my employee lied about meeting with a client — to take a nap

A reader writes:

I caught my employee skipping work to nap at home when she said she was meeting with a potential client. It was total happenstance — I happened to meet the potential client at a social event that night. When I asked my employee the next day why the potential client had no idea who I was or what our company did, the truth came out: she hadn’t met with anyone, she’d gone home to take a break and a nap. She apologized earnestly for lying, but said she’d been feeling burned out and was struggling with seasonal depression. She is my top performer and best employee all around, and we are coming off of our busy season, so a little burn-out is understandable. She volunteered that she had done something similar twice before in her six-year career with us, but I don’t know if I can trust her accounting of it — we were in a meeting about her lying, after all.

I can’t quite determine how big of an issue this is. She lied about the meeting and who it was with, and she was likely prepared to lie about how it went, if I hadn’t caught her before we had a chance to debrief. We meet with a lot of potential clients, many of whom never pan out, so I don’t know how I can trust her going forward when she says she has one of these meetings. But, on the other hand, she is consistently our best performer and doesn’t just meet her goals — she exceeds them. If she’s able to do that while occasionally taking siestas, is it really my business? But if she’s lying about where she is… Ugh, this is the loop I’ve been in for two days. Help!

(Perhaps helpful: we have good, but not exceptional, PTO. It’s not a culture where people take much time off, though I frequently encourage my team to take as much time as they need. This employee takes time off for doctors appointments and vacations, so I know she’s aware of the policy.)

I think the reason you feel stuck is because you need to have another conversation with your employee in order to fully understand the situation. Since she’s your top performer, it’s worth taking the time to fully understand what happened and why. Why did she lie about having a meeting rather than just taking a few hours off to go home? What’s going on that made her feel “I’m under the weather and heading out early today” wasn’t an option, and that concocting a highly specific lie about a prospective client was a better choice?

Because this wasn’t just a vague lie (not that that would be okay either). This was “I am meeting with Specific Person X from Specific Company Y” and I suspect you’re right that she would have lied about how it went if she hadn’t been caught — which means that she would have given you false client data! If she told you the person wasn’t interested, that’s a prospective client you’d then presumably cross off your list. That’s a big deal, on top of the lying itself.

So what’s going on? Did she lie because the culture there made her feel she couldn’t get the break she needed any other way? Is she out of PTO or saving it for a health need down the road? Or does she not see lying as a big deal as long as no one finds out about it?

Each of those requires a different response from you. If the culture around PTO is what caused this, I’d be inclined to take this as a sign that you’ve got some serious work to do on this aspect of the culture, considering what it drove your best performer to. If it’s a PTO scarcity issue, then it’s worth looking at whether there’s other support you can offer her (either with time off or with workload) so she can take care of herself and not burn out.

Those might sound like overly soft responses to a serious trust violation — but context matters here. If something in your culture is driving your best employee to this, or if she’s struggling personally, you want to address what’s really going on. That doesn’t mean you’d give the lying a complete pass; you wouldn’t. You’d still need to have a serious conversation about how this has affected your ability to take her at her word, and how that will remain the case for a while now, and what that means for her work and the way you manage her. (For example, at least for a while you probably need to do more verifying and spot-checking of things you previously trusted her on implicitly.)  But when you’re dealing with someone who’s been outstanding up until now, you should factor in context too, not use a black-and-white, no-nuances approach.

On the other hand, if she just lied because it was easy or didn’t feel like a big deal … that’s a huge thing. That means that she’s probably been less than straight with you other times too, beyond the times she just confessed to, and that she’ll probably do it again when it makes her life easier, and she might be cutting other corners you don’t know about. And if that’s the case, you’ve got to reconsider your entire assessment of her and whether you can keep her on your team, top performer or not.

But I don’t think you can sort through this without a better understanding of how she ended up here.

{ 375 comments… read them below }

  1. Jennifer*

    I really appreciate Alison’s answer here. Whenever lying is involved a lot of people just jump straight to “she’s a lying liar who lies!!” and they don’t consider why the person felt the need to lie. The why is important and it’s something to consider before making a decision. It’s possible she’s just a dishonest person in general, but if there’s even a possibility that people feel the need to lie there just to get a few hours off instead of just admitting they are feeling burned out and need a break – you have a big problem.

      1. Wear Floral Every Day*

        I agree as well. In the past year I have been dealing with several issues at home and work. This has led to burn out and depression and panic attacks (often at work). My boss has been aware of my situation and that I am struggling with work load and personal stuff. He is very happy to suggest that I should take more time off, that I should take it easier etc once every couple of weeks. At the same time he is very very demanding and impatient. So the company’s policy and his apparent understanding for my situation is a huge pile of s…. at the end of the day. I could see myself going in the same direction as the letter writer. If things continue in this way, I will find it easier to lie and have some peace of mind for a couple of hours than get into another argument of why I should be able to take a day of sick leave without answering my phone, emails and being pulled in urgent teleconferences. So I decided to quit.

        1. Waving not drowning (formerly Drowning not waving*

          I’m hearing you – similar situation here. We have flexible work arrangements to help in these situations…..on paper…..heaven forbid you try and access it.

          I too left. And, funnily enough, my anxiety levels have massively dropped. And my former managers has increased, because instead of having reduced staff for one afternoon every 2 weeks, they now have reduced staff every day because I’m not there. Karma. Love it.

    1. Jules the 3rd*

      Yeah, I agree that ‘check whether your system is part of the problem’ is an answer I like.

    2. HarvestKaleSlaw*

      Agree! The fact that she fessed up so completely and volunteered that she had done this twice before also makes it sound to me like this is not someone who is a chronic liar. That kind usually keeps lying, even when backed into a corner. Plus a practiced liar would have come up with a better excuse.

      I’ll throw out another possibility too – which is that sometimes when people feel like they are in an unfair bargain, they will do small things to take back a bit of power and control. I’m not saying this is the case here, but it will happen that someone who feels that they are giving too much and getting too little can get resentful, and they will try to balance the scales.

      1. Jennifer*

        Hmmm…I don’t know if the fact she fessed up easily means she not a chronic liar. A classic tactic is to admit a little bit of the truth. Kind of like when suspect someone is cheating on you and they immediately fess up but claim it’s the only time, when really it’s just one of a dozens.

        Not saying she’s a liar at all and stand by my original comment. Just throwing out that possibility.

        1. HarvestKaleSlaw*

          Yeah – that’s fair. I guess I shouldn’t have said “not a chronic liar,” but rather, “not a pathological liar.” It’s possible they are coming clean and admitting the whole thing. But it’s also possible they are doing the whole “ack! I’m caught! Admit some of it!” – Still, to me that’s the sign of someone who’s a bit panicked or ashamed and is flailing, trying to hide something they know was wrong.

          The ones I would worry about are the people who just jump from lie to lie to lie easily, and with total confidence. When you have one of those on your hands, you’re probably wrong about a lot of things, including them being a top performer. But this doesn’t sound like a toxic person, just someone who messed up.

        2. designbot*

          Yep, that’s exactly why that tactic works. It instinctively *feels* so transparent, but it’s like admitting you’ve eaten some of the ice cream when actually there was a whole other container of ice cream that you ate, replaced, and then ate a little bit from.
          Not that I’d know anything about that.

    3. Quill*

      “We have good, but not exceptional, PTO” is what stuck out to me in this context – it makes it pretty likely that they don’t, in fact, have good PTO, but just “good” compared to what’s offered in america (if they’re in america) and it’s possible it either isn’t flexible enough, sufficient for both health and actual rest needs, or there may be a stigma about using it for mental, rather than physical, health.

      1. Allypopx*

        “or there may be a stigma about using it for mental, rather than physical, health.”

        This! You say she’s taken sick days and vacation days – is there any indication she’s taken a mental health day? Or knows it’s an option? IS it an option in this culture? Have you made it clear to your team that you won’t look down on them for mental health days even if it’s an iffy thing for the company as a whole?

        Different companies are very different about this, and given what’s already been said about the culture I’d question how many options the employee felt like she had in this situation. It comes back to question the system – but the subtext as well as the context.

        1. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

          That stood out for me too. Combined with “It’s not a culture where people take much time off”, it sounds as though taking leave might be viewed as a necessary evil and something you do only when you have a Good Reason.

          Do people ever use vacation days without having specific holiday plans? I’ve noticed that in some companies, the idea of taking a day off to sit on the couch and eat ice cream and read a book is considered odd, and somehow reflects poorly on you.

          If your company is like this, people might be uncomfortable taking time off to deal with mental health issues like burnout and depression. Even though you “encourage people to take as much time as they need”, you should consider that this is not landing the way you think it is.

          1. Richard Hershberger*

            “in some companies, the idea of taking a day off to sit on the couch and eat ice cream and read a book is considered odd, and somehow reflects poorly on you.”

            This. The only excuse for not working hard is that you are playing hard. Personally, taking a whole week off to read books on the couch sounds lovely. Let on this this is the plan and it is like you just sprouted horns. Unless you do this on a cruise ship, for some reason.

            1. Quill*

              Doing it on a cruise ship or a tropical beach is obviously more virtuous because you spent a lot of money to do it, so you clearly worked hard for it!

              *Insert eyeroll gif here*

              1. Gazebo Slayer*

                Yup.

                If your company is like this about vacation, I’d say it’s 100% fine to lie about what you were doing with your time off. It’s not their business and they don’t have a right to know.

                1. Observer*

                  The problem is not that the employee lied about her what she was doing with her time off. It’s that she lied about it being work time rather than vacation time.

                2. Gazebo Slayer*

                  I didn’t mean what this particular employee did was fine and dandy – I meant if your employer gives you crap about it or won’t approve actual literal vacation time for a “staycation” or other things they deem unworthy, it’s 100% fine to lie.

            2. Narvo Flieboppen*

              One of my favorite vacations, though my coworkers at the time thought it was nutty, was taking a week off to sit in my favorite rocking chair, out on the covered porch, and read through a pile of books I had picked up at the used bookstore.

              I lived only a mile from work, and many of the staff walked in the neighborhood, so several stopped by to marvel at my early 2000’s staycation. They just couldn’t understand why I would choose to just stay home for fun…

        2. Oxford Comma*

          Actually the OP said “This employee takes time off for doctors appointments and vacations”

          Sick time isn’t mentioned. Wondering if this is one of those lovely places where pushing through illness is either implicitly or explicitly encouraged and perhaps the employee figured if she couldn’t take off for a physical illness than taking off for mental health day would be verboten.

          I am not diminishing the gravity of the employee’s dishonesty, clearly the OP needs to address that, but if she is looking at workplace culture, I am wondering if that’s part of the equation.

          1. Diahann Carroll*

            Or they just have a combined PTO bucket and the employee didn’t want to use her time off for exhaustion in case she gets “really ill” or needs to take an actual vacation later this year and doesn’t have enough time to do all of that plus take the occasional mental health day.

            1. Katelono*

              This is exactly the kind of issue we run into at our office! Combined PTO buckets often lead to people taking sometimes extreme measures to avoid using a PTO day for anything other than an actual vacation or a serious illness.

            2. Glitsy Gus*

              This. Especially if it really was, “I am dragging and really just need a couple hours to get my brain powered back up.” rather than needing a whole day off. If your PTO is set up in a way that taking a couple of hours now ends up killing a full day down the road, or if admitting you just need to leave early one day to get a few hours to take care of your mental health is going to be looked down on, that’s a big part of your problem.

              1. Quill*

                Yup. If you combine the bucket and require people to, say, spend their vacation days if they run out of sick days, people start hoarding whatever time they can. Especially early in the year when disease season and nothing having accrued yet coincide.

              2. Venus*

                I would also be pissed off if I was forced to take a ‘vacation day’ (i.e. a PTO day that could be used as vacation or sick leave) to recover from working really hard. If the employee was expected to work overtime with little compensation and then expected to use a vacation day to recover from work-caused burnout… I don’t know if I would feel guilty for taking a few hours to recover on a bad day (and I tend to be careful about sticking to rules).

        3. TootsNYC*

          A “nap day” is different from a sick day, a vacation day, or even a mental health day.
          And I think that may play into this.

            1. wittyrepartee*

              Sleep can be a way to evade physical illness too. I take “nap days” as soon as I start feeling that “stuck to the bed” feeling during cold and flu season.

          1. MayLou*

            I have chronic fatigue, which brings with it anxiety, depression and intermittent pain. I also have a weakened immune system and am susceptible to bad viral infections. For me, a nap day is sometimes necessary to avoid multiple sick days for physical or mental health issues. If I wake up and struggle to walk in a straight line, that’s a sign that I’m run down. If I persist in going to work anyway, I usually end up sick a couple of weeks later. If I take a single day to rest, I might be okay.

            Of course an extra piece of this is how I manage my annual leave (almost five weeks, I’m in the UK) so that I don’t often need to take days off unplanned. I can take a day off every month and still have ample time for longer holidays. That’s not the case if you only get 10 days a year or whatever.

          2. Allypopx*

            A nap day can certainly be a burnout day, which I would consider a mental health day.

            Also the employee mentioned struggling with seasonal depression. I know she’s not a reliable narrator but if she felt that would be an explanation for the lie, that still says a lot about the culture around mental health.

        4. Tidewater 4-1009*

          If people don’t want to say they’re taking a mental health day, they can just say they don’t feel well.
          Is saying “I don’t feel well, I need to leave early” frowned on in your culture?

          Generally it’s not necessary to say too much about vacation plans. If someone is planning to stay on the couch, they can just say they’re staying in town, going to do some personal things…

          1. Quill*

            Problem is that mental health days are usually taken in addition to days off for physical illness, so people will look down on you as potentially lazy / cheating the system / entitled whether you disclose or not what the days are for.

            And a lot of mental health problems can exist in the same body because of or in conjunction with physical problems that already necessitate higher than average numbers of sick days. The stigma of appearing to take more sick days than your colleagues is real, especially in industries where there is a crunch time or “people don’t take a lot of time off” is an assessment of the company culture.

            1. Tidewater 4-1009*

              You make a good point. If the culture frowns on more than a bare minimum of sick days, that could explain why employee felt the need to lie.
              I’ve been lucky the last ~20 years in having jobs that weren’t like that. When I was young I was sick a lot and sometimes caught grief at my jobs because of it, but I was too clueless to understand it the way we do now.

            2. Oh So Anon*

              Honestly, even in cultures where it’s not a big deal to take sick days, I can see how taking a mental health day and calling it that by name would be seen as…wrong, somehow.

            3. Zillah*

              Yuppp. Having a mental illness doesn’t somehow mean the rest of your body compensates by getting sick less. If anything, it’s often the other way around.

      2. Jennifer*

        Yes, some people have been made fun of for taking “mental health days.” Why I don’t even say why I’m taking a day off. I just request it.

        1. a.non.y.mous.*

          I had a “migraine”. About 1/3 of my “migraine”s were actual headaches, the other two thirds were either the depression or the anxiety reaching a severity that i just. couldn’t. that day.

          Eventually I was able to drop the charade and admit I was taking “bad brain chemistry days,” but there are a lot of workplaces where this isn’t viable.

          The migraine was handy, because it explained why I didn’t have symptoms either the day before my sick day nor the day after.

          1. Allypopx*

            I’ve definitely done this – it’s also handy because I have once or twice gotten migraines at work so my coworkers know how much they incapacitate me.

            I don’t like it. I think migraines are something that people often assume people use as a “cheat day” and I don’t want to undercut how serious they are. But…I mean you work with the system you’re in.

            1. ...*

              Yeah people definitely assume “migraines” are just faking it or I didn’t feel like coming in. As someone who has recurring, debilitating migraines, I can tell you, it sucks! And having no one ever believe you is ever worse because everyones chucking a “migraine” when they just don’t feel like working.

              1. a.non.y.mous.*

                I considered myself justified since I genuinely WAS too legeitmately ill to come in — just with something people were even less likely to understand how debilitating it was.

