my employee set up a false fraud investigation … because she was being abused and wanted the police

A reader writes:

I work in a management position at an investment firm. A few months ago the firm, and Mary, one of the people who reports to me, were investigated by the authorities for fraud. The investigation revealed no fraud had been committed, and Jane, another employee who reports to me, admitted to altering and directing things so it would appear as though Mary had committed fraud.

Jane says she did this because her husband, Joe (who also works at the firm but does not report to me), was abusive and she had no other way to report it to the authorities without raising Joe’s suspicions. She said if she had gone to the police or called 911, Joe would have known right away since he was always around her and wouldn’t let her go anywhere on her own, and she feared for her safety if she reported him. Jane said speaking to authorities because a colleague was being investigated for fraud is the only way she could report Joe and be safe.

After Jane spoke to the investigating authorities, they contacted our local police. Joe has been arrested on abuse charges and Jane is in the process of divorcing him. He was fired and banned from company property.

I’m glad Jane is moving on but I’m in between a rock and a hard place because of the effect the investigation had on Mary. She was unable to work during the investigation and word got around in her personal and professional life that she had committed fraud. Every aspect of her life was turned upside down by the investigators and she had to move in with her father because not working meant she couldn’t pay her rent. Mary is furious at Jane and has openly said Jane needs to be fired.

The authorities declined to investigate Jane further or charge her because no fraud was actually committed. For the record, I didn’t know about Jane’s situation or I would have contacted the police (Joe has been charged with threatening her life) and offered my support to Jane. I don’t want to look like I’m picking on an abuse victim but I also don’t think what she did to Mary was right. I am at a loss as to how I can navigate this.

I admit the circumstances seem convoluted and if it wasn’t happening to me and in my office I wouldn’t even believe it was happening. I have never been in an abusive relationship so I don’t claim to understand how Jane was feeling but I also don’t think it’s an excuse for almost ruining someone’s life. I honestly have no idea how to handle this, I’ve never had any kind of similar situation to deal with as a manager. I’m hoping you can help me.


So, this is a question where I feel very confident about parts of my answer and not at all confident about other parts, and ultimately I think you need to talk to someone who has expertise in working with domestic abuse victims.

That said — and with the caveat that I feel really uncomfortable second-guessing an abuse victim because I understand that abuse can do terrible things to your brain — Jane couldn’t speak with you or someone else at work privately and ask them to get her in a room with police without Joe hearing about it?

I don’t know all the details, and maybe there’s some reason why that wouldn’t work. But unless Joe is in every private meeting that Jane has at work, it’s hard for me to see why setting up someone else was the only path for her, and this seems like a hole in her thinking that ended up being devastating for Mary.

But again, I’m not an expert in this.

So let’s move to the part that I do feel confident about: Your company needs to step in here and make things right for Mary. At the very least, they should make her whole financially; it’s because of her employment there that she lost her home and had to move in with a parent, and that’s not right. They also should figure out who may have heard about the accusation and ensure that all of those people hear that Mary was unequivocally innocent.

As for what to do about Jane … here I’m out of my depth again. Ordinarily I’d say that you should tell her that while you understand the position she was in, you now have an employee whose life was ripped to shreds by what she did, and that because of that, Jane needs to move on (and that because you’re sympathetic to her situation, you’ll do what you can to help her in that). But in this case, I really think you need to get advice from someone who’s far more expert than me about the psychology of abuse, because this is more complicated than “one employee set up another employee to be accused of fraud.”

*   *   *

As a side note: We’ve had a lot of letters recently involving employees insisting another employee be fired! I do think there are situations where it’s reasonable to calmly say to your employer, “I’ve thought this through, and I can’t see continuing to work with Jane. I hope the company won’t choose to continue to employ someone who’s done what she did, and I need to let you know that if you decide to, I’ll be leaving.” But that’s a one-time conversation, not a continued drumbeat trying to get someone fired. (I don’t mean that Mary is doing that here; I’m thinking more of situations like this one.)

{ 818 comments… read them below }

  1. Ask a Manager* Post author

    A ground rule for commenting: Please be kind to all here — Jane, Mary, the letter-writer, fellow commenters, abuse victims in general…

    And please don’t speculate on legal issues associated with the situation unless you are a lawyer with some relevant expertise. Otherwise the risk of misleading or outright wrong comments is too high. Thanks.

    Comments that ignore these requests or don’t otherwise follow the site commenting rules will be removed or not released from moderation. (As of 1 p.m. EDT, all comments on this post are going through moderation.)

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      And one more: Since this is coming up a lot below, with people wondering why Jane couldn’t have just talked privately to another coworker about was going on: Abusers are often very good at convincing victims that others are on the abuser’s side, won’t believe the victim, etc. — which is why they don’t need to be in their sight 24/7 in order to maintain their control.

      Here are some good comments that I’m asking people to read before weighing on in this aspect:

      From Blurgle:

      From Anonymous JD:

      From Kate, short for Bob:

      From Nameless:

      1. TootsNYC*

        I wanted to underline that Joe works at the same company.

        That’s in the letter, but it’s easy to miss–I’m bringing it up because *I* missed it.
        That would limit what she could do, since -any- action she did at work would be closely observed by him.

        Realizing that changed how I saw this, and I hope Alison doesn’t mind my bringing it to the fore here.

  2. Managed Chaos*

    Wow, this is a tough one.

    I think Jane was out of line, but I know that ongoing abuse can drastically alter your perception and decision making abilities. I definitely agree the company needs to pay back wages for Mary, but unfortunately, there really isn’t a way to make her “whole.”

    1. Amy*

      This is what I’m struggling with too. It really sounds like Jane was between a rock and a hard place, and took the first path out she could find. Yes, ideally she should have considered the potential ramifications for the company and for her coworkers, and looked for another solution if she realized what those consequences might be. But it’s also understandable that she might not have been able to do that in a ‘fear for your life’ situation (which is what it sounds like this was, based on the charges mentioned in the letter).

      Of course this is all absolutely devastating for Mary. I think at this point, the company needs to do everything it can to reduce the impact on Mary. That definitely includes back pay, maybe housing assistance while she gets back on her feet, contacting anyone that you think may have heard about this and assuring them that Mary is innocent (and definitely a firm assurance for any future references she asks for), etc. If you can add some extra things–maybe extra paid leave this year, so she can take the time she needs to put her life back together–that would be good. However, you won’t be able to 100% repair things for Mary, and that’s really unfortunate.

      But firing Jane won’t change that, and shouldn’t be Mary’s call anyways. I think the appropriate reasons to consider termination would be the way her actions disrupted company operations, and the fact that they were fraudulent and making fraudulent claims undermines her reliability. If you think the circumstances are enough to excuse those things, then don’t fire her just because Mary wants her gone. (Do consider whether you can have her transition to a role where she and Mary won’t see each other much, if you have the option to do so.)

      1. Disbelief*

        While I have tremendous sympathy for any victim of an abusive partner, her motivations need to be separated from her actions. If you look at her actions alone, Jane’s behavior is insane. Making such an accusation against a colleague when you know it is unfounded is completely unacceptable. Jane’s plan was so elaborate and creative that I can’t imagine she would be unable to come up with another scenario to discuss the matter with the police.

        Forget how to make things easier for Jane – she is absolutely in the wrong here. To do such a thing to a co-worker and to risk affecting her reputation (let alone her mental and emotional well-being!) is not not NOT okay. To let Jane continue to work at the organization will give the appearance that the organization has endorsed her behavior. I would absolutely let her go.

        1. Tiffin*

          “Jane’s plan was so elaborate and creative that I can’t imagine she would be unable to come up with another scenario to discuss the matter with the police.”

          That is what is sticking with me. It had to be quite a bit of work to set this all up, and it’s incomprehensible to me that during that time, she didn’t think of another plan or come up with an alternative. Per Allison’s request, I’m not commenting on Jane’s state of mind; I’m just saying I really can’t wrap my head around that AT ALL. She had to be in a really bad place mentally (one way or another).

          1. Falling Diphthong*

            Me too. I am really stuck on how she had the freedom from scrutiny to create the appearance of an elaborate fraud scheme, but not to call a DV number from the women’s restroom, or from her manager’s office after asking to meet about third quarter reports.

            Leaving that aside, Mary did nothing wrong, and had considerable wrong done to her, and the company should be trying to right the scales there.

          2. Turtle Candle*

            The part of it that keeps sticking with me was that her plan involved framing a specific individual in a way that tarnishes that individual’s reputation potentially forever. I just keep coming back to that. I could conceive of a situation where I felt that getting the authorities on site under false pretenses was my only plan, but even there my mind would go to something that might be bad for the company (fake OSHA or EPA complaint, say), not something that would target a specific individual and upend their life.

            (I think partly because if I was Mary, my mind would be eaten alive with “but why did she pick me to do this to?” Was I just convenient, or was there another reason, or what? When you pick a person, it makes it… well… personal.)

            1. Blue eagle*

              This whole situation is making the tears leak out of my eyes for Mary. And I have no good idea how to even begin making her whole.

              And I am a bit bewildered why it is the employer’s responsibility to (a) pay her back wages, (b) find her a new job, (c) make sure everyone knows that she did not commit fraud (good luck getting everything back in that Pandora’s box). I am just really glad that I am not the owner of the company she worked for meaning that I would be “responsible” for all of that.

              I can’t even begin to comprehend how devastating this is for Mary – – the lady who was tickled, the lady who ended up with a broken arm from the bird phobia guy don’t have it nearly as bad as a lady who has had her life pretty well wrecked (if her finances were such that she had to move in with her Dad to avoid being homeless). Thank God this did not happen to me!

              1. One of the Sarahs*

                But surely if they have held wages back because of an investigation where she was exonerated, they have a duty to pay them back? I genuinely don’t understand why I would be ok, in any circs, to NOT pay someone who was falsely, or even accidentally accused, or even accused in good faith, if they were found innocent.

              2. Grecko*

                It seems pretty self-evident to me that the employer has a responsibility to Mary. Jane was an employee of the company who used company resources to negatively impact her. They have liability just the same as if someone got into an accident with a company car or purposely physically hurt a coworker.

                1. AJHall*

                  Morally, I agree. Legally, however, the situation may be muddier.

                  I am a lawyer (though based in the UK so there will be differences according to the law of the OP’s jurisdiction) but in principle employers are vicariously liable for things their employees do in the course of their duties, not things they do “on a frolic of their own”. Framing one’s co-workers for fraud is generally something that would fall under the “frolic of their own” framing.

                  They also have an obligation to provide a safe working environment, but again if the environment is being rendered unsafe by an individual whom thye had no reason to suspect would do that, it’s down to the individual not the company.

                  From a legal perspective the company is liable for the back pay, since they wrongfully suspended Mary, as it turns out, but they aren’t on the hook for damages because Mary has almost certainly been rendered unemployable in this sector (because other potential employers are likely to steer clear on a “No smoke without fire/You’re expecting us to believe WHAT?” basis) – the person who’s responsible for that aspect of the damage is Jane, and Jane alone. And good luck getting any libel/malicious falsehood/slander damages out of her. Quite apart from anything else, any monies she does have, which probably aren’t much, may already be being eyed up by the company’s lawyers as recompense for all the expense the company has no doubt been put to making sure they aren’t closed by the regulator.

                2. AJHall*

                  Morally, I agree. Legally, however, the situation may be muddier.

                  I am a lawyer (though based in the UK so there will be differences according to the law of the OP’s jurisdiction) but in principle employers are vicariously liable for things their employees do in the course of their duties, not things they do “on a frolic of their own”. Framing one’s co-workers for fraud is generally something that would fall under the “frolic of their own” framing.

                  They also have an obligation to provide a safe working environment, but again if the environment is being rendered unsafe by an individual whom thye had no reason to suspect would do that, it’s down to the individual not the company. However, once they become aware that someone is a danger to themselves or others, keeping them on and covering that up becomes an issue related to safe working environment. That’s why issues focussing on things like abuse in institutions go to such lengths to point out what the organisations could or should have known about the individual abuser(s).

                  From a legal perspective the company is liable for the back pay, since they wrongfully suspended Mary, as it turns out, but they probably aren’t on the hook for damages arising from the fact Mary has almost certainly been rendered unemployable in this sector (because other potential employers are likely to steer clear on a “No smoke without fire/You’re expecting us to believe WHAT?” basis) – the person who’s responsible for that aspect of the damage is Jane, and Jane alone. And good luck getting any libel/malicious falsehood/slander damages out of her. Quite apart from anything else, any monies she does have, which probably aren’t much, may already be being eyed up by the company’s lawyers as recompense for all the expense the company has no doubt been put to making sure they aren’t closed by the regulator.

                  But now they do know what they do about Jane, keeping her on becomes an ongoing issue of risk management. The fact is that she abused a fellow employee and put the viability of the company at risk. That’s a known fact and it’s one the company needs to bear in mind going forwards.

                  There seem to be two strands of thought going here and they aren’t consist with each other in terms of legal theory. The first is that Jane was in such an awful situation that her acts taken to get out of it were excusable and the second is that Jane was in such an awful mental state as a result of the abuse that she was basically suffering from diminished responsibility and not able to perceive the full severity of the acts in question. Only the second one offers a defence in law to what she did. Extreme circumstances (duress) don’t give a defence to someone doing something criminal as the only way out, though they may offer a reason to mitigate sentence; in the Queen v. Dudley and Stephens, for example, the shipwrecked sailors who killed and ate the cabin boy were still convicted of murder, but sentenced to six months imprisonment rather than to death by hanging. In this case, Jane’s marital shipwreck made her decide to kill and eat Mary’s reputation, and the same logic follows.

          3. Amy*

            I don’t think it’s going to be useful for us to speculate on whether Jane had other options. Maybe she did, and didn’t see them (or he had her convinced that they weren’t available for some reason). Maybe she didn’t–surveillance so intense it would catch every conversation would be really intense, but not impossible, and we don’t know how far Jane’s husband was actually taking it.

            I think we need to look mostly at what she actually did. And to the extent that we take her motivation into account, we need to trust what she said–that she believes she had no other options. That will still be her motivation even if there were options she didn’t see, after all.

          4. Stranger than fiction*

            Yes, how about something simpler like reporting something stolen out of an employees car or office, not fraud.

            1. TootsNYC*

              she needed something that would make the cops interview HER, and do so naturally. Because her abuser worked at the company, and he’d see that she was talking to the cops.And he’d want to know why.

            2. Aim*

              I would drive my car into a pole in the parking lot lightly enough to cause a small accident to only my car then try something then. Terrible situation overall right?

              1. Darren*

                I can’t see that working give her husband works in the same company he likely rides in the same car (particularly given his controlling nature). Even if she were driving to cause said accident any conversation from such a light accident would be conducted with the both of them probably together just outside the car before the police shrugged and left.

                I’m sure there must have been some other option as the particular one sounds rather elaborate, but I’m drawing a blank on anything obvious other than the generic some sort of malpractice at the company.

                My choice would probably have been framing myself for fraud, but thinking about it I can’t help but think in that situation there is a significant chance the husband would have insisted on being there. With the co-worker to blame and the conversation having nothing to do with his field it would have been harder for him to justify reasoning his way into being involved in the conversation.

        2. Luce21*

          I completely disagree. Zero tolerance policies are never a good idea.. And that is exactly what ‘motivations need to be separated from actions’ is. Not that I necessarily agree that Jane should be allowed to keep her job, but to ignore the nuance of this situation is almost cruel… Especially since the offending husband also worked for the company.

          1. Chalupa Batman*

            It was a key factor for me that the husband worked at the company. Based on OP’s description of Jane’s reasons, she literally felt like her husband was always present and she was never safe. Still not right to go with a plan that negatively impacted Mary (and another coworker! I’m curious about what happened to the person who helped Jane), and I can understand why Mary doesn’t care why Jane did it, but that level of fear is definitely an extenuating circumstance worth factoring in to the decision on how to handle this in my opinion.

          2. Gov Worker*

            If I didn’t intend to kill you, you are dead nonetheless. And the law allows the guilty party to be punished, albeit less severely. Lack of intent is not a get out of jail free card when someone is harmed by the actions of another.

            1. Iota*

              If you live in the US, is clear that you can’t harm someone else to save yourself. When I was in law school, there were many many scenarios about how much damage you can do to another human being to save your own life. The answer was pretty much “nothing irreparable.”

        3. Tempest*

          Me too. This level of scheming means to me that she absolutely could have come up with another plan which didn’t involve framing a colleague for fraud.

        4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          I don’t think you can separate her motivations from her actions. Jane was literally living in an alternative reality, and her fears seem justified given that Joe has been charged with threatening her life. If a child had been raised in an abusive situation in which they were kept in a dog cage all the time and threatened in ways that made them think they would die, we wouldn’t categorize their reactions as “insane.” We’d categorize them as the logical result of extreme trauma, and there isn’t an “absolute” right or wrong. So I think it’s important to apply that lens when we look at what Jane did.

          Jane’s conduct caused truly terrible harm for Mary that threatened Mary’s livelihood and her economic stability and safety. At a minimum, the company needs to figure out how to help Mary financially and in terms of rebuilding her reputation. Folks have discussed reinstating and promoting her, among other options. Regardless, folks need to go to bat for her, even if that requires hiring someone who’s skilled in reputation management to help OP’s company help Mary rehabilitate her professional cred.

          And finally, I think you have to transfer Jane. When I first read the letter, my immediate reaction was, “she has to be fired.” But now that I’ve read through the 700+ comments, I don’t think that’s the right framework. I think the company can decide how it wants to support Jane—at a minimum, she should be getting intensive therapy/counseling right now. And I would transfer her to a position in which Mary doesn’t have to interact with her. Whether that requires a demotion, as well, then so be it. What Jane did to Mary is really, really awful. She probably does not realize how much pain and harm she caused Mary, or if she understands it intellectually, I have a feeling her abject fear of Joe has crowded out her capacity to empathize with Mary’s situation. And in light of that, and for Mary’s safety, they have to be separated and kept separate to the extent possible without creating a weird, constant punitive vibe.

          This is tough and awful, OP. I’m so sorry.

      2. Amy*

        Maybe should have been clearer: I think you have legit reasons to consider firing or demoting Jane that go beyond the impact of her actions on Mary. This sounds like it was disruptive to your company’s functioning (how could an investigation like that not be?). Her actions legitimately undermine the trust she’s built up with the company, which may impact her ability to do her job well or your ability to trust her with access to these kinds of records. She also targeted a specific coworker with this, which may well have destroyed her ability to succeed in any position where she has to interact with Mary, and will likely undermine her relationships with her coworkers across the board.

        The circumstances are such that you could consider her under duress (it sounds like she was afraid for her life and sincerely believed she had no other options), and that might mitigate how you want to handle things. But whatever disciplinary action you choose to take, you do have strong reasons to back it up other than “Because Mary said so.” I don’t think disciplining Jane would be perceived as ‘picking on an abuse victim’.

        1. Amy*

          Basically, I don’t think Mary’s opinion here should be why you choose to fire Jane, or why you choose to not fire her. It should be irrelevant. The actual actions she took, and how your company would normally respond to someone who took those actions, and also whether you want to consider the mitigating circumstances–all of those should be factored in. But whether Mary demands that Jane be fired or not isn’t something you should consider while making that decision.

      3. Jess*

        But if you were Mary, how could you trust or feel comfortable working with Jane again, knowing that she had access to documentation regarding your work? I understand that it’s highly unlikely that the same thing would happen again, but if a colleague doctored records to set me up for fraud—even for a really good reason—I think I would have serious trouble feeling comfortable trusting her integrity and honesty at work. I would probably be double-checking everything she touched that was remotely connected to me. This doesn’t seem like it would create a productive working environment. And, whether likely to happen again or not, I don’t think I could help questioning whether Jane would use a colleague in such a damaging way again should she find herself in a tough situation.

    2. Important Moi*

      Would it be possible to get Mary a fresh start? Transfer her or get her on with another company?

      (I posted this down thread, but I’d like to know what others think about ways of mitigating what was done to Mary’s professional reputation.)

      1. AJ*

        My husband’s father was the comptroller at a firm that had a big scandal and public fraud revealed (real in this case), but he was not at all involved. The company wrote him a letter that he took to subsequent job interviews. It was complicated by the fact that the investigation was public, but if the situation of OP is not public, it might work.

        1. AMG*

          This is the bare minimum that the company can do for Mary, and it costs nothing. I hope the company goes out of its way to help make Mary whole, that Mary explores all of her legal options, and I hope Jane gets some counseling.

          The common theme I have seen on some of these recent threads (norovirus kid came to work, Guy pushes Jane into traffic because of his bird phobia, and a couple of others) is that you don’t want to punish someone who is already in an unfortunate situation–and no doubt Jane is, but people cannot put their personal issues onto others. That isn’t right either. Very unfortunate and I hope we get an update.

      2. Amy*

        If the accusations were widely known and believed, would moving Mary somewhere else actually do anything to boost her reputation? Or would it look like her company was trying to shuffle her out (which could be interpreted as ‘not enough evidence to prove anything, but we’re suspicious enough that we don’t want her around anymore’)?

        I feel like it would be more effective for the company to make a public statement about the outcome of the investigation, and offer Mary whatever chances they can to let her shine internally, to show they have ongoing trust in her.

        1. Just Another Techie*

          Yes. Give Mary a position with as much responsibility and trust as her supervisors believe she can handle, as a show of the company’s faith in her and belief that her name has been fully cleared.

          1. TootsNYC*

            I think this is important–I might even be lobbying to create a promotion opportunity for her. Even if she stays it in only a short while bcs she wants out of there.
            Then she can say to her aunt, or her neighbors, or a prospective employer, “yes, I was exonerated, and they actually promoted me.”

            And as her manager, I’d be sitting down with her to say, “I want you to know what reference I will give you, and what I will say that I hope will mitigate any industry gossip.” And negotiating that terminology.

            1. Trillian*

              A promotion seems the surest way of signalling that she is innocent. It’s visible everywhere and doesn’t need editorializing.

          2. Koko*

            Yes, and try to cover any financial costs she incurred as a result of this. Not just back wages but any eviction/legal fees associated with losing her apartment, her moving expenses – to her parents’ house and out of there into a new apartment again, maybe even the security deposit for a new apartment. They should do whatever they can to allow her to reclaim her status quo before this happened without paying out of her own pocket to get back there.

            1. Temperance*

              I’m hoping that Mary wasn’t evicted, because an eviction can prevent her from being able to rent going forward. Ugh.

              1. Turtle Candle*

                Yeah, I thought of that too. There are things that can get screwed up that are just not fixable if your income is cut off–if you’re suddenly unable to make payments (on a credit card or a car, say) or if you’re evicted from a home or etc., it can be functionally impossible to make someone whole for that. You can’t un-wreck their credit or un-evict them, you can’t fix their history for them, even if you are 100% confident that the reason was not their fault. It makes it all a lot more complicated ethically, because even if the company want to make her whole and is willing to put resources into doing so, it’s entirely possible that they can’t. (And that’s just with objective things; it’s also ridiculously difficult to un-tarnish a reputation, because so many people believe the where-there’s-smoke-there’s-fire truism. And especially so when the actual frank explanation is presumably not something that the LW can or should publicly release–if you could say “we made X mistake which unfairly implicated Mary for something she never did” that would hold more traction than “oops mistake but we can’t talk about it.” But it’s also the case that you probably can’t talk about the actual reason, either….)

                I’m just feeling sick at heart for poor Mary.

                1. TootsNYC*

                  “you can’t unwreck their credit”

                  Can’t you find a way to put a note in their file?
                  (though, from a credit point of view–what would Mary have done if the company had folded? She wasn’t prepared for disaster)

                2. fposte*

                  @Toots–A note on a credit report is pretty meaningless–it’s just a self-report. It doesn’t undo any hits from collections (if she broke her lease or was evicted, collections are pretty likely).

                  Usually when businesses go under you get a little more notice than this, and you’re eligible for unemployment, which helps. But I think it’s unfortunately pretty common that people don’t make enough money to save up a decent emergency fund.

                3. Turtle Candle*

                  You can effectively amend credit reports re: facts (“you say I didn’t pay for 180 days, but I did pay in the first month and the company failed to report my payment; here is proof.”). Doing it re: intentions (“I didn’t pay for 180 days but I have a really good reason”) is IME almost never effective even with rock solid evidence.

                  And yeah, I mean, I would that everyone would have a huge emergency fund. But in a discussion of making Mary whole for harm done to her for which she was not at fault, the issue of whether she should have been able to live without income for X months in general seems out of place. (Plus, from a purely pragmatic POV, she might’ve been much more able to quickly get a new job–and paycheck–if she’d been laid off, vs. suspended for a fraud investigation.)

        2. Dust Bunny*

          How about transferring Jane, if nobody is willing to fire her?

          Personally, I think she should be fired. The impact her actions had on Mary, who was completely innocent, are pretty horrific and, if I were Mary, I’d be [deleted expletive] furious that I had to keep working with somebody who may have ruined my professional situation. Possibly tanking somebody’s career is not something that should be treated lightly. I agree that whether or not Jane keeps her job is not Mary’s call, but I also don’t think it would be unwarranted considering the impact she had on an uninvolved third party. And I agree with the comment above that it seems weird that Jane could be this creative and yet not figure out how to report Joe without taking down a coworker who deserved none of this.

          1. TootsNYC*

            In the Army, the demote people (“bust them down to buck private”). That would be a way to send a strong message, not completely trash Jane’s life, and also remove her from a position where you can’t trust her.

            1. aebhel*

              This. I’m sympathetic to her situation, but she has clearly shown that she cannot be trusted to do her job honestly, and I’m not convinced she should remain in a position where she’s able to wreak this kind of damage on her coworkers’ lives.

              And there’s the fact that there was a full fraud investigation that went on long enough to ruin Mary’s life; once she’d spoken to the police, why on earth didn’t she come clean immediately?

              1. Bellatrix*

                Yeah… but what is not a position where she can wreak damage? The issue is that with computerisation, downsizing and outsourcing, a lot of companies don’t have truly “low level” jobs. The lowest you can get at my office is an office clerk (responsible for delivering documents and running errands, an untrustworthy person in that position means we miss a hard deadline and lose a lawsuit or she makes off with the company credit card meant for court fees). Or maybe a receptionist, who picks up the mail, deals with all incoming clients and does a fair share of billing…

                If you take the position that Jane is untrustworthy, you can’t have her working at the company. Is she untrustworthy? Haven’t made my mind up yet.

          2. nonegiven*

            Just for her own safety, Jane needs to move away, some place she can’t be found. He will get out. There are ways available to abuse victims to mask their identity in a new area.

      3. Luce21*

        Unless her fresh start is a public promotion with a significant raise, I think moving *her* when she is ultimately the victim is the wrong move.

      4. Turtle Candle*

        If I was in Mary’s shoes, I think I’d desperately want a fresh start… and I think I’d also reject any plan that had me moving even so. Because, well, this is all too likely to be the gossip thereafter: “Well, they SAID she was innocent of all wrongdoing and that the investigation was opened in error… but then they moved her pretty damn quick after that, right? Kinda makes you wonder, doesn’t it? Why were they in such a hurry to get her out of there if she really didn’t do anything wrong?”

        And there’s really no way to explain “no, she really is innocent, it’s just that she can’t work with Jane” without at least partially outing Jane’s situation, which would also be very problematic.

        It sucks, but if I was Mary, I’d be hanging onto this position like grim death for a few more years just to forestall the gossip, and would only move if it was a clear and unequivocal promotion that couldn’t be spun into “well, but where there’s smoke there’s fire and they were awfully quick to get rid of her!” gossip.

        1. Green Tea Pot*

          Agree. Jane is the one who should be moved. Mary should be compensated for her losses and, yes, promoted.

      5. One of the Sarahs*

        I am not American, so I’m never entirely sure how benefits packages work over there, but wouldn’t getting Mary another job impact her in terms of things like maternity leave/medical insurance/other benefits that are dependent on length of service? I know in the UK some benefits aren’t available in the first year of work, for example.

        Like everyone else, I’m horrified by the whole “Mary was suspended without pay and lost her home” – that’s completely outrageous – so I hope any restitution would be very, very careful about not impacting negatively on her, in accidental ways.

        1. fposte*

          Yup, it definitely could. It is not going to be clear sailing for Mary for some time.

    3. AthenaC*

      “ongoing abuse can drastically alter your perception and decision making abilities.”

      That is quite the understatement. And I say that as an abuse survivor. Unfortunately there are many unhelpful comments below saying, “As someone with a clear-eyed, arm’s-length, never-been-abused-myself perspective, I can see several alternatives.” Well – Jane couldn’t. And the fact that her husband was actually arrested says something about what she was going through. For comparison, I couldn’t even get the police to enforce a restraining order.

      All that being said, it may be time to help Jane move on. The more she does to change her surroundings, the easier it will be to retool her perspective and recover from her situation. Plus Mary won’t have to see her again – win,win.

    4. Thinking Outside the Boss*

      But for the fact that Jane is a victim of abuse, any employer would fire Jane. At my work, we haven’t had any training on dealing with victims of abuse. However, when dealing with employees having personal problems, we’ve been trained to give them our empathy, we give them time to figure out a solution to their problems, we refer them to employee assistance, but we don’t overlook their performance deficiencies.

      For Jane, the OP should arrange a future termination date to allow Jane, in the meantime, to get a new job with an unblemished record. While Jane’s motivations were well intended, i.e. to get Jane out of abuse, Jane negatively impacted the company’s reputation, she destroyed Mary’s professional reputation and ruined Mary’s personal life (loss in income, loss of a home, moving back in with her parents). I’m not a fan of letting employees’ call the shots on whether other employees should be fired, but in this situation, you can’t keep Jane employed, except to allow Jane time to find a new job.

      For Mary, offering Mary cash and benefits now is a heck of a lot cheaper than the lawsuit that is inevitably coming. She can sue Jane, and Mary has a good argument that the employer’s negligence caused her damages, e.g. the employer’s record keeping and security policies were so lax that a single non-supervisory employee could alter records and frame a coworker without anyone knowing. Even if Mary doesn’t win that type of lawsuit, paying Mary $250,000 now in an effort to make it up to Mary is certainly cheaper than spending 3 or 4 times that amount on defense attorneys in litigation. I feel so bad for Mary.

    1. Cafe au Lait*

      She was probably suspended without pay during the course of the fraud investigation. It’s a fairly standard action to take.

      1. LiveAndLetDie*

        This. I do think that the company, having discovered that the fraud allegations were untrue, should issue Mary back pay for the duration of her suspension without pay.

        1. Tuckerman*

          Right. I would hope they would do that in all cases where they are investigating, but have not confirmed, potential fraud.

      2. Grecko*

        That seems like a bad policy to me. The company should take the hit of paying salary during the investigation in order to not negatively harm people shown to be innocent. At least they should provide back pay as part of policy.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          It’s a really common policy, and it’s done to protect the company in case Mary actually did commit fraud. That said, they should certainly reinstate her pay retroactively, with an interest penalty (at a minimum).

    2. Natalie*

      I think unpaid suspensions are fairly common during these kinds of investigations. At the time, the company had no reason to think this was a set up.

      1. AvonLady Barksdale*

        True. Now that they know, however, I would hope they would compensate her. They are probably not required to, but damn, it would be the right thing to do.

        1. That Would Be a Good Band Name*

          Where I’ve worked and someone has been suspended without pay, they get that pay later if the investigation comes out on their side. I would have thought that was a standard practice, but I guess it might not be. I’m sure there’s no requirement. Other than it’s the right thing to do.

        2. Natalie*

          At first I was going to say maybe they didn’t because Mary quit, but it seems like Mary is still working there? So it is weird that they didn’t automatically pay her for the time she was suspended.

          1. AvonLady Barksdale*

            And even if she quit, I would hope they’d pay her. I agree, I think it’s weird.

            1. Natalie*

              I suppose it’s possible they did pay her – the letter doesn’t really say one way or another. And of course even if they had given her all of her back pay it doesn’t undo what happened during the suspension.

          2. Delyssia*

            The company may have already given Mary back pay; it’s not explicitly addressed in the letter either way.

            1. JessaB*

              Yes but back pay in and of itself does not make Mary whole. Her credit is probably ruined, she lost her housing and possibly most of her goods if she couldn’t afford to put them in storage, she couldn’t get part time work or unemployment because she was under investigation, etc. It’s way more than just “here’s the pay you would have made, if you hadn’t been fraudulently accused of a crime.” We have no idea how many bills Mary could not pay, whether or not she had medical needs not being met because maybe she didn’t have access to her insurance, because no pay. This is BIG and it’s not just “here’s however much pay you would have made.” That does not make Mary whole.

              Also huge loud press releases yesterday saying Mary was actively set up, and notices to any professional organisations she belongs to would be very important. Mary’s name needs to be unequivocally cleared. This isn’t oops, we thought x, this is someone was able to hack our systems and MAKE us think x.

              1. Iota*

                Still wouldn’t cure her issues. This was done to a couple of the victims of the Wells Fargo fiasco weir fired because they didn’t go along with fraudI heard a recent interview with them on NPR. They still can’t get any jobs in any financial industry. Even though they’ve been publicly and loudly proven to be innocent.

                Once you’ve been investigated in the financial industry, you’re pretty much screwed. There may be no way to mitigate the damage.

                There are some industries where being investigated is a permanent black mark. Innocence doesn’t really help you

                1. JessaB*

                  Yes but in this case it’s slightly different to Wells Fargo, in that case people WERE actively perpetrating frauds. In this case she was actively framed. You’re probably right, but it’s worth the attempt to clear her name.

        3. Dorothy Mantooth*

          Agreed. It’s not like the investigation turned out that Mary made quite a few mistakes in the course of her work that make it look like potential fraud and a concerned coworker reported it. A coworker altered records specifically to point to Mary. This is no way Mary’s fault and I think it’s only fair she receives back pay for the time on suspension.

          1. many bells down*

            That’s what’s confusing me: the letter says that the investigation found there was no fraud. But … there WAS. Jane committed fraud, didn’t she? By altering things to implicate someone else?

