunderstanding’ — pretending to be in a supervisory position in your organization in order to write a fake letter of reference for your friend is not one of those. It is obviously and frankly unethical and will be viewed so — and it reflects on your entire organization. I would fire someone who did this in a heartbeat and have them escorted off the premises without so much as stopping by their desk. They would be blocked on the company computer system before they reached the street.

  10. Ruffingit*

    Ethical problems aside, I take issue with this statement: I feel bad that he is getting screwed like this…

    How do you know he’s getting screwed? The OP mentions that CW told her others in the field are making twice as much and OP mentions that she’s in the same boat so she sympathizes.

    Has it occurred to either of them that perhaps others in the same field have: more experience, other skills that make them more marketable (bilingual for example), are better negotiators, work for companies that can afford/want to pay that much, etc.? Making less than half of what others in the field make doesn’t mean you’re being screwed, there can be all kinds of reasons for it and having a total lack of integrity, which is obviously a problem on the part of co-worker and possibly on the part of OP since she’s considering helping in this scheme, will not help marketability at all.

    1. some1*

      Right. I’d have more sympathy for the coworker if he said other people in the same *positions* are making twice as much (but even that can be chalked up to many factors as you pointed out) but it sounds incredibly naive to think you deserve as much as anyone in your field. I know people in the Accounting Field who make $40k and some who make 6 figures.

  11. Colette*

    He has my home address, and promised to thank me and send an offer my way if he gets in somewhere.

    Aside from the many ethical considerations others have pointed out, how exactly is he going to be sure he can send the OP an offer?

    1. Ruffingit*

      Yeah, that’s another thing that is wrong with this whole deal. I suspect the OP meant to say “Send a strong job lead” or perhaps “Put in a good word” rather than send an offer because unless this guy is the person who does the hiring, he’s not going to be able to send an offer.

      1. Colette*

        And even if he is the person who does the hiring, he may not have budget to hire someone else.

        Unless his plan is just to say he has budget and hope for the best.

      2. Sadsack*

        Also, wouldn’t he just call her or email her? Why would he mail a note to her house about a job opportunity? This whole thing is bogus or the OP has been working for a very, very short amount of time. I wonder what other things she has helped this “trustworthy” coworker with. If this is for real, it sounds like it is a good idea to get away from this guy.

  12. Anon Accountant*

    When the coworker said he’s making less than others in the same field, does he mean others in the same geographic area or is he going by national averages? And experience, certifications, and other skills can make a difference in compensation.

    There was a post recently (if memory is correct) on this site telling ways to find the market value for your area and field.

    And I’ll echo the others that this isn’t a good idea to lie for him and he would be better suited to be honest during his job search.

  13. some1*

    Ethics issues aside, it’s not a given that an org will match or raise your current salary (especially up to $15k), even when they can verify it.

    So even if you two don’t get caught scamming people, there’s no guarantee this will work for your coworker.

    Also, my current company offered me both more than the highest figure in the range that I asked for and more than I had ever made before (not $30k more, but way more than I expected), I didn’t make up references or lie about salary history to get it.

  14. Celeste*

    Here’s the thing. Your friends would never ask you to lie for them. I take it the OP is female and kind of a soft touch, or maybe there’s some attraction to the friend here. In any case, he knows that when you can make people feel pity for you, you have carte blanche with them. He appealed to the OP’s sense of being underpaid, and to the OP it’s a valid reason to consider the so-called proposal. I say so-called, because the friend is offering up what he doesn’t even have to give!

    I wonder if you’re both pretty young and don’t really know how things work, but these comments should be a good wake-up call. I hope you can find somebody else to be friends with at work, OP, and I hope this person does go away. Far away.

    1. some1*

      “I take it the OP is female and kind of a soft touch, or maybe there’s some attraction to the friend here.”

      That’s a pretty sexist assumption.

    2. A Bug!*

      You’ve jumped to quite a conclusion on the female thing, and I don’t think the letter suggests that at all.

      I don’t see the letter as asking “how do I say no to this guy who’s asking me to do something I don’t want to do?” Instead, the question is “I’d like to do this thing for my work friend, but is it ethical?”

      That’s a quandary faced by friend-having people of any gender.

