our coworker lied about having a sick child and a rich fiance

A reader writes:

I’m really curious about what you would have done in this situation.

I’ve worked for a company for a little over 10 years and there is a person, who we will call Lysa, who started soon after me. We worked in a semi-small and close department (20 people or so) and about a year after she started she ran into a streak of bad luck. Her husband asked for a divorce and it was discovered her young daughter had cancer. The children’s hospital was an almost two-hour drive, so she was in the car a lot. She was tired and we, as a department, came together to do what we could to help. People would bring her lunch and coffee and everyone pooled money and bought her a gas card.

Her luck started to improve with her daughter’s health improving, and she met a new boyfriend. She was always gushing about him, showing everyone pictures and having loud phone conversations. It was annoying, but we gave her slack because she had such a hard last few years. It became worse when he proposed because any conversation with her was about her wedding in Italy and how this weekend she was flying to Italy to check on the wedding venue and next weekend was a trip to New York for the dress fitting. (Her fiance was wealthy so he was paying for everything.)

When the wedding day was closing in, a group of coworkers decided to throw a bridal shower at the office and decided to invite her friends and family as well. So one lunch, they headed to her mother’s house. They invited her to the bridal shower and asked if she would invite any of Lysa’s friends. The mother’s response: “What are you talking about? She doesn’t even have a boyfriend…”

She lied … about all of it. Her daughter was never sick. She was never married. She never met the rich man of her dreams, but she told us that. The long phone conversations were her talking to herself, not connected to anything (we checked the phone log). We believe the flowers and gifts she sent to herself.

When she was confronted, she said her mother doesn’t like him and doesn’t acknowledge his existence. It was the same with the daughter’s illness. She pretended it was real but it didn’t fit. She had already told us that her mother had gone with her to Italy to check out the venue and was excited. And during her daughter’s illness, she talked about how her mother was so helpful and supportive. We started catching her in little lies.

We reported it to management. Since it didn’t affect the business, they said there wasn’t anything they could do, but now we have a department with an outcast. The only people who will talk to her are those who like to stir up trouble. Even management doesn’t believe her. When her daughter was in an accident, they asked her to bring in the police report (the difference between taking care of a child or an unexcused absence) when before they would have just believed it. It hasn’t reached an unprofessional level. Even those who won’t even say hello will work with her on work-related items, but it’s curt and cold and they turn their backs when its done.

What is your opinion of what should be done?

Well, it’s not quite right that since it doesn’t affect the business, there’s nothing that your management can do. They may decide they don’t want to do anything, and reasonable people could disagree on whether or not they should do something, but they could if they wanted to.

And if the situation is impacting Lysa’s ability to be effective in her job, then it’s work-related anyway.

My first question, though, is how absolutely sure you are that Lysa lied. It’s one thing to suspect her of lying and another to be sure — and when you’re accusing someone of lying about a child with cancer, you really, really don’t want to get it wrong. It sounds like you do have enough info to be confident, but it’s worth taking a hard look at that. (For example, if you’re just going on her mother’s word, it’s possible that her mother is troubled or otherwise not giving you correct info. You shouldn’t necessarily believe the mom over the coworker, unless you have other reasons to consider the coworker not credible.)

If you’re not 100% sure, I’d put this in the “wow, that seems really suspicious, and I’m taking everything she says with a large grain of salt” category. That’s different than the “my coworker is a horrible person and I will shun her” category. It’s more like the “I’m giving her a wide berth and not going out of my way to help if she reports future crises” category.

But if you are sure, then it wouldn’t be unreasonable for Lysa’s manager to intervene. What that would look like could vary, and probably should come down to the type of role that Lysa has, how much she needs to interact with colleagues to get her work done, and what the impact has been on the office as a whole. If she can go on being perfectly effective in her job while having people dislike her, the appropriate consequence might simply be A Serious and Unpleasant Conversation (“your coworkers are upset because they sacrificed their own time and money to help you out when they thought you were in need — what is your plan for repairing those relationships?”). But there are other contexts where you could reasonably argue that it would be too disruptive to keep her around (again, assuming there’s no chance you’re wrong about what happened).

Whatever the resolution, it’s worth noting that while what Lysa did was very wrong, it’s also something that happy, healthy people don’t do. So something’s going on with her — mental illness, deep insecurity, or something else — and keeping that in mind might help if you do have to keep working with her.

{ 481 comments… read them below }

  1. Green Tea Pot*

    If Lisa lied, she is very ill.

    If your company has a Employee Assistance Ptogram, Lisa needs it.

    1. caryatis*

      Probably…but an EAP would only help if she recognizes what she did was wrong. I wonder how long it’ll take her to figure out they know.

    2. Caleb*

      Love this site to pieces. One thing I love is that I don’t see a lot of comments that diagnose people with mental illness over the internet, or conflate mental illness with moral failing.

      Can it stay that way please? :D

      1. hayling*

        Eh, I think it’s fair to say that something is *very* wrong with someone who pulls a stunt like this. Nobody is giving her an armchair diagnosis, but this is not normal behavior.

        1. Dizzy Steinway*

          It’s okay to say it was wrong. It doesn’t mean she’s unwell; none of us can know that.

          1. LadyCop*

            We can’t “know,” but it seems overwhelmingly likely she is mentally ill. No over is jumping to specific diagnosis because that we don’t know enough…but to suggest she just simply made a mistake morally, is ignoring the problem.

            As someone with PTSD, I’m all for destigmitizing mental illness…but pretending it isn’t happening helps no one. In fact, I’m far more likely to be forgiving to this woman’s behavior if she had a diagnosis…although I would 100% not trust her regardless.

      2. Marvel*

        There are many, many behaviors that aren’t necessarily symptomatic of mental illness, yet frequently people suggest mental illness as if it explains everything. That’s a legitimate beef and I get you on that. But I think compulsive lying, particularly on this scale, is one of the few behaviors that is almost always symptomatic of SOMETHING–much like, say, attempting suicide or causing injury to yourself. Healthy people don’t do it. Even when someone does it for attention, that need for attention in itself is pathological.

        I say this as a former compulsive liar (in my teens, thankfully, where the consequences were less severe and the recovery process easier). I’m not an expert on the phenomenon, but I don’t think it’s something people do unless they have serious problems.

        But frankly, I don’t think it changes anything, either way. A mental illness may serve as a reason for doing something harmful, but it doesn’t excuse it–the thing is still harmful to others and that’s not okay.

        1. Julia*

          And even if Lisa was not diagnosable with any mental illness, she may still benefit very much from talking to a professional about the reasons she made up those stories.

    3. Naomi*

      I’ve never worked anywhere large enough to have EAP, but isn’t using EAP voluntary? It’s not clear that Lysa recognizes or will admit that she has a problem.

      1. Beaded Librarian*

        Nope, depending on the company and how their employee manual and EAP are set up they can require you to use the EAP for specific problems that are directly work related. In this case I’m not sure that it specifically fits that criteria but I know that they can do that.

    4. OP*

      She’d have to admit she had a problem and she’s very adamant that she doesn’t. She maintains every lie is the truth even when it contradicts another thing she said.

      1. Anon for this*

        You can’t really do anything if she does not admit there is a problem. My mother is a compulsive liar, and the best course of action is as little personal interaction as possible, especially on the topics you suspect she is lying about. Business only. Maybe chit chat about neutral topics, like the weather, or TV shows, just to keep things cordial. No one should buy into the personal drama, or waste any more of their valuable time and energy trying to prove or disprove things that she says. You cannot do anything to alter other people’s treatment of her, either, so about the best you can so is lead by example, in whatever way makes sense for you to interact with her. Good luck.

      2. Ria Granda*

        Maybe she’s just a bad person? We have just as much evidence for that as we do for some mental health issue.

    1. Alli525*

      Tell your phone it’s very behind the times and it has until July to catch up on GoT ;)

  2. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

    At this point, I’m not sure what she can do besides apologizing to the entire department, repaying, in full, the amount of the gas card and food she was gifted, and gracefully moving to a new job. Because I know I’d never trust her, be friendly with her, or speak to her outside the bare minimum required for work, ever again, and my guess is she’s poisoned the well so thoroughly that there’s nothing for it but to start over somewhere else.

    1. MWKate*

      Agreed. I could not trust or be friendly to someone that had lied like this. It sounds like her coworkers really cared about her, and the troubles she was going through – and for that all to be a manipulation would be really, really difficult to get over. I don’t think it’s possible to repair her relationships with people here, and eventually that is going to have a bigger and bigger impact on the workplace. I think it likely is now.

      That being said – I would try to feel some compassion for her since this is certainly a sign of mental illness or some other kind of issue. This is a woman that needs professional help.

    2. LawCat*

      Assuming Lysa is the pathological liar, I agree with you. The only way to protect yourself from such people is to keep your distance. If you must interact with the person then curt and cold and turn your back when no more interaction is required seems the best response. I certainly wouldn’t want to work with such a person. How soon before she started making up lies about me if it suited her next scam? (Having had experience with this kind of person, I might be looking for my own exit just to avoid dealing with her since 100% cut off was the only thing effective in the experience I’ve had.)

      Of course, we don’t really know if Lysa is the pathological liar or mom is.

      Regardless, this is definitely effecting the business in terms of morale and I am surprised management is so dismissive of handling it.

      1. Perse's Mom*

        Given the details in the letter (1. Lysa wasn’t talking to her fiance on the phone, she was talking to herself 2. Lysa said her mother had gone with her to Italy and was excited for the wedding, changing the story when confronted), it certainly looks like Lysa is the one with the problem.

      2. Abby*

        I used to work with a pathological liar who lied about everything. Once I figured it out, it was very disconcerting because you then had to throw away everything that you had thought about that person and what that person had told you. That is not our natural response but the person I worked with would lie to you about the color of the shirt he wore yesterday even if you have a dated photo of him wearing a green one.

        And the problem with someone like this is that they will never admit to telling a lie but will convincingly explain why you are wrong.

        1. The Southern Gothic*

          +1000 for grasping that concept. Totally sounds like what Lysa may be doing here.

    3. Anon for this*

      Yes, paying back the money spent to make her life better would go a long way toward repairing the relationship.

      Speaking as a recovering alcoholic with decades of sobriety, making those amends for all the people you hurt and all the damage you did while drinking really helps, especially if you are sincere and make zero excuses for your behavior. You can sometimes repair lifelong hurts in a few moments. That combined with a longer history of good behavior and integrity are really the only things Lysa can do.

      Assuming she understands the ramifications of her actions and is willing to make things right. But that’s a big ‘IF’. Many people don’t get there emotionally, and some are mentally ill and cannot. :(

      1. Annonymouse*

        It’s less the hurt is repaired, more “I’m willing to give you a chance to move forward and have a relationship with you.”

        For that to happen they need to think, believe or feel the following:
        1) that you know what you did
        2) that you understand WHY it was such a Schmitty/hurtful thing
        3) that you take responsibility for it – no excuses or “but only because…”
        4) that you are sorry for what happened. Not “I’m sorry you feel/felt that way.”
        5) that you want to make amends for the sake of the relationship not what you can gain.

        Lysa (lot) hasn’t even reached step one yet.

    4. Clever Name*

      This is my thought as well. Lysa repeatedly told huge lies. If she lies about things like being married, why should I trust her when she says, “Yes, I’ll have that to you by 5”? I don’t know that I would be able to work with her at all, unfortunately.

      1. Epsilon Delta*

        Yeah, that’s the thing. They were BIG lies, and there were a LOT of them. She *manufactured evidence* of a boyfriend who doesn’t exist and a wedding that isn’t happening. Repeatedly, and frequently. No one can trust her on anything.

    5. ZenJen*

      Yeah, her credibility at that job is gone, and I don’t see how it’s salvageable. If she was my coworker, I would have lost respect and trust for her too.

    6. Kathleen Adams*

      There are known mental illnesses that involve faking cancer yourself or for a loved one: factitious disorder, Munchausen syndrome, Munchausen syndrome by proxy…

      But aside from the fact that we don’t do diagnoses here, except maybe diagnosing a bad question to ask an interviewer ;-), Lysa doesn’t really fit any of these. I am sure there is something wrong with her, but what is mostly wrong, I’d say, is that she is a liar and she went way, way, way out of her way to garner attention on herself. And no, I’d never trust her either.

      1. Jenny*

        Yes – Munchausen by proxy was the first thing I thought of, along with histrionic personality disorder. Obviously a group of strangers can’t (and shouldn’t) diagnose another stranger over the Internet. But there are definitely some classic hallmarks of both of those disorders being described here, I think.

        1. Kathleen Adams*

          The sick child fits in with Muchausen by proxy, but the rich fiance, the long and audible conversations with said fiance and the wedding in Italy do not.

          I’m just going to stick with “She’s messed up.” :-)

    7. JessaB*

      This, there needs to be a repayment of any money given her for a lie. If her child was NOT sick, then she did not need that money nor the extra support the staff gave her. Also if the company is larger (OP says 20 person department, not company,) is she taking or did she try to take FMLA for caring for her child, if so then the company needs to go over the documentation she gave them and make sure it’s not also a lie. THAT would be a company thing.

    8. Ruffingit*

      Yeah, I think this is right. There’s no way to ever repair these relationships, even if she paid back all the money/food given to her because it’s not about the tangible cost, but rather that someone would lie to this extent. It just reflects very, very badly on them and I can’t imagine Lysa finds it a comfortable atmosphere to work in. Time to move on. For everyone.

  3. Cleopatra Jones*

    What about the fact that the co-worker’s checked her phone records? Um, that’s inappropriate as heck. Even if she is lying, no one needs to ‘verify’ her lies. Just ignore her, especially if they have nothing to do with work.

    1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

      Inappropriate, but in context, not sure I blame them.

      1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

        And, it bears mention, if she was spending hours talking to herself on the phone, that’s time theft.

          1. designbot*

            From the letter it sounds like they were not really okay with it, but they rolled their eyes and went along because they felt she deserved a bit of slack after everything she’d gone through with the kid.

            1. JB (not in Houston)*

              I could be wrong, I think Bolt was addressing one way that your comment could be read. I read your comment as saying it was phone theft if she was talking to herself on the phone, but that you didn’t see it that way if she was talking to her fiance. You comment could be read either way, and that may be how Bolt read it.

        1. Gen*

          There used to be a scam in this country in the 80s where staff would pretend to call their wives but actually call their own premium rate phone number to get money out of their employer. So if Lysa was seriously pretending to be on the phone with an imaginary person a lot, it seems reasonable to check whether they were actually dailing out at all. Though it should have been management doing it.

          1. Detective Amy Santiago*

            At OldJob, people used to call the movie theaters and listen to the movie times to get their Talk Time up.

            1. Stranger than fiction*

              Here the reps sometimes get their phone time up by calling various canle companies and other places where there’s a long hold time. Somthat gets investigated sometimes

              1. Ellie*

                At my old job we had a daily call minimum that was really outdated. It was established in the 70s before salespeople had computers/email/more competitors, etc. Everyone had at least one or two numbers they’d call to pad their number, such as a client with a long phone tree, etc. It was made clear that an occasional personal call was perfectly fine and reasonable, such as calling the bank or a doctor. I was way too scared to push the envelope and make too many fake calls as the director was a bit of a loose cannon. Sure enough she audited the records and it was a pretty major shakeup. One guy was let go because he called at least two IRS offices in different cities every single day (obviously never actually speaking with anyone – LOL!). One guy called the movie theater way more than necessary. Yet another guy was called in for discussion regarding his calls but it turned out his grandmother was ill so they let him slide.

                A woman who was fired in the shakeup actually sued the company and it resulted in some changes, such as enforcing work hours. Not enough changes though as it was a union job and therefore too many changes would change the whole job description and require many votes, etc.

        2. Elsajeni*

          But not more so than if she actually had been spending hours talking to her fiance, wedding vendors, etc. on the phone, so I don’t know that it’s really worth raising that — the lying isn’t the source of the problem there.

      2. Gadget Hackwrench*

        Checking the records isn’t the part that seems sketchy to me… the part where whomever checked the records shared it with their co-workers instead of management does. Presumably they had to tap an IT minion to get access to this kind of thing… now I won’t say that we don’t look into this stuff on our own sometimes out of prurient curiosity when something THIS BIG goes down… but it DOES. NOT. LEAVE. THE. CAVE. IT is the Praetorian Guard of a company. They must be trustworthy. We have access to EVERYTHING. We could destroy an organization in a few keystrokes. If in the throes of curiosity a minion should discover ANYTHING they feel they cannot keep secret, then it must be shared only with the MANAGER of IT, who can determine if it bears repeating and being handled, or if the minion in question needs a slap on the wrist for meddling. Otherwise IT are a black hole of information. It goes in, but it does not come out. Ever.

        1. bloo*

          If you read down further in comments, the OP has responded to this. Our home has a similar phone system. Just pick up the handset and you can look at who’s been called and for how long. No need for bugging IT or requesting the company’s phone records.

          A lot of comments would not be posted if everyone would scroll down for the OP’S numerous comments with further clarifying info.

          As a side note, I’ve noticed several requests by Alison not to get side tracked or derailed as this is hurtful to the current OP and discourages future questions to Ask A Manager.

        2. OP*

          IT was never involved. Phone records are on the phone itself and commonly used and accessed by all for time management purposes. It’s not some big secret because the person next to you may need to know how long you were in a call to x customer or y vendor. Our office has an open floor plan so when that person checked the records there were 4–6 people nearby. It was taken to management when it was realized the number called was her own cell number which was in her pocket/purse/desk at the time of the calls.

    2. Not Karen*

      It’s not clear to me whether she was using the company’s landline. If an employee is seemingly overusing the company’s landline, I can understand checking the log for how much time they’ve spent on the line.

      1. Lance*

        I’d have to assume it was a landline at work, or maybe a company-given cell phone; otherwise, there’s no way they should be able to check the records.

        1. AndersonDarling*

          Our landlines are connected to our PCs and all calls are recorded- not the content, just that a call was made. If the organization is tied to a call center, sales center, or another business that monitors length and frequency of calls, then the records are probably easily accessible for reporting purposes.
          It’s still odd, but it wouldn’t be devious to see the call log.

    3. Temperance*

      I would agree with you but for the fact that she bilked them out of money with her lies, and it sounds like she might have also been able to shift her schedule or work less when she claimed that her kid had cancer. That’s low.

      1. Isben Takes Tea*

        Well, she didn’t “bilk” them directly. Obviously, if she was lying, she should have come clean at that point and returned the money. But she didn’t ASK for the money. (This isn’t meant to justify her actions in any way, I just want to make sure we don’t ascribe malicious intent.)

        1. Temperance*

          I would agree with you if she only accepted special treatment and/or funds on a single occasion, but it sounds like she kept it up, which is where I would argue that the malicious intent comes in.

        2. MK*

          I think malicious intent came into play when she accepted not only preferential treatment, but also the equivelant of money to relieve a fake distress. Perhaps she didn’t start all these with the intent to gain, but at some point this isn’t relevant anymore.

        3. The Not Mad But Sometimes Irritable Scientist*

          I think there’s plenty of malicious intent in accepting gas money and meals on the basis of a lie. That’s kinda….fraud.

    4. Valerie*

      It’s inappropriate to check phone records if all you’re doing is snooping about. If you’re trying to confirm the horrifying evidence from Lysa’s mother…I would have started digging, too.

    5. MK*

      I disagree. I am assuming that “checked her phone records” means “checked the records of the office landline she has been using”, not gaining illegal access to her personal phone records. When you have valid reasons to suspect a coworker of deceiving the whole workplace for a number of years, it’s perfectly reasonable to investigate in a non-intrusive manner, if you can. I would say it’s inappropriate to follow her home to see if she has a fiance, or question her daughter, or check her cell when she is in the restroom, but to check the office phone records is not, under these circustances.

      1. Cleopatra Jones*

        I would only agree if management checked her phone records. If it’s the co-worker’s checking, IMO that inappropriate. And if management checked her records only to find out she lied, why are the co-workers’ privy to that info? Management needs to deal with Lysa firmly and swiftly, not let the co-workers’ get embroiled in trying to find proof that she’s a liar.

        1. MK*

          That’s a seperate issue of bad management; in this case, they are washing their hands of the whole affair, so I can’t blame the coworkers for doing some digging for themselves.

          Look, maybe the approach that some commenters are suggesting (cool the work friendship down towards Lysa, but let bygones be bygones because you can’t really know what happened) is the right choise. But I think it’s not very reallistic to expect her coworkers to be this chill about having been lied to and taken advantage of for years. If management won’t take action, individuals will, and I for one can’t blame them.

          1. fposte*

            I understand the impulse, as a snooper myself, and a lot of the internet involves people who love piecing people’s life claims together.

            And as a manager I think I’d tell them to knock it the hell off, ASAP, I mean it. Unless they want their phone logs, computer records, vital records, etc. that people are talking about examining to be shared with their workplace as well, because that’s just not an appropriate way to scrutinize your colleagues.

            1. MK*

              Yeah, don’t bet on a positive response to this. If management isn’t taking any action (and/or isn’t seen to be doing so), people will feel very resentfull that you are basically asking them to cover up something that is a serious issue to them. And there are plenty of people who would say “Go ahead, “I” have nothing to hide” to such a threat.