          2. Róisín*

            I totally called off my overnight serving job one night with a “migraine” because I really just couldn’t stomach going in that night. I told the manager on duty that I might come in later if I felt better. He was super chill about it, and totally knew I was just giving a plausible excuse so neither of us would be in trouble over it.

            I played Rock Band and ate snacks with friends until 3am, and then I went in to work for a couple hours. I just needed a break, and a “migraine” was the only way to get it.

          3. Simonthegreywarden*

            I have one coworker I can text and say, I’m having a panic attack and won’t be in (we are an unusual department and she’s sort of the ‘other boss’). With my former boss, I would not – I would have felt uncomfortable in terms of our relationship to do that. He was great, but it would have felt too personal. He retired and I have a new boss who takes mental health more seriously, but I am still more likely to text her and say I’m under the weather or have a migraine, and not that my anxiety is triggering the nausea or migraine symptoms.

        2. Washi*

          Yeah, I’m not too worried if it’s not the norm to explicitly take mental health days. I think what’s most vital is whether if someone says “I’m not feeling great, going to stay home today and rest” if that’s totally fine, or if there’s a culture of sick days only being used for at-death’s-door illnesses.

          What enables me to take mental health days is being able to use a vague excuse and know I won’t be quizzed or judged about it later.

          1. Veronica Mars*

            I think the ‘at deaths door’ culture can apply to mental health days too. I used to think that mental health days were only for people who were actually diagnosed with specific mental health conditions and the ‘prescription’ was rest. Not “if I come in to work today I will probably spend the whole time trying not to cry at my desk.

      3. Dust Bunny*

        This.

        I’ve worked places that technically had OK PTO but actually using it was such a pain in the rear that, while I never did, I could definitely see somebody lying to get around the series of flaming hoops through which you had to jump to use it legitimately.

      4. Veronica Mars*

        Exactly. It’s only in the last few months that I realized “I’m just so exhausted I literally need to go home and take a nap” is actually an acceptable reason to use sick time. I used to think tired didn’t qualify as an illness because we have caffeine for that.

        1. TootsNYC*

          +1

          Throw in whether the tiredness is self-inflicted, and now you really have a reason for people to think that they’re not allowed to use sick time for it.

          1. Veronica Mars*

            Yes! I used to play that head game with myself all the time! “Well Veronica, if you hadn’t laid awake all night you’d be fit enough to work today so you don’t DESERVE a break now.”
            …nevermind that I laid awake all night stressing about my job.

        2. Third or Nothing!*

          I recently took a half day to go home and sleep because I had a ridiculously long anxiety attack and hadn’t slept in 36 hours. I was starting to make mistakes and finally was just like, “this is unsustainable, I’m using PTO and going home to nap.”

        3. Tidewater 4-1009*

          I used to keep going until I collapsed – not so much at work, but with my hobby.
          It caught up with me – I started getting sick around age 50. Now I try harder to listen to my body and get enough rest. If I don’t, I will get long lingering illnesses dragging me down.
          Most of the time I can manage so I don’t have to take PTO to rest, but if I did need it, I would take it. And say “I’m not feeling well”. My health is the first priority.

        4. Ophelia*

          Yep. I’ve had to do this a handful of times because of kids who were sick enough to keep me up all night, but not sick enough to miss daycare (think ear infections and such). I’ve learned to back off my initial “oh, I can work through this” impulse and my life is very much the better for it. I’m thankful that I work in a place that isn’t too bothered about leave unless you’re hitting the cap or missing deadlines.

      5. Gazebo Slayer*

        Re: the stigma about mental rather than physical health: I had a boss once who refused to ever let me take time off (paid or otherwise) for depression, even when I was literally crying at my desk. She was great about everything else, but apparently just didn’t think depression was real or something.

      6. Quinalla*

        That was my thought too, that asking for more “typical” PTO – going on vacation, medical appointments, etc. was ok in her mind but she knew she’d be looked down on or whatever if she asked for a break to take a nap. And honestly, American culture anyway generally would look down on that, we still have a lot of work to do on the importance of things needed to prevent burnout.

    4. Lucia*

      There’s a difference between lying about things w a high risk of harm or severity of harm and something that’s problematic on principle alone. This is the latter.

      LW needs to figure out if the reason for the lie is something about LW it something about the environment. It may be an employee character issue but it may be a employer environment issue

      1. TootsNYC*

        well, there IS some actual harm here, if she was going to lie about the outcome of that meeting, as Alison points out.

        Nobody’s going to die, but it isn’t going to be helpful.

      2. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

        Disagree.

        Lying about the reason you’re taking a sick day = only a principle issue, there’s no impact to anyone (as long as the lie isn’t something outrageously egregious).

        Lying about work you have or have not performed = actual problem for the business.

        1. Just Another Manic Millie*

          ITA, and I’m surprised at the people who are immediately making excuses for the employee instead of considering the possibility that the employee is gaming the system.

          I’m reminded of my last job at a legal recruiting firm, where my hours were 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM, and I was told that Minerva’s hours were 8:30 AM to 4:30 PM. I was an admin, and Minerva was a recruiter. I always got to work early, and I noticed that Minerva was never there. The owner generally showed up between 10:00 AM and 11:00 AM, although she was already at the office before I arrived on my first day there. I figured that Minerva thought that she had a good thing going, because if the owner or anyone else called the office before 9:00 AM and the call went to voicemail, Minerva could just say that she was on the phone with a client or potential client. (The owner would not have wanted her to put a client or potential client on hold.)

          So Minerva continued to game the system until the day that I answered the phone before 9:00 A.M. It was the owner, and she was surprised that I was the one who answered the phone. She asked if Minerva was there, and I said no. (There was no way I was going to lie and say that Minerva was in but that she was in the ladies room at the time. If Minerva had called the owner’s cell phone one minute later to say that she couldn’t come in that day, I would have lost all my credibility.) I don’t know what happened afterwards. I don’t know if Minerva lied to the owner about the time she got to the office or if she told the truth. I don’t even know if the owner talked to her about it.

          But what I do know is that many times after that, the owner called before 9:00 AM, and I had to tell her, after she asked me, that Minerva wasn’t in. Eventually, the owner asked me if I wanted to change my hours to 8:30 AM to 4:30 PM. I was thrilled to do so. I guess it was really important to the owner that someone be in the office at 8:30 AM to answer the phone, and she felt that she couldn’t rely on Minerva, and she wanted to be sure that I would be there at 8:30 AM instead of walking in the door at 8:59 AM.

          1. Ms. Ann Thropy*

            Some people lie because they can. There’s no need to invent an endless list of possible scenarios about why a liar “has to” lie.

            1. Zillah*

              Well, no, but I don’t see people inventing an endless list – they’re pointing out things that are potentially implied or outright explicitly mentioned in the letter.

    5. RG*

      > Whenever lying is involved a lot of people just jump straight to “she’s a lying liar who lies!!” and they don’t consider why the person felt the need to lie.

      Wow, that is a great point. I definitely want to keep this in mind in the future.

    6. yala*

      I feel like a lot of folks who suffer from depression+burnout/exhaustion wind up lying at some point, because “I am dealing with depression/I have no spoons left” etc just don’t feel like valid reasons to call out sick, even though they really are (when you’re done, you’re DONE).

      That said, it’s weird that she went for such a specific thing. I hope OP and sleepy employee can work something out where Employee can be up front about her needs and still meet her goals.

    7. selena81*

      I agree: try to find out what’s happening, whether she lied out of desperation or because she just doesn’t care about being truthful.

      But as a former business analist i want to point out one other thing that jumped at me: are you sure she is actually as good at her job as you think she is? You aren’t by any chance measuring her on overall-leads-visited as opposed to successful-visits? Or any other metric that could be gamed by straight-up lying?

  2. Jedi Squirrel*

    Since she is the top performer in this company, if this is related to a lack of PTO, please also consider how much of an impact an overhaul of that system may have on all the other employees’ performances. This may be an investment that is worth making.

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      This. And even if OP can’t really make major changes to the PTO system itself, it’s possible that she can offer her team a little more flexibility. Say, instead of making them use PTO to take a few hours off to rest and recharge, why not let them just leave and make up the time later in the week? (That is, if they’re not hourly and aren’t in states that say that any time over 8 hours in a day is automatically overtime.)

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        In a state that has an 8-hour per day max, isn’t it allowed to work a short set of hours on a weekend? At least for a stellar employee who’s not tied to a coverage desk?

        1. PollyQ*

          At least in California, any time worked past 8 hours in day or 40 hours in a week is considered overtime for non-exempt employees. Sales rep is usually an exempt position though (I think?).

          1. Michelle*

            Often but not always. Outside with more than 50% outside the office and inside where a certain level of income is commission based. Of course most companies will likely make sure that one of these applies. There is also a mechanism for non-exempt employees to work over eight hours in a day to make up time, but it has to be in the same week and there are some restrictions (like you still can’t work over a specific amount — IIRC, eleven hours, and it has to be requested by the employee in writing, etc.).

      2. Librarian of SHIELD*

        That’s what I was coming here to suggest. OP says that the employee was coming off a busy and stressful period when this happened. I’m guessing that means she was putting in a lot more than 40 hours a week during the busy period.

        OP, if you can’t increase the actual number of PTO days/hours an employee gets, can you at least create a comp time system? Just because an exempt employee *can* be required to work more than 40 hours a week doesn’t mean it’s something you *should* do. If your busy periods lead to employees working more than there required hours, see if you can find a way to let them flex that time and use it to rest and recharge.

        1. TootsNYC*

          Back when I had a comp time policy, one of my biases was that comp time was intended to be used very close to the original overtime/crunch period, and not simply tacked onto a vacation.

          For one thing, it messed up my planning to have people’s vacations stretch longer.

          For another, my intent with the comp time was to soften the impact on their day-to-day schedule. So if they couldn’t do laundry or get a good night’s sleep, I wanted to make up for that sooner.

          And third (but probably the biggest), I didn’t want to have to track the comp time for months on end. And I didn’t have an easy way to track vacation coverage & budget against comp days.

          If people really, really wanted it, I could let a day or two add on to vacation.
          Maybe that was paternalistic of me, and I should have let people do with their comp time what they wanted, but comp time was not part of their official compensation.

          1. Diahann Carroll*

            Nah, your way is how comp time has always worked at the employers that I’ve worked for that allowed it. You had to “make up” the time in the same week you took off or left early.

            1. Wintermute*

              Well, if you’re not somehow exempt from labor laws (government employees mostly) and not talking about “informal comp time” with salaried workers, that’s how it has to be done. The law doesn’t see someone working a twelve hour day and then a four hour day as “comp time” just as “working hours” but it’s illegal in most cases to split it across multiple weeks without paying overtime for the weeks over 40.

            2. TootsNYC*

              I wouldn’t have required it in the same week (would have defeated the purpose, plus a little flexibility could be good–if you missed out on getting together with a friend, then having the freedom to schedule a get-together was a good thing).

              I just mostly wanted it taken before the next crunch time (at which point you would again be probably earning some more comp time).

          2. Librarian of SHIELD*

            I totally intended to include reasonable time frames in that comment and I didn’t! Thanks for adding it on, TootsNYC, I totally agree with the structure you lay out here.

            If somebody’s working over the allotted 40 hours, they should be allowed to take a day or part of a day to make up for it, either in the same pay period or the one immediately following. Adding that time onto an employee’s vacation/PTO balance doesn’t do anything to alleviate the stress that’s happening right now in the way that a day off next week can do.

    2. Rayray*

      I agree. I have barely any PTO right now, since I’m under a year at this company. It’s tough. I get all the work done assigned to me, and have so little time off I feel I need to save it for when I’m really ill or have an actual vacation. I had more pto at my last job, and being able to plan an occasional mental health day made a huge difference in my happiness and well being. I did take a mental health day last week cause I was on the verge of snapping. I had never called in the day of for a mental health day, but I just couldn’t deal with work that day. I had to be vague and say I wasn’t feeling well enough to work, which was true, but I had to make it sound like physical illness since I don’t believe my boss would be understanding of mental health.

      1. Kathlynn (Canada)*

        This. Current culture at my work place is not the best when people call in sick. Like, I’ve been the recipient of a coworker telling everyone that “I didn’t sound sick” and either implying I was faking it, or out right saying I was faking it. (I wasn’t, I’d gone home early the day before… And gave at least half the staff a stomach bug. Couldn’t find anyone to cover for my shift. Including the person who thought I was faking it, who hadn’t answered her phone the day before.). Using one of my sick days for mental health reasons would not be accepted. With some managers, they try to force you to cover shift. I’ve had to cover a shift when I had been awake for 24 hours when the boss called. I’ve occasionally lied by claiming I’ve been drinking (when I felt bad for saying no). Can’t work if I’ve been drinking *smirk*. It’s against company policy and not safe to do so anyways.

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          “Including the person who thought I was faking it”
          Call me vindictive, but I’m extremely glad that person got it.

          1. Kathlynn (Canada)*

            Me to. She’s nice as a person if you aren’t her coworker. But do something she doesn’t like and she will do a 180 on you, and suddenly nothing you do will be right.

  3. Jesse*

    A top performer should never feel the need to our when they need a because they’re working too hard.

    This is pivitol point for the LW to take a hard reflection on management practices and make sure there is an environment where *employees can feel safe to make use of the policies* (it’s not the same as having a policy).

    1. Marie*

      Hear hear. Same at my company. They think their competitive in time off. The employees, meanwhile, find the total balance is 7-10 days less than all other companies we have worked for. In my org, “WFH” is used to make up for the lack of sick leave. It’s not ideal but everyone does it. LW needs to figure out what’s going on, and get feedback from other employees too.

    2. Shhhh*

      My former workplace and my current workplace have very similar PTO policies, but they’re enormous organizations and how comfortable I’ve felt taking time off–particularly for mental health–has varied significantly depending on my manager’s attitude toward taking time off in general.

      For one, it’s difficult to feel comfortable taking a mental health day (including one scheduled in advance) when you and your coworkers once had to practically force your (now former) boss to go to the hospital when it appeared he was having symptoms of a heart attack and in fact had a severe kidney infection that put him in the hospital for several days.

      So yeah. Maybe the LW’s employee is just a lying liar who lies, or maybe there’s something in the culture that’s led to this. It for sure warrants reflection.

  4. ThinMint*

    Oh man… that’s a thorough answer and I don’t dislike it, but it would take a lot of my mental energy to get out the lie even if it was an issue the office culture created.

    1. Allypopx*

      I think that’s mental energy a manager is obligated to expend though, if there truly is an underlying reason that can or should be addressed.

    2. Archaeopteryx*

      Yes, a very nuanced answer- you want to make sure why she thought she didn’t have any other, better options for taking the rest she needs, but at the same time, you want to impress upon her that lying shouldn’t even be in her problem solving toolbox.

  5. Rusty Shackelford*

    Yeah, this is weird. It could be that you have a horribly toxic culture where she felt she’d be punished for taking an afternoon of sick leave. It could be that she’s a pathological liar who got a thrill from getting away with it. But it’s probably somewhere in between.

    1. Lilo*

      I mean LW says they encourage using PTO, so they are at least trying to set a culture where it is allowed.

      1. Rayeay*

        It could be coworkers or other managers at the company. I think most places I’ve worked at, you’d be looked down on for going home just because you were burnt out. Now, if you pretended you had an appointment or illness, it would be a little better but people would still huff and puff about it. There’s probably some martyrs that go and power through when they’re sick, or brag about how they haven’t taken a day off all year, which does make other people iffy when they take time off.

        1. Quill*

          Also “encouraging use of PTO” can sometimes mean “encouraging ‘stay home for colds’ but not addressing any stigma your employees might feel about taking time off for mental rather than physical health.”

          1. Just J.*

            Agree. We have days where we are Just. Not. Feeling. It. And you would much rather be at home than staring at your computer screen. Or there are days when nothing goes right and you get so toxic that you feel like you will just snap at the next person that walks by. Going home for a break and a nap would be beneficial. But who has the spare PTO to do that? Or a company who would understand why you were heading home for the afternoon?

