Covering for a Co-Worker: Should you be caught up in their lie?

by epi on October 30, 2012

Q: I recently caught my co-worker lying to our boss, and using me as her excuse for leaving the office early and for not completing her work assignments.  What should I do?

A: This situation hits at the crux of an all-too-common ethical dilemma in the workplace: When is it OK to cover for a colleague who’s told a fib?  In you case, something rotten is obviously going on, but apparently your sense of loyalty to your co-worker is stopping you from exposing her lies.  My question for you is this: Has she given any thought to the untenable position she’s putting you in by making you an accomplice to her deception?  Imagine what would happen to you if management not only caught her in her lies, but found out you knew she was deceiving the company.  The bottom line: You shouldn’t worry about the consequences to her, because she certainly hasn’t worried about you.  You really have no choice but to go directly to your boss and explain what’s been going on.  Otherwise, your job may be on the line.  When you do, be precise, don’t elaborate beyond what you actually know, and don’t feel obligated to apologize for your co-worker or explain her behavior.  When is it acceptable to cover for a co-worker’s lie?  The answer is simple: never.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Yasmin November 26, 2012 at 6:50 pm

I’m not sure how to leave a new post, but since your FAQ instructs leaving new questions at the bottom of any article, here it is!

I have a business etiquette question. Two of my friends used to work together (let’s say at company 1) – one a co-founder (let’s call him A) and the other a high level employee (“B”). The high-level employee left the company for a new job over the summer (company 2) and the friendship continued. The former company, in a bit of trouble, was losing staff and a mutual friend and co-worker (“C”) at company 1 decided to leave. The co-founder of company 1 knew he was searching but didn’t allow it to ruin the friendship. However, C had found a posting for a desired position at company 2 and asked B if the position was still open and if he could vouch for him. B said yes, the position was still open. C eventually interviewed with HR and a hiring manager, was offered a position, and started working at company 2. Now, A is upset at B and is refusing to talk to him as he thinks it is bad ethics to poach employees.

This got me thinking about workplace etiquette and ethics. “A” thinks B should have told him that C was interviewing at his company. I think it’s not B’s place to have said anything about C’s activities – especially since he didn’t know if C would get an offer or accept the offer. If B had told A what was going on and C didn’t take the job, it would make for an uncomfortable situation at company 1. Furthermore, I find it strange that A is not at all upset with C. A believes you have to follow the rules of personal relationships in the work place, but in this case, I don’t think so. It isn’t the same as asking a friend if you can date their ex. Particularly since C acted out of his own accord.

Is A out of bounds in saying that B acted unethically?

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Elizabeth November 26, 2012 at 8:18 pm

Given your account of the situation, I think you are correct that A is out of bounds in being upset with B. It sounds like all B did was to let C know that there was still a job opening (something C could have found out from the internet or a phone call) and B allowed himself to serve as a reference for C. It’s hard to find a good reference – you need someone that knows both your practical and interpersonal skills. Why should it matter what company C was interviewing at? The reference is still the same. I think A is overreacting and is taking out his own anxiety and frustrations on an easy target.

However, given that you are friends with both individuals, I would advise YOU to be diplomatic and to distance yourself from the whole thing. It doesn’t pay to take sides when you don’t have to.

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