update: we took up a collection for a coworker to get to a funeral, but she lied about it and didn’t go

We heard last week from someone whose office took up a collection to help a coworker get to a funeral, but then discovered that the coworker had lied about what she used the money for and didn’t take the trip. Here’s an update.

Surprising ending to this question. It has been a difficult week.

The coworker had a lot more things to hide than not flying out to be with her family. The department chair and I sat down with her. She admitted that she did not fly out at all. Actually, she never even looked for a ticket. She took the money and the time off and stayed home. Her intent was to be able to buy her husband a power tool that he wanted for Christmas, but had spent the money elsewhere.

She never met the 9-year-old grandchild, but the child did die of a rare disease. We asked to have the money returned. If we do receive the money, we are then going to donate it for research for the disease that the child had. It was never about the money, but about the fact that she didn’t go and didn’t at least tell us. Now we know that she never intended to go.

This person was let go this morning. She was fired for getting paid time to go to meetings she said went all day, but weren’t, along with a few other things they discovered and also the airline donation money. She was escorted out of the building in tears.

I actually feel badly for her. I hope she gets the help she needs. Thank you and everyone that commented. That was helpful during my meeting with her.

{ 279 comments… read them below }

  1. mina*

    While I can see there was no alternative, I do feel badly for her. This sucks all the way around.

    1. Windchime*

      Yes, this is a sad story with a sad ending. As you say, no alternative but still very sad.

    2. Artemesia*

      I felt the same way. It is the picture of a person with limited coping skills and a miserable life hanging on by the skin of her teeth. She obviously merited firing, but it is painful to think of anyway.

      1. A Cita*

        I don’t see where you get limited coping skills and hanging on by the skin of her teeth from this update. The woman exploited the death of a grand child in order to buy a power tool. I don’t feel sorry for her at all (and that’s saying something as I’m pretty lenient in my judgment of folks and motives).

        1. Artemesia*

          oh you are right of course. I have fired a few people and they were always pathetic people and I felt really guilty even though I knew it was the right thing to do. I hate to see someone out of a job in such difficult times.

        2. Jazzy Red*

          Well, the fact that this woman never even met her 9 year old grandchild does suggest a seriously dysfunctional family dynamic. People who live under these kinds of conditions often don’t know how to deal with the situations that come up every day, do something stupid, then do something else to cover up the first stupid thing, which apparently led to the stealing, the lying, and the cheating of the company that lead to her dismissal. “Limited coping skills and a miserable life hanging hanging on by the skin of her teeth” is not an unreasonable assumption.

  2. Just a Reader*

    Wow. I wonder if she doesn’t quite have all her faculties.

    There’s not much that is more heinous than using a deceased grandchild to fund sympathy, time off and a power tool purchase.

    1. Artemesia*

      the fact that she admitted this supports the ‘not has all her faculties’ idea. the usual thieving person would just say ‘oh I wanted to go but XXX excuse here and I was embarrassed to tell everyone after they were so nice to me’

  3. LV*

    I’m curious to see what all the readers who commented on the last post to say, “You decided of your own volition to take up a collection for this woman, so you have no right to tell her how to spend the money” think about this update…

    1. Anonymous*

      I imagine their stance hasn’t changed, and will only change the day it’s their money in question.

      1. Zillah*

        … or maybe their stance just hasn’t changed.

        I know that my opinion was informed by my experience of losing a family member recently, which I suspect will always eclipse any other situation that might happen when it’s my “money in question.”

    2. EAA*

      In general I don’t think the response “You decided of your own volition to take up a collection for this woman, so you have no right to tell her how to spend the money” would really change for those who felt that way. What this event led to is the discovery of other worked related issues that are more pertinent to her firing.

      1. Jax*


        This update is sad, but I still stand by my opinion that it’s always good to give a grieving person the benefit of the doubt.

        1. PJ*

          If she is grieving, my opinion of the depth of the grief would be informed by the fact that she admitted never having met the child.

          1. Jax*

            I think that information came to light during her confession with management, not in the original letter.

            She must have been a very good con artist to hit up her office (and have people dig deep) to help. I guess she convinced enough people of her grief to want to get her home to the funeral.

      2. Zillah*


        I still really dislike the idea of people telling you how to manage your grief, which, IMO, is what taking up a collection and telling someone in grief how to use it is doing. I think that it’s presumptuous, though generally good-intentioned, and that you’d be far better off letting them do what’s right for them.

        This situation changed once we got more information. The fact that she never intended to use the money to help her with her grief (and the fact that it seems like her grief was largely manufactured, since she didn’t know the grandchild at all), as well as the fact that she seems to have been routinely abusing paid-time and PTO.

        But, that’s a difference in my opinion for this situation upon getting further information. It doesn’t affect the principle.

        1. sunny-dee*

          Zillah, I think one problem I have had with your position is that you keep accusing the OP and her office of having done something wrong. “Telling you how to manage your grief.”

          Look, this woman was sobbing and upset because she didn’t have money for a plane ticket to a funeral. The office didn’t make that up — that is what she told them. She gave them prices. She gave them flight times. She took off work. They responded — generously and kindly — to an explicit, stated need.

          Quit blaming them for their kindness. This woman is not grieving. She is not sympathetic. And nothing that the OP or her office did was bossy or pushy or rude.

          1. Zillah*

            My first paragraph was speaking more in theoretical terms at this point, since what my initial opinion was has changed a lot as we’ve gotten further details about this case in the comments and in this update.

            At this point, with the information we have now, I absolutely believe that this woman conned the company and her coworkers, and I have very little sympathy for her. I was just trying to clarify that in principle, I think that it’s not great to give grieving people unsolicited money and tell them how to use it. I originally thought that that’s what had happened here; again, from the updates, it seems fairly clear that it isn’t.

            Sorry if that wasn’t clear.

    3. Sophia*

      Well, with more information, the situation has changed. She lied about other things and it’s a pattern of behavior. It seems the funeral collection fraud was just one instance of a larger pattern.

    4. some1*

      It looks like the commenters who suggested that *if* she didn’t use the ticket, to look at the coworker’s other dealings were right on the money, so to speak.

      1. MR*

        I was one of those people (look at my comment down near the bottom of both this and the original post).

        There was almost no way this was the first time the employee did something like this and it was only a matter of time before other things were discovered, as indeed was the case.

    5. KJR*

      I was one of those commenters, and I still feel the same. I say this having had a similar situation happen to me and my co-workers (the co-worker in question went to Vegas instead of paying medical bills). I did make me much more selective about to whom I donate money, but once it’s given, it’s given. I don’t follow it after that.

      1. sunny-dee*

        But that excuses a lot of malfeasance. As you say, you have to be selective about where you give money because you want it spent a good way. You are actually doing exactly what the “other side” says, in the sense of filtering.

        I supported chasing down the truth here. If there were a *general* collection in her time of bereavement, I would hand over the money and not ask too many questions*. In this case, though, the money was for a specific need, and there’s nothing illegitimate about calling someone on misappropriating money that was given for a specific need.

        * Even in the general case, if it came out that the grandchild hadn’t died or didn’t exist, then I would also support addressing the issue. People shouldn’t lie and steal from coworkers. It’s a bad working environment.

        1. KJR*

          Yes, I would agree with all of that actually. I should have been clearer — meaning I am happy to give in situations where the money is actually being used for it’s specific intent (when that’s the case). I definitely don’t condone what she did. I guess what I was against is saying that I’m giving you money in your time of need (in a general sense), then I can’t be upset if you use if for something I don’t necessarily agree with. But, as you said, this was for a plane ticket, and nothing else. Different situation.

          1. AMG*

            I think I understand this. To me, this is a recognition of the lack of control we have over other people and their actions.

      2. FiveNine*

        I was another person who, from what the OP originally wrote, didn’t see where the employee asked anyone for money. As I read it, they took up the collection for her — and said they’d cover part of the plane ticket and reimburse her for the rest. My initial thought was she told them she didn’t have the money for the trip, and that them having collected a partial amount for her, unsolicited, but not a full amount despite her having said she didn’t have money for the trip, might have put her in an especially awkward position (to be both grieving and now having to deal with coworkers who had the right intentions but might be making a bad situation worse by not listening). But I said all along if this is what happened, she should have immediately given them back the money right then.

        And I still stand by my sentiment, too, that the initial reaction in the comments thread was extremely harsh and presuming the worst of this person in grief. While it turned out to be she did indeed have issues, surely this is beyond the pale, not the norm, and please, I hope most people don’t immediately assume the worst in such scenarios (or are even in a situation where office gossip about them during bereavement could lead to similar reaction from afar).

    6. Dan*

      I play poker as a hobby, and one thing you learn is that you have to make the best decision you can with the information you have at the time. In other words, if there’s one card (and only one card) that makes another guy’s hand, whether or not he hits it is truly irrelevant as to how you played. But as more cards are exposed, more information is gained, and so what was a really strong hand on the previous round could now be complete trash.

