HR doesn’t want me to fire an employee for lying, coworker blew up when I asked about her retirement plans, and more

It’s four answers to four questions. Here we go…

1. HR doesn’t want me to fire an employee for lying and falsifying records

I manage a small team, and one of my employees has been having performance issues. Recently, they made a series of mistakes that resulted in a patron receiving a charge four times more than what was expected. My employee insisted that their review process showed the expected charge rather than the actual charge, and showed me the review file. However, the original data file (which they then copy into the review file) showed the actual amount charged, and when I looked at the version history of the review file, I saw that an earlier version showed the actual amount charged. I asked about the original data file, and they doubled down on their insistence that they didn’t edit it. I have not yet addressed the version history I found with them. I did save all these files and take screenshots. The review file has since been altered to show the actual amount charged.

I can’t find a version of these facts that doesn’t involve my employee lying, and I’m very concerned about continuing to employ someone who lies, particularly when they are the person who processes all our revenue. I addressed this with my own manager, and we met with our director of HR. In this meeting, my manager stressed that we can’t lose a team member, as we’re already understaffed. The director of HR pointed out that we don’t know for sure that my employee lied, and said that when we ask them about the series of events, we need to be careful that we don’t accuse them of lying. Additionally, HR was very pointed in stressing that we need to put this person on a PIP that outlines a timeline for improvement (and suggested six months), and that the goal has to be that we want the person to stay.

I am feeling quite frustrated and unsupported here. I don’t want to fire my employee without exploring the possibility that there’s an honest explanation here. But if there isn’t, I’m not sure how to create a PIP that suitably addresses this. We’re already understaffed, and I have two new employees, who frankly both show a lot more promise and initiative than this employee. I am worried about my full attention being pulled into double-checking everything this employee does and missing out on the chance to mentor these new employees. Aside from these management concerns, I am responsible for keeping my department running, which involves a lot of work outside my supervisory responsibilities! Do you have recommendations for how to approach this?

Yeah, this is BS (assuming, of course, that it does turn out the employee lied and changed the record; you do want to hear them out with an open mind before concluding that, although it sure doesn’t look great so far). You don’t put someone on a PIP for something like this; you use a PIP when you need to see someone improve their skills or work habits, not their character. Lying and falsifying a record should be a firing offense. (What would the PIP metrics even be — don’t lie? It’s ridiculous.)

I don’t know if you’re dealing with a single incompetent HR person or if your whole HR team is like this, but it’s worth going over their head to see if someone will overrule them. HR is supposed to help the organization meet its goals while ensuring you don’t violate the law — and their edict here does neither of those things. In your shoes, I’d be lobbying your boss hard to explain why you’d rather manage your team without this employee than with them (despite being understaffed) and pushing to escalate the HR decision. If they won’t budge, at that point you know you’re working somewhere that has completely disempowered you from managing your team effectively — and you can make your decisions from there.

Read an update to this letter

2. My coworker blew up at me when I asked about documenting her job before she retired

I read this post about ageism and it got me thinking about a past experience when I was explicitly hired on a contract to document, improve, and create processes for a one-person team at a small organization. The person in this role had always functioned by just doing what needed to be done but without any long-term planning, documentation, a cohesive set of goals, etc., and now they were planning on retiring but didn’t have time to document anything so they hired me.

I have always been of the mind that your documentation and objectives should be up-to-date because you could leave. This seems like a best practice. However, I went to talk to my colleague about their retirement and broached it as, in effect, “I know you’re planning on retiring, so I’d like to document the plans for how to transition the role and how a new person can start when the time comes for you to retire, or anyone else who might hold this role in the future, so can you let me know when you have time to discuss this?” I got chewed out for mentioning this and accused of being ageist. I was blown away because I was literally told that one of the reasons my role was created was because this person wanted to retire, but I was being treated like I was trying to force her out for having a matter-of-fact conversation about having transition plans in place. Was this person just reacting badly? Or was I unknowingly being insensitive about the fact that she was planning on retiring? How could I have handled this differently?

I’m wondering how transparent the organization had been with your colleague about why they were hiring you and the project you were charged with. It sounds like maybe they had been clearer with you than they were with her. If that’s the case and she had no idea people were discussing her retirement (or no idea that they had discussed it with you), her reaction would make a lot more sense.

Read an update to this letter

3. Is worrying about the candidate pool a bad reason to apply for a promotion?

The excellent and widely liked manager of my department recently left, and I’m trying to decide whether to apply for the job. I’m having trouble deciding in general — I’ve tried writing out a pros and cons list, and there are big factors in both columns. But one reason to go for it that I keep coming back to is that I’m concerned about who might end up in the job if I don’t apply. The last several people in the role had all been internal candidates. I know no one else in my (small) department is planning to apply, our government salaries are far from competitive with private industry, and our peer departments within the bigger organization tend to have weird political stuff going on that I’d be worried about a candidate from those departments bringing with them. Upper management have also said they’re hoping to keep the search short, which they mean to be reassuring, but it makes me more worried that they’ll settle for someone just-okay for the sake of filling the seat. I feel like if I did apply and there ended up being a really awesome external candidate, I would be pleasantly surprised and fine with staying where I am — but, definitely surprised.

I’ve enjoyed my current job for several reasons, but my former manager’s approach definitely played a big role. If we end up with someone who micromanages or plays politics differently or is a bad manager in other ways, my feelings about my job could change quickly. I suppose that’s a risk anytime there’s a new manager somewhere, and I suspect it’s probably not a great reason to apply for a job, maybe? It’s also not at all my only reason for considering it or for thinking I’d be a strong candidate. But it’s still weighing pretty heavily for me right now. Is this a valid thing to factor into my decision, or should I try to set it aside?

If it were your only reason for applying and you were otherwise unenthused about the work, I’d try to steer you away from it. Managing can be stressful and thankless under the best of circumstances, and even more so when you never wanted the job in the first place (not to mention the harm a reluctant manager can cause to their team).

But if you think you would genuinely enjoy doing the job and would be good at it — but just aren’t sure if you should pursue it — it’s perfectly fine to factor this in as one of your reasons. It shouldn’t be your only reason, but it’s okay to give it some weight in your calculations.

4. How to invite rejected internal candidates to a meeting to explain the decision

Luckily, we had 18 internal applicants for an opening on my team. Based on qualifications and prior ad hoc experience assisting our team in aspects of the job, we advanced 11 people to the first round. In the next two weeks, I want to have 10-15 minute 1:1s with those who were not interviewed or not advanced to the second round in the interview process.

Our team has LOTS of outside helpers who pitch in throughout the year. A good comparison is a training team who uses people outside of the team to deliver sessions, act as mentors or on-the-job trainers, update materials, etc. I want to give the candidates feedback and encourage them to stay engaged/start to engage with the team, but what I don’t want to do is send them a meeting invite that makes them think it’s an interview or that they got the job.

How do I word it in a way that conveys that? Again, seemingly low stakes, but I’ve been on the receiving end of a meeting like this that was titled in a way that made me think it was an interview. It was not a pleasant experience, and I want people to leave these 1:1s knowing there are other opportunities to pitch in and get more experience with what we do.

I’d actually send them the news of the rejection in an email first, and in that email suggest meeting to discuss it further. The reason for that is that a lot of people strongly prefer to receive job rejections privately, so they can process it on their own rather than getting the news in person and needing to control their face and emotions for the rest of the meeting. Also, giving them space to work through any disappointment privately first will make it easier for (some) people to benefit from the conversation you’re offering, rather than expecting them to do both simultaneously.

{ 259 comments… read them below }

  1. LG*

    LW1; how ridiculous of both your manager and HR to put so much emphasis on the understaffing problem, instead of dealing with the real problem. Of course it’s easier to not fire someone, but that’s no excuse for pretending they’ve done nothing bad enough to justify firing them. I would be pushing back HARD on this one.

    1. Mid*

      Especially since having two people do the work (the employee who probably lied and OP who will have to constantly double check their work for more lies) is an even less efficient use of time when you’re already understaffed.

      1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

        The devil on my shoulder suggests making a request for additional “headcount” and justify it by saying the new role is to check her (the other employee’s) work…

        1. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

          This is actually pretty smart. “Fine, if you won’t let me do my job, then here is what I need to do this additional work you’ve just put on me”.

        2. House On The Rock*

          I love this idea. Alternately, LW could spell out to their boss and HR the amount of time it will take to check the employee’s work, detail all the other things on their plate, and then ask which can be sidelined to allow time for all that monitoring.

          1. Observer*

            I don’t think that there is any point in spelling it out to HR. Manager, MAYBE, because they do seem to be having their judgement clouded by the headcount / workload issue. HR, on the other hand simply seems to not understand how staff management works and the responsibilities of a decent employer. Or they are just incompetent overall. In neither case is there anyone to talk to here.

      2. MCMonkeyBean*

        Yes, it was not nearly such a big deal but someone on my team lied on something like this once and I really didn’t trust them after that. There was a number missing in our file and she told our managers that it was there in her source file so it must have been a software issue that it didn’t populate. She forgot though that I had recently reinstated a long-neglected process of archiving versions of our source files so I was able to see that the number was definitely not there and she had just added it after the fact and lied.

        Her error was so small and we make mistakes like that all the time, and our bosses are very good about mistakes–it’s never about blame, and just “what systems can we put in place to prevent it from happening again.” So I’m really not sure why she lied. And my main concern was that if she was right that it had been a software issue that would have been a HUGE problem that would mean basically we could never trust that what the software pulled in was correct and would have to start double-checking it in a million places.

      3. Random Academic Cog*

        LW 2: I had an employee who had failed keep up with the skills needed as software automated much of her original job. She talked about her retirement plans, so I decided to ride it out for a couple of years, find whatever tasks she could do without substantially stepping up her skills, and let her peacefully transition – she was a loyal employee for a long time and helped keep things moving when resources were scarce a decade earlier, so this seemed doable. I spoke with my senior staff (higher roles, not years of service) about why she wasn’t pulling her weight and I was tolerating it, and everyone was understanding (she was genuinely nice, definitely helped). When her previously-planned retirement date came and went (her husband decided he wasn’t ready to retire and she didn’t want to sit home by herself with nothing to do), the frustration level in my office skyrocketed. It’s one thing to put up with an underperformer when there’s an end date, even if it’s a couple of years out. It’s something else when it’s indefinite. That last year was pretty tense and we had a plan in place to demand that she start performing the duties in her job description if she decided to drag things out past one extra year. We didn’t need to deploy the plan, but it was a close call. Would have hated to end her years of service like that, and hated that the last year was so tense, but we were drowning and she wasn’t even able to toss a life jacket to us. Pretty sure she feels like we pushed her out. It is what it is.

    2. Cat Tree*

      Some people hold a weird belief that you can’t accuse anyone of anything unless it would be a slam dunk case in a court of law. But the burden of proof is different here. Of course you want to be thorough in the conversation in case there is a good explanation, which is exactly what LW1 plans to do. But at a certain point it’s OK to conclude that someone lied and act accordingly.

      1. Always a Corncob*

        And there’s a lot of misplaced fear that investigating or disciplining wrongdoing will cause the company to be sued. “We can’t probe the possibility that she may have lied and falsified documents or she’ll sue us for defamation/discrimination/wrongful termination!” In terms of company liability, it’s way more risky to keep a dishonest employee with access to financials. But based on the letters here, many managers and HR departments don’t see it that way.


        In my experience companies in the states have moved towards the approach that it’s better to not directly accuse anyone of anything (because the accuser could be wrong and/or something that would give the accused grounds for a lawsuit could happen or be exposed) and skip straight to surprise blitz termination/lay-offs without even discussing the concern once with the employee or giving them a chance to explain or improve.

        It’s possible that this HR person is sort of work traumatized from working for that kind of company and perhaps has gone too far in the other direction. I know that I tend to skew towards giving the benefit of the doubt because of the callousness I have witnessed from other companies I have worked for when it came to letting people go based on abstract notions and suspicions.

