my employee refuses to lie to customers — but that’s our policy

A reader writes:

My employee is refusing to abide by company policies due to religious conviction and I’m not sure how to handle this.

I am the owner of a very small company, around 15 people total. We are a niche online retailer. We do the vast majority of our sales through a popular online marketplace, but also have a company webstore where customers can order our products.

Because we are so small, we cannot accommodate order cancellations, and we rarely offer refunds. All of our products are warrantied and we use high quality shipping carriers to minimize losses. Refunds are granted in very limited circumstances. We only cancel orders in cases where our security system detects fraud, or if a duplicate order was placed in error. Again this is a decision that has been made for the good of the company, as we operate on very, very slim margins.

Our customer service policy is posted on our website, but does not explicitly mention that we do not accept cancellations or offer refunds. Our internal policy is that when a cancellation is requested we tell the customer their order has already shipped and therefore cannot be cancelled. In situations where a customer has not received their order, we will reship it or they can forfeit their order, customer’s choice.

My employee has worked here for over a year and will not answer order cancellation emails. She says this is because she cannot tell lies due to her religious beliefs. She feels that if the customer has requested a cancellation and the order has not shipped, that we should not be telling them it has. I have created a canned response in our email tool so she does not need to type the message herself, but she says because her name appears in the signature she will not send the email. She will not use a different person’s signature as this too would be a lie. Her proposed solution is to tell customers in this situation that we do not accept cancellations and to tell them why (our company cannot handle the losses). The problem with that is obviously the optics are terrible, if a screenshot of such a message were to make it onto social media.

Her committment to exclusive truth-telling extends beyond these scenarios, and she will often leave me drafts of her emails for me to edit before sending to the customer as she knows that she cannot say what she wants to say. I am the primary backup person for customer service emails and need to deal with the tickets that are left over after her shift. The number of emails that she leaves takes up at least 30 minutes of my day, every day, and I am already working 12+ hours daily running the company and have young kids at home too.

I am not open to revisiting the customer service policy.

Ultimately, I would like to replace her with someone who can execute our policies as I instruct, without needing to proofread excessive numbers of emails daily. However, because she is objecting to this duty due to religious conviction, I feel my hands are tied in keeping her in the role or at least within the company. We do not have another vacancy that she could move into that would be appropriate to her skillset, nor can I afford to hire another employee without first letting one go.

Is there a way I can manage this employee so that she will be able to do the job as it needs to be done? Should I start subtly managing her out?

I know it’s annoying when you say “I’m not looking for advice on X” and then you get advice on X anyway … but there’s no way to respond to your question without doing that.

That’s because your policy is the problem, not your employee. Not the no-cancellations policy — lots of small businesses have that — but your policy of lying to customers. That’s a shady thing to do, it’s understandable that your employee wants no part of it, and it’s utterly unnecessary.

You could solve this by just posting your no-cancellation policy on your website. Use language explaining that as a small business, you can’t accommodate cancellations. Hell, have people check a box when they’re ordering to confirm that they know they won’t be able to cancel the order once placed. Then if someone tries to cancel anyway, you can point them back toward that policy.

That’s much better service than what you’re doing right now. People deserve to know the terms of their purchase up-front so they can hold off if those terms don’t work for them, and this way you won’t need to lie to them later.

You said you think the optics of a screenshot of such a message would be terrible — but again, plenty of other small businesses have this policy. The optics aren’t terrible when you clearly state your terms up-front. What would be terrible is if customers find out that you’re lying and saying orders have shipped when they haven’t, in order to avoid fulfilling requests to cancel. That’s the kind of thing that, if it spreads, could destroy your business. Honesty up-front will not.

I know that’s not what you came here looking for. Feel free to ignore it! But your employee has made it clear that she’s not willing to lie. That’s a reasonable stance for her to take, and I can’t in good faith help you figure out how to push her out for it.

{ 793 comments… read them below }

  1. Anonym*

    This is really great perspective. If it helps, there are many sellers of various sizes that don’t accept cancellations! They typically alert you during the purchasing process. It’s actually pretty normal, and doesn’t create the kind of customer resentment and reputational risk that your current practice does.

    1. The one who wears too much black*

      Right! “All purchases are final” is a frequently straight-forward and commonly accepted caveat emptor in online retail, but dang, this question comes across as a desire to get one’s way as a business owner at all costs, including unethical ones.

      1. Homebody*

        It really gets me too! Like, why is the OP going out of their way to lie when final purchases are so common? Especially in a small, niche business where good, honest relationships with customers is a key tenet of business? And even the letter shows the OP skirting around the issue of firing what seems to be a great employee just to get what they want. I would not be surprised if there was other weird stuff going on at this company.

          1. Coder von Frankenstein*

            That’s still being deliberately misleading. It’s wording chosen to fool the customer into thinking the package has already shipped, when it hasn’t. Sure, sure, it’s “technically” true–but the intent and effect are to deceive, and a customer who found out the truth would be justifiably angry.

            1. Marzipan Shepherdess*

              And after finding out that truth, the customer would be quite justified in posting a scathing review of that company on every social media platform they could access. Want a furious review of your dishonest business practices plastered all over Yelp, for example? Just lie to your customers!

            2. PT*

              I had this exact argument with a former boss.

              Me: We need to put the refund policy in writing. We are getting a lot of people requesting refunds and they are getting upset when they find out they don’t qualify for one and are dissatisfied customers and are complaining.
              Boss: Well I like it this way.
              Me: But I think it is better if they know so they are satisfied customers.
              Boss: But it is better if we don’t tell them. That way they don’t find out until we already have their money.
              Me: … … … That is fraud … … …

              1. Red 5*

                I had this same fight with multiple bosses throughout the years. At one job the boss pointed out that the stated policies included something like “at the department’s discretion” and that meant he could decide it meant whatever he wanted whenever he wanted and we technically didn’t have to tell anybody anything so why was I trying to get him to clearly state a known policy?

                I quit a couple weeks later and made sure to tell as many people as I could how shady they were. Probably didn’t help but it made me feel better.

              2. Hate corporate life*

                it’s very likely that whatever payment processor they use (if they’re accepting credit cards) says that they must put their refund policy in their terms of service.

            3. Anonymous pineapple*

              The customer is not stupid and can clearly see the number of days between “shipping label created” and “package received by carrier” on the tracking. As someone who has been lied to exactly about something being impossible to cancel because shipped when it wasn’t actually shipped until a week later, an upfront cancellation and TAT would have gone a whole lot better. The only thing that business earned themselves by lying was a negative BBB review and a loss of the cost of shipping fees in both directions.

                1. Lilith*

                  This is what I came hear to say! If you give out tracking numbers, I expect they can already figure out that you’re lying. Just be honest….

              1. SAS*

                Consumers are not stupid! We already know that businesses lie to us but it was really wild to have it in black and white from this LW.

                I buy many items that I know I will not be able to return for any reason- LW is going to lose very few customers from being upfront about their cancellation policy. They WILL lose return customers with sketchy emails about the shipping process.

                I admire the employee, I would probably be selling the emails and hating myself if I worked there, a sure way to get employees job-searching.

                1. BugHuntress*

                  Yes, same, SAS! I also buy items that I know I will not be able to return. Frequently these are items from out of country, so I (a) think it’s reasonable, and (b) I know there is already a chance that the package will be lost. If the package is lost, a company that is willing to either refund the money, OR send the items again, is great. It doesn’t have to be both. This store owner’s policy would already be good enough for me…

                  If the items in a store are interesting enough, I am willing to take a chance on no returns. It’s exciting, even, waiting to see if I keep them or give them away. I believe in thrifting culture, and don’t mind donating items I buy if I don’t want to keep them. Especially if they’re high-quality, just a different size. I imagine I’m seeding coolness into the world, putting this weird purse that hurts my shoulder into a Goodwill somewhere.

                  …But if I thought the staff of a company were lying to me, that would feel creepy. It would feel disrespectful. And it would make me lose respect for the brand.

                  Buying stuff feels extra good when it’s a company/maker I respect. It’s nice to be proud of the people that work at a company! Lucy and Yak, Nooworks, Mokuyobi, Jordan Piantedosi’s Beautiful Genius line – these are really funky fashion companies I follow, and I like them at least partially because of their (afaik) ethical business practices and fair payment of artists. Buying from them feels good.

                  I am not sure there are that many buyers who would *suddenly refuse to buy a product* if a store announced that it offered no returns. However, like Alison says, a store’s reputation could easily be tanked by the truth getting out about dishonest communication practices. *I* would stop shopping there, anyway. That’s the thing about “brand loyalty” – brands have to be loyal back.

                  This makes me mad on behalf of that young worker. I wonder what growth this company could achieve if she were allowed to shape the culture a bit more. Her perspective is a gift, it seems. If the company used it, I think it could help the company grow.

              2. Red 5*

                Yup, I have come with the info about when things were actually picked up and other info when making a dispute several times, often just because I knew they were lying when I would have let it slide if they’d been honest.

              3. Sakuko*

                A lot of shops that sell over Amazon do that, though I’m not sure it pays out the way they think. Because when I go to Amazon with my complaint about it, I pretty much always get a refund and they get stuck with shipping costs both ways.
                Customers aren’t stupid, we can read the tracking history. We know what you did.

              4. MsSolo (UK)*

                I don’t know about US mail, but in the UK all letters and parcels are stamped as they pass through the post office (to prevent you re-using stamps, as much as anything) with a date, so it’s pretty obvious even for packages without tracking when they entered the system within a couple of days to account for languishing in a post box.

                It’s very weird to actively lie to customers about something that’s very easy for them to identify as a lie. They won’t tell you why they’re not using your business again, but you can bet a lot of them who’ve caught the lie won’t.

                1. J.R.*

                  That’s true for letters in the US, and for the rare small (< 16 oz) parcel mailed with stamps.

                  For anything with an electronic label, i.e. 99% of parcels, it has a tracking number that allows you to see where and when it passed through the sorting equipment on its way to you.

                  It would be *very* easy for OP's company to get caught in the "already shipped" lie.

              5. Nelliebelle1197*

                And don’t forget that not have this policy stated means the customer can place a dispute with a credit card and win. And would also have the merchandise.

                1. peachy*

                  Yup, I came here to say this. I’m really surprised the LW hasn’t already run into this issue. I’ve worked in a very similar business, and customers would often resort to chargebacks when they couldn’t get a refund. They most often win, because a lot of credit cards require signature at the time of purchase, and that’s not really done online. Then the business has basically given merchandise away for free, while still owing the credit card processing fees.

          2. SC Texan*

            No, the customer has a right to know the terms of the purchase, period. When I buy something online I always check the returns and cancellations policy. I agree with the AAM and think the company just needs to state, No cancellations, so the buyer is aware and can’t argue in the event they want to cancel.

            1. K*

              I agree.

              They may be losing a small number of customers without even knowing it. I won’t buy something from a website with no posted return policy.

              1. Kal*

                Same here – one of the first things I do when I’m checking out a new store is to look into their policies for shipping, returns and refunds and the like. If they have none posted, or have it posted in a vague, unhelpful way, I instantly don’t trust that place.

                I’m into a lot of crafty and niche hobbies. I’ve bought things from a bunch of places that have no cancellations and no refunds/exchanges as a policy. Some explain why, others don’t. Some even stated that they couldn’t account for shipping once it crossed the border to my country and therefore they couldn’t guarantee that it wouldn’t arrive damaged or get lost or offer any compensation for that case either. I’m fine with all of that, as long as I know where I stand when I make the purchase.

            2. peachy*

              Well, some people will still try to argue for their right to cancel even if there is a posted no-cancellation policy, lol.

              1. selena81*

                And some people online might agree with them, mainly Karen’s.
                But i think the vast majority of people would side with the bussiness-owner who can point to a clear ‘all sales are final’ message on their website

        1. CalypsoSummer*

          “Like, why is the OP going out of their way to lie when final purchases are so common?”

          I just bought some items off an Internet site that hosts vendors of ‘vintage’ items, and every one of the things I bought was “no refunds, all sales final.” You click the “buy” button, and honey, you just bought it! It’s yours — unless it’s damaged in shipment, whereupon they’ll replace it, if possible. But if you get buyer’s remorse the next morning and decide that you don’t REALLY want that highly ornate 1920s coffee service for 12 after all — well, that’s just too bad, isn’t it?

          1. Ace in the Hole*

            Exactly! I often buy things from vendors that have a policy of no refunds. Heck, I’ve BEEN a vendor with a no-refund policy… I make certain custom and print-on-demand items, so once I’ve begun processing the order I’m out the cost of materials whether it ships or not. Once the deposit is in my hands I keep it (unless something very unusual happens, like damage during shipping or a mistake on my end). I’ve never had a customer take issue with this.

            1. selena81*

              Personalized items are at the extreme end of ‘of course you cannot return that’: after printing has begun those keychains or T-shirts are only valuable to that particular customer

          2. BugHuntress*

            The thrifting instinct in me is strong. What site is this / is this one of the usual websites (etsy, ebay) or is it something else completely? I’d love to browse through vintage-item vendors online!

        2. Troxwilahar*

          >Not the no-cancellations policy — lots of small businesses have that

          This is a very very good reason to purchase from Amazon or big box retailers, and not mom ‘n pop stores. They are customer-friendly and honor returns.

          A few years ago I purchased some furniture from a mom ‘n pop, including a $50 lamp I ended up not needed. The store refused a return. The next year Ikea opened in my city and I would never shop at the mom ‘n pop again. (No doubt the mom ‘n pop store complains about unfaaaaaiiiir the big box retailers are.)

          >but your policy of lying to customers.

          I wonder if it is in violation of the Federal Trade Act or state consumer protection guidelines. You should be glad your employee does not consider becoming a whistleblower!

      2. Anita Brake*

        ” this question comes across as a desire to get one’s way as a business owner at all costs, including unethical ones.” This, exactly. How on Earth is it fair to essentially trick customers into going forward with their orders without having all the information they need to make an informed decision. Not only unethical, but also shady.

      3. WFH is all I Want*

        I felt that way too. It’s all about informed choice. If it’s clearly stated then I have no issues but I may go elsewhere depending on what’s being sold. I would feel like my money was intentionally being stolen from me if I’m told when I try to cancel that it’s been shipped when it hasn’t. I’d be demanding a tracking number to confirm it.

        I’ve seen other companies say cancellations are only accepted within 30 minutes of completing the purchase. Then they state their return/exchange policy so I can make an informed choice.

        1. Anita Brake*

          WFH, exactly. That’s because your money was intentionally being stolen from you if they tell you it’s shipped and you can’t cancel, when it hasn’t been shipped. I just can’t believe someone wrote this letter expecting AAM to help them get rid of an honest employee. The level of dishonesty for one’s own benefit (i. e., the OP’s preference here) just astonishes me. I know AAM can’t do this, but I wish we could have the names of these companies so that we can avoid being scammed by them.

      4. BabyElephantWalk*

        Yeah, there were a number of red flags for shadiness here. This business feels skeezy. Thinking that managing out an employee (which is a terrible idea anyway) is a good solution to their being unwilling to lie for you is a good solution is a sign that maybe there’s some maturity missing here.

      5. MCMonkeyBean*

        Seriously, this is such a weird lie to double and triple down on to the point of wanting to FIRE someone because they won’t tell it!!!

        OP, as someone who does a really unhealthy amount of online shopping I assure you it is SO normal for a website to say they do not accommodate cancellation requests. You don’t have to give any reason why at all! Just say you don’t do it.

        Not only is what you are doing shady, but honestly it’s a really stupid lie because if you are telling people their order has already shipped when it hasn’t then you’re going to start getting annoyed customer service emails about “why hasn’t my package arrived yet?? where is my tracking number??” etc, etc. If you must give a reason I don’t know why you wouldn’t go with the classic “your order is already processing” rather than “already shipped” because what constitutes “processing” is pretty up in the air and if you want to consider it as starting as soon as it’s placed then whatever.

        This is a very weird and very unwise lie and it’s highly concerning that you would essentially fire an employee for having strong ethics. This is how fraud happens and you are setting up an extremely toxic environment that will cause problems for both your company and your customers!

        1. pancakes*

          I totally agree, also as someone who does a ton of online shopping. No returns isn’t my ideal policy but it is quite common. Also, by telling customers you’ve shipped before you actually have, you could run into some trouble with the FTC 30-days rule if something not within your control prevents you from shipping as planned and someone wants to give you a hard time about it.

        2. The Rafters*

          Not only fraud but depending on the business, a not so friendly visit by the FBI or other law enforcement agency might be in their future.

      6. Smithy*

        Not only is it common, but also far better practice in building loyal customers for whenever items do disappoint.

        I love vintage clothing and no matter how high quality the seller, buying online is risky for countless ways. And often nothing specific to the item itself. And almost no online vintage business gives refunds. But many many buyers go that route anyways and knowing those risks upfront.

        I’m sure there are loads of other niche business sectors like this and struggle to understand why this won’t work.

      7. Coder von Frankenstein*

        I just want to say, I love your user name (from a fellow wearer-of-too-much-black). :)

    2. The New Wanderer*

      This is just about the only way to not revisit the LW’s cancellation policy – make it public. Why is the LW pushing this onto staff (specifically requiring them to lie about it) rather than taking accountability for it right up front? That has got to be better than a ton of online reviews talking about their shady hidden cancellation policy.

      Doing it the LW’s way makes it seem intentional that they’re trying to profit off of expected cancellations, and all of the staff, including the LW, should be uncomfortable with that.

      1. The Lexus Lawyer*

        Unless you’re in Montana, employment is by default at-will. Legally at least, you could find a neutral reason to terminate her. The religion thing is a red herring. It matters in terms of writing an argument for a law school exam or on the internet.

        But in real life, insubordination/refusal to follow company policy is an easy ground to prove, and unlike what non-lawyers probably think, there’s no punitive/extraordinary damages here. The worst she could get is her job back plus maybe back pay, but it’s not a payday for her by any means even if she does try and bring anything against you.

        Chalk this one up to a lesson learned. Post your policy – both for customers and for staff, and move on from this person.

        1. Muffy*

          the one thing i would say is, even if you terminate her for “business reasons” what’s to stop her getting on social media and saying she was terminated because she refused to lie and her boss was forcing her to lie.

          1. Marzipan Shepherdess*

            Nothing’s to stop her from doing just that! Can you imagine the Glassdoor review that company would get?

            1. Autumnheart*

              Glassdoor, hell. I’m sure the state AG would be interested to know that their company policy is to deny refunds and lie to the customer. OP is one dropped dime away from disaster.

          2. S*

            This is something the letter writer should consider carefully. If the employee’s truthful explanation of company policies and procedures is something that could put the company in jeopardy, he’d be wise to keep her happily employed. Unless he’s willing to offer some significant compensation to make a non-disclosure agreement legal, he can’t keep her from telling the truth about what they do and why she was pushed out.

          3. Just Because You Can...*

            Right. As Alison has rightly identified, the legality of termination isn’t really the underlying issue for the letter writer, and replacing this employee isn’t going to solve OP’s problem(s).

          4. Robin Ridley*

            Exactly! Right now, she is refusing to repeat a lie. Do you really want to fire her, and have her get on Yelp, or whatever, and spill all? Just post your policy, and let the consumer decide. OP’s business model is skeevy.

          5. Caryn*

            Your company policy is federally ILLEGAL. The Federal Trade Commission has specific guidelines in place that your employee is adhering to. You cannot have a company policy of lying to customers. You are very lucky your employee has not reported you to the FTC. Small business or not it is unethical, immoral, and illegal to purposely mislead customers.

        2. Moi*

          I disagree. This employee is demonstrating herself to be honest and ethical. Change the awful policy and promote the employee

          1. Despachito*

            Absolutely agree.

            My hats off to the employee for her honesty and unwillingness to budge and to stoop to bad practice to please her employer.

            It is a shame OP is trying to bend her or break her, and that she sees her honesty as a flaw rather than a positive.

            1. Ace in the Hole*

              Absolutely. I admire the integrity of that woman and I hope her boss does not succeed in pressuring her to change.

          2. banoffee pie*

            yes the employee is not the problem, she seems fair enough to me, and honestly I can think of several non-religious people who would have the same conviction not to lie in this case. It seems OP is conflating ‘honesty’ with ‘religious’ which isn’t really fair

            1. banoffee pie*

              hit send too soon. I mean she’s blaming this employee’s ‘stubbornness’ on being religious, and she could fire her and hire an atheist who also refuses to send these emails. Then what? Fire her too and on to the next?

              1. Princesss Sparklepony*

                I’m not sure, but I think the religious thing might be a cover for the employee. If the shady employer fires her for following her religion – that could be a lawsuit.

                As an atheist, I have no such cover. But I wouldn’t want to lie about this. Not saying I never lie, but this is just poor company policy and management. I have gotten fired in the past for telling management the truth about a company policy (making people work off the clock is illegal.) And an AG’s investigation and consequences for the business did vindicate me a few years later although I wasn’t involved in it. I should have couched it in religious terms and then sued…

            2. Worldwalker*

              I’m one of them. I would not lie to customers either. And I would quit a job that required that I do so. One doesn’t have to be religious to be honest.

              1. allathian*

                Yeah, absolutely. The business is acting in an unethical way.

                I refuse to buy anything online unless the business has posted its return policy, even if it says “we do not accept cancellations after a confirmed order for any reason.”

            3. Jane*

              Hell – I’d theoretically lie about having a religious conviction not to lie to customers, if I thought it would help in her employee’s shoes.

              I mean, no, I wouldn’t, as I’d most likely just refuse and quit or get managed out. Such a lie would be silly. But I would not tell the lie the OP wants told as a matter of policy.

              There are plenty of people who *will* lie but will not lie if the lie will hurt someone, or is otherwise unethical. This policy is unethical, ergo I would not tell this lie. And I’d be highly likely to quit and leave a scathing, business damaging, Glassdoor review on my way out.

              (The closest I’ve come to this was an employer in a billable hours environment that tried to get me to miss-categorize work for a client so they could get paid for something they’d agreed not to charge for. The ask was made even more ridiculous because I’d given notice and it was my last week of work. I refused.

              I also wondered if I was being set up as a fall-person for timcard fraud, but in retrospect I wasn’t. The person they brought in to replace me left for another job a couple weeks later because they were being asked to lie on their time card and weren’t comfortable with it. Gossip spreads – I have never spoken directly to this person.

              The OP needs to seriously reassess why they are insisting on an unethical solution to a simple, common, issue; and why their response to an ethical employee is to punish and bend them to their will.

        3. Fran Fine*

          If the OP posts their real policy for customers, there would be no reason to move on from the employee. The OP’s only gripe about this person stems from the fact that she won’t lie, but if they just post the dang policy, the employee wouldn’t have to lie and could continue on doing her job with no issues.

        4. Not Tom, Just Petty*

          I agree. It’s a small company. If employee hasn’t blasted this thing she disagrees with all over her social and social media circle yet, she probably won’t blow up OP’s shop with the truth when she leaves.
          It is just a bad fit. Let her go.
          OP has to be prepared not to challenge her unemployment claim, though.
          Honestly, OP, you should. Let her go. Let her collect unemployment and be a good reference.

          It’s a bad fit.

          1. MK*

            It’s not a bad fit, it’s an unethical business practice that should be a bad fit with all honest people. Also, I don’t understand why you think the employee won’t make this public if she is fired; she probably hasn’t done it so far because she doesn’t want to ruin her employment relationship, and that reason goes away as soon as they let her go.

            1. Marzipan Shepherdess*

              Well, yes, it IS a “bad fit”. The employee in question is ethical and honest. The company is not. Of course, that kind of employee would be a GREAT fit in a decent company and I hope she’s soon employed by one!

              1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

                Thank you. I wasn’t using using that comment to write how I feel about the “policy.” I did that below.

          2. LinuxSystemsGuy*

            If she “left” I’d agree, if she’s fired (which is what LW is clearly trying to do here), that might change the equation in her head. Nearly everyone has had an awful job at some point. Early everyone has wished they could tell the world about the awfulness of the company. Nearly everyone has chosen to continue to be able to eat and pay rent instead. Then to be fired on top of everything else? Oh no, now it’s time to let the world know.

            1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

              That’s why I’m saying “let go” or “laid off” and not challenging unemployment, giving a good reference.
              Both parties are unhappy right now. Something needs to change. The best plan is to let employee find a new job and leave, but OP still needs to act.

              1. Worldwalker*

                The best plan is for the employer to not make LITERALLY LYING TO THE CUSTOMERS a part of their business.

                Something needs to change, all right, and that is for that one employee not to be the only honest person in the company.

              2. Anonnymouse*

                Enh. I mean honestly? If that were me, as soon as I had something new lined up and had settled in, I would write Glassdoor reviews. I wouldn’t do it while depending on unemployment benefits, but I wouldn’t be inclined to just let it go, either, and an employer not standing in the way of unemployment wouldn’t change anything.

              3. MCMonkeyBean*

                That’s not how it works, you can’t fire someone really super politely and delicately and have that somehow clear you of discrimination. It’s not a layoff because they intend to replace her. You can’t fix the lying problem by lying about the firing…

              4. Jane*

                Laying someone off and not challenging unemployment would still be interpreted as firing in this situation. Nothing the OP has said indicates the employee wouldn’t have the basic abilities to see through what happened; and unemployment is paltry compared to a job -often half or less what one made, with a finite length and a ton of hoop jumping and ways it can go wrong.

                I would not count on the employee staying quiet. If she does want to keep her quit I’s think a significant severance package, laying off, not contesting unemployment, negotiating a good reference, and getting them to sign a non-disclosure might do it. Though I’d recommend making the severance pretty substantial, given the employee has already made it quite clear their ethics are stronger motivators than their self interest.

                Which is an awful lot more hassle than simply changing a weird policy and keeping a good employee…

          3. No fun name*

            It is unethical to advise your client to find a pretextual reason to fire an employee for seeking a religious accommodation.

        5. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

          Unless you’re in Montana, employment is by default at-will. Legally at least, you could find a neutral reason to terminate her. The religion thing is a red herring. It matters in terms of writing an argument for a law school exam or on the internet.

          But in real life, insubordination/refusal to follow company policy is an easy ground to prove, and unlike what non-lawyers probably think, there’s no punitive/extraordinary damages here. The worst she could get is her job back plus maybe back pay, but it’s not a payday for her by any means even if she does try and bring anything against you.

          Chalk this one up to a lesson learned. Post your policy – both for customers and for staff, and move on from this person.


          If you don’t feel ethical firing her, just lay her off instead.

          1. Kim S*

            “If you don’t feel ethical firing her, just lay her off instead.” This is absolutely wild and very bad advice.

            There is no legal difference between “firing” someone and “laying off” someone when you’re talking about one person who you had a specific (and documented) reason to want to fire. If OP has a legal problem (employee alleging religious discrimination) changing the wording from “fired” to “laid off” will not magically make it go away – and honestly could itself be evidence that OP knowingly engaged in the behavior alleged

            1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

              I guess I needed more emphasis on ethical, or sarcasm tags. Laying her off and eliminating her position is about as ethical as everything else OP’s business seems to be doing.

              1. Journalist Wife*

                Yet it seems like possibly OP wrote this to take the temperature of Alison/AAM commentariat toward their situation–if folks would see OP’s side of this sympathetically–as if OP is trying to figure out where the fault lies or isn’t sure whether they are being unethical vs. simply unconventional in their current business practices…like, if there was much commiseration in responses over what an unlucky Catch-22 this is for their company with this employee, it might assuage a slightly guilty or bewildered conscience forming. Maybe?

                1. Cthulhu's Librarian*

                  That seems like a somewhat rose-tinted view. It seemed far more like the OP wrote in wanting to be told “You can clearly fire this person for insubordination.”

                  Which I hope the OP does. When the dust settles and the employee has a reasonably sized pile of money from court judgement against the OP, and the OP’s business and reputation lie in shattered ruins around their feet, perhaps then the OP will learn that behaving ethically in the first place is always the best policy.

        6. Lady Catherine de Bourgh*

          I don’t think it would look good for the company in court if they said “we fired Shirley because she refused to lie to customers and that’s our policy.” Even if she ultimately lost the lawsuit, that would be a pretty bad PR look.

        7. Wintermute*

          Yes, but, you also have your reputation to consider. If you fire her for this you have no grounds to enforce an NDA, and if I was fired for this, you better believe I’d be going to every place they do business and making their “policy” of lying to customers known. And that’s not just going to customers, I’m talking to payment processors (who are very unhappy when people generate excessive chargebacks they have to eat) and any online storefronts (who usually have policies about fair dealing), maybe even the local business associations (who take a dim view of outright lying to customers), your advertisers, EVERYONE.

          You part ways amicably and you could offer severence-for-NDA and hopefully control the damage somewhat.

          That said I’d also gladly take that money and do it anyway, only more covertly (not publicly just going to storefronts and credit card companies).

        8. justcuriousiguess*

          Mmm… false. In most states (and federally) once an employee establishes a prima facie case for discrimination based on a protected class (spoiler alert- religion is always a protected class) the burden is on the employer to prove a non-discriminatory reason.

          In this case, they wouldn’t seem to have grounds.

          I was fires bc my religion prohibits lying, so when I was ordered to lie to customers, I said I couldn’t.

          No no, she was fired for refusing to comply with company policy

          What company policy?

          The Lie to Customers policy

        9. The Rafters*

          Insubordination would be an easy thing to prove, assuming LWs company doesn’t mind going before any of the powers that be letting them know that she refused to obey a shady, unethical business practice. It may not be illegal, but wouldn’t be a good optic.

        10. TardyTardis*

          However, if the real reason comes out that the employee is being fired for refusing to lie, and it would be more difficult than you think to cover that up, it’s not going to help the business.

