my boss tells weird lies about all of us

A reader writes:

My boss, Valerie, makes up little lies about people who report to her. She never lies about anything work-related and while those of us who report to her all know she is a fibber about things, our clients and other people have no idea. Valerie would have no reason to lie about these things, so clients and others have no reason not to take her at face value. It gets annoying to have stories and lies going around about us when none of it is true.

For example, Valerie says my colleague Casey is lying about having heterochromia (she has different colored eyes). Casey really does have it, but because of Valerie everyone else thinks she wears a different colored contact lens every day. Casey showed us baby and child photos to prove it, but she can’t show every client or other person so Valerie’s story is believed. It makes Casey look weird, bad, or attention-seeking to everyone who has heard the story.

Valerie told everyone my colleague Martin has PTSD from his time in the army and in the war zone. Martin was in the army but he never saw combat and was only ever stationed here or in allied countries with no combat. He doesn’t have PTSD, but Valerie has told everyone otherwise so clients and our colleagues think he does.

Valerie told everyone I went through an explosive, nasty divorce with a years-long court battle. I had a boyfriend in high school and one in college, but neither relationship was serious and both ended when we graduated on good terms. I have never had a serious relationship, let alone been married. There is no easy way for me to prove I have never been married besides my word. I know my colleagues who also report to Valerie believe me, but everyone else and our clients think what she said is true.

I’m new here. Valerie is high up and she has pull and is friends with those in authority here. No one outside of those under her believe us over her. She never lies about anything for work and has a good reputation in our field and with our clients. She’s well known while none of us are. Casey said something to Valerie’s boss once and she said the response was that even if Valerie is making up lies, she isn’t telling serious ones or defaming anyone or accusing them of anything criminal. It is frustrating and I could give many more examples of the lies she tells.

Do you have any suggestions?

What on earth.

These lies are particularly bizarre. Not that this would be any more understandable if the lies were less strange, but what is Valerie getting from making up these stories about people? Is it a way for her to create drama around her? Does she get something out of sharing info she thinks people will find intriguing? Does it make her feel more interesting? My guess is it’s more likely something along those lines than an intentional attempt to undermine people … although it’s notable that the examples you shared all do undermine people in some way. Does she ever tell lies that reflect well on people (“Jane was a Rhodes scholar!”), or are they all undermining?

I’m also curious about exactly what Casey said when she talked to Valerie’s boss about this. Did she give multiple examples and explain specifically how it’s undermining people and harming their reputations? If not, it’s possible that Valerie’s boss didn’t understand the full scope of the problem or how upset people are. If that’s the case, it’s worth trying again. This time, it might carry more weight if a group of you speak to her. Stress that these aren’t harmless lies, they’re damaging people’s reputations and destroying Valerie’s credibility, and not being to trust Valerie is harming your team as a whole. Say it’s demoralizing and upsetting and ask explicitly for intervention.

Martin could also speak to HR to point out that by telling people he has a disability, Valerie is creating legal liability for the company — since the Americans with Disabilities Act protects not just people with actual disabilities, but also anyone who is perceived by the employer to have a disability.

Another option is for you all to push back against Valerie when she repeats these lies. Can you all agree that every time she does it, you’ll correct her? If every time she lies, the rest of you jump in with “that’s not right — Casey has a medical condition that causes that” or “what?! Jane was never married, why do you think that?” Valerie might eventually find the whole thing causes her less satisfaction and more annoyance or embarrassment.

There’s also the option for each of you to just address the lies about yourselves directly — as in, sitting down with her and saying, “I’ve heard you’re telling people I had a nasty divorce. I’ve never even been married. What’s making you tell people that?” … followed by, “It’s not true, and I’m asking you to stop saying it.” In cases where her lie is clearly undermining someone, it’s worth pointing that out as well, since it’s possible she really didn’t understand that consequence. (She might not care, of course. But we don’t know.)

But ultimately, even if you succeed in getting her to pull back on some of this, you’re still going to be working with someone who you can’t trust to give you accurate info or to give others accurate info about you. I suspect Valerie has other problems as a manager as well, since chronic lying isn’t the action of someone who’s otherwise well-adjusted and stable. All of which means that this likely isn’t a safe place to build your career, and it’s worth moving on as quickly as you realistically can.

{ 383 comments… read them below }

  1. Dust Bunny*

    I feel like this is some kind of vicarious attention-seeking by Valerie? Like . . . she gets bigfeels for “knowing secrets” about people, but doesn’t have to cover for herself as she would if she made up stories about herself and got called out–if she makes them up about other people, she presumably can claim she was lied to herself if she’s cornered.

    1. I’m screaming inside too!*

      I suspect also that Valerie is telling lies about people higher up the ladder or about things related to the company, that the OP and their coworkers aren’t aware of. It’s hard to believe that someone who makes up these kinds of lies isn’t also telling big lies elsewhere.

      1. I’m screaming inside too!*

        And also, these aren’t fibs – they are big lies with big consequences. Valerie is making up terrible things about people and telling them to clients (!?!) and people with power over the OP’s and coworker’s jobs. She’s doing great damage, not just to the people who report to her, but also the company – what will clients think when (not if) they find out that Valerie has told them these big weird lies?

        1. HarvestKaleSlaw*

          These are not remotely harmless lies either. They are:

          A) Plausible enough to be believed.
          B) Juicy enough to spread like wildfire.
          C) Completely undermining to the target – it makes all three of them out to be in some way “crazy” or unreliable.

          These seem calculating, clever, sadistic, and malicious. This isn’t a quirk. This is the main character from Gone Girl.

          1. Artemesia*

            This. If I were a client and was hiring or knew someone who was hiring would I recommend someone who had PSTD? Would I have a positive view of someone with a messy marriage history? These are things that undermine people’s reputations in the workplace and might have genuine impact on their career.

            I would hope the OP could gather up several people being treated this way and sit down with the boss and detail why this is damaging to people’s reputations and to the company. AND yes, I’d be thinking about building my career elsewhere. And any time I was aware that a client I was working with had been told such a story I would correct it — let the reputation begin to cling to her.

            1. SometimesALurker*

              Exactly. PTSD or some instances of a messy breakup — when true — *shouldn’t* reflect poorly on people, but in many, many situations, people act like they do. Spreading these rumors would be damaging to the subject of the rumor even if they were true! The fact that they’re false makes it extra bananas. These are not fibs.

              1. Not A Girl Boss*

                And honestly, even if the existence of those things themselves don’t reflect poorly… the fact that it appears you’re an over sharer who told your boss and clients(!?!?) about them could be. Like seriously, on what planet does a client need/want to know about PTSD or the gory details of a divorce?

                We’ve seen plenty of letters over the years where bosses over-shared sensitive information like that with team members and it had really terrible consequences.

            2. earl grey aficionado*

              These lies are all so disturbing but the PTSD one upsets me the most for exactly the reason you’re describing, Artemesia. A diagnosis of PTSD should never be taken to mean that someone is inherently unable to do their job, but due to stigma and ableism, it absolutely is taken that way by many people and could be doing serious harm to this person’s reputation in their field. I live with bipolar that can sometimes lead to psychotic episodes and the stigma of that has caused real problems for me in my career. My bipolar is severe enough that sometimes it really does impact my ability to work – that’s what accommodations (and these days, self-employment with full control over my schedule) is for – but not at all in the ways people assume. People tend to jump to the most extreme idea of bipolar (“earl grey is unstable and dangerous”) rather than the truth, which is much more boring: things like extra time off for appointments, extra flexibility to work from home (commuting can be a psychosis trigger), etc.

              In short, it’s exhausting enough to have to correct people’s assumptions about a very real mental illness that I have, especially since they rarely come out and say what’s bothering them, leaving me to guess why they’re suddenly acting oddly. I can’t even imagine the extra layer of pain and frustration that would come from suddenly being saddled with a RUMOR of a stigmatized and widely misunderstood diagnosis. This is an incredibly upsetting situation and I wish OP and their coworkers all the best in pushing back on it hard.

              1. AM*

                It’s also worrying that someone may end up thinking that “Martin” was lying about the details of his service record. They may believe that he told his boss he had PTSD.

                1. Gazebo Slayer*

                  Oh God. Now I am imagining him getting shamed by one of those “stolen valor” people.

                  Valerie is potentially doing serious lifelong harm.

            3. MK*

              Also, if someone were to know from other sources that this man never saw combat, they might think the lie originated with him, that he is misrepresenting himself as a military hero or something.

              1. Lexie*

                That was my thought, that people would accuse him of stolen valor. If they end up with another employee who is actually a combat vet or a client that’s one and that person is told Martin saw combat they are going to ask questions to build a relationship with him. When he tells them he was never in combat they could very well think he was the one who spread the lie and is now backpedaling when faced with someone who would be able to tell if his war stories were plausible. Which is going to destroy his credibility.

          2. LunaLena*

            Yes, this is what I was thinking too. I actually wonder if she’s kind of preemptively undermining them in case she ever needs to throw them under the bus. Say, for example, a project has stalled and it’s a toss-up as to whether it’s her fault or someone else’s. All she has to do is say “Of course it’s not my fault! Who are you going to believe – me, the always reliable employee with a good reputation, or compulsive liar Casey, who even lies about her eye color?” (Gob Bluth voice optional)

            These lies aren’t harmless or little fibs. Intentionally or not, they set up an atmosphere in which she is the only trustworthy person and everyone else is crazy. It keeps reminding me of the scene in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, where Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka is introduced. Wilder insisted on walking out feebly and doing a forward roll because he wanted to establish from the start that nothing Willy Wonka did could be trusted and that he might do anything for no reason at all. This feels a lot like that, except that Valerie seems to be tripping the employees deliberately in front of the clients and forcing them to do a forward roll to create that same impression.

            1. pope suburban*

              I agree. I’ve worked with your more garden-variety liars, who just wanted to get away with not doing their jobs, and it still came down to the same thing: they wanted to be in control of the narrative at all times. They wanted to be sure they could do whatever they wanted, and that if there ever were consequences, they’d all fall on other people- even people who had nothing to do with whatever the error was! The people I’ve met in my life who were more like Valerie in their lying were also doing it for control in large part, and sometimes to create drama to entertain them, or to punish others for perceived slights (Usually, not believing the lies, rather than any actual meanness). This is a serious issue and I think it’s likely to persist unless and until Valerie is dismissed, or until OP and her colleagues leave for greener pastures.

              1. The Rural Juror*

                I had once had a roommate who would say little things in front of other people, usually some weird made-up thing about me. I think it was a control thing as well. She’d give back-handed compliments and then make up reasons for them that made it seem like it wasn’t really a compliment at all. I think she believed it would make her look better (???). It was odd.

                For example, one time I was in the kitchen cooking when she came home with her boyfriend. They both came in to say hi and sat down at the table to chat for a minute. I wasn’t wearing any makeup, but my roommate commented on how long my eyelashes looked. Then she turned to her boyfriend and told him that I use serum to make my eyelashes grow longer which is why they looked that way. I was a little dumbfounded, because that’s not at all true. I asked her why she would say that and she said something to the affect of, “Well, no one has eyelashes that long without some kind of help.” I was a little speechless, but managed to say, “I’ve never used anything like that. I guess I’m just lucky.”

                There’s nothing wrong with using some sort of aide to make your eyelashes grow longer. There’s also nothing wrong with wearing colored contacts. On top of that, no one who has PTSD or has been divorced should feel stigmatized. All of these things may seem like “little” things to lie about, but they can definitely alter someone’s perspective of you. I don’t like how it made me feel when my roommate told fibs about me, and I can definitely understand why the OP and their colleagues feel uneasy about it as well. It’s NOT okay.

              2. Gazebo Slayer*

                The Valerie I knew embarked on a smear campaign against me because I *believed* one of her lies! She falsely claimed she was dating a classmate, and I mentioned the relationship to him, inadvertently exposing her falsehood. You can’t win with the Valeries of the world.

                1. pope suburban*

                  Oof! I mean, good on you for letting him know what was going on, however inadvertently, but it sucks that she turned on you for that. In-character, sure, but still sucky.

            2. Andrea*

              Side note–I just heard about this fact (Gene Wilder wanted to immediately portray that WW should not be trusted) on a podcast this weekend, and here it is again! Super interesting.

                1. Pippa K*

                  I would absolutely love to read a column in which Alison answered ‘letters’ from characters in literature and films!

                  Dear Alison, I’m the CEO of a well-known…shipping and wealth redistribution firm. I’d like to retire and hand over the business to my favourite employee, but without making the public aware of the change in management. If I replace the whole crew at the next port, would that be a lay-off or firings, in terms of employment insurance?
                  Sincerely, Dread Pirate Roberts

                2. Not A Girl Boss*

                  I would totally buy this children’s book. But I’m afraid it would be a terrifying childrens book a la Brothers Grim

                3. Quill*

                  Dear Allison,
                  I recently obtained a new job that requires a lot of travel, and I’m having second thoughts. Strangely, not about the fact that I had to share a room with my coworker at our last port (That was strangely chill) but with the fact that my boss is obsessed with a payoff that, as far as I know, doesn’t exist. It’s sort of his white whale – he says it ruined his life, and whenever someone tries to redirect him to what we’re actually supposed to be doing, he reacts poorly.

                  I’ve only been here a month and don’t want to look unreliable, but it’s freaking me out. Should I jump ship?


            3. Not A Girl Boss*

              “She is the only trustworthy person and everyone else is crazy” is definitely a harmful and effective strategy.

              When I worked for a toxic dumpster fire, the stories I would share with my family would leave them with their mouths hanging open – if they didn’t know me, they probably wouldn’t have believed me because it all seemed so… made up. And it made me feel like I was crazy! Especially when people had completely unexpected and irrational reactions to my normal behavior, it made me question what I was doing wrong. It was kind of like gaslighting, and its a terrible feeling.

              At one point my mom started referring to my workplace as “Twilight Zone” – as in “are you exploring the Twilight Zone today?” just to remind me that everything there was so abnormal and I shouldn’t take it personally. LW – can you try setting your desktop background as the Twilight Zone as a reminder? lol.

              1. Gazebo Slayer*

                Some terrible people have learned to be terrible in particularly bizarre or extreme ways for this exact reason. If you do outrageous, strange things to people, your victims will likely have trouble getting people to believe them. I call it the Miss Trunchbull effect, after the evil principal from Matilda. And it’s particularly effective against children, especially when the person who does it is sweet as pie to adults. People will say “Oh, you know how kids are, they have such vivid imaginations, she would never do anything like that!” I speak from experience.

                1. Quill*

                  The trunchbull principle applies to so many people…

                  Including my seventh grade teacher who literally forced a kid to eat a chocolate cake (no, the irony was lost on her) and a principal my mom once worked for who could keep Allison busy for years.

        2. tink*

          Yeah, if it was “oh yeah, Jane’s a big polka fan” or “oh yeah Martin goes through a James Patterson novel every other day” or other similarly small but ultimately harmless fibs I’d just sorta raise an eyebrow in confusion but let it go. But these are… at minimum intrusive and unkind things to spread about others.