            1. AMPG*

              I think the issue is that no crime was actually committed, so no arrests can be made. I’m pretty sure (IANAL) that Mary could bring a civil case against Jane for the financial repercussions, but that’s different.

            2. Mookie*

              Hoax v fraud. The latter requires that Mary (or Jane) gain something substantial from the alterations and/or deliberately cause damages to someone else. Tweaking numbers, for example, to give the appearance of embezzlement (or whatever) in order to speak to the police doesn’t quite fit that definition.

    3. North Dakota Jones*

      They probably suspended her without pay during the investigation. I’d imagine most companies would suspend someone during a fraud investigation, though I admit suspending without pay does seem to include a certain presumption of guilt….

      1. blackcat*

        And if they’re going to do this, they need to give back pay to people who are cleared.

            1. Emi.*

              Maybe someone from the company could help her find a new apartment (I’m not sure who, though), and then pay for a truck and movers when she moves in. Oh, and if she’s put stuff in a storage unit they could pay for that too.

      2. bab*

        I believe FINRA can require that a registered representative of a firm be barred & may not continue to work or be associated with the firm while their case is under review. Of course, I don’t know specifics about what kind of investment firm this person is working at, or what position Mary holds there, and if that is applicable in this case.

    4. Antilles*

      Many companies (especially in the financial industry) have a written policy allowing for suspension-without-pay in the event of work-related police investigations. The policies usually do not explicitly require repayment and also allow for other consequences – even if the investigation doesn’t turn up anything under the theory that you might encounter a situation where “the police may not have quite found you guilty but we know you were doing some shady stuff”.

    5. Michele*

      I am surprised that Mary hasn’t gotten a lawyer yet. I don’t know exactly where this would fall under the purview of the law, but if I lost my home because of an accusation like that, I would be looking at a civil suit.

      1. Here we go again*

        Yeah, I thought that too. I am sympathetic to Jane’s situation, but she handled this in one of the worst way possible. Jane slandered Mary and set her up… How horrible.

    6. Undine*

      I read it as she lost her home while she was suspended without pay. Even if they’ve given her her back pay already, that doesn’t automagically make up for what happened or fix the situation she’s now in.

  3. MuseumChick*

    OP, would it be possible to 1) Make it very public as a company that you fully support Mary, that she has always had strong ethics and you are very happy the investigation come to the right conclusion. 2) Set it up so Mary never, ever, ever has any interaction with Jane every again?

    1. Dorothy Lawyer*

      I’m thinking… ad in a trade publication or local newspaper stating that an investigation was made in error and Mary was cleared of any wrongdoing. That might just prevent a lawsuit against Jane for defamation… (and I am a lawyer).

      1. MuseumChick*

        I like the idea of a public statement. Especially saying the “investigation was made in error”. What a terrible situation all around.

      2. Iota*

        That’s all well and good, however, it’s proven to be iselkes for the people fired when they would not along with the Wells Fargo fraud. I’ve been pretty extensive interviews with a lot of those people. The damage is been pretty permanent

    2. Sibley*

      Even better, get it on the local 6pm news, front page of the newspaper, etc. Really splash it out there.

      1. fposte*

        An investment firm really doesn’t want to have a story about *anybody* falsifying records; it would also open up the question of just who did do and what’s happening to her.

        1. Paxton*

          I think the key here is the correct PR spin.

          Rather than promoting falsifying records the company could focus on their strong internal auditing which detected potential issues early. Make a play for best in class security.

      2. SarahTheEntwife*

        Is the 6pm news going to particularly care? Unless they took it out as an ad segment or something, this seems like the sort of situation that has drastic consequences for everyone involved but that isn’t really newsworthy outside of the company unless these people are highly-placed in a very well-known company or something like that.

        1. kaygee*

          This, and how to you frame the story without publicizing Jane as an abuse survivor? That’s the hook to this whole thing, and it’s not fair to Jane to be outed like that. You can’t just say a coworker set her up without explaining why she did it.

    3. Winger*

      It’s not about Mary “not interacting” with Jane anymore. I really don’t see that Jane can possibly continue working there. She set up her colleague to face potential criminal charges. She altered things at work to give an appearance that Mary committed a crime. I am frankly very surprised Mary is not trying to get charges pressed against Jane. Alison is more generous than I would have been, in suggesting that the boss try to ease Jane out. I think Jane should be fired immediately. It is not the boss’s responsibility to help Jane manage her evidently very serious personal problems, some of which (e.g. the fraud issue) she is bringing on herself.

      1. Thistle*

        I agree. It’s not just Mary who may have a problem working with her. Whilst I have sympathy for Jane I would not be comfortable working with someone who thought that those actions were acceptable. And I suspect many others would feel the same. Everyone looking at Jane and wondering if they could trust her.

      2. AnonEMoose*

        I think I agree with this. If I worked there, I would never, ever be able to trust Jane. I empathize with her situation, and the desperation she must have felt. But what she did had the potential to ruin Mary’s career and life and possibly leave her facing criminal charges. There is no way I’d be able to work with Jane, even knowing that her situation was an awful one. What she did would feel just too calculated and manipulative, and I would feel compelled to watch my back every second around her.

        1. Turtle Candle*

          Yes. I think I would be able to completely empathize and believe that she had no other realistic choice, and, simultaneously, not be able to trust her.

          The problem is that we tend under normal circumstances, and for good reason, to equate ‘good person’ with ‘can be trusted.’ But it ain’t always so. Sometimes people can have a really good reason to lie; sometimes people can even have a really good reason to lie in a harmful way. (Various people who perform espionage are in this situation; the thing they’re doing may be absolutely worth deceiving people for, may indeed save lives, but they may also hurt innocent people in the process.) This may be one of those situations, or it may not; I have no idea how to tell. But it does sometimes happen, because the world is not black and white.

          But I can fully believe that sometimes you have to lie in a way that hurts other people for a larger reason, and simultaneously believe that you can’t, thereafter, expect the people who were witness to the harmful lie to treat you as trustworthy. Because you aren’t! You may be untrustworthy for good reason, but you’re still untrustworthy in a very literal sense. And it’s not only unreasonable but frankly impossible to expect coworkers to ignore that fact.

  4. Cambridge Comma*

    What a difficult situation for all involved. Could Jane be moved to a different position but not lose her job? She deliberately falsified financial records so maybe, even though there were extenuating circumstances, she shouldn’t be in a position to access those any longer.
    Perhaps this would also appease Mary, especially if she no longer has to work directly with Jane.

    1. Managed Chaos*

      Yeah, altering financial records is somewhat of a deal breaker, I would think, even given the extenuating circumstances. I think this would be the best solution for all involved.

    2. Business Cat*

      Absolutely this. It’s unfortunate for Jane, but this is forensic accounting 101. You don’t throw someone who commits fraud right back into a position where they have access to sensitive financial documentation, and failing to remove her from this kind of position would (rightly) be seen as a liability to your investors.

    3. MillersSpring*

      Yes, my first instinct was that Jane should be disciplined–discontinued access to financial records and systems, more frequent check-ins with her boss and systematic review of her work, maybe discontinuing any perks she has…

      Make it clear to Jane that while the situation was lamentable, how she handled it had a significant negative impact on the company and Mary, and that such actions won’t be tolerated.

    4. JS*

      Agreed. I would be sympathetic towards Jane but not overlook the fact she did falsify financial records. However, I doubt there would be a position of the same level with comparable skills that she would be able to transfer to without that access if she is in fact say their accountant, corporate creditor or a financial analyst. I think it honestly would be best to gently fire Jane. As in let her know she has 3-5 months to find new employment and she will receive a neutral reference.

      1. TootsNYC*

        then maybe not the same level, and not w/ comparable skills.
        I mentioned above, in the Army they used to “bust you down to buck private.”

    5. Amy*

      I think this is a good idea. It feels like it would be harsh to fire Jane given the circumstances, but it’s entirely reasonable to not want to trust her with access to important or sensitive documents.

    6. NoMoreMrFixit*

      If there is an industry association or certification body that covers Jane’s position she may have violated their code of ethics. This could potentially result in certifications or licenses to be revoked and Mary might be at risk of this too due to the false claims.

      Everybody involved needs professional and legal help in this case.

    7. Scribbledsky*

      I understand that someone dealing with abuse makes the situation sticky, but I’m still leaning towards parting ways with Jane… as the employer, I don’t see how I would be able to trust her again after she admitted to tampering with documents (!), in a financial institution (!!!). At the very least, like others said, a demotion is in order, and probably a write up in her file. I know she was literally in fear for her life, but… wow. How can you, as the employer, in good faith trust an employee who did that with sensitive information again?

      And yes, Mary absolutely deserves 1) restitution, and 2) never to have one interact with Jane again. Jane basically admitted to thinking that it was okay to tarnish someone else’s reputation like this (because of her clearly extenuating circumstances, but still). At the very least, she either did not think of the consequences on someone else, or did consider it and thought it was still the best action to take.

      1. evilintraining*

        Agreed. I’m a survivor of domestic abuse, and there are other ways that Jane could have escaped her situation safely and without damaging anyone’s career, other than her spouse’s. With that in mind but also taking into consideration that she’s almost certainly experiencing PTSD, it would probably be best to terminate her but with a long period to find another position outside the organization. Maybe the company could offer some sort of placement assistance to boot. And frankly, whatever they can do to make things somewhat right for Mary, they should do, especially if she’s always been a great employee. For the record, my organization has a policy for discipline, up to and including termination, for those who file false reports of fraud or harassment; Jane went several steps farther by falsifying records to give the appearance of fraud.

    8. PM Jesper Berg*

      Kindly explain why Mary *shouldn’t* lose her job.
      If a parent abuses a child, it’s no excuse to say that the parent was also abused by *his* parent.
      Jane reacted to her abuser by abusing someone else. There were far more appropriate courses of action available to her.
      She should be fired.

      1. Adam*

        I agree, and would go further and say it should color her reference checks as well. She framed a coworker, who lost her home, credibility, and tore apart her life. That’s of course in addition to the actual altering of records causing the bogus investigation in the first place.

      2. HisGirlFriday*

        I assume you mean *Jane* — Mary was the innocent, aggrieved party here. Jane was the perpetrator.

        1. Lady Jay*

          I had to read this twice, but what Jesper Berg is saying is that the firm should “kindly explain [to Jane] why Mary *shouldn’t* lose her job”.

          1. HisGirlFriday*

            Oh, wow, you’re right. I had to read that through two more times to get that.

        2. PM Jesper Berg*

          Yikes, sorry. Yes. I meant “kindly explain why JANE shouldn’t lose her job.”
          I don’t think this is a morally ambiguous situation in the slightest.

    9. Code Monkey, the SQL*

      I think this is a compassionate and sensible solution.

      Jane’s judgement was sadly and severely compromised by her abuse, and even getting a divorce from her abuser isn’t going to fix her mindset overnight. She should be transferred somewhere where she doesn’t have access to that kind of data while she puts herself back together.

      And Mary might be somewhat mollified to see that her undermining colleague is no longer a colleague. It might help her work better, although I wouldn’t blame her if she still wanted to seek another job.

  5. Cafe au Lait*

    OP, at the absolute bare minmum you keed to set Mary’s financial life straight. Preferably with interest on her lost wages. If she ok’s this idea, aggressively network to find an open position elsewhere that she could move into. Along with several glowing references.

    1. Cambridge Comma*

      Plus compensation for her moving costs and any other expenses, and something on top of that for the inconvenience to her and her father.

      1. nnn*

        Also, Mary should be given leave with pay (in addition to her normal leave) for any time she has to spend re-establishing her own household – house-hunting, packing, moving, etc.

        If the company has a relocation assistance service for employees who are transferred between cities, that service should be made available to help Mary get a place of her own once her financial situation permits.

    2. Cafe au Lait*

      Another thought: if Mary suffered any financial penalties, like having to pay a lease-breaking fee, or a surrender fee for any animals she owned, the company needs to factor that in as well.

      1. Saturnalia*

        Yeah, I’d be submitting a full expense report for basically everything during that shitty period of time

      2. Amy the Rev*

        Agreed! Also I wonder if they’d be willing to cover a broker’s fee, etc for when signs onto a new lease (since she wouldn’t have had to pay that had she been able to stay in her old apt)

      3. Justanotherthought*

        This would also include any security deposits lost and the company should also throw in whatever she needs to pay for her next security deposit on a new place. A few months’ rent would be nice too, along with compensation for any furniture (or other items) she may have had to sell when she moved out of her last place, as well as the cost to replace those items in her new place.

      4. Iota*

        The issue with that is that the company is not legally liable for those things if Jane was acting outside the scope of her employment.

        If the company is overly generous, it could be a violation of fiduciary duties to shareholders, etc.

        This really needs to be handled by the top leadership and their lawyers.

    3. Sadsack*

      I wonder if Mary is considering suing the company and Jane personally. As sorry as I am for the awful situation Jane was in at home, I would definitely be considering all potential recourse if I were Mary. What a mess.

      1. Oskiesque*

        Removed per the rule above about opining on legal stuff without being a lawyer with expertise in this area.

        1. Oskiesque*

          I forgot to add, as for Jane. She should be terminated. While I sympathize with her (having worked with DV survivors), what she did incredibly out of bounds. If it weren’t for the DV component, would she have gotten terminated based on her actions alone? If yes, then termination should be considered. Also, why didn’t Jane just target herself in the investigation? This would have forced the authorities to question her as well. But, hindsight is 20/20 and I know DV survivors are already under extreme duress from their abusers, so I understand the oversight.

          1. Justanotherthought*

            @Oskiesque – Jane probably didn’t target herself because she knew she would be out of work during the investigation, where her abusive husband would have more access to her, as well as probably angering him more. NOT EXCUSING that she did it to Mary, but I could see why she didn’t point it at herself.

            1. Kyrielle*

              If she’d pointed it at herself, he might well have guessed that she was doing it to talk to police. (Whether he believed she was falsifying the evidence or _actually_ committing fraud!)

            2. Melissa*

              Thank you for bringing that point up. I had been wondering why Jane didn’t target herself for an investigation, and I guess my mental picture had the cops arresting someone that very day. But the investigation actually took long enough that Mary lost her home. Jane would have been unsafe and suspended during that time.
              I still have an issue with Jane having enough privacy to commit fraud but not to go into the ladies room and call the cops.

        2. Dust Bunny*

          Agreed. From the standpoint of its impact on Mary’s life, this is way, way, over the top.

        3. PM Jesper Berg*

          Well, I am a lawyer in the financial services sector. So I’ll repeat verbatim what Sadsack said. To avoid wear and tear on my keyboard, I’ll incorporate it by reference herein. :)

          1. Oskiesque*

            To avoid having my comment deleted again, I’ll just say I agree with Sadsack as set forth above.

  6. Megan M.*

    I don’t even know what to say about Jane. Like Allison, what I feel confident about is that you have to make this right with Mary. She suffered immense financial and emotional hardship because of Jane’s actions. I have a terrible feeling this is going to go the way of the bird letter, where the company feels they can’t penalize Jane so they end up losing Mary. I wouldn’t blame Mary for leaving, either. Yikes.

    1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

      And yes, Jane deserves sympathy and understanding, but what she did to Mary is inarguably abusive and cruel. There’s just no justification for it.

      1. Anon today...and tomorrow*

        That is my thought. There was no other way to get the authorities to her place of business without tossing another employee in front of the bus?

      2. offonaLARK*


        I can think of a number of other paths Jane might have taken, such as looping in the OP and having the OP call in a plain-clothes officer to assist. While I feel for Jane, your use of the word “cruel” is on point. Trying to get out of abuse caused her to in turn abuse someone else through abuse of her position.

        I hope for a positive update in the future for all parties involved, but particularly for Mary.

        1. Doe-Eyed*

          As someone who has dealt with abuse survivors, Jane may have been afraid that she would not be believed. I’ve seen many cases where the abuse victim tried to seek help only to have colleagues or family friends not believe them because “Oh Bill is such a nice guy!” and in some cases even reach out to the abuser concerned that the abuse victim is having some sort of mental trouble. Which places them at very high risk of being killed.

          1. AthenaC*

            Right – one of the things abusers do to protect themselves is make the victim believe that they are crazy, that everyone around them thinks they are crazy, and that everyone just LOVES the abuser and will take his side.

            And you know what? Oftentimes that’s what actually happens. When I was trying to get out of my abusive marriage, everyone really DID take his side!

            1. Doe-Eyed*

              Unfortunately because of the circuitousness of the mechanism in the letter, I’d wonder if she hasn’t already had a failed escape attempt from the relationship and felt like this might be her last shot.

          2. offonaLARK*

            Former victim myself, so I totally see your point. In this particular instance, since Jane was completely open with the OP about the reason for setting up Mary, which many abusees would not be comfortable with, it seems as if she probably could have come up with a better way.

            Regardless, I still feel for her and her situation. Her handling of it just doesn’t sit right to me.

        2. Amy*

          I don’t think we should assume there were other paths open to Jane. There might have been, but we don’t know that for sure. We don’t know how intense her husband’s surveillance was, for example–you hear about abusers going to crazy lengths sometimes. All we actually know is what Jane believed; she said she didn’t have any other options, so we know that’s what she thought, at least.

          We can make judgements on whether that matters, we can think that the consequences of her actions were bad enough that she should be fired anyways, but I don’t think it’s worth speculating on what she should have done instead. Even if we had all the facts, ‘should’ve/could’ve/would’ve’ speculation can get really out of hand, and we don’t have anywhere near all the facts on this.

          1. offonaLARK*

            So sorry, wasn’t trying to speculate. I was just agreeing with the assessment of the poster before me that Jane’s actions – whether she should have or could have gone another route or not – could be described as “cruel.” I definitely feel for Jane even though I don’t agree with her choice of a way out. The fact that she did indeed get out is wonderful! I’m just super worried for Mary because of Jane’s choice. All parties involved deserve a happy outcome (except probably the abuser, but as a former victim I may hold stronger opinions in that respect than some!).

      3. Chaordic One*

        I’ve heard that often times people who are abused turn around and become abusers themselves. I kind of think that might be what happened to Jane.

        Jane deserves sympathy, understanding and a pink slip.

    2. Dorothy Mantooth*

      I hope the company does see that they have options for disciplining Jane without her losing her job, and not making Mary feel like she has no choice but to leave because it was not “dealt with.” Position transfer, department transfer, cutting access to financial records, suspension, keeping a very close eye on all of her work come to mind.

      1. Chaordic One*

        That’s kind of what happened in the case with the bird-phobic employee who (in panic) pushed his coworker in front of the parking car. The victim ended up leaving because she felt like the problem was not “dealt with.”

    3. Just Another Techie*

      If I was in Mary’s shoes, I would want to leave, but I wouldn’t actually quit. Mostly for fear of the optics and of not being able to find a new job given the rumors swirling. I’d be aggressively advocating for more responsibility and growth opportunities, and to move Jane to a department a million miles from me.

      1. The Moving Finger*

        Yeah, Mary’s probably thinking “how can I ever find another job again after this?”

  7. Dani X*

    I think that no matter what Jane burned her bridges here. If I was just someone on the sidelines I would be very wary of working with Jane. She didn’t seem to have any problems destroying Mary’s life. How can I be sure I won’t be the next victim?

    1. Maggie98765*

      I agree with Dani X. I am sorry for Jane, but you can’t go around doing that to innocent people.

    2. Nephron*

      This. I was not able to really figure out my own thoughts on this issue. I would be horrified about what Jane went through and support her getting help and I might even understand what she did. But trust would be gone, even if I tried to trust her I would be constantly checking everything she handed me because I cannot just move in with family if I stop being paid.

      1. Canton*

        This is me. Especially the last bit. My closest relative is on the other side of the country.

    3. Ann O. Nymous*

      Very much agree with this. I don’t see how Jane comes back from this and I would avoid her like the plague if I worked at that company.

    4. Sunflower*

      I have to agree with this. I wouldn’t be shocked if every employee said they can’t trust her anymore.

      It might be best for Jane all around to move on. I understand that Jane felt desperate but I also feel at some point she said ‘this is worth losing my job over’ so my guess is she’s thinking this could happen.

      Would be very curious to see what happens to Jane going forward. Is it possible she can be charged with something? Would be very curious what the company recommendation would sound like after this. Even if Jane is an A+ worker, I’m not sure how this would all get explained from her or the company.

    5. LBK*

      I think the thing that scares me is doing it without Mary’s consent. I think I’d be willing to put myself in jeopardy to help someone who was being abused, but I’d want to do it knowingly.

      I can’t also help but feel like this is a little too deliberate for me to feel completely comfortable giving Jane a pass. I get that abuse makes you do extreme things to get away and that your entire world and mindset changes. But I just can’t picture doing this is a panic rather than it being a long-term plan, and I’m kind of suspicious of her deliberately making someone else the apparent fraudster instead of herself.

      It’s so complicated because I can’t possibly put myself in Jane’s headspace…but I’m uneasy with giving her a free pass.

      1. Amy*

        I suspect that if Jane felt able to go to Mary and say “I’m being abused, here’s my convoluted scheme for contacting the authorities and getting help, are you willing to play along?” then she would probably just have asked Mary to contact the authorities directly. It sounds like Jane truly believed she had no way to tell anyone what was going on. (Which may or may not be accurate, but abuse can mess with people’s perceptions pretty heavily.)

        1. AthenaC*

          The best part is that the victim’s perspective may be correct in this instance. I didn’t believe my husband when he told me that everyone liked him and felt sorry for him that he had such a “crazy” wife and that no one would help me …. but he was right.

          1. Amy*

            Yeah, I’m inclined to not speculate on whether Jane actually had other ways of getting help. We don’t have all the details. We know she didn’t see any other way, and we know that abusers sometimes do go to really intense, crazy lengths in their abuse, and that doesn’t seem like enough information to rule it out either way. Maybe he really was in the room every time she was talking to another person, or had some other kind of surveillance on her. Maybe he wasn’t and she had other opportunities. We don’t know.

    6. Tuxedo Cat*

      I agree with this. It would be really hard if not impossible for me to rebuild trusting Jane if I were Mary. Did she even apologize to Mary? I would wonder why set up me. Not that it would necessarily help to understand, but I would feel like it was targeted if I were the only one who was set up.

      How much does the rest of the office know? If they know Jane did this, it’s going to make most people wary of working with her even if they know why she did this.

    7. Karen D*

      Regretfully, yes, I come down here.

      At the bare minimum, I would have to have a very good explanation from Jane as to why she went this route. It’s so far outside the realm of normal human interaction and, honestly? So much trouble! And then sit back and watch Mary’s life crumble bit by bit, knowing all along she was innocent? I can’t fathom it.

    8. Lilo*

      I agree. Whether or not she saw this as the only way out her “way out” involved inflicting a huge amount on an entirely innocent party. If she had gone o her boss and asked for help, she might have received it. While the psychology of abuse is difficult, the malicious actions remain. She framed someone else. I couldn’t work with someone who did that.

    9. JS*

      I feel that is unfair to say since this was a one-time situation of domestic abuse. Now if Jane gets back with husband Jack and this is a risk of happening again then, yeah OK, I see your point. But this seems like Terrible One-Time Strenuous circumstance especially if Jane has never shown any prior shady behavior.

      1. Tiffin*

        But what about the fact that this was sustained shady behavior? I obviously don’t know all the details, but this couldn’t have been something she threw together in an afternoon on a whim. She had to come up with the idea, figure out how to do it in a way that seemed credible enough to get the police to come, allow the investigation to go forward, etc. That’s not a 1-time instance of bad behavior; that’s plotting. If I worked with her, I couldn’t ever trust her. I’d be afraid that at best she’d mess up work and at worst, she’d target me.

        1. JS*

          I think sustained shady behavior would only apply if this was something she did on more than one occasion. Yes, it took planning but its not like she has a history of being deceitful, lying, etc. Also I think a VERY important fact everyone is overlooking is Joe, her husband, was an employee there! This isn’t the case of “at home” only abuse, his abuse of her was at work too! It’s not as if work was a “safe place” that Jane now polluted with her fraud allegations, the work place was already hostile for her so she responded in kind. If I worked with her I would be more concerned that her mental health and well-being was not in a place where she could effectively do her job, rather than “I’m next”. I can see how “I’m next” could be a knee-jerk reaction but its not as if she sabotaged someone to get an advantage at work, she was scared for her life due to a fellow employee.

      2. aebhel*

        It may be unfair, but Jane has shown that she’s willing and able to ruin the life of an innocent bystander in order to escape her situation.

        I’ve been in an abusive relationship. I understand how it can warp a person’s perspective and thinking–trust me. And I understand the drowning-victim thing where you can’t think or care about the fact that you’re hurting someone else; all you can think of is get me out of here! I don’t think Jane is a bad person or even that this necessarily reflects on her ethics in general.

        But if I worked with a person who did this, whatever the reason, I would never be able to trust them again. I’m going to guess that a lot of Jane’s coworkers are going to feel the same.

        1. Turtle Candle*

          ‘Drowning’ is a great metaphor (speaking as someone who has also had personal experience with abuse). And I think it works both ways. I once was swimming (sharing a lane) with someone who got the hiccups and inhaled some water while swimming along the bottom of the pool in the deep end. She panicked, and grabbed my legs–literally attempting to climb my body and in the process pulling me under too, without any warning, so that I inhaled some water too.

          I didn’t blame her; I know the sheer bodily panic of “I’m drowning oh no oh no.” But I also could no longer bring myself to share a lane with her.

        2. Green*

          I agree with the comment (and one below) on drowning being an excellent metaphor here.

          I am absolutely sensitive to domestic violence victims (I have a relative in hiding and am funding her legal case, even hiring a lawyer to sit with her when there’s a criminal hearing so she feels supported and has an advocate to the ADA).

          But I am also in-house counsel with a corporation. Jane is unfortunately a risk I would not be in favor of retaining (but would offer a generous severance package and a negotiated reference).

          First, Jane has demonstrated that she is willing to commit fraud at her place of employment when she is scared and doesn’t know what to do. (What if Jane had been embezzling money from a non-profit so that she’d have an escape fund? That’s something every DV victim needs, but fraud or theft at your place of employment is not an acceptable means of obtaining it.) It appears that Jane is in a position that allowed her to commit fraud in an area of interest to law enforcement, and so she should not be allowed to retain a position of trust, whether or not her colleagues were still willing to work with her.

          Second, Jane has potentially irreparably harmed another individual also employed by the company in both her personal and professional lives. Mary could and should file a lawsuit (yes, I’m a lawyer!) in most states to obtain damages (she lost her HOUSE!). Jane is the wrongdoer here; even if she believed this was her only option and had good reasons for the wrongful act. What an awful situation for Jane, but there also were serious consequences associated with her actions for other people. If there are additional consequences, they should fall to Jane.

          1. Turtle Candle*

            Oh that’s interesting. When I thought “what if she’d embezzled to get an escape fund instead?” my gut feeling was that many places would be much quicker to fire. I might be wrong. But it feels to me like reputation damage just feels… squishier?

            1. Green*

              Reputation damage is squishier, but there was real financial harm to Mary.

              And she forged or made otherwise fraudulent documents, let the police get involved, and let someone else live a nightmare to get out of her own nightmare.

              Someone being in a terrible situation is a mitigating factor (which is why I’d give the generous severance and a negotiated reference), but it doesn’t mean that there should be no consequences.

              (In the theft hypo, which causes financial harm to the organization but doesn’t hurt another individual employee, AND would be entirely understandable from someone in a domestic violence situation who needed an emergency fund to escape, the mitigation would be that if they could pay it back, I’d fire and not press charges.)

          2. Sarah M*

            +1 to what Green said. (I’m also a lawyer.) My sympathies go out to Jane, but she has to go.

          3. JS*

            I think its an important distinction to make that she did NOT commit fraud. “The authorities declined to investigate Jane further or charge her because no fraud was actually committed.” She lied and abused her position yes, but she did not commit any fraud that damaged the company illegally. While she might be liable to Mary in civil court, legally she isn’t considered liable for fraud in the criminal sense so saying she could have embezzled money is a false equivalency and not the same thing at ALL.

            I agree that Jane should be removed from the position since she abused her power in the position but to be a coworker and automatically assume “I’m next” given the circumstances is super unreasonable.

    10. efb*

      Overall I think this is the thing you need to focus on. Without trying to get into what could have been going on in Jane’s mind to justify this, fundamentally she won’t be an effective member of your office if her coworkers and superiors can no longer trust her. The optimal outcome for Jane in terms of employment is one where she is working in a job where she can be useful and is valued, and right or wrong, that is no longer her current position.

    11. Kate*

      I feel a lot of sympathy toward Jane. I just find it really hard to believe that Jane felt that the only way she could get in touch with the authorities was to falsify fraud. In a private meeting with her boss or coworkers, borrowing a cell phone or telling a coworker in the ladies restroom, slipping someone trustworthy a note, etc.

      I just can’t believe there isn’t a single 5 minute space of time when Jane isn’t away from her husband. I think the letter mentioned that they aren’t even in the same department.

      I hope this isn’t disobeying the rules about being kind, but it almost makes me wonder if Jane was trying to commit fraud against the company to get enough money to leave her abusive husband, was doing it in Mary’s name in case she got caught, and is using the “contact authorities” thing as a cover-up. It would be understandable. It makes more sense than the idea that Jane could falsify fraud without her husband or coworkers knowing, which sounds pretty complicated, but couldn’t conceive of any way to contact the police.

      Maybe there is a third option. Maybe she convinced her husband to let her falsify Mary’s documents to trick him into letting her contact they authorities, telling him about the money they could make?

      I really think Jane needs to be investigated more thoroughly by the office, to see if they can verify intent. Whichever of three options it is, besides the bad judgement Jane has shown, in addition to the bad feelings and mistrust her coworkers will probably feel, she must be transferred to a different department at least, one that doesn’t handle financial documents. But for all of these things, I think she should be fired.

      1. nutella fitzgerald*

        Regarding your second sentence: I think you might be conflating actual reality with what Jane perceived her reality to be. Sure, if one of my coworkers cornered me in the restroom and begged to borrow my phone because she thought her husband would kill her, I would do whatever I could to help her. But if when she saw me in the restroom, her first thought was “I better get out of here before Nutella tells Joe I’ve been loitering in the bathroom,” it would never get to that point.

    12. caryatis*

      Yes…especially given that many abuse victims go back to the abuser, sometimes again and again. Hopefully, since Joe has been fired, it’s now less likely that the abuse will affect the workplace, but still, I would steer clear of Jane for YEARS to come.

    13. Ty*

      I have to agree as well. You have to trust your employees. I understand the psychology of the situation calls for some compassion, but as an employer I’d have to say she could no longer do the job she was hired for.

    14. Sue*

      Yes, and I’m wondering if there was a reason she selected Mary. Any history between them or just her position with the company?
      And Jane apparently put some thought into her plan but she seriously compromised her credibility for Joe’s case should it go to trial. (I’m a lawyer). And while I hope the company attempts to make Mary whole, the real responsible party is Jane. A civil suit between them would be a serious disruption in most any office.

  8. Stephanie (HR Manager)*

    I’m definitely not an expert, but I think there’s some protection for whistle blowers EVEN IF it turns out they were lying. Jane may by default fall into this category. I would check into it if you were considering termination.

    1. Cambridge Comma*

      Firstly, it doesn’t sound from the letter like Jane alerted the authorities, more like she created the anomaly and waited for it to be noticed.
      But I would have thought that the protection for whistleblowers was in case they honestly perceived wrong-doing where none existed, not for blowing the whistle on a fraud they created themselves.

      1. Solidus Pilcrow*

        Yeah, it’s the difference between “I saw people in a company truck with barrels by the river” and turns out it was something perfectly legal vs. “I photoshopped a picture of a company truck dumping barrels by the river.” The first would (possibly) be protected. Manufacturing evidence is pretty shaky territory.

        If you could argue that you photoshopped the pic to start an investigation about illegal dumping – and the investigation did find *other* instances of illegal dumping – it may be somewhat mitigated (however, I doubt you would keep your job after doing so). But this was starting an investigation of illegal dumping to get investigators to follow your spouse around and find evidence of an affair.

      2. irritable vowel*

        Right, the “good samaritan” kind of thing. Jane was definitely not being a good samaritan in this case.

    2. Apollo Warbucks*

      I would hope that any protection for whistle blowing would be based on them acting in good faith

    3. Natalie*

      This seems extraordinarily unlikely to me. Whistle blower protection is thin to non-existent for legitimate reporters, much less false reports.

    4. Delyssia*

      This is an interesting point, though it’s not clear from the letter whether Jane actually reported anything to authorities or just framed Mary by altering records. I wouldn’t think whistle blower protections would apply if Jane didn’t report it to authorities.

    5. DArcy*

      Per the Office of the Inspector General’s official information on that exact subject, whistle-blowers are protected against any adverse employment action as long as they “reasonably believe what you’ve reported is true. ” So Jane would absolutely not be protected because she wasn’t innocently mistaken; she was knowingly framing Mary.

    6. DecorativeCacti*

      I think there is a big difference between blowing the whistle in good faith and being wrong versus deliberately lying and setting someone up. But the biggest thing I’ve ever blown the whistle on is a director who would throw away people’s dishes if they were left in the break room sink.

    7. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Before this goes further, if someone would like to link to actual info about this, please do! But otherwise let’s cut the speculation — too much potential for spreading wrong info.

          1. GingerHR*

            Since I’m certain the letter writer isn’t in the UK (as unpaid suspension is very unusual), this maybe of limited interest, but the test of ‘good faith’ for whistleblowing was replaced with one of in the public interest, and more, having a reasonable belief that it is in the public interest. Public interest is a relatively tough test, as it’s not necessarily what we might be interested in. In these circumstances Jane would fail on reasonable belief. Actual fraud probably would count as public interest, although it’s probably case dependent. I’d have no concerns that Jane would have whistleblowing protection. Her case certainly warrants sympathy, but she’s effectively commited fraud herself by inventing fraud and deliberately implicated another person – that’s potentially malicious and certainly potential gross misconduct. It’s definitely dimissable under UK law, which can as you say be broader – whether you’d take her circumstances into account in mitigation is another story.

