I think my coworker is lying about having a sick kid

A reader writes:

If you were our boss, would you want to know this or I should I ignore it?

I have a coworker who has a sick kid. He frequently needs to take time off. My other coworkers and my boss and I are always understanding. We have done his work when he is off, our boss advocates for his time off to be paid, and whenever he has asked my coworkers and I have donated our own PTO to him.

I think he may be lying about having a child at all. On social media he was suggested as someone I might know. The first name and photo were him. Parts of the profile are public. On some days when he said he was off for the child, he is in photos by a pool. A week he was off for the child having surgery, he was vacationing in another province even though he said the surgery was happening here. In a few comments to others, he said he wants to be a father “one day.”

Sometimes if someone asks him how his child is doing, he will show them a picture on his phone, especially if he has just got back from being off. He says it is his kid. But there are no pictures or mentions of the kid anywhere on his social media. The photos of the child are from an ad campaign for fundraising for our hospital, and in the ads the child has a different name than his. At first I thought the name was changed in the ad campaign for privacy reasons, but given everything else I have learned, it has made me question things. He shows those pictures once in a while at work, telling us it is his kid.

Now there could be an explanation, and normally I would say it’s none of my business. But since he asks for us to donate our PTO and money to him and is being paid for all this time even though he normally wouldn’t be, I think our employer needs to know.

Oh no, how tricky.

Most of this stuff on its own could have a reasonable explanation. For example, when your coworker posts photos of himself at a pool, those photos weren’t necessarily taken that day. They could be from the previous weekend and he’s posting them while at home caring for his kid. The kid in the ad campaign really could be his (with the name changed for privacy reasons). And so forth.

But taken altogether, especially with the comments on social media about wanting to be a father “one day” and the lack of any photos that aren’t from ad campaigns, it does look strange.

That said, people who are sick often face skepticism and scrutiny when they should not, so you’ve got to proceed really cautiously here. The last thing you want to do is cause stress and hardship for someone who’s legitimately caring for a sick child.

And honestly, if it weren’t for the requests for your PTO, I might leave it alone, figuring it’s between him and your employer (and that there’s nothing quite conclusive enough here to raise it).

But ugh, with the donated PTO … I’m leaning toward thinking you should have a one-time, discreet, cautious conversation with your manager. You’d want to be careful not to frame it as “this is happening,” which you can’t know, but rather as, “I feel incredibly awkward bringing this up, and if there’s nothing to it I will feel terrible, but it’s made me uneasy enough that I wanted to mention it to you in confidence.” Stress that you could very well be wrong.

This assumes, of course, you have a manager you trust to handle this well — not someone who will jump to assuming the worst and not someone who will be willfully blind if there is a problem and not someone who will just announce to your coworker, “Jane thinks you’re faking a sick kid!” If your manager’s usual style tends toward Colossal Blunder, and if HR doesn’t feel like a good option either, I might lean towards simply protecting your own PTO and letting this play out without you.

{ 329 comments… read them below }

  1. Mbarr*

    Oof. This is suuuuuper tricky. I have nothing to contribute, but I really hope we get an update about this later on.

  2. Adriano*

    I’m torn. On the one hand, this feels really iffy. On the other, I’m a father, and I have basically zero mentions of my child on social media. No public photos (we share photos with my family), no mentions of her name. I have at most mentioned that she’s a human child, her gender, and sometimes her age. When I post pictures of my holidays, she doesn’t ever appear in them. Our reasoning with my wife is that, when the kid grows up, she can decide how to show herself, obviously with our guidance.

    So I could be this guy, if I ever asked for PTO for this reason. You’d try to find my twitter and basically wouldn’t know she exists. You’d see photos of my wife and me, but not her.

    1. Count Boochie Flagrante*

      This is a good point. My brother feels similarly strongly about having pictures of his kids on social media — but on the other hand, my sister-in-law takes a bajillion photos for family consumption only, on the understanding that the pics do not go on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or anywhere else.

      It does occur to me, though, that someone with a stance like this would probably not permit his kid to be used as the face of an ad campaign.

      1. Just J.*

        I was thinking that maybe the person was using a generic, public photo to protect his child even more.

        1. Count Boochie Flagrante*

          That seems like a very odd thing to do — “hey coworkers, this is my kid, but not actually my kid because I don’t want you to see his face. This is a child you could imagine being my kid.” If you didn’t want to show your coworkers pics of your actual kid, wouldn’t you just… not?

          1. valentine*

            The ad pictures are to sell the story. They don’t make sense otherwise because they don’t answer the question, “How’s Kid?” To answer that with a photo, you would show a recent photo: “He was well enough on Tuesday to play in the yard.” What he’s doing is reinforcing that everyone is working extra and taking less time off for that widdle face.

        2. pentamom*

          While showing photos of another kid, instead of just not showing pictures of your kid, isn’t inherently fraudulent, it’s weird enough that anyone is justified in thinking that he’s lying about having a kid is the more likely explanation.

        3. Dust Bunny*

          I could *almost* see him doing this if, because of the illness, his child’s appearance was . . . sensitive (thin, pale, on oxygen) and might trigger even more, possibly unwanted, attention and gossip. But think it’s weird that he’d use the image of the child from the advertising campaign, which all his coworkers would be likely to recognize.

          Unless the advertising kid *is* his and, as was suggested above, given a false name in the advertising for security/privacy.

          1. Dust Bunny*

            As for wanting to be a father “some day”–are you sure these posts aren’t old? Facebook kicks up “Facebook memories” on a daily basis so maybe this caption was attached to an old, pre-fatherhood picture. My Facebook feed today posted a picture of my new puppy . . . from 1985 (originally posted 3 years ago).

            1. who?*

              This is a good point. Especially when people’s profiles are private, the public posts you see are often few and far between, or from back before they wised up to security settings. Check those dates!

            2. Wing Leader*

              That’s what I was thinking. Are you sure his comments about being a father “some day” aren’t from several years ago?

              1. OwlEditor*

                This could be it. I like to post my memories and I have a friend, an older lady, who just cannot seem to understand this stuff happened years ago and comments like it happened today.

              1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

                Not if you comment on the original post/photo. It then appears in your normal feed, and your friend has to pay attention to the date of the original to notice that it’s old.

                I mean, I think this explanation is quite the s t r e t c h, but it’s not beyond the realms of possibility.

                1. Required*

                  There’s a border that makes it obvious that it is a memory. And if OP was looking through their page that closely, I trust that they looked at the date.

          1. There’s probably a cat meme to describe it*

            However I flip it, it all sounds too convoluted to me too. There’s just not enough info to say for sure.

            I’d be so tempted to try and subtly catch him out. Not to bring it to the manager, but just to know whether to follow my hunch further or drop it.

            I’d ask something innocent but a little probing, maybe about his son’s birthday, a school teacher, favourite book or TV program. Just the casual water cooler chit-chat people have about kids. Maybe like “oh, my friend’s kid has his birthday next week and I have no idea what to buy for a present. I think Johnny is around the same age? What sort of stuff is he into? Would he have liked [this] at 9?”

            If he’s telling the truth it’ll be an easy, natural conversation. But if it turns out that he is a fraud, and one dumb enough to try pass off the workplace’s fundraising ad star as his own kid, then he’ll be scrambling like an omelette.

            1. Yorick*

              If it’s all a lie, it’s super convoluted. But that convoluted scenario is really the one that makes the most sense.

            2. A Poster Has No Name*

              I don’t think it’s that convoluted at all. People defraud others with fake cancer diagnoses and such, and keep it up for years before they’re caught, why not defraud your employer with a fake sick kid? He’s not even posting gofundme’s or anything that might require some actual verification.

              I can understand not wanting to post pics of your kid on social media, but not to save a picture of a kid in an ad campaign to your phone to show coworkers claiming that pic is your kid. I mean, come on. If you don’t want to show coworkers pics of your kid, just…don’t. To me, using a fake kid photo says “I’m faking having the kid, too” because if you didn’t want to show pics of your kid you would say to your coworkers “I’d rather not show pics of my kid.” which reasonable people would understand.

      2. Tableau Wizard*

        Your second point is what I came here to say. There are some, but probably less than 10, pictures of my kids on my social, but I also don’t allow their school to use photos of them and I never sign those photo release waivers, so I can’t see somebody not posting ANYTHING about their kids and then being totally okay with them being used in an ad campaign. Super odd.

        1. Jady*

          I would assume they get paid for the ads, so in a medical situation in the US money could be really tight…

      3. TootsNYC*

        well, if his kid was receiving treatment they were really grateful for, they might be willing to allow it with those restrictions.

    2. Mama Bear*

      I don’t post many pictures of my kid, either, but HR knows she’s my dependent. If he’s lying about the kid’s illness, that is one thing. If he’s lying about having a kid, that is something else.

      1. Just J.*

        My thoughts too. If he has a child, then HR would know about a defendant because of tax forms and insurance forms and claims.

        1. Phantom*

          HR does not know about my first child. (Although, I was working where I work now when my second was born and took time off, so they do know about that one.) My family gets its insurance through my husband’s employer, and HR has no way of knowing if the number of deductions I put on my tax withholdings is related to me having kids or not. Sometimes I use sick time when my kids are sick, and no one has ever asked me to confirm that they exist.

          1. Extroverted Bean Counter*

            Yes, if they aren’t on an insurance plan there’s not necessarily any reason for HR to know if an employee has a dependent child. I have two kids but don’t indicate that on my W4.

            1. Jdc*

              Exactly. We are all on my husbands insurance and unless it was brought up frankly his work wouldn’t even know because he doesn’t have insurance though them since we have Tri Care.

        2. A Canadian Abroad*

          I worked in Canada for over 20 years as a parent and I never once had to tell HR or my workplace anything about whether I had kids. It did come up in conversation with people of course but I never had to formally tell anyone.

          1. iglwif*

            Yeah, if you don’t participate in an employee health plan and/or your kids are on your spouse’s plan, and if your kids aren’t listed as beneficiaries of a pension or RRSP plan, and if they were born long enough ago that you didn’t take maternity or parental leave from your current job, HR might very well have no idea you have a child. Especially if you work for a big company, and therefore don’t have much personal contact with any HR people.

        3. Jubilance*

          Not necessarily. My husband carries our children on his insurance, but I have my own through my employer. His company actually charges more to add spouses who are eligible for benefits at their own comapnies, so we keep separate insurance. I have taken parental leave when I had my kids, but beyond that, my HR wouldn’t know anything about me having kids, just looking at my insurance information.

        4. Rusty Shackelford*

          My husband’s HR doesn’t know diddly about our child, since neither of them get insurance from his employer. And my own HR doesn’t get insurance claims for my child (is that a thing?), so they would have no way of knowing if she were sick.

    3. Marny*

      The OP’s situation sounds like more than just no public photos. You’ve mentioned the existence of a child, where the OP’s coworker mentions wanting to be a father “one day”. If it were just a matter of no photos and no references to a child at all, I’d agree that OP is overreacting in the face of someone who’s cautious about their privacy.

