my coworker is threatening to lie to get our manager in trouble

A reader writes:

I eat lunch with the same group every day, mainly because my best work-friend eats with them. Sometimes the others in the group are funny, sometimes just obnoxious, and today was one of the obnoxious days.

One of the group, let’s call her Anne, has what I would describe as a contentious relationship with our manager. I think he’s cool, doesn’t show favoritism like our old manager, but DOES expect us to work hard, which is fine with me; after all, that’s what we’re getting paid for. Anne thinks the manager shows favoritism to some newer people on our floor, and she is openly disrespectful to our manager about it. I’ve come right out and asked her in the past why she doesn’t quit if she doesn’t like the manager (and doesn’t much like the job, either), and she replied that she’s holding out to be fired instead (I don’t know why she would want that).

Today at lunch she told our group that she’s had enough with manager treating some (new) people better than others, and she’s going to report him to HR (and make up something if she has to in order to get him in trouble). In defense of the new people who are moving up the ladder quickly, they work hard and are learning new things quickly.

Part of me thinks I should just stay out of it and do what it takes to stay away from Anne. (My friend who eats with them says she still wants to eat with them because sometimes I eat lunch at my desk if I need a break from the chatter of the group.)

But should I let my manager know about Anne’s plan? I’m sure HR would be able to figure out it’s not true fairly quickly, but if by saying something I could save people time and hassle, wouldn’t that be better? But then would it get back to Anne that I told someone?

If Anne were just complaining about your manager, I’d say that you were entitled to stay on the sidelines.

But if she’s threatening to make something up in order to get him in trouble, I think you have to speak up. That has the potential to seriously harm his reputation and even his livelihood, depending on what she makes up, and you can’t stand by and knowingly let that happen.

I would not assume that HR will quickly figure out that Anne’s claim isn’t true. It’s possible that that will be the outcome, yes, but it’s also possible that she’ll accuse him of something that becomes a he-said/she-said situation (for example, if she were to accuse him of harassment or bigoted remarks), which is much harder to sort out.

So I’d alert both your manager and HR to what you heard. You can frame it as “normally I wouldn’t get involved in this, but when she said she was willing to make something up to cause trouble, I felt ethically obligated to say something.”

And yes, it’s possible that it will get back to Anne. But you can ask for it not to, by explaining to your manager and HR that you’re concerned about retaliation (use that word) from Anne if it gets back to her that you said something, and ask them to shield you to whatever extent they can. They might be easily able to do that, especially since it sounds like Anne made the remark in front of multiple people. But it’s also possible that Anne will figure it out. If that happens, let your manager and HR know about any hostility from her, because they should make it very clear to her that that’s unacceptable — but they’ll only be able to do that if you keep them in the loop.

Do speak up though. Someone you work with is threatening to do harm to someone else, and you have the ability to intervene.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 239 comments… read them below }

      1. neverjaunty*

        Exactly! And really, why else would Anne have announced her super clever plan to the entire group?

        Obviously, OP, she is hoping word will get back to the company so she can get fired. You’d be doing literally everyone a favor.

          1. TootsNYC*

            Yep! Because if they fire her she won’t get unemployment or severance; I don’t understand how it would help her in the least.

            1. Jill*

              She’s probably incorrectly assuming that everyone who’s fired automatically gets to go on unemployment.

              1. Annonymouse*

                Or severance or having her leave paid out?
                In Australia when you leave a part time/full time job any remaining accrued holiday leave is paid out (not personal/sick leave).

                In two of my last jobs that was a substantial amount of money each time since holidays weren’t encouraged and is been there 4 years.

    1. General Ginger*

      And if Anne is comfortable lying about a manager’s conduct, what else is she comfortable lying about?

  1. Leatherwings*

    I’m guessing she wants to be fired so she can get unemployment? Regardless, do say something OP. It would be terrible and career-damaging if the manager had to be put on leave or investigated for something they didn’t do.

    1. Newby*

      But if she is fired for cause I thought that she would not be eligible for unemployment anyway. Am I wrong? I am not very familiar with how unemployment works.

        1. Gaara*

          That’s how it works in my state. But man, is she about to get fired for cause.

          (If they won’t fire her over this, then that is actually a really big problem, in my view.)

      1. just another librarian*

        Sometimes employers won’t fight it if fired employees apply for unemployment anyway. It’s always worth trying IMO.

      2. ChrysantheMumsTheWord*

        That’s funny! At least in state where I am in the unemployment system is very pro-employee and just about everyone is able to collect even when we go to hearings and fight it (which we do).

        I’ve seen employees steal, get caught with proof and still get unemployment. The burden of proof here is on the employer so if we didn’t have a specific enough policy or if the employee’s bad behavior is not seen as intentional (yelling at a customer was an accident?) they get approved. It’s very frustrating.

        1. JB (not in Houston)*

          I for one prefer that the burden of proof be on the employer. It is very difficult for an employee to prove up why they got fired, and for many people unemployment is what keeps a roof over their heads and food on the table.

          1. Retail HR Guy*

            It’s not even about burden of proof in those states, though. I have had people admit that they stole from the company at the hearing, and admit that’s why they were fired, and STILL get unemployment. No dispute at all.

            1. JB (not in Houston)*

              It might not be about that to *you*, but ChrystantheMumstheWord specifically mentioned it, and that’s what I responded to.

              1. ChrysantheMumsTheWord*

                I hear you, JB. I guess my issue is more that we are required to prove our point, employees are taken at their word and even with proof we still end up on the hook for UI.

            2. Jessie*

              Yeah, that is a policy decision some states have made that employees should be entitled to benefits if they were fired, full stop. For other states, being fired for egregious violations is reason not to get benefits. The former is a fairly common policy though. So it isn’t about burden of proof; for those states, the issue is simply “were you actually fired, or did you resign?” Even then you can argue sometimes that you resigned for a really good reason and should still get benefits (“they were cutting my hours and I had to leave” or “they moved the office 100 miles away and I couldn’t get to the new location”)

              1. Retail HR Guy*

                Yeah, my issue with those states like that in which we do business is that even though the legislature never changed the law (which continues to state that employees fired for good cause don’t get unemployment), the unemployment department just decided on their own to approve everything (because corporations pay for it so why not?). The mental gymnastics these bureaucrats go through to rationalize ANY employee behavior is astounding, and it is really a waste of everyone’s time to have these sham hearings like we do. Basically we only set the hearings in the hopes that the employee doesn’t show up.

                1. Jessie*

                  The rationale is that “good cause” can be defined in myriad ways, so the agency has tons of leeway to develop regulations that define it. What is good cause to some is not to others, so, yes, a state agency can decide that “good cause” has to be as bad as, say, stabbing the boss up his nose with a pen but that anything short of that merits benefits. To be honest, I’m in favor of that interpretation because people have to eat, even if they were jerks or unethical, and it seems safer to me to provide for it through UI. UI is at least time-limited and requires a job search.

                2. Retail HR Guy*


                  Actually, the regulations are not nearly that vague, they just ignore the regulations. It really does spell out pretty well when employees should and shouldn’t get unemployment. There’s just no recourse for employers should the bureaucrats fail to follow their mandate.

                  And I’m actually all for safety nets (hell, I feel basic income can’t get here fast enough) but an end run around the law is not something we should be encouraging our government workers to do.

              2. Just Another Day*

                My step mom got unemployment when she resigned. She was a top performer for 11+ years in her sales department. Her company merged with a new company (i.e. was bought out) and her new manager was a ridiculous. She finally quit, applied for unemployment and the corporate office sent the big legal team from corporate to use my step mom as an example of what happens if you try to get unemployment.

                After my step mom pulled out the 2-inch thick file of printed emails that said things like “you need to choose between being a mother and being a professional” when she request time off that she accrued, and the straw that broke the camels back “since your young children are adopted we are actually giving holiday preference to the ‘real’ families this year and not basing it on seniority”…these were combined with the reports that her work productivity actually continued to go UP (not only did she maintain #1 in sales in her region, her sales continued to increase) the big suit left with their tail between their legs.

                1. Chaordic one*

                  It sounds more like your mother was leaving a hostile work environment.

                  Your mother was smart, but also lucky in that she was dealing with such sloppy and unscrupulous former employers. With most states adopting “employment at will” policies, and with most employers being much more cautious about leaving a paper trail (or an email train) it can be difficult to prove or disprove cause or the existence of a hostile workplace.

          2. Gazebo Slayer (formerly I'm a Little Teapot)*

            This, so much. It’s a matter of protecting the more vulnerable, less powerful party. (Speaking as someone who has had two employers contest her unemployment, one because they had a policy to always do so no matter what. They earned a deserved reputation for dishonesty with my state.)