      IOW: With the information we had at the time, it wasn’t enough to say that with any sort of reasonable certainty that the woman was a con/crook/thief/whatever. More information changed that. Kinda like “the parties portrayed are presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law” you know?

      1. sunny-dee*

        But part of the argument on the last thread was that the OP should just let it go — meaning, not get any more information. Her original question was how to ask for the facts, and the optimists advised her not to ask at all. (Some even accused the OP and her office of forcing money down the poor woman’s throat and putting her in an uncomfortable situation.)

        1. Zillah*

          I recall saying something along those lines, though I certainly didn’t intend to accuse, but I think many of us interpreted the original letter differently.

          My initial read of the situation was that the office had done this collection completely unsolicited and the first time the woman heard about it was when they gave her an envelope full of money to go to the funeral. I do think that that, while well-meant, would be inappropriate, because people require different things to deal with their grief.

          As further information as emerged, my opinion has changed. I suspect that others who had similar viewpoints feel the same way.

          1. Jessa*

            Well it would be except she was whinging about needing money to go. Once someone puts “I need x” on the table and people give them x, it’s an entirely different situation as to whether it was unsolicited. I maintain it WAS solicited because otherwise how did anyone know she needed x.

            1. Zillah*

              Again, that wasn’t my initial read of the situation. Having read the OP’s update and follow-up comments from both Alison and the OP, I agree that yes, the woman was probably manipulating her coworkers into giving her the money.

          2. Layla*

            I know I did. And to be honest, I believed it was pushy coworkers more than a shady opportunist.

  4. Anonymous*

    Wow. I hope she gets some help, too. I personally couldn’t do the things she did without feeling guilty and paranoid ALL THE TIME.

    1. Matteus*

      I had a friend who was not mentally well; she was a compulsive liar, had gambling issues and other problems that she needed mental health professional help with.

      What I learned is people with behavioral issues like my friend do feel guilt and paranoia ALL the time.
      The sad fact is this exacerbates their problems but doesn’t stop the lying, because it IS mental illness driving this type of behavior most of the time.

      1. fposte*

        Yes, I doubt that this is the only situation that was slipping out of this woman’s hands.

        1. Anne*


          I can’t help wondering if this kind of behaviour is linked to why she never met her grandchild.

  5. The IT Manager*

    Wow! Bad situation, but wonderful to see good, proactive management not ignoring a problem and sweeping it under the rug.

    1. Arbynka*

      This. I also love that if they receive the money back, they will donate it for a research for the disease that the child had.

      1. Sceptic*

        With this woman’s history, I would say that it is HIGHLY doubtful that she will return the money.. Maybe she would have if she was still working there, but now that she’s not, it ain’t gonna happen. Especially since Papa don’t have his power tool yet.

          1. AMG*

            Perhaps; they could have promised that they wouldn’t press charges (not sure if this is a legal grey area or not); the company could also be promising that they would not tell reference checkers that she was fired or why if she pays the money back (or at least promises not to talk about what happened).

              1. Kimberlee, Esq.*

                I think they could leave out specifics while still being fair and honest… though I do think that would include noting that she was fired and declining to share details. So at least the particular shame is private, which I think would be fair. Not a practical difference, perhaps, but still a sort of humanizing gesture.

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  This is sort of the point of reference checks though — to find out about major deal-breakers before hiring someone. If they just say she was fired and don’t disclose anything else, the coworker could say she was fired for something much less alarming (like needing too much sick time to care for a seriously ill relative, for instance). They should be honest about what happened here. It’s on the coworker to be convincing that she’s a different person now.

                2. Anna*

                  I think the other things that came to light are enough for a reference check without having to go in to details about the Plane Ticket Fiasco.

                  I really feel for this woman. There’s obviously something else going on there.

  6. nyxalinth*

    I’m sorry to read that it really was something unethical. I don’t see how she could ever have thought that this was okay to do.

  7. littlemoose*

    So many of us gave this woman the benefit of the doubt when we read the OP’s initial letter. I’m sorry to hear it was not warranted. I’m glad the OP and other managers handled it promptly, though. It sounds like she was not behaving honestly in multiple facets of work, and I wonder how long that might have gone on if nobody questioned her about the funeral collection.

    1. some1*

      Agreed. It would be really difficult to work alongside this woman with all of this hanging out there.

    1. Anonymous*

      Same. A young child is dead from a horrible disease, the OP and their coworkers are potentially out their money, and this lady clearly has problems and now is out of a job.

      There is very little redeeming about the update, but unfortunately that’s how it goes sometimes.

      1. Kelly L.*

        This. If she had to be a crook, at the very least I hoped the whole kid/disease thing was fake and no one had actually died.

        1. AMG*

          I think the OP said that there actually was a child who died but that the lady had never met her grandchild. Sadder still.

          1. Kelly L.*

            My point exactly. When reading the original thread, before that info came out, I was hoping that if she was a liar, that at the very least she was lying about everything and there was no dead kid. Sorry to be confusing.

            1. Anonymous*

              yeah i was hoping there was no dead kid too…Since there is , this is a sad situation for her whole family – Even if she had never met her grandchild (which I’m thinking now there was good reason for maybe) a reasonable person would want to go to the funeral to at least be there for their child…so I was wishing there was no funeral. I hope the funds that will now be going to research for the rare disease at least helped

          2. YouAreHere*

            I bet you anything that the reason she never met her grandchild in the 9 years of the kid’s short life would be because the kid’s parents cut pathological liar mom out of the picture.

            Having worked with a pathological liar before, I have zero sympathy for the now-ex-coworker. I do feel terrible for the letter writer though, because it’s quite traumatic to realize how badly you’ve been taken in by someone.

            1. EngineerGirl*

              I dunno. I have a family member that lies continuously. I can feel grieved that they are doing this to themselves at the same time agreeing that the consequences for bad behavior are correct. Otherwise they’ll never change. But I agree that strong boundaries are needed for preserving your own mental health.

            2. Anne*

              That’s what I’m thinking too. But I could just be project my own mother-daughter issues onto the situation. :)

  8. sunny-dee*

    I’m glad we got an update so quickly. That was one that resonated with a bunch of people (myself included).

  9. Joey*

    Op, I’m curious. Why do you feel bad for her? Is it because she cried on the way out? Is it because you feel she has some health problem that caused this?

    I might feel sorry for her kids or family, but not for the person who intentionally does such deceptive things.

    1. Arbynka*

      Well, if she indeed does have any health (psychological) issues that are causing her to behave this way, hopefully this firing is the kick in the arse that will make her to seek any type of help/support that she needs.

      1. Joey*

        Sure, but I would assume since there was no mention of it that she’s probably more similar to a common thief who thinks they won’t get caught.

        I just don’t understand why people feel sorry when it happens in the workplace. The only difference is that she knows this thief.

        1. fposte*

          I think you’re proceeding from a questionable premise–that lack of sympathy should be the default. I feel sorrier for people who are victims than who are perpetrators, sure, but I feel sorry for people with disturbed lives, minimal coping skills, addiction issues, etc., that I’ve been spared and that make the kind of orderly and financially sound life I lead very, very difficult. I think it’s not necessarily a bad thing to know somebody like that personally, to understand that she could be a human and not some neutral newspaper “alleged offender,” could mean all the “Good morning” and “Oh, your baby is so cute!” and “Good job on the Harrison contract,” and still not be able to keep her life straight.

          1. Anon for this*

            As a recovering alcoholic and someone who has done many wrong things (but I have done everything I within my power to set them right), I understand having compassion for people like this. They may be justifiably reaping what they have sown, but it is sad to see someone making a mess of their own lives and of those around them. They have the capacity to change and usually don’t, and it’s a tragedy. They miss the best that life has to offer a person and are do it deliberately. They are truly pitiful.

            1. Not So NewReader*

              Life just does not have to be this hard.

              I have to wonder what kind of life this woman has had. And what could be going on inside her head that she could convince herself all this is okay.

          2. A Cita*

            See, I have sympathy for people with problems like additions, mental illness, bad support systems, etc. And had this woman taken the money to buy drugs/alcohol or pay gambling debts because of devastating addictions, etc, I would have had sympathy. But she exploited a dead child to buy a power tool. I keep having a imagine in my head of her accepting the second envelope of money with a smile and thank you in order to buy things for herself or husband. I really don’t have any sympathy here, and I usually have loads of sympathy.

            1. Anonymous*

              As a fellow non-sympathizer, what do you think about your “mental illness” caveat?

              A lot of people make really terrible choices as a result of their depression/bipolar/other mental illnesses, and it’s hard to separate that out from their bad choices. They may have done the action with intent, but their views are skewed because of the illness, etc.