    4. Springella*

      But probably you don’t write on your social media profile that you want a kid one day? Also, you probably have more than one pic of your child on your phone? I don’t have any children yet I’ve got plenty of photos of my friend’s children on my phone.

      Having in mind tat people donate PTO, money and work instead of that guy, they’ve got every right to carefully clarify the issue.

      1. Elizabeth Rochelle Dickson*

        Um, I have around 10 nephews and nieces. Do you know how many pictures I have of them, on my phone or otherwise? None. Zero. Zilch. Not everyone collects pictures of children they know — keep that in mind.

        1. Free Now (and forever)*

          Surprisingly enough, there’s a difference between having photos of your nieces and nephews on your phone. Very few parents, who have a cell phone with a camera, would not have taken some photos of them with the phone. They might not post them on Facebook or Instagram, but they would be on their phone.

    5. Wannabe Disney Princess*

      What’s tipping me away from this possibility are the comments he made about wanting to be a father one day. (The caveat being if those comments are dated older than his kid is.)

      1. TootsNYC*

        or if they’re something like:
        A photo of someone else playing ball with their daughter, and he writes, “I hope this is me one day,” and he has a son.

        Or the photo shows an older kid, and the comment is similar.
        Or “I hope to be that kind of dad one day.”

        It just depends so much on the actual wording.
        I’m assuming the OP has thought about those possibilities, though, since they saw the actual wording/post, and we didn’t.

        1. Zephy*

          That was my thinking, too – maybe the comment was in response to a picture/video/whatever of a dad and kid doing something that the putative sick kid’s illness prevents them from doing. Occam’s razor would suggest that he’s lying, but the simplest explanation isn’t always correct.

        2. Megan*

          Comments like that may be especially likely if there is a chance his kid isn’t going to make it to an age to play ball (or whatever).

        3. Yorick*

          But I don’t think OP would jump from that to “he is saying he doesn’t have a kid.” I also think OP would have looked at the date on the post, and if it was really old said, “ok, he wrote that 8 years ago, no big deal.”

      2. Fashionable Pumpkin*

        It’s hard to judge why someone says something to an acquaintance on FB. I like a lot of child-free posts, and will joke about not wanting kids- but I am a mom. My friends know this, and get the joke, but someone else might think that I am child-free, don’t have kids, etc. (And my 14 year old has seen things I post. He thinks it’s hilarious, before anyone calls me a bad mom).
        Also, I’ve had coworkers mention after a year or two of working with me that they didn’t know I had a kid. But that was when my work was mostly customer facing, and most conversations with coworkers were about work/customers.

      3. Jady*

        I imagine another possibility would be if the kid is adopted or kid-by-marriage? If the post is current, it could make sense that he wants to be a biological father?

    6. Temperance*

      This is different, though. He’s showing ad campaign photos of a child that is likely not his kid.

      1. JokeyJules*

        it might be too stalker-y to do, but you can reverse google image search the photo and see if it pops up anywhere else. Like a gofundme created by someone else for a different child.

        1. Jules the 3rd*

          That doesn’t clarify the situation – the pic is public and the gofundme could just have picked it up from the same source.

        2. LunaLena*

          The OP said the photos are part of an advertising campaign for the hospital they work at, though. That means it’s not just a random photo picked up on Google (or at least, it shouldn’t be. There would be severe legal issues at play if they’re using random children’s photos for their campaigns, unless it’s from a site like Pixabay or MorgueFile that allows such usage). It’s more likely that it’s either a professional stock photo that they paid to use (a Google reverse image search would help in this case) or it was taken specifically for the ad campaign and model releases were signed. If this person is actually faking having a child, he might have found a series of photos of this particular child in the database and figured no one would notice if he used them. I work in marketing and the “come on, no one will notice” mentality is real.

      1. Shamy*

        Honestly, this is what I thought. My father was catfished by someone who literally stole all sorts of pictures from another woman who had a public profile due to her home business. I reported it over and over because I just knew she was fake. It wasn’t until I tracked down the real woman in the photos and told her so she could report the account that it got taken down. And there were all sorts of weird inconsistencies on the catfish page.

        OP should tread very, very lightly here. Maybe even portray it that way to the coworker, something like “I was going to friend you on facebook, but there were all sorts of discrepancies on the page. Just wanted you to know in case you were hacked!”

    7. Jules the 3rd*

      I’m the same way. I will occasionally mention him in a comment, on the posts of his friends’ parents, but no pics, and I do not discuss him on my social media.

    8. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      This is a pretty common practice for families, they have strict social media rules for their children’s images.

      But I think there’s more than just his devoid social media here, so I’m still got that tingly “WTF is going on here” feeling towards the guy. The fact his only photo is a public photo op, wtf.

      1. Jdc*

        Ya I mean at some point the kid comes up in conversation beyond just his illness and stock photos. We took everyone to the zoo. Now that could not include a kid but you don’t really go to LEGO land without a kid. I mean, not if you value your sanity.

    9. Lizy*

      Same with my husband. He rarely posts pictures of our kids or me on social media, or even mentions that we/they exist. He mostly uses FB for the groups and so since he’s fairly involved in that aspect, he leaves his personal stuff out of it. I’ll tag him in things, but that’s really as much as anything involving our kids is posted on his page.

      IF we (heaven forbid) had a kid that was featured in hospital ads or whatever, I *think* we’d use their real name (first name, at least – our last name is VERY unusual and recognizable), but I honestly don’t know. So yeah… this could very well be my husband, too.

      1. TootsNYC*

        it might be the hospital’s policy to not use the real name, even just a first name; you might not get a choice.

        1. Veronica Mars*

          But why wouldn’t they just… leave a name off entirely? Why label the photo with a name?

          1. Coverage Associate*

            Depending on what the ad is for, it can be much more effective if there’s a name attached. “Please donate to help Mikey beat cancer,” pulls more heart strings than “Please donate to help a boy beat cancer.” It’s the same reason fictional characters have names, even when not necessary for dialogue. Shakespeare has a few characters with no lines.

        2. Anonapots*

          Honestly, I wonder if that’s a thing at all. The whole point of using the children in advertising is to get the word out about their success rates at treatment. Around here it’s usually first name last initial. Giving them a fake name is…odd.

          There’s a LOT of bending and stretching to make this make any sense. The thing that raises flags to me is it’s one picture from an ad campaign; nothing updated or more recent. So leaving aside the possibility that he doesn’t post about his kid on FB, the idea that he has exactly one photo of the child and one photo alone makes it suspicious.

    10. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Yeah, if I had young children now, I bet I’d be like you. Back when mine were young, I posted their photos and blogged about them etc and then gradually tapered that off to where now my social media posts are all cat photos (my kids are now adults). So that part, I get. However with this guy, what sets my radar off is that he’d commented about wanting to be a father one day, and that the photos he’d shown of his kid were later recognized as being a completely different child from an ad campaign.

    11. designbot*

      I think that’s what Alison’s getting at when she says that any one of these things individually could absolutely just be a misunderstanding. Sure, the part about not posting photos could be you! But, are the photos you have on your phone of an ad campaign? And do you talk about how you hope to be a father someday? And are you a bit dodgy about where you’ll be on your time off? Taken all together, I definitely see why OP’s come to the conclusion they have.

    12. CoveredInBees*

      Yeah. This on its own doesn’t indicate anything and, honestly, I’d put it very last on a list of reasons to wonder about the kid since being off on vacation when they person had said the kid was getting surgery locally.

      1. Zephy*

        I mean, there’s even a reasonable explanation for that – plenty of people don’t post vacation photos in real-time, and in fact, it’s generally recommended that you don’t, so as not to alert potential bad actors in your extended network that “hey, I’m not at home and won’t be for a certain amount of time.” If this guy is legit, and he is just being especially respectful of his kid’s privacy vis-a-vis social media, he may very well have decided “Welp, nothing to do but hang out in this hospital waiting room for however long this surgery takes. Oh, there’s the pictures from our trip to the beach last year, maybe I’ll post those – remembering that vacation gives me something to think/talk about besides my sick kid or these episodes of King of the Hill they have playing on loop.”

        1. tangerineRose*

          That makes sense. When I take a sick day, I stay off of facebook that day (and these are real sick days, but I don’t want anyone getting the wrong idea).

        2. Reality.Bites*

          But their co-worker would likely know that they NEVER took off time for a beach holiday at any time that all their time off went to child care and why they were asking people to donate their own.

    13. CupcakeCounter*

      That was my first thought as well – he doesn’t have primary custody or due to illness don’t have any pics posted on social. Also if the kid in the photo ad campaign IS his child, maybe there is a deal in place that no images other than official ones will be posted (but you’d still think he’d have some photos other than just ad campaign photos to show coworker and that he would have mentioned that his child is the poster child for the illness/hospital to offset some of the costs).

    14. une autre Cassandra*

      Yeah, this was the least damning part to me. I know a lot of people who keep their kids off social media entirely.

    15. Not Me*

      That would make a lot more sense if the child wasn’t in ads for the hospital. If you’re allowing pictures of your child to be used for ads it’s pretty unlikely you’d be so stringent about keeping their faces private online.

    16. Vicky Austin*

      But you don’t post on Facebook about how you want to be a father “someday,” right?

  3. Mama Bear*

    I’d bring it up to HR to investigate, especially since people are donating PTO for this. Wouldn’t that be theft by deception?

  4. Count Boochie Flagrante*

    I am giving you the most emphatic uf da of my life.

    The ad campaign photos seem really odd to me. There’s such a massive difference between pictures you take yourself on your phone versus professionally-staged, retouched, artificially perfect photos used for ads. Are people supposed to just not notice that he doesn’t have any candids of his child? Is he passing off these ad photos as ones he’s taken himself?

    If he is, that might be the angle to take with your boss when you discuss it with him; you can’t definitively prove the existence of this father-child relationship to be false, but if your coworker claims he took this picture when he actually just downloaded it, that’s an easy way to falsify at least part of his claims.

    Whatever you do, don’t talk about this with your coworkers. It might be really tempting to quietly start passing word around so that other people can guard their own PTO, but that would make you the epicenter of a whisper campaign with massive impacts on your coworker’s reputation and your own. Talk to your boss (or another authority figure in your workplace) or no one at all.

    If your boss isn’t someone you can talk to about this — Colossal Blunder R Us, or maybe he’s just very new and you don’t have a settled relationship with him yet — is there someone else at work you can raise this concern with? A reasonably high-level member of HR, perhaps?

    Keep us posted, OP. This is a terribly sticky situation and the pitfalls are plentiful and very, very deep.

    1. Foreign Octopus*

      Whatever you do, don’t talk about this with your coworkers.

      An excellent point here. Keep this as close to your chest as possible. If it’s awful to be mistaken in a private convo with your manager, it’ll be worse if you’ve fanned the flames in the office (not suggesting that you would, but as the Count says, it is tempting).

    2. fposte*

      I especially agree on not talking about this with co-workers. That would definitely be my temptation in the OP’s position, because it’s so tempting, but it’s only going to make a tricky situation into a bad one.