      3. Leatherwings*

        Depends on the state. In some places you can collect unemployment unless you were fired for misconduct. So if you’re fired for underperforming, you can still collect sometimes.

        1. Tequila Mockingbird*

          And even if you are fired for misconduct, you can still collect UE if the employer doesn’t contest your claim. (At least in California.)

      4. Retail HR Guy*

        Depends on the state. In Oregon you could strangle a hobo on the clock and still get unemployment. (“Did the employer give the claimant any formal warnings about strangling hobos? Is there any rules on not strangling hobos in the employee handbook? No? Then clearly this is just a single isolated instance of bad judgment…”)

        1. eplawyer*

          I’m still laughing hysterically at this hours later. I have a friend who does employment law and I can just imagine the employee handbook she would have to write to cover this. Plus, can you imagine the counseling sessions about this? Or the PIP?

      5. LQ*

        As others have said it varies from state to state. “for cause” though usually, though again, varies from state to state, doesn’t mean you don’t get unemployment, especially if the “for cause” is “wasn’t good at the job” most of the time it has to be pretty egregious for a firing to get someone to not having unemployment. (Although, again, varies from state to state.)

        Most states things like stealing or punching a coworker would mean you wouldn’t be eligible, but short of that you’ll usually be eligible. (Again, varies state to state.)

        BUT most people don’t know unemployment law very well and make broad assumptions about it based on the little they do know. So yeah, I’d guess this person thinks they’ll get unemployment.

        1. Jessesgirl72*

          That is my take, as well. I am betting that whatever the law says in the OP’s state, Anne doesn’t know what that is. Except that she knows if she quits, she won’t get unemployment.

          1. Phoebe*

            I think you’re absolutely right. Where I live there are a number things that can disqualify you for unemployment and the majority of people have no idea until they apply for it and are denied.

      6. designbot*

        In addition to what others have said, a lot of companies seem to call things “layoffs” even when they are clearly for-cause terminations. It’s seen as being nice to the person they’re firing so that it doesn’t look as bad when they try to get a new job.

        1. Jessesgirl72*

          A “lay off” also, at least somewhat, protects them from unlawful termination claims.

          And sometimes a company or department really does have to downsize. So it makes sense to start the layoffs with the least productive or most problematic employees.

      7. AMG*

        You have a moral obligation to report this to HR. I would not want the Karma that would come from staying silent on this. Speak up and do it quickly, because you don’t know how soon she is planning to do this.

      8. AdAgencyChick*

        From what I’ve heard, most states have a fairly strict definition of “fired for cause” — things like embezzlement or sexual harassment would qualify, but poor performance or a bad attitude do not.

        But I’m not a lawyer, so boulder-sized grain of salt with that!

      9. MsCHX*

        In my state if she were fired for poor performance, she would still be eligible for UI. If she were fired for cause (including misconduct), she would not be eligible for UI.

      10. been there*

        I know that in Washington State while you aren’t supposed to get unemployment if you are fired for cause it is very well known that if you appeal it, you end up getting it – I am sure there are other states like that as well.

        1. SLQ*

          Yep, I do payroll and HR in WA, the only claims we been able to get rejected was for job abandonment and assault/battery. Everything else gets approved by the Unemployment Offices, including stealing and property damage (one guy took came in drunk and broke the assembly line, it cost the company over 25k to fix and 3 days, plus 2 lost contracts and he still got unemployment approved).

      11. SignalLost*

        It kind of depends. In my state (Washington) you file for unemployment, and then the company either contests it or does not, and if they contest, you can appeal, and if the person who listens to both of you (that part is verbal, but not together) decides that the company is full of crap, then you can get unemployment, even if you have been fired “for cause”. The last place I worked full time fired me for “threats” – it was a pretty sarcastic office, and I sent an email to a coworker with some hyperbolic language in; the company claimed to the state that that was their cause for firing me, and the state’s reply was that if they were really concerned I was going to follow up on my statement, then they needed to terminate me immediately and have me arrested, not fire me three weeks later, so I got unemployment. (My threat was on the order of “if the printer doesn’t work this time, I am going to throw it out the window,” which was very in line with company culture. They just didn’t like me, and it was mutual.)

        I’m not claiming that I think Anne has a hope in hell of getting unemployment if OP and the company can prove that the conversation happened, but tbh, if she is fired and never admits saying this/the other lunchers don’t act as witnesses, the state may decide that she wasn’t really fired for cause and grant unemployment. If she’s trying to get fired, she’s trying to do it in a way that’s really murky, explicitly to get unemployment, and it could work. If she just wanted to be fired, she could light the copier on fire or something, in which case, lots of documentation. I actually would not expect her to be fired over this statement BECAUSE it’s such a he-said/she-said situation in the end.

    2. Retail HR Guy*

      Maybe unemployment alone, but maybe also she wants to file a discrimination or retaliation claim of some kind. Some employees see any termination as an opportunity to shake down their previous employer for big bucks.

              1. General Ginger*

                When I ask for sharks with frickin’ laser beams on their heads, I expect sharks with frickin’ laser beams on their heads!

      1. Leatherwings*

        Let’s be real, it’s probably both. At the very least, she’s an idiot. At most, she’s an idiot who also thinks she can get something (like half her salary for six months?) out of being fired. Either scenario isn’t particularly flattering to her.

        1. SusanIvanova*

          The combination of not very bright and not very honest sometimes results in people who assume everyone else is as dishonest as they are. So oversharing with their peers doesn’t even register as stupid – of course the co-worker is going to be thinking that’s a great idea; doesn’t everyone try to screw over their bosses?

          1. Shazbot*

            Realistically, assuming everyone else is *at least if not more* dishonest than you are is just prudent (for example, even if you do not hack computers, you set a strong password because you know there are other people who do).

            The combination of not very bright and not very honest usually results in people concocting schemes that are pretty easy for other people to see through…and then getting confused as to why they were caught.

            1. Kyrielle*

              When making decisions where the impact of having it go wrong would be significant enough to care, I would actually assume everyone’s level of dishonesty is maximally inconvenient for you as the safest measure.

              So yes, strong passwords. But don’t tell everyone your plan to lie about the manager, Anne – assume they are inconveniently honest.

  2. Brogrammer*

    Whooee. People like Anne undermine the basic level of trust needed in a workplace. If someone like her is willing to abuse the system and make things up, that will make people with legitimate complaints afraid they won’t be believed when they raise them with HR.

  3. Augusta Sugarbean*

    I would definitely bring the manager and HR in the loop. If for no other reason, she might set her sights on you next. If it’s already known she would lie to get rid of someone she dislikes, it’ll go better for you (or whoever else is her next target) if they know about it.

  4. caryatis*

    Wouldn’t it make more sense to make it clear to Anne that the group (or at least OP) isn’t going to support her lying? Better to stop the problem before it starts. If I were OP, I would try to speak to some of the group members outside Anne’s presence and arrive at a consensus that Anne will be told this is a ridiculous plan and no one will back her up if she actually lies to get the manager in trouble.

    But of course…it may be that OP isn’t comfortable with this group or thinks they will support Anne’s lying, in which case HR might be the first step.

    1. Moonsaults*

      If Anne is comfortable lying about a manager, I wouldn’t doubt for a second that she’ll turn around and target the OP when she finds out the OP is not on her side. So telling someone in the group may mean it gets back to Anne before management and HR are alerted about the scheme. See the huge can of worms that is left in plain sight to open up if someone wants to go that route? :( :(

      1. Lance*

        Basically this. With what she’s planning, it won’t do any good to go to her; it’s best to just go straight to HR and the manager, and nip this problem straight in the bud ASAP, or indeed, she might turn it on OP or someone else.

    2. Leatherwings*

      That seems like it would stir up an awful lot of drama to me. It might come across like OP is talking behind Anne’s back and trying to rally people against her, which isn’t constructive. And I don’t think she necessarily needs anyone to support her in lying to make damaging claims depending on what she’s lying about. Sure, if she starts claiming that the manager is rude or something, then she might need backup. But if she claims that he sexually assaulted, for example, the company will have to take that extremely seriously regardless of who’s backing her up.

      It’s far better to nip this in the bud with HR or upper management than dealing with this oneself.

      1. JMegan*

        But if she claims that he sexually assaulted, for example, the company will have to take that extremely seriously regardless of who’s backing her up.

        Yes, and they’re likely to act first and ask questions later. OP, you need to report this immediately, before Anne does.

      2. designbot*

        Agreed. Also it sounds like OP is on the fringe of this group while Anne is at the core of it, so OP’s efforts would likely be ineffective anyway. Do not pass go, proceed directly to HR.

    3. WorkerBee*

      Nah, no reason to bring it up to Anne.