              Me, I’m a skeptic (and, often, a cynic) by nature so often I can’t conjure up much sympathy even when I should. It’s so hard for me to draw the line between “mental illness – therefore, sympathy” and “malicious intent – therefore, no sympathy”. A better person than me would probably default to compassion and sympathy for all, but I doubt that’s something I’m capable of.

              I’m curious to know what you think about this one.

              1. A Cita*

                Well, I’ve stated in other posts, I’m generally very soft-hearted. I have very close family members who are terribly, terribly abusive because of addictions. They have destroyed marriages (besides their own), been physically abusive, stolen, etc. And while I feel angry at the behavior and yes, even angry at the person at times–terribly angry–I also feel incredible, soul clenching empathy. I will move heaven and earth to help them in their recovery, but I won’t do anything to enable them in their addictions and will set boundaries for our interactions. It’s a very fine line; it’s not perfect; it’s super hard. I can feel empathy and extend help, but still decide on a particular day that I don’t want to spend time with a jerk. :) (Well their behavior is jerky, they are mentally ill. But on particularly trying days, it’s hard to make that distinction :).

                So, in my case, I think it comes down to levels of intent. There’s the surface intent of bad behavior that can be malicious (stealing from you to buy drugs), but that behavior is motivated by underlying mental issues. So initially there is the malicious jerk who’s creating havoc in your life. But digging deeper, there’s a loved suffering in a lot of pain. And it’s that person that I ultimately see and feel empathy for.

              2. Joey*

                Skeptical sympathy when there’s an illness that may be the cause. I would be more sympathetic if there weren’t so many people so quick to diagnose everyone with a disorder like the affluenza crap.

            2. KrisL*

              What A Cita said – you just don’t exploit a dead child, especially a relative, to get a power tool.

              I wonder if the reason she never saw the kid was because she didn’t care or because the kid’s parents knew she was so messed up and don’t want to deal with her anymore.

            3. Jamie*

              But she exploited a dead child to buy a power tool.

              That’s where any sympathy I may have had went out the window as well.

              I’ve got nothing.

        2. Katie the Fed*

          Humans are capable of having compassion for people in all kinds of situations. For whatever reason, she made some terribly bad decisions and is now suffering the consequences. We can feel compassion for that.

          I set the wheels in motion that someone had to resign where I work. I feel a lot of compassion for this person even though I know I did everything correctly and it was deserved.

    2. Kathryn T.*

      I try to practice universal compassion. Sometimes it’s harder than other times. But in this case, anybody who would do such things is definitely broken on some level; psychologically, emotionally, perhaps morally or ethically. I think you can feel sympathy for a broken person.

      1. Dan*

        What do you mean by “practice” in your first sentence? I have an ex spouse who isn’t terribly dis-similar from the woman who got fired for all of the shenanigans. Do I feel sympathy for a broken person? You bet. But at the same time, it’s not the rest of our jobs to clean up after broken people’s messes. One can also argue that the more you cushion someone from the consequences, the longer it will take them to figure it out. Have you really done them any favors?

        Now, I’m quite happy to give people the benefit of the doubt until proven otherwise. But once they’ve proven it, they have to accept that their actions have consequences.

        1. A Bug!*

          I can’t speak for Kathryn, but I too try to practice compassion. That doesn’t mean I take it upon myself to clean up others’ messes or act as an enabler for them.

          It means, when I am interacting with others, I try to be kind, respectful, and nonjudgmental. Again, that doesn’t mean I can’t have opinions on things. I can think that a person’s behavior was bad or unwise while also feeling sympathy for the consequences that person ends up facing as a result of them.

          1. ExceptionToTheRule*

            +1. Personally, I try to “practice” compassion because I’m human and I’ll never be perfect at it.

        2. Anonymous*

          Feeling bad for someone who is ‘broken,’ or has effed up horribly, does not always equal believing they should avoid necessary consequences.

          You just feel bad that this junk happens at all, and that there’s a broken person standing there, taking their medicine.

          That’s my default setting, or ‘practice.’

          1. Joey*

            Maybe that’s where we differ. I have a brother that would fit your definition of a broken person until he decided to grow his ass up. He’s on the straight and narrow now, but I stopped feeling bad for him after the first few big eff ups because he was more interested in effing off than bettering himself.

            1. Anonymous*

              And an entire person going to waste like that is a tragedy, whether it’s self-imposed or not.

              Doesn’t mean I’m going to jump in and try to fix anything, or shore ’em up, or make it so they don’t have to face their consequences. Doesn’t mean I’m not p.o.’d at the person.

              It means I’m sad at viewing the wreckage of a life, the same way I’d be sad viewing the wreckage of a one-car fatal accident caused by the drunk driver.

              Two different things there.

          2. Ocat*

            This, exactly. I have a sister who has done some pretty terrible things, including, well, taking money from a collection for her dead child and using it for… different … purposes. She’s seriously messed up, and after many attempts to help her with rent, food, counseling didn’t work, I had to cut ties for my own mental health several years back. But I will always have compassion for her and be hoping the best for her. I have found that doing so is much less of a drain than anger and resentment. Does forgiving or having compassion mean I will choose to have her in my life again? No. Not until she straightens up and makes sincere amends (to others more than me). But it means I don’t drag her around with me, mentally, and that’s been priceless.

        3. Ethyl*

          I feel like you are confusing feeling sympathy for someone with feeling like they don’t know any better and should be free of consequences. Sympathy and compassion aren’t about being coddling, or being a doormat. It’s simply remembering that other people are people, not nameless, faceless Others.

          What was it Granny Weatherwax said? “Sin, young man, is when you treat other people as things.” So in my life, practicing sympathy and compassion is a way to make sure I don’t do that.

          1. Sigrid*

            +1 and an additional +1 for the Granny Weatherwax quote. I’ve found she has generally good life advice.

        4. AMG*

          I think that it’s more compassionate to allow people to live with the consequences of their actions. You can feel bad for someone but that doesn’t mean they get a pass. To me, it’s not unlike punishing my kids for misbehaving and then they cry. I don’t want to ground them, but they have to understand what they are doing is wrong. to do otherwise does a disservice to them and anyone who has to deal with them.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            Bingo. I totally agree.
            There are consequences for everything in life. That is just reality. Every single one of us here faces that.

            Conversely, if someone is working hard to pull themselves out of a bad spot, I can support that effort. Not financially, but with words, celebration, suggestions and encouragement.
            Most of us do not go through life without stepping in some sort of crap. The answer is to own the parts we are responsible for.

        5. Kathryn T.*

          I mean that I try to remember that we are all human beings who have screwed up and fallen short along the way, and that everyone’s hardest struggle is their hardest struggle. It absolutely does not mean that I think she should escape the consequences of her actions — her firing was not just totally justified but really the only thing that could possibly have happened next. But you can still feel sorrow that things got to this point.

    3. some1*

      For me, I never like to see a coworker lose her job, even if she made me miserable &/or she did it to herself.

      I think it’s okay to be angry, realize the coworker needed to be canned for the good of the org, and at the same time have some empathy that she is now unemployed.

      1. fposte*

        Exactly. I think the people who are questioning the sympathetic response are thinking of it as “instead of,” and it’s not–it’s “in addition to.”

        1. Anonymous*

          Exactly! I’ve had a number of former coworkers that I thought got what they deserved and that I was glad were gone but I still feel sorry when anyone loses a job since I know how hard that can be from personal experience (office closed and moved out of town).

      2. Ethyl*

        And to use that empathy and compassion to treat her like a human being during the firing meeting instead of being cruel or humiliating.

        Honestly, I am getting the sense that some commenters here would be absolutely GLEEFUL about firing this woman. I find that troubling.

      3. Not So NewReader*

        It’s totally normal to have two opposite emotions at the same time.
        It’s called being a thinking person, being able to see the issue from many sides.

          1. Anne*

            And now I’m wondering whether one of my managers might have the emotional range of a teaspoon. :P

  10. ChristineSW*

    I was sincerely hoping that there was a legitimate reason this woman did not attend the funeral, so I echo the sadness everyone else has expressed :( I was certainly not expecting there to be other issues as well.

    Well done, OP, for nipping this situation in the bud as quickly as you did. Just out of curiosity, how long had she been employed with your company?

    1. ChristineSW*

      P.S. Also awesome that you’ll use any returned money (hopefully all of it!!) to research for the grandchild’s illness.

  11. Nina*

    Wow. Just…wow. The fact that she had no intention of going to the funeral at all is what’s really depressing. I’m glad that you took action and thank you for the update.

      1. sunny-dee*

        They may have done something simple like ask for the ticket receipt. Or whatever tipped the OP off in the beginning may have been evidence that she didn’t go (like a FB post or something). If she was outed, she may have confessed just to keep from going to jail.