      I also don’t think the letter implies that the coworker’s the manipulative sort. He’s asking a work friend for a favor. It’s an unethical favor, to be sure, but he may not see it that way. There’s nothing in the letter suggesting he’s putting any particular pressure on the OP to agree.

      According to the letter, the OP likes and trusts the guy. While that might be part of a long con, it seems that the simplest explanation is that he’s a generally-decent guy who is just ignorant when it comes to this area of professional ethics.

    3. Mike C.*

      I wonder if you’re both pretty young? Come on, are you being serious here?

      By the way, there are plenty of ethical times when one might lie for a friend. I’m pretty sure if you were letting a friend of yours crash on your couch and their abusive partner came by looking for them you’d lie, right?

  15. James M*

    Tangental to the OP’s play for time to “think it over”: does anyone have advice for immediately recognizing inappropriate requests so they can be refused immediately?

    I’d like to avoid giving a noncommittal answer to any request that imposes real risk to me but offers no benefit (e.g. lying on behalf of a coworker or supervisor). It’s more complicated than just “learning to say ‘No'” since there are usually social circumstances involved (which may be why the other person feels comfortable asking in the first place).

    1. Ruffingit*

      If your goal is to avoid the negative social implications involved in saying no, but also to immediately refuse inappropriate requests, you’re not likely to be able to strike a balance there. You have to either ask for time to think it over so you can do a gentle let down or get comfortable with learning to say no and being OK with the negative social circumstances involved in doing so.

      There are tons of issues inherent in this stuff, but one of the things I’d urge you to consider is that it’s OK for others to be upset or unhappy with you because you said no immediately to their request. They’ll get over it and if they don’t, if they’re the type to try to guilt you for saying no, then you don’t need them as friends anyway.

      This gets more difficult when the situation is one with a power differential as in boss/employee, but even there you need to know where your own boundaries are and Alison has given some good scripts for dealing with those situations.

      This is not easy stuff and most people have a hard time saying no. It’s not hardwired into us, but learning your own boundaries and protecting them by saying no is helpful. Also, reframe it in your own mind. If you say yes to someone’s request, what are you saying no to? Example “Yes, I’ll help you move on Saturday” means saying no to time with your spouse, your kids, time to recharge after a hard week, etc. Saying “Yes, I’ll help you lie to potential future employers” means saying no to your integrity, your peace of mind, your self-worth, etc.

    2. fposte*

      In addition to Ruffingit’s excellent comment, I’ll say that sometimes delaying a “No” makes it a bigger deal. “Hey, could you pretend to be a reference?” “Sorry, can’t do that. But good luck!” is over a lot quicker and builds a lot less than “I’ll need to think that over…” and a long explanation two days later. I don’t think that the social aspect does make a delayed no automatically a better choice.

      1. tesyaa*

        Agree. Our neighbors asked a favor about something really outlandish, and my husband politely said he’d discuss it with me and get back to them. Since he knew neither of us was interested in doing what they requested (it wasn’t illegal or dirty, just presumptuous), I couldn’t understand why he didn’t just say no right away.

        Well, I sort of understand… the wife in the couple is very cute and sweet and hard to directly say no to, but still, it’s better to get it over with.

        1. some1*

          It could have been a stalling tactic, maybe your husband was the neighbor would forget about it in the time it was taking him to (supposedly) check with you.

          1. tesyaa*

            Sure, that’s true, but I think the point made by fposte is that the requesters generally do not forget, and it’s better to just say no rather than have the awkwardness sitting there (which is definitely true with neighbors).

      2. Colette*

        Plus then you have to bring it up later, which puts an additional barrier in your way.

        I can understand being completely flummoxed by a request that comes out of left field, so sometimes the delayed no is the way to go, but if you know immediately that you won’t do it, just say so.

    3. Artemesia*

      I have found that an immediate refusal to do something dishonest whether it is requested by boss or friend is the way to go. It is kind of like when people want to borrow books or tools. You are much better off just saying ‘oh I never lend out my books’ or ‘I never lend my car’ than to say ‘let me think about it’. Then you have to have a ‘reason’ and they can argue and push. When at work, you fall back on procedure as in ‘I really have to follow the time sheet procedures; I can’t do that without authorization from X’. Or ‘that is just not something I can do.’ The less discussion, the more ‘that isn’t something I can do’ the better.