        1. 1LFTW*

          Good point.

          There are so many crappy things about this dynamic, including the fact that it winds up being… kinda defamatory by implication? I’ve worked at places like this. Surprise Blitz Termination happens, management refuses to confirm or deny, and the terminated worker inevitably becomes the subject of gossip. Because they *had* to have done something, and it must have been pretty bad, right? I mean, they wouldn’t be gone *so suddenly* if there was no reason… right?

      3. goddessoftransitory*

        And nobody’s suggesting walking the employee through the streets ringing the shame bell–if there is a genuine answer they need to know it and a private meeting hopefully could handle that.

        But what it comes down to here is HR sending the LW to the hardware store for butter. A PIP is a tool that can improve a person’s work, but it’s not for improving their character.

        (Honestly, the reluctance of the higher ups to deal with this makes me wonder if the employee was covering for one of them–mistake or active malfeasance–and got caught out, and now they’re trying to downplay it so they don’t have nothing to lose by saying so.)

      4. fhqwhgads*

        It sounds to me like they simply don’t believe the lying is a real possibility and want the LW to treat the situation as though the entirety of the issue is the quadruple charge. Hence PIP to not make that mistake again, and ignore the defensive-lying-cover-up.

    3. Putting the Dys in Dysfunction*

      This site has seen so many examples of incompetent HR, it made me wonder whether there is such a thing as certification for HR professionals, so that employers might have some indication of whether an HR applicant is minimally competent. I searched the web, and HR certification does exist.

      HR folks on this site, do companies look for such certification? Is it meaningful?

      1. Lily Rowan*

        I’m willing to bet that like in any field, there is the full range of competence at all levels of certification. I mean, physicians probably have the most training of any profession we regularly come across, and some of them are Not Great!

      2. Mockingjay*

        I think it’s the same as any other cert. There are very good courses out there. It’s whether that certification is used by the individual. Some people take the course because company requires it (checkbox), whether for the current role or to qualify for a promotion. Other people get a cert to help them do their job, regardless.

        I’ve worked for many companies in which the inside joke was: “we don’t train people; we hire people who are already trained!”

      3. Cj*

        I have an HR certificate that I got when it was a team leader. it was a 12 hour course that went over fmla, ads, protected classed, etc. but it didnt cover how to handle this type of situation.

      4. One HR Opinion*

        There are 2 main certifications recognized by the profession as a whole. But I can tell you like all education, the letters behind the name don’t mean that they actually know how to apply this in the real world.

        One of the big challenges is honestly how the company views HR and how the HR professional views themselves. I see my role as a balance between an advocate for the employee and advocate for the business (including risk management). It make my job more challenging, but hopefully makes me a better HR professional than so many on her seem to have encountered.

        As a PS – I also have to think that like with other complaints, we have to keep in mind that no one is going to write in to AAM and say, “My HR team is amazing…how many other people have amazing teams? Is it just me or is this normal?” :)

        1. EPLawyer*

          But sometimes someone writes in, Alison says go to HR and we get the update that HR is amazing. So they are out there.

      5. Wintermute*

        I think the real issue is that oftentimes HR, especially the disciplinary/performance side, is often just thrown at someone without a lot of thought. In a small business without a large HR department it’s often someone without much training who ends up doing it on the side when their main role is something else– in some even smaller companies HR is just a part-time function of someone who also does payroll, benefits, or something else HR-adjacent.

        Even if a company grows to the point they start to employ actual HR professionals, the person in charge of them might be left over from the old system and not someone with much experience or real interest in HR.

      6. Dragon*

        Agree with Mockingjay. Paralegals are generally expected to have a college degree, and lack of one can hold them back career-wise. (Sometimes as an excuse not to promote them.)

        I met a seasoned paralegal who went back to school for that reason. She’d progressed as far as she could on experience alone. But she was interested only in the piece of paper, and put in only enough effort to earn passing grades.

      7. Need More Sunshine*

        As others have said, there are 2 main HR certifications that are well recognized, but it’s just passing a test. So like anything, you just need basic competency and good test taking skills to pass. Some self study, some take a quick course, some take a longer course – it all depends on how you use the material, how much the company values HR, how the company utilizes HR*, and the HR professional views their job and responsibilities.

        *As an HR professional myself, I can assure you there have been times when I’ve had to deliver a message or take a course of action I thought was not the right way to do things, but it’s what leadership wanted done. But it’s so easy for the employees to think it’s HR’s doing because that’s where the message is coming from. For me, it’s never been deal-breaker stuff that made me want to leave the company, but I do have a threshold that would make me job search hard.

      8. Phryne*

        I’m not in the US, but here HRM is a 4 year bachelor degree you can get, it is part of the Economics and Management domain. (All bachelors have to be accredited here, to a national fixed standard). There is also an officially accredited lower level that is more focussed on HR admin, the Bachelor is on the management level. It is not a protected title like lawyer or doctor, so it is not compulsory to hire someone with this degree for your HR department, but obviously it makes much more sense to hire someone with that training and degree.

      9. Happy meal with extra happy*

        This is kinda silly. Of course there’s mostly going to be stories showing HR personnel in a negative light on this site. This site should not be used as representative sample.

      10. Shoryl*

        not an HR person, but, having worked for a long time at a Fortune 500, I’ve learned that even within our organization, the quality of the HR professional has a wide range.

    4. MigraineMonth*

      What are the most ridiculous suggested PIP’s we’ve seen? (Bonus points for stating several of the goals.)

      1) “Falsify records less frequently”: You should falsify no more than 5 records this quarter, and no more than 4 records next quarter.

      1. Observer*

        Yeah, Alison maybe we should do an open thread on the most ridiculous PIP’s people have seen.

    5. Momma Bear*

      Understaffing would be the least of their concerns. An organization I’m involved with discovered that the accounting firm messed up last year. The result was the firm paid a fine, ate fees for the months in question, and was replaced at the end of the fiscal year once the files were cleaned up. Your company could lose business. Has that impact been clarified to your bosses?

    6. El l*

      Yeah. First, get your manager on board: “I have time to mentor my two good employees and get them up to speed, or I have time to check the output of an employee I don’t trust. Not both. What’s it going to be?” Second, keep doing whatever you can to determine whether they knowingly lied or not. Finally, yes, HR is completely in the wrong here – maybe they have a mindset of “PIP before firing, no matter what” or maybe they believe in employee retention at all costs. Either way, you can’t do as they suggest: “A PIP is simply not an appropriate response to this situation, most of all because I just don’t have time to follow its conditions while we’re understaffed. Not gonna do it.”

  2. Magenta Sky*

    LW1: I suspect you’re on the right track with this employee, but have you considered the possibility that they did not, in fact, make the changes you found? That someone else may have done so as deliberate sabotage? You don’t say anything about the other performance issues, but is it possible they could all have been done by someone else?

    But even if you’re right, unless you have an IT department that can extract logs to show who actually made the changes, you really can’t prove who did. So talk to IT, if you can, to get all your ducks in a row.

    Then, assuming the facts back up what you say happened, if they won’t let you fire this person, take Alison’s last sentence to heart. You’re not a manager, you’re a scapegoat.

    1. Kelly*

      I would also consider this very closely against the employee’s track record. I thought I was going to get fired twice from a job where I was blamed for major screw-ups that I didn’t do. The first actually was sabotage because the employee who reported me hated me after our supervisor did me a favor she didn’t extend to him. He was above me in the hierarchy so they immediately took his side. The second was just bizarre and there’s no proof of who did it and my manager just assumed I was lying. I transferred to another location and never had another problem for the rest of my time there (longer than I had been at the first place).

    2. But Not the Hippopotamus*

      I came to say something similar. If it’s just screenshots, as opposed to something like Track Changes with logged in accounts, then it is entirely possible that someone is setting up the other employee. I don’t think it’s likely, but OP should keep it in mind because that sort of thing DOES happen.

    3. Sheila*

      The adjustment to the payment record matched the employee’s misstatements about the payment, though. It doesn’t make sense for anyone else to have adjusted the record.

      1. EPLawyer*

        I mention this further done. If someone else changed it to sabotage employee, employee should have noticed that the number seemed weird and inquired further than just checking the original file. Because sometimes the orginal can be wrong too and you need a process to double check that if something seems off.

        For someone in charge of all the revenue of the organization this employee seems to be very much — well that’s what the documents say so it must be right, if even if they aren’t changing them. I want a revenue person who applies some independent analysis to make SURE its right.

        1. Caramel & Cheddar*

          In my experience, a lot of people who use software will encounter something they think looks weird and assume it’s a glitch, not their error. You might think the next logical step is to report the glitch to someone in case it’s an actual bug and is affecting other people as well, but a lot of folks will just ignore it until it happens again and becomes a pattern that makes them say “Hold up, something else is going on here.”

          That’s not to say there aren’t other problems here — as you say, maybe someone who is in charge of this work should absolutely be the kind of person who would flag a potential bug — but I’ve seen this kind of thing too many times to find it surprising when they don’t.

          1. Taketombo*

            I reported a glitch in our contract management software that is doubling the time extension granted on a project … and crickets.

            (I actually got an e-mail that said “if you see this aging, let us know.” And I’m like o_O … I need to know the contract software is reporting the correct information.)

        2. redflagday701*

          If worst comes to worst and LW1 can’t get her manager or HR to rethink this, this is the tack I’d take with the PIP. Basically: All work must be double- and triple-checked to avoid errors (“errors”) like this or other hinkyness. And I would not mention anything about the version history or screenshots for now, except to somebody in IT to discuss additional ways to track such stuff and ensure the employee isn’t being sabotaged. Because I bet even with the PIP in place, it will happen again.

    4. GreenShoes*

      The version history is what lends credibility to the LW’s conclusion. Not sure what kind of document or application this is, but I’ve found version history pretty reliable to see where things have changed and by whom.

      (I’m typically trying to find when something breaks and looking for who to follow up with them for training if needed).

    5. DMK*

      It is interesting that the OP’s manager doesn’t want to fire the employee …. I wonder if they have edit access to that document.

    6. Yorick*

      What’s more likely: that someone would lie about a mistake they made and edit a file to back up that lie, or that someone else would edit a file to deliberately sabotage them?

      Remember, the original version of the file showed the correct amount, and the edited version showed the wrong amount that the employee charged. Assuming the employee created this file/should have been the first to see it, it doesn’t make sense that the employee made the mistake because someone else edited the file. But the file history makes perfect sense with LW’s interpretation.

    7. Observer*

      But even if you’re right, unless you have an IT department that can extract logs to show who actually made the changes, you really can’t prove who did. So talk to IT, if you can, to get all your ducks in a row.

      The thing is that it’s good to be able to prove it. But you absolutely do NOT need proof that would hold up in a court in order to fire someone. There is a ton of case law on this.

      And let’s be honest, the issue that HR has is not about whether this can be proved or not. Yes, they do say that the OP needs to carefully check this out, which is good. But then they also say that if the person did lie, they should be put on a PIP! And the PIP has to be structured so that the person should not get fired. They don’t want to fire this person even if it can be proved. Which is NOT how this is supposed to go.

    8. LW1*

      LW1 here — in this particular situation, deliberate sabotage seemed very, very unlikely. We have a small team, and I’m the only person other than this employee who knows enough about the process to make these particular edits. Additionally, the charge wouldn’t have happened without a series of mistakes.

      But that’s all irrelevant, because since I wrote in to Alison, the employee in question has actually admitted to making the changes. And I’ve still been instructed to go down the PIP route.

      So yes, I’m suspecting my days at this company are limited…

      1. Casey*

        Ugh, how frustrating! Sorry to hear that. Hopefully you can find something new and awesome, and they can deal with even MORE “understaffing”.

      2. Observer*

        That’s just bizarre. Is there anyone higher up you can kick this to?

        If not, job search!

        Lots of luck.