      2. doreen*

        I am not a lawyer- but I believe there is an exception to employment at will when the termination is against public policy. It’s not at all clear to me that none of the other 49 states would find that firing an employee would be in violation of public policy.

        1. Wintermute*

          in theory yes, but in practice, this probably wouldn’t rise to that level, there’s no law being broken here most likely, only being scummy.

          1. Eye roll*

            Firing an employee for being unwilling to participate in lying to (and thus defrauding customers via the undisclosed cancellation policy) seems to rise to more than just being “scummy” though. OP is asking for a pile of state AG complaints if their policy ever gets out.

          2. LegallyRed*

            I don’t know, it could be an unfair trade practice. Which might then give rise to a public policy-based wrongful termination claim.

            But also, even if there is no meritorious employment discrimination claim, a business operating on such slim margins probably can’t afford to defend even a non-viable lawsuit.

      3. BabyElephantWalk*

        “Doing it the LW’s way makes it seem intentional that they’re trying to profit off of expected cancellations”

        Yeah. This is one of the things that feels pretty gross to me about this letter. It feels like this policy is exploitative of customers in addition to being all kinds of awful for your staff.

        1. justcuriousiguess*

          No laws being broken: fraud, interstate mail fraud, most states have a consumer protection statute…

          1. Your local password resetter*

            If your best defense of your policy is that you won’t go to prison, then your policy is probably bad.

    3. Koalafied*

      Agree 100%. TBH I tend to assume by default that any orders I place is final unless there’s a big “Free returns!” banner somewhere on the website, I made an obvious mistake like ordering 100 of something instead of 10, or the retailer made an obvious mistake like sending me a damaged or incorrect item that I didn’t order. Every once in a while I’ve reached out to cancel an order that had a long lead time between order and shipping, but it’s always phrased like, “Is it possible to cancel?” not “Cancel my order,” because from my POV when I hit “Purchase” I’m committing in good faith to completing that transaction and I ideally shouldn’t press it if I’m not certain that I’m not going to change my mind.

      1. Indigo a la mode*

        Yeah, when I’m considering buying from any new e-tailer, I always look at their return policy. I totally understand if they have restocking fees/exchange only/no returns. If I consider that too much risk for a product I’m not familiar with, I just won’t buy from them.

        I get that OP wants to avoid turning risk-averse people away, but taking away customers’ agency by lying isn’t the way to prevent that–great size charts, videos of the product in use, or some sort of guarantee would do just as well to convert their customers and maintain much better customer satisfaction.

        1. Florp*

          Exactly! You convert risk-averse people into customers by being open and honest with them, not by being vague and shifty. The internet makes it really easy to show and tell not just your product features, but also your company’s way of doing business. Be honest with the customer about what they are getting into, deliver what you promise, and the customer will give you repeat business.

      2. generic_username*

        Yeah, I would almost never dream of returning an item to a small business, even if I hated it, because I know that will impact the owner more than returning something to a bog box store. But this made my blood boil…. No one likes being lied to.

        1. Journalist Wife*

          Though it sounds like it’s not easily discernible to the vast majority of their customers really what size the business is, due to “the vast majority of our sales [coming] through a popular online marketplace.” So…there’s that.

          1. Wintermute*

            I also bet that “popular online marketplace” has policies of their own against this behavior. So if it comes to light that “vast majority” of sales just disappears. Good luck with that.

        2. Anonymous pineapple*

          I don’t know how small their business really is if it takes 30 minutes every day to answer refund/cancellation request emails from customers.

          1. coffee*

            I am so curious about that too! Plus she already has a canned response to use so why isn’t that saving time??

          2. BC*

            My reading of that was 30 minutes a day of lying to customers about a variety of things, not just the cancellation policy. Which is even worse of course, like you expect your employee to tell 30 minutes of lies every day? Revolting.

            1. Jessi*

              That is how I interpreted that also. Op sees this one job part as the big problem and has another 30 minutes on top of other lies to tell. This business needs investigated.

      3. Ann O'Nemity*

        Eh, I think I expect most retailers (online or brick & mortar) to allow returns unless specified otherwise. If they don’t allow returns, I absolutely expect them to prominently publish their no-return policy. The OP’s lack of transparency would definitely turn me off.

        1. Koalafied*

          I do think there’s a difference between returning something because you had a problem and just canceling an order because you changed your mind. If it’s a mass produced good and either the vendor screwed up the order or the item was damaged, I would of course expect them to allow a return. If it’s something custom, made to order, I’ve used it long enough to look obviously used, or it’s something that can’t be resold once opened (lotions, foods, etc), then I don’t expect to be able to return it at all (even though I know a handful of retailers who are generous enough to refund things like that anyway).

          None of that is to say the policy shouldn’t be specified either way, though! My comment was just in reference to what kinds of policies I expect I would find – meaning that LW shouldn’t worry that a written “no cancelations” policy will turn people off, because having that policy would be completely in line with my normal expectations.

          1. generic_username*

            even though I know a handful of retailers who are generous enough to refund things like that anyway)

            I used to work at a large shoe company, and we had people we called “renters.” The entire family would come once a year and return the shoes they bought the previous year (saying they were “defective”) and buy a new pair. It was WILD that it was totally allowed within our policy, but the thought was that it was cheaper to allow that than risk being known as a place that has poor customer service or won’t allow refunds.

            1. Who Plays Backgammon?*

              This is a notorious problem in electronics stores. My friend worked in a place w/ a 30-day, no-?’s-asked return policy. One customer bought a video player, returned it on the 29th day, got a refund, bought another one, and returned it on the 29th day for refund, then bought another one…she did this for 5 machines and finally they cut her off.

        2. General von Klinkerhoffen*

          In my country we have a statutory right to return from online retailers within a certain period (“distance selling regulations”) with only a few exceptions including customised goods.

          Then there’s my layer of ND which means I would also refuse to lie outright.

          So I find this letter absolutely extraordinary.

          1. münchner kindl*

            If you mean the 14-day “doorstop-regret law” that was extended by court to apply to online-sellers: yes, but sellers, especially small ones, are allowed to charge a restock-fee or similar, to prevent abuse by customers.

            1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

              I think you are only entitled to the list price back, not postage, so companies can protect themselves a bit by charging as much as possible for the postage and having a relatively low list price.

              eg £10 free p&p v £6 + £4 p&p – refunding £10 v £6.

        3. banoffee pie*

          I’ve definitely noticed on some smaller websites ‘no returns’ and while it might put me off, it doesn’t always, and it’s still better than being lied to. Sometimes I buy the product anyway because I know it means the company is new and needs some help

    4. Olivia Mansfield*

      I order things all the time from small online shops, and most of them have a box where you have to check that you have reviewed your order and confirm that everything in it is correct, and that there will be no refunds, cancellation, or exchanges. Being upfront is key; the only way I’d be mad is if they tricked me.

      1. Journalist Wife*

        100% this. I have worked for many years in web marketing and am also a near-100% online consumer at this point (and was already past 75% long before COVID, simply due to my schedule and the demands on my time during local business hours vs. the ability to order anything at any time of day on the internet).

        As such, I’ve encountered innumerable varieties of situations in the last 15+ years when a cancellation/modification of an order was either needed or simply preferred/desired after I’d placed an order, but I’ve never clicked “Place Order” on a site that did not explicitly state a cancellation/return/refund/shipping-contingency policy either somewhere within the checkout process if not already accessible prior to checkout (in the footer area, within site nav menu, etc., accessible throughout the site visit.

        I am DYING to learn what, exactly, this then means (quoting from the OP’s letter): “Our customer service policy is posted on our website…” if it does NOT address cancellation, returns, refunds, or shipping time windows for possibility or no possibility of cancellation. How is this justified, and who is ordering from this shady site? (Unless the bulk of these people are ordering through the “popular online marketplace” I think we are all similarly guessing at, and the owner is operating off the assumption that trust in standard practices for this site are extended to his/her marketplace items, because they have NOT stated otherwise within their cross-posted info on said larger site).

        And finally, how on earth is OP getting away with lying about shipping dates for things unless either:
        1.) somehow there is a huge set of people out there not expecting notice of tracking information and source when shipping is initiated, or
        (2.) Deliberately gaming that system by doing the “shipping label created” stage on the day the cancellation is requested, but choosing an actual requested pickup date on their shipper’s website that is further out than next-available, so it will look like OP’s company dutifully expedited this shipment just as the cancellation request came in but simultaneously still buying extra time/days before said product actually physically ships?

        I’m trying so very hard to wrap my brain around all of these things, and I definitely don’t want to be the one who triggers the “don’t pile on the OP” message from Alison (though my many questions above probably could by themselves, I realize). But I’m just…wanting more information from OP so I don’t have to think of their company as the willfully shady outfit I’m inclined to after reading/rereading their whole letter?

        1. Pibble*

          And number 2 doesn’t work nearly as well these days, now that the shipping companies and online marketplaces have gotten wise to it – I’ve noticed many tracking numbers and even shipping notification emails that used to say “your item has shipped!” are now saying “shipping label created, shipping company awaiting item” to prevent those exact shenanigans. Like you, I’m wondering how on earth this policy doesn’t create more problems than it solves!

        2. münchner kindl*

          “(Unless the bulk of these people are ordering through the “popular online marketplace” I think we are all similarly guessing at, and the owner is operating off the assumption that trust in standard practices for this site are extended to his/her marketplace items, because they have NOT stated otherwise within their cross-posted info on said larger site).”

          Which I expect will hurt OP once customers complain to popular online marketplace, and they shut down OP’s sales.

    5. ThatGirl*

      I worked for a fairly well-known company that didn’t accept cancellations on its webstore orders, because the warehouse we worked with moved pretty quickly to pack and ship and it would have screwed everything up. But we also stated it up front on the website, along with our refund policy!

    6. NeutralJanet*

      Right, I don’t understand why OP feels that they have to explain this policy to customers? I get the idea that she might not to publicize that the business has a tight profit margin and doesn’t want to cancel orders for that reason (though I don’t think that’s a big deal either), but why not just say upfront, “All sales are final and we do not offer cancellations or refunds under any circumstances,” and then respond to any customers requesting to cancel their orders with, “Unfortunately, we are unable to cancel orders after they have been placed,” and not explain any further?

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        There’s probably a way to phrase it along the lines of “in order to offer our customers the best possible prices, we do not accept cancellations”. Most companies that do accept ‘no fault’ returns have correspondingly higher prices to accommodate the admin and wastage.

    7. Abated*

      OP is scamming people to keep their sales. This is so wrong. Lying that the order has shipped? Great, give me the tracking number. I wonder what the policy is on that.

      1. Momma Bear*

        That whole “you can get it (re) shipped or forfeit your order” thing…really? Their choices are to take a thing they didn’t want or accept nothing but either way OP is keeping the $$? Wow.

        1. Journalist Wife*

          This bit was what almost certainly tipped me into believing that whatever ware(s) OP is selling are maybe custom or otherwise produced-on-demand and maybe they don’t keep much of any ready-to-sell inventory on hand at a given time.
          Of course, if that IS the case, I’d think it almost certainly has to be primarily fairly-low-priced merchandise being customized/created/sold, because there is generally a fairly reasonable threshold price-point or range within online commerce, beyond which the vast majority of internet consumers pause and seek out official cancellation/refund policy verbiage for their records PRIOR to spending significant amounts with a small, unrecognized private seller/storefront.
          How often is this happening? And what is their stock answer when inevitably there ARE prospective customers reaching out to clarify these policies prior to completing checkout?

        2. Kate R*

          This part gave me pause too and was the part that made me think, like Abated, OP is trying to scam people out of money. If the customer never received the order, it likely got lost either in the mail or by the seller to no fault of the customer, so the choices should be resend, assuming the customer still wants the product, or refund, on the chance the order was a gift or something needed by a certain date that has now passed. I do a lot of online shopping, and I have NEVER had a company charge me for a product not delivered (at least not intentionally). On top of that, OP is complaining about spending so much time proofreading emails to customers when it seems like simply posting a no cancellation policy on the website would cut down on many of those giving them back that time.

          It also struck me that a small business is receiving so many cancellations per day that it’s eating up that much time, though from the phrasing, these customer emails could be regarding something else where the employee is still expected to lie. If so many customers per day are contacting the business about cancellations or other inquiries, then revisiting the customer service policy and laying it out more explicitly on the website really seems like it would be a benefit to OP and their employees. I don’t understand the reluctance to do this unless OP feels if customers better understood their policies, they would not order from them, which seems kind of shady.

          1. Journalist Wife*

            Right? Whatever the primary theme of the majority of these email responses addresses–whether overwhelmingly about this particular untruth (saying things have shipped before they technically have to get out of canceled orders)–or whether the daily emails are peppered with a wider range, like half a dozen, common themes that the employee won’t verbally lie or be deceitful about, there is either a HUGE issue with cancellations, or the company is fibbing about LOTS of topics to their customers.

            Plus, given that OP said they have already created boilerplate answers for common email issues, albeit with employee insisting that of those predrafted responses, the subset that are dishonest still be must dropped in & sent under OP’s identity and name, that’s already become an expedited process. For canned response topics, even when tailored slightly to fit individuals, an average email would take less than a minute or two even if OP is reading closely to ensure the prewritten response fits the query.

            So…the big question is, how MANY of these emails are coming in PER DAY that *just* the ones that must be responded to with lies instead of truth (using largely prefabricated/boilerplate responses, at that) still necessitate a full 30 minutes’ worth, DAILY, of hassle for the OP?

            Something is rotten in the state of OP.

          2. DoggoMom*

            The no refund policy if the item does not arrive feels extra questionable when thinking about the possibility of the company creating shipping labels immediately so they reflect dates in line with what they’re telling customers. From a consumer standpoint, your order can be showing no movement and seem lost, and the company is telling to either wait for an item to arrive or forfeit your money. What kind of reviews does this company have?!?

        3. SM*

          I took that part to mean that a customer can’t ever cancel but if it gets lost in the post OP is willing to ship a new one. So there’s no way to ever get your money back (even if the item didn’t arrive on time), but OP will make sure that you get what you paid for. Which is a policy I’m fine with for some goods but not others, so I’d really prefer to know upfront if I were buying something from OP.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            But if the customer forfeits the order, they should get their money back. If a business said “We will reship or you may forfeit without a refund,” I’d run like the wind. I’m not giving someone my money for NOTHING.

            If they lie about it, that is scammy as hell.

        4. They Called Me....Skeletor*

          Yeah, I wonder what the FTC would have to say about that. Pretty sure the UCC kicks in for OP’s products.

          1. L.H. Puttgrass*

            I suspect the FTC would be more interested in the part where the company lies to customers about whether their products have shipped as part of a secret policy never to give refunds. That seems like a pretty obvious deceptive trade practice.

            Whether the FTC (or a state AG) would have the time an interest to go after a small company like the OP’s is another matter, of course. But if your best hope is, “We’re probably too small for the FTC to punish,” you’re up to some shady stuff.

            1. It’s Squirtles All The Way Down*

              The state AG investigates all complaints. Source: Several family members who own small businesses and have had to answer investigation letters from their state AG. All the complaints were closed on responses ranging from “here’s our terms” to “the used washing machine we sold Albert works when Albert uses it but doesn’t work when his new lady friend uses it because she keeps putting three loads of clothes in it at one time, which we know because here’s the FIVE dates we’ve gone to the senior home to investigate claims that it’s broken, all of which were well after our 30-day warranty period”, but they were ALL investigated.

    8. Anonys*

      Yes, I swear cancellations are more the exception than the norm, even for bigger retailers? I think sometimes it can be quite hard for them to stop the order, even if it hasn’t technically been shipped yet, because their own packaging, etc hasn’t started yet and they would have locate your specific parcel on the way to the shipping company which is a hassle.

      The other day, I did call a niche clothing retailer almost immediately after ordering because I had accidentially selected the wrong size and they were nice enough to interfere and change the order for me. But this was understood on both sides to be them going out of their way and it would have been my mistake if it wasn’t possible at this point.

      To be fair in the EU, with online orders we do have the right to withdraw from the sales contract within 14 days of returning the order. So it’s always possible to get a refund (except for shipping) if you change your mind, but the order will usually be shipped to you, even if you try to cancel quite soon after ordering.

      1. Anonys*

        I am concerned though that OP has to spend 30 minutes a day dealing with only this employee’s emails? are these all cancellations emails only (in which case the number daily cancellations for a small business seems quite high)?

        The OP does mention “Her committment to exclusive truth-telling extends beyond these scenarios” – unless the company has other shady policies, I can see how someone who takes “truth” very literally could refuse to also engage in some normal business communication pleasantries (“I hope this email finds you well” – “I am actually feeling very down today and don’t want to be working”). I agree in this case the unethical policy is the problem but if the employee is very rigid about “absolute truth only”, she could be a problem as well. I wonder in that scenario, how valid/enforcable a religious exemption would be?

        1. Journalist Wife*

          I think if they were being THAT candid about everything as a matter of established social behavior, their honesty would’ve interfered in ways that could prompt termination far before the actual topic of religious exemption had time to surface. I like your specific point/question, because it kind of quietly supports the idea that the employee here (and his/her non-negotiable moral compass) is further on the correct side of things than the business by virtue of the fact that candor of the level you’ve referenced (“I am actually feeling very down today and don’t want to be working,” etc…) would’ve tripped huge flags during the first days of employment, as that level of frankness surpasses the “honesty” point and veers almost immediately into “TMI” territory and would’ve been corrected/noticed right out of the gate while employee was still within the initial training/supervision of outgoing communications phase. At least that’s how it seems to me. For this to have weighed on their soul enough to straight-up refuse to attach pre-written, boilerplate responses to these (alarmingly frequent/daily) email queries, they’ve probably been thinking this over for long enough to pick up on the nuances of what’s going on behind closed doors at the company. I believe most folks give a brand-new job/company/employer/workplace culture the benefit of the doubt about processes and good-faith practices for a decent while upon starting there, as more nuance always becomes clearer after having worked somewhere a little while, yes?

          1. Journalist Wife*

            (Not to mention that the OP surely would have used THAT as the overarching and detailed example of their problematic dedication to truthfulness, because it’s clear from OP’s letter and how much defense they’ve provided concerning their method of doing business that they know they risk coming off sounding bad unless they can justify it. If there were a case to be made by OP of other problematic examples of the employee’s dutiful honesty, like being “unwilling to cooperate in normal business communication pleasantries” as you said, at least without filtering out unnecessary/non-positive/uncomfortable/unpleasant exposition for the sake of full earnestness, it seems like they’d have led with or included/focused on examples of THAT nature before addressing this far more dodgy-sounding situation.

        2. SM*

          I try not to lie during business pleasantries – but there are may ways to do it that don’t need 30 minute re-writes. If ‘Fine thanks’ feels like lying then ‘Not too bad’ is a truthful phatic equivalent. So long as I mentally define ‘too bad’ as being ‘bad enough that I wouldn’t be here having this conversation’ then I’m set. Or you can ignore the question with a ‘Thanks! I hope you are well also.’ Which is not to say the employee couldn’t be a truthful over-sharer, but just to point out that they might be one without the other.

    9. Some dude*

      I order a lot online and participate in some reddit hobby threads. People will sometimes complain if a retailer has a no-cancellation policy, and maybe choose not to use them again, but they will get super angry if the vendor says they have a cancellation policy but gives them the runaround. In the former case, the customer just didn’t pay attention to the numerous warnings that this was final. In the latter, the customer not only had the expectation that they could return stuff, but then wasted a bunch of their time trying to cancel the order and not being able to. They will let everyone on twitter/reddit/hobby forums know! Be transparent! You don’t have to say, “we make so little money that we can’t do cancellations” but do say “we are unable to accept cancellations except in the case of fraud.”

    10. Gothic Bee*

      I worked customer service for a long while and with fast shipping being the expectation nowadays, no order cancellations is an incredibly common policy. I usually see policies like this explained with something like: we make every effort to ship items as soon as possible, so we can’t cancel your order, etc.

      And changing the policy will increase the confidence of your employees because most people don’t like flat out lying to customers. Plus I can imagine this is an entire can of worms waiting to be opened. I mean, what if a customer asks if their order has shipped, the employee says “Not yet” and then they ask to cancel the order? Or are you just lying to everyone who asks if their order has shipped already regardless of whether they want to cancel the order or not? And if you are, are you providing tracking info ahead of time? Or are you still waiting to send out tracking info once the order actually ships? And I’m assuming your customers can’t check their order status online, because if they can and they see it’s still in processing when you said it shipped, that’s not good either. You end up either looking incompetent or dishonest.

    11. Public Sector Manager*

      I had a similar issue. I ordered from a vendor who was making a transition from a small company to a larger one and they were having a problem meeting demand. They had a “no cancellations” policy once they started processing. When I ordered, they immediately created a shipping label and I got an email alert from the shipping company that a shipping label had been created, so that “processing” started immediately. I had ordered rush shipping as well and gladly paid the price.

      And there my order sat for 4 weeks. Every time I called I was told that it was being processed and that there were no refunds. By the time I got my package, it was very easy to go back and see that the vendor had only delivered my package to the shipping company a couple of days before.

      I never bought from them again. I tell all my friends don’t buy from them. And I deliberately went out to their biggest competitor and bought from them. No games at all. I’m very sympathetic to small companies. My parents had one for years. It’s a tough business. But just be honest with your customers. Had they said, “no cancellations, but it will take 4-5 weeks to get your order,” I could have decided at the time of purchase whether it was worth the wait.

        1. Amaranth*

          Actually, in many cases companies only count shipping time starting when the order is pulled from inventory and actually gets to the shipping department.

    12. lostclone*

      There are some places where it’s legally required for an online seller to accept cancellations & refunds – making no assumptions about LW, obviously.

    13. unsatisfied customer #123*

      I think I have dealt with this company. Their website says orders are shipped within 5 business days. When I had no shipping info at calendar day 12 I tried to reach the company but couldn’t get a reply until I put negative comments on their advertisements. They kept saying my order will be processed “imminently”. I asked to cancel and they refused as it was shipping “imminently”. I gave up and disputed the charge on my credit card. That really pissed them off and retaliated by shipping the product. I notified USPS that the package was refused and should be returned to sender. It never made it to my door. This had to have created a ton of back office work when they could have just said…we can’t ship according to our stated policy and we will cancel your order.

      1. brunhilde*

        Possibly me too. Same thing: “we’re shipping immediately!” Order sits around for a month. I call credit card company to dispute and then get product three days later. You bet I’ve told everyone not to buy from this company. If OP’s company just said: you can’t cancel after you’ve ordered and we don’t refund unless the product is actively on fire when it’s delivered, no problem! But the lying and blaming the employee for not lying? Oof. Bad news.

    14. Allura Vysoren*

      I’m confused, because in my mind it’s standard practice for companies to provide tracking information when an order ships. Wouldn’t that show that the order shipped AFTER they said it did? If this is happening as often as it sounds like it is, how has no one noticed?

      1. Reluctant Manager*

        You can create a shipping label for an order that hasn’t even gotten near a package yet–it can be “when this gets to the post office, here’s the tracking number it will have.” It’s pretty commonly integrated into the e-commerce software.

        1. BC*

          True, but if the customer then uses the tracking number to track the package they will know it hasn’t been received by the shipper yet…. unless the company subsequently makes a concerted effort to make sure every package that this applies to gets shipped that day, this seems like a policy doomed to failure. Unless, of course, they don’t provide tracking numbers at all. Maybe those emails are some of the other lying emails OP has to edit. Responding to every request for a tracking number with some story about why they don’t give them.

    15. Siege*

      It makes me slightly crazy that Torrid has messaging on their checkout confirmation that you can’t cancel because your order is so important that they’re already working on it and then it doesn’t ship for a week, but it never once occurred to me to say “what I really want here is to not be told I can’t alter or change the order, merely held to that standard, with lies if possible.”

      1. Andie Begins*

        I have been reading all of these comments thinking about Torrid’s no cancelation policy too! Especially funny right now when they also have the “due to high volume orders are taking longer to process” banner at the top of every page.

        Anyway, OP, if Torrid can have a no cancelations policy, people will understand if you do, too. You really don’t have to lie about it! It’s really normal!

  2. anonymous73*

    I don’t have any religious beliefs that would prevent me from lying, but I wouldn’t do it either. If you can’t change your cancellation policy, then I agree with Alison. Make sure that your policies are stated clearly and up front. If I found out about your policy to lie to customers, that would guarantee that I would never use your shop again and I would encourage everyone else I knew to do the same.

    1. Zona the Great*

      I don’t know the employee, obviously, but I wonder if this isn’t something she’s leaning on because any other excuse, like simple integrity, wouldn’t be enough for the OP. I am also not religious but I don’t lie because it damages my soul.

      1. Wendy Darling*

        Yep, I don’t have any religious beliefs period but I wouldn’t lie for my employer about something like this. The problem here isn’t the employee not being willing to lie, the problem is that your policy is both morally dubious AND crappy policy.

        I actually lie all the time when I think it won’t hurt anyone and will make everyone’s life easier, or when I feel like I need to lie to keep myself safe. I used to be a research moderator and lied to participants all the time if I needed to get them out of the room (usually either because they weren’t willing or able to complete the task, or because they were making me feel unsafe). I just told them either that they’d done a great job and finished early, or that I was having technical difficulties and needed to end the session so I could fix my equipment. They still got paid so it didn’t make a difference to them, and it got them out of my room without embarrassment/conflict.

        But this is lying to customers about something that directly impacts them to hide the fact that you have an unforgiving policy that is detrimental to them, and that might have made them choose to shop elsewhere if they knew about it. Which is super bogus.

        1. BubbleTea*

          I once made a mistake (overlooked an email enquiry for several months) and had to call the sender to apologise and see if they still needed our service. My colleagues encouraged me to tell a white lie to save face (not because dishonesty was company policy but because they would be embarrassed in my position, I think) but instead I just candidly admitted I had overlooked the email without any good reason and apologised. I couldn’t comfortably do anything else.

          1. kitryan*

            I have twice had small businesses I’ve ordered from tell me, with sincere apologies, that the package fell behind a filing cabinet/got overlooked when going to the post office and this was fine with me, as I have more respect for honest human error, honestly admitted to, than utter bs.

        2. Amtelope*

          Yeah, we sometimes massage the truth in an effort to deal tactfully with clients. But no one gets hurt if we say “it’s impossible to fill a chocolate teapot with boiling water” rather than the much longer and less likely to succeed explanation of “yes, technically we could do that, but you wouldn’t like the inevitable consequences.” Or if I say “I’ll have to ask the project manager whether making the teapots out of jam would be within the project scope” rather than “I’ll tell the project manager that you asked for this absurd thing, and then tell you that he said we can’t do it, so that you don’t feel like the inconvenient fact that teapots can’t realistically be made out of jam is my fault.”

          But if we lied and said that products had been shipped when they hadn’t been, we’d get sued, and we’d deserve to get sued.

          1. MissBaudelaire*


            I will 100 percent tell providers I work for “I’m not sure about our policy on that, let me check with my manager and get back to you.” instead of “You’re asking people to be psychic, and we don’t provide that.” or something. I would not ever tell them “Wow, no, I’m not even asking that.”

      2. kitryan*

        Yeah, I wouldn’t be comfortable with this either, and not for religious reasons. When I worked at a shipping store (Mailboxes Etc) we were told to ‘push’ 3 day shipping. I did this by listing the price options and talking up the (actual) benefits of 3 day versus the other choices, as did two of my co workers. Then the customer would pick what they wanted and we’d enter it. However one co worker would just quote the 3 day price, implying it was the starting rate and basically not acknowledge ground was an option unless ground shipping was specifically requested. That was too shady for me.
        I also don’t quite understand why the OP can’t just have a truthful policy. As others are saying, it wouldn’t be uncommon to not allow cancellations for a small business and it’s just better to be up front about things, then no one has to lie.

        1. NGO wench*

          Ugh, that’s awful that your former co-workers did that. That could potentially get a customer into trouble too. I ship packages frequently for work, and because I work at a nonprofit, I have to pick the basic option. (I’m allowed to do expedited shipping if I have documentation that it’s necessary, but that’s infrequent.) If I were shipping a package and they quoted me just one price, I would assume that was the basic shipping cost. But then presumably my receipt would show 3-day shipping, which would mean accounting at my company would (rightfully) ream me out when I submitted my receipts, because it would look like I intentionally upgraded my shipping.

      3. So they all rolled over and one fell out*

        If the employee didn’t have the excuse of their religion, they would have already been fired (and we would have never heard about it because the LW wouldn’t have W’n the L).

      4. Student*

        Just a point of order:

        You can still have a religious belief without believing in a god or other higher power. There’s no pre-requisite that says the only legitimate morals are dictated by a god, written on tablets or scrolls hundreds or thousands of years ago.

        Atheists, agnostics, and other types of non-believers are entitled to have religious beliefs, and to have those religious beliefs protected by law in the US. It can be a moral code, a belief backed by logic and facts, or a belief with no backing at all that you follow consistently or try to live up to.

        If lying damages your soul, that sure sounds exactly like a religious belief to me.

      5. Anna*

        As someone raised in the faith, but not currently practicing, I’m guessing the employee is Quaker, since lying is right up there with violence in terms of top sins. Maintaining a single standard of truth is one of the main tenets.

    2. Margaret*

      Its not my religious beliefs that would keep me from lying but the fact that i am a terrible liar. I like tge advive given to chsnfe their policy.

    3. Liz*

      Same here. Honestly, its a pretty crappy policy. not the final sale no returns, but the lying to customers about it! If i were a customer, and was told this, and later found out i was lied to, i would NOT be happy and probably blast them all over social media. I can accept policies I’m TOLD about, but not ones that are sneaky and hidden.