  12. S.K.*

    This woman took money under false pretenses and then openly talked about the fact that she didn’t spend the money for the pretense it was collected for. She later admitted that she had never even considered using it for the correct purpose, and didn’t seem to need much prompting for that either.

    That to me says that this is not a “terms and conditions of office collections” story. It is a story of someone who is extremely troubled and has little to no idea of how to handle everyday office social situations. (Or someone whose back is so far up against the wall that they have stopped caring).

    Very, very sad indeed, and my heart breaks for this poor woman whose situation is only going to get worse. She needs help and here’s hoping she gets it, somehow.

    1. Joey*

      What exactly does she need help with that she shouldn’t be able to do on her own? Are you suggesting that crooks need counseling to stop stealing?

      1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

        Joey, what are you getting at with this question? You’ve asked it twice in this thread; that’s giving me the impression that you’re looking for something.

        1. Joey*

          I’m getting at a problem that stumbles a lot of managers- compassion for someone who chose to make bad decisions. This is the exact reason lots of managers suck and people can’t believe it- their compassion is misplaced and either overrides or heavily influences their logic.

          I’m not saying you need to be a cold hearted SOB, but feeling compassion for her is sort of like feeling compassion for some idiot that has no regard for you, breaks into your house, steals your stuff, has the gall to think he’ll get away it, but ends up getting caught. I save my compassion for people that are trying to do the right thing.

          1. Del*

            There’s a difference between feeling compassion for someone and not holding them responsible for their actions.

            If this woman is suffering from some kind of psychological disorder (which she may well be; pathological lying is linked to a heck of a lot of bad stuff upstairs) then it’s proper to feel compassion for her; it’s also proper to let her go from the job, as she’s clearly not trustworthy to perform it.

            1. Joey*

              I didn’t hear anything about mental health problems . Do you believe the majority of common thieves have mental problems that causes them to steal?

              1. Cat*

                No, but this is totally illogical of her. It was a small amount of money and she was then caught only because she talked about the crime. That’s not the behavior of someone who makes a rational but immoral decision to steal for personal gain; it’s the behavior of someone who’s not thinking particularly well for whatever reason. Of course firing her was the right decision, but there are good reasons people are thinking there was something going on with her other than pure, mercenary desire for personal enrichment.

              2. Del*

                Given the OP’s description of what went on with this woman, I think it is a possibility in this particular case.

              3. Ethyl*

                Not necessarily mental problems, but it’s worth considering their history and what led them to believe that a life of thievery was preferable to a life where they are, presumably, gainfully employed.

                1. Joey*

                  Well I would bet in the majority of cases they don’t want to put in the hard work and are looking for an easy route.

                2. Ethyl*

                  Your profound lack of compassion for those whose lives have limited their ability to make what you consider “good” choices is noted.

              4. AMG*

                She may or may not be mentally ill, but she certainly has issues; she should get counseling.

              5. CEMgr*

                People can and do have a lot wrong with their thinking and behavior that isn’t a mental illness, per se.

                Compassionate people can feel compassion for those people described above.

                People who have things wrong with their thinking and behavior can definitely benefit from counseling in some cases to help correct their thinking and behavior.

                I believe that this is what people are getting at.

          2. fposte*

            We’ve got a really interesting divergence in approaches here. You and a few other posters seem to be suggesting that compassion is about outcome–that to be compassionate towards this woman means we wouldn’t have fired her. And I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one for whom that’s not true.

            I don’t think compassion’s necessarily saintly–it’s not changing what happens to this woman, and it can be a way to make us feel better about ourselves without doing anything–but I also don’t see any particular reason why as a *feeling*, it should need to be earned. I’m not the most empathetic person in the world, but even I can feel sympathy that people have crap cards in life or panicked or are paying through life for small mistakes or are stuck in a downward spiral. That doesn’t mean I keep them on the job or stay in relationships with them, but I can see that they’re going to have a tough road, and that free will doesn’t have as much to do with that as we’d like to think.

            1. Joey*

              Sorry, I have no sympathy for people that repeatedly choose to make poor choices of their own free will.

              I have sympathy for kids who were dealt bad cards and adults that were doing nothing wrong or trying to do right.

              1. fposte*

                I don’t have any problem with that; I’m just explaining how I come at it from a different angle.

              2. esra*

                I don’t think a person’s supply of sympathy or compassion need be so limited though. As fposte has mentioned a few times, you can feel empathy or compassion for someone and still hold them to task for their poor decisions.

              3. Colette*

                I think this particular situation (using a tragic death to get money from coworkers) is a sign of, at a minimum, being self-centered and lacking empathy for people she knows.

                That’s got to be a scary, lonely way to live (because if you don’t care about others, how can you expect them to care about you?)

                I can feel sympathy for someone who lives like that while still thinking her firing was totally justified.

                1. AMG*

                  exactly. I don’t see holding people accountable and having compassion for them as contradictory.

                2. A Cita*

                  I don’t think I come at it from the same perspective as Joey, but I can tell you from experience that people who are incapable of empathy don’t care if no one else cares about them. It’s not scary to them. I see this woman’s actions through the (admittedly biased) lens of sociopathy. I’ve dealt with very closely with people like this, and from the way OP described her, it’s my interpretation that this person is personality disordered/lacks empathy. So I have no sympathy for her–and she doesn’t want it, need it, and wouldn’t even recognize it if you gave it to her. Someone mentioned up thread they don’t think her actions were rationally amoral because she blabbed about it. I counter with most people with anti-social personality disorders aren’t very successful at hiding it. The idea of the sociopath who’s always 5 steps ahead and a perfect rational game player is mostly a myth created by Hollywood.

                3. fposte*

                  I’m going to question this too, though, because your theory of compassion is based on the subject’s considering it useful. The fact that somebody with disordered thinking doesn’t find my compassion useful doesn’t really strike doubt into my heart about having it. (I would strongly distinguish compassion from clemency, and that may be an important distinction here. I think there’s a big difference between “Wow, that’s really screwed up,” and “I’m sure he didn’t mean it.”)

                  (I think the distance/internet dimension plays an interesting role here, too, but that turned into like four more paragraphs so I gave up.)

                4. A Cita*

                  @fposte: I agree that having compassion and empathy has to do with the subject, not the object. My comments about a disordered person not caring about empathy were simply in response to the comments about how terrible/scary it may feel for the person to think no one cares about her.

                  My lack of sympathy for anti-social disordered persons is indeed subjective and biased–it is based on my own experiences.

                  (I think there’s a difference between empathy and sympathy and had some comments on attributional bias, but like you, gave up as it was too long :)
                  Also, someone down thread made a connection between sympathy/no sympathy feelings and rehabilitation/punishment. While I don’t feel sympathy for this individual, I do believe strongly in rehabilitation and would support efforts towards that.

                5. fposte*

                  Ah, got it. I’m finding this all quite a fascinating direction for the conversation, I have to say–I hadn’t really thought about what compassion means to people, and I’m seeing it as really complex now.

              4. LBK*

                Kids that were dealt bad cards and who never end up getting good ones sometimes end up being adults who make bad decisions, though. Everyone doesn’t just suddenly develop a perfect conscience when they turn 18.

                1. Anna*

                  Seriously. I’m not sure why sympathy or compassion is only available if you “earn” it by being innocent. Very few of us would fit the requirement, if that were the case.

              5. QK*

                I don’t understand this extreme “compassion gets you killed!” mentality that several people on this thread are espousing. This isn’t fricking ‘Nam, guys. Chill out. Having compassion for someone who screwed you over doesn’t mean continuing to let them walk over you. If it does, then you’re doing it wrong! You also have to _have compassion for yourself_ and stand up to put an end to the negative situation.

            2. Sarahnova*

              In my experience, the reason managers and organisations *don’t* adequately address issues like this is not because they have too much compassion for the person. It’s because they find hard conversations uncomfortable – *for themselves*. They put their own short-term wellbeing in avoiding an anxiety response and uncomfortable conversation above the long-term wellbeing of the person who needs to hear difficult feedback. I think the compassionate thing to do in this circumstance was to fire the woman; protecting people from the consequences of their actions is often more for the benefit of the feelings of the protector rather than the protectee.

              For instance, how many people get fired without ever hearing that they need to improve their work performance in X area? “You’re doing fine, you’re doing fine, you’re doing fine, you’re fired”. It’s not at all uncommon.

          3. Jeff A.*

            Joey, I think what most of us mean when we are expressing compassion in this scenario isn’t that the con woman has some illness that excuses or justifies her behavior, but that we recognize that she has behavioral issues (and likely an attitude towards those behaviors) that needs to change for her to be a better/healthier person (and yes, I’d say that people can have degrees of ethical health just as physical/mental/emotional – the phrase “moral compass” comes to mind).