    3. Yep, me again*

      Don’t donate anymore PTO to him, just act like you have a vacation coming up or a family wedding to go to and you need to save those days.

          1. Chinook*

            Canadians have similar coverage but employers only need to protect the job – payment is through employment insurance.

            1. Frank Doyle*

              Isn’t that what American FMLA is? They just hold your job, there’s no income/payment involved.

          2. Rusty Shackelford*

            And if the LW did live in America, FMLA doesn’t do the same thing as your coworkers donating PTO, since it only guarantees you keep your job, not your income.

              1. Jane Austin Texas*

                I see from comments above that the LW isn’t American (missed that), and I’m certainly no expert in multinational HR, but I would think there may be something similar. And regardless of anything, I would stop donating PTO.

          3. Anonapots*

            I think the point is the OP stop donating time and the coworker use whatever legal options are available to him, whether that’s FMLA or something else. FMLA is just shorthand.

  5. Foreign Octopus*

    Tbh, if it wasn’t for the donated PTO aspect of this, I’d be on the side of let it slide even though it’s annoying having to cover. The PTO puts it into a different ballgame and is worth one horribly awkward conversation with your manager just so that it’s out of your hands and you’re no longer thinking about it. At that point, wash your hands of it and proceed with your co-worker in good faith.

  6. MissMeghan*

    That is such a tough situation. I do think does rise above the usual mind your own business due to the additional paid days and the giving of money and PTO time. I’d also ask, what is the temperament of your boss? You slowly came to wonder if your coworker is telling the truth as evidence filtered in, but if you put it all in front of your boss at once, will they react angrily or with accusations toward your coworker? It can be hard to be tactful when you feel like you’ve been made to look foolish, so I’d just be careful not to do this as an information dump and ease into the conversation slowly.

  7. Megan*

    HR would probably know if he has a kid, right? Since they would likely be a dependent on his insurance? Again, my husband isn’t even using his work’s insurance and neither do I, we both use mine. But I would assume HR would probably know whether or not he had a kid.

      1. Maddy*

        We do have employer paid insurance (benefits we call it here) that covers prescriptions, dental, etc. (stuff that isn’t covered by our universal health care) Although not all employers provide it but most do for full time (and some part time) employees. But if your spouse has a better package (it varies between employers) you might be on theirs or vice versa.

      1. zutzy*

        Most insurance policies in Canada will cover a percentage, so most two-parent families that have both parents with benefits will have the kids on both policies. For example, my Dad’s insurance covered 80% of major dental work, prescriptions, etc. Mum’s insurance only covered 60% of the same. So when my brother needed braces, Dad’s insurance covered 80% of the cost, and then mum’s insurance covered 60% of the remaining 20% of the cost.

        If the other parent of this child also has benefits, it is likely the child is on both policies, especially if they are sick as often as this coworker claims. The only situation I can think of where the child isn’t under both is a bit of benefits/insurance fraud where the other parent (whom I assume is the mother) claims the child wholly as a dependent. This would lead to a greater amount of tax benefits and thus a larger income tax return along with monthly payouts from the government, based on her solo income with a dependent who potentially has a “claimable illness” (Some special needs children receive additional government funding).

        (PS: The insurance benefits from the workplace are considered 3rd-party since the government health care in Canada doesn’t cover everything, especially things like optical and dental.)

        1. Kathlynn (Canada)*

          And the reason for this is because the coverage is frequently low (I don’t know how it compares to coverage provided by the US insurance coverage). But I know my maximum yearly benefits is $2k here (1k at my last job), and it only cover 80% of most procedures or dental items (like dentures). And only covers $100s for custom orthotics (my last job covered $300). And my last pair costed $400 plus the money for the appointment.

          1. Artemesia*

            I worked for 45 years in the US and never had dental coverage or coverage that included glasses/refractions (eye health was covered but not vision help)

        2. Goliath Corp.*

          And very relevant for this case, our healthcare doesn’t cover medications outside of hospital setting, unless they’re getting some kind of additional disability coverage. My employer’s benefits plan only gives me $1k per year for medications, and when I had serious health issues that ran out VERY quickly.

      2. CL Cox*

        My kids are all on my insurance and have been for years. My plan is better than ExH’s. He has them listed as beneficiaries on his life insurance through work, but I think that’s the only place they are listed.

        1. iglwif*

          I, my spouse, and our kiddo are now covered by both my employer plan and my spouse’s, but for YEARS we were all just on mine, because ExJob had crappy pay but extremely good benefits. So until about 3 years ago there would have been no official HR record of his having a child (although of course everyone knew he did, because he had SO MANY kid artworks and family photos and such all over his cube).

    1. Marny*

      The mention of “province” makes me think Canadian so they may not have employer-based insurance at all.

      1. Kathlynn (Canada)*

        our provincial health isn’t that good. We still need insurance for (at a minimum) dental, vision, and prescriptions. plus many specialist or most medical equipment. The only bad thing is that, like the USA pre-Obamacare many employers don’t offer health insurance.

      2. CR*

        It is a misconception that Canadians rely solely on our “free” healthcare…we absolutely do have employer-based insurance.

        1. Marny*

          I used to live in Canada and relied completely on government healthcare. Plenty of people do.

    2. L Dub*

      There is a potential that even if the child is truly his, the child may not be a dependent on his insurance though. Or, the father may not have insurance coverage through this employer and has coverage via other means.

      1. Beth*

        Yes, we Canadians do have health insurance through our employers too. Our benefits packages cover things that our provincial health care doesn’t – medications, dental care, eye care, therapy, ambulance rides, semi-private hospital rooms, etc. Even then, people still pay out of pocket for a lot of things. (It’s a myth that everything is free here.)

        1. L Dub*

          Did you mean to respond to me? (That sounds snarky, I don’t mean it that way.)

          I’m not saying you don’t have employer provided coverage – I’m just pointing out that the father may not carry that employer provided coverage, as in he may have opted out because he obtains his coverage another way. (ie: a spouse or something else.)

    3. Just Me*

      I thought of this as well, however, the child could be covered on a spouse’s insurance. It is possible they would know but not it may not be a fool-proof way to find out.

    4. ArtK*

      Most companies won’t necessarily verify that a child exists. With my most recent job, because I had my son on my insurance, I had to provide proof. But I’ve *never* had to do that in my previous 25+ years of having had my kids on my insurance. I could easily have lied all that time. Stupid, because I would have had to pay extra insurance for a phantom, but that’s about it.

      Since the OP is in Canada, none of this would apply either.

      1. Artemesia*

        I never in 40 years in the workplace ever had to prove I had kids to have them insured on my policy either. But wow this is tricky — you really dn’t want to be wrong and you really don’t want people losing their PTO if this is a scam. The PTO actually makes me think it might not be — because that is so brazen and so very clearly a fireable offense — maybe even a criminal one.

        1. doreen*

          I had to – both when my kids were born and when I took a new job. And about 10 years ago, when my kids were still on my insurance, my employer conducted an audit where everyone had to prove the eligibility of their dependents. As it turned out , a lot of people still were covering ex-spouses and former step-children (they were eligible when they were added, but not taken off when they became ineligible.)

          1. doreen*

            And I should point out that covering the ex-spouse or former stepchildren very likely cost my coworkers nothing- we have “individual” and “family” , so as long as I am covering one of my own, actual children, continuing to cover my (theoretical) ex-husband and his kids wouldn’t have cost me a dime.

        2. CL Cox*

          Didn’t you have to provide their SSN’s? The insurance companies do check those against the names, but I think that’s it.

          1. Risha*

            SSNs aren’t usually a firm requirement for coverage, though the insurance will certainly prefer if it’s provided. People are generally prompter about getting their kids an SSN these days – my 4-years-older brother’s number is one off from mine because mom didn’t bother to submit the paperwork until she was also doing mine – but you add your newborns to your insurance immediately, and getting a number assigned still takes several weeks.

            1. pentamom*

              They hand you the paperwork in the hospital and expect to get it back before you leave. Not sure how it works for adoptions at birth, though.

        3. Double A*

          I’ve had to provide my daughter’s birth certificate to get her on my insurance every time (well, the first time it was basically just a doctor’s note that she was actually born, because I had her while I had that job). But I have a state job so maybe they’re pickier.

      2. Jules the 3rd*

        hunh, I’ve had to provide a SSN for my kid since day one.

        OTOH, insurance probably wouldn’t care much – they get the coverage payments and not a lot of claims, unless there’s a health care provider involved in the fraud.

      3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        I never had to provide proof, I did have to give their full names, birth dates, and SSN.

        1. Artemesia*

          ah good point. I did probably have to do that — never had to show birth certificates and such but probably did have to provide SSN — don’t remember doing it, but maybe.

          1. Hound Fan*

            Actually in the US, Medicare requires all carriers and administrators to submit SSNs to check to see if someone is getting government insurance when employer insurance should be paying. Also, if an employer allows for people to be covered by the plan who are not in an eligible class (ex-spouses, former step children, etc.), the plan can lose its tax preferred treatment for both the company and the employees who enroll. If someone is shown to be covering a non-eligible dependent deliberately (not out of ignorance and many people do not understand plan eligibility), it is fraud and people are regularly fired for it.

            The reason many plans ask for documents is that there are those who will cover dependents that do not belong to them. My favorite story is an employee who claimed to have ten kids and he was a test case for anything new. When the plan was audited we found he had no children but ten nieces and nephews. He lost his long time job and had to re-pay the costs of the claims for the last couple of years.

    5. Professional Confusion*

      Or the other side of the same coin: shouldn’t HR know about this from a sick leave and/or FMLA perspective? Granted, that’s assuming the coworker is eligible for FMLA protections but the “donated PTO” aspect tells me they’re probably on approved leave, which would require medical documentation.

        1. Kathlynn (Canada)*

          but we do have human rights, and at least in BC canada, that means they have to provide reasonable accommodation. One of those accommodation is to allow people time off to attend medical appointments. But employers don’t always like to follow the law, either through ignorance or intolerance. (about 6 months ago I had to stop a manager from discriminating against a coworker by refusing to allow her time off for temple).
          There’s also various types of leave provided in each province’s employment standard act.

          1. Goliath Corp.*

            Yeah but they might not need to provide proof of their child’s existence to get the time off.

    6. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Nobody has their kids on their insurance for us, it’s too expensive. Lots of parents have separate plans through the state for the kids around here!

      You can’t go by dependents either because I know countless people without children who still have too many dependents listed. I only know who has kids because they speak about them or they’ve come by, etc.

    7. LKW*

      This is what I was thinking. They’d have a record that he had a dependent. But…. a kid might not be a dependent if the “other parent” has “better insurance”. And marital status could still be listed as single if they are not legally married.

  8. IT Relationship Manager*

    Seems like if it’s a real issue (and I think the donated PTO is the thing stressing this), maybe the boss or HR can request a note from a doctor when there is a major “illness” or “surgery” that he’s claiming. I personally would rather not have to do notes from doctors, but most places I have worked only asked them if you’re going to be out for a long time (3 days or more). This might be a way to either confirm that he does have a sick child or at least decrease the amount of time he is pretending to be off tending to a sick child and not use other people’s PTO.

