our new admin crashed the company car and lied about it

A reader writes:

I’m sending this question on behalf of my husband, who owns a small business. He had a new admin manager/personal assistant, Pam, start about a month ago. So far she has been excellent — on the ball, great communicator, well organized, and liked by everyone in the company. She comes with lots of experience and is pretty late career, is paid very well, and is going to be part of the management team once she’s fully on board. Pam will also be handling a lot of the HR, email, and both company and some personal accounts, so she has to be trusted implicitly.

Anyway, a couple of days ago Pam was driving a company car and came back with a dent and some yellow paint on the back of it. She told my husband she had it parked at a large store picking up some supplies and came out to it damaged like that. She was very shaken and said she didn’t want to drive it and have responsibility for it ever again. At the time, he took the story at face value, made a joke about errant school buses, reassured her, and moved on.

However, since then, she’s told the story to others, and several people questioned the incident when talking to the general manager (along the lines of “do you actually believe that story,” not “I wanted to talk to you because I think Pam is lying”). The GM then thought about it some more, drove out to the store and found a scraped up yellow pole that looked like it’s been backed into with paint matching the company’s car on it at the level of the damage.

Husband is now at a loss for what to do. (He actually came home today and immediately asked, “What would Ask a Manager say about an employee potentially lying?”) He needs to take some action on this tomorrow or at least this week, but assuming the obvious fact-finding goes nowhere, how does he move forward? How does he talk to her about it without being accusatory while making it possible for her to come clean? If it does turn out she lied, does he have to fire her given how key trustworthiness is to her position? Or does he just believe her implicitly and let it go given that the evidence so far is not exactly overwhelming? He would definitely do that for a better known quantity, but she’s been there only four weeks. If so, how does he move on and trust her again and how does he shut down the rumors clearly going around?

I wrote back and asked, “Do you know what made people start doubting her story initially? It doesn’t sound terribly suspicious as written here, so I’m wondering what made so many people skeptical about it!”  When I received the answer to that, it also included an update!

Long story short, they did have tapes and she definitely crashed it herself. In terms of what made people think that, he asked and the GM said it was just spidey senses going off – something about the way she was telling it didn’t ring true. Husband says he probably missed it because he was so occupied with consoling her at the moment.

So now the question is what to do. Right now he’s leaning towards not saying anything for now, giving her the weekend, and seeing if she comes clean when she’s back at work. It’s understandable that someone would panic in the moment, but once she has had time to process, he doesn’t want to keep her in her role if she will persist with the lie, especially since it’s so early into her tenure. Does that seem too harsh? If they do keep her, how do they avoid sending the message that integrity is not important to the rest of the team?

Oh noooo. He should talk with her first and hear what she says, but unless there’s something truly revelatory in that conversation (like, I don’t know, she was on a new medication that made her lose time and memory), he probably does need to fire her.

People do indeed panic in the moment and say things they shouldn’t. But lying about damaging company property — specifically to avoid acknowledging that she was responsible — is a big deal. And she really committed to the lie — telling loads of people, letting colleagues try to comfort her, etc. She’s also had time to come clean and she hasn’t. It’s especially frustrating because what she actually did — backing into a pole — isn’t a big deal! But lying about it turns it into one.

Maybe if Pam were a long-term employee it might be possible to try to salvage this — if she were someone who had worked there a long time with a track record of integrity and this was clearly a one-time, out-of-character mistake. Even then, that would be hard to pull off.  But Pam has only been there a month; that’s not enough time to judge whether this was one bad decision that will never happen again or whether it’s typical of how she operates. And especially in the sort of job where trust is essential — she’ll be handling HR! — seeing such a significant display of deliberate, calculated untrustworthiness just a few weeks in has got to be prohibitive. (And it was calculated — she had the whole drive back to the office to decide to lie instead of telling the truth. She didn’t just blurt out something weird in the shock of the moment.) What’s going to happen the next time Pam makes a work mistake (and she will because she is human)? Will her instinct be to try to cover it up? You’ve got to be able to trust that you’re getting the straight scoop from her, and unfortunately now you can’t.

Read an update to this letter

{ 385 comments… read them below }

  1. Lacey*

    They probably felt it was off because of how shaky she was.

    I’ve been in several car accidents and I think whether I was at fault or not I was pretty shaky after.
    But coming out to see someone dented my car & left without saying anything only made me angry.

    But, I suppose how they realized doesn’t matter. No one will ever take her at her word again. She’s got to be fired.

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

      That’s my first thought too… she’s too shaken up for the level of the story, and she keeps telling it over and over…to make SURE everyone knows she wasn’t at fault.

      So for the business: I’m going to assume that the company insurance will want to disqualify her from driving the company car ever again…will this impact her ability to do her job? And is there any claim from the property owner for damage to the stanchion?

        1. tamarack and fireweed*

          My first thought was about the insurance. Is it possible that she wasn’t clear whether she was covered under a business insurance? Having an employee drive a company car requires a lot of clarity about the admin paperwork side of things. (And of course if she couldn’t drive the car in the future she might – maybe rightfully – have feared it would end her job anyway.)

          If she was too rattled by catastrophical thinking around this issued and made the regrettable decision to lie, I agree that keeping her would require an extraordinary effort that the business owner can’t be expected to invest here. If he dismisses her, I hope he can do it without patronizing expressions of displeasure. More along the lines of “I’m really sorry that you made the decision to lie rather than right away come back telling me you backed into an obstacle. I cannot see how you can make up for the trust deficit this creates and therefore have made the decision to terminate your employment. I liked working with you and wish you the best.”

      1. Clobberin' Time*

        Insurance wouldn’t disqualify her from driving ever again; it’s not like she ran someone over. Their rates might go up.

      2. OP*

        Thank you for the thoughts! She doesn’t need to drive the car for her job – at least not often enough for it to matter. She took it to avoid having to do reimbursement on her own car, which is of course totally fine, but driving her car is always an option.

        No claim and husband doesn’t care about repairing the car – it’s just some paint and a dent, and they’re an online business with a warehouse, so the appearance of the car doesn’t matter.

        1. Moi*

          I wonder if she made up the story because she was worried that she would get fired for having a fender bender in a company car. Admins can be rather mistreated in certain companies, and even if you’re an amazing manager, she may have had a manager from hell in the past. I’d lean towards having a convo with her about the seriousness of n the lie but also giving her some grace

          1. ecnaseener*

            But that’s the thing – you can’t have someone in a role that needs a lot of integrity and trust who lies to avoid consequences.

            Whether she’s a dastardly fiend who lies for fun or a well-meaning person who has a sympathetic reason to believe she’d be unfairly fired, you still need to be able to trust that the person in her role won’t lie.

            1. ScruffyInternHerder*

              Having been in the position where I was let go *for being honest* about a mistake that I hadn’t even caused, but I was the last review before it was submitted, while watching the coworker who had in fact caused the mistake continue on his merry way?

              So we’re clear, the person with the least seniority (me) had the last review because the “more senior” person in the role could not be trusted and management knew it. And I took the mistake to management as soon as I found it, with a “here’s the issue; its a big one. How can we rectify this?”

              I was let go three months later. That the mistake I had not caught was cited as the reason f-ing BURNED, y’all. That I knew it was NOT the coworker’s first huge mistake and he simply ignored them and buried them as they arose with zero impact on him also burned.

              I can see where the trust is a thing. I’ve also been in a position where I’ve been screwed over for telling the truth. Ergo – leaning more towards “Final, written warning.” Right, wrong, or otherwise, I’m just glad I’m not the one having to make this call.

              1. Kella*

                I think there are lots of good reasons to believe being honest with management is a greater risk than lying, but the existence of those reasons is a problem to begin with. Lying might be an effective strategy at protecting yourself from a toxic or dysfunctional work environment but there are consequences outside of how it affects you, and lying is likely to make many of those consequences worse. OP needs to know that her actions are motivated by protecting the individuals and collective of the company, not just herself, since that is a central aspect of working in HR.

            2. Anele*

              I feel this—managers that treat all mistakes as fireable offenses are really incentivizing lying. And it’s a shame—lying at work does damage your integrity.

          2. Erin*

            I’m kinda with you on this. If Pam wasn’t clear that the company car may have fender benders, and to report them without fear of repercussions, I would have a conversation with her to find out why she made up the story and told multiple people. But, I also don’t know how an experienced professional who has previous managers would not be aware that company car damage is the company’s responsibility.

            This is also a point for the owners to add when onboarding future employees who will use the company car.

            Overall, Pam’s actions speak to trust. If the business owners don’t feel that Pam can be trusted after this, she should be let go, with an honest explanation of why the owners are letting her go.

            1. Veruca*

              Trust is a big issue here. It was her fellow employees that came to the owner questioning her story. If she’s then put in charge of HR, how can those coworkers have confidence going to her with issues? They already see her as untrustworthy.

      3. Anon for this*

        “I’m going to assume that the company insurance will want to disqualify her from driving the company car ever again…”

        Not necessarily.
        Source: I dinged a company car a month into a new job, did not get fired, and was still able to drive company cars with no repercussions (but also did not lie about it)

        1. merula*

          Definitely not prohibitive. A DUI can be prohibitive, but an accident almost never is. People who underwrite commercial auto insurance see everything, and most companies who have cars eventually have an accident. You can’t disqualify every driver with any accident, there wouldn’t be any commercial drivers left. (And there’s already a huge shortage.)

          Source: I work for a commercial insurance carrier.

        2. KayDeeAye*

          Yeah, we have had numerous people get into accidents in company cars – even a couple of interns – and there were no professional repercussions.

          1. goddessoftransitory*

            I mean, I guess if you went out in a company car and came back carrying only the steering wheel and saying “Okay, funny story…” you might not be allowed to take out any more vehicles. But just a dent? Nah.

            1. All Het Up About It*

              I feel like I once worked at a job where there was the story of the employee who was such a bad driver and got in so many ridiculous accidents that they were not allowed to drive the company car. But if I remember correctly (which I might not be) that was more of a company edict than an issue from the insurance company.

            2. AcademiaNut*

              We did had an issue where enough people were getting into minor accidents with a company vehicle that they had to tighten up regulations about who could drive and how they were tested as qualified for doing so. It wasn’t an issue of being denied insurance, but a general headache for the administrators, and insurance rates going up. But a single minor fender bender wouldn’t have triggered that.

        3. allathian*

          Yeah, it’s not the crash that’s the problem, it’s the lie. Sure, I can sort of understand that someone might reflexively lie when they’re shocked after an accident. But if they do that, they need to come clean and apologize as soon as the worst of the shock wears off.

          1. Caroline+Bowman*

            Yes, this. I can imagine, as a brand-new employee, being so frightened after doing something like this, that you blurt out a lie, but then within a day or so, fess up properly and honestly and take ownership. It’s a very minor thing to have done in reality, driving an unfamiliar car, possibly in an unfamiliar place, these things happen, but making a huge fabricated story up and then really working it is not okay. It’s deceitful and shows that Pam is prepared to go to lengths to cover up any mistakes.

        4. Ace in the Hole*

          I work in garbage, which is a chaotic environment with lots of potential for accidents. Basically everyone I know has damaged a vehicle at least once within their first year, sometimes more than once.

          Things I’ve done to/in company vehicles and equipment: dented the tailgate backing into a concrete post, scraped paint off the door by going too close to a tree, bumped into a pallet of light bulbs (broke 700 bulbs), ripped out the hydraulic lines on at least 4 forklifts, knocked mirrors off two trucks at once

          Things my coworkers have done to/in company vehicles and equipment: busted hydraulic lines, put gas in a diesel engine, let a truck roll downhill into a ditch (and flip over!) because they forgot to set the parking brake, engulf a forklift in expanding foam insulation, ripped open a fire sprinkler line and flooded the building, run into a coworker (non-fatal but serious injuries), drop 2 pallet loads of TVs on the highway because they forgot to secure the load properly, dented doors/tailgates/bodies, bent a lift gate so bad it got stuck in place, caught a truck on fire, tore part of the roof off a building because they misjudged clearance, knock over an occupied portapotty…. and lots more I probably haven’t heard about.

          All of us are still employed at the same place, still covered by insurance. Accidents happen – until it becomes a pattern showing reckless/unsafe behavior, it’s not an issue. You just report the incident ASAP and go on with the day.

          The one person I know who was fired after an accident wasn’t fired because of what happened. They were canned for lying about it.

        5. Audiophile*

          You would be surprised what people don’t get fired for.

          I worked at a company that had 24-hour security (contract guards and in-house security management). One of the overnight guards brought the company car back with noticeable yellow scratches and dents and a massive dent in the bumper, after doing his rounds. He claimed he didn’t know how it happened, but everyone assumed he fell asleep while driving the vehicle. He somehow did not get fired even though he continued to lie about the accident.

      4. Artemesia*

        the insurance is not the issue; it is the trustworthiness — she has blown that. She will need to restart her career elsewhere.

      5. Anomie*

        Yes. Fire her. She’s a liar. She’s not even honest about backing into a pole. That’s not exactly the crime of the century.

        1. tamarack and fireweed*

          The thing that I find disturbing in discussions of these things is that sometimes even when I agree with the conclusion (the act of firing her) I disagree with the emotional weight people give it. In my experience just about anyone lies at one point or another in their lives. Catching someone lying doesn’t justify branding them a liar, ie some particular kind of odious human being.

          There doesn’t need to be any animus about her lie. It wasn’t about the business owner and didn’t injure him.

          1. GythaOgden*

            It’ll cost him because if they lie, even inadvertently, on an insurance form, that will bite them where it hurts.

          2. Despachito*

            I think there are different kinds of lies though.

            Even a person of integrity can lie but I assume they would not do it lightly, not in important things related to their work and not to cover up for their mistakes.

            I can imagine someone lying that they have a previous commitment because they do not want participate in something optional. I can imagine them lying when saying “everything is OK” to a casual acquaintance they do not want to talk about their real problems with.

            But lying to cover up their own mistakes is a red flag, and in this case it was even a minor mistake, it was not likely that she would face serious repercussions for it, and as a seasoned employee she would probably know that. What would happen if there was something serious? And she is new so as Alison mentioned, she has not years of flawless history behind her that would perhaps make this an one-off slip.

    2. RIP Pillow Fort*

      Yeah when I was reading it that was the red flag for me. I drive work vehicles for my job and deal with this in a supervisory standpoint. Being shaken up post accident is incredibly common and I’ve been through that.

      I get why she probably panicked. We routinely tell our drivers not reporting the accident correctly and using the correct procedure is what will be the big deal. Getting into an accident happens even to good drivers.

      I don’t see being able to build that trust back after this.

      1. Maglev to Crazytown*

        I have had two minor vehicle incidents when on a work job (doing fieldwork, where in that environment, that is not unexpected). Both times I was completely honest (if not self deprecating) and nothing happened in terms of consequences.

        In one case, I backed into a light pole because a construction vehicle had boxed me in while unloading next to me. They had left for the day, and I had to do a thousand point turn just to get free, and cut one of those a bit close. Also ripped a bumper off a vehicle hitting a deep rut in a tall grassy field we had to drive through to get to an off-road location. I reported immediately and honestly to my supervisor, we filled out the required incident form. And nothing more came of it.

        It is a different story if someone is being blatantly reckless, but most companies expect stupid humans to keep being stupid humans in terms of occasional accidents.

        1. Lizzianna*

          I manage people who frequently drive in the field (as do I). Minor accidents happen. As long as it’s not a pattern and there isn’t any indication that the person was driving recklessly, we document it and move on.

          If you lied to me about what happened, we’d be in a whole different conversation. I have to trust my employees in the field, if you’re willing to lie to me about a fender bender with minimal consequences, what else are you willing to lie to me about?

          1. goddessoftransitory*

            That’s exactly it. If your first response is a lie about something small, I can only assume it’s not easier for you to be honest about the bigger things.

    3. Eye roll*

      I think regardless of what the “tell” was, it’s significant that everyone appeared to pick up on some disconnect that led them to think she was lying. People, in general, do tend to be fairly good at reading others’ cues, even when they don’t know they’re doing it.

      1. TechWorker*

        Tbh saying ‘I don’t want to ever drive the car again’ is a pretty big tell. If it totally wasn’t her fault then why would that be relevant…

        1. Eye roll*

          I mean, my mom once swore she never wanted to drive again because someone hit her while driving. It didn’t last once the shock passed. It’s not an impossible response, but maybe in that circumstance… but maybe it was that or maybe there was something else.

          1. Lacey*

            Sure, it’s a normal response to getting hit while driving. Been there!
            But it’s an odd response to your vehicle being hit while you’re not in it!

          2. nodramalama*

            Yes, because any accident while actually driving or even being in the car can be quite upsetting. This would be like freaking out because you came back from the supermarket and saw someone had knocked your side mirror off.

        2. JB (not in Houston)*

          I have disagree on that. I would have been shaky in that circumstance and also wouldn’t want to drive the car again. Because even if it weren’t my fault, I’d worry that if it happened in the future I’d be blamed, and I wouldn’t want the responsibility.

          Obviously, she was somehow giving off a vibe that her story wasn’t true. I agree with eye roll, it doesn’t really matter what the “tell” was.

          1. ferrina*

            Pam’s story was that the car was damaged while parked. That would be a pretty extreme response to “someone bumped into my car while I wasn’t there.” It’s a much more normal response to being in an accident while driving.

