Three times you should lie at work

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Everyone thinks transparency and authenticity are great. But sometimes you need to rein them in. I've talked about how I do this with my blog, which is really an example of how I rein myself in at work. There are times we each have to do this at work, and in some cases, we need to lie. Here are three times:

1. Lie if you are a messy person.
People make a wide range of judgments based on your office, whether you like it or not. For example, a plant makes you look stable, and a candy dish makes you look like an extrovert, according to Sam Gosling, professor of psychology at University of Texas and the owner of the hottest head shot I have ever linked to on a university web site.

If you have a messy desk, people think you're incompetent. They think you are overwhelmed by your workload, that you are not conscientious, and that you are not thinking clearly. It doesn't really matter if you really are those things, since you are promoted and fired based on peoples' perceptions of you. You cannot control for what people base their perceptions on, but you can make changes in your life to change how people perceive you. So do that.

But before you say messiness should be acceptable, consider this report in the Economist, that shows people are nicer, and better versions of themselves, in an environment that is neat and clean.

This means you should consider making your office clean even if you think cleanliness is BS. And you can just pretend to be clean by making your office neat but leaving your computer desktop a mess (there is no research that says that people judge you by that.) And you can have your house be a mess. (Although Gosling has research to suggest that this will affect your dating life.)

If you want to control peoples' perceptions by managing the stuff in your office, read Gosling's book: Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About You.

Before you argue with me about if you should have a messy office, please read this: I have already received many emails from people defending their messiness. And all the emails are lame. The research is clear. People don't want to work with people who have messy desks. Stop defending stupidity. Get a life.

2. Lie if you are pregnant.
It's illegal for someone at work to ask if you are pregnant. Flat out illegal. So give a dishonest answer. Because you are cornered. You can't refuse to answer by saying, “That's an illegal question.” Because usually this question is in an interview, and usually they are asking because they won't hire a pregnant you, and usually if you tell someone in an interview that their question is illegal, they will not hire you. So telling them it's an illegal question is pointless.

(Don't tell me you want to change the world by telling them it's illegal. Women do not change the world by doing things in interviews that don't get them hired. Women change the world by gaining power to make the rules themselves.)

Many working women ask if they should tell their employer they are pregnant. They usually mention how good a manager has been, or how much the woman likes her company. Listen: telling people you're pregnant does not help you. Ever. And there is no law that says you have to tell. And there are many laws, that are never enforced, that say that an employer cannot give you crap projects because they know you're going on maternity leave and they think you're never coming back.

Do you know why those laws are in place? Because employers do it all the time.

It makes sense. Women have no idea what they will want to do after the baby comes. We all know that. So why do we make women announce before hand what they are doing? We all know it's crap. But since we're all playing the game, say you're coming back. Full time. Really fast.

And tell them that only when you absolutely can't hide the bump any longer. Because however much time that is will be enough for your employer to decide how to cope with you taking maternity leave. And whatever you do, make sure you get that paid leave. It's your legal right (when you have it — few women in the US actually have it). Do not feel guilty that you might not come back. Who cares?

If you are thinking of revealing a pregnancy early, remember this: When a guy is dealing with alcoholism, or a divorce, or a kid getting kicked out of school, he does not announce it to the company because it might affect his ability to work. So why do women feel the need to announce a pregnancy before they have to?

3. Lie if you are job hunting.
Who isn't thinking about what they want to do next? Only losers who have no vision for their lives. Everyone has their eyes open because everyone knows that no job is permanent. People in their 20s start looking for their next job on day three of a new job. And we know that the most desirable employees, even at the executive level, are those who are employed. Which means that the top tier of employees are all job hunting while they have a job.

If you go on an interview, go at lunch, or take the day off. If you do a phone interview, do it at night, or at a time you can go off-site. The interviewer understands this. You cannot do an interview from your desk. This is normal behavior.