      If OP brings it up to HR and the manager now, then Anne will be completely discredited whenever she makes up whatever accusations she’s going to make up.

    4. Mike C.*

      Why the need to get everyone else involved when you can just go to your boss and HR? There’s no need for a quorum or the breaking of a filibuster before you act here.

      1. Sadsack*

        Yeah, and the manager may be mortified to learn that the entire department has been having discussions about this without him even knowing about it. No sense turning it into a big distraction from everyone’s work; take it up to the appropriate people to handle it.

    5. Sunflower*

      I thought about speaking to Anne first but I think when she decided she was willing to make things up, she lost her right to be confronted first with what is common sense (Yes it’s common sense in the workplace that if you tell someone you are planning lie/make false allegations about someone, that person you told has the obligation to report you for it)

    6. Shannon*

      I don’t get paid for that. This is a managerial issue way beyond your average worker’s responsibility and ability to handle.

    7. Kyrielle*

      That’s good advice for a petty disagreement that probably doesn’t need management involvement. This is not that. This is someone saying they will deliberately lie about someone else (a manager, but it need not be) in order to get that person in trouble. My seven-year-old knows that’s wrong. (Which doesn’t mean he doesn’t occasionally say his brother did something he actually did, because he’d rather not get in trouble at all – but it does mean that he looks guilty and not too surprised when busted for it, and it does mean he doesn’t do it often.)

      This is not a disagreement between OP and Anne. This is a disagreement beteween Anne and the manager, where Anne plans to cheat and has said so, and OP has that knowledge. If someone says they are stealing money from the till, or are going to bring a gun to work tomorrow and shoot the manager, or the like, you don’t tell them that you won’t support that action – individually or as a group. It’s just not sufficient. You tell management, ASAP.

      OP: note that involving HR as well as your manager is crucial in this case. Your manager knowing it alone isn’t sufficient – HR needs to hear of it before Anne gets to them. They need to hear it from you, not your manager second-hand.

    8. Bonky*

      This feels like the maximum-drama way to get a resolution here: it doesn’t sit right with me. The danger of being the group turning Mean Girls about it (no bias intended here: I’m talking about the movie, not the gender!), of having it get back to Anne, of other people getting drawn in, of the whole situation turning into one big gossip-fest, of someone with more “standing” in the group trying to take the decision out of your hands…this is something serious enough that HR is surely the right way to go.

  5. WorkerBee*

    As far as why she’s holding out on getting fired, she’s likely holding out for this unemploymentbux. It’s not much money, but I’m assuming this job is something like retail, where you aren’t making much in the first place.

    As far as why a new manager would favor new hires, I’ve noticed that managers usually prefer people that they’ve hired over people they’ve inherited.

    1. not so super-visor*

      Often that this is because new employees come without the bad habits allowed by or engrained in them by past managers. Also, it gets old hearing “well that’s not how Old Manager (who hasn’t worked here in 5 years) told me to do that..”

      1. Lovemyjob...truly!*

        OMG YES!!! I work in a small satellite office for a national pharmacy. The people who work here have weathered this company through it’s many mergers, management turnover, and policy changes. Most of them have been here for 9 years or longer and they are constantly talking about the “good ol’ days” when they would shut down the phones in the branch on Fridays to play board games and leave early. I’ve been here for nearly 4 years so this was all before my time but still they talk about it and moan and groan about how it had to stop and how the new management is “all business!”

        1. Mononymous*

          Gee, I wonder if wasting 20% of their time in the office had anything to do with those mergers or management changes… *eyeroll*

    2. NW Mossy*

      I think there’s an element of truth to the fact that managers can prefer their own hires, especially when a new manager’s vision of what the team needs to do is substantially different from that of the previous manager.

      I definitely see this with my team, which I took over about 18 months ago. My predecessor prized technical expertise, and to such an extent that she let some bad interpersonal behavior take root, such as allowing technical experts to openly trash the peers they perceived as less competent. I put a lot more importance on collaboration and communication, so that kind of dynamic doesn’t sit well with me at all and I stamped it out quick. It was certainly a jolt for those who’d gotten used to being rated on technical skill alone, but they’ve adapted reasonably well.

      When I hire for open positions in my team, I’m definitely looking for a different sort of person than my predecessor did. Part of it is seeking to shore up areas where I think my team needs more bench strength, but another big part is bringing in people who will thrive in the kind of environment I’m creating with the group. Rugged individualists are wonderful people, but I tend to seek people who want more of a let’s-do-this-together approach.

        1. NW Mossy*

          Let’s just say that if Anne reported to me, her stated wish to be fired would have already been granted, because I’m a fairy godmother like that.

      1. LBK*

        Totally agreed – especially if a new manager is very different from the old manager, it makes perfect sense that they would be more inclined to like their new hires than their existing employees because they’re people they selected based on their own values and goals for the departments. In my department, the old managers valued people who would do whatever they were told without asking questions. The new managers are the polar opposite, so a lot of people did not survive the transition.

    3. Liane*

      And New Manager might also “favor” the new hires because, as OP stated, they work hard and pick up things quickly.
      And I wouldn’t be surprised if what Anne is calling “favors” is the same things any good manager would do with a great employee–give them important assignments, allow WFH, give a good review, etc.

      1. A Bug!*

        Yeah, I wouldn’t be surprised if this was the major problem from Anne’s perspective. Old manager favored employees based on personal preference, and new manager favors employees based on performance. Anne was a favored employee under old manager but isn’t under the new manager, and feels screwed-over.

        1. Lance*

          Basically what I was thinking. If she’s acting so disrespectful and accusing so much of favoritism, that’s the mentality she’s likely going to be stuck in; only seeing ‘favoritism’, not seeing ‘benefits from hard, efficient work’.

  6. not so super-visor*

    Please say something! A very similar situation happened to my husband, but the employee who knew that the claim was false didn’t say anything until after they’d fired my husband. Once the other employee gave evidence to HR that the claim against my husband was false, HR stated that they couldn’t unfire my husband and didn’t feel like they could do anything to the person who made a false claim against him without it looking like a retaliation for reporting something to HR.

    1. Myrin*

      Is there such a thing as retaliation for lying to HR? I feel like that must be a special case as far as retaliations go.

      1. Liz*

        I’m almost certain that protection from retaliation only covers HR claims that were made in good faith (i.e., the claimant thought the report was true, even if it wasn’t). Knowingly lying shouldn’t be covered.

    2. neverjaunty*

      That’s nonsense. “We found out you made a false report” is not retaliation.

      I’m sorry your husband had to deal with such cowardly people.

      1. Retail HR Guy*

        Truth doesn’t matter that much in EEOC investigations or lawsuits. It’s all about appearances. An outside party has no idea who is lying and who isn’t, and generally fired employees (in this case, the lying liarface) are given the benefit of the doubt over big mean corporations. If terminating an employee could be interpreted by an outsider as legally-prohibited retaliation then the company would be very foolish not to consider that as being a huge legal liability, no matter what the underlying facts are. Investigators and jurors aren’t going to know whether the truth of the matter is “we found out you made a false report” or “we don’t like that you provided a true report”, but they have to make a decision and generally the company won’t like which way they guess.

        It is VERY risky for a company to come down on an employee for fraudulent discrimination claims, workers’ comp claims, FMLA leave, etc. It’s not particularly risky, however, to decline to stand by a falsely-accused employee. It’s fair to debate whether the company’s actions are “cowardly” vs. “strategically defending the company’s interests”, but ultimately the blame lies on the ways these laws are written and enforced.

        1. Jessie*

          “Truth doesn’t matter that much in EEOC investigations or lawsuits. ”

          This is really an odd position to take, and in my experience untrue. Yes, appearances can be damaging – it is called having a prima facie case (in discrimination case lingo). But that does not mean that “truth doesn’t matter that much” by any stretch of the imagination. It means only that the EEOC, and courts, recognize that unscrupulous employers know how to try to CYA, and that discrimination is hard to prove because people don’t generally announce “I am doing this because you are a woman” or “I am retaliating against you now for protected activity.”

          Ridiculous. If HR has evidence that an employee made a *false* report, and fires her for a false report, then it would be perfectly able to show any EEOC investigator that same evidence. And the EEOC would absolutely care. If HR does NOT have that evidence, well, then it is a he-said-she-said situation and it would be stickier. Taking the commenter at her word that there is actual evidence, however, then a company can of *course* unfire the husband and fire a lying employee. They are simply choosing not to.

          1. Retail HR Guy*

            I guess it depends on the evidence. I was visualizing the Johnny-come-lately employee claiming to have had a conversation with the lying employee similar to the OP in the main post. But if the evidence really was slam-dunk (a time-stamped email stating “tomorrow I am going to make something up and lie to HR about it”, for instance) then you are completely right.

