Is It Ever OK to Lie to Your Boss? You Betcha!

Rachel Zupek, writer

lyingLying in any capacity is generally not advised -- especially at work. More often than not, your lies will catch up to you or run away from you. Either way, you're left in the dust, with a pink slip likely in your hand.

We've talked about lying in an interview, at work or on your résumé, but what about when it comes to lying to your boss? Are there exceptions to the rule?

Shawn Achor, a consultant and psychology expert, says that in every workplace where he has consulted, he's found that most people lie when there is no "psychological safety."

"There is no psychological safety when managers don't allow humans to be humans -- i.e., to make mistakes and to not be perfect," Achor says. "If a manager is unable to hear about negative things, confusion or setbacks, then that manager is going to get lied to often. Good managers want an accurate assessment of the present, even if it is not good. Bad bosses want the semblance of progress in the present, at the cost of future successes."

Even if this sounds like a position you're in, it doesn't mean that it's acceptable for you to lie, says Mark Goulston, author of "Just Listen: Discover the Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone."

"Other than telling your boss something they're wearing looks nice when it doesn't, or that they spoke clearly when they didn't, I can't think of any instances where it's OK to lie to a boss. I can think of many instances where you can get away with it, especially when most bosses don't tell the complete truth," Goulston says. "I think of those as fibs. The problem is that what starts out as a little bad habit can become a way of life. If you start with a few little fibs, it can be a slippery slope until you're always doing it."

Whether or not it's OK to lie to your boss, workers will do it anyway. Here are five common situations when workers are tempted to lie and whether or not they should tell the truth:

Situation No. 1: The boss asks you to do something that you don't want to do

Should you lie? It's OK to fib about this to your boss and say you're "happy" to do something for him or her, even if you're not. Doing so shows your boss that you're a team player and you'll do whatever it takes to help the company succeed.

"Try to adjust your mindset to being appreciative about something in your job or that you even have a job, to make the 'happy' be sincere. In other words, let your happiness to have a job supersede your unhappiness at having to do any task that comes with it," Goulston says. "Also, realize that it will work out much better for you if you are low-maintenance -- easy to please, difficult to upset -- than if you are high-maintenance -- difficult to please, easy to upset."

Situation No. 2: You overslept and are late to work

Should you lie? It depends -- telling your boss your alarm didn't go off (when you actually turned it off and went back to bed) might be an acceptable explanation, Goulston says -- but only once.

"Use it twice and it becomes an excuse; use it more than twice and you're running the risk of being seen as disorganized [and] irresponsible, which can work against you at review time," he says.

Situation No. 3: You're confused about a project, but say you don't have any questions to save face

Should you lie? It's OK to tell your boss that you don't have any questions when you really do, but only if you know you will be able to get an answer from someone else, Goulston says. If you don't get an answer, however, and it leads to you doing something wrong, you risk getting pounced on later.

"A way to speak back respectfully and appreciatively to whoever gives you the order is to say, 'This is too important for me to misunderstand what you said, because neither you nor I will be happy if I end up doing the wrong thing. Would you please repeat what you said or say it in a different way?'" Goulston suggests.

Situation No. 4: You're behind on a project, but say you're on track to avoid getting in trouble

Should you lie? If this is the only time you've been behind on a project, it's OK to say you're on track, Goulston says. That is, if you think you'll be able to finish the project by its deadline. But, if you repeatedly lie about being on schedule and you miss deadlines, you run the risk of being seen as disorganized, irresponsible or unreliable.

"You don't want to take that chance because your boss can quickly put you in the same category as others they view that way," he says. "And you don't want to be painted with the same brush as people your boss regards as slackers."

Situation No. 5: You call in sick, but really, you just want a day off

Should you lie? If you need a day off, it's best to just be honest and ask for one. "If you're like many people, calling in sick may cause you fear of being found out or guilt that you've lied, which can take the enjoyment out of that day off," Goulston says. "That would defeat the purpose."

At the end of the day, Goulston suggests remembering that although your boss might be upset at first, he or she will forgive an honest mistake. But, your boss will never forgive or forget if you lie about it.

Rachel Zupek is a writer and blogger for and its job blog, The Work Buzz. She researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues. Follow her on Twitter:

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March 23 2010 at 9:37 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Daniel C

i've just started a job in a restaraunt, and on the same day i had another interview and got offered a job as well. Im sure the other job will be 9 to 5 although i havent started yet, i told my current boss at the restaraunt i've got college so i will only be able to work night shifts. On a form i have to sign for the resturaunt job it says i have to have written permission to have another job. if i don't ask for permission and keep this from them, what will the consequences be, and have they any right to say im not allowed to have another job? i mean, surely its none of there concern, right?

March 20 2010 at 10:39 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
David S.

Is it a good idea to lie to a boss? No, but let's face it, not all bosses want to hear the truth. I am fortunate in that I have had good supervisors, but I have met others that put their workers in a position where they have no choice but to lie.

February 21 2010 at 4:23 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The article is entitled, "is it ever OK to lie to your boss? You betcha!". You betcha means yes. If rephrased the title would be, "is it ever OK to lie to your boss? Yes!". I read through the article eager to find out how it's ok to lie to a boss, and yet the whole article is about how it's NOT a good idea to lie to your boss. I don't get how "you betcha!" is appropriate in the title and it doesn't fit the article. I am extremely puzzled by this. I think the title of the article lied to us!

February 21 2010 at 3:48 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

His name is Steav, he misspelled his own name. Ebonics won't help you get a job.

February 21 2010 at 3:09 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
john morgan

If the boss is an a** lie like a rug and don't worry about it, just keep looking for another job. There is always life after this job no matter how long you've been there. I walked out on a job I'd been on for twenty five years because the company hired a moron superintendent who knew nothing about the business and could only scream and curse at us supervisors when broken machinery or lack of material caused delays. After two years, the loss of over ten million dollars, and the loss of workers with over one thousand years of cumulative experience the morons in managament fired the imbecile and I and several others returned to work there. I did learn several things from this. One is that NO superior deserves respect, they have to EARN it. Two is that you CAN make a living elsewhere, and three is that no job is worth putting up with bull****. If your boss is an a** tell him so and be prepared to walk away that minute. If enough people have the guts to stand up to the idiots who achieve high positions they will be replaced. Tolerance of tyrants only encourages them, and lying to them is only self defense.

February 21 2010 at 2:25 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

How about when the boss lies to you? They tell you to your face you're doing a good job and they find every excuse not to quote themselves on your annual review.

February 21 2010 at 1:50 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Marie's comment

I couldn't agree more and that's why EVERY single piece of correspondence to my boss is in an email. She not only lies, but she has an extremely selective memory. She knows I'm on to her though and has started to answer my emails in person. So when she does that, I follow it up with an email confirming I heard what I heard and understood. You gotta be smarter than the average schmuck on the job these days.

February 25 2010 at 4:36 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I see this as a Golden Rule issue. You think your company and its bosses and managers don't lie to you? Think about it. What's good for the goose, and all that. Just be good at it and don't get caught, like everything else in life these days.

February 21 2010 at 1:23 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to JD's comment

I agree, there is no respect or loyalty in 99% of med to large companies. Management looks right in your eyes and lies without blinking... They also forget they are as expendable as we are.

February 23 2010 at 1:16 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Steve, are you a graduate of dumb@$$ university? You probably have a deadend job or are unemployed because you lack proper grammar and spelling.

February 21 2010 at 12:59 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Louis Stamm

Steve--what color is your nose?

February 21 2010 at 11:50 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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