      1. Le Sigh*

        Right, and if this employee gets fired or let go, they might choose to publicize it on social media! Even if the employee wasn’t citing religious reasons, plenty of non-religious people might choose to expose that to others if they were feeling like they got canned for not duping customers. And that would be a much bigger mess.

        1. tangerineRose*

          Plus, who knows when an ex-employee will decide to talk about it online and let everyone know? This is a ticking time bomb.

    4. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      My religious beliefs don’t prohibit me from lying, I just find that lying to clients/customers/end users etc is always a bad idea in the long run.

      I’ve had to train enough techies OUT of the habit (from previous companies) of saying the problem is on the client end when in fact it’s an error on our side. Just tell them what effed up, what we’re doing to fix it and an eta if we have one.

      Telling them to go reboot every PC in their office is just bad tech support.

      1. Le Sigh*

        And a lot of people can tell when tech support (or just customer service in general) is feeding you lines. Sometimes it really is customer error, but for when the company is at fault, train folks to use diplomatic language to clarify that and offer up a solution. I really resent being made to feel like something is my fault when I know it isn’t — and I’m much more likely to stay calm and collected if I feel like I’m being listened to and helped. I wish more companies would realize that.

        1. NeutralJanet*

          My pet peeve is when the representative just tells me, “I understand how you feel,” without taking any steps to fix the problem or apologize when it’s the company at fault. I guess that some companies do train their customer service reps to “make the customer feel heard” or whatever, so it’s not the rep’s fault, but I just want to scream that I do not care if you understand how I feel, just fix the problem or even say that you can’t!

          1. Lucy Skywalker*

            Ugh, that happened to me once. The customer service person I spoke to refused to give me the specific service I asked for, and insisted on solving the problem in another way; despite me explaining that I had already tried to solve the problem the way she suggested, and it hadn’t worked. Then she said, “I’m just trying to make you happy!” I told her that the way to make me happy was to give me the service I requested. Then she finally explained that she gets paid by the number of people who she helps via the way she kept insisting on; and that the service that I wanted would be handled by another department. Instead of transferring me to that department, she only cared about her own paycheck rather than my problem with her company’s product. I finally lost my patience and said, “You are customer service! I am a customer and it is your job to give me the service that I need.” I also told her that she was very lucky that her company’s competitor charged more than I could afford, otherwise I would switch to them in a minute! She finally gave in and transferred me to the appropriate department, but it was absolutely the worst customer service I’ve ever had!

            1. Your local password resetter*

              Honestly, I sympathize with that customer service person and would entirely blame her management for that. They made her choose between her paycheck and doing her job well. And CS doesn’t exactly pay much to begin with.

          2. Jane Eyre*

            Ugh, that happened to me once. The customer service person I spoke to refused to give me the specific service I asked for, and insisted on solving the problem in another way; despite me explaining that I had already tried to solve the problem the way she suggested, and it hadn’t worked. Then she said, “I’m just trying to make you happy!” I told her that the way to make me happy was to give me the service I requested. Then she finally explained that she gets paid by the number of people who she helps via the way she kept insisting on; and that the service that I wanted would be handled by another department. Instead of transferring me to that department, she only cared about her own paycheck rather than my problem with her company’s product. I finally lost my patience and said, “You are customer service! I am a customer and it is your job to give me the service that I need.” I also told her that she was very lucky that her company’s competitor charged more than I could afford, otherwise I would switch to them in a minute! She finally gave in and transferred me to the appropriate department, but it was absolutely the worst customer service I’ve ever had!

            1. Jane Eyre*

              Sorry for the double post. It appeared that it wasn’t being submitted when I first posted it, so I tried posting it under another name.

          3. anonymous73*

            I briefly worked at Comcast on their internet help desk. We were in training for 6 weeks and most of the that time they focused on how to kiss customer ass instead of how to diagnose and fix problems. And my first week on the phones was right after a major hurricane had hit the area. Thankfully I was able to interview for a job in my chosen profession and leave soon after.

            1. Le Sigh*

              As a former comcast customer, that must have been rough. It was maddening enough to be a customer and I can’t even imagine actually having to do the work.

              1. tangerineRose*

                My worst experiences with customer service at Comcast has been on the weekends. I try now to only call during the week.

                I almost switched to another service, chickened out, but then it took 3 phone calls to get it properly cancelled. At which point, Comcast started looking a little better.

              2. MissBaudelaire*

                Right, that tidbit of information certainly puts a lot into perspective.

                I remember wanting to slam my head into my desk when asking Comcast customer service a question and getting a non answer. “Can I help you with anything else?”

                YES. ANSWER MY QUESTION. If it is no, I don’t care, I just need to know.

            2. tangerineRose*

              When I had an issue with getting my new computer online, I had a couple of calls with people who were incredibly frustrating. If you ask me to do something, and I say “Why?”, that means I’d like to know why. I’m OK if you don’t know why, but at least respond. Don’t apologize (why would an apology be needed) and then a couple of minutes later ask me to do the thing again. I’m not a child. You can tell me “I have to ask you to do this.” or “This frequently fixes the problem.” Just don’t act like I will forget that you asked me to do this.

              I didn’t mind doing the thing, I didn’t mind not knowing why I should. I minded that the person acted like I wasn’t smart enough to remember that I’d asked about it before.

            3. Elizabeth West*

              There was an old blog called Consumerist that had a Golden Poo award for the Worst Company in America. Comcast won, I think more than once. They received an actual physical award shaped like a gilded pile of poo.

              Do not even get me started about Spectrum. Saturday Night Live aired a sketch when Kieran Culkin was on a couple of weeks ago called “Canceling Cable.” I posted it to my sister because we both went through that exact hell trying to get my mom’s account issues sorted after they snowed her with promotions and didn’t tell her she would lose her favorite channels. She is under strict orders not to change anything because we are NOT doing that again.

        2. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

          That’s also a reason I promote honesty in my staff: the number of clients who get massively irate when you’re truthful is lower than if you’re feeding them bovine excrement.

          Although, I’m the one the call gets passed to when they’re really hacked off so I’m kinda looking after myself here. (My team is 2nd and 3rd line support, not first. But helpdesk don’t use scripts and are honest too)

          1. Le Sigh*

            Honestly, thank you for doing this! I’m always polite to CSRs because it’s not fair or right to take frustrations out on people who are just doing their jobs and usually don’t make the rules. But it’s so much less stressful when someone just acknowledges reality and has some options to help (even if that help is talking to their manager). Much better than the time I was told I should be “grateful” for the price I was getting — I was getting that price because they’d messed up my order so badly it was a concession!

      2. quill*

        I don’t really have religious beliefs, but I do believe in giving people accurate information when they’re entitled to it… such as when they’ve already paid for an item!

        I will lie outrageously to nosy questions but I won’t stand for a policy of lying for an employer.

      3. Not a cat*

        Ouch, it’s true though. My favorite is the V-level head of development who can’t even conceive that HIS software release is full ‘o bugs. I’ve mostly worked vendor-side, so I write the “we are really sorry for screwing up, and here is what we are doing to fix it.” email

      4. SM*

        This is an EXCELLENT policy. I always contact tech support ready to be polite, because I know they haven’t caused my issue on purpose. If they’re polite back then we will have a positive interaction – even if the result is ‘We can’t fix this’. If they blame me for the problem then I will switch from bubbly and friendly to firm and serious fast enough to give them whiplash.

        When I receive an honest ‘Yeah we accidentally reallocated some of your drive space, I’ll fix it as soon as I’ve had my lunch.’ I will be nice as pie and willing to wait. If I receive ‘It’s nothing on our end. Is your Ethernet cable plugged in?’ then I’m going to make myself a pain until it’s fixed.

        Our current tech guys are honest and so I am patient and friendly.

    5. Rayray*

      Agree. I think a lot of people would take issue with this, religious or not. I am religious but that’s only part of who I am. I absolutely hate being lied to and have been burned so many times that I have a super strict no lying policy for myself. Sure, maybe little tiny lies because sometimes it’s helpful but I do whatever I can to be honest. Lies will build and dig you a huge hole if you’re not careful. It may be best to change this policy not only for the company’s integrity but also because it can easily lead to bigger problems eventually.

    6. MK*

      Frankly, (if I didn’t live in the EU) I would never use the shop (and tell everyone I know about it) if I found out they had a secret no cancelation policy. The OP says their customer service policy is listed in their website, but the listing is actually misleading. If I asked to cancel and was pointed to the policy that clearly stated no cancelations, ok, my mistake. If I was told of the policy and pointed to a website that omitted this information, I would be seriously peeved.

    7. Here we go again*

      I hate lying. I worked at place that was about to go bankrupt and if corporate found out I told the truth to turn away a sale I would’ve been fired on the spot. I did anyway because I would’ve been wasting everyone’s time and holding up the guests money on product that there was no way to get to him and he wouldn’t have been able to get a refund. I have no regrets. I had an interview an hour later for my current job. I told the person who interviewed me what happened and I think I got my job because of my honesty.
      Your employee is probably looking for a new job because of the misleading policy you have. I did when I was in your employees shoes.
      Plus all sales final on your website would mean less work for you to review your employees emails because she could just say the company policy is all sales are final. It’s the simplest solution to your problem. Firing someone because they are honest is a really poor decision.

    8. TiffIf*

      There are two businesses that straight up lied to me that I have never ever patronized again even when it would have been more convenient. I can handle being told “No” but do not for any reason LIE TO ME.

      I once produced evidence of the falsehood and asked why they stated something that was not true. I was told by the service representative “We want you to have a pleasant experience.” I replied “Being lied to is not a pleasant experience.”

      1. Cthulhu's Librarian*


        Also, lying to me often makes it seem like you think I am stupid, and won’t figure it out. You might be right (probably are), but if I figure out that you hold me in that much contempt, I am going to make it my mission to damage your business however I can. Because while you didn’t think it was personal, my lizardbrain absolutely believes it is.

        1. tangerineRose*

          “Being lied to is not a pleasant experience.” “lying to me often makes it seem like you think I am stupid, and won’t figure it out.” Both of these!

          There’s a tire store I will never go to again because of the way the salesman tried to push the high-end tires. I’m sure he was lying to me, and it just made me feel icky.

      2. MissBaudelaire*

        My daughter’s daycare forgot to do the paperwork correctly and enroll her for Fridays. So we were sending her on Fridays, they were accepting her, everything was fine. My bills were a little on the low side, but I thought it was because she was on the cusp of changing classifications (toddler to preschooler), and they’d put me in the cheaper range.

        They called me one Friday going “Why is she here?” Because… that’s what we scheduled. “No, you didn’t.” Yes, I did. “Well she’s never been here on Friday before.” Yes, she has. For two weeks now. “Well, your paperwork doesn’t say that!” Yes, it does, I’m looking at it. “Well, we haven’t been billing you right! I have no idea how this could have happened unless someone didn’t take her attendance correctly, which NEVER happens!”

        Spoiler; it happened a lot.

        I wasn’t mad that a mistake happened. That was totally fine! I wasn’t mad that my rate was going to go up to what it should have been all along. Also fine! What I wasn’t fine with was them pretending I didn’t know where I had taken my own kid every day.

    9. tangerineRose*

      The way I think about it, there are different kinds of lies. There’s the polite lies “OK” in reply to “How are you”, or “Your hair looks nice” when asked. The stuff you say to avoid offending people kind of lies.

      Then there is this kind of lie. This isn’t OK. I think the LW is going to lose business because of this.

  3. Calliope*

    I don’t even understand how this works – do you not give them tracking numbers that will clearly show this is a lie?

    1. LouLou*

      This was my first thought too! I order a lot of stuff from small sellers and all of them send an email as soon as the item ships. I’d find it sloppy and strange if someone told me over email that my order had shipped, but there was no tracking.

      1. I'm just here for the cats!*

        The only thing I can think of where you wouldn’t have a tracking number is in that weird in-between time where it’s waiting to be picked up by the shipping company. Also, a lot of small online businesses don’t provide tracking numbers. They might have it on their end but it’s not available to the customer

        1. Omnivalent*

          But the business still gets a number from the shipper. And since the business has it, they can make it available to the customer if asked.

        2. Lady_Lessa*

          Sometimes tracking numbers are generated before an item is shipped. It’s in shipping, all ready to go, but is waiting to be picked up.

          GRIN that actually happened to something I was returning (at work) for warranty repair.

        3. Richard Barrell*

          Slightly tangential because this isn’t universal, but: one package delivery companies I’ve worked with will allocate and give you the tracking number as you as you tell them that you intend to ship a parcel, way before picking it up.

          1. Siege*

            I’ve had that as a near-universal experience with USPS, UPS, FedEx, and that Shop app – you get the tracking info before anything actually ships, the seller has just notified the shipper (or the app) that they’re sending something to you. It’s not my favorite.

        4. iliketoknit*

          Pretty much every small online business I’ve shopped from provides tracking numbers these days (I do a LOT of small business online shopping). The only exception is sometimes when it’s crossing international boundaries (I’m in the US and am expecting a package today from Ireland that I have a tracking number for, but I often don’t get numbers from the UK because tracking costs extra). In part, shipping has been such a disaster since COVID that businesses have tended to switch to tracked shipping wherever possible. (Also, in the US you can sign up for informed delivery that shows you when a package is coming to your address even if it’s not priority or express mail or such.)

        5. So they all rolled over and one fell out*

          I’ve had a lot of orders where they generated a tracking number (and maybe printed the shipping label) well before they actually sent it out.

        6. Aggretsuko*

          The vendor we have to use at work for mail doesn’t provide tracking numbers and it’s a huuuuuuuuge problem.

      2. rubble*

        not all levels of shipping generate a tracking number – if what they’re selling can be shipped in an envelope they would have to raise the shipping price to get a tracking number, and they may not want to do that.

        often when I buy something online I’m given the option to pay more and get a tracking number, or pay less and just hope it arrives. they may operate a similar system.

      1. Caramel & Cheddar*

        I hate that. “Shipping label created” is not the same as shipped! I don’t mind there being a delay the between the two, I just hate that I get a notification that something has shipped before it gets to the shipping place.

        1. JustA___*

          I had this happen for a missing part. They sent the number a few times and I kept checking it ans responding “‘label created’ is not the same as shipped. please ship my part instead of lying about having shipped it!” (I was more cordial, of course)

        2. pancakes*

          I don’t mind it much. Sometimes there’s a box to tick when you pay about whether you want automatic updates or not. I’d rather have them than not.

      2. generic_username*

        I don’t think it’s always done to “buy time.” Sometimes it’s because they’ve packed it and created the label (which is the process that sends your notification), and put it somewhere for pickup and then it waits for the delivery service to get it. I occasionally create labels on FedEx as part of my job and you can pick when email notifications are sent (creation, pick up, delivery, or every step). I choose a delivery notification for what I do (which isn’t shipping retail goods), but I can see why you might pick creation so that the tracking number is linked to the customer

        1. Koalafied*

          This. In most cases when you get those “label created” notifications, it’s being automated by order fulfillment software that is managing the logistics of aggregating orders, submitting them to the warehouse, purchasing the shipping labels for the warehouse to use, and then emailing the purchaser with the tracking number. This kind of software doesn’t usually have a “delay notifying customer until shipper takes custody of package” option – and tbh, as a customer I find it helpful to be given the tracking number even before the item has reached the shipping carrier, because “this item has not entered the mailstream yet” is still useful information if I’m trying to gauge when to expect something.

          1. Meep*

            Removed this and the exchange that followed. You’re being very aggressive with people here; please take it down a notch. – Alison

        2. münchner kindl*

          However, the customer can (now, with big shipping companies) see the date the label was created, and the date the parcel was actually picked up -if it’s less than 2 days, ok, fits the described process.

          More than a week? Company obviously is lying.

      3. Gothic Bee*

        Yup. I’ve known a few companies that do this (mostly for custom items that are delayed for some reason) and it’s really obvious and the customers talk about it. Of course if the OP’s company is relatively quick at shipping things out anyway, it’s probably not obvious (like if they send the tracking but it doesn’t ship until the next day), but if there’s ever a point where there is a significant delay in processing time, it’s going to cause problems.

    2. Koalafied*

      I’m also curious about this part: “Our customer service policy is posted on our website, but does not explicitly mention that we do not accept cancellations or offer refunds.”

      What exactly does the customer service policy say, then?

      1. pancakes*

        Same. Even if only for personal convenience, wouldn’t you want to cut down on the number of emails you get asking what the policy is? Being vague is a good way to waste a lot of time on unnecessary correspondence.

      2. SAS*

        I’m desperate for an update for this one, but given my assumptions about the business (i.e. how willing they would be to change their practices) I doubt we’ll get one.

        If only ethical employee reads AAM!

    3. Wendy Darling*

      I ordered something from aliexpress and the seller marked it as shipped with a (fake) tracking number, which prevented me from disputing the charges for 90 days, and then messaged me and told me the item was out of stock and wouldn’t ship until after 90 days. This conveniently covered the entire chargeback window for my credit card.

      I lost my entire mind, did a chargeback on them immediately (successfully), and put them on blast on social media. It turned out they’d done this to LOTS of people and their reputation was pretty much destroyed in the English-speaking community for that hobby.

  4. aebhel*

    Yeah, this policy is both deeply sketchy and deeply unnecessary. The problem is not that your employee has integrity – it’s that your business doesn’t.

    1. HerdingCatsWouldBeEasier*

      Came here to say this. I buy from a lot of individual and small businesses for my hobby, and I have no problem buying from sellers who explicitly state that they don’t take cancellations or returns. If I found out that a seller had lied to me about having shipped an item, regardless of circumstances, I’d never buy from them again. When doing business in a niche market, like your company does, integrity and reputation are extra important. If you continue with this policy someone will eventually put two and two together about shipping dates, and the resulting backlash might destroy your business. Stop lying to your customers and apologize to your employees for asking them to do so.

      1. So they all rolled over and one fell out*

        It’s not quite niche but I bought an office chair from a retailer that stated something like “we don’t actually sell the items ourselves, we order them on your behalf directly from the manufacturer, so we can’t promise we’ll be able to let you return them.” I did pause but I went ahead with the order. Way better than pretending I could return my purchase and only later finding out I couldn’t.

        1. tamarack & fireweed*

          Well, good that they said so, but in this case you were dealing with a drop shipper, which is not without its own ethical problems.

          1. So they all rolled over and one fell out*

            It seems from what I just read that if there are ethical problems, the biggest one is the drop-shipper charging the end customer (i.e. me) significantly more than the original merchant would have charged. As far as I could tell the shipper (who was the original manufacturer) doesn’t sell directly to consumers, so that doesn’t apply here.

      2. The Cosmic Avenger*

        Same. I actually ordered masks from an Amazon third-party seller very early in the pandemic, and seller messaged me that they were out of stock, and **I** should cancel my order. (For those who don’t know, this is against the Terms of Service, because shady sellers like to relist the same item at a higher price once they know they have found someone who wants it.) Once I complained to Amazon that he was violating their TOS, he tried to say “Oh, it was an error on Amazon’s part, your order actually shipped out as expected, please take down your bad review”, but the shipping label was generated AFTER I complained. He was desperate to offer me a full refund plus free stuff to change or remove my review, and I told him where he could stick his offer. I am very patient with honest mistakes and issues, but the OP is trying to trick people into a sale, and that will definitely hurt them in the long run even if it props up their revenue a little in the short term.

    2. Dust Bunny*


      I mean, I’m an atheist and I still wouldn’t want to go along with this simply because it’s a lousy policy. You don’t have to be religious to think this stinks.

      It’s also a weird thing to lie about since it’s not that uncommon! I buy a lot of sewing patterns and cut fabric and those are pretty much never returnable. This is just not that odd a policy and there is no reason to lie about it in the first place.

      1. Wendy Darling*

        Yeah I also buy sewing patterns and fabric online and it’s REALLY common to have a checkbox like “I understand I cannot cancel this order and it is not eligible for returns”, which makes sense because they can’t stick the fabric back on the bolt after they’ve cut it.

      2. not a fan*

        I tend to associate religion with discrimination, based on my experience as a non-christian gay woman in America. Citing religion as the basis for anything could mean you’re a nice ethical person, or it could mean you think conversion therapy and forced pregnancies are fine.
        Religious belief does not equal ethical behavior.

        1. KittyCardigans*

          I don’t think anybody said it did? Just that the employee is displaying some integrity (which for HER may be tied to religion, but isn’t inherently religious) while the company is not.

        2. Jane Eyre*

          No one ever said it did. Save the Christian bashing for when it’s warranted, like when they fire you for being in a relationship with another woman.

        3. Ally McBeal*

          As others have pointed out, no one here is saying that religious beliefs = ethical behavior. I was raised Christian and was a horrible person for many years because of it. HOWEVER, in this letter, the religious thing is relevant because this employee could theoretically sue OP on the basis of religious discrimination, simply because her religion has a rule that explicitly says “Do not lie” (well, “do not bear false witness,” which is broadly understood to include lying) and her employer is forcing her to violate her religious beliefs. It’s actually a fairly interesting legal theory, at least to someone who’s not a lawyer (me).

        4. Working Hypothesis*

          Religion has nothing to do with integrity either pro or con. People who are naturally ethical and also happen to be religious will find in their faith reasons to be as good as they would naturally try to be in the first place; while people who are naturally cruel or deceptive will find in their faith an excuse for doing what they would otherwise tend to do anyhow.

          In this case, we have a person of integrity who happens to be religious, and even though her religion may not be the source of her integrity, she thinks it is. This is significant because the LW has a legal obligation to accommodate her religious objections, where they wouldn’t necessarily have a legal obligation to accommodate her ethical objections if they weren’t based in religious belief. (I think this is stupid, but it’s still the law.)

          The LW is correct that they can’t just fire the employee for refusing to lie on her employer’s behalf. They can’t manage her out, either. Aside from the many good reasons why they should simply change the policy of not telling the truth about why they can’t take returns, they also have to work sincerely with the employee to figure out an accommodation that would respect their religious scruples and still not be an undue hardship to the company. Only if one truly cannot be found are they allowed to part company with her (unless she wants to, of course) and the bar of “undue hardship” is usually pretty difficult to reach. You definitely have to have tried first.

      3. MoreFriesPlz*

        This is what I don’t get. There’s literally no reason to lie. Just say “Sorry, we don’t do cancellations!” It’s kind of crappy to not mention that on your website but layering in a totally unnecessary lie is so weird.

      4. My Cabbages!*

        Heck, I’m a terrible liar in general but even I wouldn’t lie to customers because it can so easily bite you in the rear.

    3. Annie E. Mouse*

      This! I spent the better part of an hour this morning doing my company’s annual ethics training. I laughed at a lot of the scenarios, thinking “who could think this is ok?” Apparently, LW is who. Intentionally hiding policy, lying to customers, and now wants to fire an employee for having the audacity to be honest.

    4. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      I like how OP’s main objection to what the employee is doing is that “the optics are terrible”. And the optics of getting caught lying to a customer are, what, not terrible? Because they WILL get caught. It will come out and the person who catches it is going to spread the word far and wide.

    5. HS Teacher*

      Facts. I fell into this trap once, and they ended up losing my business for good, plus the business of everyone I told about it. It’s not worth it to “trick” your customers or hide terms of sale from them. Your employee is right, and you should really reconsider this policy you aren’t willing to reconsider.

      1. tangerineRose*

        Yeah. It’s just not a good idea to do business with a company that’s lying to you on a regular basis. What else are they going to lie about. Most people who know about this kind of thing is going to avoid dealing with that company.

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

      Right. If the refund/return policy doesn’t specifically state that the order can’t be cancelled/refunded or give a window of time that it can be, then the business is opening themselves to legal trouble or a lawsuit even if the item DID already ship. There are consumer rights laws, especially for online shopping. And if the business accepts credit cards, there are terms of service that the credit card companies will hold as well…or else they might just refuse to process customer payments for this business…

  5. Bad Liar*

    This is just a barrel full of WTF right here. If the policy at your company are going to make customers unhappy and your employees are uncomfortable enforcing that policy, you might want to take a look at the policy and why it makes everyone BUT you unhappy.

  6. DE*

    Agreed. What a horrible policy. Make the ACTUAL policy well known to customers, and then you don’t need to lie. It’s truly that simple.

    1. Van Wilder*

      Yeah, it’s really not a big deal to have a no-cancellation policy. The lying is so unnecessary.

  7. Bernice Clifton*

    Huh? What does this company do if a customer calls your bluff and asks for a tracking number when you have told them an item has shipped that has not?

    1. aebhel*

      Right? This is just bizarre because it makes the company look shady at worst and incompetent at best when they could just put the returns policy on their webpage and be done with it.

      1. Observer*

        makes the company look shady

        That’s the thing- it’s not just that it LOOKS shady. It *IS* shady.

        It’s a good thing for this poster that Allison keeps the identity of letter writers confidential, because I would NEVER consider doing business with this place, and I’m betting I’m not the only one. You can be sure that they are not lying just about the shipping.

        1. aebhel*

          Yeah – I should have said, it’s covering up shady business practices with a pretense of incompetence, which ALSO doesn’t look great.

        2. Abated*

          Exactly. OP knows that some people hesitate if they see that they cannot cancel the order. Maybe they want to double-check if they really want to spend that money first, maybe they ultimately will decide they can’t go through with it. OP is essentially stealing the customers’ choice from them.

      1. R*

        They should just have a policy that they don’t actually have to send out the stuff, they’d save so much on staffing and warehouse space.

        1. PeterM*

          “Listen, we set up the website, we took your money, we told you the item was on the way, but there was no actual item so we didn’t actually send anything. If you think about it that’s a 2/3 success rate, and that’s not bad for a small business in these difficult times!”

          1. R*

            “You were actually purchasing a curated experience. If you thought it was a physical item you were getting, that’s on you.”

      2. MCMonkeyBean*

        Yeah, honestly even if I didn’t know they were lying–poor communication about my shipment might be enough to keep me from ever shopping there again. Like 90% of places now are gonna have automatically generated email letting me know when my order has shipped and giving me a tracking number.

        So this place either doesn’t do that… or somehow doesn’t realize that if you’ve told a customer their item has shipped when it hasn’t and then they get the actually shipping notification like three days later they are going to be confused and irritated.

        1. Mannequin*

          I ordered from three small/very small online sellers today and got an automated shipping/tracking email the minute my purchase was completed with each one.

          Of course know it wasn’t packed & shipped instantly, but it means that a tracking # is already registered and I can check back whenever it’s convenient.

    2. Meep*

      I have managed to get full refunds using my two credit cards (Discover & USAA) for orders that have allegedly shipped even with tracking numbers a handful of times. One time, I got a full refund from EatStreet because they lied and said my food was already delivered!

      I promise that chargebacks look 100% worse. Enough of those and that company will no longer do business with you. It is an ethics issue, after all.

      OP is better off making it clear once they start your order there are no cancellations. Or depending on the kind of work and if it can be reused, having a cancellation fee of a certain percentage if the work was started but not complete.

    3. Ki*

      Maybe they just quickly print the shipping label? lol

      That normally actually triggers the ‘shipment’ notification at most places, not when the thing is actually in the mail.

      definitely shady though

      1. BC*

        True, but if the customer actually goes to the shipping company’s site and tracks the package they will see that the shipper doesn’t have it yet. The only way this could work is if they don’t provide tracking numbers at all, OR make sure they get the packages out within a day of any inquiries.

    4. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Quickly ship the item. Email the customer the next day “Apologies, we thought we’d sent you the tracking number yesterday, but just saw the email in the drafts, here it is!” Explain that the ship date on the tracking page is the same day, or the day after, the customer asked for the refund, because… reasons?!?! Sorry, I’ve been around enough shady businesses in my life that I thought I could think of a way to pull this off, but my imagination frankly fails me. I cannot think of anything to explain the shipping date discrepancy. I would fail miserably at customer support at OP’s company.

  8. John Smith*

    In the UK, there’s laws specifically against such a policy, but that’s by the way. Whatever your policy is, you should not be lying to customers. It seems to me you have a really good employee there. Please keep her until another more deserving employer takes her on.

    1. Xenia*

      The US also has laws against this. I am not a lawyer or a small business owner, but if a company does have an all sales are final policy, it has to be prominently displayed. Having it in the receipt or contract is not considered to be sufficient for the policy to be binding. Some states also have more stringent laws about returns but this is the baseline.

      1. Here we go again*

        Yeah, almost every retailer has return policies printed on the back of their receipts. And if it’s an item that is all sales final it has to be stamped that.

      2. John Smith*

        Oh I see. With some exceptions such as made to order or fresh produce, that kind of policy is also illegal here.

  9. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

    If you tell me up front you don’t do returns/refunds, then nope, I might not buy from you. But if you DON’T tell me up front that you don’t do returns/refunds, and then you lie to me, then not only will I not buy from you any more, I’ll also tell everyone I know that you’re shady as hell and I’ll talk to my credit card company to find out if there’s anything they can do as far as a chargeback or whatnot. I mean, it’s kind of up to you which risk you’d prefer to take.

    1. GreyjoyGardens*

      Seconded. I’ll do all that and THEN badmouth you in any review platform and social media I can find.

      Shady policies like this are just inviting bad feeling and potentially even lawsuits or someone dragging your name so far through the mud in public that you have to shut down.

      1. JM in England*


        I believe that there’s an old adage along the lines of: make a customer happy them they’ll tell one other person about your business, make them unhappy and they’ll tell TEN!

    2. Just Another Zebra*

      I heard a saying once that a customer will tell 1 person about a good experience, but will tell 10 people about a negative one. I work in the purchasing department of my company, and know people in similar roles across the industry. One online retailer effed me over once, with a no return policy and completely unresponsive customer service. Not only did I get a chargeback from our credit card company, I posted reviews on Google, BBB, and Facebook. They had numerous other complaints against them (I just checked – their current BBB rating is F).

