Yesterday a new trainee started at our company (software developer). She is a trainee ("Auszubildende") under the German apprenticeship system, and thus covered by special rules and regulations. Because her instructor is still on vacation I was told to look after her and help her with her first tasks.

She told me she was allowed to leave early on Friday to visit someone, if she stays longer the first two days.
Seemed fine with me.

This morning I asked her what she accomplished when I was gone yesterday and she told me she stayed till 7PM. I was a little shocked because her work seemed rushed and not really satisfactory. I helped her a little and went for a smoke break with other colleagues. I asked them for advice how to help her with her start, because she stayed so long, and I didn't want her to get demotivated.

One of them told me: "Long? she left at 5:30!"*
Which is only 15 minutes after me.

Problem: I don't care that she left at 5:30, starting at 8 with a 1h break she stayed longer than she had to. I care about that she lied to me on her first day. For no apparent reason.

Question: How should I explain to her, that being honest is very important when working with us? I don't want to run over and tell her "I know you lied to me Bob saw you leave!" I also want to protect her from what would have happenend if her actual instructor would have seen that. Since she is still in her probabtion period, it might have been enough to let her go.

She is still very young and naive, and probably didn't have bad intentions.

Additional Information: She is over the age of 18 and a legal adult, she did finish school (Realschule), she did a small internship before, so it is only her first day of her apprenticeship, not her first day over all. She is allowed to work up to 10h a day, but only 40h a week. We don't have time keeping, we just trust each other. She can start between 7AM and 10AM and leave basically when she wants to, as long as she is doing 40h a week.

UPDATE: I did exactly what Joe recommended: She told me she must have misread the clock, and told me she called someone when she went to the trains station. Looked up the time in her phone and said: "Oh 17:36, I must have misread the time". I hope she won't be this sloppy again. I am not sure I believe her entirely, but it doesn't matter, she came clean the moment she had the chance to.

* He is sure, I asked him if he saw her pack her laptop, and he told me that she packed everything and asked Bob2 if she could leave, and he said yes.

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    Is she an apprentice ("Auszubildende")? I am asking because the German apprenticeship system has a lot of special rules and regulations.
    – Philipp
    Aug 2, 2018 at 11:00
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    @Philipp yes she is, but she is also in the "Probezeit", and some extra conditions also apply cause she is doing a "Berufsumschulung" über das "Arbeitsamt".
    – Pudora
    Aug 2, 2018 at 11:34
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    As you say in a comment, she said "Ich war gestern sogar bis 19Uhr hier!", but your question says she said "7PM". My first thought on reading the question was a confusion between 7PM and 17:00 (I've made that mistake myself), but if nobody is using AM/PM that's not the explanation. Your question might be clearer if you change "7PM" to "19:00" and "5:30" to "17:30". If you're trying to make the question clearer for Americans, most of us usually use AM/PM but can understand the 24-hour system. Aug 2, 2018 at 18:27
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    @keith while on Germany nobody uses am/pm it is still normal to use 12 hour based times when unambiguous. "7 in the evening" is said much more than 19, in writing it often is the other way round. It is so common that basically everybody is used to it and confusion is pretty rare. Keep in mind though that German apprenticeship is usually done at ages starting with 16 and no higher education (esp. No university and not the highest kind of school).Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity, (but don't rule out malice)
    – PlasmaHH
    Aug 3, 2018 at 7:05
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    @PlasmaHH Allow me to disagree, I mostly grew up in Germany, I’m over 30 years old, and I still regularly confuse 17h and 7pm. I need to intentionally check myself every time I use afternoon times, to make sure I didn’t get confused. And I specifically have made this mistake in the past in connection with leaving work. The last time happened just a few months ago (I needed to catch a train, checked the time, thought I was late and left in a rush … accidentally more than one hour early). Aug 3, 2018 at 10:17

7 Answers 7


Question: How should I explain to her, that being honest is very important when working with us? I don't want to run over and tell her "I know you lied to me Bob saw you leave!" I also want to protect her from what would have happenend if her actual instructor would have seen that. Since she is still in her probabtion period, it might have been enough to let her go.

She is still very young and naive, and probably didn't have bad intentions.

If you view your role as a temporary mentor, then you need to sit down in a quiet place with her now. You need to make it clear that lying is a poor way to start a career.