            Whistleblowing link:

    8. Gaia*

      Whistleblower protections protect you if you are acting in good faith, but wrong, but do not protect you if you know your allegations are false.

    9. DArcy*

      I looked it up, Stephanie. Whistleblower law protects whistleblowers who were *wrong*, but not whistleblowers who were *lying*. The standard is that a whistleblower is protected as long as they had a reasonable belief that they were right — so Jane is absolutely not covered, because she was knowingly making completely fraudulent claims. But if another employee had blown the whistle on Mary based on seeing the company financials without knowing about Jane’s actions, that employee would be fully protected.

      Basically, it’s all about good faith, and Jane wasn’t.

  9. Ann O. Nymous*

    My GOD, what a horrific situation all around. I totally get where Mary is coming from, but I also have a lot of sympathy for Jane, who seems to have been in a horrible situation but also handled getting help pretty horribly. I think it’s possible to have compassion for Jane while conveying to her that what she did to Mary was not right and that she owes Mary a HUGE apology. Jane’s situation does not give her a free pass to upend Mary’s life as collateral damage without facing consequences.

    Personally, I would help and encourage Jane to move on from the company and have the company do everything they need to do to get Mary’s life back in order. I really don’t think it’s fair to Mary to keep Jane employed after what happened. You don’t have to dump Jane on the street, and you can have compassion and help her transition to a new job with compassion, but I think Jane has to go.

    1. Anon Accountant*

      I completely agree with everything you wrote. And Mary unfairly had her reputation tarnished and I fear even with great references it’ll be very hard for her to ever find another position if she should leave the company.

      I want to cry just reading this letter. How awful for everyone involved.

    2. The IT Manager*

      Yes. I understand that abuse messes with your mind, but what happened to Mary cannot ever be undone. She will likely live in fear of this happening again for the rest of her life. And I also wonder if Jane could not have made it appear that she or Joe was committing fraud? I presume that she must have picked Mary from a list of potential victims so she somehow chose Mary over others.

      I honestly do think Jane needs to be fired. At the very least she should be moved to a position where she can’t do this again and doesn’t have to work with Mary. What she did can’t be entirely undone and repercussions will haunt Mary for the rest of her life. It would be a kindness to give Jane a few months to find a new job, but I think she has to go.

      1. Girl Alex PR*

        I completely agree with IT Manager. I was in an incredibly abusive situation as young woman and was desperate to get out. But at no time in my desperation did I ever consider ruining someone else’s life to do so. My own? Sure. But an innocent? Not even once.

        1. Another person*

          Thank you, I came here to say that as well. When I was in an abusive relationship, no matter how bad things got, it never once crossed my mind either to cook up an elaborate scheme to frame an innocent person and ruin their life. It took all I had just to get through the day most days.

          I strongly believe that being a victim of abuse does not give anyone the right to actively harm an innocent party without facing any consequences.

          The company doesn’t need to fire Jane, but I think they do need to discipline her and move her to another position where she isn’t able to access sensitive records. They should also at a minimum pay all of Mary’s back wages with interest, and reimburse her for the expenses she surely incurred from losing her home over the false accusations. Then they need to let everyone in their industry know that Mary was cleared during the investigation and that the employee who framed her was disciplined.

    3. Marillenbaum*

      This seems reasonable and fair: first things first, get Mary her back pay pronto, bring her back (assuming she still wants to work for y’all) and make sure her professional reputation is untarnished. If it all possible, transition Jane in such a way that she and Mary are not working together, and put Jane on a timeline (say, three months) to find a position elsewhere. Abuse is a terrible thing, and I can understand Jane’s logic in doing what she did, but she has also poisoned the well at this office and it would be best if she were in a new position.

    4. irritable vowel*

      Right. Jane has proven herself to be a “problem employee,” in a pretty big way. She’s a liability for the company (not speaking legally, since IANAL, but just in terms of the risk being too high that she might cause problems again). I don’t see her actions as being too different from someone who stole from the company because she was desperate in her personal life – while ideally a company should treat someone in a difficult circumstance with compassion, they’re not under any obligation to keep someone on who has damaged their business.

    5. Kyrielle*

      Agreed. I’m coming down on this side, too. I feel terrible for Jane. I will assume that she truly did feel that was the only way to get help, and I cannot imagine being in a place where you felt that way, and with your life being threatened.

      I don’t want her to suffer financially. But the trust – the company’s trust in her, Mary’s trust in her, her other coworkers’ trust if they’re aware of this – is broken.

      And this *was* a huge thing; absent the mitigating circumstance of why she did it, this is the sort of action that gets you fired and possibly even charged for what you did.

      I think in this case, the best thing to do for Jane is get her out the door with a reference based on her performance _other than_ this, or a neutral reference, and a generous severance (because she absolutely cannot afford to be without an income now).

      Then also turn around and make Mary whole, for which there have been a number of good ideas up-thread.

      Which…has the unfortunate effect of costing the company rather a lot of money (by an individual’s view) if they do it. All because of Jane’s actions. Which seems unfair also. I think it would be the best course of action, though, and it sounds like they are large enough that this might be less-painful than for a very small firm.

  10. Mel*

    I’m wondering if Jane or the company are liable for a lawsuit in this case. OP may want to prepare for that possibility.

    1. Maggie98765*

      this is what I was thinking. If I were Mary, I’d be considering legal action against Jane.

      1. MegaMoose, Esq*

        Oh, I was thinking about this in terms of the authorities. I don’t say this very often, but I think Mary very well may have a case against Jane for defamation of character. Generally it’s a tricky claim, but if you’ve got measurable damage to your professional reputation, which it seems like she does, I think you’ve got a solid argument at least. All my sympathy to Jane’s situation, but if the company can’t make Mary whole, she’d be well advised to talk to an attorney.

        And the OP or someone at that company should absolutely be talking to their counsel.

        1. Decimus, JD*

          Mary might be best off pursuing it because even a settlement for “nominal” damages might help with her reputation. “I was wrongly accused of fraud but successfully sued my accuser for defamation” sounds a lot different from “I was wrongly accused of fraud” where people will wonder “really?”

        2. Iota*

          The real issue is going to be whether or not she’ll ever collect anything. I don’t think Jane has the resources to make her whole. The company probably is it legally responsible, so the Board of Directors may not want to pay out to Mary because that will be a violation of their fiduciary duties.

          The reason for Mary to proceed is to get this on public record. The problem with that is Jane being the kind of perpetrator people will feel sorry for. So going after Jane mat hurt Mary more.

          We also know absolutely nothing about Mary’s mental state and situation. She may be at a breaking point and dealing with this any further might be more dramatic than walking away

    2. MegaMoose, Esq*

      I don’t *think* the company is likely to be liable for anything here, but I would guess that some jurisdictions have procedures in place to recover the cost of a fraudulent report like this. That investigation probably cost some significant taxpayer cash.

      1. Mike C.*

        An employee of the company acted on the company’s behalf to falsify evidence and file a false report. I fully think this is something that requires at least consulting with a lawyer about.

        1. MegaMoose, Esq*

          Yeah, if I could edit my comment, I’d add that in there in big old flashy caps. This is a bad situation and I don’t think Jane’s motivation is going to offer much in the way of legal protection.

        2. Sue*

          It’s possible that the company could be found to have vicarious liability but what she did was pretty far outside the scope of her employment. Might depend on the State.

    3. LKW*

      It wasn’t clear from the letter – but does Mary know that Jane falsified records and set this machine in motion? That kind of information is usually very limited and it doesn’t sound like Mary knows. If not, she shouldn’t – it will blow up in everyone’s face and put the company at significant risk. Even if the charges were false, fraud hotlines have to be kept confidential if companies want people to use them. If anonymous tips are exposed – no one will use them. See Wells Fargo for an example.

      If anything, I think the company should provide back pay, add whatever penalties or fees were incurred. Do what they can to promote Mary internally and externally within reason (speak at a conference, etc.) and provide an excellent reference.

      As for Jane – I’m torn – I have a feeling she had no idea the extent her actions had. It’s no excuse, but I have to think that she didn’t expect the fallout on Mary to be as severe as it was. That she felt backed into such a tight corner is awful, but she had options like talking to her manager behind closed doors or borrowing someone’s phone and calling the police from the bathroom at work. She made the choice based on what she thought was the best option for her – and didn’t consider the ramifications for anyone else. It cost the company and an individual at the company significant time and money and loss of reputation for both. She needs to be “counseled out” – aka not fired but politely shown that her career will be limited at said company due to showing poor judgement and decision making skills.

      1. Aunt Margie at Work*

        “If not, she shouldn’t – it will blow up in everyone’s face and put the company at significant risk.”
        If Mary keeps her job with no explanation, then she will live with the burden of a tarnished reputation. If nobody admits the records were falsified, the best Mary will get is a reputation as someone who messed up so badly, it looked like fraud, even though it wasn’t.

        Employees should not be afraid to blow the whistle.
        Employees should be afraid of the consequences of framing a coworker for fraud.
        Employees should believe that fraud will be investigated and dealt with.
        Employees should believe that when they are found not guilty of fraud (much less, the target of a campaign to frame them) that the company will step up and defend them publicly.

      2. Tiffin*

        “As for Jane – I’m torn – I have a feeling she had no idea the extent her actions had. It’s no excuse, but I have to think that she didn’t expect the fallout on Mary to be as severe as it was. ”

        Her intent was to get the police to come to the office. That’s pretty severe to me.

      3. Tiffin*

        Also: This wasn’t a case of someone whistle blowing and being mistaken. This was intentional fraud on Jane’s part.

        I do feel for her, but I don’t want to candy coat her actions.

        1. TootsNYC*

          Yeah, but she KNEW that when the cops got there, she would explain how it had been falsified, and she’d beg for their help.

          Maybe she didn’t realize Mary would be suspended without pay.
          Maybe she didn’t realize the investigation would take as long as it did, leaving Mary without pay for so many weeks.
          Maybe she didn’t think Mary would actually lose her home because she went a few weeks without pay.
          Maybe she didn’t think everyone would hear about the investigation, or that they’d still believe Mary was at fault.

      4. Observer*

        Jane had to know – the whole idea was to get the investigation going and make it broad and deep enough to make it easy for her to talk to the investigators. She’s also not the mail room clerk or someone who would not be in a position to understand the ramifications of a fraud investigation.

        I have sympathy for her, but the best one can say is that due to the abuse she suffered her judgement is so impaired that she can’t be trusted with sensitive information.

        1. Dare*

          I think that’s a fair way to put it- the abuse has severely impacted her judgment. Not inherently her fault and she should be helped; but so should her victim (who was also abused).

  11. LiveAndLetDie*

    I think Jane has wronged Mary for sure, and it was the wrong choice to fake a fraud investigation. Surely there was some other way to get Jane in front of police without ruining another person’s reputation and possibly career in the process?

    Also, regarding the aside about people asking for other people to be fired, I agree with Alison: you say ONE TIME that “I cannot continue to work with this person and I believe what they did was unforgivable,” and if the company does not choose to terminate that person for what they did, then you have to take it upon yourself to find a new job and leave that one. If you can’t work with someone, you can leave. You cannot make the company get rid of that someone else to make your own life easier.

    1. N*

      I would like to add that OP says that Jane was actually receiving death threats, which makes this a pretty extreme case of abuse. It sounds to me like Jane was acting out of sheer panic and terror. That doesn’t make the actions right at all, but I do know that people who are in situations where they imminently believe they are going to be MURDERED really don’t behave appropriately. That’s what makes this situation so difficult.

      Actually, this reminds me of a situation I heard about through a teacher friend–she had a teenage student with a terribly abusive home life and her parent had similarly begun making death threats. The teacher said that in the middle of class, the student just started screaming, tearing out her hair, behaving erratically, and had to be physically restrained from hurting the other students. The unfortunate truth is that in these situations, people don’t behave rationally or what we would consider to be reasonably. Does this mean she should continue working at the firm? Probably not, but I hope OP approaches her situation with compassion and, as Alison says, gets help from an expert.

      1. Sadsack*

        Yeah, Jane didn’t take immediate action though. How long do you think it took for whatever she did behind the scenes to be noticed and investigated? Days, weeks or more even?

        1. Sam*

          Yeah, seemingly irrational behavior is totally understandable, but the fact that this was a long, drawn-out plan rather than something impulsive and panicky raises a lot of questions. We just don’t have the context we would need to fully understand the situation.

      2. Anon today...and tomorrow*

        The OP says that Joe didn’t report to her, only Mary and Jane. This means there were moments during the day where Jane probably had access to a phone (or another person) without Joe being right there with her. Why go through all the trouble to frame Mary for a crime she didn’t commit to get the authorities there? If she was afraid that Joe would be that suspicious, then pull the fire alarm and get an officer to help you when they arrive on site…don’t frame an innocent person who now has to spend years trying to clean up a mess she didn’t commit!!!!

        1. WellRed*

          Right? How about an email? And, it’s not like Joe wasn’t going to figure this out eventually. None of this makes sense and I am having a hard time reconciling Jane’s stress and fear (which I don’t doubt) as making her do something so…wrong with her her ability to plan an execute this dubious plan.

          1. Falling Diphthong*

            I would think that emergency response is going to be trained that sometimes if there is no (fire, heart attack victim, person shooting) there IS someone who desperately wanted to get the authorities to the scene, and be open to be people desperately signaling. Heck, back in the 80s a ranger took me off by myself to ensure that my boyfriend and I really were a camping college couple, and I was fine and there willingly. Whereas being ready to switch on a dime to a DV investigation is not something I expect from the SEC.

            1. DArcy*

              Speaking as former emergency response personnel (an EMT-B working on ambulances), I can confirm that this is absolutely the case. We are explicitly trained to be aware of this possibility, and are in fact mandatory reporters of suspected abuse in most states — if we have even the slightest suspicion that something is not right, we’re required to file an immediate written report with the appropriate agencies.

        2. BuildMeUp*

          It’s very likely that Joe had spent months, possibly even years, making sure that Jane believed that no one was on her side and that anything she did would get back to him. Abusers usually use tactics like emotional manipulation and gaslighting in order to control the people they are abusing. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’d made sure she believed she was never really alone or safe, even when he wasn’t right next to her.

          It’s easy to see the other options when you’re outside of the situation, but when you’re being terrorized both at home and at work and made to believe nowhere is safe, your perception of reality can easily become warped.

          I’m not saying she made a good decision, but knowing how abusive relationships work, it’s very easy for me to see how Joe could have made her believe she had no other options.

      3. LiveAndLetDie*

        It’s highly likely that Jane was acting out of panic and fear, but I think that does not absolve her of the consequences of her actions–by involving her coworker Mary in this charade she damaged Mary’s reputation, endangered her career, and as a result of the suspension cost Mary her home. This isn’t something that can be swept away and no matter her reasoning or motivation, Jane has done Mary wrong and somehow it needs to be rectified.

        I agree that OP needs to approach the situation with compassion, because of course Jane’s situation is ALSO terrible. But she made things worse for herself by setting up this false scenario. She falsified documents and threw a coworker under the bus. I would no longer trust her to do the job, and I would not blame anyone for letting her go. Because of her situation, I would hope that it is done gently and with compassion.

        1. N*

          I agree with all of this–it IS pretty unlikely that Jane can continue to work there for all of the reasons listed. But it seems like a lot of people have wondered how and why Jane could do something so irrational when there were plenty of other ways that she could potentially have reported the abuse, and the truth is that her sense of what is reasonable and unreasonable was probably very warped at that point. (She could have been thinking, for example, “If I make the call from my office phone, he may be listening on the other line,” or “If I tell my supervisor, I can’t trust them not to tell Joe. Or they may not believe me, because Joe ALWAYS reminds me that if I tell anyone else they’ll say I’m crazy,” etc.) It’s an abnormal situation–that’s why her behavior doesn’t make sense to us.

    2. Abby*

      One time I was the Director of Marketing and supervised a Marketing Coordinator at another location. She did not do her job and continually lied about me in an attempt to explain why she hadn’t done her job. Although I supervised her, I didn’t have the right to fire her and at the other location people thought she was good because they didn’t have the entire picture. I went to the Executive Director and explained that I could not be effective at my job if this woman was allowed to continue what she was doing and that if that happened I would leave. For me, I perceived this as clarifying my position and not making a threat. My professional reputation was at risk. The non profit (which was fairly dysfunctional) did choose me. But if they hadn’t, I would have done what I said I was going to do and quit.

      I agree that this is only appropriate in certain situations and one employer should never have so much power that he/she dictate what happens to another employee. In my situation, the ED knew that what I was saying was true (that the woman had lied and wasn’t doing her job) and backed me up.

    3. snorkellingfish*

      The only complicating part about the “you can leave” in this situation is that Mary’s professional reputation has been so tarnished that she might not be able to find another job right now. That goes doubly when leaving her current job after being investigated for fraud will just exacerbate the reputational damage.

      I absolutely feel for what Jane must have been going through, but I also feel for what Mary’s been through, and forcing her to continue to work with Jane (in circumstances where Mary is unlikely to be able to leave without exacerbating the harm she’s suffered) just seems so unfair and untenable. In those sorts of circumstances, I feel like Jane has to go (or at least be demoted to a position with less responsibility far, far away from Mary).

  12. ilikeaskamanager*

    Jane needs to be fired. She knowingly made a false accusation against a co-worker. I am very sympathetic to her domestic abuse situation, but it doesn’t give her the right to upend a colleague’s life.

    1. blackcat*

      I think the kind way to fire her is to “agree on a last day,” and not fight any unemployment claim. But yeah, it seems like she needs to leave.

      1. CatCat*

        I can’t imagine how Jane would qualify for unemployment under these circumstances. The company doesn’t have to “fight” the unemployment claim for the claim to be denied.

      2. Lynly*

        Yep. This is what HR and HR Legal would do at my company. We’d terminate employment with Jane, and probably fairly immediately, but we’d offer a buyout with some extended insurance (company paid COBRA) for likely three months. We’d not contest any claim for unemployment benefits and we’d stick with our usual policy of only confirming her employment dates with us should any future employer ask. There really is no way that Jane can or should stay with her current employer.

    2. TL -*

      I don’t know about firing Jane – she was probably in a very difficult situation and since her husband works at the same place, he may have had access to her work calendar (asks her about all meetings) and was probably super sensitive to how everyone treated him and interrogated her quite harshly if anyone treated him in any manner he found unacceptable. (I’m not sure I could entirely hide my reaction to news like this, try as I might.) She might have felt like telling anyone would have resulted in them treating her husband differently and that could’ve ended quite badly for her. Or he could’ve been really well-liked at the company and convinced her she would’ve been fired because no one would believe her anyways.

      That doesn’t make what she did okay, but I’m not sure that firing her is the best option. I like separating out their work, if possible, and paying Mary for lost wages. (and possibly giving her some extra vacation or something as a sign of gratitude to her being understanding, after a talk.)

      1. NJ Anon*

        or she was embarrassed and humiliated and didn’t feel comfortable telling anyone she worked with.

      2. Tempest*

        Yeah, I’d never work with Jane again. Even as an outsider of the Mary/Jane situation. She made her coworker look like a fraudster in the company and their industry. She made her co-worker lose her home.

        I don’t know what Jane went through because I’ve never been there. However, I do know getting out of your horrible situation by rendering another person you barely know, who’s nothing to do with the situation or you, homeless and suspended without pay is not the way to deal with it.

        Even working in the same company Jane must have been able to find a way to get a manager alone in a room for five minutes and express that if the police didn’t attend her life was at risk. The manager could then have handled the call from her closed office and the first Jim still would have known was when the police arrested him. And then only a manager has been dragged into the situation to make the call to the police. Jane could have called them herself from the ladies toilet and returned to her desk without letting on she’d done it. All these things still end in police attendance which is what she wanted in the first place, but don’t involve a large scale operation to frame her coworker for fraud first.

        I’m sorry for her struggles but for the reputation of the company and the morale of the other staff, Jane has to go. Who’d want to work with Jane who caused Mary to be homeless and without a wage over her own person problems?

        1. TL -*

          Yeah, it wasn’t great of Jane and I feel a lot of sympathy for Mary – but I also think this may have truly been a life or death situation for Jane and thus it’s a little different than some previous letters where someone was in a tight spot but not truly risking death. (If Jane had done this because she was desperately struggling to pay for medical bills, for instance…)

          The most dangerous time for an abused woman is right after she’s left her abuser and it sounds like Joe was already an extreme case of an abuser. (The fact that the police moved so quickly is evidence in Jane’s favor.) The other factor for me is that Jane probably has no money beyond what she brings in, and I’d guess that very little is in her name in terms of bills, leases/houses, cars, so I think firing her now would be a really bad option. That being said, the company could transition her out over a year — that would probably give her enough time to get her life back on track.

        2. Carolyn*

          I agree with you completely on all points.

          Even if Jane couldn’t do any of the things you suggested such as having a manager call the police or calling from the ladies room, she could have pulled the fire alarm to bring the cops as someone pointed out upthread. The fact that she arranged things to trigger a fraud investigation so that the investigators would come so she could tell them so they could then tell the cops … um, that is the most indirect way imaginable to get police attention. This is not the desperate impulsive act of someone terrified for their life, this took planning and patience – I am sure Jane was terrified and I am sure she was in a terrible spot, but she chose a long drawn out way to *possibly* get police attention *eventually* at the expense of a coworker instead of taking any number of more immediate and obvious actions that would have directly resulted in the police coming.

          When I was in a bad situation – mental health issues leading to verbal and emotional abuse – a police officer (acquaintance who did not work in my town) suggested to me that the next time he got out of control (throwing furniture in my direction, punching walls next to my head, etc.) that I should scratch my face and then call the cops and tell them he did it so he would be arrested – that technically he could be arrested for the verbal and emotional abuse, but not all officers were willing to arrest without proof of physical violence. I was in hell, it was awful and I would risk my own life to pull my worst enemy out of a similar situation. But I told that cop then and there that I could never do that – that if the cops would not arrest him for what he actually did, I would have to find another way to deal, but that I could not lie about this. No one would have questioned me … only me and that cop would have known … and he would have to wonder if I had … but I would have known and that is what mattered to me.

          Abuse is hell – you do not throw someone else into hell to make your own escape.

      3. The Final Pam*

        Yeah, the situation in OP sounds like the husband was VERY controlling, was always around, and was making death threats. What Jane did was not right, but if her husband was checking all of her messages, was with her at work / knew her work schedule, and was constantly around her, she didn’t have all that many options. I don’t know if Jane should be fired or not (Mary should certainly receive quite a bit of compensation), but she likely thought this was her only way to get out of a life or death situation.

  13. HR Manager*

    Jane needs to be fired. While I do feel for her and her domestic violence situation, there is no way that she should not be fired. I also don’t think the company did anything wrong in this situation. They had a legitimate reason to suspend Mary without pay because at the time it seemed as if she committed fraud. They were following regulation, policy and procedure when this happened. While I do feel bad for Mary, the company didn’t do anything wrong. From how this post is written, it does seem that Mary understands that. Mary should try to sue Jane for defamation or something of that sorts. I feel as if Jane should be punished for her actions.

    1. Mike C.*

      I disagree here – the policy of suspending someone without pay is akin to the methods of detecting witchcraft. That is to say, even if you’re not a witch, you still suffer in significant and measurable ways.

      That’s not fundamentally fair, even if it is an industry standard.

    2. AndersonDarling*

      Agreed. Jane made a conscious decision to frame a co-worker and she needs to accept the consequences. Jane has my sympathies, but no matter what the excuse, she altered records to the point that the authorities were brought in to investigate an innocent person. Did the company’s reputation take a hit because of the investigation? How long will it take to document the altered records? Something like this could have destroyed a small firm.
      Jane needed out of her abusive situation and she made it happen. Now it is time to move on.

    3. Dan*

      I realize I’m stretching my metaphors here, but in the US, we have a system where we are “innocent until proven guilty.” Mary got punished for a crime she didn’t commit. You can call it whatever and caveat it however you want, but losing your paycheck and your apartment for something you didn’t do or have knowledge of and failed to act just isn’t morally right, no matter what policies and procedures say.

      There’s reasons people get suspended WITH pay during certain types of investigations, and this is one of them.

      Hiding behind policy and procedure is CYA for legal action against you or the company. That doesn’t mean the company shouldn’t make things right with Mary. If Mary is a rockstar employee, would you want to lose her over this? If I were her, and was not compensated, I might quit no matter what happened to Jane.

      1. not really a lurker anymore*

        Yeah, if we’re investigating someone internally or (more usually) waiting for a police investigation to be completed, we put you on Paid Suspension. If you’ve been especially bad, you’re not permitted to be on any of the grounds and a notice to that effect goes out to all locations. Other wise, we fire you outright.

        We do have unpaid Suspension as a punishment for AFTER the investigation or as part of a series of steps for more common, non felony penalties.

        1. AndersonDarling*

          If this happened at my company, I’m betting Directors and above would get paid leave and Managers and staff would get unpaid leave.

    4. Britt*

      I agree. Much like Bird Phobia Jack, Fake Fraud Jane has done too much damage to save her professional reputation at this company. And every outreach should be taken to make this right with poor Mary who got caught in the crosshairs and suffered greatly. What a trainwreck.

  14. Anonygoose*

    It’s really hard to know what to do here – Jane obviously should not have framed somebody else for fraud in order to talk to the police (does Joe work there? Why couldn’t she have called the police from work?). But yeah, those being abused don’t always act logically so it doesn’t make sense to punish an abuse victim.

    But you really, really, REALLY need to pay back Mary for the wages lost at a bare minimum. She did nothing wrong and is now in a financial hole because of Jane. Your company needs to make things better for her in any way they can, short of firing Jane.

    1. Ann O. Nymous*

      I think you can both acknowledge that abuse victims don’t always act logically/rationally and have compassion for them and also acknowledge that their abuse doesn’t give them carte blanche to upend others’ lives. I can’t imagine what Jane was going through, but she has to face consequences for what she did to Mary.

      1. AD*

        Correct. And as other commenters have said, there may well be legal recourse for Mary based on what happened.

      2. paul*

        And I have a hard time imagining this as a spur of the moment thing if she manufactured enough evidence to do this as well. But admittedly, I dont’ know much about financial investigations, maybe it’s trivially easy to frame someone?

      3. ReneeB*

        Abuse skews one’s moral compass. If endemic long enough, it really starts to make wrong things seem right, and make solid approaches seem impossible. It destroys one’s capacity for ethical reasoning. Or it can, of course it doesn’t in all cases.

        However, I agree, that doesn’t give someone in an abusive situation carte blanche to nearly destroy the professional life of an innocent bystander. It just doesn’t.

        Giving Jane the sense that what she did is in anyway okay or understandable is NOT a kindness to Jane. I say this as someone who survived an abusive situation myself. For me, and for some other survivors, there was a process of ‘re-education’ akin to coming out of a cult, or coming out of a hostage situation under a hostile regime.

        I honestly had to re-learn fundamental interpersonal ethics I’d taken for granted before. Just because I was a victim did not give me the right to spread around my victimization like a deadly virus. It was my responsibility to take hold of it transform it into something different and bring something better into the world from it.

        Admittedly, I may be personalizing Jane’s situation. I’m willing to see that. And recovery from abuse can be a years-long process. But she does need to be made responsible for her actions in nearly destroying a colleague, professionally. As others have said, that can be done compassionately. But not doing so is treating her like a child, not like an adult woman who had the inventiveness and strength to find a way out of her abusive situation. What she did was incredibly inventive, almost insanely so to those on the outside. But it wasn’t okay. She doesn’t get a pass on this.

        Sometimes taking responsibility for getting out abuse means standing up and taking what comes as the consequences of what you had to do to get out. If you burned down a small country on your way out the door, there are going to be reparations. Adults are held to responsibility, with compassion. But they are held to adult standards.

        1. Lilo*

          I worked for a prosecutor’s office as a sort of secretary (it had a specific name I am not using because ot may be jurisdiction specific but you basically make sure people show up for trial and solve problems of schedule and transportation) and it is very common for DV victims to lash out at peope who try to help them. However my boss made clear that it doesn’t make it okay for people like me to be verbally abused. Same principal applies, you can understand it but it doesn’t mean you tolerate bad behavior. What Jane did was just so beyond the pale here.

      4. Addie Bundren*

        THANK YOU. It’s incredibly disturbing to me that people can conflate having empathy for someone and excusing them from all consequences.

    2. Callalily*

      Joe was working there and as OP said, ” Joe would have known right away since he was always around her and wouldn’t let her go anywhere on her own”

      It would seem that Joe would easily know if she alerted anyone and it would look very bad for police to come in (if she could contact them privately) and only speak to her before suddenly looking at him. By triggering a drawn out investigation on someone else, she’d be one of many interviewed and there’d be less risk that he could kill her thinking his arrest was coming anyways.

      1. Kate*

        I find it very hard to believe, as I stated above, that Jane wasn’t able to get away from Joe enough to make a 5 minute phone call, write a note, or send an email, but had enough private time at her computer to frame Mary for fraud??? As well, I am sure Joe hung around a lot, but OP, how on earth did Joe get his job done and not be fired if he was ALWAYS around Jane?

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          As others have pointed out, abusers are often very good at convincing victims that others are on the abuser’s side, won’t believe the victim, etc. — which is why they don’t need to be in their sight 24/7 in order to maintain their control.

        2. KellyK*

          In addition to what Alison said, making a phone call or sending an email might attract Joe’s suspicion in a way that framing Mary wouldn’t. If he doesn’t know the ins and outs of her job, framing Mary just looks like working on a spreadsheet. He doesn’t have to stand over her shoulder every minute to make her feel very unsafe sending an email or making a call, just pop by randomly every hour or two for a couple minutes. It’s not the time he spends surveilling her as much as the possibility that he could show up at any moment.

          Was it possible for her to get the attention of the authorities without wrecking Mary’s life? Probably. But it didn’t seem that way to her at the time. That doesn’t excuse her actions, of course.

  15. Apollo Warbucks*

    Jane need firing immediately, the impact of what she did was appalling for Mary the stress and worry must have been a heavy burden for her while the investigation was being carried out.

  16. Roker Moose*

    What an awful situation. I feel sorry for everyone involved, including the LW. I agree with Alison and the other commenters: your first priority has to be making sure Mary’s good name is restored, and that she is financially compensated. I’m sure Jane didn’t mean any harm, necessarily, but she did harm her colleague. Hopefully once you’ve offered Mary restitution, she’ll understand why Jane did what she did.

  17. Katie the Fed*

    Oh this is a terrible situation. I just can’t understand why Jane chose Mary to look like the fraudster, instead of herself. Or some other way to get her in a room with the police. I have tremendous sympathy for Jane, but what she did is so wrong I can’t even understand what she was thinking.

    OP – I would offer Mary a very, very generous payout (like in the 6-figure range), and use your professional network to help get her a great job at an another firm where she can get a fresh start. Surely you or someone senior has some favors they could call in at another firm and try to get her a position there?

    1. Anon Anon*

      Putting myself in Jane’s shoes for a moment. It could be that if she set herself up for the fraud investigation that her husband would find out and punish her for her mistake with violence.

      1. Katie the Fed*

        I guess that’s true. I just can’t help but think there are literally thousands of other ways to have gone about this that didn’t even completely destroying a woman who wasn’t involved. Why Mary?

        1. That Would Be a Good Band Name*

          I’m speculating, but it seems like to set someone up enough to get a fraud investigation going, it would have to be someone whose work you know and probably be able to get on to their computer. Otherwise, it’s going to be more like “this kinda looks like something Mary handles, but definitely isn’t how she does it” or it’s not going to be under the right system ID if it’s all online. I’d lean heavily towards Mary being the only one with the bad luck of fitting the criteria. I’m still baffled as to their being no other option, but desperate people do desperate things.

      2. Anonymous JD*

        Setting herself up would potentially have terrible repercussions. She would be the one suspended without pay, meaning she would not have the small amount of protection and normalcy in her life that comes from going to work every day and being surrounded by other people who know Joe (and therefore act as something of a guard against him doing anything abusive that would be noticed by others at work). Plus it would be a financial hardship, which would increase stress and the likelihood that Joe would be more abusive. Also, it’s pretty likely that Joe would feel like he should be an active part of her “defense” by further isolating her from potential sources of support – telling her not to talk to the police or anyone at work, interfering with any contact she might have with a lawyer, etc.

        Abusers are really, really skilled at isolating and manipulating their victims psychologically. Coming from an outside perspective, as someone who works with victims of abuse, there are so many other ways. But they all come with some level of risk. With Joe working there, she may not have felt like she could trust her boss or co-workers to help her and not report back to Joe. And he may have isolated her from any other friends, family, or support systems. So I can totally understand how Jane’s mind lit on this plan as being her one shot at getting out somewhat safely.

        That said, while her plan has a certain brilliance to it, it had a really harmful effect on Mary. And it has probably hurt Jane’s own standing at work, possibly irreparably.

        I think the employer should take every step reasonable to make Mary whole again – financial compensation for the time she was suspended, a public statement of support for Mary (“We have always known Mary to be an excellent employee and are glad the results of this investigation showed this to be true.”), etc.

        I think the employer would have the right to end Jane’s employment – she falsified evidence and set up a co-worker to be investigated for fraud. I do think this is a situation where some amount of lenience may be warranted if the employer terminates her. Offer a termination date some number of weeks in the future, offer to either continue to pay her during that time or to pay her a lump sum equal to her salary for that time (whichever would be most useful to her), allow her benefits to continue until that date, and don’t contest her unemployment claim. But don’t let her return to work. Essentially put her on paid leave for that time. That way she is not financially uprooted at a time when doing so could cause her to feel she has no choice but to return to her abuser. But she also is no longer working there. It’s certainly not necessary, but it’s a kindness that she will likely remember forever.

        1. Solo*

          “With Joe working there, she may not have felt like she could trust her boss or co-workers to help her and not report back to Joe.”

          +1, came to say this. “Why couldn’t Jane have told her boss about the situation and had the boss set up a meeting with the police?” Because Jane had no way of knowing whether she could safely talk to her boss about Joe and she had a lot to lose if she got it wrong. (My dad abused my mom and my older siblings. After one particularly egregious incident against my brother, she spoke to county social services. **They called him and told him that if they received another report, he would be arrested.**)

          1. Amy the Rev*

            This ^^

            75% of abused women who are murdered are killed trying to, or after having left their partners. The stakes of trying to get out are beyond high.