    3. Essess*

      Exactly this. If you do not have a written policy about cancellations and refunds that was made clear prior to purchase, I WILL be contacting my credit card for a chargeback and it will occur because you did not post that it was disallowed. The credit card company will not rule in your company’s favor if you didn’t declare that policy ahead of time.

      1. The New Wanderer*

        I was able to get a partial chargeback with a moving company, based on the fact that they originally gave me a written estimate but forced me to charge almost twice for the “actual cost” or they would unload/abandon my stuff on the spot.

        The CC company went with the written estimate and refunded the rest. The twist is, the estimate was based on a walkthrough assessment and the “actual cost” was based on estimated weight once the stuff was packed up. The true weight, which we got from the delivery team’s official paperwork, was much closer to the actual cost so the moving company screwed up by trying to sucker me with the low-ball bid. If they’d stated that their policy was that final cost was assessed by true weight and the estimate was just a courtesy, I might not have won.

    4. Observer*

      But if you DON’T tell me up front that you don’t do returns/refunds, and then you lie to me, then not only will I not buy from you any more, I’ll also tell everyone I know that you’re shady as hell and I’ll talk to my credit card company to find out if there’s anything they can do as far as a chargeback or whatnot. I mean, it’s kind of up to you which risk you’d prefer to take.

      Exactly this.

    5. Some dude*

      THIS. Have they never been on Twitter or an online forum where posters are telling people to not support x business because they took two months to shop something or wouldn’t honor their return policy?

    6. Bilateralrope*

      What you’ve got to remember about chargebacks is that the CC company claws back the money. Then charges the merchant a penalty.

      So yes, that’s worse than someone simply not becoming a customer. Even before considering word of mouth.

      1. Dancing Otter*

        Good to know.
        I bought a vintage sewing machine online.
        It arrived broken. It also wasn’t the model advertised, but the broken driveshaft was the big problem.
        I contacted the seller. She accused me of trying to substitute a different broken machine for her perfectly good machine.
        I complained to EBay, no results; I filed a claim with PayPal, which she disputed; I finally went to my credit card company. One thing about using a mega-bank, they get results. If they charged her a penalty above and beyond the amount of my refund, I’m delighted to hear it.

        1. Cheap Ass Warm Gooey Burnt Banana Bread*

          What the H-E-Double Hockey Sticks?! She sounds like an outright scammer!

    7. Batgirl*

      The OP’s communication skills are just terrible, because somewhere along the way they got the idea that being straight forward in business is “terrible optics”. So, in order to avoid admitting something commonplace and understandable, we have all these very weasley, easy-to-see-through obfuscation tactics going on instead like, making sure the policy “does not explicitly mention” something key and significant about the transaction, or using a canned response, or “someone else’s name”! It’s an interesting insight to OP’s relationship with the truth, particularly since the truth isn’t even very well hidden by any of this stuff! It’s almost as though the OP is okay with the customer figuring it out using logic and a tracking number, just so long as the customer doesn’t have a smoking gun of shame to wield, like a screenshot or the actual bald truth from an employee. OP, it’s got to be exhausting to live this way! It’s okay to not be perfect or have the absolute ideal policy of a bigger business. No one’s saying you can’t have tact or polish, but …please. Just tell people what the damn deal is.

      1. Imaginary Friend*

        This is what they actually say about bad optics:

        [The employee’s] proposed solution is to tell customers in this situation that we do not accept cancellations and to tell them why (our company cannot handle the losses). The problem with that is obviously the optics are terrible, if a screenshot of such a message were to make it onto social media.

        Honestly, raise your dang prices so your margins aren’t so thin! And publicize your no-cancellations policy so nobody has to lie as part of their work load. Neither of these things will cause the sky to fall.

        1. Batgirl*

          Exactly! It’s phrased as though this is some awesome communications plan designed by a smooth PR genius when really, it’s just a lie that a child could see through.

  10. Tehanu*


    OP, just imagine that you were, for example, putting this person on a performance improvement plan. How could you put this in writing … “employee must lie to customers when instructed to do so”? I’m assuming you would never want to put that on paper, and that should be a very good sign that what you are proposing (firing someone for being honest, in effect) is completely unjustifiable.

    Glad Alison called you on this.

      1. Zelda*

        Excellent point– does OP really want to build a workforce made up of people who believe that it’s fine to say whatever gets you what you want in the moment?

      2. hbc*

        I’m late to the party, but this part of it is really important even if you don’t are about your customers. You’re screening for employees who are comfortable with tactical, expedient lies. Don’t be shocked when someone has 5 grandparents die in two years or is always “just away from my desk for a minute” whenever you need them. You’re *trying* to get that employee from a while back who said “Sure, I dropped off the package last week” and then drove it in that day.

    1. JM in England*

      Plus having “must lie to customers” in writing on the PIP gives the employee ammunition should they leave over this policy and take the matter up with an employment tribunal on the grounds of constructive dismissal….

    2. tangerineRose*

      When I first read the headline, I thought maybe the employee was being overly honest. I used to work with someone who would say “How are you”, and when I replied and said it back, he would give me WAY too many details about his health. I don’t want to know that!

      Or someone who tells clients just what they think, something like “That’s the stupidest question I’ve ever heard!”

      But in this case, the LW is asking people to lie, and this just isn’t right.

    3. MissCoco*

      I was picturing how they’d write the job listing for the potential replacement!
      Skills: flexible moral code, willing to compromise (on ethics), and a good poker face?

  11. Middle Name Danger*

    Good on your employee for holding firm in her stance and I hope she’s job hunting for something better where she won’t be asked to lie.

  12. Mary*

    OP, you seem to have an aversion to interaction with customers, but setting and then maintaining/explaining a police comes with the territory of having a business. I suspect that this policy arose out of the idea that you would spend less time dealing with them and would give them less wiggle room to protest, but it’s unethical, dishonest, and unnecessary.

    1. Wintermute*

      I wonder if that online retailer they use for most of their orders or their payment card processors would open their mind up when they stop doing business with a scammer…

    2. Not So NewReader*

      Patient: Doc, I have a headache.
      Doc: Then stop deliberately banging your head on things.
      Patient: I am not open to changing what I am doing.

    3. Imaginary Friend*

      They don’t even have to CHANGE the policy! They just have to spell it out on the purchasing page!

      1. Working Hypothesis*

        Well, there’s the policy of not accepting cancellations, and there’s the policy of not telling their customers the truth. The problem is the second one. Unfortunately, so far, there appears to be no indication that the LW is open to changing either, although I certainly hope they rethink that after reading Alison’s reply and everyone else’s comments.

  13. rebecca*

    If I order an item from a small business, I’m generally operating under the assumption it can’t be returned unless it’s defective, and can’t be refunded unless it never arrived or arrived broken. I would happily purchase from a business that said up front “No refunds or cancellations, all sales are final”.
    Lying to me about why I can’t cancel my order would lead me to never shop from you again and post a bunch of negative reviews.

    1. Liz*

      This! although, sometimes sellers can be accommodating. My mom ordered something on Etsy I think. Something vintage, the seller had a few different versions of. She mistakenly purchased a different one from the one she really intended to buy. Seller didn’t take returns. So she very politely contacted the seller, explained what she had done, offered to pay return shipping, and asked if she could return the item, as she meant to by another, and she’d buy the other. The seller allowed her to, but she was prepared to eat the cost and just buy the other one if she hadn’t agreed.

    2. tangerineRose*

      That’s a good point. When I order something, I almost never cancel. It’s usually something I’ve been thinking about. The only time I want a refund is if the product didn’t get to me or is defective.

  14. Just Another Zebra*

    At OldJob, we sold custom wedding/ bridesmaids/ MOB gowns. There was no option to cancel. Once you signed the contract, that was it. Customers would complain, but we’d refer them back to their signed contracts so they could see that, yes, you did sign this. OP doesn’t have to change their policy (but really, such a rigid policy isn’t great – even OldJob made exceptions). But by not having it laid out at the time of ordering, your business looks sketchy and shady and underhanded.

    1. The Prettiest Curse*

      If you have to call off a wedding for some reason, fair enough to ask for and make an exception. But otherwise, “custom-made expensive item” kind of screams “no refund” to me.

      1. Xenia*

        Even if you do have to call off the wedding, that’s not the fault of the seamstress and they should not have to eat those costs.

        1. The Prettiest Curse*

          True, but if you have to cancel a wedding because someone caught their fiance cheating or died horribly or something similar, I feel it’s okay to ask if a refund might be possible. (If you just find another dress you like better, nope.) And it seems like the dress shop in this case did do limited refunds, so presumably it wasn’t ruinous.

          As I said in my original comment, I wouldn’t generally expect to be refunded for something expensive and custom-made, but there are always going to be cases where the customer is going through something awful and it would retain customer goodwill to give at least a partial refund.

          1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

            On the other hand, many brides would be too superstitious to buy a gown someone else had given up in horrible circumstances (different from buying a second-hand gown someone had a great day in at the beginning of a blissful marriage). It would need a hefty discount to be sold even if the shop wanted to hold on to surplus stock, which few bridal shops do.

            1. PT*

              How is the second buyer going to know its provenance? It goes on a sales/discount rack. Or it gets put in the back until there’s enough to have a “sidewalk sale” or whatever fun name the bridal shop wants to give it. If anyone asks, “Oh these were mis-orders! The vendor sent the wrong size or a bridesmaid got pregnant after the dresses were ordered and needed a maternity size, etc. etc.”

              There’s literally no way the end buyer would have to know that the beaded mermaid dress originally belonged to a bride whose fiance turned into an insane antivaxxer and the wedding got called off or the beautiful floor length teal bridesmaid dress belonged to the cousin who got kicked out of another wedding for declaring her love to the the groom right before the bachelorette party, etc.

              1. Just Another Zebra*

                Bridesmaids gowns are one thing, but canceled wedding gowns carry a host of superstition that some people just don’t want to risk – regardless of the reason they were canceled. And since our ship was entirely custom-sized gowns, any new dress was obviously a cancellation. If there was a manufacturer error, it was sent back and recut at no expense to the customer (obviously).

                In a larger shop, what you suggest is probably true. But that wasn’t the case out this boutique.

          2. Just Another Zebra*

            And we did sometimes make exceptions! But when you’re talking about custom items that can cost into the thousands, it’s a huge expense for a store to absorb. If a bride had a change of heart, we’d sometimes let her reselect at a discounted price, depending on how far in the order process the gown was. Or we’d refund half the cost in some unique circumstances.

            We didn’t have too many bridal gown cancellations, thankfully. Bridesmaids, though…

        2. New But Not New*

          Unless the prospective bride meets an unfortunate end, I can’t see being heartless enough not to cancel in that case. Maybe insurance would cover it or something.

          Customers aren’t stupid and can tell when they are being played. I wish I knew what OPs business is so I could avoid it at all costs.

    2. Essess*

      It doesn’t “look” sketchy and shady and underhanded….. it actually IS sketchy, shady, and underhanded. You are enforcing contract conditions that the buyer didn’t agree to. You should have a real lawyer look at that policy since I think you are very likely violating contract laws since you admit that this policy is not on the website.

      1. Alex*

        Especially because OP does have a legally binding contract with their payment processor that most likely does require them to accept order cancellations and refunds unless they explicitly say otherwise, upfront and in writing.

  15. chorper*

    Funnily enough, revisiting the CS policy to indicate that cancellations aren’t allowed will make *less* work for *everyone*. You’ll get fewer emails asking for something you can’t do because people will know it up front, so you’ll ssomepemd less time dealing with impossiblilities. (Some will still ask, ofc, but many fewer than currently do).

    I’m struggling to imagine a scenario where leaving the CS policy as-is is the easiest or best choice.

    1. Genny*

      This is a great point. Being explicit about your policies will likely cut down on the amount of emails you need to respond to. Sure, some of it may be because potential buyers opt to shop elsewhere with a more flexible return policy, but some of it will be because people know and have already accepted the terms of the deal. Give people the information they need to make informed choices.

    2. Le Sigh*

      This is what’s really getting me. I mean, it’s shady and crappy and unethical — but usually when companies do that it’s to make more money or cut corners. This just seems like it creates more work?

    3. Public Sector Manager*

      It makes them more money. If they posted their cancellation policy, the person might not buy at all. So the number of sales they get from not posting their cancellation policy exceeds the employees’ time, energy, and effort to lie to the customers.

      Which is the definition of a shady company.

      1. Le Sigh*

        Yeah, I see that now. But yeah, totally shady and could potentially blow up in their face in all the ways people have talked about.

      2. New But Not New*

        OP should charge a cancellation or restocking fee, but at the very least, the no refund or cancellation policy should be clearly stated on their website. I would bray very loudly if OP tried their crap on me.

  16. Cranky lady*

    If you are worried about the social media backlash from a screenshot, you should be more worried about the Glassdoor reports of “I was fired because I refused to lie to customers”. I also wonder how you handle credit card charge backs since you don’t have a clear policy against cancellations or refunds. Lots of reasons to be honest and upfront about your policy.

    1. freddy*

      I was just coming to say this! You do NOT want this to be your reputation on GlassDoor, and there’s a very good chance that your employee will leave a comment to this effect when they leave your company (on your timeline or theirs). It’s not worth it!

    2. x*

      Yeah, I was thinking about chargebacks too. Especially in the cases where the customer “forfeits” their order and therefore didn’t receive anything (which also might be out of compliance with an FTC rule). When the bank investigates the chargeback, the company wouldn’t be able to point to a clear policy that the customer would be aware of.

    3. tangerineRose*

      And it’s not just this 1 employee the LW has to worry about. What if some other employee gets mad and decides to tell everyone about this?

  17. SawbonzMD*

    My goodness, I wish I knew what OP’s company was so that I could avoid shopping there at all costs!

    1. RJ*

      That was the first thing that came to mind as I read this. It is a policy from another age and the fact OP isn’t open to considering changing it, doesn’t bode well. It’s not sustainable in this day and age.

      Getting to the matter at hand, I think you’re looking at this wrong. As Alison has stated, you need to place your company policy clearly and prominently. As for the communications to/from customers blatantly lying about orders sent/cancelled, these should come from you. So long as you’re supporting mendacity, the buck stops with you.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      This has been very educational for me. I had no idea that there were so many places with no refunds. I have not found one yet. Additionally, I am surprised by the number of people who say they would buy anyway. Well I suppose if I was super confident about my selection, I would go ahead and purchase the item so there’s that.

      But for the most part, I would stay away from places with no return policy.

      OP, I really want to thank you for posting because now I fully understand that if a website does not talk about how refunds/returns are handled I will now assume they do not allow returns. And I will make sure I do not order there.
      Someone who very seldom cancels orders.

        1. StacyPC*

          I bought from Matt and Nat online a little while ago, and they internationally shipped a $120+ purse in a regular FedEx bag without any padding or protection….just the purse in a flimsy bag. The bag was torn in multiple spots and the purse was damaged and pretty well scuffed in transit. I had to file a chargeback to get a refund, after four weeks of sloooooooooooow emails back and forth and their customer service team claiming they couldn’t open JPEG or PNG files to verify the damage. I should have googled the company first, because they’re notorious for NEVER giving refunds no matter what, even when the item is defective. It’s an experience that has made me second guess shopping small businesses, and then here’s this letter, where the company policy is to rip off customers and lie to their faces about it.

          1. Tali*

            Matt and Nat have a lot of issues in their supply chain… they’re greenwashed and not as sustainable as they claim to be.

      1. münchner kindl*

        As pointed out, many no-refund places are custom-made in some way – or vintage stuff= unique – so it’s not possible to re-sell the item to the next customer.

        Usually defective items are excluded, though, as are “lost in the mail”. That OP’s company also has problems with this makes them look more scammy.

        I think reasonable customers (not entitled jerks) can understand small business on Etsy or similar struggling with thin profit margins; they don’t want to understand shady business practice.

        And if you read the stated policy before ordering, it’s 100% your decision whether the item is worth the risk, or whether you will look elsewhere.

        1. Constance Lloyd*

          Etsy was my first thought. I sell there, and one of the policy options is something to the effect of, “I don’t accept returns or refunds, but if there’s a problem with your order let me know.” This is the policy I use and I’ve issued so many refunds or replacement items this past year or so (thanks to things damaged or lost in shipping) and buyers have been so kind and understanding. If anything it seems to have helped my reviews and rate of return buyers, because people who receive a refund recognize it as an exception and think I’m going above and beyond to help them when I’m just doing the bare minimum of owning a business.

          OP, your no return policy isn’t a problem, but your lack of transparency sure is.

  18. No Lying*

    OP, you are 100 percent wrong. There’s no gray area here. You should not fire this employee, you should give her a raise for having character, representing your company well and, frankly, calling attention to your abhorrent moral deficiency.

    1. Lucy Skywalker*

      I’d like this comment if I could.
      I usually try to sympathize with the LW no matter what, but this one is just so glaringly in the wrong.

  19. Jenn*

    Your policy is bad and you should feel bad. It would be best for your employee to get a job at a more ethical company.

    1. Archaeopteryx*

      I of course heard this in Zoidberg’s voice, and 100% this business does deserve to get heckled by a crustacean.

  20. Leela*

    “If this we’re to get out it would be bad optics”. It’s not optics when it’s truth. If the actual truth makes you look bad, then NEWSFLASH: you are doing something bad.

    1. Van Wilder*

      Ironically, they’re worried about the optics of just saying “no refunds because we’re a small business” and not the optics of lying to customers about the shipping status to get out of giving refunds.

      1. Dramatic Intent to Flounce*

        I’m wondering if the bad optics are in those screenshots going out (while, presumably, other employees use the lie still I guess? Is that what OP’s thinking?) and people realizing they’re lying.

        Bad optics which can be avoided by just, you know, making the policy the truth. Yes, that COULD make it awkward if there were any customers who tried to cancel but then bought from you again for whatever reason… which seems somewhat unlikely but whatever… but the momentary awkward will end, and then you’ll have a very common, very reasonable returns policy that is publicly stated and which all but the obstinant will understand (and the occasional polite but odd circumstances fringe case, but those can be managed as they come up.) Far fewer cancellation emails, employees don’t have to lie, everyone’s on the same page and is happy.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      Only one thing could be worse and that is when it gets out that your company fires people for refusing to lie.

      OP, please read the news and what is going on in workplaces. I just read an article that 5 people quit a fast food place because the workloads were brutal. Stuff going on inside companies is being made public on a daily basis.
      Good luck keeping this one a secret.

      If that employee is smart all she has to do is point to this AAM post. Done. Over.

    3. fhqwhgads*

      It almost reads to me like the optics they’re worried about are not “no refunds” but rather “no refunds because the business can’t handle the losses” – but A) you wouldn’t need to say the last bit outloud and B) saying the first bit doesn’t inherently imply the last bit and C) even if it did, it’s a totally standard business practice.
      Like everybody said, what makes you look bad is not being clear about the policy up front, not the reason why you have the policy.

      1. hbc*

        Exactly! It is terrible optics to tell the customer, “We can’t give you a refund because we’re on a shoestring here and would be bankrupted within three months if we let people cancel like this.” But it is completely unremarkable to tell them, “We don’t allow cancellations after [48 hours/we’ve submitted the order to our supplier/one business day].”

  21. Jennifer*

    If you can’t afford reasonable cancelations/returns/refunds without going out of business, then can you even really afford to be in business?

    1. Genny*

      Not offering refunds or cancellations isn’t the problem though. Lots of small businesses have similar policies. The problem is not being upfront about the policy so customers can make an informed choice about whether OP’s products are worth the risk, which has created this bizarre scenario where employees have to lie to customers instead of just redirecting them to the store’s refund/cancellation policy.

    2. iliketoknit*

      There are a lot of small businesses, usually making handmade goods or similar, that don’t accept cancellations or offer refunds. Sometimes it’s because goods are made to order, or are customized in some way, or can’t easily be re-sold for other reasons (like personal care stuff like lotions or shampoo or such – you can’t re-sell something that’s been opened and you can’t always guarantee it hasn’t been opened). The policies I see are usually that if the item shows up damaged or defective to please contact the business and they will work with you, but there are no cancellations or refunds if you just change your mind. I don’t think small businesses have to be able to absorb the costs of people changing their minds to be able to stay in business.

      1. New But Not New*

        I don’t think any reasonable person would expect this for personalized goods unless a name was misspelled or something.

    3. Observer*

      That’s not an uncommon issue, especially if you are talking about specialty items. Even more so if there is any level of customization.

      Regardless, that’s not really the issue. The real issue is that by hiding the policy and then lying about it, they are literally risking the entire business.

      Of course the most fundamental issues it the ethics of the question, but if we’re sticking to pragmatics here, that’s the real question.

      1. No Longer Gig-less Data Analyst*

        A couple of months ago, I ordered $250 worth of custom blinds for the living room windows in my 1960’s home, which are both huge and oddly sized. I took them out of the box and could tell immediately that they were too small. I checked to make sure they were the size I ordered, which they were, but the problem was that I had measured wrong. The online store’s website clearly stated that they only accepted returns for damaged/incorrect orders, so guess who was out $250 *and* had to put in a re-order for the correct size? I knew they were custom so the fact that the didn’t do refunds didn’t deter me at all from doing business with them again.

        I would up posting the incorrect blinds on a Buy Nothing FB group, and a lovely single mom of four who had just bought her first house scooped them up.

    4. Not So NewReader*

      Am shaking my head.
      If the margins are such a problem why not make a selling point of saying, something to the effect of “Support small businesses! Avoid big box stores!”

      It can all be worked in to one statement that motivates people to buy and yet informs them of the details of the deal.

  22. HipsandMakers*

    If you can’t afford to run a business without routinely lying to your customers, you can’t afford to run a business.

    Just state the policy up front and hire from the much larger pool of people who don’t want to lie to customers all day long.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      If you can’t do business without lying to the customers, you will find out how temporary your business is.

  23. Chairman of the Bored*

    This is a bad policy and LW should change it. The “optics” are terrible because their business practices are terrible.

    In general, if you find yourself thinking “our actual behavior better never get out to the public” then the correct response is to fix that behavior.

    I’m fine with a merchant that does not accept returns. They can disclose it openly and I can make a choice as an informed customer whether or not I want to buy from them.

    If I find out they deliberately misled me they’re getting a charge-back and as much bad PR as I can be bothered to generate.

  24. T2*

    I will not lie for any reason. And I mean any reason. As a religious person myself, My personal integrity is not for sale. In 30 years of working, I would hope that people have learned not to do or say shady stuff around me. Because I will have no part of any deception of any kind.

    I feel for this employee. They have a company policy. that is fine. But choosing to be deceitful is his choice.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      I spent a lot of years doing retail. I won many sales contests.
      I think part of my success at the job stemmed from the fact that I saw even if you tell people the truth they will STILL buy the product.
      Typical example:
      Customer: I want a gizmo that does A, B and C.
      Me: I am sorry, our gizmos only do A and B but they do not do C.
      Customer: Wrap it up, I will take it.

      I got so used to this that I did not even bat an eye at it anymore. Fast forward. I was having a lawn sale and friends joined me with their stuff. I did my usual routine of laying out exactly what the item was and the limits of the item. Sure enough, people bought stuff.
      My friends were totally shocked. “You are telling them exactly what is up with the item they are considering and YET they still buy it!” Yep.

      The whole sad thing about this story is that there is no need to lie at all. People will buy things that are not up to their expectations anyway. Then they come back and buy more because, “you’re honest”.

      1. just passing through*

        If I’m the customer and the salesperson says “It does A and B but it doesn’t do C,” their honesty about C makes their claims about A and B more convincing!

  25. Librarian of SHIELD*

    Every religion I’m aware of instructs adherents not to lie. If your company policy requires employees to do something that’s pretty universally accepted to be morally wrong, it’s a bad policy and you should change it.

    1. Gerry Keay*

      There are quite a few moral philosophers who are on the side of not lying too! Secular or religious, this is one of the few morals that’s widely agreed on.

      1. Pennyworth*

        I think that a general expectation of truthfulness in our dealings with each other is the glue that holds society together. Of course there are liars, scammers and fraudsters, but generally we go through life trusting that we are not being lied to. I consume a fair bit of UK TV & radio, and I find the the phrase ‘to be honest’ – which many British people insert into a conversation by way of emphasis – to be quite disconcerting. What were they being up to that point?

        1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

          I think “to be honest” is often used when someone else might say “to be frank” or otherwise to indicate that it’s a candid, unvarnished opinion. “Be honest” means “say what you really think” over here, as opposed to being polite and holding back which would be our default position.

          A: How do you like my new hairdo?
          B: I like the length!
          A: How about the colour?
          B: …
          A: Come on, be honest.
          B: Well, to be honest, it’s quite bright, and I’m not sure it goes with your eyes.

          B is not being dishonest at first, just not telling the full story.

          1. UKDancer*

            This definitely. If I try something on the sales assistant usually praises it regardless in a lot of shops. I usually ask them for an honest opinion not because I think they’re usually lying but because I want them to be candid and not tell me it looks great when it doesn’t.

            You say “to be honest” when you’re saying something that is more frank than people would initially be comfortable with.

      2. Goldenrod*

        Yeah! I’m not a religious person, but I also would not feel comfortable lying as a policy.

        It’s weird that OP thinks this is okay! It’s truly not. I bet this person isn’t the only one who is uncomfortable with this.

    2. Observer*

      To be honest, this is the kind of thing that you don’t even need religion for – and I say this as a religious person. I think most secular humanist types would be VERY offended at the idea that they would be on board with a policy like this because they are not religious.

      1. Librarian of SHIELD*

        That’s not the point I was trying to make at all, I apologize for being unclear. I was trying to point out that a wide variety of moral philosophies that disagree on a great many things tend to be in agreement that lying is not great.

      2. Texas*

        That’s… not at all what’s in the original comment. “Lots of different religions consider lying to be bad” =/= “people who aren’t religious are cool with lying.”

        1. Observer*

          True. But it’s easy to read it that way. So I thought it worth calling out specifically.

          Especially in this particular context where the OP seems to think that the ONLY reason that they need to even try to work around it is because the employee is citing their religion and it would be perfectly fine to fire the employee without the religious aspect.

          1. Texas*

            I truly don’t understand where you’re reading that into the post. It really isn’t easy to read what you’re implying because it’s just not there in the text.
            The reason the OP is trying to work around the religious aspect is because they don’t want to get in legal trouble for firing someone for a possibly legally protected reason, not because they’re only cool with the employee’s behavior because she’s claiming religion.

            1. Observer*

              I don’t mean that the OP has actual religious scruples. Because I don’t think they have ANY scruples, religious or not. But it IS the only factor they are taking into account.

              I’m not sure why, to be honest. Normally, I’d agree with you that it’s because they are worried about legalities. But then why don’t they realize that what they are doing, even without someone claiming religion as a factor, is legally problematic?

              But overall, you are probably right and they think that they are more likely to run into legal trouble for religious discrimination than for being flat out dishonest.

              1. BC*

                Well…. while it’s true that it’s pretty much universally agreed upon that lying is wrong, it is only rarely unlawful. I don’t think we know enough specific details to know if this is one of those times. Even if it is, whistleblower lawsuits can be difficult. On the other hand, everyone knows that employment discrimination on the basis of religion is unlawful. So the OPs concern about the religious basis makes sense from that perspective.

              2. Imaginary Friend*

                And it might be that the employee knows or thinks that “religious conviction” is the only thing that will get the OP to back off. They might have started with “I’m not comfortable lying” for perfectly human reasons and gotten pushback, and ended up at RELIGION OKAY? because it’s harder to argue against that.

                (Story time! I once had to get a cat to someone else across the state, a 6-7 hour drive away. Some people were asking why I didn’t just put them on a flight – alone! – to get picked up on the other end. My gut reaction of “that’s a terrible idea, what on earth is wrong with you?” seemed provocative. I ended up with “It’s against my religion” and that worked just fine. I am actually not religious at all, I just try to be a mensch – a decent human being, a person of integrity and honor.)

    3. Aaron*

      And most religions and philosophies only permit lying to protect others, like saying you don’t have Jews in your basement to a Nazi. I’m not sure I’ve heard of anyone who would defend lying in a situation like this.

  26. cosmicgorilla*

    Sure LW, I’ll give you the advice you want. Manage out this employee who has tons of integrity. When you hire her replacement, make sure the job description explicitly says you want someone who bends the truth, who lies, who parrots the crap you tell them to say rather than provide, I dunno, actual customer service. And when that new employee shows themselves to be sketchy in some other regard, like lying on their timesheet or stealing product, or any number of other scenarios, don’t bother writing into AAM complaining that you have an employee so lacking in integrity and truthfulness. Because you got what you wanted.

    SMDH. What is with the fixation on keeping such a terrible policy?

    1. Escapee from Corporate Management*

      Why the fixation? Because OP was probably one of those employees before running their own company. I’ve worked with enough people like OP to know that someone who is so divorced from truth and ethics in running a business is highly unlikely to have been a truthful or ethical person when working for others. I’ve left companies because of people like OP.

      A small business owner who tells the truth to customers and treats them ethically (and gets repeat business because of that)

        1. Escapee from Corporate Management*

          Thank you. We do get referrals. And we have quotes from satisfied customers on our website–with their names attached.

          Amazing what happens when you treat customers well.

      1. JM in England*

        + 1 billion

        I always try to support small, local and reputable businesses whenever possible. The main reason is that they have more incentive to keep customers happy than a major national chain that offers the same products and/or services.

  27. Anne*

    I would actively be job seeking if I was in this position. Your employee is right to be uncomfortable with this! And if I knew what your company was, I wouldn’t shop there. I love supporting local, small businesses (I work for one!), but that can’t be your excuse for operating this way. Honesty is the best policy.