      I know someone who got fired for manipulating time sheets. There was no real dishonesty. It had been a sort of grey area practice to allow comp time and then report regular time e.g. someone took a few hours and made it up but was reported as regular 9-5 time. A new regime took over and started clamping down and she got caught in it. She didn’t benefit. No one cheated. But that favor cost her her job.

      When ethics are involved, a knee jerk reaction works best. Just like when someone hands you too much change. You don’t think about it, you just hand it back.

    4. some1*

      Sub-question: how does one deal with a Manipulative Bully Type who after getting a “No” to this request wants to press for a reason, a “good enough” reason, or argue the issue, (“You won’t get caught.” “They’ll never fire you for this.”)

      1. fposte*

        You reject the premise of the query. Options are varied: “I’ve told you my answer, Bob, and that’s it”; total silence; a bland smile and a “How about those Olympics, eh?”; a “What the hell is wrong with you for even asking? Get out of my sight!”; a tearful “Why are you bullying me now?? I thought I was your friend! OMG was it all fake???!!” There are many possibilities to suit the individual taste.

        What you don’t want to do is explain, or say anything that suggests he has the right to inquire for an explanation. His opinion of you has stopped mattering, so if he’s annoyed with you, you don’t give a damn.

        1. Ruffingit*

          This. All of it. I generally summarize this concept with this: No is a complete sentence.

          As someone else noted above, the less you explain, the less possibility someone has to argue or break down your defenses. We have a tendency to want to explain or defend ourselves and making it a policy not to do that helps in so many areas of life.

          I see this everywhere for myself and others. For example, someone may say “Well, why do you cook your eggs like that? It would be better if you did this, this and that.” Our tendency is to explain why we make our eggs the way we do. Better to just say “This works for me” and move on.

          Same thing with someone asking a favor such as lending them your car. “No, I’m not comfortable with that.” If they press you for a reason, simply rinse and repeat “I’m not comfortable with that” and as fposte noted, you should add something along the lines of “I’ve told you my answer, Bob, and that’s it.” Giving any kind of reason opens you up to argument as the person pushes back against it and/or tries to convince you that your reason isn’t good enough. Don’t go there, it’s a trap.

          Learning to say no is hard. REALLY hard and takes a ton of practice, but it brings you more peace of mind than almost anything else.

      2. FD*

        My dad likes to say “No one is entitled to a reason.”

        What he means is that if you decline something, whether it’s an invitation, a date, or a sales pitch, you are not required to answer why. You can, but you don’t have to.

        This can be good to remember when dealing with people who are pushy. If they ask why and you answer, they’ll find a reason around it. If they ask why, and you say something like “I’m sorry, but I’m not interested / not comfortable doing that / etc.” then they have less space to maneuver.

        (If they keep asking why after that, you might need to take a more serious tack and say “My answer is final,” and then end the conversation.)

        1. LCL*

          And if you are dealing with engineer types, tell them “my decision is made, more evidence won’t change it, so don’t bother.”

          1. Clever Name*

            I’m totally using this with my 7 year old! I’ve also started saying, “Asked and answered” when he asks the same thing repeatedly after I’ve said no.

    5. Dani S*

      Love this discussion! Saying no is still so difficult for me, even after working on assertiveness in personal counseling and with a great supervisor at work. I admit I’m guilty of putting off my answer, or giving the old, “I’ll have to check in with my husband to see if we have anything going on that night…,” just to buy time and set up an excuse.

      Why does saying no without explanation feel so rude to me? I’ve been trying to pay attention and take notes from people who say no well–those who manage to say it in a friendly way, but leave no room for argument or persuasion.

      One tip that’s helped me is to envision the sinking feeling of dread I’m going to have if I agree to do something I don’t want to do. I can feel uncomfortable for 5 minutes now (and in reality, most people take refusals surprisingly well), or I can feel sick every time I think about the situation until it’s over.

      1. Artemesia*

        The quicker, the easier. A firm principle e.g I don’t lend my car, or I can’t skirt our procedure on the payroll works. If you delay a response, you suggest the request is legitimate, that a good reason will wear you down. When you delay you suggest you could if you only wanted to and it is harder to say no. Always say no to questionable requests calmly and quickly.