          2. rayray*

            Exactly. And as far as mental health days, sometimes it’s not even so much about burnout as someone just wants a break. It’s nice to have a day off to watch movies, get errands done, etc. Sometimes people just want to enjoy life, and spend days having fun.

            As far as the OP’s situation, she sounds like she really needed a break. If the culture is such that she felt the need to lie, then the company needs to look at how they treat time off. If it’s happened three times in six years, I don’t personally see it as a pattern or that she’s this awful, despicable liar. Sounds more like there’s a less than stellar culture about taking time off when needed, so she has to resort to lies when she just can’t take it anymore.

      2. Wing Leader*

        That doesn’t necessarily mean anything though. I work in a job where we have fairly generous PTO and have full understanding that we can use it as needed. That said, whenever I go to my direct boss to ask for time off–or if I call in sick–she gets super annoyed and acts like it’s a huge problem for me to be sick today or for me to take that day off. So, I often come in feeling unwell and don’t take as much time off as I would like because of that.

      3. Muriel Heslop*

        As a department head, I encourage my teachers and aides to use their PTO when and if they need them, with a strong emphasis on the need for mental health days on occasion (we are special ed teachers in a diverse urban high school with demanding case loads.)

        That said, my *school* culture is very different. Like in many of the schools where I have worked, there is a culture of shame or disgrace around using PTO (like we love the kids less if we take a day off) in almost a martyr-like way. On top of that, it’s often easier to come in sick than it is to get everything figured out for a sub.
        I am sure this mentality of “absence = fecklessness” pervades many other workplaces as well. My husband’s old law firm was one of those places.

        1. Anna G.*

          Can confirm in my environment – social services – it’s far easier to come in sick than it is to call in. If I call in, I have that day’s work to do on top of the next day’s work. I’d rather just come in and get the work done, even if I’m miserable, than be miserable at home knowing I have twice the work to do.

      4. pamela voorhees*

        It also doesn’t matter if they’re encouraged to use PTO, but if they do use it they come back to double the work and coworkers going “oh my god I’m so glad you’re back it was so awful without you we had to do so much!” and other (mostly) unintentional guilt tripping. It’s cool if a manager thinks it’s fine, but if you get “punished” for doing it anyway with loads of extra work, it doesn’t matter what the manager says.

      5. Retro*

        It is also possible that LW genuinely will allow and encourage taking time off for doctor’s appointments and rest from burnout.

        However, if LW isn’t modeling some of that behavior, her reports may think her words are just lip service. Or LW is emailing everyone about having to leave an hour early at 4pm days before she is out, and that she is still available by phone and email. Instead of just dropping by the group the day of and announcing that you’re leaving early today for an appoirtment. Or LW is often seen staying late. Subtle things like this will indicate to LW’s group that work should be the first priority and that deviating from LW’s modeled behavior may not be acceptable.

      6. Nita*

        It’s possible, thought, that they encourage using PTO but also expect the employees to process 20 contracts a day, when realistically there’s only time to process 15 contracts in an eight-hour day (totally making up the numbers here). Or there may be an expectation to be available nights and weekends, on very short notice. So… the PTO may be encouraged, but there’s no way to take it without falling behind on your workload, or causing problems for coworkers who then have to cover for you.

    2. Enginear*

      Some people can be very greedy with their PTO and think that the company “owes” them so they “steal” time back such as skipping out on work and taking naps on company time like this person did.

        1. Lucy Honeychurch*

          Yes, what is this “greedy” with their PTO comment all about? PTO is *supposed* to be available to be used, no? Isn’t this mindset what is possibly the problem here and led to the lie?

          1. doreen*

            I think what Enginear means is that some people hoard their PTO and will try to skip out on work for a couple of hours here and there without using the PTO ( I’ve never known someone who tried to do it for a full day) – which absolutely does happen, even with non-exempt employees.

  6. Lilo*

    This is a tough one. Such a specific lie is bad, but she is your top performer. I think having a conversation about how serious this is a keeping an extra eye on her for a while is a good idea. This warrants some attention, for sure, but not an overreaction.

  7. Cat lady*

    I think OP will need to double check the actual performance metrics too — is she the best performer on self reported data?

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      Yeah. When she said her employee told her about two other instances where she lied about attending client meetings, my eyebrows went up.

      1. Lilo*

        And the fact that she may have fabricated details about the meeting.

        The more I think about it, the worse it gets.

        I think this may warrant a “if you ever do this again, you are fired” conversation. Not quite on the “fire her immediately” train, but this is very very bad and she needs to understand it.

        1. Ms. Ann Thropy*

          She might even be lying about the lie. OP has only the word of the liar about whether she was home taking a nap. Maybe she was playing the ponies, day drinking, shoe shopping, or is carrying on an affair. The possibilities are endless. The only thing the OP truly knows is that her employee is a liar.

          1. Marie*

            Yes, while I do like Alison’s answer, this particular lie is a red flag. I read the comment above about PTO and teachers: I worked in an underfunded school with students who really needed their teachers, and, yes it was so difficult to take off NEEDED time working as a teacher—there was that culture of shame and martyrdom at every school I’ve taught k-university 1989-2016. Every real migraine felt like a lie and a failure. And when I needed a mental health day I would sometimes lie and say I was physically ill (and even I coming back to triple work loads that needed time off and lie were worth it). So as that kind of liar I see the lie described by letter writer as a different kind of lie: one that truly negatively affects the work place. Honestly I came back stronger and more effective so I don’t feel my lie(s) hurt anyone or my workplace. Considering that there are other ways to lie, the lie described is worrisome.

          2. a1*

            This is a really good point. She may have used “burnt out” because it’s somewhat expected at that time of year, and therefor “needing a nap”. But she really could have been doing anything.

            1. Marie*

              As far as her being a top performer: another way to look at this specific and unnecessary lie is that it is a manipulative and competitive lie that works for liar to lock in clients. A co worker won’t talk to client, et cetera, because the liar supposedly already has.

    2. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      Yep, agreed. What’s to say she hasn’t felt pressure to burnish herself here, too?

    3. AnotherAlison*

      A couple other thoughts around this. . .

      Is the company setting performance metrics that require “X” meetings with clients, even if this person has a 50% hit rate vs. everyone else’s 30%? That would encourage an action instead of an outcome, and could lead to a lie like this. The employee feels like she’s already doing more than everyone else, why should she have to take that meeting.

      Are these extremely high volume client calls? Do you have any CRM reporting that requires them to record client contacts and feedback? Did she falsify written records? To me, for some reason, that would make it a little more serious. Saying your doing one thing, not doing it, but not reinforcing the lie doesn’t sound as terrible as making up a meeting and recording fake client data.

      1. Sunflower*

        I agree. If she was using this meeting as a calendar blocker essentially, that’s one thing. If she’s inputting fake data, that’s a whole nother situation. The first is a white lie that (probably) won’t hurt anyone, the other one is a total question of this person’s professionalism.

        IMO, if your job is to sign business and you’re the top performer, that’s the last job you should expect someone to be butt in seat. I think if we had more information on what this person’s core job is, that would explain more about which side the OP should veer on.

        1. Yorick*

          I think it’s pretty disturbing that the client she was pretend meeting with had an actual identity. She gave her boss false information about her work, it wasn’t just a vague “off to a client meeting” statement on her way out the door.

    4. linger*

      For the sake of argument, giving the employee every possible benefit of the doubt (and so assuming for the moment that we now know the truth about the lie):
      I think the one thing that might somewhat save the employee here is: on previous occasions when she had fake “meetings”, did she later schedule *actual* meetings with the same client? That’s the only way that the company doesn’t get fake client data and isn’t harmed by the lie (apart from the issue of “counting personal time as work time”, which becomes less severe if the employee is exempt).
      As to why she felt she had no option but to lie, and why she chose such a stupendously bad lie, there are perhaps two contributing factors other than the (likely) cultural bias against taking PTO for reasons (wrongly) perceived as trivial (whether by society in general, company management, OP, other coworkers, or the employee herself).
      Number one: she’s aware of her status as top performer and puts herself under more pressure to retain it.
      Number two: depression and exhaustion don’t lead to good decision-making.

  8. AppleStan*

    I tend to be skeptical of absolute “I would never” statements because someone really doesn’t know what they are capable of unless they are truly in another person’s shoes.

    Alison’s response is the best. It’s clear about the different scenarios that could have led up to this person’s deception, without erasing that person’s culpability FOR the deception.

    Seasonal Depression is no joke, and so easy to be dismissed. Not saying that is the case here, but I can see the path of someone suffering from it and not feeling able to take the time that they need.

    OP, I hope Alison’s answer helps stop the “What if?” loop in your head. I do not envy being in your shoes.

    1. Alton*

      Also, I think it’s easy to forget the effect that things like depression can have on people’s decision-making skills and their ability to perceive situations realistically. That’s not an excuse, but it’s a factor that I think bears consideration.

    2. CupcakeCounter*

      I live in an area of the US where we had 0 “sunny” days in January – we had about 2 hours of it on Friday Jan 31. SAD is a real thing here.

      1. LizB*

        I’m in an area where this January was the cloudiest since records began, and this past Sunday (Feb 2) was a truly sunny day. Oh my GOSH that little dose of sun felt like a shot of adrenaline to the heart. I take vitamin D and meds for regular ol’ clinical depression, but I’ve never really noticed a big seasonal dip in my mood before this year.

  9. hbc*

    You say she takes time off for appointments and vacations, but does she ever take “feeling under the weather” sick time? She might be one of those people who thinks you need a capital R Reason for time off, and/or doesn’t want to admit that she’s just not at her best. There’s a lot of overachievers who are so invested in appearing heroic that they do really dumb things to hide the slightest bit of weakness.

    That still means you have to reinforce that you need the truth (especially since lying sets up embarrassing situations with customers like this), but you should also make clear that you’re happy to allow a nap every few weeks from someone who’s kicking butt like her.

    1. londonedit*

      Yes, that’s what I was thinking. Plenty of people are of a mind that you should never take a sick day unless you’re actually physically ill, and plenty of people would also feel embarrassed to take an afternoon’s holiday if they feel like they’ll have to respond to the boss’s ‘Yes of course, are you doing anything nice?’ with ‘Going home to have a nap’. If she’s a top performer, she might also have been worried about giving her boss the impression that she ‘can’t cope’ or she isn’t strong enough to tackle the workload. She might have come to the conclusion that pretending to have a meeting with a client would look better than admitting she needed to go home and sleep in the middle of the day.

      1. LurkingAlong*

        Also, if they don’t have great PTO then she might be very careful about using it because it could be time taken away from an actual holiday and family obligations. I left a job last year partially because my boss required I work a minimum 60-70 hours a week with no overtime, and then when I needed to leave work a couple of hours early because I was under the weather she expected me to use my very limited sick time. She also had the audacity to say that the she doesn’t expect people to keep strict hours as long as you do the work. This was also the opposite of what she communicated when I interviewed for the job about hours and time off.

        1. londonedit*

          Or even if they do have decent time off. I always think the UK-style ‘here’s your bucket of holiday allowance, use it throughout the year as you see fit’ system seems fairer than the US ‘you have to accrue time off before you can take it’ idea, but one downside that I certainly have is that at this time of year, I’m reluctant to book any holiday, because I feel like I might ‘waste’ it in February and then regret it if something comes along in August that I’d rather have used the time for. I get 22 days’ holiday to play with – which has nothing to do with sick leave or appointments – and I’m still sitting here feeling like I shouldn’t book a day off this month because ‘what if’ I get to October and I wish I had enough holiday left for a whole week? Which is silly, but it’s another potential reason on the pile of ‘Why didn’t she just book the time off’. Maybe she has something coming up that she wants to save her allowance for, or maybe she’s worried about taking time off too early in the year.

          1. Autumnheart*

            In the US, PTO is dependent on company policy. Some companies do “Accrue gradually over time”, others do “All PTO is from one bucket”, others separate sick time from holiday time, etc. The state of California has a law requiring that remaining PTO be paid out upon separation from the company, but a lot of companies have a “use or lose” policy where you’re awarded a certain number of days, but there’s no financial value if you leave the company.

            My employer, for example, awards all PTO at once (use or lose), and it isn’t broken out into separate buckets for sick time and holiday time.

            1. TootsNYC*

              and my company doesn’t track sick time for exempt employees–it’s unlimited. If you’re sick, oh well. If it gets to get too intrusive, your manager is supposed to step up.

          2. Adereterial*

            You technically have to accrue it here, too – most places operate the ‘leave year’ system but it isn’t required by law. If you leave a job before you’ve accrued all your leave and you’ve taken it all, you may have to pay it back. Again – perfectly legal.

            And our holiday time (minimum 28 days) is SEPARATE from sickness time. They’re not a combined pot.

          3. LurkingAlong*

            There’s many psychological factors that could be in play here as you highlight. Especially since we don’t know how their PTO is structured and of the employee is exempt or not. But I also think it’s valid to question of the LW is actually sending mixed signals where they “say” they encourage taking time off but when employees take time off in a manner they don’t like they penalize them.

        2. Annony*

          I also wonder if their PTO is set up so that they can just take a few hours off. Mine can only be used as full days. I’m exempt so if I leave early it still counts a full day worked, but it does feel like slacking since I can’t report it.

      2. Parenthetically*

        “If she’s a top performer, she might also have been worried about giving her boss the impression that she ‘can’t cope’ or she isn’t strong enough to tackle the workload. She might have come to the conclusion that pretending to have a meeting with a client would look better than admitting she needed to go home and sleep in the middle of the day.”

        Excellent point!

    2. Stormy Weather*

      I noticed that as well. I remember being at a job where they told us, “you have ten sick days, but if you use more than five it will be counted against you in your review.”

      This is why employees come in when they’re sick, because even if it’s not stated, they’re often penalized in some way. Corporate culture borrows from sports here. How many times have you seen an athlete praised for playing well even if they had a broken ankle?

    3. Smithy*

      This came to mind. There are vacations and doctors appointments – but what about calling out sick the day of? Also – does your PTO allow for half days? I used to work somewhere where PTO was only in full days. It was overseas and definitely had some unique policies, but our Finance Director told me that because of the overtime my job demanded that if I ever needed a “half day” – a way I could do that was to come into work for at least two hours, and then say I was feeling sick. My overtime hours would apply to it, and not my sick or vacation time.

      Now as workplace “fudging the truth” goes – this worked for me. But the reason I did it was because of a difficulty in the PTO system, a reality that I was banking hours that were otherwise unacknowledged and the underground workaround that was suggested to me.

      If the PTO system has holes like this that led the OP’s report to lie, I’m sympathetic. But similarly, it may also be worth trying to see whether a more broad mentoring support network would benefit the employee? Lots of employees over the years at many companies have told white lies for the purposes of getting a few hours here or there – but to tell that kind of lie that has such an impact on work may indicate being out of step with professional norms and not having support networks to better trouble shoot burn out.

  10. KHB*

    Was this lie premeditated (i.e., she told everyone she had scheduled a meeting with client X, but she’d actually done no such thing, and was always planning on using that time to go take a nap) or a more spur-of-the-moment thing brought on by the temporary insanity of exhaustion (i.e., she really did schedule the meeting, but when it came time to actually go to it, she hit the wall of “I just can’t”)?

    It sounds like the former (since the client said they had no idea who the company was, rather than that one of their representatives had stood her up), but it’s not totally clear.

    1. Lilo*

      I struggle with this as well. I get migraines and have to go home sometimes, but Inwpuld never fake a client meeting for that.

      That’s such a weird lie. She could have said she was sick or needed to go to the dentist and it still would have been a lie, but with fewer potential consequences for the office. Lying about a very specific client meeting is really bad.

      1. Person from the Resume*

        I started to agree with you, but claiming sick or an appointment would require use of PTO. Claiming a work meeting doesn’t.