Your boss would give you very little notice if you were getting laid off. You can do the same for your boss. And anyway, what is your boss going to do with information that you are looking for another job but do not yet have an offer? Nothing. There is nothing to do except stop giving you interesting work. Or fire you. Both bad for you.

So instead, be a good employee and do good work while you job hunt. Besides, it's very hard to get a good, new job if you are not doing good work in your current job.

So why bother telling anyone? It's assumed — by any wise manager — that you're always looking. It's just like when you're not engaged. You're not engaged because at least one of you is still looking. You don't tell the person every day. But we all know.

68 replies
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  1. Kaneisha
    Kaneisha says:

    PT – This is all extremely useful advice. One of my best friends got pregnant this year and I kept thinking that she should tell her boss, but now I see all the reasons why it is wise to keep something like that to yourself until you absolutely have to share. I’m also an extremely messy desk person, and I just used your advice on the importance of a clean desk (read in the Things I Hate post) to make my apartment look spotless for my subletting video tour. It’s the same idea. Even if your apartment won’t be messy when they move in, no one wants to see pictures of a messy apartment. It makes them think you aren’t put together and clean–and maybe not even social since social people would want a nice apartment in which to host people. As for the job hunting, my main problem is not offending my current employer by talking too much about my dreams to be a writer and talk show host (which have nothing to do with my current job). I’d love to see a blog post regarding how you blog about your future career goals in a way that doesn’t make your current employer feel like you have one foot out the door. Great post as always, Penelope!

  2. Rosemary Ambale
    Rosemary Ambale says:

    I like. Crackling post. By the way it is “rein yourself in”.
    Sorry, I edit & teach business communications, hence couldn’t resist pointing that out.

  3. Vi | Maximizing Utility
    Vi | Maximizing Utility says:

    Admittedly, I was very skeptical when I read the title of today’s post. Now you’re advocating lying?!

    But, I’m very glad to say that my initial reaction was completely uncalled for and wrong. Your advice here is spot on. I completely agree on all three points, and now I’m starting to wonder if there are more.

    • Tiffany
      Tiffany says:

      That was a great point to point out. My boss always said that he loved my work but would totally understand if I needed to look elsewhere. This was mainly due to the fact that I lived a distance away from my office and he knew that a job closer to home would always be tempting. It was nice to know that he respected this and made me work harder and stay anyway.

  4. Ask a Manager
    Ask a Manager says:

    I saw the headline and thought I’d disagree, but actually I agree completely. The only thing I’d add is to #3 — there are a small number of bosses who not only handle it well when they know you’re looking, but who will actually help you. Err on the side of caution, obviously, but be aware this type of boss isn’t entirely mythical. If you have a boss you trust and have a good relationship with and who says things like, “I don’t want to lose you but at whatever point you decide you need to look around, I’ll help you,” she may be telling the truth.

    • Julie
      Julie says:

      I used to teach Business and Professional Communication and always talked with students about legal and illegal questions in interviews, the “are you pregnant/married/heterosexual” question among them.

      The best advice I’ve seen is to answer the fear behind the question (despite the temptation to say “That’s out and out illegal! You can’t ask me that!”). The fear is, of course, how much work will they get from you? So instead of lying out and out about not being pregnant or calling out the questioner, we were always (and I always encouraged students) encouraged to say instead, something like “Are you pregnant or planning to be pregnant soon?” gets “I’m very excited about this position and dedicate a lot of my time to work right now.”

      It doesn’t really answer, but it does quell the fear.
      and agreed, I doubt PT would ask someone if they’re pregnant. If I did and later learned they’d lied… I wouldn’t think them a liar, I’d be smacked in the face with the realization that I’d been outsmarted and I would like it :)

  5. Alex @ Happiness in this World
    Alex @ Happiness in this World says:

    I’m curious how you as an employer (or other employers out there) would react if you asked a potential hire if she were pregnant, she lied and said no, and then 4-6 months later after you hired her was showing so much she had to admit she lied when she was asked. How excited would you be to know you’d hired a liar? Do you content yourself thinking she’d only lied about this one thing (which you yourself encouraged her to do in this post) so was likely otherwise a trustworthy person (how likely is that)?