  28. iliketoknit*

    I buy from lots of small businesses that say they can’t accept cancellations (or offer refunds, unless the item is actually broken or damaged or such), and it’s fine. You don’t need to say it’s because your margins are so slim; you can just say “we are unable to accept cancellations” and no one will think anything of it. I think people are generally familiar with this as a small business practice and I don’t think it’s going to dissuade anyone who’s actually interested in your products.

    1. UKDancer*

      Definitely I buy from several companies on Etsy which say they don’t accept cancellations or offer refunds unless the item is broken or defective and that’s fine. I don’t expect small, custom places to refund me if I change my mind or if I can’t measure myself and the costume they made was slightly the wrong size. But these places all say so up front.

      That said I ordered from one such company, the goods didn’t arrive and they sent a replacement. I’d use them again because they dealt with my customer service issue promptly. When the original shipment arrived (much later) I rang them up and paid them so they didn’t lose out.

    2. Fried Eggs*

      Yes! I can understand the LW not wanting their employee to tell people their business is struggling to break even. But there’s so much middle ground between that and lying about shipping status.

      This email is not a lie, and would not be that bad if posted to social media:

      Unfortunately, we cannot accept cancelations at this stage in the order process. I hope you understand our constraints as a small business and apologize for the inconvenience.

  29. tess*

    :::::looks around:::::

    Huh. Looks like I’ve landed on Mars.

    “My employee won’t commit fraud on behalf of my company.” You shouldn’t be running a business, OP.

  30. TJ*

    This retailer is opening themselves up to a whole host of disputes/chargebacks. If their cancellation/refund policy is not explicitly stated, they are making themselves liable to lose disputes which is going to cost them MORE money in the long run. Even if they say it was already shipped, they would have to prove it shipped BEFORE the customer emailed a cancellation request; if it hadn’t shipped yet, the timestamps will show that. That’s an automatic “In favor of the cardholder” win for the buyer.

    Add the cancellation/non-refundable policy and save money and time!

    1. Meep*

      ^This. I have managed to get a handful of chargebacks successfully go through for this nonsense.

      If they get enough of them, major companies will stop working with them entirely.

    2. Mirily*

      I was also thinking this. AMEX would refund me in a heartbeat and I’m sure enough chargebacks would have them rethinking whether or not to even process from this vendor.

    3. Momma Bear*

      Years ago I ordered from one of those sites that sells a bunch of stuff from different vendors (think ebay but not ebay). There was a natural disaster and the company had problems and couldn’t ship. Long story much shorter, they outright lied to me about being able to ship my purchase and would not allow me to cancel. In the end I disputed it with my bank and got a new credit card.

  31. NYWeasel*

    First, the ad that appeared on the story felt like it could be for this specific business, so that was a little strange!

    I’ve worked for employers that think they have to lie to keep their customers happy, as well as employers that are up front and transparent with their clientele. The companies that have been transparent all seem to have a more profitable relationship with their customers. I can’t tell you how to run your business, but I do think your current approach may not be as optimal as you think it is.

    1. FashionablyEvil*

      Haha, the ad I got was for a Real Housewives special on Peacock. Seems unlikely to be the OP’s business.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      I worked for a nursery noted for it’s honesty.
      People point blank said, “I don’t think you have what I am looking for, but you all have been so fair with me that I want to check here first and give you my business if possible.”

      1. dawbs*

        Isn’t it amazing how good-business and ‘trying to be a good person’ overlap because people appreciate it?

        At my work recently someone was something that was a bit spendy. They said they’d think on it & meant “no”–which was fine, I had explained a lot stuff and spent time, but ‘not for me’ is an appropriate answer.
        We also have a gift shop/souvenir shop and the person asked if we sold a toy child wanted. We do, but we are out. He was OK with the answer, but, seeing as it’s holidays and things are hard to get right now, I caught him before he left and gave him a post-it with the name of the item and the website where he could buy it.

        So he came back in and bought the spendy something.
        It doesn’t always work like that, but, honestly, the fact that I explain the downsides = why people buy things from = why they don’t gripe to my boss!

  32. The Prettiest Curse*

    Companies that explicitly lie to their customers eventually get tripped up one way or another. If you don’t publicly post your policy and then get caught in a social media screenshot nightmare due to lying, that’s going to tank your business, and that’s on you. Post the policy clearly and prominently on your website. If that’s your policy, fine. Just don’t lie about it.

  33. cubone*

    “Hope we only get candidates who are fine with lying” doesn’t seem like a very effective hiring method in the long term. I am not religious and I would push back on this (and have, in sort of similar CS contexts).

    You can “get rid” of this employee, but it doesn’t prevent you from having this exact same problem again because (everyone say it together!): The Employee Isn’t The Problem Here.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      How many employees can you fire, OP, for failing to lie before you start to feel uncomfortable?
      This is your job, OP. Your job is to fire people who refuse to lie.

  34. Emi*

    I would love to see a boss go to the EEOC and argue that telling bald-faced lies to customers is actually a work requirement.

    1. Zona the Great*

      When I read the headline, I sort of thought perhaps this business is one where people call in to hear nice things about themselves even if not true. A sort of call-in-Emperor-with-no-clothes business where your job is to tell people they look great when they really look like hell.

  35. KuklaRed*

    Thank you, Alison for a great response! This letter really bothered me and the answer was perfection.

    1. Rolling eyes*

      This takes the cake. The OP shouldn’t have a company, employees, not customers.

      I’m so thoroughly disgusted that they insist others lie because they can’t be bothered to clearly state a policy.

  36. Limdood*

    Employee who can’t lie:
    “It is our company’s policy in situations like this to tell the customer that their order has shipped and therefore can’t be cancelled”

    Malicious compliance is called for on the part of the employee.

    Your dishonest policy is garbage and if lying to customers is the only way your company can stay in business, it doesn’t deserve to stay in business.

    I’d honestly enjoy hearing that employee get fired, then sue in court and win enough to tank the company. Win win.

      1. Working Hypothesis*

        “I’m sorry, ma’am, but company policy requires me to tell you that your order has already shipped and therefore no cancellation is possible. Therefore, your order has shipped and no cancellation is possible. That’s not actually what is happening; we just don’t take cancellations in general because we’re a small business and can’t afford them. But I am required to tell you that, and so I’ve told it to you.”

  37. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

    I’d accept not wanting an employee who can’t tell the socially-acceptable lies ‘yes, you look fine. No, you’re not a lardass’ but one who won’t cooperate with outright lying to customers?

    Appreciate you have someone with those morals frankly! I’ve lost track of the number of techies I’ve had to tell ‘no, you can’t say the problem is on their end when we’re sitting right next to the smouldering remains of a production database’.

    Just put the damn policy on the website. If this causes you to lose customers? Eh.

    1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      (Btw I don’t lie to our end users. I get it might make IT look better if I don’t admit when we’ve effed up but that’s short term. In the long term these things come back to bite you. Hard)

      1. Esmeralda*

        My own experience as a consumer is that when a business apologizes for F’ing up and makes it right, I am MORE inclined to stick with them, and to recommend them as well.

        I stopped flying on Northeastern (now defunct, and good riddance) because they lied to me about my mom’s flight (to keep us from cancelling), and then lied to her about her lost bag.

        I’m loyal to Southwest because they tell the truth about delays, flight changes, problems with food service, lost bags, etc.

        There are two Toyota dealerships in our town. We go to the one that is inconveniently located because they have never lied. The closer one, the opposite. We’ve bought four cars from the dealer with integrity, get the cars serviced there, recommend them to friends.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

          That’s exactly my experience too, on the occasions I’ve had to call a tech support helpline myself I’ve only twice had an outright admission that the problem was on their end, not mine. And those firms have had a lot of business from me since (I approve software purchases, I’ve got a lot of power).

        2. Gracely*

          This. After a nightmare experience with one car dealership, we decided we would much rather go to one in a different town before we went back to that particular dealership for anything ever again.

          I will go out of my way to support a business that is truthful to me, and also go out of my way to avoid a business that lies to me.

        3. Not So NewReader*

          OMG, yes.
          I had an accident. The car was in the shop for 17 days for extensive repairs.
          They called to say it was ready and to come get it.

          Several hours later they called to say “never mind”. Someone HIT my car as it sat in their parking lot. “We did not want you to drive down here for nothing. We are going to get this repaired at no cost to you.”

          I did business with them for 25 years, until they went out of business.

  38. Observer*

    You want to fire an employee for NOT LYING?! I can’t say everything I am thinking, because I suspect that Allison would delete my post. But here are three things to think about:

    1. You are worried about the optics of telling people the truth. It doesn’t seem to have occurred to you that the “optics” of lying can be far, far more destructive to your business. And don’t think you won’t get found out. Someone might figure it out. Or a former employee could out you. What will you do then? Most people, given a choice between “lousy return policy” and “LIE about my order” will choose to do business with the lousy return policy. And if it’s “Lies AND has a lousy return policy”? No contest.

    2. How do you manage a staff of liars? Seriously. Or are you naive enough to think that people who are willing to lie to customers for the optics of the situation are going to hold back from lying to YOU when it suits them or the “optics” are wrong for them?

    3. Your staff KNOWS that you lie. This is official policy. Do you think that anyone is going to cut you ANY slack if something goes wrong? eg A rumor starts that you fired someone for bad reasons, but it’s not true. Even if you share the information, who do you think is going to believe you? Someone’s pay gets shorted by mistake. Do you think that person is going to believe that it was a mistake?

    I’m not addressing ethics here – you clearly don’t care about that. But on purely practical level, you have set up a situation that’s likely to bite you quite hard.

    And I hope that your employee finds a new job asap.

    1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      2 and 3 are excellent points. If your staff are all liars and the manager is proud of being a liar that is one dysfunctional situation that’s gonna implode the second something really egregious happens.

    2. LinuxSystemsGuy*

      My first thought reading this one was that the honest employee, once replaced, would almost certainly start being *very* honest, all over the Internet.

    3. Ferdinand the Dog*

      Great comment, clearly the OP doesn’t care about actual ethics, but lying as a policy is clearly just bad business on multiple levels. I see long discussions on Etsy forums for example, clearly this is something small business worry about, but the consensus there also is that it’s just bad business to refuse cancelations if the product hasn’t shipped, because you’ll end up with angry customers. Even if you’re not an actually honest person, you want your customers to think that, yes?

    4. GreyjoyGardens*

      2 and 3 are things that could sink the business just as much as lying to customers. Also too, a staff of liars is bound to be a staff of embezzlers and no-call-no-shows and that can’t be good for business either.

    5. Librarian of SHIELD*

      I just want to add here, if I were fired from my job for refusing to lie to customers, I would tell absolutely EVERYONE I know about it. I’m pretty sure those optics are much worse than just adding “no cancellations” to the company website.

    6. Not So NewReader*

      OP, your management encourages lying.

      How do you know they aren’t lying to YOU?
      They have already showed you lying is okay by them. So how do you know they are truthful when they speak to you?

  39. Clefairy*

    Coming from a Customer Service background, I can understand having policies around what your employees can and can’t say, and having an expectation that internal affairs aren’t brought up to a client, even if they asked directly about it; or needing to use pre-approved, PR-spun responses for sensitive things instead of breaking out 100% brutal honesty. I honestly thought this email was going to be about a similar scenario…but then it was literally, point-blank, “I need my employees to just lie, arbitrarily, and act really shady and can I fire someone because they won’t?”. This WILL ruin your business eventually- bad reviews when clients see the post-marked date being wildly different than the date you claim to have shipped, for one. Also, nothing is stopping your employee from being completely open about these shady policies on sites like glassdoor. The question isn’t IF this is going to become publicly searchable eventually, but WHEN. Get ahead of it now. Let clients make decisions on what to purchase based on your actual policies. And if this somehow leads to your business going under eventually (Maybe you end up losing sales when people realize there are no cancellations/refunds, and it makes enough of an impact on the bottom line?) then I have bad news for you: your company wasn’t viable. You can’t use lies to push your company into the black. Building a business on a foundation like this won’t lead to success in the long term.

    1. Observer*

      Coming from a Customer Service background, I can understand having policies around what your employees can and can’t say, and having an expectation that internal affairs aren’t brought up to a client, even if they asked directly about it; or needing to use pre-approved, PR-spun responses for sensitive things instead of breaking out 100% brutal honesty. I honestly thought this email was going to be about a similar scenario…but then it was literally, point-blank, “I need my employees to just lie, arbitrarily, and act really shady and can I fire someone because they won’t?”

      This was exactly my first thought.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      Lie to the customers vs having a profitable, enduring business.
      You can only have one. Which of one of these would you like?

  40. Youngin*

    Well, thanks for confirming to me that companies do this. I had a major brand do this to me lately. “Its shipped” but didn’t get tracking for a week.

    If your business is only able to stay afloat because you are lying and deceiving customers, then maybe it should not stay afloat

    1. StacyPC*

      Since this summer, I’ve had multiple big brands say items had “shipped,” with the tracking showing the item hadn’t been picked up for days (so, really, the company had prepped the package for shipping but hadn’t actually shipped it), with the reps refusing to acknowledge the items hadn’t actually shipped yet…..and the items never arrived, while different reps adamantly kept saying the items were shipped, while tracking STILL showed the items were sitting in their pick-up location awaiting a carrier. Two companies tried to tell me that UPS or FedEx “just missed the pick-up scan” and couldn’t explain why UPS or FedEx then missed every other warehouse/transit/whatever scan since then. Different companies, too. I thought it was just shipping delay shenanigans and confused customer service reps, but, wow, I guess it’s actually A Thing to gaslight customers and lie about shipping. I used to sell on Amazon and eBay and wouldn’t have been able to sleep at night, if I’d just packed up an item, slapped a label on it, and let it sit in my living room for 8 days, while telling my customers it had definitely been shipped. Like, what? No.

    1. Dr. Rebecca*

      I’m saying. If there’s *that many* cancellations to lie about each week that it’s causing the OP problems…how about they clue us in on what they sell so we can avoid it!

    2. Not So NewReader*

      Since it’s such a problem, it must come up often.
      This means they are keeping a lot of money and NOT shipping out product.

      I wonder where that money goes?

      1. Imaginary Friend*

        I read it to mean that they do ship out the product that’s been paid for, even though the customer would rather not have it anymore. They say that they can’t do that once it’s been shipped, and the lie is that any time a customer wants to cancel their order, it’s “already been shipped”.

  41. JB*

    So if someone places an order and then immediately cancels, LW, you think the optics are better to tell them it’s already shipped? When that’s obviously not true?

    As others have said, a ‘no cancellations’ policy isn’t that unusual, especially for small businesses. As long as it’s stated up front on the website, there’s no problem.

    I do wonder what other kinds of emails your employee needs you to edit lies into, as well.

    If your business is such that you find yourself routinely needing to lie to customers, you may find all of your employees (religious or no) would be more comfortable not signing their name on these emails at all. A boilerplate ‘Sincerely, [Company] Customer Service Team’ signature may be better.

    1. JB*

      I’d also like to note –
      I don’t personally have a religious objection to lying, and my personal, ethical approach to the concept of truth vs lies is nuanced. In other words, I’ve absolutely lied to customers before and I know there are situations where it’s the best way to provide good customer service.*

      If I were in your employee’s shoes, I’d claim a religious exemption as well. You’re asking her to risk her own professional reputation by attaching her name to this lie – a lie that impacts a customer’s finances, being that they made the purchase not realizing they couldn’t cancel, since you’ve chosen not to provide that information. And signing a different employee’s name to an email they didn’t write is pretty well beyond most people’s ethics.

      *For those who can’t imagine a situation where it’s right to lie to a customer: it’s a common necessity if you’re working on a teller line. If a customer asks “where is everybody?” and the truth is that they’re all on the other side of the wall to my left, counting the cash order that just got brought in, I absolutely can’t say that. Even “oh they’re working on something right now, but they’re around” is too much information in a bank – most bank branches are SMALL and it’s impossible to tell if this customer is just idly asking questions, or has already determined that there’s only one or two places they could be that are out of view and is trying to feel out whether there’s a large amount of cash exposed right now. And of course “I can’t tell you that” is ALSO telling, on top of being very combative for a customer service interaction. So you say something like “oh, so-and-so just stepped out” or “early lunches today”.

      1. Here we go again*

        I get around not lying to customers. I’d rather be honest and have you leave disappointed because I can’t do something or I don’t have exactly what you want, than lie and take your money and have you angry later. I’ve custom ordered stuff for customers that I thought was hideous. I always tell the customer, “I’m happy that you’re happy” and “My opinion on your merchandise doesn’t really matter because it’s your money and you’re the one using it.”
        People who don’t buy because of a no refund policy are disappointed, and May purchase in the future. People who have been lied to over a no refund policy will never buy from you again.

      2. LizB*

        Yeah, I lie to customers every once in a while, or at least tell an incomplete version of the truth. People are very willing to accept, “Unfortunately I can’t see the status of that request on my end, let me get you through to your Llama Coordinator.” They are much less willing to accept, “I can see that the request was denied, but our system is terrible so I can’t see why it was denied or what you might need to do to fix it, and even if I could, your Llama Coordinator is the one who’ll have to make the changes for you, so let’s just put you through to them from the start and avoid you getting annoyed at me, a powerless admin, for giving you bad news with no actionable follow-up steps.” I definitely thought from the title that this letter was going to be about that kind of situation, but nope!

        1. KateM*

          The title of this story is definitely way too mild – from “that’s our policy” I expected the OP to be a middle-level manager with no say in those policies. OP tries to hide behind “company policies” and “a decision that has been made for the good of the company” and “our internal policy”…. all thile they are THE owner so it would be more straightforward to say “my policy” and “I decided so”.

      3. Not So NewReader*

        I lost my debit card in the ATM machine.
        When I called the woman said, “We will get it out when we open the safe.”

        I paused, thinking “tmi, tmi!”

        Finally I said, “Help me out here. I can’t ask you when you open the safe. I do know it will take a minute to find my card, so that is additional time. Please just tell me what time I should call you back to see if you salvaged my card or if my card is damaged and I need a new one.”

        She paused. And finally she gave me a time to call back.

  42. Rainy*

    So here’s the thing, OP. What you want to do is fire this employee because she doesn’t want to lie to customers.

    Go ahead and do that. You’ll have to fight her unemployment claim, and then you’ll forever be the company who fired someone for refusing to lie to customers. But it sounds like you’re…kind of okay with that? Because you have a company policy of lying to customers! If you weren’t okay with it, you’d stop lying to customers.

    So go ahead and do the thing you want to do and then take the consequences on the chin, but please stop acting like your employee’s ethics are the real problem here. You have a bad policy that you for some reason feel like you need to stick to until the heat-death of the universe. There are consequences for that.

    1. Curious*

      Why do you say that? OP will have fired this employee for [Valid Reasons]. If they’re willing to lie to customers, why not lie to the Unemployment folks? /s

      And the same for Credit card charge backs. I understand from Elliot Advocacy that many banks will accept the merchant’s word.

  43. Colin*

    I’m a newcomer here and have a question- are these people for real? Like, this website clearly aligns with ethical HR policies. I assume that the people who write you are also readers of the website… like in what world did this person think they weren’t going to be blasted for this ridiculous policy? The letter that brought me here was the manager who thought a new employee was being unreasonable about her paycheck getting screwed up twice in a row.

    How can anyone who reads this site really ask these psychopathic questions?

    1. Rainy*

      This is just my own thought on something I too have often pondered, but I think there are a lot of people out there who, despite typing out a whole question, don’t look at what they’ve written and go “…oh, whoa, it’s me, I’m the jerk”.

    2. Mirily*

      Narcissism. The amount of people who can readily see all the ways in which other people are wrong but think that they are always, unimpeachably in the right is astonishing.

      I also think that (especially with some generations) there’s a part of our culture that holds managers/business owners up as arbiters of morality, the backbone of the economy/society and paragons of success so they think they MUST be right since they’re “successful” by certain standards.

      1. pope suburban*

        I think this is it. I worked for someone at a dysfunctional small business who acted much like this LW- to the point that if that hadn’t been a construction company rather than a retailer, I’d wonder if it was him. He could genuinely not conceive that he could be wrong about anything, even when he was engaging in dishonest or offensive behavior. And he thought he was better than others because he’d stumbled into owning a business (He was not good at running it, but by god, he had money), so why bother with courtesy for the little people? It’s not like we were bright enough to understand he was being rude and slimy, right? Some people are just rotten that way.

    3. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      A lot of people probably Google for ‘ask a manager’ or similar and head straight for the questions box. There’s been letters in the past where people have expected Alison to side with them simply because they believe she’ll always choose the side of a manager.

    4. Observer*

      I assume that the people who write you are also readers of the website

      Yeah, well that seems to be a poor assumption.

      I don’t really understand why it happens so often, but we’ve seen a number of doozies where anyone who had been reading the site for a while would have known better. (Or should have.)

      The one that has always really stuck was one where the LW responded to Allsion’s smack down by actually saying “Your site is called Ask A Manager so I thought you would side with me, since I am a manager”

        1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

          I think it was the “un-manager” who tried to push out her best employee for not being interested in beer runs and ended up getting fired for being successful.

      1. Sapphire (they/them)*

        At least that person did finally see the error of their ways, so perhaps there’s hope for this one?

    5. Elenna*

      In addition to people failing to realize that they’re the jerk, I suspect some people are just looking for validation on their bad decisions, Googling, finding this site, and immediately submitting a question without looking at much on the site.

      Anyways, site policy is to assume letters are real, on the basis that a) if someone sends in a real letter it would suck for them to come in to a bunch of responses wondering if it’s fake, and b) even if it is fake there might be useful information for other readers.

    6. Carol the happy elf*

      Colin, these people are real.
      The tooth fairy was your Mom, the Easter Bunny was Dad, and Santa Claus is Grandpa with a pillow under his rental costume and a beard made of yak hair.
      Okay, those last three might be a mistake,
      but people like OP are sadly, cluelessly real.
      And they have such a bloated sense of entitlement that the universe sags with the weight of the anger and frustration they cause to those they betray. Or try to corrupt.
      I hope that OP can buy a clue from this beloved gallery here; I adore AAM and the integrity of the comments and advice. I know that the answers will have a humanity and purity, and that the bottom line is to do the best, right thing in the situation.

      This site validates my personal values every day, and the overwhelming goodness and integrity of the responding commenters gives this old nag hope for the future.

      I have left this open when my daughter was struggling with a work problem. It helped my son decide to expose a professor who had pressured female students into sex for grades.
      Both of them paid for their choices, but life favors the honest more times than not, and it’s better to sleep with a clear conscience.

      You will laugh, get angry, and it’s some of the best education you can find. This site also gives support for doing the right things. When you have integrity, you are not alone.

    7. Dark Macadamia*

      I think a lot of people just send a letter out to every advice column they can find, or the first one they come across that sounds relevant. Reminds me of how sometimes Captain Awkward, who is very openly feminist, would get letters from creepy jerks who probably thought “yeah, I’m awkward!” and didn’t get the answer they expected

    8. Nanani*

      I think some people aren’t regular readers but just came across the site and assume that “a manager” will naturally agree with them because ???

      Or they really lack that self awareness to that extreme a degree.

    9. Not So NewReader*

      Watching the disconnect is on a par with watching a multi-car pile up. You just can’t help but stare in total disbelief.

      I think Alison did a huge public service by taking this question. Companies asking people to lie is not that unusual. Many people who might not write in, would still read her answer. And they probably feel validated that their concerns are serious.

  44. Mirily*

    It’s the lack of self-awareness for me. OP’s question is: We have an unethical policy that my employee won’t abide by, so how do I remove them? You didn’t write something that short and simple because it sounds bad but it sounds bad because it IS BAD.

    OP, you know (not even all that deep down if I’m guessing) that this is wrong because you wrote several paragraphs trying to justify it and then threw in little tidbits (having a small child, sharing that your workday is incredibly long, saying your business won’t make it) to garner sympathy. But that ignores the obvious: this is wrong, your policy is wrong and you’re dead wrong for trying to get rid of an employee who won’t join you in your wrongness. You clearly KNOW that so stop ignoring your conscience!

    But since the spirit of capitalism was invoked by the OP to defend their poor business practice (“We MUST do this or we won’t surive!”) I’m going to counter with the ultimate capitalist truism: If your business can’t withstant changing the policy, than it isn’t competitive enough in the market and SHOULD close. If your margins are so thin that you have to essentially commit fraud to surive then … you have bigger issues that need to be addressed.

    1. TPS reporter*

      Exactly what I was thinking. OP should find a way to increase the margins a bit which would reduce stress on them and the others.

      This person they want to remove actually sounds pretty great- has integrity, is direct. I bet OP could trust them with more responsibility once they open up their mind to another way to do things. And that means more personal time for OP and less stress for all involved.

  45. Former HR Staffer*

    stating the obvious, you’re afraid being honest about no cancellations means you’ll inevitably lose some potential customers (who you WILL lose if any try to cancel or return an item, only to find out after the fact you will not).

    super shady business practices. on the bright side, your honest worker is probably looking for another job to get away from your shady business, so your conundrum of not having an employee willing to do sketchy stuff will probably resolve itself soon.

  46. Bee*

    Honestly this is a ticking time bomb. People have already made the point about tracking numbers… but even if you don’t provide those, what if someone places an order and then realizes immediately it was wrong and tries to cancel? You’re still gonna say it was already shipped, mere minutes after it was placed? Any consumer would know that’s BS.
    Alison is 100% right, just be upfront and the problem solves itself.

  47. HR Ninja*

    I am not assuming the employee isn’t religious, but I am wondering if this is another way of saying, “I won’t do this out of common decency.”?

    Also, the fact the employee is calling what you are doing is lying to customers, and you’re not disputing that accusation is very telling.

    1. Elenna*

      Yeah, I also kinda wondered if the employee was leaning on “it’s against my religion” because OP wouldn’t listen to “it’s against my morals, decency, and common sense”.

    2. Dark Macadamia*

      I felt like bringing up religion was a bit much, but it also seems to be the only reason LW hasn’t fired her already so maybe this employee just knows her boss well, lol

      1. Not So NewReader*

        I think it matches OP’s firmness in unwillingness to change and unwillingness to consider other ideas.

        Stuff like this happens when people dig their heels in. And OP has dug both heels in pretty deep.

    3. HannahSnow*

      I’d also probably bring my religion into it straight away because if I knew my boss had some shady business practices, I’d use whatever tactic I thought most likely to get this to stop. Invoking sincerely held religious beliefs from the start (with the implication that this will need accommodation and be protected from retaliation). Depending on how this shakes out, I wouldn’t be surprised if the employee lawyers up for wrongful termination on the basis of religious discrimination, because it’s really hard to see how lying to customers in order to conceal shady business practices is a fundamental part of the role.

  48. GreyjoyGardens*

    I’m all O_o at the “let’s lie to customers, that’s a perfectly cromulent and OK policy” nonchalance in this letter. No, it’s not OK. It really isn’t, and the employee is in the right to refuse to lie.

    OP’s company is just asking for a barrage of negative reviews and word-of-mouth at best, a lawsuit and being smeared irrevocably on social media and review sites at worst. Having a “no returns” policy is fine as long as you are upfront about it.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      So, OP, if you go home tonight and order something online and then find out that you cannot get a refund AFTER you order, it would be okay, right? I mean the first thing you’d say is, “Their profit margins must be narrow and they needed to keep my money so they can stay afloat. I want to help them, so they can keep my money.”

  49. Rodrigo*

    This is a terrible, terrible policy and the optics of it are far worse than any damage an upfront “no cancellations” policy would make.

    1. Rodrigo*

      oh, and “managing out” an employee because you can’t discriminate against their religion? SUPER shady.

      1. Observer*

        It’s all part of the same pattern – the OP is a liar. That’s how they operate. Lie to customers, lie to employees, lie to regulators.

        But, OP, keep this in mind. The EEOC is QUITE familiar with this kind of tactic. I suggest you google the words pretext or pretextual and discrimination. You might find that enlightening.

  50. Bookgarden*

    I know you didn’t really get the answer you were looking for here, OP. However, I’m not sure what you were expecting. It’s not fair or realistic to ask Alison for advice to help shift employee behavior towards unethical practices with the caveat that she can’t speak about said practices.

  51. Get Real*

    This business owner lacks integrity. Full stop. This is the kind of typical nonsense from the “millennials don’t want to work” crowd.

  52. Persephone Mulberry*

    Her committment to exclusive truth-telling extends beyond these scenarios, and she will often leave me drafts of her emails for me to edit before sending to the customer as she knows that she cannot say what she wants to say.

    Based on Alison’s answer I don’t expect the LW to engage with this post, but I am sure wondering what else they are asking their employee(s) to lie about.

    1. Rainy*

      Is it just me, or does it sound like…a lot. I sometimes have my manager read an email if I want to make sure I’m being tactful, but that’s like, *maybe* once a month. It’s certainly not 30 minutes of emails daily!

    2. sacados*

      I was really interested in this bit too!
      The cancellations aside, it does sound like there’s a situation where LW is having to spend extra time editing the employees emails to customers …. and I do wonder what Alison’s advice would be to that part of it.
      I’m sure it depends on the content/context of the “lies” but I’m just imagining something like the Jim Carrey “Liar, Liar” movie. Is this a situation where the employee is refusing to use routine/conciliatory customer service language because she feels like it would be a “lie” to say things like “as our most valued customer”…?
      What is the best course of action if you have an employee who has a policy of such extreme truth-telling that it prevents them from carrying a main the duty of their job, when it’s framed as a religious belief?

      1. Ha2*

        Yeah, this could have been a different answer if the lies in question were different. Like, if the employee was just supposed to say “we’re unable to process cancellations” and refused to because they thought “that’s a lie, we’re able to process cancellations but are choosing not to” then we’d probably not have the reaction we do! Or a “lie” like saying “we’ll resolve your issue as soon as we can” when they know it’s low priority.