        This lie was a lie to avoid using PTO/sick time for something that called for it. So the question is more about how god/bad office PTO is and if there’s a reason the employee didn’t have PTO to use, wanted to save PTO for later, or didn’t think nap for burnout/exhaustion/SAD qualified for a short notice use of PTO for illness?

        Agree it is super-worrisome that she has confessed to doing this a few times already. It’s already become a habit.

        1. Lilo*

          I just think the specific client meeting lie could damage the company. The level of deception is bad here.

          I’m not saying fire her immediately but I can’t excuse the level of deceit here. This is really bad.

      2. KHB*

        That’s what makes me wonder if maybe she had every intention of going to the client meeting, right up until the time came to actually do it. Because I can understand how that can happen. (Like when I go to conferences planning to go to talks and schmooze sessions for 11 hours a day every day, but then two days into that regime my brain just shuts down.) It’s still bad, but I’d be more sympathetic to that than if she were deliberately weaving a web of phony client meetings.

        1. Senor Montoya*

          There wasn’t a client meeting, though. OP happened to meet with the very client, who had no idea about OP’s company, even. It was a lie through and through.

        2. Diahann Carroll*

          I hope your reading of this situation is correct – the alternative is really not a good look for many reasons.

          1. KHB*

            Or maybe the client has so many meetings scheduled with representatives of various companies that she can’t keep track of them all, and enough of them are no-shows that it’s an entirely forgettable experience.

            I’m just spit-balling here. None of the possible explanations make all that much sense, which is why it’s so important for OP to get to the bottom of just what happened before jumping to any conclusions.

      3. Laura*

        It could even be a “my Mom or friend’s car broke down” spur of the moment excuse. There are so many possibilities that saying employee was going to a specific client really would make me review some of her work to verify she truly is a top performer

      4. Andytron*

        That’s what gets me about it. I can see, particularly if the culture around taking PTO is messed up, lying to get some time to rest. But it would be a lie about car repair or having to let in a plumber, not a detailed client meeting.

        1. TootsNYC*

          that’s only if you don’t have to use PTO for that–lots of companies would require you to use a vacation or personal day for such a thing.

          1. doreen*

            I think the idea is that if the culture is one where taking PTO “just because” is unacceptable, there are all sorts of reasons for taking PTO that would have not resulted in the current situation. For example, if the employee lied and said she needed to take PTO to let the plumber in, or take her car to the shop, the LW most likely wouldn’t have found out it was a lie. Or the employee could have a given a vague reason like having some personal business to attend to, which wouldn’t even have been a lie. And that makes it seem that the reason for the lie is to take the time off without using PTO – which might be because she didn’t have any, or wanted to save it to use another time . Or it might be just because she could get away with it – I had a job once where people routinely shaved a few hours off their workday when they were working outside of their normal office for no real reason other than because they could get away with it.

    2. Enginear*

      I’d lean premeditated. The employee confessed to doing it multiple times before. If you can get away with it, why stop?

    3. NLMC*

      It does sound premeditated since it had happened previously but I could definitely see a difference if the meeting was scheduled, she was on her way and it was cancelled and rather than going back to the office just go home because of exhaustion. It’s still a lie but is in my opinion more understandable.

      1. Senor Montoya*

        Fake meeting, though, the employee did not schedule and cancel a meeting. Made it up of whole cloth and put OP in an awkward position with a potential client because of the lie.

    4. Sharrbe*

      But its odd that someone would set up a fake meeting for three days from now because they wanted to plan a nap that far in advance. I could imagine this employee saying that she’s going to drop in on this business this afternoon, but then goes home to nap.

      1. Washi*

        My assumption was that she put the meeting on her calendar day-of, as if it had been scheduled there all along.

    5. Just J.*

      Yes, I would definitely be asking about this too. OP – what kind of meeting was it? I have a lot of marketing calls on my to-do list. But because my schedule is always in flux, I never nailed down specifics with the client until I know for sure that that day is going to work.

      So, was this a situation where your employee intended to have a meeting and got sick and bumped it off? This needs to be clarified.

    6. Yorick*

      It was definitely at least sort of premeditated, since OP knew the identity of the potential client she was supposed to be meeting with.

      1. rigger42*

        My guess is that was probably someone on her existing list of leads so she did plan to call soon for a meeting, but why she got that specific is beyond me.

  11. MR*

    If this is what is happening to your top team member, then what is the rest of the team up to?

    I suspect this may just be the tip of the iceberg…

    1. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

      Quite possible. But it may be that this top performer is stretching herself to the limit, while her colleagues are less stellar because they’re working a normal day and not checking emails at 11pm.

      I’d be interested to know what sort of hours this team is working because people don’t generally burn out at a regular office job with a 40 hour week and a decent manager (and OP sounds like a decent manager).

      OP mentioned their busy season. Does that mean 2 months of 50 hour weeks, or does it mean 4 months of 70 hour weeks? If the team has been putting in a ton of overtime, maybe they should be leaving early on Fridays for a few weeks, or coming in later than usual?

  12. Enginear*

    That’s an automatic termination at my workplace. Doesn’t matter if you’ve been with the company 20 years or are the top performer. It was premeditated and he/she never seeked a solution with management.

    1. Sunflower*

      What part of it would warrant the automatic termination? Lots of people come in late or take long lunches for appointments that are really job interviews or any other number of things.

      1. Lilo*

        The specific lie about a specific meeting is what is so bad here. It’s bad just from a business perspective “should we meet with X?” “Jane said she met with them Augist 1, so she has X covered”.

        And then it’s not? It’s bad.

        Maybe not firing bad but clearly a strike here.

      2. Wing Leader*

        I mean, it’s a tad different to take a longer lunch for an appointment (and an interview is an appointment) than to pretend you’re meeting with a potential client.

        1. Sunflower*

          I’m not saying it’s the same thing- that’s why I asked if the issue is that she lied or that she lied about a client meeting.

      3. Observer*

        That she lied. If someone lies about something that is no one’s business, it’s one thing. So, if I’m a nosy parker and insist on knowing why you are going to take personal time, then it’s not good to outright lie, but it’s not something that’s going to make me seriously question someone’s integrity. The minute the lie is about something that others have standing to know, like *your boss knowing whether you are at work or not*, that’s a whole other kettle of fish. When you then notch it up to something like this, which could be time card fraud and which is DEFINITELY an issue of bad information, it’s a huuuge deal.

    2. Wing Leader*

      I know a lot of places where this would be grounds for immediate termination, but I agree with Alison that it’s better to find out more of what’s going on. There’s a difference between, “I bet I can set up a fake meeting and sneak away so I don’t have to use my PTO” and “I’m giving this company my all and doing my best, but I don’t feel like I can rest when I need to.”

      Because the employee fessed up to two other times that she did this, I tend to think it’s more of the latter. If her sole purpose was to just scam the company and see if she could get away with it, there’s no reason for her to bring up those other two times. But the fact that she did seems to be like her saying that she just needs a break sometimes and didn’t feel like she had another way to get one.

    3. Jennifer*

      What if she’d lied and said she had the flu when really she just needed a mental health day? May not be right but that’s something many have done. Is it the lie about the client that bothers you or the fact that she lied at all?

      1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

        Lying about the precise issue behind a sick day is a normal “white” lie — because it doesn’t actually impact anyone. Lying about business activities completed or not completed? That’s a significantly bigger deal.

        Not all lies are created equal.

        1. KHB*

          Contrariwise, a lie about business activities that’s the result of mental health struggles is not the same as a lie about business activities that’s motivated purely by greed or laziness.

          (And arguably, if you’re lying about the precise issue behind a sick day because you’re overdrawn on sick leave for the year, or because it’s an all-hands-on-deck crunch time when the only acceptable reason to take the day off is that you’re in the hospital, that’s a big deal too.)

        2. Jennifer*

          Yes, I understand that but there are some who think a lie is a lie and the context doesn’t matter. I’m curious why Enginear feels the way they do.

          1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

            Because there are jobs where lying about work performed is a very big, major, huge deal. Engineering is one of them. Investing — my industry — arguably is too. If I’m lying about meetings I have with clients, then my company is receiving falsified records, and that’s got the potential for serious impacts later down the road.

            1. Jeffrey Deutsch*

              Or if you have a security clearance or something like it (like a public trust clearance in the US). If so, any lack of candor — especially about work — can become a job- and even career-ending issue.

    4. Phony Genius*

      Based on your username, I’ll assume your company is an engineering firm. That policy is common in the field. There are too many liability concerns that can come up when engineers lie. It’s one of the particulars of the field. A single lie can cost you your license. If it’s serious enough, your firm’s license. Most companies will not take a chance with an employee who lies, even about a non-engineering matter.

      I agree with Alison that you gain nothing be firing your best employee, but most engineering firms see it as that they have too much to lose if they don’t.

    5. Giant Squid*

      That’s how a lot of companies are, but if it was OP’s company’s policy then they wouldn’t be writing a letter. There are a lot of people who wouldn’t lie in a first-offense firing environment that would lie in a more “normal” environment. So the context does matter.

  13. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

    I think there is a third option beyond “out of PTO or saving it up” or “doesn’t think it’s a big deal” especially in the context of her being a top performer, and I’m not sure what the OP can do about it other than encourage her employee to use any EAP benefits. It could take therapy to sort out and I think punishment from the OP, even if warranted, will harm more than help. She sounds like she deals with unhealthy perfectionism anxiety; either she has an internal ideal that she is trying to live up to, or she fears what others will think of her and anything less than perfect is deeply shameful.

    1. Cendol*

      “She sounds like she deals with unhealthy perfectionism anxiety; either she has an internal ideal that she is trying to live up to, or she fears what others will think of her and anything less than perfect is deeply shameful.”

      Seconding this. I winced as I read this letter because this sounds like an overly-specific lie I might concoct—not because of a toxic former workplace, but because of how I was raised. Not an excuse for the lie, of course, but I would definitely mention EAP benefits.

    2. Mystery Bookworm*

      Yes, we had similar thoughts! I’ve done some of my work in a clinical research setting, where we’ve occasionally worked with people around emotionally-laden topics (drinking, relationships, stress – including work/life balence, diet, family). It’s very common for people to lie in some of these areas, especially if not a lot of thought is given to how questions are asked or what setting they’re asked in. And these are people who’ve consented and who are doing this in a research setting, so it’s not impacting their lives in such a way that they would benefit directly.

      But it’s difficult to always be honest about anxiety-producing topics, especially if we feel shame around an area.

    1. Tallulah in the Sky*

      Yes, I’m truly curious about this one. When you combine OP’s statements about their leave policy (which doesn’t sound great) and the fact that her best performer felt the need to lie to be able to rest a bit, this could really be an issue with the work culture. I’m curious to see what OP will do with Alison’s advice and the comments, and if it is indeed an issue with the work culture, if and how they’ll address it.

  14. Beancounter Eric*

    The fact they are your “top performer” doesn’t give them license to lie to you.

    No excuse for their actions. Breaches of integrity are unforgivable.

    Simple answer on this – terminate them immediately.

    1. Dragoning*

      There’s a question here about whether or not all OP’s employees are lying about things like this–and firing an entire teams gets tricky.

      1. AndersonDarling*

        Yep. This could be a deeper issue that all employees are struggling with. If the employee is fired immediately, then the real problem won’t be revealed. I have a feeling that the team isn’t getting the support they need or they really aren’t getting the PTO they need. If the employee is fired, then the rest of the team may leave, and it sounds like a rough job that will be hard to fill.

    2. Enginear*

      Right. Let’s say this employee wasn’t your top performer but landed somewhere in the middle, average let’s say. Would you look at them differently or be more willing to terminate them? All employees should be treated the same as to not set a precedence.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yep, you’d look at them differently because context matters. It’s actually not good management to treat everyone exactly the same; you need to take into account context, performance, experience, past issues, etc. You do want to be able to explain your decisions and be sure you’re not being arbitrary (or unconsciously biased toward/against particular groups), but there’s nothing wrong with saying “if someone has an excellent track record of performance, we will factor that into our approach” as long as you apply that consistently.

        1. TootsNYC*

          I don’t think you CAN be consistent when you say, “we’ll factor X into our decision.” By its very definition, it’s inconsistent.

          Which is not to say that it’s a BAD thing. Even if there were another employee who did a very similar thing, there will always be differences.

          Reacting to the reality of the actual situation is kind of at odds with being consistent. Which is actually good.

          “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds,” after all. And spending time disciplining a poor performer–or even a top performer who is also an asshole, or who lied about something you consider more egregious–could be foolish if the only reason you’re doing it is to be consistent.

          1. Observer*

            I don’t think you CAN be consistent when you say, “we’ll factor X into our decision.” By its very definition, it’s inconsistent.

            Not so. As long as you always factor X, whatever that is, into the decision.

            “A foolish consistency” is one of the most idiotic excuses for unfair favoritism I’ve heard. The only way consistency is foolish is when it’s based on only part of the relevant circumstances. The way consistency is supposed to work is that you always factor in ALL of the relevant circumstance (which includes someone’s complete track record) and give them the same type of weighting on a consistent basis.

          2. Washi*

            I’m guessing that by consistently, Alison meant “across demographic groups.” Like you don’t want all the men to get the benefit of the doubt but come down hard on the women.

      2. Allypopx*

        I don’t agree with this premise. Part of keeping top performers and keeping them engaged is incentivizing high performance. High performers absolutely do get more trust and leeway, and lapses in judgement are considered with less scrutiny if you know they are otherwise creating quality output. Does that mean this person gets a pass? No, absolutely not. But they do perhaps get more care and consideration than someone who is already say missing deadlines, or coming in late, or otherwise hasn’t earned as much capital to spend.

        Follow policies across the board, but treating all employees the same regardless of their personal circumstances – positive or negative – is not effective management.

      3. Observer*

        Nope. All employees should be treat EQUITABLY, not the same. Because not all employees are the same.

        I’m not saying that a top performer should be allowed to get away with anything and everything. But, you do NOT get top performance from people if you don’t acknowledge top performance in concrete ways. And, I’d argue that since truly top performance is rarely just a matter of having more talent, it’s also not even fair.

    3. Ferret*

      Would you fire someone for claiming they had a dentist’s appointment or were taking a holiday if you found out they had actually been at an interview? Obviously this is much more serious but it isn’t that different.

      1. Health Insurance Nerd*

        That is different though, because both of those are examples where the employee had requested the time off and was presumably using PTO- what they use the time off for is actually none of their managers business. In the LWs scenario the employee was giving herself the time off but not actually using PTO for it- I think that’s the most concerning part of this issue, because it’s basically time theft.

        1. Ferret*

          I get that, I was just trying to resist the black-and-white one lie and that’s it response. I’d agree that if OP does do some digging and doesn’t find the potential culture issues which a lot of comments are discussing then firing would probably be the appropriate response

          For me instant dismissal with no exceptions would be restricted to safety/bigotry/legal issues.

          1. Health Insurance Nerd*

            Oh I totally agree- I don’t think this situation warrants instant dismal at all! I think that for some people a lie is a lie, and I loved Alison’s response because it really was about getting to the why behind the lie, and looking for the bigger issue/picture.

        2. Kipo*

          PTO is not always used for these types of appointments. I think its actually rarer for Salary to have to use PTO for this then not.

      2. MelonHelen*

        No, because 1) that person would be appropriately taking PTO for their time off, and 2) the employee going to an interview isn’t going to lead to the employer embarrassing themselves with a client.

      3. Observer*

        Actually, these are extremely different circumstances. Unless the person took sick time because they were out of other PTO, it’s really no one’s business what they are doing with PTO. Thus the lie about it is minor.

        When you claim you are at work and you are not, that’s another whole situation. And when you claim to be meeting with specific clients and you are not that’s also a major issue.

    4. Delphine*

      This black/white thinking helps no one. Managers and those with the power to fire people should never think this way.