              1. fposte*

                I’m okay with not getting a positive response to everything. I know that people get locked into their sleuthing missions–look at something like GOMI for an example of that craziness–and are hard to divert, but divert at work they must.

                That wouldn’t be my only action as a manager in this situation, and I’d need to know more before I had an idea of what exactly I would do with Lysa and what I would tell her co-workers. But there’s considerable risk of the co-workers being an office problem in their own right, and I’d need to manage that too.

        2. Observer*

          In this case, I disagree. The co-workers were confronted with a serious issue. On the one hand, if her mother is telling the truth, they have good reason to never trust her again. On the other, these are very significant accusations, and you really don’t want to believe them without some better proof than her mother’s say so, since it is possible that her mother has her own set of issues.

          And management is not being sensible here.

      2. Anon-Anon*

        I have some experience with this as I know someone who claimed to have cancer herself, but eventually the lies she told eventually didn’t hold water.

        The one thing that doesn’t sit right with this story is the co-workers going to the mother’s home. For Lysa’s lies to work, there needs to be distance between her home and family life. I’m struggling with the detail that the co-workers would know her mother, or where her mother lived. Someone who tells such grandiose stories would be careful not to provide access to a person who could or would refute their stories. In fact, they concoct other larger lies to prevent access to those people. If find it hard to believe that someone like that would give that information out. So where did the employees get the mother’s contact information?

        1. Elizabeth H.*

          This seemed really weird to me. In this day and age it’s uncommon to stop by someone’s house to ask them a question, especially someone you don’t know well, why do they even know where her mother lives?

        2. Chickaletta*

          Agreed, this part of the story is weird. Perhaps the OP has an explanation why coworkers would know the mom’s address and physically visit the house to bring up the subject of a bridal shower. Seems like something you would go through the coworker to have her family invited, or, even if you want to talk to the mom directly, do it via phone or email.

          The whole story is full of people trying to come up with excuses to get out of the office. Is the office building haunted? Does it smell like cheese? Is there a particularly foul shade of green paint on the walls?

        3. OP*

          The mother works with the husband of another co-worker in our office. He had been to her house in the past for their work related stuff and our co-worker knew where she lived because of that.

          1. Flight232*

            I don’t know what to think about this possibly-lying coworker, but the fact that people are doubting the OP’s account and wondering if s/he’s lying is awfully ironic! If I were the OP, I would take that and wonder if it’s possible that I could also be doubting someone’s story because I don’t have all the facts. I’d bet that the coworkers are only too pleased that her story might not be true, since she’s apparently bragging about her rich fiancé and her trips to New York and Italy.

            Not to mean I don’t think it’s possible she’s lying – I knew a girl in grade 9 who was always telling stories about her “boyfriend,” but she kept contradicting herself and eventually it became obvious she was lying. I thought most people outgrew that kind of lying by adulthood, but if they haven’t they’ve obviously got problems and anyone who’d make up stuff like that must be really unhappy with their life as it is.

    6. Stranger than fiction*

      Well I’m pretty sure they meant her work line and that was probably to try and verify if what the mom said was true

    7. JessaB*

      How does spending a tonne of time on a phone (which was not actual time spent,) not impact how much work she does?

    8. OP*

      Our department phones are considered open property (not sure what the correct term is) and everyone has access. To check records, you push a button and a list of numbers and the times you were on the call appears. Our phone logs are available for time management purposes so it wasn’t anything sneaky or shady we did. It is information available to all, just not something we normally check on unless we are having an issue with time managment.

    9. Jess*

      Not necessarily. At my first job out of school I was the office manager of a small department at a gigantic organization. One of my monthly tasks was to run a report for everyone’s phones so I could change any calls related to special projects from the default billing code to the project’s billing code. If LW’s office is like mine, it might well be someone’s assigned job to pull up Lysa’s phone records semi-regularly and it wouldn’t be difficult or improper to look them over and notice her real calls didn’t line up with what she was pretending to do.

      1. OP*

        This happens sometimes when productivity is down or if we are dealing with the same clients. If someone isn’t at their desk it’s common to check their phone records to see if they have called a client recently and how long they were on the phone with them. We can use the work phone for private calls and many do but we are told when we first start that the information is public. It’s the same with email though usually people who handle the same accounts usually only have access to each other’s email.

        1. Jess*

          I never cared about personal calls either, I was just in there to change the numbers in the billing codes. But in a situation like yours, I’d have paid attention and for sure noticed something was up.

  4. Mike C.*

    Whatever the resolution, it’s worth noting that while what Lysa did was very wrong, it’s also something that happy, healthy people don’t do. So something’s going on with her — mental illness, deep insecurity, or something else — and keeping that in mind might help if you do have to keep working with her.

    I really have to agree with this. Yeah, there’s a lot going on here and it may mean that she needs to be let go, but it’s really easy to turn this into a superficial witch hunt.

    1. Mike C.*

      On the other hand, I dated someone like this in the past and I completely understand the absolute lack of trust that comes from finding out someone is a compulsive liar. It stops mattering that some parts of the story are true because it becomes so exhausting to have to vet every little thing that is said instead of having some basic level of trust that is extended to folks (we thought) we knew well.

      1. Dan*

        BTDT, and bought the T-shirt. My ex brother in law told me the trick to sanity with that family is to believe none of what you hear and only half of what you see. My ex got pretty good at telling you what you wanted to hear so she could get what she wanted *right now*.

      2. LabHeather*

        Agreed. I had a friendly who was a compulsive liar and would lie about everything, from the most mundane to the most ludicrous. At some point, I just did not have any more affection left in me for her, no matter how I tried (my partner is still friends with her, so I made an effort to keep things amiable, but eventually I just had to cut the ties).

        Yes, if this was all a set of lies this woman is ill and needs help, but that does not mean there are no consequences for such actions.

        1. SimonTheGreyWarden*

          A good friend of mine was like this; we were in high school. Except they weren’t really lies; they weren’t true, but she 100% believed them. She would talk about trips she and I had gone on that I knew had never happened. She would talk about the boys who flirted with her and who talked to her every day, when I sat next to her in almost every class and knew it was not real. We were 16 so I didn’t really know what was “wrong” with her, but I knew she could not control it and to her, it was reality. It was almost like living in an alternate world. it does a number on you even when you KNOW what was real, to have someone steadfastly and earnestly KNOW something else to have been true.

        2. Anon for this*


          While she needs help, OP and coworkers need to not have this kind of behavior happening around them. No amount of sympathy makes it alright.

          My grandmother was like this (cluster B personality disorder). She usually lied about harmless things, but she went through a phase of claiming to be another race, and on at least two occasions she claimed people close to her had committed crimes.

          Maybe OP’s coworker won’t ever escalate to lying to harm other people, but she’s already lied for money. Be careful around her.

      3. Important Moi*


        I will not feel guilty for not trusting someone who exhausts me by having me “vet every little thing that is said instead of having some basic level of trust that is extended to folks (we thought) we knew well.”

      4. AMG*

        Admittedly, I am nosy. I can see anyone though, nosy or not, wanting to get the tory for their own sanity and peace of mind. She sucked them into her crazy–that makes a reasonable person do odd things.

      5. Manders*

        Yeah, I’ve been in a similar situation with a former friend. Fortunately, we never dated (although I found out, years later, that she had been telling people we were dating and I was deeply in love with her). The moment when you realize that a thing you thought you knew for sure about a friend’s life was a lie is just so disorienting, it throws everything else you know about that person into question.

        In these circumstances, I’m inclined to forgive the coworkers checking the work phone records, even if it’s a bit iffy. When someone pointed out the first obvious lie my friend had told me, I went looking for some sort of verifiable proof that she’d been telling the truth, because it was just so hard to believe that someone I’d supported and trusted was lying through her teeth. I didn’t have access to her phone records or anything like that, but I did a lot of checking with people who knew her, and that’s when I realized that pretty much every sob story she’d ever told me was suspicious.

      6. Kate*

        I had a boss that was let go during his probation period (near the end of the 6 months) at least partially due to the fact that he was a compulsive liar and management couldn’t trust him. He’d just make up all kinds of improbable stuff about his personal life that didn’t ever quite add up. Eventually he was telling a story about a remote area he had travelled to that a member of senior management had actually lived in for a few years, and he got all tripped up in his story because what he was saying wasn’t acutally possible (e.g. “I got there by train” when there are no trains because geographic obstacles make air travel 10x more convenient) and the decided if the couldn’t trust his personal anecdotes where there was no risk, they also couldn’t trust his reporting where there would be quite a lot of business risk.

          1. vanBOOM*

            Kate’s story does somewhat remind me of the first chunk of the movie Cracks, starring Eva Green. I recommend it, if you don’t mind that it’s about a boarding school for girls. :)

      7. Electric Hedgehog*

        I’ve been that person. It starts so easily – lying about little things, just to see if you can get away with it. Well, it turns out people are pretty trusting and believe most of what you tell them. The lies get bigger, more involved, and more frequent.

        In my case, I stopped because my then-fiancé told me that he just couldn’t trust what I told him, and that if I was serious about getting married I needed to cut out the lies so that we could have a healthy and open relationship. So I did. To my knowledge, I never actually harmed another party, other than once getting a cake out of some friends when I told them that it was my birthday when it wasn’t. I felt terrible and paid for the cake and we all ate it together, so it could have been worse. I guess the difference must be that some people wouldn’t have felt bad and made amends, and wouldn’t have changed when called out.

        Point is, it’s not necessarily a behavior that can’t be changed, if you don’t have too much invested in the lies and if you have motivation to stop. This coworker doesn’t seem to fit either criteria.

        1. Kate*

          So interesting to hear from the other side of it. What made you want to tell bigger lies? Was it still wondering if you could get away with it? Or the attention? Or something else?
          Either way, good for you for being able to change your behavior. I think many people would just double down on the lies and get defensive.

        2. m00nstar*

          My brother is like this, but nothing seems to have helped him.

          My dad says to call him out on it, but with me he just doubles down on his lies. His ex-GF once asked me why he did it and if he did it to everyone… I was truthful and the answer was yes. They broke up 6 months later, but I think his lies were a big part of it.

          I am so interested in your experience and how it stopped. Thanks for sharing

      8. Zillah*

        Ditto. I dated someone who was a compulsive liar for more than three years and lived with him for about two. We broke up almost a year ago and I still have a very hard time trusting people to 1) tell the truth and 2) be considerate, because he pretty much screwed me over. (Ugh.)

        1. SheLooksFamiliar*

          Same here. My ex cheated on me for years, and lied about it and so many things. Big, deal breaker issues to silly, simple things, he lied easily and repeatedly. Often, the truth was less damning but I’m not sure he *could* tell the truth.

          I’m single now in part because I couldn’t trust anyone I dated after him. These were nice men, a couple were maybe a little glib, but none of them were anything like my ex (a deliberate choice on my part). Yet I could not stop wondering when they’d try to gaslight me. It was my issue not theirs, definitely wasn’t fair to them, and I didn’t want companionship enough to stick around and risk getting screwed over. So I gave up.

          Sorry you were in such a bad situation, but glad you’re out of it, Zillah.

      9. SadieMae*

        Yes, it poisons the relationship on every level. I once had an acquaintance just like this. Imaginary illnesses, imaginary crises. A new drama every month or two at least. She did a GoFundMe for a crisis with her “brother,” only to have it come out that he wasn’t her brother at all (she explained, plaintively, that this was a dear friend she *thought* of as a brother, and who were we to say she couldn’t call him that?) Turned out it was someone she knew only tangentially – and likely none of the money raised was going to his needs.

        She also made up a sob story that her husband had locked her out of the house for no reason and wouldn’t let her get her stuff; it turned out he’d taken out a restraining order against her because she had beaten him up, and she could come get her things if she made arrangements with the sheriff’s department. But she didn’t really want her things; she wanted money, and she wanted sympathy.

        I would also fire Lysa. No way she’ll be able to work well with her colleagues again after all this. And maybe she’ll get some help if she loses enough in her career, friendships, pocketbook, etc. Sometimes for someone with these issues, they need to hit bottom, where no one is enabling them, before they realize this is no way to live. Sadly, many of them just move elsewhere, get a new job, and make new friends to exploit, but…it’s worth a try.

    2. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

      I don’t get the impression anybody’s turning this into a witch hunt.

        1. Loose Seal*

          I think neverjaunty may have read your comment as though you mean a witch hunt is already in progress rather than your cautioning the OP about starting one. That’s how I read your comment at first.

    3. MegaMoose, Esq*

      Yeah, I also agree – if all these lies are true, this sounds like a really sad person with a really sad life. That doesn’t mean the people in their life aren’t justified in being hurt and protecting themselves from further manipulation, but dang…

    4. Jesmlet*

      Yeah she essentially catfished an entire office – healthy people don’t do things like that. At the same point, I think you can feel sympathy for her and want to help while also acknowledging that salvaging her work relationships will be very tough. If it’s possible, transferring her into another department would be ideal IMO because it’s hard to separate trust of a person as a whole from trust of a person in a specific context. They don’t trust her so that inevitably pervades the work environment.

  5. Detective Amy Santiago*

    I would find it very difficult to work with someone who took advantage of my emotional and financial support. The cynical part of me wants to know if you’re even confident she *has* a daughter if she lied about having a husband and a fiance.

  6. AdAgencyChick*

    Somebody is messed up here — Lysa or her mother — and either way, it DOES affect the business.

    If Lysa is a liar, she has now gotten special treatment, including money and gifts from her colleagues and adjustments made to her schedule for a nonexistent issue. Not to mention that someone who is willing to make up a story like that to get those things, is not someone I’d want to trust with sensitive business information. That most definitely affects the business.

    If Lysa’s mother is a liar, then you have a whole workplace of people who believe that someone who’s been going through a difficult situation is untrustworthy and shouldn’t be part of the team any longer. And that affects the business too!

    I agree with everything Alison said Lysa’s manager SHOULD be doing.

    1. kbeers0su*

      Agreed. OP said she was in the car a lot driving her *sick child* to appointments. I would bet that some, if not all, of those overlapped with general business hours. And I would also bet that she received a lot of flexibility with her performance based on folks believing she was tired from parenting a sick child and managing a divorce. I wonder how much her coworkers also assisted her in getting her work done- covering for her, not requiring her to fully share projects, etc. Obviously some of this depends on the context of the work environment (they may all have individual projects), but it would be really surprising to me if there was NO impact on others’ work.

      1. MuseumChick*

        I wonder if the divorce and sick child were true, but everything else was fantasy she created as a response to the stress. It doesn’t make it right, but would explain such a bizarre thing as talking to yourself on the phone for hours.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        This right here is why I think she should be fired. She chewed up company resources, abused good will from her cohorts and her company and she can’t be trusted. Jobs are a position of trust. You have to be able to trust people who work with you or for you.

    2. Dan*

      My money is on Lysa. Why? First things first, the co-workers know who Lysa’s mother is and where she lives. That’s not a normal thing to know, meaning Lysa would have had to divulge that information. Now, if I were sane, and my mother was nutty, there would be no way in hell that I would let my mother near them. Or I would, but preface it with “Mom has an alternate view of the world.”

      What’s also surprising is that OP doesn’t even mention seeing pictures of Lysa’s kid on her desk (every parent has pictures of their kid on their desk, right?) That wouldn’t necessarily be proof that Lysa had a kid, but the (presumed) lack of pictures is telling.

      Plus, Lysa’s stories are pretty good. A fiance that flies you to NYC for a dress fitting, and Paris to check out the wedding stuff? It’s not totally farfetched, but if someone’s credibility is in question, that story isn’t going to do them any favors.

      1. strawberries and raspberries*

        What’s also surprising is that OP doesn’t even mention seeing pictures of Lysa’s kid on her desk (every parent has pictures of their kid on their desk, right?)


        1. Clever Name*

          I’m a parent, and I don’t have my son’s picture on my desk. Although, I do have 2 small (and *adorable*) sculptures he made at school on my des,

        2. That Would Be a Good Band Name*

          Yeah, no pics of my kids either. I’m just not a picture person. Don’t really like to take them or be in them.

      2. an anon is an anon*

        I don’t think it’s fair to assume Lysa divulged the information since one of the coworkers could have easily found it. I’ve worked places where people looked up addresses of family members to send cards/flowers/invites, so I don’t necessarily think it’s right to assume Lysa divulged that info. It’s pretty easy to find that info on your own in this day and age.

        But I do think the coworkers going to Lysa’s mother’s house to invite her to Lysa’s work bridal shower is kind of suspicious and overstepping boundaries to me, and this all happened before they found out about Lysa apparent lies. Something about that seems off to me on the coworkers part. Why would you invite Lysa’s friends and family to a WORK shower? Wouldn’t you assume they’d have a private one, like most people do? Why did they go as a group to Lysa’s mother’s house to ask her instead of calling or emailing?

        That whole paragraph actually made me raise my eyebrows because out of context it seems unusually forward for coworkers to act on behalf of another coworker.

        1. JMegan*

          That seemed odd to me too. And like some of the others, I’m not clear on who was checking the phone records, whether or not that was someone with the authority to do so. I agree that some form of mental illness is probably at play when it comes to Lysa and/or her mother, but the whole workplace sounds like it has some…unusual…ideas about workplace boundaries.

        2. Katherine*

          Agreed, that seems so, so weird! It makes me think they already had a hunch about Lysa.

        3. Cleopatra Jones*

          See that’s where I’m stuck. I think the co-workers’ engaged in some not so good behavior as well. I’m not excusing Lysa’s ‘lies but’… they showed up at her mother’s house and checked her phone logs? That’s not appropriate work behavior.

          And how on Earth does anyone know that she was talking to herself? How can anyone remember the times she was on the phone talking to her fiance and cross reference that to the phone logs? I can barely remember what color shirt my co-worker has on today without looking at it.

          And if the call logs show that she was calling her own phone, maybe just maybe, someone had her phone and she was calling it.

          1. Kindling*

            A lot of the behaviour does seem weird, but I think the phone thing is explainable. If it was a recurring performance issue, a manager have been documenting it for disciplinary reasons. What that doesn’t explain is why the employees had access to that documentation- but the workplace does seem a bit dysfunctional in various ways, so I wonder if an unscrupulous manager pulled out their documentation when someone mentioned wanting to check the phone records.

          2. That Would Be a Good Band Name*

            I’d guess they could remember her being on the phone for long stretches of time, but the call logs didn’t show anything of that length.

        4. NewBoss2016*

          I thought that was a little strange as well. I work in a super tight-knit office, and everyone here actually knows my mother pretty well due to our businesses overlapping sometimes. I would still be pretty floored if they went to visit her at her home to discuss a shower, or anything else for that matter. The only time we have ever had non-employees attend a work shower, it was the spouse/partner of an expecting parent. I’m not saying it is weird to have others attend a shower by any means, just haven’t seen it anywhere I have worked.

        5. Elizabeth H.*

          To me it sounds like a workplace where people being really involved in each other’s business is normal and like it’s not super drama averse. The whole situation makes more sense to me in this context.

        6. Rebecca in Dallas*

          We’ve invited fiances to bridal showers and spouses to baby showers before. We actually surprised one girl by inviting her fiance to her work shower, but we contacted him through Facebook (one coworker was friends with the bride on FB so was able to message him that way). Nobody showed up at his house, that would have been weird.

        7. PR*

          I’m from a very, very small town with an older population and this wouldn’t be out of the ordinary at all. It’s not out of the question that they would know where her mother lived–someone dropped her off when her car broke down, she mentioned in passing “oh, that cemetery, my mom lives in the big green house right next to it,” someone else at work knew her mother or her family–but I’m not sure how they’d get her mother’s phone number or email.

          In a small town, it certainly can be the kind of community where if someone is retired and puttering around the house all day, it’s totally OK to drop by unannounced if you see their car in the driveway. Particularly true if they’re of a generation where you wake up at 6am, set your hair and tidy your house even if you don’t have plans or guests that day, i.e., you’re not going to embarrass someone by making them come to the door in their pajamas.

        8. Suspicious*

          It made me wonder if everything was actually second hand to OP. ‘They went to Lysa’s mom’s house’, ‘we checked the phone records’.

          No-one I work with knows my mother’s name, let alone her address or where she lives. I have lifelong friends who don’t know my mother’s address. If my co-workers dug it out, regardless of circumstances, I’d be furious.

          If it wasn’t for the phone records, i’d be saying this was malicious fabrication. Not everyone is close to their parents and not everyone wants to admit that. It’s a lot easier to say “My mom was thrilled for me!”, than to admit you haven’t spoken for a decade.

          1. OP*

            The meeting with the mother was second hand as I wasn’t there. Everything else I was present for. And it wasn’t just “My mom was thrilled for me” It was a constant stream of details of things her mother had said and done during the trip (that didn’t happen). “We ate here, we saw this, we did this, she loved this and that” Everything she said was so believable.

            1. Suspicious*

              Thanks for clarifying OP :)

              With the ‘malicious fabrication’ comment I should clarify that I didn’t think *you* were lying.

              I was more thinking that (without the damning evidence of the phone logs), it would be almost more plausible that someone who disliked Lysa would make up that one lie than that she would concoct this elaborate fantasy life.

        9. OP*

          Our department is very tight knit. When we have showers and parties, we usually invite people who are close to the guest of honor. We have held showers for coworkers daughters/wives before. (Any excuse to party I think) Some of us spend time with each other outside of work. I know this isn’t usually a good idea usually but we’ve worked together for a while and get along well.