            Not to say that the consequences of her actions (ie what she put mary through) are acceptable, just that it isn’t beyond the realm of believability that this truly felt like the only way she could attempt a safe exit.

          2. Anonymous JD*

            There are so many times that I wonder how *professionals* could be so daft about abuse. I had a client once who called the police to report abuse. She didn’t speak much English. The officers didn’t speak her language and didn’t call for an interpreter. Instead they asked her abuser what happened. Because of course he’s going to give a neutral, honest assessment of what happened and not just tell them she’s lying. At least they were willing to give her a ride to the DV shelter, but the police report was supremely unhelpful because it contained only his side of things.

            I’m trying to imagine other situations where the police will just take a suspect’s word for it that they didn’t do what they are accused of. I assume it would be like something out of an episode of The Simpsons.
            Lou: “Excuse me, we have a report that someone matching your description robbed the Qwik E Mart this morning.”
            Snake: “No, officer, that was definitely not me.”
            Eddie: “Say, you don’t happen to have a twin brother with identical tattoos do you?”
            Snake: “No, officer, I’m an only child.”
            Chief Wiggum: “Well, there goes our only lead! Sorry to have bothered you sir.”

            1. Tobias Funke*

              I work in the DV field and the interaction between Springfield PD and Snake is pretty spot on for DV calls.

            2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              A lot of police departments are poorly trained on how to deal with DV and are independently horrible with language access (especially in areas where a non-English speaking population is relatively “new” or small). When you add in cultural stereotypes and other nonsense, the result is essentially a death sentence for the victim. We see similar deficits when it comes to handling special victims cases. It’s a real problem that places victims under the threat of greater violence and harm, and it’s unconscionable.

          3. Aunt Margie at Work*

            Your parenthetical gave me chills. I’m sorry for what you went through.

        2. Penelope Pitstop*

          This is, on multiple levels, the best, fairest and most thoughtful answer that I’ve ever seen to any question on this site. Thank you, a million thank yous.

    2. AvonLady Barksdale*

      I agree with this remedy for Mary. Sympathy for Jane has to be a separate issue now from making it right with Mary. A big payout and a job referral would be more than appropriate.

      1. Instruct Not Destruct*

        And maybe also an official letter for her records stating that not only was she not guilty, but that the evidence which led to the investigation was falsified. That way she could have an official record clearing her of both the smoke and fire when she applies for jobs in the future.

    3. Cambridge Comma*

      I also wondered that, but perhaps because she feared punishment from Joe for looking like she had done it? But then couldn’t she have made it look like a couple of people including her were involved? That would have got her talking to the police more quickly. It sounds like some time passed if it was enough time for Mary to lose her house.

    4. Jessesgirl72*

      The problem is that Mary’s professional reputation has been ruined- potentially forever- because of the false fraud allegations!

      It would be easier to give Jane the severance and help her find a new job.

      1. Katie the Fed*

        Yes, but if you vouch for her to another company and help move her on, that will probably eventually go away. They do need to deal with Jane at some point, but my focus is on making things right for Mary right now.

        1. AvonLady Barksdale*

          Right– and helping her find a job elsewhere sounds like a good solution. It would serve a couple of purposes: get Mary away from the company where this happened (if I were Mary, I’d be really resentful) and allow her to establish herself at another firm asap, thereby potentially saving her professional reputation.

        2. Jessesgirl72*

          If I were another investment firm, I wouldn’t touch Mary with a ten foot pole. I would be afraid the other firm was just trying to cover up and rid themselves of a problem.

          1. Andy*

            I was thinking this same thing…and disclosing all the reasons and wherefores is way too much info,etc. even if it would give context and thereby explain Mary’s sitch

          2. Miss Elaine E.*

            Agreed. Plus, unless the new position at another company is a promotion/massive pay raise, why should Mary have to move when it Jane who committed the fraud? Mary’s job right now is the only thing stable.

    5. GOG11*

      I was thinking this but then realized that being suspended would cut her off from work/leave her even more isolated with her abuser.

      1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

        The company can offer to connect her to resources for victims of abuse, but I don’t think the company can justify keeping Jane around.

    6. Saturnalia*

      That’s what I keep thinking too – why Mary??? Did Jane have some history with her, or was she a random victim? I wish we knew more about Jane’s reasoning behind all of her choices. Not that anyone is making their best decisions while desperate to escape with their life, but I’m still super curious why she chose Mary, why she chose the elaborate plan.

    7. league*

      I keep thinking the same thing about getting the police in. Instead of framing Mary, couldn’t Jane have called the police saying someone broke into her car in the staff parking lot, or stole her laptop or….something that wouldn’t have dragged an innocent person into it?

      I will say, like Alison, that I can’t imagine what it’s like to be a victim of that kind of abuse, so am hesitant to judge Jane for this. But I’d like to know why she didn’t take an easier way out like I wrote above, or closing her office door and calling the police. Or sneaking into someone else’s office if she doesn’t have one. Or really anything that would have avoided the potential for ruining Mary’s career.

      1. Cambridge Comma*

        It sounded like Joe was around her all the time, also at work, so he would have known that that hadn’t happened.
        I wonder if she thought of confiding in a female colleague in the ladies’ room, though.

      2. Amy the Rev*

        Also very likely that Joe would’ve suspected what she was doing, even if she made up an excuse for why she needed to call the police (car getting broken into, etc). Plus, if it had taken them more than 1 day to arrest Joe from the time she made her accusation, he’d likely have discovered the car *wasnt* broken into, the laptop *wasn’t* stolen, or even if she had hidden the laptop he likley would’ve punished her for being so ‘careless’ and ‘letting’ it get stolen. I

        t seems like a big factor here is that she needed for the police to be called by someone else, for a reason largely unrelated to Jane, but in a context where they’d need to speak with her.

  18. Callalily*

    I think this is a situation where the company should fully support both employees.

    I 100% agree with making Mary financially whole for what happened and adamantly standing behind the fact that the accusations triggering the investigation were false. Depending on the size of the company/community, it could even make sense to issue a public statement regarding a fraudulent fraud investigation. (This kind of statement has been issued in my own small community – usually by police at the request of the tarnished victim).

    I could see supporting both women in a job search should they wish to leave… if Mary isn’t comfortable with Jane staying, this is a way for her to get out without quitting and losing more money. For Jane this is also an opportunity to leave with some grace and doesn’t involve the guilt of firing a victim of abuse who was trying to get help but didn’t know how else to do it.

    1. AD*

      I don’t agree. I’m very sympathetic to Jane (and Alison certainly was kind in her wording of how to interpret her actions) but what she did was wrong, termination-worthy, and done in bad faith. There are other means of obtaining help or resources as a victim without defaming coworkers or throwing them under the bus. Not cool.

      1. Iota*

        Even if there were no other options, James still has to on the consequences of her actions.

        If my husband is bleeding to deathand I’m driving 90 miles an hour i’m to a hospital to save his life, I knew the consequences of potential harm to other people. If there’s no harm, I’m fine. If, however, I run into another car and paralyzed or kill someone, i’m still on the hook morally and legally.

        Intent is not magic.

        Being in a situation where your life, or Life of the person you love most, is in danger does not give you carte blanche to be reckless with someone else’s life. Doesn’t justify you causing irreparable harm to someone else.

    2. nonegiven*

      IDK, Jane needs to move far away from her ex and start over, flipping burgers, retail or factory work. Not somewhere she can change financial records.

  19. Bend & Snap*

    Poor Mary. I agree she needs a meaningful settlement.

    As for Jane…unless there were some legal reason not to, I’d probably give her a generous window to find a new job and tell her to move on.

    1. Doug Judy*

      This is what I’d do. Give Jane a timeframe to find a new job, offer to give her a great reference and a severance package and let her go.

      1. Troutwaxer*

        You can’t give Jane a good reference. There is no guarantee that she won’t behave inappropriately in another environment, and if it was ever proved that Joe had not abused her, or even if he got a “not guilty” in his criminal case, that would affect any legal case someone filed against your company for giving Jane a good reference by – I don’t know! – This is why everyone involved needs a lawyer.

        So accept that this problem will need to be solved by deploying the checkbook and writing some really big checks. Fire Jane and give her a very generous severance with a “she worked here on these dates” kind of reference, and spend whatever amount is necessary to make Mary whole and prevent her from filing a suit, because one thing is very sure: YOU DON”T WANT ANY OF THIS GETTING FURTHER PUBLICITY!

  20. Anon Anon*

    What a horrible situation. But, what Jane did to Mary was horrific, and it could have long lasting consequences for Mary’s career. Because no matter how much you try and clean this up, this sort of thing can follow you long-term. At the very least I think that the company needs to make Mary financially whole, and needs to work to make sure that any records of this investigation is expunged.

    But, honestly, if I was Mary I’d be visiting with a lawyer right now to see if I had a case (I have no idea if she does or not).

    1. Juliecatharine*

      I completely agree. Were I Mary a lawyer would be my first stop. She’s suffered significant financial damage and damage to her reputation that may well be irreparable. Honestly I’m surprised the company hasn’t taken steps to terminate Jane at the very least. I have lots of sympathy for victims of abuse but that doesn’t give you the right to make false accusations that harm completely innocent people.

  21. Nephron*

    Wow. So this is very complicated and needs to be balanced because you need to support Mary and Jane, if for no other reason than to make sure other employees know you support both situations. The upside is that by firing and banning John you should have sent a clear signal that you do support victims of abuse. I think you should talk to Jane and see if she is able to also make some type of amends to Mary, perhaps she has some financial resources she could contribute through an intermediary that would help with the damage caused and help soften things a bit. I think Jane moving to a new job would be the best idea, an agreed upon time out like a month or two while Mary is either on paid leave or kept entirely separate from Jane would be ideal.

    Two side notes: this might be a good time to review how your business is organized such that an employee could be that isolated and no one noticed. This would be good for cases of bullying/harassment and for workflow as employees that only communicate and engage with the same people everyday are going to be less productive and have less creative output. Second, you might want to review how you handle accusations of fraud because an accusation that never led to charges filed leading to the complete financial destruction of an employee is extreme. Is there an alternative job the employee could do during such a time?

  22. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

    If I were Mary, I’d be speaking to a lawyer about a slander suit that I’d probably win. I’d probably list OP and the employer as codefendants in that case, too. Jane may have had reasons, but Mary is justifiably ballistic about being the fall guy for this elaborate scheme. At the very least, Mary needs to be made whole, with back pay and interest, and the company needs to take a proactive role in repairing the damage done.

    Honestly, I think Jane needs to go, sooner than later. Someone willing to lie to authorities and her employer in such a damaging and slanderous way, and willing to evict an innocent coworker from her home (!!?!) to perpetuate the fiction, is not someone I want around any kind of sensitive business information or any of my employees, ever. Yes, she was abused, and that’s unfortunate, but the ends didn’t justify the means, and there were other ways she could have gotten in a secure room with the cops. I generally hate second-guessing abuse victims, and yes the psychology of abuse could explain (not excuse) why she felt she needed to do this, but the real-world damage she did is not something that Mary or the rest of her coworkers should be expected to move on from. Abuse only excuses so much. Destroying someone’s life, credit, and living situation isn’t covered. Maybe let her resign with a severance check if you want to be nice.

    1. Jessesgirl72*

      It wasn’t slander. Jane didn’t say Mary changed something she didn’t. Jane changed the figures and made it appear as if Mary did it.

      1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

        Oh, that’s true. In which case, the particulars of the suit would change – probably it would be on grounds of damages present and future and possibly intentional infliction of emotional distress.

        1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

          That said, I just saw Alison’s comment about not speculating about legal implications, so I will ask that nobody else respond to that part of my post and disregard it moving forward. Any thoughts on the second paragraph?

        2. lawyer*

          Yeah, there’s a high frequency of people on this board and elsewhere on the internet suggesting that someone is going to get sued over something that isn’t really, from a legal perspective, actionable, but here…there are some types of claims I could see getting traction. Straightforward negligence would be at least worth thinking about, and some states have a broad set of reputational tort claims (beyond slander and libel) that might cover this. IIED is typically a very difficult claim to prove but depending on the psychological impact on Mary, might be colorable here.

          All of this stuff is state-specific and fact-dependent, but it’s probably worth Mary’s time to have the conversation with an attorney. I don’t think the risk to the company is significant, but Jane would be well-advised to be prepared for some negative follow-on here.

          Jane could also potentially face criminal consequences depending on the law of the state where this occurred and how far she went in framing Mary.

            1. lawyer*

              The acts that give rise to a negligence claim don’t have to be unintentional. We use “negligence” colloquially in that way, but at common law all a negligence claim requires is breach of a duty of care that proximately causes harm to another. (Before we go down a rabbit hole on duty of care – you’re generally considered to owe a duty of care to anyone that you know or should have known would likely be harmed if you failed to take appropriate care.)

              Now, there might actually be an intentional tort that covers this in Jane and Mary’s state, in which case that might be a better fit. But the fact that Jane acted intentionally doesn’t mean this couldn’t be pursued as a negligence claim.

      2. Lilo*

        I am an attorney and I will just say: I can’t say for sure either way (no lawyer would). I wouldn’t say It is or isn’t. It isn’t that simple. But “It depends” is the answer for almost all legal questions like this, for many reasons, including ethical ones. A lawyer who says they can give a clear answer with so few facts like this is probably lying about being a lawyer.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I’ve actually just added something above asking people not to speculate on the legal issues here unless they’re lawyers with relevant expertise. Too much potential for spreading wrong info otherwise.

    3. Ann Furthermore*

      Yes, this exactly. This is what I was coming here to say. I am hugely empathetic to Jane’s situation, but no matter what one person is going through, it does not justify impugning another person’s reputation, putting their livelihood at risk, and potentially causing them far reaching and long lasting problems (e.g. the hit that Mary’s credit score probably took when she had to break her lease and move in with her father). I find it hard to believe that Jane had no other options. She couldn’t talk to her boss? Go to HR? Call a domestic abuse hotline? Reach out to a trusted colleague for help? I agree that Jane certainly deserves some latitude and sympathy, but the limits of that latitude and sympathy should be the point at which her personal life collides with an innocent bystander’s. Everyone involved can both be thankful that she’s no longer in danger, and also acknowledge that her choices had a catastrophic affect on someone else’s existence and that some level of accountability is appropriate.

      In Mary’s position I’d also be consulting a lawyer about a lawsuit. At the very least Mary needs to be reimbursed for her lost wages and any expenses she incurred as a direct result of Jane’s actions (e.g. if she had to pay a penalty for breaking her lease, she should be reimbursed for that, because she would not have incurred that expense otherwise). The employer should also write a letter that Mary can provide to the credit bureaus and financial institutions explaining that blips on Mary’s credit report relevant to this situation were due to circumstances beyond her control. And some amount for pain and suffering wouldn’t hurt either.

    4. dr_silverware*

      Yeah, I think that absolutely no one except Joe should be punished in this case. To approach the situation with a minimum of justice and compassion, Mary should be made whole. But I don’t think Jane should be punished, per se.

      I think it’s a tricky distinction best drawn by a lawyer. Jane shouldn’t be punished…but there are real consequences to what she did. Jane’s dreadful, dreadful situation explains but doesn’t excuse the harm she did, just like there may be stuff to explain but never excuse the harm done to her.

      So in the end I agree most with your maybe, that Jane should agree to resign with a severance check. But reaaaallly…lawyer time, and maybe helping Jane out with her own advocate.

  23. Bye Academia*

    Wow, this is tough. I am out of my depth for much of what to do to remedy this situation, but I will ask why Mary was not suspended with pay? I understand you don’t want someone under investigation for fraud to continue doing work in the meantime, but not everyone who is investigated for something is guilty. My understanding is that in many professions (teaching, police, etc.) the accused gets to keep collecting a paycheck until a conclusion is reached.

    I don’t know if back pay will be enough to make up for what Mary went through, but perhaps it’s worth revisiting your company’s policy so that an investigation doesn’t turn an employee’s life upside down again. The damage that an investigation does to a person’s reputation is enough without the added financial strain. Surely even if someone is found guilty in the end, it’s the right thing to do while everything is in turmoil.

    1. RVA Cat*

      I’m furious that Mary was suspended without pay for possibly taking money, while people in other lines of work are suspended *with* pay after taking someone’s LIFE!

      1. HisGirlFriday*

        I don’t disagree, but this is one of those things that seems to be specific to the industry, and no amount of our railing about it to the OP will change it.

        It’s like black-out days for vacation; lots of industries have them for various reasons, and no amount of commenters’ complaining about them is going to change that.

  24. HisGirlFriday*

    I don’t think there is a way to make Mary whole. Yes, you can pay her back wages (and you should, with interest!) but the damage is done — her reputation took a HUGE hit, and she may never fully recover from that.

    The only way to truly exonerate her is to expose what Jane did, which then opens another host of problems, namely that probably no one else wants to work with Jane again. I know I absolutely wouldn’t.

    I think your best bet is to explain to Jane that, while you’re sympathetic to what she did, you cannot condone it, and she can’t unring the bell. Give her a period of time to find something new, promise her glowing recommendations, but make it clear she needs to move on.

    Also, find a lawyer, a damn good one, and make sure you are covered legally from every possible angle.

    1. PM Jesper Berg*

      Hey, you need to follow the “be kind” rule up top. If you can’t do that, please move on from commenting on this post. – Alison

  25. Grits McGee*

    I don’t necessarily disagree with Alison’s advice to talk to someone who has experience with the psychology of abuse…but I’m also not sure how much it ultimately matters. (Assuming that there aren’t clear legal liabilities connected to disciplining/firing Jane.) Every egregious workplace act we’ve seen on AAM has had a perpetrator with at least a few good reasons why they’ve done it, but that doesn’t make the damage any less devastating. I think you can have sympathy for Jane, but that can’t prevent the OP from doing right by the completely innocent party (Mary).

    1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

      Agreed. Destroying someone’s credit, financial security, and living situation, and potentially making it difficult for her to secure other jobs, is beyond the pale and unbelievably damaging, no matter what you’re going through or what you felt justified it. The abuse matters, but it doesn’t excuse Jane’s actions, and it doesn’t undo the damage.

    2. hbc*

      That’s where I fall. You can have sympathy for Jane while still enforcing your company rules, which I hope include things like not falsifying information, deliberately triggering an investigation, and framing colleagues.

      Plus, I just can’t imagine working with Jane. Unless Mary was known as the office jerk, everyone has to wonder whether they were just lucky not to have their lives upended, and where exactly Jane’s limit is for acting that way. Yes, she was under extreme duress, but is facing her abuser in court and the loss of his salary enough of a strain that she’ll feel cool stealing money from my purse?

    3. medium of ballpoint*

      I can weigh in a little bit here, as I’m a mental health professional who has worked in domestic violence agencies. This roundabout approach of fabricating a reason to be in contact with police isn’t uncommon, but this particular incidence was quite elaborate and involved a fair bit of planning. In my experience, this would be an unusual case to see in practice.

      And if anyone does need to seek help, the National Domestic Violence Hotline is 1-800-799-SAFE (7233), you can access the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741 (and read more about them here:

  26. Fenchurch*

    Working in Investments, I know that this kind of investigation has to be disclosed on your U4. The question isn’t if you were found guilty, but if you were investigated at all. It’s put Mary in a difficult situation because when/if she applies to a different job it’s hard to explain that someone framed you for fraud in a way that doesn’t sound like you were guilty and blaming someone else.

    I have no idea what Alison would recommend to Mary in this situation, probably to explain without emotion the facts of what happened. If I were Mary it would probably take a few years to remove the emotion from creeping into explaining the situation to someone else.

    1. TL -*

      I do think the company needs to offer to be a reference, carte blanche – that is, Mary should be able to say, “I was investigated but found innocent. It’s a complicated case and you can talk to my employer for the whole story,” with the employer explaining Mary was framed by another employee in rather strenuous circumstances.

      1. Anon Anon*

        I’d be concerned that Mary wouldn’t even get to the reference stage. That she’d be eliminated in the application phase if she has to disclose an investigation in the application, or in the interview stage.

        1. CBH*

          Hopfully OP and other higher ups in the company can pull some strings for Mary to get another position elsewhere where this scenario can be explained before it even gets to the interview stage. They must have contacts and connections. They owe it to Mary.

    2. Anon Anon*

      This is what concerns me the most. If this sort of investigation is going to follow (or has the potential to follow) Mary around for the rest of her career, then I feel that the company making Mary “whole” goes far beyond just back wages.

      Because, honestly, how many potential future employers are going to believe a story about a former co-worker setting Mary up? I think it would be a very limited number.

      1. motherofdragons*

        I wonder if it would help for OP’s company to write a letter on company letterhead explaining the situation (to the extent they can legally share), and then Mary can include that with her application materials? And/or the employer can actively help Mary in her job search by contacting companies in their network and explaining.

      2. Iota*

        Even if they believe it, I wonder if it will help. If you look at the people burned by the Wells Fargo scandal because they wouldn’t go along with the fraud and were fired, the majority of them can’t get any work anywhere in finance or investments. That story was national news !

    3. Electric Hedgehog*

      Would a explanatory letter from the company be useful to Mary in future job searches? Someone in financial leadership or HR stating what happened and unequivocally stating that Mary was not at fault and was an exemplary employee, for example.

      1. league*

        A month ago I would’ve said yes, that would help – but since then, I have received a resume from someone who otherwise looked great, but their application packet contained a letter from a previous employer saying “we promise that Janet didn’t really commit fraud.” I’m not moving them along to the next step. It’s not a great first impression. As Alison is always saying, when you only have a few details about a person, something negative stands out a lot more.

        1. Mike C.*

          Uh, whoa. So what is a truly innocent person supposed to do? You’re literally judging an innocent person as guilty for the crime of not actually being guilty.

          1. No, please*

            That feels like a form of undefined discrimination, to me at least. Sometimes people are accused of things that they did not do. Why would an employer include that letter if it could come back to reflect poorly on the former employer?

          2. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Please don’t attack fellow commenters here who are sharing experience that adds useful perspective to the discussion. League doesn’t need to justify herself to you; she’s explaining that as a hiring manager she wouldn’t take this risk.

            1. league*

              Yes, thanks, Alison. But I should have explained more – The existence of the document is fine, but I don’t think the applicant should have included it in her materials. I can guess why she did it – the situation that led to it comes up right away when googling her – but I believe she should have left it out.

              1. Scarlott*

                This is the problem Mary now has. Either she discloses it during the application stage and gets turned away for that, or she doesn’t disclose it and gets turned away for that. I’m not sure how American lawsuits work, but I know they can be pretty far reaching. Jane and the company should be compensating her for this. I’m not sure what that would mean monetarily.

              2. Elle*

                So if she hadn’t included it would you have interviewed her even though the investigation comes up when you Google her? Genuinely what is someone in this situation supposed to do?

                1. Kathy*

                  Thanks League – I understand why you didn’t move forward with her resume. I thought the wording was odd: “we promise that Janet didn’t really commit fraud.”
                  I almost get the impression they’re trying to tell you she did commit fraud, wink, wink.
                  For the sake of the job seeker, she needs to get that letter rephrased.

                2. league*

                  Yes, I think so – I don’t necessarily google everyone I’m phone-screening. Even if I’d found it, though, I would be able to recognize that everyone gets bad press sometimes. For me, it was the specific red flag of financial fraud (which we’ve been dealing with here at MPOW quite a bit) and, to a lesser degree, the judgment call by including that letter with her application materials in the first place.

                3. league*

                  I’m trying to reply to Kathy below, not Elle to whom I already responded, and I hope this works: I’m sorry, I was just paraphrasing the letter. It didn’t actually say word-for-word the sentence I posted.

                4. Not So NewReader*

                  Yeah, agreeing with Elle, with this, it looks like Mary is done/over working in her field any more. If she cannot find a way to return to her job, she will be starting over in another field. That field would have to be away from money.

              3. JamieS*

                This surprises me. What was it about the letter that caused you to hold it against her for including it? Was it common knowledge in your industry she was innocent so it seemed a bit silly to include the letter (dead horse and all)? Did the letter sound disingenuous? Do you just have a policy of not hiring anyone, regardless of guilt, involved in this type of investigation?

                Basically was your decision due to the specifics of this candidate or would you be biased towards tossing out the application of any candidate who was investigated?

            2. Justanotherthought*

              Not saying that League is right or wrong, but this example (and thank you for sharing for discussion purposes!) shows how “innocent until proven guilty” is very idealist but doesn’t always happen in reality.

              In this specific case, this has the potential to follow Mary her whole life, even if the company does everything they can now to try to make it right. What an absolute mess.

          3. Trout 'Waver*

            There’s nothing they really can do. Virtually every guilty person has an explanation and when you’re doing the initial sorting you’re just not going to get into it. That’s why people are so aghast at this particular situation.

            1. fposte*

              Yeah, depending on the firm and Mary’s career trajectory, this may alter her entire future in a way the company can’t actually fix. I was wryly thinking that I hope she’s a really good employee, because she may be working at the OP’s employer for some time.

            2. Mike C.*

              There should be a process for amending a U4 in situations like these. It’s like having an arrest record being held against someone when the charges were later dropped or the case was dismissed with prejudice by a judge. This is a terrible outcome for the individual and makes the record less useful for employers who are trying to hire good, honest candidates.

              No one wins here.

              1. Elizabeth H.*

                Another reason I think that “right to be forgotten” internet laws are so important and valuable (even if you can get inevitably get around them by searching in a different way – every way to make it more difficult to access incorrect/abusive/libelous information helps).

        2. hbc*

          Why do you see that as something negative? That’s not rhetorical–it actually looks positive to me, especially since it sounds like it’s not the mealy-mouthed “We have no evidence…” kind of statement.

          1. fposte*

            Because usually applications don’t mention fraud at all. I don’t know that I’d respond exactly the same way, but it would take me aback as well. Kind of like if somebody opened an interview or a date by saying “Don’t worry; I’m not going to key your car.” It wouldn’t have occurred to me until they said that, and now I’m wondering why it occurred to them.

            1. Turtle Candle*

              Yeah, it’s like the time a guy I was on a date with led in with, “Don’t worry, I’d never hit a woman.” I wasn’t worrying before but suddenly I am.

    4. RVA Cat*

      Can the company amend the entry on her U4 to show that she was fully exonerated and that it was a false accusation?

    5. Temperance*

      I think Mary needs to file a civil suit against Jane for damages. Jane has thrown a grenade into Mary’s life and potentially destroyed her career. Mary lost her housing, FFS, los her pay, and has taken a potentially life-long hit to her reputation.

      1. Trout 'Waver*

        I think Mary should contact an attorney to discuss her options, but beyond that the only legal advice she should take is from her attorney. Without knowing a lot more about this case and its location, you can’t make definitive statements about what she should do legally.

      2. nonegiven*

        Can it be done in such a way that the public record ends up showing she sued Jane and the company for damage to her financial situation and reputation and then the company offers a financial settlement AND keeps Mary on, with a higher title?

        Would something like that coming up in search results when she is job hunting later in life, help? She could say she was investigated and exonerated, then continued working for the same company with more responsibility.

    6. AnotherAlison*

      This situation is why I think the company needs some kind of settlement with Mary, and it needs to be more than just the back wages.

    7. King Friday XIII*

      I wonder if there’s some way the company can verify the situation in the future with records checkers or if there’s some kind of official ‘Mary Is Completely Exonerated’ report the investigators released? I get having to report that you were investigated but it seems likely that people being investigated and found not guilty of wrongdoing has to be reasonably common.

    8. CAA*

      Yeah, I was wondering about this as well. I don’t work in this type of financial firm myself, but I’ve been hearing about the Wells Fargo Bank scandal and the problems former employees are having with their U4 / U5 forms. It seems that a black mark on one of these forms means nobody else in this industry will hire you, so the WF employees who got fired for refusing to commit fraud are now unable to get a job at any bank. It really is that “permanent record” we were all threatened with in high school.

      I’m afraid Mary may very well find herself in this same situation. If that’s the case, then I think OP’s company pretty much owes her a job as long as she wants to work there.

    9. Mike C.*

      So a U4 can’t be altered or changed to show that the investigation was performed on a bad faith report?

    10. Anon Accountant*

      Ooh thank you for weighing in on this. I’d been thinking about that and if any disclosure was required even if found innocent of any wrong doing. So this really could have long reaching consequences for Mary’s career?!!

  27. Tara*

    Ooof. This is tough. I totally understand Mary’s side, and if that happened to me I would definitely feel like I could never work in a place that wouldn’t fire her.

    I don’t know too much about domestic abuse, nor am I qualified in any way, but I’ll say that, given what little I know even if it would have been as easy as Alison suggests to get herself alone and protected without Joe’s knowledge, abusers tend to feel so omniscient and all-powerful to their victims that she may have really not felt that way.

    I feel like an understanding transition out of the company would be the best way to go, and hopefully Jane understands that while she felt she had to do what was best for herself, now the company should do what’s best for Mary which is to get Jane out of there.

  28. Isben Takes Tea*

    I agree that you can be extremely sympathetic to WHY Jane did what she did, but to follow through with the natural consequences of her actions. She falsified company documents, falsely accused a co-worker, cast doubt on the reputation of both the company and the co-worker, and depending on the authorities involved, done the equivalent of filing a false police report. These are individually serious issues, and together they’re…really bad. You can have sympathy and still explain that you can no longer trust her to act in the best interest of the company, and help her move on, while simultaneously helping Mary regain her life and reputation.

    1. Mollyg*

      Agreed. Jane needs to go and it is a bit confusing as to why this is even up for debate. She was dishonest and tried to destroy an innocent person.

      1. Amy the Rev*

        I think its important that our language here stays away from accusing Jane of “trying to destroy an innocent person” which implies that her goal/intent was to harm Mary, and instead be a little more accurate: “Jane tried to escape her abuser with little to no regard for those whom she might’ve/did hurt in doing so”.

        On the internet in general I see a lot of folks assigning malicious intent to actions with terrible outcomes, when there is no evidence of malicious intent. Intent really does matter, that’s why we have different charges for accidental homicide vs. murder, and it doesn’t seem fair to over-simplify the situation by saying Jane “tried to destroy an innocent person”. The facts as we know them are:

        Jane was being abused, feared for her life
        Jane hatched plan to escape her abuser, that involved creating red flags for fraud that would draw suspicion to a co-worker and trigger an investigation
        Co-worker’s financial well-being was seriously harmed

        So yes, while she tried to enact her plan, the transitive property doesn’t really work here, in that she wasn’t *trying* to harm Mary, she was *trying* to talk to the Police without raising Joe’s suspicions.

        1. Relly*

          I would agree with you except for the fact that Jane’s investigation specifically targeted Mary. Mary being investigated wasn’t an unintentional consequence of Jane’s actions — it was a planned one.

          That is: it wasn’t that Jane’s actions accidentally set off a chain of events that led to bad circumstances for Mary — that was a necessary part of the plan. Her intent was to be free of her abusive SO, but she knew that Mary was going to receive some collateral damage in the process, and decided that was acceptable.

          If you’re meaning to say it wasn’t malicious towards Mary on her part, then disregard and I agree fully. But Mary’s situation isn’t an accidental outcome, which complicates my sympathy for Jane.

          1. Amy the Rev*

            Yeah, sorry wasn’t clear- I mean’t she wasn’t being specifically malicious towards Mary, even though the plan necessitated throwing Mary under the bus. Maybe a better analogy would be planning an airstrike against a military base but knowing civilians would die as well- the goal wasnt to kill civilians, therefore the strike didn’t *try* to kill civilians, but they still knowingly enacted a plan that would kill civilians in pursuit of other goals.

            1. Relly*

              I like your analogy! I was trying to come up with one and failed.

              I don’t know enough about fraud to know if Jane could have triggered an investigation without framing a specific person (e.g. have irregularities but not all pointing to the same person?)

              I’m glad Jane got out. I’m also sorry this happened to Mary. What a mess.

  29. Kate, Short for Bob*

    I don’t have any answers here, but just a small insight. Jane working at the same company as her abusive husband – how could she have known that she could trust any colleagues? How long was the husband telling her that everyone would be on his side, maybe he told her that her boss was keeping an eye on her for him? This is how abusers work – they trap you and draw the net in close, all the while telling you you’re worthless and deserve the treatment – that no one else would be as good to you as they are – and to have that person in your work life as well as at home?

    I can see how Jane went for desperate measures, and how she could have reached the conclusion that this was the only safe way to reach the police.

    I’m just so sorry for Mary, who got caught up in this through no fault of her own.

    Awful situation.

    1. Grumpy*

      Agreed. Nothing constructive add, just commenting that this whole situation left me depressed and disappointed with the human race.

    2. Anon-mama*

      This. I was emotionally abused by a toxic (now ex) friend and found myself imagining all kinds of ways to extricate myself from the situation, and I withdrew from asking for support from people because I didn’t want them to know. I’m not condoning Jane’s actions by any means…just saying I understand the desperation and feel awful for her that there was no one she could trust. I feel bad recommending a firing on top of all the trauma she’s endured. But…she lied, destructively. If you can’t move her out of Mary’s realm and have a Very Serious Conversation about what she did, perhaps talking about a mutual parting date and granting unemployment might make sense.

      But I feel even worse for Mary. I agree with the others…give her full restitution for wages lost, offer a very generous severance, glowing references or even all-but-the-formalities job offers with any friends in the industry you might have if she decides to leave.

      1. Lora*

        I swear, there’s always SOMEONE who will swear up and down before god, the devil and all the saints that He’s Such A Nice Guy! even when they have personally witnessed the abuser beating you to a bloody pulp with his bare hands.

        I mean, there’s still Neo-Nazis and apologists for various tyrants in the world, so I guess it takes all kinds, but damn. And abusers are generally a lot sneakier than the Tonton Macoute.

    3. Ramona Flowers*

      After reading the second of Alison’s pinned comments I wanted to add my own story. I’m not weighing in on who was right or wrong in this situation, but I did just want to give an example of the level of coercion and brainwashing that is possible.

