How Do You Deal With A Lying Co-worker?

Question:

A young lady in the medical records department has a penchant for lying. It is like she craves attention. She thinks is never wrong and will blame someone else for her mistakes. It has gotten out of control. She talks about other co-workers behind their backs. The worst part is that she speaks to the registration clerks like they are kids. Management seems to not know how to get rid of her. She has an arm-length of complaints, and recently she may have keyed a co-workers vehicle. When she is in the office, there is a lot of tension. What and how can this person be fired? This has been an ongoing thing.

Signed,

Frustrated about Problem Co-Worker


Answer:

Dear Frustrated about Problem Co-Worker:

If what you say is the case, there are obviously many more things going on here than the fact that the employee lies, for whatever reason she lies. The overall picture seems to be of an employee who is not performing correctly and who is disruptive in a variety of ways, but who is either protected by someone or not being confronted and help accountable.

You do not say whether you are a supervisor, manager or co-worker, so I will respond from both perspectives.

1. If you are a co-worker and are negatively affected by this employee, as you apparently are, be willing to step forward and ask for management assistance to make things better. Write to your supervisor or manager and state the things that have created an unproductive, uncomfortable environment. Emphasize the effect on work, since that is often the prime concern of managers. Mention as many specific things as you can think of and the employees who would have witnessed it or heard about it. State how each of them has made you and/or others feel. At the close say that you would like an investigation of the situation, to find out how to make the environment the way it needs to be for optimal productivity. Follow with a list of those who would be willing to talk to a supervisor or manager about it. If no one will–well, then they’ve voted to keep her I guess!

I wouldn’t advocate this approach for every little conflict, but this seems to be more than that–and at a level that managers and supervisors need to have brought to their attention. If you don’t get action, go a level higher, attaching the original letter.

In the meantime,be strong about responding when she creates unpleasantness for you or others. You can do that in a way that isn’t discourteous, and you don’t want to get in a verbal fight, but you do need to be adamant. One way to do that is to say, “Let’s go talk to a supervisor right now about this.” Or, “I wasn’t at fault for that and I won’t take responsiblity fo it.” Or, “Stop! I don’t want to hear people bashed behind their backs!” Or, “When you use that tone of voice, it sounds like you think you’re talking to a kid. Stop.”

Most of us are so concerned about not stirring up conflict, we don’t say stop when we should. If no one had ever allowed her to gossip to them, talk down to them or blame them, without calling her on it or complaining to a supervisor about it, she wouldn’t have gotten to this point!

2. If you are a supervisor or manager, consider this: Knowing what you know now about this employee, would you hire her today? If you wouldn’t what is being done to either improve her behavior and performance or to dismiss her? Work with HR on a performance improvement plan, but keep in mind that likely you will either have to decide to keep her or fire her.

The way to approach the matter is to list the actions that are not at the level needed. Make sure you have told her what is needed, either in company handbooks, at evaluation time or in counseling. Then, warn her and ask her if she needs training to do it the right way. Tell her point blank to stop the things you want her to stop. Tell her clearly the things she’s doing right that you want her to continue. Tell her clearly the things she needs to improve. Then, document any lapses and send a full report up the chain of authority, asking for her dismissal. The more witnesses you have, the better. If you have employees who indicate concern, list them.

3. All of this is based on the assumption that others aren’t creating the same kinds of problems. Make sure you are fair and impartial about this and everything else. If one person gets in trouble for gossiping, everyone else should too. If one person gets in trouble for being snippy, all should be treated the same way.

And of course, the big issue is, has this employee been officially evaluated in a way that would show her she is not performing correctly? If her evaluations are good, in spite of many bad situations, the supervisor is also at fault.

The bottom line is that it’s a whole-workplace problem when one employee is excessively difficult. It usually means co-workers won’t come forward to complain, supervisors don’t deal with problems they see and managers don’t see the big picture and hold supervisors responsible.

If this employee has as many documented issues as you say, it appears the only thing keeping her there is a lack of action by those who have the authority to act. If you are not in that position, perhaps you need to talk directly to HR or find some other way to ensure that an investigation and follow-up is done, for the good of the workplace. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what results.

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.