        3. academic fibro warrior*

          The telling everyone so much got me! I was wondering, if she can’t move on from a fender bender than with what else is she like this? Is she going to have to justify to everyone everything she does or decide? Even had she been honest about the accident I’d have concerns about her fit in this position.

      2. Erie*

        Actually, I might offer some measured disagreement with that last statement. Student here who has done some research on people’s ability to assess credibility and detect deception. The research is mixed in this area, but there is a consensus that we tend to overestimate people’s ability to tell whether someone is lying from their demeanor. Training does seem to help us get better, but that seems to be because training focuses us on cues other than demeanor, which is notoriously unreliable – everybody’s different and lies in different ways.

        1. JBI*

          Reading nonverbal cues etc is garbage. People suck at it. The single best way to identify if someone is lying is by verifying against information you have.

    4. Sylvan*

      It’s also not unusual for people to drive into yellow bollards. That’s what they’re there for, to block cars.

      It is, on the other hand, unusual to be hit by a yellow car. And the driver of a school bus or taxi probably wouldn’t just run off. They know what they’re doing, they’re insured, and they know they’re on camera in a commercial parking lot.

      1. See you anon*

        Not to mention that the size and shape of the dent and even the sort of paint is very different when being bumped by a car or backing in to a parking barrier. Source: My car still proudly wears its battle scares earned both by being bumped by cars in parking lots and bravely facing down its yellow-painted concrete foe.

        1. Seaside Gal*

          LOL! My previous vehicle had a proud battle scar of orange paint from hitting a guard rail in a narrow Dunkin’ drive thru.

    5. MigraineMonth*

      I’ve backed into more than my fair share of parking garage columns (my ex-job’s parking spaces were TINY), and I’ve never been shaky after that either. Angry at myself, sure, but an accident at 3 mph isn’t particularly scary.

      The times someone has hit my car while I was driving it left me shaken up for quite a while. I remember calling 911 and being unable to remember the name of the street I drove on every day to get to work.

    6. Dark Macadamia*

      Yep. If I backed into a pole I would cry. When it happened, then again driving home, then again when I had to talk about it… If I came out to a parked car with a new dent I wouldn’t even notice, or if I did I’d mostly wonder if it was new or I’d just never noticed it. And if either of those things happened I wouldn’t go around telling multiple coworkers, because either it’s my fault and I’m embarrassed or it’s a mild inconvenience and doesn’t make a good story. It sounds like generally she just made way too big a deal of it and drew more attention than she would’ve if she just told the truth!

      1. Whee all the way home*

        Ooh, this is a great analysis! I hadn’t considered how unlikely it would have been for her to have inspected the back bumper of the car before and after driving it to assess if there was damage. It’s not like getting a rental car where one does an inspection before driving it. If there was minor fender damage, most people wouldn’t notice if they were simply borrowing it to run an errand.

      2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        I think the fact that she’s overreacting is evidence that she doesn’t normally lie, she hasn’t honed that “talent”. So she’s not a habitual liar, she’s lying because she’s scared of being fired for backing into a pole. She’s scared because her previous boss would have ranted and raged over it.

        1. Despachito*

          This also crossed my mind – that she is a bad liar because she does not lie normally. And if there are cameras, it can be (and was) easily verified what really happened.

          But then again – she was willing to do it in this case, how this would affect her future interactions with the company?

          1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

            If I were her manager, I’d talk to her about it, explain that I know it was a lie. I’d want to hear her version. If it turns out that this was a correct interpretation, I’d explain that here, there’s no need to lie. If I hear that an employee is in a car accident I’ll first need to know if they’re OK, and then see what damage was done to decide what to do next, but that it would not be a firing incident unless they did it on purpose.

    7. tg33*

      I was trying to think what I would do/feel if it were me. It is incredibly embarassing (sp) to hit a pole like that, but in the grand scheme of things it isn’t a huge accident. This is showing two issues in the OPs letter, this person lies if there’s a chance there will be trouble, and this person is terrible at assessing what is serious and what isn’t. Neither of these traits is good.

      1. Payne's Grey*

        Yeah. I feel sorry for this person, because her decision to lie was clearly fueled by fear – but it was a really bad decision. Pranging the company car isn’t the only mistake she’ll ever make at work, because humans make mistakes. Is she going to cover it up again next time? You really can’t have that.

    8. NA means Some A*

      I agree now, but when I had an abusive spouse someone backed into our brand new car while it was parked and took responsibilities for it and I was a mess. Because I knew I would still suffer for having parked in a parking lot. She may have an abusive employer or partner in her past.

    9. fhqwhgads*

      Yup. If it were her brand new car and it were dented, she might be upset enough to need some manner of consoling, but the “shaken up” part makes no sense unless the dent was accompanied by some sort of…I donno…hate speech tagged on the car that makes it look like a targeted thing and not just a hit and run.

  2. Blue*

    The thing about this that seems most problematic is the going around and telling the story to a lot of people! That’s just such a chaotic choice when she could have just told her manager and otherwise kept quiet.

    This is a long shot, but is there any way it’s possible that she could have not realized she hit the pole or that this was what caused the damage? I know I’ve gotten some mystery scrapes and dents in cars over the years that were probably my fault but I didn’t remember it happening.

    I feel bad for Pam, because this kind of defensive posture could very well be the result of being in highly punitive environments at home or other jobs. But, that’s not on OP’s husband to fix. I hope that, if there is a termination, the boss stresses that it is the lie and not the driving mistake that is the cause.

    1. TempAnon*

      This. Certainly not the most likely explanation but it’s possible. During a rough patch, I was so exhausted that I shouldn’t have been driving but buses here aren’t reliable and there are no trains. I managed to get more than $4k worth of damage on my SUV and wasn’t sure what happened. Turns out I scraped the whole side of the car at the library on a work trip. I’m partially deaf and never heard the scraping. A friend who worked there had found out and told me. I did not hurt the pole of my beloved library, thankfully.

    2. Eye roll*

      Telling a lot of people is extra problematic when they’ve realized she was lying. Who will ever trust HR or a manager, who they already know will lie to cover herself?

    3. LeRainDrop*

      I don’t think that’s possible because she told the boss that the damage was there when she came out from the store. But, in fact, it was not there at that time. It wasn’t there until she then got in the car, backed out, and hit the pole.

      1. Blue*

        Dang, good point. I can imagine scenarios where the collision happened before but your read is much more likely.

      2. Baroness Schraeder*

        Could she not have reversed into the car park and hit the post in the process? I almost always park facing out (and have definitely backed into my fair share of posts, at least before I got a car with a reversing camera!)

    4. doreen*

      I’d think that was possible – but saying she came out to see it damaged argues against that. If she backed into the pole and really didn’t see the damage until she came out, that would mean that she had somehow backed into the pole and then proceeded to park somewhere else. I mean, it’s possible – but it’s way more likely that the pole was at the back of the space she parked in. In which case if she noticed the damage when she came out, she would also have noticed the damaged yellow pole.

    5. Lora*

      I had a similar thought, that she just didn’t realize – I live in Boston where mystery scrapes, dents and “what the hell happened to my DOOR??” are basically par for the course. Stuff happens, hit-and-runs happen. Heck, some years back I had just bought a new vehicle which was much much larger than my previous car and uh…found out the hard way…that it didn’t fit in my employer’s teeny-tiny parking garage, much to the amusement of the garage attendant (and costing $1500 to fix my new car). It’s the lying part that’s problematic.

    6. OP*

      Unfortunately, no. I also suggested that, but husband says that on the tapes she got out of the car and went around the side to inspect the damage. So she definitely knew.

      In terms of how many people she told, I’m not actually sure. I know a couple came to the GM, but it’s possible that she told more and they just didn’t stick their necks out.

          1. Susie*

            Oh crazy, I had no idea that was a thing you would be required to do for insurance. I assumed to get surveillance tapes from a store you would have to involve police or something.

            (I don’t own a car or have car insurance, so it sounded farfetched to me. Learn something new every day.)

            1. BubbleTea*

              If someone else hits your car, it’s their insurance that gets claimed against rather than yours so the insurance company would want to check the footage so they can recover their costs from the other driver’s insurance.

            2. TempAnon*

              A lot of times, you can just ask the business owner, even if you aren’t sure you want insurance involved (to avoid an increase in your premiums). We’ve provided footage a couple of times when a car was hit in front of our business.

              It’s a little creepy, now that I think about it…

    7. nodramalama*

      But then the appropriate response would be “i’m not sure how this happened,” not concoct a whole story AND ask for sympathy for it

    8. Really?*

      I agree that she’s lied and that she should be let go as the trust is gone. But by way of explanations – there are people who were literally beaten or verbally abused in their childhood for making mistakes much less problematic than this one. I’ve been there. It takes years to overcome this and it’s hard to understand it if you didn’t grow up this way. You can become an expert at hiding mistakes – anything but admitting that you are the one who broke the case, spilled the milk or dented the car. (There could also be abuse in adult life playing in here?)

      That said, telling her the reason for her termination might be the wake up call she needs. I’m not trying to diagnose here – but I can see a familiar pattern and I hope she gets help if that’s what is going on here.

      1. Salt*

        Agreed. You can feel bad for a person but still have to fire them because in the end it’s about the job. If she’s someone who fears consequences so much that she’ll lie/ do anything to cover them up, then she can not be in this role. It doesn’t make her a terrible person. She might have trauma. But this role would put her and the company through agony as she covers up mistake after mistake/ fails to report/ fails to acknowledge/ snowballs problems. You read about people suddenly getting into debt with their company cards or throwing away files/mail because they’re too overwhelmed or doing all sorts of stuff you can see how they got there and didn’t mean harm but now they’re in bigger trouble. This is small enough she can walk away with a lesson.

        1. Despachito*

          Yes, this.

          You can feel sympathy for her but still not be able to keep her. It is up to her to fix her behaviour, and it is possibly terribly unfair to her (if she was damaged by someone else’s atrocious behaviour earlier in her life, and now she is responsible for healing herself), but it is definitely not the job of her employer.

  3. PollyQ*

    This is also potentially insurance fraud and even indirectly a kind of slander. He needs to fire her right away for this.

    1. QuinleyThorne*

      Ooof, yeah the insurance is definitely something to consider too. Even if they didn’t see the camera footage and decided to take her at her word, the lie would likely come out during that process. They ask very specific questions about the other vehicle involved, the angle and speed at which their vehicle was hit, the time and place of the incident, etc. While I do think that everyone deflects blame to varying degrees when explaining how a collision occurred in an attempt to keep their insurance costs down, the claims process relies on a whole bunch of specific details that would be very difficult to keep straight if someone were just straight up lying as opposed to just embellishing.

      1. Berlina*

        She wouldn’t be able to answer any of those questions, though, as she had claimed in all happened while she was in the store.

        1. QuinleyThorne*

          True–theoretically she could give the time she entered and the time she came out of the store, and how she parked the car into the space at least, but if she’s going with “it happened while I was in the store” I dunno what other questions they’d be able to ask.

        2. Irish girl*

          And insurance companies would want to check on tapes to see if they could find someone to go after…. and then they would see she was lying.

      2. goddessoftransitory*

        And the first thing an insurance claims agent would do is pull the parking lot tapes, so there’s no way the lie wouldn’t get found out immediately.

    2. to varying degrees*

      yeah, I mean I feel bad for her, she probably was freaked out and scared how her new boss would react, but if he filed it on an insurance claim she would have had to given a statement, either written or oral, which just perpetuated the lie. And is fraud. That’s a bigger deal.

    3. Just Your Everyday Crone*

      *Technical point just because IAAL, it’s not slander, she didn’t name anyone.

      1. MicroManagered*

        IANAL but I picked up on this too…. who is she “indirectly slandering”? Nobody because that’s not a thing.

        1. PollyQ*

          IANAL, so I don’t know if it meets any legal definition of the word. However, it is possible to slander a business (Oprah was sued for it), and if she’s claiming that a bus hit her and then left the scene of the accident, she’s falsely claiming a bus driver broke the law.

          1. ecnaseener*

            NAL but I’m pretty sure there would still have to be a specific entity being slandered – “it was a Westeros Public Schools bus,” maybe? but “I came out to find it like this, must have been a bus judging by the paint color” – no.

            1. PollyQ*

              OK, I can well believe it’s not legally slander. It’s still a major ethical fault IMO to blame someone else, even an anonymous someone, for something you did wrong.

          2. Yorick*

            She didn’t claim it was a bus. She claimed it happened while in the store. The boss joked about a bus since it was yellow paint.

    4. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      This is particularly concerning regarding her HR role. She told multiple people a story she created to cover up a mistake she made.
      How many of those people needed to be looped in?
      Probably none-yet she created a narrative to gain sympathy from people who are going to be coming to her with difficult personal/professional guidance.
      Not a great look.

  4. CatCat*

    It’s not great to back a car into a pole, but stuff happens and this is relatively minor and not uncommon. I would have been mortified to have to admit it, but sometimes you have to admit to mortifying mistakes in life.

    What was going through her head to think that lying about it is better? The only thing I can think of is she lied because she thought she could get away with it. She cannot be trusted at work, which is all on her.

    1. Escapee from Corporate Management*

      She may have lied because she feared she would lose her job. Ironically, that probably would not have happened based on how OP’s husband responded. Instead, by lying, she made it required for her to lose her job.

      1. KHB*

        Yeah, if she’s “pretty late career,” that means she’s had a lot of jobs and a lot of bosses – and probably at least one was a petty dictator who would punish/humiliate/fire her over this kind of relatively minor incident with the company car. If her lying was a knee-jerk response to something like that, I’d hope I could find a way to give her another chance.

        1. CharlieBrown*

          As someone who has worked for that sort of boss, this was my first thought as well.

          PTSD can do some strange stuff to your brain.

          1. ferrina*

            That was the way my brain leapt. It seems like a panic response from someone who had a punitive boss. Unfortunately, if she doesn’t come clean, I don’t think the Boss has any choice but to fire her. You can’t have an employee that lies about something so big and won’t come clean (though I really feel for Pam if it’s a PTSD situation!)

          2. Paiged*

            Yeah. I did basically this as a young driver–and my reaction was INSTANT PANIC because it was the first time it had ever happened to me(so I didn’t know what to do anyway) and because my then stepdad would have completely flipped his shit (like, we got in massive trouble for stuff like accidental soda spills or using the “wrong” cleaning product on the floor; scraping a car bumper accidentally like I did…I can’t even fathom what would’ve happened if my parents hadn’t thought someone else did it to my car). So I understand the impulse entirely.

            At the same time, this is a grown woman, not a 16 year old, and if you’re supposed to be in charge of things like HR, you can’t do this kind of lying. Definitely not repeatedly. It’s the lie that’s the problem, not the accident itself. It’s made so much worse by the fact that she kept telling other people the lie; odds are if she’d just kept it to OP’s husband, she could’ve possibly been forgiven with a serious warning. But no one will trust her after she bald-faced lied to half the company.

          3. meowwwwww*

            Yeah, this read as a trauma response to me, too. I grew up in a psychologically abusive household, so when I scraped a work truck’s bumper in college, I denied it up and down into perpetuity. Many years of therapy/healing work later, I still get a visceral, physical reaction to making mistakes, but I don’t lie about them anymore. I feel for Pam, but she also needs to deal with the consequences.

        2. Clobberin' Time*

          Another chance to have a knee-jerk reaction and lie if she makes a mistake?

          We can cheerfully ignore the comments policy and invent “good reasons” for her to be like this all day, but the bottom line is that Pam blatantly and repeatedly lied about a mistake. She’s lost her employer’s trust.

        3. Ana*

          Honestly, this comment section is a bunch of ghouls. Accidents happen, shes clearly upset, why fire her?

          1. Lusara*

            Because she lied about it. Nobody is saying she should be fired for the accident. We are saying she should be fired for lying.

            1. Lego Leia*

              And not just lied, lied a lot. If they had just told the boss, I could see it being a panic reaction, and Pam being able to retract it easily. Lying to all of the coworkers about something with almost no impact on them makes me question her judgement. Trying to recall the last time a coworker told me about a fender bender when there was zero impact on my job. I told people about a flat and needed a new tire because I had to leave work to get it fixed, but that’s it.

          2. Escapee from Corporate Management*

            The issue is not that she is upset. It’s that senior business leaders have higher levels of responsibility that they must meet. Her role is intended to be a leadership one that includes HR and company accounts. What if she makes a mistake that exposes someone’s health status or causes the company to be financially penalized? Will the rest of the team trust her not to lie again?

          3. Health Insurance Nerd*

            She shouldn’t be fired because of the accident- when you let an employee drive the company car that’s the risk you take. She should be fired because she’s a liar, and you cannot have people working for you who you don’t trust.

            1. Cthulhu's Librarian*

              At least, not in roles where trust is essential, and oversight is limited

              I can safely employ a person at my registers without trusting them fully – there are tools and means to ensure accountability, and I can check to make sure this person is not acting in bad faith. I can’t safely employ someone I don’t trust fully to be in charge of my security, bank accounts, or investigations into fraud/embezzlement/sexual harassment.

          4. AY*

            No one is denying that she’s very upset, and I think a lot of commenters are really sympathetic. But you really can’t base hiring/firing decisions on whether your employee is “upset.” That’s often how a company ends up with one of those broken stairs that makes everyone else’s life a misery.