      My ex-fiancé cheated on me, stole money from my bank account and convinced me I had agreed, convinced me my friends didn’t like me, convinced me I couldn’t sing (I’m a musician in my spare time), convinced me I couldn’t trust anyone and, at the same time, told all our friends I was abusing him and mistreating him. So they did seem to dislike me and be distancing themselves and I thought it was me.

      He also threatened suicide, kept me awake for hours until I didn’t know my own mind and did other stuff I could only write in tiny letters on paper once in my therapist’s office.

      I thought I was the one who was in the wrong, I really did. And I am a successful, intelligent professional. I can completely picture a situation in which I could have ended up doing something as absurd as this. It doesn’t make it okay. Just plausible.

      I’m very happy married to someone lovely now. I cannot wrap my head around some of the more absurd elements of that relationship but sanity had left the building as that’s what it took to survive.

  30. DragynAlly*

    My mother was a manager until she retired. Her answer when I read her this was “lawyer lawyer lawyer”. There seems to be a lot of legal problems here.

    1. k*

      I agree. This seems like a situation where OP needs to reach out to their company HR, legal, etc. before making any decision. This situation is bigger than a normal management issue.

    2. paul*

      YES. This really seems to be more appropriate for a discussion with your HR directors and attorneys than an advice columnist, even one as good as AAM.

    3. Discordia Angel Jones*


      I’m a lawyer and my reaction is also “Lawyer lawyer lawyer!”

      1. Ruffingit*

        Lawyer here too and yes, for the love of all that is good and holy and JUST, they need legal help here.

  31. R*

    I have so much sympathy for Jane, and I can tell the OP does as well, however I don’t see how Jane can continue to work at the firm. Not only did she cause immeasurable harm to a fellow employee, she purposefully altered (what I assume to be) financial records with the intent of causing an investigation into the company. I’d advise firing Jane (or allowing her to resign) and providing a severance package, if at all possible. I don’t even know how the firm could provide a positive reference — falsifying documents in not a minor issue!

    I also think the OP and the company could use this as an opportunity to reflect on the company’s policies, practices, and culture. Are there steps the company could take to make sure they have an environment that allows employees to speak out, or reach out to folks for support? Just something to think about.

    1. Jessesgirl72*

      The church where I grew up, the inside the stalls of the women’s restroom was a sticker for the local DV shelter, with advice on how to safely contact them. I always thought that was smart placement.

      1. FDCA In Canada*

        I’ve mentioned this before and I will again: our office has a single-user bathroom with a corkboard where we have the numbers for a wide variety of “embarrassing” social services–not only DV shelters, but rape crisis counseling, Children’s Aid, the food banks, the suicide hotline, mental health crisis and walk-in counseling, basically anything we could think of that people might not want to disclose in public or be seen taking a brochure or card for. We have a little basket of paper slips and a pencil so people can write things down as well if they don’t have a cell phone handy to program their number.

        1. AnonNurse*

          This is so good for any office to have. I see things like this at doctor’s offices/hospitals regularly but being in any office is such a good idea.

      2. ThatGirl*

        I have seen similar things at nearly every hospital and doctor’s office bathroom I’ve ever been in.

    2. BethRA*

      I was going to say something very similar. Putting how to do the right thing by Mary aside for a moment (hard as that is), and as much sympathy as I have for Jane, can you trust Jane’s judgement going forward? Can her colleagues and your company? She didn’t just file a false report, she (if I read the OP’s letter correctly) altered records somehow to make it look like fraud really did happen. Can you continue to allow someone that level of access after this, regardless of why?

  32. Retail HR Guy*

    Whether or not Jane “deserves” to be fired (although I think she does), she needs to be fired purely from a liability standpoint. Someone willing to doctor evidence and make a false accusation for her own private needs cannot be allowed to stay employed.

  33. NJ Anon*

    Wow, having a hard time with this one. While I understand that DV victims can get to the point where they are desperate and will sometimes do the unthinkable, Jane just did not think this through. If I were Mary, I would be furious. I would demand back pay and excellent references while being allowed to work while finding another job or a transfer. Or, as others have suggested, moving Jane to a different area or out the door. DV victims often suffer financially as well so there’s that. Wow, just a bad situation all around.

  34. Ashley*

    There has been a lot of discussion here about people dealing with hard things and using it as an out. I do believe there are people dealing with the worst things life has to offer that impair their daily lives (abuse, phobias, etc.) but at what point do we require people to own their shit?

    There are dv victims have been able to reach authorities/sought help without framing other people. A lot of people with phobias handle their illness without pushing people in front of cars. If you are framing coworkers to get authorities involved in your crisis you have gone beyond the scope of being a quality employee or a decent human being and need to seek extreme help.

    I am so disappointed with these companies that allow their workers to victimize others and then ignore the situation because they had reasons. Everyone has reasons. If you cannot work in a traditional environment without victimizing others then you need to find other arrangements and yes, I think Jane should be fired.

    1. DragynAlly*

      I’m inclined to agree. I’m usually hyper sensitive to such issues but it sad when they ruin lives of others who are uninvolved.

    2. AnotherAlison*

      Yeah, I agree with this. All business decisions can’t be based on every employee’s personal circumstances, particularly since some employees don’t share their business. (The OP wouldn’t have known about Jane’s situation a year ago, so had there been a layoff or whatever, none of the abuse issues would have been considered.)

    3. Tea*

      That’s where I fall as well. People embezzle because their addict spouse gambled away the last of their savings and without the additional funds there’s no way to put food on the table for their kids tonight. People steal because their parents are in desperate pain and just needs the extra meds the doctor won’t prescribe them. People commit time card fraud because without the extra time, there’s no way for them to hold down a job and take care of everything for their special needs child in the morning. And in this case, Jane committed fraud, deliberately framed a coworker, and brought in the police, leaving her homeless and smearing her name across the industry. That’s not an action without consequences, even in desperate straits.

      Everyone has reasons, often good ones. And everyone has to face their consequences.

    4. saddesklunch*

      Many DV victims are also murdered each year either while attempting to leave or after leaving their abusers. The threat is very, very real and can’t be cured by the abused “owning their shit”

    5. Getting There*

      Thank you! You beautifully summed up what’s been bothering me about so many of these posts lately; namely, that employees are foisting their problems onto other employees seemingly without consequence.

      I’m bearing in mind the caveat in the OP and remaining kind towards all parties involved. I myself was a victim of dv many years ago. And, I can agree that it can alter one’s thinking in ways both overt and subtle. In my case, I found enough reason and wherewithal to leave after a few months, but I started my first post-college job with finger-shaped bruises on my arm. The next man I dated after I left the violent situation wound up being my first husband, and I remember being really surprised when, following a disagreement, he didn’t haul off and beat me. (For all his foibles, he was a gentle person, and definitely not a beater of women!) So yes, your way of thinking gets messed up.

      Still, I can’t imagine any rational excuse for the destruction of an innocent person’s reputation, finances, and life! The reputation part is what really gets me. Especially in this connected age, one’s good name is hard to restore following such awful allegations. My sympathies mainly lie with Mary, therefore, and I think the company ought to do all it can to make her whole.

      Is it possible that, if Jane is kept on, she could be demoted? IANAL, and I’ve never worked in HR or compliance or any other area where I’d have experience with tough situations, but, I’d think morale around Jane would be a problem for other employees. The trust has been severely compromised.

    6. BuildMeUp*

      Wow, I think saying Jane is not “a decent human being” is really unfair. She was being abused, and her husband not only controlled her home life but also worked at the same company. I really don’t think, given the amount of information in the letter, that we can know whether Jane saw other options to get out of her situation. Note that I’m not saying that there *were* no other options – there obviously were. But if Jane was being emotionally manipulated and gaslighted by Joe, he could easily have made her believe that he could see everything she did at work, or that other people at work were checking in on her for him, or just that no one at work would believe her if she told anyone.

      And, as saddesklunch says above – yes, there are DV victims who have reached out to the authorities, but there are also many victims who are murdered when they’re trying to get away, and given that Joe was arrested for threatening to kill Jane, it seems that was a very real possibility.

    7. PlainJane*

      +1000. It also bugs me that people are so willing to say someone in a tough situation has no agency. Don’t get me wrong–I know that abuse warps thinking, and phobias aren’t rational, and addiction is a mental disorder not a moral weakness, and… You get the idea. But as Ashley points out, others are able to get help, which means there’s hope. The person in the situation can do *something* to make the situation better. When we excuse collateral damage by implying that the person had no choice, what we’re really saying is that people in these situations are completely helpless. That’s not entirely true, and I would think it would be pretty demoralizing. It’s possible to say that someone has options while still being supportive and recognizing that those options are not risk-free. I’m tired of the false dichotomy I hear so often, especially on social media: You’re either completely helpless, or you could fix your problem if you wanted to so you deserve no sympathy or concern.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        While some people do get help, others are killed while trying to do so. I don’t think you can have a nuanced discussion of the letter without acknowledging that.

    8. LizM*

      Yes, a lot of people handle these situations. But a lot of people don’t.

      Women are killed by their partners at an astonishingly high rate, and mental illness can wreck havoc on one’s life.
      This comment shows a huge degree of survivorship bias for both situations.

      Some of the subjects of recent letters, including Jane, involve people on the margins, who probably could go either way. I don’t think anyone is saying we should look the other way while they destroy others’ lives, rather, that we should have some grace in deciding how to make the situation right in a way that acknowledges the full context.

  35. The Wall of Creativity*

    Mary under suspicion of fraud –> stop paying her –> loses her house.
    Jane falsifies records & admits to it –> still in a job
    Presumably if Jane was only under suspicion rather than guilty, she’s be suspended without pay?
    I’ll stop there & leave the rest unsaid.

  36. Mike C.*

    The company needs to make Mary while in every sense of the word – up to finding her a new place to live similar to the place she had before, paying fees for late bills and so on. If I were Mary I would have gotten a lawyer.

    I’m not going to judge Jane here because I have no idea what she’s going through, but she was acting as an employee of the company and her actions as an employee completely screwed over Mary’s life. As the company, you owe her big time and you need to make it right immediately.

    Also, change your policy about going without pay during an investigation. You can always recover pay later and in the meantime you won’t be ruining an innocent person financially.

  37. Important Moi*

    Would it be possible to get Mary a fresh start? Transfer her or get her on with another company?

  38. Beancounter Eric*

    Jane was in an abusive marriage – understood.

    Jane felt she had no way of seeking help, save engineering false evidence of fraud against a co-worker and the firm.

    Going to be the bad guy here – Jane needs to terminated – for cause.

    To be the really bad guy, the authorities really ought to be looking at criminal charges against Jane for her false report, and Mary should retain counsel with the goal of seeking damages against Jane.

    I have a very hard time understanding how she justifies false accusations, potentially career-ending accusations against Mary, and the associated impact to the firm. She could not contact the authorities from work directly regarding the abuse by Joe?

    1. Blurgle*

      And if she sues for wrongful termination? Even if the facts of the matter are on the employer’s side, is anyone going to notice? Or are they going to see Jane as having been fired for being an abuse victim?

      1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

        And if they retain her, they’re telling the rest of their employees, and their clients, that it’s okay if someone misuses their position to falsify documents in such a way as to falsely accuse a coworker, because reasons and also what will people think.

      2. AD*

        She knowingly made false accusations of fraud.

        I’ll respect Alison’s wishes to not get into legal armchair-quarterbacking, but I’m confident there are no grounds for wrongful termination if her company chooses to let Jane go.

      3. M from NY*

        Jane isn’t being fired for being an abuse victim. She should be fired for falsifying records and directly withholding information that caused another employee and the firm irreparable harm. She chose the worst way to handle a sticky situation and her poor judgement belies any extended sympathy. There were other ways to get help. The calculation it took to set up a colleague could have been used to request help annonymously from an advocate or shelter on line. This wasn’t a one time “crack her breaklight to attract the police action”.

        The “why” Jane did it doesn’t absolve the punishment she is due however I’m not surprised so many are mixing the two issues.

        1. Busytrap*

          I am a lawyer, and this is exactly how I come out on it. I’d be willing to take this wrongful term matter to the end, as the cause for termination is pretty darn clear, and it’s also a good step to helping Mary out — those sorts of things have a tendency to pop up in Google alerts, which could be to her advantage.

      4. Tex*

        Jane doesn’t have a case for wrongful termination. She admitted to falsifying documents and setting up an innocent party to take the fall.

        And if she is in financial services, specifically in a role with licensing requirements, you can bet future companies are going to take notice. This is career ending stuff for Jane or Mary. What the OP is asking is: does the company help the abuse victim (who became a financial abuser) or the innocent party?

        1. MegaMoose, Esq*

          As a victim of domestic abuse, Jane may have legal rights depending on her jurisdiction. This is a really touchy issue and the more I think about it, the more I think the OP needs to be on the phone with company counsel yesterday. And the more I think Alison’s reminder not to armchair legal quarterback is REALLY good advice.

          1. Lynxa*

            I am an attorney, and have experience in Domestic Violence (both as an attorney and as a survivor) and I would be SHOCKED if a state had provisions to protect the abused for actions she took to defraud her employer and set up another employee.

            These provisions (which are very very rare) are generally in place to prevent employers from firing abuse victims for the actions of the abusers (constant phone calls, harassment at work, frequent medical leave) not to shield the victims from their own actions.

            1. MegaMoose, Esq*

              Oh, I don’t remotely think that the fraud is a protection action, I mostly just wanted to point out that some laws do exist making abuse victims a protected class. I don’t think they’d likely be an issue here, but it does strike me as yet another reason why the OP should be talking to a lawyer about this whole mess.

    2. Trout 'Waver*

      I’m not saying what Jane did was OK, but I’m afraid prosecuting Jane could have a chilling effect on other victims of abuse. I just had a bad vision of an abuser printing out the news article that would inevitably come from such a prosecution and leaving it for their victim to find. I can understand why a DA would decline to prosecute this.

    3. Kate*

      I agree. Some others are saying that maybe Joe told Jane she couldn’t trust her boss or coworkers. Okay. So she couldn’t call or email the authorities? Couldn’t call the cops from the ladies restroom with a borrowed cellphone?

    4. nicolefromqueens*

      IANAL but i’s not logically sound to charge John for abusing Jane then criminally charge Jane for her actions. Jane has that defense.

  39. Jessesgirl72*

    In investment firms, trustworthiness is everything. Jane has not only shown herself not to be trusted, regardless of the circumstances, but has potentially permanently ruined the professional reputation of an innocent party.

    I don’t think you should fire Jane because Mary wants you to- although she will have a really hard time finding a new job with that rumor hanging over her, so the usual “she should just quit” doesn’t really apply here! I think you should fire Jane because your entire firms’ livelihood rests on your integrity, and you can’t afford to keep a liability like Jane around. It wasn’t only Mary’s reputation that was potentially harmed, but that of the entire firm.

    So if you’re giving anyone severance and helping them find a new job, it should be Jane.

  40. Blurgle*

    I’m certain Jane was convinced – or, better put, had been convinced by Joe – that everyone at work was on his side and that if she told anyone they’d run to tell Joe ‘to be fair to him’ before calling the police. In fact, this very well might have happened earlier with one of her other colleagues.

    The cycle of abuse is so insidious and so unlike what you see on TV movies of the week. Abusers so often portray themselves as the nicest, most caring people on the Earth not just to the victims but to the people around them. The Joes of this world seem so sweet, so thoughtful, so sincere in their despair over their partners’ irrational overreactions and tendencies to exaggerate and make up things “for attention”. They try, they really do, but sometimes (sigh) the partner says and does things that don’t make sense, and wouldn’t it be better if colleagues warned Joe instead of bothering the police with hysterical, over-emotional exaggerations?

    That doesn’t mean Mary should pay for this. This is in my opinion one of those times when the checkbook should open and a discreet call should be made between the CEO and one of his CEO friends. Find her a new job somewhere else and make it worth her while to take it; even if Jane leaves Mary’s legacy at that company is tainted, and there’s a strong chance that if you fire Jane over this she’ll sue and you’ll end up vilified in the press as having fired an abuse victim. That loss of goodwill could cost more than any cheque you might write Mary.

    1. Temperance*

      Jane doesn’t really have grounds to file suit, though. Being a victim of abuse isn’t a protected class in the United States, and she wouldn’t be fired for her status as a victim, but for her false allegations against a colleague, inciting an investigation.

      1. lawyer*

        Agreed. I’m not an employment lawyer, but an attorney would have to decide to take Jane’s case, probably on contingency, and she would be, to put it mildly, not an ideal plaintiff.

      2. fposte*

        It is protected in some states, just to complicate the issue slightly, but I agree that would pretty clearly not be the reason for her firing.

      3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        It’s protected in some states. But it would be hard for her to overcome a false fraud report that endangered the personal and professional well-being of a colleague.

        And of course, I think it’s extremely unlikely that Jane would sue OP’s company, even in states that provide protections to DV survivors who are terminated because of their status as a victim.

    2. BethRA*

      Wholeheartedly agree with your first two paragraphs.

      But possible lawsuits for wrongful termination aside, the harm done to Mary aside, how can the company trust her judgement after this? Especially since she seems to have been in a position to access sensitive data, so I assume her job requires some level of discretion?

      1. Amy the Rev*

        In terms of how she could be deemed trustworthy after this- I think they’d have to look at her past record of employment there, or talk to past references. In times when she wasn’t fearing for her life, was she a conscientious, responsible, and trustworthy employee? I can’t help but think of Les Mis and the line “all I did was steal some bread”- one could make an (obviously not entirely 1:1 analogy) argument that Jean Valjean deprived a shopowner of his livelihood, perhaps he needed to sell every loaf in order to make rent on his shop and feed his own family, etc., but extenuating circumstances aside, when Jean Valjean wasn’t desperate to feed his family so that they might survive, he showed himself to be an honorable person who had incredible integrity.

        People do extreme things when their lives are threatened, but to get an idea of what their general ethics are in the workplace, I’d have the employer look at her past performance.

        1. Observer*

          That still doesn’t really help. Because either her ethics are shot, or her judgement is shot. In either case, that’s not someone you want having access to sensitive documents, etc.

          1. Katherine*

            It’s a wonderful novel, hugely dense with details and descriptions, and it presents all sorts of challenging ethical questions – far more so than the musical can possibly hope to address.

        2. GreyjoyGardens*

          Even if Jane lives and breathes honesty and integrity in every area except this one, and even though I believe she felt backed into a corner because of the abuse, she works for an investment firm, and I don’t think there is any way to keep someone around who *falsified financial documents*. This is very very serious business for a finance-related business. I don’t think they can keep Jane around without putting their own good name, and potential survival, at risk.

          Not to mention Jane’s coworkers will probably not be able to trust her again – despite any extenuating circumstances, they will fear that Jane will throw them to the wolves if given a chance.

          At the very least, Jane needs to not have access to sensitive financial or personal information ever again. (But what a horrible situation and I feel so bad for both Mary and Jane!)

    3. Anon Accountant*

      “The cycle of abuse is so insidious and so unlike what you see on TV movies of the week. Abusers so often portray themselves as the nicest, most caring people on the Earth not just to the victims but to the people around them.”

      Absolutely. I won’t go into further details to derail this thread and distract from the topic but it really took Jane a lot of courage to leave her abuser. 100000% DISAGREE with how she did it and harmed poor Mary.

      When someone is experiencing abuse and is terrified of their abuser but hears from their family “you are so lucky to have Joe. He’s the best because he built a ramp for us, brought us dinner when Bryan had surgery, etc”. The victim feels that their abuser is correct, even if they tell someone about the abuse no one will believe them.

      Their “normal” can get so skewed they grasp at straws to get out of their situation. However what happened to Mary is horrible. I really hope her reputation can recover from this.

    4. Blue Anne*

      Urgh. Yes. The Joe behaviour you describe sounds so, so familiar. I certainly felt like I couldn’t tell any of our mutual friends. (Which were 95% of my friends, because having my own friends who were not close with him was either discouraged, blocked, or he then made friends with them too.)

    5. Bookish*

      Totally. And I can absolutely see someone writing in to this site to say “I have a colleague who told me her husband is abusing her and I need to call the police on him. Her husband is a coworker too and has never been anything but polite and hardworking. I really don’t know if I should interfere, what should I do?”

      Or someone being asked to call the police and deciding they need to talk to Joe about it to “get his side” or warn him or something.

      Yes, I think it’s wrong what happened to Mary. But… I can absolutely see a million reasons why Jane wouldn’t have felt like she could ask a coworker for help. Not least because it frankly would be an uncomfortable situation to be in. I’ve avoided conversations about situations I’ve been in because I just didn’t want the discomfort or feared scrutiny of the person I’d talk to.

  41. CBH*

    I agree that Mary needs to be taken care of, big time and in any way shape or form that she needs help. I feel bad for Jane, but I do believe that Jane needs to be punished. Like Alison said I question that there was no other way Jane could have communicated abuse. Jane utlimately destroyed someone else’s life. Did she not realize that? Jane also indirectly tarnished the company’s name – it sounds like the company was up to date on procedures and regulations. I am wondering if Jane was not seeing clearly – maybe she had tunnel vision to get out of a horrible situation and did think how her solution would affect others. A lot of financial help, compassion, lawyers, abuse help professionals and community are needed to solve this situation for all involved.

    1. Robbenmel*

      Not punished…but she should get the natural consequences of her actions. She deliberately falsified documents; that, all by itself, is enough for her to earn those consequences.

      1. CBH*

        Yes I agree. Punished is the wrong word to use. Jane should not be allowed to say oops and sweep this under the rug was the idea I am trying to communicate.

      2. Anonymous and right now, unidentifiable*

        For what it’s worth, firing Jane may sound horrible to some, but we have to have faith in people’s ability to rebuild and improve their lives. A few years after leaving my last abusive relationship, I have a steady job, an advanced degree, friends, an active lifestyle, a great husband, a cuddly pit bull, and my credit score is over 700. Yes, there was chaos getting out of these relationships but the natural consequences were also a big part of what propelled me to improve my life.

  42. Temperance*

    LW, you work at an investment firm. Accusations of fraud against Mary can – and will! – have lasting effect on her career prospects, and her reputation has been damaged.

    I personally think that Jane should have been fired, because accusing a coworker of committing a crime and involving the police is just beyond the pale, especially in an industry with such high standards. I know that the psychology of abuse has a role here, but I also am really struck by the impact on Mary’s career prospects ad infinitum.

  43. Amber Rose*

    My heart actually breaks for both ladies. You can say what Jane did was cruel, and it was, but I can also see how desperate she must have been feeling to have done something that dramatic.

    Jane should be moved, if at all possible. If she can be transferred to a different branch in a less influential role, or if you can support her in finding a new role at another company, that would in my opinion be the best bet. The thing is, she’s now more or less untrustworthy. You have no idea if she’ll do the same thing again in future bad situations. That’s a huge issue. That said, I don’t think she should be frog walked out the door. It sounds like she’s been through hell.

    I don’t know. I think you should be consulting divorce lawyers (or some other kind of lawyer?) and DV specialists for their thoughts.

    1. Amber Rose*

      I came to some better conclusions after reading this thread for a while. It’s funny, I can actually watch my thought process happen here.

      Mary should have precedence over Jane, is what I decided. Jane is now untrustworthy in the context of her position. She should lose her job, and Mary should have recompense. And I don’t say this because I think Jane should be punished or because I don’t have ENORMOUS sympathy for her, but because she ought to own the consequences of her actions, and because there are systems and organizations in place to help her get back on her feet. She isn’t the first or the last to trade a job for freedom and life and there will be people who can help. Mary doesn’t have those kinds of things in place to heal the damage done to her.

      Anyways, that’s what I would do, based just off this information. This is a terribly difficult scenario and I hope we get an update some day on how things went.

      1. Relly*

        This is where I keep shaking out. I think Jane should be fired, not because I want her to be punished, but because that’s the natural consequence. She can be let go compassionately, and quietly, but I keep ending up here.

  44. Anon Accountant*

    I understand the company followed proper protocol of suspending without pay and not allowing her to work there until the investigation was completed though. They followed correct protocol.

  45. Massmatt*

    I feel worst for Mary, who did nothing wrong, has been rendered homeless and had her reputation ruined.

    I also have sympathy for those abused, and yes abuse can definitely mess with your judgment, but still, Jane needs to be fired. She framed a co-worker for fraud, there is no circumstance in which that can be OK!

    I don’t understand how the company can even consider keeping Jane–imagine the liability if anything happens in future and it comes to light that the company knew an employee framed someone for fraud and kept employing them?

    Jane needs help but she needs to get it while not working there. Mary is owed an immense amends, both from Jane and the company. They will be lucky if she doesn’t sue.

  46. The IT Manager*

    I agree that the company should make thing financially right with Mary for all her lost wages. And I see people talking about generous payouts, etc.

    But why should the company have to pay for Jane’s actions? I know, know, they’re big and have lots of money compared to individuals. But they didn’t do anything wrong here. Jane was the only one in the wrong. And this is a weird kind of risk to prepare for; you can’t every expect this situation.

    1. Amber Rose*

      A company takes responsibility for the actions of its employees. That’s just how it goes. It also generates good PR, because word will spread.

      1. Apollo Warbucks*

        Jane acted outside her terms of employment in falsifying records that’s not something I think the company need to be held to account for

        1. Amber Rose*

          The court of public opinion will disagree. Anyways, how many times have you heard a story (or experienced) an incredibly rude salesperson or cashier and then had the company offer free stuff and gift cards? It’s like that. It’s just how it works.

        2. paul*

          But the company is the actor that suspended Mary without pay. They had an understandable reason, but it still played hell with a person.

          1. KellyK*

            Yes, this. Suspension without pay during an investigation was their policy and their decision. While they had no way to predict that an abused coworker would frame another employee, that policy has very obvious consequences. If someone is suspended without pay for weeks or months during an investigation, it’s to be expected that their credit will be trashed, that they may lose their home or their vehicle.

            When that person is then cleared of all wrong-doing, the company needs to pay them back lost wages at the absolute minimum. Decency would require additional money and paid time off to try to repair the damage.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      They don’t have to pay for Jane’s actions. No one has to do anything.Seriously.
      This is short sighted decision and here is why:

      If they don’t compensate Mary in some manner, not only could a lawsuit follow but there could be enough negative publicity to cut into their business and their profits.

      If they don’t try to help Mary the other employees will see that it’s every person for themselves. The company could end up with a bunch of disgruntled employees looking at each other in a circumspect manner while ticking off the days left on their resignation notice.

      No, they do not have to compensate Mary. However, if it were me, I would not be able to look myself in the mirror if I were a party to that decision not to compensate her. I would seriously consider leaving the job myself. If Mary had chosen a different employer or a different branch to apply to, this would not have happened to her. It happened to her simply because she was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

      If you are thinking this is unfair to the company, please add in that Mary is thinking this is pretty unfair also. The unspoken rule is the one with more power has an ethical obligation to make wrongs right. You may disagree, which is fine many people would disagree. It’s good to be aware that society is changing and more and more people DO think that with more power comes more responsibility.

      Next. Being in business means risk. Any business anywhere faces daily risks. Part of being in business is being willing to absorb risks at a higher pace than say an average person. Risk management, risk mitigation are huuuuge topics. One would hope that the business would have a plan in place to deal with employees who falsify reports and documents. It would seem to be logical to anticipate there is a risk that employees may run amok for whatever reason. Hopefully, the company has a plan for that. Without a plan to protect employees from harm from other employees, why would anyone go to work there? And why would customers use this business’ services when their money is caught in the middle of this free-for-all?

  47. Nameless*

    Here’s what I see when I step into Jane’s shoes:
    I’m married to an abusive person. I also work with that person. I have no safe space, there’s nowhere I can go to get away from him, even when he’s not actively abusing me I’m just sitting there, tense, waiting for something to set him off. He knows literally everything about my life and schedule because I get interrogated every time I need to go to the grocery store for eggs or I spend too long in the bathroom or it takes me too much time to fold the laundry. He knows my works schedule, he knows my manager, he’ll know if I have strange meetings because he works in my office too so trying to pull the wool over his eyes with an unexpected meeting that may not result in immediate action is way, way too dangerous. He’s told me if I ever tell anyone what’s going on, he’ll kill me/my children/my family/my pets/himself, destroy my property and my reputation, get me fired, etc. What if I tell my manager and they don’t believe me? What if they talk about it with someone else in the office and the abuser overhears?
    After a few years of this, I feel absolutely, 100% cornered. There’s exactly one thing where I finally see some leverage: my day-to-day work, where some small transcription errors that my abuser won’t see will lead to an investigation (not of me! If my abuser thinks I’m getting myself investigated it’s very likely he’ll see through that ruse, and abusers are most dangerous, most likely to kill when they feel their prey about to escape).
    Obviously I can’t claim that’s exactly what happened, but I see how it could have become the only surefire option available to her. You can’t go with any option that’s not the absolute highest likelihood of success you can possibly find, because it’s literally life and death. Would you go with 90% odds that your manager will believe you’re an abuse victim when you can go with 100% chance that the police will believe you, if only you could get their attention? I wouldn’t.

    1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

      That’s all an explanation. It justifies or excuses nothing.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I don’ think Nameless is saying it makes it okay. She’s giving insight into some of the complexity of the situation (and really effectively, to me).

        1. Purplesaurus*

          Yes, and several have commented that they couldn’t understand Jane’s thinking or see things from her perspective. I think this is an unfortunate example of how abuse can be contagious, and Nameless helped us see that.

      2. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

        And the more I read your post, the more incensed I get, honestly. It does a huge disservice to all the people who’ve gotten out of their abusive situations without ruining other people’s lives to do so, by spinning out this skein of justification that essentially infantilizes the abused by absolving them of any independent moral agency or choices.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          It’s not justification. It’s an explanation of how abuse can impact people’s thinking. (That said, if you are getting incensed, please back away from commenting, which is a good rule for everyone.)

          1. Amy the Rev*

            Thanks, Alison.

            I think especially in online discussion, we often think that explanations are the same as excuses, or that saying something is understandable is the same as saying it is justified. Internet/text communication is the enemy of nuance, I think.

            So thank you for reiterating that important distinction :)

        2. Kate*

          I agree. I sympathize with Jane, but there are a lot of abuse victims, now and in the past, who were in worse/more isolated situations with less technology who got out without destroying the lives of others. Some of them had kids, too!

          For me there is a hard bright line between being a victim and being an aggressor and Jane has crossed that line. I think she should be moved to another department at least or fired at worst, and the firm needs to compensate Mary for everything, the house, the pets, the cost and time of the move to her father’s, the late fees for bills, the cost of reputation repair (phoning people in the industry to explain?), and a *huge* bonus for pain and stress, and an offer of free therapy for as long as she needs it.

          A lot of people don’t realize it, but you don’t have to be in a war to get PTSD. You can get it from things like this, car accidents, childhood bullying, etc. Jane probably has PTSD from being abused, now Mary probably has it too from this whole situation. She will never be able to trust her coworkers again the way she used to, this could follow her around the industry and on her credit score for years.

          1. Casuan*

            Kate, I agree with all you said re compensation & ptsd.

            Mary isn’t the only one in her family who experienced distress emotional turmoil [“distress” might be too strong tho still I think it fits] & financial difficulties. Mary’s father was quite put out from all of this, too, because of too many reasons to detail here. There are other ramifications, too, such as credit scores. OP, your company should also help Mary to navigate the vexing process of ensuring her credit scores are as accurate as possible. Unfortunately, late payments are late payments & there’s no box to tick that qualifies the reason.

            As for who stays employed or not… no employee has the right to continually demand that another be fired. This is an understatement on my part, however Alison & others have already covered this topic.

            This situation is awful for all involved & I hope that Jane, Mary & their families can get past this horrific experience sooner than not.

            1. Managed Chaos*

              I don’t know how large the company they are working for is, but a large bonus and all these things that we are listing to help make things better for Mary could easily destroy some companies. The company is now facing a situation, through no fault of their own, where they are potentially out quite a lot of money.

              I feel badly for everyone involved (except Joe. Joe can DIAF.).

        3. Doe-Eyed*

          It only does other people a huge disservice if you view getting out of an abusive relationship as some kind of competitive sport. There isn’t a “better than” or “worse than”. You don’t get a medal for getting out of an abusive relationship the “right” way.

          What she did is wrong, but her actions don’t affect other people in her group. It doesn’t “infantilize” them that one member of that group felt the only way to get out of her relationship was through this vs. some other way unless the person doing the judging is VERY sheltered themselves.

          1. AthenaC*

            “There isn’t a “better than” or “worse than”. You don’t get a medal for getting out of an abusive relationship the “right” way.”

            Lies. I win the Escape Olympics because my story involves a deployment to Iraq, temporarily having a “wife,” and being homeless in the winter with a baby in Fairbanks.

            I’m kidding, of course, because you’re right – everyone is different, every situation is different, and the successful perpetration of abuse really messes with the victims such that you really REALLY can’t compare what they do to escape against the armchair “what I would have done” perspectives.

            1. Doe-Eyed*

              Ok, fine, you get a small gold star. ;) Seriously, glad you got out though. It takes a lot of guts to be able to, and to be safe and happy afterwards.

          2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            Exactly. I literally recoiled when I read the phrase, “does a huge disservice to all the people who’ve gotten out of their abusive situations without ruining other people’s lives.” This is not how any of this works for victims of abuse.

            The #1 cause for homicide among women is domestic violence. Approximately 63% of all women who are murdered are murdered by their husband or intimate partner (the rate is higher for Black women). Women in abusive relationships are more likely to be killed by their abuser, and their risk of homicide is at its peak when they leave their abuser. On average, women leave their abusers seven times before the final break—whether that break is escaping the relationship or being murdered. Women who are in Jane’s situation, where their partner has already threatened their life, are at the second-highest risk point in the arc of the relationship, and they live in constant, pervasive fear of being killed at any moment and are in constant fight-or-flight mode (mostly flight mode).

            So no, Jane’s approach does not “do a disservice” to women who escape abuse. There is not a “right” v. “wrong” way to leave an abusive relationship.