        Anyway, the resolution of all of those cases would be simple – document what you wanted the employee to say, document her refusal, preferably get both of those in writing, then fire the employee.

        But in this case, I think the subtext is that OP does not want any of this recorded in writing.

        And that’s why there’s no good resolution. The best defense against a religious discrimination claim is good documentation of the REAL reason the employee was fired, and if OP does not want to reveal that reason, well, they’re SOL.

      2. Myrin*

        Yeah, I thought the letter would go completely differently (like someone who always followed up every client’s “Hello, how are you?” with a litany of how bad she’s doing in reality, something like that) and thought “Hey, a scenario I’m really interested to hear Alison’s take on!” and then I actually read the letter and. Well.

      3. Lab Boss*

        I have to assume the cancellations thing is the most important to the LW since it was the focus of the e-mail, and it’s completely egregiously wrong, regardless of what else the employee is doing.

        That said, yeah- I would also not be able to do my job if I took “be honest” to its most extreme point. If a coworker tacks on a halfhearted “sorry this was late” to something that was delaying me, I can’t just refuse to reply politely because my HONEST reply is “you’re not sorry, you got to it when you felt like it and now I’m working late on Friday. Don’t do it again.” There’s lies of comission (saying we already shipped something we didn’t), lies of omission (leaving the no-returns policy out of the fine print before springing it on customers) and then… lies of technicality? The “Liar, Liar” lies where you consider it a lie to not vent EVERYTHING on your mind?

    3. Elenna*

      Yes! Apparently there are so many lying emails that it’s 30 minutes of work a *day* to edit them? How many lies is OP’s company telling to their customers??

      1. AuroraPickle*

        If it is only this, what is so wrong that there are 30 minutes a day of cancellation emails? Some issue with the product listing that makes people rethink their order?

        I hope OPs employee is job searching.

      2. GreyjoyGardens*

        It makes me wonder if it’s going to be one of those stories that hits the news about a year from now: “The Downfall of Pantsonfire Teapots, Inc. – What Really Happened?”

    4. Not So NewReader*

      Dear Alison,

      My employer wants me to lie. So I type out my emails and give them to my boss to edit. That way she types the lie but I don’t. I am not sure how much longer I can stand doing this. What should I do?
      Needs a Job But Not This One

  53. Pam*

    In college I worked part time for a service-based company with a “must lie” policy, and, even though it would be considered a very “white lie” within the industry, it eventually damaged the company reputation so much that the company is no longer operating. The lie made it harder to operate overall and definitely made everyone’s job’s harder, especially ownership.. Maintaining a shady policy is what’s creating more work here, not looking over emails.

    From a customer perspective, I see a “no cancellation” policy pretty frequently, so I’m not sure why OP would think that’s unusual.

  54. CatCat*

    I’m so baffled at this.

    OP *wants* employees who are willing to lie??

    It’s just a small step from “lying to customers” to “lying to OP.”

    1. RagingADHD*

      Right? If you hire people who have no problem lying and fire the ones who do, you’re going to wind up with a lot of employees who aren’t picky about telling the truth to anyone.

    2. Alpacas Are Not Dairy Animals*

      Basic insiders vs. outsiders psychology, with the accompanying sense of betrayal that an ‘insider’ (employee) would side with an ‘outsider’ over a fellow insider. It’s not a given behavior that’s wrong (lying, stealing, even killing if you’re say the Mob) it’s that you must arrange your behavior to benefit ‘us’ and not ‘them’.

  55. I WORKED on a Hellmouth*

    I routinely purchase things from more than a few companies that have no cancelation policies, it 100% isn’t a big deal. The majority of them have a little acknowledgement box that you check when ordering, the few that don’t just have the policy clearly posted on their website and in their faq. They all have THRIVING social media (which is how I found a lot of them, honestly).

    Having a SECRET no cancelation policy, on the other hand, is shady af and I 100% would not want to have anything to do with that kind of company. And I REALLY wouldn’t want to support a company that would shove out an employee for having a normal set of ethics and refusing to lie to customers for no good reason.

    Really rethink some of this, OP. It’s been over a decade since I got fired from a job for refusing to lie to Oprah, and I *still* tell people that story and name names. If you find an underhanded way to push out an employee for not wanting to comply with your underhanded no cancelation policy, I would NOT be surprised it that story haunts you via word of mouth and social media for some time to come.

      1. I WORKED on a Hellmouth*

        You know, I’ve probably mentioned it, but it happened way before I found Ask a Manager, so I never wrote in or anything. Basically, I worked for this local software company that was trying to develop a little one stop service for their clients where we would also write their ad copy, press releases, newsletter content, take their pictures and do their graphic design, etc., etc. Their biggest client was an MLM that sold… NSFW stuff, and the owner was obsessed with getting on Oprah. The company that I worked for told the owner that I would write up some press releases lying about how she helped single mothers from all over New Orleans recovering from Katrina. And send them to Oprah’s people. And launch a campaign to get her on the show. And I told them that I would happily write about things the owner had actually done, but that I wasn’t going to lie to Oprah. And they did not care for that.

        1. SaffyTaffy*

          @I WORKED on a Hellmouth I did freelance work for a guy who was obsessed with getting on Oprah! He was EXHAUSTING and strange, and I remember his desire for her approval kind of turned her into an inadvertent red flag for me working with people in the future. I guess it’s fair, because “I want to be famous” is not a value I’m comfortable working with.
          That being said, Oprah has a long history of entertaining liars! So your employer might have been right up her alley.

    1. AuroraPickle*

      Right? I occasionally purchase from small businesses who are even disclosing that this isn’t their full time job, and provide rationale as to why they can’t take cancelations or in some cases, returns. I don’t mind. I’m not like “ah, it’s a side hustle? I better go to Amazon because giving my money to a billionaire feels right.”

  56. KHB*

    I know this is hardly the worst of what’s wrong here, but I want to talk about OP’s idea to “subtly manage her out.” First of all, I don’t think that this solves the problem at all: If you’re trying to get rid of an employee for a potentially illegal reason (like religion or other protected class), I don’t think it’s any less illegal to “subtly manage them out” than it is to flat-out fire them.

    Second, I really hate that “subtly managing employees out” is even a thing, because it leaves good employees paranoid and trying to read tea-leaves about whether this “subtle out-managing” is happening to them. If an employee isn’t working out in a particular role in your company (for a non-illegal reason), it would be a kindness to them and to everyone else to just tell them so. I think Alison has written some great posts in the past with scripts on how to work with an employee to transition them to a job at another employer in a way that leaves everybody on good terms with everybody else.

  57. Barbara*

    Good Night. I worked for a business for about a week that had a similar policy.
    They were not small business, but I won’t name names. Anyway, the way they shipped items, I think they did it so they would intentionally break. So customer would call, mad as anything because their light fixture or whatever pretty item they ordered broke enroute.
    I was hired as a customer service rep, my job was to be the oh I am so sorry that happened, let me get you a new one. But I also had to say: While I have you on the phone, can I interest you in something to go with your new thing, and both items will probably be broken upon arrival? Apparently this is called upselling? Anyway, I was fired because I wouldn’t say the last part, I couldn’t in good conscious do it because I knew they would be getting crap that was broke. And the the cycle would start again.

  58. Mellie Bellie*

    What’s that saying about “…would tell a lie when the truth would suit them better”? Anyway, there is no reason for the drama of a lie, here. The only way I can figure that it’s not 100% easier on everyone to post a “Sorry, No Cancellations Policy” is if the point of not telling customers about the no cancellation policy up front is less about optics (which, what?) and more about conning people who might not buy the product if they knew it was non-refundable into doing so without telling them that it is not. That’s…a much worse business practice and optics nightmare than just saying “No Cancellations!” upfront.

    Anyway, LW, your company’s practice is shady, your employee is not in the wrong and I wouldn’t buy from a company that was willing to straight-up lie to me to get my business. That this is your official company is mind-boggling. Yikes!

  59. RagingADHD*

    I don’t understand the policy at all. I’ve bought things from retailers who don’t accept cancellations plenty of times. As long as the product is good, I’ll keep buying.

    But places that give me the runaround about shipping when they clearly didn’t? I’ll never buy again, and I will leave every kind of bad review everywhere I can. This policy is so counterproductive it’s amazing they are still pursuing it.

    I feel so bad for this employee trying to thread the needle on working for a shady company while still trying to maintain some personal integrity. I hope and (literally) pray that she can find a better job very soon and get this constant stress out of her life.

  60. Long Time Listener*

    If the Girl Scouts can have a no cancellation policy and make it explicit, your business can too. This is their policy:

    “Is there a refund policy?
    Once an order is placed, we cannot make any changes to the order or offer a refund.
    Please review your shipping and billing information carefully before finalizing your order. Include apartment or suite numbers if required for delivery.
    Please make sure to carefully read the product description, dimensions, and details, as some of our products may not look exactly like the picture in our catalog or on our website.
    Orders placed online may not be refunded if the incorrect address was entered or if there were spelling or grammatical errors in the gift message.”

    So just… do something like that?

  61. 2cents*

    I’m agnostic and I’d straight up refuse to lie as well. This is a terrible policy that doesn’t do anyone any good, and the fact that the owner isn’t willing to revisit it is really not a good sign for this business.

  62. Pam*

    Trying to imagine LW thinking she was going to get a “Here’s how lawfully to terminate your honest employee, so you can replace her with someone less scrupulous” response.

    1. Mike*

      I want them to come to the comments section and explain what answer they thought they were going to get.

      1. Gerry Keay*

        Right? You’d think all it would take would be someone typing out this letter and reading it back to themselves to realize “oh this is a me-problem, not a them-problem.”

  63. Budgie Buddy*

    I relate to this employee so much and was happy to see Allison back up her integrity. OP knows their business policies are whack and as other people have said it would be easy to tweak policy so customers are fully aware of what they’re getting into.

    I’m waiting for a people to jump in with “Everyone knows customer service is just lying to appease people, this employee is being childish and stubborn,” or “Just because someone is fine with lying to customers doesn’t mean they’d lie in other situations, what a bizarre escalation.” I thought the person who lied during an interview and doubled down was pretty out there, but a minority defended him, so I dunno…

  64. Colette*

    Some thoughts.

    If your policy is that you’re going to scam and lie to your customers (which is what you’re doing), I have no sympathy for the fact that you have to do it yourself because your employee refuses to do it. You’re getting the benefit of the business; you shouldn’t ask her to do something you won’t do.

    I’m also skeptical that you can’t afford to cancel orders that haven’t shipped unless it’s a custom order – if you’re selling pre-made widgets and it hasn’t shipped, just … mark the order cancelled and go on to the next one. Charge a re-stocking fee to cover the credit card charges, refund the rest.

    But if you truly can’t do that, your customers need to know that in advance. If it’s a reasonable policy, they won’t mind; if it’s not a reasonable policy, you’re not entitled to their business.

    But I had a retailer do what you’re doing over a year ago (i.e. tell me the item had shipped when it hadn’t), and lying to me over a $25 order cost them my future business (and a credit card chargeback).

  65. Bookworm*

    At the very least, you need to state that you do not offer cancellations or refunds except for extenuating circumstances. I can understand why your employee is uncomfortable with this and as a customer I would certainly hesitate to buy from someone who isn’t at least upfront about such policies.

  66. Colonel_Gateway*

    OP, what’s going on with your orders (and customer demands) that it’s taking you half an hour extra each day to field the emails that require lying to those customers? That might be something you want to look into.

    1. Observer*

      That’s a good point. But when your go-to for dealing with customers is lying to them, and you start the whole thing off by hiding relevant information from them, it’s kind of unsurprising that you have that many lies to deal with.

    2. raida7*

      Yes indeedy, I was thinking that from an analytics standpoint they are either doing huge volumes of orders or they have processes that are causing this volume of customer contacts.
      Either way, understanding where they are coming from could help nail down ways to minimise it and the associated workload.

      Unless this is simply one of those stores that is constantly behind, has jam packed store rooms, old processes, and they say “it’s shipped” because customers are waiting a week with no shipping information – in that case I’d say that OP is well aware of their rushed-off-our-feet and always-behind setup and they don’t intend to change. It’s be far better to change stock levels on their website or limit their range of items for sale to create manageable workloads, but that would be the same as losing sales and would never be done.

  67. Carol the happy elf*

    What the hell??
    You’re not just going to chase off any employee with actual integrity, you’re going to run afoul of the law.

    If a product does not live up to its website hype, and there is no stated no-refund policy, you are required to refund money in a timely manner. If the product is substantially different or inferior, you need to know thst there is long established law that gives “Warranty of Utility” or some such. (Obviously not a lawyer here, but we won a large judgement against a merchant who didn’t realize that a new HVAC system needs to actuallyn live up to its name.)
    You will, if ( when!) sued, be required to swear that your products were shipped on certain dates, and provide proof.
    Different states have different variations of the same laws, but if you sell an item, it needs to function as expected, be the size, shape, color and utility as stated, and you’re going to
    wind up losing lawsuits.

    You’ll lose more business through your dishonesty and illegal practices, and you’ll wind up feeling entitled to sue people with honest online reviews and legitimate complaints. You’re going to lose those lawsuits, too.
    If your products are truly as high-end as you claim, then your customer service, or lack of it, will be the determining factor in whether your business survives.

    Seriously, go and sin no more.

    If you run an honest business, your high-end products AND excellent (HONEST!!) customer service will keep you afloat until your business is strong.

    Otherwise, your business will founder, and before it completely fails, you will be scrambling to patch the holes left in your reputation. It takes more energy to regain a lost reputation than to have integrity in the first place.

  68. LizM*

    I don’t understand why having a no return or cancellation policy is bad optics? It seems pretty standard for small businesses. I run a small Etsy store, and a lot of sellers on that platform have a no returns policy. I’ll work with customers if something is wrong with their order, or if I can without being out the cost of supplies if I’ve already started an order, but I don’t want to eat the cost of materials if they simply change their mind, accidentally order the wrong size, etc. I’ve had a couple people get upset, but I disclose those policies up front. I think people would be much madder if they assumed they could cancel an order and then found out they couldn’t.

    I also think you need to look at what kind of culture you’re promoting if you’re pushing out an employee who isn’t willing to lie. Other employees are going to see that, and either you’re going to have a culture where people are unwilling to speak up, or you’re going to have employees who are comfortable being less than honest. You may be fine with that when it’s applied to customers, but what about when they start telling what they consider to be white lies to their supervisors or to you?

  69. JK*

    15 employees. The business can’t be that small. OP is just being shady and is upset their employee is calling out their lack of morals. OP is a scammer.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Right I’ve worked for four-person nonprofits that still offered refunds for CS disputes

      1. Elizabeth West*

        I’m a sole proprietor who sells digital and print-on-demand books through Amazon (yes, I know they suck; it’s my only option right now). When my story collection e-book was on my website, a Twitter follower accidentally ordered it twice and I gave her a refund.

        I don’t care if she got two copies; it was an honest mistake. At the time, payment went directly through PayPal and she had a glitch. If I, one person, can do it, so can others.

    2. Cheap Ass Warm Gooey Burnt Banana Bread*

      I was thinking this too. I’ve worked for, shopped at, and known the owners of many niches retail businesses, and none of them ever had more than a handful of employees (including owner.) Most were 3-4 people, maybe 5-6. All of these were busy placed with thriving business (many ongoing for decades.)

  70. Ha2*

    Yeah, OP, you don’t need to change the return policy! But why not just have the website say “all sales final, no cancellations or refunds except in case of fraud or where required by law” and then your employee could just say “sorry, we cannot accommodate cancellations” instead of “the item has already shipped”. You don’t even need to get into what you can’t accommodate them.

    That seems like such a simple solution that I can’t help but wonder if this is just the tip of the iceberg. OP mentions that there are “other situations” where this comes up – so perhaps there’s a whole company culture about lying, to customers or to suppliers or to whoever else. So then getting rid on the one honest employee really is simpler than changing the way the whole company operates.

    1. Observer*

      But why not just have the website say “all sales final, no cancellations or refunds except in case of fraud or where required by law”

      Probably because the OP doesn’t want to comply with the law, and doesn’t want people to realize that there are legal options here.

      The OP claims that they “need” to do this because of the optics. But actually (aside from the religious discrimination issue) the way they are operating is almost certainly illegal. THAT’S what they are trying to hide. It’s not “bad optics” but “illegal behavior we need to hide” that’s the problem that the OP is trying “solve” by lying.

  71. Matt*

    I’ve worked in customer service and call centers for more years than I care to remember, and while I agree with the “idealism” in Allison’s ressponse. I think it’s a bit out of touch with like 80% of how customer service agents are trained, even by large corporations. Half of what “descalation” is in customer service is lying to customers, or giving vague half truths to avoid “escalation.” I’m sorry, but in our modern era of customer service, and call centers, it’s not possible to be truthful to customers because of most policies, so critizing just this one seems… well very disconnected to what the modern role of “customer service” actually is.

    1. ENFP in Texas*

      There’s a difference between “de-escalating an unhappy customer” and a company policy of flat-out lying, though.

      1. Matt*

        “There’s a difference between “de-escalating an unhappy customer” and a company policy of flat-out lying, though.” Not when the descalation method is lying just to tell the customer what they want to hear to calm them down. It’s still lying, and if you work in a call center you’ll have to do it daily.

        1. Observer*

          You mean saying “I’d love to help you. I’m so sorry this happened. Blah Blah Blah” is the same as telling someone “you’re item shipped out already” when it hasn’t are the same thing?

          OK, go work for the OP.

          1. Matt*

            In the case of order cancelations, we all knew orders couldn’t be canceld either unless something happened on the payment side, but if payment processed, the order couldn’t be canceled. We were told not to tell customers this because it usually just pissed them off. What we did was do a shipping intercept to have their order returned back to us once it shipped out (so we’d have to monitor it in tracking, and once it left do the intercept), then flag it in processing not to process a refund once returned because we issued the refund to get it to them sooner. We also were able to manipulate their order on the customer facing side to make it look like it had canceled.

            1. Observer*

              I’m not sure I understand the exact process, but it does look like you did actually make the EFFECTIVELY cancel the order and get people their money back. If so, then not telling people about the details of HOW you did it could be considered a “white lie”. That’s a different story.

            2. Colette*

              That is a cancellation from the customer’s point of view, though. They don’t care if you’re doing it in an indirect way; they care that they get their money back and that the order doesn’t arrive.

            3. JB*

              That’s not lying, that’s just putting more steps into the cancellation process. If the customer got their money back and you got the product back, that’s a cancellation.

              1. EchoGirl*

                Seconding this. Maybe it’s technically not called a “cancellation” within this person’s internal system, but the ultimate outcome for the customer is the same as a “true” cancellation, so calling it that isn’t a lie so much as just simplifying/not over-explaining the process to get the customer the relevant information. Blatantly saying “Your order has shipped” when the order won’t ship for several days yet — that’s a tangible difference from the customer’s end.

            4. CS Lifer*

              Your situation and the OP’s is not the same, though.

              There’s a difference between not telling a customer the whole nitty gritty of the process of cancellations vs pretending a company allows cancellations when they actually don’t.

            5. YetAnotherAnalyst*

              I say this as someone with call center experience…. Why would you ever need to lie about that? You shouldn’t need to get into those details at all – “Ok, I’ve cancelled your order in our system, and you can expect to see the money refunded to your account in X to Y days, depending on your bank.” Or even “oh, looks like the transaction has gone through but we haven’t shipped it yet – let me get process a refund for you, instead.”

              1. StacyPC*

                Seriously, this. That de-escalates a customer. Telling a customer that their item has shipped 30 minutes after it was placed and then giving them a tracking number that doesn’t update for 2 days for an item that won’t ship for another 2 days is complete escalation and will set people off. It sets me off, to be honest. There are many places, big and small, I won’t shop anymore because they lied all day about this kind of stuff, regardless of product quality and the end resolution. Don’t lie to me. Simple.

          2. JB*

            I believe what they are saying is that their experience is that many large companies also explicitly instruct customer service and call center employees to directly lie to the customer, and then call that ‘deescalation’.

        2. Akcipitrokulo*

          Worked in a call centre for years,and became trainer for new starts & coach for existing staff.


          No,no no.

          You do NOT lie to customers. Polite “How are you? I’m fine thanks!” is one thing. Telling them it is in post when you know it won’t go out for a day or two is not and would be stamped on hard.

      2. Momma Bear*

        Agreed. I could tell someone I would see what I could do (which sometimes I knew was not much) but I wouldn’t outright lie to them about a product or service or policy. In fact, having the policy made it easier to say, “I’m sorry but you’re past the 30 day cancellation window…I can turn off autorenewal and you won’t be charged for next month, but I can’t refund this one.” 8 times of 10 they would accept that because the policy is clearly on the website. They were just “it doesn’t hurt to ask” people.

        1. Matt*

          I worked for a massive online retailer that has a simmilar rule to what the letter writer states. Our website did have an option to cancel orders, but essentially that rarely worked. People could return orders for a refund though, that we didn’t lie about, but if they called asking to cancel it, we’d have to tell them it couldn’t be canceled because it was too late in processing, so at least there we weren’t lying. The LW could later their langauge that way to just say something similar and that would at least be more truthful than saying the order has already shipped.

          1. Observer*

            I don’t love this, but it IS different. For one thing, you are telling them that you can’t cancel because of processing AND you are letting them actually return the item for a refund. I’d be annoyed, but I wouldn’t call the company management a bunch of liars.

          2. Rainy*

            I think that altering their language in the way you suggest would actually require that they allow people to return product, though, and what it sounds like is that OP’s company explicitly has the policy that they take your money and then you can go get f***ed.

    2. Escapee from Corporate Management*

      We do need to “de-escalate” situations with customers from time to time. It turns out that the truth plus an apology seems to work well.

    3. AuroraPickle*

      What? I work in a call center and the only lies I tell are the sort that are along the lines of “I understand” “I’m sorry” “I’m happy to help” and I’ll lie when I say I’ve doubled checked with a manager when I absolutely did not, or that the hold I need to put you on is to look into your case when really it is only there to calm you down or answer a colleagues question.

      I ABSOLUTELY won’t lie about company policies or products and I’d lose my job if I did.

    4. Akcipitrokulo*

      No… “I’m really sorry this happened…” when you’re really thinking about lunch is nothing like the blatant lying described in op.

  72. Florp*

    I am a part owner in a small company that sells products online, and where I am (USA) your shipping and returns policy would probably not be legal.

    We can’t charge someone’s credit card before we actually ship unless we have specifically gotten permission from the customer to do so. We can’t lie and say something has shipped that hasn’t. We can’t have a secret no returns policy. It is explicitly illegal to charge a customer for a product they never received, and if it got lost or damaged in shipping you refund the customer and get a reimbursement from the shipping company (you do insure your packages, yes?). I’m amazed you don’t have a lot of pissed off customers and a terrible reviews. All sales final policies are fine if you state that upfront, the customer agrees to it, and they actually get their product. The way you claim to work would be against Shopify, Amazon, and any reputable online sales platform’s terms of services, and I would be worried about getting the boot if they find out.

    It’s the week of Black Friday, I will put in a month’s worth of hours in the next 10 days, and this letter is giving me chest pains.

  73. ENFP in Texas*

    “I have an employee who won’t lie to customers – how can I get rid of her?”

    There’s just such wrong with this that I don’t even know where to start.

    Just post your actual “no cancelation” policy instead of making your employees lie.

  74. Oxford Comma*

    I’ve read this three times and I still can’t understand why you don’t have “no returns” explicitly stated on your website. Wouldn’t that save a lot of bother?

    1. raida7*

      I’m guessing it’s just a long-standing anxiety that they may not even know the source of (could’ve been a friend ranting one day two decades ago about a business not accepting a cancellation), combined with the common rigid small-business owner mentality of “I do not have time to change things I am too busy”
      They are afraid of something that isn’t an issue, but they’ve convinced themselves it is – combined with being busy that’s just a recipe for “we’ve always done it that way” and “that’s how the owner wants it done” that sooooooo many businesses have in any and every section.

      1. Oxford Comma*

        I dunno about you but if I discovered that a company had been disingenuous about no cancellations on their website, I would be screaming loud and often on every social media platform I had. Whereas if it’s on me for not seeing it clearly stated on their website, I’m going to annoyed at myself but won’t be badmouthing the company.

  75. Scott*

    Spot on advice, and as a small business owner I understand the temptation to bend the truth for optics. However, honesty really is always the best policy. You should seek out employees with unwavering integrity which just makes your job managing them easier. And I know how scary it is to push back on your customers, but your customers won’t bat an eye at the real policy. If you are worried about optics, change the policy to same day cancellations only, which is not very dissimilar to buying an airline ticket. My point is, surrounding yourself with employees who have unwavering integrity means you don’t have to worry about them mistreating your customers on a whim. Keeping your policy will chase away all of those employees who you can trust to never lie to you to cover up what they are really doing.

    1. Observer*

      Have you been paying attention? The one where the boss was angry that someone insisted on being paid got a pretty straightforward “you’re wrong” response, too.

    2. cosmicgorilla*

      I feel this calls for a gif of Dr. Cox from Scrubs singing “wrong wrong wrong wrong, wrong wrong wrong wrong!”

  76. KO*

    So basically if she wasn’t using a religious exemption, you would let her go? And she would go around telling people she got let go because she wouldn’t lie to customers. And you think this is a better look than having a no-cancellation policy?

  77. BA*

    To quote the great Ted Lasso: It is never the wrong thing to do the right thing…

    And the right thing here is to simply change your policy. That’s it. And it isn’t like you need to rewrite pages and pages and pages of documents. Simply stating “no cancellations” is enough.

    You’re wringing your hands about whether it violates the law to fire someone because they won’t lie? Think of how much better of an employee they’ll be when you ask them to just tell the truth! And think of how much you’ll save – both in time and money – when you’re not having to edit their emails to insert lies every day!

    As an aside… LW, did you honestly expect Alison or any of the commenters to suggest ways to fire the employee and not offer an idea or two about how it is your policy that is causing the issue, not the honest employee??? SMH

    1. Fabulous*

      And it’s not even explicitly changing the policy – it’s already no cancellations – it’s just changing the way that the policy is communicated to customers!

  78. Archaeopteryx*

    She’s right that you’re deceiving your customers, and she’s right that it’s wrong to do so, and she’s wright to resist and to make waves about it every time it comes up. Give her a raise and change your needlessly shady tactics! The “Sorry, order has already shipped” thing is what scam companies do too.

    I’m skeptical that you really do this because you think posting the -exceedingly normal- no-cancellations policy up front will look bad. It seems like you may just not want to “lose” the revenue you’re getting from people who get fooled by this and don’t find out they can’t cancel until it’s too late. Let those people hold off of ordering by posting the policy openly and honestly.

    Also maybe check in with yourself about why *you’re* so comfortable with shady stuff like this. Your employee should be a role model for you not an annoyance!

  79. ChemistryChick*

    I see vendors on Etsy all the time with bold, italicized messages stating “We do not accept returns, cancellations, or refunds.” It’s…really that simple.

    Alison is spot on. Just post the policy and be done with it.

  80. Momma Bear*

    From a customer perspective, I would much rather the company be transparent than sketchy. I guarantee I would not make a second purchase if it wasn’t clear upfront that you don’t cancel and you don’t do refunds. I think what would actually be worse than your employee’s refusal to lie is unhappy customers going online to share their experiences.

    Bottom line, do the thing that you don’t want to do – be upfront on the website/order form. I worry about your morals more than I do those of your employee.

  81. NorthBayTeky*

    This is just another reason why I do not like ordering anything online. I don’t like ordering clothes, only to have to send everything back and order again. Same with shoes.

    Also, you are better off stating your policy right upfront. Sure, you’re going to lose people like me. But how many people are you going to lose when they find out you’re lyi9ng to them?

  82. Adjuster for now*

    So you want to manage her out for…. what? Having integrity? If you found out another employee was committing time card fraud and they justified it by saying their home budget margins were slim, would you let that fly? I doubt it.

    Fix your policy how Allison suggested and be happy you have an honest employee.

  83. Heffalump*

    Alison’s response to “My employee wasn’t respectful enough after the company messed up her paycheck” will also do nicely here:

    “You are very, very wrong about this situation, both as a manager and as a human.”

  84. Stef*

    The OP sounds like they operate a highly dysfunctional business. I look forward to a future letter from the employee and the bizarre company policy!

  85. easily distracted*

    As someone who makes nearly all my purchases online from various types of vendors, I’d like to tell a story about my Christmas shopping last year. Obviously between the pandemic and the surge of shipping, all sort of packages were delayed in both the shipping and the mailing and the receiving. Some of that was irritating but it was all understandable. The ONLY time I got upset, the ONLY time I left a bad review was when a vendor persisted in telling me something had shipped when it hadn’t. It was the delay that bothered me, it was the dishonesty. If they’d told me the truth, apologized, and given me an updated shipping date I would have been fine. As it was, I’ll never purchase from them again and actively discouraged my friend (who loved the gift) from doing so.

  86. generic_username*

    Our customer service policy is posted on our website, but does not explicitly mention that we do not accept cancellations or offer refunds

    WOW, shady af. How could someone write this letter and not see that they have a bad business practice? Also, I wonder about the legality of having an untrue refund/cancellation policy on your webpage.

    It’s a shame, but businesses like this are ones that make it riskier to shop small

    1. Observer*

      Also, I wonder about the legality of having an untrue refund/cancellation policy on your webpage.

      Almost certainly illegal, which could cause them all sorts of problems.