    1. Artemesia*

      I would think documentation of the illness would be very reasonable when other people’s PTO is involved.

    2. MissDisplaced*

      I don’t like asking for doctor notes either. But because he is asking for seemingly “above and beyond” time off to care for a family member, that may be the way to go. If it’s true, I’m assuming the child visits a doctor often and that this would not be an issue to get confirmation.

    3. Zephy*

      For all LW knows, the coworker is providing that documentation – but I wouldn’t imagine it would be shared with coworkers.

      1. Goliath Corp.*

        Very good point – they wouldn’t share this info with coworkers and would probably be violating medical confidentiality if they did. A lot of insurance stuff goes directly from the employee to the insurance provider, and the employer is only allowed to know very basic details about what kind of accommodations are needed.

    4. CL Cox*

      I would think once it got to the point where they were paying him for time off that would normally be unpaid (especially that week for the surgery), they would have already required a doctor note. If they didn’t, that’s on them, but I’d be very upset with HR if I donated PTO and then found out they hadn’t done due diligence.

  9. Private Mom*

    For what it’s worth, I don’t post any photos of my kid on my Facebook (I have a private Instagram), since I use it for theater networking and promotion and want to limit the findability of my kid’s pictures for the general public. So that isn’t at all a red flag. But when I show a picture at work, I use a random cell-phone photo, not a professional shot (except for my kiddo’s hilarious school picture where he looks completely miserable next to a very adorable staged fall scene).

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yeah, that’s what I was thinking too — it’s not weird that he’s not posting photos of the kid on social media (lots of people don’t), but when he shows photos to the coworkers, he doesn’t have any candids? (Even that might not be weird though, if he’s not pulling up photos on his phone and is just like, “hey, see that ad? That’s my kid!”)

      1. Anonapots*

        But, like…does he do this with only new people who haven’t seen the photo before? Because it read like he does it with people who know about the illness and are asking for updates, so it still rings the weird bell to me.

      2. pamela voorhees*

        There’s also a possibility he doesn’t show anything besides the ads because the ads really are of his kid and he figures they’re already public. The reasoning COULD be “they said that little Timmy was super photogenic, and they’ve done such great work for me, I want to help with their next campaign — so I’ll let them use Timmy in the ad campaign so long as they call him Tommy, and then I can just show pictures of the campaign to protect my kid’s privacy.” It’s convoluted, but honestly so is lying to HR about a sick child.

      3. iglwif*

        Yes, exactly! Not putting pics of your kid all over your social media: not suspicious. Not having a single ordinary candid snap of your kid on your phone? suspicious.

      4. smoke tree*

        What seems unusual to me is the combination of:
        a) not having any photos of your kid on social media
        b) not having any candid photos of your kid on your phone
        c) offering up photos of your kid willingly
        d) which are obviously staged and use another kid’s name

        I’m not saying that any of this is conclusive proof of anything, but it does seem like a somewhat incongruous set of circumstances. If he’s really opposed to having pictures of his kid out in the world, it seems odd that he would have allowed his kid to be part of a public photo op, but still somewhat plausible. But add to that the fact that he goes out of his way to offer up photos of his kid, but only seems to have the public ones on hand? I’m having a hard time coming up with a non-suspicious explanation for that.

    2. londonedit*

      Yeah, my sister literally doesn’t put any photos of my nephew anywhere on social media, and never has done. She doesn’t use social media a great deal, but when she does, she doesn’t even mention having a child – looking at her profiles on Facebook and Instagram you’d literally never know she had a kid at all. But she has a ton of photos of him on her phone, which she’d happily show to friends and colleagues, and they’re all just normal phone snaps from around the house or in the garden or whatever. I don’t think the lack of mention on social media is suspicious in itself, but combined with the fact that the only photos he seems to have are these same professional ad campaign ones all the time, that IS weird.

      1. Chili*

        Yes! I’m very private on social media and generally camera shy which has definitely made some people suspicious of things sometimes (“pics or it never happened”). But everything listed here even makes me suspicious. I honestly think, though, that you can privately bring it up to your manager once in the way Alison suggests, then you have to clear it from your mind. Just make sure you aren’t giving him PTO anymore (same with money or other support). That might seem cruel if it turns out you’re wrong, but if he’s been relying on coworkers for extra support for more than a few months, it’s time for management to implement systemic supports anyway. You deserve and need your time off too.

    3. Grace*

      We have no photos of our 2 kids (5 and 3) on any social media, we don’t mention them on any social media that we post our real names to, and I don’t allow others to put my children on social media. My husband is in cyber-security and he can’t handle having them online. I have one professional photo of them framed on my desk.

  10. NYWeasel*

    Good suggestions for the coworker, but I’m wondering what the manager should do when they get the info. How do you approach it so you aren’t at risk for a Colossal Blunder?

    (And it’s been on my mind bc it would be so easy for someone right now to say to their boss “I have Covid-19 symptoms but the doctor doesn’t have enough tests so they told me to just self-quarantine.” and get themselves a minimum 2 week vacation.)

    1. Count Boochie Flagrante*

      If the manager isn’t in a position to already have information the OP isn’t privy to (such as doctor’s notes or other proof of the existence of this child as the coworker’s dependent), then they’d probably be consulting with HR and/or the company’s legal team about next steps. I wouldn’t expect the manager to act independently in this.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        100% this. At that point you pull in HR to help navigate it. And yeah, this might be a situation where they do decide to ask for documentation because of the PTO donations.

        1. Yep, me again*

          Alison, if (hope this isn’t the case) the coworker was lying and conned his colleagues into donating PTO, is the company under any obligation to restore those PTO days lost?

          1. Wing Leader*

            I’d be curious to know that too. And (also hoping it’s not true), if this whole thing really is a con, then this man is a legit sociopath. Inventing a terminally ill kid, and milking that to take PTO, extra vacation days, and whatever else from his company and colleagues. To me, this is even worse than people who pretend they themselves have a terminal illness when they don’t. Nobody can refuse a sick kid and, if this man knew that and decided to use that to his advantage, then…yeesh. Not someone I would want to be around.

            1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

              Spouse once had a coworker say his (real) child was having chemotherapy, to get some very minor benefits (like wanting a particular day off). When it was revealed to be a lie, people were totally appalled. It felt like he was wishing harm on his child. Similarly, here, I’m twitching superstitiously about putting the idea of an ill child into the universe.

        2. CL Cox*

          We have a sick bank that those who choose to can donate days to and then pull from if we need to. That absolutely requires documentation and review by a board before any days are given.

    2. JJ*

      Maybe the manager could tell him that due to the amount of time he needs off, he should apply for FMLA leave to protect his job? That would require him to bring in documentation. Or implement a new policy where if others are donating PTO, you have to bring in medical documentation. That way you could request “proof” without accusing someone of lying.

          1. Chinook*

            Some provinces do have similar klaws, though, about caretaker leave. It is relatively new in Alberta, so I don’t know what, if any poof you need for the job protection aspect. The EI coverage, though, is done through the federal government and does require proof of who you are caretaking for.

            If he were in Alberta, I would be suspicious about why they are asking for other’s PTO as employment insurance does cover this type of leave and he has job protection. In all the places I have worked, I have never seen requests for donating PTO for caretakers or disability time off. My firt question to him would be if he has applied for EI yet.

            1. Red Tape Producer*

              EI for care givers, pre-COVID 19 emergency amendments, couldn’t be applied for until you had been unemployed for a week. You also need to have your employer provide you with a Record of Employment, which can take a while, and then you had to wait for government to get around to approving it (which, because it’s the Feds, could take weeks).

              Lots of people end up taking PTO if they only need a couple weeks off just because the gap between being off work and actually getting funding through EI was not worth it. A lot of employers now offer something similar to the FMLA, which gives employees paid leave for family emergencies like sick immediate family members or bereavement time.

              The big red flag for me is that if this was an ongoing thing, the employee in questions should definitely have applied for EI. But with EI you can get audited and are required to produce proof that you are a caregiver of a sick dependent.

              1. Goliath Corp.*

                I’ve used EI Sickness Benefits which are similar to caregiver benefits — the paperwork is a hassle and you have to report in every week, but once it’s approved (which doesn’t actually take that long) they backdate it to your last day of work. Surprisingly, and frustratingly, caregiver EI gives you up to 35 weeks if your dependent is a minor, but if you yourself are sick you max out at 15 weeks.

                You definitely need a lot of proof to get EI, but you’re right that if it’s only a few days/weeks here and there, it would be a lot easier to use your PTO.

                I think Allison was very right to suggest proceeding with caution here — so many people jump to conclusions about the validity of others’ illnesses and it’s horrible to contend with when what you need is support.

  11. Snarkus Aurelius*

    I do not post nor do I allow any photos of my child on social media. I also do not have any photos in my office whatsoever. If you saw my office, you’d have zero evidence of my family, marriage, and child.

    The only pictures I have are on my phone, and I have plenty of those.

    1. Elenna*

      True, and as Allison mentions it’s possible that the pool/vacation photos were taken in the past – maybe he only got around to posting them on Facebook while waiting for treatments for his kid? But the “I want to be a father one day” posts are just so weird…

      1. Elenna*

        IDK, maybe he means it metaphorically? Maybe he doesn’t feel like he gets enough time to do regular father-child bonding stuff because of how sick his kid is, and it’s just a really weird way of expressing that? Maybe it was a prank post??? All the innocent explanations I can think of are such a stretch…

        1. somanyquestions*

          I think it sounds very odd in the context of a person who has a child. Saying “you want to have a child someday” is a kind of cruel and terrible thing to say if you already have a child, and if it’s because they are sick or disabled…I mean, that’s not innocent.

          1. fposte*

            Or it was a joke, or it’s a stepkid.

            TBH, though, I think we’re basically trying to figure out some Agatha Christie-type explanation for why even though the clues line up the likely answer isn’t the answer. But the likely answer is, unfortunately, the likely answer.

            1. Myrin*

              Yeah, I think it’s very sweet that people are willing to give this guy the benefit of the doubt, there are all kinds of weird circumstances which sometimes come together in an almost unreal fashion, and I 100% wouldn’t stray from Alison’s advice if I were in OP’s situation, but let’s be real, he probably made up having a (sick) child.

              1. Oranges*

                That’s where I’m coming down on. But since the stakes are high if you’re wrong… it’s a tough one.

              2. Turtle Candle*

                Yeah. I think this needs to be handled with great delicacy, but realistically, there’s a high likelihood that this is a lie, and…. unlike a lot of similar questions, the LW has a stake because coworkers are giving up a benefit worth real money, and it’s harder to say MYOB to someone who might very well being actually scammed.

                1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

                  PTO is worth literally hundreds of dollars. It’s no small loss per person.