          The information was given to us by the husband of one of my coworkers who works with the mother (with her permission) I’m not sure why they decided to go see her instead of calling.

      3. ABC123*

        Nope, I don’t have pictures of my kids on my desk. I have about a gazillion pictures on my phone, which is almost never more than a meter away from me, tops.

      4. emma2*

        Another thing that seems a little off to me about Lysa is that she is so open about her personal life at work. Different workplaces do vary significantly, but in my experience, people at work tend to be pretty low-key about their personal lives outside of key details like “I’m getting married”. Needing to bring up a sick child is normal in order to ask for accommodations as well, but most people keep it to a minimum outside of that. My coworker in my previous job was also dealing with an ill child, but outside of telling us personally, we didn’t know details about how much time she spent at the hospital and such. (Or maybe I’m looking too much into this.)

        1. Manders*

          Eh, I’ve had some coworkers who could get very TMI about their medical issues and relationships. I don’t think that alone is a sign that someone is lying, although it might be a red flag that they have some issues with professionalism and appropriately separating their work and professional lives.

      5. AdAgencyChick*

        Yeah, my money is on Lysa too. But I’d want to be 100% sure before I fired her, which is what I’d want to do if I were in fact 100% sure.

      6. Abby*

        I have met the mothers of several of my co workers and do know exactly where some of them live. I don’t think that this is that rare. I have been the funerals of co-workers’ parents. I think workplaces are different. I agree that it does seem odd that they dropped by but the mother of one of my co worker’s teaches at a school close by and I wouldn’t think it was odd to stop by and say hello. Her sister works at the liquor store that I frequent. We always chat.

      7. OP*

        The mother worked with a co-worker’s husband which is how we got her information (she was ok with it, though she didn’t know why we planned to visit) She did have pictures but they were only of the children when they were younger and she actually brought her husband and kids to the office so we knew they existed.

        Her stories were good but they started falling apart, especially when she was seen in town the week she was supposedly in Italy for her ‘wedding’. And she has a distinctive car with a distinctive license plate so unless her evil twin stole her car… (but then I don’t want to give her any other ideas)

      8. Cassie*

        I assume Lysa does have a kid – the OP only said that the kid wasn’t sick (not that she didn’t exist).

    3. Stranger than fiction*

      So true! What if this extends to lies about her work? Taking credit for others’ work, falsley accusing someone of harassment, etc.

    4. Retail HR Guy*

      It seems pretty clear it’s not Lysa’s mother, unless Lysa’s mother has a way to alter the company’s phone records.

    5. AMG*

      The thing that gets me is that if this person would lie so completely for attention, what would she do for money? What would she do for more attention or anything else she wants, no matter the cost to the company? I would consider firing her because her judgment and character is so out of whack, and because she has the potential to not have any boundaries with anything. It’s just waaay out there.

      I know that Alison has recommended firing people who lie in professional settings, and I don’t see this as anything different.

    6. The Not Mad But Sometimes Irritable Scientist*

      “Why not both?” says the cute little brown-haired girl, and everyone celebrates.

  7. Brogrammer*


    If nothing else, it’s clear that nobody in the office trusts Lysa, and that’s a problem.

  8. Cassandra*

    Since OP is not in Lysa’s management chain, this is out of their wheelhouse, but: if Lysa is responsible for money and/or confidential information, ruling out embezzlement and leaks would seem wise if Lysa is to remain in her position.

    The acceptance of monetary gifts based on a lie (assuming, as mentioned above, it is a lie) is decidedly worrisome.

  9. blu*

    I also give side eye to management. At a minimum this warrants a closer look into Lysa’s work. It sounds like at the very least, she was taking time off from work/working a reduced capacity based on made up circumstances. Maybe they did review it and the dishonesty is restricted to just her personal life, but it sounds like they just didn’t want to bother with it.

    Overall, it’s probably best for Lysa to find a new job or at least get her moved to a new department if they are determined to keep her. I just don’t know how you can fix the damaged relationships at this point.

    1. Antilles*

      I think it’s weird that management simultaneously “refuses to do anything about it” and “doesn’t trust her”. Demanding a police report after a family member gets into an accident is Not Normal. If her manager and the chain-of-command can’t trust her, that alone is reason to consider disciplinary action.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      I have seen tamer versions of this story. Because the Lysa in those stories was not let go, management become the laughing stock of the very people they managed. After a bit things change and Lysa is no longer the much discussed problem, it shifts to management for allowing one person and their drama to hijack a whole department or company.

      1. Pineapple Incident*

        Exactly! Just the fact that they don’t want to handle this is making it more their problem, by making them look so ineffectual in the eyes of other front-line staff.

  10. animaniactoo*

    I think what Lysa’s manager should do is to sit down and have a conversation with Lysa that looks something like this:

    “Lysa, people are confused – you’ve had a lot going on in your life and your co-workers have been very supportive, but as you know, your mom claimed that none of this happened when your co-workers tried to include her in another supportive effort. Do you have any documentation that could clear this up and put the matter to rest? Plane ticket stubs, divorce decree, photos you might happen to have taken, that kind of stuff? Normally I wouldn’t get involved in this, but there’s a morale issue here that’s starting to spin out of control and I’d hate to see you end up in a bad position because people aren’t sure whether to believe you or your mom.”

    1. embertine*

      Not to mention, if she was using a work phone for all of these fictional one-way phone calls, and they have the proof of that, they NEED to confront her on that and not on the mum’s hearsay. Whether Lysa is lying or not, if you only have her mother’ word for it there’s not much you can do. But if you have actual proof, us it! And fire her, because she has taken financial advantage of her colleagues with her lies.

    2. fposte*

      I see problems with that, though; it’s putting the manager in the position of assessing documents, and it’s focused on the fiancé thing, which is the least of the problems.

      1. Natalie*

        Yeah, I might keep it a little more open-ended rather than jumping immediately to asking her to provide backup documents. How she responds to a general “what’s up with this?” question might give you some direction.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        I agree, don’t start down that road. This type of person can unravel even the most resilient boss. Focus on what you see at work, period.

        I’d talk about unpaid leave so she could get her personal life together. If she refused that, then I would say that too much of her person life is spilling over into the workplace. I would ask her what her plan is to refocus on her work.

    3. Edith*

      Re: proving the divorce happened: Some states have that kind of information fully searchable online where you can put in a name and find marriages, divorces, lawsuits, arrests, name changes, and even speeding tickets. My state has a great database that’s been invaluable when I have reference librarian duties or when doing genealogical research.

      1. Kittymommy*

        Yep, depending on if you know the location of the divorce the municipal records would probably have it. A lot of that is online.

        1. Dorothy Lawyer*

          No, municipal (city) records would not show a divorce. State court (county district or circuit court) has jurisdiction over divorces and will have those records.

      2. GeoffreyB*

        How is digging up the divorce info going to help?

        People already have reason to think she’s a liar. If it turns out she lied about the divorce too, well, that doesn’t tell them anything that they didn’t already believe.

        If it turns out that she was telling the truth about the divorce… is that going to repair trust? Or are people just going to say “okay but we still know she lied about so much other stuff”? My money’s on the latter.

        Either way, it doesn’t seem like finding the answer to that question would bring things any closer to a happy resolution.

    4. CM*

      This doesn’t seem appropriate to me. The issue isn’t that Lysa needs to prove, with hard evidence, that everything she said about her personal life was true. It’s that she’s really damaged her relationship with coworkers. Pointing out this damage and asking her for a path forward to fix this would be appropriate, but I don’t think the manager should be intervening to tell her she needs to do something specific like produce documentation.

      1. kittycritter*

        Yes thank you! I think it’s REALLY inappropriate for management to be asking for a copy of her divorce decree and personal photos!!

        1. Not So NewReader*

          And it’s so unnecessary. The boss is only in charge of her at-work-life. So that is all that needs to be addressed.

      2. JMegan*

        Yep, agreed. The focus from here should be “how can Lysa and the team work together appropriately going forward?” rather than “how can Lysa prove this things to us?” (Or aka, “how can we catch her in these lies?”

        It’s kind of irrelevant whether or not any of the specific details were true or not. The important thing is that trust has been broken, and they now need to figure out how to repair that trust and move forward.

        1. kittycritter*

          Yes, that should totally be the focus going forward – looking forward, to how the work relationship can be salvaged, not looking BACK to try & disprove every lie she ever told. Why waste time doing that? Even if you can’t 100% prove it, you know she likely did lie. But I would never accuse someone of lying about their child’s terminal illness unless I had 100% irrefutable proof – because being wrong about that would make me hate myself forever…..

      3. PollyQ*

        Ordinarily I’d agree that this is an intrusive overreach by a manager, but in this situation, I think knowing the truth is crucial. EITHER Lysa is big-ass liar and has earned her colleagues’ mistrust (and should maybe be fired), OR her mother has massively slandered her, and her office reputation is entirely unfair.

        I don’t see how a manager can move forward without knowing which situation is correct.

        1. fposte*

          Nonetheless, that’s what the manager almost certainly has to do, and it’s for sure what the co-workers have to do because management has told them they’re not going go any further.

          A regular commenter here who’s since moved on said one of the great challenges of management is having to act without all the information you wish you had. This is an example. There are some questions a manager might ask Lysa, but it’s really not appropriate to grill her just because you want to know for sure; you just require appropriate paperwork going forward.

          I also think this is bigger as a story than it is as an actual offense, and that it should be managed according to the offense rather than the story.

        2. Not So NewReader*

          I don’t think a boss needs to know anything further.
          We have:
          1) Excessive absences from work.
          2) Lack of focus on work when here. (Excessive phone calls etc.)
          3) Disrupting the work of others and disrupting the course of the business day.

          I think that is enough.

  11. Valerie*

    It’s that she accepted help that worries me the most. If all she’d done was lie about her life, okay, she’s a liar. But if she actually benefits from her lies, that’s really, really a problem. And if she’s poisoned her coworkers against here, that IS management’s problem.

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      Yes. The fact that her coworkers gave her money and food and (it sounds like) helped cover shifts and whatnot when she needed to go to doctor’s appointments with her daughter is the bigger issue.

      Though as someone who suffers from mental illness, the emotional labor component of offering support to someone is equally upsetting.

  12. AndersonDarling*

    On the flip side, this is a great community to be working with. Supporting their co-worker with gas cards, schedule changes, and even throwing a wedding shower that included friends and family. It’s sad they were taken for a ride.

    1. MWKate*

      I would worry that this lie will have damaged the group’s openness to doing things like this in the future. After a situation like this is would be difficult for me to put the same emotional investment into another coworker’s troubles in the future. There would always be that doubt in the back of my mind.

      1. Anon real quick*

        Totally. There’s a legendary story at my workplace of a woman who faked cancer. Similarly, the employees collected money for her but she was eventually fired and I don’t know the whole story but hear there were attorneys involved. This made upper management forever cautious or skeptical. Currently, there’s a coworker who lies about her husband being abusive to cover her ass for missing work due to a drinking problem. Went so far as to even have her mother call an exec here and tell them to go easy on her daughter because she’s in a abusive relationship (mom’s a lying alcoholic too). Anyway, now her coworkers do not trust her and whenever she asks for favors we decline.

        1. Suspicious*

          Just wanted to speak up and say that your co-worker could be dealing with both. One tactic abusers use is forcing or encouraging substance abuse. Or telling others their abused spouse is an alcoholic when it isn’t true.

      2. BeautifulVoid*

        Yep. For me, it wasn’t a workplace, but a close-knit online forum. Any time someone was going through either a rough time or a happy life event, I gladly sent a heartfelt note and a few dollars via PayPal to whoever was coordinating the care package/celebratory gift. All it took was one drama queen who got a significant amount of stuff and emotional support from us before ragequitting for me to be soured on that sort of thing. I’ve only just recently started considering contributing again, and only for members I feel I’m close to. :-\

        1. Kathleen Adams*

          I’d forgotten all about this until now, but I also know of a case on an online forum. The guy created a sock-puppet wife who had cancer, and she was so funny and upbeat (the fake wife was actually a lot wittier and more charming than the real guy who created her – which is pretty amazing, really) and everyone loved her. So when he announced to all of us that she’d died – funny, upbeat and lovable to the end – we were all heartbroken.

          And it was a lie – the wife, the cancer, everything. As far as I know, nobody sent him any money, but we all felt scammed nonetheless.

    2. NEW YEAR, NEW ME*

      I agree. Plus you don’t know – or even if Lysa doesn’t know – that the co-workers might be tight on money. I think if Lysa asks for time off or other things coming up, it’s best to have her take care of her work beforehand and/or limit what she can be permitted to do.

    3. Lady Blerd*

      What is sad is that there is probably a general level of distrust now that will probably extend to anyone who’d requite some compassion.

    4. OP*

      I’d say that it still is a great place. Management needs a bit of work and every workplace has their quirky people but even with this happening, we’ve all stayed friendly and close to each other. I think that is one of the reasons why everyone is so shocked and hurt by it all. It was someone we thought we knew and were close to. Those she was closest to are the ones who are now the coldest to her.

      Any new people who join our department are still taken in like we would have before this debacle, which makes me even more thankful for the people I work with.

  13. Snarkus Aurelius*

    I’m never a fan of celebrating personal milestones in the work place. Although this is a VERY extreme example, it reinforced what I already believe.

    It sounds like the only evidence you have is the call logs. I mean, yes, I believe everything you’ve written here, but AAM is right. The risk is too great if you’re wrong on this. And believe me, you really, really don’t want to be on the wrong side of any of this. Plus management is wrong; this is very much a work-related problem because look at all the havoc she has caused already.


    I’d stop celebrating this person’s personal milestones and anybody else’s too because it’s cruel to do it for everyone else and not her, regardless of what she has done. (Even if you have her real birth certificate in hand, I’d still not buy a cake.) If you really do want to celebrate another employee’s milestone, then do it outside of work. If this employee claims to have a personal emergency, require proof as you already have. You don’t have to do that with every other employee because they haven’t done what she has, i.e. created plenty of doubt surrounding her requests.

    I’d also stop speculating on her personal life and others should do the same. It’s a complete waste of time; it’s a major distraction in the workplace; it’s no one’s business; it’ll only fuel lingering anger and resentment; and if there really is something wrong with this woman, your speculation will only feed into that.

    1. MK*

      While you may be right, I am not sure it’s reallistic to ask a workplace full of people who believe they have been taken for a ride and made fools of to just put the whole thing behind them.

    2. Temperance*

      FWIW, I don’t think it’s fair to change the culture of the entire office because one person took advantage. These sound like lovely people who support each other, and I hate to think that Lysa stole that, along with all their money and goodwill.

      1. MWKate*

        I agree – it wouldn’t be fair to force this change, but I would not be surprised if they tended that way anyway. I hope not, since it seems like a really good group of people who are truly supportive of one another. However, being taken advantage of in this way would make it more difficult for me to trust people in similar situations in the future.

        Additionally, while I think there needs to be a professional and personal line, that line doesn’t need to be the same for every workplace. Someplaces it might be appropriate to pretend that you and your coworkers only exist at work and not know anything about their personal life. However, that kind of attitude would be seen as very cold and maybe a little hostile in my workplace and region of the country in general.

      2. Cinnamon Owl*

        “Punishment is not fertilizer; it doesn’t need to be spread around evenly.”

        A bit of wisdom I first saw formulated this way at AAM.

      3. Anna*

        Pretty much this. You’re creating a policy for an entire department based on the actions of one person. It’s avoidance at the extreme. This is exactly what bad management does instead of doing the uncomfortable thing and having a difficult conversation.

        1. LavaLamp*

          Can I just point out that perhaps she wasnt using the office phone to make personal calls? I never use my office phone for personal stuff because is sounds like crap and I can hardly understand people.

          Unless you saw her everyday on that phone then it’s possible that the lack of records doesn’t mean anything.

          I hate being lied to; but I also believe in being very sure before leveling a huge accusation at somebody.

          1. Anna*

            I’m not entirely sure why the phone calls even came up as I never mentioned them. I would point out, though, that management could talk to her about extended personal phone calls whether or not she were using the office land line or her own cell phone.

            I would also point out that you can’t pull phone records for a personal cell phone at work and the OP specifically mentioned they looked over phone records, so it’s pretty likely she was NOT using her own phone for the calls in question.

    3. Retail HR Guy*

      Expecting a small office of 20 people to just ignore weddings, births, graduations, birthdays, etc., is just not realistic. It is human nature to talk with, get to know, be kind to, and ultimately care about people that you work with day in and day out. That means sometimes celebrating personal things.

    4. NW Mossy*

      I get what you’re saying, but in many offices, having a sharp wall between work and personal cuts against the culture and can make people feel like they have to hide at work or feel shame if some element of their personal life spills into work life.

      I once worked in an environment like that, and it resulted in a lot of really unhealthy behavior among employees when the ruse that no one had a life outside of work couldn’t realistically be maintained. An employee’s pregnancy became the foundation for about half the office to turn on her permanently because her leave coincided with a busy season. Had this organization had a healthier attitude towards allowing personal milestones to exist and be (lightly) celebrated, it likely wouldn’t have been as much of a flashpoint.

      1. Shocked*

        “An employee’s pregnancy became the foundation for about half the office to turn on her permanently because her leave coincided with a busy season.”

        Woah. Isn’t that just straight up gender discrimination?

        1. NW Mossy*

          It was…. not the sort of environment where anyone cared about that. On some level, the owner seemed to enjoy the factional fighting among his staff because it squared nicely with his view that they were all unrepentant screw-ups who only worked so as to gain the opportunity to steal from him.

  14. Jessesgirl72*

    If collections were taken up for the “sick child”, the OP and her coworkers could also report it to the police. That’s fraud. The news has fake cancer stories where the person is being charged for it at least 2-3 times a year.

    If it doesn’t seem worthwhile to do that, then there really is nothing to be done. Lysa is reaping the natural consequences of lying to people. As long as they aren’t bullying her, and everyone is still acting professionally, then it will either blow over (to an extent) or Lysa will quit.

    1. Isben Takes Tea*

      I agree that it might technically count as fraud, as Lysa accepted the money under false pretenses, she didn’t actually set out to scam people. Yes, what she did was reprehensible, and yes, she should give the money back. Could they report it to the police? Sure. But I’m not convinced it’s the most productive advice in the situation. It doesn’t provide any kind of reconciliation or support to the damaged relationships within the team.

      But I disagree that there’s “nothing to be done”–I agree with Alison that the manager has great power to facilitate either reconciliation or, what seems more likely, resolution by replacing Lysa. If, as the OP mentions, management refuses to act, then I’d actually suggest brushing up a resume, because this sort of thing doesn’t “blow over” without direct facilitation/support by management–it affects the entire cohesion of the team moving forward.

      1. Jessesgirl72*

        There is no evidence she didn’t set out to scam people. I’ve seen this play out more than once where someone has a sob story, and they never directly ask for money, but they very broadly hint that they need money, say, for a greyhound ticket to see their sick mother before she dies, or how the water is about to be turned off, and so on and so forth. And reasonably warm hearted people who can help give the liar money. Maybe Lysa didn’t do it that way, but I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that she had.

        1. Isben Takes Tea*

          You’re right, there isn’t. There isn’t any evidence one way or the other–we just have the OP’s letter to go on. And all the OP said was that they occasionally brought her food and coffee and bought her one gas card. So going on that alone, it seems going to the police is a stretch.

          (I have no doubt that there are many situations with manipulative liars like you describe–I just don’t see it in the OP’s letter.)

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I think you’re reading a lot into “but they voluntarily gave her money!” If you’re lying to people about your child having cancer, and you’re benefiting from it, it can still be fraud.

        1. Isben Takes Tea*

          Oh I agree that it is. I guess I’m reacting to what (to me) is a drastic action that won’t so much *benefit the OP* as create more drama with little positive effect. I 100% agree that Lysa should be held accountable for her actions, I just disagree that going to the police is the best way to do that.

          (Also, as I mentioned above, the only thing OP and coworkers could count as fraud is some meals, coffee, and a gas card. Only the company could pursue wage/time theft, etc.)

    2. Ophelia Bumblesmoop*

      This was something I was waiting for someone to share. Did Lysa have social media? Did she keep up this cancer story outside of work? She received benefits and donations due to the sick child; that’s fraud. Unfortunately, a similar situation happened locally. The woman even stated that it started at first because of her depression and how she didn’t think she would get sympathy for bad days, so she started using the cancer story at work and it became a “thing” on social media that blew out of control. She hadn’t even spent the money she was given; she just set it aside in an account.

      If this story went nowhere but the office, then Lysa needs to return the donations. Management does need to be involved.

      1. K.*

        I saw a Dr. Phil about this. A young woman lied about having cancer and her friends raised money, shaved their heads, and got tattoos to support her. She lied about everything and kept it up for 14 months. I think she spent the money that was raised (it was thousands) on necessities. Her parents paid back the money but she was charged with grand theft, I think.

    3. EddieSherbert*

      I’m also curious how much time Lysa might have taken off to be with her “sick kid”. Like…. did she go over PTO? Get special permission to be off more? Get days off OK’ed that normally wouldn’t have been?