      1. CM*

        I agree. In this case, the fact that she was struggling with seasonal depression is very relevant — that’s something many people don’t think of as a “real” problem, and there may be some reason she’s reluctant to use PTO (for instance, she needs to save it in case her kids are sick, or is worried she’ll be asked why she is using it and will have to lie anyway), so she made up this lie. Lying is obviously bad, but if she was feeling desperately tired and stressed, she may have felt this was a reasonable way to get some relief. It’s very harsh to say someone who has otherwise been trustworthy and great at their job should be fired over this, especially when the actual impact to the organization is pretty minimal. The OP should definitely make it clear that this is a serious offense, while at the same time showing her some compassion and giving her a chance to redeem herself. If I were the OP I’d also explicitly tell her it’s OK to take sick time for mental health, no questions asked.

        1. Observer*

          While I agree that the OP needs to look at the situation as a whole, I don’t think that SAD is a relevant factor for the OP – except if the problem is that mental health is so stigmatized in their company that a star performer would legitimately worry about any chance of that becoming known.

      2. emmelemm*

        If there’s anything I’ve learned from this blog, it’s that there are people who are incredibly black and white in their thinking in a way that I could never be.

        1. Pomona Sprout*

          I know exactly what you mean! My mind just doesn’t work in that black and white way. It’s one reason this blog has been such a breath of fresh air for me. Alison’s mind doesn’t work that way either, unlike a lot of managers I’ve worked under and with. Reading her answers to questions like this one has been very validating for me!

  15. Jcarnall*

    I had a stellar track record at a previous employer – in the end, I stayed for 8 years. Two years in, I made a humungous mistake which I can’t go into detail about. It wasn’t a parallel to this – I didn’t lie about anything – but the potential consequences for my employer were huge and the CEO (it was a small-ish organization, and I was his direct report, but the mistake was at that level of consequence) had to spend two hours in what he described to me as an unpleasant meeting, fixing my mistake.

    I was not fired, though the CEO was clear to me that I could have been. I went on for six more years of excellent work and increasing responsibility. I never made a mistake like that again.

    Lying about a client meeting is bad. But, if she really is that good a performer, and she lied because she didn’t feel she could say “I need to go home and take a nap” – well, I second Alison: she needs to know she can never lie to you again, but one huge mistake shouldn’t torpedo an otherwise stellar performer.

    1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      This is — by the employee’s own admission — not the first, though. It’s the third, and that’s if she isn’t downplaying past misbehavior.

      1. Enginear*

        I don’t believe it was her “third” time. You’re telling me she was able to count off the top of her head the exact amount of times she’s forged a client meeting to take a nap in the last six years? Reminds me of the joke about how people state a lower amount of people they’ve actually been intimate with as to not look bad lol

        1. Senor Montoya*

          Yes, OP reports that the employee said she had done the same twice in the past. Why would the OP or the employee lie about that? (Well, ok, maybe the employee has done it more than three times, but you see my point?)

          1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

            I think the point is that, yes, maybe (probably) the employee has done it more than three times, in which case “I only did it three times!” is adding another layer of lies.

            1. SimplyTheBest*

              If that’s the case, why bring up that you’d done it before and not just say this is the first time it’s ever happened?

        2. TootsNYC*

          Reminds me of the joke about how people state a lower amount of people they’ve actually been intimate with as to not look bad lol

          I’ve heard that when a cop stops you for drunk driving and asks how many drinks you’ve had, they double or triple the number. Because nobody wants to tell the full truth–and they may have even erased that number from their mind, or overwritten it with the “truth” they’d rather live with.

          1. Hiring Mgr*

            That must be why my lawyer friend always advises people to say they’ve had zero drinks if they’re pulled over. Because two or three times zero is still zero, so the cops are forced to let you go in that case

          2. Sal*

            Related, I used to defend DUI cases and the vast majority of people say they had two beers. (Because one just isn’t believable and three sounds like too many.)

        3. Jcarnall*

          Or she remembers each time she did this as an individual, dreadful, horribly necessary, unforgettable occurrence.

          OP won’t know without talking to her some more.

    2. Wing Leader*

      Something similar to me happened at my current job, actually. I didn’t lie about anything either, but I made an oversight that could have become a huge legal problem for our company (luckily it did not, but it was possible). I’ve been extra careful since then and have not made that mistake again. But that was the first time I had ever made a mistake like that, and my performance reviews had all been good, so I think that helped save me a little. Eesh. It’s embarrassing when you make a big goof though.

    3. Emmie*

      I struggle with taking it easy on her. It sounds like she’s responsible for sales. If that’s the case, I want my sales staff to operate by a strict code of ethics and conduct. I’d wonder about her willingness to like, or fudge details with a client to earn sales or better performance. Unethical conduct doesn’t happen with big lies. It starts off with a minor lie or minor unethical breech.

      1. Jcarnall*

        I think there’s a big gap between “taking it easy on her” and “firing her immediately”.

        And finding out why she felt she had to lie in order to be able to go home and take a nap, seems essential – in no way is that “taking it easy on her”.

  16. Bananatiel*

    I have a clear bias coming from an old job with a not-great culture, but the thing that resonated most strongly with me was the specificity of the lie. My old boss was very harsh and unforgiving about using PTO in practice (while telling people she encouraged vacation time, etc) but I learned that being highly specific, even if it was a lie, was the way to get her to let me have my time off in peace. She definitely had some boundary issues!

    1. Wing Leader*

      Yes! I have had bosses like this and I totally get it. “I just need to day to myself” didn’t cut it. It had to be something like, “I need this day off because it’s my grandmother’s funeral and my cousin is getting married right after that and I have the flu.” Admittedly, I have lied about what I’m taking PTO for. I’ve never created an imaginary meeting with a client, thank goodness! But I have said things like I was going out of town to see my sick mom when that wasn’t true. I just needed to have a “good excuse” to use my PTO.

    2. Dragoning*

      Yes, I can definitely see a possiblity of “Please, use your vacation time, it’s so important!” and then hearing about the plans like “Ugh, you’re doing that? That’s not how you should use the vacation time.”

      I don’t care if you relax best by going to the Bahamas, Susan, maybe I want to go to SDCC or clean my entire house.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        SDCC = SAN DIEGO COMIC CONVENTION
        Figured an acronym definition might be helpful for future readers, and those with no connection to the fandom.

          1. Giant Squid*

            It’s necessary because I don’t know what SDCC means, and would have spent time looking it up if it wasn’t clarified. You’re right that I don’t need to know what SDCC means in this context, but I don’t know that I don’t need to know it unless I know what SDCC means.

    3. Destroyer of Worlds, Empress of Awesome*

      I worked for a doctor for ten years. If I called in sick, he would do one of several things:
      *drive to my home (I could walk to work, the office was less than a mile from my home) and pound on the door until I answered;
      *call me and call me and call me and call me and call me and call me and call me and call me and when I finally answered, he would harangue me so badly…..one time, I had the flu and I literally crawled into the office because he didn’t believe I was sick (I had worked for him for about 6 years at this point and had never called in sick nor taken a vacation). I literally crawled. He goes “Oh wow, I guess you really are sick.” When I opened my mouth tell him “yes, yes I am” I puked all over his shoes. He then says “You can go home” but I was so exhausted from getting into work all I could day was lay in the hallway to rest before I had the energy to get up and drive home.

      And it wasn’t like I had PTO. The office was just he and I and I had ZERO benefits.

      I won’t mention my current boss and my weeklong hospitalization last week and the phone calls every. single. day. And he would call on the hospital room phone, instead of my cellphone, so he could make I was really in the hospital. I can’t use my PTO until I’ve been here a year so again, it’s not like he’s paying me for not being at work.

        1. Destroyer of Worlds, Empress of Awesome*

          I accrue every pay period, just can’t use for a year. It really sucks. I’m trying to figure out how to pay my rent this month. I’ll never understand what employers are thinking with this kind of policy.

          Cheap I guess.

          1. Phoenix*

            Depending on your state’s unemployment laws, there’s a *chance* you’d be eligible for unemployment support for this unpaid period – or, if not for this one, for the next one if this week counts as your waiting period. That would be the case in my state, depending on how long you’ve actually worked at your current employer. If you’re up for sorting through the details, I recommend checking that avenue out – and I’m sorry you’re in that position at all!

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        OMG. Everything about this whole comment is horrifying – I hope you can find another, better position.

        1. Destroyer of Worlds, Empress of Awesome*

          I’m working on it. Gotta recover from last week–it was exhausting–and then I’m back to the job search. Kinda bummed. I make a good hourly wage, and my hours are awesome but yeah, the PTO thing bothers me. I’m accruing every pay period, but can’t use anything until the one year mark.

          The worst part? I was in the hospital because of something that went down here at work.

            1. Destroyer of Worlds, Empress of Awesome*

              I supposed it would be, but I really don’t want another legal thing on my plate right now. I’ve still got the federal whistleblower case going on, not to mention the car accident, and the employer from last year who I reported to about ten different agencies (he DID get locked up, but all the agency cases are still outstanding). Too much going on and hard to prove. Besides, if I filed a WC claim, THIS guy WOULD fire me and then I’d have another wrongful termination suit going on. Can’t handle any more drama right now.

        1. Destroyer of Worlds, Empress of Awesome*

          No I’m not. Wish I was. Love working in the medical field, just haven’t been able to get back into it.

    4. Smithy*

      I would also add that even if your boss/department claims to be ok with it PTO – it may very well be that there are other higher level voices that make it feel not ok.

      Less than a month after we had a team building session around the adoption of remote work and how remote work during bad weather was encouraged if people felt concern traveling – there was a snow storm. The CEO walked around department to department going “Gee – why are there so few people here?? Is it really that bad out there?”

    5. Retro*

      It doesn’t even need to rise to that level. It could be that OP herself doesn’t take much time off. Even though she’s encouraging of it, she isn’t modeling that behavior. Or this employee has had similar history and is still recovering from that. Allison has written a post about how bad habits acquired from bad workplaces are hard to shake.

    6. Observer*

      But did you lie about being at work when you were actually taking time off. That’s fundamental problem here.

      Lying about WHY you are taking off is, in most cases, not a major integrity issue. Lying about WHETHER you are taking off is a different class of lie.

  17. SheLooksFamiliar*

    Ugh. This is such a difficult situation for you, OP. Your employee exceeds performance expectations in one way, but failed to meet a common expectation in another…but I agree with Alison that you need to understand why she lied.

    Sometimes, it really is simple: liars lie. Other times, they feel like they can’t tell the truth because of management’s (over)reaction to even minor things. Not that I’m backing your employee, but I once worked for a manager who swore he always shad our back…until we asked for even a half-day off for personal reasons. He made us justify every single hour we requested, wanting to know where we would be, why we needed to be out of the office that particular day…believe me, burnout was not an acceptable reason for him. Trust is bi-directional: if the team doesn’t trust their manager, then they may not behave in a trustworthy manner, either.

    OP, have a very straightforward talk with your employee and try to see her point of view. If she feels she can’t simply ask for time off, find out why and do what you can to change the dynamic. If it turns out she has a pattern of lying because she can get away with it, then you have a bigger issue to manage.

    1. Quill*

      Yes, also: is there coverage if an employee wants to sleep off the beginnings of a cold? Is the company culture such that having two sick days in the same month is “a pattern of absenteeism?” Is the division of sick time vs vacation time causing your employees to hoard it, or actually insufficient or inflexible for people to access mental or physical health care because they have to burn half a day of PTO in order to attend a routine physical at 3:30 pm?

      (Is your employee hoarding their PTO because they’re trying to manage some other health or personal concern that they know they’ll need it for? I don’t expect OP to know this or ask, but it’s a possibility. Especially if Work From Home is never available, as it’s pretty common to have “could totally run reports in bed in my pajamas but could not handle being out of the house and looking professional for 8+ hours and commute time” days for both depression and colds…)

    2. Sharrbe*

      I like your phrasing. There is a difference between outright lying and deception, and being in a lurch but afraid to tell the truth. Good people can be afraid of being forthright. It’s not ideal and needs correcting, but its not anything close to being a pathological liar.

  18. Tory*

    An element I haven’t seen talked about on this thread is *shame*. I’ve been tempted to lie to my bosses to explain a behaviour that was caused by depression because admitting that I couldn’t cope felt deeply, painfully, unbearably shameful. To tell the truth required external social support and direct reassurance from my bosses that it was safe to tell them when I was struggling.

    I could be wrong; this could just be lazy lying; but the SAD element makes me think this is shame, and that means it’s a fixable behaviour. This person for some reason doesn’t feel safe to tell you the truth. Why? What does she need to hear from you to change that?

    1. Quill*

      Could be learned from a former workplace too. Though, not much the OP can do about it if it is beyond making it absolutely clear that they support taking mental health days without disclosing the actual diagnosis and are willing to make reasonable accomodations.

    2. Dragoning*

      Ironically, I have felt the opposite problem, where I have desperately wanted to go into my 1:1s and scream “I’m not performing right now because my depression is out of control and you don’t offer me the insurance to take care of it medically.”

      Only that’s just going to make them judge me for having mental health issues. And not solve the problem!

      1. Dragoning*

        Actually, OP, that’s another thing to consider. I have mental health problems. I know I do. I cannot currently afford to have them treated because of my insurance and salary situation.

        Even if you do genuinely have decent PTO and your employee feels comfortable using it, do they have what they actually need health-wise to perform?

        Busy seasons during the height of seasonal depression and winter-sluggishness sounds especially atrocious.

      2. Quill*

        ooooh same.

        I can get some treatment right now but… sorry, winter me is approximately half as efficient as summer me! To change that I’d need a completely new, and less shitty insurance option, because as it turns out fighting insurance every 6 months when they change their coverage is keeping me from dealing with all the things that contribute to my brain weasel problem!

    3. NoLongerStuckInRetailHell*

      This is a good point. Shame makes people do far worse things. Men who are “family annihilators” (kill their wives and children) often do it it because they themselves have done something bad, but can’t bear the shame of their family knowing about it. Remember the Navy submarine captain whose sub surfaced right on top of a fishing boat? Some of the fishermen died and the sub captain was held responsible for their deaths. The sub captain admitted in interviews that he came within a hair of killing his whole family so they wouldn’t have to deal with the fallout. That’s what shame can do to you!

    4. LlamaGoose*

      I agree. If I don’t have to say *why* I need to take time off, then I take time off when I need it and never lie about it, and I do good work.

      But I’m deeply private about my life, especially when it comes to illness– physical or mental. I’m not sure if I feel ashamed as much as I feel resentful or even angry that anyone thinks they’re entitled to know something about my body or illness. They don’t.

      If I am expected to be more specific than a general, “I need to take a sick day,” I feel pissed off. I used to say, “that’s private,” when pressed, but it turns out in some companies that’s not kosher. In that case, frankly, management is asking to be lied to.

      While I’ve never invented a fictional client meeting, I also would never have confessed to having a mental illness. Confessed maybe isn’t the right word. Essentially, I would never have said to anyone at work, “I have this condition.”

      I actually once quit a job, on the spot, without another one lined up, because I was pressed for this type of information. At that job, I was the only person doing marketing at a small businesses; I quadrupled their customers in four months.

      But they couldn’t let go of their invasive policy of approving time off based on the manager’s assessment of whether my reason is “good enough.” So I essentially said, eff it. Good luck finding someone else who can get you my results at the salary you’re willing to pay.

      At my current workplace, time off requests are automatically granted without question so long as you’re within the allowed total number of days off. If absences cause a workflow problem, the problem is addressed without questioning absences– so, for example, if an absence means I’m behind on project X, the solution is to catch up by staying late or coming in early, not litigate legitimate or illegitimate reasons for absence.

      But, not everyone has the financial stability to do that. And, some people are more ashamed and conflict averse than they are blunt and angry.

    5. Smithy*

      In addition to shame, and combined with anxiety and depression – it may also be possible that the OP’s employee doesn’t see herself as a top performer. Or that her status as a top performer is inflated and not because of her specific talents.