    By the way, “60 minutes” just ran a segment last night on the dilemma of pregnant women in the workforce that was interesting. As a former director of primary care medicine at a mid-western academic hospital, I’ve hired many a female doctor, some pregnant at the time, many not but planning to be soon, fully recognizing there’d be at least 3-4 months, if not more, that I wouldn’t have her in the workplace and her colleagues would have to cover for her and in the end she might not return to work full time or at all.


    • John
      John says:

      Penelope’s point is to ask at all is unethical because it puts you in an uncomfortable spot. The law is supposed to protect you here, but an interviewer knows it’s impossible to prove that you weren’t hired because you admitted to being pregnant, and so to ask is a risk-free way to break the law. As an interviewee, you then have the choice to report them (yeah, right), not respond (and have them assume that you are pregnant), or lie. Since the interviewee is behaving badly, there is no reason to go along with them.

      It seems from your 60 Minutes comment that you don’t think it is fair to expect an employer to make accommodations for pregnant hires. If that’s the case, you should work to change the law. I think that we have terrible laws in this country for maternity leaves, or for that matter, making allowances for parents to tend to their children, spouses and children to take time off to care for their partners or parents, etc. Making it illegal to not hire someone because she may be pregnant seems a very small concession.

  6. Carol Saha
    Carol Saha says:

    Strong religous upbringing. When Abraham lied and said Sarah was his sister not his wife the question was Why is that okay? The answer. When someone asks you a question that is none of their business it is not completely wrong to lie. For sure pregnancy is personal. Looking for another job would possibly fall into the same category.

  7. Amy
    Amy says:

    Re: Messy desks –

    A messy desk makes it harder for snoops to figure out what you’re doing. That means that it helps ward off saboteurs.

    I agree – it’s great to be neat if you can be. But there are times when messy can be a good defense.

  8. Catherine
    Catherine says:

    I’m a recruiter in Canada, where our laws about pre-employment questions are pretty strict. I would never ask a candidate if she was pregnant. But, if I know that we need a commitment from the candidate – e.g., if I know that we are going to need to invest 6 months of training in this person before she is going to be fully functional – I will explain this in the interview, and may even outright ask if there is anything that would prevent the person from making a long-term commitment to us. I sometimes ask this question even if the candidate is male. I wouldn’t expect anyone to disclose that they are pregnant; I just want candidates to understand our needs and to really think about whether they can deliver on our needs (in addition to thinking about whether *we* can deliver on their needs) prior to accepting a job. After all, that is what the employment contract is about – it’s an exchange of services for compensation and other benefits. If a pregnant candidate honestly feels like she will be able to contribute, before and after the mat leave (assuming they will return), then she should accept the job in good conscience.

  9. Joselle
    Joselle says:

    On #1: I judge people with messy desks/offices because, most of the time, even if they are brilliant, they lose stuff. Or stain copies. Or never know where anything is. So, being so messy that people notice isn’t just about looks. It can poorly affect your job performance.

    On #3: I don’t understand why anyone would tell someone they work with they are looking for a job. Not just your boss (that seems so shockingly obvious to me that you wouldn’t) but even co-workers you are friends with. Why tell? To bring up another marital analogy to this point, would you tell your partner everyday, “I’m going to leave you,” and then still come home every night, sleep with them, be with them but basically say, “I’m just here until someone better comes along?” I guess people do that but it’s cruel and stupid. Either leave your job or don’t. But telling people you want to leave and are looking, what does that accomplish? It just makes them think you aren’t good enough to find another job!

  10. Michael Nolan
    Michael Nolan says:

    Your thoughts on pregnancy brought to mind a story out of my own life. Early in my management career, a brand new sales rep announced in her first week of work that she was pregnant.

    My first reaction was stereo-typical – How can I invest training, client trust and all this billing to someone who could be gone in a few months?