Emphasize how important being honest is in your shop. Tell her that her opinion and feedback will be asked and that it's important to be truthful. Make sure she understands that her coworkers will be depending on the things she says. Tell her that coworkers need to be able to trust each other.

If it were me, I'd probably conclude with something like: "Now this won't go any farther than here. So I'll ask you once again. Did you really leave late yesterday?" And I'd hope that she would be honest at that point. If she came clean, I'd thank her for that and finish with "Great! Now let's carry on." then I'd let it go.

If she still claimed that she left late, I'd say "Okay" and end the conversation there.

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    The few times I made mistakes similar to this (though I didn't lie) during my own apprenticeship, something similar happened to me. There was more yelling on the other side of the table involved though.
    – simbabque
    Aug 2, 2018 at 13:00
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    @Pudora Good answer but I would like to add something: I would advise that her supervisor is informed of this and told that the issue is cleared. This should accomplish that he is aware of such things. We have an apprentice in his 3rd year, that sometimes lies, because he thinks it imporves his situation. We know this because when other collegues talk with eachother the incoherency of his stories is visible. What I want to say is keep an eye on her and don't think bad of her, but she might be notoriously lying and the earlier you know about that, the better.
    – Kami Kaze
    Aug 3, 2018 at 8:27

Since she sought permission from one of your team members to pack up leave at 5:30, it might be an idea to raise this directly

Sorry for raising this again, but Bob said that you asked to leave at 5:30; could you clarify what happened at 7 pm, maybe I misunderstood what you told me this morning.

Offering her the opportunity to clear up your misunderstanding allows her to explain without you coming across as accusational.

This should lead you to privately check up on the "yes, you can leave early claim" when that manager is back from vacation. The amount of work actually achieved seems to be an issue here, so some pair programming or closer mentoring might be the solution here; it seems like she's going to need some level of supervision to ensure there are adequate performance levels.

Be aware that trainees are often overwhelmed by the practice of actually working, so extra hand-holding and reassurance is needed.

There's a balancing act to be played here between motivating a trainee and not letting them get away with slacking or otherwise getting out of work. Supervision should guide them in the right way of thinking and behaviour.

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    I think letting her explain is a good idea (she might have said 7 and meant five and been to nervous to correct herself, you never know). But I'd stress the need for extended supervision on other claims during probation here.
    – DonQuiKong
    Aug 2, 2018 at 11:34
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    @DonQuiKong That gives me an idea: Maybe she meant to say 17 Uhr (5 pm) and it came out as 7 Uhr (7 am or 7 pm). Aug 2, 2018 at 12:06
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    "you'd think people would save and check their work into source control their work before leaving for the day?" I certainly wouldn't! I check work into source control when I have work that's finished, or at a milestone, and in proper condition to be checked in. Checking in at an arbitrary time of day is a good way to make the rest of the team annoyed at me for breaking the build. Aug 2, 2018 at 13:00
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    Except using modern infrastructure you would check into your personal branch and then merge that into the mai nbranch on occasion.
    – TomTom
    Aug 2, 2018 at 14:13
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    I won't even check into my own repo clone/branch until I have something that makes sense to be committed. However, you should ensure that your method of work gives you work that fits that description on a semi-regular basis, to avoid losing it. Committing merely to fit a schedule makes a mess of commit histories. Aug 3, 2018 at 14:44

Note: This answer is written under the assumption that the person is an apprentice ("Auszubildender") in the German dual apprenticeship system. Any of the German words in quotes and italics in this answer are terms from German emplyoment law in general or the law for vocational training ("Berufsbildungsgesetz") in particular you might want to look up for further information.

I am an apprentice instructor ("Ausbilder") in a large-is German IT company. In our company we got a guideline how to deal with allegations of misbehaviour of dual-students and apprentices:

  1. [optional] If you are unsure how to handle the situation, consult HR for advise regarding if and how to sanction the misbehaviour. (Our HR department actually got a sub-department which only deals with the matters of dual-students and apprentices. But in yours they might get handled by the normal HR department)
  2. Invite the apprentice to a private conversation.
  3. Explain what misconduct you observed. Do not jump to conclusions. Just explain what you know.
  4. Let them explain their version of the story. Do not interrupt them.
  5. Explain the immediate consequences of their behavior.
  6. Explain what the future consequences will be if they repeat the behavior.