      For example, there’s a sales rep for Drug A with great numbers. Drug A is in the news as a miracle relief for millions of long time suffers of ABC. Whereas a sales rep for Drug B has poor numbers comparatively. But Drug B is being blamed for giving kids cancer. I’ve seen cultures that can imply that the Drug A reps are perceived as doing amazing compared to Drug B reps – based on all sorts of issues that technically have nothing to do with either sales rep. And even if the culture don’t imply that – someone dealing with their own issues of depression/low self-esteem can discount their achievements as being due to external factors.

      All of this can come together and create a story in someone’s head where burnout isn’t acceptable, that their boss won’t understand, that accommodation can’t be asked for, and anything less than going above and beyond at all times is unacceptable.

      While the majority of this fits into connecting the lying to mental health/EAP comments – I do think the OP can ask how performance is measured and communicated. Are staff somehow rewarded for taking no sick days? Is quantity rewarded more so than quality? What are the markers for doing “good work” that still not result in a new client? While I think the PTO is likely a smarter place to start investigating, I do think this is another area that could be explored more.

    6. SAD one*

      This! I was looking to see if anyone had brought up this aspect. In my 20s I struggled a lot with Seasonal Affective Disorder. I was at university at the time and ended up failing some of my classes. I lied to everybody because I was so ashamed. I ended up crying in the office of my boss because I was on academic suspension and was not allowed to work the on campus job that semester.

    7. Extroverted Bean Counter*

      This is where my mind went as well. Especially if they don’t have a “take a couple hours here and there” kind of policy or culture, even if people are exempt.

      Not quite the same, but when I was freshly back from maternity leave I would book “meetings” on my calendar (usually spur of the moment, never more specific than “meeting”) so I could duck away and go take a nap in my car for an hour on days when I was really struggling. I’m salaried exempt, as long as my work gets done blah blah blah. I wasn’t stealing time, strictly.

      Could I have told my manager “I need to step out of the office for an hour, I’ll be back”? Probably, we have unlimited sick time. Could I have even been honest that I was running on 3 hours of sleep, acquired in 20 minute spurts, and needed to go have a small rest? Maybe, my managers both times were parents. But I was deeply ashamed that I couldn’t hack it. I didn’t want anyone thinking I wasn’t able to perform my job duties, or to doubt the quality of my work. “I need to go take a nap” is just… it’s not a good look, as people say.

    1. Allypopx*

      It’s harder to argue time theft if the employee is exempt, but yes for a non-exempt employee this would be even more of a big deal.

      1. cheeky*

        Even at my company, exempt workers still get fired for falsifying their timecards, because charging your time to the right work is critical.

      2. James*

        Depends. If the company does federal work federal time sheet regulations require them to bill for all hours worked. Billing for hours not worked can result in loss of contracts–which, realistically, for most companies that do federal work, means either drastic downsizing or going under.

        Were it me, I’d focus on that in the meeting (again, assuming it’s applicable). Let the employee know that their behavior isn’t just affecting them, but has the potential to affect the livelihoods of everyone else in the company. I know that’s something that most people are aware of, but a lot of people don’t seem to realize how immediate this potential threat is.

        That said, the company I work for at least has enough flexibility in the timesheet policy that you can go home for an hour or two if need be; you just make it up later in the week. You may get asked why you’re leaving early, but a quick “I’ve got something to take care of at home” is sufficient. I have literally seen people leave early one day because the fish were biting. As long as you’re getting your work done and are meeting or exceeding expectations (and it sounds like this employee is) no one cares. Of course, part of that is cultural–the company I work for has a lot of field staff, and field work by its nature requires more flexibility than most jobs.

    2. Enginear*

      Same here. What if I skip out of work a couple hours early because I want to go to the mall and go shopping or if I want to hang out with my side piece? Of course it’s for stress relief though, can’t forget that.

  19. Mystery Bookworm*

    I actually feel there’s sort of a third option, between the company has a PTO culture problem and/or the employee thinks lying is no big deal.

    The company may have a relatively balanced culture when it comes to managing burnout and using PTO, but if the employee has an unhealthy relationship with her own work…that is, if she judges herself for needing breaks, struggles to set limits, feels that all problems could be solved if she would just work harder and smarter…then it might be that she is feeling the need to lie not to the company, but to herself?

    When people have a lot of anxiety around an issue, they often knee-jerk lie, since it can reduce anxiety by making it harder for them to look the issue in the face. I believe, for example, that this is relatively well-documented issue with people who try to keep diet journals, even if they’re the only ones who are going to be looking at it!

    So I think that’s something worth considering. I’m not saying that would making the lying no big deal – it’s still a big deal.

    1. Allypopx*

      Lying can absolutely be a symptom of high anxiety levels. If I found out a high performer had been lying like this I would go to serious concern more quickly than I’d go to anger.

      1. Quill*

        Especially if you’ve been a perfectionist in a toxic environment – job from hell taught me to lie really quick because “I didn’t know you wanted to change our procedure because you didn’t actually ask, especially not in writing so I could come back to it after completing 10 other concentration requiring tasks” was not an acceptable answer and “Of course, Just started working on that!” *scrambles to try and start with terrible instructions and no idea what it is* was the only thing that wouldn’t get you yelled at for a quarter of an hour. Then half an hour later you had to lie again because between managing a time sensitive procedure and trying to figure out what the heck the boss wanted in our disaster of a filing system you’d made no progress, and the boss was like “i thought you were working on that? Why isn’t it done?”

        Also, facts were optional and “I checked the documentation, we actually can’t do that,” sometimes necessitated “yes, I called a THIRD person at contact company and got their manager in to confirm that we can’t do that, because authority” when you had, in fact, been using that time to have a panic attack in the bathroom.

        Strangely enough I barely have anxiety at work these days where I work with reasonable people… Just when my boss skypes me with “we need to meet” and my rational brain goes “she has more data for me” while my lizard brain goes “oh shit she found an actual innocent mistake, decided it was a lie, and is going to fire me.”

        1. Allypopx*

          This is so much me. Just yesterday I was crying about having to come to work today because we are in a transition period and my workload is not manageable and I feel like I’ve been screwing a bunch of things up and I’m going to get screamed at. This is not Toxic OldJob, and my manager knows my workload is unmanageable and is being completely empathetic…but I can’t shake the old instincts that I’m In Big Trouble all the time…and sometimes my impulse is to lie. I don’t, but I get it.

          My SIL is currently being treated for job related PTSD. She’s a doctor, so that’s not super uncommon. But it can happen in any work environment if the circumstances are crappy enough.

          1. Quill*

            My CPTSD has PTSD, thanks childhood bullying! Toxic Job From Hell did not help in any way.

            My yearly “december is not for brainage” slump this year has been upping my anxiety something fierce because I know there were mistakes, I cannot avoid having had them because attention to detail does not exist then, we’ll still be finding them in march so it’s going to look like a winter of poor performance…

            And this always happened at toxic job except everything got exponentially worse because my choices when I made a mistake were “lie and have anxiety about it to the point of panic attacks in my office” or “fess up and have panic attack in front of boss while he screams at me” and one panic attack means attention to detail is out the window, plus boss thinks that the 30 minutes he wasted yelling at me about why I’m crying / do I have an answer for him besides not being able to breathe or form words somehow don’t mean I have less time to do my work…

            In addition to anyone disclosing any sort of mental health problem becoming the company scapegoat. Oh, and the sump pumps flooding the lab with partially dissolved pig skin biosamples, but that was like… the literally toxic stuff was the least toxic part of this workplace.

            I’ve been too nice about this company when asked by prospective employers, I have no idea how it’s existed 10 years.

    2. NW Mossy*

      This is where I landed too. I don’t think there’s enough in this letter to tease out exactly what’s in the employee’s head, but the whole story rings of “coping mechanism gone wrong.”

  20. AndersonDarling*

    The employee has to use PTO for doctor’s appointments? Even when I was an hourly employee I didn’t have to use PTO for doc/dentist/emergency appointments. I was allowed to make up the time.
    If the PTO isn’t great, then the staff is using a good portion of their allotted time just to handle their human needs. Even if the LW encourages people to use their time, if they don’t have much of it, then using it for a 2 hour isn’t a real option.
    My husband worked at a place like this and was given 2 weeks of vacation. One week was always used up for doctors appointments and recovering from his brutally labor intensive daily work. That left one week for actual vacationing.
    Not to say that makes lying OK, but if you feel burnt out, you aren’t going to use you precious PTO time to take a nap and recover.

    1. Laney Boggs*

      Yep- my current job offers 2 weeks of time off. Period. If I get sick, it’s unpaid or a vacation day. (Luckily it’s an office job and if I have an appointment I can make up up to 3 hours)

    2. Sunflower*

      I totally agree. My eyes went a little wide at ‘we have a good policy and she uses PTO for doctor’s appointments’. Being able to flex time for doctors appointments is like the bare bones of being a reasonable employer.

      Suggestions to take PTO when you’re burnt out due to workload are laughable and complete BS. Yes, let me take a week off and then come back to 4x the amount of work I left. And I’ve been working around the clock and I should totally have to take my small amount of PTO to offset your inability to staff properly.

      IDK if that’s what’s happening here but before OP even considers firing this person, I’d be concerned.

      1. Oh So Anon*

        Some people will use PTO for doctor’s appointments not because they have to, but for reasons of optics. I can make up time for appointments during the day but I almost always use vacation or personal days for scheduled appointments.

        1. Lia*

          I think the idea is that in a good workplace, you don’t have to worry about optics around taking doctor’s appointments. You just take them! Because you’re human! And how you go through the proper channels and arrange your payment/schedule around that is nobody’s business but yours and whoever’s approving it, because why should that matter in literally any way ever to anyone so long as you’re within (what are hopefully humane) policies.

          Jesus, working life is horrifying sometimes.

          1. Oh So Anon*

            I agree! And I am in a really good workplace when it comes to PTO policies. But:

            (1) That hasn’t always been the case, and old habits die hard, and I’ve dealt with an incident related to PTO that had pretty significant long-term consequences for me, my health, and my career;
            (2) Using PTO helps me maintain boundaries regarding what I need to do in my personal life – I don’t like drawing attention to doctor’s appointments, for example, because I’ve had a former manager be weird and intrusive about my health;
            (3) Not being away from the office above and beyond my PTO time maybe makes it a bit less likely that anyone will go BEC on me for being absent a lot;
            (4) I never want to have to be in the position of defending how I take care of my life to a manager ever again.

    3. Senor Montoya*

      I use sick leave for any sort of medical issue: doctor appts, dentist, fever of 103, disgusting sinus clog that no one wants to hear or see, pain from sports injury that makes it hard to sit at my desk…
      If I’m feeling tired or burned out or need a nap or just need to not look at my coworkers for the rest of the day, that’s annual leave.
      But I have a very generous leave at my employer, so I know not everyone can do that.
      I’m exempt, btw.

      1. Antilles*

        I don’t think you should really need to burn PTO for very minor stuff, especially given that most American offices aren’t working exactly 9-5 anyways.
        If you really hold exactly to those hours, then sure, be a stickler on PTO any time I am not exactly doing the exact hours required…but if you’re going to expect me to stick around till 6:30 pm on a deadline day or show up early for a 7:00 am conference call or whatever, then flexibility goes both ways and you really shouldn’t be nickel-and-diming employees over short doctor’s appointments.

        1. Senor Montoya*

          If I’m out for a couple of hours, I use sick leave. I can flex, but sometimes I can’t or don’t want to, so I use leave. I wouldn’t use leave for like 15 minutes or half an hour, generally.

    4. a1*

      I think it all depends on how long the doctor appt is. Also, some people stack up all their appointments on one day, if they can – dentist, regular doctor, eye doc, etc. Either way, a long appt, or multiple can take many hours. Of course, they’d take time off for that. If it’s a quick blood work or something, not necessarily, but anything more than an hour, yes. I always take time off for appts in those cases. I don’t see this as a big deal?

    5. CheeryO*

      It really depends on the policy. We have no ability to flex our schedules, so making up time for an appointment isn’t really a thing, but we can charge PTO by the hour, and we have enough sick days that the vast majority of people have no issues using it for appointments as well as actual illnesses. Obviously it’s different if you get significantly less PTO or can’t charge less than a full or half day at a time. I’m trusting LW that “good” actually means good and not just “relatively humane.”

    6. Dragoning*

      Also “This employee takes time off for doctors appointments” stuck out to me, because…healthy people don’t need that many doctor’s appointments a year. One for a physical, one for an eye exam, maybe, two for a dentist. Barely noticeable, in the grand scheme of things, so if Employer is noticing, Employee might have health issues that make this even more understandable.

      1. Smithy*

        The OP said the employee has SAD – which means that on top of the 4 appointments you list, indicates some kinda of mental healthcare. Or hopefully indicates that. Not to mention, say this employee has allergies, regular mole checks, ob/gyn needs, occasional cavity, etc. etc. etc.

        All of that can add up to more and more doctor’s appointments throughout the year. And if you need to use PTO for all of that, or take the effort to only find doctors that have after work hours appointments – that can certainly add to someone’s overall workload/feelings of burnout.

      2. Yorick*

        By your calculations, a healthy person would have taken 18-24 days in 6 years. Plus many people have extra doctors appointments here and there for minor illnesses. I think that’s enough for your boss to remember that you do take days/partial days off for them.

      3. Oh So Anon*

        Hey, I have braces. I have a lot more appointments than a few each year for adjustments. Am I unhealthy somehow? I resent the idea that something like that would mark me as having “health issues”.

    7. somebody blonde*

      I think regardless of why she did it, you’re going to have to make it very clear to her that it’s a firing level offense if it happens again. Even if it was a reaction to a bad PTO culture or another mitigating factor, you need to make it really clear that she can’t do this again. You should probably talk through what she should have done instead and what she should do going forward if she has the same circumstance come up again so she’s very clear on what is and isn’t allowed.

    8. Diamond*

      Yup sick leave should be in a different bucket to PTO. These should have been taken as mental health days and not used PTO.

  21. NoLongerStuckInRetailHell*

    There is a good book I read several years ago called “When Your Lover Is A Liar” (or something like that). While it’s about romantic relationships, some of it could apply here. It really gets into the thought process of why liars lie, and it is very eye-opening for straightforward people whose minds don’t work that way.

  22. RC Rascal*

    I like Allison’s answer. However, there is also the possibility that she is both a top performer and a pathological liar.

    I had a very close friend, Pinocchio. Pinocchio was very bright, and excelled at her work. She had a PhD and was a noted expert in her field. After 3 close years of friendship, I had to terminate the relationship because of her lies. I had caught her lying about a few things over the years, and it was always stupid stuff–the kind of thing that she could have forgotten the specifics of and filled in the blanks through erroneous memory. (We all do that, right?) The other thing is that she did have a history of disrupted relationships. Pinocchio had many formerly close friends who were no longer part of her life, and she didn’t have any idea where they were now. Finally, Pinocchio was never wrong. It was always someone else’s fault.

    I would consider these factors, OP: Is your top performer always right, or can she accept accountability for mistakes? How are her relationships like with others, in casual conversation does she ever mention anything indicating a history of disrupted and failed personal relationships?

    Right now, you caught her in a small lie. You need to know if there is a tendency towards a larger pattern.

    1. Observer*

      Well, if she’s a pathological liar, then she needs to go regardless of how good she is. Because you’ve already seen one small way this can go wrong.

      This is just the tip of the iceberg of trouble that can crop up around pathological liars.

    2. Jcarnall*

      If she is a pathological liar, she’ll be lying a lot, to a lot of people.

      As I know from first-hand experience, a pathological liar is not going to confine themselves to lying about a few client meetings – there will be a lot more evidence of a pattern of dishonesty. Not to say that this theory should be ignored, but it’s also fairly readily disproved. And unlikely, if no one up til now has had any issues with her honesty.