    However, upon reflection, I was thankful she didn’t divulge the information in the meeting. Would it have clouded my judgment? If she had turned out to be litigious, could I have defended myself?

    In the end, she became one of my most trusted, high performing reps – and worked for many years with us. As a commission rep, we negotiated a fair pregnancy leave plan that maintained her account list (an my revenue) – while providing for shared compensation for the staff that handled some of her work load.

    Another great post – keep up the good work.


    PS – I am a messy person, and followed the “paper box” method of pile cleanup.

  11. Zorro for the Common Good
    Zorro for the Common Good says:

    I’m curious how you as an employer (or other employers out there) would react if you asked a potential hire if she were pregnant, she lied and said no, and then 4-6 months later after you hired her was showing so much she had to admit she lied when she was asked.

    OK, first of all, would you ever ask ANY woman, much less a stranger who you just met for the first time, if she were pregnant? If so, remind me never to introduce you to any of my overweight female friends.

    Second, if I asked a potential hire that question, I would know that I had blatantly violated the law, and I would consider myself lucky I didn’t get sued. So no, I wouldn’t hold it against the candidate.

    You do raise a good point, however: Even if you occasionally have to lie, it’s probably a good idea not to put yourself in a situation where, after the fact, your boss will think back and realize you lied to her face. For example, if you call in sick or say you have a doctor’s appointment at lunch, no one will likely connect that later to your departure. On the other hand, if you spin a sob story to your boss about how you have to go visit your dying grandmother in Chicago, and then a week later, announce that you’re moving there for a job and, oh by the way, your grandmother actually lives in Florida, then you might burn a bridge or two on your way out the door.

  12. KateNonymous
    KateNonymous says:

    I think it depends.

    #1: My desk is always messy, but supervisors have always described me as “organized.” Without irony.

    #2: I’ve been pregnant twice in the past year. Both times I miscarried and had to have D&Cs. Both times I told my supervisors–the second time, before I miscarried (well, in retrospect, probably right around the time). This has not negatively impacted my projects or my career.

    #3: Well, duh.

    Besides, with a little creativity you’d be surprised to find out how easy it is to tell the truth, yet give people no information at all.

  13. Evelyn
    Evelyn says:

    wish I had read this last week.
    I told my very family oriented boss that I’m pregnant and his response was “I know you want my job but you can’t do it with 2 young kids”.
    Ouch. He may be right, but that should be my call, not his. That sucks.

    • Pen
      Pen says:

      And don’t an awful lot of men in “that job” have two young kids? Would he have said that to a male (who announced that “they” were pregnant)?



      • Evelyn
        Evelyn says:

        He might have. A vast majority of my boss’s reports are women, although most of them are past the “little kids stage”. The guy I’d be competing with for a promotion has a huge amount of personal issues that are preventing him from moving up, but I doubt my boss has told him that.
        Still, that promotion is years away. If I don’t get it here I’ll get it elsewhere.

  14. MJ
    MJ says:

    Get a life? Either stop generalizing or bite me. Your choice.

    In work like law where success = constantly churning out hours and dollars of revenue, clean office = loser, because clean office = no one gives this poor, sad soul any work.

    • Maus
      Maus says:

      I totally agree. I am also a lawyer with a messy desk, because I am busy. Clients don’t care about clean desks, they care about results and they want someone one who is known to provide them.

      P, the truth is that your business model (blog, consulting, speaking) only thrives because of your willingness to over generalize generational workplace issues and to divide people into winners and losers. You are playing off the insecurities of the younger workers and the anger of those with more experience. Stick to the sex and hausfrau stuff. It’s more entertaining.

  15. EMMPHX
    EMMPHX says:

    I am a woman in a mostly male field (avionics engineering) and have interviewed while pregnant and had no problem getting the job. Twice. I also had no problem taking the permitted leave. And that was 20 years ago!

    At least in my Fortune 75 company, no one blinks an eye. These days, for sure. The main problem I had back in the day was working part-time. Now, it’s totally accepted.