        3. Tired of Covid-and People*

          Yep, clients one day could be employers the next. The person is bat-guano delusional and no way I would accept these lies about me without fighting back HARD. WTAF.

      2. Naomi*

        She may well be telling other lies that OP doesn’t know about… but I don’t think she’s telling lies about people higher up the ladder. I think she’s deliberately only lying about her subordinates, which makes this even more gross because she’s taking advantage of a power imbalance.

    2. Jill*

      It almost feels like when an SO is cheating so they start making up wild accusations about the other partner, I’m curious if she’s projecting some of her own shady behavior either at the workplace or personally. “If everyone else has issues no one will ask about me.”

      1. Ama*

        I have had two bosses who were fired for financial misconduct (separate jobs and incidents). In both cases we learned the bosses were lying about a lot of things — one was very much like Valerie, in that we all knew she was prone to say weird things about people (she told me on my very first day that the two other employees in our department would try to “sabotage” me, which couldn’t have been further from the truth) but didn’t realize the extent to which she was lying until an audit was done after her departure (including paying outside contractors to do work she then claimed she was doing herself at no extra cost to the employer).

        1. Jill*

          It could totally be a personal thing like not dealing with COVID stress well or something so I don’t want to assume theft, but the only person I know fired for financial misconduct was “a star employee” who was so dedicated they never went on vacation, but commonly lost receipts and would hound you over replacing them until you would just let them make the purchases to avoid the hassle. One medical emergency and a temp employee later, they were padding every supply purchase with gift cards for years.

          1. Artemesia*

            This is why many organizations require employees with financial responsibilities to take a two week vacation every year. I was involved in a professional association where the trusted long time manager embezzled for years. The officers were elected and changed often and no one every did a thorough audit. Then the association was struggling and new treasurer had an audit done and discovered she had diverted tens of thousands into her pocket over the years. I have also known of small businesses — two different ones — where the ‘friend’ hired ripped the business off. This level of lying is the kind of red flag that should make management explore further.

          2. Gazebo Slayer*

            I wouldn’t assume COVID stress. There are plenty of varieties of bad behavior that could be stress-related; if Valerie were screaming at people or imposing ridiculous deadlines or dumping lots of feelings on her staff or blowing off work or drinking on the job, I’d say it was likely partly stress. But this is much more calm and calculated. I have trouble imagining people responding to stress by concocting elaborate lies about multiple subordinates.

            1. Jill*

              Oh my red flags are all the way up! I definitely don’t think this is just stress and would 100% be checking for more dishonesty, but these are crazy times so I’d check before blatantly accusing.

    3. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

      Yikes. Yeah.

      It’s like the work version of Munchausen’s Syndrome by Proxy. “Look at all these damaged people that I have to supervise – aren’t I a good manager?”

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        And it appears to be working, too – she has a great reputation with her superiors, and is respected by both the higher-ups and the clients!

      2. Detective Amy Santiago*

        … oh wow. Your comment just made me think that maybe there is something going wrong with the department’s work (or, more sinisterly, she’s embezzling/cheating/something) and these rumors are her way of deflecting blame from herself.

    4. MusicWithRocksIn*

      I used to work with a chronic liar, but she usually only made up lies about herself, not other people. They were pretty off the wall, sometimes medically impossible. I usually got the sense she did it to feel special and unique and for some extra attention. This case sounds more like Valerie wants to be the office gossip, but no one will tell her anything jucy, so she just makes stuff up instead. She might like feeling like people come to her because she is ‘in the know’.

      1. Batty Twerp*

        And it might be that lying is now the default, to the point where she couldn’t not make up a fib if you paid her a million dollars. It gets to be as natural as breathing.

        These are weird lies though! What on earth prompted her to say OP got a messy divorce? Something must’ve prompted that, because making something up out of whole cloth is… disturbing. I can sort of understand the contact lenses vs natural eye colour thing, and the (admittedly giant leap of) logic equating military service and PTSD. I’m now imagining meeting this woman for the first time and have her turn around and announce that my father is actually the King of Sweden because of… reasons?!

        Push back OP. Push back as a group, both in the moment and to those higher up. Unless it’s some giant conspiracy theory, anyone who is reasonable will take 8 people all with the same truth over one person, even one higher up the hierarchy, with or without evidence. Of course, if you’re still not believed by those higher up, at least you know what kind of company you are dealing with and that changes the framing to “how long can I put up with this?”

      2. liar liar*

        I had a friend in college who made up bizarre lies all the time. His were pretty inconsequential but I remember everyone in the friend group always thought it was so weird because they weren’t lies that seemed to serve a purpose, they were just untrue statements. It wasn’t like he was lying along the lines of “I once saved a family from a burning house fire” it would be “I went to Taco Bell for lunch today” when he…hadn’t. In a way I actually find it worse than lies that seemingly serve a “purpose” because its just so weird!

        1. Lexie*

          I knew someone like that. They would lie about stuff that didn’t matter at all. Which then led me to wonder what else they were lying about.

          1. I never remember my username*

            This. With the person I know who lied about totally unimportant things, the end result was that you couldn’t trust anything he said at all. If he would lie about such minor points, where would he draw the line?

        2. The Rules are Made Up*

          I had a friend like that in college too! It would be the stupidest lies like about how many siblings she had. Things she has no reason to lie about. With her it was an attention thing. Her lies were always either for sympathy or to make her the victim of some kind of injustice. But this had me thinking, maybe OP’s boss is one of those people that lies just to have something to talk about. Like the purpose is that her own life is so uninteresting that she makes up things about her employees just to have something to discuss?

        3. Quill*

          I knew a dude like that.

          No one could figure out which department he was in, he lied about where he’d grown up, he started turning up for classes he wasn’t enrolled in… eventually he got canned from college due to academic probation, which was weird, because he definitely did homework, often, for the courses we shared but that he wasn’t enrolled in…

      3. AM*

        I have experienced people who make up various stories about themselves. I usually play along for entertainment. I agree with others on here that it’s often about control. The sinister, thing here is that may be also be lying about peoples work and blaming them for any problems. Also as has already been pointed out she is claiming to be managing a team of damaged people, so if for example targets are not meet she can claim that she has more challenges in managing her team than she does.

    5. Paulina*

      It’s attention-seeking and undermining, and would be completely inappropriate even if the items were true. That they’re not adds many more layers of WTF, No.

    6. willow for now*

      Not just knowing secrets, but :”working with difficult people with issues, see how good I am?”

  2. Taking the long way round*

    Ohmygosh Valerie is a sociopath! I’d take your concerns to HR, see if they can’t deal with her lies seeing as Valerie’s boss won’t.

      1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        And yes, then look for another job.

        Run while you still can! I mean, yes, surveying the available opportunities in the job market would be a good idea…

        1. HashBrownEyedGirl*

          Psssst! Don’t you know?? Taking the Long Way Round is a septuple amputee! But you’d never know it unless they tried to run.

      2. Amethystmoon*

        Definitely start looking now if you haven’t already done so. Also, see if you can get a second reference besides your boss, because who knows what people will be told?

    1. HarvestKaleSlaw*

      For realsies. I’ve known a few people with issues that lead them to lie compulsively. The lies are either harmless or just bizarre. They don’t stick with the same lie either, they just drop it.

      To create these plausible, detailed, completely undermining and malicious lies and spread them around your professional network? This is someone who knows exactly what they are doing. This is someone who is making a calculated effort to destroy the credibility of the people on their team – for what? To destroy the competition? To enjoy the feeling of power of controlling what other people think? Because they can and it’s fun?

      This is not a good person. I don’t want to say sociopath, because we are not supposed to diagnose people, but….

    2. lemon*

      Yup, this was my exact thought too.

      Casey doesn’t have heterochromia = Casey is a liar who likes attention.
      Martin has PTSD = Martin has mental health issues.
      OP went through a messy divorce = OP is emotionally unstable.

      Either she’s doing it to intentionally undermine her reports, or she likes the attention she gets from the lies (likely both). Either way, it shows a lack of empathy, a lack of respect for the normal rules of social conduct, and is manipulative.

      Definitely sociopathic. Definitely time to look for a new job.

      1. Batty Twerp*

        These are not harmless lies.
        A harmless lie would be “Batty collects camel figurines” (I don’t. I’m not a huge fan of camels – it’s nothing personal). It’s still on the bizarre side, but, apart from maybe ending up with more gifted camels than I would like, there’s no harm done.
        These lies could do real damage.

      2. Anon in Space*

        To add to this, my ex-terrible-boss did this to me (and another female employee).

        Repeatedly labeling me as young (I was her age!) –> implying I was inexperienced –> leading others to think ‘she [me] probably doesn’t know what she’s talking about’.

    3. PJ*

      Seriously, what the heck. There are two major issues here: the lies, and the fact that Valerie should not be sharing that kind of personal information about anyone. On what planet is it okay to talk about a subordinate’s messy divorce (real or made up) with anyone but said subordinate?! Even if Casey liked to wear one coloured contact lens, why would Valerie think that’s an appropriate conversation with a client?!

      Everything about this is so messed up.

      1. Sacred Ground*

        Right, it seems like even if these stories were true, then Valerie is a terrible gossip, sharing things around the office that were told in confidence, in a way that’s distracting and disruptive and is wrecking office morale.

        And that’s how it WOULD be if what she were saying weren’t made-up lies.

        OP, your boss may actually be a bigger problem here than she is. Go over boss’s head to HR or to grandboss. Maybe try one more time with your boss, lay out exactly how these lies harm reputations, then ask “I wonder she’s saying about you?”

        Ooh, even better: have a casual conversation with Valerie and raise the subject of your boss. Ask her something about him open-ended like, “what’s the deal with Boss? What’s their story?” and see what she says about them. THEN go have that conversation with Boss. “Harmless, eh? She says your wife is an illegal immigrant, your children aren’t really yours and that you’re a recovering heroin addict. And people are believing her.”

        Some people really can’t see problems if they’re not effected by them.

    4. Hey Nonnie*

      And while looking for another job, every time anyone mentions one of her lies: laugh. Laugh like it’s ridiculous, because it is.

      “Isn’t it weird that Casey wears two different colored contacts?”
      *laugh* “What? Those are just her eyes, what are you talking about?”
      “Well, I was told that she’s faking it.”
      *laughing harder* “Are you serious? Why would she do that? What a dumb thing to lie about.”

      Do the same with any other lie. It will at least return some of the awkward to sender, and if you’re laughing people will be less likely to think you are defensive/lying than if you get angry. It will also heavily imply (without coming out and saying it) that Valerie is a lying liar who lies and her stories about other people should be taken with a giant grain of salt. If nothing else, it will make this whole thing much less fun for Valerie, when everyone in her target group is coordinated in refuting her fictions.

      Also I really want this company’s leadership to go through remedial training on why gossiping (true or not) is inappropriate for the workplace.

      1. Sasha*

        You know, I’d be tempted to just straight out say that Valerie is a lying liar. In quite a breezy “Oh no, that’s not true. You know, Valerie makes a lot of stuff up” way, the kind of tone you’d use to say “oh yeah, that printer’s jammed, you have to use tray 2”. But definitely let people know that Valerie is well known for lying about random stuff, and they shouldn’t take what she says as gospel.

  3. Edianter*

    WTF! Even if most of these lies are generally “harmless” (which I would not argue that they are), this is a really slippery slope to some very harmful behavior with potentially devastating consequences. (For her, for the company, and obviously for you/your team.)

    I hereby nominate Valerie for Worst Boss of 2020.

    1. Listening to Mussorgsky*

      Gosh, it’ll be that (Worst Boss) time again soon won’t it? That and Updates Season are always fantastic reading!

        1. Gazebo Slayer*

          Now I know what I’m listening to while I work this evening!

          Hmm, Pictures at an Exhibition or Night on Bald Mountain? Why not both?

    2. Amy Farrah Fowler*

      As bizarre as this is, I think there have been many way worse bosses (particularly in relation to bad handling of COVID.

          1. EPLawyer*

            that’s what we are going to have to do. Because what was terrible before may not be seem so bad when compared to bosses who DON’T CARE IF PEOPLE DIE. Plus norms have changed. yeah boss had the annoying quirk of having sexual conversations loudly on the phone with the door open, but we all WFH now so we don’t hear it. he doesn’t make us turn on video all day to monitor us, he doesn’t make us spend time sending detailed reports on what we are working on — instead of ya know actually WORKING, so all in all not a bad boss.

        1. Spencer Hastings*

          Categories, yes! The harmful bosses and the “why are you the way that you are?” bosses are worthy of recognition in different ways.

    3. Washi*

      Right, these are not harmless! When I read the first few sentences, I thought maybe the issue was that Valerie is making up things to cover for others – like if you accidentally missed a client meeting, Valerie would tell the client you had a family emergency. Which would still be problematic, but I could see it coming from good intentions.

      But these are bizarre things to fabricate about your employees and OP’s employer should absolutely want Valerie to stop because it makes them look bananas! If I were a client, I would already be weirded out to be told about an employees messy divorce, but I would immediately pull out of a business relationship if I found out that the whole thing was a complete lie made up by…the person’s boss? wtf?

    4. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Yep, don’t know if she’ll win Worst Boss, but she definitely needs to be in the running.

      OP says she’s new, and yet Valerie has already made up a lie about her, and spread it among the clients. Does she make something up about every new hire as soon as they walk in the door? What a terrible human.

    5. Double A*

      When I read the opening paragraph, I was thinking the lies would be just weird fibs like, “Jane went to college with X celebrity,” or “Fergus has six dogs” when really he has none.

      Those lies are about health, mental health, and really personal interpersonal relationships. Even if those things were true, Valerie should not be talking about them.

      I have to think that at least a few clients would be like, “Why on earth are you sharing such personal information about your staff?” and see Valerie as unprofessional, even if they believe the lie.

  4. Diahann Carroll*

    All of which means that this likely isn’t a safe place to build your career, and it’s worth moving on as quickly as you realistically can.

    I don’t know if the OP reads here often or not, but Alison rarely immediately jumps to telling someone to move on from a job. The fact that she did here shows how serious this is, OP. Your boss has serious problems and cannot be trusted about anything really. And it both amuses me and puzzles me that her compulsive lies never revolve around herself – just the rest of you. I’ve worked with or went to school with compulsive liars, and they usually tell endless, flattering lies about themselves. It’s odd that she’s not doing that.

    Anyway, I agree with Alison – you can’t trust your manager. If you go to her boss again and explain the situation as Alison described and nothing is done about her, then yeah, you need to move on. Maybe you can make an internal transfer so you can stay with the company if the company itself isn’t a problem.

    1. Twisted Lion*

      +1 Id leave as soon as possible. Anyone who would claim that someone in the military has PTSD would receive a verbal tear down from me. I work with military personnel on a daily basis and live with a veteran and this is not something acceptable to state about other people. It creates a false image that all people who have served have some type of issue which is just blatantly false. And her other lies… just completely crazy. Id be boxing up my personal items in my desk while job searching.