  23. Mellow*

    Since employee might have given false data about the client had employee not gotten caught, I wonder how the company defines “top performer.”

    How does the company know whether employee’s other numbers aren’t fudged to some extent or other?

    Nevertheless, I agree that employee should be given a chance to explicate. It might uncover systemic problems, as Alison noted.

    1. WMM*

      Yes, this was my first thought. If she’s lying about this, and your performance metrics could at all be falsifies, I’d be looking behind the scenes at EVERYTHING she’s involved with.

    2. Hiring Mgr*

      Well, if the OP or the company in general can’t identify top or poor performers outside of self reporting.. I’d say there are bigger fish to fry than this one incident. Not in the microwave of course

      1. Sunflower*

        10000%. If self-reported metrics are the only ones you’re looking at, you’ve got a big problem.

        1. AnotherAlison*

          This situation also reminded me of my telemarketing days. I remember sitting in calls with another employee for training. She didn’t follow the script (essentially lied), yet she was winning incentives every week for making the most sales.

          Sometimes even formal metrics are measuring the wrong thing and flagging the wrong person as a top performer.

          No idea what the OP’s business is, but in my business, nm client calls, we would measure other things too, like how many RFPs they bring in, repeat business, customer satisfaction surveys.

      2. Smithy*

        While I totally agree with this – when coming up with metrics for staff who have external facing partners – I’ve found a lot of markers used to measure success can be questionable.

        I’m in fundraising, and while there are best practices, a lot of time success is only measured by how much money you raised. A fundraiser working for the ALS Association during the Ice Bucket Challenge is simply not in the same place as a fundraiser working for an institution at a time when a public scandal hits. Additionally, no matter how small the organization I’ve worked for – there have always been some gifts that arrive out of the blue. And in particularly back-biting places, I’ve seen plenty of fights around who gets “credit” for those gifts. I was also once told by a colleague I should come up with a story to claim credit for a certain pool of unclaimed money because “everyone else was doing it”.

        So…..not saying this is the case where the OP works! But it may be an industry where it’s worth asking exactly what is being evaluated and exactly how strong a metric it is.

  24. Tibs*

    Not many people are talking about the depression aspect here, which I think could be key. I’m ashamed to admit that a few years ago, when my depression was out of control, I told my boss I was working from home when in fact I was in bed all day. It felt horrible, but I couldn’t admit how bad the depression was. After starting therapy I eventually fessed up and thankfully he was an amazing and understanding boss. It helped that I had a track record of doing excellent work for him and being dependable until this. 

    All that to say, depression and the shame that comes with it complicates a lot of things. 

    1. Sam*

      This, especially since she mentioned seasonal depression. I’ve never lied, but when I was at my sickest, there were days when no much was getting done. Fatigue can also be a symptom of other things – I’ve definitely taken PMS naps during my lunch break when working from home.

  25. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

    I feel like there’s important detail missing here, OP! With regard to the client meeting she missed and the ones she said she had also skipped, just what is the meaning/import of these meetings in your business? For example, would those meeting have been billable time? Were they reported as billable? Were they sales meetings that locked other workers out from being able to connect with those clients? What kind of information did she submit to the company regarding the factitious meetings? And, for that matter, did she actually identify to you what meetings in the past she skipped, or did she just offhandedly say she skipped a couple and you’re left wondering what clients your company thinks it spoke with that it actually didn’t?

    As well as taking a long hard look at how much time your employees actually have to use, versus what they need, I think you might also want to take a look at your accountability systems. Is she really your top performer when she’s blowing off meetings to nap? If she will lie to you about this, what else will she lie to you about?

  26. Laura H.*

    Not defending employee. But i know that I don’t see all my options sometimes when I’m in an emotional state (deficit, burnout, and I imagine depression would also qualify)

    This was a bad option to take, but when down in the dumps for whatever reason, even the bad ideas seem acceptable as an option.

    I don’t think as a human being with thoughts and logic, but also with emotions and mentalities to contend with and attempt to get into a decent balance, I don’t think that I’m equipped to act above board 110% of the time/ the logic can’t always overcome the things our emotions and feelings plant in our heads. While I acknowledge that logical shortage is eventually inevitable, that doesn’t mean I don’t have a responsibility to strive for and act with the integrity that my logic helps lay out for me.

    I also must acknowledge where I failed and how (not as an excuse) so that I am strengthened not to repeat the fail, and accept the consequences with as much grace as I can.

  27. Artemisia*

    «… she’d been feeling burned out and was struggling with seasonal depression.»

    This really stuck out for me. I’ve been struggeling with depression ever since I was a teenager, and it’s something I’ve always been very private about, to the extent that I lie if I need time off. I claim to have a physical illness, so I don’t go as far as the person in this letter, but I definitely lie. In my experience, telling people about being depressed often makes it worse because so many people believe it’s the same thing as having a bad day, and will tell you to either snap out of it or just think happy thoughts. It. Does. Not. Work. So I lie.

    1. Quill*

      Same but with anxiety… and with my actual physical condition which is just bad luck in the bone and joint department but which people think I could fix by jogging because I’m “young and healthy”

      (Jogging: literal worst thing for it. I can do a lot of walking but I CANNOT increase the impact on my feet like that. To do cardio I need to either swim or be seated on a bike.)

      So I tell people I “pulled something” or “rolled my weak ankle again” when the arthritis flares up, because apparently being clumsy and/or constantly injuring yourself via activities is far more acceptable than “My footbones are fucked and this is, for the rest of ever, going to be a problem for me that restricts what I can and can’t do.”

      (The anxiety is often easier to cover for because so much of my work is not interacting with humans these days. Especially when you build an engineer’s cushion into your estimates for when things will be done.)

      1. CheeryO*

        I think that kind of white lie is totally fine. People are weird about chronic illnesses. I don’t plan on telling anyone about my autoimmune issues unless they get significantly worse, because it’s easier to just take my day off every month or so and say that I’m under the weather. Luckily it’s not an issue since I have generous PTO and work mostly independently.

    2. Observer*

      It’s not just a difference in extent, it’s a difference in KIND.

      You are not disclosing the correct nature of your illness, but you are ill. And you ARE taking the time off, not pretending that you are not only at work, but actually meeting clients.

      Totally different situations.

  28. Marie*

    Having PTO isn’t the same as feeling you can use it — especially as an important employee during major crunch time when the pressure is high. I also wish LW had said how many PTO days she has, and if there are any sick days or if employees need to take PTO when they’re sick. At my company, people bridge the gap with WFH days (an unofficial policy I disagree with). Does LW let people WFH when they’re unwell? Lots of details missing and a further discussion is indeed necessary.

  29. CupcakeCounter*

    So I can totally see why OP wrote in. I agree that you need to have a sit down with your employee and ask a few key questions most of which AAM has laid out.
    Next step would be to look at your busy period and the time after it. I know from a previous job that there is either a slow slide from busy to normal (or slow) but in some industries its like hitting a wall…just a hard stop. Can you take a look and implement a few “perks” for your team for the post-busy season to help with the burnout? Things like a later start in the morning or more flexible WFH policy for a month or so after the end of the busy season depending on your current policy or send everyone home a couple hours early on a random Tuesday without a PTO ding.
    The biggest thing you need to know is WHY she felt she had to lie – a true culture issue which could imply that you aren’t as open and encouraging about taking PTO as you think you are or if she didn’t want to deplete her PTO bank and was trying toe “game” the system (or she simply didn’t have enough PTO to take which goes back to your ok but not great comment).
    I’m leaning towards the culture and PTO policy being the core issue (and possibly the optics of a being a female needing time for burnout and rest depending on how your industry as a whole or a past employer treats women).

    1. Mommy.MD*

      Very good insight. “It’s not a culture where people take much time off”. To me this translates to “it’s a culture where even good employees have to lie to get a little break”. Working your employees to this point is nothing to be proud of. Especially after the busiest season.

      1. Quill*

        Yeah, a culture where people don’t take much time off is, 99% of the time, a culture where there’s peer pressure to become a productivity matryr.

  30. Mommy.MD*

    OP, please quantify “good but not exceptional” PTO. What’s the policy? How long has she worked there? She should not be afraid to say I’m not feeling well and need to lie down. Rarely I’ve done this mid 12 or 14 hour shift and my generous employer tells me to go find somewhere to rest for two hours and come back. PTO not even discussed.
    This is not black and white. You do have to tell her her job is on the line if she ever lies about clients again. But if she needs a two hour nap, cut her some slack. She’s your top producer.

  31. Caroline Bowman*

    To my undying shame, I have been in the position of lying and getting caught, not about taking time off under false pretences, but about not doing something, then lying and saying I had and then it all turning into a huge witch hunt.

    I’m generally pretty straightforward and have alway done worked well and hard and been truthful in my various places of employment. My problem at that stage was that my manager loathed me and wanted rid of me. Nothing I did was right or good enough and my anxiety was off the charts and it meant that I avoided certain tasks, procrastinated for fear of somehow not doing it right… again… and this is partly what had happened. I was also by that stage pretty much checked out mentally because I was so unhappy at work, never quite able to measure up and the manager in question ( a new manager) was a very political person, very much able to turn things to her advantage and I just fell apart. So stupid. Now I look back, when it first started up I should have demanded a meeting between her, the senior manager and got everything into the open, BUT I DIGRESS! The point is, I was incredibly stupid and lied when really, I just needed to do what amounted to a fairly easy bit of my stated job. The context was key to understanding why.

    When I left – just before I would have been pushed – I was a wreck for ages. I just did temp work and it took ages to fully relax into or enjoy being part of an office culture or team again.

  32. Bubbles*

    But what if this wasn’t a TOP Performer? What if this was a steady and dependable performer? I understand if someone is not performing well, this would be the tipping point to guiding their exit from the company, but I don’t want to discount that the “good, but not exceptional, PTO” is affecting others just as much as the Top Performers. Maybe those average or good performers would be Top Performers if they weren’t burnt out or dealing with insufficient PTO. It doesn’t sound like OP is in a position to single-handedly fix the PTO situation, but this is something she could press up the chain without disclosing the nap lies.

    1. KHB*

      I think the answer would be pretty much the same: Get clarity on the root causes of the behavior, so you can evaluate the situation in full context, rather than jumping straight to “lying bad!”

      For a more average-level employee, though, you might also want to factor in how hard they’d be to replace. Is this a role where there’s a steady supply of qualified job applicants in your area, or would you be looking at an expensive, months-long, possible international candidate search? That might make a difference in where the tipping point is.

  33. Lana Kane*

    I have such a strong suspicion that this employee just doesn’t think she should say that she needs to take time to go home and nap. Regardless, no matter how good she is at her job, the actual lie she told shows a big lapse in judgment. I agree with Allison’s scripts – they allow for a conversation into the why, but still hold her accountable.

  34. TootsNYC*

    I think that because it was a nap, the employee probably felt it didn’t “deserve” sick time.

    I had a subordinate who just didn’t show up one day; I thought she’d gone to the library (as she sometimes did) and hadn’t mentioned it, or I’d forgotten, or she’d forgotten to put a note.

    About noon I started to wonder, so about 1pm I called her. She answered the phone and I asked if she was coming in. She was really, really puzzled–why was I calling her to ask that? Well, it’s 1pm, I said. YIKES! was her response.
    She had an interior bedroom with NO outside light and she’s just slept through her alarm.

    She was mortified and anxious about looking bad and was going to come in.
    I said, “No, obviously your body needed that rest; let’s just call this a sick day. See you tomorrow.”

    But if the tiredness comes from, oh, staying up too late, I can see a highly conscientious employee thinking it would be “wrong” or “sinful” to take a sick day for that. Or a half-day. Because you’re not really “sick” in the conventional sense, and if it feels self-inflicted, that’s also a “bad child” kind of thing.

    That’s also something to probe for.

  35. ThisIshRightHere*

    I absolutely understand where this employee was coming from. In my last job, I was talking with fellow non-management colleagues about how we don’t have as much flexibility to plan our own schedules as our bosses did and it would be great if we could be trusted to occasionally run to the drycleaners, or deposit a check, or do some other personal thing during work hours and still get our work done they way our managers who had had frequent and unverified “offsite meetings” were. One of my colleagues legitimately made up a fake meeting on her calendar just so she could go home and write a work report in peace. She told a lie to IMPROVE her productivity. I haven’t exactly done that, but I have entered a 45-minute meeting across town with “Ms. Chan” into my outlook calendar so people would assume I was with a client when Ms. Chan is actually my manicurist and our meeting involves a gel polish change. I just needed a block of time, where no one would be looking for me, to take care of something personal, that wouldn’t negatively impact my work in any way. I don’t prefer lying as a first resort. But this is really not that different and it’s hard for me to look askance at the employee who simply needed a nap.

    1. Sunflower*

      Couldn’t agree more with this comment. I work events- it’s some late nights, long days and weekends. I would never be able to get that all back in an official flex time bucket. No one on my team says ‘Well I worked 3 18 hour days last week so I’m going to leave early today and tomorrow’. They do however have ‘appointments’ or ‘someone coming to fix my stove’. LOTS and lots of random appointments. As someone said above, flexibility goes both ways and a quick way to piss off your employees is make them feel like they aren’t able to take a 45 min break in the middle of the day when they’re working more than 8 hours.

      IMO, part of the perk of working in sales and performance driven environment is the expectation that if you are hitting your numbers, no one is going to bother you about where you are or what you’re doing. Without knowing the employee’s exact role, I can’t say how much this applies to them but the OP should strongly consider if their culture is one that encourages butt-in-seat over performance

    2. James*

      I’ve set up time for report writing before. It comes up as a meeting in Outlook because I’m not good with Outlook. I don’t consider that a lie–I’m blocking a certain amount of my work day in order to accomplish a task that I am assigned, and it’s a way to let everyone else know I’m not going to be immediately available. I even had someone ask once and, when I explained, they said it was a great idea and started doing it.

  36. Sockit2me*

    Oh wow, no, this person needs to be fired. She’s in sales… does she have access to an expense account? If she does… well, you know. If this behavior was caused by something toxic in the work environment, OP should consider leaving, too. But you can’t have an employee who does this. There are way too many risks and now that OP knows employee is a liar, she could be blamed for pretty much anything employee does going forward.

    If she were falsifying time cards, you wouldn’t give her a break because she doesn’t make a living wage. Why does this person get a pass for the exact same kind of wage theft?

    1. Jedi Squirrel*

      We don’t know how this employee is compensated, so to call it wage theft is a bit much.

      Plus, as Allison and the commentariat have pointed out, there are a lot of mitigating factors here. You should reread Allison’s very tempered response more closely.

      Management requires that we look at the larger situation (i.e., we need context), not just go with our immediate gut feeling on an issue. If this is due to structural or cultural issues, firing this employee doesn’t make those issues go away. And then you will see a recurrence of the issues you are currently dealing with it.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      What does an expense account have to do with anything? That’s why you have multiple checkpoints in place to audit expense reports.

      1. Enginear*

        Because now the employee’s integrity is at question. At my workplace people have been caught and terminated for falsifying expense reports. Fake purchases, buying gift cards with the company credit card, etc.

        1. Lia*

          That seems like a ‘your workplace’ problem, rather than a common one. I’ve worked in a number of very, very different environments, from tiny to multinational, and that’s never actually been a common problem. Occasionally, yes, but not to the extent of ‘oh, that happens’.

    3. Sleve McDichael*

      Dude chill. Everyone lies. You lie. Everything the letter writer knows about this person hasn’t changed because she was caught out in a lie. Yes, it needs to be investigated but you don’t jump straight to damning the character of someone who told a lie any more than you immediately confiscate a person’s driver’s licence for speeding, even though speeding can kill. She’s just earned a few ‘moral demerit points’, maybe a ‘privilege fine’, depending on circumstances.

      1. Cheluzal*

        Absolutely not. I have a 100% no lying
        Policy and I stick to that for decades as an adult. Not even white lies because I’m so passionate about it.

