Question:

When I got hired at my company, the human resources department interviewed me and sent me into my now boss’ office for a “final interview.” He asked only one question, if I knew how to “run interference” for my supervisor.

I answered, “Absolutely. I’m the mom of a football player. I know what blocking and tackling mean.” I thought he meant holding calls when he didn’t want to be interrupted and handling other problems so he could concentrate on more important matters.

Two weeks into my job, my boss asked me to tell his wife he was “out of town” if she called the office. When I said, “I didn’t know you’d be traveling;” he answered, “I’m not, but that’s what I want you to say.”

I’ve never lied for a boss. What do I do?

Answer:

If you don’t want to lie, and his wife calls, you can truthfully respond, “My boss said to tell you he was out of town.”

If his wife questions you further, you can say, “I’m sorry, this is what I was told to tell you, and he is my boss.”

Meanwhile, document this interaction, visit HR, and look for a new job. When a supervisor asks an employee to lie, he abuses his position. That’s a problem your company needs to handle.

Your boss’s interview question, coupled with this incident, suggest he may expect you to shave the truth in ways that cut into your sense of ethics. If your company doesn’t act and you don’t want to be backed into a corner where you’re forced to lie to keep your job, you’re better off leaving under your own steam.

If you stay, he may fire you when he learns you don’t provide the “cover” he seeks.  

© 2020, Lynne Curry

Lynne Curry, Ph.D., SPHR, is the author of “Beating the Workplace Bully” (AMACOM, 2016, https://amzn.to/30V5JO6) and “Solutions”, https://amzn.to/2GYlnAN (both books are rated 4.8 out of 5 stars on Amazon.com). Send your questions to her at https://workplacecoachblog.com/ask-a-coach/ or follow her on twitter @lynnecurry10.  www.workplacecoachblog.com.

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4 thoughts on “When Your Boss Asks You to Lie

  1. Paulette Dale, Ph.D, Author, “Did You Say Something, Susan?” How Any Women Can Gain Confidence with Assertive Communication – Second Edition-March 2021 says:

    Lynne,

    I’m wondering if the employee would be wise to respond assertively with something to the effect, “I’m not comfortable stating what I know to be untrue” – letting the boss know from the outset that she won’t be a party to the deception.

    Seems like the employee may have to look for a new job anyway. Certainly a no-win situation for her. However, she might feel good about setting her boundary and making her position known immediately. And who knows, [in a perfect world] her boss might just respect her for it realizing he should not put her in the position of having to lie for him.

    Lynne, in your view, would this be a prudent option for handling the situation? Your sage suggestion is certainly an excellent tact.

  2. Hi, Paulette, while the statement you suggest is brave, respectful and dignified, her boss would likely walk her out the door immediately. HR would then be left with a long-term manager who wants a several day employee fired. Given those circumstances, HR might not investigate. When the employee called me after her boss asked her to cover for him, I suggested the wording I put in the post, and told her HR might act and might not, but that she needed to look for a new job. Your wording, however, does work if the manager has ethics and realizes he’s stepped over the line. I have a hunch, this manager doesn’t remember there’s a line.

    1. Paulette Dale, Ph.D, Author, “ did You Say Some Thing, Susan?“ How Any Woman Can Gain Confidence with Assertive Communication – Second Edition-March 2021 says:

      Got it! You’re right. Thank you for pointing out why my response might not be the best one in this particular circumstance. I wasn’t considering this from the HR involvement angle. That is certainly key and vital to consider.

  3. This case poses some good thought exercises. Telling someone your boss is away, when he isn’t is often portrayed on popular media, and perhaps in some workplaces is expected. But you can wonder what else it leads to, and that perhaps is where the person who posed the case is going with the thought. And the advice, as ever, is outstanding, actionable, but requires intestinal fortitude on the doer’s part.

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