  87. Not Tom, Just Petty*

    OP, here’s the thing about your policy. If you tell me I can’t cancel an order because it’s already been shipped, Ima be the one checking the information on the package when it arrives.
    And yes, I’m willing to admit on Twitter/IG/FB I ordered the wrong size or “aw rats found it cheaper half a day later and tried to cancel. I was told it was already shipped. They said it shipped. It showed up a week later. [photo of mailing label] #noneedtolie”
    Was it worth it?

  88. CommanderBanana*

    ……wow. I wish I knew what company you ran so I could never order from you.

    A LOT of small retailers have a pretty strict no-refunds or cancellations policy. I do a ton of shopping on Etsy, just for one example, and almost all of those retailers, especially ones selling one-of-a-kind and vintage pieces, have no-refunds or cancellations policy.

    It’s ok to have a no-refunds policy. It’s not ok to lie to your customers. Literally all you have to do is put verbiage on your website that says you don’t accommodate order cancellations or refunds. You’ll still get those customers who try to do it, but you can point them in the direction of your policy, or make the no cancellations/no-refunds policy a checkbox before someone purchases from you. It’s literally that easy. I really can’t comprehend why you have this weird workaround.

  89. Mirea*

    LW, I’ve skimmed the comments and generally agree. I would suggest you reconsider losing a good employee to a bad policy.

  90. phira*

    I wonder about the legality of this practice. Like, if you tell a customer that their product was already shipped so they can’t cancel the order, but you haven’t shipped it, is this something that a customer could sue over if they had evidence that you were lying?

    Either way, Alison right right. Just tell customers up front that you don’t accept cancellations! You’re creating so many problems for no reason!

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      I’d be surprised if it were illegal. Companies tell customers white lies constantly and “the check/letter/product is in the mail” is probably one of the more common ones. Unethical though, certainly.

      1. Observer*

        Not true. It’s NOT a “white lie”, it’s consequential. It’s highly problematic to charge a CC before you ship (in some cases, actually illegal) and it’s it almost certainly illegal to do what the OP is doing.

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          I realize this is pedantic but that’s sort of the point of the question. So my experience is the credit card company puts a hold at the time of purchase and it is then processed at the time of shipping when it goes through the vendor’s system. So then if you say it’s shipped but you don’t ACTUALLY process the charge until you ACTUALLY ship it, you haven’t technically done anything illegal, just very shady. And the explanation would be “well it’s still processing but it’s beyond where I can retract it”. Is that not correct?

          1. Observer*

            Putting a hold is different than actually charging the card. It does mean that the money is not available to be spent elsewhere if you are near your credit limit, but it doesn’t go on your bill.

            And, if there is a hold, that does not mean you cannot retract it. I mean, a vendor can create all sorts of policies, but it’s totally not the case that they “can’t” retract it before it’s shipped (or the work is started in the case of custom work)

            1. Matt*

              Yeah, it actually isn’t being on hold by the vendor. The bank or CC company is actually doing the hold to ensure the money will be there when it eventually ships, and once it ships that’s when the money is transfered to the vendor.

    2. Florp*

      Varying federal and state laws in the US, plus terms of services for online marketplaces, credit card processing companies, & etc, but basically, you can’t charge for something you haven’t actually shipped, you have x amount of time to ship before you have to notify the customer of a back order and give them the option to cancel, you have to allow them to cancel the order within X days of placing it (like lemon laws for cars, but many states cover other products), you have to state privacy, return and refund policies clearly at time of purchase, and there are lots of false advertising laws. When you order online your credit card gets processed and authorized at that moment, but the seller does not get the payout until they have verified the order shipped. If the seller requires deposits, there are generally ways for online sales platforms to handle it, but the seller has to abide by their terms of service. Thousands of companies, big and small, fat profit margins or non-profits, do this all day every day. It’s neither new nor difficult and all of this info is easily Googled.

      It’s perfectly fine to charge a restocking fee, insist on exchanges or store credit rather than a refund, say all sales are final, demand non-refundable deposits up front for custom work, & etc. and it’s totally legal if you tell the customer upfront so they can agree to the terms. Buying a box of paper clips online is technically a legal sales contract, and contracts are null and void if one party didn’t know the real terms upfront because the other party was keeping them secret.

    3. MCMonkeyBean*

      If you provide them with a false tracking number, that would be illegal. But I doubt it’s illegal to just say “oh that already shipped sorry.”

      Definitely crappy though, and IMO made extra crappy by just what an extremely *unnecessary* lie it is. There are so many more honest things you could say, or you could just not go into detail at all and say “no, sorry we won’t be able to cancel the order once it has already been placed.”

      1. Kella*

        What may be illegal is their failure to publish their return policy. Some states have laws against doing that.

      2. StacyPC*

        “But I doubt it’s illegal to just say “oh that already shipped sorry.”” – this, especially given that most companies now generate a shipping email when the package has been processed and is ready for the carrier to pick-up. I’ve had items get marked “shipped” that then sat in the company’s UPS pick-up area for 5 days. I find that to be very shady, as I’ve had many items never actually leave that pick-up area (or maybe never even get there) despite my card being charged, but it seems like it’s a fairly typical thing nowadays. And I’ve had many long conversations with customer service reps who don’t seem to understand that a package sitting in the company’s receiving/shipping dock does not mean it’s shipped and is en route….or who have bosses like the OP who make them tell blatant silly lies.

  91. 2 Cents*

    I buy from companies both big and small that have no returns/cancellations policies. They are clearly stated on the website so no one is surprised. I understand I’m taking a risk if something doesn’t work out for me. I’ve also self-selected to not use a company if there is no returns for other items. That’s my right as a consumer. Not informing me about your returns policy, lying to me about the reason (instead of being upfront!), and then expecting me to just take it is WAY worse.

  92. Indy Dem*

    Best way to deal with this is to put the “no Cancellations” policy on the website and when you order, as many, many others have said above. But, maybe a work around is to change what your employee is having to say – instead of saying you can’t cancel because it’s already shipped, have her say, “We can’t cancel the order now, based on where it is in the shipping process”. Still shady, but not technically a outright lie. It’s just that “the shipping process” starts when the buyer clicks “Buy”.

    FYI, you want employees who are uncomfortable telling lies. You really, really do.

  93. Sick of Workplace Bullshit*

    OP, I really don’t have any sympathy for you. You have chosen to operate your business under very strict margins. That’s *your* choice. It’s not up to your employees to lie for you so you can continue to look good. Plus, you really sound whiny when you complain about your 12+ hour days at *your own company*. Again, those are *your* choices. If you can’t afford to operate your business without offering cancellations or telling the truth, you probably can’t afford to be in business. It’s not on your employees to make your business viable or your life outside that business livable.

    1. Soup of the Day*

      This! The extra 30 minutes per day are not what’s keeping you from your kids, OP – it’s the other 12 hours you’re working every day! You’ve either got to accept that as part of running your business or figure out a new system, but you can’t blame your employee for “making more work” for you when you’ve created this situation for yourself.

  94. Madame Defarge*

    How about you don’t lie to your customers in the first place? As someone else already said, it’s a bad policy, and you should feel bad about it.

  95. BadApple*

    I’m guess I’m going to bad commenter jail but I understand why OP is having the employee say that. They are tired of having their head ripped off my customers, and this way it’s “out of their control.”

    It’s still not right: the right thing to do is to put the no cancelation policy on the website and have the client check a box.

    However, I also don’t understand why everyone is acting so flabbergasted (not Alison, but the commenters.) Can we really not understand the desire to use a little white lie to avoid Customer Wrath, even if we don’t agree with it from a moral perspective?

    1. Colette*

      No, not at all. Customers are upset because the OP is not being honest. They’re making a purchase without knowing all the terms. (Yes, some customers are always unreasonable; that doesn’t justify this scam.)

      I’d also disagree that this is a white lie. If I’m waiting for a product to arrive, I care deeply about when it ships, and will sometimes make plans based on when I expect it to arrive. If the OP is honest – “no, it hasn’t shipped yet but we can’t refund it because it’s final sale” – I have different expectations than if she tells me it has shipped.

    2. JB*

      Many of us can. (Some commenters here cannot. You will find some commenters here are very black and white on lying.) It would be one thing if this LWer were a customer service worker writing in about having told a lie like this in the moment to pacify an unexpectedly angry customer.

      But as the owner of the business? Who is fully capable of putting ‘no refunds’ on the website to begin with, but instead has chosen to write ‘lie to the customers’ into company policy? It is indeed flabbergasting that they’ve responded to an employee flagging the ethics of this situation with ‘I don’t intend to change our customer service policy’.

      And it’s a bit tough to call this a ‘white lie’, being that it’s part of LW’s overall workaround for not wanting to state upfront that they have a no cancellation policy – i.e., they are setting out to deceive customers from the start of the transaction, taking away transparency for the customers. It’s fully possible that a customer may choose not to shop with them if made aware of the ‘no returns’ policy, and they are concealing that information intentionally to take that choice away.

    3. CatCat*

      It isn’t a white lie though. This isn’t some minor, harmless fib that helps preserves the recipient’s feelings. It will actually upset recipients because OP has no actual customer-facing policy on cancellations/refunds and hasn’t actually shipped squat. Whether one can get their money back and when an order ships are not trivial things from a customer-perspective.

    4. aebhel*

      It’s not a white lie, though. It’s deliberately misleading in a way that directly affects customers. A white lie is, by definition, an inconsequential and harmless lie that exists to help everyone involved save face.

      Of course I understand the impulse to do something unethical in order to boost sales and avoid consequences. That doesn’t make it not unethical. I’d understand an underpaid employee’s impulse to steal from the cash drawer, too, but it would be irresponsible to advise them to actually do it.

    5. Observer*

      Can we really not understand the desire to use a little white lie to avoid Customer Wrath, even if we don’t agree with it from a moral perspective?

      Because it’s NOT a “little white lie” and it’s not to avoid unreasonable customers. It’s a consequential lie in order to trick people into making purchases they would otherwise not make and to keep people from cancelling orders that they SHOULD be allowed to cancel.

    6. urguncle*

      Is the Customer Wrath not worse when someone gets their package and sees that the shipped date is a week later than they said it was? Is the Customer Wrath not worse when you tell someone that even though at no point during their time on your site/in your shop that all sales were final, all sales ARE final?

      White lies to avoid angry customers are ones that can’t be verified. “That ticket is being worked on as we speak,” as you assign the ticket to someone to work on. “This must have been buried in my inbox” when you were just procrastinating writing a response. “It’s already shipped” when the tracking information will clearly state that it shipped days later is a verifiable lie, and I’m shocked that this hasn’t triggered an investigation on behalf of a credit card company.

      1. MCMonkeyBean*

        Exactly! It’s such a baffling lie because it is both unnecessary and very short-sighted. So easy for the customer to find out later that it wasn’t true!

    7. Eye roll*

      OP is lying about or hiding their cancellation and refund policy. If I was at all unsure about a product, I would not buy from a company that has a no cancellation/no refund policy. OP knows many customers may feel the same. So OP lies to get their money and then lies about why they can’t cancel an order. OP deserves to have customers yelling at them, because OP – not the customers – are engaging in bad behavior.

    8. une autre Cassandra*

      I think the flabbergastery is because this isn’t a “little white lie;” it’s actually a pretty big deal, and it’s understandable that people are pretty outraged to see it minimized and dismissed as routine and NBD. Especially since having a policy that lies by omission is going to confuse and upset more customers than if they were just transparent in the first place—sure there will always be a certain % of customers who are jerks and escalate everything and are general pains in the ass, but by intentionally obfuscating their policies OP is really bringing the “Customer Wrath” down upon their own head.

      1. Nobby Nobbs*

        Worse- I guarantee more “Customer Wrath” is coming down on OP’s employees’ heads than OP’s own.

        1. Kevin*

          I believe even CMOT Dibbler has a pretty explicit no refunds/returns/exchanges policy and he’s highly experienced in customer wrath.

    9. Not So NewReader*

      To me a little white lie is along the lines of, “Gee, NSNR you look very nice today.”

      I know that is a white lie but I can put that under the heading of “speaker tried to think of something nice to say” and let it go.

      A white lie does NOT entail keeping my money without telling me upfront. That’s more like fraud.

    10. RagingADHD*

      I don’t understand what you’re saying.

      You think somehow the customer is going to be *less* upset and *less* likely to react badly if they believe they can cancel the order or get a refund, and then get denied? That bears no resemblance to the general behavior of humanity as I have ever encountered it. Ever.

      Disclosing the actual policy up front is going to prevent people getting upset, not cause it.

  96. Cautionary tail*

    I was laid off by a company because I would not lie. They wanted me to certify that we were doing high levels of quality control, as specified in the contract and that were backing all their information up. My company was not doing any quality control and was not backing anything up. When I was given the form to certify these very expensive processes, I said, “Great, lets do them and then I can certify that we are doing them.” I was told that the jobs were bid knowing that these would never be done and that’s how we were able to be low bidder. When I refused to certify them, another person signed the paperwork and off it went. The company that it was signed for was told that the processes were proprietary and could not be divulged for security reasons. A few days later I was called in and let go. This was a toxic company and I was so relieved to be gone from there, even if it was through a layoff.

    I now work at a different company, one where two of my immediate coworkers also had been fired/laid off because they would not lie. We make a very honest team.

    1. Gary Patterson's Cat*

      I also once quit a company because they wanted me to lie about work not being done and delivered, and to blame our vendor instead of taking the blame ourselves (because we had not been able to pay our vendor).

      I thought it so wrong to throw a good vendor, who always provided excellent customer service, under the bus like that. Plus, word gets around in that industry and it would’ve hurt the vendor’s business.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      The state came in to audit my company.
      I was firmly instructed to say I had read a certain booklet that contained rules I needed to know to do my job.

      I could not remember reading it. Luckily, if I had read it then that would have happened 7 years prior.

      So I told the auditor: That was 7 years ago and I have no idea if I read it or not. If they told you they gave it to me to read, I can promise you I read it three times. I am in a new-to-me arena. I wanted to make sure I understood exactly what was expected from me. I read everything they handed no less than three times.”

      That was the end of that.

  97. Phony Genius*

    In the U.S., businesses much accept cancellations for up to 3 days for any order of at least $25, and must accept returns of defective merchandise. Also, many states require refund policies to be posted. (Though the policy may still be “no refunds.”) The website would have to comply with these laws to do business in those states. It does not sound like it does.

    1. doreen*

      It’s not every sale over $25 – it’s door-to -door sales and other sales that do not happens at the seller’s place of business but phone/mail/internet orders are explicitly excluded form the Federal cooling off period. However, there is a rule about when items must ship ( within the advertised time frame or 30 days if no time frame is advertised) and I just realized that’s probably the reason for the lies – the item is supposed to ship within X days, customer calls on Day X+2 to cancel (because they haven’t received shipping info) and that’s why OP wants employees to lie and say it was already shipped – because if it isn’t shipped within the timeframe , the seller must provide the customer the option of cancelling the order or accepting the delay . Last time this happened to me, the company was going to cancel my order unless I accepted the delay in writing.

  98. Generic Name*

    In this “post-truth” world, I applaud the employee for her dedication to truth and honesty. It’s so rare these days. I admire her.

  99. I'm just here for the cats!*

    I’ve been the employee in this situation and it sucks. It wasn’t a small business either. And to be fair to the company this wasn’t a company-wide thing but something that our location was like. We had this hole Fake it until you make it shit going on, basically make it up and keep the customer happy until you find your answer.

  100. Meh*

    This is so gross. I have a small handmade business. I don’t generally accepts returns or cancelations but that is stated upfront in my terms. OP, you’re shady. You have to live with that, your employee does not.

  101. yllis*

    If Im an employee there and encouraged to be deceitful and dishonest with customers, Im going to assume that the boss wont mind if Im the same with her.

    1. yllis*

      AND Im going to assume that the boss is lying to me all the time. About pay, benefits, etc. Everything would be in a CYA email to the boss.

  102. Gary Patterson's Cat*

    Sorry but I’m sort of siding with your employee here. But not for religious reasons–just for good business reasons.
    Nothing wrong with a no-cancellation/no-refunds policy. Many companies have it. But I don’t understand why you cannot tell customers the truth about your policy if that’s the case? As a consumer, I’d want to know that so that really take the time to proof my order for spelling errors (if it’s something custom), size and color and take my time.

    Please make sure your order is correct.
    >>We do not accept order cancellations or refunds.
    >>We will only cancel orders in cases where our security system detects fraud, or if a duplicate order was placed in error. [point back to your order policy explaining this and your shipping/refund policies]

    No need to mention size of business, margins, operational issues, or why your company cannot handle the losses.
    I don’t get the weird avoidance. If people still try to do it, point back to the policy. No lies required by anyone.

    If you persist with this policy and your employee won’t lie, then I guess you can fire them as we’re all “at will” employees. But it’s really crappy when you have it within your power to simply fix your policy and actually, you know, SOLVE THE PROBLEM instead.

    1. Adereterial*

      It is, unless the products being made are custom or genuinely personalised (not just selecting from a drop down of options), perishable, periodicals, or unsealed media (like CDs and DVDs) you can cancel within 14 days. The law originated in the EU so most of Europe has similar rights.

  103. Eye roll*

    I know we shouldn’t pile on the OP, but OP is hiding or lying about the terms of purchase to her customers, lying about shipping and order fulfillment, and just asking for customers to respond with chargebacks and attorney general complaints. OP’s issue isn’t having an ethical employee; OP’s problem is terrible fraudulent business practices.

  104. ChristmasAmoeba*

    I am genuinely confused why LW thinks lying to customers is a better business practice than just stating upfront that they don’t accept cancellations.

    1. raida7*

      my guess from working with small businesses – fear and anxiety and stress and being *too busy* to spend the time/energy/effort to make changes.

  105. Heffalump*

    We don’t know whether the OP goes home and talks to their family about this situation, but I have to suspect that they’re modeling dishonesty for their young children in one way or another.

  106. bluephone*

    ” Our internal policy is that when a cancellation is requested we tell the customer their order has already shipped and therefore cannot be cancelled”

    …How is that “better” than just papering your website all over with very clear “no refunds or order cancellations except in very specific circumstances” messages??? I buy fountain pens from a mom ‘n pop online retailer so you can imagine the profit margins for *that.* Like almost every pen vendor I’ve ever dealt with (in person or online), there’s a 10 percent restocking fee on pens once they’ve been opened/used; sale pens and other “reduced price” inventory (slightly damaged stock, clearance items, etc) are not refundable, no argument. If your order is screwed up because your item was defective from the manufacturer or FedEx screws up, that’s a different story. But like, this policy is clearly laid out on their website and almost identical to the policies of every other stationery vendor out there (and some have even more restrictive return/cancellation policies because they’re literally operating out of their closet or just don’t want to deal with returns).
    Seriously, someone explain to me how the OP straight up lying to their customers is “better” than just saying, “we don’t give refunds, caveat emptor.” God knows it can’t be easier than just adding “no refunds” to the store’s FAQ page.

    1. Gary Patterson's Cat*

      Oh yes. I order trade show stuff all the time and I know I’d better check my order before I confirm the placing of it. No refunds.

  107. Holey Hobby*

    As a person with control issues and anxiety, I have some sympathy for the OP. I think running a small business can be really tough for some people in that regard – they start to feel like customers, employees, everyone is out to screw them. And with the failure rate of small businesses so high, they get panicky and desperate. If they make it, sometimes they get miserly and mean – “I got rich so what’s wrong with all of you defectives?” attitude. If they fail, they get resentful – “The lazy thieving employees pulled me under.”

    I think, OP, it would be helpful to figure out what is in your control. You can’t guarantee that no customers will ever change their minds, or be unreasonable, or even try and defraud you. It is guaranteed to happen. And you have very limited control over your employees – your power is that you trade a paycheck for money, and you can end that relationship. You don’t get to control their ethical stances or personalities or lives outside work.

    If you make it, you have been fortunate. If you don’t – well, you can do everything right, and that will still happen. So act in ways you can live with.

    1. Gary Patterson's Cat*

      I once worked for a boss like this. He acted like everyone was out to “screw him over,” so he often screwed people over–especially vendors–whom he would refuse to pay because he would claim they did not create what he asked them to create (which was usually his fault because he kept changing his mind and/or had ridiculous expectations and last-minute wrenches to throw in, all done on purpose). He was awful.

    2. Cthulhu's Librarian*

      I mean… I guess that I can see how a blend of life experiences and mental issues might lead someone to think like that. But… I also don’t care? And I doubt most anyone else does, either?

      OP writes like they want to be the very picture of a mustache-twirling capitalist villian, saying Caveat Emptor! to those who would buy their products every time someone questions the seller. And that works up to a point, if you have either a product everyone needs, or enough new customers with no way of knowing about your bad behavior.

      But it doesn’t make your behavior ethically, morally, or legally acceptable. It just means you got away with it for a time.

      1. raida7*

        really? I envision a stressed small business owner who is anxious at the idea of using even more of their day to look at things that “are fine as they are” rather than a moustache-twirling capitalist.
        I’ve worked with several small business owners and this reads just like the rest of them – full days, no time to fix things they know could be better, huge piles of worry about changes and learning new things, can’t afford anything different, wishes people would stop suggesting things because FFS it’s fine as it is just leave it alone I’m busy already can’t you see that…
        We’ve helped several of our mates out by just going around on a weekend, spending half a day rearranging stock rooms, throwing out boxes of old stuff, making new labels, creating templates and doing it all in exchange for breakfast and lunch. It’s not hard, but they never would have done it alone because it’s *such* a big job and they’d be all alone doing it.

        they have a policy that minimises issues and time spent = perfect. (in the mind of a busy and stressed person)
        A better process would be to put that policy in the customers’ hands so they are aware, and write a few new scripts for customers that are trying to cancel orders.
        For OP, that’s a BIG DEAL, because it’s time and energy and effort to make a change and worry about the impacts and worry about how many more emails they’ll have to deal with and worry about negative reviews. But they should dedicate some time in the calendar to sit down and do it.

        1. Holey Hobby*

          Yeah – as someone who has seen a lot of small business owners too, this rings true. Some of them get to this place where they have opened a bunch of businesses over the years, some that thrived, some that failed. They can often be pretty philosophical about things – it’s not personal.

          But people who have quit their job and taken out loans and lived without a salary and sunk everything into a business that is their life dream or their big ticket? Or people who take over the family business that was their dad’s identity and that feeds and employs every single aunt, uncle, cousin, and family friend? They don’t have that same perspective or distance.

          I’m not saying that either kind of business owner is inherently a better person – I’ve seen as many miserly and mean business owners as I have good, honestly – but that feeling like everything depends on you making money can make people worse than they would otherwise be.

  108. Amethystmoon*

    Heck, I’m not a religious person, and even I find lying to customers unethical. Why not at least put it on the website that there are no refunds? It doesn’t have to be on the main page in bold red font. It could be put in the FAQ on another page.

  109. Federal Worker Drone*

    Thank you, Alison.

    To the LW, you know what’s even WORSE optics? A company that lies as a way of doing business, claiming they can’t afford to tell the truth.

    That’s a really crappy business model.

  110. Elm*

    I’ll do a lot of things for my job, but I will not lie…and I work in marketing.

    Smart money says this company has a lot of turnover. There’s no way this is the only thing they ask people to do that they’re not comfortable with. And this WILL come out. “Why do you want to leave your current job?” “Well, they’re demanding I mislead customers, and I can’t work for a company our customers can’t trust.”

    I also like what someone else says–if lying is a policy at any point, what else are you lying about? To customers or employees?

    1. Gary Patterson's Cat*

      I’ve had to “stretch the truth” sometimes in marketing. We often have to market goods and services long before we actually create them. Sometimes it’s definitely a “build it and they will come,” situation, but we CAN build it if demand is there.

  111. Minerva*

    Your employee is not the problem, your policy is shady because it is not explicitly stated.

    I have eaten orders on sites when I didn’t like what I received but also acknowledged no cancellation/refunds/exchanges.

    The fact that you said that you’re not “open to revisiting the policy” shows you know you were going to be taken to task for this.

    Just be honest on your site and this is problem that solves itself.

    1. Soup of the Day*

      Agreed. OP sounds like they resent the employee and are mostly sticking to this policy out of spite.

  112. Jen Gregory*

    OP, you said you are worried about optics. Please consider the optics if you fire/manage out this employee, and word gets around WHY you did it. That’s the sort of thing that will go viral and completely destroy a small business. The most risk-free option is to simply be upfront about your policy or to change it.

    1. JelloStapler*

      optics of being honest on your policy and maybe losing some business before you gain it, or outright lying repeatedly and losing repeat customers AND other potential customers.

  113. Tuesday*

    I really think that if you explain your policy and explain it’s because you’re a small business, people will understand, and you’ll have happier customers in the long run. I’ve dealt with businesses like this.

    If you tell me up front, I can deal with it. If I don’t know but I suspect you’re lying about when you shipped, I’m just going to have bad feelings about the business going forward.

  114. Soup of the Day*

    I just want to add that saying “I am not open to revisiting the customer service policy” and “ultimately, I would like to replace her with someone who can execute our policies as I instruct” tells me that you’re more interested in maintaining control than you are in your company’s longevity, since revisiting the policy 1) is not hard at all, 2) would not place a burden on you other than a few minutes of updating your website, 3) would be easier on all of your employees, and 4) is the right thing to do.

    It pays to be open to revisiting things that aren’t working!

    1. aebhel*

      This, too. I have seen so many small business owners run their companies into the ground because they cannot stand to entertain the idea that they might be wrong about something.

  115. Data Analyst*

    Honestly, it sounds like your employee is doing some things Alison would recommend if they were the one writing in! Manager wants you to do something unethical that you don’t want to do, but for whatever reason you otherwise want to keep the job? Bounce the issue back to the manager and make it their problem. “How would you like me to handle this customer’s question, given that I’m not comfortable lying?” with the hope that then the manager might realize the policy is crappy and untenable, or just how often they are asking the employee to OUTRIGHT LIE. LW, this should be your wakeup call!!

  116. Underrated Pear*

    I’m so confused about how the logic to any of this works.

    1. You tell customers their order has already shipped – but there’s no tracking number or actual shipment, so then what do you do when they reach out to you asking “where’s my item”? Or if you still proceed with the shipping process after you’ve received their request to cancel, my guess is they’d still be able to track the fact that the item was, in fact, not yet shipped at the time you told them it was.
    2. You don’t want to look bad online, but you’re ignoring the fact that customers will know you’re lying to them (see point #1) and be irate about it, which is SO much more damaging than a simple “sorry, no cancellations” policy.
    3. You don’t want to create extra work, but you apparently spend a non-insignificant portion of your day answering emails about something that could be clearly stated on your website as part of the ordering process.

    Alison’s response, while great, was much more gentle than I’d have put it. This seems shady as hell, and it’s a bad practice – mostly for your customers, but for you as well!

    1. Dara*

      And honestly, if a customer is observant, the date of shipment is going to be ON THE PACKAGE. Shipping labels tend to have that info printed on them.

  117. Dr. Doll*

    Well, now I know where at least one of those entrepreneur-track B-school students who cheated on exams ended up.

  118. HD*

    You’ve been overthinking this cancellation issue. It sounds like you think you can’t be competitive without offering returns or cancellations, and you’ve convinced yourself the solution is to lie about it.

    Telling the truth upfront is almost never as bad as you think it will be. You don’t have to present it in a negative way like “our business can’t handle refunds or cancellations.” There are any number of ways to say the same thing in a positive way. I’m not even sure you need to justify this at all, depending on what you sell.

    This is not even a bad or unreasonable policy if you’re honest about it upfront. Transparency goes a very long way.

  119. OftenOblivious*

    Her committment to exclusive truth-telling extends beyond these scenarios, and she will often leave me drafts of her emails for me to edit before sending to the customer as she knows that she cannot say what she wants to say.

    Also, what’s going on here? Is it that people are asking things and she’s not 100% sure of the answer (and can’t/won’t look it up herself). Like “Is your plastic BPA free” or “Is your tuna dolphin safe?” ? Or “Is it made in the USA” and you say yes, but parts come from overseas so she won’t say yes? Are these the same things over and over or almost always new things? I mean, if she’s bad at her customer service job in that she needs you to proofread the dimensions because she hasn’t personally measure the items, that sounds like an additional/different problem.

    1. OftenOblivious*

      Or is she supposed to act like a salesperson in these answers and she’s not open to doing that? Like “Will this brush work well on my dog?” “This brush is great for most dog fur types. We recommend doing short sessions to get your dog acclimated to the new brush.” But she wants to say, “It depends on your dog. If they have really short fur, this may not work well for them.”

    2. aebhel*

      Yeah, that stood out to me also. It makes me wonder what other shady practices the OP wants her employee to lie about.

  120. cheeky*

    As a customer, I would rather know about a cancellation policy upfront so that I can factor it into my choice to make the purchase, which I suspect is why you don’t want to publish your policy- I bet this is annoying to your customers, along with feeling unethical to your employee.

    1. raida7*

      I think that the business is assuming customers will be outraged by the policy and it’ll hurt the business.
      But that’s anxiety talking, not research or experience.

      as many commenters have pointed out, this would not be an uncommon policy and most of us have bought from stores with this policy. I reckon they are stuck in the mindset of “this works as it is, don’t touch anything” because their margins are tight and they don’t have extra time in the day to dedicate to something that “works as it is”

      They’d be far better off to dedicate an hour a month to look at their procedures and policies to look for improvements and test their own assumptions

  121. OhNo*

    OP, this is the reason why I and many people I know personally are afraid to shop at small businesses. I’m well aware there’s a large chance of the small business doing something like what you do. I know large business definitely have their issues, but usually the policies are up front and customer friendly.

    I hate being lied to if I’m choosing to spend my money with you. So far, no one has found out about your shady practices, but if you fire your honest worker, she may spread it all over. And she’d be right to do that. I would want to know if a small business I helped support with my hard earned money is lying to me/has dishonest practices.