            2. Turtle Candle*

              Yeah. As Alison says, individual pieces of this are easily explained, but all together? I just keep thinking “Occam’s Razor.” Yeah maybe they’re old vacation pics, maybe it’s an old quote about being a father (or a metaphor, or a joke), maybe he’s literally only got an ad headshot (and was fine with that being used but still has nothing up on his own social media, or maybe he’s showing another kid’s picture as an extra line of defense), maybe this is a whole confluence of coincidences, but…. sometimes people do fake this stuff. It’s rare but it happens. Sort of like how people faking an illness is quite rare but yet Munchhausen’s Syndrome nevertheless exists.

              Normally I’d still say “not your circus not your monkeys” but… that circus is at least partially running on her (and coworkers’) PTO.

      2. Jessica*

        What if the sick kid legit exists and is his stepchild? He maybe then is the kid’s legal parent and is taking completely legit time off to care for them, but might also feel that he hopes to someday father a child ‘of his own.’ While that would be a lousy attitude to publicly express toward your stepkids, plenty of people are that lousy.

        1. Count Boochie Flagrante*

          It doesn’t explain the vacationing in another province or the ad campaign photos — neither of which is a smoking gun but both of which together are highly suggestive.

          1. Chinook*

            If they have to travel or the surgeyr, it does. Not every province has a dedicated children’s hospital and, sometimes, specialists are only in Toronto or Vancouver. Being in rural Canada, that doesn’t raise as many red flgs. Of course, that would change if the OP were in a major city.

            1. A Canadian Abroad*

              OP said he told them the surgery was being performed where they live, so there would be no reason for him to be in another province at that time. That’s why it looked strange to OP that he was (allegedly) in another province at that time.

        2. Amanda*

          Lousy as this attitude is, I think that’s probably the best case scenerio in this situation!

        3. CL Cox*

          If it’s his stepson, he’s not the legal parent. At the most, he’d be a legal guardian, but the only way he’s the legal parent is if he’s the biological or adoptive father, in which case the child is his, period.

          1. Green great dragon*

            Legally, sure, but not necessarily in conversation (and conversely others refer to step- or foster-kids as ‘their kid’).

            1. Bluesboy*

              Personally I have a stepson I’ve had since he was two, and I call him my son, and only explain when necessary, so it’s quite feasible that an employer wouldn’t have any ‘proof’ that he’s mine.

              But I think a lot of people here are picking out individual elements and explaining them, whereas the real issue is the number of elements. Sure, the child could be a stepchild or could be on the mother’s insurance. Sure, he could have posed for photos for the hospital in gratitude. Sure, the father might only have those photos on his phone (I rarely take photos, because my wife takes loads). Sure, he might post his holiday photos late, the Facebook post might be old…there is an explanation for everything, but…I think the OP is not being unreasonable in being suspicious.

    2. Heidi*

      But if OP’s coworker wanted to maintain privacy, it’s weird that he would allow the kid to be included in an ad for a hospital system. Parents have to sign consent for hospitals to even take the photos and the reach of a hospital goes beyond most everyday social media accounts. Plus, even if you wanted to keep your children out of your social media, it’s seems unnecessary to deny they exist by saying how much you want to be a parent some day.

      1. Blueberry*

        My housemate has no pictures of the kids on FB, but the elder is in promo shots for her workplace because he’s enrolled in a program there, and because finding him via the workplace promo shots would be much more difficult than finding him via her FB page. That’s one of the things I thought of when I read this (along with heaps and heaps of “good luck, OP!”)

        1. Anonapots*

          But, more important to this situation, are the promo photos the only photos of her kids she ever shows to people? Because that’s the super weird part. Not that he might not post info or photos on social media, not that his kid maybe was involved in an ad campaign for the hospital, but definitely that those are the only photos he shows off of his kid.

          1. Blueberry*

            *goes back and rereads* Oh, that *is* weird. I somehow got the impression that the only pictures he shows are formal school-type pictures, but if the only ones are from the hospital promotion that is much more suspicious.

  12. Heidi*

    Is the kid named Bunbury, by any chance? I think the OP has gone above and beyond imagining benign explanations for all the inconsistencies, but in the end, this still sounds sketchy. This is tricky, though, because any attempts to investigate further could be a huge over step (like looking up his tax records or whatever else people do to figure out if someone has kids). It would also be tempting to try to test him, like asking to bring your kid over for a play date or asking which school he’s going to, who his pediatrician is, etc., but I wouldn’t do that either. Not only would it be super-awkward, but a guy who’s been working on this lie for so long might be able to cover it up with another plausible lie.

    1. Count Boochie Flagrante*

      Agreed. Trying to catch the coworker out on a lie in public would be both unlikely to succeed and probably make the OP look like a bit of a weirdo.

    2. MissDisplaced*

      I think it’s really not the OP’s place to investigate any further, even though I agree this situation seems very suspicious.
      Take the concerns to HR (or the executive management if there is no HR) and let them investigate if need be. And I would stress the concern is that employees are being asked to donate their PTO and should be assured if they do so this is really the best way to help this family.

      1. Ashley*

        For the next surgery or hospital stay I would be really tempted to try and send balloons or a toy. It comes across as being supportive but would help my personal curiosity. I must say this is one more reason not to be Facebook friends with co-workers.

  13. Mike*

    If your employer offers healthcare benefits, HR could verify a dependent has been added to their policy / coverage. However, the child could also be covered under his/her mothers plan, so this wouldn’t totally be a slam dunk, but it would be an additional clue.

    1. Chinook*

      Actually, Canadian extended benefits plans want dependents listed on both plans so that the benefits be coordinated. But, HR wouldn’t see that, payroll wiuld. It would be considered confidential information and treated the same as any other payroll document.

      1. Turtle Candle*

        Yeah, I think the “wouldn’t the company already know, though?” may be complicated by the fact that people who process this kind of tax/benefit info maybe be bound by privacy rules to not go inform people, “hey, that guy with a sick kid? No actual kid.” Maybe not—I am not an expert on privacy/confidentiality rules in my own country, let alone Canada—but sometimes they tie people’s hands in unexpected ways.

        (To ve clear I think privacy regulations are n general a very good thing, but I also know enough to know how unintuitive they can be in effect to a layperson.)

      2. CL Cox*

        That’s interesting – at every place I’ve worked here in the US, benefits are handled by HR. Which actually can make it more confusing. The Benefits dept. makes the FMLA/type of leave determination, but only Payroll knows an employee’s PTO balance. So if they get FMLA, Payroll is the one to determine how long they get paid under it, etc. Which sounds simple enough, but in reality means I get conflicting information on how to code someone’s absence. HR will notify us that an employee has been approved for, say, an unpaid leave of absence. That’s not one of the set codes, so HR tells me how to code it. I then get a nasty email from Payroll asking me what the hell is going on. And vice versus, if Payroll has me coding something in a way that HR doesn’t agree with. t would be much more helpful if they included Payroll in the email about the leave being granted.

  14. Jane Austin Texas*

    One thing that wasn’t mentioned that I might do regardless of whether or not you go to your manager would be to not donate your PTO or money, using any of the polite phrases demonstrated before on this site. It puts the onus on your coworker to manage his time. If he really needs the additional time for a sick child, he can use his FMLA.

    As a manager, I would think it’s incredibly generous of my staff to donate for him, but would not think less of anyone at all for protecting their hard-earned PTO.

    1. Miss May*

      That’s one thought I had about this– is the coworker actually asking people for their PTO? That’s very bold. I’d be very hard pressed to give up my PTO to someone else, even if they did have a sick kid.

    2. Temperance*

      It would be so hard for me to not give my friends a heads up that I thought that Jim might be lying, to get them to protect their own PTO.

    3. Ali G*

      Yeah, I mean it’s great that the employer is compassionate and the team members are helping out, but really it’s not a great situation if the co-workers are stepping in a doing his work and donating PTO. What happens if someone else has a sick family member, or gets sick themselves? Do the other staff need to take that on too?
      This is a problem whether or not there is a kid, and the LW doesn’t need to support a model that isn’t sustainable long term.

      1. Goliath Corp.*

        Yeah, tbh donating PTO just lets the employer off the hook for not adequately supporting its employees. I’d rather contribute to a gofundme than donate PTO. (Even though obviously gofundmes can also be scams.)

      1. Anonapots*

        You’re really stuck on this point. Whatever the Canadian equivalent of FMLA is. FMLA is being used as a catch all for people who don’t know what it’s called in Canada. You can probably stop worrying about it.

  15. Miss May*

    Be like the bad co-workers in the previous post and pull a drive by!

    I mean, don’t actually do that, but it’s certainly tempting.

    But, if you did want to do more digging, you could certainly send him that friend request. He might not accept it, but hey. Its worth a try.

  16. zutzy*

    I’m guessing you’re a fellow Canadian – Does your company have benefits? Your manager could check (perhaps on their own or though HR) that the co-worker has claimed a dependent child. Obviously, there can be no checking on what claims the insurance has paid out on behalf of the child. (However, in Canada a lot of health care providers direct bill, so if there is not a person receiving care, no claims are made/paid out, which avoids the question of insurance fraud.)

    At any rate, I would cease donating your PTO. That’s your benefit that you have earned and deserved to take. You cannot go forever without your vacation, so stop letting someone else enjoy it for you.

  17. Tuckerman*

    I wonder if this could be a case where he refers to the child as his, but he isn’t actually technically the father. Like he’s pretty much a father figure but isn’t the legal guardian. Like he’s dating the kid’s mom, or he’s informally taken custody over a sibling’s kid. Some people refer to a spouse, who aren’t legally married for any number of reasons.

    1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      You don’t take weeks off to be with the kid of a woman you’re just dating.

  18. Blah*

    I wouldn’t put it passed people these days. We already had a woman lying about having Corona virus to go on a family vacation, another woman lying about her husband dying, and so on and so forth.

    People will only get away with things that other people let them get away with. Unless helping this guy out is mandatory, I’d start stepping back and helping less. Especially since you have doubts and concerns.

    1. EvilQueenRegina*

      I still want an update on the one where someone thought the deceased husband her coworker kept going on about might still be alive.

    2. Sssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss*

      Wait, what? Lying about her husband dying? I missed this one! When?

  19. MissDisplaced*

    It can be so difficult on social media nowadays as people often create a wholly different persona for themselves that may not match the reality. This may include portraying a much more glamorous lifestyle that does not mention kids.

    I would err on the side of ‘he probably does have a sick kid’ even if in a few rare cases people have been false and/or exaggerated these sympathy cases. I would assume your workplace would actually KNOW if he has kids because of the insurance and tax withholding? But if you’re not in the US, this may not be the case.

    >If people are being asked to donate money and PTO time, I would bring this up to HR to ensure the employee actually does have a child and is need of the donation. I would not approach this as accusatory, but more of a “what is the best way to help the family” manner.
    >I would mention seeing some odd/strange posts on social media that do not seem to be in sync with what is known of him at work.
    >Aside from mentioning this to HR, I think you have to leave it at that. You’ve shared your concerns for validation, but otherwise, it’s for the employer to look into.

    Ugh! This is tricky. Hopefully the person isn’t lying about this. That makes it so horrible for those who really could use the help and makes people distrustful because of abusers.