    Listen, there’s no job on the planet THAT important that you can’t spare the worker for 3 months. We do it all the time with dudes’ prostates and heart problems. It’s why there’s a vice president, etc.

    Now small firms could have a problem, but hey, so many unemployed out there…no problem IMHO. Hubby has a small company and they operate much the same way.

  16. prklypr
    prklypr says:

    Re: point #3, I agree with Alex – I fully understand the need/desire to lie if someone asks about pregnancy, but I would be troubled down the road if it turned out I had hired someone who lied to me in an interview. There has to be a better way to answer the question than to lie. Catherine has the right idea: the question should be about commitment, not pregnancy.

  17. Bill
    Bill says:

    PT, one of your best recent columns by far (in spite of tendencies toward overgeneralization, as some have noted in their comments). I would love to hear your opinion on a potential #4, relating to office politics, but this is probably too big a topic and covered in myriad other posts on your blog. Besides, office politics are like Legos(R): there are many ways of assembling, disassembling, and reassembling them; alas, there may not be any single tenet to follow.

  18. PDX_Jeff
    PDX_Jeff says:

    Nailed it. 100% correct. I would add a sub topic… if your employer wants to demote you, accept it and look really hard for the next job, and lie saying you are happy to have a job in this crappy economy.

  19. JB
    JB says:

    Spot on advice Penelope. I have a friend who revealed to her boss she was looking for another job and planning to be gone by x date. Well, she had a hard time finding a job by then and her boss had long stopped investing time and energy in her as an employee. There was resentment on both sides and my friend ended up taking the next job that came along. It really backfired in her situation.

  20. William Bruce
    William Bruce says:

    Unfortunately, it seems as if the varied rationale behind these prescriptions do not relate — and therefore much of the more general reasoning is untenable. Allow me to quickly enumerate:

    #1 The (valuable) point here seems to be entirely about personal habits, not about lying. The long and short of it: Don’t be messy. Unfortunately, this is rather obvious. I suspect it is difficult to put forward a solid argument in favor of messiness over organization, apart from one about short-run time costs. Therefore, the entire point is rather superfluous, especially when reflecting on what Ms. Trunk has written elsewhere. None of the more nuanced subjects are addressed, such as weighing the value of actual order against the appearance of order. Fortunately (?), this approach avoids the ethical quagmire and attending questions about lying. However…

    #2 This point strays immediately into said swamp, yet without raising any of those questions. Perhaps this is appropriate for a “Brazen Careerist” (which just translates into “Machiavellian” in my mind), but it seems gravely reductionistic anyway. I suppose that is what the comments section is for.

    Still, even Machiavelli pondered the ethics — he just did so outside of the traditional/inherited framework.

    #3 This seems an issue of a quite different colour than the former — with very different considerations weighing on the proprietary and ethical matters. Lumping it in with the other subjects makes an unfortunate (although probably indeliberate) statement.

    I address one particular mistake, in this regard: The idea that this issue is in any way comparable to the “marital” examples is absurd, and such a juxtaposition only obscures the more important (and more interesting) issues.

    I eagerly await refutation…

  21. melanie g.
    melanie g. says:

    I have 2 employees on maternity leave and two who will be going on leave this month and I have to say people make way too big a deal of whether to tell, when to tell, etc. As a manager, I let these women stay on their current, very high-profile, projects right up until their leave. I appointed someone else to cover for them while they’re gone but everyone understands that when the original project owner comes back from leave, the project is hers again. Of course I’m going to put the person who has the most experience with that project back on it, why would I do anything else?

    And if they don’t come back, well, we’ll deal with that if and when it happens. The default is that they’re coming back, on whatever schedule they gave me. And they set the schedule – an extra 4 or 6 or 8 weeks isn’t going to make or break the organization.