            1. Jessie*

              Yeah, it could be sticky if the evidence is “someone told me it was a lie.” But even so, because companies are allowed to fire people for any (non-discriminatory) reason, and because “retaliation” as a protected activity only refers to retaliation for specific things (as in, you can’t retaliate against a person for reporting harassment, but you can retaliate against someone for reporting that someone took your iced tea out of the fridge) I still think the commenter’s situation might not be a big deal. (Unless husband was fired for harassment – then I don’t blame HR for not wanting to change a single thing about what they did, even if they later decided it was not true!)

            2. Pari*

              Yes more accurately evidence and credibility determines the truth for the eeoc. Eeoc does have methods for determining who is more truthful. Credibility is usually determined by the consistency, amount of record keeping and reasonableness of the company’s position on the matter.

        2. Former Retail Manager*

          YES! To all that….and that is the reason that the Anne’s of the world are usually not fired, and if they are certainly not quickly, because the company knows that they will run out and file a lawsuit immediately after their termination. In my retail days, there were employees who were fired for legit reasons that sued and prevailed (got a decent settlement) because it was cheaper to pay them than to the pay the attorney fees to fight it. Made it look like the employees were right…they weren’t, but it only matters how it appears to outsiders, as you said. The Anne in this letter sounds very much like someone who might sue upon termination.

          1. Jessesgirl72*

            And even if the company wins the lawsuit, they’ve still lost $500K + to defend themselves.

            That is why the large corporations almost always settle. It’s cheaper for them to just hand a scam artist $1ooK.

              1. Retail HR Guy*

                That’s high, but not all that high. The last person our company paid to go way (we knew we were in the right, but couldn’t prove it) cost us $120k not counting our own attorney fees. If that employee had been a highly-paid professional whose reputation and/or career had been damaged, it could easily have hit $500k to lose a lawsuit.

              2. Jessesgirl72*

                From a case I personally know about, where it was a frivolous lawsuit but the non profit’s cost to defend themselves was just north of $500k- and in the Midwest, not NY or CA.

                1. JB (not in Houston)*

                  They probably should have hired a different law firm then. Lawsuits cost a lot, but they should not cost that much in the Midwest. Especially if the lawsuit was _truly_ frivolous (as that term is used in the legal field, anyway), because most states have mechanisms for disposing of frivolous cases relatively quickly. (Not quickly, but quickly for a lawsuit). So if it really cost them that much, unless it was a case where they needed to hire a bunch of expensive experts, something went awry.

                2. neverjaunty*

                  What JB said. If it was a truly frivolous lawsuit – and I say this as someone who practices in a state with very plaintiff-friendly laws – competent lawyers should have been able to get rid of it early. “Nuisance money” is not all that much and is something you pay up front to make it go away BEFORE it starts eating up legal costs. If a garden-variety employment lawsuit is running into the six figures, either there’s something to it after all, or your lawyers were deliberately running up the bills on you (something, sadly, I see the other side doing all the time).

            1. Pari*

              Companies that give 100k give it because they see holes in their defense. It’s usually things like poor documentation or a bad supervisor or really questionable decisions.

              Companies that have their shit together will rarely settle for large sums when they can easily convince the eeoc or a judge that the complaint has no merit.

              By the way employees can’t normally just sue for discrimination type stuff. They have to file their complaint with the eeoc and get a right to sue letter first. Good companies can normally get a favorable decision from the eeoc before it ever sees a judge.

        3. neverjaunty*

          I really have no idea where you’re getting this information from, particularly the idea that the EEOC and juries always side with employees over “big mean corporations”.

          1. Retail HR Guy*

            I didn’t say “always”. But, yes, they are generally very biased.

            I am getting my information from years of working in HR with various employment lawyers and government investigators, and from seeing these cases firsthand. The EEOC itself will often point to the fact that juries favor employees to try to get companies to settle or agree to mediation.

            1. HR Caligula*

              I believe HR Guy is in Oregon? I’m in WA State and the unemployment and EEOC offices are very liberal to employees. I suspect Oregon is very similar.

              1. Retail HR Guy*

                Yep, I am based in Oregon but we have stores in Washington so I’m familiar with both. They’re pretty similar. Washington might be slightly worse.

                But all things being equal, I do believe that Juries and the EEOC would favor employees nationwide. Jurors tend to be employees and not HR types, execs, or business-owners, and no one joins the EEOC in order to defend corporations from their lying or misguided employees. The narrative of a giant, cold-hearted corporation picking on the little guy is very imbedded in our culture and it takes a lot of evidence to overcome it.

                1. neverjaunty*

                  I kind of wish this were true, because then my friends who practice employment law would all be living in mansions. Also, picking juries would be a lot easier.

                  Other narratives that are very firmly embedded in our culture is that people only file lawsuits to “win the lottery”, that if something bad happens to someone else it’s entirely their own fault, and that taking money from a corporation means all of us are going to pay for it eventually.

                  (By the way, whatever they’re telling your side, the EEOC is almost certainly telling the employees “even if you win it’s going to be a long struggle and you might not get anything”, because scaring both sides into thinking they’d better settle is the time-honored way of getting people to settle.)

                2. Pari*

                  They’re not favoring employees they just take the resources and reasonable responsibilities each one has into account. For example they expect companies to have employee normal employee documentation, polices and for them to be shared and uniformly enforced(this is where companies screw up frequently). As the same, they expect employees to be able to provide details and to abide by reasonable instructions and policies. It’s all quite reasonable

              2. YepYep*

                Yes. Oregon is very much “the burden of proof lands on the employer.”

                We had someone use former employers who were fired for being on drugs at work as their “witnesses” in a completely BS claim. You get a couple people who want to shake the money tree, BOLI goes right along with them.

        4. JB (not in Houston)*

          “It is VERY risky for a company to come down on an employee for fraudulent discrimination claims, workers’ comp claims, FMLA leave, etc.”

          This is just not the case. I am beginning to suspect there’s something particular about your company that makes you think this because in most cases, if the company actually has evidence of this, it’s not very risky. And in most states (apparently not yours), it’s quite, quite difficult to prove up a discrimination case. Your experience is very much not universal, as has been pointed out by other lawyers here and other people with experience on these matters. It might be what you have experienced, but it’s not accurate to characterize it as generally applicable.

          1. neverjaunty*

            Yes, this. Having seen frivolous employment claims from the other side, and having a lot of colleagues who practice employment law for employees, the idea that anyone can file a lawsuit and force a corporation to rack up a six-figure bill defending makes no sense.

            1. Retail HR Guy*

              No, it doesn’t make sense. But I have personally seen it happen on multiple occasions.

              Sorry if that bursts some kind of ideological bubble for you. If you’d like you can rationalize it away by deciding to believe that I’m lying. I’m just some random internet guy, after all.

              1. JB (not in Houston)*

                Wait, hang on. We don’t have “ideological bubbles.” We’re lawyers with knowledge of the legal system works and employment complaints and lawsuits work. We’re not just sitting around talking about something we know nothing about. If this keeps happening to your company, then there’s something unique about your situation. It is not the norm.

              2. neverjaunty*

                Huh? Nobody is calling you a liar about what you have personally seen. (And surely you can extent that same trust to others on their own observations?)

                What several people are questioning is your extension from “this can happen, because I have seen it” to “this is how the whole system is all the time”.

                1. Retail HR Guy*

                  Actually, I did interpret you as (kind of) calling me a liar. You said that my claim “makes no sense”.

                  This is also the second time you’ve blatantly pulled a straw man on me in the comment thread today. I never said “this is how the whole system is all the time”.

                  So, yes, I suppose I am being defensive. I apologize if it isn’t warranted.

                2. neverjaunty*

                  You are misreading. I never said that your description of what happened at your company was untrue or makes no sense. What I actually said was “the idea that anyone can file a lawsuit and force a corporation to rack up a six-figure bill defending makes no sense”.

              3. Jessie*

                Wow, I’m going to second JB and neverjaunty.

                This isn’t about “idealogical bubbles,” which BTW is incredibly condescending. It’s about experience, and we are attorneys who do this for a living and have colleagues who do it for a living. Your company appears to be an outlier. No one is calling you a liar. They (and I) are saying simply that your experience is not standard. That juries don’t hand out money to plaintiffs with the ease you have experienced, and that the EEOC is not biased generally in the way that you have experienced. My suspicion is that your company hasn’t handled things well – or its lawyers haven’t – and thus you’re getting these very-much-outlier results.

          2. Retail HR Guy*

            The risk would be for a retaliation claim, not a discrimination claim. Retaliation claims are on the rise right now in part because employers have gotten better at defending themselves from discrimination suits.