      All that affects the business…

  15. Not Today Satan*

    I think people are being way too sympathetic to Lysa. She has lost all credibility at work and should no longer be employed there. Whether or not she has a mental illness isn’t relevant and treatment for a supposed illness certainly isn’t the business of her colleagues (i.e., the EAP stuff referenced above). This wasn’t some sort of breakdown, but rather was a long con. Whatever the cause, the damage has been done and imo is irreparable.

    1. neverjaunty*

      Yes. It is entirely possible for people with serious mental and emotional problems to be jerks, liars and con artists IN ADDITION to their problems.

      1. Jessesgirl72*

        And not every con artist has a mental illness.

        In fact, normally we’re discouraged from armchair diagnoses here.

    2. MegaMoose, Esq*

      You’re right that, if she really was telling lies, there need to be consequences. As for being too sympathetic, I guess I personally find it exhausting and upsetting to get worked up about second-hand accounts of people I don’t know – empathy is much less stressful. We don’t know that this was a long con or a breakdown, and we can’t do anything about it either way. I appreciate that Allison’s advice on issues like this tends to lean towards the compassionate.

    3. MicroManagered*

      Don’t you think it’s possible that Lysa’s suffering an illness that her coworkers might be the first ones to see? If she really is a single mom, she might not have another adult in her life who spends enough time with her to pick up that something isn’t right… God, what if she has a brain tumor or something? The people she spends 40 hours a week with could at least extend some basic human decency her way and attempt to get her help if she needs it.

      1. Zillah*

        I think that they’ve already extended her quite a lot help. It not reasonable to ask them to do even more; Lisa isn’t their responsibility.

      2. Anna*

        They’ve gone above and beyond in basic human decency. She at least has her mom, which we know from the OP, so…I think Lysa has really stretched the boundaries of what she’s entitled to or deserves.

      3. Not So NewReader*

        In an ideal world, I can see what you are saying.
        However, companies/coworkers generally do not provide this service.
        I am not sure how they could give her any more help than they already have.

        She has not stated that she has an illness herself. So she is assumed to be a competent adult. Coworkers and managers have no basis to intervene in a health crisis that may or may not actually exist.
        This is very different than someone who falls to the floor in seizure/heart attack/faint. These scenarios are clear cut, medical help is necessary.

    4. Hrovitnir*

      Probably because it’s incredibly obvious what she did is beyond messed up, and the cost:benefit ratio of her actions imply something significantly wrong in her life.

      I don’t think it can be said enough that you can have empathy for someone’s (potential) situation without excusing their behaviour. It’s certainly nicer than a thread full of “what a jerk.” I mean, yes?

      1. Alton*

        This is how I feel. Even if the only thing Lysa lied about was the rich fiance, faking long phone conversations on multiple occasions is an abnormal amount of investment to a lie that doesn’t seem to have much tangible payoff. Lysa doesn’t sound healthy.

        That doesn’t mean it’s okay or that people aren’t justified in being wary of Lysa now.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        Sometimes holding people accountable for their behavior is THE way to gain traction on the problem, or at least cause them to do some self-examination and seek help.

        All management can do here is insist she show up for work and concentrate on her job. She may or may not be able to do this.

        1. Hrovitnir*

          Yeah, I mean she almost certainly needs something in her personal life, but compulsive lying can be like any other addiction and is not something you really want to get involved with as her coworker.

          I really don’t know what the appropriate workplace reaction is though. As a coworker, yeah limiting interactions to polite and required is about what I’d expect, but this is a big workplace issue and I feel like management should have done something, I just don’t know what. Maybe at least a discussion about how inappropriate her behaviour was and how her dishonesty could be impacting her job? That at least shows that her behaviour is really inappropriate and starts a process of monitoring for workplace infractions.

    5. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Yeah, at this point, they owe her nothing (except that they should be really really sure that she lied, which sounds extremely likely). I think the kindest thing management can do is help her transition out and send her on her way.

  16. Temperance*

    LW: While it seems that, in this case, Lysa is a compulsive liar and has fleeced her coworkers, I’d also like to caution against just trusting her mother’s word on this. It’s entirely possible that her mother is lying or misinformed or some combination of the two.

    My mom is mentally ill and a very capable liar, and with the way her brain works, she’d be offended that you didn’t offer her the honor of hosting the shower, so she’d lie and say that Booth dumped me or didn’t even exist. If you had met him, for example, she’d just insist that he was “just a friend who felt sorry for Temperance”. If you asked her for the names of my friends, she’d probably tell you that I didn’t have any, because I was such a pathetic person. If you asked her something about me, and she didn’t know, she’d attack my character because she’d feel insecure.

    1. Dan*

      Do you introduce your coworkers to your mother? I sure as hell don’t.

      As much as it looks like OP and company are just taking the word of Lysa’s mom, I think realistically they’ve also assessed that there is no credible evidence to support Lysa’s version of the truth. I mean, I’ve met some of my coworkers’ kids (particularly the young ones) but I’ve *never* met their parents. There’s not even a mention of a photo of Lysa’s kids on her desk — every one of my coworkers that I know has a kid keeps a photo of them. The phone records aren’t helping.

      So I don’t think it’s strictly a matter of believing Lysa’s mom above all else.

      1. Amy*

        Am the only one who thinks going to Lysa’s mom’s house was weird as well? If I wanted, for some reason, invite someone’s mom to a work function I would do it via phone or email not stopping by their house.

          1. Temperance*

            I grew up in a pretty small town, where doing something like that would be normal. I wouldn’t do it NOW, but it’s totally possible that this is normal in their culture.

            1. Loose Seal*

              I agree that going to mom’s house is classic small town behavior. I mean, I’d probably just call her but I’m pretty antisocial for a small-town person.

              Plus, Lysa has been working there for almost 10 years. If mom lives in the same town, surely some of the coworkers have met her at some point. And, again if it’s a small town, being introduced to someone’s mom in the produce department while you’re out shopping is practically an engraved invitation for you to stop on by the house whenever you get a chance.

            2. an anon is an anon*

              I don’t think this is normal for all small towns, though. I grew up in a very small town and showing up at someone’s house would not be okay. A phone call or an email, sure, but showing up to someone’s house uninvited would be seen as pretty rude.

              You’re right that it could be normal in their environment, but I don’t think people should assume this is indicative of all small towns.

                1. Rat Racer*

                  The showing up at mom’s house struck me as SO out of whack that it’s hard for me to put the rest of the letter in context. In what universe does a group of employees show up uninvited to the house of co-worker’s mother to plan a party? Especially because it seems like this is their first interaction with the co-worker’s mother?

                  It’s not that I don’t believe the OP, but this showing up at someone’s house piece takes me so far out of my workplace reality that it’s hard to contextualize next steps. In a universe where you’re comfortable showing up at someone’s mother’s front door (whom you have never met), what other office norms are N/A? I can’t process this through my normal corporate culture lens – it just doesn’t make any sense to me.

                2. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Other people are saying it wouldn’t be weird in places they’ve lived. We should believe them, and take the letter writer at her word, as per the site commenting policy.

                3. Rat Racer*

                  Hi – just to clarify because I’m a huge fan of this site and don’t want you to be angry with me for breaking the rules: I’m not trying to say that I don’t believe the OP’s story. I’m just saying that the events described are so outside my context for social norms that I can’t project what a reasonable and measured response looks like.

                4. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  I’m not angry with you, I promise! Just the frustrations of trying to corral a large group of people into behaving one particular way, which is of course a fool’s errand :)

        1. Malibu Stacey*

          No, I thought it was odd. Every bridal work bridal shower I’ve ever been to has been just people who work there – some places don’t even invite the fiance.

        2. an anon is an anon*

          I wrote about that in a different comment. I think it’s really weird and I don’t understand why the coworkers thought it was a good idea. Every work bridal or baby shower I’ve been to (and there have been a lot) have only ever been coworkers. I’d be pretty weirded out if I found out my coworkers went to my parents house just to throw a work party. Even emailing them would be weird.

        3. Addie Bundren*

          It’s super weird. If they could find the address, why couldn’t they find the phone number and call her first?

      2. Zillah*

        There are plenty of parents who don’t keep pictures of their kids on their desks, though -that’s not a red flag in and of itself.

        1. Dan*

          No, it’s not, and I fully admit that.

          It’s when you take the *collection* of observations as a whole that things start to smell a little fishy. By itself, I wouldn’t bat an eye. But the question stemmed from, “How do we know that Lysa’s mom is the nut, and not Lysa?” Lysa has lots of good stories that collectively raise my eyebrow. If Lysa has no pictures of her kids and the office has never met her kids, why should we believe Lysa’s mom is making things up?

          1. Natalie*

            Although if you except that set of facts, if the kid was imaginary wouldn’t the mom have mentioned it?

    2. MuseumChick*

      The key point for me is that they have proof she was talking to herself on the phone, for hours, over an extended period of time. This much it much harder for me to dismiss what the mother says.

    3. Observer*

      Sure, but would ever give your co-workers your mother’s address? And would you tell your coworkers ANYTHING about her without some context of her mental illness / your really bad relationship with her?

      In the past Lysa has claimed that her mother was helping her, etc. So this turn around doesn’t make sense at all.

      1. Dan*

        The question you’re really asking is why someone even introduces their coworkers to their mentally ill mother in the first place.

      2. MWKate*

        Depending on the size of the area they live, she could have just shared her mother’s name at some point and they looked it up. Also – I think there is a line between talking about your mother and disclosing a mental illness. In the context of the lie – someone could go between having a warm helpful relationship with their mother to not speaking. Having a relationship with someone with the issues she is claiming her mother has is very complicated.

        That being said…based on what the LW says I am inclined to believe Lysa has completely fabricated this story.

      3. Temperance*

        This is a totally fair point. My coworkers don’t even know my mother’s name, much less where she lives. I do think that in this case Lysa is a compulsive liar, but I wanted to bring up the other side.

      4. an anon is an anon*

        There’s nothing in the OP’s letter to suggest that Lysa gave out her mother’s address. The coworkers could have looked it up on their own.

        1. Anna*

          Then the coworkers made a poor choice to use that information.

          I think it’s more likely, as someone further upthread said, that Lysa’s coworkers were starting to sniff out the lie and in the guise of innocently asking Mom to the bridal shower, went to get more information.

          1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

            Or someone dropped her off there once. Or her mom lives with her. Or she used to live there and had shared her address with coworkers at that time. Or a coworker sings in the community choir with Lysa’s mom. Or, or, or. There’s no point in going down this rabbit hole.

      1. Temperance*

        Thank you for saying this! I’m honestly fine – I just share so others aren’t so alone.

        1. The Southern Gothic*

          Thank you so much for sharing. I also have a profoundly mentally ill mother (who operates very much like yours – but with the added bonus of psychotic breaks), and oh buddy it is still tricky when co-workers want to talk about family in that “getting to know you” context of employment. I have a bad habit of “talking around” my mother and her illness, because its still painful and because sometimes people unknowingly ask questions that have terrible, terrible answers.
          I wont get into armchair diagnoses, because it’s obviously not helpful. I would offer the following because the LW’s description of Lysa’s repeated “phone calls” set off my spidey senses: Lysa may indeed be mentally ill and the “phone calls” could be some sort of acting out. Lysa may actually believe she’s talking to someone on the phone – someone only she can hear IN HER HEAD.

          Or it’s just part of the Long Con, as someone else mentioned.

          In any case, this situation is not salvageable for two reasons:
          1) Lysa has completely destroyed any trust she may have had in her co-workers, as well as their morale. This will only improve when the rest of the team is relieved that she is no longer working with them.
          2) Lysa most likely does not have the self awareness to understand what she did was wrong, and will therefore have ZERO remorse about it. This will be obvious to her co-workers. She may also not have the social skills necessary to be able to repair the damage done.

          1. Temperance*

            That’s so difficult. I have become excellent at deflecting when people ask about her now by turning around the conversation. If people ask about holidays, I’ll talk about my plans with friends and then ask what they’re doing. I do dodge questions if they come up about her, because it’s hard to explain to people that your mother has borderline personality disorder and is kind of toxic, you know?

            I was wondering whether Lysa honestly believed that she was talking to someone, or that her actions were part of a larger action to trick her coworkers into believing her. You are right that she’s probably not aware of how wrong what she did is, and I can honestly see her turning the situation around so she is the victim if and when she is confronted. If you believe the entire world is out to get you, you can develop bizarre habits.

            In any event, I’m absolutely terrified that someone with issues like hers is a single parent.

          2. eplawyer*

            I also have a … difficult mother. We have a very strained relationship. She has her issues but not to the extent Temperance said. However, due to the nature of our relationship, I have had people ask me if she is even still alive because I only talk about my dad.

            As for Lysa, given the extent of her made up story, I would have trouble believing if she said the sun was shining today. Whatever her issue is, unless she wants to deal with it, I don’t want to have to be sympathetic about it and “get past it” for the sake of work. Management needs to do its job and address this head on, rather than expecting everyone else who did nothing wrong to make nice to her.

            I don’t think recompensing everyone for the gas and food would be possible. You just don’t know who gave what. But an acknowledgment she knew it was wrong and visible effort by her to be completely strictly honest from now would go a long way with me. Absent remorse from her though, she needs leave.

        2. Anon for this*

          Ugh, I’m with you, Temperance. Part of the reason I try not to get too involved with my mother’s lies is because I don’t want to find out what lies she tells about *me* to other people. :p

    4. Bea*

      I must admit that I thought of your mom and her troubles when I read this story :(

      In a way I was wondering if Lysa just didn’t share her information with her mom because her mom’s a wreck. Then of course mom wouldn’t know anything.

    5. OP*

      Lysa’s mom works with a coworker’s husband and gave him permission to give out her address (though she didn’t know why it was requested) (this is mostly to respond to queries below) Our company culture is all about family and food so usually any excuse given to invite family and eat, we take it.

      It wasn’t just her mother’s word on it. That was just the piece that fit the puzzle together.

      A lot of it we didn’t actually notice until afterwards. She had pictures of her and her family up on her desk until right before she met her ‘fiance’ then they all disappeared and she suddenly had a phobia of having her picture taken. (I know this can happen suddenly but she would tell us she hadn’t had pictures done for years after showing us the pics she had taken that weekend)

      She lived 2 hours away but would say it only took her 15 min to get home. Little contradictions that we didn’t notice or pay attention to until it was forcibly brought to our attention. The week she was supposedly in Italy getting married, she was seen in town in her distinctive car with the distinctive license plate several times.

      It was a lot of stuff that added up to one big lie. Her mother works in a respected business and many of her coworkers like and respect her. That’s not really saying much since we felt the same about Lysa but it wasn’t just the mother’s say-so we based everything on. It was just the start of it.

  17. Lily in NYC*

    I get the feeling OP and her coworkers suspected Lisa was lying and decided to throw a “gotcha” shower. Why did they just “show up” at her mother’s house to see who she wanted to invite? Somehow I feel we aren’t getting the entire story from OP.
    Lisa is a pathological liar. She probably isn’t going to admit she lied – she will double down. I think liars like this are more deeply insecure than “seriously ill”. She doesn’t feel like her life is interesting enough on its own and she has a need for some sort of validation or attention. In my opinion, it’s best to just ignore and distance yourself instead of making this into a big thing. She is probably mortified even though she doesn’t show it. I think there’s a huge chance she will quit from embarrassment once she lines up another job.
    I had a roommate like this and believe me, it is not worth the drama.

    1. AMG*

      Maybe so. Or maybe they were just trying to do something really nice for her. It’s hard to speculate on that one.

    2. LawCat*

      Yeah, a group of people showing up unexpectedly at a co-worker’s mom’s house to extend an invitation seems super bizarre to me. I think you are right that there may have already been suspicious.

          1. Anon-Anon*

            People who tell lies at this scale are very careful to lay the ground work to prevent the two worlds from colliding to avoid being found out.

            I had a person in my life who claimed to have cancer and she covered her tracks by maligning anyone who could refuted her stories. She painted her ex as someone who left her because she was sick, which made him the bad guy and thereby decreasing the odds that anyone would stay in touch with him. Given this knowledge, one would assume that if this were a “small town” situation, Lysa would have already laid the groundwork for the “my mom doesn’t like my fiancee” or similar excuse to downplay contrary information. (It’s the small lies and inconsistencies over time that take pathological liars down, not the big ones.)

            Overall this doesn’t sound like a very healthy workplace. Between the potential pathological liar, the co-workers who overstep bounds, the trouble makers (OP said the only people who wanted to cause trouble are engaging her), and management to look into the business impact of the potential situation.

            1. fposte*

              I think some people are that careful and some aren’t. The people who get caught often aren’t that careful; they mostly seem to assume nobody will check. Even Tania Head was pretty easy to discredit once somebody talked to her “fiancé’s” family, and we’re awash in people who attain prominence with a big ol’ fraudulent credit that’s pretty easy to disprove.

              1. Nobody got time for that*

                Yeah, I had a roommate who was a pathological liar, and she lied about plenty of things that were easy to discredit. She just figured that no one would follow up (and, to her credit I guess, plenty of people totally believed that her life was just that fantastical).

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I found that detail surprising too, but there’s been at least one person here saying it would have been normal in the small town she grew up in.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          I can vouch for this. It’s very funny to watch people react. In a different setting and a different way of life it all makes sense. When you live in a small community, you get to know people FAST because everyone needs each other. And that need is very deep and very real.
          Consider, one morning here we had two major events. Terrible tragedies. All our fire /rescue/police went to one of these two tragedies. I am pretty sure if I dialed 911 that day, NO ONE would have come. The next thing I would do is call my neighbors and my church, because that is the only other option.

          So with this in mind, I have met my coworkers’ parents/siblings/boyfriends/kids/grandkids/neighbors…. I think you get the gist here.
          Granted, I do not do this with every boss, but currently my bosses are friends with my friends. No one thinks twice about it. I guess one would have to actually be living this scenario to understand fully how it happens and why it works. (Disclaimer, not meant as general advice for everyone.)

          So it looks really funny to me to see dozens and dozens of people saying, “Her coworkers went to her mother’s house?” Differences in areas or lifestyles. Also differences in the needs of people in a given area.

      2. That Would Be a Good Band Name*

        It could be normal-ish here. Obviously, this is just speculation but perhaps someone gave her a ride to her mother’s house one day. They don’t have the mother’s phone number, but they know where to find her, so they stop by. Also, it’s pretty easy in a smaller area to just absorb info like this by seeing people coming/going as you are going about your normal routine. I know where a lot of people live that I recognize from going to the same small high school but I don’t have their contact info.

        1. Rat Racer*

          Although it’s possible to conjure up a situation where this wouldn’t be totally crazy and inappropriate, I still think it’s a stretch. Why not call the mother? Email the mother?

          But showing up at the house of someone you’ve never met without an invitation? Unless you’re running for political office or a door-to-door bible salesman, that sounds completely bizarre to me. So much so that I’m having trouble with the credibility of the OP – not that I don’t believe her story, but as Lily said, that there’s some context we’re missing.

          1. Myrin*

            There is nothing in the letter to suggest that the coworkers have never met/don’t know the mother. She also lives in the same town and in fact so close to her daughter’s place of work that her coworkers could just march over there on their lunch break which makes it even more likely that they know the mother in some capacity just by way of proximity.

            And just because something is completley bizarre to you doesn’t mean it can’t be not weird or even normal somewhere else. I know where literally every parent of everyone from my town I went to school with lives. I have no idea about their email addresses and I could probably find out many of their phone numbers but if I’m out and about anyway, I might as well drop by if I had a reason to.

            You are really aggressively doubting something that isn’t even the point of the letter and which could have a dozen reasonable explanations. The OP gave us the courtesy of not presenting us with a letter of 10,000 words, we should show her the same courtesy by believing her.

            1. Rat Racer*

              I’ve read this dialogue many times on this website, and never thought that I would be on the other side of it accused of being a “Doubting Thomas” and disparaging an OP. So please believe me when I say that I’m not trying to discredit the OP’s story, and forgive me if it came across that way.

              The point I’m trying to make is this: if showing up at the mother’s house is normal/reasonable behavior, and checking Lysa’s phone records is also in-bounds, then my personal views of what’s reasonable and normal are totally blown out the window, which makes it hard to project a rational next step.

              Regardless, I can accept that I am N=1, and attempting to project my own social norms on this situation is at best useless and perhaps even offensive. The diversity of work experiences and cultures within the United States are myriad. So, I will chalk this up to one person’s friendly check-in with a co-worker’s mother and reasonable verification of truth via phone records is a another person’s Twilight Zone .

              1. Not So NewReader*

                That is why I like reading here. I get Twilight Zoned several times a month. Other people live very different lives than what I see around me. I am wiser, more aware because of what people have shared here.

          2. Vancouver Reader*

            Maybe mom worked for that company before and got Lysa the job there, so people who’ve been there for a while know mom. I’ve seen lots of kids go work for the same company as their parents because it’s an easy in.

          3. Tealeaves*

            It’s not surprising that many older people don’t have emails. Some don’t even have phones. Even if she had a phone, if I were the mother and had a stranger call out of the blue to ask for my daughter’s information, I would be weirded out and suspicious. It feels more personal and trustworthy to speak in person. The mother is likely listed as the emergency contact. Or the carpool dropped off Lysa at her mother’s house before. Or this information was given by Lysa at some point since they are very close. Might even have been vague like “she stays at this particular apartment building” and then they went and asked neighbours until they found the mother. Who knows! I don’t feel this detail is very important on its own, except to point out how much effort the coworkers were putting into the celebration. It’s something you would do for a close friend, which is what they thought Lysa was.