    I find maternity leaves are the most predictable, especially if it’s with a second or third child. The hard-to-predict leaves are the ones for mysterious conditions where the employee gives me no details and of course I can’t ask. *Those* are the ones that make me nervous.

  22. Laura
    Laura says:

    I’m really curious as to your answer to those who have questioned you about what you would say when the employer discovers a few months later that you lied about being pregnant. I get why you would lie. But then what do you say later when the lie blows up in your face? Do you suggest answering the “are you pregnant? question with something less committed, like “not that I’m aware of”?

    And also… the first trimester is when you’re not showing yet. But it’s also the time when your diet is a disaster, you’re constantly exhausted and you’re probably throwing up a lot. So if you aren’t telling anyone you’re pregnant, how do you explain those things to your boss? I agree with you in theory but I’m worried about how this can play out in practice.

  23. eliza
    eliza says:

    Wow what an article.Never thought that anybody could even write a post on this.but truly the post brings out the reality.i would try out thetips on my own

  24. Clinton Sledge
    Clinton Sledge says:

    #2 Absolutely it is illegal to ask someone if they are pregnant if they are interviewing for a position. However, if that person is already an employee, it is not illegal. It might be rude, inappropriate and nobody’s business but not illegal. There are still some people out there who just don’t know.

  25. Chris
    Chris says:

    Pregnancy caveat: If you work around chemicals or radiation, tell your boss quickly. Your boss isn’t required to do anything to safeguard your child until informed in writing that you’re pregnant.

  26. amy
    amy says:

    pregnancy and lying-
    I didn’t lie directly, but I certainly misled people in both pregnancies. I found that the difference between the two was how the bosses wife handled pregnancy. If she had easy pregnancies and went back to normal life (even SAHM), then the boss believed me when I said I would work up until the last day and would come back. The other boss’s wife had a horrible pregnancy, quit work and never went back. I never convinced him until I started back from leave that I a- wouldn’t give birth at the office b-would come back when I said I would.
    Also, as a manager co-worker mentor and friend, if you have to ask (as opposed to being told) then you are not close enough to the woman in question and she should say whatever is best for her career at the time. Lie, evade, distract or shout for joy.

  27. Beth Robinson
    Beth Robinson says:

    Chris, thank you for saying what I was going to say. Even if you have read all the MSDS for all the chemicals you work with and don’t think they can affect the fetus – tell them anyway. This is a case where the safety of your child is more important. Even if you’re interviewing.

    My boss knew about my pregnancy before my parents! We didn’t want to raise the grandchild hopes until a miscarriage was less likely but needed to make arrangements for certain portions of my work (I’m a product development chemist) to be done by someone else.

  28. Matthew
    Matthew says:

    I was in a situation recently that is similar to the pregnancy question–an employer asked on an application if I had used illegal or prescription drugs not prescribed to me in the last 7 years. This is also illegal, because it could force applicants to reveal information about drug addiction that is protected by the ADA (current drug use is not protected, but past, rehabilitated use is–they can’t discriminate on that info, so they can’t ask it).

    Furthermore, I thought it was invasive to ask a question that may also reveal my wife’s private medical information (say, for instance if I “borrowed” a couple of my wife’s xanax during a very stressful period a while back, but the reason why she “might” have been prescribed it is none of my employer’s business).

    Others have made this point, but we value truthtelling because of the relationships that they exist in and facilitate. If the Nazi asks if you’re hiding any Jews in your house, saying “I refuse to answer” signs their death warrant in the same way as saying yes. But the Nazi has no right to expect the truth in this situation, because he intends to use that information to kill. There is no proper relational context to reveal that information, and the only way to conceal it is to lie. If an employer or anyone asks for information that they have no right to expect to receive, you are not obligated to provide that information, explicitly or implicitly (with a non-answer). As for those who asked how she would explain the lie when the pregnant worker started to show, you could simply say that you were taken aback by the question because it is illegal, and the only way to preserve the integrity of the private information was to answer no. You wouldn’t need to “justify” it because it wasn’t the impropriety, asking the question was.