        Adding ‘you’ve got to be kidding’ to your vocabulary would help too.

      2. FD*

        If you are a woman, women in the US tend to be socialized not to be too direct in conversation.

        One can know it’s necessary, but it’s still hard to overcome a lifetime of social conditioning.

      3. aebhel*

        A direct ‘no’ is very disfavored in American English, and for women, even more so. We’re much more likely to use soft ‘no’s’–“I’d love to, but I have plans,” etc.

        What gets really ridiculous is that–assuming that you’re dealing with someone of the same cultural background–most people understand a soft ‘no’ just fine. Some of them will just pretend otherwise because it gives them wiggle room to get you to do what they want without being obviously bullying.

        /sociology nerd

        1. MeganO*

          I know this is a bit late, but I remember someone in the comments once referring to what I think they called “the Southern no,” which can also be helpful if you’re feeling like “No.” is too harsh (and I’d like to add my voice to those who say that “No” is a complete sentence). To do the Southern no, you’d say something like, “Oh, I just couldn’t, but thank you so much for thinking of me!” with the sweetest smile you can manage. I hear that it deflects tension pretty nicely, although I haven’t tried it myself.

  16. Jax*

    I liked the question. I learned about W2 and paystub verifications!

    It probably says a lot about where I am in salary that I’ve never heard of that process (ahem) but before I read that paragraph I was thinking, “So…if the company doesn’t check…this *could* work…”

  17. Apollo Warbucks*

    I reckon I’m underpaid by at least $10,000 but despite applying for a few jobs paying that I haven’t got an offer for more so instead of trying to lie and scheme my way to a pay rise I’ve made a case to my boss for a rise based on the work I do and what the market rate is else where, if I can’t get a pay rise then ill accept I am only worth what someone will pay me.

    As Alison rightly says this will only come back to bite you in the ass, don’t do it.

  18. Anonymous*

    OP, RUN. This guy sounds like a sweet talker and emotional manipulator. You have no idea what he’s really making.

    1. Artemesia*

      Oh good catch. It is quite possible this guy actually has the problem that he has been caught out in something and will get a bad reference and so is trying to manipulate you into standing in for his manager. Anyone who would ask this of you probably is untrustworthy on many other levels.

    2. A Bug!*

      What? This is a guy who the OP likes and trusts and with whom the OP has had a good working relationship.

      I’m completely lost. I have re-read the letter looking for red flags that I missed and am coming up empty.

      I’m not seeing any of the indicators that the OP’s coworker has done anything but make a poorly-considered request of his work friend. There’s no indication of pressure or threats or that he’s otherwise preying on the OP.

      Yes, the OP should refuse his request. But that’s because it’s an unethical request, not because the guy’s a jerk.

      1. aebhel*

        Someone who makes a request like this to a friend IS a jerk. Or he’s so incredibly stupid that he doesn’t realize what kind of position he’s putting his friend in, but my money is on ‘jerk’.

      2. Ethyl*

        Red flags for me: OP seems to think at every job you have a friend you like and trust (not necessarily true and I wonder where they got that idea– from the coworker who wants them to lie??), OP’s coworker says they are making half what they should be making (neither us nor the OP has any way to know), OP’s coworker asked them to flat-out lie to potential employers about their salary, OP’s coworker asked them to impersonate their manager, and somehow managed to couch everything such that OP only seems to think it’s “a little weird.” Not to mention the weird stuff about “coworker has my home address and will send me an offer,” which is creepy and not really how things work.

        It all really sounds like some bad juju “forced teaming” stuff going on.

  19. TheExchequer*

    Even while I agree completely with Allison that this is a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad idea, I can kind of see where the letter writer is coming from. Desperation does crazy things to your brain.

    1. some1*

      I can see the desparation if the coworker is really being underpaid and is worth $60k — I don’t know that we have enough info to conclude either.

    2. fposte*

      I can see where the letter-writer’s co-worker is coming from. The letter-writer, however, is going to lie on the record for no benefit whatsoever, and only the future promise of a liar to deliver an opportunity he actually can’t deliver.