    9. fhqwhgads*

      How would it be sabotage? The person in question isn’t denying doing the transaction in the first place, just saying it showed the right thing at the time. It sounds like the logs OP looked at show it originally showing the error and then later (presumably not seconds later, or OP would’ve indicated it were near immediate) it was changed to back up the employee’s story. If someone wanted to make the employee look bad they’d leave it as it was.
      However, the part of the letter that does puzzle me is if it shows it’s edited, I’d be astonished it didn’t by which user. So it seems like OP shouldn’t need to do any more digging or research. And it’d weird HR didn’t accept those screenshots as sufficient proof.

  3. WoodswomanWrites*

    #2 – You mention that your employer told you that your colleague is retiring, but you haven’t heard it from her yourself. In addition to Alison’s advice, I’m wondering if she is voluntarily retiring or if she might be getting pushed out by the company. Her reaction could be from that angle as well. Whatever the reason, it sounds like you don’t have the full story and it would be worth talking to your manager to find out the bigger context.

    1. Richard Hershberger*

      I wondered if her impending retirement weren’t news to her. That would make the charge of agism make a whole lot more sense.

      1. Totally Minnie*

        This was my first thought too. I had a coworker at one job who was in her 70s who had never discussed anything about retirement with her supervisor, but people above her in the hierarchy regularly talked about “when Doris retires.” There was no plan, she had made no indication that she planned to leave soon, but leadership knew approximately how old she was, so they talked like her departure was going to happen any day now.

        If someone had gone to Doris and said “I’m here to help you get started on your retirement plan” she would have said “what retirement plan?”

      2. Ama*

        My org has been dealing with a colleague (thankfully on our volunteer expert board not an actual coworker) who is extremely insecure about the fact that he’s nearing the end of his career (he’s almost 80 and is an academic researcher who no longer has a full-time academic appointment and has even referred to his current status as being “half-retired”). He’s fine joking about his retirement but if anyone else even dares to suggest he think about stepping back he will get extremely touchy about it.

        He’s even pulled a stunt a couple times where he’s told us he’s stepping down from our board only to take it back a couple weeks later and act like *we’re* trying to push him out. I think what he wants is for us to beg him to stay and go “oh nooo you can’t whatever would we do without you” — when we say something more like “we’ll miss you on our board but we understand your decision” that’s when we get the about face. We are thankfully about to implement lifetime term limits on that board and I am hoping that because a bunch of other long time members will also have to leave at that point he won’t be able to act like we are targeting him specifically but I also don’t trust that he won’t try to argue that somehow he should be an exception.

        Which is a long way of saying that the colleague may be fully aware she’s going to retire soon but really didn’t want to be reminded about it.

        1. Curious*

          I’m not sure what lifetime term limits on the board means. Does this mean that, to terminate the board member’s membership on the board, you need to terminate the board member’s lifetime? If so, I can definitely see getting pushback from the board members!!

          1. Lexi Vipond*

            Like only being president twice, I think – you can only be on the board for so many years in total, or so many two year appointments, or whatever it is.

          2. Jukebox Hero*

            At my organization, there is a maximum age for volunteers serving on our Board or committees. It could be that, or a term limit such as a volunteer can only serve x number of terms on the board in the volunteer’s lifetime.

            1. Zelda*

              “At my organization, there is a maximum age for volunteers serving on our Board or committees. ”


    2. Tired of Working*

      Maybe the employer lied when they told you that she was going to retire. Maybe they want documentation of her job just in case she decides to leave the company. Maybe she is afraid that the company is planning to let her go once they know exactly what her duties entail.

    3. irene adler*

      I interviewed at a company for a QA associate position that would report to the QA Manager.

      After interviewing with the QA manager, I was handed off to interview with the CEO. She immediately asked me how soon I could get up to speed to take the QA Manager position. Six months? Three?

      Say what???

      I explained that I was there for the QA associate position and the QA Manager made no mention during our interview that he was leaving. So, her words were confusing to me.

      “Oh,” she said. “He doesn’t know it yet. See, he’s 60. So, he’ll be retiring very soon. I’ll talk with him after we complete this interview.”

      I got out of there faster than a bat outta Hell.

      All this to say, the co-worker may very well have no idea what LW2 was told about the circumstances regarding why they were hired.

      I’m sure that QA Manager got blindsided. Later, I looked him up on LinkedIn to find that a month or so after that interview, he was no longer at that company.

      1. I have RBF*

        60??? 60??

        That CEO is an idiot. People in office jobs these days don’t retire until 70!!

        So the “he’ll be retiring very soon.” is pure horse pucky.

        In the US, you can’t even sign up for Medicare until 65, IIRC, and you don’t get your full amount of SSI until you hit 70. How do I know? My spouse is 71, and officially retired during Covid. The whole process between Medicare and getting SSI went for 5 years. Sure, you technically can start getting SSI at 62, and your “full” retirement age” might be 67, but they still hold back some unless you delay until 70 – see for a thoroughly clear and confusing explanation.

        So if someone is 60, they have a decade until they can retire with full benefits. Pushing them out early is ageist, discriminatory and abusive, since it’s ten times as hard to get a job when you’re over 60. The CEO was very, very wrong and abusive.

    4. Employee No. 24601*

      Retirement can be touchy. I have posted in a previous Friday thread about someone on my team who explicitly said to me “I am retiring any time in the next 3-5 years. I haven’t decided when exactly, but I know the clock is ticking.” and when I was receptive and later suggested we start documenting workflows for once-a-year events, etc., so that we could prepare at a casual pace rather than try to cram a career’s work of documentation into a few month’s notice, the person absolutely bristled and reacted in a way that indicated they were feeling pushed. I think for some people, there’s a mental or emotional leap that needs to be made between deciding it & saying it yourself, and actually seeing things start to move on without you.

      1. Always a Corncob*

        Your last sentence rings very true. It also seems common for people to give a timeline like 3-5 years that feels far enough off that it’s not quite “real,” and then keep pushing it incrementally because they aren’t actually ready tor retire.

      2. redflagday701*

        If I had to bet, I’d bet it was this kind of touchiness rather than the employer outright lying. I feel like if the employer had been lying, they’d have told LW2 not to mention retirement to the co-worker.

        1. Op2*

          So I no longer work on this place since it was a contract but my boss was present when I was interviewed, so while it’s entirely possible that she’d mentioned retirement that I’d also gotten more concrete information from the executive director. I honestly think it was her being sensitive about approaching retirement and not being ready to directly confront it

      3. londonedit*

        Yes – or I wonder whether the employee simply hadn’t been told that the OP would be coming in, or that their role would involve this sort of documentation and transition. I can imagine it would be pretty jarring if someone new turned up at work and said ‘Right, I know you’re retiring so I’d like to start documenting everything for your transition out of the job’. If that hadn’t been communicated to the employee in advance, it would have been a bit of a shock and I think most people would bristle. The sensible thing would have been to arrange an informal meeting with the boss, the OP and the retiring employee so the employee could meet the OP and get a full understanding of what their role was going to involve. And the retiring employee’s boss should have made sure they were well aware of what was going to happen before the OP arrived.

  4. Lucky Meas*

    #1 Even if this person didn’t lie and made a mistake, this is such an egregious mistake (and they weren’t able to catch it themselves!) that I think you’d be justified in firing them.

    1. Mid*

      I don’t think any one mistake, however terrible, justifies firing, short of one that causes severe physical harm to others. (And in a situation where one person can make a single mistake and cause severe harm to others, that means there needs to be safeguards in place so no one person’s failure causes harm.)

      While misestimating something is bad, unless it’s a series of repeated mistakes, it shouldn’t mean immediate termination. Everyone makes mistakes. Lying is when it crosses the line to immediate termination.

      1. SleeplessKJ*

        Just like we used to tell our teenager, the problem was not the mistake. The problem was lying about the mistake. If the employee really did lie about it, that’s a fireable offense.

      2. Snow Globe*

        According to the letter, this employee has been having performance issues for a while, so it wouldn’t be firing for one mistake. And as Sleepless said, there is the covering up of the mistake as well.

      3. Pierrot*

        Charging someone multiple times and then trying to cover it up is pretty egregious, especially if this person’s job centers around processing payments. It’s never good when people cover up this type of serious mistake instead of owning up to it, but when money is involved (especially when it’s a donor or patron), that’s a serious red flag.

        1. I should really pick a name*

          I believe Mid is saying that absent the cover-up, this isn’t a fireable offence on its own

          1. fhqwhgads*

            They didn’t “misestimate” though. They charged someone 4x what was due, unintentionally. The person in charge of processing revenue. We don’t know if this was charging someone $100 instead of $25, or $10000 instead of $2500 (or worse) but a a 4x multiplier mistake with someone else’s money is a big deal, whether they lied about it or not.

        2. EPLawyer*

          This person is in charge of revenue and overcharged someone FOUR times the correct amount. That is a huge issue right there. Do you want the person in charge of revenue being THAT bad at it?

          The cover up is a whole separate issue.

          1. Colette*

            I manage a budget of tens of thousands of dollars for my volunteer work, and I somehow managed to pay my water bill twice in January. People make mistakes. A single mistake – even a big one – should be handled by trying to figuer out how to prevent it from happening again, not firing (except in extreme circumstances, or if the mistake happened because the exisiting processes were deliberately ignored.

            But lying about them is not OK.

          2. Bunny Lake Is Found*

            I’m sorry, last week the server at a restaurant I was at charged my card for another table’s bill…that table had 12 people at it. They tried to reverse the charge and…charged me again. On the 2nd attempt they managed to reverse the charges, but my credit card still had about $600 in pending charges. They told me and apologized. I do not think this error should cost the server their job and I still tipped 25%.

    2. LW1*

      I wouldn’t want to fire anyone over one mistake, or even a series of mistakes without a clear PIP process! In any data-heavy role, it’s important to have processes in place to help us catch errors, and my immediate reaction is always going to be that we reevaluate our processes and improve them.

      But I really don’t have time to go on wild goose chases trying to track down breakdowns in a process when the breakdown is actually a person making several mistakes and lying about them…

  5. Alternative Person*


    I think it’s pretty normal to worry about who will take over a position, particularly managerial, whether you apply not. Managers have a massive effect on all areas of a department no matter what they do or don’t do and sometimes that brings a sea-change on how you’ve operated before.

    I think it’s important to remember that as well as what you described, internal promotions can go sideways because the person-as-a-manager can be very different to the person-as-a-contributor. External candidates can be just the thing needed sometimes because they have something not available in the internal candidate pool. But it does suck wondering about it, especially when you’re debating whether or not you want the position yourself. So, I guess it comes back to do you want the position for yourself and your future?

    1. LW3*

      Yes massive effect, yes sea change, yes potential good from an external candidate who brings something new, and very much yes about it coming back to what I want for myself. I think part of the reason this factor is looming large for me is because it’s a lot of the reason why I started considering applying in the first place. The manager job isn’t one I had seen myself in until I learned it would be opening, and if I had thought there would be an internal candidate I felt good about, I might not have started considering it. Having thought about it, I can see myself in the role, and it would be a good career move in general, but I’m still somewhat torn about whether it would be the right career move for me.

      1. Janeric*

        Do you have the kind of relationship with your manager where you could ask them about the nitty-gritty parts of the job?

        1. Janeric*

          Honestly, if you made most of the points you made in this letter to your boss (including being pleased to work under a great candidate and how your boss’s management is a big part of why you enjoy your job) and then were like “but before applying I want to make sure it’s a good fit for ME” then it would probably help your reputation in general.

  6. Mid*

    #4, I would send the rejection email, and then arrange a meeting that specifies it’s an *optional discussion* about development opportunities and if they want to discuss their candidacy as well, because I can also see getting a rejection email, and then getting a meeting invite to discuss the rejection being interpreted as “they’re going to dissect why I am a terrible applicant” or something similarly anxiety inducing. Make the meeting optional and with the express purpose of discussing their growth and goals.