  20. Cheesehead*

    I agree that everything together really does make the situation sound suspicious. One thing that I didn’t see mentioned: if the kid in the ad really isn’t his kid but is an actor/model, you might be able to find the child’s acting portfolio somewhere, or might be able to find other things that the child was in.

  21. TV or not TV*

    I fully believe the coworker is scamming his company. But for the sake of argument, suppose you go to your boss and an investigation reveals everything coworker has claimed was true. How do you come back from being the person who accused the coworker with the sick kid of faking it?

    1. MissDisplaced*

      By bringing your concerns to the proper place and then not discussing it with coworkers. I personally would not even discuss it with the manager. HR is the proper place for this usually. You can mention you’ve seen some things on social media that are out-of-sync from what you know about him at work and you’re concerned as people are being asked to donate their own PTO (which is typically something HR needs to be involved in anyway).

      And then leave it at that for HR to investigate or not. Hopefully, there is a trained HR to deal with this, because that’s their function.

      1. Turtle Candle*

        Yes. You bring it to someone who you believe will handle it discreetly and then you do not gossip about it, mention it, investigate further on your own, or try (yikes) to catch him in a lie. (Though stopping with the PTO donation is fine; I would. Even with a 100% real sick kid, that’s a kindness, not an obligation.)

        1. Oranges*

          My issue is that I would probably not be able to let this lie. My brain would latch on and obsess unless I could confidently feel one way or the other. I could totally see me doing my own tech PI work on them. But, here’s the important thing, not telling other people. Not telling would be hard but not impossible. Letting it go without at least trying to figure it out? Impossible for me.

          1. pamela voorhees*

            You’ve got to let it go, though, because HR may not ever tell you what they find. It may be super obvious if one day you come in, coworker’s not there, and there’s an announcement of “he was fired for lying through his teeth, can you believe that dude?” But from your perspective, nothing may happen, because it turns out he was telling the truth, HR sees a bunch of corroborating notes, and they drop the whole thing. If you refuse to let it go and try to investigate yourself, you have now created another problem — you are harassing another coworker. If you steal my prized Batman figurine or whatever, I’m not allowed to just go to your house and beat you up until you give it back, even if I think you really deserve it. You have to let the police/HR/the proper authority handle it.

  22. MyAlterEgoIsTaller*

    He might have a kid, and the kid in the photo-shoot might even be his kid. The explanation for the comment about wanting to be a father “one day” might be that his facebook page is geared toward dating, and he doesn’t want potential dates to know yet that he already has a kid – especially one with chronic health issues. Maybe he just uses his time home with the kid, or time spent waiting at medical appointments, to work on his fantasy-life facebook page.

    1. pentamom*

      This only replaces one kind of terrible person with another. Though granted, your terrible person isn’t stealing PTO from his colleagues.

    2. Courageous cat*

      Yeah dude, this is quite a reach. No need to go through mental gymnastics to try to make it seem plausible when it’s much more likely he’s just lying. No one pretends like they don’t have a kid for dating – they’re going to have to find out at some point, and no one has a “fantasy facebook page” either.

      1. Vicky Austin*

        There’s a novel by Nick Hornby where a man pretends to be a single father even though he doesn’t have any kids. He does this so he can go to meet-up groups for single parents in the hopes of getting a date with a single mother.

        1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          “About A Boy” yes it’s great. Working on the premise that single mothers are experienced AND desperate.

  23. Chili*

    This is such a tricky situation because if you’re wrong you will be perceived as a monster, but the fact he only shows pics of an ad and the vacation pics coinciding with surgery genuinely makes this really suspicious.

    Instead of focusing on figuring out the truth, I would just focus on not donating PTO or financially to this guy for the foreseeable future. I like Alison’s suggestions for bringing it up to a manager in sensitive, tentative way, but after that I’d push it from my mind.

    1. Seifer*

      Yeah I’ve always erred on the side of, you can only control your own actions. So I’d definitely just stop donating. I wouldn’t make like a huge deal out of it, just do it quietly.

  24. Kayy*

    The OP lives in a place with provinces. Yet in their comments posters mention FMLA and health insurance through work. Not sure why as non of it applies or is relevant to the situation.

    1. Kathlynn (Canada)*

      The FMLA isn’t, but the health insurance is. Universal health care is rarely as “universal” as people make it seem.

  25. Formerly Frustrated Optimist*

    I managed a student (in his mid-30s) who claimed to have a teenage son. He showed me (and others) lots of candid photos of the son. Also showed us photos of the son with his (the son’s) friends. I had no reason to doubt him.

    However, down the road, we all caught this student in a variety of “tall tales.” I suspected that his “son” might have been a tall tale as well. When people would say, “But I’ve seen pictures!” I would say, “Are any of those candid photos with our student and this teenage boy *in the same shot?*” Nope. No one could a recall a photo with them both in it.

    It wasn’t proof positive, but it fueled the skepticism.

    1. Jules the 3rd*

      I have no photos with both my kid and I on my phone. It’s because kid or I are taking the pics, since I don’t do the arm’s length selfie thing. That is not a good basis for doubting whether he’s a dad or not.

      And why are you even speculating about the existence of his son? I understand why with this OP and the ‘time off’, but you don’t give any business reason for why you’re wondering.

      1. Formerly Frustrated Optimist*

        It was part of a larger pattern of fabricating increasingly wild/unbelievable stories, to the extent that we had reason to question his overall mental status. And since his future job involved caring for vulnerable members of the population, we were on the alert for such situations.

        All that being said, however, we never had enough concrete, objective data to formally question his fitness for his future job, so ultimately, we did not take action.

        To your point, about not having photos with both you and your son… That’s why I said it wasn’t proof positive; but rather, that it only fueled the skepticism about this and other stories.

        1. Artemesia*

          I have worked with a couple of people over the years like this. At first you believe their amazing stories of say, having been a consultant to JFK, or whatever — but then the amazing stories start piling up and you eventually learn they are seriously disturbed Walter Mittys.

  26. JessaB*

    Honestly I think the company has a bigger problem. In general when someone takes advantage of a PTO pool, or has fellow employees donate leave to them, the company should require proof.

    You don’t need to prove up using your own leave, but it’s not outrageous to ask for a doctor’s note or whatever, before you access a special benefit like using OTHER people’s leave.

    1. Count Boochie Flagrante*

      Yeah, agreed. I’m firmly on the side of not asking for doctor’s notes for one’s own personal sick leave, but when it comes to asking for coworkers to donate their time, the company owes it to its employees to conduct some due diligence.

      Though, on the whole, I’m not a fan of PTO donation in general. This is something the company should be handling, not dinging its other employees for.

      1. JessaB*

        I agree with you on the PTO donation thing. It really shouldn’t happen. The company should make decent provision for people.

      2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        Yeah, as a European with 5 weeks statutory paid holiday leave and as much sick leave as necessary, and possibilities for taking unpaid leave to care for sick relatives, I just can’t wrap my head around the notion of giving up some of your leave for a colleague. I’d donate leave to my children or partner without any qualms, there’s maybe a friend or two I would do it for if they were in a bind, but I don’t see any reason to make such a generous donation to a colleague. The employer should grant decent leave to everyone and let employees take unpaid leave beyond that.

        We *always* have to supply a sick note if we want sick leave, you have to send it within 48hrs of seeing the doctor. No sick note, no pay. I think that’s fair. (And you can take up to three days off sick without needing a note, to save going to the doctor just for a bout of food poisoning or a head cold.)

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Exactly. Special circumstances [needing other people’s PTO] mean special requirements [such as a doctor’s note].

      If it’s your time, I don’t care really. Use it for whatever reason you see fit, that’s yours. But don’t start getting your hands into someone else’s without more than just a “please pass some of yours now.”

  27. It Me*

    Nothing here is explainable. It builds a suspicious picture but nothing concrete.

    1. The lack of social media photos of their child – it’s not unusual for people to keep their child off of social media/ very selectively share the details of their personal lives
    2. The ad campaign photo – it could just be a photo of his kid that he’s proud of. Especially if the kid is severely ill there might not be too many opportunities to take “nice” photos of them
    3. The ill timed pool/ holiday photos – posting when he’s waiting for treatments
    4. The facebook posts saying he wants to be a dad some day – due to my privacy settings changing over the years my posts suddenly jump back years if you’re looking at what’s publicly viewable – could these posts pre-date his kid?

    There’s also an explanation that covers all of it without counting out his sick kid – the facebook profile you found is a sort of escape from reality for him. Some people do not accurately represent their lives on social media. Maybe this profile is a nice fiction for him when he’s stuck in a hospital waiting room. Maybe he uses this profile to chat with prospective sexual partners and doesn’t want his sick kid to be part of that conversation. While it would be weird misrepresenting yourself on social media its both a lot more common and a lot less egregious than a fake kid and workplace fraud.

    TL;DR I wouldn’t bring it up. Keep your PTO for yourself and keep and eye out for any obvious untruths and then just put him out of your mind and hope that he’s deeply private rather than a lying fraudster.

    1. Count Boochie Flagrante*

      None of it is a smoking gun but the combination of being so deeply private that he doesn’t acknowledge the child’s existence on social media, but allows the kid to be used for an ad campaign for a hospital system — that seems odd and very incongruous to me.

      1. ADHSquirrelWhat*

        I’m also stuck at that. If I felt strongly enough about what the hospital did for my kid that I was willing to let him be part of the ad campaign – I would also want to /signal boost the heck out of it on my social media/. I’d WANT all my friends and family and neighbors and random nearby strangers to know that this hospital deserves money and help and whatever. And if I didn’t feel strongly enough that I’d want to signal boost it – I have a hard time believing I’d let them use my kid’s face.

        1. TechWorker*

          I honestly don’t find this that weird. The kid on the advert is not associated to their name and it’s just one professional photo – that’s pretty different to social media where photos are associated with way more personal info (name, parents names, names of other family members, possibly where they live, where they were on the weekend, etc.). It’s linking all of that to the photos that might be seen as ‘dangerous’ vs the photos themselves? Ditto if your argument for avoiding social media is so your kid isn’t embarrassed in future – a hospital advert is not likely to be seen as embarrassing in the same way as that photo of a silly fancy dress outfit or of your kid sleeping with their mouth open…

    2. Jules the 3rd*

      the ‘want to be a dad’ could even be an expression of ‘my kid’s so sick, I don’t get to do the regular dad things with them, and I look forward to when they’re well enough for me to do that’

      Looking at this list: yeah, if I was OP, I’d stay out of it. I might choose to limit how much PTO I shared, but mostly I’d decide it’s not my business.

      OP, think hard about how this person works while in the office. If they’re willing to do this kind of fraud, they’re likely to cut other corners. But if all you’ve seen is good work, assume that carries over into this part of their work situation too.

  28. Don't Send Your Kids to Hudson University*

    This is why HR generally documents the need for FMLA for the care of a family member. Has that not happened formally? Might, “making sure the approved leave is properly documented” in case the supervisor were to leave be a good way to start this conversation without accusing this guy of lying?

