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Ask Sue
A Weekly Q&A Column About Professionalism, Etiquette and Problems in the Workplace
by Sue Morem

How to Deal with a Dishonest Employee

Dear Sue: I have an employee who, for the most part, does a great job. She is responsible and a good employee, however, she over-exaggerates and I've caught her lying several times. When I confront her about the lies, she denies it and either accuses the other employee of lying or blames the incident on a lack of communication. I try to stress the importance telling the truth, even if a mistake has been made, but it hasn’t made a difference. Another fault (or should I say personality/behavior flaw?) is that she'll take credit for other people's work or ideas. For example, she had to fill in a few numbers on a report that was drafted and has been telling everyone how busy she was because she had to develop this report. She even tried to take credit for how good the report was.

I've tried to break her of this habit, but nothing seems to work. I believe part of the problem is that she is insecure and needs a lot of patting on the back, which I try to do. She is also a person who, if she makes mistakes, can't sleep at night. Do you have any suggestions? – Employer

Sue Says: I think you have assessed the situation very well – for some reason she is very insecure. Why else would she be compelled to lie and take credit for things she didn’t do?
You describe her as responsible and conscientious, to the point of taking issues home with her and even losing sleep over it. I am willing to bet that she also loses sleep over the web she weaves with her lies. Other than the few times you’ve stressed the importance of telling the truth, have you ever had a conversation with her addressing the specific incidents in which she has lied or tried to take ownership for something she didn’t do? I realize it may be difficult to talk about, but hinting and innuendos are no replacement for a direct and real conversation. As much as we like to believe that the comments we make will be listened to and taken seriously, they often aren’t. You need to sit down with her one-on-one and face-to-face and tell her what you have told me. Be sure you praise her for the contributions she has made, and assure her that your intent is to address problems up front when they are small to avoid bigger headaches down the road.

If she realizes that honesty is valued more than a moment in the spotlight, and that she is being judged not just by her accomplishments, but by her integrity as well, hopefully, she will be motivated to take action.

If she still doesn’t “get it,” and continues to lie and take credit for things she didn’t do, at least you know you tried to help her. You can either view her quirky habits as simply annoying or determine that it is undermining her ability, and ultimately, make a decision that may cost her employment. Although it may seem as though the responsibility is on your shoulders, it is not; once you tell her what she needs to know, the final outcome is up to her.

Dear Sue: After only a few weeks on the job, I have been given the pleasure of enforcing a manager’s duties while not having the authority to remedy difficult situations. I have the responsibility of monitoring tardiness and dress code— and motivating the team, which consists of five people. I have one employee who is repeatedly late. I am very uncomfortable reporting her tardiness because she is so popular. Although everyone knows the rules, getting her fired would be bad for morale and productivity, which is very good. My manager says he wants me to keep things relaxed, and always be polite, but still report instances. He also feels that when people think they are being scrutinized they get stressed, which makes the situation worse. I agree as it puts the focus on what the “wrong” behavior is, but how do I address a problem then? Please help! - Pseudo-manager.

Sue Says: You can be relaxed and polite and focus on the positive while reinforcing the importance of being punctual. Prior to reporting her tardiness, talk with her. Tell her you have noticed how much she contributes to the team and how people admire her. Tell her you have been asked to report tardiness and other problems that arise. Then tell her you’ve noticed she has been arriving late, and hope it is not going to be an ongoing problem or you will need to report it. Giving her the benefit of the doubt, make the assumption that she has a good reason, but request she make a greater effort to arrive on time so that neither of you have to be put in the uncomfortable situation of having it reported.

Sue Morem is a professional speaker, trainer and syndicated columnist. She is author of the newly released 101 Tips for Graduates and How to Gain the Professional Edge, Second Edition. You can contact her by email at or visit her web site at

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