      1. Ruffingit*

        Exactly. Outside of this being just a horrifically bad idea ethically, it doesn’t make sense in any other way either because there’s no benefit to the letter writer. I see it this way – it would be like planning a robbery with someone, casing the place, making a map of the bank, agreeing to be the lookout while they do the deed and the payoff for you is that they MIGHT share some of the money if they get enough. Who would do that? The payoff for the risk is not worth it. Outside of the tremendous ethical issue here, there’s the very basic cost/benefit analysis that makes it not worth bothering on the part of the OP.

    3. Lyda Rose*

      I can certainly see desperation being a factor here, and it can totally lead to crazy behavior. An old boss of mine hated it when people left, so he never, ever gave anyone a decent reference. I once overheard him call it his best employee retention tool.

  20. Jake*

    Let’s lighten up on the OP a little commenters. He had the sense to write in to ask, and we have no reason to believe he will not follow the advice.

    He clearly explains that he trusts and likes this coworker, so it isn’t all that crazy for him to be conflicted enough on this to ask. I trusted my first boss to the point that I would’ve probably had to ask for advice if he suggested something like this. He had done so much to gain my trust that even something as obvious as this would have seemed almost reasonable.

    1. Ruffingit*

      I just don’t see it that way. I had a friend I was very close with who I trusted tremendously. We had shared a lot of the deep, dark secrets that you only share with people who you feel you can trust 1000%. One day, she asked me to forge a signature on some academic paperwork for her. The whole story is long and involved and I won’t go into it here, but I immediately said no way. There was very little possibility that I would get caught, but I still said no, absolutely not. She pushed back and asked what the big deal was because I wouldn’t get caught and no harm would come to me and I said “It’s a matter of integrity. There are many things I’ll help you with, but I won’t do this.”

      So for me, this kind of thing isn’t even a question. I just won’t do it. Not trying to be hard on the OP, I just don’t get the mindset of needing to think about this at all. It’s unethical on its face.

      1. Jake*

        It is only unethical once the action is taken. Thinking about it is not unethical.

        I agree that this is an obvious choice for you and me, but the fact that it isn’t so obvious for the op does not make them unethical, unless they choose to perform the unethical action.

  21. Sandrine*

    If the OP is, in fact, a reader, or looked at the blog for 5 minutes before sending the letter in… maybe just maybe the aim is to actually be able to show the response to the “friend” because he/she tried talking about it already ?

    Honestly, I’d be really tempted to write in, even if I knew 100% that something was wrong. Because sometimes, it’s just like in customer service: you won’t listen to the person in front of you, but one other person comes along, says the same thing and boom “oh, ok” .


    1. Anonymous*

      This is exactly what I was thinking. “Oh they don’t really reference check/check anything but the references you give.” He probably said something like this and he/she wants to prove him wrong.

  22. JCC*

    Classic example of that dread and desperation that dawns on people when they realize that generally they have no bargaining power whatsoever when it comes to their salaries.

    When it comes right down to it, unless an employee owns where they sleep, they will gladly take minimum wage when eviction or foreclosure threatens, however valuable their skill sets could potentially be, and many of the wiser ones will take pay cuts down to minimum wage rather than risk getting fired, since the new norm is that if you don’t get a new job in less than 6 months after your layoff, many employers will consider you permanently unemployable. (

    Really, there are only two ways to get raises reliably today:

    1. Bureaucratic inertia — when some company policy from decades ago mandates some sort of incremented pay scale adjustments for everybody, and slashing it as part of a corporate fat-trimming hasn’t happened yet.

    2. The two dogs and a toy strategy — when you somehow convince two companies to go against their best interests and squabble over you, like two dogs fighting over a toy. This is usually though happy accident, since most employees have about as much control over this scenario as the toy does. If you don’t get torn apart in the process, you’ll be protected and rewarded. :-)

    My guess is that the guy was hoping to somehow jump start strategy number 2 — that if he can make it seem as though another company might fight to keep him (by paying him a high salary), he might tempt the company he is applying to into fighting to take him. As pointed out, however, smarter companies can’t easily be fooled by that sort of salary fudging.

  23. Kelly*

    I hope the OP is still reading this, and I want to counterbalance some of the feedback.

    Thanks, Alison for answering with such compassion. While the question has an obvious answer in terms of integrity, I’m going to give the OP credit for looking for guidance. There’s no need to attribute negative characteristics to the OP when they are looking for help and guidance. We don’t know what the workplace is like, we don’t know what the coworker is like, we just know that OP was asked to lie (yes, LIE) to help the coworker gain employment elsewhere.