        4. Ramona Flowers*

          You don’t have independent agency when you’re being abused, by definition.

          1. fposte*

            I don’t think that is “by definition” true; if you’re talking about a legal definition, I don’t think it obtains in the U.S. People who are being abused have a lot going on that affects their agency, to varying degrees, but that doesn’t mean no abused person ever has independent agency.

          2. Lilo*

            I think this is absurd. When I was an intern we had a case where a mom was being abused but then turned about and seriously abused her kids. Sure it sucked that her husband abused her but what her kids testified to what she did to them was horrific. You are not excused of culpability for your actions because of something someone else does to you.

    2. Amber Rose*

      Sure, but what if Jane gets in another abusive relationship? Or something else bad happens? How many people will be impacted then? One can fix a wrong with another wrong, but the second wrong doesn’t just get cancelled out. Jane need to accept the consequences for her actions, which had a truly devastating affect on someone. She has in effect traded the future of another person for her own, without that person’s consent.

      And given that, they aren’t such bad consequences for Jane. She’ll lose her job probably, because she really should. But she has her freedom and her life. Not the worst trade anyone’s made to escape an abuser.

      Mary, on the other hand. I hope the company does right by her. :(

      1. Jessesgirl72*

        I think I’m comfortable with this assessment. Jane is alive and free. Being fired for the wrong things she did while she achieved that isn’t the worst thing.

      2. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

        Totally agreed here, and you nailed it better than I did. She does still have ethical agency and responsibility here, and she owns those results and those consequences even if she thought she had no other option.

        1. Turtle Candle*

          Yes, and as an abuse survivor myself I find suggestions that abused people lack moral agency–and thus cannot be held responsible when they harm others–deeply alienating. Abused people are still adult human beings capable of ethical decision-making, and it’s IMHO condescending and disempowering to act like they aren’t.

          I feel very very bad for Jane. But I think it is the opposite of empowering to act like she was incapable of agency. Her situation makes her actions forgivable; it does not render them null.

      3. Falling Diphthong*

        She has in effect traded the future of another person for her own, without that person’s consent.

        This is well put. (I’m reminded of women who get trafficked, and are told by their pimps that they can only get out if they find a replacement. So they call a high school friend and tell her that it’s a waitressing job plus education, totally on the up and up, great opportunity…)

  48. Master Bean Counter*

    My sympathies are with both ladies. But again my opinion is that personal circumstances don’t give a valid excuse to be a problem to an innocent person.
    If somebody accused me of fraud, even if it turned out I was innocent that has long lasting impacts on my career. The only way to get away from something like that is time and distance.
    The company needs to be doing everything in it’s power to make it right with Mary. Double or triple the back pay the company didn’t pay her. Find out how much money she needs to correct her credit and move into her own place again, then add a bonus onto that.
    As for Jane, she’s made a false accusation against a coworker. That alone should be grounds for firing her. And I would look to move on from an employer that allows this kind of action to go unpunished. At the very least Jane needs to be suspended with out pay for at least half the time that Mary was out. Wait that may be a bit harsh, Jane is now in the position of trying to rebuild a life alone. So maybe a week with out pay and a she should sit down with Mary and offer a heart felt apology. But really Mary needs to be working in a place where she doesn’t have to see Jane everyday. So one of them needs to transfer to a different department at the very least.

  49. Hannah*

    So, isn’t there some responsibility of the employer here? I don’t have a lot of experience in industries where fraud is really a thing, except maybe petty stuff like someone buying something for themselves with a company credit card. But nothing where the police would be involved.

    But it seems odd to me that based on nothing but one person’s accusations, a company would take such action as to cause an employee to lose her home. Regardless of the state of mind of Jane and what she should or should not have done, that she could have such a profound effect all by herself seems unlikely. That seems like the employer is at least partially at fault here, and needs to take responsibility for the effects of the direction here.

    I think it also might be worth investigating why Jane chose Mary as her target. OK so she said her reasons were because she wanted access to the police herself, but it would raise a question for me that did she also have something against Mary that will come up again in her behavior? Or was Mary the only possibility for a target? Jane may have felt she had to make up a story to get the police involved, but why THIS story, KWIM? I think it’s a question worth asking.

    Lastly, in spite of Jane’s being desperate to get access to the police and her belief that this was the only way, that doesn’t give her leave to ruin someone else’s life, and I think making sure that Mary is whole again should take priority here over Jane’s ability to pull this off without negative effects on herself. I’m not saying that Jane should be fired or investigated (although I would think that she actually could have criminal charges filed against her, theoretically, for filing a false report), but can both Jane and Mary continue working together? If not, I think it is worth asking whether Jane can continue working there–maybe, because of the circumstances, it would be kind to give her notice/severance/positive references, but I don’t think letting her go would be out of line if that was what was needed to allow Mary to be whole again. (Under normal circumstances, I think that Jane’s immediate termination for gross misconduct would be appropriate.)

    This is a really sticky situation, but I think that it comes down to that while Jane’s actions may have been somewhat understandable, they were still wrong and they still greatly harmed an innocent person. Kindness and leniency may be called for, but not at the expense of others.

    1. lawyer*

      Yeah, to your third paragraph, my immediate thought was…why didn’t Jane frame herself? She chose someone else to harm, in a terrible way that will have lasting consequences that likely can’t be completely undone. If I knew about this, as a fellow employee, no matter how sad Jane’s own circumstances, I wouldn’t want to work with her (or frankly, even speak to her) again.

      1. Amber Rose*

        I think that would be both dangerous and too suspicious. The cops don’t show up immediately. And if Jane’s abuser heard about it prior to the cops appearing, Jane would most likely have suffered for it.

      2. Jessesgirl72*

        Having seen my grandfather’s reaction to any simple mistake his wife made, especially a public one, I can understand why she didn’t set herself up. She would have been in real and immediate danger for “embarassing him” and “being so stupid”

      3. Blue Anne*

        When my controlling-verging-on-abusive husband knew that I was having trouble at work, struggling with workload and making mistakes, his reaction was “I wouldn’t have supported the idea of you having this big of a job if I knew this would happen.”

        Framing herself for that huge of a mistake might lead to that type of shaming and attack on self esteem at best, and “you’re not allowed to have a job any more” at worst.

    2. Lillie Lane*

      What I don’t understand is why Mary was suspended long enough for her to lose her home….once the police arrived, why didn’t Jane speak with them right away and get the fraud investigation shut down right away?

      1. Amber Rose*

        It’s never that simple. The cops don’t show up immediately, the investigation has to pull up enough information to even bring them in. After all, it’s not their job to find that stuff. And then even once Jane says hey it was all me, the investigation still has to be completed. There’s no way regulations would allow them to stop looking into it, regardless of what Jane said.

      2. Temperance*

        White collar crime investigations take a really long time. Unfortunately, once the allegations were levied against Mary, the investigation has to go through. :-/

  50. CatCat*

    Jane needs to go. You would not be “picking on” her by firing her. You’re not firing her for being an abuse victim of Joe, you would be firing her for victimizing Mary through false criminal allegations and putting the company’s reputation. No one, I mean no one, is going to trust Jane at the company and it will seriously jeopardize morale to keep her on.

    Jane’s reputation is toast. I don’t know how you can provide a positive reference in these circumstances. As a kindness, the company might give her a severance and allow her to list herself as still employed at the company for a few months so it looks like she is employed while looking for a new job and hopefully getting her life together.

    Mary needs financial and reputational support. She should get backpay with interest. If possible, give her also extra paid time off so she can get back on her feet in terms of her living situation and her emotions. Go out of your way to ensure her opportunities at the company are not limited by Jane’s lies.

    A terrible situation all around.

      1. Anon today...and tomorrow*

        I don’t know that people are defending Jane. I think it’s possible to empathize with Jane without thinking that what she did was good in any way. She did a terrible thing but she was in a terrible situation. They both suck.

    1. Anon for this I guess.*

      I couldn’t agree more with CatCat’s answer. Please give Jane and Mary some financial aid, but fire Jane, and focus on helping Mary repair her life.

      I have a surfeit of compassion and feeling for Jane. I wish I didn’t know what this is like firsthand, but I do. The abuser in our household was my mother, so she hid even better than most. There have been some very poignant, sad, and wise things posted about abuse, and what it’s like, and I do hope people who haven’t been in that situation understand a little better.

      That said, being abused doesn’t mean you don’t still hold responsibility for your choices. Many, many people who have been abused still find a way to protect others or avoid involving them. Jane isn’t the first to make this kind of mistake while trying to extricate themselves, but ultimately Jane’s behavior is toxic to this company, to its environment, and has been devastating to Mary. Keep Jane on the payroll for a while, if you must, as she pieces together a new life, but make Mary as whole as you can, as fast as you can, and provide EAP services for her.

      It’s not only what’s best for your company, it’s simply the right thing to do.

  51. Abuse Survivor*

    I say this as a victim of stalking and abuse myself – I think Jane should be fired. No ifs, ands, or buts. Her situation is awful, no doubt about that, and my deepest sympathies go out to her.

    However, for me, being an abuse victim made me more conscientious re: the effects my own words and actions have on other people. There is absolutely no justification to ruin the life of someone else because your own life is in shambles. There were other ways to handle this situation that didn’t involve poor Mary. If I were Mary, I would want Jane to be fired also. I agree with Allison and everyone else who thinks Mary should receive compensation – although, if I were the company, I’d probably pay her time-and-a-half plus relocation. Even though the company did nothing wrong, I consider the impact it would have on Mary to attempt to move to another job with this on her record AND having it be so recent. Employers may reject her at this point, who knows.

    If Jane were on my team, I would fire her, but I’d be as nice as possible about it.

  52. Spiny*

    Jane did something cruel to Mary. Jane’s situation was terrible, and I think the company should give time for a job search and severance, perhaps payment for counseling, but work towards moving her out of role and the company.
    How would the company handle it if someone had a mental breakdown and their actions led to someone else being wrongly being suspended?

  53. boop the first*

    Oof. That was ironically ballsy of Jane to out and have fired someone who threatened to kill her. And if they’re firing him for negatively affecting a coworker, then how is Jane still there? It’s conflicting, because taking away a victim’s income is detrimental to escape, and you don’t want to do that. But the company did that to Mary.


    It seems that Jane is exempt from a bunch of company “rules” that have ruined two other people without hesitation. Suddenly there’s hesitation only because it’s Jane. Ok.

    Thing is, Jane’s gonna wanna leave real quick if her husband legitimately wants to physically harm her. She’s probably going to need a new job at a new company that he doesn’t know about, because right now he has all of these connections with coworkers who are going to choose sides and perhaps even do work on his behalf.

    1. AndersonDarling*

      Interesting perspective. I wanted to cry for Mary when I was reading the letter but I couldn’t figure out why, and you articulated it for me. Jane got her freedom back, but Mary had to loose hers. Mary was completely and entirely innocent and her whole world came apart.

    2. WellRed*

      While Jane was in the wrong, she didn’t “ruin” her husband he did that to himself. But yeah, the company is really using the kid gloves with Jane, to the detriment of Mary and to the company itself.

    3. cncx*

      yes. My ex has informants. I moved cities to get away and that helped mitigate it somewhat. But Jane needs to go- not just for the trust reasons (what will she do to the company again when she feels cornered), not just for Mary (who deserves ALL the money) , but also because there WILL be people who believe her ex’s side of the story (happened to me) who will snitch. Crazy exes are also really good at putting together irrelevant details from innocent conversations too, so someone doesn’t even need to be a willing snitch. This is a sad situation for everyone involved. I hope Mary gets paid, and I hope Jane can really get away from her ex.

  54. cheeky*

    I think the company needs to make Mary whole in all aspects it can (financially, reputation-wise), talk to legal counsel for CYA purposes, and get rid of Jane. Even though she was in an abusive situation, she did real damage to a completely innocent person, and that can’t be minimized.

  55. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

    I read this whole letter with this little voice in the back of my head going “no, no, no, no, no…”

    I’m an abuse survivor. I’ve been there, where being in that situation screws up your priorities and your sense of your own ability and the abilities of your abuser to where the obvious ways of asking for help are nothing more than another avenue to be hurt.

    For perspective, when I was at school, in an office with a police officer and no one else, and he asked me point-blank if everything was okay at home, I immediately and frantically assured him that it was, because even in that situation, I was convinced my father would know and that everything would be ruined. So I fully and totally understand Jane’s feeling that she could not go to the police herself, and that anything she did would find its way back to Joe, and that the only way for her to speak with the police that wouldn’t just get her in more trouble was to have a totally valid other reason to speak with the police. (It’s also worth noting that domestic violence and abuse tend to escalate when the victim is taking steps toward getting away — so even outside of the psychology of abuse victims, she WOULD be escalating her own short-term danger by going to the cops.)

    That said, we’re not just dealing with Jane’s situation. She dragged Mary down hard and ruined her life in her own quest for freedom, and that’s really, truly, deeply not okay. At the very least, someone needs to have a hard conversation with her and make her confront the implications of what she did. The impact on Mary’s life has been pretty comparable to the impact of being in and getting out of an abusive situation — no peace, horrible mental strain, being surrounded by people looking at you as being inherently a bad person who has done bad things, the loss of her home, the loss of any kind of feeling of security… I could go on.

    Firing Jane for this is certainly not off the table, and in the long run it may be a kinder response. How widely is it known that the whole investigation was based on Jane’s false reporting? If it is known beyond you, Mary, and the authorities, I can’t imagine she would have any kind of future with your company. Even if it isn’t currently known beyond that, Mary certainly has the ability to spread it around, and I couldn’t even fully blame her if she did — after she’s been thrown under the bus, it’d be hard to make the accusation that she shouldn’t turn around and assign the blame where it does, after all, truly belong.

    Talk this over with Jane. Ask her very seriously how she sees her career progressing at your company after this mess. Ask yourself how Jane could regain any kind of trust from you, or if she even could at all. If you decide to terminate her, do it with compassion — but it’s absolutely not an unreasonable step to take.

    1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      Actually, thinking about it more, possibly the kindest thing you could do for Jane is to put her on the same administrative leave that Mary was put on. Let her job hunt and say she is still employed, but otherwise get her the hell out of the office.

    2. MegaMoose, Esq*

      I love your comment (and am so sorry that anyone has to go though this horribleness), but I would disagree on the point of making Jane confront the implications of what she did IF you mean for the OP or someone else at the company to do it (if not, nevermind!). I think this goes outside of the work realm and into therapy territory, and I’m wary of employers stepping over that line.

      1. Anon for this*

        It would definitely be inappropriate for anyone who is not Jane’s therapist to ‘make her confront the implications of what she did’, but I think it’s reasonable for the company to gauge Jane’s feelings about what she did and include that in their calculus of how they’re going to handle the situation. If Jane is deeply sorry about the impact her actions had on Mary (whether or not she maintains that she had no other options), that’s a very different situation than Jane showing no remorse at all.

      2. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

        That’s a valid point. I guess I was thinking of it more in terms of a work issue — less about “you’ve ruined Mary’s life” and more “these are the specific things that happened due to your action” as part of the conversation for either putting Jane on leave or scheduling her end of employment with the company. Contextualize the disciplinary action, so that Jane doesn’t come away thinking she’s being fired for taking action to end the abuse.

    3. Aurion*

      I would also add that if Joe had made death threats toward Jane, Jane is probably still in some danger given that she got Joe fired and Joe still knows where she works and all her coworkers. Having Jane move on seems the best for a multitude of reasons.

      1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

        Yeah, that’s also my feeling. Honestly, I would think it would even be good for her, in the long run — although the loss of income wouldn’t be. Every life move I’ve taken from “my abuser knows how to find this” to “my abuser doesn’t know how to find this” has been an enormous, dizzying relief.

      2. Tuxedo Cat*

        I hope Jane is in contact with a domestic violence expert… I think you have a point about Joe knowing where she works, but I know my abuser can find me very easily thanks to the digital age.

        The letter writer might want to consult with an expert on this matter. I hope Joe stays away from their office, but you never know.

        1. nonegiven*

          You can freeze Lexis Nexis, get a phone that doesn’t transmit your correct CID, as an abuse victim. She can move and make it harder to find her.

    4. Captain Poultry*

      This is amazingly well put.

      It sounds like what Jane did was essentially fraud. Her circumstances don’t negate that fact. Firing/demoting Jane, or otherwise making it so that she could never, ever take these actions again, would be the natural consequence for anyone else. You can still deal with this situation with compassion by ensuring Jane has ongoing access to counselling and support, even if she is no longer with the company.

    5. Bryce*

      The analogy that keeps coming to mind for me is a drowning person pulling others under in their panic.

  56. Backroads*

    Ugh, what an ugly situation. I hate to be insensitive but…

    If this company decided to let Jane go, I wouldn’t judge them for a second. Jane’s situation was awful, horrible. But wow, setting someone up like that is wrong.

    I guess if I must pick where official policies go, I say they should side with Mary.

  57. AndersonDarling*

    There’s some discussion about Jane being asked to leave, but could her manager give her a good, or even acceptable reference? I’m struggling with how a reference could work in this situation. She falsified records and put the company in a vulnerable situation, there really isn’t a good spin to place on it. Maybe “Jane was a good worker until she ran into some personal issues that she has resolved,” but it feels very devious to hide the true reason.

  58. Jessie the First (or second)*

    Joe was arrested for threatening Jane’s life, and so Jane was in fear that she was going to be killed. I’ve been near and around people in circumstances like that (in a professional, not personal, capacity) and they were truly terrified. And the thing is, when a violent spouse moves to actual death threats, they often *mean* it. And the victim knows they mean it.

    She likely was afraid that calling the police would not necessarily result in his immediate arrest. Because unless she called him while he was trying to murder her, or while he was actively beating her senseless, there are police departments – still, in 2017 – in the United States that do not respond appropriately to domestic violence calls, and who do not respond in a way that is going to keep a victim safe.

    They do NOT always arrest the abuser, especially if there are not indications of just-now-happened physical injuries. Sometimes, they STILL interview both victim and abuser together in the same room, so the abuser knows *exactly* what the victim is alleging. And even if they do arrest, some districts will let the abuser out on bail immediately. (There was a very sad case around me a bit ago. Son of a locally famous sportscaster was abusive to his girlfriend, he was arrested for domestic violence and let out on bail that very day, and returned immediately to her house where he killed her, brutally, and in front of their daughter.)

    So all that said – if the abuse was severe, I can understand Jane feeling terrified and feeling that she could not safely call the police.

    Obviously, that does not mean that there was NOT another way for her to be safe, but I can understand why she couldn’t figure out what that other way was.

    I would be loathe to fire someone in that situation. But at the very least, Mary needs to be made whole financially and you need to find ways to spread around that there was no fraud, no hint of fraud, nothing there at all and that the investigation stemmed from a misunderstanding, or something. May be best to work with Jane to move on to another organization. Offer her a good reference, perhaps set her up with a session or two of a career coach, and give her a long lead time to get a new job.

    1. Tuxedo Cat*

      I agree with a lot of what you wrote, but I’m really unclear how this applies to Jane’s situation. During the fraud investigation, the police could’ve taken these exact actions (or inactions) that you described. Thankfully, they did not.

      I was impression that Jane had 0 time to herself where she could make a call to a domestic abuse hotline, go to the police, etc. I don’t think this was about her fearing the police wouldn’t take her seriously.

      1. Jessie the First (or second)*

        Tuxedo, she’d be talking to police without her abuser present (not guaranteed if she called anywhere else) AND he would not have any idea beforehand that she would be saying anything at all about him (because he had no idea she arranged any of this). If they didn’t pursue anything or take her seriously, that’d be the end of it and he’d never have been the wiser (is how I would assume her thinking went).

        Worry that no one will believe you or take you seriously is, like, The Thing victims learn to fear. And frankly, it’s justified.

        (None of this means that what she did was her only way out or that it was justified – there *were* other ways. But I am just pointing out that the feeling of helplessness and abject fear for one’s life does exist in domestic violence scenarios, and it is heartbreaking, and deserving of compassion.)

    2. WhichSister*

      You must be from Boston. I have read articles on the Remy saga. It infuriates me, and I can’t even stand seeing him on the Sox games. He enabled his son to be the monster he was.

      1. Jessie the First (or second)*

        And when the Remys followed it up by fighting for custody of the little girl, against the parents of the murdered mother – I can’t look at or listen to Jerry anymore.

  59. Kalkin*

    This is hard. It feels like Jane ultimately needs to be let go — even though abuse can seriously skew a person’s perspective, it defies logic that framing an innocent colleague was the easiest way for her to speak to the authorities. That said, this is a time when she presumably needs a support system and certainly doesn’t need to be job hunting; and it’s also good for her to have a safe space where she can be reasonably certain Joe isn’t going to show up.

    But if I were Mary, I couldn’t imagine coming in to work every day and seeing Jane there — it would feel like such a gross injustice, compounded and complicated by the fact that Jane really does also deserve a lot of sympathy. I lean toward Katie the Fed’s suggestion above: Give Mary a generous payout and do everything you can to help her land a great new job. It seems like there’s a decent chance she’d want to wash her hands of your company anyway — no matter how well you handle it from here on out, it’s still going to be where she was subjected to a majorly negative life-altering crisis. The company should encourage her to find a therapist — and offer to foot whatever portion of the bill isn’t covered by your health plan — while figuring out how it’s going to make things right. And while that’s being figured out, I’d probably just put her on paid leave.

    With Jane, I’d speak to some experts in domestic abuse and follow their guidance to offer whatever support you can. But it’s hard to see how she can stay at your company long-term. People should surely be sympathetic, but at the same time, her actions have created a huge mess — financial and operational — for you and your bosses to clean up. Once she’s in a place of recovery and stability, I think she needs to be encouraged to move on. Honestly, I’m amazed (and glad) to hear she’s been treated as understandingly as it sounds like she has been thus far; I think a lot of places would have fired her on the spot and possibly brought legal action against her already. If there’s anything she can do to make some restitution to Mary, in a manner that wouldn’t violate Mary’s boundaries, she really should be encouraged to do so.

    1. Kalkin*

      Reading other comments above, I want to walk back saying that “it defies logic that framing an innocent colleague was the easiest way for her to speak to the authorities.” I can see how Jane might have felt that only doing something incredibly drastic would guarantee she was taken seriously by law enforcement. I still don’t think it was OK, and I’d be surprised to learn she had absolutely no other option. But without knowing the particulars, I can imagine a situation where she was justifiably worried that if she went through a supervisor or colleague, rather than speaking to the authorities directly and at length, word would get back to Joe and she’d be in real danger.

      1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

        Thank you. If nothing else, I’m glad that the discussion on this letter has given some perspective for those who (thank god!) have not had to be in that position or hold that mindset. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy, but it’s good to be understood.

  60. BTW*

    I truly do feel sorry for all that Jane went/is going through and I am not this type at all but if I were Mary, I would start looking into how I could prove this and would probably end up suing Jane if I could. This is wrong on so many levels. As for the company, now that this has all come to light I think it’s in their best interest to make it right with Mary and compensate her accordingly.

  61. Jill McCoy*

    Jane does need to be fired, full stop. I would give her generous severance, like 6 months salary, but her actions were utterly unacceptable under any circumstances and putting Mary’s concerns aside, the company cannot continue to employ someone who would do this. You can position it as you understand that she felt she had no choice but regardless of her intent, her behavior cannot be accepted. It’s very unfortunate but Jane is now both victim and victimizer.

    As for Mary, she is right to be furious in every way. She is correct that Jane should be fired. You definitely need to rectify her situation financially and as I said, to fire Jane.

    If I were Mary, I would be at a lawyer’s office, figuring out how to sue the eff out of the company and Jane, and also to try and understand why Jane intentionally setting her up isn’t a crime….it seems like it should be.

    I do understand that my response sounds unsympathetic to Jane. She’s accomplished her goal of getting away from her husband and is safer now. I think she needs to bear the responsibility not for being in an abusive situation, but for how she chose to get out of it.

  62. anon for this (CW: child abuse/death)*

    I agree that the company needs to do whatever they can to repair Mary’s life and reputation.

    However, I’m disappointed in the comments here saying that Jane’s “excuses” don’t justify her actions. If you have never been in an abusive situation, you cannot understand how mentally and emotionally devastating it is and Alison is 100% correct that the company needs to support Jane as much as possible and reach out to someone who is knowledgeable about the psychology of abuse and how to effectively support survivors. She didn’t make smart choices to get help, but she honestly felt like it was the only choice she had because her life was in danger.

    At my former job, we had an employee who went out on maternity leave. By all appearances, she was happily married, excited about the baby, and things were great. She had a number of close friends within the organization, including people who spent time with her outside of work.

    A week or two before she was scheduled to return, our former manager pulled a couple of us into a room because he knew we used to work closely with this woman. He informed us that her baby died. That was tragic enough. Then he informed us that the woman and her husband had both been arrested because of allegations of abuse. It came out over time that her husband was incredibly abusive to her and all of the children. The stories that the 7 year old told were absolutely heartbreaking and horrifying.

    This was an intelligent, educated woman who was working in management and did not work with her abusive spouse. She still wasn’t able to ask for help.

    1. Amber Rose*

      But what about Mary? Mary has lost her home, her reputation and I know if I were her I’d be a complete emotional wreck. Jane traded her future for Mary’s, without Mary’s consent. That’s not OK. It’s not justified. Maybe there wasn’t another way. But one wrong does not cancel out another wrong. You don’t get to escape the bear by throwing someone else at it without consequences.

      1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

        Or if you do, you still own that act, even in the context of running away from the bear.

        1. paul*

          fun fact: in Texas, even if you are legitimately defending your life but injure a bystander (say you decide to use explosives to defend yourself?) you can be on the hook. They’d have to prove recklessness or maliciousness but even in a literal, immediate, life or death situation you can’t just do whatever you want. 9.05 and 6.03 are the relevant chapters IIRC.

          As a society, we want to strongly discourage harming uninvolved people you know?

          1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

            The idea of self-defense grenades is discouraging enough, but no accounting for taste, I guess.

            And as Amber said above: losing your job and having to start over again with some damage to your career is a tradeoff a lot of abuse victims have made, and would make, to escape an abusive situation. It may be that in the final estimation, the damage done was necessary and worth it. But it’s still damage, and it’s still Jane’s ethical responsibility.

            1. Amber Rose*

              Especially given how many organizations exist to help people just like Jane get back on their feet. If she looks for it, there’s plenty of help.

    2. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

      “However, I’m disappointed in the comments here saying that Jane’s “excuses” don’t justify her actions”

      And I’m disappointed that you think abuse releases the abused from all moral and ethical agency. An explanation isn’t a justification. As a relative, friend, and spouse of people with abuse in their pasts, some of whom escaped equally dire circumstances without burning anybody around them, I take exception to that. What Jane did was incredibly damaging to Mary’s life on multiple levels, and she knew it would be. I don’t think Jane should be thrown under the bus, and I think she could get a severance and some support moving forward.

    3. Apollo Warbucks*

      There are people who have been in abusive relationships who are saying Jane should be fired as her actions were that unacceptable.

      I have lived with domestic violence so have some understanding of the issues involved and I’m all for helping and accommodating people who need help, but allowing someone to completely mess with their co-worker like that is not a reasonable accommodation.

    4. LisaLee*

      Something can be understandable without being justifiable.

      It is completely understandable to me how Jane got to a place mentally where she felt her only way out was to frame a coworker for a crime.

      It still wasn’t right or justifiable though.

    5. paul*

      That doesn’t absolve someone of consequences for nearly ruining a third parties life though.

      In your example, the woman was *also* arrested and faced charges; likely less than her husband as she was also an abuse victim, but we don’t throw up our hands and say that you get a total free pass for harm done to others because of your situation. That isn’t tenable.

    6. Not Karen*

      …So you’re saying she was justified in killing her baby? I’m not sure what point you’re trying to make.

      1. nonegiven*

        They usually charge the abused woman with aiding the abuse for not reporting him.

    7. hbc*

      What if that employee’s husband was being abused by his father? Does his victimization mean that he gets to avoid any consequences of the results of his actions, including any loss of access to his children?

      Many people are considering Jane’s circumstances to be mitigating, but mitigating isn’t the same as excusing or exonerating. She hasn’t been arrested or immediately terminated, so she’s already got people taking her situation into account. The question is how far the company needs to bend based on her circumstances–and any bending that’s done at Mary’s expense is a non-starter as far as I’m concerned.

    8. fposte*

      I think there’s a difference between understanding that abuse locks people out of calling for help and saying that that therefore justifies crime the abused commits; justification is judging the action to be acceptable, not just understandable, and a deliberate smear campaign that lost an innocent person her home and may have crippled her career in her industry isn’t acceptable.

    9. Jenn*

      Gently, I have been in that situation and been wrapped up in terrible thinking. Abusers often do distort cause and effect to control those around them, and also justify their own actions in pretty bizarre ways…and so do the people who are engaged with them because they often have learned abusive behaviour from their own abuse.

      But the thing is…what Jane needs is real, genuine help and engagement with the rest of the world where actions do have consequences. Her husband needs to be held accountable. But so does she. Otherwise she is just the next step in the cycle of generational or learned abuse. Her actions can be understandable and still have consequences. Her manager can terminate her employment compassionately. One suggestion I have is that if the company provides any kind of counselling benefits, see if those can be offered to and extended for a period of time for Jane.

      Losing a job at a terrible time in your life is a terrible thing, but falsifying information and bringing your company under a fraud investigation plus ruining an innocent party’s professional reputation are actions that need to be addressed. Letting Jane continue to move in a world where innocent people can be harmed by others isn’t doing her any long-term favours. It is a terrible situation all around.

  63. TotesMaGoats*

    Oh wow, OP. I feel for you. What an awful situation to be caught in. I think my comments echo the crowd but…

    1. The company should pay back, with interest if possible, all the money owed to Mary.
    2. The company should, as publicly as possible, explain that Mary never did anything wrong at all. No fraud.
    3. If Mary wishes to continue with the company (and Jane stays), they never work together at all. If Mary wants a new role and is qualified, give it and with a pay bump. I’d also give Mary some extra leave as well. Whatever perks you’ve got, give them.
    4. If Mary doesn’t want to leave, now is the time to call in a favor and get her a job elsewhere. And like Katie the Fed says, with a nice pay out as well.
    5. Jane needs to understand that while completely sympathetic to the situation, she has ruined someone else’s life. If Mary would accept and apology, I think that would be appropriate. But NOT forced at all.
    6. I would consider that Jane be demoted. I don’t know about firing because she’ll need income for the divorce and court proceedings. Or help her find her way to another company.

  64. Malibu Stacey*

    I work in Finance – I am actually surprised that firing Jane is even up to the LW/company and that regulatory agencies aren’t insisting on it.

    1. AndersonDarling*

      I’m surprised as well. I though the question would be “We need to fire her, but we want to do it in the most sympathetic way possible. How can we do that.” If someone admitted to falsifying records at my company, they would loose their license, and without a license they can’t do their jobs.

      1. Malibu Stacey*

        Right. At my firm Jane would be walked out and I’d be UPSing her pictures and granola bars to her.

      1. Malibu Stacey*

        Right. I can’t even imagine if my firm had to report this and then just be like, “Just kidding!” I have seen people in Finance get fired for forgetting to lock a cabinet that’s in a locked room.

  65. Fronzel Neekburm*

    I feel empathy for Jane. That’s a horrible situation for her to live in, and I understand doing what you need to do in order to get out of an abusive relationship.

    That being said…

    Jane ruined someone else’s life. That she was abused doesn’t give her a free pass to ruin someone else’s life. It really doesn’t. She falsified reports. She caused someone else to lose her house. HER HOUSE. You now who else gets abused easily? Homeless people. Especially women. Yes, she needed to get out, but there are so many other ways that don’t involve making an innocent woman’s life a living hell. Again, sympathy for Jane, but her being a victim doesn’t excuse ruining someone else’s life, even if it seems she can recover easier.

    They need to make things right with Mary. Jane needs to go.

    1. Courtney*

      I agree. This situation is disturbing on so many levels.

      Jane purposely falsified information and drug a co-worker through the mud. Her name & livelihood was destroyed. This was also investigated by law enforcement, she lied to them as well. I’m not sure how she comes out without charges against her for that alone.

      Her judgment can never be trusted again. Ethically I don’t see how the company keeps her as an employee.

      Any Mary? How awful and devastating for her to be used in this way.

      I certainly hope that Jane is safe and gets the help she needs.

    2. Lissa*

      Yeah, I get the whole “skewed perspective” thing. I don’t think Jane is a horrible person. But a *lot* of things can skew your perspective. Mental illness being a big one. Certain types of upbringing. Past experiences with trauma. I think in all of those cases we can be sympathetic to the person with the skewed perspective while at the same time having to look logically at what happened. Very few people do bad things just because they are “evil”, there’s always a reason there that makes sense to them, and I do think these things should be taken into consideration (I hate the way we treat people like monsters based on a bad action) but . . . this isn’t a unique case of skewed perspective. I’d argue many many people have good reasons in their own mind for doing things that harm others.

  66. Anon for this*

    I’ve been abused and have some familiarity with how that affects thinking – at least, how it affected my thinking, admittedly in a much less severe situation than what’s described here. It’s easy to get locked into catastrophic, black-and-white thinking in that kind of environment. I don’t doubt that Jane really thought that she was taking the only possible course of action to save her life. But, that’s a wildly inaccurate conclusion for her to have come to, and it did a huge amount of harm.

    If I were in the letter writer’s shoes, I would let Jane go as kindly as possible, and with as positive a reference as possible, without lying about what she did. She falsified records and framed a coworker – I have empathy for how her thinking was distorted, but it lead to actions that were so damaging I can’t see continuing to trust her in her job.

  67. Roscoe*

    I’m 99% of the time on the side of not demanding someone be fired. But in this case, I think Jane should go. She maliciously lied and ruined someone else’s life. She basically set your company up as well. I can be sympathetic to her, but I can’t see how you can keep someone like that on your staff and not have it ruin morale. Even if you do “make things right” for Mary (which is hard because with something like this, without divulging Jane’s private life, her reputation is already tarnished), how could anyone else work with Jane. I couldn’t. And I’m not unsympathetic, but this was so far over the line that I can’t imagine any situation but firing her. If you want to give her a severance (which honestly I think isn’t necessary) it may be nice, but she should go.

