Either way, says office ethics trainer Nan DeMars, you don’t have to lie.
“I think the old-fashioned assistant of years ago would lie,” says DeMars, author of You Want Me to Do What? “They were used to being the scapegoat. Today, the biggest change is that you must be accountable. You can’t use the cop-out words ‘My boss told me to.’ In a courtroom, that excuse wouldn’t hold any water.”
Example: In the Martha Stewart case, investigators asked her broker’s executive assistant three questions: “Did you call Ms. Stewart? Did your boss call Ms. Stewart? Did your boss ask you to place the call?”
The executive assistant initially said “no” to all three questions, then later changed his testimony. He ended up being a star witness against his boss.
“As admins, I think we all felt a collective chill when reading that when the judge asked him, ‘Why did you lie for your boss?’ he said, ‘Because I felt I would be fired if I didn’t.’”
That’s something we all feel at some point, says DeMars. “But look at what happened to him. He’s done in the industry, because he was asked to lie to investigators and he did.”
What to do if you’re asked to lie:
• Reel it back like a tape, for your boss to hear. Sometimes, a boss will try to couch the request in a long-winded explanation. You can say, “In other words, Bill, you want me to lie to the client for you?”
You’re doing a couple of things, says DeMars. You’re pointing out that you know exactly what you’re being asked to do. And you’re giving your boss the opportunity to either say, “Oh no, I didn’t mean that,” or, “Yes.”
• Say “no” and give a rock-solid reason. If your boss still insists on your telling the lie, you can say, “I’m uncomfortable doing that,” which is a lot less challenging than saying, “No.” (You could also say, “I can’t do that,” or, “I’m not able to do that.”)
Whatever you say, says DeMars, follow it with, “… because I may have to be held accountable.” “Those are powerful words, because you easily could be,” says DeMars. “The absolute worst-case scenario is it ends up in a courtroom.”
And the price of loyalty should never be that high.