          5. GammaGirl1908*

            It’s one thing to have made a minor mistake. It’s another to have orchestrated an elaborate and unnecessary and untrue cover-up. She’s not in trouble for dinging the car. She’s in trouble for the lies she told to cover it up. Lying to your boss is a firing offense.

            Also, and not for nothing, these were easily disprovable lies. She lied AND GOT CAUGHT.

          6. Summer*

            Why fire her? Seriously? Because trustworthiness is an integral part of her role and she lied, many times to many people. If she had just told the truth she would still be employed. I can feel bad for her but at the end of the day actions have consequences and being fired is a consequence of lying.

          7. nodramalama*

            Because she lied! and she didn’t lie just once, she lied multiple times, told multiple people about it, and didn’t even have the good judgment to keep quiet about the lie. She’s a liability to the company- both figuratively and possibly literally with insurance.

          8. Ghoulia Yelps*

            If we never fired people who were upset, we’d never fire anyone! This isn’t a case of “her level of upset is punishment enough”, because firing is not a punishment so much as it is a consequence. She’s not even sorry for what she did!

          9. Reluctant Manager*

            No one is saying she should get 40 lashes or be banned from the workforce forever. There is a ton of compassion for her in these comments. That doesn’t mean this company should continue to employ her.

          10. Just another Fed*

            She lied, over and over and over. She could set the company up for insurance fraud. Accidents happen, but you have to tell the truth about it.

      2. OP*

        I think it was more that. She’s actually very thorough and smart, so it’s weird that she told a lie that could so easily be discovered. I can only attribute it to panic and a toxic former job. She has worked for a lot of bigwigs, and I should also probably mention that she’s a woman of color, not historically a group that gets to make any mistakes or gets any grace. So it’s very possible that that contributed to her feeling like she can’t confess even to a minor mistake, especially since she took the car at her own request.

        Husband definitely wouldn’t have fired her or reprimanded her or anything for the dent, things happen and he’s got a healthy perspective on what’s important.

        1. QuinleyThorne*

          Ohhhh boy. As a black woman that definitely hits home. She obviously still shouldn’tve lied about it and perpetuating that lie to everyone else is still a big problem given that she was potentially being considered for HR, so she’ll still probably have to be let go. But oooof do I get where the urge born of panic came from if that’s the case, especially if she’s the only person of color in the office.

          1. Not Today*

            I often wonder what “person of color” means. I once had someone whitesplain to me, a Black woman, that Asian women are also people of color. I informed her that I have little in common with Asian women, so lumping us together renders the phrase meaningless. I prefer it not be used when referring to me, and I don’t use it myself. Just say minorities. Or specify whatever the minority is. i will say though, as a Black American, my lived experience is unique.

            1. Not Today*

              I do feel badly for the employee here, who no doubt has a need to like she must perform everything perfectly as there will be no grace extended if she makes a mistake. Hard way to live, but unfortunately, minorities often are held to different standards. Sadly, OP can’t really help this mindset in a seasoned employee though. But with her excellent performance, perhaps a second chance is in order? If OP performed good reference checks, and nothing turned up adverse, then the employee has likely not done something similar in the past.

            2. QuinleyThorne*

              My guess is OP is using it in the same way I did above, as a general catchall for “non-white”, which is generally how I use it when explaining situations where the ethnicity isn’t disclosed or otherwise immediately apparent. For what it’s worth, I’m also a black american woman and it’s use doesn’t bother me personally, so comfort with the term’s use is going to vary from person to person. It’s not a perfect term for many reasons, but it generally gets the point across.

            3. Lenora Rose*

              Which is why many use the term BIPoC for the catchall of people who have issues with being mistreated by or excluded from mainstream white culture due to racism – because it recognizes Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour as distinct groups who also have issues different one from the other *as well as* their common cause.

        2. Keeley Jones, The Independent Woman*

          Ugh. Poor Pam. The empathetic side of me really wants to say give her another chance to come clean about it and make it clear that future lies will not be tolerated, and that it’s ok to own up to mistakes. I can understand why someone would lie and then feel the need to double down on the low. Because now not only did she crash the car, but she lied. It’s really not uncommon, especially from environments where mistakes weren’t well received.

          But the logical thing to do is let her go, and your husband should not feel guilt if that it the route he takes.

        3. Wanderer*

          A lot of people are jumping on the ‘you can never trust her again’ bandwagon here, but overall I think this is a situation that a lot of people can sympathize with. It sounds like she’s learned from previous employers that damaging the car is an unforgivable crime.

          Have you considered that this could be a good learning experience for her? Maybe sitting her down and explaining that you’ve seen the security tapes from the accident and know what happened, as well as the seriousness of the lying rather than the accident itself? If she sees that making a mistake when driving the car can be forgiven and that she won’t be punished for it, but that she could potentially be fired for the dishonesty – maybe that will teach her to be scrupulously honest from now on?
          It would depend a lot on her personality, but I could imagine that giving her a chance to prove herself going forward might mean she becomes one of the most dependable employees you have.

          Maybe a large proportion of people at the company would have done exactly the same thing if in her situation. You just don’t know it because it didn’t happen to them.

          Giving her a chance for redemption doesn’t seem that unreasonable to me. Watch closely and if you see a repetition of the behavior or her attitude isn’t right, then I agree that it would be best to let her go.

          1. Sylvan*

            I think this might be appropriate for a very young/junior person, but she’s entering the company as an HR leader. Do you want someone in that role who is just now learning to tell the truth about her mistakes?

            1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

              OP says she “will” become part of the management team and deal with HR etc, sounds like she’s an admin assistant for now and if all goes well will then be promoted and given extra responsibilities.

              For me, the fact that she’s not white is also maybe a reason why the other employees were so quick to disbelieve her. OK it turns out they were right, but I remember thinking it sounded rather hostile as I read the OP.

              1. Jules the 3rd*

                They hired her to become basic HR (pay and hours) once she’s fully on board. They can’t do that now. A small company probably can’t afford / doesn’t have work for both an admin and HR.

                As to wondering: There are a ton of things that might set off someone’s bs alert.
                1) Over-explaining (including repeating to a lot of people) is one of the top indicators of lying.
                2) As someone who has backed my car into a parking lot light pole, I’d recognize it if I saw it on someone else’s car. It’s not the right shape for another car to have hit it.
                3) There was color left on the back of the company car. The color’s pretty… unusual… for vehicles. Light pole caution yellow is more orange than the bumblebee yellow I see on cars. Texture’s different too.

                I would not see it as hostile to notice and comment on discrepancies like these to the GM in a small company.

          2. GlindaTheOkayWitch*

            Right? Everyone is so excited for the pile on. Maybe just talk to the lady? Like a person talking to a person and not Moses descending the mountain with wrath and fury and the righteous judgement of the Lord?

            It’s just weird. This is a workplace blog with advice about workplace stuff. Work is notoriously a place where a lot of morality and decency gets left at the door and traded in for “professional norms.” But people are treating not like advice on hiring and firing, but moral judgement about a person’s fundamental worth. Do they even know the difference? Because I’ve already been worried for years that Americans don’t.

          3. Jules the 3rd*

            If she were just going to be on the line or an admin assistant, and has been there a while with no problems, you could do this. But not for someone who has been hired to handle HR, and has only been there a month. The risk is too high. If she messes up pay and doesn’t tell about it and it doesn’t get fixed, the company is open to fines / lawsuits. If she messes up pay and blames others for it, she’s going to undermine employee morale.

            It sucks that the accident may cost her the job, but it’s not a moral issue, it’s about risk for a small company. They aren’t going to be able to have someone checking over her shoulder. They have to be confident that when there are problems, they are going to be addressed and solved, not covered up.

        4. GammaGirl1908*

          Sigh, that hurts my heart. With that piece of information, I now want to take the second route — show her that you know what happened and then decide what to do from there.

          That said, if that were me, I probably would feel that I wouldn’t be able to come back from this and would resign. Feeling like you can’t rebuild trust is horrible.

          I have a running conversation with a friend about how HR and admin issues will take you down faster than anything else. You can be a mediocre performer for 30 years and retire in the hall of fame if you show up on time and never make waves. But a rock start performer gets caught falsifying one timesheet and gets whacked.

          1. Despachito*

            Because being a mediocre performer is not a sin, your employer is not owed stellar performance, especially when the pay is not stellar (quiet quitting comes to my mind).

            But falsifying/lying is a completely different story.

      3. Sylvan*

        Maybe. She could also have been embarrassed.

        Unfortunately, getting caught lying is a bigger risk to her job and more embarrassing than telling the truth.

    2. Pool Noodle Barnacle Pen0s*

      Yeah this is my take too. Backing into a pole at parking lot speed isn’t a huge deal, yes she damaged company property but it’s not like she drove it into a lake while intoxicated. The consequences for admitting it would have been minor, the consequences for lying won’t be.

    3. Librarian of SHIELD*

      This is where I land. Accidents can happen to anybody, and I particularly wouldn’t blame someone for backing into something in an unfamiliar car that might be a different length or have a different mirror/backup camera setup than they’re used to. If Pam had come clean, I’m guessing that’s exactly what her boss would have said to her. It would have been mortifying and awful, but she probably wouldn’t have been fired for it. The firing offense here isn’t the car crash, it’s the repeated lying.

      OP, if your husband does decide to fire Pam over this, I think he should actually tell her that she’s not being fired for crashing the car, she’s being fired for lying.

    4. TechWorker*

      I feel like she may have also lied because she was embarrassed about being perceived as a poor driver… I don’t think ‘lying because you can get away with it’ is common?

      1. ferrina*

        It’s not as uncommon as it should be. My ex would lie about anything he thought he could get away with. And if he didn’t get away with Lie 1, he would move to Lie 2.

        OP, this might be something to watch for in the convo with Pam- Does she come clean right away, or does she immediately move to another lie? (or even DARVO tactics). This will tell you a lot.

      2. Summer*

        Oh you sweet summer child. Loads of people lie, every day, all the time, about things of great and small consequence. It would be lovely if everyone on the planet was always honest but, alas, we live on earth where people lie as easily as they breathe.

        1. TechWorker*

          …little bit patronising. Of course I understand that people lie… I just think ‘because they like lying’ is not a common reason to do it, and people who lie because they like lying tend to lie literally all the time and are very easy to spot if you’ve spent any amount of time with them. No indication that’s the case here.

      3. Just another Fed*

        Lying because you can is VERY, VERY common!! Most people don’t think it is because they don’t do it.
        Could it be a trauma reaction, sure it’s possible, but so is lying just because.
        If she is confronted and comes clean and explains why (and the explanation sounds valid and is understandable), then maybe a second chance. If she doubles down, fire her.

  5. calvin blick*

    As a non great driver, I can understand why someone might lie. This would be horribly embarrassing, especially as a new employee. She shouldn’t have done it, but I would give her a little grace.

    1. Just Another Zebra*

      If it was just the non great driving, Jane would probably get a ton of grace. Driving an unfamiliar car is a breeze for some people. Other people (me) need time to warm up to a car before driving it feels natural. Backing into a pole is a thing that happens, and allows room for grace.

      The lying is why extending grace isn’t an option. It went from “hey, NBD, just cover the deductible” to fraud. Reporting that it was a hit and run to insurance when it was just human error is fraud. That’s fireable.

      1. Warrior Princess Xena*

        Yeah, no, depending on how big the deductible is that might panic me more than getting fired. Cosmetic repairs on cars are stupid expensive, insurance doesn’t always cover self-inflicted damage, and I don’t have $1.5K to spend.

      2. Summer*

        If it had been submitted for insurance, and OP says above that it was not, the company would cover the deductible because that is a cost of doing business. No decent company would ever ask an employee to pay the deductible. And even bad companies probably know better. It is the company’s policy; they are on the hook for the deductible.

    2. anonymousity*

      The issue is that most jobs involve the occasional “embarrassing mistake”. Feeling embarrassed/incompetent sucks, especially as a new employee, but it’s an important professional/life skill to know when you need to disclose that you’ve made a mistake even if it’s really uncomfortable. I think the severity of how problematic a lie is depends on the context but crashing or damaging a company car definitely necessitates telling the employer.

      I think they can show her grace by being empathetic to the reason she lied, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t consequences. As Allison said, this person is going to take on managerial and HR responsibilities. The problem isn’t that she backed into a pole, it’s that she lied about it. The other employees also found out that she lied and they know that she’ll be handling HR. How the boss handles this incident will send a message to all of the employees, not just the one who crashed the car.

    3. Asenath*

      I don’t know. During the years I was driving, I was in two minor accidents – one very similar, scraped another car in a parking lot and a near collision on a blind curve, which I suppose wasn’t really an accident, but I blamed myself. I was panicky and upset, but it didn’t occur to me to lie about what happened – and the fact that this accident happened to someone else’s vehicle; it wasn’t merely the driver lying about something they did that only affected them (assuming the damage was covered) makes it very serious.

    4. Lauren Garland*

      Agree 100%. Minor car accidents are part of life, it doesn’t matter in the scheme of things either way – whether she got hit or backed into a pole, no one was hurt and human error like this is the cost of doing business. She’s clearly very embarrassed and getting so punitive is a really unnecessary and inhuman approach.

      1. JB (not in Houston)*

        It’s not the accident, it’s the lie. As Alison said–she is in a position where trust matters. She is a new employee, so they have very little to go on about whether she can trusted or whether she is someone who commonly lies to avoid responsibility. If this were an employee that had been around longer with a track record for being trustworthy and honest, and they knew that this was not their usual behavior, that would be a different story.

        I would be really, really tempted not to fire her. But firing her in this circumstance is a reasonable reaction, not an inhumane one.

    5. Roland*

      Lying to your friends about it is fine. Opening your employer up to insurance fraud is not fine. As Alison says, this is an employee without a long track record of known integrity, and she is supposed to have HR functions. This kind of lie is simply not acceptable in those circumstances.

    6. GythaOgden*

      I caused a flood at work while flushing water outlets to avoid stagnant water in a mostly empty office during the pandemic. The first thing I did once the water was off was call my manager (who said he’d rather have a flood than legionella) and dashed upstairs to tell maintenance what I’d done.

      My colleague actually tried to cover it up but maintenance were searching for a leak and couldn’t find one, so I came clean with the guy investigating, who could actually then stand down and help with clean up.

      I didn’t even get a verbal warning. I spent a long weekend (long story but I was on reduced hours for a bit because I have a long commute by public transport and it was felt that limiting the days I came in was better…I went back 5 days a week fairly soon after because I was bored and they needed my assistance) absolutely mortified. But I didn’t lie about how it happened. I work on the assumption that lies have a habit of revealing themselves in the most inopportune moments, so it was much better to tell the truth and sort things out quickly than lie or keep quiet about what really had happened.

      Particularly since the version of events actually mattered to the guy trying to find a non-existent leak.

    7. Despachito*

      I can imagine this if it happened to her own car without any repercussions for the company

      (like her own car had a dent, someone at work asks her about it, she says that someone bumped into her in the parking lot, while in fact it was her who hit the pole).

  6. Lady CFO*

    She absolutely must be fired immediately.
    I can see why the story didn’t ring true – as another commenter mentioned, I don’t get shaken when I see my car got dented. Irritated, sure. Shaken happens in an accident … and when I’m trying to come up with a good cover story. This woman is egregiously dishonest and can’t be trusted with the tasks you want to assign her.

    1. FalsePositive*

      I’d be shaken if the story had happened at face value. I’d be worried that I was supposed to do something while still at the store (demand footage, cops, etc) and I just drove back to the office. I’m new to the office, so unproven and this could get me immediately fired just because there was damage (previous toxic offices). Thinking about what might have happened if I was in the car when it was damaged and it turn into a road rage parking lot incident.

      1. JB (not in Houston)*

        Yep, me too.

        I actually don’t see why we need to be trying to figure out what about her story set off alarm bells because that’s not really helpful to the OP, and people react differently to different circumstances. I hate how we humans have a tendency to think “aha! I would not have reacted that way in that situation, therefore this person was lying about their experience.” The point is, the OP’s husband figured it out whatever the reason. But I am with you, I absolutely would be shaky in that situation. My own car? Just mad. My new employer’s car? Very shaken up.

  7. Properlike*

    “It’s not the crime, it’s the cover-up.”

    also: “To err is human. To lie about your error is dumb.”

    1. Goldenrod*

      “It’s not the crime, it’s the cover-up.”

      I came here to say exactly this! I learned early in my career to fess up IMMEDIATELY to any accidental wrongdoing or error. It can be difficult, because when you are embarrassed, it’s so tempting to try to hide your mistake. But nothing good can come of it!

      I feel sorry for her too. I’m sure she was just totally scared. But, sadly, he does need to fire her. Hopefully she’ll learn for next time – she sounds talented, so I’m sure she’ll find another job before too long.

    2. doreen*

      And it’s especially dumb in a time where you can barely walk ten feet outside without being on camera. Two people at my job were told they could either both resign the next day or both be arrested* the next day. ( They resigned) They didn’t do something that they thought was required by policy and then did something else that they thought was prohibited by policy. Then something went wrong – and they came up with a story that explained the end result but had absolutely no relationship to what actually happened. Except that the circumstances caused someone to get security footage from a fast-food restaurant which exposed the lie. The other part that was dumb was that they didn’t even know the policy they thought they violated- because they did not actually violate it. Had they told the truth, they wouldn’t have had any trouble at all.

      * It was a state agency so falsifying reports and other business records was an actual crime.

    3. Sandgroper*

      I came in to say the same.