      1. Littorally*

        Yes. The stereotype that all veterans have PTSD usually goes hand in hand with terrible stereotypes about what PTSD encompasses and is used to paint them as scary, unreliable, dangerous people. This is a big deal.

        1. Artemesia*

          And while the messy divorce is not as devastatingly damaging as that is, it is still damaging. When a person has a messy divorce there is always the sense that they are a person with poor personal judgment who married badly and was a victim or that they are on the other hand themselves a difficult vindictive person and hence the ‘battle’. You don’t walk away from a messy divorce battling in the courts jada jada without some mud sticking to your reputation. This is quite different from an amicable parting of the ways.

      2. SheLooksFamiliar*

        My brother served in Vietnam and suffers horribly from PTSD. He relives the war almost every night in his dreams, and struggles to stay calm during thunderstorms. Even smelling rain takes him back to place he never wanted to be, doing things he never wanted to do. He gets counseling and support from the VA, and is better able to manage daily life. He rarely shares his struggle with anyone besides his counselors and our family, and we respect his request to not call attention to his PTSD. He has valid reasons for keeping his own counsel. If someone were to blithely announce to the world at large that my brother has PTSD, I don’t know if I could keep my cool over such a violation of trust and common decency.

        So, yeah, Valerie needs to get schooled by someone in a position of authority. Her careless talk in general is, indeed, a Big Deal, and her comments about Martin are especially grating on me.

        1. Anon for Today*

          I’m sorry about your brother, but I’m glad he’s getting regular help. A few of my relatives fought in that war and it still affects them. And yeah, they don’t talk about it…ever. Not to stereotype, but the only people I know that brag about serving during Vietnam never saw any direct combat.

    2. serenity*

      Also, without knowing more about what industry this is, these examples show Valerie in a horribly unprofessional light. I can’t imagine some clients aren’t turned off by this. Even if these stories were true, I would completely side-eye someone in a position of authority gleefully telling others “One of my subordinates went through a nasty, years-long divorce!” or “My other direct report has terrible PTSD!”. Valerie sounds like she is almost gleeful about it.

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        Right – it’s incredibly off-putting and classless. I’m shocked the clients haven’t said anything to be honest.

        1. HarvestKaleSlaw*

          People who pull this will usually perform concern and reluctance. They can be convincing. People may leave with the sense that this is something she felt she had to share reluctantly, or that it has only been shared with them, because they are trusted…

          It’s Mr. Wickham stuff! Oh Elizabeth, I’m only telling you this about Mr. Darcy because we are so close, having known each other a week…

          1. Anon for this*

            +1 on the Pride & Prejudice reference. It is certainly in the gaslighting handbook to seem to say things with reluctance when they are deliberately planting seeds of destructive lies.

          2. Gamer Girl*

            Oh man, Mr. Wickham and gaslighting…I have never thought about him that way, but it is so true! I’m sitting here reevaluating the entire book through this lens–amazing!

          3. Alice's Rabbit*

            Perfect analogy! Eliza Bennett didn’t fall for Wickham’s lies because she was gullible, but rather because he was so earnest and seemingly reluctant.
            Same here. The bosses and clients aren’t falling for her lies because of any fault on their part. But because she has a track record of reliable work, and probably tells them these things “in confidence” to create a bond between them she can then leverage.
            “Oh, she trusts me with these personal details about her struggles in management, so clearly I should trust her back and open up myself!” It’s a con game.

      1. EPLawyer*

        Oooooh. This makes sense. She tears down her subordinates so no one will believe them while building herself up. How much of her “reputation” is based on people’s perception of her based on what she says about herself and others, and how much is based on substantive work?

        If she lies about you, she is lying about other things. I would also say these things ARE defaming. Not in the classic sense, but they are harmful untrue statements.

        1. AKchic*

          Especially if she takes credit for the subordinates she’s already undermined, and blames them for her own failings.
          Missed a deadline? Wasn’t her fault. It was Martin’s PTSD and well, she didn’t want to push him too hard.
          Forgot a meeting? Oh no, she was covering for OP who was at her attorney’s office again… she’s such a hard worker and dedicated supervisor, you see.
          That report got in early and with glowing numbers? Oh, that wasn’t whatshername faking the eye colors. That was all the supervisor. She worked extra hard on it to ensure it got in early. Isn’t she great? Even with her band of misfit subordinates, she manages to do her job.

          Yup. I can totally see this happening. I had a boss who would miss deadlines and not tell me things because he forgot. Then, when it was time to chew someone out for it, it was magically my fault. He couldn’t tell me because I was out dealing with my kids (his main method of communication was email, and the day in question I was only out of the building for my regular lunch). I’ve made it clear I don’t like “change” (uh, what? I never said that, never even hinted at that, and implemented *many* changes before and during his time with the company), blah blah blah.

          Valerie is doing a lot of damage to her subordinates’ reputations and there is no way that she is not benefiting from it.

      2. anonymous for today*

        I’ve worked for a Valerie and that’s exactly it. It was a very hierarchical company and we had no access to upper management. She was the only one in contact with them and told them disparaging lies about everyone in the team to make herself look good in comparison. She was also lying about her own performance and other things like her past and her identity. Some of the lies were utterly bizarre, for example she faked being Jewish.

        She hurt all our professional reputations but in the end she hurt herself even more. Eventually the office was closed and everyone found new jobs, except her. She had been a nepotism hire and her CV and LinkedIn profile were a pack of lies, which could easily sussed out by any competent recruiter. Some people are very strange indeed.

    3. Smithy*

      Completely agree.

      If this is a role where having rapport with external facing entities is important and this is how Valerie has chosen to do it….this is simply not a company that is supporting a professional practices. It may be that Valerie’s approach to building business relationships is to build connection over tragedy. Client going through a divorce? “Hey – OP went through a super messy divorce too, that’s why she’ll be great to help you manage your llama grooming account.”

      However, her approach in using wildly personal and untrue stories does leave you out to dry and in an odd place of managing her lies. If the lies we were talking about were like “During Martin’s time in the military, he spent a lot of time in Germany and could be a great source of information before you travel/move there!” – even if Martin’s time in Germany had been ten plus years ago when he was young, broke, and rarely left the military base… would be anchored in truth and not something wildly personal. An in an external facing, relationship role it certainly is possible to be pigeon holed as the alum from that school, X city native, cooking/movie/sports geek when people are trying to forge fast connections. But “the divorced one” or “the PTSD one” is not normal.

      If the company has bought into this as an acceptable practice or that Valerie is so good at her job it’s not worth correcting…..they’ve likely got a lot of other problems.

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        It may be that Valerie’s approach to building business relationships is to build connection over tragedy. Client going through a divorce? “Hey – OP went through a super messy divorce too, that’s why she’ll be great to help you manage your llama grooming account.”

        I didn’t even think of this, but this could be exactly what she’s doing – lying to build a bridge between her direct reports and the clients. It’s weird as hell and totally inappropriate, but I could see how someone would start doing this out of some misguided attempt to make her staff seem relatable and approachable.

        1. Katrinka*

          It is highly inappropriate and, in some cases (like PTSD) possibly illegal for her to share. Management and HR should care DEEPLY about her behavior.

      2. AnotherAlison*

        Plausible, but the hypothesis kind of falls apart with Casey, though. The client who also had an employee who faked having two different eye colors. What is that about? Did the client say something about someone who faked a medical condition, and Valerie piped in with that? (I could almost see a crazy boss do the opposite and ask someone with two matching eyes to wear contacts to make a client with that more comfortable–like maybe if it was a child client in a social service setting or something. Kind of like shaving one’s head to support someone going through chemo. But again, only a crazy boss would go there.)

        1. Smithy*

          I only flag this as a way of seeing some connection between “Valerie lies to external clients as a way to make relationships better.”

          If Valerie’s role has some really hard KPI’s – i.e. bringing in new business, placing news stories, etc. – and she’s meeting those objectives while lying, then that can explain why her boss has been reluctant to push back. Essentially, the business case Valerie is presenting is that none of this is about work and that these stories/fictions help cultivate rapport. Whether it’s “you have a crazy coworker? Omg – I have a colleague who lies about having 2 different colored eyes – how weird is that?”

          I share this because if the OP is being told that these lies aren’t about work or are no big deal, it may be that she’s also being told that this is part of how Valerie/this profession/this business cultivates relationships. I want to say that it’s still wildly unprofessional and wrong, even if someone is presenting a logic or business case behind it.

          1. Anandatic*

            If she were only telling these to clients that might be plausible, but it sounds like it frequently happens internally as well. What could she possibly gain by spreading lies to coworkers?

          1. Archaeopteryx*

            Yes, having two different colored eyes is something that someone like complements or be considered striking and beautiful for, so she wants to undercut that and make it an embarrassment for her.

          2. Thisishalloween*

            Exactly- client/whoever commented on how unusual or pretty her eyes were, or lauded martin for signing up for the military or asked if op was single.

    4. Squeakrad*

      I agree that Alison rarely suggest moving on. But I’m wondering what the OP needs to do if they do move on and how to get around a reference from her current boss. I can’t imagine going into a job interview saying “whenever my boss tells you might be a lie.” I’m genuinely curious what people think the OP should do in their job search.

      1. 9to4ever*

        Not get a reference and explain this last role was a bad fit–OP just started so it’s fair that some positions just don’t work out.

      2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        I never had to get a reference from my current boss. None of my current bosses knew I was looking until I turned in my resignation. Is this a newer requirement?

      3. Diahann Carroll*

        Well, a lot of companies don’t expect to speak with a person’s current manager when they’re looking for work, so OP won’t necessarily need to worry about this for her next gig. But for the one after that? Yeah, OP will need to speak to the boss’s boss and ask that he be the one to provide a positive reference since the current manager is not remotely reliable.

      4. Katrinka*

        Give contact information for a co-worker who has agreed to provide truthful information. And when they leave remind the current company that they can be sued if one of their employees tells lies about you as part of a reference. ESPECIALLY if that means you don’t get the job. They may be able to successfully argue that they weren’t responsible for her lies, but it will become a matter of public record that she is telling lies and the company has done nothing to stop her.

      5. Alice's Rabbit*

        The faster OP can get out of there, the less likely she will need to provide a reference from this job. And if she does, she can just provide contact info for HR, or for a coworker who isn’t a crazy liar.

    5. SierraSkiing*

      Yeah- if nothing else, this boss will make a terrible referral. I can imagine her telling any reference checker about OP’s “messy divorce” and who knows what other lies! best for OP to move on while she can drop this job from her references list.

  5. Neosmom*

    I like Alison’s advice and feel the most important part was buried at the end. Extricate yourself from this employment situation at your earliest feasible opportunity. Run awayyyyyyyyyy!

    1. Charlotte Lucas*

      I worked for a woman who would do stuff like this. Her behavior just got worse, never better. It got to the point that we stopped believing anything she said.
      She was removed from her position, & I’ve since left that job. I’m pretty sure there are still weird rumors about me swirling around that place.

  6. LadyByTheLake*

    As an attorney, I have to take issue with the statement that she isn’t defaming anyone. She is and she’s doing it in a way that could harm people. For example, if she is telling everyone that Casey is a liar that could harm Casey’s reputation in the industry. If I were a manager in a company and I found out that someone was consistently spreading lies about others, I’d be doing something pretty drastic about that (as in, it is unlikely that Valerie’s employment would continue).

    1. Dr.OO7*

      And telling people that Martin has PTSD could lead to people stereotyping him as some nutcase with a hair-trigger temper.

        1. ThatGirl*

          Well, yes. But I don’t think DrOO7 is too far off sadly – some people (assholes) do associate PTSD with a hair-trigger temper. Let me be clear, that’s a completely wrong, unfair, inaccurate stereotype. But that doesn’t mean that the stereotype doesn’t exist.

        2. Observer*

          Not necessarily. Poeple are extremely ignorant about this stuff. And all the idiots who jump in to defend really bad behavior with “but what if they have mental health issues” help to feed this stereotypes.

          It’s obviously unfair because it’s really inaccurate. But it’s really, really common stereotype – ESPECIALLY since it’s linked to his (fictional) “traumatic combat experiences”.

        3. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          assholes, sure, but also ignorant people, because it’s not everyone who has had the opportunity/inclination/energy to learn in detail about PTSD.

    2. Brioche*

      Also an attorney. You do not have to accuse someone of something criminal to defame them! Defamation is just a non privileged communication made to a third party about something false made with reckless disregard to the falsity of the statement/communication (of course, this definition varies WILDLY by jurisdiction, but the general spirit is there).

      1. Katrinka*

        Exactly. I am flabbergasted that the boss doesn’t seem to realize how much liability they have. At the very least, they should have investigated to determine whether or not she was telling lies to clients or not. I also find it hard to believe that she is not also lying about work-related things. It may be that no one has caught her out in one of those lies, but I am willing to bet that she tells them.

    3. Artemesia*

      This. The Casey lie seems trivial but she is marking Casey as a lying drama queen and who wants to hire one of those?

      1. Tabby*

        Artemsia, exactly this. Most people don’t know that different-colored eyes is actually a medical thing. I knew about it, via seeing one or two celebs with it (I want to say David Bowie, but I’m not entirely certain of that).

        Also, Valerie seems weird as hell. I’m in the camp of ‘so what’ if someone wants to wear contacts with two different colors, and if she came up to me and told me that, I’d be asking her why she cares about something so trivial, and why she’s actively trying to ruin someone else’s reputation by spreading gossip, but not everyone is going to do that. Valerie is unequivocably the problem, here.

    4. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      But even if it isn’t defamation or something similarly illegal, that doesn’t mean her boss can’t tell her to cut it out. Surely anybody can see it’s wrong!

      1. Katrinka*

        It is defamation. (1) it is untrue; (2) Valerie knows it is untrue; and (3) Valerie either knows it will harm the victim’s reputation (intent to harm) or doesn’t care if it does (willful disregard). Those are the basic requirements in most jurisdictions. The company might be held liable because she’s doing this lying in the course of business for the company (especially true if it can be shown that anyone higher up than Valerie knew about it and did nothing to stop her/mitigate her lies). Even if the company successfully defends itself in court, the damage has been done to the company’s reputation.

    5. A Poster Has No Name*

      It’s mind-blowing to me that Valerie’s boss was all “it’s fine! no big deal!” when hearing about a manager repeatedly and deliberately lying to internal and external people about their employees. I just can’t fathom the logic of anyone who would think this is OK.

      1. Ominous Adversary*

        It isn’t really logic. Valerie’s boss likes Valerie (and maybe is afraid of her, or maybe is LIKE her, too). Valerie’s boss is presented with information by a subordinate that suggests his impression of Valerie is all wrong and maybe Valerie is not a nice person. What to do? Well, taking the new information into account is unpleasant. It might mean having to rethink what he believed about Valerie and maybe have to take action to do some uncomfortable things. But rationalizing away the new information means keeping the status quo and not having to be uncomfortable.