      1. English Rose*

        I third this! I like the emphasis on development opportunities as well.
        Completely agree with Alison’s comment about candidates preferring to digest a rejection privately. I was rejected face-to-face for an internal opportunity I really wanted a few years back. I know the person thought they were doing a good thing but I was so disappointed I was actually in tears, which was embarrassing for both of us.

        1. 1-800-BrownCow*

          Yes to all this! I too have been rejected face-to-face and I was doing all I could to control my emotions and had no opportunity to digest and ask questions. My personality is the type that needs to listen closely to information and digest it, then after I start processing and often come up with questions to ask as follow-up. So in a situation like this, I prefer to get the rejection by email and a chance later to meet and discuss.

        2. Gatomon*

          I went through the in-person rejection too, except it was in the middle of a staff meeting (Jerk Boss said they’d made a decision and just had to notify unsuccessful applicants… and no one had talked to me yet). As we left the staff meeting I was dragged into a 1:1 meeting with Jerk Boss to discuss how I didn’t get the job, which was icing on the cake.

          So I never applied for another opening in that office again, and management was really shocked by that for some reason. Lovely bunch of people, they were.

          1. LW4*

            This *exact thing* happened to me, too, which is why I think I’m so sensitive to how this news is delivered. For another internal position I got the “thanks but we filled it” email from HR before the hiring manager had a chance to contact me (which, after going through this hiring process was 100% their fault not HRs).

    1. Always a Corncob*

      Yes! Make the meeting agenda explicit so they know whether they want to take it or not. Also might head off people who would think they’re getting a chance to challenge the decision or tell you why you were wrong.

      1. Merry and bright*

        Another option is to send the information via email, instead of a meeting. I was rejected from an internal promotion and the manager of the team sent me suggestions for additional training and work experience. I was able to take those suggestions back to my boss, and he has given me opportunities to follow those career growth suggestions.

    2. Malarkey01*

      My only other suggestion is that you hold off on these meetings until the position is filled. I learn a lot in each hiring cycle by going through the whole process and seeing where we end. I too like to offer feedback on applicants but it seems more helpful after the selection. It has also avoided some questions that could have been a little awkward to answer when we still didn’t know who we were hiring (ESPECIALLY in internal jobs where you need to assume everyone is talking to each other).

      1. Ama*

        I think this is a good point — if after this first round OP thinks “oh we need person with more X than Y ” and tells all the candidates who didn’t make it that and then in the end they hire someone with more Y than X (but also Z that they didn’t even realize they could get and that’s what made it worth it), the rejected candidates might feel like OP wasn’t honest with them.

        Send the rejection emails now and say at the end “once the hiring process for this position is finished, I’d be happy to follow up and schedule a meeting to discuss what could improve your candidacy for roles like this in the future.” (Of course OP does have to remember to actually send that follow up so the candidates don’t feel like it was an empty promise.)

  7. IDIC believer*

    LW1: I uncovered Medicaid billing fraud in one of our state facilities’ auxiliary clinics. It was the work of one person but nonexistent supervision permitted it to occur for at least 8 yrs. (She didn’t personally profit, she was just lazy & thought regs were optional.)

    My facility refused to fire her, reassigned that part of her work to me & expected me to fix it, and made no plan to report it to Medicaid. They cared more about the possible bad PR than anything else. Of course I reported it & sh*t hit the fan for awhile, but when confronted by my boss’s boss I made it clear I wasn’t aiding & abetting their fraud coverup. I lost what little respect I had had for all of them.

    1. IDIC believer*

      I meant to start my example by stating that companies frequently have other reasons for ignoring or downplaying employees’ bad actions. It can be incredibly frustrating to coworkers and managers to see bad actors receive only minor repercussions.

      1. Katie Impact*

        I was thinking along similar lines: is there any possibility that firing this employee for misconduct would make a VIP look bad somehow? Because that might go some way to explain why HR seems to be trying to paper over it.

      2. Johanna Cabal*

        Then, when other employees see egregious behavior not being addressed, they may start to follow suit. Whole organizational cultures have become toxic due to one bad employee who never faces consequences.

    2. Rhymetime*

      Good for you for having integrity, IDIC!

      My siblings and I have a step sibling we hadn’t heard from in a number of years. Curious, we looked them up online. It turns out that they were convicted of six-figure Medicaid billing fraud, received a sentence of several months, and then moved to a different state where they were allowed to have their medical license restored.

    3. NotAnotherManager!*

      Many, many years ago, I worked at a place where one of the accounting clerks was adding “consulting fees” to client invoices after they had been approved by the account manager, submitting payment requests for said “consulting fees”, and shunting that money into an account in their significant other’s name. The procedures in their department were so lax that this continued for a long time – total of over $1M in fees fraudulently charged to customers.

      The fraud was discovered when the clerk took a vacation during billing and wasn’t there to reconcile their bogus invoice addition with the payment request submitted, so it was escalated to the account manager to resolve. They had no idea who the “consultant” was and it came out that we’d been paying the “consultant” for well over a year. It got even wilder after that, but, obviously, the clerk was fired, criminally charged, civilly sued, and then some.

      After they were released from jail, they took another accounting position and tried the same BS at another company. That company tried to sue mine for failing to warn them they were hiring a criminal and providing only employment verification info when contacted… except that it turns out that the head of accounts at THAT company was the one who referred and recommended the clerk to MY company years earlier.

      The lawyer correspondence back and forth over this was hilarious.

      And the head of the billing department while this was happening was barely reprimanded. The same person falsely accused me years later of taking kickbacks from both clients and vendors after I pointed out several expensive errors their department had made and our account with an important supplier was terminated for persistent nonpayment (on a holiday weekend with a big order due -fun!). An inquest was started into the department after that fiasco, and I ended up doing multiple round with the investigator because I had notes and receipts. When the department head was FINALLY fired a few years later, the schadenfreude was palpable.

      1. Observer*

        After they were released from jail, they took another accounting position and tried the same BS at another company. That company tried to sue mine for failing to warn them they were hiring a criminal and providing only employment verification info when contacted… except that it turns out that the head of accounts at THAT company was the one who referred and recommended the clerk to MY company years earlier.

        Oh, wow! It’s bad enough that they tried suing your guys over the fact that they simply failed to do their due diligence. Because even without that additional piece, I doubt a lawsuit would have gone anywhere. But with this?! Someone was being REALLY stupid.

        I hope that that head of accounts got fired and anyone else involved in that hiring was reprimanded. Not that you would have any way to know.

  8. Quiet quitter*

    LW1: this exact thing happened to me except the employee admitted to lying about being somewhere and the partner was like “where were you guys”? At first I thought about quitting but then I was like, wait, so they’re not going to fire me for not working? So I phone it in now and honestly it’s pretty great. I even think my boss is happy – maybe she just wanted the minimum all along?

    1. Angelinha*

      Who are you in this situation/what is your relationship to the employee and the partner? I’m confused why you thought you’d be fired when the employee lied about not being somewhere.

      1. bamcheeks*

        They thought about quitting because they were so demoralised by management failing to discipline the lying employee, but then they realised that if management standards were that low, they could get away with doing a lot less at work, and so that’s what they do now.

        1. librarian*

          same! I’m a middle manager and recently had this same realization. Now I just do the fun parts of my job for the most part (I manage a public library so there is a lot of rewarding stuff to do even if I’m not allowed to get rid of my toxic employee. I do outreach to community groups and schools and arrange for programming and mentor the other staff and engage the patrons and really get to know the neighborhood and just try to ignore/minimize the damage of the one staff member).

  9. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

    OP1 (lying to cover up a mistake) It really seems like HR are “protecting” this employee for some reason and because of that, I think it’s unlikely that you’ll get anywhere with this.

    Regarding a PIP not making sense here – I agree if the improvement needed was “don’t lie” but I think the intent of saying PIP was to address her various mistakes, which do already seem to be a pattern. It worries me that HR don’t see (or wilfully ignore) the integrity issue here.

    I would have challenged her about the version history etc before taking it to your boss and HR, to forestall the “you don’t have all the facts” brush-off.

    1. Snow Globe*

      I can understand talking to them first, because in a reasonable company they’d all agree that unless the employee had a compelling explanation, they’d be fired on the spot, and it would make sense to have that all worked out ahead of time (if you are dealing with a person who falsifies documents, you want to make sure they don’t have access to systems after you’ve let them know you are on to them.)

    2. Area Woman*

      LW1- It is possible that HR knows the employee is part of a protected class, and you do not know. That can make it harder to fire without a lot of paperwork, especially if it may be that they are not confident you can find a smoking gun that they lied. We have had some very poor performers who required a lot of documentation to make sure there was just no question. The PIP was the easiest way to get that documentation, because the employee usually signs the documents and agrees and is fully warned they will be terminated if specific things do not improve. Legal was always involved.

      That said, I do think 6 months is too long. We usually do 6-8 weeks.

    3. npcpo*

      We just went through a very similar situation where I work. In fact, when I first started reading #1, I thought it was from my co-worker. I think the PIP in #1 was suggested for the performance problems, not necessarily the falsified records. However, six months seems excessive to me and we were considering at most a 90-day PIP for our employee with the performance problems.

      Our employee was also thought to be falsifying records, in this case timecard entries on several occasions. While we believed the supervisor, we were not comfortable with the circumstances (our attorney agreed with our assessment). Our intent in suggesting a PIP was to address the other performance problems, but also create a situation where it would be easier for us to have good, real-time evidence of any timecard falsification, for which we would then terminate the employee.

    4. Boolie*

      FWIW there is no gendered language for the employee in question in #1 and I find people here tend to default to she/her.

  10. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

    OP4 (feedback for rejected candidates):

    > I want people to leave these 1:1s knowing there are other opportunities to pitch in and get more experience with what we do.

    I have to ask what’s your actual aim in having these 1:1 sessions. Is it to give them feedback on why they weren’t taken forward and info they might find useful in the future– or is it to encourage them to continue helping out this team rather than think “*** it, I won’t bother helping in future”. There’s a difference between presenting something as “opportunities to pitch in” and “we need to continue to lean on you to do these tasks” and most people will be able to pick up on the difference. I encourage you to think carefully about what you actually want to get out of these meetings.

    1. MK*

      My thoughts exactly. OP doesn’t sound clear about why she wants these meetings, and she should be before she extends the invitation and make it clear to the candidates, so that they can decide if they are even interested. Usually feedback on a rejected candidate is a short email, not a meeting (unless you have an exceptional candidate you wish to sort of mentor), so why are you even asking for these? I am assuming these “outside helpers” are properly compensated, so you are basically offering them freelance work with your company. So explain the sort of role, and ideally the compensation, beforehand.

      1. Ferret*

        It seems fairly clear to me that these are all internal to the company but just from a different department or team, who are looking for an internal transfer/promotion which means most of your comment wouldn’t apply.

        I imagine it similar to what happens at my company where we have a training team that pulls in people who have actually done tasks to deliver specific sessions, and where this is an expectation of people that they should find time to contribute in this way if project work allows

        1. LW4*

          It’s this. Exactly what Ferret said. It is all internal candidates. Our department is one that many want to transfer into but we have a *very* limited number of positions. Our work also ebbs and flows, think like accounting where you are super busy for part of the year but not very busy the other months. We are in the process of getting headcount reallocated, but it is a new team and will take time.

          Also, I find it interesting that Captain and MK assume I’m a woman. I would challenge them to ask them selves why, because I’m not.

          1. Aitch Arr*

            It’s the default on this site to use female pronouns if not otherwise specified.

            No more, no less.

              1. upipaniot*

                I actually wish the default to female here was different too. I appreciate flipping the traditional male default for hypothetical people, but it bothers me when used to refer to real people of unknown gender since it will inevitably misgender people at least some of the time

                1. Nina*

                  I mean, almost all other places online default to assuming people are men, and that misgenders just as many people. Arguably more, since the majority of people who will write in to advice columns are women anyway.