      I assume Pam panicked in the moment and lied. I’d give her one strong hint to come clean. If she doesn’t she’s out. If she does and apologises for the panic I’d put her on a nice long probation and watch and wait to see if she has a habit of lying when she makes a mistake.

      Because Pam has just shown your husband how she handles mistakes. She lies to cover herself.

    4. Reluctant Manager*

      Yes! It’s a bad, dumb lie; that may mean she doesn’t have a lot of practice at lying, so getting fired for this one would be sad. And maybe a relief, because continuing to work there with this stupid lie worried be exhausting.

    5. münchner kindl*

      Hence why Alisons last paragraph is so important.

      Yes, a small mistake while driving can happen easily to most of us.

      But a simple mistake while doing normal work – especially when she’s still new and learning the ropes – can also easily happen! And when her reaction is not to go to manager “I think I goofed when doing payroll, and added instead of subtracting taxes, how can I fix this?”, but instead lie – then this can be really bad for company.

      Or for the employees who didn’t do anything wrong, but will get hit with consequences.

  8. L-squared*

    I have sympathy for her.

    I once did the same thing. Driving work vehicles wasn’t an uncommon thing. I crashed into a pole and freaked out. I though about lying. In the end, based on circumstances, I felt like it wouldn’t be that hard to prove I did it (I figured that even if I didn’t see them, there were cameras). So I told my boss, and it was literally not a big deal at all. But like, also, how do you know that.

    I’m not saying I agree with lying, but I understand the urge sense, in a way, it doesn’t matter. The damage is done, and whether it was a one off mistake, or someone did it, there would still be a cost associated. But, I’m glad I came clean.

    Another thing I’ll say, after that short amount of time, Pam has no way to know how the boss will react. Will he yell at her and fire her on the spot, or kind of shake it off and handle it calmly. Just like the boss may be more accepting of an established employee, an established employee will have a better idea what kinds of reactions the boss will have.

    1. Happy meal with extra happy*

      I think most people understand the initial urge to lie and cover it up, but many people then have a second and ongoing thought/realization that lying is not a good idea (for all of the reasons discussed in this column). Therefore, I think it’s reasonable and understandable if OP’s husband doesn’t want to employ someone who doesn’t fall into the second group.

    2. BigSigh*

      I felt the same on first read through, and probably would’ve done the same she did–ten years ago. There’s something about growing up that, with expanded responsibilities in the workforce, you also should grow out of that initial panicked need to hide the mistake.

      The idea of “damage is done, move on” is so true. I think about that in so many situations. The guilt always haunts though, and usually I look back and wish I hadn’t lied.

    3. Warrior Princess Xena*

      I have a lot of sympathy too. I also don’t agree with her choice, but I know full well that if I ever damaged a work vehicle it would immediately result in me having a panic attack. I also know that’s equal parts my anxiety & imposter syndrome making me think that work would fire me over minor damage despite the fact that a) accidents happen and b) it would take an order of magnitude more expense to replace me than to fix the car, and even knowing that I would still freak the heck out.

      Pam hasn’t displayed good judgment and ethics in this scenario (especially when she doubled down and told everyone the false story). It would have been better to fess up immediately, or even the next morning. I feel really sorry for her, but can’t disagree with Allison’s advice.

    4. tessa*

      She went around lying to everyone else, too.

      I really don’t understand the excuse-making on this.

      1. Goldenrod*

        Sympathy isn’t the same thing as making excuses.

        I think we can all relate to the feelings of shame and fear that would arise in this situation, while agreeing that she did do the wrong thing and should be fired.

        But you can still have sympathy for her as a human being who messed up.

      2. L-squared*

        I didn’t make any excuses. In fact, I flat out said I don’t agree with the lying.

        But I can still sympathize with being new somewhere and having no clue how a boss will react to something like this, and being worried.

    5. Heather*

      The thing that tips the scale for me is that she’s in HR. You really can’t have an HR person whose first instinct is going to be to try to cover it up if she makes a mistake. Or more accurately, having the instinct is one thing but you have to have the integrity to actually do the right thing.

  9. Poppy*

    I have to drive for work and I’ve gotten into some minor incidents. I ran over a package containing an expensive item that the delivery driver left in the driveway behind my truck and I once backed into a hidden mailbox (no backup camera). I came clean immediately and apologized expecting to be scolded severely. Honestly it wasn’t a big deal either time. The first person got a replacement for their item through the carrier because the driver shouldn’t have left it behind a car when there were plenty of better places and the mailbox was just shifted a little and others had hit it before.

    I would seriously question the judgement of this person going forward and whether they will tell you about other important errors or problems.

    1. TechWorker*

      I totally understand why Alison has given the advice she has but I can also see that ‘driving the company car’ might be in a different mental category to ‘doing the rest of her job’? I would hope I would never lie in this situation, but I can see where the urge comes from (along with ‘I’ll just solve this problem by never driving the company car again’), whereas I cannot imagine ever wanting to lie about or cover up a mistake I made in my work. For me driving is a skill that’s not related to my job and I’m embarrassed about, whereas the rest of my work I’m in a completely different headspace.

      (I’ve avoided ever driving for work thus far though :))

      1. Allonge*

        Ok, but you see how ‘it’s not even related to my work’ should make it easier to admit you made a mistake, not harder, right? If it has zero to do with what you were hired for, it’s not an issue if you are bad at it.

  10. Falling Diphthong*

    Ooof. To blurt a stupid lie in the moment to divert blame off yourself is such a human action. As is the doubling down afterward. It’s the wrong thing to do, and most especially if you don’t have extreme youth to lean on as an excuse–but I can feel the clenched stomach as she tries to patch the cover story together.

    There’s a great line in a Vorkosigan novel about how rare it is for someone to march halfway to disaster and then stop. Perhaps because you will face the consequences for both sides at that point–here she’d be the person who backed into a pole and the person who then lied to cover it up. But a willingness to say you were in the wrong is really important to adults successfully interacting together, including to build trust. And she’s blown that here.

    1. Warrior Princess Xena*

      L. M. Bujold has such a good understanding of human behavior and a very clear way of pointing out the errors and assumptions we make. I love her work.

    2. münchner kindl*

      From a friend who worked for decades before I started, in a job where many employees were sketchy, he stressed that his own habit of immediately owning up to his mistakes to his boss – not even waiting until boss discovered mistake and went looking for the person responsible – was unusual and earned him tons of trust.

      Everybody at his work knew that if he said “I didn’t do Y”, he meant it, because he’s previously admitted to “I did X, sorry”. Most of the other employees lied or tried to hide the mistake, and thus were never believed when they said “I didn’t do Y”.

      So knowing this is the way forward helps overcome the instinctive reaction of “keep silent, maybe nobody will notice, or pretend it wasn’t your fault”.

      It also fits with the greater theme of when Alison says that professional employees are adults: it’s not about assigning blame, it’s about figuring out what went wrong, fixing the mistake and learning from it (if it’s a problem in the system) or accepting that minor mistakes will happen no matter what. Trying that mindset “How do I fix my mistake? Is there a bigger-picture problem that lead to that mistake?” also helps with “But I didn’t mean to, so it doesn’t count, and I don’t want to feel bad” reaction.

  11. Scaredy cat*

    Not sure if this falls under armchair diagnosing, and I don’t have a strong feeling about whether or not she should be fired.
    Having grown up in an emotionally abusive home, I 100% understand the impulse to lie. I learned from an early age that mistakes result in screaming and blaming and feeling overwhelming guilt.
    I really hope she comes clean. I just know, even as an adult who hasn’t been yelled at in many years, the idea of going to a supervisor and admitting a mistake fills me with so much anxiety I can barely talk without crying.
    Maybe none of this is true of the admin, and maybe I’m projecting way too much, but I can really easily see lying about a mistake that feels this big so early into a brand new job.

    1. L*

      Same, same, same.

      I feel so bad for her but I can definitely understand why she would be fired for this.

    2. Eye roll*

      The problem with this is, even if you’re completely right and there is some sympathetic reason for her lie, she still has to be fired. She’s in a sensitive position, and her employer must be able to trust her judgment, honesty, and discretion. Except now that is impossible because she lied (and possibly started the ball rolling on some potential insurance fraud).

      1. Lego Leia*

        There is also the factor that the coworkers don’t trust her. OP started looking into the accident AFTER coworkers were talking about it. I can’t imagine working in a place where I feel my manager and HR rep are unethical liars.

    3. CharlieBrown*

      I am coming from the same place, but at the same time, the employee’s mental health is not necessarily the responsibility of the employer.

      And if she makes a million dollar mistake with payroll and has the same reaction…what happens then?

      If this is the case, then it’s incumbent upon the employee to get help.

      1. Yoyoyo*

        I agree. I also grew up in an environment such that my first impulse in a lot of situations is to lie, but it was up to me to do the work needed to avoid acting on that impulse, as it is just not okay to lie in most circumstances. The impulse is still there and I don’t know if it will ever go away, but it is my responsibility to notice it and tell the truth anyway.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          It was up to me to do the work needed to avoid acting on that impulse.
          I strongly agree with this: it’s one thing your early 20s (or any later period) are for, rewiring the instincts that helped you survive at 15 but are not helpful when interacting with adults who have never abused you.

    4. Warrior Princess Xena*

      Same all round. To me this would be a total nightmare situation (I don’t like driving or using expensive things that belong to other people for basically this exact situation) and doing it at work would be nightmarishly terrifying for me. Emotionally I’d far rather actually get into a car accident than scrape up a work car. Rationally I know this is stupid and I don’t actually want to get into a car accident but anxiety is the actual worst.

    5. Clobberin' Time*

      So let’s pretend all of this is true. It means that she really should be fired, because her impulse to lie is not just a one-off brain fart, but an ingrained, impulsive pattern of behavior that she’s going to repeat the next time she feels anxious about blame, and it’s not going to be fixed by ‘giving her another chance’ (and may not be fixable at all).

      1. CharlieBrown*

        I doubt very much that it’s not fixable, but whether it is or not, it’s not her employer’s responsibility to attempt to fix it.

        You really have been unnecessarily harsh with your comments.

        1. Heather*

          There’s really nothing harsh about this comment? I feel like this comment section is starting to use “harsh” to mean “you disagree with me and I don’t like it”..

          1. Amorphous Eldritch Horror*

            Deeming someone potentially incapable of recovery is rather harsh. An employee\s recovery from trauma isn’t their employers’ responsibility but seeing trauma survivors dismissed as hopeless is a bit chilling.

            1. Casper Lives*

              Maybe but as another child abuse survivor, I’m frustrated with this comments section. “I might react like this because of trauma!” Ok AND? It’s not helpful, it doesn’t change the advice to OP, and it’s annoying to have MH slapped on every normal, common human behavior. Like making a bad decision to lie and doubling down.

              There’s nothing irredeemable about this employee. I move to fire her due to her position needing trust from other employees. If she hasn’t fixed her impulse to lie due to childhood trauma (IF that very unique coping mechanism exists for this experienced employee), then she’s unlikely to fix it. Trying to excuse her behavior instead of realizing that makes it worse is something.

              1. Amorphous Eldritch Horror*

                Different people react differently even to similar situations. Also, “explain” and “excuse” aren’t the same verb.

      2. Eyes Kiwami*

        Yeah this is where I come down as well. I can totally sympathize, but she is an HR leader! How will she react if she makes an error in someone’s payroll, or handles some sensitive situation incorrectly? She has already burned through the trust of the employees in her org. Unfortunately this is not OK behavior for someone in such a role.

    6. one L lana*

      I also relate to Pam here. There are lots of us out there who, for reasons of upbringing or personality or both, can think of no more terrible outcome for a situation than Getting In Trouble, and have a very deep-seated conviction that Getting In Trouble is the thing to be avoided at all costs.

      Frankly, every time my boss asks me whether I’ve done something that, for whatever reason, isn’t done, I’m tempted to lie about it. But you can’t! You just can’t do that at work. You can have all the compassion in the world for *why* Pam might have done this, but it doesn’t change the fact that she shouldn’t have done it and it is going to make it difficult, if not impossible, for her employer to trust her going forward.

      1. one L lana*

        Especially in an HR position. I would be very concerned about having someone in that job who has a proven track record of lying to escape an uncomfortable conversation.

      2. Really?*

        Thanks for posting this. I’m in the same boat and would rather have a root canal than Get in Trouble.

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

      It might not even be an impulse from her family, it could be something that happened at a former toxic workplace. I picked up on some really bad habits, including lying to cover for my mistakes because I would be reprimanded and threatened to be written up just for making really easy mistakes, or even doing something I was told to do by another supervisor,

    8. Budgie Buddy*

      If this is the case, I’m hoping this is a wake up call for Pam that she’s picked up some maladaptive coping strategies that are biting her in the butt. And that she can go on to her next position with more insight. She can’t salvage this job but hopefully it’s one painful lesson learned.

    9. Twix*

      For me it’s an extreme anxiety disorder, but same impulse. Because my brain always jumps to the worst possible outcome of any course of action, my knee-jerk reaction to this situation would be “Do I lie and possibly get fired or tell the truth and definitely get fired?”, and in that calculation lying makes a lot more sense than it does looking objectively at the situation. But as others have said, that explains the behavior, it doesn’t excuse it.

      1. misspiggy*

        It does illuminate it though. I kind of wish Pam could read this thread as a way to help her through the right change process.

    10. "It was hell," says former child.*

      Like Scaredy cat I totally understood the impulse immediately–even minor mistakes would merit violence in my house. (And the worst beating I ever got was for crying about already being beating. Totally meta!) And because not-lying was so deeply engrained into us kids, the only other option was to never do anything wrong. So that was the tightrope I learned to walk–be 100% good, and take no risks whatsoever.

      As an adult, of course, I realized that’s ridiculous, and now I constantly admit when I make a mistake. (I do it even when I’m not at fault. I’m sure there’s something [differently] wrong about that.) But I think Pam’s impulse to immediately cover up is not necessarily the ingrained behavior of a pathological liar, but that of someone who never figured out that getting in trouble isn’t the worst thing in the world. Yeah, it’s a bit weird that a seasoned employee is still afraid of getting in trouble, but it’s not terribly uncommon–my older sister in her 60s is *still* afraid of getting in trouble, and she’ll always side with the person who’d otherwise get angry at her.

      1. Scaredy cat*

        Thanks for your comment. I’m a bit taken aback by all of the folks saying Pam is a habitual liar.
        For me, I think physical things getting damaged would cause me to panic in a way that messing up paperwork would not.
        (I’m also very quick to admit mistakes now.)
        Maybe Pam really has burned all her bridges. But it seems equally possible to me that if her boss was able to confront her directly, but compassionately, she would be able to admit mistakes in the future, because she would have clear evidence this boss is not going to blow up.
        For me, it doesn’t matter how long I have known someone, I have to *see* them accept me admitting a mistake without yelling before I will really trust they won’t fly off the handle.

        1. Casper Lives*

          Um, the original comment on this chain says Pam has a maladaptive coping technique that makes her a habitual liar.

  12. Essentially Cheesy*

    Yeah honesty and integrity are kind of everything for a person in that position. It’s not about the accident but about the fibbing.

  13. Richard Hershberger*

    A healthy professional relationship has to include the employee be willing to be up front about screwing up, and the employer understanding that these things happen, leading to a discussion about how to avoid a recurrence. The one major screw up I did, blowing an important deadline (though not, thank goodness, a statute of limitations), as soon as I realized it I went to my boss, and his reaction was to thank me for that. This is my current Good Boss. My previous Terrible Boss? The situation didn’t arise, but I would have been sorely tempted to quietly bury it.

    1. irene adler*

      See that’s the thing. Pam may have a history of a manager or two who would go ballistic over this. So lying might very well be necessary for self-protection.

      That said, one has to take the chance that the new boss won’t be like that; lying is never a good idea.

      There’s a dept here at my work where the manager is like that. When equipment breaks, they find someone outside the dept to inform the manager. Sometimes I’ve volunteered to do this. And yes, this manager gets ugly about it. Not fun; but at least he can’t punish me – unlike his reports.

  14. Toads, Beetles, Bats*

    Yeah, this is a huge error in judgment and that is just not work-able for someone with HR responsibilities on a management team. She didn’t lie on the spot — she took (at least) a few minutes and then lied to multiple people. (Or heck, maybe she even took a day or two before she lied depending on the timeline, making it even more egregious.) That’s a child’s response, and you can’t have a late-career manager pulling that nonsense.

    1. münchner kindl*

      And because HR mistakes impact other people’s livelihood – remember that LW some time ago where HR made a mistake, new employee wasn’t paid, she talked to an HR employee who said it would be fixed, but it wasn’t, and new employee went 2 months without pay? (The LW was upset about new employee demanding the payment owed).

    2. blood orange*

      Exactly. As someone in HR I can’t see this as workable either. It’s not just the lie, which is bad enough, but her judgement is in question big time. Maybe this is a leap, but I’d start questioning her ability to be objective, to handle personnel matters honestly and with good judgement, and I’d be very wary of the level of access/control it sounds like she would have.

      Give her the benefit of the doubt, of course. That’s just the right thing to do. Allow the possibility that there is an explanation, but she just can’t be in that position if there isn’t.

  15. RJ*

    I don’t think she’ll be able to recover from the lie and the constant repetition of the lie to others who know it’s a lie. She made a mistake, but the greater error was how she attempted to simultaneously cover it up and justify it to other and perhaps even to herself.