      2. Paulina*

        I wonder if it’s worth making a more concerted effort to talk to Valerie’s boss, given that what’s said about that is just that Casey said something to her once, which was brushed off. One person talking to them once might be a lot easier to brush off than what’s actually going on, and yes these things are defamatory even if damages may be hard to show.

        An additional problem with some of these lies, though, is that Valerie could claim that they’re simply what her reports told her, and that they (such as Martin and the OP) lied to get sympathy from her.

        1. Artemesia*

          the lie about Casey while inappropriate is also more ‘trivial’ seeming than the other lies given here. They need to go back to the boss and use words like ‘defame’ and reputation of the company. And they need to mention ADA and legal issues around PTSD accusations.

      3. NotAnotherManager!*

        It’s not logical at all, and my concern would be that it paints a fairly grim picture of leadership’s, well, leadership.

        I’m not often a go-to-HR-first person, but, given the disconcerting response when Casey addressed it, I would go to HR as a group and with a list of the lies and any instances where they were issued in writing as well. Valerie’s behavior is not normal or reasonable – it doesn’t even fall within the weak or passive categories of bad, she is actively making up and spreading lies about the people who work for her. Even the worst HR I worked for would have an issue with this, at minimum, because of the risk to the organization.

      4. Katrinka*

        He’s been lied to by Valerie and believes her over the employee reporting it. Remember, according to OP, Valerie has a good reputation in the company. One employee coming and saying that she’s telling lies, no many how examples they give involving other employees, is still one subordinate’s word. That’s why if they all go as a group, it will have more impact and should be taken very seriously. Contacting a good employment lawyer to send a letter or make a call might also work, if the company doesn’t seem to realize how bad this is (some companies, especially ones without someone who knows about HR issues, have no clue about what is illegal or a Very Bad Idea).

    6. emmelemm*

      That was what stood out to me. She is saying Casey is a liar, full stop. That is defamation of Casey’s character and quite obviously harmful.

  7. Ginger*

    These lies are HUGE. Lying about someone’s mental health? About personal relationships? WTF.

    If the higher ups are ok with this…. well, that speaks really loudly about them. The level of dysfunction is high.

    What happens when you’re up for promotion? Or you do something she doesn’t like? Where is her line? (Answer: there is no line or limit to what she might do). At least you know that now but yikes, run fast and far.

    1. Littorally*

      Right? These are not harmless lies! Look at what we’ve got here:

      – Claiming her report is a chronic liar (lol, projecting much?) and has gone so far as to blow money on colored contacts to maintain a specifically appearance-based lie
      – Claiming another of her reports has a serious health condition, not to mention reinforcing a damaging stereotype that does real harm to veterans
      – Claiming the OP has a messy and dramatic past, of a variety that might well introduce some very negative perceptions of the OP depending on local culture

      These are not harmless or funny lies! Where is “oh, Jane is really, really into competitive quilting” or “Martin has the biggest ant farm you’ve ever seen”?

      1. CP*

        “Valerie is actively, intentionally making it hard for us to have good relationships with our clients and colleagues. She said X, Y, and Z. We corrected her X many times, yet she persists. Our clients now think we are liars, and in some cases, that we are emotionally unstable.” This IS work-related; your company will care that your manager is damaging your reputation with clients for no reason.

        1. Corporate Goth*

          Yes. Though depending on the audience, leaving out “actively, intentionally” could be helpful. The wide-eyed, innocent, “oh, my, how did *this* happen?” argument makes it less about Valerie and more about her actions.

        2. Malarkey01*

          I really like this. I’d only add on the liabilities added by lying about an ADA disability. That was sort of glossed over but that’s huge AND if it was true a manager is disclosing private medical information on subordinates which would be a huge problem.

      2. KoiFeeder*

        It’s not really important in the span of things, but I’m glad someone else pointed out the monetary thing with the colored contacts. Specialty contacts that actually succeed at emulating heterochromia with normal eye colors and don’t look severely uncanny are quite expensive! I guess you can stretch that out if you’re only wearing them in one eye and not reusing them instead of properly disposing of them, but I still doubt this job pays well enough for Casey to afford that.

        That’s assuming that Casey has complete heterochromia, as opposed to sectoral (I don’t believe this could be emulated even with contacts- I wouldn’t want to try!) or central (I have seen this sort-of emulated with colored contacts where the color thinned/wore off near the pupil, but it was only convincing if you didn’t look too closely).

    2. Firecat*

      I agree. Lying in general is a big deal to me. If I can’t trust you then I’m not keeping you.

      But these lies are a big deal!
      Saying someone is faking heterochromia? That’s implying they are seriously untrustworthy and willing to go through a daily ritual to cover it up!

      Lying about someone having PTSD!? (My BIL has PTSD and doesn’t like people to know because they assume he’s explosively and unexpectedly violent). It’s wrong on so many levels.

      And while lying about OPs marriage is the most minor of the three examples – that’s still huge too! Especially since it seems when others bring it up they seem to act as if the OP is lying…it’s so bizzare and frustrating.

      1. Katrinka*

        I think it’s just as bad – it’s implying that she’s not giving her work the attention it needs and/or that she’s emotionally unstable and/or that one of the parties in the marriage is abusive (and domestic violence can explode into the workplace).

  8. Queer Earthling*

    …Anonymously enroll her in a creative writing class so she has an outlet for this bizarre drive?

    1. Corporate Goth*

      My creative writing group would call me out on something like this as over the top and implausible.

      1. Queer Earthling*

        “Your characterization needs some serious work, and your consistency leaves much to be desired.”

    2. Gazebo Slayer*

      She’d end up one of those fake memoirists! (Dude, just write a novel and say it’s a novel. Even if it is partly autobiographical.)

      1. Katrinka*

        And even if it’s 100% autobiographical, I’ve not heard of people being called out for a novel not being a novel. LOL

        1. Sasha*

          Ha, somebody in my husband’s creative writing group has the opposite issue. She’s writing a novel, but is basically just retelling her life story. Which is quite humdrum.

          She’s really resistant to any feedback, because “that’s how it really happened”. Maybe, but that doesn’t make for very interesting reading, so maybe add some plot twists?

  9. AvonLady Barksdale*

    OK, I need to picture this. How do these things even come up? Does Valerie go to meetings with Casey and just blurt out, “She doesn’t really have two differently colored eyes”? How did you hear about Valerie’s lies about your phantom divorce? Why is she even mentioning this to clients? Is it part of the conversation, or just, “Let me introduce you to OP, she’s DIVORCED and it was BAD”?

    If it’s during more social situations, like taking clients to lunch, there might be a different approach than if this were coming up in, say, client presentations. I’m so curious about this.

    1. Roja*

      I wondered this too. Like, I’m trying to imagine a situation in which I might ever tell a client that my employee had an extremely messy divorce (even if it were true). I can’t think of one. Maybe if the ex had shown up at the business and was causing trouble. Otherwise, why on earth would it even come up??

    2. Mel_05*

      It sounds to me like they’re finding out because she lies to or in front of the coworkers, who are talking to each other enough to find out that these are lies.

      1. AvonLady Barksdale*

        I get that, but how do the topics come up in the first place? We’re either dealing with someone blatant and inappropriate or someone really subtle and conniving.

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          I wish it were not the case, but I’ve seen supervisors try to bond with their team by sharing or saying things that they should not – usually, it’s disclosing company information before it’s been sanctioned for release/announced, but I’ve also seen people share information about coworkers they should not have. Valerie could like the thrill of power she gets knowing (or, in her case, fabricating) things and sharing them with others. Regina George could be her idol or she could be on a power trip. Or she could be a sociopath.

          Regardless, it’s beyond the pale and needs to stop immediately.

    3. Slow Gin Lizz*

      Yes! I want to know this too! The eyes lie is particularly strange. Actually, no, I take that back. They’re all equally strange. Valerie is a very strange person to even be discussing these kinds of things with clients, never mind lying about them.

    4. ellex42*

      Valerie is a gossip, and has figured out that fiction is much more entertaining, exciting, and less work to discover than the truth. I’d wonder if she was a pathological liar, but since she seems able to limit it to social issues and keeps it out of work issues, I suspect she’s just a gossip.

      I work with someone who does this kind of thing, except her targets are usually people who had left the company. A huge company reorg last year was a positive bounty for her.

      As for how she manages to bring this stuff up…there are all sorts of ways for someone fairly socially adept to do it. My coworker was really obvious about it – she’d come bounding up and exclaim “guess what I heard!”/”I found out something interesting about so-and-so!” People directly around her started putting her down hard by saying we didn’t want to know and didn’t want to hear gossip, but she’s very gregarious and found people outside our department to spread her stories. Happily, our department doesn’t have contact with customers/clients, and even more happily, we’ve all gone to work from home so I don’t have to hear her anymore.

      1. Smithy*

        I do wonder if this has been Valerie’s approach to build “fast friendships” with clients has been to commiserate over shared tragedy. Essentially a wildly inappropriate and out of control version of when doing the “how are you doing” chit chat and you respond to “allergy season – I’m just a mess” with “I have allergies too – do you like your doctor?” But doing that when you don’t have allergies, or a divorce, or mental health issue…..

        To assume there’s anything rational happening here, it’d be taking “misery loves company” and “people love gossip” and then spiraling your direct reports into fictional characters to best serve whatever conversation you’re in. While this is wildly unprofessional and wrong, it’s the only kernel of starting someplace understandable that I can see.

      2. Katrinka*

        I’m skeptical that she actually has kept it out of work matters. She seems to have no boundaries, period. If management were any good, they’d launch an investigation into all of her work product as well.

      3. Sacred Ground*

        “…she seems able to limit it to social issues and keeps it out of work issues…”

        We don’t know this. That’s the thing about telling lots of lies. Nothing she says can be trusted now. If someone is willing to lie about personal things that are irrelevant to the work, why would they suddenly be reliable or trustworthy or honest about work issues? If she’s going to tell outrageous lies for no apparent reason or benefit, she’s not going to be a stickler for honesty when it’s her own job on the line.

        I’d bet my next paycheck that if confronted, she’ll deny it. Which would be a lie to protect her job.

    5. Casual Librarian*

      I came here to ask this question!

      Seriously! Why on earth would a client ever need to know that someone has PTSD or a nasty divorce? I can imagine the meeting where she introduces them, “Yes, this is Martin. He’s our prized consultant on the X project despite his nasty PTSD from his time in a combat zome.” or “I’m sorry, Matilda is out of the office today dealing with her divorce lawyers.”

      In what world would you need to talk about coworkers personal lives to a client??

      1. EPLawyer*

        Someone with no boundaries who enjoys being the center of attention. You (as in everyone wondering, not you in particular) are presuming this comes up organically as part of a normal, sane conversation.

        it could very well be that obvious. Oh Matilda can’t meet with you, she’s dealing with her divorce lawyers. You know she is going through a YEARS long custody battle. Martin is out sick today with his PTSD from being in a combat zone, so I will be handling the presentation.

        1. AvonLady Barksdale*

          See, this is what I’m wondering. Because if this is happening when the colleagues aren’t there, it’s soooo much worse. In person, it would be a, “Huh, I think you have me confused with someone else, I’ve never been married!”

          1. Katrinka*

            Yeah, she’s not doing it in front of the subject of the lie, otherwise, that would be pretty easy to shut down (“No, I’m not. Why would you say that?”).

      1. Katrinka*

        Client says what unusual eyes Carla has. Valerie laughs and says “Oh, they’re actually contacts. She likes people to think they’re natural.”

        Client is told OP is out of the office, asks if everything is OK. Valerie says, “Oh, yeah, she’s going through a messy divorce and has to be out/has to take long lunches/has to make phone calls during work hours to deal with it.”

        Valerie looks rattled, client asks if she’s OK. Valerie replies, “I’m fine, Martin just blew up at me this morning. He has outbursts sometimes because of his PTSD from the war.”

        With simple answers, she has established that Carla is a liar, OP is unreliable, and Martin has anger issues. Boom.

    6. 9to4ever*

      I worked at a very small advertising agency and the owners would gossip like this with clients. “Oh, sorry Don didn’t get you that presentation in time. He is such a wreck since he found out his father wasn’t biologically related to him!” Actual quote.

        1. Friendly Comp Manager*

          Some people REALLY like attention, even (especially?) when it is at others’ expense. Very disturbing.

    7. Shirley Keeldar*

      Oh, I can see how she might do it. Not in the middle of a meeting, but over lunch or coffee. The client mentions Casey. “So glad to be working with Casey; she’s such a pro!” Jane hesitates. “Oh, Casey’s great, yes. But it’s so odd… Well. Maybe I shouldn’t mention it. But I know you’re not one to gossip, and I just thought you should know. Her eyes? I know, it’s so striking, the different colors–but she tells everyone it’s natural, and it’s not! Contact lenses! How strange, right? I was amazed!”

    8. Partly Cloudy*

      Yes, how/why do these topics come up… and how/why do clients still like and respect Valerie? Unless she spreads the lies around and no single client gets more than one lie. But if I had a business associate who was constantly telling me deeply personal things about people on her team, I’d find it very hinky.

  10. Person from the Resume*

    This is really possibly the most bizarre letter I’ve read here. And that’s saying something. I’ll note that in all the examples Valerie is undermining her employees in some way. It’s convoluted, but I’m thinking she’s the hero in all her lies by helping and supporting the LW through her explosive, nasty divorce or creating an environment where wounded warrior Martin can thrive. It makes her a great and supportive boss when she’s actually outrageously bad for telling undermining lies about them.

    I don’t have anything further to suggest. If Valerie’s boss is blowing this off instead of acting on a report of the issue. Maybe HR, but unfortunately it sounds like Valerie in entrenched. And quite possibly she’s entrenched because she’s lied her way into everyone believing that she’s such a supportive boss.

        1. Queer Earthling*

          That’s kinda what I was thinking. She’s clearly not above aggrandizing herself in person, and writing gives you a degree of separation that can make that even easier…

    1. kittymommy*

      It really is simply bizarre!!! And while if these lies were actually the truth it wouldn’t make me bat an eye (though I’d wonder why someone is event telling me about her staff’s PTSD or divorce) the fact is they are not true and if a client or outside agencies got wind that Valerie is saying stuff like this and is running around unchecked I would seriously (SERIOUSLY) re-consider my association with this firm.

      This is going to come back and bite them in the ass eventually.

    2. Bostonian*

      This is really possibly the most bizarre letter I’ve read here

      This is right up there with the boss that makes you wear her clothes and say you’re grateful for your job. Maybe these 2 bosses are friends.

    3. 9to4ever*

      It’s also making her an interesting conversationalist, the person with ALL the gossip. Self-serving in multiple ways.

  11. Snarkus Aurelius*

    My sister will tell you the “hilarious” story that I got so drunk at my brother’s wedding that I ran past the line to the bathroom and threw up. Everyone heard me do it.

    The problem is that none of that’s true. It’s one of the many stories my sister tells about me – all of which are unkind and humiliating. That’s how I know it’s very intentional. I understand my sister is insecure, but she has been doing these shenanigans for so long that I don’t care.