            When someone is in ill physical health in whole or part because she hasn’t made healthy living choices in the past, we can still feel sympathy, empathy, and compassion, and hope that she takes steps to make better health choices and take care of the existing issues moving forward.

          4. Ellie H.*

            I agree with Joey. I too feel sympathy for people who have psychological problems that lead them to make compulsive criminal decisions, but I don’t necessarily see that demonstrated here. Even when people have experienced disadvantages that make it more difficult for them to make good decisions, there’s still a basic standard of acceptable human behavior (not to mention a basic standard for what is criminal and what is not) that it’s reasonable to expect others to follow, and reasonable to censure them when they don’t meet it. I don’t think theft necessarily indicates a serious mental problem.

            I can see that it’s a human quality to have sympathy for all others, even when they have sinned against you etc. – but I don’t think that that comes into play with something as mild as this, which is pretty cut and dried without very serious consequences for the employee. All that happened is she got deservedly fired. She’s not getting hanged in the public square. I’m sympathetic to the idea that someone doesn’t have adequate resources or preparation to lead a more orderly life, but not sympathetic to someone who actively chooses to do the wrong thing repeatedly with, seemingly, little remorse.

            1. Zillah*

              Yeah, I kind of agree with both of you. I feel a little less hardline about it – I certainly have some sympathy for this woman – but at the end of the day, she doesn’t seem to me like someone who’s just gotten caught up in some bad decisions that they didn’t know how to find their way out of. She sounds like someone who repeatedly chose to lie and con people out of money and, in the case of her employer, time. That’s on her. It’s sad that her life is like this, but it is what it is, and I don’t think that what she’s going through is a disproportionate punishment.

          5. Katie the Fed*

            You seem to think that having compassion keeps managers from managing effectively. They are completely unrelated. Being a bad manager is being a bad manager. I am capable of having compassion and managing effectively. As I stated above, I started a disciplinary process against someone that previous managers had ignored. I feel a lot of compassion for this person because he made some really bad decisions and had many opportunities to stop the behavior, and chose not to for whatever reason. That doesn’t negate my requirement to do my job though. I have compassion for the people struggling with other issues on my team, but I also hold them accountable for doing their work.

          6. Kathryn T.*

            You know what? Someone DID break into my house and steal my stuff, and I DID — and DO — have compassion for her. She was a drug addict who stole to feed her habit. They found her prints in my house, convicted her of felony B&E, and sent her to prison. In prison, she got clean, and she now lives just down the road in a sober house and has a job at the local supermarket. I am glad that she was caught, glad that she was convicted, glad that she served her time, glad that she got off the meth, and I’m glad that she’s a sober and contributing member of society now.

          7. Not So NewReader*

            When a manager makes decisions based on emotions that is a bad manager.

            This boss went ahead and fired the employee. That is what they should do.

            But the boss can still say “I am sorry things had to go that way.”

            It’s fine to have emotions. It’s not fine to let your emotions run your life or your work place. And the boss not fired the person, I think the comments here would be hugely different.

          8. Anonymous*

            Compassion does not prevent people – including managers – from taking whatever actions are necessary. This is not a mutually exclusive kind of thing.

            A different kind of example: a close family member of mine was ill for about a year, and then passed away. My job performance was lacking during that time in a few important ways. My annual review reflected that; it was a matter of fact that I hadn’t performed quite up to standard. However, my boss also acknowledged that I’d gone through quite a trying time, and was compassionate and sympathetic in his delivery of that message.

        2. Boo*

          Honestly it sounds to me like she does need help of some kind. I think what’s really telling about it is that she took the money with the intention of getting her husband a present, but then spent it elsewhere…it suggests to me that she may have some kind of gambling or obsessive compulsive shopaholic problem going on. Like a lot of other commenters have said, I feel like this is a really sad story all around.

          1. Joey*

            What?! She must have a gambling problem or some crap shopping addiction so she’s not really in control of her own actions?? C’mon.

            1. KitKat*

              Boo never said that she wasn’t in control of her own actions. Joey, you really seem to be looking for someone to agree with you that the only course of action is to be angry at this woman for what she did. That’s fine; if it were my money I’d sure as hell be angry. But the difference here is that I, and I’m sure a lot of others here, have the capability to have two somewhat-conflicting emotions at once.

              What she did was shady as all get-out. She took money under false pretenses and lied about a lot of things. No one is arguing that she deserved to be fired for her actions. But it is a situation that draws out compassion. It’s never easy to see someone break down crying while losing their job, no matter how well-deserved the firing was. It’s human nature to have empathy for others. And it’s not fair to snap at others for being free with their compassion. Now me, I struggle to find that kind of compassion, but I don’t fault others for it even when I disagree.

              1. ExceptionToTheRule*

                While I don’t share his opinion, I can sympathize with Joey’s point of view on this. When someone as close to you as the brother Joey mentioned is a compulsive f’ up who never takes responsibility for the bs they inflict on others, that behavior gets real old, real fast.

                1. alma*

                  I had an uncle like this (alcoholic). I despise the way he treated my parents, particularly my mother. But I still feel grief at his death, and very sad for the particular way he died — mostly alone, hysterical with grief because he hadn’t made arrangements for who would care for his dog and didn’t know what would happen to her*. His own actions and irresponsibility were largely the cause and yet his ending was a far crueler punishment than anything his frustrated family members could have dreamed up, let alone wished on him.

                  The grifter coworker in this scenario isn’t in such dire circumstances and who knows, maybe never will be. Anger and frustration are justifiable reactions to such people. They aren’t mutually exclusive with also feeling bad for the way someone’s ended up, though.

                  *The dog went to a friend and last I heard is doing OK.

                2. KitKat*

                  And that’s very true. Being close to that sort of behavior can really make you sensitive to it. My younger brother was the same way for most of his teen years. But most other people haven’t had that sort of personal connection to those who make habitual bad decisions, so I can’t expect most people to see it the way I do.

                3. fposte*

                  @KitKat, I think you can live close to it and still have sympathy for it. I’ve lived pretty close to it myself, and while I was mostly just intent on getting away from it in the moment, I can still be sorry for the kind of life these screwups are leading.

              2. Boo*

                Thanks KitKat, yes that’s exactly what I meant but I probably wasn’t very clear. I absolutely agree it was right for the woman to be fired and if I’d given her money, I certainly wouldn’t be happy about it…but while she is in control of her actions and what she did was of course completely wrong, I think it points to there being a deeper issue/illness of some kind and I can have empathy for her and feel glad that I’m not in her situation.

            2. Yep*

              People who have addictions can both be held responsible for the consequences of their actions and also be worth helping.

      2. S.K.*

        Apologies if I wasn’t clear.

        I would not categorize this woman as a “crook” – first of all, crooks don’t usually steal and then walk around making casual conversation about the crime with the victims. The other “crimes” listed by the OP above were things irresponsible employees do, and all of the above is certainly worth getting fired over. But stealing one time doesn’t make you a crook, and everything else we’ve heard about this woman makes me feel like she is seriously troubled and in need of, yes, help or counselling.

        Just my opinion, I can see validity in the opposite viewpoint as well.

        1. A Cita*

          I would not categorize this woman as a “crook” – first of all, crooks don’t usually steal and then walk around making casual conversation about the crime with the victims.

          What?? Crooks who steal from people they know do this all the time.

          1. fposte*

            Agreed, but some of this may be idiolect–I’m thinking S.K. used “crook” to mean more “professional criminal/con artist.”

      3. Dan*

        There becomes a point (and I’ve been married to it, so I’m not talking about hypotheticals) where you realize that if you actually have to *tell* someone that there behavior is bad, then you’re just wasting your words. If they can’t figure it out on their own, you telling them ain’t going to change their minds.

        But I’d phrase an answer to your question as follows: Yes, I do believe that counseling may help crooks stop stealing. Is counseling going to stop every crook from stealing again? Certainly not. However, you’d be amazed at what goes on in messed up people’s minds, so if talking things out and helping them realize that they actually have choices, well, then so be it.

        1. Anonymous*

          ” If they can’t figure it out on their own, you telling them ain’t going to change their minds.”

          Unless, of course, those words are the thing they finally needed to hear to help them “figure it out on their own.”

          My alcoholic father has been sober for 12 years now, and the last night he did drink ended with he and I having a heated exchange in which I finally (after hundreds of similar exchanges?) said something that made the consequences of his behavior click for him.

      4. Sunflower*

        I think this comes down to your beliefs. I believe that, inherently, most people are good people. Some people do bad things because they are sick or somewhere down the line, something happened to them to cause them to do bad things.

        I believe that crooks and people who swindle others, especially those they know, out of money have psychological issues that brought them to that point.