      3. PR*

        I had a longer reply to someone above, but I’m from a very small town where it’s totally OK to drop by someone’s house if you see their car in the driveway as long as you wouldn’t be interrupting their dinner. Particularly if the coworker’s mom is above, say, 65-60 where she may be retired and of a generation where, in my experience, there’s much more care toward keeping a tidy house, setting your hair in the morning, and otherwise having some minimum of “ready for guests.”

    3. sunshyne84*

      That’s how it sounds to me, insecurity issues. Maybe she felt left out at the last job so when she started there she created this new persona to be able to relate to people. Still crazy!

    4. Anon real quick*

      Hmm, maybe her mother is elderly and they couldn’t reach her on the phone or it’s a small folksy town where dropping by someone’s home isn’t all that out of the ordinary.

    5. PR*

      If they were trying to pull a “gotcha,” I’m not sure what information they would have thought they could get in person that they couldn’t get from her mom over the phone. If the mom were going to flush out her lies, presumably she’d be saying the same things either way.

    6. OP*

      I can’t speak for the others but I didn’t suspect her of anything. I felt completely blindsided. The others have said they felt this way too. Not one has said “I had a feeling she was lying…” so I don’t think anyone involved had a ‘gotcha’ motive, though, like I said, I can’t speak for everyone.

      As I’ve said in other posts, in our company culture, it is common to invite family members to work events as our company is very family oriented. Our department is pretty close, sharing life events and such, so it wasn’t a stretch for a couple of coworkers to drop by the mother’s house to invite her to the party. My coworkers in my department know my family very well.

  18. Blue*

    Shouldn’t some of this be easily confirmed/denied by HR? Like, if she was married and now divorced (tax purposes). If her insurance covered a daughter, cancer treatments? If she had accommodations? Not that this info should be shared with the company, but it seems management has the basics right there to make a determination on her honesty.

    Separate but related, she was showing photos of the supposed fiancé. They could have been photoshopped or not if anyone she knew. But it’s also true not everyone has a great relationship with their parents. (This is a stretch, but what if that wasn’t even her biological mother but her stepmother or vice versa, or, her mother had an affair with her husband, or who knows what.) I know it must be a tremendous breach of trust– yet it still seems there are loose ends that might readily change the picture.

    1. fposte*

      It sounded like FMLA paperwork was never in the mix, so I don’t know how formal any of this got. My HR would have no idea what I was spending my insurance on, and I think that’s pretty common; those that do might overlap heavily with those situations where HIPAA is relevant.

    2. MuseumChick*

      Re: Photos

      There are a couple of possibilities. 1) She stole someones photos to use (if for example she never shows pictures of them together, just of him, this is likely the case). 2) She actually has a boyfriend but everything else is a lie. 3) They are photoshopped to show her with someone she is not dating.

  19. Mazzy*

    This depends on the type of work IMO. I work with a lot of cold hard information and data and it’s pretty hard to lie or even skew things. If you lie about a trend, it will eventually come out that you didn’t look into it properly. If you submit bad information to an authority or fake a calculation, that will be handled separately from the other lies. So at my company, this wouldn’t have been as serious an infraction as it might be at other places.

    I’m finding as I get older and deal with more diverse groups of people, I let more and more stuff like this slide. In terms of diverse in this sense, I’m referring to personality types and quirks. At my first few jobs I’d get totally caught up in the drama of it all, but then I saw that over the years things caught up to the person and I didn’t need to help get them fired or ostracized or whatever. My incompetent ex manager was eventually fired, my coworker who lied about serious things (not being engaged or not) also got fired and had a hard time finding work, my ex coworker who was lazy was passed over for a promotional opportunity. I didn’t need to extensively gossip or go to management about their flaws (though bringing an issue up while in a private meeting would be OK about specific work related issues). It’s not about being a saint, it’s about knowing things usually turn out OK, or will get worse, in which case it will then make more sense to intervene.

    IMO the gas card is a sunk cost. The financial impact was probably small enough that it didn’t hurt anyone. The only thing I’d be concerned about would be excessive loud calls interrupting the work space. And I’d change the scope of the shower to include a cheaper gift. Spending money on a nice lunch though regardless of the reason isn’t really a waste. But then again I don’t like paycheck to paycheck so have been in a position to spot money or pay lunch of give an expensive gift and not expect anything in return.

    1. Mazzy*

      Also as a manager I’d hope my staff had better things to do than check phone records. Again, depends on the jobs and work volume and level of work – I’d be more interesting in how you recently saved money or won a customer or found a big mistake and are fixing it rather than that you confirmed that someone does or doesn’t have a boyfriend. I mean, I don’t really care if the other people are single or not so why do I care if Lysa is? If she has major integrity issues, I’m going to care about how they come out at work or in ways that actually harm people. Pretending you’re not single doesn’t harm anyone. It’s weird, but not harmful. I’ve worked with much more annoying and toxic people than this to be honest.

      1. fposte*

        Yeah, I think as a manager what I’d do is try to reroute people from the indignation, and certainly from the sleuthing.

        1. AMG*

          Because he’s an incompetent liar and hope he is found out rather quickly. Like this:

          “but then I saw that over the years things caught up to the person and I didn’t need to help get them fired or ostracized or whatever. My incompetent ex manager was eventually fired, my coworker who lied about serious things (not being engaged or not) also got fired and had a hard time finding work,”

          1. Mazzy*

            Oh I get you, yeah, it seems like it takes a long time in real life but in retrospect you realize that most (though not all) stuff catches up to people. Though I also know someone who was an a** then went on to a higher level job at a competitor. Ugh. After he had us all sign non-competes, he didn’t even honor his own.

    2. Gabriela*

      As someone who takes lies VERY personally AND someone who has a tendency to gossip- your comment really resonates with me. The letter made me really uncomfortable, because I can imagine myself getting caught up in the drama of “getting to the bottom” of this fiasco. This tendency is something I’m working on, because my experience is similar to yours- things usually work out the way they are supposed to.

      1. Lynly*

        Yep. Eventually LW’s and team’s behavior (sleuthing, “stirring up trouble”) will become THEIR performance problem, and that’s something that I would be explicit with them about if I were their manager.

      2. Mazzy*

        That’s the way I used to be which is why I’m against the getting to the bottom as well. I found that as my work got higher level I had more on my mind than things like this. Also to a certain degree I just got desensitized or jaded. I fix problems from the most urgent to the least urgent and IME a loose screw may not be as dangerous as some of the other personality types going around. IME the most dangerous are ones using lots of big words and attending lots of meetings – you usually find out there isn’t much substance below the surface even though they are earning alot. That is much more damaging to a company. But it might just be my experience.

        1. AnonAcademic*

          Thanks for this perspective, it’s helpful to understand why a manager might not view this with the same urgency. I recently had a very odd meeting with my boss where he raised concerns about my staff that didn’t sound accurate, and found out shortly after that it was probably because a coworker has been telling my boss untrue negative things about me and my team. It was very hard to not just be indignant about the drama and the insult of being lied about, but I realize that part of being a professional is handling things with integrity even when others do not. I reported that there have been communication problems with this coworker (sticking to only factual examples, not the info I heard second hand) and was reassured that I’m not the only one with these issues and they’re working to address it. I think this coworker will ultimately only damage themselves with their behavior.

          However if I’m being honest…it still really bugs me and I am still fantasizing about tearing him a new one when he gets back from vacation. At a minimum I no longer find him trustworthy. And I started a file on him for CYA purposes.

      3. fposte*

        It’s so easy to fall into, especially in the days of the internet, and there are actually situations where some exploration is reasonable. But I think you’re right that the co-workers’ task right now is to find peace with the ambiguity–what they’d need to do to know for sure about Lysa isn’t appropriate.

      4. Anon-Anon*

        Amen. I honestly feel that the best advice for OP is to remove themselves from the drama of this situation. To take caution when working with Lysa (don’t engage personally and perhaps cover her bases by documenting interactions should there be a concern that Lysa might take credit for others work or blame others for mistakes). Her best move is to stay professional and stay out it.

  20. Elizabeth*

    Are there places where it’s common to invite an expectant parent’s family (besides, maybe, the other expectant parent if there is one) and non-work friends to a workplace baby shower? There’s a whole lot else going on here, obviously, but I’m stuck on the coworkers going to Lysa’s mother’s house (!!!) to invite her to a workplace baby shower.

    1. Temperance*

      I am from a small town, and I can totally see this happening where I grew up. I know my MIL’s coworkers, and I’ve never worked in the same place she does.

      1. Fiennes*

        When I worked in smaller towns, for smaller companies, this kind of thing happened a lot. AAM tends to skew bigger in scale, which I think can obscure the fact that in a lot of smaller towns & businesses, there’s inevitable overlap between the personal & professional that would be both unlikely and inappropriate in a major corporation/big city.

        1. Amy*

          Right but if the town was that small wouldn’t someone have noticed she wasn’t heading out to the airport every weekend or thought it was weird they never saw her around town with her boyfriend.

          1. Temperance*

            Actually, not really. If the town is small, they wouldn’t have a local airport, and she’d likely have to drive a few hours to get there. If her boyfriend/fiance lived in another town, it’s likely that they would never see him because she’d visit him. (It also makes it easy to invent a boyfriend in Canada or whatever if you’re in a small town. I had a few HS friends who did this.)

            1. LavaLamp*

              This comment actually made me laugh. In high school and into college I did have a Canadian boyfriend. No one ever accused me of making it up, because I’m not a liar but I did have one acquaintance convinced that I was going to get murdered since I met him online. My mom had a lovely time telling off my guidance counselor every other week, for calling and pestering her about a situation she’d vetted and found acceptable.

              Back on topic, small towns generally don’t have airports. Maybe a small patch of dirt for a crop duster or something but nothing else depending on size. I’m concerned that the amount of evidence they have isn’t enough to really condemn someone for lies like this though. I’d have to be extremely sure beforehand. I’m thinking perhaps the fiancé isn’t really rich or something, but maybe stress from her situation with her kid caused her to have a weird stress reaction.

            2. Not So NewReader*

              We are tiny. We have an airport. We have international flights, too.
              lol. sorry. just had to mention that.

    2. Important Moi*

      At my workplace, yes it is common at mine to invite family and non-work friends to a shower if we know who they are and the guest of honor would be appreciate it.

      Going to Lysa’s mother’s house may not unusual in the context of that workplace.

    3. Manders*

      Lysa already seems to have blurred the lines between her work and home life, to the point that her coworkers are pretty heavily emotionally and financially invested in what’s going on with her. It’s possible that she had a coworker pick her up or drop her off at her mom’s house, so they had the mom’s address, but not her phone number.

      Also, in my experience compulsive liars usually can’t keep a friend group around for years. They tend to cycle between groups, getting attached to new BFFs and losing them quickly. Her coworkers may have seen themselves as the only group of friends who could throw a bridal shower for her.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        This is the thing that is getting to me, her coworkers are emotionally and financially invested in her story.
        Is there any one in this story who is doing any actual work? To me it seems close to a workplace meltdown, the entire place is melting down over the problems stemming from the one employee.
        Any one who undermines a business to this degree, can be shown the door. Just my opinion.

        1. OP*

          Despite all the problems with Lysa, our department is actually very productive. There were a few days when morale was really low and people were stunned/upset/angry but now everyone just interacts with her on work issues. We’ve always gotten high performance reviews and don’t plan to let this interfere with that.

          Most of the stuff that happened was on breaks, lunch or outside of work btw so it didn’t affect productivity.

    4. Turanga Leela*

      Yes. My close friend had a baby, and her workplace shower was her only baby shower. Her co-workers threw it at the end of the workday, and family and non-work friends came.

    5. NW Mossy*

      My work asked me to invite my husband and older daughter to the shower they threw for me last year, but it was definitely routed through me – they didn’t go direct to my husband about it. This was the first work shower I can recall a spouse being invited to, but my team was pretty blatant that they really just wanted to meet older daughter. They LOVE kids.

    6. coffee or tea*

      I work in a small town. Before my wedding the staff at my office threw me a bridal shower. The wives of the partners attended and they wanted to invite my mom, who lived over an hour away. So no, it’s not that uncommon if they live in a small town.

  21. Isben Takes Tea*

    I love love LOVE Alison’s script that facilitates both a manager taking serious, direct action AND keeps the responsibility directly on the person who has damaged the relationships. It’s a great way to suss out the seriousness of the problem / the viability of keeping the employee employed as it gives them a chance to take responsibility and plan out concrete steps for reconciliation. At the same time, it leaves the door open for the manager to say, “This is a necessary step in you fulfilling your role, and if you can’t take ownership of that, we need to look at bringing in someone who can.”

  22. FunTillSomeoneLoosesAnEye*

    Marriage licences and divorce records are all public records, so it would be easy to sort out if she had actually ever been married and divorced in the first place. Would give you a good baseline for “what crap has she made up” to work from.

    1. Callalily*

      But even then it begs to question if they were ‘legally’ married or if it was a common-law situation where there’d be a divorce-like legal battle but no actual divorce. Many common-law couples consider a breakup as a divorce once lawyers get involved to split property and handle child details.

      Could you imagine opening with a ‘we caught you’ in a discussion when it turns out that is just wasn’t a legal divorce?

      1. hbc*

        Geez, I was with my SO for 15 years before we got married, and if someone called me out because I used the not-technically-but-emotionally-true term “divorce” in the case of a breakup, it wouldn’t have been pretty.

        Come to think of it, my mother doesn’t know we ended up doing the paperwork a few years back. (Long, irrelevant story.) If I got a real divorce from my real husband, my mom would tell you that I was never married or divorced, and I’ve never lied about it to anyone. So at least that part of the story can happen pretty innocently.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          I sometimes say “divorce” and “stepdaughter” when talking about a particular relationship because emotionally the fallout was the same. I usually specify that we weren’t actually married, but that we lived together and functioned in the same way, however.

      2. Stanger than fiction*

        A quick google and it looks like only about 15 states recognize common law marriage.

        1. Natalie*

          That’s legal recognition; I’m fairly sure Callalily is referring to social recognition. The state has no ability to keep you from referring to your live in partner as a husband and your split as a divorce when you’re describing the situation at work.

  23. MuseumChick*

    Oh boy. What a mess.

    First, Alison is right, it COULD be that Lysa isn’t lying about everything. Her child could have had cancer. She might even have a boyfriend. Based on the company phone records showing she was talking to herself for hours over a long period of time, I think we can safely say that the “rich fiance” story isn’t true. As others have mentioned she is probably sick, has something emotionally/mentally going on, which requires compassion. But I completely understand why you and your co-workers were/are extremely upset by this.

    Lysa’s manager should monitor the situation closely. Such as requiring a police report for the accident, doctors notes, and other proof of why she needs time off.

    I have a few questions. Is anyone at the office invited to the wedding? Have any of them meet the fiance? Does anyone (previous to this) socialize with her outside of work?

  24. Fiennes*

    I definitely agree with Alison’s advice to be cautious about calling it out–weirder stuff has happened, and you don’t want to be wrong on this one–but yes, action has to be taken. Since Lysa didn’t ask for the money she received for her child, then came up with a wealthy fiancé, I don’t think this is a premeditated con, at least not for financial gain. (It may have had its roots in her wanting extra time away from the office, for unguessable purposes.) The truth could be anywhere from her being a fabulist for the sheer enjoyment of being at the center of drama to her being a person in the midst of a serious breakdown. In either case, Lysa’s got to be dealt with for the sake of the office. The manager needs to step up and investigate. If Lysa needs mental health treatment and the company has an EAP, it’s past time to activate that. If this is more purely tale-telling (which would still make me wonder about her stability but would maybe not fall into the category of “mentally unwell”), then she’s got to go. Management really has to step up here; the cold shoulder stuff in the office is hurting everyone and resolving nothing.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      I do agree that management needs to do something. I have seen too many times that companies keep a person like this in place and totally discredit themselves.

      One job I had a manager said a certain coworker was probably mentally ill. (I know. I am just repeating what was said to me.) That coworker is still there and all of the other help had left within a few years. I’d say the same thing about this, either manage this person OR fire them.
      There is nothing wrong with saying, “Here is what we expect from ALL employees: X, Y and Z. Can you do these things?”
      Don’t have one set of expectations for some and a substantially lower set of expectations for a certain few or one.

  25. MuseumChick*

    There is a possibility that her child having cancer is true but everything else is a lie. Some people react to stress is really strange ways. So if she went through a divorce and then had her child diagnosed with cancer, the way she processed that stress was by creating a fantasy world. It doesn’t make her lies right, it just means she’s in need of some serious mental health help.

    It’s not exactly the same, but this is a news story from a few years back, the woman was under extreme stress (severally disabled daughter, husband had a heart attack, best friend was hospitalized and their disabled child needed care, etc) and reacted in an EXTREMELY inappropriate and criminal way. http://abcnews.go.com/US/woman-sentenced-tormenting-couple-devastated-losing-bidding-war/story?id=28877765

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Wow, that is some story about the losing bidder. I bet people are still showing up at the house because of things the losing bidder did. Just wow. I wonder how long it will be before people stop showing up. For all her problems, the losing bidder seemed to have plenty of free time to harass these people.

  26. ilikeaskamanager*

    If she has really lied about all of this, then i think it could be affecting the business. Don’t know what the business is, but do you want a person like this taking care of your customers? handling your inventory? representing your organization? If your coworkers can’t trust you, doesn’t that impact your ability to do your job or for them to do their jobs? I understand needing to verify what is the actual truth, but if this woman made up lies like this, I would not want her working in my company, and I would not want to work with her in somebody else’s company. If true, then she has demonstrated a complete lack of integrity and is untrustworthy to the point that it could impact business operations.

  27. Viola Dace*

    “So one lunch, they headed to her mother’s house.”. I’m really struggling with this entire tale because of this one sentence. If they really wanted to invite the mother wouldn’t they either call or send an invite in the mail? Who goes to the home of a co-worker’s parent to deliver an invitation? And how did they know her mother’s address? It’s sounding a bit far fetched to me.
    Just saying there is something off about the denouement and the supposed discovery of the lie. There might have been a lot of speculation about her lying and the story of going to visit the mother and getting the so-called truth may have satisfied those who speculated, but it’s really reeking of an office version of an urban legend.

    1. MuseumChick*

      Let me put my tin foil hat on real quick.

      I wonder if one or two co-workers suspected the Lysa wasn’t being truthful and “suggest” they all go over to the mothers house.

      1. Viola Dace*

        My tin foil hat must be a bit askew, because this whole story really dinged my BS-o-meter. Not saying the OP is wrong, but there is a lot of rampant speculation and not a bit of evidence either way. Also, the phone tap thing? Nope.

        1. MuseumChick*

          Well, there is evidence that she was talking to herself on the phone, for hours, over a period of several years while claiming it was her fiance. So, that’s a pretty big blow to Lysa’s credibility. But it doesn’t mean everything was a lie.

          If she did go through a divorce, and did have to take care of a child with cancer, her response to the stress could have been to create a fantasy world (Wonderful, rich fiance, getting married in Italy, etc)

        2. Alton*

          I can buy that getting the phone records is possible if Lysa were using a company landline, but I’m surprised her co-workers were able to get the info without the support of management. It would depend on the system and who has access, I guess. At my workplace, only IT would be able to get the records.

          1. Natalie*

            Cell phone bills, at least, show a record of all calls for each billing period. Everywhere I’ve worked, routine bills (such as company cell phones) wouldn’t have been considered super private and in need of locking up.

            1. fposte*

              We used to get a call log sent to our unit head (me) every month, now that I recall; I’d have to check it for unauthorized calls. One thing VoIP killed that I don’t miss.

        3. an anon is an anon*

          Same. The paragraph about going to the mother’s house and then the phone records seems just as weird to me as Lysa being a compulsive liar.

          Not going to lie, if I had my employees come to me and say they thought a coworker was lying about crazy things and their proof was going to their mother’s house and looking up phone records, I’d be suspicious of everyone involved.

          1. fposte*

            The phone records would definitely raise my eyebrows, but around here a stop at mom’s house wouldn’t–probably half the people would have relatives who knew Mom from church, or the neighborhood, or whatever.

            1. an anon is an anon*

              It still seems weird that a group of them went over during lunch to the mom’s house. Unless the OP gives more info on how the mom’s address was known or if any of the coworkers had met her before, it still seems weird to me. I don’t think we can assume the coworker’s knew her because if they had….wouldn’t all these lies have come up in conversation before they asked about the shower?

              1. fposte*

                Again, not around here–just because your aunt lives across from Lysa’s mom doesn’t mean you’ve been talking to your aunt about Lysa’s wedding plans.

            2. Rat Racer*

              I have trouble squaring the distance between knowing the mom well enough to show up uninvited to her house, but not knowing her well enough to have bumped up against any of these falsehoods before. How do you run into the mom and church and not inquire after the health of her grand-daughter?