            Our company actually has significantly fewer claims and lawsuits against us than other companies our size, which is impressive given our industry. If there is anything particular to my company it would likely be its location in a very litigious and anti-corporate part of the country. It could also be that my company is more risk averse; a practice that we would avoid (such as firing someone we have good reason to think fraudulently filed a workers’ comp claim) other companies might engage in eagerly. Perhaps we consider, say, a 30% chance to lose tens of thousands of dollars to be “high risk” and others might consider that chump change and have a higher threshold before they begin to worry.

            I can’t find anywhere in this thread that anyone claiming to be a lawyer has contradicted me, so I can’t speak to that. But I can find multiple employment and WC attorneys in real life who agree with what I’ve said; in fact, they would be my main source of where I’m getting my information from. How much they are tailoring their advice due to our region of the country I don’t know, but most of their advice matches up to what I’ve received from SHRM, seminars, webinars, blogs, magazines, and other industry-specific materials and information aimed at a nation-wide audience.

            I believe that it is also true that when it comes to litigation, though the west coast may lead the way the rest of the country eventually follows suit (no pun intended). So think twice before dismissing this particular Cassandra.

            1. JB (not in Houston)*

              Right, but to prove a retaliation claim, you have to prove that you were retaliated against. To prove you were retaliated against for reporting discrimination, you’d have to prove there was discrimination in the first place. That’s very difficult.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Actually no! You just have to prove that you made a good faith claim of discrimination. And it’s often easier to prove retaliation than it is to prove discrimination.

                1. JB (not in Houston)*

                  Sorry, I worded that badly. I mean, you can’t just say “I reported discriminated and they retaliated!” and prevail on a retaliation claim. It’s not that easy, or at least not in my state. You still have to be able to show something happened that gave you a reasonable belief that discrimination occurred, and you have to be able to prove that something happened.

                  My comment was in response to Retail HR Guy saying above that “It is VERY risky for a company to come down on an employee for fraudulent discrimination claims, workers’ comp claims, FMLA leave, etc.,” and that “If terminating an employee could be interpreted by an outsider as legally-prohibited retaliation then the company would be very foolish not to consider that as being a huge legal liability, no matter what the underlying facts are.” Even for retaliation claims, it’s just not the case that if an employee makes a fraudulent discrimination claim, the company is taking a big risk of facing “huge legal liability” by firing the employee. I’m sure it happens, but it’s not so common that a company needs to keep that employee.

        5. OldMom*

          This is not the same thing exactly, but I have a related question about a section of the employee manual in my new job. Since there are so many employment lawyers reading this…
          “False charges of sexual harassment. False accusations will not be condoned. Employees who bring charges resulting in a finding that the charge was malicious will be handled… (Referral to another section of the manual, entitled, “termination.”)
          My question: is this weird? Why is this and nothing else called out as a possible basis for false charges? Surely anyone could be fired for making false claims in any at-will employment. Is it a red flag on this workplace? It feels a lot like hearing “if you accuse someone of rape but you can’t prove it, you’ll be thrown in jail.” Which would have a chilling effect on rape reporting.
          Maybe it is standard and I just haven’t encountered it before. Weird, or not weird?
          In the interest of anonymity I won’t identify my industry, but typically most of the administrators are male, most of the workers female, if that has any bearing on it.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Legally sketchy, at best. It’s illegal to penalize an employee for making a good-faith complaint of harassment. This seems designed to squelch those.

      1. Fortitude Jones*

        This. They lied to your husband because they want to save face. They could fire the accuser if they wanted to, they just don’t want to look stupid. (And given that we just recently had an update here where someone was fired by HR for allegedly poisoning s coworker who stole and ate her food, but was then rehired by the company once management found out what happened, they could in fact rehire your husband if further evidence were presented that showed their action was made in error.)

    3. Jessesgirl72*

      That translates to “unfiring someone is admitting to culpability AND we are afraid this lying person will sue us too, and our lawyers have advised against it”

      1. Mike C.*

        That doesn’t make any sense either – it’s not illegal to fire someone for any reason outside of being a member of a protected class. You can totally fire someone because you think they did something you didn’t like, even if there’s evidence showing that it wasn’t actually the case.

        1. neverjaunty*

          Some companies are just very bad at keeping records or following an impartial disciplinary process, so when it comes time to fire Fergus, they don’t have good records of his misconduct.

          1. Mike C.*

            If they suck at keeping records then they have no reason to complain. Even then, you can just tell someone they are fired and that’s the end of the discussion. It doesn’t have to be fair or impartial.

      1. Retail HR Guy*

        As a fellow HR buffoon, their actions make total sense to me.

        They receive a–let us say–sexual harassment complaint from Hermione about Hagrid. They investigate, and feel that they have enough evidence to fire Hagrid. Then, later on, Ron shows up with “new evidence” that he couldn’t be bothered to produce earlier. (What the hell, Ron?) They don’t know for sure who is lying… is it Hermione or both Hagrid and Ron? Maybe if Ron had come forward at the time, they wouldn’t have fired Hagrid because the investigation would have been less conclusive, but that’s not the way things shook out.

        Meanwhile, firing Hermione for making a false sexual harassment claim is completely off the table. They can’t be sure who is lying, but they do know that, if fired, Hermione could put forward a reasonably believable retaliation claim against the company. From an outside perspective it would look like Hermione made a claim, they investigated and determined there was some truth in the claim (because Hagrid was fired), and then they turned around and immediately fired Hermione, too, because she made the claim. Whatever the truth and no matter who is lying, the one thing that they DO know for sure is that firing Hermione carries huge legal liability. If Hermione was the one telling the truth and they term her, then she will have been retaliated against and has a legit claim. But If Hermione was the one lying, then she still has the appearance of a legit claim and clearly wouldn’t be above lying to the EEOC or a jury.

        And the other certainty is that as HR no matter what actions you take or who you believe, others who hear about it will second guess all your decisions and declare that your department is full of cowards and buffoons.

        1. Pari*

          If a company makes a wrong decision about who’s lying after taking reasonable steps to investigate they have an excellence legal defense.

          1. Retail HR Guy*

            Better to not need a legal defense at all. Given the legal fees for a successful claim, employers can’t win lawsuits. They can only lose less painfully.

        2. hbc*

          The problem with this is that it’s just as easy for Hagrid to sue for wrongful termination as it is for Hermione. And easier for him to be successful, depending on the nature of Ron’s new evidence. If it’s just She Said, They Said, then a risk-averse company might want to hide and leave well enough alone. If Hermione said that Hagrid harassed her in person on Tuesday the 11th and Ron has a sign-in sheet that shows Hagrid was inspecting another site all day, it’s just dumb not to fire Hermione and hire Hagrid back.

          1. Mike C.*

            No, it’s not easy at all to sue for something like this. Lawyers aren’t free and it’s kind of difficult to pay for one when you don’t have a job int he first place.

          2. Retail HR Guy*

            What would Hagrid’s claim be? It’s not against the law to fire someone because someone else lied about them. You can’t just sue for “wrongful termination” by itself. There is no law saying terminations have to be fair; but there is a law saying that they can’t be prompted by a good faith discrimination claim. So Hagrid’s not the legal threat that Hermione is.

            And, sure, if you want to invent new details to add to my already made-up story then my analysis would also change. If Ron provides indisputable evidence that Hermione is full of it then, yes, the company should fire Hermione and rehire Hagrid.

        3. Mike C.*

          But hey, the one guy who was fired for fake sexual harassment*, who cares about them, right? It’s only their professional reputation and their ability to buy food, shelter and medical care that was taken away. I mean, who cares if the evidence in question shows quite clearly that the incident may have never happened or that such evidence would make it very unlikely for Hermine to hire a lawyer on contingency or that maybe, just maybe a company might have to shell out some of their own profits to defend themselves in a court. A place where, unlike the nebulous “outside perspective” you seem concerned about, has actual rules for evidence and testimony. Even then, this is the worst possible thing that could maybe happen. Who cares that proper record keeping and HR actually being accountable for their own actions would have prevented this? Nope, let’s do the short-sighted and easy thing and hope that no one looks too closely!

          You don’t compound a screw up with another screw up. You don’t shove things under the rug because it’s inconvenient. That’s incredibly irresponsible and here it cost innocent people their ability to take care of basic needs. Would you be so blithe if it was your job at question here, or would you gladly just pack up your things and leave in the best interest of the company? Repeatedly screwing up is also a great way to get sued or worse! You also weigh a risk higher than the cost of actual damage, while completely ignoring the fact that your risk can cause problems over and over again! And now that you’re aware of it, why is that liability completely ignored in your calculation? In your calculation, how many times does Hermine have to get people fired under false pretenses before it makes sense to fire her?