            1. fhqwhgads*

              No it’s not. Alison defaults to female pronouns when unknown for managers to push against the very common societal issue of unconsciously defaulting to thinking of managers as male.
              A bunch of people extrapolated that to always defaulting to female when unknown, about anyone, but that’s just them doing that.

          2. ceiswyn*

            Why is it interesting to be randomly assigned a female gender for the purposes of discussion?

            Would it not be equally interesting if people referred to you as male, and if not why not?

            1. LW4*

              It would be equally interesting. I find it odd wen anyone assumes the gender of another person without context. I used to do the same thing until people, Alison and this commentariat among them, started to point it out to me.

          3. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

            I used the default ‘she’ that is typically used on this site, although I do often use ‘they’ as well. I wasn’t really picturing any particular gender when reading the letter..

    2. Mid*

      Agreed! A meeting discussing “If you want to move into X role, you’ll need to develop skills in Y and Z. Here are some things that can develop those areas. If you are more interested in role A or B, we can work on getting you into projects like C or D so you can grow there.” Things that are specific and relevant to the employee, rather than platitudes or demands for additional labor with no corresponding increase in pay.

      1. JayNay*

        it also struck me that LW4 took 11 internal candidates into an initial interview round. that sounds like… a lot? especially if you already had contact with some of those people and had a sense of whether they might (or might not) fit into your team.
        it sounds bit unkind to interview that many internal candidates only to reject most of them. i feel like maybe the goals for what you wanted in that role weren’t completely clear?

        1. I should really pick a name*

          But what if they were all good candidates?
          How is it unkind to give someone a chance at getting a job they want?

        2. Angelinha*

          Completely agree! That’s not even counting any external candidates. That’s a huge interview round for one opening.

          1. Angelinha*

            That said, I do have some sympathy for the idea that you want to extend an interview to an internal candidate, if you can, and that you’d be more likely to interview someone you’re on the fence about if they are internal vs not. But in my experience that means opening the first round of interviews from five people to six, and I’ve never been in a position where 18 people from my own company are applying!

          2. amoeba*

            Hm, I think in my field it might be pretty normal (for external candidates, having 20+ first round screening interviews is certainly not out of the norm, with 3-5 moving on to the final stage!)

          3. LW4*

            We didn’t take any externals. It was an internal only posting, but yes, with externals that number would have been madness.

        3. Heidi*

          I was kind of wondering if the meetings were damage control because there were so many internal candidates. Selecting one person out of 18 internal candidates could result in a large number of disgruntled employees, and it could be a big problem if 17 people decided they weren’t going to be able to advance in this company and left at one time.

          1. LW4*

            Definitely weren’t damage control, I know how to interview, document, evaluate objectively, etc. and used to work in HR for two seconds until I realized it was a terrible fit for me. Happily, our department is one that many, many people want to move into and we still had to turn down 17 internal candidates without an interview.

        4. Lily Rowan*

          I don’t know, I was recently pretty salty that I didn’t even get a courtesy interview for an internal position I was pretty well qualified for. I can see why I wouldn’t get the job, but they could have taken 30 minutes to talk to me.

        5. LW4*

          As I said, we took them because we had prior experience with them, and I could see all of them fitting into the team in different capacities. Absolutely no one was interviewed that I could not see myself hiring, because, yes, that is cruel and unkind.

      2. LW4*

        FWIW, they do get an increase in pay for getting the certification needed to assist our team. I don’t support free labor or doing more work “just for the experience/exposure.” ;)

  11. Ellis Bell*

    I think OP1s boss and HR are indulging in some magical thinking and think if everyone just focuses on fixing the employee’s mistakes, there’ll be no need to lie! It’s even easier to indulge in this if you don’t have to manage them or write the PIP. I would probably go back and say: “I’ve tried to write some early drafts for the PIP and it’s becoming immediately obvious that if I ask them to make less errors, they are going to feel even more pressured to lie about them. If it emerges in this meeting that they were honest, I can do a PIP focusing on accuracy, but I want to reiterate that I probably can’t manage a dishonest person without it taking up all my time watching them, and I still can’t ensure it won’t happen again.”

    1. DyneinWalking*

      Yeah, OP needs to really underline the big issue with having a (known) liar on the team: The only way to check that they are meeting the “no lies” goal of a PIP is to personally check the entirety of their work output – at which point you might just as well do the work yourself.

    2. EPLawyer*

      This is great. It shows them why its unworkable to put someone on a PIP in this situation.

      If understaffing is the issue for the Boss and HR, there’s a solution there but its not keeping the problem employee. They just don’t want to do the obvious.

    3. Shirley Keeldar*

      PIP goals: In first 3 months, ratio of untruthful to truthful statements no more than 20% – 80%
      By month 6, ration of untruthful to truthful statements no more than 5% – 95%.

      Answers to “How are you?” and “What do you think of my new haircut?” are exempt from above ratio calculation.

    4. learnedthehardway*

      Assuming that the employee is lying – yes.

      It’s also possible they thought they were just fixing the mistake so that an accurate invoice could be created.

      It’s also possible that someone else made the changes – whether innocently or to sabotage the employee.

      So far, nobody has asked the employee what happened, and HR is correct to say that a thorough investigation is the way to go, and that a PIP should be initiated in the meantime. After the investigation, a decision can be made on whether to keep or terminate the employee. HR is probably thinking that due process is important, not just for fairness to the employee, but also for overall morale and employee confidence in management decisions.

      1. Peanut Hamper*

        Yeah, I think you missed the part where LW actually did ask about it, further investigation revealed it could only be a lie, and the employee doubled-down on that lie.

        Did you even read the entire letter?

      2. Ellis Bell*

        Oh yeah, but everyone needs to be on the same page before the meeting that the explanation they hear from the employee needs to be an honest one if they are planning on keeping them.

      3. LW1*

        LW1 here–I did ask the employee what happened, which is when they presented the review document with falsified data. HR didn’t want a thorough investigation–they wanted to drop the lying part of the problem entirely.

        It’s moot though–the employee admitted to lying to cover up the mistake when asked to walk through the series of mistakes that led to the over-charge.

        1. npcpo*

          Yeah, that’s a problem that the employee lied. And admitted it, no investigation or PIP needed. Are your supervisor and HR okay with this? I would not be. I would be preparing to terminate this employee for repeatedly lying about this, especially as it involves money. You will never be able to trust this person. I am sorry for how this is working out for you.

  12. ceiswyn*

    In the case of LW1, I suspect that HR are thinking that a bad employee is better than no employee. This is not true, and I would address that idea explicitly by pointing out the extra work involved in double checking this employee’s work, and the cost of fixing any issues that they lie about in future.

    That shouldn’t be necessary – the deception on its own is sufficient cause to fire someone – but people sometimes get stuck on incidental issues.

    1. Green great dragon*

      Yes. Also, what’s this doing to team morale? Presumably they don’t know about this specific incident, but in a lot of cases they’d be very aware one person isn’t pulling their weight (and I wonder what else they’d lie about).

      HR might be more receptive to hearing it’s better to lose this person than the rest of the team.

      1. Peanut Hamper*

        This was my thought as well. If I hired on to a team and found out that an under-performing employee was not being properly dealt with, it seriously undercuts my motivation to go above and beyond.

        One bad apple and all….

      2. LW1*

        Team morale affects me too! I think there’s an assumption that I would never leave. That assumption is wrong–I will absolutely get out if I can’t promote data integrity. I’m a more public face than this person, and it’s a small customer base. Mistakes like this could absolutely jeopardize my career.

        1. Zarniwoop*

          Hope you’re looking now, because you a have a known risk you’re not being allowed to fix.

    2. Johanna Cabal*

      Ugh, in my experience, removing a toxic employee actually improved productivity despite the fact the position was not filled.

      1. ceiswyn*

        Even when the employee isn’t toxic, just being bad at their job can result in massively more work for everyone else.

        I once worked alongside a contractor who… wasn’t very good at thinking, problem-solving, or remembering even sliightly complex processes. Or looking things up for himself. The company kept him on for several months because we were snowed under with a massive backlog of work, but I was spending *so much time* answering simple questions and troubleshooting problems he’d caused for himself. And he once spent a week redoing work that had already been done, because he only ever pushed to source control, never pulled from it, and was therefore working with an out-of-date copy of the files.

        Eventually I was able to convince our manager not to renew his contract, and the amount of work getting done not only didn’t decrease, but actually increased.

  13. Cthulhu’s Librarian*

    OP 1 – whatever software you’re using for this data should have auditing and/or change tracking features, which should be able to show when data was changed and by what user. These sorts of features became widespread some time ago. If your company has never enabled and used the features before, this is a really good reason to look up some training docs and make sure those features are turned on. If your SOPs are such that you’ve got bad access controls (ie everyone shares a login to the software product, anyone can use the computer that runs this software, etc), this is a great time to overhaul procedure as well. Insist on these things if HR and your manager won’t be reasonable and let you fire the person, if you find evidence of more deceit.

    And when you show them the evidence you have, and any more you find, emphasize the liability to the company and brand if this person continues to be in a trusted role.

    1. Harper the Other One*

      This is what I came to say – if you’re proof isn’t 100% conclusive, set things up so it will be next time, document everything about this time, and then if/when there is a next time you can be a lot more insistent.

      That said, if those protocols aren’t in place… are you SURE it was the employee in question who changed the figures? It can be easy when you have someone with known performance problems to assume that all errors/issues have them at the source (I’ve fallen into that trap once before.) It would be good either way to sit down with the employee and say “hey, I checked the version history and can see the correct figure was there at one point. How do you think that happened?”

      1. EPLawyer*

        Here;s the thing, the charge was off by FOUR times. That’s huge. The person didn’t notice that seemed a little funny and double check or ask about it? When dealing with money, better to double check and be told No that’s right, its okay in this case, then making a huge mistake like that.

        I think all the protocols not just the IT ones need to be double checked.

        1. Colette*

          Maybe it is – or maybe the prices vary between orders, or the written invoice had a smudge so the 1 looked like a 4. We don’t know enough about the business.

          I once got a cheque for my neighbour – his address had a 7 in it, mine has a 2. Someone took his online address, probably wrote it down, then misread it. It happens.

      2. alienor*

        Wasn’t there a letter here a month or two ago from someone who had found out their coworker was deliberately putting mistakes in their work so they could curry favor with the boss? If people would go that far, it’s not too hard to imagine someone making a mistake (or maybe trying to commit some type of fraud) and blaming it on a coworker who was already a known mistake-maker.

      3. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

        While I certainly believe that people should do as much as they can to confirm the events that occurred, it doesn’t need to be 100% conclusive. If after all possibilities, it’s still the only plausible explanation, that really should be sufficient.

    2. ItBetterNotBeACactus*

      And you can sell the history/change tracking as a helpful thing — not just a blame game. I work in software and all of the code changes we deliver are tracked — time/date/change/person. Our wiki pages also have change history. Most of the time that I’m walking through history, I’m looking for something I’ve done. Or just trying to understand how/when something changed.

    3. LW1*

      LW1 here–all our software has auditing and change tracking features in place. The document that was edited is a document in place to help us review our work. You can see who most recently saved it and when, so I assume that IT would be able to access a more detailed version history.

    1. Cookie Monster*

      Well, they specifically said they have a pros/cons list, they just didn’t share it. They weren’t asking if they should apply, they were asking if this one particular factor should even be a factor at all in their decision.

      1. Happy meal with extra happy*

        Yup, and this is an internal job, so there is potential risk in applying and then withdrawing.

        1. LW3*

          Exactly – if it were an external job, sure, but applying and then withdrawing would feel like a big deal here (not least because then it would leave the team short staffed for even longer – also implications for any future promotion opportunities).