    When I meet people through my sister, I make a lighthearted “joke” along the lines of, “I have a hunch most of what you know about me isn’t true.” I don’t know if you could say this about Valerie when these things come up, but that’s what I do.

    Coincidentally, your boss reacts the same way mom does! Anyway, AAM is right. All of these lies are damaging and undermining your credibility. Just because they might fall outside of work is totally irrelevant. Think about it. If you heard the same thing about someone in a similar capacity, you’d think of that person differently too and not in a good way.

    And as for Martin? Don’t bother with a conversation with Valerie. That’s straight to HR and TPTB.

    1. AvonLady Barksdale*

      My mother has done similar things to me. I’m hyper-aware and usually will speak up in the moment and, yes, make her look bad if I have to. It’s sometimes interesting to meet people who expect me to be very different from what I am. She’s been better about it lately, thank goodness.

      But she’s my mother. We have a longstanding relationship and I don’t care if her friends think less of me because I call her out on her bs (most of them don’t, oddly enough– they think some of the stuff she claims is really strange). I’ve had a lot of therapy to deal with it. I would have the hardest time dealing with this in a boss. It’s so damaging! I feel for the OP.

    2. 30 Years in the Biz*

      I’m so sorry you’ve had to live with this. I can’t imagine how emotionally exhausting it is.

    3. 30 Years in the Biz*

      I’m so sorry about this! This is awful. Sister relationships can be challenging, but I don’t think I’ve heard of anything like this before. It sounds like you’ve been able to cope a bit.

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

    “…even if Valerie is making up lies, she isn’t telling serious ones or defaming anyone or accusing them of anything criminal.” The OP says that they all believe the lies but this indicates that they probably ALL know Valerie lies and they don’t believe her either…probably even clients and others in the industry. If someone was telling me these very personal details about someone I hardly know, I’d think less of the gossiper rather than the subject of the gossip, even if it were true. But the only way for OP to really deal with this is leave — and know that Valerie will continue to make up strange stories…perhaps reframe this as she’s talking about someone who looks vaguely like the OP and has a similar name but isn’t OP. If anyone asks, “Oh Valerie… she must have me confused with someone else again.”

    1. CP*

      I would argue that she is defaming OP after a fashion by saying OP is a liar, and using false facts to do so. Not like OP should/could sue or anything, but Valerie is clearly damaging their characters. And specifically for the lie about OP, Valerie is painting her as emotionally unstable.

    2. Camellia*

      But if this were the case, Valerie wouldn’t have the fantastic reputation that the OP says she has.

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

        Not necessarily. They can know Valerie is a liar and still think she’s a great (fill in the blank — marketer, politician, journalist). There are quite a number of folks who don’t think that lying matters, especially since she isn’t lying about anything that affects them.

        1. Charlotte Lucas*

          In a really hierarchical structure, it could take a while for upper management to “see the light.” My experience is that underlings figure it out faster, because they’re the subject of the lies. And less likely to be believed by higher-ups when the problem is brought up.

        2. TiffIf*

          There are quite a number of folks who don’t think that lying matters, especially since she isn’t lying about anything that affects them.

          This attitude disturbs me so much. I was actually musing the other day on the limitations of the right to lie. There are so many cases where lying can have legal consequences (libel/slander, false advertising, perjury, tax fraud) so lying can constitute a crime, but so many other places where lying is not legally consequential.

          1. Katrinka*

            And in some places, those who are tasked with reining it in refuse to do so. Remember the letter writer whose co-worker claimed she tried to poison him because he ate her spicy food? HR backed him up at first, because they were in a relationship.

  13. HatBeing*

    This is wild. Back in my retail days I had an employee who did this. She also took little stories about our life we told each other, like weekend activities, and told them to customers like they were her own. She ended up being caught stealing from the company, threatened to send the mob against us, and then later I find out she was telling customers at her new job down the street that she was me.

    So uh, this is not innocuous behavior. OP, follow Alison’s advice and move on as quickly as possible.

    1. TechWorker*

      ‘Inserting yourself into other people’s stories’ is a classic one. I lived with a girl who always had a funny and entertaining anecdote – but having noticed a few times that they were stories other people told and I knew for a fact she’d not been there… I now doubt all of them!

      1. AKchic*

        Sounds very much like a couple of roommate/friends I’ve had over the years. It got to the point that nobody could even trust their self-disclosed diagnoses because they enjoyed self-diagnosing more than seeing clinicians.
        There was one very common denominator with all of mine, though, which is 100% not mentioned in the original letter, so I’m not going to introduce the subject, because I don’t want that kind of speculation about Valerie (not to protect her, but to actually protect people dealing with the issue).

        It would be very hard to monitor Valerie all the time to ensure she never tells another lie about her subordinates (or other coworkers), so putting her on any kind of PIP is going to be difficult, and after what she’s already said, it will be extremely hard to trust anything she says in general.

    2. Kathy*

      A man in my social circle does sort of the opposite of this. He inserts other people, frequently me, into his stories of past adventures and misadventures, but I wasn’t actually there. He’ll even ask me if I remember the activity and… unsurprisingly, I don’t what with not being there and all.

      No advice, just commiseration.

  14. retail is detail*

    Wow, what a bizarre situation! Ugh.

    I immediately wondered whether Valerie is threatened by her direct reports and so is subtly undermining them by spreading gossip in an attempt to make clients and colleagues question their competence in every interaction. If someone mentioned that their report has PTSD, I would sure as hell start evaluating every conversation that I have with them differently.

    Also, I wonder if framing the issue as “Valerie is gossiping and spreading misleading stories about her direct reports” would be a useful way to frame it? I’m lucky that gossip of doesn’t fly at my workplace.

    1. CM*

      I wouldn’t call it gossip because that makes it seem much less serious than it is. I think instead “Valerie is purposely telling lies about us that make people question our judgment” is a more accurate framing.

      1. Washi*

        Yeah, I think gossip makes it sound like the information is accurate, but private. These truly are bald-faced lies!

      2. anon73*

        I disagree. Gossip can be bold faced lies, assumptions based on partial information, or information shared in private that isn’t your business to tell. The bottom line is that you’re spreading information that you have no business spreading, and in this case it is MORE serious because what she’s saying is 100% untrue and could damage their reputations.

        I’ve been the subject of gossip. Someone saw me on the side of the road at an accident scene, made the assumption that I had been involved, and I had people coming up to me for the rest of the day to make sure I wasn’t hurt (in reality, the co-workers I was going to lunch with got out to help and I was waiting for them to come back). It was gossip based on an assumption. Much less serious, and nothing to damage my rep, but still gossip.

    2. CP*

      “Valerie is actively and knowingly damaging our reputations with clients and colleagues. She said X, Y, and Z. We corrected her X times, yet she continues to intentionally paint us as liars, or even as emotionally unstable.”

    3. retail is detail*

      It’s interesting to hear everyone’s take on the seriousness of gossip. My original comment assumed that gossip = untruths. Here’s a definition:
      casual or unconstrained conversation or reports about other people, typically involving details that are not confirmed as being true.
      “he became the subject of much local gossip”

      1. retail is detail*

        But maybe gossip misses the mark in that it’s not “casual conversation” but affecting important work relationships

      2. Rusty Shackelford*

        Gossip can be true. If I find out my boss is having an affair and I run to tell all my coworkers, it’s true but it’s still gossip.

        1. nonegiven*

          If you see boss having lunch with his sister, who you have never met, and run to tell all your coworkers he is having an affair, it’s also gossip, even though it isn’t true.

      3. Katrinka*

        It is usually assumed that the gossiper doesn’t know whether or not the information is true. In this case (and in the case of a lot of malicious gossip), Valerie knows this is not true information that she is sharing.

    4. mreasy*

      This was my thought too. She’s threatened by them via a vis her position / power and uses bizarre lies to make them seem less professional.

  15. CatCat*

    What’s up with Valerie’s boss? Valerie is telling people Casey is a liar, Martin has a health condition he doesn’t have, and OP went through a nasty divorce (and honestly, with respect to Martin and OP, even if those things were true, why would she be gossiping about it!?… and the boss thinks none of this is “serious”? And yikes for the company because these could all be legally actionable for various reasons. What a dummy.

    If I knew Valerie had spouted off her lies to a client or colleague, I would immediately contact the client or colleague and correct it. “I’m not sure why Valerie said X about me because that isn’t true. She is mistaken.”

    I’d be looking for a new job STAT and also be posting on Glassdoor after I left that my manager made up bizarre lies about me and my colleagues, upper management knew about it, and upper management did nothing to stop it.

    1. PollyQ*

      Yes, this is a classic case of “You don’t just have a ‘boss’ problem, you have a ‘company’ problem.” Valerie’s behavior is outrageously awful, but the fact that higher-ups know about it and don’t even see it as an issue, let alone address it, is just as bad. Alison’s advice to GTFO ASAP is spot on.

  16. That Girl From Quinn's House.*

    I agree with Alison that it is time to leave, but what I might do in the meantime is address the rumor and pretend I did not hear it had anything to do with Valerie, perhaps in an email that is sent to everyone but her. “Hello Team, I heard there is this [weird rumor] about me going around. It’s not true, I have never [weird rumor.] I do not know where this came from and I wanted to address it. I’m sorry for any inconvenience this may have caused.”

  17. Quickbeam*

    I lost my parents as a child (both to cancer, different kinds). In the work world, I never talk about it except when someone asks about Christmas/family gatherings, I note my parents are deceased. In casual conversation I have let people know my upbringing was a little different since I was emancipated at 16.

    I had a boss indicate that I was making this up and she would widely tell people my parents were not really dead. I took their death certificates and photos of their headstones to HR asking that this be stopped. It did.

    It wasn’t harmless. it painted me as a weird attention seeker. I felt disrespected. No one should tell casual lies about employees. I do outside volunteer work on childhood parental loss and I felt the rumors tarnished my community reputation. So it is worth getting this shut down.

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      Wow! You should have never had to do all that – your manager was disgusting. I’m glad HR shut that nonsense down.

    2. Slow Gin Lizz*

      Jeebus. I can’t believe your boss kept their job after that horrible lie. I’m so sorry that happened to you.

      1. Arvolin*

        Unfortunately, I can believe the boss kept their job after [something horrible]. That happens all too often.

        1. Gazebo Slayer*

          Yeah, so many companies are much slower to fire managers than they are to fire people at the bottom of the ladder. Which is exactly backward – managers should be held to a *higher* standard because of their position of power – but executives are more likely to think of managers as “one of us” and also as harder to replace.

    3. Paralegal Part Deux*

      I am so sorry for your loss. I lost a parent at a young age (10) and can’t imagine having anyone think I was lying about it. I’m glad HR shut that down, but it’s insane you had to go that route at all.

    4. TechWorker*

      I’m so sorry this sounds awful! A manager telling other people you went through something horrible when you didn’t is bad, but them saying you didn’t when you did is even worse!

  18. Imaginary Number*

    If I were Martin I would be so incredibly angry. If the whole fabricating a PTSD tale weren’t bad enough, as a veteran it would make me sick to know that someone was spreading lies about me being in combat when I wasn’t. Like, that’s one thing you Do Not Do.

    1. Zephy*

      Right? I don’t know if stolen valor applies when it’s someone else lying about military service, but like…that is actually a crime.

      1. Ominous Adversary*

        It doesn’t apply, but it’s something veterans feel VERY strongly about and it’s a whole level of disrespect beyond its effect on Martin (which is bad enough on its own).

    2. KR*

      Yes I was thinking this. Other veterans thinking Martin is lying or misrepresenting his military service can be very damaging to his career and reputation. People who don’t see action are usually the first to admit that because they don’t want to be seen as someone who’s lying about their service.

      1. AKchic*

        Unless they are trying to seek some kind of higher status with non-military folk, or even military folk who *did* see combat.
        My 2nd ex-husband likes to hint at his “combat” trauma. While Alaska does, technically, count as “overseas” for the US military (or did, when he served), him goofing off and slipping off of a plane wing while de-icing it isn’t “combat trauma”, nor is it a war injury as he likes to claim. Marrying/divorcing me isn’t combat trauma, either.
        My 1st ex-husband has lied so much that it’s very plausible that he’s never actually been in the military. He now tells people he served in Vietnam (it ended when he was 5) and if confronted, he claims he gets “the wars” mixed up because of a head injury during service. He’s never been to the VA, never been treated for head injuries, but sure does glorify the military. The majority of his information comes from movies, books, and other vets’ experiences.

        1. JustaTech*

          I had a coworker who’s father was such a serial liar she started using him as an intelligence test on her friends: if they believed him that he fought in the Civil War, then they were too dumb to be friends with (this was in the 1990’s, and he was in his 60’s).

          1. AKchic*

            That’s how I feel about a few people.

            My own father swears that we are Jewish by heritage. Why? Because he converted to Judaism in the early 90’s.
            As far as I can tell – there is no truth to his “1/4 Jewish” claim. Especially when he adds all his “quarters” up and ends up with 175% of a person.

      2. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

        It can also create tension with people who were directly or indirectly affected by said actions.

  19. Jaybeetee*

    WTF. That is some baffling behaviour right there.

    Okay, being mindful of the “diagnosis” rule – I’ll say I’ve known one or two people like Valerie IRL, who were eventually diagnosed with schizophrenia or other delusional disorders. That is, they weren’t just “embellishing”, but actually believing those things. I say that as a point of interest, but it doesn’t really change anything for the LW.

    Really, if Valerie’s boss won’t act on this, I don’t see much to do but look for a different job. This sort of thing will affect your professional reputation, and it sounds just plain stressful to deal with. You shouldn’t have to worry about your boss (or anyone) telling false, outlandish stories about you.

  20. Krakatoa*

    The petty part of me would want to start telling everyone that Valerie has 6 toes on her left foot and as born in a taxi cab in Kuala Lampur.

      1. Jess*

        When I was a (sensitive) teen I used to get FURIOUS because my brother (two years younger than I) would tell his friends that I was born with a tail.

        Just weird enough to be plausible, not something that I could really disprove, and while I find it HILARIOUS now, when I was a teen it made me so mad!

  21. Paris Geller*

    Well I can tell my old job did a number on me based on how aghast people are in the comments, because I’ve had a Valerie too (now I’m wondering if this Valerie is my old boss!!!) Granted, I never thought what she was doing is okay, but based on how shocked people are, I’m realizing this is not a common bad boss trait? And yeah, my Valerie made stories up all day long. She once told one of our customers she was a single mother (she was not), that another co-worker had a falling out with her sister (she hadn’t) and all sorts of stuff. The only difference was that my Valerie lied about work stuff as well. She would say that she assigned person A to do a project and tell person B to collaborate with A, but when B would talk to A they would learn she had never assigned that work to person A at all.

    1. juliebulie*

      Gawd no, this is not a common trait even among bad bosses. Bad bosses might do any of a number of bad things, but this one isn’t very common afaik because a “good” (effective) bad boss can get more mileage out of undermining your actual WORK and your professional reputation rather than personal stuff.