  16. JBI*

    I think I may have told this story before…

    In my last job we interviewed a guy for a sales engineer job who admitted he lied on his resume to get through the screening process.

    When I expressed horror, my team lead, who is a nice guy but a poor judge of character said “Well, at least he admitted it…”

    I watched aghast, as they keot moving him through the interview process.

    He kept lying (claiming to have figured out stuff by himself people had shown him during the process)

    He gave a good presentation (I was not present), and the team lead basically tried to convince me the lying wasn’t a big deal, and could be managed, and if he didn’t work out, we could fire him

    I found their rationalizations unconvincing, particularly as there were basically ignoring stuff before they hired him that should have been fireable offenses. It also didn’t seem to occur to them that

    A) He could lie to customers.
    B) He could lie to us to cover up mistakes.
    C) He could lie to make colleagues look bad.
    D) Lying just didn’t *bother* him.

    I was told I should trust the management, but as I pointed out, they were exhibiting extraordinarily poor technique in determining if he could be trusted. When they found he lied about something they gave him all the information they had then asked him to explain it. Which he did by lying again.

    My other concern was if he was hired, and there was a problem, the reaction would be “But you never wanted to hire him anyway…”

    I was beginning to feel like Cassandra of Troy.

    I eventually said that there was no world in which they could have both him and me. I was the top sales engineer out of a team of 20, so I had leverage. They weren’t happy, but it finally sunk in they weren’t going to get everything they wanted, and they pulled the plug.

    I was kind of worried that I had overreacted… I talked to a psychiatrist I know about it, said I had was concerned about the depth of my antipathy to to the guy. I described a few conversations I’d had with the guy, and the psychiatrist started laughing.

    I asked why, and he said

    “No, sorry, I shouldn’t be diagnosing someone I never met.

    But based on what you told me, the guy was a sociopath.”

      1. Gracely*

        Exactly! Listen to what people are straight up telling you. And while sure, you can give someone you know a second chance, a new person (especially someone you’re interviewing who is supposed to be on their BEST behavior) shouldn’t automatically get that second chance.

    1. irene adler*

      Good for you for standing up! Sociopath or not, anyone that isn’t bothered by lying- I don’t want to associate with.

      Aside from the obvious objection to the guy because of the lying, did your ‘inner voice’ register anything? I’ve run into a few of these characters, and there’s just something that is so attractive about them. I admit that I didn’t see the ugly that was right there in front of me. My ‘inner voice’ was screaming “get away from this person!” and I ignored this.

      I know better now.

      1. JBI*

        Actually, I got the creeps immediately (but I knew he had lied before I met him).

        I will say I am hard to lie to because
        1) In all modesty I have a phenomenal memory
        2) I’m constantly evaluating information I receive with what I already know for consistency
        3) A good way to annoy me is to try to manipulate me, and I don’t respond well to emotional arguments (my shrink wasn’t prepared to say I wasn’t on the spectrum.)
        When the guy talked to me about how his being viewed as a liar would have affected his grandparents back in the old country I burst out laughing at the transparent attempt to manipulate.

        1. irene adler*

          Being viewed as a liar would affect his grandparents -back in the old country??? It sounds so much like integrity, but yeah, that’s manipulation.
          Thanks for the mention of getting the creeps from this guy.
          I think I avoided hiring someone like this simply because my ‘inner voice’ screamed NO! The guy met all the job requirements, but my boss just said “don’t hire the guy. I can’t explain why.”

          1. JBI*

            Well, it wasn’t really based on a gut feeling. I knew he was a liar, which gave me a lens to analyze what he was saying.
            Also he kept at it.
            I will also say, I don’t think I’m easily charmed… certainly not in a work context.
            I’ve found people attractive, sure. But as soon as people lie about anything, I just register they are capable of lying to get what they want.
            I actually discussed it with my shrink, because of my reaction to the guy…. I asked if he thought I was easy to manipulate.
            He thought for a moment then said emphatically “NO.”
            He looked thoughtful then chuckled, and said it was interesting, he really didn’t have to think about that for very long at all.
            To be honest, I don’t recall ever losing out by being persuaded to go along with something against my better judgment by force of personality.

  17. Staja*

    Not only does lying about it show this employee can’t be trusted – what would have happened if she’d been injured from the accident and didn’t realize until after?

    Luckily, when I was managing people at the car dealership, I only had to deal with one accident. But, one of my employees ran over the foot of another. As embarrassed as they were to report it (since they weren’t following safety protocol), no one got in trouble and I was able to get my injured employee to urgent care ASAP.

  18. Sarushka*

    When I was 16, I took my mom’s car and drove 100 miles to go clubbing. My parents thought I was going to the movies and sleeping over a friend’s house. On the way home, I was involved in a multi-car pile-up after the first car’s axle broke. Luckily, we were driving in two cars so we all piled up in my friend’s car for the remainder of the trip. I had 75 minutes to think of what I would say. Telling a fib definitely came to mind. But even then, I knew lying was going to be way worse. When I got home, I ran into my parents’ bedroom and blurted out the truth. My parents are way scarier than any boss I have ever had.

    1. Asenath*

      My parents always told me that I shouldn’t lie to them; they’d be more angry about me lying than about anything I did. So I didn’t. They heard some things they’d rather not have known, I’m sure, but they were never angrier because I told the truth. A few times, I did have to get up my nerve a bit to tell the truth, but it was still easier that trying to maintain a lie – or waiting for some mangled bit of gossip about me reached their ears.

      1. Paiged*

        I’m really glad that some people’s parents were serious when they said that to their kids. Because mine definitely, definitely weren’t, and it only took one time telling them what happened to learn never to tell them the truth again. I really wish I could’ve been honest with them instead of relying on friends and myself to handle certain situations.

      2. allathian*

        Yeah, my parents were the same way, and to their credit, they always kept their word. That said, I was a “goody-good” kid. My younger sister had a curfew, but I never did, because I was always at home early enough that I didn’t need one (I’m introverted, and because of that I was always home by 8 pm on weekdays because I was peopled out). I also didn’t smoke, do drugs, or even drink alcohol until I was old enough to drink (18 here).

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

    Before Pam was given the keys to the company car, did the business check her driving record or, I don’t know, insurance claims history (IDK if that’s even a thing but minor fender-benders often don’t get reported to the DMV if they are under a certain dollar amount of damage)? I wonder if her over-the-top reaction to a fairly mundane event is indicative of a history of accidents. If they didn’t get a driving record before handing the keys over, how carefully (or not) did the business vet her out in other ways?

    1. Bunny Girl*

      This was my first thought too. I’m sure not wanting to get in trouble at your new job was probably a motivator to lie but I’m wondering if there were any at fault accidents on their record that they didn’t want to add on to.

    2. no longer working*

      I’m wondering if she was even told she’d have to drive on occasion as part of the job.

    3. to varying degrees*

      All the companies I have worked for in the past where driving company vehicles was part of the job had the insurance company mandate that there was a driver’s check in order to add them to the coverage. Otherwise any accidents that happened when that person was driving weren’t covered.

    4. doreen*

      A lot of accidents aren’t going to be reported anywhere , even to insurance companies. And hitting a pole doesn’t really strike me as something that would make me think someone is generally a bad driver. Depends on the specifics , but if someone was backing into a parking space that had a pole at the border between that space and one in the next row, it really could just be unfamiliarity with a car she hadn’t driven before. When I first got a minivan, I acted as though there was a few feet of van behind the windshield and passed up parking spaces I should have fit in. If someone was used to driving a van and was now driving a car, it wouldn’t surprise me if they miscalculated how far they could back up.

  20. Ann Ominous*

    LW, I hope your husband is very kind about the whole process of letting her go. I feel very sympathetic to Pam, and I am personally inclined to let it go because of how freaked out she is, but that’s not an impulse that’s helpful to the company’s operation (especially with Pam being the HR person!

    She’s going to be faced with difficult situations, some of which she may contribute to (even if inadvertently) and your husband needs to be able to trust his HR – you don’t want your husband’s employees writing to AAM asking how to navigate the fact that HR person is shading the truth to the boss.

  21. The Rural Juror*

    A forklift operator at my old job once damaged my car by accidentally scraping it with a pallet on a forklift. He was going in reverse and looking behind him, so he didn’t see that he’d done it. He didn’t come and tell anyone because he was completely unaware.

    He got a pretty stern talking to about driving near vehicles in the parking lot and overall safety, but what really mattered was being able to explain to the company’s insurance what had happened so they’d be able to pay for the damage correctly.

  22. Just Another Zebra*

    I deal with a large fleet of commercial vehicles at my company. I cannot begin to express how many accident reports and body damage appointments I’ve handled in my tenure. But it is very, very rare for drivers to be fired for accidents. The ones that were notably fired were, primarily, fired for lying about how the accident occurred. OP, I’m sorry, but Pam needs to be fired.

    1. QuinleyThorne*

      Oh LORD yeah, at my job we probably get a fleet incident every other month due to the amount of field work being done in the area we cover. We’re also in one of the most car-reliant cities in the country (perhaps even infamously so). Accidents are bound to happen, and even if the employee is determined to be at-fault, drivers can be at-fault for a whole host of non-malicious reasons. So that in and of itself wouldn’t be a reflection on them as an employee, unless it was part of a larger pattern of questionable judgement or behavior (like lying about it, as was the case here).

  23. MedGal*

    Not too many yellow vehicles driving around. Poor choice Pam. I would have guessed pole hit immediately. Perhaps frame it as are you sure you didn’t graze a pole? Not likely she wouldn’t have felt the impact though.
    Thankfully not a person was hit. Yikes.

    1. not really related*

      One time a grey car rear ended me and left green paint on my bumper. It was very strange.

      1. Emmy Noether*

        Some colors are achieved by having two or more layers of paint of different colors (for example, my red car had white underpaint – this is common). Or it was repainted at some point.

    2. münchner kindl*

      There is a theoretical possibility: if another car bumped, or very slowly shoved, the company car and thus pushed it into the pole, it wouldn’t be Pams fault.

      But that’s very unlikely in the first place, and with the update about the tapes, not applicable in this case.

  24. TeamPottyMouth*

    I’m sympathetic. She’s obviously shaken–and it’s not so unreasonable to think that someone driving an unfamiliar car might make a dumb mistake like putting it in the wrong gear or not realizing how far back they have clearance, etc. And if she’s had toxic jobs before, she’s likely to be scared to death that admitting she made the mistake will get her fired. Could it be that she told the story once, in the heat of the moment, and then other employees kept bringing it up? She’s probably riddled with anxiety over the whole thing and can’t stop it now. I guess my question is, what’s the difference to the company whether it was a hit and run or an accident? Will it cost the company more one way or another? I’m betting that it may not have occurred to her that the white lie might lead to bigger consequences (ie insurance claims). In light of that, can you sit her down, in private, and say something to the effect of “We have to file an insurance claim on the vehicle, and I’d like to give you the opportunity to tell the truth about what happened.” The ultimate lesson here is that you have to be able to trust each other, and I’d be interested in hearing her reasons for lying before determining if this is an unfixable personality trait or just abject terror of losing her new job.

    1. Escapee from Corporate Management*

      The difference is that this is not a low-level person. She is supposed to join senior management and run HR. Someone who lies in this situation–which has legal, financial, and operational impacts–is not someone who can assume a role where she will need to enforce rules around these issues.

      1. Kippy*

        Yeah, it’s not great when you know your co-worker’s a liar.

        But when you know the person that processes payroll and handles your FMLA paperwork is a liar?

        How can you ever trust her? How can your employees ever trust her?

      2. one L lana*

        That’s what clinches this for me. I have a lot of sympathy for whatever flawed thought process made Pam think she needs to tell a lie. The problem is that she didn’t overcome that impulse, which means I don’t trust her to be honest in other high-pressure situations, either. If it was financial anxiety that led her to cover this up, well, she’s going to be handling money. If it was discomfort with a difficult conversation or with the prospect of someone being angry at her, well, she’s going to have to handle disputes between employees.

        1. Budgie Buddy*

          ^This. She’s in a role where encountering stressful situations is likely. The company can’t afford her to crack under pressure.

          Knowing someone lied out of “abject terror” rather than self interest might help me depersonalize what happened. It doesn’t mean I can trust the person. Someone I can only trust as long as nothing shitty happens to them is someone I can’t trust.

  25. QuinleyThorne*

    Honestly, it’d be one thing if she had lied in the moment, and just left it at that; even as a late-career employee, that still reads to me as a human response, especially if they’d previously been under a tyrant manager who would’ve berated her over it. It still shows pretty questionable judgement, but could also just be a result of not having been afforded the grace to make any mistakes at all.

    But she didn’t leave it at that, and instead went and told the same lie to multiple people. That additional step takes it from momentary lapse in judgement to deliberate deception, which is definitely not a quality one should have in an HR position. It also calls her discretion into question which could be a major legal liability down the line.

  26. WeGoHigh*

    Something like this happened at my place of employment. Wonderful well-liked employee, had been there for more than 5 years. They accessed info they shouldn’t have (clicked into something and saw confidential data) and mentioned what they saw to two colleagues. When HR investigated it, they lied about it multiple times. Because their role required handling highly personal information, they were fired at the end of the investigation. Everyone in their department was shocked because they were a great employee and most didn’t even know that there was any sort of investigation. Those in the know couldn’t talk about the investigation or why the employee was fired. It sucked – had they just told the truth, they would have gotten a warning/reminder about handling confidential data, but because they lied, they got fired.

    1. Raw Flour*

      Frankly, if they were able to click something they shouldn’t have had access to, that’s on the company’s cybersecurity team and does not reflect on anyone’s personal sense of integrity. If somebody gives me access to confidential data, what am I supposed to do, not view the thing I now have access to? Quite different from hacking or “social engineering” one’s way in.

      1. KRM*

        There’s a world of difference between “Hey IT, I clicked into this file I didn’t recognize and it’s confidential information I should not be able to see. You need to fix that so I don’t have access” and “Wow I clicked into this file and you guys will never guess what I saw!!”. This case is the latter. And yes, if you have access to confidential data that you’re not supposed to have access to, you 1-close out immediately and don’t read anything further 2-report it to IT and to HR/affected parties of that data 3-DON’T REPEAT anything you saw to anyone and 4-DON’T LIE about what happened if you were foolish enough to violate #3.

  27. Tuesday*

    Oof. I have definitely damaged my car and not realized it before, including not noticing that I’d scraped against a light pole – I thought the scraping sound was me just pulling too far forward over the curb and scraping the underside of the front, which is also not great but isn’t the kind of damage I’d think warranted reporting. (I am not a good driver.)

    I would gently confront Pam with proof that she damaged the car and see what she says. It’s possible she really didn’t notice and was just shaken that the damage happened on her watch, and it’s definitely possible that she lied. But I think her reaction will determine how to proceed.

    1. Mac (I Wish All The Floors Were Lava)*

      Maybe I’m misunderstanding who got to see the tapes and how much detail there was, but I feel like it’d be illuminating to see what happened right after the damage occurred– did she get out and look, or just blithely drive away. Option A, ok, she knew it happened, Option B, she probably genuinely had no idea she was at fault and didn’t notice the mark til she got back from the trip (and if that was the only place she’d parked it, it would be a reasonable conclusion for her to jump to that it had happened while parked).

      1. Winterblossom*

        OP says above somewhere that she was seen on the tapes getting out to survey the damage, then driving off. The contortions to excuse her can stop there.

        1. Tuesday*

          My comment was posted before the OP clarified this. Hardly a contortion, just engaging in the intended function of the comments section.

  28. Caramel & Cheddar*

    I’m curious if the driving is part of her day-to-day duties or if it was a one-off thing to go pick up supplies or something. I can see someone’s comfort level with driving in general and driving the company car specifically being very different if this was a regular expectation vs one of those “you’ll need a driver’s license to work here but you’ll rarely drive” jobs. I can drive, but it’s not at all part of my responsibilities at work and the rare times I’ve been asked to drive during my career have been nerve-wracking.

    It doesn’t change the outcome here, I suppose, but like a lot of other people I’m sympathetic to what happened here. I do wonder if it’s worth it for LW’s husband to have a clear “driving the company car” policy where it outlines what to do if you get into a minor fender bender, a full on accident, get a parking ticket, etc. Knowing this stuff in advance can help people navigate stressful situations better, especially if they know that the out come of a minor fender bender won’t be to get fired if they tell the truth.

    1. OP*

      That’s such a great suggestion, thank you! I’ll pass this on to him if he doesn’t see it.

      I think this was a one-off, it’s definitely not a part of her job duties or necessary for executing them. Husband spoke to Pam this morning about it (I’ll post an update soon) and apparently her previous company had a “we’ll fire you if you damage company property, no exceptions or discussion” policy, so she was terrified she’d lose her job.

      1. londonedit*

        I thought it might be something like that, and I can totally see why her first reaction in that case was to try to cover up the truth. And then the trouble is, once you’ve lied about it, there’s no real getting out of that. It becomes doubly difficult to admit that a) you did in fact damage the car and b) you then lied about it, even if you do have a genuine reason for having lied.

    2. SAS*

      Yep, our company vehicles have a laminated checklist in the glovebox for what to do in an accident.

      I know of it happened to me I’d be so thrown by it not being my car “do I give my license details or work details? Do I call a tow truck or get the office to call a tow truck? What are the insurance details?” So it’s a very simple and helpful measure to take.