              Ugh. I’m worried that I’m going to be a pariah on this site – which is a bedrock of sanity for me during my work day – for posting these doubts. But just one more thing in my defense: this whole narrative is about the credibility of a co-worker, right? So whereas under normal circumstances, the details of the OP’s story would be irrelevant, in this case, potential holes in the narrative are at least worthy of discussion, don’t you think?

              I dunno – I’ll shut up. And duck.

              1. fposte*

                Rat, while it’s up to Alison to say, here’s where I see it: we’re not a jury, and we don’t need to know everything or get to the truth. We’re just talking. And because there are so freaking many of us commenters, what feels like asking reasonable questions to us in the individual ends up subjecting commenters to a stream of microaggressions for having sought advice. There’s a fundamental asymmetry in that the LWs put themselves out there and dangle, but they’re not in one-to-one conversations and we have the protection of a group. I’m starting to feel that that means questions that might be okay for me to ask of a friend if we were chatting together actually can be too much here because the OP is going to hear them over and over and over again.

                So maybe there’s another yardstick that can be more useful than “Would you say this to a friend?” Something like “If a crowd were staring at you and fifteen people asked you this question, how welcome would you feel?”

                1. Lissa*

                  Yes, I agree a lot with this, especially on a post like this, where now a good half the threads on this are not about dealing with Lysa at all, but rather one person after another pointing out how weird the mom thing is to them — couldn’t it be kept to one thread above, and the rest of it focusing on the OP’s problem?

                  I would personally be pretty discouraged if I wrote in only to have a good percentage of the comments taken up with one aspect of the story that doesn’t address my question.

                2. Emi.*

                  Oooh, this is really good. I’m glad I came back to read all the comments on this one, fposte.

              2. Not So NewReader*

                I am not sure what is gained by questioning the mom story.

                Even if you take that part out, just chuck it, the rest of the story is still not good.

                If you prove the mom story to be in error somehow, that does not change things. This woman has excessive absences, when she does work she is not doing actual work ANNND she is disruptive to the work area. I think those things stand well and we do not need the mom part of the story to make it worse. It’s bad based on those three things.

                One of the problems I have had with bosses is that they will get caught on a detail like the mom story and totally fail to manage. I hope OP does not get a message here of “Well because of the mom story, let everything else go. It’s all okay.” No, it’s not all okay./

    2. Myrin*

      Oh, I can 100% see this happening where I’m from (with the exception that bridal showers, especially in the workplace, aren’t a thing here). There are a ton of people here who work with someone they went to school with or who is an old family friend or who dated the boss’s son or who live just down the street from their workplace etc. Off the top of my head, I can think of six former primary school classmates who all work inside a radius of about 1km from my current flat and who I could conceivably work with had I chosen a different career path – it wouldn’t be a problem at all for me to just show up at their parents’ door.

    3. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

      Ok, can we all just agree to let Alison screen for potentially fake letters and take those that are published at face value? What’s even the point of this kind of discussion?

      1. AD*

        Agreed. I thought here at AAM lately that there’s been a lot of talk about how letter writers have been nitpicked/critiqued way too often by commenters. Aren’t we supposed to be helping to stamp that out, instead of fomenting it?
        As others have said, the visiting mom part can certainly be a thing in a smaller or tightly-knit community so it’s not inconceivable.

        Can we all stop nitpicking these details in letter after letter?

          1. Marvel*

            Alison, if I can make a suggestion, have you considered moving the link to the commenting guidelines to a more prominent place on the site’s homepage? (Possibly even to the top menu?) Alternatively, you could link them at the bottom of each post, but that may be a bit excessive. It actually took me a few minutes to find them just now, and I knew they existed already; it wouldn’t surprise me if new commenters don’t know they’re there. In my browser, you have to scroll down a bit to see the link in the sidebar at all, and by that point I’m usually engrossed in reading the latest post.

              1. Ultraviolet*

                For what it’s worth, I think the link at the top of the commenting box is super easy to overlook. It’s a small font, and once the commenting text field opens up, your eye goes right to that and skips over the links. (I have no idea to what extent making it more prominent would help with the things that are frustrating you currently. But I do think a big fraction of people just don’t notice the links to the guidelines and ad/tech/typo report form.)

              2. Marvel*

                Yep, as Ultraviolet said, I’d never noticed it there. I think I overlooked it because sites often have a “please report technical issues here” sort of link right there that can be safely ignored unless you’re having a technical issue.

                I’m not sure what would make it more noticeable… bolded red text, maybe?

      2. Viola Dace*

        I think you may have missed the point. The letter itself doesn’t seem fake, but the entire story may have percolated throughout the office with a lot of half-truths, speculation and gossip. Sort of like a game of telephone gone awry.
        There is behavior on the part of both Lysa and the employees that deserves some massive side eye.

        1. Viola Dace*

          My response was meant for Victoria Non Profit. The substance of the letter is about whether or not to involve managers. Debating the actions of all involved seems reasonable.

          1. fposte*

            Reasonable, sure, but it’s less clear that it’s kind to the person who bared her soul and asked the question. And that’s a big priority.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Yes. It feels really crappy to invite people to share their questions here and then have it be a bad experience for them. That’s why I repeatedly ask people to take letter writers at their word and not do this.

              It’s fine for people to disagree with that approach, but it is my approach and I need people to respect the rules of the site if they want to continue commenting here.

              1. Amen*

                As a recent OP, I was astounded by how many commenters focused on questioning the details I provided. The level of nitpicking was actually kind of fascinating in a way. It made me wonder what the motivation is behind so many blunt critiques based almost entirely on conjecture. I think sometimes people just enjoy getting to project some of their own frustrations by playing the role of judge and jury.

                The good news: Some of the commenters took the time to engage in actual conversation! Some posters asked some fantastic questions (politely!) and others provided helpful constructive criticism that I was happy to consider along with Alison’s feedback.

                Alison: I doubt that many of your readers come to the site to read the advice in the comments. I generally find that the comments are 20% productive/adding to the discussion, 30% just saying with you said in a different way, 10% supportive/cheerleading…and 40% nitpicking. I like to skim the comments to get a feel for what other opinions are out there but I come to the site for YOUR opinion. I think the same could be said for many of your readers. Thank you for all that you do!

    4. Kitkat*

      Yeah, it’s unusual, but I grew up in a small town and can kinda see it happening in a particular set of circumstances (everyone from that town went to hs together still works in that town, they’ve been working together for 10 years and have gotten to know a lot about each other’s families, the mom doesn’t have a cell phone or email, etc)

    5. PR*

      I’m from a very small town and this would be completely acceptable there.

      It’s highly unlikely that the coworker would have had any reason to give them her mom’s number or email address, but there are tons of ways–again, in a small town–where you know where people live without having to ask. Maybe coworker mentioned in passing that her mom lives at the locally-famous “purple house at the top of the hill,” maybe someone dropped her off there when her car broke down, maybe someone drove once by as she was getting out of her car and she waved and explained the next day that she was dropping cookies off for her mom. I could take you on a tour of my tiny neighborhood and point out where lots of people live, even if I’ve since forgotten where I even picked the information up.

      Again, at least in my town, where lots of people are retired it’s not rude to stop by if their car is in the driveway. For whatever reason, in that generation there seems to be a minimum of being ready for guests, appearance- and house-wise (whereas if my friends and I are home for the day, we’re usually in loungewear with dirty dishes in the sink).

  28. Lynly*

    Agree with Alison’s advice. Management absolutely can do something about Lisa if it chooses. The initial “not work related/impactful” response was a lazy one. That said, given that it’s up to management now, LW and the rest of his/her team need to simply let this go. I thoroughly understand and empathize with the feelings of betrayal and disgust round Lisa’s behavior, but the only effective choice they have for themselves, imo, is to just chalk his one up to really weird and infuriating life lessons and manage their own behavior as professionally as they can. That means, as Alison stated, giving Lisa a really wide berth and interacting with her only in the professional real on an as-needed basis to be successfully meeting their own job expectations. End of story, really. As an aside, I can’t help but but feel that the LW’s department or the organization in general has some professional boundary parameters that worth reflecting on. The team’s checking phone records and showing up to a co-worker’s family member’s home is not typical workplace practice, even among co-workers who all get along famously and are friends.

  29. Katie the Fed*

    At the very least there’s likely some time and attendance fraud involved here, given the time she missed for her daughter’s fake illness. That alone should be a fireable offense.

    1. Loose Seal*

      Was it a fake illness though? It could be the daughter was sick and cancer was a possible diagnosis.

      I say this because I have a friend who talks about beating cancer. But the real story is that she had an abnormal Pap smear (which happens a lot, I understand) and she tested fine three months later when they re-did it. My friend is not, however, trying to con anyone or lie about this. She truly does not understand that an abnormal test =/= cancer. She truly thinks she beat cancer with prayer in the three months between tests (and maybe she did, what do I know?). So it made me realize that there can be smart, capable people who just do not understand what doctors say and who might panic so hard at thinking they *might* have cancer that their entire memory of the subject is forever changed. Our brains are powerful and can re-write things to “protect” us.

      1. OhNo*

        Yeah, it could very easily be a case of Lysa accidentally calling the illness by the wrong name. My dad did that when I had a (benign) tumor. In fact, he still talks about how I’m a “cancer survivor” or how I “beat cancer”. Every time it ends up being another round of “Tumors =/= cancer, dad. That’s like saying I climbed Mt. Everest when all I did was walk up an oversized hill.”

      2. Not So NewReader*

        It almost does not matter if the illness was real or not, if the employee has excessive absences that has to be addressed and handled somehow.

  30. Sarah*

    I actually had a very similar situation at a previous job. A coworker created elaborate stories about both her parents dying, stories about a boyfriend who sent her flowers and gifts, and much more. In the end, it turned out both her parents were alive and well and very concerned about their mentally ill daughter who they thought had stopped taking her medication. The coworker then stepped out in front of traffic to purposely get hit by a car, and she ended up having to be placed on a psych hold. She was a very troubled person, and her stories and actions kept escalating to invoke a greater response from people, till she put herself in serious danger. I would be very worried about your coworker. Based on your description, it sounds like you should trust her mother- that your coworker fabricated all of this and/or believes her own delusions to a degree. Also, you have the phone records that show she was just talking to herself.

    I also think that her actions actually had a huge impact on her work, so your management has every right to get involved. She brought everyone into her drama and accepted money from her coworkers. It’s not reasonable to expect people to continue to interact with her as if none of that happened, and how can people work with someone who has lied to them about so much?

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Yes, she is throwing this workplace into chaos with her life issues.
      That needs to be addressed.

  31. Kathy-office*

    Something about all of this is weird, and I’m not talking about Lysa’s behavior:
    1. How did everyone know where her mom lives? And why did they all decide to go together? 20 people is a small office, but a large crowd to head to one person’s house. Why wouldn’t they call?
    2. How does anyone know Lysa was using a work phone for those calls to her fiancee, as opposed to her own cell phone? That wouldn’t show any record (unless the co-workers were checking her personal phone).
    3. How is the fiancee a lie, but then she was showing photos of him? Photoshopping is simple, but not that simple.
    4. Thinking that someone lies about their child having cancer based on person’s word…that feels off to me. There would have been plenty of times to have evidence of this before. Is she the only person in the office with a kid (totally possible)? If not, then wouldn’t other parents with their kids in the same school bump into her, or otherwise know what’s going on?

    This office is nice for helping to support her and her child, but they seem to be prying and jumping to a lot of assumptions, and make me feel like there’s some drama-mongering going on.

    1. Katie the Fed*

      Must we always go Law and Order: Ask a Manager Edition on the letters here? Even if there are some curiosities with the letter, there’s usually enough good advice that can apply to similar situations.

      1. Turanga Leela*

        Agreed. Also, things that are very very possible:
        1) They know the mom socially or have been to her house before, but don’t know her phone number. (Maybe Lysa didn’t want to give it out; maybe they were keeping the shower a surprise.) Entirely possible that only a few people went.
        2) If she was calling at work, her coworkers would see which phone she was using.
        3) You don’t have to use Photoshop to show a fake photo. You could show a photo of the person without you—most of my photos of family are photos I took, so I’m not in them. It could be just a photo of someone she’s not actually dating.

        I’m leaving #4 alone, because I think the OP has laid out her reasoning pretty clearly on this. FWIW, I’ve been in this situation—specifically, I suspected that an acquaintance faked the death of a family member—and it wasn’t a suspicion I came to lightly. I felt like a terrible person for even considering the possibility.

        1. Isben Takes Tea*

          Well, my response to #4 is that none of the many children of employees in my office go to the same schools, since we commute in from a wide metropolitan area.

        1. Natalie*

          In the workplace advice system, questions are answered by two equally important groups: Alison, who answers the letter, and hundreds of anonymous internet strangers procrastinating during the workday. These are their stories.

          Dun dun.

    2. Isben Takes Tea*

      Perhaps, but Alison has asked us to take the OPs’ letters in good faith. There are plausible rebuttals to all 4 the oddities you found, and I’m very willing to bet that if this has been going on for months (if not years) I definitely understand the drive to start verifying facts when lots of little things continually don’t add up.

    3. Temperance*

      I don’t think that this “gotcha!” sort of comment is helpful, but especially in this context when a lot of what you’re citing is quite easily explained. Like the phone thing – it would be incredibly easy to tell if someone used their work phone, because you would see them using it.

    4. logicbutton*

      There was a catfishing scandal uncovered in my internet friend group recently. The person behind it had been using two different personas with us, at least one of which used photos of a stranger, including some in which the two of them had been shopped together. Now, my friends are smart, savvy people, who were looking at the photos on their own devices on their own time, and nobody noticed. For years. In fact, when somebody did finally notice, it wasn’t until after they had already figured out that something was up. And the shopping wasn’t even particularly good; it’s blindingly obvious if you know where to look.

      People just don’t expect people they care about to show them fake photos.

    5. OP*

      OP Here, I’ll try to answer your questions
      1. Small town, the mother works with the husband of another coworker. She gave him permission to give his wife her address. Not everyone went. It was only three people and I believe they stopped by on their lunch because they were going to be in the area.

      2. We knew she was using the work phone to call her fiance because she would hold it and talk to him, loudly about wedding plans and their weekend plans. And our business phones do keep record of the numbers we call or receive calls from and the amount of time we are on that call. Its simply pushing one button on the phone to get the info.

      3. She showed pictures of a man. She was never in them. Her kids were never in them. Its easy to download a picture of a random stranger and say its so-and-so.

      4. It wasn’t just one person’s word. There is a lot more to it that’s not easy to go into. Things that she’s said and done to contradict herself that we didn’t catch at the time. Things that her other daughter has said. She would tell one person something and turn around and tell someone else the opposite. It wasn’t until later that we put pieces together.

  32. Bogart*

    When did it become a coworker’s responsibility to deal with problems like this? Report it to your manager. That’s it. That’s all you need to do when your coworker does something wrong, unless it directly, negatively affects your work. It’s fun to share horror stories and enjoy juicy gossip, but it’s not your job to check phone logs, etc. Let the management do their job, enjoy your gossip, and mind your own business.

  33. Turanga Leela*

    While Alison is right, and you really don’t want to accuse someone lightly of faking a child’s serious illness, this is a thing that happens. Some people love the attention of having a very sick child. This can come out as Munchausen syndrome by proxy (where parents actually make their children sick or seek medical care) or just lying, often on the internet. Some famous-ish cases: Dee Dee Blancharde, J.S. Dirr, Kaycee Nicole, Anthony Godby Johnson.

    To be clear, I’m not saying that Lysa has Munchausen by proxy—there’s nothing here to suggest that she hurt her child, and we don’t armchair-diagnose here. I’m saying that it’s not unheard of for parents to seek affirmation and sympathy by presenting their children as sick. Being a parent is exhausting and frustrating, and many parents don’t get a lot of sympathy for the ordinary demands of parenting. Having a child with a terrible illness changes the dynamic a lot.

    Brief personal story: when my child was hospitalized, it was awful. It was the worst week of my life. But my partner said that for the first time, he understood people who pretended that their children were sick. We were surrounded by attention and love. All of our friends and families wanted to hear how the kid was doing. People called and emailed all the time; they told us that we were brave. They offered to pay our expenses. We needed the help, and we were grateful. But it’s easy to see how a disturbed person could wind up using that kind of situation for validation.

    1. fposte*

      Yeah, the Warrior Eli site was really good for those kinds of things, and Taryn had a refreshingly non-witch-hunty way to her investigations. (People often say “I had [disease/sick child], and I can’t understand why people would want to have that!” But they don’t–they like having all the good responses to it, and they don’t have to deal with the pain and fear.)

      1. ConsultThenRun*

        Glad someone mentioned Warrior Eli because that really opened my eyes on reason why people would lie about something like this. Also glad because I actually know Taryn from childhood and she’s very determined to treat people with respect when outing them since mental illness can come in all forms.

    2. Loose Seal*

      Thanks for sharing your partner’s insight. You’re right in that we have no way of knowing if it applies in this case but I think it’s always helpful to be able to genuinely think of a non-malicious reason someone could be behaving the way they are (even if it’s only so I can deal with them without acting accusatory without fact).

      Hope your kid is doing well now.

  34. EmmaUK*

    my feelings on this depend on whether Lysa is ill or not.

    I was a liar when I was younger because I came from an unstable and abusive environment and just wanted to fit in with people. I never lied about health or anything serious but my own experience makes me feel like there might be a bigger story behind the lies. Or at least something that perhaps deserves empathy.

    Of course there is every chance there isn’t and she is just a bad person.

    1. FD*

      Even if a person is ill, there can sometimes be consequences for the behavior that comes from that illness. Alcoholism is very real, but if you drive drunk and kill someone, there will still be legal consequences, for example.

      I agree that there should be some empathy, but sometimes compassion shouldn’t stand in the way of natural consequences of an action.

      1. Allison*

        Right. If someone’s mentally ill, it doesn’t give them a pass on being a destructive force in other people’s lives. It is, unfortunately, very possible for a mentally ill person to cause physical, financial, or even just psychological harm to others, and being sick doesn’t make it okay to cause that harm. Compassion and forgiveness are good things, but we all have our limits, and I’ve had to unfollow people because their constant negative statuses and unhinged rants on social media were making *me* feel incredibly anxious and guilty.

    2. fposte*

      That’s not a call her manager is likely to be able to make, and it’s almost certainly not one her co-workers can. Sounds like even her mother didn’t offer up a known diagnosis.

      I think the co-workers need to back off from this focus on Lysa, but the way for that to happen is for a manager to clearly send the message that this is being managed. And like Katie the Fed, I’m concerned that there may have been considerable fraud around her absences (get your FMLA paperwork done, people); I don’t know if I’d want to investigate the past enough to fire her for that, but papers would have to be in order for future claims.

    3. Manders*

      I’m so sorry you went through that as a child.

      Unfortunately, there’s no way to look at someone and know whether or not they’re ill, and it’s usually not possible to force someone into treatment who’s acting erratic but not in a way that’s life-threatening. All the coworkers really have to go off of here is her behavior. They can’t diagnose or treat her, or force her to get diagnosed and treated, they can only choose how they respond to her behavior.

    4. emma2*

      We will never know without actually knowing Lysa personally (not that I want to.) Compulsive lying is a symptom of a lot of things – from insecurity to narcissistic personality disorder. We have no way of knowing without more knowledge and a psychiatry degree.

  35. Kinsley M.*

    I worked with a woman who faked a pregnancy. Our job required lots of walking except for the coordinator who directed the rest of the employees. She was temporarily reassigned to the coordinator position for the duration of her pregnancy. She also concocted that her baby had a heart defect that our manager’s child ACTUALLY DIED FROM. Said manager became a mentor to her, helping her prepare for the baby’s arrival, etc… At around what she said was six months pregnant, she went into labor. She never came back to work because when the manager went to visit her, he found out there had never been a baby, never a pregnancy. Her boyfriend (the supposed father) was dumbfounded and had zero idea what the manager was talking about.

    I have no idea if she was actually fired or if she just didn’t come back after being found out. But if she had returned to work, I can’t imagine any of us would have been remotely nice to her. Lying like this is hurtful. People invest time (and money) into each other’s lives, and it’s perfectly ok to not be ok with that being because of a lie.

      1. bloo*

        I agree it was horrible for the manager, although Kinsley referred to the manager with male pronouns.

  36. FD*

    What a mess.

    If I were management, I would quietly run a check for fraud and embezzlement. I wouldn’t make it obvious but I would look.


    People like this *tend* to be good at justifying things. They may know they’re lying, but they can justify it as “it should be true” or “it’s not hurting anyone”. It’s the same way that most people may exaggerate a harmless story (i.e. a 12 inch fish that got away becomes a 14-inch one). But if you can justify a story about a child with cancer, a rich fiancee, it’s easy to justify falsifying records or altering expenses. After all, it’s not really hurting anyone, just the corporation. And really, you’ve had such a hard time, you really deserve it. They don’t pay you enough anyway.

    A family friend was caught embezzling, and while they weren’t a pathological liar, they had a gambling problem and kept telling themselves it was fine because it wouldn’t hurt anyone, and they’d pay it all back before anyone noticed anyway.

    1. Abby*

      The pathological liar I worked with was also embezzeling money and plenty of stories that excused that as well that were all lies.

  37. Thumper*

    “The only people who will talk to her are those who like to stir up trouble.”

    What does this mean, exactly? That seems to imply more drama is on its way.