          My pros and cons list is long and circular (believe it or not, this question was my try at not being wordy about it :) ), and a lot of the circles end up back at this factor, which is why I chose this one to ask about. Like, one big factor is that my current job is probably my favorite one that I’ve had, and I’m very good at it, and it feels like a risk to move from something I know I like to something I might or might not – but with the wrong new manager, like someone who didn’t value my expertise or didn’t give me the freedom to make decisions in my area that I’m used to, I wouldn’t like it anymore, so not applying is also not risk-free. Or I know there would be politics that I would probably find stressful, but I also like the idea of being able to influence and mitigate that stuff like our old manager did, and there’s no guarantee that a new manager would want to or be able to play that role, in which case the politics would come down to my team anyway. A lot of it comes down to not knowing the future and having a hard time with that, to be honest.

          1. SometimesCharlotte*

            I think these all sound like good reasons to apply! I think you are more likely to regret not applying than applying. Or maybe I’m projecting!

            1. LW3*

              You’re probably right about which is more likely – and really, aren’t we all projecting here :)

  14. Ana Gram*

    LW4- My organization did this and it was really beneficial. I applied for an assignment I didn’t end up getting and was told I could meet with the person in charge if I wanted to review her thoughts on my candidacy. I did and it was really helpful! She gave me some concrete ways to improve and complimented some positive points and I could totally understand why they chose the person they did.

    I think this can be a great opportunity, if done well.

    1. LW4*

      I agree. This same courtesy (an opportunity to discuss how to set myself up as a better candidate in the future, to job shadow, etc.) was extended to me for two internal positions I didn’t get hired for recently, too, which is why I want to extend the same to these candidates.

      If nothing else, they were both great opportunities for networking.

  15. Lizzie (with the deaf cat)*

    LW1 – you say that this possible liar is the person who processes all of the organisation’s revenue. I am puzzled by management’s lack of interest in having the process be squeaky clean and easy to audit.
    It doesn’t auger well for the organisation!
    Check your own pay, that money and taxes etc are going where they should and that the amounts are correct.

  16. Hiring Mgr*

    “I addressed this with my own manager, and we met with our director of HR. In this meeting, my manager stressed that we can’t lose a team member, as we’re already understaffed.”

    This line stuck out to me – it sounds like your boss undercut you here for some reason? Did you go into this meeting thinking you were both on the same page?

  17. Ssssssssssssssssssssss*

    My old director applied for the next-level up director position when it opened up because the grapevine was working well and she heard who was thinking of applying.

    She hadn’t seriously thought of applying until she heard about who was also applying. She chose to apply because “a mediocre white man” was applying and she felt the company as a whole deserved better than that. I audibly gasped over our Teams call when she said that!

    So, I get it when you are looking at the pool of candidates from other departments.

    1. LW3*

      Whoa – I kind of love your old director! I take it she ended up getting the next-level job? Do you know if she ended up feeling good about the move?

      1. Sssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss*

        Not that one, no. The one who won it was also a white man but not mediocre. His reputation was solid.

        But the next next-level job that came up (we had a wave of pandemic-retirements), she did apply, interviewed, didn’t win, the winner changed their mind after six weeks (!!) and then she did win. And she’s killing it! :) We were sad to lose her for us but also very excited at the changes she would bring overall.

        1. LW3*

          Ah, great – good for her! :) And yeah, it is also certainly the case that applying isn’t a guarantee of getting it.

    2. WHAT!?!*

      Wow! Just Wow. I would have gasped too and then start looking for another job. I cannot stand comments like that one from any gender or race. The color of skin or gender has zero bearing on whether or not one is qualified or not. Unpopular opinion, I know. But it is mine and I own it 100%

  18. Small Business Guy*

    LW3: This seems really normal (and good) to consider. Since it sounds like you have some familiarity with your departing boss’s boss, you may actually have a better idea of what taking that job would look like than what your job would look like in your current role with a new manager.

    Also, you know yourself best in terms of how well you can operate under a bad manager. Some people are able to roll with all kinds of bad management, and others get driven bonkers. I’m way on the “driven bonkers” end of the scale so I started my own small business. But plenty of people would prefer working under a tyrant over carrying the burden of management, and there’s a wide range of perfectly normal preference in between.

    1. LW3*

      Yeah, both of those things are good points – I know my boss’s boss, know they respect me, and know that my boss enjoyed working with them. And I would definitely have a hard time with a bad manager. This manager was the best one I’ve had in this branch of my career (and multiple other coworkers have said the same), and it’s not a coincidence that I’ve been in my current job much longer than any previous one.

  19. CityMouse*

    From what I know LW2 could have been written by my boss about 5 years ago. I will say I am so very very grateful for what she’s done and she’s shielded us from a lot of bad and wanted a lot of loyalty from us. But I also know (she has not said this directly) it’s been really hard. I have actually declined management roles in part because of my observation (I also covered a role for someone in maternity leave). I might have an honest chat with your current manager. I think ultimately you have to decide if it’s best for you.

      1. LW3*

        This sounds very relevant to my situation! I do like the idea of being able to shield my team so they can do good work, and I also know that piece of things will be stressful for me. I think that was the case for my outgoing manager too. I did ask them a bunch of questions about the job, and they pretty strongly encouraged me to apply, which makes me think they felt like it was worth it to some extent. But that’s a good thing for me to ask about more directly.

  20. Angelinha*

    LW1, this sort of happened to me once. I managed someone who I suspected of padding her timecard. We were an organization that was open to the public from 9 to 5 and those were most people’s hours and she asked for a special schedule from 7 to 3 to account for her childcare schedule. Fine by me but I noticed her work wasn’t all getting done and came in a couple times myself at 7 and she wasn’t there. I thought getting the swipe-in logs from our IT team would help me in my case with my manager and HR. They were both very upset that I’d done this and didn’t think lying about your start time was as big a deal as I did. Our HR director even interviewed the employee and came back to me as though he’d cracked the case and was like “She said she was trained to just put her schedule in her timecard even if those aren’t the exact hours she worked.”

    At this particular organization, HR wanted to be able to have an airtight case if called for an unemployment hearing and wound up using that fear to undermine managers constantly. I eventually left and the weight they gave to HR over managers was a big part of why.

    1. Delta Delta*

      I feel like the follow up question to that is “who trained her to do that?” Because it sounds like you were the manager, and that you most certainly didn’t do that.

    2. not a hippo*

      I have never in my life met a manager who was so lackadaisical about attendance!

      They weren’t concerned that she was getting paid despite not being there?

      1. doreen*

        I have – more than one. And plenty of them told people to put their regular schedule on their timesheets no matter what hours they actually worked. It’s one thing to put 8:30 – 4:30 when you started at 8:40 or left at 4:20. Putting 8:30-4:30 on your timesheet when you actually worked 10-3 is something very different. Since it was a government agency, some people took to making a notation on the timesheets that they were directed by their manager to write 8:30-4:30 regardless of their actual hours. (and incredibly, the supervisors signed them, even with the notation) This agency is part of the reason government employees get a bad name.

        1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

          I think management say that when the standard hours are 9-5 and they want people working 8-6. Then they get all Pikachu face when people make it work both ways.

      2. La Triviata*

        I once worked with someone who, due to flexible work hours, came in early and left very early. She had to leave at an early time to catch her ride home and kept insisting that she came in early. But she didn’t – and her boss would call to request something and found that she wasn’t in or she’d be in but be in the rest room doing her hair and makeup. Nothing was done … in fact, she was promoted.

  21. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

    LW#2 could have been me. Was given what I thought was a great assignment as the one-woman show of a program was transitioning to retirement. However, I was also given specific instructions to get as much information about how to run the program while simultaneously not hurting her feelings about the fact that she was leaving (or rather, reducing her role to a different piece of what she did). Oh, and a lot of the records I could have learned from were either literally sealed by law, or sitting in her living room (apparently there were YEARS of open records there, and no management concern about getting sensitive personal data into a locked file room), so there was nothing I could do except hope that she would be willing to talk to me and participate, which she wasn’t. My terrible supervisor was of no help, and upper management told me to “do my best”.
    After a few false starts and poor performance of my attempts to try to do the work, they found her an “intern” who apparently had all the access and permission in the world to take over.

    I can’t say that I lasted much longer at that agency.

  22. anon4eva*

    For OP#1, why not ask them directly?
    You could be be like “It shows here the original charge. You then changed it here for 4x the amount. Why?” I mean, you have the original data file with the correct amount and then the review file with the incorrect amount.
    Could there be perhaps a typo or a misunderstanding? Lying implies intent, and the original file wasn’t altered, so…misstating something or formulating something wrong and not understanding why isn’t “lying”. What could even be gained by this, other than angering the patron?

    1. LW1*

      I (wrongly) assumed that we were talking about a fireable offense and wanted my manager’s take on how to proceed. I figured that conversation should probably have someone else in the room. In the meeting with HR, they specifically said I wasn’t to ask the employee directly about what happened.

      The lie wasn’t in over-charging the customer–that was absolutely a mistake on the employee’s part. It wasn’t intentional. But it was a series of mistakes that led to the over-charge, and the processes in place mean the employee should have caught the error before the charge went through. The lie happened later, when I walked them through the process and asked how the mistake was missed at each point. They edited their review document and said it didn’t show a mistake ahead of time.

      They’ve since admitted to lying to cover up the mistake.

  23. Jane Bingley*

    LW3: at my previous job, I applied for a promotion when our team lead left, because the new team lead had to be someone with experience in our role, and I looked at my colleagues and realized I’d be pretty unhappy working under any of them. It was a great call! I learned a lot about myself, got a taste of management experience with support from my manager, and was able to support my team well given my years in their role.

    If you’ve had informal leadership within your team for a while, that really helps – things like noticing that new people come to you with questions, or colleagues bring complaints to you because they know they’ll get an understanding ear and potential solutions.

    1. Cyrus*

      I did something similar in my current job. The previous leader was leaving and I was the logical next in line based on seniority if nothing else. I didn’t exactly want the added responsibility and knew it wouldn’t come with more money for a long time if ever, but the person next in line after me was incredibly annoying. Good at his job, but can’t shut up, gets fixated on details way past the point where it matters, absolutely has to be right all the time (he usually is! and on the rare occasions when he definitely isn’t, he’s diplomatic about it! but it’s exhausting)…

      Supervising him didn’t sound appealing but being supervised by him sounded like it would be absolutely miserable, so I picked the former. So far I feel OK about the decision. He hasn’t been an actual discipline problem and more money actually did materialize eventually, so my resume looks a little better and on the rare occasions he gets too annoying I can pull rank if I have to.

      1. LW3*

        Yeah – everyone on our team does something different, so it’s not like I exactly know how to solve all of my coworkers’ problems myself, but I do at least have a sense of the kinds of issues that come up. And given the circumstances, I would be the logical next in line. It’s sounding like everyone commenting here who had started out in a similar situation and decided to go for it ended up feeling like that was a good move, which is reassuring!

  24. There's a G&T with my name on it*

    LW2: I don’t know if there would have been a good way to reframe it at the time, but I would perhaps have tried to frame it as “what if you were to have an emergency situation and couldn’t work for x length of time?” – which is applicable to most people regardless of age and would hopefully leave the sensitive subject of retirement completely out the picture.

  25. Phony Genius*

    LW2 specifically asked how they could have handled the situation differently. No answer was provided. Does that mean they handled it completely right with the information that they had?

    1. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

      That’s my read. LW2 was given an assignment, attempted to do the assignment with the information provided, and discovered that no one had defused the bomb yet.

      It’s really hard to go back and fine tune the approach after something that explosive.

      Maybe next time LW2 will confirm more about what the other parties know about the assignment and ask to get a sort of “warm handoff” with management, but that’s pretty much the only thing that would have been helpful.

  26. Hiring Mgr*

    There are many organizations where HR seems to have outsized influence – i’ve seen that often. Despite the title of the letter though, it sounds like LW’s boss was also in the don’t fire camp, so not sure what is up here.

    If the understaffing is that bad that the powers that be want to keep the scofflaw, can she at least not be in charge of processing all the revenue??