          If you have a problem, you deal with it. If you make a mistake you make it right. It’s really not that difficult to understand. Where I work the choices I make can have serious and life-altering consequences. Same with you. Why aren’t you accounting for everything here? Complaining that “everyone will just second-guess you anyway” isn’t an excuse to dismiss thought out criticism.

          *Yes, I’m well aware that “false sexual harassment” isn’t generally a thing in the real world, I’m just continuing the example here.

          1. Retail HR Guy*

            It’s important to understand that in my made-up version of the story the company is ultimately not sure who is telling the truth.

            1. Retail HR Guy*

              Also, what’s with “false sexual harassment” not generally being a thing in the real world? Maybe I’m cynically, but people can and do lie about anything. It is a tiny percentage of the claims, I’m sure, but it happens.

              1. Emma*

                I think most people agree false allegations do happen, and I think Mike C. agrees with you on the “tiny percentage” part – or at least, that’s how I read his “generally” qualifier. What happens more, though, are people using the specter of false allegations to shut down any allegations – discussions of sexual harassment often get sidelined by people pushing this idea that false allegations are common, even though there’s not any support for that. So there’s pushback against that pushback, you might say.

            2. Mike C.*

              I don’t expect anyone to be omnipotent, but I do expect them to take responsibility when they find out new information. I’m also concerned that the standard procedures and practices of the HR world are seriously lacking in robustness and don’t address failure very well.

              What’s truly poisonous is this attitude –
              And the other certainty is that as HR no matter what actions you take or who you believe, others who hear about it will second guess all your decisions and declare that your department is full of cowards and buffoons.

              Is this the standard, best practice philosophy of the HR world? That all criticism is just whining from others who don’t know any better? How does the human resources community grow and adapt with these sorts of reactions to criticism?

              And if you think that’s bad, try having Don Lemon speculate about black holes being the root cause of problems with your product.

  7. Artemesia*

    Yes this is one that needs to be pre-empted. Getting to the manager and HR BEFORE anything happens is critical.

  8. AmberRachel*

    Anne sounds like a horrible employee. She probably doesn’t like the manager because he expects folks to work hard. She’s waiting to get fired so she can collect unemployment.

    I worked in an office of about 20 employees, with about 5 administrative assistants. We hired a new administrative assistant that was not a good worker. She was always late coming in and not getting her work done. She would complain of neck and back pain all the time, implying that sitting at a desk all day was the cause of it.

    The office manager and I told our boss. Fearing she was trying to set up a workcomp case, he fired her. She tried to file for unemployment, but our boss told them no, he wasn’t paying it, it was for just cause.

    1. LQ*

      This is the kind of thing that would be eligible in most states for unemployment unless she’d been warned several times about coming in late, and even then, likely to get it. The employer in most states doesn’t get to just arbitrarily decide who does and doesn’t get unemployment, it is usually based on laws and the question is what does the law say. (And employers can’t just say they won’t pay taxes, that’s tax evasion.)

    2. Perse's Mom*

      The former employer is not the final arbiter of whether or not someone they’ve fired gets unemployment. The unemployment office is. The employer can fight it, but as others have noted, they have to make their case for why the employee shouldn’t get it.

    3. IowaGirl*

      Sitting in a chair all day CAN cause neck and back pain. What you should have done was an ergonomic evaluation and provided her with a better chair and other appropriate ergonomic equipment. Perhaps she would have been a better employee if she hadn’t been in pain all the time. And, sheesh, isn’t illegal to fire someone because you fear they’re going to file a workers compensation claim?

  9. Lily in NYC*

    I got “mean-girled” out of a job once. The manager to whom I didn’t report was threatened by me (I had more experience than she did and was hired at the same level and she didn’t like it). She was best friends with my manager and started telling her lies about me – things like that I rolled my eyes at her in a meeting – total BS that I didn’t know how to refute. Why would my manager believe me over her friend (honestly, I think she was in on it because they wanted to bring their friend on board)? I lasted 5 months and they fired me so they could hire their buddy who had just been laid off from our sister publication (this was at a national magazine). I got 3 months severance for working only 5 months, which seemed like hush money because they knew they were screwing me over. I had never had an experience of being disliked for no reason and having coworkers lie about me. I had just started so I had no one to confide in. The only guy who was nice to me also got fired for shady reasons the day before I did.
    Moral of this too-long story: I really wish someone who noticed this was happening would have gone to bat for me with our top manager.

      1. Isben Takes Tea*

        This seems a really odd comment to me, and I work in a publishing company. My anecdata is that publishing companies are awful in the same ways and at the same rate as any other company: some are really great, some are really bad, and some are generally great with pockets of bad.

        1. WorkerBee*

          The people I knew in college who went into journalism (or at least aspired to) were far more cliquey than other people, in my experience.

          1. Lily in NYC*

            I worked at three national magazines, and this was the only one that was clique-ish (It was Sports Illustrated). I felt like I worked with a bunch of Stepford Wives. It was like a hive-mind of mean girls (my department. It might have been different in other areas). I loved my coworkers when I was in political journalism – it was such a collegial atmosphere and every worked so well together.

    1. Chaordic one*

      I’ve been “mean-girled” and/or “men-boyed” I’ve seen it happen to happen to others. It never really seems to be an issue of work performance, although in some situations people are given so much work they couldn’t possibly do it all or do it well. These people are basically set up to fail so that the employer has an excuse for getting rid of them.

      Sometimes it happens to someone who is socially awkward, but other times it happens to someone who is older or a member of the LGBT community. I live in a conservative state with no LGBT protections. It is also a “right to work” state and most employers claim “employment at will” which makes it fairly easy to get rid of people. I don’t know what else to say except that it sucks.

  10. Mike C.*

    Please don’t be one of those “Golly, I just don’t feel comfortable getting involved” types. There are times where you need to get involved and this is one of them. Nothing wrong with asking for advice about it, just understand that there are too many out there who would say, “Not my problem!” and leave it at that.

    Just imagine, how would you feel if you were the target of malicious accusations and no one stood up for you?

    1. Aim Away from Face*

      Reminds me of a previous job.

      All the other managers saw how our resident sociopath of a manager treated the department, but “didn’t want to get involved” because we were “her” department. One day, one of my colleagues was finally bullied to the point where he did something unsafe because he was afraid of being fired.

      He died.

      Talk about a wake-up call to the higher-ups.

        1. Aim Away from Face*

          ‘One day, one of my colleagues was finally bullied to the point where he did something unsafe because he was afraid of being fired’ is all I care to elaborate on.

          It made the news.

          1. The Strand*

            That’s tragic. Please tell us, at least, that there were consequences for the sociopath and the people who protected her?

      1. Mike C.*

        This is why people need to say something and stand up for each other. I know it’s not easy, but it’s a whole lot easier than having to live with that sort of knowledge.

  11. Althea*

    I would feel completely fine with Anne knowing in this situation. I might even tell her that I had mentioned her comment to HR and manager, afterward, depending on how likely she would be to make a scene and huge drama on the spot. The point of telling her would be to avoid causing other people issues if Anne starts trying to find out who reported it. And to hopefully show other coworkers that this kind of behavior should be stopped!

    But then, I’ve never had a problem calling out people for bad behavior, and I would be so glad to be in a culture where it’s just one loony coworker that I could stand up to, not a whole culture that is difficult to change. I know some people are a bit more shy about it.

    1. Mephyle*

      If calling her out on her plan makes her realize it’s Not A Good Idea ™, one thing she might do is claim that OP is making the whole thing up to get her in trouble. It would be good to be prepared in case that happens.

    2. Lance*

      Honestly, if it gets back to Anne, well… so be it. Let her have a fit, drop her credibility further, and dig her own grave.

  12. Tangerina Warbleworth*

    What an awful, self-centered person. I’m thinking she wants to get fired so she launch a huge wrongful termination suit. Which would be as false as the claims she’s making now, but maybe she hopes to win big bucks and look like a hero. Yuck.

    If it were me, I’d discreetly go to the manager and HR, and let Anne twist in the wind. Anyone who puts this much effort into deliberately, deceitfully ruining a perfectly normal person deserves a rude awakening.

    1. neverjaunty*

      Amazingly, it’s almost always the people with no leg to stand on who think they’re going to win the lottery filing a nonsense lawsuit.

  13. anon for this*

    Please say something. Something like this happened to me, except that I overheard three coworkers conspiring to make up a story to get me in trouble. Even though I immediately went to HR with what I heard them planning, HR still believed their story when they told it. It caused irreparable damage to my reputation and my career. Maybe if someone else had heard what they said and backed me up, it would have been enough to stop it in its tracks.

