How to Avoid a Culture of Lies

While everyone may bend the truth from time to time, it’s important that lies in the workplace not be tolerated. When affirmative falsifications and lies of omission are not punished, a culture of secrets, misrepresentations, and self-preservation can easily take precedent over the good of the company.

Hiding in Plain Sight

No one likes to get into trouble. But that’s no excuse for hiding the truth from your supervisors. Recently, we have seen a spate of issues where employees got in over their heads, attempted to cover their tails, and created major liability for their company.

Everyone struggles with work from time to time. Whether it’s learning a new process or becoming overwhelmed with the volume of work and a lack of resources, we have all been there. But the appropriate response is to be completely transparent and make sure that managers are aware of the situation so that no one is caught off guard.

Creating the Right Culture

So, how do we go about creating a truthful workplace? The first step is setting reasonable expectations and managing in a calm and even-handed manner. Everyone makes mistakes. When an honest mistake occurs in the workplace, treat it as a learning opportunity, not a disciplinary issue. Errors are a good opportunity to examine the situation as a whole to determine whether there are ways in which individual employees can improve and whether a larger process should share some of the blame. If, on the other hand, managers fly off the handle and are quick to make accusations when mistakes are made, employees are highly incentivized to lie and cover their tracks.

It is also important that managers have clear job expectations for all employees. In employment law, things often go wrong when managerial employees are given too much leeway in the realm of HR decisions. Managers should know when to bring HR professionals into a discussion. That includes any time allegations of discrimination, harassment, retaliation, or other inequitable conduct are made. The same is true of requests for reasonable accommodations if a disability is at issue.

Managers also need to carefully consult with HR regarding compensation. Frontline supervisors often make ill-fated comments regarding overtime compensation, the availability and use of comp time, and similar issues. It should be clear from the outset that managerial employees aren’t experts in HR and shouldn’t make statements regarding complex legal issues without consulting with the authorities.

Discipline when Discipline Is Due

Although reasonable errors should be treated as learning experiences, the converse is also true—when an employee makes an inexcusable mistake, including affirmative misrepresentations or lies of omission, the hammer should fall. There’s no room for an employee to put his own fears above the best interests of the company. When such self-serving misconduct comes to the attention of the company, it should be dealt with as the serious infraction it is.

Still, discipline must be issued in a calm, professional manner. All employees should receive the benefit of an objective investigation and, whenever possible, be given the opportunity to explain their version of events. Disciplinary matters should always be handled discretely and in as confidential a manner as possible, consistent with a thorough investigation.

Bottom Line

Lying in the workplace, especially when the underlying issue can be easily corrected, is often overlooked. However, the issue strikes at the fundamental trust that exists between employers and employees. If you cannot trust your employees to be honest with you, there’s very little work they can safely perform in the modern workplace.

Lying should be treated as the serious infraction it is. And we should all strive to create a workplace that supports honesty and a culture of learning from our mistakes.

Lauren E.M. Russell—an attorney with Young Conaway Stargatt & Taylor, LLP in Wilmington, Delaware and editor of Delaware Employment Law Letter—can be reached at lrussell@ycst.com.

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