  29. Sorry*

    It was obvious to me from the limited description that Pam probably backed into a pole. And unfortunately given her future responsibilities she needs to be fired.
    It is a lot easier to hit some of these poles then many people realize. I hit one with the side of the car at a bank window. There’s a drugstore near me that has some at some of the parking places that would be easy to hit.

    1. SAS*

      They’re so often below your field of vision! Better to back into a pole than the building behind it I guess.

  30. Flossie Bobbsey*

    I read the first paragraph before paying attention to the title of the post, and I immediately knew she’d backed into something in the parking lot herself. Yellow paint is a giveaway along with the location of the damage. This exact thing has happened to a car I was a passenger in; it’s hard to see low poles in parking lots and they’re almost always yellow. (Also, one time a yellow car did back into mine in a parking lot, so of all people I should be fairly receptive to her story being plausible, but it just wasn’t to me.) It’s a shame she lied and then perpetuated a lie.

  31. Just saying*

    My first thought on reading this was that Pam probably grew up in a household where unpredictable, outsized consequences were the order of the day. Like, damaging something not your own might result in sympathy, or it might result in being beaten with a belt.

    In fact, I’d stake money on it.

      1. Clobberin' Time*

        It tells the OP that she really must be fired, because Pam’s tendency to lie would be ingrained, reflexive, and will crop up again and again when she feels anxious and ‘blamed’.

      2. Just saying*

        Gives her an insight she might not previously have had into the situation. If she wants one. I mean, clearly you don’t, but she might.

        1. KoiFeeder*

          Okay, but what does this insight actually do? Does it mean Pam shouldn’t be fired? Does it change any plans on how to deal with Pam if she isn’t fired? Does it help mend trust between Pam and the employees who saw a high-level member of HR lying to cover up her own mistake?

          It’d be like me going up to one of the higher level comments on this post and saying that people are only fairly good at reading the cues of allistic people, not anyone else. Sure, it may be true, but it’s not useful for the OP (or, really, the rest of the comment section).

        2. biobotb*

          But it’s not an insight, because you don’t know if your speculation is true. (And per one of the OP’s comments, your speculation is likely totally off base.)

        3. Roland*

          It’s not about what we want but rather about the commenting rules which state “If you’re speculating on facts or context not in the letter, explain how it’s actionable for the letter-writer.”

  32. Nomic*

    I feel a ton of sympathy for Pam, in that you’re new and you’re trying to fit in and now something has happened to jeopardize that.

    But…she’s in a HR Position. And everyone knows she lied. I just don’t see her being able to hold that position of trust now.

    Just a really sad thing all round.

  33. soontoberetired*

    People have car accidents with our company cars from time to time, and the worst thing they can do is lie about it. I know if they lie about it, they get fired. Also, if it happens a second time they may end up being fired if they can’t get the person another none driving position.

    And people have lied about it even when it happens in our parking lots and there’s video or witnesses.

  34. Llama Llama*

    Makes me think of my daughter. She is 9 and a few months ago mentioned she had a boyfriend and that they were going to get married the next day. Well, my husband and I told her that she could not get married and she should break up with her boyfriend because she’s 9. The next day she tells us she did. (There was drama with said boy in between but all made to be around her being his friend).

    Well she comes to me in tears a few days ago because alas she never broke up with him. Now I honestly didn’t care that she had a boyfriend (because it a 9 year old boyfriend!) but I did care that she lied about it.

      1. SimonTheGreyWarden*

        This – I probably would have started by asking what “boyfriend” meant to her at that age (a boy who liked her? Someone she liked? Holding hands? etc). My 5 year old periodically announces he will marry whichever friend of his he is closest to at the time (not limited by gender) and we just remind him that he has to wait until he is old enough AND the other person has to want to be married to him as well.

    1. BubbleTea*

      When I was 9 I told people I was going to be a horse when I grew up. That’s not lying, that’s being a nine year old. You have a very odd view of developmentally normal childish behaviour.

      1. JBI*

        My 4yo mentioned she wanted t0 be a princess when she grew up.
        I said that was fine, but she had to start planning *now*… daddy was getting on a bit to be seizing countries

      2. Allonge*

        Not to mention whole entire adults are often confused about whether or not they are broken up with someone, so…

  35. PleaseNo*

    I think firing is the right choice. She had options on how she handled it, both afterwards on the drive back and in the days since. She has chosen to lie, double down on her lie, and never be honest to anyone about it.

    Once trust is lost, just like in relationships, it’s 99.999% of the time never coming back, and it’s best to start over with someone else. You’ll never know what else she may be lying about it. It’s not worth the risk to your business.

    And I agree with others; tell her she’s lost the trust because of this when you let her go.

  36. PleaseNo*

    I think firing is the right choice. She had options on how she handled it, both afterwards on the drive back and in the days since. She has chosen to lie, double down on her lie, and never be honest to anyone about it.

    Once trust is lost, just like in personal relationships, it’s 99.999% of the time never coming back, and it’s best to start over with someone else (for personal relationships I’d recommend re-evaluating your relationship and if it’s important to you you can kick them back to a safe place, but in a business you have to protect your business and you don’t have a close relationship with her yet). You’ll never know what else she may be lying about it. It’s not worth the risk to your business.

    And I agree with others; tell her she’s lost the trust because of this when you let her go.

  37. Kara*

    I think what would flag it for me is if there was hit and run damage, why didn’t she call the police and file a report? Even if it was minor dent I would want that record for my employer. Or at the very least I would have called my boss right then and there and asked what they wanted me to do for insurance purposes.

    Refusing to drive the car ever again just sort of reinforces that she was somehow responsible for the damage, rather than it being a hit and run.

    1. Blomma*

      Yeah, also the insurance company would want to know if a police report was filed (and may require one) as part of filing a hit and run claim. (Insurance agent here, cringing over the possible insurance fraud in this situation!)

  38. Moose*

    Oooh, this stinks. What Alison says about backing into the pole not being a big deal is true, but if something like that had happened to me in my first few weeks of a new job, I would be so embarrassed that I made such a silly mistake and was leaving that impression so early in my time there. Not to the point of lying about it, but I do have some sympathy for Pam. (That said, being caught lying about it is a much worse impression than damaging the car…something Pam didn’t consider, I guess, while not thinking clearly after the accident.)

  39. Sara without an H*

    OK, the commentariat appears to be dividing into camps: one group says she can’t be trusted and has to go now. The other party feels bad for her and wants to make allowances.

    What struck me about the post is this: She’s only been there a month and is already “very well liked.” And then she’s going to be “…part of the management team once she’s fully on board. Pam will also be handling a lot of the HR, email, and both company and some personal accounts, so she has to be trusted implicitly.

    Unfortunately, this resonates for me because of past experience with a coworker who was utterly charming, likeable, and absolutely unreliable. Pam is going to be in a senior position, including responsibility for HR and financial accounts. And she’s demonstrated that she’ll lie under stress or to avoid possible consequences to herself.

    Nobody wants to come down hard on “likeable” people, and some of them cultivate the behavior for that reason. If I were the business owner in this situation, I would have a very serious conversation with Pam and then let her go. If she admitted the lie and seemed contrite, I’d consider giving her some sort of severance, but I wouldn’t invest any more time in onboarding her.

    1. CLC*

      Here’s the thing though: what difference does it really make if she backed into a pole or someone else hit the car? The car has to be repaired either way, and it’s not really her “fault” either way. I honestly don’t know why the GM and/or others were questioning her in the first place, even if it seemed like she wasn’t being completely honest, because it really doesn’t matter how it happened. I don’t think it’s necessarily fair to say that since a person lies about something that doesn’t matter they will lie about something that does matter.

      1. Tea*

        If she backed into a pole, it is her fault. It might not be a huge deal, but it is still definitively her fault. And I think it’s very reasonable for people to see the damaged car and ask, “What happened?”

        I also don’t see what’s not fair about saying that someone who will tell lies to cover up their mistakes will probably… continue to tell lies to cover up their mistakes.

      2. squirreltooth*

        Lying was absolutely her fault. (I also don’t see how backing into a pole was NOT her fault.) It also might matter how it happens for insurance purposes.

      3. Just Another Zebra*

        But one of those is her fault. She got behind the wheel and hit an inanimate object. That’s 100% her responsibility.

        For me, my sympathy kind of dissipates because of the lying. Backing into a pole – is a really, really common thing to happen. An accident. It wasn’t deliberate or calculated. People are people, and we make mistakes. Lying was a conscious decision, and would seriously compromise my ability to trust her.

      4. Budgie Buddy*

        Without the lying – not much difference from the point of the employee’s job. Vehicle accidents happen. The lying is what turns a non-issue into an issue.

        The problem with only lying about things that “don’t matter” is who gets to decide what “matters”? The liar, in every case?

        1. ferrina*

          This. Lying feels small, but it’s actually a big deal. I lived with a liar for quite a while, and it puts up a wall. I always have to assume he may or may not be lying and essentially have two narratives happening at once (which is a lot of emotional labor on me). It also meant that I could never just ask for the truth- I always had to trick it out of him. I hate being manipulative, but in order to get the truth, I had to set an intricate verbal trap. Which sucks for me, and isn’t fun for him either when he realizes he’s been tricked.

          I’m not saying a few white lies are bad- goodness knows, I tell my children I love their picture of a Whatever-That-Is- but those are socially acceptable interactions where all parties acknowledge that it’s a ritual for the sake of harmony. But when the chips are down, people need to know that you’ll tell the truth, whether or not you have something to lose.

      5. Amorphous Eldritch Horror*

        I couldn’t possibly be more sympathetic to Pam if I tried. A woman of color who’s had to build a career in this country — the difficulty thereof I know terribly well– and whose previous job had a draconian “break something and you’re fired” policy? The way she lied completely resonated with me as possibly being a reaction based in trauma. My heart goes out to her.

        But all non-telepathic people can know of us is what we show by our actions, and what OP’s husband has seen is that Pam, whom he was about to trust with HR and payroll, when confronted with a difficult situation, lied. If he asked me, I would have to recommend that he fire her because she has disqualified herself from working with these confidential materials. Not because I don’t sympathize with her, not at all. There are people in the comments who are gleefully unsympathetic but I think it’s absolutely possible to be sympathetic and yet agree that she can’t stay in this position.

  40. CLC*

    Aw I hate this. I assume she lied because hitting something with a car is so embarrassing, especially I think for women, and especially women who are “late in their career.” And being new at the company to boot! I don’t know what the right answer is from a management perspective, but I do have a lot of empathy for Pam. What a crappy situation for everyone involved.

  41. OP*

    OP here. Thanks so much for responding to us, Alison! And thank you so much to all the commenters. I’m reading as fast as I can and will try to respond quickly.

    There is one key detail I wanted to clarify (husband just clarified to me after reading and after finding out more – unfortunately they’re having a super busy day, so he can’t engage with the comments directly right now): she hadn’t actually gone around telling people the story on purpose, she had to respond to questions from a some people working near the door and the loading dock when she pulled in with the damage. And apparently others overheard her telling my husband and the GM. It seems like many people are keying in on that as an especially important detail, and I wanted to set the record straight there.

    1. CLC*

      That’s very nice of you to take the time to clarify that! This also makes me wonder if maybe she lied to the loading dock people because she was embarrassed, and once she did that for whatever reason (even just instinct) she felt like she couldn’t then turn around and tell the truth to your husband. I do feel so bad for your husband having to make this call. Honestly I would have a talk about how she was caught lying, that he has empathy/sympathy for being in this situation, but that it is serious given the roles she is intended for. I’d give a second chance provided she is contrite in her response. I really don’t think that lying about this means she will lie about more important matters (a damaged car is costly so it seems like a big deal, but it’s damaged no matter who caused the damage, and she wasn’t being negligent in doing so, so I don’t think this is the same as lying about money or HR issues).

    2. Paiged*

      Okay, that actually does change it somewhat, because the most egregious part was the idea that she had gone around afterwards telling people the lie. If this was just overheard by others when she was still in the immediate aftermath/still in shock and trying to figure out how to handle it, that’s not as bad.

      It’s not *good* that she decided to lie, but this is more forgivable than running around telling people to get sympathy.

    3. Eldritch Office Worker*

      I’ve been reading all of these comments and there was something in my gut saying to give her a second chance – and now reading your comments with more details that sway me to empathy. It’s going to be hard for her to come back from this, and there’s certainly a good solid argument to be made for firing her now. But her reaction seems to be coming from a place of real fear, and maybe one act of forgiveness along with an explanation of culture (you work for reasonable people and will not be fired for stupid reasons) will set her up for long term success at this place. I think she needs to know she used her one get-out-of-jail-free card, but maybe if she feels safe that will be okay.

      1. ferrina*

        I don’t know if she can “get out of jail free”, even if Boss decides to forgive her. I agree, I’m feeling sympathetic to Pam and don’t want her to lose her job over a panicked mistake (it sounds like that was what it was?). But her job is HR, and HR needs to be implicitly trusted. I don’t think she’ll be able to do her job effectively, especially since word seems to have already spread quite quickly.

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          I get it, I work in HR. I think there will need to be some damage control for sure, and I agree it will be hard. But frankly because of working in HR, I also know a late career woman of color coming from a traumatic work background has a lot of cards stacked against her. If I were advising the CEO I’d address the gossip, and the telephone game, and give Pam a lot of opportunities to prove herself to the staff in the next few months – but if there’s any kind of path forward I’d at least want to give it a try.

          1. squirreltooth*

            I’m genuinely not finding the mention of Pam being a woman of color—did OP add that in the comments?

            1. Leenie*

              Yes, it was in a follow up comment:

              “She has worked for a lot of bigwigs, and I should also probably mention that she’s a woman of color, not historically a group that gets to make any mistakes or gets any grace.”

      2. Librarian of SHIELD*

        The more I read, the more I’m leaning toward second chance as well. It may mean delaying her move into HR for longer than OP’s husband intended while she makes her apologies and works toward proving her trustworthiness, but I don’t think this is as quite as impossible to get past as I did when I first read the post.

    4. Cataclysm*

      With that in mind, I’m wondering if it’s possible to give Pam a demotion without actually firing her? Which would involve in part rearranging some of the job structure so that the parts that would require the highest level of trust aren’t part of her job for the time being. That seems like it would be a middle ground solution that might give her the chance to re-earn trust if it’s felt that a second chance is warranted. It’s totally fair if that’s not possible based on the work available/business needs, etc, but I thought it was worth mentioning

  42. Tea*

    Oof. I have so much sympathy for Pam, especially as someone who also has an instinctive ‘just tell a lil fib about it!’ reaction when faced with a problem of my own making and has to make the active decision every time to push against that impulse. And I’m lucky, in that most times my reluctant honesty was met with reasonable responses and people who appreciated that I told the truth – and I could use those experiences to push myself to stay honest. And if I’d had more experiences where honesty earned me yelling or punishment, maybe I’d be a lot more inclined to lie whenever I thought I could get away with it.

    But she’s being groomed for senior management and HR? And went around blabbing her lie to several people? YIKES. If the impression from management and employees alike is that she’ll lie about anything to avoid getting into trouble, that’s… going to be prohibitive.

    I would meet with her to discuss her lie, and see if she seems to really understand the importance of Never Doing This Again, maybe consider giving her one more chance. But also, if you think that this situation is going to be known by a lot of people in the company because she couldn’t stop blabbing… it might be best to cut your losses now.

    1. Tea*

      Oh, just saw OP’s update right above. In that case, I would have a slightly better regard on Pam’s judgement but still strongly consider the optics of the whole situation re: employees. It’s good(?) that Pam wasn’t say… busting into the breakroom to tell her side of the story to anyone who would hear, but if several people reported her story as being fishy, will ‘pardoning’ her cause morale issues for the rest of the company?

      1. Escapee from Corporate Management*

        I think it would. Do you want these employees warning all of the staff that the Head of HR lied to them and got away with it? Because that will certainly happen.

    2. Tuesday*

      Ugh, I totally agree. My first instinct would absolutely be to tell a little white lie about this! And then wonder later why I didn’t just tell the truth the first time. But that’s obviously not the ethical choice, and the optics are not great here. It sucks!

      1. Tea*

        Same! And I can’t pin my white lie tendencies on trauma or my childhood or life experiences, really. It’s more that I’m imaginative and good at talking, and when caught off guard with my own mistake can easily come up with five, ten perfectly reasonable explanations (lies) for why this might have happened and nothing was my fault actually. And it’s easy for my stupid monkey brain to jump to the short term goal of ‘get out of trouble immediately!’ instead of the better long term goal of ‘stay a trustworthy employee/friend/loved one.’ But it’s still not a good excuse!

        I hope for a best case scenario where Pam chooses to come clean ASAP, and that an apologetic ‘I panicked and then realized my stupid mistake’ will be able to smooth things over.

  43. squirreltooth*

    As someone whose own mother once, late in her career, forgot to set the brake on a company car, which caused it to roll down a hill and crash (no one was hurt, but oh, she was heckin’ fired), I sympathize with Pam. What a terrible situation, and of course her knee-jerk reaction to lie and hope for the best is easy to understand. But ultimately this lie has probably damaged her reputation for good at this company, especially since she’s expected to work in a sensitive part of the business.

    1. CLC*

      Oh that is so sad, I’m so sorry that happened to your mum. It’s not easy for women to find and keep good jobs “late in their career” and to lose one for a mistake like that :(. I’m so glad my job doesn’t involve driving a company car. Not that I’m a bad driver, I would just constantly be stressed out about it.