    1. Jules the 3rd*

      OP probably does not have standing to ask the boss that question, it would be a big overstep to ask that about a coworker, even if you’re giving them PTO.

      1. Don't Send Your Kids to Hudson University*

        Oh definitely. I just meant more of a reminder or planting the seed when raising the concern with a boss that HR might be able to go down this road. Like OP could say something like “I don’t know what FMLA documentation might have happened, and it’s none of my business, so please disregard this concern if that’s all in order and I won’t raise this again.”

  29. Sara*

    I’m in the middle of reading Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell. This could be torn from the pages of his book. We are terrible at identifying liars. Especially if we know them. Just looking at what you have written, I’m going out on a sturdy limb and guessing he is lying. I would discreetly say something to my boss then let it go. But I definitely wouldn’t donate PTO.

  30. Tyche*

    Tricky situation, for sure!
    Two “red flags” for me.
    While I think many parents don’t post their children’s photo on social media, usually parents have some candid photos on their smartphones. And while sometimes older photos make an appearance on your social network, it think it’s quite strange if they appear every time he’s not working.
    I don’t know if it’s possible for you to ask your manager or your HR, but I think you can stop donating money or PTO.

  31. Scott M*

    Um, wouldn’t the company know for sure if he has a child? That sort of stuff is usually recorded for benefits and insurance, etc.

    1. Former Retail Manager*

      Not necessarily. If he doesn’t cover the child on his benefits, there wouldn’t really be a need to list a minor child anywhere. The only place I recall listing my minor child was on health insurance paperwork. Otherwise, no mention of her.

  32. Malty*

    This is an amazing example of reading the site for years and thinking you have the measure of things and how much context matters. I read the title and thought ‘leave it alone!’ then you read the full letter and there’s just no way you could predict the full context. OP I think Allison is right to frame it as a situation where you approach your manager essentially saying ‘I hope I’m wrong, I WANT to be wrong, but in a company where other people’s PTO is affected by this I felt obligated to say something once.’ And like she said you have to evaluate your boss/HR first. Sorry you’re in this situation.

  33. The OP*

    Thank-you for answering my question, I appreciate your thoughtful answer. I did end up quietly speaking to my manager. I only showed the public stuff from Facebook and I framed it that I had donated time off and then saw what I saw. I didn’t say anything about him faking or making up a kid. A few weeks later he stopped coming in and the company gave everyone back the time they had given him over the past year. They said it was given to him in error. Nothing else has been said. With all that is going now I had completely forgotten about him. I am stuck in my hometown because I was visiting before all this went down. We are all working remotely and it seems so far away now.

    1. Don't Send Your Kids to Hudson University*

      It sounds like this was handled discreetly and that you were right, WOW!

    2. Ali G*

      Oh wow! Well I guess that’s the answer then. Good for you for handling it so well and for speaking up!

    3. Oranges*

      It reminds me of a company email we got when a bigwig left. Reading between the lines, they were let go. Later because of some other things that occurred, it was probably for MeToo reasons.

      But since there was nothing direct, we all just… don’t speak about them. There was some gossip but most people knew broadly what happened and were okay with letting things lie. This is your company doing the exact same thing. Letting people know what happened without actually stating “This guy is a lying liar who should be ashamed” since you know… saying that probably isn’t a good idea.

      1. Anon for this one*

        We were sent a new org chart conspicuously missing the “bigwig” Chad but it wasn’t commented on, just “please see this new org chart and refer to it”) and with nothing further said. So now people generally just don’t speak about ‘Chad’ and it’s sort of an open secret that Chad has [been] ‘vanished’.

        So I continue to refer to Chad and decisions he needs to make, in all meetings, since nothing has been officially said! As far as it’s been communicated to me (i.e. not at all) Chad still works for the company, we just haven’t seen him for a while (maybe sick or similar) and is still in charge of the XYZ organization. I say let’s do this for now and hopefully when Chad gets back we get some clarity about the direction….

        I will continue with this ‘strategy’ until someone in authority sees fit to tell us officially that Chad is out!

    4. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Oh wow, I’m glad that they gave you all back your PTO. Especially with what we’re dealing with right now, everyone needs what’s rightfully theirs.

    5. Count Boochie Flagrante*

      Sounds like you handled that really well, OP, as did your company. Quietly handled he situation, did not create a giant scene or a ton of gossip, but handled the matter. I’m especially glad they gave y’all the PTO back.

    6. Forgot my username*

      I don’t think karma will be good for someone who lied about having a sick kid…. yikes! Thanks for the update, OP.

      1. The Other Dawn*

        I agree. There’s someone formerly in my life that would have the nerve to do something like this. I don’t think she’s done something quite this bad, but I could totally see her doing it, as she’s done so many other awful things. Karma bites her in the ass every single time. Someone I know who still talks to her once in a while says she often wonders why bad things happen to her. Hmmm, maybe because you’re an awful person who does shitty things?

    7. fposte*

      Wow, OP, thanks for reporting in, even when you’re buried under all that’s going on. It sounds like you and your employer handled it very well.

    8. Heidi*

      Focusing on the implications for work was absolutely the right call. It’s not illegal to lie and say you have a sick kid to garner sympathy (odious, maybe, but not illegal). The problem for the employer was getting donated PTO from everyone. Sorry you all even had to deal with this guy, but it’s excellent that you all got your PTO back.

    9. CL Cox*

      Sounds like you did the right thing and so did your company. I’m glad they gave you all back your PTO. Hopefully, this means that they will do their due diligence from now on.

    10. CoveredInBees*

      Wow, oh wow. It seems like both you and the company handled this tactfully. Glad you don’t have to deal with this anymore.

    11. Elbe*

      YIKES! It sounds like this guy really was lying. Who would do such a thing? It’s so unethical, but also incredibly risky for him with relatively little to gain. I bet he has regrets – now is such a bad time to be looking for another job and having to explain why they shouldn’t contact your previous employer.

      OP, you handled this crazy situation perfectly, and I’m impressed with your employer for handling it so well, too.

    12. pentamom*

      Kudos to your employer. And specifically to your manager, who fulfilled none of Alison’s worst possibilities and apparently handled it appropriately.

    13. Snarkastic*

      WOW. Wow, wow, wow. It sounds like you’re working for a great company who handled things not only discreetly, but well.

    14. Meme*

      I was going to suggest that, the next time he pulled up a pic, you start gushing, “Oh, wow, that’s from our ad campaign! Your son is the star of our ad campaign? That’s so great! How did that end up happening? Did he like doing it? My friend works for that group—I’ll ask her whether she worked on his shoot…”

    15. OhBehave*

      It’s so satisfying to get a quick update. I would have loved to be a fly on the wall in THAT meeting. I’m glad you went to your manager and they took it seriously.

  34. AVP*

    At least on a very superficial basis, you can probably do a bit of googling around the ad campaign and find out some info on the child. Just the name in the ad + hospital name might bring up all the real social media for the child in the photo. Lots of families in that situation have a public CaringBridge or GoFundMe account you can use to see the kid’s real family. I say this not as a “you should stalk this poor kid!” rec, but it might let you rule out any funny business before talking to your boss if you see your coworker on such a page!

    FWIW – I used to produce PSAs, and have done a few for hospitals, and we always used the patient or doctor’s real name if they were a real human being depicted as such. If people didn’t want their name up there, we just didn’t mention it. If it’s on TV, it’s been reviewed extensively by lawyers, and faking names without a disclaimer somewhere on the ad is very frowned upon. On the other hand, if the kid is an actor (which some hospitals use) then the name wouldn’t be real (but usually there would be a disclaimer on the ad in that case anyway).

  35. CBH*

    The only way I can think of to legally “confront” this issue without offending anyone, is for HR to ask for a doctor’s note for all the time off…. an verify the doctor’s note discreetly. Maybe there is a child and Dad doesn’t want to show photos of child looking ill.

    I’m not saying this maliciously, but there does seem to be enough evidence to be at least curious about this child. If OP can see coworker’s social media profiles, then if something photo/ text related comes up in the normal course of conversation regarding the child, one should be allowed to ask. For example it’s hot out and someone should be able to say Hey I saw the photo of your kids at the new pool in town, how was it?; I saw on facebook you were in Floriday, any recommendations for good hotels?. If it is a scam I think that the coworker should be able to realize that they were caught and someone might have seen the phrase “I hope to be a father one day”.

    1. CBH*

      OP I just saw you posted an update above. It sounds like you have already followed everyone’s advice.

  36. Rebecca*

    I noticed this part “But since he asks for us to donate our PTO and money to him and is being paid for all this time”. You and your coworkers are donating PTO and your money, and he’s being paid. I might be cynical, but this has scam written all over it. If you’re going to sacrifice your hard earned money and give up paid time off to someone who is still getting paid while not at work, I think it’s reasonable to ask for some sort of proof that it’s a legitimate issue.

    If he was just talking about the child, and not asking for money from you and paid time off from the company, I’d say let it slide and just ignore it.

  37. AllYourBaseAreBelongToUs*

    Removed because off-topic. (I keep comments here on-topic or it will become a free-for-all.) You’re welcome to email it to me or post it on the Friday open thread. – Alison

  38. Former Retail Manager*

    OP confirmed above, but my personal belief is that if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s probably a duck at least 95% of the time. Caveat: I’m cynical, but I do appreciate that Alison and most of the commenters on this site tend to err on the side of giving people the benefit of the doubt and it’s helped to change my own perceptions and reactions to situations, even if only within my own head, as a result of reading this blog and the comments. Hope everyone is well.

  39. Rusty Shackelford*

    Yes, you can explain most of the weirdness here.

    No pics of his kid on social media – he’s very private. Fine.
    No candid pics of his kid on his phone – the kid is ill, and these are the only photos where people don’t cry out “oh, the poor thing,” so these are the ones he chooses to share. Fine.
    The child in the pics actually has a different name – again, he’s very private. Fine.

    But then you have to start contorting yourself…

    His social media shows him vacationing in another province when he’s allegedly at the hospital in his home province with his sick child. Facebook throwing out old posts? Maybe. But do they always, coincidentally, happen when he’s “out with his sick child?” Do these posts show up at other times, too, when he’s at work? If not, that’s fishy. And why are we assuming the LW means Facebook? Instagram doesn’t bring up old history. What if these pics are on Instagram?

    His social media quotes him wishing he could be a father someday. Old post again? Boy, there’s a lot of that going around. He really means he wishes he had time to be a *good* father, or that his child were well and they could do typical father/child activities? You really have to bend yourself backwards in order to interpret it that way, I think.

    So I think, instead of looking for zebras, you have to face the fact that this guy is most likely a horse. The simplest answer is that he’s lying. Yes, that comes with its own weirdness, because it means he’s stupid enough to contradict his story. But it’s easier to believe someone is a careless liar, especially when you see how greatly it benefits him, than to believe all of these bizarre coincidences above. At least IMHO.

    Can’t wait for an update!

    1. Rusty Shackelford*

      Well, the update came while I was writing! I’m just glad to see I was (apparently) right about this dude.