        1. Anonymous*

          Except for the whole Stanley Milgrim experiments that demonstrated that human behavior isn’t quite that predictable and neatly delineated

          1. Xay*

            The Milgram and Stanford Prison experiments have both come under significant criticism due to methodological flaws and questions about whether or not the results are universally applicable.

            1. fposte*

              Though they’re sort of stuck being unable to defend themselves, because they’re not really ethically replicable nowadays.

  13. Another anon*

    I honestly don’t mean to be harsh, but I felt like some readers were bending over backwards trying to give this woman the benefit of the doubt, the first time around. There was a lot of grasping at straws.

    “Maybe she never intended to go to the funeral in the first place, but she felt ashamed to say so because her coworkers might judge her… so she took their money for funeral expenses on two separate occasions.”

    “Maybe she intended to go, but missed her flight, and was too embarrassed to tell her coworkers… so she took the second round of money so nobody would suspect a thing.”

    “Maybe the child’s family hosted a type of memorial ceremony that’s technically not called a *funeral*, so that’s why she said she didn’t go to the funeral!”

    Or maybe she’s just a con woman, like countless other dishonest, selfish conwomen and conmen out there. Occam’s razor, people! It’s nice to assume the best of people instead of the worst, but you can only go so far trying to justify negative behaviour before you’re outright deluding yourself.

    1. Cat*

      I don’t think that’s fair. Those comments weren’t, for the most part, saying “ignore this; nothing bad could ever have happened.” They’re saying “there’s lots of explanations for this; find out what’s going on before you rush to judgment.” The OP did find out what was going on, and was then able to act in knowledge of the circumstances. That’s the right thing to do.

      And while there are con men–and there are also mentally ill people or people with mental problems that leads to bad behavior–there are also people who screw up for less sinister reasons. Doesn’t mean it wasn’t a screw up, but it does change the reactions other people are going to have to it. I don’t think “Occam’s Razor” applies.

    2. some1*

      “Or maybe she’s just a con woman, like countless other dishonest, selfish conwomen and conmen out there.”

      Yup. I’d bet the LW and coworkers weren’t the only ones hit up for plane ticket money.

      And if you someone doesn’t introduce their kid(s) to a grandparent for *nine years* it could very well because the grandparent is a toxic person.

    3. alma*

      This is harsh. A lot of people took an approach that could be summed up as “Trust but verify.” I personally would rather err on the side of “maybe this isn’t as bad as it looks” than compound a grieving person’s trauma by making half-supported accusations. Even though the accusations turned out to be fully supported, it’s not wrong or foolish to take alternate possibilities into consideration.

    4. Jeff A.*

      I agree with Cat. I think the spirit of those comments was that we were hoping there was a reasonable explanation, and pointing out ways in which it could have been. And there really weren’t too many of them that were out in left field.

      Personally, I’d rather approach every situation with an “I trust you until you give me reason not to” worldview than assume everyone is out to screw me. And this comes from an otherwise cynical Northeasterner.

      1. S.K.*

        Yup. Not to mention that most of those comments were judgemental in a way that extrapolated far more info about the situation than we really had. “I knew someone once who did this, and they had a big handlebar moustache – I don’t know if this woman has a handlebar moustache, but I bet she does, it would fit the pattern. Don’t trust her!”

    5. NK*

      It seems to be common occurrence on internet boards to see people playing devil’s advocate (sometimes assuming the best in someone, sometimes the worst). While this can certainly be helpful in expanding your point of view and understanding other possibilities, I think it’s sometimes taken to a silly extreme.

      1. Ellie H.*

        I agree 100%, and I think that this tendency in the AAM comments has been drastically increasing in recent months (in step with the increase in number of comments in general). It honestly gets pretty silly up to a point. Just because something is technically possible and has happened once or twice doesn’t mean it is likely.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I will say that I’ve seen some of that in comments from the beginning, but it probably increases as overall comments increase.

          I’m doing some thinking about how to best manage the commenting section and will have some thoughts to share in the next week or two (nothing dramatic at all — no cause for alarm).

          1. I don't comment, usually*

            Oh gosh thank you. I used to always read the comments, but lately I find them more often ugly than helpful.

            1. QK*

              +1. Some of the comments lately have made me question the company I’m keeping by visiting this site. :/

    6. Nina*

      I can’t say “pity”wasn’t my first thought, either. She could have been in tears because she didn’t have the faculties to realize what she was doing was wrong, or she was crying because she got caught and was subsequently fired. Sadly, I’m leaning towards the latter. She had no intention of going to the funeral and was going to spend the money on a power tool.
      There are people in the world who just want to get over on others and have no conscience about doing so.

    7. Yup*

      The hypothesis with the fewest assumptions in the original post there was that there was a misunderstanding in the conversation with the one coworker (who said that the employee told her that she hadn’t gone to the funeral). That’s Occam’s razor.

      The hypothesis that someone created an elaborate deception to steal from their coworkers, defraud their workplace, and ultimately lose their job through a series of half-truths and outright lies is not the simplest explanation.

      1. Cat*

        Especially for $300. And especially, especially when she could have gotten away free and clear with it but instead carelessly told people she didn’t go to the funeral.

      2. Another anon*

        You’re right. But the commenters I was referring to weren’t (just) saying that the OP had to verify the conversation with the coworker to make sure there were no misunderstandings. They were coming up with many elaborate scenarios to explain and justify the woman’s behaviour, instead of just acknowledging that maybe she had lied about the whole thing – which seemed to me like a much simpler explanation.

        1. Cat*

          Yeah, I don’t know, I still don’t think “someone came up with an elaborate lie about a grandchild’s funeral to scam $300 from their co-workers and then revealed herself by gossiping about her scam openly” is that much simpler than “someone misreported an overheard conversation.”

          1. fposte*

            “…and therefore unsurprisingly lost the job and paystream that was valued at considerably more than $300.” A practiced con artist this isn’t.

            1. Audrey*

              A practiced con artist this isn’t.

              Absolutely. A practiced con-artist has much better ways of raising money than working in a regular job and pulling a one-off grand scheme that raised . . . $300! People telling sob stories at the airport or on the street can easily make $300 per day trading on the hospital/death-bed/funeral that they need to go to.

          2. Another anon*

            I agree with you.

            What I was trying to say was that “Jane didn’t go to the funeral that we gave her hundreds of dollars for – she must have lied about it to grift us” is much more likely – at least to my mind than “Jane didn’t go to the funeral that we gave her hundreds of dollars for – she must have totally meant to go, but then missed her flight and was too embarrassed to tell us, and that’s why she took our money for the ‘funeral’ a second time” and other hypotheses that fellow commenters were proposing.

        2. Ellie H.*

          I agree, I think these are the two most likely scenarios. 1) The idea she didn’t go to a funeral was a misunderstanding 2) She lied about needing the money for the purposes of going to the funeral. Given that there is (hopefully) a lower probability in general of someone being deceptive about something so serious, the first option is a lot more likely.

    8. Del*

      Given that the OP originally found out about this through hearsay, which can be distorted any number of ways, I think the responses were appropriate. If the OP had direct, original knowledge that she didn’t go to the funeral (but didn’t know why) then the comments might have been construed as “bending over backwards” but “Heard from A that B said C told him she didn’t go to the funeral” invites a lot of misunderstanding and miscommunication to slip in.

    9. FiveNine*

      There were people in the comments who read bizarrely detailed plans in the OP’s original post that weren’t there — like, the woman was searching the Internet in front of all the coworkers citing not one but two different flights and air fare prices, etc. There was a shocking amount of projection into that one letter and a rather disturbing tendency for many people to assume the very worst in a situation that, from the lack of details, actually had several plausible scenarios, before you even factor into it how strange people can act when in grief or the class issues and how people deal with talking and thinking about money (covering a partial plane ticket would be of little help and possibly quite embarrassing to a person who couldn’t cover the rest of the ticket and who had already indicated she couldn’t, for example).

        1. Zillah*

          Yes, there was – I think both Alison and the OP (or maybe just Alison?) added some detail later on in a comment or two. I think some people saw it and went from there, and others didn’t.

      1. Another anon*

        Like Cat and Zillah have said, those weren’t instances of projection on the part of the commenters. They were additional details from the OP’s email which AAM revealed in the comments because (IIRC) the OP had sent her several emails and in collating them in a single post, AAM had accidentally omitted them.

        In light of those details, I don’t think the people who accused the woman of being a scam artist were just assuming the worst.

    10. AJ-in-Memphis*

      I think it’s unfair for you to “judge” the intentions of someone *commenting* on a blog about someone else’s problem. If you thought she was con artist, that’s great. It’s not right to berate others and try to make people feel bad about what they thought may or may not have happened. It’s not your place to do so – even if you add a disclaimer.

      Useful discussion is one thing, but being overly critical and judgment adds nothing to this blog. No one learns from it and it’s actually taking away from the intent of this site. IMHO

        1. AJ-in-Memphis*

          Just making a point. If you think it’s judgmental, that’s your opinion and that’s fine.