      1. squirreltooth*

        She never was able to find work again, tbh. It was pretty awful, which makes me even more sympathetic to Pam. If they do let her go, I hope they’re kind if other employers call to verify her past work.

  44. Petty Betty*

    This is unfortunate. You’ve got someone with a low-stakes issue who lied. Someone who will be in a very high-stakes management position (HR) once they are all trained up, yet from my point of view, they can’t even be trusted to be honest when they cause low-level damage to company property.
    How will that translate to bigger-stakes issues down the road?

    I get panic and not wanting to get in trouble, but she created a false narrative (lied). She actively allowed comfort and had a plausible alternative scenario laid out.

    I’ve dealt with on-the-job vehicle issues. Had one person blame me for their accident (we both drove the company vehicle within the 48 hours that it had happened and the person who called in who witnessed the accident into the snowbank said it was a “short woman” – me being the younger, smaller of the “short” women, I was blamed even though I didn’t do it). I have legitimately run into a pallet I couldn’t see (large truck, seat doesn’t go UP and I’m short – I now bring a booster pillow with me to work) and self-reported even though there was no damage.

    This kind of incident calls into question her overall trustworthiness.

    1. CLC*

      Obviously I don’t know Pam, but my hunch is that she didn’t panic because she didn’t want to get in trouble. I think she was mortified. There is a long standing stereotype that women are terrible drivers and do things like hit poles. Especially if you are an older woman who is new at the company to boot…I can’t imagine. If it’s a predominantly male company on top of this…I’m ADHD and lying about anything is extremely difficult for my brain to do, but I also totally understand this lie. And I’m not sure why the GM decided to try to catch her in it either. Even if he didn’t believe her, I’m not sure what could be gained from it.

  45. I'm Done*

    I know a lot of people are sympathetic to the employee’s reaction. But in her position she needs to be above reproach. She lied, she doubled down on the lie by telling it to several people and now several people know that she’s a liar. Even if her reaction was a one off, there will always be that nagging doubt about her integrity. And rightfully so. She has to be let go immediately.

    1. squirreltooth*

      According to the OP in a comment above, it seems that she actually told the story once but was heard by a number of people. So her behavior wasn’t quite so egregious. However, I do think this lie will define her for the rest of her time at the company, however long that might be, which probably isn’t a good look for HR.

    2. ferrina*

      Yep, HR needs to have a certain level of trust in order to do their job. Pam just lost all faith in her, and people will be reluctant to come to her for things they need. I feel for Pam, but very least, the company needs to move her out of an HR role.

  46. merula*

    I feel like there might be a middle ground between proceeding directly to firing her and being understanding. I’m understanding that people panic, and the update helps a bit, in that this may not be a huge untrustworthiness mess with a lot of other employees.

    OP’s husband could have a stern, private conversation with her that starts “I called the store to see if they had tapes for insurance, and they did”, and then lets her explain. If she’s nothing but remorseful and clearly understands that the lying is the problem rather than the accident, AND the other employees who know she lied are discreet and trustworthy enough that keeping her on wouldn’t cause morale or HR trust problems, I think she could stay with an extended probationary period. By which I mean, joining the management team gets delayed or even nixed, and her work gets extra scrutiny for a good while (several months to a year). Even better if the GM can be “in” on the probationary period and extra supervision.

    That’s a lot to invest in a new employee, and I definitely don’t think it’s required that OP’s husband do it instead of firing her. Lying is a fireable offense, pretty much always. I’m just saying that if he WANTED to find a way to keep her, that’d be the path. And that path closes with any defensiveness or doubling down AT ALL in that conversation with her.

  47. Chilipepper Attitude*

    I have not seen anyone comment about what OP’s spouse should do if Pam comes in the next day and says, I screwed up, I backed into a pole and I panicked and lied because [barely acceptable reasons].

    Would you still fire her?

    1. Dorothea Vincy*

      For me a lot would depend on how long after the accident it was (the literal next day or several days after), how contrite she seemed, and also on the fact that lying is often a pattern that repeats. I’ve worked with a liar who would lie about low-stakes things, then several days later admit the lie and start crying. Eventually it became clear that this was a pattern, and also that she would never admit the lie before that several-day period- even if asked about it, even if confronted with evidence, even if someone who had good reasons to distrust her because of the past lying did so. And it became tiresome as hell to comfort her when she was, yet again, crying because of something that was, yet again, entirely her fault. She was let go after she lied about a higher-stakes thing and yelled at someone who attempted to convince her to come clean right away (the evidence was overwhelming). I was not sad to see her go.

    2. Amorphous Eldritch Horror*

      If she volunteered the confession and if it were possible for her not to take over HR and payroll I might not fire her. I do think that someone running HR and payroll needs to be unimpeachably honest (which is so very often not the case IRL of course, and it feels unfair to hold Pam to a higher standard than many HR people were never held to, but it’s the standard they should have been held to).

  48. Michelle Smith*

    I feel bad for Pam actually. I don’t know this person and I know lying is generally the wrong thing to do. I also know what it’s like to be in toxic environments and to fear repercussions from even small mistakes. I don’t know what kind of home or previous work environment Pam dealt with. She could just be an untrustworthy person. But I really want to know the why behind the lie, just in case it’s something trauma related, so that a more informed decision can be made.

  49. Pink Marbles*

    I’m trying to empathize with Pam as much as possible, because I can understand why something like that would be very upsetting and cause out-of-character behavior. But I think the important factor here is her position, and her high experience level. She isn’t a naive new grad, working an entry-level role, who could more understandably be scared and unsure of what to do (though it would still be an indication that major development is needed). Pam is in a role that requires crystal-clear judgement and trust. I think, though, that it would be kind for OP’s husband to handle it in a way that will allow Pam to save face if possible: have the conversation (in case there is some explanation), and if it does end up in a firing, be clear but also respectful. She’s already going to feel humiliated, so it can be a way to build some goodwill and ensure she leaves smoothly.

  50. Susie*

    I had a job fresh out of college where I drove company cars. One day I got a speeding ticket in the company car in a downhill speed trap. I went to my manager, closed the door, said I had some news, he got very serious and quiet. I told him I got a ticket and he leaned back, chuckled and said he thought something serious had happened and it was no big deal. I paid my fine, and it was a non-issue and I continued to work with more care of my driving in the company car.

    How could a grown women in a professional job lie about something so minor? Definitely needs to be fired, it’s tell of her character and integrity.

  51. OhNoYouDidn't*

    She’s been doing great while not under pressure. Now she made a mistake, felt the pressure of it and lied. You now know how she performs under pressure, which obviously is not good. You have to cut her loose.

    1. münchner kindl*


      So next time she makes a mistake with payroll, several employees don’t get their paychecks – but instead of fixing the mistake, she will lie, while the employees have a load of trouble with overdrawn bank accounts.

      Or she makes one tiny mistake about taxes (checking the wrong box in the software), and employees are hit with a huge amount to pay back at the end of the year.

      Where will sympathy fall then?

      Being sympathetic to her feelings still doesn’t make her lying okay.

  52. TeapotNinja*

    Personally I would have a Very Serious Discussion with her, and tell her that I know she’s lying and while I understand why someone would lie about something like this, it can never happen again.

    If she’s not a complete pathological liar, which I don’t think she is, based on the other things OP mentioned about her, she will NEVER do this sort of thing again.

    Then watch her much more closely for a couple of months.

  53. Msds*

    As soon as I saw “dent” and”yellow paint”, I thought “she hit a pole”. Not that many yellow cars out there, but there sure are a lot of yellow parking lot poles. It’s not that good a lie to anyone that has experience with cars or accidents. I’m not surprised people weren’t believing her.

  54. Documenter*

    This person can solve the problem herself. Boss/owner can give her a hypothetical of how in HR would she handle a staff member caught lying about something who then doubled-down. Give her a moment to see if she connects the dots. If she doesn’t then show her the tape and the directions to the door. A kindness would be to have her sign a generic resignation letter with a promise of a recommendation based on the good work she did. Mitigates both getting sued plus unemployment.

    If she ‘fesses, then depends on how you and she wants to make it right to regain your trust and those of staff. It could be that admitting it publicly teaches the merit of contrition. Perhaps hope against hope. It sounds like he wants to give her some type of chance on this.

  55. Curmudgeon in California*

    I’ve worked in some very toxic environments. Places where making a mistake would literally get you yelled at. My solution was to fix it before it could be discovered, but not to lie about it, just say that it was fixed now. It usually worked. Otherwise, I just say nothing and let them wonder who screwed up.

    This isn’t that. The damage was noticed and obvious, and she was the last one to drive the car. That’s not something you can just “not mention” and get away with, much less spin a story about someone hitting you. Yellow posts just just spring up and hit you, although it sure seems like it (yes, I’ve tagged a few, mostly while driving a van or an SUV.) So cobbling up a lie about something like that is an indicator of pretty bad judgement. Even if I was gonna get screamed at I would have told the truth about it, but humorously, like “Damn yellow post jumped behind the car and I hit it!”

    I hate to say it, but my recommendation is that they fire her. Not for hitting the post with a company car, but for lying about it. Cars can be fixed, dents pulled, etc. But blatant lies sit there like toxic mold, slowly spreading throughout the relationship.

    If she can’t be honest about a simple dent in a car, that I swear anyone who drives for long has done, what else will she lie about that has more serious consequences?

    In my field, some mistakes can cost hundreds of thousands an hour. I screwed up stuff in production so bad that we had to shuffle around resources and some clients were impacted. I wasn’t canned for it, because I said “I did X while trying to do Y, now it’s all wrecked, how do we fix it?” to my team lead, and then we just did a work-around until it could be properly fixed. Because that’s how adults handle problems, even in a high stakes environment.

  56. Erin*

    If you let her go, which you absolutely should unless she confesses organically BEFORE you confront her*, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE be super proactive about protecting your company from false unemployment claims. You already know she’ll lie under pressure.

    *If she’ll lie on this, she’ll lie on other mess ups & you can’t risk someone falsifying documents, etc, to cover their own butts. There’s a direct line between behavior like this & “Oh, I forgot to pay that bill on time, I’ll just fudge that in the books so I don’t get into trouble” or worse. Nobody likes to screw up when they’re new, but that’s no excuse.

    1. Lianna*

      Thank you Erin, reading through the comments and reading through the OP’s response, I think that giving her another chance is the right way to go.

      Thank you for your kindness and the kindness of many of the readers here. I feel sad that there are so many people here immediately jumping to *Fire Her* with very little context and compassion.

      There are so many facets and taking things from all angles and reviewing the best options that are also compassionate seems so rare nowadays. She is an older BiPOC woman who was terrified she would lose her job and in her last position, a single accident would be an immediate firing. She also has been reliable until now and has shown to be extremely remorseful, based on the OP’s comment.

      Keeping her on and making sure she knows that she can learn and make a positive outcome from this mistake and misjudgement could make her turn out to become a much better employee overall.

  57. Lifelong student*

    It seems the damage was on the back of the vehicle. Therefore, it seems it either happened when backing into a space or when she was hit from behind. If she backed into a space, then looked at the rear per the tapes, she knew exactly when it happened, went into the store, did her errand, and then drove back. An easily proven lie. No one could have hit her from behind.
    On the other hand, I recently had my first parking lot collision. I heard a noise, got out and looked at my car and saw no damage. I came home and saw the there was a scrape on the side of my car on the back so then know I had hit something. I hadn’t checked the side at the time. I owned up and my insurance covered the damage to the other car- which was not apparent to me. Now the store may not care about a ding to a bollard- but failing to take responsibility for damage and the lies about the cause of the accident are not acceptable for anyone- particularly in a position of trust. This is more important than caring about the actual damage- that can be easily forgiven.

    1. CountryLass*

      I bumped someones car ages ago whilst reversing into a spot. I went and found something to write on, and said that it looked as though it would polish out, and gave them my name and number so that they could get in touch and I would send them some money for the polish. Low speed, small scuffs, and mine looked much better with a quick spit and swipe of my hand.

      I got a text later thanking me for being good enough to leave a note, but that in case I hadn’t noticed, the other side was really damaged where it had rolled down the hill a week or so before, so he wasn’t bothered about a small scuff! But he appreciated the thought and honesty. I thanked him for letting me know, and that I was so glad he wasn’t the type of person to gouge my insurance for everything he could get!

      I admit, I REALLY hoped that they would have left without noticing by the time I got back and had something to write the note, but I couldn’t do nothing, I had hit them after all!

  58. Nodramalama*

    To everyone saying the accident wasn’t that bad and to give her some grace, I’m sorry but the lie is so concerning. She didn’t just lie, she double down on her lie and told enough people that MULTIPLE people starting questioning the story.

    At BEST she has displayed extremely bad judgment, at worst it could be fraud and would leave the company vulnerable. The instinct to lie to cover up a mistake is kind of understandable but it’s a very bad instinct to have in a workplace.

    1. Mailer Daemon Targaryen*

      Thank you. Being on track to join the management team in an HR capacity and handling sensitive information makes it so much worse, too. *This* is the context that matters, not that the employee is a BIPOC (??) and may use lying as a reflex for self-protection due to past workplace or personal trauma (???).

      Like I’m not trying to be unkind here (though people inevitably will disagree), but…Pam is a full adult who is well into her career. The lying and doubling down are serious and repeated errors in judgment that cannot be ignored, smoothed over, or fixed with a PIP (????), especially for someone on track to be in HR.

  59. Hiring Mgr*

    I think if you’re going to let her come clean, I don’t think it makes sense to sit and wait around for her. I’d say something like “Pam, I know you’re new, but it’s really not a big deal if you hit the pole. It’s covered by insurance, so no worries. We saw from the videos that you may have hit the post. Want to tell me what happened?”

    I’d let what she says next dictate..but I say that b/c the husband seems to want to give her a chance.. Ultimately it’s up to him if he thinks he can really trust her or not.

    It does seem a little weird that there was a whole “investigation” where somehow the GM got security footage? I’d think that’s more for the insurance co to deal with, but whatever..

    Good luck!

  60. goducks*

    What’s the deal with the GM taking it upon himself to go to the location to play detective just to prove her a liar? That seems like a lot.

    1. SAS*

      I assume it was part of proceeding with the insurance claim. I’ve been asked by insurers to obtain any CCTV footage.

    2. SAS*

      I assume it was part of proceeding with the insurance claim. I’ve been asked by insurers to obtain any CCTV footage.

  61. That'sNotMyName*

    My spidey sense went off when she concluded with no wanting to drive a company car ever again. It’s a weird reaction to something that allegedly happened when you weren’t there and, continuing with her story, would have happened to her own car had she been using it instead.

  62. KoiFeeder*

    I think it’s late enough in the thread that I can derail, but is anyone else a little offput by the assumptions that trauma means that people will become compulsive liars and just can’t help or prevent it? I don’t think that was actually what was meant to be communicated, but that’s how some of these comments have been coming across to me, and it seems really unfair to people who actually have trauma.

    1. Ghoulia Yelps*

      I am deeply uncomfortable with it, it’s almost insulting. I’m also uncomfortable with the idea that now new managers have to basically be therapists and there can’t ever be consequences for actions because maybe the new hire has some kind of trauma that they don’t, and can’t, know about.

      It’s great to be compassionate because you just never know someone’s life story, but managers can’t assume every screw up is just a trauma response they couldn’t help.

      1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        Thing is, lying to CYA is typical behaviour in such circumstances. Especially coupled with the fact that the new hire no longer wants to use the company car. It’s not being a therapist, it’s trying to get to the bottom of the matter, and showing the new hire that it’s OK to mess up occasionally here, so long as you’re upfront about it. Then the new hire knows she can trust her boss.
        Of course the boss will have to then decide whether a non-toxic atmosphere is sufficient for the lying to stop, whether the new hire can really be trusted or not. It usually is.

    2. Amorphous Eldritch Horror*

      There’s a difference between “will” and “can”. Trauma can contribute to why people lie, and I think that was a pertinent fact for commenters to mention.

      1. KoiFeeder*

        “Can” may be what was intended to be communicated, but I was getting “will” from the comments more often than I was getting “can”.

  63. Raw Flour*

    I am frankly confused by all of the commenters saying “she should be fired for lying”. I lie all the time at work! I say “my wifi dropped” when I have a sudden attack of IBS or horrible menstrual cramps. I say “I have a doctor’s appointment” when I have an interview with another company. These things are… not usually discouraged in this site’s comment section.

    I’d feel much differently if Pam blamed a person or group of people for the accident, but she didn’t. “Jeff never sent me the reports for the deadline” is a cruel lie if Jeff did in fact send those reports, as is obfuscatory language like “I never received the reports.” But “I’m so sorry, Jeff sent me the reports and then I never did anything with them because my house caught fire before the deadline” is different. It’s a stupid lie; it’s not a cruel one.

    I think that OP’s husband should confront Pam ASAP and decide whether to retain or fire her based on her reaction. Doubling (tripling?) down, refusing to confess, getting angry or mean, etc. would all be inappropriate responses. And if she is retained, she’ll have to come to terms with the fact that she has told a fib to many of her colleagues and would need to earn their trust back.

    1. Ghoulia Yelps*

      I’m confused that you seem to be implying a small white lie to save your coworkers thinking about your bathroom habits is the same as lying about property damage and attempting to make your coworkers complicit in that lie without their consent.