    1. an anon is an anon*

      Yeah, that caught my attention as well. I can understand coworkers feeling betrayed or hurt that Lysa lied about something so serious, but they’re not going to do themselves any favors by stirring up trouble and that should be cut off asap.

    2. vanBOOM*

      I took it to mean that those people are either other ostracized co-workers *or* people who are only cozying up to Lysa to spread more gossip about her.

      1. Thumper*

        Yeah, I thought so too. The former is understandable, the latter is not good for anyone and should probably be nipped in the bud soon.

    3. OP*

      Its more the people who want to catch her and call her out on lies. Ask her questions and wait for a contradiction then call her out on it loudly. There’s only a couple and we’ve tried to shut it down when it happens by changing the subject when they tell us what the newest lie is. We don’t want more drama in the department. This is way more than enough.

      1. fposte*

        Oh, I so applaud the direction you’re trying to take here. I think you’re absolutely right in what you’re doing, and that these two are making things worse; I hope they realize it and draw back, but it’s hard to do that when it’s so heady and you’ve got somebody doing it with you.

  38. Granny K*

    I worked with a gal like this (no rich fictional fiance but alot of ‘illnesses’ and family drama). My advice: be polite and professional but distant. Don’t share any personal information with her and anything you work with her, copy yourself on so you’ll have a record later if she lies and says she never got it. Also: watch your back.

    1. HannahS*

      Yeah, you have to protect yourself. The letter doesn’t get into whether Lysa just talks about herself or if she also starts drama with other people, but the three people I’ve known who tell massive lies tell stories about what other people have said and done that aren’t true. Sometimes it’s just that so-and-so said this or that awful thing, but sometimes it’s so-and-so stole money from me, so-and-so committed a crime, etc. Communicating mostly in writing, or following up on conversations in writing, might be a good idea.

  39. Language Lover*

    I’ve seen this kind of behavior online. It’s so easy for people online to invent fantasy lives, fantasy highs, fantasy lows and feed off of the support of online communities.

    I hadn’t run into it in real life until a few years ago when I supervised a woman similar to the one in the letter. Things would happen to her that weren’t plausible because that’s just not the way those things worked. If something good were to happen to her, I’d just know that a “but it all went wrong” chaser was bound to follow.

    Even the over-involvement of the co-workers in the letter makes sense to me because the behavior of my worker was the most effective on the most empathetic employees. They were thrilled for her when things went well and weeped for her when things went poorly. There was a ton of boundary crossing and over-investment in this employee’s life…or at least the story of her life that she wanted them to believe. They feed off of the attention. It seems odd looking at it from the outside but when people are living it, that unhealthy dynamic feels normal.

    In my case, it did affect work. She started telling lies about me as her supervisor. Lies that her coworkers could see were false. There was also inappropriate behavior that I only learned about after she left. I was going to have to discipline her for the work-related items but the loss of an adoring/believing crowd led her to leave on her own.

    Management has an employee they can’t trust and they’re going to have to consider if that’s what they really want. They also have a dynamic left behind that isn’t the healthiest. There is no easy answer to this but professionalism should be enforced. If her coworkers cease being fountains of emotional availability, I wouldn’t be surprised if she looked elsewhere for that gratification.

    1. LeeGull*

      Thank you for sharing your experience! I am not as skeptical of the validity of the story as some commenters are, and it’s because I’ve seen smaller-scale versions of similar behavior. I agree management may have to act soon simply because of the lack of trust between coworkers that will likely never be rebuilt.

  40. Jillociraptor*

    I once worked in a clothing store and had a colleague, Kathy, who had created a very elaborate fantasy life that she acted out in public. In her fantasy, she was extremely wealthy and worked only because she enjoyed it. She was always telling stories about this or that extravagant trip, and all the fancy stores she shopped at. She was very good at her job and actually quite fun to be around. But we all sort of rolled our eyes at her stories because where we lived, literally no one was that kind of rich. Fast forward a few months and we hired someone who had graduated with her from high school. The new person told us that Kathy had been working on this persona at least since then, and confirmed that none of it was true.

    Kathy never asked for nor took anything from her colleagues. We all helped each other out (bought lunch or coffee here and there) and she contributed and took equitably. There was an issue with someone skimming from the registers, and while she was suspected, it ended up being someone else.

    I think we all just kind of agreed to let it go. Kathy was a good worker, a pleasant person to be around, wasn’t really hurting anyone, was just rather eccentric. I ended up quitting before too long, but I recently saw Kathy as a vendor at the farmer’s market when I was visiting home. I don’t know that she recognized me.

    It’s such an odd situation. It’s kind of a basic assumption in the social contract that people will be honest about things that matter, and when they so blatantly reject that norm, it’s really hard to figure out how to respond.

  41. Anon for This*

    I’ve known two people like this. The first was my manager when I worked pizza delivery in college. Her stories that started off as believable, but unlikely got more and more elaborate and implausible. First, she was the half owner of another popular restaurant in town. Then she had a band, and that band played at the restaurant on weekends (but no one ever saw them there). Then she won over a million dollars in the lottery and was buying a huge house across town (but never did). Then her band was getting really famous and playing in large venues in the state. Once, she called in and made me cover for her, because she was at of one of these “shows” and when I was on a delivery in her neighborhood (her old house, because of course she never bought the other one), I drove by and saw her through her front window, sitting on her couch watching TV. It got to the point where even if she had told the truth about something, no one would have believed her.

    The second was a woman I went to college with. She was the exact same way – stories started out as believable and just got crazy. The last time I spoke with her, she told me that her daughter was married and living in Africa (she’s married, but still in the US), and then went to visit her and had dinner with the African Prince (not of any particular country in Africa, the Prince of all of Africa) and that they were going to adopt a baby from that they had met on the street while they were over there, and that they were doing the paperwork and bringing him home within a month. Because international adoption is easy like that.

    I just ignored these people and removed them as best I could from my life. I think it’s really all you can do about Lysa, if you are 100% sure that she’s lying.

      1. David*

        When you’re personal friends with the Prince of Africa I’m sure adoptions can be expedited.

        1. The Not Mad But Sometimes Irritable Scientist*

          The Prince of Africa wants my help to get his $25 million to an offshore bank. Surely, an adoption would not be too much to ask for.

      2. King Friday XIII*

        Why, I got an email from him just the other day that he needed my help to move some funds into the US!

      1. Sylvia*

        ASOIAF/Game of Thrones reference. The character Lysa is quite melodramatic and had a sick son. I’m fuzzy on whether he was genuinely ill or just showing the effects of being raised that way.

  42. AnonCPA*

    Coworkers went to an employee’s mother’s house…to invite her and her friends to a bridal shower at her office…for her second marriage. Sounds like you have a potential liar and some for sure creeps at this office.

    1. Isben Takes Tea*

      This was covered above. It’s not unheard of or unusual in some areas, even if it is in others. Alison has asked us not to nitpick the letter-writters and to try to keep our comments focused on answering the question asked.

      1. AnonCPA*

        Meh. I think this is relevant. It’s hard to give advice on appropriate reactions when the whole situation is dysfunctional. While it’s true that there will be different norms for different areas at some point we must draw a line between OKAY and NOT OKAY. That is essentially what this entire blog is about. It may be perfectly normal in some company cultures to make crude jokes at work but it still okay for us to call the behavior out if it is given in context of a different question.

        1. Isben Takes Tea*

          It may be relevant, but there’s a difference between broaching the topic to get a feeling on normalcy (as was done above) and just calling the OP and their coworkers “creeps.” Alison’s been really on us lately to post as if the OP is in the room with us having the discussion (since she often invites them to read the comments and participate).

          1. AnonCPA*

            OP didn’t go to the mother’s house. She said ‘they’ did. I would definitely tell her in person that is creepy.

  43. vanBOOM*

    I don’t doubt the possibility that the mother could be the one spreading misinformation here. I knew someone who told people for years that her own daughter had died (!) simply because her daughter married someone the mother didn’t like and then they moved away from her hometown. In the several months leading up to the mother’s death, I even witnessed her compulsive lying firsthand (and how truly nasty she could be to her caregiver daughter while upholding the image of being a kind, supportive woman to non-family members). I also know someone else who, to this day, has never told his own father that he once had cancer. He didn’t tell him because the father would have come to see him (he’s lived in another state for a long time) and no one felt comfortable having him around (he’s an obsessive, personality-challenged type). So, sure, it’s possible. It’s even possible that some of the major details (e.g., the husband, the child) were accurate while the bits about the mother’s participation in these life events had been fabricated (perhaps out of wishful thinking–e.g., she wanted her mom to be there, but she wasn’t, and she didn’t want to talk about it).

    However…given the details the OP has provided, I’m choosing to give the OP’s judgment the benefit of the doubt (though taking Alison’s recommendation to make *sure* that you’re sure would be wise). I’m still curious to know why the co-workers went to Lysa’s mother’s home, though, and the bit about examining the phone records feels uncomfortable as well.

    1. Temperance*

      Heh. I was in the ICU last year and forbade my husband and MIL from telling my mother because I didn’t want her to visit and stress me out, so I get it. The thought of watching her crazy, mean self screaming at my husband for getting me sick, and my doctors for not doing what she thinks is best was actually worse than the illness.

      1. Seal*

        I was hospitalized overnight for chest pains a year and a half ago and never told my family, who live halfway across the country, mostly because I didn’t want to get lectured by my mother about my weight and/or blood pressure. The worst thing I did was claim that I left my phone at work as an excuse for why I didn’t return phone calls during that time. Fortunately my heart was fine, although they were never able to determine what was causing the chest pains.

  44. ellis55*

    I know I’m in the minority on this, but it seems like you do nothing here except extricate yourself from the drama and move on.

    You have one odd, potentially very untruthful coworker. Management has said they’re not going to pursue it and you don’t manage her.

    As frustrating as that is, the only lever you can pull here is your own reaction, and it sounds like things are getting about 1 million times worse because of the understandable desire to fire up the rumor mill on this one. That’s the consequences of her actions, and I don’t want to overstate how responsible you are, but two wrongs vs right and all that.

    Keep your distance, be polite but professional, and don’t participate in any workplace witch hunts.

    I’m betting she’s just a garden-variety fabulist who likes time off, but a range of things are possible – maybe she’s ill, maybe she’s dealing with something stigmatized that she doesn’t want to disclose at work so made the very poor choice of lying in order to get the time she needs. Maybe her mom is unsupportive (at the very least, if someone comes to me from my daughter’s WORKPLACE and is planning a shower for her and I think that’s odd, I am going to talk to my daughter about it before I go all in on making her look like a liar at work). Who knows. Getting too close to her was a recipe for disaster, so – lesson learned.

    1. fposte*

      Well, I agree with you, so it doesn’t feel like a minority to me :-). As a manager, I might do something else, but as a co-worker, this is pretty much my take as well. The problem with the sleuthing is that it’s exciting and addictive, and it entangles them even more when they should be backing away, so I think LW should distance herself from that.

      1. ellis55*

        Also, to be clear the danger for the LW now is letting Lysa’s strange, head-scratching thing become a reason THEY get into trouble at work.

        Management made their ruling, so continuing to investigate, gossip, etc. – as justified and exciting as that may be and even feel – could put them in jeopardy of getting in trouble for harassment, etc. As maddening is it would be, giving Lysa grounds to lash out back at them is about the worst case.

        It sounds like this is a person with profound issues of some kind (whether or not she’s telling the truth, we can all agree that, stress and oddness abound). Wide berth, always.

        1. Lynly*

          Exactly. I mentioned a bit up-thread that not letting this go could eventually become the LW’s and team’s performance problem. I have seen this happen a handful of times in my HR and people management career. What I’ve also seen happen is that complainants who raise issues at work sometimes make assumptions that management and/or HR isn’t doing anything. LW states that their manager required a police report as documentation for one of Lysa’s absences. That indicates to me that on some level, management is watching. They may be doing other things too and not discussing them, rightly so, with other employees. Good managers and HR partners don’t broadcast every investigatory or corrective step they take around an employee issue. Those things should remain as confidential as is possible in carrying out an effective investigation.

          1. ArtsNerd*

            I’ve been the employee whose work suffered for not letting go of a colleague’s bizarre/extreme behavior. I’m too honest to say I would never get sucked into that kind of drama again, but I am wise enough to know that I definitely *should* not get sucked into that kind of drama again.

            Professional, polite distance and DIY closure all the way.

    2. OP*

      After a few days to get over the initial shock/upset/anger, we’ve basically done as you’ve suggested. Some maybe a little more coldly but those are the people who were the most supportive and feel the most betrayed. We only discuss work related items with her. We are polite and professional. She have given her nothing to complain about and done nothing out of the ordinary, except avoid talking to her outside of work related issues and that is how we plan to continue. It’s just unfortunate that now I’ll be looking at anyone new to the team with jaded eyes with that lesson learned.

  45. Loose Seal*

    I’d like to tell a personal story from Lysa’s side.

    Several years ago, I had to have back surgery. It was sudden (I went from “fine” to “you need surgery right now” in less than two weeks) and not during the best time of the year for anyone in my office to be off work.

    I only had less than a week’s sick days left when I took off for the surgery because I had spent some going to diagnostic appointments the previous two weeks. So I came back to work 8 days after surgery (I was strongly recommended to take 12 weeks off for recovery) and I was still rather shaky and sweaty and I was moving very carefully. Plus, I was wearing an enormous, unattractive back brace.

    Two days after I returned to work, I was called into my supervisor’s office and she had her boss in there with her. Turns out, one of my coworkers reported that I hadn’t really been out for surgery but had taken a vacation in the Caribbean with a new boyfriend. Her “proof”: she said she saw it on Facebook.

    My boss acted like my cowoker’s accusation was the golden truth. She started asking me how I could do something like that and leave all of them with the extra work. After a few minutes of listening to this, I cut her off. I said that I had asked her in advance if she needed a doctor’s note and she had said no. I said I had an appointment the next day and I would get her one then and requested that she and I deliver it together to HR. I also pointed out that I had no boyfriend, new or otherwise, and I had never been to the Caribbean so I didn’t know whose FB the coworker thought they saw but it wasn’t mine. Then I stood up, turned around, peeled off my brace and yanked my blouse up so they could see the nine-inch fresh incision there, complete with about 20 staples. My boss almost passed out at the sight. (Ordinarily, I wouldn’t have used my body as proof of something like this but I was furious and beyond thinking clearly. Also, I was still shaky and not really fit for work but I needed the paycheck.)

    The kicker was that they wouldn’t tell me who told them the story so I spent the rest of my time there (another three years) suspecting everyone. They ruined the relationship with me but office gossip made me the liar. So I feel for Lysa here. She may well have been lying and may be rightfully trapped in a web of her own making. But what if she isn’t?

    1. MuseumChick*

      I hope karam came back around for who it was that did that. What a terrible person.

      I do think there is a difference in this case. They have determined that she was talking to herself, extensively, over a long period of time. That makes it a lot harder to trust anything else she says. I stated this up thread, I would not be surprised if she was telling the truth about her child having cancer, and to deal with the stress created a fantasy world.

    2. Mike C.*

      They wouldn’t tell you!? What in the heck.

      Also, how in the heck are you supposed to prove a negative?

      1. rubyrose*

        I had something like that happen to me once also. I was called into a meeting with my manager, someone I worked closely with, and her manager. Someone had told this co-worker that I was making derogatory comments about her work skills behind her back.
        I asked where these comments came from and was told they could not divulge that information. I knew who made them (I had taken her place and was better liked than she). I told co-worker what I thought of her work skills. I told the group I was not willing to discuss any further unless the source was named. After 10 minutes of the managers trying to convince me I was wrong about not discussing (“it’s not important who it came from”) I walked out. Left that job shortly thereafter and have never looked back.

      2. Natalie*

        I was about to say show them your passport with no stamps in it, but I guess if you didn’t have a passport you wouldn’t be able to prove you didn’t have one…

    3. Narise*

      A friend of mine was also called in over accusations from an unnamed source stating her mother hadn’t died when she claimed and they we’re going to dock her pay for the bereavement pay she’d received. After listening for twenty minutes she demanded to know who was spreading lies about her and she could prove her mother had died. They wouldn’t tell her so at a subsequent meeting she looked her boss and in the eye in front of HR and a VP she stated no evidence had been presented regarding the existence of the source so as far as she was concerned it was her boss making these accusations and she was turning it over to her lawyer as harassment. Friend said her boss turned white but they did reach a settlement shortly after the meeting.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Ding, ding. We have a winner.
        This is a great approach, I am putting it in my non-existent book of great approaches to difficult situations.

    4. emma2*

      OMG your co-worker is a Class A jerk. I’m really sorry about what happened.

      I don’t understand these people. When it comes to dealing with my coworkers, I try to lean towards being non-negative as much as possible. Even if I knew a coworker was lying about their days off, I’m not about to get myself involved and tell on management. I don’t critique them outside of being directly asked for constructive feedback. I don’t understand the need to add negativity to the workplace.

      In Lysa’s case, though, it seems like her co-workers were sympathetic to her and wanted to help her until they noticed things weren’t adding up. Based on the OP’s letter and comments, it seems like there were a series of incidences that genuinely led to the conclusion something was off about Lisa, as opposed to someone maliciously spreading rumors about her (although IDK about the coworkers that like stirring up trouble…don’t know what that’s about.) I imagine the OP can’t share too many details without compromising her anonymity.

  46. BlueBasket*

    I worked with a lady like this a few years ago – she had a fictitious relationship with a guy who was real (he was a lounge singer that was kinda famous in that circle). She would do the thing with the phones too where she was talking to herself. She/they were planning the wedding and then she was threatening to leave him….all very dramatic and the rest of us would get caught up in it as she battled him over the phone regarding the latest issue or sobbed on our shoulders in the break room about how she didn’t think she could go ahead with the wedding.

    It was an open secret amongst the rest of us that none of it was true – she bought the ring for herself and had no relationship with the guy in question at all. But she seemed to believe it so we rowed in. My general feeling is that if people feel the need to fabricate stuff like that they should be treated with sympathy, not vitriol. Easier said than done sometimes, I know.

    1. ArtsNerd*

      In college there was a guy on the fringes of my social circle who was widely understood to be a pathological liar. He said some unlikely and outrageous things and most people kept him at arm’s length for it.

      Thing is, while I’m pretty sure he did not actually meet God while astral projecting or get a B.A. from Harvard at the age of 14, I was (accidentally) able to verify that several of the statements his friends had dismissed as total fabrications were true, or at least plausible/likely. It makes me wonder how much of the time he was actually saying true facts and his buddies just nodded and rolled their eyes.

  47. StartupLifeLisa*

    Oh man. I have a story eerily similar to this.

    “Asher” worked for our small tech startup in a recruiting role. He frequently worked with outside agencies to bring in candidates, since he was the only recruiter. When offered relocation assistance to move for the job, he accepted it and then chose a home almost 2 hours’ drive away from the office, forcing him to work from home often–when questioned about why he accepted relocation assistance and didn’t move reasonable commuting distance from work, he blamed his son’s Autism and said he chose the closest home he could find that was close enough to an appropriate school for his son’s special needs.

    About a year into his tenure, Asher’s wife developed cancer. She had been chronically ill their entire marriage–in fact one of their first dates was spent in the ER–so he explained he was used to it enough not to be emotionally distressed & had faith she would recover, but he would need some flexibility in his schedule to help her with chemo. Of course that was granted and he began to come into the office rarely, if at all.

    Fast forward a few months–someone new is hired in recruiting, sparking a look at our relationships with outside agencies. Someone figures out that the outside agency that Asher kept working with & paying fees to was in fact owned by his wife, a fact which he had not disclosed when spending thousands of dollars of company money with said agency. In investigating the embezzlement, it was discovered that not only was Asher’s wife not in a current cancer treatment regimen, she was no longer his wife–sometime during his employment, she had filed for divorce.

    Asher was terminated, and reacted to this news by trying to get one of the other employees deported, then suing claiming he’d been fired illegally as a “whistle-blower” for reporting the other employee’s immigration status. (Note that the other employee is a refugee with legal status, which apparently Asher did not realize.)

    The rumor going around the office now is that Asher was in an incredible amount of debt to unsavory characters & the embezzlement was out of desperation to pay, but I have no idea if it’s true. All I know is he keeps trying to reach out to me to be friends & asking why he never hears from me anymore. We did get along, when we actually worked together, before the web of lies was uncovered.

    1. Lady Phoenix*

      Wow, Asher sounds like a really dirtbag.
      “Oh, you got me fired?! Well… I have you sent back to your country!”

      Save the trouble and block his ass.

  48. Interviewer*

    Your friend has an inability to see the lying as a behavior that shuns friends, rather than bringing them closer. He still believes his lies, he still sees himself as this mythical superhero, awesome both inside & out, so why in the world don’t you want to be friends with him? His repeated attempted to get in touch are actually seeking an opening to tell his side of the story. Of course the company got it all wrong, of course he shouldn’t have been let go. Maybe he even wants to tell you how much better off he is now, without that old baggage weighing him down.

    Most of us keep up a polite fiction in uncomfortable situations, that we aren’t actually uncomfortable and everything is fine. Or for people we know very well, we ignore the gut instinct telling us something is wrong. Liars like Asher rely on this behavior. Good for you for letting him go.