  27. BellyButton*

    If they won’t let LW1 fire her– I guess the PIP can be about attention to detail and owning mistakes. A lot of people have a hard time admitting to mistakes, it can come from a lot of places- fear of losing their job or credibility/trust, childhood trauma, abuse, and a whole host of other places–it is important that people know mistakes happen, but we do have to own them, correct them, and learn from them.

    1. EPLawyer*

      Okay what is the measurement for meeting that goal? PIPs have to have identifiable goals so that the employee knows what needs to be done to be kept.

      Owning mistakes — will admit to making mistakes at least once a week?
      Attention to detail — will ensure that attention to work is at least 90%

      PIPs can’t be vague. It helps no one evaluate whether the conditions for continued employment are met.

      1. anon for this one*

        Zero mistakes getting to the customer and a process for documenting and reviewing decisions with the LW – yes, serious micromanaging for a period of time, but there’s ways to do this. I’ve had jobs where during some onboarding phase, everything you do is double-checked before it goes out the door. And I’d assume the same thing was done for people on PIPs at those jobs, too, but I never was on one.

        If it was a lie, either the employee will realize they can’t get away with covering their lies/that a truthful “oops” is the right thing to do in a work scenario, or they won’t, and you’ll have undisputable proof. If it was a genuine mistake, you’ll have data to figure out if the employee is incompetent or just confused on one little thing or somewhere in between and address that.

        One strike. They’ve had their one mistake/possible lie, and they don’t get another one, but since management won’t let you fire right now anyway, own it and give them one chance. (Assuming you can get managment to agree to that plan, at least.)

  28. HonorBox*

    OP2 – I don’t think I’d suggest that you could have handled it differently. You were given information that the individual was retiring. It sounds like you based your inquiry on that information. If there was something different happening as others have suggested, that’s not on you. That’s on the organization.

    I’m wondering if the outsized reaction was more about the fact that the individual now has a bunch of “extra work” to do before they retire. If they’ve not been great about documenting processes, etc. in the past, doing so as they’re riding off into the sunset may feel like A LOT when they weren’t expecting to have to do A LOT.

  29. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

    LW2, other folks have made some good points up-thread about the possibility that this co-worker actually isn’t planning on retiring, but that the company wants to push her out. It’s certainly a possibility.

    Alternately, maybe she absolutely is retiring, but your wording made her think that you just decided to do this work, rather than company leadership assigning it to you. You said: “I know you’re planning on retiring, so I’d like to document the plans for how to transition the role and how a new person can start when the time comes for you to retire, or anyone else who might hold this role in the future, so can you let me know when you have time to discuss this?” Not “Ginny asked me to connect with you about documenting your processes.”

    If I was your colleague, I’d wonder who TF you thought you were, getting all up in my business. Especially as a new person who wasn’t my boss. Her response was not great, for sure. But I get why she wasn’t 100% on board.

    Since you asked about how to handle this type of thing differently, I’d suggest you ask (or insist) that someone in management meet with the colleague in advance to talk about the plan. Depending on the situation, you could come to this meeting, too, or not. However it happens, the co-worker needs to hear about the plan from someone who is not you. Though I can see how someone would assume that this had already happened in a situation like this.

    You can frame the project as how the colleague has so much experience and insight that it’s absolutely vital to capture her expertise, if there is some risk that she might be a bit touchy about it.

  30. Em*

    LW4: Given that the interviews have already happened, I don’t know if this is useful for you this time, but perhaps for next time?

    My company always has (private) post-interview meetings with every internal candidate, with feedback whether or not they’re advancing (I got one job but also a “this was a weakness of yours we noticed in the interview, might wanna work on that” in the same meeting). Generally-speaking, there’re multiple people doing the interview, and then one person conducts the post-interview meeting, which helps make sure someone’s not spending all their time doing meetings! They conclude each interview by letting us know they’ll be scheduling a meeting within the next week or so to discuss how the interview went. Perhaps you could state this in the job application somewhere, or in any automatic emails that go out.

    “Thanks for your application! While we review them, here’s what you can expect to happen next:
    Week One: We will review the applications we received, and make a decision to narrow them down to a shortlist.
    Week Two: We will contact you to let you know you are moving on or not, and to provide feedback on what went well and what we’d like to see improved.
    Week Three: …”

    And so on.

    (Secretly, I know that if they schedule the meeting on Monday, I probably got the job or was at least a front-runner — this meeting is either the “yes” or the “no”, and they’ll want to go through possible “yeses” first in case people decide to not take the offer. Wednesday or later, I know I’ll be having a learning experience, but probably not the promotion.)

    I’ve found that by integrating the follow-up into the interview process and being very clear about it, and by doing follow-ups for everyone, it’s been fairly easy, at least from the interviewee side. As an applicant for a bunch of internal roles (with varying degrees of success!), I’ve found the feedback really useful and have taken concrete steps as a result, so I think you doing this is really great. Your applicants will appreciate it a lot.

    1. Em*

      (Should note — they provided the feedback first, and then moved on to whether it was a rejection or acceptance as the last part of the meeting, so that we didn’t have to sit there smiling after being rejected and try to pretend to listen.)

  31. merida*

    OP4 – totally agree with Alison!
    Years ago when I was an internal candidate who was rejected, the HR recruiter emailed me to invite me to a meeting – but the email was chipper, had a smiley face and an exclamation point, said they wanted to give me “an update! :)” So I obviously read this as a likely job offer. The HR recruiter was a genuinely kind and bubbly person so I think they just didn’t realize how their standard warm and cheerful way of writing emails was going to come across. Even when I arrived at the conference room for the meeting, the recruiter was all smiles and wiggly eyebrows about the “update.” (Ugh.) The rejection was said in kind way but still… once I realized during the meeting that this was not a job offer, it caused me such undue agony to have to keep my composure! I think they tried way too hard to be “nice” to their rejected candidates, but transparency up front is nice too.

    1. LW4*

      YES! This is the exact thing I was trying to avoid because it has happened to me in the past few years. Get a calendar request, then make sure I have on my nice interview shirt and take the time to make myself presentable only to realize it is not the meeting I thought it was.

  32. hypoglycemic rage (hopeful ex librarian)*

    lw 4: i cannot stress enough how important it is to NOT give job rejections in person.

    i was an internal candidate for a position. i specifically told my boss that if i’m not going to get the position, to please email me. she said she would.

    a week or so later, she calls me into her office. this was about 5 minutes before my shift was supposed to end, and in hindsight that should have been a sign… however, i’m excited because i think it’s good news (my boss and i had a good relationship so i had no reason to suspect she wouldn’t have emailed). but she tells me that i didn’t get the position, that she knows i asked to be emailed but she “couldn’t” do that (i’m thinking this had less to do with any possible HR policies and more to do with her own personal wishes).

    i immediately start crying, which i try to hide behind my mask, and i cried at home that night too. i would have still been upset and probably still cried, but i really wish she would have given me that rejection via email like i asked, and which she knows i asked for but ignored. i’m not bitter anymore that i didn’t get the position, but i am still upset that my wishes were ignored.

    anyway, point is: i second alison’s suggestion to send the rejection email, because anything else might make them think they’re moving farther along in the process, and getting bad news in person really sucks.

  33. Avril Ludgateaux*


    One time, I applied for a promotion alongside 4 other internal candidates. None of us got the job – turned out there was a 6th internal candidate from our satellite office that we did not know very well (she ended up being the perfect fit for the job, though, so no hard feelings anymore, but…) – and they informed us in a group meeting. We all got to experience our failure/rejection as a collective. Was great for morale and collaborative spirit, in so far as 5 candidates commiserating about bad management is a bonding moment :)

    Whatever you decide to do, don’t do that.

    1. LW4*

      THAT IS TERRIBLE. I am so sorry that happened to you.

      Ironically, this is a similar situation. 10 of the candidates knew each other and were from a very close internal department, and the one person we ended up hiring was an unknown but is a perfect fit. The idea to call a group meeting never once crossed my mind — I’m still trying to wrap my head around someone thinking that was a good idea.

  34. Marz*

    LW3: I think it’s very reasonable factor to consider and as an analogy from my experience playing sports – if you’re sitting on the sidelines and thinking “I could do that better”, it’s a sign that you want to be in the game! It may or may not mean you could actually do better, as people vary wildly in their ability to self-assess, but as far as throwing your hat in the ring, I think it means you think you are ready, and you’ll learn more in the process as well. Some people are more reluctant than others to say “I’m ready!” and you might be one. And that often those people are very thoughtful and good managers/leaders.

    1. LW3*

      Heh, of course now I’m imagining myself as an angry youth sports parent, which goes to your point about self-assessments and doing better or not. :) I do tend to be slow to decide on things like this, but it is also true that in thinking about it, I’ve started to have more concrete ideas about how I would handle things, which is part of what’s made it start to seem like a realistic option.

  35. Not LW1's Employee*

    I realize this is probably an unpopular opinion, but part of me sympathizes with the employee in LW1’s letter, because I relate to it. The employee likely knows they’re under LW’s microscope and is grasping at straws to cover up what they did, because they think the mistake might get them fired.
    My story:
    I had a job once where we managed large amounts of data in spreadsheets that did not easily flow to each other – a change in one didn’t trigger a change in the next one, or if it did, there was often a third, unrelated spreadsheet that didn’t pick up on a change in the first. For various reasons, automating/fixing this was not feasible. Worse, some of these data weren’t even entered into a spreadsheet – they were typed, by me, into Word documents that were read by management.

    There were no automated checks, no peer review. You just had to “focus” and “pay attention to detail” and “check your work”. I did my best, but inevitably made mistakes, and thus, I had “performance issues”. It was frustrating and demoralizing to try so hard to get everything right and then get an email back from my boss highlighting the things I’d missed or mistyped. I had nightmares about work and woke up once realizing I had keyed a cell wrong. I also have diagnosed OCD, and often for the sake of my job had to heed the voice in my head that said “Are you *sure* you updated that line correctly? You’d better go look. You wouldn’t want to make a mistake.” (in other words, do exactly what you aren’t supposed to)

    Everyone in my life, including previous managers, would characterize me as competent and detail-oriented. I am also a very honest person – lying makes me uncomfortable. Yet there were times when I tried to fix mistakes behind my boss’s back, or downplay their importance. Taking responsibility hadn’t worked, nor did suggesting a new/better process, and I was grasping at straws because I was desperate. I’m not proud of it, but I’m more upset about how my mental health suffered during that time.

    Sometimes people are just liars…and sometimes people are just pushed to the breaking point.

    LW1, are you open to exploring the possibility that your employee didn’t feel safe admitting to their mistake? Are there gaps in the process that leave room for human error? Are you open to constructing a PIP that both raises their performance and gives them some agency in helping to fix any processes that could be improved?

    1. I should really pick a name*

      It actually sounds to me that this wasn’t the right role for you.
      There are positions where getting feedback on mistakes like that is just part of the job, and if it triggers such a negative reaction, it’s probably not the kind of work you should be doing.

      Whether they’re just lying because they don’t want to work, or they’re lying because they’re overwhelmed, it doesn’t change the fact that trust has been broken, and it’s really hard to come back from that.

      1. Not LW1's Employee*

        I’ve actually had similar roles before and since, and have a graduate-level education in a quantitative field. The problem was the broken process, lack of peer review, and my manager’s incompetence at managing people, which was why he lost 4 direct reports in 2 years. The problem wasn’t “hey, you got this wrong”, it was the disapproving and disappointed way in which the feedback was delivered. I can count on one hand the number of times my manager ever had something positive to say about my work, even as I was well-liked by many others in the organization.

      2. Not LW1's Employee*

        Re: the lying, since that’s the point of the post

        If I were this person’s manager, if I was 100% sure they made these changes and not anyone else, I would have a conversation with them and say something to the effect of “Covering up something like this is really out of character for you. What’s going on? Can we talk?”