          1. Another anon*

            And if you think my original comment was judgmental, that’s *your* opinion and that’s fine.

    11. MR*

      The coworker had multiple opportunities in the OPs original letter to do the right thing and refuse the money (despite being given money on two separate occasions) or to later return the money, yet never did.

      Does it really need to be spelled out any clearer that there were shenanigans going on with the coworker? I agree completely with you, Another anon.

  14. LizNYC*

    OP, I don’t know how you collected the money at your office (at mine, we usually leave an envelope with the receptionist, who lets us drop in whatever we feel necessary, without recording the amount), but in case you did keep track of the amounts people gave, you mentioned in your original post that some people really reached to donate in the first place. If it wouldn’t create a million headaches (as in, you still have a list/traceable way of telling who gave what amount), perhaps you could ask if your coworkers would like to make this donation or would like a refund. If this had happened to me, I’d be feeling sorry for the grandchild, really pissed at the coworker, but wanting to decide for myself what to do with my money I had donated at Christmastime for a specific purpose.

    1. Anonymous*

      I’d agree here. I bid on an item at a silent auction at work, and after I had already made my bid and won the item, they changed the charity that funds were to go to. It was a worthy cause, but I felt a bit duped. I think if someone reached to make the donation due to the circumstances, they might prefer to just have the money back.

    2. Celeste*

      I think it’s totally fair in this case for the OP’s office to come up with a policy for how they might like to handle charitable gifts like this in the future. Maybe there should be a gift limit such as $20, to keep the fund from getting so tempting that somebody would think to make an appeal to the office. Just thinking out loud here.

    3. Del*


      The money (presuming you recover it) isn’t the business’ to spend as the people in charge see fit; it belongs to the individuals who donated, to spend as they see fit.

      1. danr*

        It may have been a general decision by the donators. Having worked in a company where individual giving to those in need was very generous, I can see this decision being made by the individuals and word getting around. I would doubt that the managers came up with it.

  15. the_scientist*

    This is a sad update all around. Interesting, though, that she had never met the grandchild- seems to me like she has a long history of being a grifter, and her family realizes what’s up. That adds an additional layer of sadness if her presumably adult children have cut off contact due to her behaviour.

    1. alma*

      This stood out to me as well. I think even a lot of scummy people would be affected by the death of a young grandchild they’d never gotten to meet (even if the grandchild’s parents had good reason for cutting off Grandma). Also, if I remember the last letter correctly, the coworker was busted because *she* mentioned not going to the funeral. It kind of makes me wonder if she willfully self-destructed a little bit.

      Doesn’t excuse her actions or mean that she shouldn’t have been let go, but damn, that’s a sad way to end up.

      1. Elle D*

        I can see her using “I don’t have enough money to attend the funeral” to cover up being estranged from the family.

        Still, she never ever ever should have accepted that money.

        1. the_scientist*

          It takes a pretty experienced, coldly calculating con to use the death of their grandchild as a way to scam money out of their coworkers. I can only hypothesize that she’s been doing this for a while.

        2. OhNo*

          Actually, that was one of the first things I thought when I read the original letter – that the coworker might initially have been using “can’t afford it” as an excuse/cover up for the real reason why she wasn’t going.

          It’s too bad this situation had to end up this way – but good on the management and the OP for handling the situation the way it clearly needed to be handled.

  16. The Nameless*

    I didn’t comment on the original post but upon reading it I had hoped that the information given to the managers was just an awful rumor and that they’d find out that she had gone to the funeral. The fact that she didn’t and that she had never even looked for a ticket, intending the money to pay for a Christmas present, makes me feel just a little sick. I think that people are mostly good, but when something like this happens it kind of sours that thinking for me for a while. I do think it was a wonderful tribute to the child that passed that the OP was willing to donate the returned money to a charity dealing with that specific cancer.

  17. OP*

    I feel sorry for her for several reasons. That she must have more problems than we know about. Mental, emotional and possible physical. It’s got to make a person physically I’ll to be hiding so much. Now she doesn’t have a job either. She has worked here for five years. After all of this we didn’t want her to not pay it back, but it wouldn’t have felt to us personally to take it. That is when we decided to donate the money. At least some good will come out of this.
    Thank you for your comments. They really helped and made me stop and think and to get more information before we talked to her.

    1. Anon*

      OP, would you be willing to share the foundation/disease in question? I bet more than a AAM few readers would be interested in donating directly to this cause as well.

      1. Anonymous*

        Call me cynical, but now I’m interested to know if there’s any actual proof that the deceased grandchild existed at all. Was there a shared last name?

  18. Diane*

    It’s interesting that when confronted this woman took the opportunity to tell the truth when it would have been easier (and possibly spared her her job) to lie and just say it’s true she didn’t buy a plane ticket but it’s because she was overcome with grief and it would have been too hard and she had every intention of going to the funeral but couldn’t emotionally bear it. I mean lying isn’t ideal either but a little foresight could have predicted that the truth would have gotten her coworkers riled up and that she might even lose her job. And now she’s jobless. In an ideal world, she should have never accepted the money if she knew she wasn’t going to the funeral. Sad situation all around.

  19. "realist"*

    there are a lot of commenters feeling bad for the woman, and I’m not sure why… is it because she’s a grandmother, so everyone is soft-biased by memories of their own grandmothers? she stole money both cash and through company time, knowningly, and then confessed when questioned about it. yes she’s old and yes now she’s jobless, that sucks for her. but i think her being fired is totally justified.

    1. fposte*

      Feeling sympathy for her isn’t the same thing as saying she shouldn’t have been fired, though.

      1. The Nameless*

        I don’t feel sympathy for this woman. To do that would mean that I truly felt bad for her troubles. I don’t. She was stealing company time, lying to people she worked with about it, and then, even more upsetting though I’m sure not really a “fireable” offense, used the money raised for her to be with her family during a tragedy to buy Christmas presents. I sympathize with the people she worked with, people who had established a relationship with her, who had given money to her with the intent of sending her to her grandchild’s funeral, and who had been decieved so awfully. I sympathize with the people who were forced to pick up the slack when she didn’t show up for meetings she claimed she was going to, for anyone who was hoping for a raise and was told there were “no funds this year” while this woman was cashing a paycheck for work she didn’t actually do. I also sympathize with the person who had to escort the woman, crying, out of the building. I’ve seen the faces of those people as they do that horrible job, and they always look so miserable. :(
        That being said, I hope that this situation is just what this woman needs to get the help she so obviously needs.

        1. fposte*

          I think that’s perfectly fine, but again, it’s not an either/or–I can feel sympathy for people who were damaged by her *and* for her. Sympathy is different from the “donated” money, in that it’s not a finite resource, and my feeling it for her doesn’t detract from the amount I feel for the others in the slightest. (Plus our sympathy does nothing for any of these people anyway.)

          1. LBK*


            You can feel bad for people on both sides of a crappy situation, and you can feel bad for someone who’s not a good person. Most of the time, something made them that way. Preferring condemnation over rehabilitation is one of the big reasons we end up with so many repeat criminals in the US.

            1. Ethyl*

              ::nod:: My ex was an alcoholic and did some incredibly hurtful things to me and to others. I feel incredible sadness for where he is now, and grief for the person he could have been, even as I realize he needs to be out of my life and far away from me and, oh, say, my possessions or cash.

          2. JessB*

            I think you’re exactly right, fposte- I can feel sympathy both for the OP and their colleagues, and for the woman who stole from them. I can support the decision to fire someone who stole from her colleagues and lied about her work, and also feel bad for the person who lost her job.

    2. Anon*

      I don’t necessarily feel bad for her, but I think people who are expessing sympathy are probably moreso thinking that this woman has a severe mental illness (which is totally plausabile). If that’s the case, and she does have a some sort of mental illness, I think that feeling sympathy for her isn’t totally out of line.

    3. Kai*

      It’s definitely justified, and I don’t think anyone is arguing that point. They feel bad for her because her behavior indicates she may have serious issues that could require counseling if she’s going to get back on track with her life.

    4. Johanna*

      Agreed! I would never want anyone fired for no reason, but how could anyone trust this woman or want to work with her after she stole from pretty much every employee in the company? There’s no taking that back, and she did it not once, but twice.
      The facts don’t really add up about her grandchild: either she COULD have gone to the funeral, but didn’t, in hopes of buying a power tool, or she never could have gone and made up the whole story. Does the nine-year-old even exist? If so, why wouldn’t she get on the plane? Why has she never met the child? That’s just too odd… and the fact the child died of a “rare disease”… it sounds a lot like what catfishers on the internet do, or munchausen by proxy to vet sympathy/attention.

      1. fposte*

        The thought crossed my mind too–she may have felt better admitting to stealing than to making up a grandchild or his death.