  49. HRish Dude*

    Unless I’m misreading the letter, it sounds like most of this happened 9-10 years ago?

    1. Bork*

      My interpretation was that this started 9 years ago and the series of events (a sad country song, really) has happened over the last 9 years.

  50. S*

    Has Lysa showed you photos of her daughter? Different photos over the course of the year, of her daughter getting medical treatment, doing kid things? Because if not, I don’t believe her. Every single parent I know who talks about their kids will almost immediately whip out their phone to show you photos of said kid from the past week when the kid comes up in conversation. Seriously, if she talks non-stop about her sick kid but you can’t picture what the kid looks like, then there is no kid. Probably true of the fiance as well, but not a smoking gun (some people just don’t take many pics of each other or them together). But every parent I know has a phone full of pics of their kid doing every single thing you can think of.

    Also, I would argue that even though these conversations were 100% unrelated to work, the level of lying absolutely affects work, because it directly affects Lysa’s credibility and trustworthiness and possible sanity. Either Lysa is a sociopath who is lying for attention or she’s seriously delusional… either is very very bad! Obviously some non-work lies about your personal life wouldn’t count even though they would be a teeny bit sketchy to lie about (“Yes, we had totally planned a fancy awesome vacation but then had to cancel at the last minute and stay-cation because of something vaguely bad that ended up not being a big issue. It’s not like the only thing we can afford anything is a staycation, I swear, really, pinky promise”), but this is just ridiculous.

    1. OP*

      She had pictures of her and her daughters all the way until her daughter became supposedly ill. Then they all disappeared and there hasn’t been new ones for several years of either daughter (she has two)

      1. The Southern Gothic*

        Lots of pictures, then suddenly no pictures of her kids? Lots of time off? Smells like a custody issue…

  51. Narise*

    Has anyone looked at Lysa Facebook to see if they can identify a boyfriend and/or if her daughter had cancer? Not sure you want to waste your time but it’s a thought.

    1. Lynly*

      Nothing good can come from this. The best thing for LW and the office team on every level, but especially professionally, is to just back off and move on. They’ve raised the issue. They now need to distance themselves from it. That’s all there is to it.

  52. OP*

    OP Here- Just wanted to answer some questions you posed.

    100% sure she lied. The mother has a solid reputation in our town and was genuinely confused when confronted with the illness and fiance. She said her daughter had always had trouble with the truth.

    We’ve also caught her in many lies since. The weekend of her ‘wedding’ (even after being called out, she still insists she went away and got married), she was seen in town by several co-workers. She goes from telling us how wealthy her husband is and how she doesn’t have to work but she wants to, to telling us how she can’t fix something on her car because she can’t afford it. She contradicts herself in practically everything personal that no one knows what to believe anymore. She lives 2 hours away but it only takes her 15 min to get home… And when anyone calls her on it, she has some excuse or gets an emergency call and has to leave.

    She doesn’t really work closely with anyone so it doesn’t affect her work. A few of the ladies has requested that she communicate with them through email. These are mostly the people who supported her the most and cried with her when she said her daughter had a bad time. Management has pretty much just sat back and watched to see how it played out.

    1. vanBOOM*

      Ah yes, I was wondering if Lysa was just going to end up calling off the “wedding” to cover her lie. Kind of amazed that she continues to insist that it’s all real and that it happened–especially given that it’s the kind of life event where taking photos is part of the norm.

      Not that any part of all of this is normal. :-/

  53. Lady Phoenix*

    Forgive me, but there is definitely something wrong with Lisa. I dunno if she is truly delusional (and it is not my place to know) or if she REALLY doesn’t want to work. Whichever the case, it is apparent that she is not a good worker at all.

    Almost no one in your office trusts her, she has lied about why she called out to work, she lies about being late to work… I honestly can’t see why her lying is NOT work related. I am hoping that management is ready to intervene because right now, it sounds like you have to put all your effort into working around this woman. And if that is the case, just fire her already and bring someone who can be trusted and will not put the office in a sour mood.

  54. Office Plant*

    So have they talked to Lysa about it? It sounds like someone might have said something, but has anyone tried to have a serious conversation with her about it? I think she deserves a chance to explain herself, to hear what’s being said about her, and to tell her side of the story. It’s the fair thing to do.

    She might be a compulsive liar. She might have lied about some but not all of it. She might be aware that she has issues and trying to change. Who knows. But I think the sudden shunning is too much. Someone should give her a chance to open up about what’s going on, and if she still acts sketchy when given that chance, then yes, it’s reasonable to avoid her. And it does affect business because someone who’s that dishonest about their family life could be lying about business-related things too.

    1. OP*

      When her mother told my coworkers that she wasn’t seeing anyone and her granddaughter wasn’t sick, they talked to Lysa about it. She denied everything, contradicting a lot of what she had previously told us.

      She had told us how happy her mother was with her fiance and they had taken many trips together for wedding issues, including two to Italy to look at venues and visit family and when confronted, she said her mother didn’t like him and wouldn’t acknowledge him. Her previous stories had been so detailed even down to her mother picking out decorations for the wedding and arguing with her about it.

      The same thing with the daughter’s illness. Her mother was always doing this and taking time off work. When Lysa had to work late, her mother would take time off so she could drive the two hours to the children’s hospital to stay with her granddaughter overnight. She was always doing this or that and yet now, she didn’t want to face that her granddaughter was ill… after she had already beaten the illness.

      It really didn’t take much for people to put together some inconsistencies and asked her about them. She always had some excuse that didn’t really make sense or some emergency that she had to rush off to take care of.

      Basically the entire thing happened over a few days.

  55. OP*

    Instead of repeating myself a dozen times (maybe too late?) I thought I’d just do another post here. There are a lot of details I didn’t put in my original letter for brevity purposes. I was trying to meet that 600 work mark.

    My company culture is very family oriented. My coworkers know my family by name and I know many of theirs. Our newest hire brought her family in to decorate for the holidays recently so it isn’t unusual that we would invite her mother to her party, which had been planned as a surprise. The mother works with the husband of another coworker and gave him permission to give her address to his wife, though she didn’t know why. Three of my coworkers went to the mother’s house where she told them what she did.

    When they returned, they talked to her about it and that’s when the issues started. Everything she replied with just raised red flags. It contradicted everything she had told us previously. Her previous statements/stories/anecdotes hadn’t just been ‘we did this and that’ but very detailed down to what they ate and how she and her mother argued over the patterns for wedding decorations.

    This didn’t happen all at once, but over the course of a week maybe.

    The checking the phone records (which are public and on the phone itself available for anyone to look at because we use it for reporting time management) was done after a call to her ‘fiance’. Someone just clicked the button and it showed that she had called her own cellphone and was in that call for a half hour. (Our company doesn’t really mind personal calls as long as we meet deadlines, which we do). Looking at past records, showed 90% of the outside company calls were to her phone and the ones that weren’t, were only for a few minutes at a time.

    As for her daughter’s illness, there have been other things since the mother said something. Her contradictions, for one. Sometimes she would change the name of the hospital and a few other things that we chalked up to stress (still possible, I know) but one thing that really sticks out and make me pretty certain about her lying is a couple months after her daughter was supposedly well, she brought her younger daughter in and my manager asked how she was liking having her sister out of the hospital and home again after being ill. The sister (who was 10, I think) looked confused and asked what she was talking about because her sister wasn’t sick or in the hospital. Lysa stepped in and rushed her daughter out of the office and then explained it away by saying she was mad cause she had to share her room again so she was lying about everything. I just shrugged it off as kids (I don’t have any so what do I know). She actually made such a big deal about her daughter lying so much that I suggested they check out therapy. It wasn’t just my own stuff either. Others had similar experiences. All put together, it seems pretty certain.

    This is when we took it to management as it happened at work. Management said since it wasn’t actually work related, there wasn’t anything they could do. It hadn’t affected her performance. We didn’t really decide as a group to begin ‘shunning’ her. At least I didn’t talk to anyone about it. I just don’t see the point in talking to someone if I know they are probably lying to me. I have enough fantasy books at home if I want something in that genre.

    Everyone is basically just really polite and only deals with her for work related issues. If she tries to talk about something outside of that, they shut her down pretty quickly, but politely (mostly). There are a few who try to talk to her to catch her in lies and then come running to us to tell us the latest but we’ve been shutting that down just as quickly. I’d like to think we are actually acting like adults. I think that is the main reason that management hasn’t done anything about it. There hasn’t been any screaming or crying or throwing things (I’ve seen other posts O.O) It just feels really cold when its related to her.

    1. MuseumChick*

      Hi OP,

      Thank you for the additional details. It sounds like Lysa has a serious mental/emotional condition. Since management won’t do anything I think your best course of action is to continue what you are doing. Keep your distance, shut down personal conversation with her, and shut down those trying to stir up the drama.

      I would also think long and hard about if you want to stay with a company that has such a hands-off approach to management.

    2. Anon-Anon*

      Thanks for the clarification. Unfortunately, it sounds like you’re in a situation in which little will be done given your management’s stance on this. You’re best course of action is do all that’s possible to remove yourself from the drama it has caused. No one is going to change Lysa or what happened. While its not fair that you and your co-workers put time, effort and money into supporting what you thought was a co-worker in need, you need to move on. It really stinks that you’re culture appears to be taken advantage of, and I’m sure that is going impact how you see similar situations with other co-workers in the future. I’m sorry that this happened to you and your co-workers.

      Since you’re posts don’t indicate that your her supervisor or manager, you’ve really got no skin n the game to become any more involved in this. In fact, it’s probably better for you to stay out of it completely. Don’t engage in gossip or speculation. Don’t associate with the “pot stirrers”. Do your job. Be professional when dealing with her, but don’t give much more than that. Avoid disclosing personal information, take what she says with a grain of salt, and if you work with her on anything, document it. (For example, if she agrees to “A” and you agree to “B” on project. Follow up your understanding with an email.)

      Things will eventually work themselves out. I’ve been in similar situation and it’s only going to wear you out if you focus on it.

    3. fposte*

      OP, I think you guys are doing the right thing; I think it probably feels especially hard in the kind of workplace where you’re really personally interwoven (mine is like that), but maybe it’ll help to think of current relations with Lysa as being pretty normal for a lot of workplaces–you’ve just reduced relations with her to a more formal common practice.

    4. vanBOOM*

      Thanks, OP. I completely missed your response here when I commented way further down, and this clarifies a lot of what I was wondering about.

      I think it’s really smart of you to not subject yourself to hearing more tall tales from her while also refusing to indulge in others’ continued amusement/frustration with her lying.

      This is….certainly one of the most astonishing things I’ve read here in a while. It’s sort of like an abstract painting: My mind just keeps returning to the situation to study it, but it’s so unusual that I just can’t fathom it. I can’t even move beyond my *reaction* to it, really.

      I’m sure having this in your work environment hasn’t been easy, despite the fact that Lysa doesn’t appear to work closely with you and your immediate co-workers.

    5. Abby*

      Thanks for your reply OP. I was one who didn’t think it was automatically odd that co workers talked to her mother.

      As a COO, I would have a concern about an employee who has lied about so many things so substantially. Her making pretend calls to her own cell phone is likely not wage theft since you stated that personal calls are allowed as long as deadlines are met. While it is an example of a larger problem, you can’t really tell someone they can’t make fake personal calls because then you would be constantly checking.

      As a manager, it would be very hard for me to force co workers to not shun Lysa. They were personally betrayed. And while not everyone wants to share so much about their personal lives, it isn’t wrong for co workers to get caught up in worrying and supporting a co worker who says she has problems like this and then turns out to have lied. That is a personal betrayal and it brings her credibility into question.

      Personally, I would disagree that it isn’t a work issue because she has lied about something significant not like whether or not you went to a bar over the weekend or sat on the sofa watching Netflix.

  56. Drago cucina*

    OP I am empathetic. I had a co-worker (Lena) who privately informed me that she had been diagnosed with pre-cancerous cells in her stomach. We had another co-worker who had just been diagnosed with thyroid cancer so she didn’t want to detract from her support. A few months later I was cornered by a patron who wanted to know why we weren’t doing more to support Lena. She had arranged a fundraiser at her church.

    I was then approached by retired co-worker. Lena had told her about her rich, bodyguard, fiancé who was staying in her home with Lena, her, husband, and kids. Of course fiancé was flying her on his private plane to amazing trips. It turned out that she was using work funds to buy burner cell phones. She would fake calls to and from the fiancé.

    There were more fantasies told to various people. None true. Because she misused funds she resigned before being fired. I was the witch that “threw her under the bus”.

  57. Michelle*

    I once worked with a lady that faked a pregnancy. Since she was a bit on the heavy side, it was very hard to tell whether or not she was pregnant. People were giving her gifts and she even had a work shower. People felt very bad for her because she was dating a guy, he broke up with her and married someone else, then she claimed to be pregnant. Everyone was so sympathetic to her and felt bad she was going to be a single mom. She even went out on maternity leave (it’s been 20 years so I can’t remember the specifics but I think she took “vacation” so she could get a paycheck since we didn’t have paid maternity leave). She had been gone for a week and no news of the birth, so a coworker called. She said they were going to do a C-section but it was scheduled for 2 weeks away (which was 4 weeks past her due date) because the hospital nursery was “too full”. (This is where her story started to fall apart-
    most people, especially the moms, knew that no matter how full a nursery was, the doctor would still deliver the baby because going too far past your due date is dangerous for the baby and mom) 2 weeks comes and goes, no news, so coworker calls again and gets Faker’s dad. When coworker asked about the baby, the dad said “What baby? Faker isn’t pregnant”. The sh*tstorm that followed was horrible. Faker calls about 2 hours later and says she was pregnant but had miscarriage and was too devastated to tell anyone. When asked how she was going to explain the absence of a baby, she said she was going to try to find another job while she was off.

    Management let her come back to work because even though she lied about being pregnant, she had taken vacation, not FMLA, so technically she had not done anything wrong. A few people accepted the miscarriage excuse but most people would not speak to her.

    When you lie about anything, especially something like a sick child or pregnancy, people think you are a fundamentally flawed person and don’t want to associate with you. Faker was so desperate to be with the ex that she was willing to lie, accept gifts for a nonexistent child and try to play on her friends and coworkers sympathies to get what she wanted and when she got caught, she tried to lie her way out of it. IF she had been pregnant, I think the dad would have said something about the miscarriage when asked about the baby.

  58. bloo*

    Had anyone asked to meet the rich, Italian now-husband? While this should be unnecessary in real life, the tired, overused movie trope requires that you all demand to meet him. How else will she: 1) hire a cute, out-of-work actor to pretend to be her husband, 2) fall in love while comically trying to not get tripped up in more lies, 3) get everyone to believe her and in a fit of deep personal growth, confess to everyone on stage at the local tomato festival that she lied. Actor trusts her, they get married, with everyone in town attending because they’ve forgiven her.

    In reality, I hope management looks for reasons to let her go as it is exhausting to have to continually protect yourself or cover yourself from someone like that. I’ve known pathological liars like that. Once I get clued in to it, I avoid them like the plague. Can’t always do that at work.

    1. OP*

      We tried. Before but he was always busy flying out to exotic places and brokering amazing deals (though now I can’t recall ever being clear on what he supposedly does) I wish life was more like the movies lol. At least the happy ones and not the horror ones XD

  59. OP*

    It seems there are quite a few comments concerning the phone records thing so I’d like to clarify some points.

    The phone records at our company are on our actual phones and commonly looked at by our peers who may need the info about how long we spent talking to a client or what number we called. There was no contacting IT or anything.

    Phone records and even email are regularly looked at and shared in our department. Especially by people who share a client list. It’s all read only but I can see what half my department receives and emails out if i choose to. It’s the nature of our work, which is why it doesn’t seem odd or sketchy or shady that someone looked at her phone records. It’s not a private thing.

    Phone records, email, physical files. It’s all public record in my department. I’m guessing that makes us kind of odd…

    1. bloo*

      I wasn’t hung up on the checking of phone records as we’ve a similar phone system at home as we’ve always had home-based businesses.

      OP, thanks for the many posts updating with further info, but between your clarifications and Alison ‘ s numerous requests to not derail with aspersions and the like, at this point I’d just like to see posters try to read to the bottom of comments.

      You’ve gone above and beyond, OP and I’m sorry about your continued situating at work.

  60. bloo*

    The following is a cut-n-paste from a forum I frequent. I’m not sure I should link it but the poster shares some hysterical anecdotes from her sister about her sister’s coworker. It’s from October 2012:

    “My sister used to work with someone that had the wildest stories.

    Everyone in the office used to love to see how far she would take some of them. How big she would make them. They would start responding with “Oh my goodness, AND THEN?!”. This was her opportunity to make the story a little bit longer.

    We live in an area that doesn’t get tornados. A couple of years back, there was a tornado and it was all over the news the next day.

    Not only did Lucy see that tornado up close and personal, but she was in it! She was driving home and the tornado came up, picked her and the car up, spun them around in the sky a few times and then it dropped her right back on to the road. In the same direction that she was originally driving! There was zero damage to her car because the tornado was nice like that.

    Also, Lucy’s teenage son was in a relationship with both of the Olsen twins! On the internet, of course. They fought over him, even.

    Lucy and her husband were once at a club. A bunch of men swarmed Lucy, because she was just that sexy. Lucys husband became so jealous that he pushed his way through the crowd, threw Lucy over his shoulder and marched right out to the car. It doesn’t matter that Lucy is more then twice his size, because at that moment, he had Incredible Hulk strength.

    Also, the guy that robbed all those banks? Lucy was pumping gas and he ran right past her! He even punched her back window out!

    I have to admit, I loved hearing the stories too”

    I really wouldn’t mind a coworker like this.

  61. RachBeck*

    I have a similar situation….with a few differences.

    I introduced the company I work for to a former co-worker (previous job, I’ve known this person about 10 years) and recommended her for a position. While in-between jobs, she ran into hard financial times and my husband and I helped her out.

    She was eventually hired by the company we now both work for about 2.5 years ago.

    About six months after being hired, she was struck with a string of unbelievable bad luck. Her then 20-year old daughter was diagnosed with aggressive cervical cancer, which metastasized to breast cancer and resulted in a radical hysterectomy and double mastectomy. She seemed to recover for a short while, but recently received bad test results again. She spent a lot of time in-between the hospital and home, working FROM the hospital so that her clients weren’t effected.

    Meanwhile, she (my co-worker) had health crisis after health crisis: kidney problems, sepsis, etc…. Amid the health problems, her condo was purchased and she was forced to move. I cannot tell you the number of phone calls I’ve had with this devastated woman…….sobbing over how they are “carving her baby up”, pleading with me to help her understand why God keeps doing this to her.

    We are a small company and several have stepped in to help. A group of us pitched in to create a gift basket filled with comfort items, etc…. It’s been a really rough two years for this lady.

    About six weeks ago, I went onto her daughter’s Facebook page to see if there were any health updates, since I hate to ask her emotionally fragile mom. Again…..I’ve known this person for 10 years and she has shown me her daughter’s FB page many times.

    You can imagine my shock when her daughter’s page is full of pictures showing her VERY pregnant, clearly still has her breasts, and is full of pictures over the last 2 years of a healthy, young woman. I know, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that this is her daughter. I kept waiting to see if the co-worker would get “sick” just in time for her daughter to have the baby……….and wouldn’t you know it, Monday she had a kidney stint placed and needed to take Tuesday and Wednesday off due to discomfort (she is out of PTO and the company provides her additional time off because of everything she’s gone through…….at least that’s what she’s claimed). As luck would have it, her daughter gave birth Tuesday AND her mom even commented via the daughter’s FB page on how much the baby looks like her daughter.

    There have been a myriad of smaller lies, but the story of her daughter truly takes the cake. I am HORRIFIED that she would make up something so detailed, so heartbreaking, etc….. I am hurt that a person I considered a friend (likely) took advantage of my husband and I and certainly took advantage of my sympathy (I’m one of several that stepped up at work to provide extra help).

    To this point, I have told nobody that I work with and I’m torn on whether or not I should. Part of me still wants to try and help this lady and protect her from what I’m sure would be a very ugly scene if management found out. Part of me acknowledges that she has abused the company pretty significantly, as well as co-workers. Part of me thinks this really isn’t company business, part of me believes they should know what’s going on. Of course I don’t believe anything she says now about her personnel situations.

    I can say that I questioned how so many awful things could just keep happening to someone………..but the scope, detail, emotion, etc…. of the stories were always so geniune that I just chalked it up to “bad things happening to good people”.

    Again……there is absolutely no question or doubt that her daughter (an only child) just had a baby………something clearly impossible if she’s had a radical hysterectomy. There is no doubt that the pictures on FB, AND on the boyfriend’s FB, show a healthy (no chemo hair loss, no double mastectomy) 20-something living life. The other stories about her (co-workers) health may be true and I have no proof to suggest otherwise, but I am absolutely certain when it comes to her daughter.

    So……….do I have an obligation to say something to the company? I suspect that this will continue. She’s been out “sick” to attend the baby shower, etc…. and I’m sure she’ll have more “illness” as various things come up. Or do I just let it lay and figure it’s her life, her lies and she can fall on her own sword eventually? At the end of the day, she’s not really “hurting” me, though she is (in a way) hurting the company. I know better than to trust her, but do I have an obligation to let the company know what’s gone on?

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