    (to clarify, it’s not the no refund/no cancellation policy that’s the problem, it’s the lying to people who choose to support you as a small business owner)

    1. Lady_Lessa*

      I have a decent example of that.

      I bought a set of paperweights from an ebay seller, who didn’t have much history. I paid the day I won the auction.
      Never received them. I contacted them, to ask for a tracking number, because they were coming from small town KY. Never heard anything.

      Ebay without any hassle refunded my purchase.

      I left a negative review, hoping that the seller would respond. Never did.

  122. Sunflower*

    If the website doesn’t say “no cancellations or refunds,” what’s to prevent a customer from saying they want a refund and don’t have a problem paying the return shipping cost? What lie will you tell then since they can clearly see it’s not on the website?

  123. Nope.*

    “ Our customer service policy is posted on our website, but does not explicitly mention that we do not accept cancellations or offer refunds.”

    The rest of the letter and reasoning isn’t even necessary. Do right by your future customers and POST the actual policy.

  124. NopeNope*

    From someone who works in social media daily, I can tell you it’s just a matter of time when your shady policy will come out. Actually, it probably already has from your employees. The ones who are agreeing with your shady business approach are probably joking around about it and the one who has integrity is probably talking her friends & family from ordering from you. If you don’t change your approach, it is just a matter of time when things will come head on and you’ll be dealing witha crisis from which you will not recover. Fix that return policy asap while you still can.

  125. Autumnheart*

    OP, you are defrauding your customers. It’s bad enough to refer your customers to a cancellation policy on your website that doesn’t actually exist. But when you take their money, then tell them that the item has shipped (when it hasn’t!) and worse, when you tell customers that they forfeit their money because they haven’t received their item, you are defrauding them! YOU CANNOT SELL A PRODUCT AND TAKE MONEY FOR IT THAT YOU DO NOT DELIVER.

    Good lord. Never mind the religious beliefs and emails of your employee. You’re stealing people’s money. Someone should inform the state attorney general in your state.

    1. raida7*

      If the product goes missing in shipping the seller is not legally responsible for sending a new one. If they *don’t* ship it, then yes the business is still on the hook for providing the product.
      This is why shipping insurance exists, to protect businesses and consumers from picking up the bill when something goes wrong.

      1. Autumnheart*

        If it actually gets shipped, and isn’t just something you tell a customer so they won’t ask for their money back.

  126. Kate in Colorado*

    Hey OP, I’m not going to pile on. I just sincerely hope that you take Alison’s feedback to heart. The AAM community loves a good comeback story, and there is a great opportunity here for you to reflect on what kind of ethics and values you want your small business to embody. Please do reconsider your policy. We would all LOVE to hear about how you turned this ship around and your ethical employee is now happy and thriving (as well as your business).

    You can do it!!

  127. Worldwalker*

    If I were that employee, I’d already be job searching. Not just an employer who accepts lying (that would be bad enough!) but one that *requires* it? If they lie about that, what else are they lying about? My paycheck?

  128. Old cynic*

    I’ve had vendors decline to give tracking numbers (red flag: oh! we’re HAPPY to look it up for you!) and then when I receive the box and look up the tracking number I find they didn’t ship it when they claimed to.

    1. Daniela Morales*

      Exactly. I would look up when something was shipped if I was told they couldn’t cancel because it was already shipped. And I would be very upset if I found out that was a lie.

  129. Plebeian Aristocracy*

    I’m just going to add here (and someone probably already mentioned it, but just in case) that the fact that you specifically say in your letter that this policy is non-negotiable means that you’ve not only heard this advice before, but you’ve actively chosen to disregard it. My question is: why? As you said, this is a niche industry. Your clients don’t have a lot of options. Heck, since you’re fine with lying to your customers (!!!), you could even announce it as a policy switch in regards to low margins.

    My guess though, is that you won’t. I’m also going to go out on a limb and guess this isn’t the only part of your business that you’re being overly rigid on.

    1. raida7*

      I would guess, working on thin margins, that the mindset of “this works so don’t touch anything” has set in.
      Any changes take time, effort, mental energy to plan and implement and check the results of – which they don’t have to spare. So don’t make changes.

      It’s understandable, and a real issue small businesses face all the time. Looking for a local business analyst to see what their rates are would be a good first step in calmly and rationally approaching what could be a lot of old rules that need updating.

      1. Plebeian Aristocracy*

        Thank you for your perspective. I’m not a small business owner (yet—who knows what the future will bring) so I really appreciate your view.

  130. Beth*

    Do you not send shipping info when an order has shipped? Most places do these days. Do you think your customers are stupid enough to not put two and two together when you tell them an order has shipped, but 1) they haven’t received any shipped notification, and 2) it still takes longer than the usual time to get to them?

    When you’re to the point of saying “my employee is just too honest and it’s hurting my business,” wow, that really should be a trigger to reassess what you’re doing. Just post your actual policy–clearly and with no obfuscation–and release everyone from this “maybe if I do this thing I think everyone hates but don’t TELL anyone I’m doing it, they won’t notice” deception. I promise people hate feeling deceived more than they hate a clear and well-advertised “no cancellations” policy.

  131. Elizabeth West*

    I had to read this several times and I still don’t understand In situations where a customer has not received their order, we will reship it or they can forfeit their order, customer’s choice. Does the last bit mean they get nothing and you keep their money? I would be screaming about this on social media all over the place. With screenshots.

    The religious accommodation aside, the employee has a point about not being honest with customers. OP, you are risking a backlash of epic proportions if they figure out you’re lying about it. That could hurt your business far more than having to cancel orders. It could shut you down entirely.

    1. Heffalump*

      The Alaska Sleeping Bag Company folded, a victim of its ability to sell and its inability to deliver. In the mail-order business, the rule that a seller must refund the buyer’s money if he can’t ship the goods within twenty-one days is called the Alaska Sleeping Bag law. “At one point,” says Gorman, “they were responsible for 90 percent of the complaints at the Federal Trade Commission.”

      A fuller explanation here:

      I don’t know just when The Alaska Sleeping Bag Company folded, but you’ll notice that the story is 40 years old and refers to them in the past tense.

      1. EchoGirl*

        This is 100% irrelevant to your point, but I totally giggled at “The Alaska Sleeping Bag Company folded”.

  132. nnn*

    I have a greater tolerance for lying and for being lied to than most people, but I think if your business model is such that you cannot accommodate one (1) employee refusing to lie to customers, your business model needs to be revisited.

    1. Eliza*

      I think there are *some* jobs where lying is genuinely an expected part of the work, and someone who had a firm principled objection to lying wouldn’t be cut out for it. I’ve had occasion to hire a private investigator in the past, and they can be pretty creative in coming up with good lies to get information out of people. But that’s pretty different from lying to paying customers.

  133. meagain*

    Also, what’s going on with the company or company’s website that so many people are cancelling orders? I can see the occasional inadvertent selected the wrong item and don’t notice until the email order confirmation comes. But you would think in most cases, customers try to return an item. But cancelling it before it even ships?? How often does that even happen? Or what’s the lead time on these items? If it’s a 4-6 week window for example, do people get impatient and cancel in the meantime? No order cancellation is strange to me as being an ongoing issue. (Unless of course it’s something that’s being made to order and takes time. In which case, having a no cancellation policy once order is placed would be extremely reasonable and common.)

  134. raida7*

    And as for the 30 minutes of emails every day – is this because she *wants* to say these things or because the thigns in the emails are truthful and useful for the customer to know?

    A cheat-sheet for her to refer to, based on all the previous ones you’ve done, might help cut down on these emails.

    If she wants to say “You are being unreasonable…” but another, truthful response would be “I understand that this is frustrating however…” then that’s the kind of swap out she could use.
    If she wants to say “We don’t have that in stock, we didn’t when you ordered, the website was wrong, I would like to give you a full refund and cancel this but company policy won’t let me” then yes, that should go through to someone who can handle it with *less* truth but not untruth.
    “I do not know why the website showed the wrong stock numbers, that is being looked into, would you like a full refund or a credit or an alternative item?”

    And maybe you can afford someone, online only, to help with the volume of customer response work – investigate how much it costs, you might be pleasantly surprised. Same with your workload – could a VA even this out a bit?

  135. Jenn*

    Darn. I was hoping LW would have a legitimate issue. When I was working in restaurants, I hated the host stand because there is a lot of “lying”. “20 minute wait” to be answered by “but I can see three empty ones from here”. The whole truth is that “if i seat one more table too soon, the kitchen won’t be able to keep up” But you can’t tell the customer that!! But it feels so icky!

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Damn, I don’t care about the 20 minutes, I just want to get off my feet. Please let me sit down.

      1. Lizard*

        But then you’ll want something to drink… and perhaps to put in an appetizer order while waiting… it builds from there. There’s usually a good reason why people aren’t being seated (lack of staff availability, kitchen back up, etc.). Most customers would be irritated by waiting for a table within view of empty tables, but downright surly if told they could sit but not order.

        1. Alpacas Are Not Dairy Animals*

          I’d expect it’s also confusing for the servers to have to remember which tables are seated-and-ordering and which are seated-but-we-can’t-put-in-an-order-yet, as opposed to the simple visual distinction of seated = ordering, not seated = not my problem.

  136. Daniela Morales*

    What happens when customers see the date of shipping?
    I would be very upset with a company that tells me I can’t cancel because it has been shipped and then it turns out it hadn’t been at that time.
    I would also be upset if I don’t see a no cancellation policy and then it turns out that’s the case.

  137. itemms*

    The clients could easily see when the package actually shipped. This seems like a stupid thing to lie about

  138. pcake*

    I will never knowingly buy from a company that doesn’t allow cancellations or returns if item is defective or not as described. I buy from many small to very small businesses with excellent customer service who accept both cancellations and refunds. Most importantly, if a company tells me something has shipped as a reason not to cancel an order and the date on the package shows they lied, I will never buy from them again, and I’ll tell anyone who asks about the company what happened.

    Most companies would love honest employees, but this letter writer wants to penalize someone for not lying.

    Btw, do some states require a company to allow cancellations within a certain period?

  139. 40 Acres and a Mohel*

    This is about 10 different ways of sketchy and I couldn’t help but try parsing what the “missing missing reasons” are in OP’s message. So if these points were made by a previous poster (and probably better) I apologize, but I did read about 100 responses before writing!

    So OP states it’s a very low margin business, derives most sales volume through an online marketplace, lies about shipping status and is unwilling to change the customer service policy?

    That makes me think this business is actually reselling other products and likely charging customers before acquiring products in inventory (whether physical or virtual,) let alone shipping them. And they aren’t willing to change the customer service policy because their business is violating their key marketplace’s terms of use.

    It is certainly violating some pretty basic payment regulations that you cannot charge a card until a product has shipped.

    OP, your problem isn’t with this employee. It is with your acquiring bank, your key sales channel, your state AG and the feds if you sell interstate.

  140. MyGoingConcern*

    The most basic test in business ethics is “would you be ok if this decision/practice was made public?” OP has already answered that question up front.

    While I was reading this I imagined the employee writing Allison for advice and what Allison would say. I suspect the answer would be “if the owner isn’t open to seeing that this policy is not only unethical but ultimately poor business practice, start looking for another job ASAP. This place is toxic.” Except she’s say it in a pithy, engaging way. OP, do you really want to be one of the shady owners/managers that Allison recommends people flee from?

  141. kayakwriter*

    This sleazy policy reminds me so much of what both airlines and hotels/motels do. Both industries use “yield management” software that’s supposed to predict what the no-show rate will be based on season, route, etc. Those predictions are used to calibrate the percentage of seats or rooms the company will oversell; that is to just how many spaces they will accept money for knowing they do not have that capacity. Of course, the software is very fallible, as anyone who’s been bumped from a flight or “walked” from a hotel knows. And of course it’s the frontline staff who bare the righteous wrath of those customers and who have to grovel, tap-dance and arm-wave. In my imagination, if I were counter staff, I’d be heading out the personal cellphone numbers of the slimy executives responsible and encouraging customers to express their feelings on the matter very, very frankly.

    1. RagingADHD*

      I’ve been bumped from flights or reservatiins before. It was frustrating, but at least they didn’t keep my money without providing anything in return.

      LW says that when the product doesn’t arrive, the customer has no recourse but to take their chances on the same item not arriving again.

  142. Erin*

    This is a great response. Absolutely post the policy and have a click-box that customers click to acknowledge that all sales are final.

    So odd that a business doesn’t want honest employees or to inform their customers of their policies. That’s just bizarre.

  143. VanLH*

    Your problem is not your employee or your close margins. Your problem is that you are an unethical, lying business person. I think the best thing you could do is go bankrupt.

  144. Who Plays Backgammon?*

    This is a notorious problem in electronics stores. My friend worked in a place w/ a 30-day, no-?’s-asked return policy. One customer bought a video player, returned it on the 29th day, got a refund, bought another one, and returned it on the 29th day for refund, then bought another one…she did this for 5 machines and finally they cut her off.

    1. Who Plays Backgammon?*

      This landed in the wrong place! It was in response to the person who posted about shoe “renters.”

  145. A person*

    Obviously, this policy is the problem, not the OP. But since OP doesn’t care about such things, I’d like to remind them that in most states, if they fired this employee, the employee would be free to post things like “I was fired by OPS BUSINESS because I refused to lie to customers!” And THOSE optics would be bad

  146. Grapthar's Hammer*

    OP, this isn’t legal in a number of countries that you may or may not ship to, and it may also violate the requirements of your payment processor. Even if neither of those are true, a business model that requires you to lie to your customers is going to, over time, build you a team of people who are most comfortable cheating what most people would consider ethical. How can you trust that team to not be cheating YOU? this policy is toxic.

  147. Beth*

    Wow. Now I know why my place of employment has us take an Ethics Pledge every year. (I work for a major bank.)

  148. Mr.Collin'sGarden*

    One possible explanation for why the company goes this route: In the customer service industry, there are those customers who, if they know you COULD refund their money but have chosen not to, will fight it to the end of their days. No matter that your policy is very clear up front – you enforcing the policy is unacceptable. They ENJOY the fight and will continue to harass the company until they receive satisfaction. It has gotten so bad that there are national stories about employees leaving my industry in droves to avoid these constant soul-sucking encounters.

    The ethical thing for this company to do is to state their cancellation policy clearly on their website, and I hope they take everyone’s advice and make that change. But please don’t think an “all sales are final” message would head off the complaints from this particular type of customer, who delight in making the case why clearly stated policies shouldn’t apply to them. The company’s current process isn’t appropriate, but I can see how it makes things easier for them: All but the most difficult customer would admit that if the item is made and shipped, cancelling and getting a refund would be a much less reasonable request.

    1. Observer*

      The OP is not trying to head off complaints from unreasonable customers. They are pretty explicit about that.

    2. StacyPC*

      “One possible explanation for why the company goes this route: In the customer service industry, there are those customers who, if they know you COULD refund their money but have chosen not to, will fight it to the end of their days.” Uh, what? In what scenario is it actually, truly impossible for a company to refund money? If a company can take money, it can give it back, regardless of what a piece of paper or line of online text says. That’s what these extreme customers you’re describing know to exploit, and there’s no way to protect against them, let alone by lying to all the customers. The extreme customers are gonna extreme, because they know the “oh, we can’t process refunds” line is BS.

  149. rubble*

    I agree with everyone else that you should just get over yourself, post the cancellation policy, and stop being so secretive about something completely normal. but I also wish you had elaborated on the other things that the employee refuses to lie about and how much of that 30 minutes of emails a day you would still have to do if you took emails about cancellations out of the equation.

    what else are you requiring her to lie about? why do you need her to lie about so many things?

    1. Lady CFO*

      Not often one comes across an employer who wants LESS honest employees.
      Why not simply devise a “no cancellation” policy with a disclaimer at time of order? Seems far more reasonable than insisting employees LIE for their employer’s benefit.

  150. AngryOwl*

    This is so weird! Why not just…put the policy up? It’s such a normal policy. I’m legit mystified.

    1. JelloStapler*

      I want to give benefit of the doubt (but it is difficult with what this OP has already put out there in terms of integrity), but it crossed my mind that she worries people won’t buy anything if they know they cannot cancel or ask for a refund, and she is counting on making bank off of this.

  151. Nichole*

    I will also add that this customer policy is very very illegal. If you are in states like Pennsylvania this will result in treble damages and attorney fees. Do not lie about terms of service.

  152. feral fairy*

    I worked in retail as a Sales Advisor for a corporation that has pretty progressive values. The company did not want us to be overly “salesy”, and we were not paid commission. That being said, of course, the store managers wanted us to make as many sales as possible and would question you if you spent a long time helping a customer and it didn’t result in a booking. There was a technique that some of my coworkers used to get sales from people who were ambivalent and it did not involve outright lying but I felt that it was too pushy and a little sleazey. I focused on being transparent with customers and accepting when they said they weren’t ready to make a purchase. Oftentimes, those customers would come back a few days later and make the purchase, or even come back and purchase more items than they originally went in for because they felt like I genuinely wanted to help them make a decision and wasn’t just trying to make the sale.

    My point is that integrity pays off. Salespeople and businesses who are transparent might lose a few sales in the short term, but in the long term you will build loyalty with customers which is key to having a sustainable business. It’s weird to be vague about your policies and it is even stranger to outright lie about when you have shipped out items. There are some forms of embellishment that are common in retail when it comes to promoting products, but at the end of the day you must be honest and straightforward when it comes to anything having to do with payment and returns.

  153. Eclecticism is a Virtue*

    OP, it really should not be such a surprise that an employee refuses to lie. Lots of people would feel that way. Many would say it means those people have integrity.

    And you can count me among the employees who don’t want to lie. I once started a job, during the Great Recession when jobs were sparse, and in the first week I learned it was policy to regularly lie to the customers. I quit the same day (and told my boss the reason why). And no, it wasn’t for religious reasons, it was because I have enough integrity to not lie to customers.

  154. Sleeping Late Every Day*

    I’m so happy Alison used the word “shady” because that was the first – and nicest – thing I thought about this LW’s business and attitude. I’m an atheist, and I am 100% in solidarity with the employee who refuses to lie.

  155. Dwight Schrute*

    OP your policy sucks and doesn’t make much sense. I’ve ordered from tons of small businesses that have a no cancellation policy and it’s totally fine? I just make sure I double check what I order before I do. As people have already pointed out, what do you do when people cancel immediately or ask for shipping info? I hope for your employee’s sake they’re looking for a new job so they don’t have to deal with your utter BS and crappy workplace anymore.

    1. Finland*

      Customers can easily contact their bank or credit card company to dispute the charges once they realize the business has an unstated “no returns“ policy. Small businesses are no match for a major bank or credit card company when the customer has a legitimate complaint. I can’t believe the letter writer is so deliberately obtuse.

  156. GlitterSpuds*

    LW, so many people in the comments have already done the work for you with creating the verbiage needed to post a “no returns/no cancellations policy.”

    Say it out loud: You want to fire an employee because they won’t lie to customers.

    Also, pointing out that this employee won’t even “send the email, even if it’s pre-written, with another person’s signature…” I feel that’s making your situation WORSE. That’s a lie-within-a-lie. (Also, as an employee, I would never agree to someone sending emails under my signature! That is setting *me* up to fall for an error I didn’t do!)

    And the fact that *you* tell your customer service staff to lie… What other lies are you telling? What other lies are you trying to maintain? Seems awfully suspicious to me.

  157. Abigale*

    The OP states that they know their hands are tied and seem to realize they can’t legally fire this employee due to religious conviction, but then ask if they should start subtly managing them out???? In other words, still getting rid of the employee because of their religious convictions, but doing it in an underhanded, sneaky way so the employee can’t prove it. IMHO, the OP has some serious integrity/character issues that seem to go deeper than asking an employee to lie for them. The fact that the OP asks the question at all seems to indicate they don’t see anything wrong with doing that. Shady AF!

  158. Trixie the Great and Pedantic*

    If your business practices are predicated on deceiving and lying to your customers, they are bad business practices and you need to revisit your policies.

  159. Red 5*

    I’ve worked in customer service for decades. I have no religious, moral, or ethical qualms with certain small white lies to help smooth customer interactions in certain situations (primarily when the customer is clearly in the wrong, or is asking for something we clearly have no power to control like changing our hours).

    I would still never do what the letter writer is asking and I’d quit if they said my job depended on it, while taking screenshots and evidence to back up my version of events should I need to.

    I have worked for shady and scammy people and this is still beyond what they asked me to do. OP, you need to just publish your real policy and move on.

  160. Grumpy Old Sailor*

    Dear LW, it seems the problem here is your dishonesty rather than your employee’s honesty. I recommend you take a leaf from her book and stop lying both by omission and commission to your customers.

    1. Cheap Ass Warm Gooey Burnt Banana Bread*

      I’m an atheist that grew up in a very secular, very non-religious family and f’ing SAME.

  161. Alice*

    It’s rare to see a letter where the commenters all agree on who’s in the wrong here. LW, take the hint. Your “policy” is already destroying your business, it’s not normal that you’re spending 30+ minutes every day dealing with refund requests.

    I hope the employee can soon find a better workplace where her honesty is valued.

    1. JelloStapler*

      Yes, it makes me wonder if her product is not what it is advertised to be (in quality or depiction) and people are dissatisfied.

  162. Midori987*

    This is such a ridiculous policy, and is actually illegal where I live (the UK). I own a small business and if a customer wants to cancel an order before it’s shipped, I do so – I’m not out anything! I haven’t shipped the product out yet so I can still sell it. Wouldn’t it make more sense to say “you must request cancellation within 24 hours of placing the order” or somesuch, depending on how quickly orders are dispatched?

    1. Red 5*

      You know, I was trying to figure out why this was confusing me so much and that right there is what it is.

      Unless you’re selling things that are highly customized and impossible to sell after they’ve been produced because they have like a name and birth date on it or something, why can’t you just…add it back to inventory if it hasn’t shipped?

      And if it IS customized, there’s still a chance to make something out of it. I know a ton of small shops that do “oops” sales or sample sales, etc. If you’re normally a made to order shop then you make a listing that says “ready to ship!” and people know that means that it wasn’t made to order this time, etc.

      There’s so many completely reasonable and totally normal and simple ways around this policy besides lying that I just can’t figure out why the OP is so darn entrenched on this besides being a dishonest person in general.

  163. Shanderson*

    Looking forward to the update on this about owner not realizing how controversial and unnecessary their policy is.

  164. Lab Boss*

    So, OP doesn’t like the fact that they’re spending time answering/revising e-mails because the employee refuses to lie in them. Aside from the obvious bad rule that everyone has noticed, I have a question:

    When a customer actually raises a stink, possibly even attempting legal action over you enforcing unwritten contract terms, would you stand in that line of fire? Or do you want to be able to point to your disposable employee and say “Jane sent that e-mail telling you it had shipped already, we are so sorry she did that, she’ll be fired immediately?” If something needs to be done that has a risk of blowing up in the sender’s face, that’s something MANAGEMENT should be doing. That’s why they pay you the big bucks.

    1. Observer*

      Or do you want to be able to point to your disposable employee and say “Jane sent that e-mail telling you it had shipped already, we are so sorry she did that, she’ll be fired immediately?”

      I don’t think that there is any doubt whatsoever. Let’s be clear here – the OP’s MO is to lie whenever it suits them and to blame others for their own issues. OF COURSE they will throw an employee under the bus if they can.

  165. agnes*

    As a customer, I cannot believe that the LW thinks it’s OK to mislead–aka lie to– their customers about their return/order cancellation policies. The fact that you won’t openly share this information with your customers on your website tells me that at some level you know what you are doing isn’t right.

    Your policy is as simple as “All sales are final once the order is received by our company. We do not offer refunds. Defective products can be exchanged. This policy is necessary in order to keep our pricing as low as possible.” Other companies manage to do business this way without feeling the need to rely on lying to their customers.

  166. Joan Clayton*

    Whew! Miss a day, miss a lot on AAM!
    LW I hope I never order from your business, your internal policy is jacked up and you need to re-evaluate how you run an unethical business.
    Alison’s advice is correct, make your policy known on your business page/site prior to checkout. I have personally purchased a ton of crap with a “no cancellation/no refund policy”
    GEEZUS! Do better!

  167. Wet hair look all day*

    Please give this employee a raise and a bonus for helping your company become a more honest operation. When you change to “no cancellations” instead of lying about shipping, your reputation with your employees and other will improve.

    When this employee finds another job, please write her a glowing reference letter. Her high ethical standards and commitment to her personal values of honesty and integrity deserve to be celebrated, not punished.

  168. NB*

    I once quit a job because my employer expected me to lie for them. I couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t.

  169. Saberise*

    As an employee I would wonder what else you have no problem lying about since clearly don’t have a problem lying. Can’t afford to give me a raise? Really or is that another lie? I can’t get a day off for reasons X, Y and Z? Really or is that another lie? I so would not trust you.

  170. JelloStapler*

    There is a way to get what your company needs without jumping through hoops and lies (as others posted have said: “All purchases are final- no exceptions”- huge and in red). What happens when the item that “shipped” didn’t show up for the customer either? Would you make up some other lie when they contacted you?

    I would be uncomfortable routinely lying to customers and I am sad that you take such a cavalier approach to it. Sounds like this worker is BEC for other reasons already and this is just extra on top of it. I can see why with the incessant emails, but not agreeing with the policy? I get it.

  171. Phrose*

    I feel like the optics of somebody having an issue and being told there’s no cancellation/return policy and not finding evidence of that anywhere on your site would be worse, by a longshot. I agree with Allison, the employee isn’t the problem, your policy isn’t realistic or transparent enough to read as anything but horribly shady.

  172. Leela*

    You’re worried about the optics of that screenshot but honestly if I found out which business this was I’d be sharing this article + the name of your business with *everyone* and I can guarantee that you would look much worse! I’m really concerned that this policy of yours will tank your business because good god, if I found out I’d been lied to about the status of my order (currently my property if I’ve paid you, right?) I’d never do business with you again, and if I found out you went to a different business, I wouldn’t do business with them again. Why in the world are you forcing this moral dilemma on someone with so little power, too?

  173. yala*

    I’m…baffled that someone wrote in thinking they would get validation for having a company policy to needlessly lie to their customers.

    Like. This is so unnecessary?

  174. Overit*

    I believe this letter is the first time I have ever seen a business owner justify lying to cutomsers based on the size of their business. The entitlement level, extending to wanting to fire employees, ia remarkable.

  175. Ursula*

    Am I understanding this correctly? Not only do you lie to customers about shipping, you lie often enough about other things that you have to do 30 minutes of her emails each day that she refuses to send because they’re lies?

    You are the problem.

  176. Ladycrim*

    This is on a website for a small business I was looking at last night that’s had issues with impulse purchases. It’s specifically about their Black Friday sale, but it could apply to their regular items and I wouldn’t bat an eye. It’s okay to have a no-returns policy, and to state it up front!

    “If you buy with a discount code it’s gonna be final sale. That’s our policy. We also don’t cancel orders. Please respect that we are a small business and have policies in place to protect ourselves from people who like to recklessly shop and then regret their decisions. Don’t do that with us, we are serious about our apparel and our rules.”

  177. Who Plays Backgammon?*

    I thought about this long and hard, and the comments were an education about online retailing and ethical business practices. I don’t disagree with them. That having been said, it is not to role of the employee to change the policies and practices or to instill her religious beliefs on her workplace. She’s not doing her job as instructed, and she’s causing extra work for her boss. If she issues with the way the business is run, she has the option to leave. She cannot expect her boss to get on board with her beliefs. It’s a jumbled-up situation to be sure, but I can’t view the employee as some kind of hero.

  178. Fin*

    I agree, the optics of someone finding out you’re lying would be terrible – and that could easily happen with that default lie. What if someone cancels 10 minutes after they ordered? It’s gonna be pretty obvious that it couldn’t have been shipped yet

  179. msk1024*

    The headline on this email reminded me of working many years ago for a small business that was in financial difficulty. We never lied to our customers, but my boss was always dodging his creditors. He wanted me to tell them that he was not in the office. I told him I was a bad liar (it wasn’t’ exactly that I didn’t want to lie, I was just awful at it). We came to an agreement. He would go into his office and shut the door so I could say ‘I don’t see him. I’ll give him a message that you called.’

  180. I don't think your employee is the problem...*

    Hooly dooly! What is your company so I know not to ever buy from there?

  181. musicinjune*

    The policy is definitely the issue. Saying that you don’t accept cancellations isn’t the end of the world, it just honesty. And honesty is a huge thing a company should have, no matter their size.

  182. selena81*

    So many weasel words:
    ‘our policy’ when LW is the one who decided on that policy
    ‘manage the emloyee’: manipulate an employee who is almost certainly too hardworking and cheap to cut her loose immediately

  183. Montaineer*

    I agree with putting your policy on the website and just being honest about it. However, if that’s not possible, instead of being untruthful and saying the order has shipped, can you just say “The order is already in the fulfillment process and we aren’t able to cancel it at this point.” ?

  184. inaudible*

    OP thinks the optics would be bad if someone publicized a screenshot of customer service saying they can’t cancel an order, so the solution is to lie and say it’s shipped. Well, how about the optics of a screenshot claiming the order has shipped and then a photo of a postmark showing it was shipped at a later date? The best solution is transparency about the policy as Alison recommends.

  185. Cheap Ass Warm Gooey Burnt Banana Bread*

    “ In situations where a customer has not received their order, we will reship it or they can forfeit their order, customer’s choice.”

    OP, I’m confused. What exactly does “forfeit their order” mean here? They get a refund? They have to deal with reimbursement through the shipping carrier’s insurance (I…assume you send everything insured?) Or you keep both their money & the product and the customer is just arse out?

Comments are closed.