    1. Kalkin*

      I don’t think it’s right to leave Jane, or anyone in a crisis like she was, high and dry. There should be consequences, but those should be meted out under the guidance of a mental professional with experience in domestic abuse. It would be terrible for all of this to happen only for Jane to be thrown right into a situation — jobless, without a safe space — where she was vulnerable to Joe again.

      There’s a lot of room between giving Jane a pass and immediately putting her back in a dangerous situation just to assuage a sense of justice, and if we’re going to armchair-quarterback this stuff in the comments, we might as well focus on exploring that space, precisely because it’s far more challenging to navigate.

      1. AD*

        What you described is something Jane can explore with a therapist or counselor, but it’s not really her employer’s job to get into.

        1. Roscoe*

          Exactly. I hope Jane has the resources she needs but that isn’t the employers place. She placed the employers and employees there in the midst of an investigation that involved the cops when she knew it wasn’t true. That to me is textbook fireable

        2. Kalkin*

          (1) If Jane loses her job and health coverage, it’s pretty challenging for her to explore this with a counselor.

          (2) Her employer raised this whole question in the first place and so is clearly at least moderately concerned about how to help her, even if they’re not technically bound to so. (And that’s good. It’s OK for organizations to want to go above and beyond for their people.)

          1. fposte*

            Is there a workaround that you can think of that doesn’t force the injured party to work with the person who damaged her?

            1. Kalkin*

              Yeah, I wrote above that I agree with suggestions that Mary should be given a generous payout and, if at all possible, help landing a great new job, and in the meantime should be placed on paid leave. Failing that, or if Mary desperately wants to stay at her current job (that just seems hard to imagine at this point), it would be a real kindness to help Jane make sure she had a safe space from Joe and then to let her go with a decent severance.

              I don’t think Jane should be absolved of consequences; I do think it would be a tragedy if, after all of this, those consequences ended up effectively putting her right back in the line of fire with Joe. She did a grave injustice to Mary, but I also think it’s hard to put ourselves in her shoes — her situation differs even from a lot of other cases of abuse, in that she couldn’t even get away from Joe at work.

              And I understand the reality that for a business, it’s far more expedient to just let Jane go. But the comments here are a forum for brainstorming and examining these problems from multiple dimensions, and because our present reality is so heavily weighted toward that expedience, it’s important to me to be a voice saying that Jane acted horribly, but that people in horrible situations do that sometimes, and that we can’t just immediately write it off as bad judgment. Whatever actual action the OP and their company end up taking, this is a good opportunity to reflect on how seriously abuse can affect someone and how its impact can go beyond the person being abused. Given the world we live in, there’s every likelihood Jane will be held accountable in real life for behavior at least partly induced by her extreme circumstances; we don’t have to leap to put it all on her here in the notional world of the comments, too.

              1. Darren*

                I know if someone in my company (which is also Finance) did an action like this they would have to be let go no matter what the reason. The regulators of the markets wouldn’t let us keep someone that modified records to give the appearance of fraud on even if we wanted to, nor would she likely to be able to get a job at my company with a record of having done this at a previous company. The regulators wouldn’t really care the reason why they would just care about what she had done.

                Add to that the massive fine we would have gotten (from her having had the ability to do so which usually violates several rules as a lot of records have to be kept on non-erasable, non-editable media which would prevent any such actions that she did) and there would no doubt be few people at the company that would even want to keep her around no matter the reason. Not that they wouldn’t feel for her and want to help, but they’d want to help from a distance.

                She’d probably get a good severance, maybe even gardening leave, and HR would likely give her referrals to resources that could help and probably keep an eye on her for a few weeks to see whether she takes up any of those.

          2. AD*

            Sorry, but about (2) I don’t quite agree. OP wrote in to ask for help on this situation, and how to deal with it. She didn’t write in to ask about helping Jane specifically (or touching on the DV issue).

            1. Kalkin*

              “I didn’t know about Jane’s situation or I would have contacted the police (Joe has been charged with threatening her life) and offered my support to Jane. I don’t want to look like I’m picking on an abuse victim but I also don’t think what she did to Mary was right. I am at a loss as to how I can navigate this. … I have never been in an abusive relationship so I don’t claim to understand how Jane was feeling but I also don’t think it’s an excuse for almost ruining someone’s life.”

              I read her as clearly wanting to be sensitive to the fact of abuse, and it seems perfectly reasonable to me for commenters to suggest what kind of reactions would and would not be.

      2. Tea*

        Since the damage that she did (to her company, to Mary) was professional, I don’t understand why there wouldn’t be professional consequences for her actions as well.

  68. overcaffeinatedandqueer*

    If it was an open office, I can definitely see Joe knowing about the what and why of every one of Jane’s meetings, and so she would be unable to discreetly pull a coworker aside to arrange being alone with police, without him being suspicious. Or she would worry that the other person’s face after being told would give her away.

    Still, I’d confront someone in the ladies’ and ask (unless one can hear in there too? Some bathrooms have thin walls), or slip a note into a stack of work documents.

    There were a lot of ways to go about this, but I still don’t judge Jane too hard.

    1. Malibu Stacey*

      I can’t comment on whether or not Jane could escape Joe at work, but I’d find it terribly hard to believe that an investment firm would have an open-office plan. There’s too much risk of client data getting into unauthorized hands.

      1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

        I work in an investment firm, and we’re four to a large cubicle here. Just behind two levels of badge access, physical security people, and passwords/locks/etc out the wazoo.

  69. DevAssist*

    This might be a very unpopular opinion, but… Jane should be fired. I understand that her circumstances greatly influenced the choices she made, and she probably thought there was no other way to ask for help. However, making it look like a specific coworker committed fraud and causing (likely) irreparable damage to her reputation is something I cannot get past.

    I hope things work out for both ladies- both need support right now, and I’m hoping the company is kind enough to financially assist both women as they navigate how to make things right.

  70. Thomas E*

    I feel sad for both ladies but, realistically, it’s not really in Jane’s best interest to remain in this company. The secret will come out (Mary will tell her friends) and it’s juicy enough to spread in the industry.

  71. MuseumChick*

    Coming from a field where ethics and trust are everything and you can literally ruin your entire career very easily by showing yourself to not have very high ethical standards AND feeling deep, to the bone sympathy for Jane and her situation, I feel myself stuck on what to do here. Perhaps the OP should deal with the practical first: 1) Jane’s role needs to be changed so she can’t alter records anymore. Even if this was the only time she did it under these very specific set of circumstances she still did something very unethical. 2) Mary needs to be made right financially. 3) For the time being, until the OP/the company decide what to do Jane needs to be instructed to have no contact with Mary for any reason.

    From there, IDK, part of the way abusers control their victims if through finances. But how can the company expect Mary to work with Jane after what Jane did; changing Mary’s life is some many negative ways and will likely follow her for the rest of her career.

    I see two possibilities 1) Encourage Jane to move on from the company. Give her a generous amount of time to look for a new job, let her job search while at work etc. (what to say in her reference though…I have no idea). 2) Tell Mary you understand her position. Give her a VERY generous severance and a glowing reference.

  72. Mazzy*

    How were police involved from the get go? Fraud investigations in my regulated industry don’t start with the police at all they may come in months down the line but usually never

    1. Jessesgirl72*

      When they got around to questioning Jane, then Jane told the investigators, who then called the police.

      1. Jessesgirl72*

        and the “months down the line” explains why Mary had to move in with her parents.

        1. Mazzy*

          Right but Jane used this as a way to get police attention, but it is a crap shoot that the police need to get involved and even then there is a time delay. Looking at fraud in local government and cases on Wall Street, sometimes the police never get involved. Unless it’s Bernie madoff level, so I’m not getting why Jane thought for sure the police would even come

          1. Sled dog mama*

            Perhaps she didn’t think the police would get involved, just that the people investigating the fraud would be from outside the company and she would be speaking with them for a legit reason. Presumably Joe also didn’t work with Mary so he would not be involved with the investigation.
            Speaking to those investigators gave her access to someone outside Joe’s circle of influence who could then call in the police. Assuming Joe was on the outside of the investigation he would have no reason to suspect that the police were there for a reason besides the fraud investigation.

          2. Aurion*

            I think Jane intended all along for the investigators to be the proxy to the police. The police may have never gotten involved until the investigators relayed the abuse situation.

  73. K*

    Jane needs to be fired yesterday. She framed another employee, and her investment firm was investigated by the authorities. There’s no coming back from the lost business and terrible publicity. Just because Jane was under the impression she had no choice but to frame a colleague doesn’t suspend the reality that there were in fact other choices to be made. The OP’s letter doesn’t say that Jane feels one bit of remorse for what she did, or recognizes that her actions were terribly wrong.

  74. Employment Lawyer*

    I would hire a local employment lawyer because there may be some hoops to jump through, but I would expect to fire Jane.

    Jane’s judgment was so incredibly bad w/r/t getting your entire company in trouble and exposing you to risk (fraud investigations are serious business!) and reporting Mary, that Jane should no longer work there.

    You don’t need to reach any conclusions about anything. Maybe Jane doesn’t like Mary; maybe she does. Maybe Jane honestly didn’t have the mental capacity to call 911; maybe she did. Maybe Jane is indeed an abuse victim but is also a bit crazy (those are not necessarily dichotomous) and that’s why she chose this bizarre means of reporting; maybe she honestly thought this was literally the only option.

    This is a bit like having someone with another sympathetic problem, like “drug addiction because their doctor screwed up their meds.” At some point you simply need to look at the effect on the company and make a call which protects you; you should not make their problems into your problems. Someone who can make that kind of move is no longer to be trusted. Give her some severance; let her stay on health plan to get therapy; send her on her way.

    You also owe Mary a helping hand–a minor promotion which will indicate your trust in her, a decent bonus, and an official finding of innocence might be nice–and frankly I’m surprised Mary hasn’t brought a suit against Jane to clear her name. (You can’t report someone as a criminal if you if you know it’s false, even if you think you have a ‘reeealllly good reason’ for it.)

    1. Discordia Angel Jones*

      Yes. This.

      I feel nothing but sympathy for both Jane and Mary, but Jane’s actions crossed a line here, even with the horrible situation she was in.

      I am also a lawyer, although I am probably not of the right jurisdiction to advise much on this. (Although, please note, in my jurisdiction in the UK Jane may well be open to facing criminal charges of her own, and while she could argue diminished responsibility, it is a serious, SERIOUS situation. Not to mention that if this is indeed finance, Jane would probably face serious regulatory consequences as well. There may also be mandatory reporting requirements for the OP’s company).

      OP please, please, please hire a lawyer.

      1. Discordia Angel Jones*

        Alison, if my bracketed comments cross the speculation line, I’m sorry, please remove them.

    2. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

      I especially like the idea of promoting Mary to a position of greater responsibility, giving her a pay hike, and otherwise taking actions which will broadcast to the industry that she has the full faith of her employer. I’d even go to the trouble of reaching out to others in the industry who’d be in a position to refute the rumors that are already swirling.

      1. fposte*

        Definitely get the PR team on board in re: the promotions, too–that should be news-released and tweeted from here to Mars.

      2. Mints*

        Yeah, whatever her job is, now she gets an extra word attached to it (in addition to all the money) “senior teapot analyst” or “executive manager” or whatever. I think being supportive if she wants to leave but not forcing her out is also the right call.

        I also think demoting Jane is a tidy way to be supportive (especially regarding health benefits) but removing her from anything sensitive. Like even demoting her to part time, and she gets encouraged to find a new job too

      3. TootsNYC*

        Another way to help restore Mary’s reputation:
        Send her to conferences as the company’s representative.*
        Send her to training, certification, etc. Invest in her. And do it in a way that makes her visible (and the company’s faith in her evident) to people outside the company but in the industry.

        *the one caveat: Be sure Mary can represent without bitterness. Because if she can’t this approach would hurt the company AND Mary.

  75. Emmie*

    At minimum, Jane’s access to financial documents needs to be terminated. I have tremendous sympathy for Jane – especially since she is the victim of domestic violence that worked with her abuser who threatened to murder her. Trust your victim that she genuinely believed that eh would murder her. That creates extraordinary stress, and fear. It undermines a person’s whole sense of being and safety. Yet, there’s some risk to the company in allowing continued access to a person who altered financial documents. This conversation can be kind and compassionate by expressing great sympathy to her situation, perhaps managing her into another role, or allowing for a transition out of the company.

    It’s also worth it to take a closer look at two of the company’s procedures: investigations, and domestic violence (“DV”) policies. What is your investigation policy like? I’d evaluate it to ensure that it was timely, that you have the right people conducting investigations, that you look at the right documents, that your investigations are designed to uncover the kind of fraud Jane committed here, and whether the right questions were asked by the appropriate people.

    It’s probably time to revisit the company’s domestic violence policies. Your company was in a nightmare situation – one employee was threatening to murder another employee. Yes, it involved a personal relationship. Yes, it happened (mostly) outside of work. But, there was a nexus – a connection – between the home and work environments. There are some things a company can do to help DV victims. One commenter noted brochures inside bathroom stalls. Remember – men can be victims too. I’d also take a closer look at the employee handbook to include services for DV victims. I would think about whether it makes sense to counsel employees that if all else fails the victim can go to their manager who will connect the person with DV services, make the call to the police, have a fake off-site meeting to take the person to the police department. I hesitate here because I’m not sure this is the right thing (as both a manager and former DV victim), but it could be. If the company decides to retain Jane in another capacity, perhaps she could help with updating the company’s DV policy. I’d also recommend consulting with a local DV shelter, the company attorney or outside counsel, and perhaps law enforcement about an updated policy.

    One of the many ways to help restore Mary’s reputation could involve working with your PR person. Can they pitch a story to a well-known financial publication about lessons learned through your investigation here? Obviously, there are risks associated with this. It might help if Mary signed a document waiving her rights to sue with some kind of severance package; or if Mary was a willing participant. The pitch could be something like protecting your employees under investigation when someone framed them; or conducting investigations to ensure blah-blah-blah; or war stories from investigations. Surely others have been the mistaken target of an investigation.
    Finally, you should also think about on-site security. DV victims are most likely to be murdered when they leave their abusers. He knows where she works. He may not know where she lives. Work could very well be a target for him. Knowing that he threatened to murder her, you should think through how security at the building should look whether the company retains Jane or not. If you decide to retain Jane, you may wish to include her in this process – at least as it pertains to her. Other employees or building inhabitants could be targets – at least for information, or mistakenly for access to Jane.

    I’m sorry you’re going through this. And for the long post. Very good luck to you.

    1. Emmie*

      One other thing – I’d also think about how soon Jane disclosed her falsification of the documents. It sounds like she took quite some time. Why? That might weigh heavily into my decision on whether to terminate her, or manage her into another role.

      1. Mazzy*

        I like this comment yes it’s obvious that Jane shouldn’t have access to certain information after this. That level of access has been grossly abused

    2. fposte*

      This is a really excellent and thoughtful comment. I like very much your point that a firm simply cannot allow somebody who just falsified sensitive financial documents to continue to have access to those documents. (As noted upthread, this might be key for regulatory agencies, too.) When the employer is putting the important factors together, that’s a big one–if Jane is retained, that likely limits the roles she can have and may involve a demotion.

    3. Purplesaurus*

      This is an excellent comment with great advice. I hope OP is able to read it.

    4. Emmie*

      Thank you, Mazzy, fposte, and Purplesaurus.
      It’s hard to envision a termination, or duties change conversation with Jane. Prior to the conversation, I’d have a qualified person look back to see whether she falsified any other documents. The quality check is important. She could have never falsified anything before, or this could have been a pattern. You probably need to do that to ensure records integrity.
      Perhaps the conversation with Jane could be something like “I have enormous sympathy for you. We’ve been thinking through some ways in which we can help DV victims better. Because of your tough circumstances, we have been evolving our DV policy and our investigation procedures. There was a [x] week time difference between when the investigation started and you sharing your circumstances. Can you share with me why there was a lapse in time?” That may lead into other conversations like “Can you think of anything now that would’ve helped you come forward sooner?” She might genuinely not know yet. Also, you may uncovered other falsifications, which makes your conversation more straight forward.
      If OP is looking for additional phrasing: “We are in a really tough position because we want to help you. At the same time, a person who has a falsified financial record cannot maintain those records any longer. When this situation occurred before, we terminated the person and pressed criminal charges (if accurate.) I don’t want to do that to you because you’ve had some tough circumstances. But, I’m hard pressed to find options. Financial records are a significant portion of your job.” Either: (a) “We can transition you to [x] role – our only available position – with no access to financial documents, or come up with a transition period for you.”; or (b) “We have no other roles available inside the company, so we can allow a [x] week / month transition for you to apply for another position. I will personally watch for positions in the company that open for you. We will allow you time off during work hours to interview or to attend court hearings, provide you with a neutral reference (I’d shy away from this though because it wouldn’t be accurate), and not contest your unemployment should you be unable to find a job.” Also, perhaps a DV advocate / shelter can help you come up with good language. It’s worth noting that a few states allow DV victims to access unemployment compensation.
      Does anyone else have good language for OP?

        1. Emmie*

          Thank you, fposte. What a tough conversation, huh?

          FYI to OP: I’d probably wouldn’t transition her into a role where she’s a receptionist or answering phones. That may put her at risk of continued contact with her abuser, him knowing her schedule, and maybe some risk to other employees.

          1. fposte*

            Yes, good point. Any transition would have to consider both her protection and the company’s, and I think it needs to assume her continued vulnerability, at least for a while.

  76. Xay*

    After reading the letter and many of the responses, I keep coming back to this thought. Mary is not responsible for the domestic abuse Jane suffered. Jane is entirely responsible for the fraud investigation that resulted in the harm to Mary’s personal and professional reputation and the loss of her home.

    I completely sympathize with Jane’s situation. But considering the short and long term effects on Mary’s life, I don’t think that Jane’s intent is of more consideration than the outcomes of her actions. The company has to do everything it can and explore every option to restore Mary’s professional reputation and make financial restitution. I also don’t see how the company can allow Jane to continue working there or at least in the same role.

  77. Merida May*

    There are so many really good comments about how to handle Mary’s situation I’ll focus on Jane. I’m kind of curious, are both ladies back at work? If so, I don’t think this is a situation where things can go back to business as usual. I’m having a really hard time wrapping my head around a scenario where you are able to retain both of them. One of them should probably go, and it really should be Jane. I cannot imagine what she must be going through to make what she did feel like the best and safest option for her to leave her marriage, that has to be a dark place to exist in. I hope she is getting help from an EAP or another service for the support she needs. With that said, she singled out an employee and set her up for a fraud investigation. A co-worker lost wages, her home and had her professional reputation dragged through the mud. Even if Jane just hadn’t considered the scope of the fallout, she still has terrible judgement. If you are not comfortable letting her go I think she needs to be moved to another position. You can’t let the person who *actually* screwed around with these documents continue working in that space with that same level of access. Good luck OP.

  78. Noah*

    Just to be totally clear, Jane engaged in criminal behavior via-a-vis her job — she knowingly filed a false police report accusing her co-worker of a crime. Is the abuse enough to save her from firing? I don’t know, maybe. But the default response to an employee falsely accusing another employee of a crime has to be termination.

      1. Noah*

        I read the “directing” part of “altering and directing things so it would appear as though Mary had committed fraud” to mean she called the police. Perhaps, instead, Jane was just doctoring documents and records at the office to create a paper trail that Mary committed fraud. That’s still a firing offense absent the abuse situation, and possibly including the abuse situation.

  79. Moon Elf Tempest Cleric*

    Being a victim yourself doesn’t excuse deliberately victimizing others. And I don’t think any firm should feel an obligation to retain an employee who intentionally made them the subject of a fraud investigation. I agree with some other commentators though who suggest Jane be treated with compassion and helped to find a new position elsewhere rather than being let go with no help because she was clearly caught in a horrific situation.

    1. Solidus Pilcrow*

      At a guess, Mary was probably in a role with access to commit fraud that would look realistic to investigators. Alternately, Mary’s records were the only ones/easiest ones Jane could alter.

  80. kittymommy*

    Jeez, this is hard. Having cone from an abusive background and then working with domestic violence victims, your mindset is really skewed do I do feel for Jane, but man, what a really horrible way of going about it.

    And beyond the professional and financial ramifications for Mary I think there’s probably long term credit issues as well. If she list a home she owned or had to break a lease that likely will result in a negative impact on her credit rating. Add on any bills she missed, she may be feeling this for a while. I doubt there’s anything her work can do to rectify that with the credit agencies.

  81. K*

    What kind of help would the company give Jane exactly? The reference would be “she framed a co-worker for fraud and our investment firm was investigated by the authorities, which was widely reported in professional circles. But it’s all good because there were extenuating circumstances.” I think confirming dates of employment here would be more than generous.

  82. Nervous Accountant*

    I have so much sympathy for Mary being the victim here, her life’s been turned upside down because of this. She definitely deserves something to make this right again.

  83. Case of the Mondays*

    I wonder if Jane actually told the police about the abuse or if they just stumbled on the evidence going through her email and phone as part of the investigation. Maybe that’s why it took so long.

    1. nonegiven*

      If you were Joe, would you have let her have a phone? He probably had the password to her work email, too.

  84. J*

    “The investigation revealed no fraud had been committed, and Jane, another employee who reports to me, admitted to altering and directing things so it would appear as though Mary had committed fraud.”

    If Jane admitted to breaking the rules, she should be fired. Her actions were unethical and directly impacted not just another employee negatively, but company as a whole. While I’m sympathetic to her situation, the OP ultimately has a company to run successfully. Can you trust that Jane won’t continue to alter and manipulate documents or procedures in the future because she now knows she can get away with it?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I think “now she knows she can get away with it” is a stretch. She knows it will be investigated, and it would be highly unlikely that doing this a second time would be overlooked.

      That doesn’t mean that they don’t ultimately need to let her go; maybe they do. But not for this reason.

      1. fposte*

        If we’re talking financial information, though, I don’t the company really can keep her where she has access to that stuff any more; the exposure is just too great.

        And while I wish Jane well and the steps taken sound excellent, getting away from an abuser is documentedly unlikely to be a one and done. I can’t imagine having to answer the question “So you knew that she’d falsified financial records, and you knew the situation she was in was statistically likely to recur, but you didn’t choose to remove her access?” I’m thinking of the library discussion where people were suggesting the employee lose her key access just because of her child, not herself, and what the child might do–this is the actual employee and what she actually did. I think she’s got to be walled off if she’s retained.

      2. Anonymous for this*

        I was once on the board of a non-profit organization where we caught an employee misusing funds for personal purchases. We immediately let the employee go.

        The employee’s reaction was to found a “competing” organization. A few years later, other people in the competing organization ended up suing the founder for, big surprise, misuse of funds.

        Don’t dismiss the willingness of people to overlook things. The co-workers in the competing organization were familiar with the founder’s track record and chose to ignore it.

  85. Ramona Flowers*

    I am not going to suggest what to do or not do because frankly I don’t have a clue, but I am going to say this:

    OP, there isn’t a perfect solution here. All you can do is find the best solution available, with the help of appropriate experts. It isn’t your fault that this happened. It isn’t your fault that it’s not possible to fix it so everything works out as you wish it could. I just wanted to say that.

  86. PM Jesper Berg*

    This is not even a close question.
    Jane reacted to her abuser by…abusing someone else.
    That’s no more acceptable in the workplace than it would be in, say, a domestic environment where a parent abused a child because the grandparent abused the parent. “Kick the cat” is just that: animal abuse.
    There were surely other ways Jane could have spoken with someone confidentially.
    Jane needs to be dismissed immediately, and if I had my druthers, prosecuted for filing false police reports.

  87. C. Price*

    In reading the majority of the comments, I must add my two cents here from a HR/ Business Owner perspective.
    My heart goes out to anyone in a domestic violence situations. It can be an emotional situation. However, as a employer and HR executive, it is the employer’s responsibility to protect and treat fairly ALL of its employees regards of emotions. What Jane did was wrong? No excuse. Had Jane done this and not have been in a domestic violence situation, what would have been the outcome? She should be disciplined in accordance to the company’s policy manual on providing falsification of information. Generally, this would involve another investigation (unless Jane is willing to be accountable for her actions) and would generally result in one of two actions; suspension without pay or termination. Yes, termination. The company and the manager has been put in a terrible position, if Mary sees this post or come to the knowledge that this person, in fact, did provide false information and kept her job without any disciplinary action. Mary may have legal grounds for a lawsuit of wrongful termination against he company and the manager (separately). Bar none of the findings proved any wrong doing by Mary during the investigation. People often get caught up in the emotions of situations like this, especially if you can relate personally. But right must be done for all parties involved, even for this manager.

  88. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    I had a comment that didn’t go through – but wondering why Mary is still on the payroll, and also suggested that Mary be recompensed and given some sort of a public vote of confidence. And I like to ask OP – was there at least a PRIVATE vote of confidence given to Mary by upper management?

    Curious – this is an investment firm – which, I would think has both an HR department and a legal department. Those groups usually handle situations like this. That’s where OP should go for advice….

      1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

        True – but the implication is that this firm has more than one department *AND* any investment firm will have some type of lawyer on retainer, if they’re not large enough to have their own attorney on staff.

        And if there was an official investigation – hopefully the firm would be smart enough to consult him/her and let it be known what is going on.

  89. Raine*

    I feel like Jane’s husband probably had her believing that literally everyone in the company would be “on his side” if she tried to bring it to literally any coworker. Abusers can seem omnipresent and omnipotent and if she’d tried to tell people before only to have them disbelieve her (abusers can also be very charismatic) I can see why she felt she needed to take such drastic measures to escape. She felt the only way she could get out was if she managed to tell someone outside her husband’s sphere of influence.

    That said what happened to mary was awful. She needs back pay, housing assistance, a glowing reference letter, and the company telling as many people as possible that no fraud was committed.

  90. Workfromhome*

    I agree number one priority is to do anything possible to compensate Mary. The impact of this purposely false accusation on her personal, professional life and finances are the same regardless of the motive. Mary would be in the same horrible situation if Jane had fabricated the story because she didn’t like Mary’s shoes as she would if it was to facilitate a domestic abuse situation. The reason for the false accusation should have 0 bearing on how Mary is treated or compensated going forward.

    Second as harsh as it sounds Jane simply can’t work at the firm anymore. While you can certainly compassionate and give severance or other assistance if you choose she has to go. She committed fraud at an investment firm (to set up the investigation. It doesn’t matter why. You can’t maintain credibility at a financial firm if you employ people that you know committed fraud. (Once again you can be compassionate in trying to help her with severance or to get a job elsewhere although sadly I think the financial sector is out)
    Two-Even if Mary did not ask for Jane to be fired its simply not reasonable to expect her to work with someone who selected her (even if it was randomly) to be set up for a fraud investigation. It would be difficult for even the most forgiving person not to have some resentment or concern seeing the person who screwed up their life at work every day. I agree that Mary doesn’t get to decide who you fire but even if she uses the suggested phrasing like “I cannot continue to work with this person. if they continue to work here I’ll need to leave” telling her that you are keeping Jane on is equivalent to telling her “Jane screwed up you life and now you need to also find a new job because we feel keeping someone who committed fraud on the payroll is more important than getting your life back to normal. ”

    I feel very badly for both parties but Jane needs to go.

  91. LC*

    This is bananas. While I’m sympathetic to Jane’s difficult situation, and know that abusive relationships can muddle one’s sense of what is normal or right, it’s not as though her only options were to call 911 or set her coworker up. There are a million other creative solutions that don’t implicate another employee (like, say, committing fraud herself).

    But let’s say she really did only have two options. Perhaps I’m cold, but even then, I’d say firing her makes the most sense. Obviously employers should be sensitive to the fact that employees’ personal lives can affect their work lives, and cut employees some slack when they’re going through a difficult time. That said, there’s a huge difference between someone’s productivity sliding, say, and destroying a coworker’s life. One is temporary; the other is a massive lapse in judgment that should fundamentally undermine an employer’s ability to trust her.

  92. LizM*

    Jane very well may have PTSD from the abuse. It’s also entirely possible that even if she had a safe option to go to her supervisor or HR, Joe had convinced her it wasn’t an option, that he would find out, or that they would take his side (abuser can be incredibly charming). All of this could cloud her judgment, it sounds like she was truly afraid for her life.

    Not that any of that excuses what happened to Mary, and it’s totally understandable why Mary doesn’t want to continue working with Jane. This is hard and there don’t seem to be any good solutions.

    Does Jane have the option to go on medical or personal leave while maintaining her finances and insurance? I hope that after some intensive therapy, she could think more clearly about her future. I suspect that right now she’s still in survival mode. If nothing else, it could give everyone (Mary, OP, and Jane) some breathing room to figure out how to move forward.

    1. fposte*

      If I were Mary, it would be a tough pill to swallow that Jane got paid leave for deliberately framing me while I had unpaid leave that lost me my house for mere suspicion.

      1. LizM*

        I don’t think the circumstances of Jane’s leave are any of Mary’s business.

        She needs to know that Jane is taking an extended leave of absence while this is sorted out. The details about pay or benefits are between Jane and her employer.

        I agree that this whole situation is extremely unfair to Mary, and the company absolutely should do everything they can to make Mary financially whole, including paying for any expenses incurred by breaking her lease, moving, etc. But removing Jane’s income does not make Mary whole, so it’s a separate question from how to help Mary recover.

        1. fposte*

          I think you’re absolutely right, and yet the essential unfairness of it still bothers the hell out of me.

          1. fposte*

            Actually, now that I think about it, I do think that the company needs to adhere to whatever its policy is for leave in the face of wrongdoing; if, as it seems from Mary’s example, that that’s leave without pay, I don’t think it’s appropriate to choose this moment to bend that rule. That may be another reason why demotion is a useful possibility absent a straight out firing.

            1. KellyK*

              That’s fair. I tend to think they should change their policy to suspend with pay during an investigation, but no way should Jane benefit from such a change if they don’t at least give Mary back pay.

    2. LizM*

      And just to be clear, I’m not trying to diagnose her, there’s not enough information in the letter for that. But more to make the point that enough abuse victims have PTSD that it’s something to consider. As Alison said, this is really somewhere you’ll want to have the help of a professional. But I don’t think it’s overstepping any bounds to suggest that the victim of a violent crime seek therapy as they figure out their next steps, regardless of any formal diagnosis, and I think giving them space to do that would be kind, even if the result is that they need to move on from the company.

  93. Liv2read*

    OP I can’t tell you if you need to fire Jane, but my background is marriage and family therapy and I’ve worked a little with abuse survivors so maybe I can spitball some ideas. Allison’s idea about talking to someone with more expertise in abuse is a good one and if you have something like a local women’s center, I would get a hold of them. In the mental health field, it is agreed that abuse survivors often aren’t in their right mind due to the things that their abusers will do to them. At the same time, we usually hold survivors accountable for their actions towards others, in therapy we see this a lot with parents and children, a parent who has been abused and then has damaged their relationship with their child through their own actions (there are numerous hypotheticals to this). You have to help the survivor realize that there will be consequences because even if they weren’t in their right mind, they still damaged relationships and can’t expect automatic forgiveness and trust again. Basically, those relationships take time to heal and may never fully recover (worse case scenario).
    Honestly, I would be kind of curious to know how you would handle Jane’s actions if she had altered the books like she had, but not because of her ex-husband’s domestic abuse. What if it had been a prank or an accident or an act of revenge against Mary? In any of those scenarios would she have been fired or disciplined? Is this case different because Jane thought this was the only way to save her life?

  94. kms1025*

    OP…speaking as a past victim of (hate those words…experience with?) abuse. The motivations here are meaningless. Dire circumstances at home, sick child, health issues, would not excuse theft. Abuse cannot excuse fraud and false police report. Sympathy and understanding go a long way, but do not excuse the behavior that Mary had to experience. Company should absolutely make her whole. She was an innocent bystander. Company should also request that Jane move on, with or without references. The behavior itself cannot be allowed to stand. Too much of a slippery slope to other bad behaviors.

    1. Blue eagle*

      The crisis center at my university uses the term “survivor” rather than victim. Their explanation is that the term “survivor” is meant to empower the person. Perhaps that term might be appropriate to your circumstance.

  95. ellis55*

    I left an abusive relationship where I wasn’t safe. I am not comfortable being overly critical of Jane because I also made choices during that time in my life that were somewhat suspect and out of desperation. I say this for context.

    It is important to understand that many abusers were themselves abused, and this can be part of the reason why they ultimately aren’t abusive. In order to stem that cycle, we need to be able to say something like, what happened to you is wrong and what you’re doing is also wrong.

    It’s terrible, what happened to Jane. I’m so glad she is free of that. But it does not give her license to behave in an abusive way to someone else. Just as we don’t allow vigilante justice, we can’t allow someone to make decisions that endanger or harm others in service of a noble goal – on an ad-hoc basis. I don’t think getting too in the weeds on everything that justifies is helpful (logical fallacy city), but it doesn’t take a ton of imagination to explain why this is not a maximally healthy or appropriate standard for a workplace.

    There are many ways to be free of an abuser — confidential, free services that can be accessed from a public computer. They may have their own issues, but they are appropriate and effective enough that they could be considered a reasonable alternative to framing someone for a crime.

    Bearing that all in mind, Jane should be made aware of whatever EAP exists and given the appropriate lead time to make an exit that would allow her to make alternate arrangements for housing, etc. You might call the DV hotline (free and 24/7) to help identify some resources to share with her so she will not be left high and dry.

    The discomfort with firing her is understandable, and it’s possible that so doing would make it harder for her to stay separated from her abuser. That said, this is not something your workplace is equipped to handle long-term. She needs to get and stay connected to professionals who can equip her to handle the road ahead legally, safely, and ethically. To allow her to cobble together more DIY solutions helps no one – not even Jane.

  96. Lady Phoenix*

    I can understand Jane’s need to get to polic subtly. She is working in the same company as her abusive husband, and he could easily keep track of her via bugs and coworkers. Making a false crime report worked pretty well.

