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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work Relationships

What to Do When Your Boss Catches You in a Lie

Everyone can pretty much agree that lying isn’t a good practice, especially when it comes to lying to your boss.

But occasionally, it can seem necessary—like when you say you need to take a long lunch for a dentist appointment, when you’re really meeting a friend for, well, a long lunch.

It can also happen in a moment of panic—like when your boss suddenly asks if you’ve contacted that client you said you would, and you immediately say yes, even though it’s definitely still an unchecked task on your to-do list.

Initially, those lies seem pretty innocuous. As long as you’re careful and cover your tracks (and bump that client call to the top of your to-do list), your boss should never find out.


Except it doesn’t always work that way. There are times, no matter how careful you are, when your boss will catch you in a lie. He or she will, for example, happen to walk by your tucked-away table at the restaurant (“This doesn’t look like the dentist’s office”) or receive an email from that client you promised to call, stating that no one has contacted her in weeks. And all of a sudden, you’re caught red-handed.

So in those situations, to avoid gaining a reputation of being a deceptive, untrustworthy employee (or, um, getting fired), how can you recover? Here are the steps to take.

Step #1: Avoid Extending the Lie

When your boss catches you in a lie, it’s going to be tempting to try to get yourself out of the awkward situation by lying again. For example, in the client call situation, when your boss confronts you about not actually contacting the client, you may say, “Well, you’re right, I didn’t get to speak to the client because, you see, I did call, but her secretary said she was in a meeting and wouldn’t be available for the rest of the day.”

But if you’re caught in an ever deeper hole (e.g., your boss finds out that the client actually wasn’t in a meeting that day—or doesn’t even have a secretary), things will get exponentially worse.

Step #2: Start With an Apology

Instead, start with an apology. A simple “I’m sorry I wasn’t honest about that” will work—just make sure it’s genuine and conveys your remorse.

Step #3: Offer an Explanation

Then, explain what your thought process was. Most of the time, there’s something not-so-malicious behind the lie.

For example, maybe you wanted to take a long lunch because you were meeting a friend you hadn’t seen in a long time and wanted to make sure you had plenty of time to catch up.

Or, in the case of the client call, maybe you were simply anxious about getting in touch with the client because you know she’s unhappy with the company, and you were unsure about how to handle it.

Will either explanation excuse you 100% from a lie? No. But it adds a human element to the situation and will allow your boss to see the issue from your eyes. And while he or she may still not be very happy about it, he or she will better understand where you were coming from, which can help aid the reconciliation process.

Step #4: Explain Your Immediate Plans

If there’s an issue that needs to be addressed immediately, make sure your boss knows what you plan on doing and in what time frame. You could, for example, say, “I’d like to discuss the approach I should take on the client call. Once I have your advice, I will call her this afternoon and send you a follow-up email to let you know how it went.”

In those couple sentences, you’ve assured your boss how you’re going to remedy the situation and offered him or her assurance that it will get done—because you’ve committed to that follow-up email.

Step #5: …And What You’ll Do Next Time

Then, make sure your boss knows how you’ll approach this kind of situation in the future: “If I’m unsure about another client situation in the future, I’ll make sure to come to you for guidance immediately.”

Or, “If I’d like to take a long lunch, I’ll clear it with you first and make sure I come in early or stay late to make sure the rest of my work for the day gets completed.” You’ll show your boss that you’re dedicated to your work—and you’ll avoid problems in the future.

Of course, it’s best to avoid lying to your boss in the first place. Strive for open, honest communication in your employee-manager relationship, and you should feel comfortable talking to your boss about anything—which will eliminate the need for most lies in the first place.

Photo of man crossing fingers courtesy of Shutterstock.