    In my case, I thought about explaining a refusal to answer as my way of changing the world too, but I’d rather change the world with a job than without. I decided to politely inform HR after taking the job when I was sure that there would be no negative consequences.

  29. Anne Clarke
    Anne Clarke says:

    Well said, thank you. Two additional thoughts on the wisdom of lying about a pregnancy.
    First, taking maternity leave isn’t something that you earn because you are coming back. It is a benefit that accrues because you have already earned by doing work up to the time of your leave. Some women feel like they’re cheating if they take a leave and don’t return. You are completely right that no one knows until they try it what they’re really going to do. That should not be a problem given that by putting in the time up to their leave they are perfectly entitled to maternity leave.
    Second, paid or unpaid maternity leave means time off. It doesn’t mean 2 or 3 conference calls a day from home while recovering and holding your newborn. Non-leave leaves seem to be an epidemic. Resist.

  30. Susan M.
    Susan M. says:

    More than 25 years ago, a career counselor told me about a company that required (required!) its top executives to obtain a job offer every year. The reasoning? Looking for a job means getting out there, talking with people, kicking around ideas, and staying current with what’s going on in your industry or professional sector. All of this makes you a better employee, no matter where you are.

    So, yes, good people are always open to new opportunities, and although it makes sense not to be too obvious about job hunting while employed, neither is it necessary to feel guilty about it. Be discrete, but do it anyway.

  31. kristi
    kristi says:

    I think your advice is good for many people. In the case of pregnancy, I would add some specific advice for women who are pregnant at the time they interview for a new job.

    Don’t announce that you are pregnant during an interview if the subject doesn’t come up. Sell yourself as you would at any other time and do your best to get a job offer. In the interview, ask as many questions about culture and environment as prudent so that you can get a feel for how supportive the company is of pregnant women.

    Once you get a job offer, let your company know that you are pregnant and see what happens. If they freak out and rescind the offer, it is absolutely not a place you want to work because once you have your baby, you will need flexibility and understanding for YEARS to come.

    However, if they accept the news graciously, you have just created a situation for yourself where you no longer have to worry about showing or going to doctor appointments. In fact, if the company is supportive, you may find that they are willing to help you out with advanced leave or flexible work arrangements during the pregnancy and maternity leave.

    It’s much easier to come back to work when you didn’t have to go through stressful situations prior to having your baby.

    I speak from experience. I was the sole provider for my family as my spouse was still in school, when my dream job opened up. I found out I was pregnant on the second round of interviews and agonized over what to do. But I finally decided that it was better to tell the truth and find out what I was getting into than to hide it and struggle.

    Turns out my new supervisor was wonderful about everything. She even spent the money for an ergonomic evaluation and ponied up the $$ for a new chair that would be better for my back. She also worked with HR to maximize my benefits so that I’d be paid for most of my maternity leave. I’ve been with the company for over three years and have no plans to leave, so it was a great decision.

    If it turned out differently, I believe that would have happened no matter what. Maybe it would have been the doctor’s appointments or the bed rest at 29 weeks, but something would have caused a problem. Better to know that before I left my old job.

  32. Steve C.
    Steve C. says:

    Sooner or later the truth will out, one way or another. The one(and only) time I have advised clients to “lie”, is when they have to discuss a painful(for them) former work experience, such as being fired from or quitting a previous job. Even more difficult are situations involving explaining barriers to employment, such as felony convictions, but in this day and age, this rarely happens since no one gets past the first screen(the employment application), unless they are working through a non-profit or federally funded agency targeting this population.
    In most work-related cases, however, someone else is always involved, usually a former boss or co-worker. It’s very difficult to be upbeat and positive regarding these situations, and the key is to accept responsibility for your actions and the outcome, and focus the answer on how it has changed your outlook on life and work in a constructive and positive way. It often takes many practice interview sessions to nail down an acceptable presentation. The individual is acting out a role which they must play in order to make it past the first gatekeeper. Otherwise, the same anger and negativity will quickly rise to the surface.
    As for illegal interview questions, this should be a huge stop sign and red flag indicating the type of company you are interviewing with. Why would you want to work there in the first place, if this is the kind of questioning you are facing?
    When you lie, either outright or by omission, you will ultimately be labeled as untrustworthy, as several other posters have pointed out already. Most of the time, companies prefer to eliminate employees who are untrustworthy. And then you’ll have another story to tell.