        1. JediSquirrel*

          That is a very unreasonable expectation of yourself or anyone if you want to live on the same planet with other human beings.

      2. LlamaGoose*

        I mean that’s not necessarily true. Everyone has areas where they make dubious ethical choices that are easy for them to rationalize, but it’s not lying for everyone.

        I read a study once that tracked people’s conversations, and about a third of adults never lied in any conversation.

        Some people lie, some people are honest but lose their temper, some people are honest and cool headed but also generally lazy and avoid taking on any responsibilities, some people are honest but also fearful and isolate themselves, some people hold everyone they meet in contempt.

        My point is, nobody’s perfect. And everyone wants to give more leeway to their own type of imperfections but hold people accountable for what they themselves don’t struggle with.

  37. Heidi*

    Hi OP. Sorry you’re going through this. It’s hurtful to be lied to, and embarrassing to have it uncovered in front of a stranger. Moving forward, I’d be wondering in the back of my mind if what she was telling me was a lie. But if your future relationship is going to be one of constant suspicion on your side, and always being second-guessed on her side, that would really stink. Although it’s great that you’re willing to consider the mitigating circumstances in favor of your employee, there’s no way for this to be resolved quickly and put out of mind. It’s going to take time to re-establish the trust. I hope it goes well.

  38. Madame X*

    I can understand wanting to take a nap in the middle of the work day — especially if one’s job requires a lot of travel.

    What I don’t understand is why she lied about having a specific meeting with a specific client.

    There so many other options: marking an hour of time on her calendar as “busy”, taking a half day, or taking a personal day.

  39. What's with Today, today?*

    This is interesting. I called in sick Friday. It was a mental health day, but I just said I didn’t feel well (I didn’t, I was overstressed). I then went and hiked 7 miles, which is how I best clear my stress. I was scared the whole day I’d get “caught,” and still feel guilty.

    1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      But you called out. You didn’t claim you were working. That’s the difference.

  40. windsofwinter*

    I think perhaps the LW may not have to worry for long…if I were caught in a lie like this I would be mortified and job searching rigorously afterward.

  41. Wintermute*

    If she’s your best performer do you really care how the sausage gets made? Managers should focus on results, not process, a consistent and proven track record of high performance should buy someone substantial leeway to do their job however they wish as long as they keep their numbers high.

    That said… it’s worth looking into those numbers. Sales is one of those fields where it’s very possible to look great on paper but get to those numbers through throwing other people under the bus (promising the sun the moon and the stars and letting customer service deal with the fallout when all your company can deliver is an asteroid, misquoting and hoping AP doesn’t check invoices too carefully, or that if you get caught you just claim you were misunderstood, etc.) or by unethical practices to inflate sales numbers.

    1. Observer*

      Managers should focus on results, not process,

      Even if that process is illegal, unethical, unsustainable or problematic in some way?

      When someone lies that’s an integrity issue. And it means you never really know what’s under those pretty reports without lot of cross checking, and sometimes not even then.

      1. Wintermute*

        I think I addressed that, it’s worth digging to make sure there are no serious ethical violations in the woodpile. It goes without saying that legal issues can’t be ignored but I don’t see anything here potentially illegal.

  42. Che Boludo!*

    My father’s sales company used tyo have a rule that all sales reps. had to be out of the office between 10am and 2pm with morning and afternoon time for follow-up, calls or whatever. There were a few reps that always were out and not with clients. The best story about reps screwing around on company time follows:

    One day my father calls Representative Jones into his oiffice to ask how his call the day before went with Company Teapot. “Oh great. Great. We are doing a little of this, a little of that. They are going to buy 10,ooo units of teapot handles”, said Rep. Jones. “It sounds like you were very productive. Way to go killer.”, says my father, Oh and by the way.” Father drops the local sports section of the paper in front of Rep. Jones. Father says, “Tou got all that done and still had time to play 9 holes and hit a hole in one?” He got fired.

  43. James*

    Personal anecdote: I get migraines. Mostly the typical mind-meltingly-painful headaches, but occasionally fun variants like annular or optical ones.

    One day I had a bad one. Nearly totally debilitating. I could stand, but just barely; if you get migraines you know what I’m talking about. Since it happened at the office, I simply could not drive home; I couldn’t manage the stairs to the office, much less driving a car! So I forced myself to work for 15 minutes, then spent 15-20 minutes trying to recover. (Yeah, I know, bad move on my part; blame it on my Midwestern upbringing.)

    During the recovery portion of this cycle, my boss walked into my office. I had blacked out everything for the recovery cycle–windows, screen, door, etc.–and was lying on the floor in agony. He came in, said “Oh, sorry! Didn’t know you were napping!” and left.

    I explained what was going on, but to this day he believes I was taking a nap. He doesn’t get migraines, and doesn’t know anyone who does, so he considers them (like most people I’ve met who don’t get them) to just be a bad headache, no big deal. Fortunately he’s not concerned at all with it–we’ve worked together for years since then, he’s trained me on a number of liability-heavy tasks, and we’ve gotten along great.

    I’m open about my migraines, because I’ve needed to be. If someone was less open about it, I can see them being embarrassed about needing some time to put themselves together, or for medication to kick in. And you can tell, sometimes pretty far in advance (certainly long enough to put a meeting on a calendar) when one is going to ht. We all have tells. It’s not good to lie about it, but I’ve met people who do. Point is, it’s possible that there are mitigating circumstances that you may want to look into.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      This story makes my stomach hurt.

      I haven’t had a lot of debilitating ailments but that doesn’t mean I cannot understand the concept of “migraines can cause explosive pains” there’s a reason why most first migraines send a person to the ER.

      A radio DJ last year was like “migraine! just let me lay down!” but thank God, they mentioned it on air and mentioned other symptoms. Nobody knew that she was having a literal stroke.

    2. ThisIshRightHere*

      Yes! I’m not really a migraine sufferer, I’ve had maybe 3 in as many years. But recently, one struck right before a staff meeting. I couldn’t get darkness or silence, so I just closed my eyes and put my head down for a little while until the meeting started (3-4 minutes tops). My boss apparently came in during that time. When he announced “let’s get started” I sprung to attention and paid attention/participated as much as possible for the entire meeting. He didn’t mention anything about it being a problem that my head was down. He months later, he wrote on my annual performance review that he’d caught me sleeping, plus he fibbed that it was actually during the staff meeting! I was horrified, and appealed it (and won). I know he now wishes he’d just spoken to me rather than running off with the worst possible assumption.

      1. James*

        Fortunately I have a manager and a few coworkers who also get migraines, so most of the team understands what’s going on. We also help each other out–we all carry OTC pain killers, and are willing to share with someone who forgot that day! Like I said, the guy in question is a good guy, and laughed it off.

        Lying on a performance review is seriously messed up. That’s highly unprofessional, and definitely something that his superior needs to know of! Good on you for not letting it slide!

      2. Sal*

        Burying the lede here with that successful appeal. Would love to know how you navigated the interpersonal dynamics of that relationship during and since the appeal process!

        1. ThisIshRightHere*

          @Sal. Lol, sorry about that. Actually that annual review was full of misunderstandings that could have been cleared up had the manager actually mentioned them to me. That was just one. Honestly, I’m not sure I navigated the process well as it was my first experience with that kind of thing. Once I turned in my detailed point for point appeal, the manager suddenly started being really nice to me and credited himself with my
          “my rapid and dramatic performance improvement.” Spoiler: my performance hadn’t “improved,” I’d just poked holes in all the imaginary infractions he was holding against me. I never trusted him again and left as soon as I could. To this day, I’m meticulous to the point of obsessive about ensuring that I always have figurative receipts for everything in case I get accused of anything.

  44. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    I have to wonder if she is feeling pressure and burning out from being pegged as the “top performer.” That is a huge weight to carry if you’re being treated like you’re carrying a department or division, etc.

    I have knocked off early for a “I’m feel awful today” but the idea that she felt the need to go into an elaborate lie and then she admitted to doing that before…is really the main issue. Why doesn’t she feel okay saying “I’m feeling off today, I need to go home and crash for awhile.”

    At first I thought she was actually having cancelled an appointment but didn’t tell you, then it turned out that she didn’t even have a meeting…it was just an excuse to leave the office. YIKES!

    I agree that you need to discuss it longer and more in depth to find the root cause of her lies. And she may need EAP assistance. SAD coupled with burnout is scary, as someone who’s been there over the years. But she’s a workhorse and feels like she cannot show that weakness/need to just take a break sometimes.

  45. Food for Thought*

    I’m not trying to make any assumptions, but could she be potentially saving her sick time for maternity leave? One of my coworkers banked all of her sick time for her maternity leave since we didn’t have any paid time off.

      1. Sal*

        If this were the reason the employee was hoarding PTO, it might give cause for LW to push for a parental leave policy specifically, rather than just better PTO. In the time between getting engaged and when I had my first kid, I 100% hoarded my PTO (it rolled over)—not to the point of lying, but definitely to the point of never calling out for anything less bad than the flu. It happens.

        1. Food for Thought*

          Exactly. Our vacation time didn’t roll over so my coworker used her limited vacation time for everything, including illness. Just so she could keep banking sick leave for her maternity leave. She did it for probably 2-3 years before having her kid. So I’m not trying to be inappropriate or anything, all I’m saying is that maybe they should look at why she wasn’t willing to use sick/PTO time. When my coworker was doing saving time, she would have to hop on “webinars” in her office sometimes so she could take a quick nap since she was so burnt out from not using any time off. It was just meant to be food for thought is all.

  46. Pobody’s Nerfect*

    Really good advice from Allison. We have a coworker who, a few times a month in the “sleepy” time of the afternoon, will just close their door to take a nap. Closed doors are not the norm in our workplace, plus we can hear them snoring through the door. They’re not a manager or supervisor, but the manager witnesses and knows about it (but does nothing). It’s pretty frustrating to hear someone sleeping and know they’re getting paid for it, while the rest of us are working hard in the meantime. Managers: manage better. Stop letting this kind of thing continue.

      1. Pobody's Nerfect*

        It’s not an accommodation. How is it “nunya” when it’s creating an unfair working environment and leading to hostile tensions in the workplace?

        1. JediSquirrel*

          You have no idea if it’s an accommodation because you’re not their manager. These matters are confidential, hence, nunya.

          Also, “unfair” is highly subjective.

    1. MoopySwarpet*

      We had an employee who did this for the first several months after having a baby. Just shut the door and took a nap. As long as the work was getting done, it wasn’t a big deal to us. Better that than getting into a wreck on the way to or from work because of sleep deprivation.

  47. Anon attorney*

    I think this is really nuanced advice. For me, though, it would be very difficult to get over the integrity breach involved here. I agree that in some office cultures it can feel impossible to take time off for burnout and mental health issues. I work in a fairly relaxed culture, and I still feel more comfortable calling in sick with a “migraine” than saying I am too depressed or anxious to come to work. But for me that’s not as fundamental a breach of integrity because the basic fact is the same – I’m sick and can’t come to the office. But lying about seeing a client is different. That’s essentially saying you are working when you are not. It’s put you in an awkward position with that client, and if output is related to client face time it introduces the possibility that her performance metrics aren’t accurate. If clients are billed on the basis of the time staff spend with them, can you be certain those billings are accurate? I would be randomly auditing her client files in your position.

    If someone did this in private legal practice, I think it would be very difficult to come back from it, unless of course you were a partner!

  48. Forky*

    When my hypothyroid was undiagnosed (4 long years of trying to convince doctors my weight gain and excessive tiredness were not just “getting older”) I lied about naps like an alcoholic lies about beer. I even lied to my sister about traffic on the interstate when in fact I was pulled over in a McDonald’s parking lot and just couldn’t keep my eyes open. Now that I’m on proper medication, I don’t do that anymore, but I have so, so much sympathy for the employee in question. Society looks down on people sleeping in and taking naps more than you would expect.

    1. Jedi Squirrel*

      Society looks down on people sleeping in and taking naps more than you would expect.

      Unless you are a dog or a cat. :)

      Then again, look at how much they sleep. We are a very sleep-deprived society.

  49. Me*

    Late to the game and probably already mentioned but another probably reason for lying in this instance is the stigma around mental illness. Huge. As in people think it’s an excuse.

    This still doesn’t make the lying OK, but recognizing there is a very real stigma around mental illness might be helpful here. It’s definitely gotten better but there’s still a long way to go.

  50. True confessions*

    I initially thought about how once someone starts lying, it gets easier to continue doing, and is very hard to trust someone again once they’ve started. And then I remembered a job I had years ago.

    My hours were capped because the company didn’t want to spend more, and so I’d have to justify working extra to my boss, to get permission (paid hourly, just under full-time). I never had time to write all the reports they needed because instead of spreading out my client meetings so I had time between them or at the end of the day to write them all and turn them in, they would schedule my meetings back-to-back and sometimes even over my lunch break (the receptionist at the front office would say “Well that’s the time they asked for!” and never suggested another time slot even when she could see I had 4 straight hours of meetings, a lunch, then another 2-3 hours of meetings scheduled). I ended up with this backlog of reports due and my boss wanted them, and she “couldn’t understand” why I could not get it all done or wanted to work extra hours to write them. This was a cycle that continued and I’d end up finishing the reports during cancelled meetings, or I’d push off other important work to do it. After working through laryngitis one week and having to have these meetings while barely being able to talk and nobody else offering to take any on for me, I finally figured out my solution: I started booking fake informational meetings on my calendar – the kind that didn’t need reports completed. They were made-up prospects. I did these meetings all the time via phone for anyone not local, so I started putting a few on my calendar each week, then used that time to get my reports done. If anyone ever asked me how it went, it was going to be so easy to say “I called but they weren’t reachable” or “they cancelled/rescheduled” – we had a lot of prospects like that and this was a frequent thing that happened. I felt badly at first because I generally don’t lie ever (!) and I take ownership of my mistakes. But talking to my boss about the amount of work I had didn’t help – she was unreasonable and already scrambling in her own role. Pleading with the front desk who scheduled most of my appointments didn’t either. So I did this for about two months – having a couple fake phone calls each week on my calendar, blocking any real meetings from being scheduled. It worked. I got my work done right there at my desk with the door closed during those times and then for much of the unsustainable dysfunction and unrealistic expectations mentioned above, I quit. I’ve never lied like that again, but also I’ve never been put in that impossible situation since. If I’ve had too much of a workload it’s been easily communicated about with my bosses. I regularly check in about what’s expected of me. That one job was hell. I still think about this a lot though, because while I never want or plan to lie like that again, or have someone do the same to me, I secretly feel like an ingenious problem-solver.

  51. jane from payroll*

    I had a grandboss once who was supervising me while my boss’s position was open. I needed to work through something with her (we were slammed with work, partially due to multiple unfilled positions on our team) and she told me she was in contract meetings all day in a neighboring state, and couldn’t talk.

    A couple weeks later I was processing her credit card expenses and noticed she had been at a spa that day, near the office, getting all kinds of treatments (our company reimbursed employees for some “wellness” expenses each year instead of holding obnoxious wellness activities at work, which is why I had her spa receipt). She was at the damn spa while I was doing my work and my absent boss’s work, and barely keeping the team on task. She lied to me and then LITERALLY sent me the receipt.

    I never said anything and really had no recourse to, but didn’t ever trust her and soon left that job. Bosses often lie to their employees about where they are to get time to themselves or nap or play hooky, and it’s also a crap situation, but generally does not get looked at as negatively as someone who lies up to their boss.

  52. Accountant Anonymous*

    Late to the party, but I’m a high performer at my company and really struggling right now, between having an active and teething toddler at home and some situational depression. I work from home and I feel very isolated. I honestly don’t know how to ask my employer for time right now without some kind of fib, because I’m really worried about jeopardizing a possible promotion. So I don’t have any advice, just empathy. I haven’t lied to my employer to get time off, but I understand the impulse to seem strong and capable no matter what.

Comments are closed.