    2. Oranges*

      Yeah, but if it did turn out to be a Zebra the stakes were sky high for OPs reputation around the office and the emotional damage it would have done. That’s what has most of us tying ourselves in knots. Esp since a lot of us have some medical crap and we’ve been through the “you’re lying” gauntlet.

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        If I were the manager, and the OP quietly came to me with this list of inconsistencies, their reputation would be safe even if I discovered we had a zebra in our midst. This isn’t petty nitpicking, this is a trail of seriously bizarre evidence. And the OP wasn’t just being a muckraker – money/time off was at stake.

    3. pentamom*

      Anyone who would use language that directly states that he’s not yet a father to communicate that he wishes he could do more stuff with his ill child would be way into bizarre land, too. Of course bizarre people happen, but after after so many red and orange flags, the “could bes” just become less and reasonable.

  40. Tidewater 4-1009*

    “not someone who will just announce to your coworker, “Jane thinks you’re faking a sick kid!””
    I would be very cautious about this. My former boss seemed pretty good at being tactful and discreet. One day I complained to a colleague that his procrastinating ways had caused a problem in time off I took for a social event.
    Within an hour he was in my face apologizing, making it obvious my colleague told him about my complaint. It was very obvious and tactless, and I never would have expected it of him.
    So tread cautiously.

  41. JZ*

    One thing that the OP will want to bear in mind is that the person could very well be posting previous photos on the dates in question (like a photo from his vacation in Bermuda in June that he uploaded on the day he was home sick). In my personal experience, I’ll have seen friends or people I may know post photos on their Facebook some time after the fact for whatever reason (remembered they had them on their phone, etc.). But on the donating PTO front, I agree wholeheartedly: that’s their PTO to use at their discretion, and they aren’t required to donate it, no matter if the boss says “pretty please with sugar on top”.

    1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

      But surely if the person is genuine — they’d be aware of the “optics” of uploading and posting a photo from previous vacations at the time they were declared to be home sick — and add some commentary like “June 2018” or whatever? And why would they suddenly upload that? It doesn’t pass the sniff test, sorry!

  42. Vicky Austin*

    To me, the part about him wanting to have kids “someday” is crystal clear proof that he is lying. My advice is to take a screenshot of the comment on Facebook, print it out, and schedule a one on one meeting with him and ask, “What’s this all about?”

    1. Jedi Squirrel*

      That is so, so confrontational and guaranteed not to end well.

      Please don’t do this.

      1. Vicky Austin*

        I didn’t mean that OP should sit down with the coworker himself. I meant that he should show the FB posts to HR, and then HR should have the aforementioned meeting with the coworker. Badly worded on my part.

    2. Jules the 3rd*

      Or maybe he is mourning that his kid’s too sick to do stereotypical ‘dad and kid’ stuff, and he meant that he hopes the kid will be healthy enough that he can do dad stuff someday, ie, ‘be a dad coaching his kid’s baseball team’.

      It would be beyond cruel to do this and be mistaken. Don’t do it, OP, don’t do it. The risk is too much.

      1. Vicky Austin*

        What kind of father would say, “I want to be a dad someday. Yes, I know I’m Jayden’s dad, but Jayden doesn’t count because of his illness. I meant I want to be the dad of a *healthy* kid!”
        A really sh**y dad, that’s who.
        Either way, he’s a sh**y person.

    3. Temperance*

      This is not going to go well for LW. What will then happen, regardless of whether this guy is lying or not, is that LW is going to be made to look like the asshole.

  43. Jedi Squirrel*

    I am normally Team Nunya.

    No kids on social media posts? I know a lot of people who don’t do that. Safety/privacy reasons. No red flag here.

    Posted a pool pic on a day he was supposed to be at the doctor’s office? Uh, people post pictures after the fact all the time. Check out the #latergram tag on Instagram, for instance.

    Says he wants to have kids someday? Well, families come in all shapes and sizes, and it’s possible this kid isn’t his biological child. People have exes and nextes, and it’s possible he’s just talking about having his own biological children. (Men have a biological clock, too.)

    But put all these things together and it’s just weird. Especially considering that coworkers have donated PTO days. In both the US and Canada, charities are accountable for the money that is donated to them. I feel the same principle applies here. This coworker owes you some level of accountability.

    That said, please ignore all the people on here urging you to confront him directly. If you are right, it won’t end well. If you are wrong, it won’t end well. Find a higher up you can trust to handle this with discretion and a light touch. You are entitled to some peace of mind, even if turns out that you are wrong.

  44. Madame Zeroni*

    This reminds me of the time when an assistant for my department claimed to have fallen while playing basketball. He missed a day or two of work to have emergency surgery. When he returned, he wore an ace bandage on his wrist for 2-3 days tops. He was probably 4 or 5 days “post-op” when a colleague mentioned that his wrist looked great and was surprised to see how quickly his scar had healed.

    1. EvilQueenRegina*

      I had one once who was running on a broken foot faster than is medically possible.

  45. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

    Without reading the other comments — this guy is obviously pulling something, I don’t know for what purpose. I think Alison was kinder and more accommodating of possibilities than I would have been if I worked with this guy!


    1. Took a week off “for the child having surgery”, OP has evidence that “he was vacationing in another province even though he said the surgery was happening here”.

    I suppose it’s possible that you could lie about the place where the op will be happening (e.g. for privacy reasons), but I don’t really see a motive here.

    2. In a few comments to others, he said he wants to be a father “one day.”

    This seems clear, there’s only 2 possibilities. He wants to be a father one day, as stated, but isn’t yet. Or for some reason he is denying the existence of being a father already. Only the first one fits.

    3. Sometimes if someone asks him how his child is doing, he will show them a picture on his phone, especially if he has just got back from being off. He says it is his kid. But there are no pictures or mentions of the kid anywhere on his social media. The photos of the child are from an ad campaign for fundraising for our hospital, and in the ads the child has a different name than his.

    “Corporate wants you to find the differences between these pictures” (or something like that). Are they always the same photos? (I bet they are!)

    Yeah, this guy is clearly pulling something.

    As I’ve said here before what’s the means/motive/opportunity for someone to do something? Means and opportunity are clear so I won’t say any more about that, but we’re left with what’s the motive. Could be anything from financial fraud (hoping for donations in these “stricken times”), wants more time off, needs more time off, struggling with own mental health (or other issue that is somehow ‘taboo’) and uses this as a more socially acceptable reason, etc.

    As I see it you have 3 ways you could choose to proceed:
    1. Challenge him (if you have authority/standing as a peer) or raise to management (with the ‘evidence’ you have) that you have doubts it’s genuine and trust them to handle it.
    2. Continue as you are for the moment, play it as normal with this guy as you work together and meanwhile gather additional information/instances (which I have no doubt there will be) and then raise to management. Or play the long game and wait for this guy to lie himself into a hole and then ultimately get authorities involved.
    3. Try to step up being supportive in other ways and indirectly find out if he needs help somehow… is feeling overwhelmed… can’t take any time off … etc.

    1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

      I see now that the OP already updated, but I think the “naive” response has value for future visitors..

  46. Reality.Bites*

    I was once in a workplace where something similar happened. It was at a large in-house call centre in Canada and the benefits were great – casual illness and short-term disability was covered at 100% salary for up to 90 days continuously, and long-term disability was 80% for life.

    We had an employee who said she had stomach cancer and while any time off she needed was covered, she did prevail on other employees to swap for more desirable shifts. At that time people on the phones worked rotating shifts, from 8-3:30 to 12:30 to 8 and the early shifts were greatly preferred by employees with kids.

    We also had two team leaders who were dealing with cancer themselves, and conversations they had with her made them suspicious. There was no documentation on file for anything – she’d never missed enough work for a doctor’s note to be needed – I think that would kick in after 3 days.

    She was suspended and was asked to see the company physician, but she never showed up for the appointment and was terminated.

    She later used her skills to keep obtaining our company’s service and not paying. I had her address marked as non-serviceable. ;)

  47. Say no to mental gymnastics*

    Some of the mental gymnastics going on in this thread are astounding. Fantasy Facebook pages, hacking, the guy saying he wants kids “one day” because the kid being sick doesn’t allow him to experience full fatherhood? I can’t even. It is ridiculous and doesn’t help the OP in the slightest. Use common sense everyone.

    1. Vicky Austin*

      I agree. If he were saying that he wants to be a father one day because the sick kid doesn’t allow him to experience traditional fatherhood, he’d be denying his own kid’s existence! That’s a horrible thing to say about his own kid. “Oh, I’d really like to be a father someday Yes, I know I’m the father of Jayden, but Jayden doesn’t count because he’s not a typical kid!”

  48. Peon*

    What is the deal with companies asking employees to help cover their shitty time off policies by giving up their own benefits because the company is too stingy to provide decent benefits to everyone?

  49. you never know*

    I once had a coworker whom I and at least a few others assumed was a widower because he wore a ring and talked about his kids, but never spoke his wife’s name aloud or alluded to her in any way during the five years I was employed at that place. We assumed he had some colossal trauma surrounding mention of his wife and studiously avoided asking any questions about her. Turned out that she was alive and well. We were shocked when she simply turned up at a work event one holiday, like Banquo’s ghost.

    People have *wildly* varying concepts of privacy and you truly never know what the hell is going on with them. It’s possible your coworker has a child whose details are difficult to track down. Possibly the answer is something bizarre, yet simple enough it would never occur to you (like someone just literally never mentioning their wife for five years, which is a behaviour I personally can’t identify with at all).

    Maybe revel in the evident weirdness of the situation privately, but otherwise maybe don’t go near this with a ten foot pole? Writing to an advice column is probably the perfect response because it allows you to vent your confusion without becoming “that person who started a rumour Bob’s kid was fake!”

    I like to assume that when people choose to inhabit palaces of lies, the foundation eventually collapses–if you were able to inadvertently sniff out that he’s been faking having a child in order to scam people out of their PTO, it will start to become apparent to other people, and the fallout will be interesting to watch at the very least…

    (Just for god’s sake don’t donate any more PTO.)

  50. holy doper*

    i removed everything about my work and family from facebook. no interest in jackasses on social media having that info…including zuckerberg.

  51. JR*

    This is so passive-aggressive, but if you ever see a picture of the kid again, I’d say something like, “Oh, this is such a great photo. I think I saw that one in [whatever hospital ad campaign you mentioned].” Or if it’s a different photo from what’s in the campaign, you could say something like, “Your kiddo is so cute! That picture of them in [the ad campaign] was so lovely too; I don’t know if I ever remembered to tell you.” It sounds like the campaign is public enough that that wouldn’t sound weird or snoop-y. Your co-worker’s response might tell you a lot! I generally agree with the advice to just carry on, though, unless your manager is an exceptionally wise leader.

  52. florence buttercup*

    I have a similar thing going on at work. A coworker claims her kid has serious, life-threatening illness and is soliciting money from customers. Yet this kid looks like a million bucks. Kid looks strong, seems active, proper weight, nice skin…I have said nothing but another coworker suspects her of dealing meds out of the place.

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