    I’m assuming that economic stress and the stress of an undervaluing workplace is skewing perceptions and emotions of the OP and the coworker. It happens. Working somewhere that is at best unappreciative and at worst abusive 40 hours a week is going to take its toll.

    OP, thanks for reaching out, take Alison’s advice and you have my compassion.

  24. Lanya*

    Apparently, this kind of thing isn’t very uncommon. Just last night, I was talking with an acquaintance who is having a frustrating job search. She came right out and said that she and her friends have an arrangement to pose as each other’s former managers when reference calls come up, and how they are all padding their resumes because it’s the “only way they can even get in for an interview”. She seemed to think she was being clever, but I made a comment about how unethical that is. I wonder if karma will catch up with these people.

      1. Nessie*

        Neither can I, especially when so many job “requirements” turn out to be unnecessary when doing the actual job. One of the lecturers at my Uni came straight out and said “most position descriptions are 50% wish lists as well”. Add desperation to the picture and I can see where some resume padding might be tempting.

  25. Anonymous*

    A good employer really will base a salary offer off of what you’re worth to them and not what you’re currently making. I promise.

    My experience: I worked my way up from $42k to $50k working for one organization for several years. When I maxed out, I made a lateral-ish move to another organization for another $50k job. All well and good.

    I lost that job and ended up with what was available in a terrible economy: a position at $38k. I was hugely worried that would cripple me for decades, salary-wise, but my next position was for a company that actually did their own homework, as Alison always says they should, and offered me $60k.

    (And when I got that $42k job, they hired me from one that was badly underpaying me at $32k. It happens. All the time. The guy will be MUCH better served by making himself talent that a company wants than by lying about his salary history.)

  26. Mark*

    In a perfect world when you have a trust fund and pet unicorns etc it’s a lot different for the rest of us.

    Catbert and their cohorts in HR have created the situation where they low ball everyone way below what the market really is.

    The folks are heard mentality and talk at conferences about how to get people at a discount price.

    Their tools beside a crappy economy is the H1B visas where they bring in foreigners to further undermine to job market.

    From an ethics point of view I agree it isn’t right.

    I also think that expecting candidates to stick by the Marquess of Queensberry rules (ethical behavior, 2 week notices, one way loyalty) when HR is using street thug tactics is disingenuous at best.

    When HR quits acting like street thugs then I’ll mention ethical requirements to others.

    Un fortunately HR has used these techniques for the past 10-20 to depress salaries, increase profits and get their big buck 6 figure bonuses.

    HR is not your friend, they don’t work for you.

    They work for management and their goal is to get you to take as little as possible.

    Until corporations treat employees as more than just a resource (actions speak louder than words) if they expect employees not to do this in return they must think that the employees are pretty stupid.

    It’s sad but unfortunately this is the modern world that crony capitalism and their liberal cohorts have given us.

  27. Mr. Professional*

    Article and especially responses to the query in my humble opinion stems from a high degree of inexperience and naivety in the professional arena. No offense intended. You can ask your co-worker to answer the below (And to keep this confidential) or ask HR (They will not adhere to confidentiality especially if you are looking out and will report this right away to your Manager) ……. I usually refer to HR depending on the new company (Established vs very small company)

    Employee verification questions (Usually conducted by 3rd party firm or New company HR) – Could be for house mortgage loan, Life insurance premium, New Job etc) and is usually limited to ..

    1. Is the person XYZ currently working in your firm?
    2. Date of hire
    3. Title
    4.Date of termination
    5. Salary (Your current company HR usually will not/should not disclose your salary) – Please bear in mind the new company’s HR will conduct a credit & criminal check after extending a written offer or prior to an offer once they indicate they are very interested to bring you on board. There are some very unprofessional/fools of HR personnel who ask you to show your pay-check stub or personal W-2. For that you can ask them why they need your personal info, is it mandated by company policy as part of EEO and ask them to submit that request in writing. Your paycheck stub & personal W2 info is not legally required in light of the fact you undergo a detailed Credit & Criminal check.

    Hope this helps and good luck on your process. I wish you all the best.

Comments are closed.