    1. Engineer Girl*

      I also was the target of something like this. I had inherited a couple of poor performers. My manager was in the middle of creating PIPs for them when the poor performers filed charges against me. HR publicly announced that I was under investigation at a senior staff meeting.
      The investigation found that I was the only one behaving correctly. It didn’t matter. HR refused to let senior staff know what the investigation found. Their attitude was “where there is smoke there is fire” (their quote). I asked that the people be held accountable for filing provably false charges. HR refused.
      My reputation never recovered.
      As for the poor performers? They were never trusted again. That also went for the people that knew about the plot and said nothing. Their careers froze.
      OP, if you say nothing you will be painted with the same brush as your lying “friend”.

  14. Worker Bee*

    OP, I hope you follow Alison’s advice. We have a similar situation in my office – employees from the previous director resent being held accountable for their work and one in particular keeps making exaggerated or completely false claims to HR. Nothing extreme enough for termination, but it damages my boss’s reputation and ability to manage the office.

  15. Katie F*

    Be aware that if you say something, Anne will almost certainly either claim she never said any such thing OR she’ll say it was “just a joke” and try to make you sound like the crazy one for taking it seriously. Be prepared to have people who can verify your story if needed. The manager can’t do much in a she-said-he-said situation, but with verification or outright action they’ll have a little bit more to go on.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I don’t think the OP needs to worry about that. She doesn’t need to find people to back up her story; she just needs to report what she heard. If Anne says she was joking, that’s fine. It’s still been reported to HR and will be helpful context for them to have if Anne does end up making something up. OP doesn’t need to make this a big battle that she’s fighting where she needs to rally others; she’s just reporting what she heard, and what they do with it from there is up to them.

    2. Observer*


      I agree with Allison, the OP doesn’t need to “rally” anyone. If Anne says it was just a joke, then that’s fine – it means she can’t make a complaint. And if she DOES then make a complaint, HR has the knowledge that Anne actually did state that she was planning to make something up.

      OP, the one thing I would add is that while you don’t want to get into “she toxic, I’m fine with the boss but she’s lazy, ect.” it IS worth mentioning the that context of this statement was that Ann has been saying that she wants to be done with the job but is waiting to get fired.

      1. AD*

        Katie has a point though. I’ve witnessed something similar, where the “Anne” in the situation turned it around to cast doubt on the person reporting, and then THAT person was perceived to be the trouble-stirrer. It doesn’t hurt to have a “friendly” witness to back up what you heard. With an “Anne”, you always want to CYA.

    3. Mephyle*

      If Anne says she is joking, fine. What if she says OP made it out of whole cloth “because OP hates me and is trying to get me into trouble”?

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        The OP’s job isn’t to convince anyone. She’s just reporting what she heard, and has no stake in it other than that, and that’s what she’d say.

        1. Emma*

          Sure, but people like Anne are often very good at spinning things, or having excuses, and if she’s already preparing to lie to undermine a manager there’s really no reason she won’t lie to get the OP in trouble. I think the OP should absolutely still go to HR, but she needs to recognize it might go really badly for her and be prepared for that. It’s not as simple as the OP being believed just because she beat Anne to the punch.

  16. Stellaaaaa*

    Anne is a jerk so don’t think twice about reporting her.

    However, it sounds like there’s bad blood between her and the manager so don’t approach thus as if you know everything that has happened with the two if them behind the scenes. If Anne ends up having examples of favoritism or even discrimination, she might end up talking her way out of this.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      Yes, I would just matter-of-factly say I heard her say this, and then quote what she said. If HR decides to look into it, they will know how to get context. Or they may ask, but there isn’t any reason to speculate. Just the facts, ma’am, as Joe Friday would say.

  17. Anon Accountant*

    If she’s willing to do this to a manager she may be willing to do this to a coworker or OP. This needs reported TODAY.

    She’s willing to ruin reputations and risk people’s jobs by lying? She may get her wish of being fired but if so she fired herself.

  18. Former Retail Manager*

    I can’t say that I agree with Alison on this one entirely. I believe looping the manager in at this point is unnecessary. I’ve worked with “Anne’s” in the past and at some point the s**t is going to hit the fan. Anne sounds like she’s gone off the rails. From the group dynamics that OP has described it sounds like Anne will figure out that OP is the one who disclosed her comment resulting in potential retaliation from Anne. While the company may well back up the OP when said retaliation occurs, Anne’s firing likely won’t be immediate and there will be drama that will arise from that entire situation and the potential for Anne to make OP’s life very difficult until she is ultimately fired. After all, she has said that she isn’t going to quit so it will likely take a fair amount of documentation on the employer’s part to get rid of her…..documentation that won’t occur until you go to the manager and say “Anne did X in retaliation for Y” thereby placing OP smack in the middle of a bunch of drama.

    I also wouldn’t want to loop in my manager (and thereby associate myself with Anne and the rest of the group that seems to have very little backbone) unless it were absolutely necessary. For all the OP or anyone knows, Anne is just talking out of her a**, albeit inappropriately, but it’s still just talk at this point. I’d simply make HR aware that Anne made the comment, concede that it may be all talk, but say that you wanted to let HR know in the event that Anne ever does make the accusations she mentioned. If the false complaint were ever made, it would be made to HR anyway, not the manager. I feel that looping in the manager at this phase is just creating drama unnecessarily. You may also impact the manager’s view of Anne (not that that would really be a bad thing) and risk that the manager will raise the issue with Anne and potentially let it slip that you are the one who disclosed it. And then the aforementioned drama begins. I don’t believe the comment warrants embroiling yourself in potential drama that has the ability to negatively impact your reputation at this company at this point. Tip off HR, stop eating lunch with these people, and move on.

    1. Trout 'Waver*

      The manager should be informed, because it could affect him. I think HR (assuming they’re competent) is the right person for it, though.

      1. Former Retail Manager*

        If HR sees fit to inform the manager, great. But I don’t think it’s OP’s job to interject themselves in the middle of that. Hopefully, HR can discreetly make the manager aware that the issue was brought to them and keep it all anonymous unless or until a complaint is filed with HR.

        1. SystemsLady*

          But a manager should know if one of their employees is talking about getting them in trouvle, regardless of if it actually happens. This is less about getting Anne in trouble, and more about empowering the manager to deal with a problem with one of their employees that directly affects them (though one of the end results of that may be firing Anne).

          Yes, don’t be “that person” who goes to your manager with small mistakes that are being made, occasional griping, or (in most cases) an announcement that your coworker is job searching. But if one of your coworkers reports serious problems with a project they’re on that they’re hiding from your manager, or announces a plan to actively undermine your manager, those are times where you’ll be helping your team (your manager and coworkers) by reporting the issue.

        2. Sadsack*

          If you are telling HR, why not just tell the manager, too. He is the one who has to deal with Anne regularly. Wouldn’t you like to know if you had an Anne on your team? I would think that the way she talks about the manager would make him consider getting rid of her, even if she never goes through with her plans.

      2. Sadsack*

        Also, Anne is really creating a bad atmosphere among her department with all her negative talk, even if she never actually takes any action against her manager. I think the manager would definitely want to be aware of Anne’s stirring up the rest of the team.

    2. Emma*

      Talk like that is still a problem, though. Even if Anne is genuinely just talking with no intent to act, her talk still needs to be addressed and she needs to knock it off. If that’s how you blow off steam do it outside the workplace.

      I really don’t like the idea that talk like this should just be left alone because it’s “just talk.”

  19. Anon This Time*

    I have been on the receiving end of a false claim by an employee. It sucks big time. Despite having multiple witnesses, HR believed the girl who reported me for aggressive behavior. She did it because she didn’t like me telling her to do all of her job, not just the parts she wanted to do. It was completely unwarranted.

    After I moved her to another team (that focused on the parts of her role that she liked and was good at), she reported me for retaliation after she got into a dispute with another colleague that I was forced to mediate due to being the only manager around at the time. Multiple witnesses (plus my boss who arrived later) said I handled the situation appropriately and professionally. The director HR accused me (and them) of lying and screamed and gestured aggressively in my face for an hour, then sent me home for a day and a half. It sucked. I will never go to HR for anything at this company until the director is replaced. The only reason I wasn’t fired is because I have a long track record of ethical behavior and excellent performance. I hate to think about what would have happened if I had been a new employee.

    The girl in question moved on to a new company shortly after this because everyone was scared of her doing the same to them.

    Morale of the story: Say something to your boss.

  20. TootsNYC*

    I think that, were I the OP, I’d so straight to HR first, and not my manager.

    I’m not sure I can articulate why; I think I would want him to not be involved in the initial conversation w/ HR, bcs I wouldn’t want it to look like he was influencing ME. I think I’d have more credibility, and he would as well.