      But yeah, there are some bad bosses who do stuff like Valerie. But they can only operate in the kind of company that tolerates such behavior. A competent HR department would not tolerate this.

      1. Jennifer*

        I guess I’m confused. If there is a competent HR department, why would the company have bad bosses? In my experience, bad bosses are able to thrive in companies where their behavior is tolerated or just ignored, so that means a useless or basically nonexistent HR department.

          1. Jennifer*

            You’re right. I guess I was just confused by the distinction between a “good” bad boss and a bad boss.

      2. Paris Geller*

        I don’t think our HR department at previous job would have tolerated this, but I think the Valerie in my situation was able to get around that because of a few things:
        1. We worked in local government, HR was in a different building, all the way across town, and oversaw thousands of employees
        2. She made us terrified to go to HR by subtly hitting retaliation (but not outright saying it–she was clever in her trickery)
        3. Looking back, there was definitely some gaslighting going on. I know that term is overused now, but while she did tell lies like this, she did it in such a way that made you think YOU were the one confused. Like, I can’t count the number of times my coworkers and I talked about something and someone said something like, “I think maybe she’s just confused. . .” instead of attributing malicious intent.

        Luckily, I left that job for a much better place and my former coworkers didn’t have to put up with her much longer as she left soon after. She got a new role in an even higher-up position, but only lasted there about 6 months and was put on a discipline plan from what we could tell (again, local government, so board meetings had open records). None of us know what she’s been up to since.

    2. Observer*

      Wow! Alison talks a lot about how a really bad job can warp your sense of what’s normal in a boss.

      So, to be 100% clear – THIS IS ***NOT*** NORMAL! At all. This is not just a bad boss, it’s a bad boss with something pathological going one – medical, moral or both.

      1. Paris Geller*

        It’s honestly really helpful for me, as not the OP, to hear this! I mean, I knew it wasn’t normal, and I knew it was bad. But I didn’t realize it was THIS bad that it’s leaving so many people speechless! For two years, it was just par for the course. Probably did not help it was only my second job post-college and the first one in my field.

    3. Charlotte Lucas*

      If she also stole credit for successful projects & pushed people under the bus when things didn’t work out (especially if it was her own fault), we might have worked for the same person.

  22. Lora*

    Uh, if I was HR and Valerie’s boss, I would IMMEDIATELY start doing an extremely thorough background check that involved a lot more than just calling references she had provided. Because if she’s telling weird lies about her employees, what did she lie about on her resume and in the interview?? And if plausible “well this happened” type of excuses started popping up more than once, I would be getting rid of her pronto. I would need independent verification of her schools attended, HR confirmation of past jobs, etc.

    Weirdly enough I have met someone like Valerie except she has been fired from multiple jobs for lying about everything you can think of – she’d even lie about her favorite foods, what medications she took, what kind of jewelry she hoped her husband would buy for a gift, everything. It was surreal, you’d be having a normal conversation with a mutual friend or acquaintance and have a WTF moment when you realized the sheer scope of the lying.

    People, dude. *waves hand vaguely* People are something else.

    1. Artemesia*

      I have only known one person like this and he was someone who constantly lied about himself — he had all sorts of stories of working with Jack Kennedy for example. And any single story was plausible, he was a PhD political scientist. It turned out he was mentally ill and the college kept him on and mostly out of the classroom but assigned him as the advisor of all of their undergraduate majors in one of the single most program destructive moves I have seen. But he was making up Walter Mitty type stories about himself, not undermining other people.

      I am astounded that the management of the OP’s company thinks these defamations are not defamations.

      1. Pippa K*

        Um… this sounds uncannily like a former colleague of mine. His stories were completely fictional but plausible to people who didn’t know him. A visiting job candidate once mentioned, after a day of interviews, “your colleague who was a diplomat with the UN.” The rest of us looked puzzled for a bit and said that no one in our department had ever worked for the UN. He hesitated and said, “um, Dr X was telling me about his UN work earlier…” at which point we had to tell him that Dr X was sadly given to making up elaborate stories. Somewhat embarrassing for the rest of us. It wasn’t the most serious thing wrong there, but that it was tolerated said about why other problems went unsolved too.

        1. Robert in SF*

          Pippa K: I couldn’t reply to your above comment about AAM for fictional characters, so I reply here:

          1- I love your reference…it took me 2/3 through to catch it just before I read the signature! Beautiful!
          2- I hope AAM reads your idea and then actually does this – 2X a year…Halloween and April Fool’s Day! It would be such a blast to read and reply to!

          1. Pippa K*

            Ha, thanks! Wouldn’t it be fun to read the fictional ones? Oompa-Loompas would be a great choice! :-)

  23. Not One of the Bronte Sisters*

    WTAF. Valerie’s boss is an asshat. These lies are absolutely harmful and defamatory.

    1. JustKnope*

      This kind of speculation is really not helpful! And also probably not likely, because she’s making up stories whole-cloth, not just calling people liars. The behavior is a huge problem, full stop, we don’t need to invent backstories for Valerie.

    2. Temperance*

      You don’t need to do backflips to find an excuse for her frankly insane and damaging behavior here. You don’t.

      There’s no need to spread huge, damaging lies about people that can destroy their career potential. NONE. She can be ruining lives.

      In your rose-colored glasses scenario, it would be fine for Valerie to say, distrust people. NOT TO LIE. She’s making up things that can have a serious impact.

  24. CatWoman*

    I don’t know what type of business the OP is in, but I can’t imagine any situation where it would be appropriate for someone to tell clients personal details of employee’s lives (not to mention potentially harmful lies like these). Possibly approach it this way to HR.

    1. Bernice Clifton*

      I thought the same thing! On what planet would it be okay to reveal these details about employees to clients if they *were* true?

  25. Mischievous*

    OP I’m sorry that you’re in this incredibly strange and demoralizing situation.

    What I’m about to say is just a means of using humor to cope, but maybe it’ll help. My first thought after reading your letter and Alison’s response was “If Valerie’s lies are ‘harmless’, I bet she wouldn’t mind if you told some actually harmless lies about her!” Don’t tell lies about your boss, but you could occasionally imagine to yourself “Valerie can’t come to the phone right now, she has explosive diarrhea” or “Valerie is addicted to eating tubes of lipstick”, etc.

  26. lyonite*

    If we get an update to this (and I hope we do!), I fully expect it’s going to be one of the ones that starts, “So, a lot of things have happened since my last letter. . .”

  27. TootsNYC*

    some of these ARE defamatory.
    I’d think less of someone who deliberately wore a different-color contact lens.

    they are certainly disruptive.

    1. Artemesia*

      they are all seriously defamatory:
      Casey is a lying attention seeker
      Martin is dangerous
      the OP has poor personal judgment and married an abuser

      This is what the casual hearer of these lies is likely to think — all of this is personally damaging and really seriously career damaging. Even if these lies were truths, sharing them is reputation damaging because although none of the inferences may be valid — this is what people infer from this information when they have little else to go on.

  28. Bored Fed*

    One additional concern for OP — Valerie is likely to provide false information if called for a reference.

  29. Mel_05*

    I’d guess that she enjoys or feels important having a juicy story to share and since her employees aren’t sharing anything interesting with her – she just makes it up on her own!

    I’ve known people who did that, but it was always more like spicing up a real story than fabricating an entirely new one. The need to tell huge lies makes this extra weird.

    Not that the reason matters, when it comes down to it. It’s bizarre for her to do it and it’s bizarre that her boss doesn’t care.

  30. CindyLouWho*

    I’m pretty bothered by the fact that Valerie’s employees feel like they have to prove the lies aren’t true. How sad that you have to bring in childhood pictures to prove you’ve always had different-colored eyes!

    I hope OP goes to HR and finds a new job. I hope everyone on Valerie’s team does the same.

  31. Elenna*

    “she isn’t telling serious ones or defaming anyone or accusing them of anything criminal.”
    Except she… totally is??? I mean, she’s saying one of her direct reports is a compulsive liar and another is mentally ill! The “messy divorce” one is probably the least stigmatized issue, but it could definitely still harm OP’s reputation with some people. Valarie is obviously ridiculous and terrible, but I’m surprised Allison didn’t comment more on how awful the boss’s reaction was.

    (I could make a long comment about how having PTSD or having gone through a messy divorce should not affect someone’s reputation, but the point is that in the world we live in, it does affect reputation, and the boss ought to know that.)

  32. Jennifer*

    I think people feel a need to prove Valerie is a liar and I think that is misguided. Plus it’s difficult to prove a negative. Easy to prove you are married but not so easy to prove you haven’t been. And under no circumstances should childhood photos be brought in to prove you have a medical condition. Whose business is that?

    If someone brings it up, just say it’s a lie because Valerie sometimes lies. “It’s this strange thing she does. We can’t really figure out why…” then shake your head and give them a pitying, bless Valerie’s heart look. She’s the one that will come out of this looking silly, not you or anyone else.

    Also, has anyone confronted her?

    1. Threeve*

      This–I wouldn’t go hard disputing a particular lie. I would broadly cast doubt on Valerie. I would even follow up with: “I can’t speak to how she communicates about work, but we’ve compared notes, and anything Valerie gossips about someone’s personal life? It’s going to be fiction.”

    2. school of hard knowcs*

      Nothing says it like southern headshake “bless her heart, I really can’t figure out why Valerie gets confused about her co-workers personal lives”

  33. WantonSeedStitch*

    Next time I heard anyone mention the coworker’s “PTSD,” I’d want to say, “boy, it’s a good thing that isn’t actually true, because if it were, and [manager] had actually shared that information with a client, it would really be opening us up to legal liability.”

  34. Observer*

    My first reaction was basically to make like a fish – just gaping and trying to formulate some words.

    Go to HR – Valerie is a problem and her boss is at least as bad.

    As Alison noted, the PTSD bit creates a legal liability for the company. But also, all of these stories do tend to make people look bad. What you want to point out to HR is :

    1. ADA liability

    2. Even though Valierie has not lied about work YET – that you know of, someone who makes up such wild stories is not someone whose word you can trust. And this is not just about you personally trusting her – it’s about the company not being able to trust what she says about things. Even if it’s “personal”. Because what happens if someone does make an ADA accommodation request? And FMLA request? There is some issue about someone’s time and her fictions create an inaccurate narrative that impacts payroll – and the FLSA? And that’s even before you get to the issue of how can you really know that she’s going to keep this stuff separate?

    3. She is actually defaming people. For instance, the lie that Casey is lying ab out her eyes and is actually wearing different colored lenses makes her look bad. That created two problems for the company. One is liability – it’s definitely possible that because Valerie is a supervisor and the company now KNOWS about Valeries defamatory statements, that the company could be held liable for her behavior. Of possibly greater concern, because it’s much more immediate and definite is how it makes the company and staff look to clients. If clients think that Casey is a liar and a drama queen, how is that going to affect her ability to work with the client? How is that going to affect their view of the company as a whole?

  35. CatPerson*

    I do hope we hear back from this poster. Alison always gives good scripts when she advises to be straightforward and matter-of-factly address the person. “I understand that you said this about me, and since it’s not true I wonder why you would say this. Please stop.” sounds like the way to go.

  36. Elizabeth West*

    OP, if none of these tactics work and you decide to leave the company, you should probably cultivate another reference from there, other than your boss, if you don’t have any other recent ones you could provide. I can’t even imagine what lies she could tell if someone were to call her. I think Alison did have some advice here about how to word things when new or potential employers shouldn’t contact your current or former workplace.

    And I would not give notice. I would tell Valerie you’re leaving on your last day, once you have another job firmly in hand.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        +1000. I wouldn’t put it past her to call them to “warn” them about OP.
        The one time I was poached by a group of ex-employees and asked not to say where I was going, and the department head asked me that question, “an opportunity came up that was too good to pass up” worked perfectly.

  37. Dagny*

    “Casey said something to Valerie’s boss once and she said the response was that even if Valerie is making up lies, she isn’t telling serious ones or defaming anyone or accusing them of anything criminal. It is frustrating and I could give many more examples of the lies she tells.”

    I am an attorney but not an employment attorney; however, some of these lies are adjacent to downright illegal behaviour and others may be (depending on the state) defamatory.

    Let’s take the PTSD one. Possible legal angles: you’re implying that someone is disabled when they are not (people with PTSD are in a protected class), which could, as Alison said, implicate anti-discrimination laws. Depending on the state, defamation could come into play. This could be read as being discriminatory against military veterans.

    If these lies are implying that the person “was involved in behavior incompatible with the proper conduct of his business, trade or profession,” they would be defamation per se. The fact that she says these things to clients is a problem.

    Bring the legal issues up to HR. Consider talking to an attorney.

  38. boop the first*

    Personally, I find it downright bizarre that there is anyone that believes Complete Outsider to the Situation over the Actual Original Human she is lying about, because why would you lie about never being married? Why would coworker lie about not being in combat? Is it just that you never get an opportunity to correct the lies? Because if it came up in conversation, and someone told me that this story about them wasn’t true, I would be embarrassed to hell and back, not insist that I know another person’s life better than they do? At the very least, I’d assume she got the character’s name of her lie wrong.

    1. boop the first*

      Ha ha, I realize my post is a little ironic, but I used to think I was the holder of truth as well and didn’t understand why everyone around me couldn’t see it. But the truth was, I never had the opportunity to be alone with anyone outside of my household, and the actual truth was that everyone is just being polite and self-preserving.

      Coworkers are one thing, but the clients? Are they really fighting you?

    2. Not So NewReader*

      From what I have seen the reason for the Actual Person lying about their situation is built into the story by the Valarie type person.

      So in OP’s setting that could look like this. “OP told me…. but don’t tell anyone… because she doesn’t want to talk about it… it’s too painful… so don’t say anything but here is what happened to OP…..”

    3. learnedthehardway*

      I’m guessing that the people who were lied about are finding out after the fact. ie. Valerie is saying “OMG, Did you know that X did such-and-such” to a client, and it is filtering back over time to X that this was said about them.

      At which point, X is in the position of either telling a client that Valerie is mistaken (ie. incompetent) or lying (ie. unethical), which could damage the company’s relationship with the client and the company’s reputation, OR X has to keep silent about the fact that Valerie has lied about them.

    4. CB212*

      I think in addition to these lies being things people aren’t likely to bring up to the subjects of the stories, they all have some kind of shame or secrecy element built in – so if a sympathetic client ever does say ‘oh I’m sorry about your difficult divorce’ and you say ‘oh I’ve never been married’ there’s a protective option of ‘oh this poor dear, yes her boss said she was so damaged by it, it’s hard to speak of’. Similarly ‘I heard about your combat trauma’ / ‘I was never in combat’ / ‘I see, the trauma is so deep he will not acknowledge it’. It’s a very insidious structure.