      Small Miss Manners-style* lies about things that aren’t anybody’s business and don’t hurt anyone are just not the same as lying about damage to company property that you caused.

    2. münchner kindl*

      But why do you lie all the time at work?

      If you have bad managers who shout at you, that’s a toxic workplace and you should look for a better job. Professional managers don’t shout when people make mistakes, they try to solve fix the mistake and solve the problem.

      Why do you lie about medical stuff with WiFi instead of saying “I was inconvenienced temporarily”?
      Why lie about doctors appointment instead of just saying “I have an appointment”?

      And if you say that your house caught on fire, normal people will not think “that’s so over-the-top, it must be a lie (or a joke)” they will take you at face value and feel horrified, and start collecting to help you.

      Unless you already have a reputation at your work for being a habitual liar because you lie so often that people have found out and don’t trust you. That’s not a good reputation for you to have.

      If you’re hiding your best friend from an axe murderer, of course you should lie. But if you have your period, don’t blame WiFi, say “I’m feeling unwell”.

      1. Raw Flour*

        To get the non-rhetorical questions out of the way, I have a good manager and a recent history of good managers; I do not lie about house fires; I do not have a reputation as a habitual liar.

        To address the rhetorical questions, yes, I suppose these are some things I should be considering given that I am no longer in a toxic environment. Lying at all was something I found anathema for many years, and eventually compartmentalized lies into “lies that hurt no one” and “lies that hurt someone”, still refusing to engage with the latter. Perhaps it is better for me to reframe “lies that hurt no one” into a further divide: “lies that hurt no one, but are selfish” and “lies that help someone”. Certainly Pam’s lie helped no one.

        1. münchner kindl*

          I think it’s better to not reframe lies, but just to stop lying.

          Lying is bad in most cases. Even though your culture erodes the divide with “white lies don’t hurt anyone so they’re okay”, actually lies that are not life-and-death necessary (hiding your friend from an axe-murderer) do cause damage to yourself and to society at large.

          To yourself, because you become accustomed to lying, considering it not a big deal, instead of Big Deal only for super-rare cases.
          To society, because it’s actually a lack of respect to not tell truth to others to spare their delicate feelings, they would be hurt if I tell them …; because there is no useful feedback on mistakes or irritable behaviour, so people have no chance to possible adjust and grow; because it erodes trust and hinders real friendship: you prefer telling lies to spare feelings, but when somebody else tells you a nice thing, you don’t know if they really mean it, or are lying, too, like you do- and because you don’t trust others with your secrets, but lie to uphold your mask, you can’t form a real friendship, just a superficial one.

  64. CountryLass*

    If I pulled her in to talk about it, and she admitted she had panicked and lied, depending on how it came across, I MIGHT consider giving her another chance. I hate the idea that one bad call could get someone fired, especially when they are so new in a role.

    If they do decide to keep her, it should be that in 3 months, they will have a sit down to see if there is the feeling that trust is starting to be rebuilt, and if it makes business sense to continue her employment. Make it clear that this is the only extra life she has, and that if at the end of this review period it is not felt that she can be trusted, her employment will be terminated. This would give her a chance to look for something else if she knows she has a habit of being less than honest.

    But, if having someone in the role that you do not have 100% trust in is not workable, then morally it would be fair to tell her and that she will be given one week of gardening leave to search for a new job, and her employment will be recorded as terminated in 7 days.

  65. RebelwithMouseyHair*

    I would be even more worried about a long-time employee lying than about a new hire. The long-time employee should know that it’s OK to fess up to backing into a pole, that the manager might not be pleased but would be relieved to know that the employee isn’t hurt and didn’t hurt any other people, and would just get on to the insurance company to see about what to do. And if the employee didn’t know that, that means that there’s toxic element somewhere making them afraid to tell the truth.
    The new hire is an unknown entity to the employer, and also, the employer is an unknown entity to the new hire. If she was previously working at a toxic place, she might be convinced that backing into a pole would lead to her being fired on the spot.
    I don’t like lying but I lied quite a bit when working for ToxicBosses 1 and 2, as a self-preservation tactic. It worked. I don’t think either of them deserved any better.
    OP’s husband sounds like someone who does genuinely want to do the right thing, otherwise he wouldn’t be asking what Alison’s take would be. I would suggest talking to her, giving her another chance to fess up, telling her that it’s OK to mess up, but it’s more important to tell the truth when she does so. Telling the person that there won’t be consequences is always the best way to get to the truth.

    1. münchner kindl*

      Why is it only on the new employer to give Pam the benefit of doubt that maybe she worked previously at toxic place, and not on Pam to give new employer benefit of doubt that this is a professional, not-toxic place?

      Presumably Pam also did her due diligence before accepting this job, trying to avoid another toxic job? So why doesn’t she trust new employer?

      The problem, as Alison said, is that Pam lies when she makes mistakes, instead of asking how to fix them, and she will make mistakes again, because everybody makes mistakes.

      But since Pam hasn’t learned how to deal with mistakes, her mistakes won’t be fixed, which is very bad in HR.

      1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

        If you work for a toxic boss in your first job, or if one or both parents were toxic, you perhaps don’t even know that it’s not normal. You just start using the same tactics that you used with the previous toxic boss or parent. So “due diligence” just doesn’t work for you. A red flag for someone else would just be “oh this boss is bit quirky” for them.
        Speaking from experience here unfortunately.

  66. Avril Ludgateaux*

    This comment section has gotten really extreme and absolutist, lately. I noticed it in the recent post about the cancer survivor’s shampoo, and especially here. No, she should not have lied, she should have taken ownership. But the amazing lack of grace and empathy for why a person would lie in this scenario ,and the moral judgment as if nobody here has ever told a panic lie and then repeated it in an attempt to convince themselves of it, is surprising. It’s not what I’ve come to expect of this commentariat. And frankly the title of this post itself is a bit hyperbolic – “dinged up the bumper by backing into a parking bollard at low speed” is not “crashed the company car” imho.

    I’m alone in this, I’m sure, but I see this as a “put on probation/PIP” sort of thing rather than an “immediate termination with extreme prejudice” thing, depending on how she responds when confronted with the truth. If she doubles down, then go ahead and fire her, but I’ll point out that it’s extremely out of the ordinary for “single lapse of judgment with negligible material harm*” to be met with “fire! Fire! FIRE!” on this blog.

    *I say “negligible” because in a comment in this thread, the OP said that the owner isn’t even bothered enough to look into getting the dent fixed.

    1. Dorothea Vincy*

      At least for me, part of the difference is that Pam is in HR. That means lying about a mistake she made could have really bad consequences for other people in the future. If the business owner wanted to put her on probation or a PIP rather than firing her immediately, I would think that was fair, but “Lying doesn’t matter,” “What if it’s a trauma response? You can’t blame her, it might be a trauma response!”, and “Lying in a moment of panic is absolutely justifiable and something people do all the time (and oh, if she does it in the future, that is also fine and won’t have any consequences)” are all responses that don’t make sense to me.

    2. Liv*

      Thanks for saying this, I was starting to feel a little nuts. Telling a panic lie does not mean you’re a pathological liar who’s going to lie about everything on the job!

      1. münchner kindl*

        A pathological liar is a completly different thing again. Pathological liars are people who lie about anything, even when it’s not necessary at all, which means they’re usually quickly found out and distrusted by everybody who knows them.

        Pam is (per above account) a nice, normal person, who “only” lies when in a difficult position.

        Which will come up in her job sooner or later.

        And when manager asks her “did you do payroll?” and Pam forgot, panics, and lies, then employees don’t get cheques into their banks, which is bad for them.

        So the problem with the occasional liar is that you can’t trust them on anything important, because she might have done 100% of the work correct, or 90% and forgot one thing, or made a mistake that makes 80% of the work unusuable, and the manager can’t know.

        And for the manager to check every step of her work to make sure it’s good: that’s micromanaging, and not what a manager hires an employee for in the first place.

        For that matter, the manager will have to take a long look = wasting a lot of his time! – on the work Pam did the previous 4 weeks: what if there’s a mistake that will cause problems at end-of-year audit? Pam was scared to ask when she made a mistake, but how many mistakes did she make before? Nobody knows, but it causes a lot of unneccessary work.

        Should we have no empathy for manager and coworkers who have to clean up this unreliable mess?

    3. Budgie Buddy*

      “the moral judgment as if nobody here has ever told a panic lie and then repeated it in an attempt to convince themselves of it, is surprising.”

      I think there are definitely people in the comments who mention having done this in the past (or been tempted to) but who still say it’s a baaaaad idea.

      There are also people like me who are “Huh didn’t know that was a thing” because they don’t panic lie (they may freeze or explode or do other weird things tho).

      I think what a lot of people are trying to clarify is that the reason doesn’t matter in certain contexts. If someone panic lies, then you can only trust them as long as they never panic.

    4. Cthulhu's Librarian*

      The problem is that there are positions and events where trust is essential, and single violations of trust are deal breakers – ie, someone who forges a signature on loan documents must NEVER be allowed to work in a financial capacity again. The question is whether the totality of this situation is one of those situations.

      Can you imagine this person forging paperwork if the company is sued for wrongful termination, and it turns out they are likely to lose the suit over something she did or didn’t do? What about if there is a payroll error? I think that sounds remarkably likely, because this is a person who freaks out and resorts to dishonesty to hide relatively minor and trivial mistakes. Yes, there are all sorts of reasons people get conditioned into those reactions – but that doesn’t change the actions and behavior they have shown you.

      If there was a trustworthy expert on the topic around to ride herd on this person, coaching them and being on the lookout for potential failures, and making sure this never occured again? Maybe it would make sense to chalk this up to a learning experience, and talk with the person about their choices, and try to train them better. But that isn’t what they have for a situation.

      1. Avril Ludgateaux*

        But she didn’t forge a signature, and dare I say, what she did do does not rise to that level of shamelessness and dishonesty. That’s not a fair comparison at all. You can’t accidentally forge a signature, for one.

        1. Snell*

          But you can’t accidentally lie, either (lying requires knowing that what you are saying is untrue, which applies to Pam), so I would say it is a fair comparison. It’s not the car accident that people are getting down on her for, it’s the lying about it afterward…when she’s being set up for a company position that necessitates integrity and trust. How many times—letters written to AAM, comments on AAM, every experience outside of AAM—have there been terrible experiences with HR?

          If nothing else, what’s workable for LW’s husband? He knows what Pam is willing to lie about, and that’s not something that can be erased. The letter indicates LW’s husband wants to stock HR with trustworthy people. There’s no guarantee that trust can be restored between Pam and her boss. For Pam herself, it’s not good if her boss has reservations about her honesty that he can’t let go of.

    5. münchner kindl*

      Saying that lying is bad is a moral judgment, yes. It’s also how society deals with lying, aside from little white lies, which this isn’t.

      And the problem is not how big the damage to the car is: the problem is the lying.

      People can have empathy for how a person acts while also saying this behaviour is wrong.

      And the single lapse of judgement matters because – as many commenters have pointed out – she would be put in a position of responsiblity where one single lapse in judgement can impact other employee’s bank account.

      This blog is about how adults at work should act professional, not whether humans do stupid things or make mistakes. Because commenters can understand the impulse of “I’m scared, so I’ll cover it up” (or the related “I didn’t mean to do it, so it doesn’t count” when an accident happens through neglience), they still are mostly adults who understand that we’re no longer toddlers to follow the first impulse, but adults who know how important it is to fix mistakes.

      Lying about mistakes mean that mistakes aren’t fixed, which is Very Bad because as humans we will keep making mistakes. Especially in a position like HR, where doing payroll or keeping secrets is a big part of the job.
      Even in a lesser position, the manager depends on employees not lying to him.

      Imagine the reverse: the Manager lies to an employee when they made a mistake that concerns paychecks or similar. Would you have the same grace?

  67. Can't think up a cool name to use*

    Our CEO got into a minor car accident during his first month on the job. He wasn’t fired or disciplined, but was quite embarrassed about it. (No injuries. Minor damage.)

  68. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

    My main issue with this story is that Pam implied that someone else had done a hit and run on the car. Who else will she be willing to throw under the bus for her mistakes when she’s management or HR? I’d say maybe not fire, but let her know that the plans to move her into the management track are over with. Please don’t put Pam in charge of people. I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night with someone like that as my boss.

    Since everyone’s sharing stories, here are mine. I hit other cars in parking lots by accidents three times that I can recall. One time it was in the office parking lot, it was an old car and I left a dent in the door. Left a note, guy tried to charge me more than his car looked to be worth, so I went through my insurance instead and they handled it. My premium went up by a tiny amount and it was on my record for a few years. No biggie. Another time there was no damage to the other car but there were witnesses. I didn’t have a pen and paper on me and asked them if they did. They looked at the (intact) other car, said something to each other like “I didn’t see anything. Did you?” “Nope” and all three of us left. And there was one time when again the other car was intact, it was the bumper, not even a scratch on it. Didn’t leave anything and went home and have been backing into spots since, so I have a good view of where I’m going when I pull out. So that’s my story of me backing into cars.

  69. Spooky Spiders*

    I once was in an accident in a “company vehicle” (read: my SBO’s personal vehicle he preferred I use for company errands). It was a very large diesel pickup & I drove a large sedan at the time. I had to go out on a snow day in Texas (so no salt, no plowing) to 1. get fish food and 2. do a bank run so no one else had to drive in it. I both hit one of the yellow bolsters at the bank AND scratched the side very deeply on the metal forms box backing up. I finished the errands & went back and IMMEDIATELY went and found my boss and took him outside to talk about the damage. I felt *terrible* and apologized a ton, but he even told me he would prefer for it to have happened that way than me to have damaged my own car on the clock running company errands.

  70. Jane*

    It might be worth asking what in the company culture or the behavior of management made Pam so scared about telling the truth that she chose to lie and to dig in on the lie. It’s easy to say that she should have owned up, but it’s not always easy when you fear losing your job for a mistake.

    1. münchner kindl*

      OP said that the accident wouldn’t have been a big deal for manager; and in an update, that Pam apparently worked in a toxic, no-mistakes-allowed, company before.

      But again, why must new manager show grace and give second chances, but Pam doesn’t need to show grace in thinking “this is a new company, new manager, new culture”?

      She already worked for 4 weeks, she should’ve observed from coworkers how company deals with mistakes. She very likely made mistakes during training, because it’s hard to learn the normal rules and keep exceptions in mind when new.

  71. Draculaura*

    My concern about giving her another chance is that you won’t *know* in the future if she’s done it again right away, since lies aren’t always obvious like a wonky teapot coming off the assembly line would be. Does a second chance mean all her coworkers have to be accountability partners, constantly comparing stories and checking up on her? Will the boss have to audit her all the time? Do you just wait and see if suddenly things explode because she’s hidden another mistake and it came back to bite you?

    tbh that would feel pretty racist, second guessing the POC all the time and watching over her shoulder.

    Unfortunately she may have irreparably broken the trust her fellow employees will have to have in her. I feel so bad for her.

  72. Anon for This*

    Why fire her? Here’s an example of why, beyond what’s already happened:

    The OP said this person will be handling HR. Imagine that at some point in the future, she erroneously informs an employee about their benefits. The employee makes a decision based on that and it ends up costing the employee a lot of money because it turns out that the benefit didn’t apply to the situation or the employee’s portion of the payment was much greater than they were led to believe by Pam.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if Pam would lie and say that the employee must have misunderstood her explanation of the benefit or how it applied/didn’t apply.

  73. SofiaDeo*

    I am with Alison here. This isn’t a large company, able to move someone to another position, or give them more oversight. Small company, working 1 on 1 with boss frequently, handling sensitive and “legal ramification” HR stuff. Small company, everyone knows everything, compared to large impersonal organization. Not fresh out of school, knows business/office norms. Not in her first week (it’s been a month) so *intellectually knows* new job is *not* Old Toxic Job. If she doesn’t walk in Monday morning, ask for a meeting, and ‘fess up, she needs to be let go. One can have all the sympathy in the world for a person, but the fact is, if her knee-jerk reaction to job mishaps is to lie about it, *knowing it’s an easily discoverable lie, adults know about security cameras*, and not come to her senses over the weekend, unfortunately she can’t be trusted. She may not lie at the next mishap (we are human, there will always be a mishap) but you can’t know that. Her knee-jerk reaction to mistakes may now be, to lie. In a small company, one can’t take the risks a larger one might; there would probably be more checks, or others in the department to notice/catch errors. I think if she has integrity, the lie will not sit well over the weekend, and reflection of how her new employer is not Toxic Old Boss will have her embarrassed but determined to set things right. If it were me, if she didn’t ask for the meeting, I would be calling one. I would simply say “last week was hectic, let’s go over again exactly what happened, we need to double check the Incident Report before submitting everything to insurance (or something similar). If she confesses, it’s his call if he thinks he is willing to try to trust her. If she doubles down on the lies, she can’t be trusted. As for the staff, the GM or someone can spread a version of “she was so rattled by the accident she was panicked, this is what actually occurred”. I think people will understand a momentary panic, if the aftermath is a correction. Sort of a “OMG, I said X but realized I meant Y, we need to fix it right away”. I can’t speak to if the staff actually will forgive/get over it, and be comfortable with their new HR. Every place is different, some will forgive, some won’t. And if she’s so traumatized from her earlier workplace that her knee-jerk reaction to continued mistakes/errors is to lie, she simply can’t be kept.

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