        I have little patience for people who pretend that people under extreme stress don’t behave in less than ideal ways and if they do, then screw ’em, because I’ve got a month end deadline to meet. These are human beings, not robots. If the employee is a generally good person, work with them to get to the bottom of the problem.

        1. MegPie*

          I agree with you. Lots of people make mistakes that are pretty egregious. Should they not be able to provide for themselves? It’s hard to defend this type of lying but a little empathy would be nice.

    2. LW1*

      LW1 here–I’m very open to the possibility that our processes should be improved! I’ve done this employee’s job, and it’s so important to have checks in place because of course people make mistakes.

      But I can’t improve processes if an employee is sending me on a wild goose chase trying to fix processes that aren’t broken. I approach every conversation with “how did this happen so we can adjust things and prevent it in the future?” I can’t do that if the employee is then lying to me about how the mistake happened.

      1. Not LW1's Employee*

        I appreciate you taking the time to reply in a sea of comments! It sounds like you’re doing a great job.

        The lying is totally a problem, 100% agreed. I do suspect the employee is afraid of losing their job, but you have a better vantage point than any of us as to whether this is out of character for them or not.

      2. Samwise*

        Yep. It’s not even (or just) the “crime” — it’s the cover-up.

        Learned this one from my mom, as a child: You now have two punishments, one for [the misbehavior] and one for lying about it.

        The lying punishment was always more onerous than the one for misbehavior.

        And then mom would cap it with the real kicker: I’m so disappointed that you lied.


    3. Ellis Bell*

      Everybody lies; there are occasional liars, and there are habitual liars. Even within the category of habitual liars, there are ‘get out of trouble’ liars, separate to those who lie for gain. If lying makes you, in your words “uncomfortable”, you’re an occasional liar who lies in dire circumstances where you’ve been set up to fail. The LW’s situation really doesn’t sound like that to be honest; they use the same processes as this employee, so do two successful employees, and the LW says there are additional processes (instead of just one human) which should have caught the mistake: but let’s say that it was a dire situation destined to cause someone’s failure: it’s still not a good solution because mistakes will still get made, and then the lies will also be seen too. Now, you’re a liability who can’t be trusted, even if you were driven to it. I think OPs employee is a more habitual liar, but I don’t think they’re a bad person, they’re just a get out of trouble liar, and I have sympathy; I wouldn’t be in the slightest surprised if childhood played a part. But they’re still unsuited to a role where you need to be trusted and to own mistakes so processes can be improved.

  36. Em*

    (Should note — they provided the feedback first, and then moved on to whether it was a rejection or acceptance as the last part of the meeting, so that we didn’t have to sit there smiling after being rejected and try to pretend to listen.)

    1. Evan Þ*

      On the other hand, that would leave me inwardly squirming in stress throughout the feedback, and probably not able to really take it in.

  37. CAF*


    “I would rather work for an upturned broom with a bucket for a head than work for somebody else in this office besides myself. Game on!”

    -Stanley Hudson, The Office Beach Day episode

  38. No, MY name is Sam Smith*

    In the course of applying for two professional roles, I received phone calls for each saying I hadn’t been selected, and right then, just for a few seconds, I was more angry that they chose to call than I was at not getting the jobs. I was unemployed and therefore desperate, and I mean, come ON. How dumb does a person or a person in charge of a protocol like that have to be to *not* know the cruelty of a phone call rejection, where I have to still be “on,” versus a letter or email, where I can react as I need to on the spot.

    Have a friggin’ heart already.

  39. Reluctant Manager*

    LW3, I was in your exact shoes one year ago. When I saw the position post my first reaction was to cry because I was so afraid someone terrible would fill the spot and micromanage my team (it’s happened before). And our pool was VERY similar to yours. So I called my circle to vent, and one by one they asked me why I wasn’t considering the position. I made a lot of lists! But ultimately I interviewed, told them point-blank that I didn’t want the job if I wasn’t the best candidate and…. I got it and I love it.

    Now, one big help was I was already my team lead. I didn’t have managerial power, but I did have the respect and support of my colleagues which has made the transition much smoother.

    1. LW3*

      Wow, those do sound like my exact shoes! My first reaction on hearing the news was to think “Oh no, I have to start job searching!” :) And the friends I’ve vented to have pretty much all started by asking if the new manager couldn’t just be me. We don’t have team leads in my department, but I do have respect and support from people in my department and elsewhere in the organization – I think generally people assume I already have more authority than I do. One of my worries about applying would actually be that I might get chosen even if there were an external candidate who might actually be better, and maybe saying something like you did would be a good way to go for that – I might ask a coworker or two how they think that would go over in this case. But it’s really reassuring to hear that you went through this same thing and ended up loving the new job.

  40. House On The Rock*

    LW 2, your considerations around applying for the manager job are very normal and understandable. I became a manager in large part because I didn’t want someone from the outside managing me or the team and because everyone else on the team wanted me to apply. Granted that particular job/department had a lot of issues, and I got way more than I signed up for, but I don’t think I was off base in my original calculus. And during all of that I learned that I have a real talent for managing people and have been able to parlay that into a higher level director position within my organization. As Alison says, as long as you have an interest in management and are not only doing it out of fear, you are fine!

    1. LW3*

      Yeah, I have talked to an encouraging number of people who ended up genuinely liking management and considering it a highlight of their jobs! In your case, did you know when you applied that managing people and moving up were things you were interested in? Part of the reason I’m struggling with this decision is because I’m genuinely on the fence about that – I have colleagues who know they want to be directors, and I have colleagues who know they never want to manage anyone, and neither of those is really me.

      1. linger*

        Sounds like you won’t really know until you try it! But if your current team is supportive, that should at least be a relatively gentle introduction to managing.

  41. Empress Matilda*

    OP1, what a mess. Regardless of the outcome of this specific situation, I think you’ve learned something important, which is that your manager and the HR director do not have your back. If they’re more concerned with headcount than with accurate financial records, that’s…a problem.

    If I were in your shoes, I would have a hard time trusting them again after this. I wouldn’t pack up my desk and leave, but I would certainly be updating my resume and thinking about moving on.

    Good luck, both with this specific employee, and with whatever you decide for the big picture!

    1. LW1*

      Yep… This situation has shown me a lot about how my company handles things, and I’m not happy about what it’s uncovered. Desk isn’t packed, but my resume is dust-free!

  42. k*

    LW3, I was in your shoes about a year ago. I was more or less happy with my job, although a bit bored, but I loved my direct manager. When she announced she was leaving, I knew there were three basic pathways for my working group – I become manager; my one peer becomes manager; neither of us become manager and both of us just report directly a level up.

    I knew that if my colleague was promoted, my feelings would go from “more or less satisfied but a little bored” to “I gotta get out of here” pretty immediately, and same if neither of us got promoted. So I stuck my neck out for the promotion and got it.

    It was pretty much the only reason I sought out the promotion, but I’m very glad that I did. Granted, there’s not much people management – only my one colleague – and my job didn’t change much (essentially I do the same role but with some project management responsibilities) but I know I’m happier than I would have been otherwise.

  43. MegPie*

    LW2 – yeah, I made that mistake exactly once. People can be pretty sensitive about retirement. Best to approach those things with excess diplomacy unless you know the person really well.

  44. merula*

    LW3, your position is basically the same as where I found myself 2 years ago, and I think you should go for it.

    I had been advising and supporting a semi-related team under Manager 1, because that manager didn’t have any background in our area. He left and they hired Manager 2 who also didn’t have any background, so I continued in my support role. Then my boss left and they reorged the wider group, so I was offered the option to work with Manager 2 and change the kind of work I was doing or keep doing the same work for Total Jerk Manager. I took the first option.

    Manager 2 helped me learn more about the work, while I helped him learn more about the background in our area, but that only lasted 6 months or so until he left. I was faced with “Do I want to train another white dude on this, or take a shot at it myself?” and threw my hat in the ring. Thank goodness I did, because I got the job, and also was asked to interview the #2 candidate for a team lead-type role and he was terrible.

    I didn’t actually stay that long (about a year), but having that role meant that when a really exciting internal opportunity presented itself, I had the higher title and greater visibility that made me a better candidate.

    1. LW3*

      Whew – that peek you got into the other candidates, wow! Sounds like your situation worked out really well – thanks for the encouragement :)

  45. Me*

    LW2. I’m a Change Management Consultant and I’m often brought in to client sites and onto projects where succession planning is required. This is a pretty common response, even if the person in question has been communicative about their retirement. I often find this behaviour most common in individuals who have been at their jobs for a long, long time and who hold a lot of systemic knowledge in their brains. They are often reluctant to document their knowledge as, to them, it is what gives them a sense of importance in their roles. And it takes quite a lot of patient coaching to make them understand the value in succession planning.

    1. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

      Now this would be an interesting interview with Allison! I’d love to know more about how you go about doing this!

  46. LW1*

    LW1 here–since I wrote into Alison, there’s been developments. Namely, my employee admitted to falsifying the document when my manager and I talked with them about a PIP and walked through the process of the error again.

    But apparently that doesn’t change anything, because they came clean in the end?

    The moving goalposts and lack of data integrity around financial data doesn’t bode well for my future at this company. My resume is dust-free, and they may be finding themselves with a reduced headcount after all.

    1. Empress Matilda*

      So they admitted to falsifying records…not just any records, but *financial* records. But it’s all okay because they admitted it?!? Wow. I don’t know what to say, other than good luck with your job hunt!

    2. Keymaster of Gozer*

      If this were an IT matter, and one of my lot had been falsifying data, I’d remove their admin access if I couldn’t fire them. Is it possible to put her on a much lower level of access to the system?

      And then if nothing gets done – point out to HR that you *had* to prevent it happening again. If someone can’t be trusted with integrity, then you take away their access.

    3. Ellis Bell*

      Forgive me if I’m being dense, but wasn’t this admission always going to happen when asking them to explain your evidence; because there simply isn’t another explanation?

      1. Kella*

        People lie in the face of direct evidence all the time. There was never a guarantee that the employee would admit it directly.

  47. Rigamaroll*

    LW #4- my previous company required we meet in person with internal candidates who did not get the position… I’ve had so many awkward conversations…

  48. JustMe*

    LW 2- yes, I would imagine that a) the company just assumed that she would be retiring soon, and therefore brought you on to help with documentation without discussing it with her, or b) the company was discussing the transition plan with the employee, but it wasn’t communicated to her *that you were being brought on as part of that transition* (for example, they told her something like “We’re bringing on Jane to help improve our general documentation process) and then when talking to you, they said that they needed to do this before their employee retired. In either case, there was a disconnect between what she was told and what you were hired to do, and that’s the real issue.

  49. New Senior Mgr*

    LW 4 – Please don’t do that. Email. But it’s nice of you to offer feedback when so many applicants get no response.

  50. Same*

    With the first letter, having seen this type of thing more than once, I would actually assume that HR’s approach has more to do with doubt over whether the employee is actually lying, instead of anything to do with being short-staffed.

    And I say this as someone who was once illegally fired based on a manager’s very obvious lies about me and my performance, so I have no patience for liars in the workplace being protected. (That said, too many managers are allowed to get away with lying without consequences. And given the power dynamics and overall impact of a lying manager, they’re the ones who truly need firing, but are usually protected.)

    If the employee IS lying about this, the real question is why. Is there a psychologically safe workplace, where people can admit to mistakes? Or are they just a jerk?

  51. Jonquil*

    LW2, better language for this situation might be “I’ve been asked to document this to help mitigate the single person risk around x process/procedure”. “Single person risk” covers everything from “what happens if you are sick on a crucial day” to “what if you won the lottery and left without notice” without making assumptions about people’s plans. It also makes it a company issue rather than an individual one, ie the company needs to make sure they have coverage across all of their work, because life is unpredictable.

    IMO asking about retirement is in a similar category to asking about pregnancy plans. I’m not sure if asking about retirement plans is similarly illegal (although age discrimination obviously is), but it feels similarly inappropriate.

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