  39. SnoopyDancin'*

    Why is she sharing this information with clients to begin with?? Even if the information were true, I’m hard pressed to imaging a business situation that would require a manager to disclose an employee’s disability, or another’s marital status.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Probably the reasons are many. She probably gets more than one type of satisfaction from it:

      I am in the know.
      I am a saint for putting up with my crew.
      I am able to lead no matter how bad my situation is.
      I am bonding with the person I tell this lie to.
      I love drama. It does not even have to be real drama, lies will suffice. I just love drama in all forms.
      Life sucks and let me show you how much life sucks.
      I am an unhappy person at my core and I want you to be unhappy also.
      I get energy from having drama around me. If there is no drama, then I have no energy.
      I will do/say anything to get attention from others.

      This list goes on. Some how she gets reinforcement for these bad behaviors. While we can’t be certain what type of reinforcement, we can be pretty sure it’s there.

  40. Beth*

    I wanted to make an observation: heterochromia isn’t a medical condition. So “that’s not right — Casey has a medical condition that causes that” — no, Casey does not have a medical condition. She just has eyes that are naturally different colours.

    1. Observer*

      This is totally nitpicky and unhelpful. The statement is accurate enough – the two colors are a feature of her body not of clolored contact lenses and that’s what the statement conveys.

    2. Tisma*

      Actually some people have heterochromia due to a medical issue. The different colour eyes being one of the symptoms of the syndrome or disease.

      An eye injury can also cause it.

    3. Courageous cat*

      I mean, what does it matter? What’s the purpose of pointing this out if it’s not relevant to the advice? The advice remains the same regardless of the etiology.

      1. Elsie*

        I get it. My mother has heterochromia and I inherited it mildly (hazel eyes, one more green and the other more brown). Definitely not a medical condition.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      On paper this sounds like it should work.
      It doesn’t. As there is some sort of repercussions- she gets angry, or she spreads rumors about the person who pushed back on her lies etc. BTDT.

      Picture a flooded basement. “Oh I have this handy teaspoon. I will use this teaspoon to bail the water out of my flooded basement.”

      This is a problem much bigger than one person or even several people together can solve.

      In the end, I pushed back on the lies that impacted ME in some manner. The problem was, that I did not hear all the lies she told about me. And I could not push back on every lie because I did have to do actual work at some point.

      1. cheeky*

        If there are repercussions, honestly, that tells you everything you need to know about the boss and the job. That should be a huge warning to people. These lies are malicious.

  41. Not So NewReader*

    OP, I think I worked with Val’s sister or cousin.

    Get out. ASAP.

    The fact that she thinks this is okay tells you everything you need to know. (It does not matter WHY she thinks these lies are okay.)

    I stayed for years. In the end, our department varied between not talking to each other OR laughing at the boss behind her back. We’d stop talking to each other when her lies got angry and poisonous. Once the fake crisis had passed we would come together by laughing at her. The workflows got screwed up as the number one focus was dealing with all. the. lies. The work became secondary. The job was 100 times harder than need be. The main question for the day was, “Which way is the wind blowing today?”

    Over the years, this behavior morphed into other behaviors such as targeting one person for “wrong doing” of some type and her glaring at people who DARED to speak to the currently targeted person. I was ignored for an entire day when I was late for work because an ice storm started right in the middle of my drive to work. The ice was so bad, the heavy sand trucks went off the road. So I was 2 hours late and on the verge of tears because of fear. She informed me to leave the house earlier. I had left 1.5 hours ahead of time to make a half hour trip. Yeah, it took me 3.5 hours to get to work and my thanks was to be ostracized for the day by my entire department. (If my cohorts were caught talking to me, they’d get the same treatment from her.)

    She also started denying us the supplies we needed to do our jobs. “You have X. I am not ordering more. Go look for it.” There was no X. Strange and mysterious things started happening as people tried to do their jobs without critical supply X.

    Upper management thought she was wonderful. As people pointed out here, they thought we were an odd and difficult group to manage because of all our supposed problems. She looked saintly to them for putting up with all our tales of woe. Instead of questioning why so little work was done, upper management thought it was a miracle any work was done.

    Wait. Think this can’t get worse? It can. Eventually some people did figure out that at least half of what she said was a lie. But which half? She was informally declared the worst manager in the company by people around her. And here’s the sad part- management did nothing. As far as I know, she remained in place until her retirement.

    Don’t try to salvage this situation, OP. You won’t be able to fix this. Get your job hunting up and running again and vow to be out of there as soon as possible.

  42. Nicki Name*

    I would be tempted to dump the whole truth bucket on the next person who made reference to one of the fake stories. “As someone who’s been divorced, you…” “No, actually, I’ve never even been married, Casey really has heterochromia, Martin really doesn’t have PTSD, seriously, what is up with this place???”

    Also, since the LW says she’s new there, I don’t think we can be confident that Valerie isn’t lying about work stuff. She may be honest about things that are known within the team, but any information that flows through her from outside the team may be unreliable.

  43. Bertha*

    I’m surprised she hasn’t told anyone she’s married to one of her coworkers… (call back!)

    For real, I think Allison gives a great script. I can see myself being someone afraid of calling a liar out on it, because a lot of times people who are like that find a way to twist it and make you feel like the dumb one (or does that just happen on the internet?!) But if EVERYONE is calling her on it.. that seems like the best bet.

  44. Ann O'Nemity*

    I know someone who who crafts caricatures of people, and then embellishes and extrapolates little by little until it’s completely untrue. Somehow, the facts and perceptions get all muddled up, but the person doing it actually believes it! For example, Joe is in really good shape and Joe is a fan of the Dallas Cowboys, so Joe is put in the bucket of “athlete” and the caricature of Joe as an athlete grows and grows until we’re hearing fictional stories about Joe’s past career in the Cowboys.

  45. anon73*

    I agree with everything Alison suggested. Martin needs to report to HR, you all need to call her out when she tells lies in front of you, and you need to start looking for another job now. If higher ups aren’t willing to do anything, it’s doubtful anything will ever change. The one thing I would add is that if you do start calling her out for telling lies in the moment, don’t get defensive or worked up. Just be matter of fact about them, because if you do get upset or “protest too much”, it will backfire on you. It seems she’s trying to get attention at the expense of her team. I’m guessing your team has high turnover.

  46. HR Exec Popping In*

    So, Valerie is a drama llama. As others have said, it is time to get out because it is likely that she will always be creating drama for her own entertainment. And for now, the OP believes the lies are harmless, that does not mean they will stay that way. Also, as others have indicated, they are not harmless. I agree you should a) correct Valerie in the moment by saying things like, “I’ve heard you have told people I’m divorced? I want to clarify that I am not and I would appreciate it if you do not discuss my personal life with others.” Also, you and your colleagues should go to HR. Some of these lies are violations of ADA and all of them are inappropriate. But the ultimate goal is to get out. Not just because you are working for someone who enjoys spreading lies about their team members, but because management seems to think this is no big deal.

  47. The Bill Murray Disagreement*

    This sounds…remarkably like my former Very Bad, No Good, Horrible Boss. She would routinely share private information about the people she worked with. She’d always share it in a conspiratorial way — almost as if to make you think she was bringing you into the fold by telling you things about colleagues, higher ups, clients and vendors. Maybe 25% of the information she would share was factual. The rest was–at best–supposition on her part, if not outright fabrications. Some examples:
    1. She said that the vendor rep for our enterprise resource planning system had gotten fall-down drunk at a client dinner; he hadn’t. He had 3 glasses of wine and was a little tipsy according to the 6 other employees at that same dinner.
    2. She would repeatedly opine that the only gay man on her team had had a really nasty relationship with his mother growing up since he was ‘of a certain age’ when being gay wasn’t tolerated. From everything anyone on the outside could surmise, there was no basis in fact for that; he and his mother lived blocks apart and spent quite a lot of time together. (Obviously no one can truly know the internal workings of a family relationship, but there was nothing to *indicate* any sort of acrimony whatsoever.)
    3. She repeatedly hinted that there was some ‘special’ relationship between the CFO and the then new head of HR. She said this in such a way that she was absolutely alluding to a sexual relationship, but she was always careful in her wording so that she could deny that was her intent if called out on it.
    4. She routinely talked about how, in her opinion, the entire team in a particular section of her department was alcoholics. This was not said with concern. This was said as a way to undermine them and to cast a negative light on their bonding as a team (she was very invested in preventing strong bonds from forming inside her teams and would often ‘share’ how one person in a team was unhappy with another person in the team — either to the second person or in their earshot; again these things weren’t mentioned in the spirit of coaching. They were said in the manner of “this person really doesn’t like you and I just thought you should know.” Mind you — she was the first line or second line manager for all of these folks.)

    We also assumed she was well-regarded by her leadership and clients/vendors. Turns out–she **really** wasn’t. At least not by anyone who had worked with her more than a few months and seen how she behaved. Even people who weren’t aware how much she fabricated were still really put off by how much inappropriate, personal information Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Boss was sharing about others. It took a long time for leadership to take any action on her but they did eventually terminate her, in part because I and a couple other employees documented a lot of what she did and because we got some new blood in the leadership team.

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      OMG, my eyes almost popped out of my head reading the list of lies. The ending was great though because she absolutely needed to be fired for this mess.

  48. Rikki Tikki Tarantula*

    Re: Alison’s suggestion “There’s also the option for each of you to just address the lies about yourselves directly” – do this in a group, not individually. Someone unstable enough to lie like this is likely to fire individuals for insubordination, but there’s less chance of her firing an entire group.

    Pathological liars fascinate me (my mother’s first husband was a constant liar – she said he would lie about anything and everything, no matter how trivial a matter). Lying is so much work, keeping one’s stories straight. I’m generally honest because it’s not as tiring.

  49. Ashley*

    Valerie hasn’t been caught telling work related lies. I would have trouble believing anything that she says.

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Or the surprisingly loyal clients that are still sticking around with this (according to Valerie) dumpster fire of a company. I’m serious, I bet they’ve already lost clients because of her.

  50. Scott*

    My guess is that she was feeling left out of the normal office gossip because of her role as manager. She then latched on to a rumor about one of her direct reports having an affair (most likely told to her by an unwitting summer intern), which she spread to everyone who would listen. For some bizarre reason, she confronted this direct report who confessed on their way to break off said affair and asked Valerie to keep it quiet. Having already sprayed her wanton web of lies like aimless silly string, Valerie then attempted to “unsay” the truth by diluting it with numerous other smaller or similar lies about her direct reports and co-workers. If OP confronts Valerie as a group alongside her peers, either the truth will come out and/or someone will announce they are pregnant and everyone will forget the whole thing.

    However, make sure that Valerie does not try to contact the spouse of the direct report having the affair. It could make the whole exercise moot.

    1. AvonLady Barksdale*

      What on earth…? Where did you get any of this from? Speculation based on things not included in the letter is not at all helpful, and as Alison noted above, it’s against the commenting rules.

      1. Myrin*

        I’m pretty sure Scott is being tongue-in-cheek and, like Valerie, is making up bizarre things about this office.

      2. Brightwanderer*

        I’m guessing this is a reference to a TV show or something? Otherwise it’s a hell of a leap.

          1. Jennifer*

            Valerie tells lies about the office. Scott made up wild lies about the office. It’s just silly. Don’t overthink it.

            1. Environmental Compliance*

              Some of us haven’t watched the Office, or don’t remember that episode, etc., etc., so the joke just *whooshed* right over our heads.

          1. Environmental Compliance*

            Same. Was confused. Still somewhat confused. Still not going to watch the Office because I cannot deal with that much cringe.

            But the context of this being in a show makes the comment make a heck of a lot more sense.

        1. Sacred Ground*

          What confused me about the comment is that so many stories here sound like plots from The Office.

  51. Khatul Madame*

    The conversation with Valerie’s boss should have included a line “Boss, do you realize that if she is makes up lies about her team members, she’s almost certainly gossiping about her bosses, too? About you, behind your back?”

  52. KK*

    OP these are just the LIES you know about. That is the scary part!!

    It also makes me more than a little uncomfortable that when she tells colleagues these stories that they must be thinking “Jeez these ppl will discuss ANYthing at the office!”

    But I think Valerie gets a kick out of telling others these BS stories bc it makes her look like someone who is empathetic & can be trusted, which ironically is the furthest thing from the truth.

  53. Tidewater 4-1009*

    I’ve read some of the comments… to me the one about the messy divorce indicates a love of drama. I bet she loves legal TV dramas! Making up something like that shows a great love of a messy dramatic story IMHO.
    The suggestions that she’s trying to undermine her staff and make herself look good are probably true, and I think she also loves drama so much she will try to create it around her.

  54. Equestrian*

    Could this be in the slander / defamation Category? I mean, it IS affecting people in their professional fields. And if a group of you went to a lawyer that could probably make it stop.

  55. Academic Librarian too.*

    Forgive me, I haven’t read all the comments but I needed to chime in. I had inherited a report who I caught in weird lies. Nothing important but odd exaggerations or out right incorrect factual statements. I went to her previous supervisor who said, oh, yeah, that is just Pixanne. Don’t worry about it, its never work related.
    Fast forward six months. Seems that previous supervisor hadn’t been paying attention. Sure enough, many outright lies, bogus statements about work rules, accountability issues, fabrications, safety issues and a year-and-half PIP (union)
    No diagnosis but keep an eye out, it might not be just that personal weird stuff.

  56. Jennifer*

    I think the best course of action is to start planning your exit. It may take a long time to find a new job because of this job market, but I’d start making plans. The manager doesn’t care. The whole company is dysfunctional and I don’t think this is worth the time or expense it will take to pursue this with an attorney. I’m not a lawyer but beyond the lies about Martin, which are pretty serious, I just don’t think the lies are serious enough to make it worth your while.

    Maybe when they start to lose people because of Valerie they will wake up.

  57. Cassidy*

    I will never, but ever, understand how the Valeries of the world are “high up and [have] pull and [are] friends with those in authority…”

    Truly bizarre. Sorry you’re experiencing this, OP.

    1. Jennifer Juniper*

      I can imagine it involves some combination of extortion, blackmail, or favors of an illegal or immoral nature.

    2. MissDisplaced*

      I think they lie and bullshit about their own abilities (inflation) to get there. Once they’ve convinced all the other executives they’re wonderful and influential (by lying) they’ll continue to lie to keep their positions no matter what. The people can quickly turn into gaslighting bullies, causing those under them to doubt their own sense of what happened.

  58. Anon for Today*

    Frankly, I doubt that she hasn’t told any work related lies. If she lies so easily about personal matters, who’s to say anything she says is true.

  59. Picky*

    Yeah, I had a lying Grand Boss at Toxic Old Job. She would lie to make herself look better (e.g. she told me she had followed a client of ours, who had caused a scene in our facility, and saw him selling drugs and then confronted and banned him… this 100% did not happen) but she also lied in subtler ways in work matters. She would tell you she would back you up when you had to discipline an employee but then after the fact she would make up a way in which you had handled it wrong to justify not backing you up at all. She also just talked a lot generally, so the lying was just mixed in with a lot of other stuff. A monthly meeting of the management team was 3.5 hours of her presenting topics and everyone else responding. Even if I was leading a project and asked to have it on the agenda, I had to brief her in advance so that she could present it at the meeting. It was greatly frowned upon to correct her, so if she got something wrong I would have to dance around it. As I write this all out, I realize that she was a huge control freak. It’s all about controlling people’s impressions and ideas about herself and others. Glad I’m out of that situation.