  33. Jeff
    Jeff says:

    “You cannot control for what people base their perceptions on, but you can make changes in your life to change how people perceive you. So do that.”

    Peneolpe, isn’t that statement a little at odds with your views on good grammar?

  34. Robert P
    Robert P says:

    You should lie about mental illness for the same reason you should lie about pregnancy. In many jurisdictions it is covered by disability discrimination legislation, and if it isn’t it ought to be.

    If you are aware that you have a mental health issue, then you are presumably working with mental health professionals to manage it, and so you probably already have a reasonably realistic idea of which kinds of working conditions you can cope with and which you can’t. It is up to you to be responsible about this, but so long as you are, there is no reason why you should be obliged to remind your prospective employer of every single dysfunctional person he has ever hired.

  35. Oil Gas jobs
    Oil Gas jobs says:

    There are plenty of times you should lie at work, the job hunting one especially. Why would anyone tell their employer they were looking for another job? that’s just crazy talk.

  36. worker bee
    worker bee says:

    Thank you Penelope for such an amazing resource for women in the workplace!!

    In reference to #2, lie to an employer about being pregnant. I agree with you 100%, do not tell them until absolutely necessary. I understand it is illegal for them to ask a woman if she is pregnant. What are the loopholes around this? I am asking because I had an experience at work that I feel was inappropriate and I am not familiar with the laws/regulations around pregnancy. As I approach childbearing years, I want to make sure, I am informed.

    This is what I experienced… I was having a group lunch at a restaurant off site with my manager and the rest of our team. At the time, there were impending lay offs set to occur a few months down the line. My manager ( a woman with a small child) asked the entire group ( we are all women) if anyone was planning to have a baby?!? As you can imagine, silence followed. No one answered. Is it illegal for a manager to ask if you are PLANNING to have a child? or is it a just a loophole? This manager has asked me one other time on site as well.

    I have NEVER shared any information. Or never will. I know my manager was fishing for information for the impending lay offs. It is very rare to find a woman manager that actually supports women!!

  37. Lin
    Lin says:

    A few other bits of advice to consider while pregnant in the workplace:

    Until you tell the office be sure to have a medical alert bracelet/keychain/necklace stating you’re pregnant. Should some emergency arise that you can’t tell the paramedics that you’re pregnant but they need to know, they know how to care for you.

    Also, read up on the state/local laws concerning employment and act accordingly. In some situations in Ohio, you can be fired from your job before you have completed the first month of employment without being given a reason. (A white male friend of mine was fired like that on day 29, later and unofficially finding that he was only hired until an Asian female came along for the job, as the owner preferred hiring only Asian females. He spoke to a lawyer and found out there was nothing from a legal standpoint he could do.) Should a gossipy co-worker find you setting up a Babies R Us registry the first weekend you start a job, you might find yourself legally without a job come Monday if the laws back the company up.

  38. Adirec Torytski
    Adirec Torytski says:

    I am not sure I agree with all the 3 lies but I am sure that employers don’t tell you the whole truth at an interview either, especially in relation to whether you are close to getting the job or not! These 3 are a little bit OTT except maybe number 3. You don’t have to say if you aren’t looking for other work. You can’t just apply for one job and expect to get it!
    Adirec Toryski

  39. William Mitchell, CPRW
    William Mitchell, CPRW says:

    I definitely work better in a clean environment. A messy work area distracts me. When I was an office manager, it was imperative that I kept my area clean because the job was so intense. A disorganized space doesn’t bother some. I don’t know how …

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