    What didn’t work well as forcing Mary to be the fall girl. And I find that because she pulled a bystander in, that Jane’s actions are uncool (along with hnmessing with her data). Mary needs her name cleared and Jane needs to be shown the door. Give her a r commendation and help her transition to a new company. Lord knows, I wouldn’t want to stay in the same place my abuser did, gone or not

  97. Yet Another Alison*

    I am sympathetic to Jane’s situation but setting Mary up is inexcusable. Although I don’t work in the financial industry, I know that being subject to an inquiry such as this could make it difficult for Mary to find work elsewhere, particularly if she had a securities license. If Mary’s ability to earn a living has been compromised through a situation like this, clearly she has been damaged and should seek legal counsel immediately.

  98. Ungennant hier*

    So, this is just a chilling mess to read. My spouse and I have some issues, but it’s never escalated to abuse- just some loud fights and tearing me down in the process. We’re going to counseling and things have improved a lot. We don’t yell at home any more, she speaks to me more calmly and micromanages less, and I am more involved with our finances (despite a math disability), and can go out more on my own.

    Still, I can’t leave no matter what, since I have chronic health conditions that can require upwards of $50000/incident sudden emergency care. Medicine, with insurance, is about $250/month.

    Insurance through my work is expensive and barely covers anything; I cannot take that and thus get out of my spouse’s plan, and still remain healthy or even alive. And with the possible new health law not covering or charging tons extra for preexisting conditions, my problems will either not be covered or I will have to pay an unaffordable $5000 extra or more a year in premiums for less coverage.

    So whatever you do for Jane and Mary, maintain their health insurance coverage!!!! It’s so important. And Jane may even have stayed longer for the insurance.

  99. JS*

    Little lengthy but here is my take:
    I just want to say I am not excusing the repercussions this has had on Mary at all. What Jane did wasn’t right to Mary, even if it was the only thing Jane could have done to resolve this, doesn’t make it OK for Mary. However, I’ve seen a few speculate on the “why” of make up a fraud allegation to get police attention rather than pull a coworker aside at work where her husband Joe cannot get to or simply call the police from work in a conference room. The clear answer to me is that she felt if she did so it would not be taken seriously.

    It’s the same reason why a lot of victims don’t report assault on campus of fellow student, athlete or professor. Plenty of people who could say “Oh we KNOW Joe, we work with him, we see him everyday, he would NEVER do that. Jane is a liar. She’s never said anything about this before.” Likewise, I’m sure like most abusers, he battered her mental health and self-esteem to the point she would believe that would be the outcome even if she didn’t have victim-blamey coworkers. It would be easy for her to figured the only way for people to believe her is if she did something so extreme that they as well as the police had to take her claims seriously. Unfortunately, that was at Mary’s expense.

    As a solution, in some way Mary needs to be fully exonerated and compensated. Ideally in someway I would like to see this come from Joe since he is the real villain in this situation but legally its more likely it would come from the company or Jane. If I were both Mary and Jane I would no longer want to work there. Mary because my name had been dragged through the mud and it would likely sour me on the company (although leaving might look like an admission of guilt to those who have only heard through the grapevine so it might not be the best move career wise to leave immediately). Also Jane because although she is also a victim, her personal life and issues have been laid bare for the company ON TOP of her lying on an employee.

    While everyone reasonable should view this situation as an Highly Extreme and Rare Circumstance, that wont stop the gossip, speculation and overall mistrust of Jane. The company should offer both an amicable easy transition onto new employment. Mary as an option, Jane as a 6-month plan to 1-year plan as I imagine with court appearances for domestic abuse charges, divorce and mentally picking up the pieces Jane will need as much stability as possible and since Joe was a prior employee I think the company does have a bit more of responsibility in making sure she was OK because it was also one employee abusing another which is a point no one has brought up yet!! If this abuse happened on company property as well they could hold some liability if people noticed something off but wrote it off as “marriage issues, not my business”.

  100. Tuxedo Cat*

    I think the best choice is to have Jane transition out of the company. I also experienced domestic violence, though not as bad as what is described here. I have a lot of sympathy for Jane, but I don’t think she can come back from this.

    If I were Mary or someone who wasn’t involved, I don’t think I would comfortable having Jane handle any documents that could trigger an investigation. I’m not sure how I could trust her period. I understand her circumstances were a literal matter of life or death, but it’s still a difficult thing to come back from for the rest of the employees. Also, does the rest of the office know what happened? I could see trust being destroyed if all they know is Jane falsified documents. I don’t think Jane should be outed as a domestic violence survivor, but at the same time, it would be hard for people to believe the story wasn’t some weird revenge story on Mary without knowing that Jane was desperate.

    Maybe I watch too much Scandal (TV show), but could your company find a crisis management person to help Mary through this? It trickled into her personal and professional life. I’m going to hope that Mary can resolve the personal life part, but I imagine it’ll be much trickier to resolve the professional life stuff.

  101. Stacy*

    I have a lot of sympathy for Jane, but I don’t see how the company can let this stand.

  102. blatantlybianca*

    Holy sugar honey iced tea. I’m gobsmacked and want to cry for both of these women. OP, putting myself in your shoes I think about what would be the best outcome to aim for: 1) Jane feels safe from her abuser and strong enough to move on with her life, and 2) Mary is made whole from a situation wholly out of her control, and 3) your workforce feels like this nightmare is over and they can move on with teammates they trust.

    I don’t see a way to achieve these outcomes without Jane being asked to leave. I think the right thing to do is connect her with domestic abuse resources and position it financially so that she can start life anew elsewhere. Mary definitely needs your support, financially and professionally. It would be a kindness to also connect her to recovery resources, after all her life was turned upside down and she paid quite the price for Jane’s actions.

    I lived through domestic violence as a child, and watched my mother almost be killed by both my biological father and step father. She made some choices that impacted others in a throughly negative manner during these times. So while I personally cannot agree with Jane’s actions, I definitely understand how that line of thinking can be a lifeline in a moment of absolute desperation.

    1. DotDotDot*

      Regarding #3 – Indeed, I agree with that importance! If other coworkers in the organization know what Jane did, even knowing the background/what made her feel it was her best choice, I’d be worried it gives everyone else the impression of “This was fraud but it’s ok, because she had an extenuating circumstance”; does that mean they, too, could commit this kind of fraud without being fired, as long as their situation was dire enough? And who then defines “dire enough”? (Basically: If everyone is aware, they will be watching and learn about expectations/outcomes from your response)

      1. blatantlybianca*

        Yes. It’s the litmus test I used when thinking about how the other teammates reactions were in the bird phobia situation – what happened was horrible but the intent to harm wasn’t there. In this instance, dire situation aside Jane, perpetuated a situation that caused her teammate actual, possibly irreparable, harm. One could say that she may recover financially (job, credit, rental history, etc.) but the emotional harm is going to be there for a while. And while the workforce won’t feel the same consequences, I can’t help but think they’re wondering if they’re next to be harmed by Jane.

  103. Chalupa Batman*

    I can see that line of reasoning, but, to an extent, companies are responsible for the actions of their employees on the job. Jane’s access to the documentation needed to frame Mary was within their scope, so arguably they should have had checks and balances in place that prevented Jane from doing what she did. I think the company making Mary whole is less taking full responsibility for Jane’s decision and more about the buck having to stop somewhere. The company’s procedure for handling complaints had negative outcomes for Mary through no fault of her own, and they can repair some of that, so it makes sense to do it. It sends a good message to other employees to know that complaints against them will be evaluated fairly and the company will try to mitigate negative impact as much as possible if the complaint’s found to be untrue. If nothing else, it’s a good business move. No one wants to work somewhere where an unfounded accusation can ruin your life and no one will care.

    I think it’s unfair to say the loss of Mary’s apartment is her fault. It would be great to have a stash, but there’s no way Mary could have seen this coming. If she didn’t have savings, or didn’t have enough, she’s taking some reasonable risks, but this is an unreasonable one. She is suffering consequences that could have been avoided by being financially ready, and I’m sure she’s kicking herself for it, but none of this is her fault.

    1. Chalupa Batman*

      Sorry, just saw that my explanation didn’t post earlier: this was a response to a post further upthread that said OP’s company isn’t responsible for this, Jane is solely, and that Mary is responsible for her housing issue.

    2. Gov Worker*

      Most people live paycheck to paycheck! It is unacceptable to blame Mary in any way for the fallout from Jane’s actions

      1. Dust Bunny*

        I live in an area with high rents and don’t make a whole lot–a lot of people can’t afford to pay rent for months on end if they’re not getting paid, especially if they are, as it sounds like Mary may be, single and thus single-income.

  104. A Teacher*

    While I feel for Jane as an abuse victim, her actions made Mary a victim as well. I can’t imagine the fear and embarrassment she had to go through, all the while knowing she did nothing wrong. No matter what you do to make her whole, people will still be talking about how she was accused of something. It will take years to overcome this–not just financially, but emotionally too. I’ve watched colleagues be accused of things and be investigated for the charge to be without merit. The emotional and professional toll was devastating. I’m team Mary on this one, how awful for her.

  105. JS*

    Jane isn’t an abuser, shes a victim who acted irrationally as victims do sometimes. She abused her power of position of course, but it leaves a foul taste to equate what her husband was doing to her to what she did to Mary by having them both wear “abuser” titles.

    1. JS*

      This was in reply to someone who said Jane was an abuser but it looks as if that comment was deleted (thanks Alison!). Just to be clear, not saying what Jane did was right but only an understandable reaction of someone not in a good state of mind from being domestically abused.

  106. Gene*

    I see no mention of contrition on Jane’s part in the letter.

    Does she even have an inkling that she has ruined Mary’s life, both professional and personal? With no impact on her future professional life and current employment.

    How can she possibly be trusted with any financial information? She falsified financial records in a manner that resulted in a fraud investigation that Mary will have to disclose for the rest of her professional life!

    What action would your company take against someone who falsified records in any other circumstance? That’s the minimum for what should happen to Jane.

    As far as the company’s responsibility to Mary goes; full restitution of her costs, a public statement (I’m talking in the biggest trade publication in your field) absolving her of any culpability and stating the fraud investigation was bogus, and yes, firing Jane for falsifying records.

  107. BadPlanning*

    I’m wondering if Jane knew the full consequences of a fraud investigation? And I don’t mean, “Oh, gee, everyone should just know” but training/reminders/etc on what will happen?

    Obviously she know it would bring in authorities, but is it possible she thought Mary would go on paid leave? Or alternate work assignments? Then you could have an “all’s well that ends well” sort of feeling about it. Versus the destructive happenings. I feel like intent could mitigate the response towards Jane. Not that ignorance is really a good excuse — but maybe the company needs to revamp their training in this area.

    Generlaly, I would also be worried about how other employees view this situation and its resolution. If you can destroy a coworker so easily — perhaps you’d be reluctant to report something unless you were 1000% sure. Or you could innocently/maliciously report fraud to take down a fellow employee.

    1. BuildMeUp*

      Yeah, I’m not sure we can know based on the letter that Jane knew this would impact Mary so seriously – or even who it would impact at all. She could have thought the fraud wouldn’t be pinned on a specific person, or that the police would be involved quickly enough that she could talk to them right away. There are some comments assuming Jane “chose” Mary, but I didn’t get that impression based on the information in the letter.

  108. Deirdre*

    As someone who works with trauma, reporting, and investigations, this is a difficult and delicate issue. I use several tools with issues like this and the first rule is to separate intent from impact.

    -Jane’s intent was to save her life
    -the impact of Jane’s intent wrecked havoc on a colleague’s life

    I would then look at employment requirements including rules of professional conduct for the positions; if Jane violated those (depending on your handbook), what are the sanctions? Suspension? Termination? In our handbook, we have this: Individuals found to have knowingly made false reports will be subject to disciplinary action up to and including termination.

    We also have to make parties whole; so for us, we would provide Mary support to do just that – including asking her what would make her whole.

    These situations are often lose-lose.

    1. nonegiven*

      What if she never knowingly made false reports to police, auditors or SEC, or whatever, but falsified documents to implicate Mary so that someone else would report it?

  109. Sunshine*

    This is awful. Jane was in an absolutely horrific position and I have so much sympathy for her.

    But she lost Mary *her home*. If this had happened to me it would mean making me and my partner homeless and having to rehome my cat. I wouldn’t be able to afford the medication I need and that would cause long term health issues.

    She’s also potentially impacted the rest of Mary’s life; by affecting her reputation and credit score.

    This is one of the very rare occasions where I think Mary should have prior consideration; purely because Jane’s actions will make it more difficult, if not impossible, to find equivalent employment elsewhere.

  110. Seal*

    What an awful situation. While I can sympathize with Jane’s situation, I have a hard time wrapping my head around that fact that she thought that this convoluted plan was the ONLY way to be able to talk to the authorities without arousing her husband’s suspicions. It you take that element out of it, intentionally manipulating records to make it look like a coworker committed fraud and by extension ruining her reputation and career seems like an extreme form of bullying. One would think that setting that up and the subsequent investigation would have taken a lot of time and effort on everyone’s part. Based on the fact that enough time passed that word got around and Mary had to move in with her father, it sounds like Jane didn’t fess up immediately once the authorities got involved, which probably made Mary’s situation worse. I certainly don’t want to second-guess the actions a domestic violence victim’s took to get out of an abusive situation. But as a victim of workplace bullying myself, it really doesn’t sit well with me that anyone would do something like that to a coworker, regardless of the underlying circumstances.

    I really can’t blame Mary for insisting that Jane be fired. Perhaps the OP could look at it this way: Jane intentionally falsified records to implicate another employee of fraud. At lot of time and effort was wasted investigating what turned out to be a non-issue at the expense of another employee’s – and presumably the company’s – reputation. The extenuating circumstances that lead Jane to do so are certainly compelling and I’m happy to hear she’s safe. But she shouldn’t be let off the hook for doing something that would get most people fired.

  111. ThisIsNotWhoYouThinkItIs*

    Ok, so:

    1) Jane needs to be removed from anywhere she may have access to financial data that can be signed/manipulated. She’s now got a history of manipulating documents (for whatever reason) and you need to show that you have adequately addressed the situation and that she can no longer do so. This should be done ASAP.

    2) You need to look at how she was able to make all the data point to Mary without bringing suspicion on herself, then put in safeguards if possible. If she can do this with a non-malicious motive, what’s to stop the next person from doing something similar?

    3) As someone said above–lawyer, lawyer, lawyer. Best place to discuss your options.

    1. Allypopx*

      From a management perspective – #2, so hard. I get interviewed by auditors for the organization every year because my staff handles money and I get asked 1) How could someone abuse this system? 2) What safeguards are in place to prevent that? 3) Here are some hypothetical ideas we thought of – how are you safeguarded against those? And if anything irresponsible or unsavory has happened in the past year? I better be able to say why it won’t happen again this year. That needs to be addressed, and Jane needs to have access to these documents revoked, at minimum.

      1. Lilo*

        I agree, it sounds like there is something seriously wrong with their record keeping. Say someone actually did commit fraud – it sounds like the record system would allow them to falsify documents to put it on someone else.

  112. Sunshine Brite*

    Sorry for everyone involved having to navigate this situation. I’m glad the authorities were able to sort this out.
    -Allegations of fraud at an investment firm have far-reaching effects potentially on the firm’s reputation.

    -I understand the darkness that abuse creates around a person and how the options seem fewer and fewer. But they were still there for Jane. Using an EAP, therapy for something else or going into a medical appointment, creating a google voice number to use off her work phone in order to reach out to DV resources and then delete after, etc.

    -I feel so bad for Mary. She lost her independence, her home, she had to take a personal milestone step back and move in with her father, lost out financially, and has a ding on her record that will carry forward in any financial position ever. Of course she wants the person who did this to her fired.

    Desperation leads to desperate actions but doesn’t resolve the consequences of those actions. As the manager, I think you need to look at the greater effect on the firm. Think of the cost of that investigation and the disruption of how many people’s daily activities. Plus the cost of the firm’s reputation when this story gets out and people learn that there were no consequences to someone in direct contact with their investments. The company could support Jane by creating a severance package that supports her through a job transition financially for a period of time, includes training in a different field possibly as I can’t imagine she’d be able to find future work in a financial firm, and connecting her with resources/maybe continuing insurance if possible through the transition period. But I don’t think you can keep her on in her current role.

  113. Serafina*

    I think that all the discussion of “why couldn’t Jane have done X or Y or Z” are missing the central issue. LW has to deal with what Jane actually did do – which is falsify documents, knowingly set up a colleague for a fraud investigation including both police and professional involvement, lose her income for a period of multiple months, and probably permanently damage her reputation and standing in their field, to say nothing of the emotional and mental toll on Mary through the whole process. This is what the LW must deal with.

    Jane’s abuse situation and undeniably-skewed judgment abilities may mitigate the consequences between herself and the company, but NOT for Mary. The fact that she caused such severe harm to Mary warrants firing for cause. The abuse situation may warrant a mutual separation plus severance, to assist Jane in distancing herself further from Joe and gaining greater independence, but the company should not keep her on.

    Mary should be publicly exonerated (I like the other commentors’ suggestions of a news report and/or website press release), repaid all the salary she lost during the suspension (with interest) and probably paid damages as part of a settlement to release the claims Mary might otherwise be justified in bringing.

    This is a sad situation, but Jane chose to bring Mary into it, and she can’t be completely absolved of the consequences.

  114. Helen*

    I sympathize and empathize with both Jane and Mary. This letter made me want to cry. It is horrible for both of them.

    That said, I can see Mary being hurt, upset and furious if Jane gets paid leave or gets to leave with an unblemished and intact reputation, after she had to take unpaid leave and had her reputation destroyed through no fault of her own.

    I’m not saying Jane doesn’t deserve help or support but Mary needs to be looked after too and her feelings need to be considered as much as is possible. This is a rough situation and I feel for the LW too.

  115. animaniactoo*

    If Joe works where Jane works, and sticks by her pretty much 24/7, then I have to say that Jane’s evaluation of her potential risk and danger in speaking to ANYONE outside of the authorities themselves, for a matter unrelated to her, is an accurate evaluation.

    A situation like this would almost be guaranteed not to be handled well/correctly by managers and co-workers and likely even H.R. who would probably become involved after managers went looking for advice etc. All it would take would be one whiff for it to get back to Joe, one person who knows Joe and thinks Joe is an alright guy and would never do something like this and instead of handing the damn thing off to the cops to check into post-haste says “Hey Joe, I just wanted to give you a head’s up. Your wife told her manager some crazy stuff and you should be prepared, she’s saying you threatened to kill her. Like, for real kill her, not normal fight stuff.”

    One person. Just one. Who’d think they were looking out for Joe. Or the company. One person. It’s not just possible, it’s probable.

    Now, could Jane have called a dv hotline from her desk? Depends. But even if she actually could have with no risk, in her shoes there’s a high likelihood I’d be too paranoid to take the risk.

    So I get that, for Jane, this was a life or death situation and evaluation in how she got herself to the authorities. Who, btw, might not have taken her as seriously without this whole setup – it likely ranked badly enough of desperation for them to take it more seriously than they might otherwise have.

    (separating out this next part to avoid just being a wall of text)

    1. animaniactoo*

      However, that doesn’t mean that Jane gets off scott-free here. One of the things about abusers is that almost none of them are actually that thought out about abusing someone and purposeful about it. They genuinely believe that X is doing Y, or that Y is correct, or so many things that create the box that become hard to stay out of unless you have really strong boundaries to begin with. And Jane’s solution, is essentially an abusive person’s solution. She’s not all bad. She’s got some stuff right. But how she went about it was all wrong in that it deeply harmed someone else – for her benefit.

      So pretty much what I’d want to know right now is how aware Jane is of the damage that she’s created to Mary’s life (and yes, I’m sure she’s thinking that at least Mary is still alive and maybe she didn’t know how bad it would really get). And I want to know how she feels about that.

      Jane’s head still isn’t anywhere good and she may not even be able to deal with that herself at this time. But everyone’s focus should be on what would be the best outcome for Mary and for Jane, and how to make that happen. Minimally, I’d make sure both women have access to therapy, and I think Jane needs to be out on paid leave as “we need to figure out how to go forward from here – we don’t want to damage you, but we also can’t ignore that somebody else here was significantly damaged by your escape plan.” That time needs to be dedicated to seeing how whole you can make Mary again. Reputation, financial, etc. And if you can’t make her that whole, then I think that you need to give Jane a timeline to find herself another job. Maybe you do that anyway, but definitely if Mary’s not going to be believed as innocent and possible to rebuild her reputation and finances while working for you.

      Because not to pile on abuse victims – but thing number one is being responsible for your own actions and sometimes that means taking the hit of the downside of your choice. It isn’t “fair” – but it is real and it is necessary, and it damn sure should be an acceptable outcome of managing to walk away with your life.

      1. Jade*

        Your comment perfectly sums up my thoughts. I work with children who have severe behavioral problems- almost all of whom are/were victims of abuse. I have seen some real cry-for-help actions, like a kid who stole a neighbor’s bike so he would get sent to detention for the weekend instead of having to be home with his parent. I have to constantly have talks with these kids about how, no matter what’s going on in their lives, hurting other people is not an acceptable action to take. It’s terribly, terribly unfair for Jane that she felt she was in a situation where she either got murdered or potentially ruined a coworker’s life, but it’s not fair for Mary to suffer the burden of that choice either. You can’t take innocent people down with you.

        1. animaniactoo*

          Or if you do take someone innocent down with you because it is literally the only way you can save yourself, you work to repair – permanent repair, not flowers and sunshine honeymoon phase – the damage as an offshoot of taking responsibility for yourself and your actions.

      2. BuildMeUp*

        I’m sorry, it kind of sounds like you’re equating Jane’s behavior with Joe’s in your first paragraph, and I’m very alarmed by that. Jane was trying to get away from an abusive person who was threatening to kill her. She did not choose the best option to do so, but she obviously thought it was her only option, and that hardly makes her abusive. And I think you’re minimizing the actions of abusers as well – just because someone isn’t calculated in what they’re doing doesn’t mean they don’t absolutely intend to control and isolate someone.

        And as for your last paragraph – you understand that “taking the hit of the downside of your choice” for abuse victims could very well mean death, right? Many, many abuse victims are murdered because they have taken actions to get away from their abusers.

        1. animaniactoo*

          I come from a background of abuse, my own by my birth mom (physical/emotional), hers by her father (physical/sexual), my dad’s by his parents (mental/emotional), my mom’s by her parents (emotional/mental for her and her sister, physical for her brother), the at points sheer dysfunctionality of life with my parents while they struggled with all of this and got therapy for everybody – as a family, themselves as a couple, those of us who desperately needed individual. I’m aware more than most people of what goes into abusive situations.

          I’m not by any means minimizing the actions of the abusive person, and in fact it’s the idea that it’s all so predicated and calculated that prevents very clear victims of it from seeing that they themselves are either in an abusive situation or seeing it develop until they are too far into it to be able to prevent it from getting to that point. The intention to isolate is relatively rarely a conscious one. It’s usually an offshoot of a discomfort, which becomes an accommodation which becomes distance which becomes isolation. It is EXTREMELY important to understand this in order to understand how people fall into such situations and why it’s so hard to get out – particularly “as it gets worse”.

          Make no mistake, what Jane did may have felt like her only option and in fact it may well have been one of the few avenues that she had open to her. I did not say that she herself is abusive, but I did say and will stand by her solution having been one that is an abusive person’s solution. It’s this very kind of desperation that creates such thought processes and cements an acceptability level in a person’s mind. It’s how the cycle continues – the failure to be able to retreat from it or atone for it once done if it got to that point for whatever reason. Because it was justified.

          Pretty much every single person who has abused someone else will tell you that it was justified… and if you listen to some of them, you’d even agree with some of it while knowing it was wrong. Because some of it is like this – understandable. Particularly when you look at what they’ve been or are going through. Others, sure, you’d look at in horror for their justifications. But some of them not so much when you dig into them. And if we truly want to address this issue, we have to be able to say “understandable, but still not okay, we need to fix this thought pattern, we need to make sure you don’t end up back in a similar situation where you’re pushed to this limit, etc.”

          So the fact that it’s understandable and may even be somewhat justified and valid for the situation, doesn’t mean it isn’t what it is, and that it doesn’t need to be addressed and steered away from for that person’s own wellbeing.

          As for it could mean death, hey, you’re talking to somebody whose grandfather held a knife to her grandmother’s throat and threatened to kill both of them and their child (biomom) if she left him. She did it anyway after sending the kid away while the divorce went through so he didn’t have access to her. So yeah, I’m aware.

          But I feel like you’re skipping over what I actually said in that last paragraph and taking it to a reductio ad absurdum. Nowhere did I say or imply that getting killed is “taking the hit for the downside”. I think I was pretty clear about the idea that you get turfed from your job, that you have to leave a well-paying job and go live somewhere else and get paid a lot less. That those are reasonable things you should expect to have to deal with when you’ve chosen particular solutions to the situation you’re in. Whether or not it’s fair that you were in it to begin with.

    2. Falling Diphthong*

      As a plot qua plot, I find the fake fraud case a wildly unlikely escape method–I wouldn’t theorize that the law enforcement people who deal with financial fraud are obviously the ones who will treat a DV charge with utter gravity and produce immediate results. It would seem more likely that they would look on her claim as the guilty embezzler or framer trying to throw blame on someone else in a last desperate move. Or that she wanted attention, and now that Fraud was fading the new card would be Murder Conspiracy. The outside person called in to investigate fraud might well then give someone in the company exactly that heads up–“Crazy chick says this was all a set-up so we would know Joe is trying to kill her.”

  116. eplawyer*

    I work very heavily with domestic violence victims. This is so not right. I get that Jane felt she had no choice. Abusers really do have victims convinced they know everything and can be everywhere, that there is no safe place. However, deliberately instigating a fraud investigation agasint an innocent person only perpetuates the abuse. Mary, against her will, has been drawn into this mess. She didn’t ask to be part of Jane’s personal life. Jane could just as easily have directed the fraud investigation against Joe or herself. She could have called from the women’s room for help (I doubt he follows her there).

    Just because you are a victim of abuse does not give you the right to mess with someone else’s life to save yourself. Mary needs to be protected her. You can help Jane by directing her to counseling and to good legal help. But it also needs to be made clear that what she did is not acceptable.

    1. Kindling*

      “Joe has been arrested on abuse charges and Jane is in the process of divorcing him. He was fired and banned from company property.”

  117. Allypopx*

    So…I hope this doesn’t sound too cold.

    OP, as a manager, your first responsibility is to the company you work for, and for making sure your department functions in an efficient way to meet your company’s goals. You have an employee who has blatantly committed fraud, destroyed morale, hurt your company’s reputation, and who still has a job. That’s not okay. Assuming there aren’t DV protections where you are that prevent doing so (lawyer!), Jane needs to be fired. If there are DV protections, you should work within those guidelines to demote her and get her away from sensitive and confidential information.

    As a person, you should totally direct her towards resources and express empathy. As a manager, you can’t let this stand.

    Also as both a manager and a person, you need to do what you can for Mary. Other employees are watching how you handle this, and I promise they’re watching it closely. Morale is a fragile thing here.

  118. Kindling*

    It seems like it’s possible that Jane is expecting you to fire her. From the letter, it sounds like if she hadn’t confessed to altering the records, Mary’s fraud charge would have gone away with or without the confession (I could be misunderstanding). I’d imagine going into an office where you used to sit in fear for your life from your abuser would be difficult. Severance and some time off to get her life back in order might actually be a welcome change if she can handle it financially, especially if you assure her you can negotiate what you’ll say as a reference because of the circumstances.

    Echoing Alison’s recommendation that you absolutely, absolutely talk to someone with more knowledge about helping abuse survivors first, but maybe part of the conversation could be asking what she expects the consequences to be. Even if the abuse distorted her thinking, I’d imagine it at least crossed her mind as a possibility that she’d be fired, especially before confessing. She might accept it more easily than you’d think.

  119. CDR*

    I have been the victim of abuse and would have never put another innocent person in any sort of danger in order to get access to the police. When I was abused, I withdrew from everything and even though I was working, I totally kept to myself. I wouldn’t have had the energy to collude with someone to trump up some fake info about someone else. There is a lot of fear when you are being abused. My ex put me in the hospital and I had a police officer screaming in my face that he knew what happened and wanted me to admit it so that he could lock my ex up. But things are never that simple. I had a small child at home and with my ex in jail and me in the hospital, I feared she would be put in foster care. I couldn’t face that. Looking back on things, what I wish had happened would have been for someone at work to tell me that they knew what was going on. I wish they had confronted me and offered their support. I might have gotten out sooner. To be frank, they ignored the signs. I was wearing heavy make up to hide the bruises when I had been totally make up free before and calling out sick a lot. When I would come into work after the bruises started to heal, no one said anything. To the readers, if you see something that doesn’t seem right, let the person know that you know something is going on and that you are there to support them when they are ready.

    1. Temperance*

      This might not be good advice for everyone, though. At a previous job, I had a colleague whose boyfriend/ex was unstable, angry, and hurt her. What happened when someone approached the subject was that she quit, without notice, under his instruction.

      I’m glad you moved on, but I probably wouldn’t have said anything in that situation, either, just casually left some cards for the local DV shelter I work with on the table in the kitchen.

  120. kapers*

    Apologies for speculating, but I am left wondering if Jane’s ex wanted to conscript Jane to frame Mary for fraud anyway, to cover up something fraudulent he was doing? Like did he put that idea in the air and then Jane ran with it to save herself?

    It’s not that I don’t believe or understand how desperate abuse victims can become–I know firsthand–it’s just that I wonder why fraud specifically occurred to her.

    I’m glad Jane’s safe but I admit, I’m uncharacteristically rooting for Mary to sue if the company doesn’t go above and beyond to make up for past and future lost work with a honkin payout (to use the legal term.)

  121. CBH*

    I’m wondering how a company would go about helping Mary restore her reputation. Any scenario I think of doesn’t seem just.

    1. Tuxedo Cat*

      In this situation, I think there are better and worse choices re. Mary but I don’t think anything can really be just. She lost her home, and she was probably scared of what was going to happen. Even though she’s innocent, it’s hard to restore a reputation. We don’t know much about her job, other than it’s in investment, so will this impact future work (people not wanting to work with her? It seems like it’ll impact Mary’s ability to move to different companies.

      The other thing, too, is that many of the actions the company could do have big issues for the company. If the company announces Mary was set up by another employee, people are going to wonder why the other employee wasn’t fired immediately or why the other employee did this. Outing Jane’s situation would be poor form if not dangerous.

    2. TootsNYC*

      My first step would be a promotion. Even if I had to make it up, or make it in title only. But I’d also probably throw in a bonus, or a raise. So she can say to her aunt, “Oh, yeah, I got a promotion a bonus.”

      A note in her personnel file praising her for her cooperation during the investigation and the finding that she had maintained records meticulously and was cleared.

      The company could demonstrate its faith in her by paying for extra certification or training that would help her advance in the field.

      And then I’d personally sit down with her to say: “If you decide you don’t want to stay here, I don’t blame you. If it comes to that, please come to me, and let me know what I can do to support you as you look for new employment.”

      (Also: she was a renter. So while she had to give up her independence, she didn’t default on a mortgate, so it could be worse. If I can pay her for the weeks she was suspended, she’ll have a lump sum. And if I can get a bonus or something for her, she’d get that–could that be a downpayment on the home she otherwise couldn’t buy? And I can serve as a business reference for her if she needs one because she had to break her lease. I might also be able to persuade her old landlord to give her a good reference despite the broken lease, because of the circumstances; I would certainly try.)

  122. NW Mossy*

    We’ve talked a lot here about how effective abusers are at narrowing their victim’s scope for action, down to the point of near-complete control. Taking this as a given about abusive relationships and knowing that some significant portion of the working population is currently at-risk, what’s reasonable for employers to do to try to mitigate the impact?

    I’m really struggling to come up with an answer because so much of the world of work is predicated on employees being fully in control of their own behaviors and choices, but abuse creates a circumstance that can blow that assumption to bits. I feel awful about the idea of employers simply standing aside and doing nothing because of that conflict, but I’m not sure what they could do that would materially help. It’s just awful.

      1. NW Mossy*

        Thank you so much for sharing this – this is exactly the sort of thing I was hoping for! As a manager, it breaks my heart to think that one of my directs could suffer in silence, and Marie’s comments give a nice structure I can help build and reinforce for them that work can and should be safe.

  123. Dan*

    Nothing to add that hasn’t already been said, but I really hope we get an update here.

  124. Eric*

    What was happening to Jane was horrible, however, her actions are inexcusable to me. She almost ruin another persons career, and did very real and lasting damage to Mary financially and her reputation (and the company reputation as well). Mary needs all her lost pay piad back, and and maybe then some, as well as a public vote of cofidence/statement clearing her of any wrong doing. Jane needs to be let go, though I could understand doing it on a timetable like 6 to 12 months while the divorce and crimal case play out. Obvioulsy her role during this transition time needs to change so she cannot do something else damaging. Not sure how anyone at the company would trust her, but I do think most would understand why she is staying temporarily with all the other issues happening in her life.

  125. Anancy*

    I am fascinated comparing the comments on this post to the one with the bird, and comparing my own reactions to each person. In both examples, one employee hurt another employee in order to save themselves.

    1. Allypopx*

      I think there’s a world of difference between having a bad reaction to something in the moment and someone accidentally getting hurt, and making a calculated plan and letting it play out for months while someone’s life falls apart.

      The comments here seem super sympathetic to Jane, but I think there’s some consensus that what she did was outright wrong, while the other letter was more nuanced.

      1. Statler von Waldorf*

        This is a really good point. I had a far stronger sympathy for the bird guy’s reaction that I do for Jane here. I think Allypopx hits the nail on the head that there is a difference between a really bad split second reaction, and a really bad long term plan that plays out over months. Isn’t that why murder, which requires planning and foresight, is punished more harshly than manslaughter, which lacks the planning?

        1. Lissa*

          Yeah, I had the same instinctive reaction, and was trying to analyse why. I think like you said it’s about doing something in the moment vs planning it out. I know that *for me* I woul