    I might let HR decide whether he needed to be told at all, or at the least I’d let them decide if they want to be the ones to tell him instead of me.

    1. Former Retail Manager*

      Yes….concur fully. Since both OP and Anne report to the same manager, I can see this being a problem. It could create the perception that OP is trying to gain favoritism with the boss my “ratting out” another employee who could easily say “I never said that.” And if the manager acted on that information, poof! The favoritism that Anne says exists now appears to actually exist. In this scenario, Anne could easily turn all of this around and try to make herself out to be the victim if she were so inclined. And I wouldn’t count on any of the other witnesses to her remark to come to anyone’s aid.

      I too would pass it along to HR, maybe request it be documented (maybe it will anyway, I am not an HR aficionado) and leave it up to them to discuss with the manager or not. All of the HR professionals I’ve known likely wouldn’t raise it with the manager because at this point it’s really just gossip that could, and likely will, be denied by Anne.

    2. SystemsLady*

      HR first, I agree. I wouldn’t completely leave out the manager unless HR advises that (maybe they have something already?) or offers to take care of it though.

  21. Nervous Accountant*

    Jesus, if Anne actually does this she’s a horrible POS employee and person.

    I’ll admit in my weakest moments I’ve fantasized about it, but…..NEVER to do it, esp over something like perceived favoritism.

    1. Tangerina Warbleworth*

      We’ve all fantasized about getting a boss canned — but none of us are dumb enough to crow all about it at lunch with our coworkers.

      1. Nervous Accountant*

        Not even a boss because my boss(es) are great, but a fellow cw that I have a hard time tolerating.

        I’m just so outraged for this manager/boss and anyone else who’s been treated like this because of POS people like “Anne”

  22. AnonNurse*

    Please, please speak to HR. I was the victim of a false claim and it is a horrible thing to endure. I know it won’t be easy but it sounds like this person could be a huge problem for a lot of people and it would be better to address it now rather than later. Good luck.

  23. k*

    I would loop in HR and/or your manager, depending on the structure and culture of your office. A lot of the advice I’m seeing in the comments is perfect if it’s a larger company with a formal HR (which is the vibe I get from LW). If it were a more casual setting I would just say something to your manager, more of a casual heads up. That way if something did come up in the future, instead of being blindsided manager could say that they’d heard Anne was talking about causing trouble, and would have you able to confirm. I’ve mostly worked for smaller companies so my approach to these sorts of things tends to be more casual.

  24. Today's OP*

    Thank you all for your help giving me the push I needed! I knew it was wrong, but as I said in my question, I *hoped* that I could avoid being involved.
    Some other issues have come to light since I wrote the email — I found out the other day that one of the employees possibly getting special treatment is a 2nd cousin (or something) of the manager, but boss still doesn’t deserve to get fired.
    I’m feeling a little unsure now because of what people have said about going to HR instead of manager. Thankfully, there’s an additional option. There’s a second manager who handles another section of my department, and she and I have had a good working relationship in the past (before they split the two managers). I’m going to meet with her this afternoon and explain to her what I know and see if she thinks we should involve my manager or go straight to HR.
    She’s a good judge of people, of how to handle situations, and I know she will keep it between us and not go to Anne. (She used to be Anne’s boss and mine, so she’s familiar with Anne being difficult.)

    1. SystemsLady*

      That’s a great idea! It’s awesome that you have somebody like that in the leadership team you can talk to – they’ll know the culture better than any of us.

      (2nd cousin? Yeah, that sounds a lot more like “funny coincidence” than “nepotism”, unless your manager is super involved with their extended family)

    2. AD*

      An employee’s relation to the manager is irrelevant. You heard someone announce they were going to lie about something with the express purpose of getting your manager in trouble.
      You need to talk to someone now – the manager you mentioned and/or HR.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yes. Both, really. I stand by the advice to talk to both. OP, please don’t let yourself get talked out of that. The manager deserves to know what he’s dealing with.

    3. YepYep*

      LOL a second cousin though? I know my second cousins but sure won’t pull them any special favors, that’s for sure O_O

  25. Today's OP*

    OK, another update from me — I talked to the 2nd manager of our area — but first I talked (again) to the co-worker/friend who is the reason I still eat lunch with Anne. We had talked about Anne before, but this time I found out something I hadn’t understood before.
    I feel so dumb.
    Anne already HAS talked to HR about manager #1, that was a couple of months ago, and nothing ever happened. That’s one of the reasons she still complains about manager #1, she thinks HR just doesn’t care that she’s unhappy.
    NOW when she talks about going to HR, it’s about manager #2, the one I met with. (What a mess.) She thinks it’s ALSO manager #2’s fault that certain people get certain privileges (that she claims they haven’t “earned” — um, other than the fact that they work a lot harder than she does??)
    I still met with manager #2 and left names out of it, and left out the fact that it’s someone I eat lunch with. Even then, because I let it slip that this is someone who is a big-time complainer, she knew who I was talking about. She said “you don’t have to tell me the person’s name, but do they sit in (such-and-such area)?” I just nodded.
    I did NOT tell her that the complaints were about her, I figure that can come out later when I hear back from HR.
    Manager #2 suggested that I email a certain person in HR. I have now emailed that person and told her the general situation (but none of the names), asking that she email me or call or we could have a meeting to discuss the specifics. She’s out of the office today but I expect I’ll hear from her tomorrow.
    I’ll comment again if/when I find out anything more.

    1. Purest Green*

      Don’t feel dumb – you had no way of knowing. And you’re taking action now so a thousand kudos to you!

    2. Moonsaults*

      I understand why you feel dumb but please know that these kind of situations, it’s hard to understand everything that’s going on at any given moment. An overly emotional mess like Anne, it’s hard to keep up with them! I’m glad you are talking to everyone so that hopefully at very least there’s a note in her file for if she does try to stir up problems with a manager over a false accusation.

    3. Engineer Girl*

      Don’t feel dumb. Your brain doesn’t work the same as an evil persons brain. You can’t even imagine what they have already planned and implemented.
      You don’t want your brain to work the same as theirs.

    4. Argh!*

      It’s encouraging that people see Anne for what she is. It’s possible that HR is doing something about either her or Manager #1 but they would not let you know.

      I used to work with a snake-in-the-grass who ingratiated himself with management while talking trash about them behind their backs and sowing discord and even encouraging insubordination. I tried to warn my new manager what he was like but he snowed her. When we had lay-offs his pals got the boot, he got my job, and I got transferred to a horrible position I didn’t want.

      If nothing comes of your efforts, at least you tried. If Anne’s lunch buddies support her, you should probably just keep your head down. You could be her next target.

    5. Emma*

      Don’t feel dumb. People like Anne rarely only target one person, and often don’t make it entirely clear who they’re targeting – either because they feel it’s obvious (some people like this are incredibly self-righteous) or because they know it’s a good smokescreen (the less certain you are about who they’re targeting/what they’re doing, the less likely you are to get involved).

      Sounds like other people definitely recognize Anne for what she is, though, which is great.

  26. MsCHX*

    As an HR professional I am always appalled when people voice concerns to HR and nothing happens. Before seeing the update my response was “Go directly to HR! That’s what they’re there for!”

    So sorry OP.

  27. ITChick*

    Please speak up! This happened to one of my coworkers. A couple of other people in our department decided they didn’t like him (because he found major mistakes they had made and they got in trouble) and wanted him gone. They accused him of sexual harassment. Eventually, HR’s investigation uncovered the real motivations and that the accusations were unfounded. But the damage was done. He ended up getting a job somewhere else, and the two people who accused him were fired, but everyone at our company thought he really did it, despite us trying to spread the real story. As it turns out, the whole reason HR realized what was going on was because someone in another department overheard the two people planning to accuse him and what to accuse him of. They didn’t tell anyone, they didn’t come forward until it was basically too late.

  28. today's OP*

    I’ve got a good feeling now about my meeting with one of our HR people tomorrow. She’s been out of office for a few days (according to her out of office message), but apparently is still checking her email. By the end of the day I had an email from her saying that she’ll set up a meeting for us Thursday, and is looking forward to talking with me about this issue.

    And when I talked to manager #2 this afternoon, even though she didn’t know I was talking about her being the possible victim of accusations, had a good point — since (as I understand it) Anne hasn’t gone to HR yet with these newest complaints, by talking to HR before she does, they’ll have it in their records to take what she says with a grain of salt.

    Thank you again for all of your comments and suggestions!

    1. LadyPhoenix*

      That is good.

      You may want to start cutting ties with Anne, either by not attending the lunch meetings or planning other meetings without her. It is obvious she is a toxic coworker, so you are better off staying as far from her as possible.

  29. HeadPEA*

    I really wish there was an update to this one. I’d love to know how it turned out.

Comments are closed.