    5. PJ*

      My cousin (the “wayward” one) was a grandmother at 35. Go easy on the “old” comments! ;-)

      1. KitKat*

        “Wow” was the only word I could formulate after reading that tidbit.

        “I’m not even mad, I’m impressed.”

    6. Anonathon*

      I don’t think anyone is questioning whether she should have been fired. I think they’re reacting to the bizarreness of her behavior, which is illogical enough to suggest that she might be mentally ill or at least unstable somehow. If nothing else, she likely needs help. That said, while sympathy is of course not finite, I feel far worse for the parents of the child — who not only are suffering greatly, but also seem to have limited contact with, and thus limited emotional support from, one set of their own parents.

  20. Celeste*

    I commented before, and am glad for the update, even though it’s so awful. There’s a sad story there, that a grandmother doesn’t even really know her ill grandchild who died. But I agree with those who say she has problems, because of how she wasn’t able to handle the demands of the job.

    She must have figured out that when you get peoples’ sympathy, you can get an awful lot out of them, at least until they find out you lied. Who knows if she will get help or change her ways, but I guess your workplace is going to be better off now.

    I think that the way you decided to handle the cash if it comes back is a good one that will honor the sacrifice of those who really couldn’t afford it. But I feel pretty doubtful, since she already spent it and she’s now out of a job. We don’t even know what story she told her husband about the job loss.

    Work can benefit a person in several ways, but sometimes the person is not fit for the workplace. OP, I hope people can get back to normal after this turmoil very soon.

  21. Intrigued*

    I’m a little curious why people feel bad for this con artist. Ultimately that’s what she is. Even if you think oh she made a mistake and got caught up in the lie, she still stole money from charitable coworkers. She also decided to use the money on a ** power tool ** but blew it somewhere else instead! She also stole from the company by not working full days. I don’t feel any compassion for this thief.

    1. esra*

      It’s just sad. Look at what you’ve described there, someone who stole $300 to spend on a power tool, lost it instead, and for whatever reason, never met their grandchild while they had the chance.

      It’s sad to see someone waste the gifts and security they have, whether it’s due to them being an awful con-person, having mental health issues, or just making some really bad choices.

    2. Sharm*

      I don’t either. I am not willing to give people that much benefit of the doubt. In my experience, it’s rarely warranted.

      I mean, this is a sad situation. Sure. I feel really bad for the woman’s family, the OP, and the OP’s colleagues. But not really for her. I’m going to save my sympathy for those who actually deserve it. I will be labeled harsh and am clearly in the minority here, but I can live with that.

      1. Anonymous*

        I agree with you, people make there own choices and are responsible for the consequences there’s very little sympathy for the woman from me. She took the money for herself which is outrages, it wouldn’t have been great if she gave the money to her family for the funeral costs or to charity as that is not why she was given it, but at least that I could understand. Stealing and lying got the woman what she deserved.

  22. Anonymous*

    One of the things about this blog that I like so much is we get so many followups so that we know how things turn out. Kudos to you, Allison, for whatever it is that you do to make that happen!

      1. ChristineSW*

        I just peeked at the original post, and see that the OP posted her update there. I guess she wrote to you as well?

  23. OP*

    To the person that thought I may have decided on the donation to the child’s illness, a record was kept and we all agreed to donate the money.

  24. Tinker*

    You know, regardless of how specifically we want to label this person and their behavior, I think we can all agree that this whole thing is a train wreck and the world would be a better place if it hadn’t happened.

  25. OP*

    There was a sense of relief from her when the conversation took place. She immediately let out a long breath, and in tears just pretty much blurted it all out.
    Someone wrote here that the child had cancer, I never said cancer.
    The disease the child had is called Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency. It is rare for such a young child to develope. I’ve been reading up on it. It is very miserable for an adult, but for a child must have been horrible for her and her family. I believe it is genetic.

    1. Nina*

      Just wiki’d that disease, and you’re right, it sounds devastating. I can’t imagine what that poor child and their parents were going through.

    2. Katie the Fed*

      So I missed all the discussion after the original post (was out of town and only skimmed through the posts themselves) – was it her idea that the office help or the office’s idea?

      1. sunny-dee*

        Well, honestly, it was a con, so she made it look like it was the office’s idea. She was visibly distraught because she couldn’t attend the funeral (which she told all her coworkers). They offered to take up a collection to buy her plane ticket, so she said she looked up ticket prices online and it would cost $300. They got most of it and gave it to her, but it wasn’t quite $300, so they took a second collection and gave it to her when she got back from the “funeral” to make up the difference.

        So, she didn’t out and out beg for the money — but she guided the discussion, as it were.

  26. Anon #2*

    OP, I just wanted to let you know that I admire you and the department chair for dealing with this issue head-on. It couldn’t have been an easy discussion. Kudos to you for being the kind of manager Alison is teaching others to be!

    1. Ruffingit*

      Totally agreed. One of the biggest problems in workplaces is ignoring things that require tough conversations. It’s great that both the OP and her manager were willing to take this on.

  27. JoAnna*

    Another consequence of this woman’s actions is that now her co-workers may be less inclined to help other people who are in similar situations, no matter how honest and forthright those other people may be. I know that I might think twice about giving to someone in need after having been scammed like that once.

    What a tragic situation all around. I hope the woman in question is able to use this situation as a catalyst to seek professional help and turn her life around.

    1. Nina*

      I thought about that as well. It’s really sad, because for every one person who truly needs help, you have someone who takes advantage of it. And then people become jaded as a result.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      Or it could go the opposite way- seeing the boss followed up and took action might make the group more confident in the long run.
      It’s a toss up really. I like how the group weighed in on the money once it is returned.
      It sounds like, although this is an awful situation the group landed on the same page. Which is amazing really.

  28. MR*

    Here was my comment from the original post last week:

    “I’m curious to know if there is a history of deception/theft/dishonesty with this employee.

    I say that, because this is a hell of a first case of something like this happening. If this is indeed just a made up story and pocketing the cash, then this person has most likely done other things in the past, and most likely in the workplace.

    As a result, this likely fits an established pattern, and it’s unfortunate that the OP and coworkers were swindled. This is likely grounds for termination as far as I’m concerned.”

    I’ve seen this type of stuff far too often in the past, and I’m sure I’ll see it again. I’m glad the OP and her team were able to get to the bottom of this and the employee was let go.

    1. Ruffingit*

      You’re right that this isn’t usually how something like this begins. It’s normally smaller things that escalate and that turned out to be the case here.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        I definitely agree. And if she had not be stopped this time the next fiasco would have been bigger.

  29. BW*

    Something similar happened to me once. I had an assistant who sent an All-Office email one day, saying she will need to take more time off in the immediate future, because her child needs a heart procedure for which she still has to pay $600 out of pocket after insurance. Everyone was really sympathetic–the office manager gave her all the time off she asked for, waiving the advance-notice requirement a lot of times; and the whole office (about 60 people) took up a collection for her. This was definitely a reaction to a stated need, since she described in her email how heartbreaking it was for her when her child asks her when they can go to the hospital and he can get well and play like the other kids…

    I felt like I had to do something more, as her immediate supervisor, so I put $600 cash into the collection envelope, since that’s how much she said her out-of-pocket was. All in all the total amount was a little over $1k. She took the money and was in tears saying her child will be so happy and how much this means for her.

    A few days later, a co-worker showed me a post my assistant’s boyfriend made on her [the assistant’s] Facebook wall–it was a picture of a new watch and the caption was “thanks baby. Best birthday gift ever!” or something like that…

    Anyway, we never found out if her child did have a heart condition or if she did use it for the heart procedure or new watches, but a couple weeks later we fired her because she didn’t show up to work one day without calling in, and then we see on her Facebook again another one of her boyfriend’s post, saying how much fun they were having on the ocean. When she came back, she tried to tell us she was in an accident and even tried to falsify ER admission records.

    Anyway, the only lesson I get from this is that there ARE people like that out there. I would still take the next person at face value and help them out. After all I did not do it for the recognition, I did it just to help and I got what I wanted out of it, which is the good feeling that one gets out of the actual act of shelling someone. I never told her or anyone other than the co-worker who showed me the picture of the watch that I gave her the $600.

    1. Ruffingit*

      That is really screwed up on your assistant’s part. UGH, leaves such a bad taste in your mouth, but I’m glad you didn’t let that ruin the whole meal so to speak. Other people who legitimately need assistance shouldn’t have to suffer because jerks do things like this.

      And you know, even if she didn’t pay for the watch with the money you collected, it’s still bizarre that she’d be buying expensive gifts like that if she’s worried about paying for her child’s health needs. One would think you’d be saving every last dime in preparation for not only what you have to pay now, but for the health-related bills that are sure to follow when a child is that ill.

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