  60. Jennifer Juniper*

    I hope that the higher-ups don’t tell everyone something like “Valerie has a medical condition which causes her to lie, so you all just have to put up with it and be grateful you are still employed. After all, this is an employer’s market.”

  61. Mannheim Steamroller*

    [Another option is for you all to push back against Valerie when she repeats these lies. Can you all agree that every time she does it, you’ll correct her? If every time she lies, the rest of you jump in with “that’s not right — Casey has a medical condition that causes that” or “what?! Jane was never married, why do you think that?” Valerie might eventually find the whole thing causes her less satisfaction and more annoyance or embarrassment.]

    Or Valerie might summarily fire anyone who fact-checks her. Be prepared for that outcome.

  62. MH*

    Seriously, Valerie is costing your company time, money and respect. She is making everything look bad. Do you have emails documenting this?

    And for own sakes, join in together on what she’s saying about all of you.

  63. MH*

    I had a co-worker who has like this, putting blame on everyone else and stirring the pot. I had two work friends that I hung out with in the off time. I told co-worker casually that I was having a party with college friends; later my work buddies asked me why I didn’t invite them to my party.

  64. Kristine*

    If I was a client, I wouldn’t believe a word of such bad-mouthing. It sounds churlish, gossipy, and completely inappropriate. I would shut down the conversation immediately (“We do not, as professionals, discuss such matters or others’ personal information, true or not.”) and speak to her supervisor immediately.

  65. Dan*

    I actually know someone who was in a similar situation – a military vet (also non-combat, stationed mainly in Germany) who had a coworker that spread a rumor that he had PTSD from his time in the service. He told HR, and she was fired over it; there are not only ADA concerns but also potential issues with laws that make military service status a protected category. If the higher-ups are aware of that particular lie and are saying it’s not that big a deal, it really opens up some major questions about their judgment.

  66. Mainah*

    I used to train new employees. I made a point of telling each of them that our boss was a child actor, and I’d invent a new role every time. I described him as a guest star on Little House on the Prairie, and dying after being kicked by a mule, a shoplifter on a very special episode of Blossom, etc…

    1. AvonLady Barksdale*

      Assuming you’re being serious… why? What was the point of that? And would you at least tell them it was a joke at some point?

      I enjoy a joke as much as anyone, but I would find that to be very odd and tiresome. And I say this as someone who has made up stories about my friends while we’re flirting with strangers in bars.

    2. Environmental Compliance*

      …….. why? What was the benefit of that?

      Honestly, if I found out a coworker was That Type that did this, I’d have a hard time believing anything they said. It’s just so unnecessary to make up crap about other people.

      People figure this kind of thing out. Do you want to be known as Mainah, the Person Who Made Up Weird Stories About Other People or Mainah, the Person Who Rocks the TPS Reports?

    3. Essess*

      So you are teaching each new employee that they cannot trust information that you give them unless they verify it elsewhere. That’s not funny, that’s a serious issue.

  67. Girasol*

    My boss used to lie about things that didn’t affect us workers so we just shook our heads and went on with our work. Then he started making up stories about why we deserved to have paychecks withheld. I second “get out” while Valerie’s lies are still just weird so you’re not around if her lying becomes more harmful.

  68. NoName*

    Oh boy… this reminds me of The Office episode where Michael goes around spreading rumors about the staff. You know it’s bad when there’s an entire Office episode about this sort of behavior. What on earth is up with Valerie? I would love to hear a follow up on this, OP!

  69. Spencer Hastings*

    From the headline, I thought this was going to be about a boss who says wildly false things about the employees as a joke. Which is one of my least favorite forms of humor — it just seems pointless and stupid. But this is so much worse, and so much less understandable!

  70. AbbiandIlana*

    I also want to add a perspective that’s missing here! I had a boss who would also tell really weird lies (she one lied to a long-distance boyfriend about having a mutual friend as her roommate for months on end – which she casually told me like it was a funny quirky anecdote). It was clear that it wasn’t to get ahead or to make herself seem somehow more competent than she was, it seemed like it was purely fun and amusing for her! Which was super odd, but not necessarily nefarious. So probably speculating about her motives isn’t super helpful, since it would be easy for her to be like, “I’m just joking around!”

    (That said, when our relationship soured, she has no qualms about adding embellishing details to criticism of me and ended up lying to the unemployment office about why I was let go).

  71. Tabby Baltimore*

    I’m too late for anyone to see this, I know, but I’m still curious: given the huge number of personal stories of other similar bad-boss-behavior I’ve read above, do any of you work, or have any of you ever worked, at a business/company where there was rigorous pre-employment psychological screening? Is there even a way to screen out routine liars (or cognitively- or personality-disordered thinkers) from getting a job at your company?

  72. Perplexed*

    I’m late to the party. But this is eerily familiar to me. But instead of someone at work. It’s my mom that does this. She makes up little white lies about mostly harmless stuff. But still, it utterly perplexes me and makes me doubt everything she says. Over time I’ve come to realize that it must be a way for her to inflate her sense of self. She cares so much what others think, that she uses lies to make herself more interesting.

    Wondering what type of lies I mean? Here’s a couple of examples. She once told a guy she met online that she had a big truck, ski-doo’s and ATVs. When they finally met (and had a year-long relationship) she explained away the lack of “toys” by saying she sold them all. When they broke up, said guy (who was a genuinely nice person) reached out to ask me if he was crazy, or was my mom lying about such silly things.

    Another example: when I visited my brother and teased him about playing video games as an adult he shot back “you do too, mom says you are always playing this game with her online!”. Not true. I haven’t played video games in over 25 years (I’m in my mid 30’s now).

    These lies have never necessarily been sordid or particularly damaging. But it did erode trust. By the time I was old enough to realize she was doing this (in my early teens) it was difficult because all my friends thought she was such a great mom, but I resented her for all the things she said that I knew weren’t true.

    I’d love to say that I’ve confronted her about all this. But the truth is we rarely see each other and at this stage we have an amicable, but aloof relationship.

    All this to say, it sounds like Valerie has the same condition (whatever it is) as I’ve witnessed in my mother for most of my life!

    1. Excuse Me*

      Why would you tease your brother about playing video games? How is that any different than watching TV as an adult? Or playing board games as an adult?

  73. Annie(mous) Oakley*

    I’m not sure about divorce court, but wouldn’t their be public records showing that there was not a divorce hearing. I know it might be hard to prove a negative, but couldn’t you get like a list of all the divorces in your area for the year that lw was “married” and show whomever needs the proof for higher above. Same thing with the other employees medical records for the eye color thing and the military records. That’s if bosses need proof she’s lying in order to do something.,

  74. MissDisplaced*

    “No one outside of those under her believe us over her.”

    I’m not sure why you think people would believe Valerie over the people Valerie is gossiping/lying about? Because that is moving into gaslighting territory that you are not able to speak to your own life truth and have people believe you. And Valerie does not get to decide what is true about your life!

    Does these lies come up in conversations? If they do, immediately correct the person, “Actually, Valerie is dead wrong about that, I’ve never been married.” If this happens often, people will soon see Valerie is full of it and not credible.

    But honestly, I’m sorry because this is such bizarre behavior.

    1. Lizzo*

      Because leadership accepting Valerie’s true nature would require them to do difficult things like 1) re-evaluate their understanding of who Valerie is, and 2) discipline and/or fire her. There are people in this world who are so thoroughly conflict-avoidant that they’ll ignore the truth so that they don’t have to do something that is super uncomfortable. I had a Grand Boss like that once–he refused to entertain any idea that my boss was bad at her job. I attempted to speak to him about the issues, and he was 100% disinterested in what I had to say, so at the end of that meeting, I gave notice.

  75. fhqwhgads*

    What’s especially bizarre to me is that even if these things were true (or she somehow really thought they were rather than making them out of whole cloth), these are absolutely bizarre details to share with clients. What could be remotely relevant, other than to stir up drama, to mention to a client someone had a nasty divorce that drew out for years? What possible work-appropriate segue is there? The lies are bad. The undermining is bad. But I’d have to think the boss SHOULD care about these statements because there’s no logical reason they should even come up at work. It makes no sense. Boss is also delusional for thinking going around saying someone has PTSD when they don’t doesn’t affect that person’s reputation. Not that I have anything against people with PTSD, but it absolutely changes the way clients would perceive and potentially interact with that person. Management at this employer seems to have left our Earth logic behind.

  76. Wren*

    Heterochromia isn’t necessarily related to medical conditions, it sometimes just is. I agree with everyone who knows the truth calling it out every time one of these things come up, but the tone I would recommend is slight bored exasperation conveying that these are Valerie’s pathetic fantasies. As close to eye rolling without actually eye rolling, since eye rolling would be unprofessional, “sigh, I don’t know why she keeps saying that; (she’s perfectly aware that) that really is just the way Casey’s eyes are/Jane has never been married/Martin was never in a combat zone.”

  77. Cathy Gale*

    To OP: My thought was, “Run”. In other words, when you have someone being so abusive and bizarre, there’s rarely recourse upstairs. I speak from experience.

    PTSD is one of those things I would like us to norm throughout society, and stop associating as just a “veterans problem”. I feel that this awful human being is trying to control her reports by attributing things to them that they “should be” ashamed about – one is “lying” about how she looks or trying to draw attention to herself, another is in “denial” about his “combat experience” and how poorly he managed it, and a third has “difficulties at home” and choosing a partner, perhaps was even a “beaten woman”. She is counting on everyone to be shocked by these lies and not counter them.

    Strangely what I found is that the people who expect you to be ashamed over something you can’t help – a chronic illness, mental health, whatever – are shocked when you calmly confront them. So are liars. But in these times I would just not expect help from higher up in your organization. Just counter the lies as they are said in person, and look for another job.

  78. Elspeth McGillicuddy*

    I wouldn’t want any of those stories being told around about me even if they WERE true.

  79. Gertie*

    This sounds like a power play to me. I had a boss who would tell lies about staff right in front of us to other people. She would even smile right at us as if to say I dare you to correct me. Luckily I don’t think anyone else in the organization would believe her. She was widely disliked, but was such a sycophant to one of the top bosses that she could do what she liked.

  80. Anon for this!*

    Sounds like my mom! No idea why she does this, I think it’s attention seeking or just desperately trying to sound interesting in the moment. If called out on it, your boss may get super defensive or minimize what she’s done or insist that you did in fact tell her about your nasty divorce. Definitely needs to be addressed, although doubt it will make a difference.

  81. Goonies for Life*

    Oof. Letters like these deserve their own section titled “What the Hell is Wrong With You?!” I’ve had the misfortune of running into a few these types in both work and life, and have found that some simply enjoy creating drama and stirring the pot for no reason other than their own entertainment. Netflix isn’t enough for them, they prefer live theatre of their own making.

    It’s truly diabolical in its mundaneness. It’s not so over-the-top that it flags skepticism, but just enough to create doubt. Doubt about someone’s mental state, credibility, and/or character. And it’s essentially a lose-lose for the targets: you call the perp out on it you’re making a mound out of molehill (as the letter write shared), or you’re stuck with a lie about you.

  82. Essess*

    Run… don’t walk… to HR. She is damaging your professional reputations by telling people that YOU are lying when you talk about your own lives. She is claiming someone is lying about their own medical condition, she is lying and assigning false medical conditions to others, and she is harassing you about your marital status by lying about it repeatedly. If you are in the US, she’s really pushing into the legal definition of Hostile Work Environment with each of these.

  83. Batgirl*

    Sometimes the most satisfying and righteous solutions are not available. Consider them first of course; calling it out in the moment, pushing back with the boss, suing for defamation, alerting HR. (Especially the latter, as a bad boss does not mean a bad HR who are OK with liability). But if the whole basket of frogs is truly dysfunctional enough to punish the truth tellers, and if you just need the job more, there’s a more delicate route: 1) Attacking the lie rather than the person by calling it ‘a mysterious and bizarre rumour’ rather than ‘Jane’s lie’. “Oh, I’ve never been married, it’s a really bizarre rumour. Even really sensible people seem to believe that one. I don’t know how that got started!” “I don’t have PTSD, it’s a very strange rumour and a bit of a stereotype. Please correct anyone who hears that one.” If Jane is mentioned as the gossiper you don’t necessarily have to take her position of power head on. “If she’d mentioned it to me, I would have corrected her but it’s never been a conversation we’ve had.” If Jane is there when someone brings up her tales? “Oh Jane, if you’d asked me I would have told you it’s the most bizarre rumour! Ive never even exchanged keys with someone/ seen combat!”
    Also, I would totally carry toddler pictures around to prove my eyes are really a different colour. “There’s such a weird and persistent rumour going round that I’ve taken to keeping this on me. Look. Is that a weird rumour or what?”
    2) Wait. It’ll blow up in her face spectacularly one day.

  84. I've Escaped Cubicle Land*

    I’ve seen this kind of behavior inaction a few times. Usually from coworkers not managers. That makes it even more alarming. I work for a large state department. SIL works for the same department but on completely separate team. We are polite but not close. Mutual friends died in a car wreck. SIL told her boss and also my boss that I was going to be “very upset” before she came over to my desk to tell me. ( I already knew about the deaths due to other mutual friends (one of whom also worked at the department) SIL was basically implying that I was going to loose my shit and be unable to work. I am very pragmatic about death. I’ve literally been at work when I’ve gotten notified of a close friends death and helped the police coordinate contacting the family and removing the dogs to a safe location. ( I was the persons call in case of emergency contact) There have been a lot of funerals in the last several years and I am the one every one else turns to for strength. There was no basis to SIL’s claim and it was only said to try to make me look bad to her and my bosses. (both who like me and know all about her passive aggressive side) Personally I’ve worked a few places where coworkers have tried this kind of thing. I’ve shut it down 1 of 2 ways. I either take the person who they told it to back to them with a “Jane said you said X about me. That’s not true. Do not say it again. Do not try to involve me in any more of you lies either.” They can’t deny it because Jane is standing right there. Or I when Jane runs up to tell me what Tarzan said about me I will stop Jane dead in her tracks with “When Tarzan comes and says it to me himself, then I will deal with it, and we both know Tarzan isn’t brave enough to come say it to my face.” Its no fun to try to spread gossip to me if I’m just gonna shut it down and seem dismissive of the original speaker. Ideally upper management and HR should be aware of and shutting down this kind of stuff. People that lie chronically tend to have other vices too that impact the work place. In any job tied to finances this would be a big red flag. Also if you work with sensitive information.

  85. Former Employee*

    Mary Trump tells a story about how her uncle Donald Trump, introduced her to someone (Melania?) and mentioned that Mary had had a terrible drug problem, but she overcame it. Apparently, Mary Trump never had a drug problem, terrible or otherwise.

    She referred to this kind of thing as a power play.

  86. Gregg B57*

    Before confronting anyone, I would have an updated resume and a job search going. I suspect if she’s confronted, the lies could escalate into far worse territory.

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