So confront her. You should do this as soon as possible. The longer you wait, the less learning effect there will be. Also note that she is very new in the world of employment. She is just out of school, which is an environment where the consequence for most infractions is a figurative slap on the wrist and the only thing which matters in the long term are your grades. She might not yet have a good feeling for what behavior is and is not appropriate in a work environment and that it can have serious long-term consequences for her career when she makes a bad impression on people. This makes it even more important to tell her as soon as possible. Otherwise you reinforce bad habits which might plague her for the rest of her career.

But do not start with assuming guilt. There might be an explanation. Maybe she just took a small break or went to a different building to run an errant. Bob saw her leave but didn't notice that she came back. So instead of saying:

"Bob said you left, why did you lie to me?"

phrase it in a way which leaves her room to explain the situation:

"Didn't you say you left at 7PM? Bob said you left at 5:30."

Wait for her to explain the situation. Then explain the consequences.

Possible consequences for misbehavior could be:

  • None for now, just a verbal reprimand
  • A note in the personal file
  • An official written reprimand ("Abmahnung")
  • Termination of the apprenticeship
  • In extreme cases where they violated a law, reporting them to the authorities

However, because you are not the official instructor ("Ausbilder") but just a temporary instructor ("Ausbildungsbeauftragter") you will likely not be authorized to actually order any of these measures. So all you can do is tell her that you will tell her instructor and that he will very likely take one of these measures when he is back.

Personally I try to see misbehaving apprenticeships not as bad apples which need to be discarded but as rough diamons which need to be polished. The primary goal of any disciplinary measure should be to help the apprentice to recognize their faults and improve on them. But unfortunately there are a few people who are just beyond help. When you do not see any improvement at all despite several attempts at pointing them out, then letting them go is unfortunately the only thing you can do.

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    @undefined I think that our system of dealing with workplace rule violations is rather humane and fair compared to some stories I heard from other companies. What gave you this impression that it is not? Cheating with your work times is a serious infraction, after all.
    – Philipp
    Aug 2, 2018 at 11:33
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    I really appreciate your input. But I don't want to go to HR , she already got one warning from HR because she fell asleep at her launch event. As @undefined said, I much rather help her on my own. Once it leaves my hands there is nothing I can do for her.
    – Pudora
    Aug 2, 2018 at 11:38
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    @Pudora As I wrote, consulting HR is optional (at our company, at least). You can always give an apprenticeship a verbal reprimant under 4 eyes which does not leave the room. And you should definitely do that. When nobody tells them their mistakes, they can't learn from them.
    – Philipp
    Aug 2, 2018 at 11:42
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    @undefined I think you are being misled by a cultural difference between Germany and other places like UK/US. Clearly laying out what the rules are is a very Germanic way to proceed; it isn't heartless, it is avoiding confusion. If the OP has an Azubi, she will expect to have rules clearly laid out. (Source: I live in Germany and have worked there, although I now work in Switzerland.) Aug 2, 2018 at 12:26
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    I used to do a similar job to Phillipp, and I agree with this answer and like the process he describes. I would have been happy to have had such a process both in the company that I did my own apprenticeship in, as well as the one where I was one of the Ausbilder mentors. Especially in the beginning it is important to put your foot down. The straight out of school thing here is important. Not knowing that actions have consequences in real life is normal, and one has to learn that. Telling lies at work is bad. Being late or leaving early happens, but deceiving people who trust you is not.
    – simbabque
    Aug 2, 2018 at 13:05

Just ask her.

The biggest problem you can have when managing someone is letting issues fester. You'll sit there thinking "oh gosh, so-and-so lied to me and now I have to be like Batman, ever vigilant to spot their next attack!" which is exhausting and will drive you over the edge.

Soon you'll be tying hairs to doors to see if they were opened later, and hiring a trained Beagle to work undercover in the office to spy for you. It only gets worse, you'll descend into madness when you realise the Beagle could be an inside job. Soon you'll be reading The Workspace over people's shoulders in the local library (until Musk replaces all the libraries, anyway, he's obviously part of it).

The worst thing is anybody can lie to you on the first day. Your partner, the "democratically" elected leader of your country, that god-damned Beagle - I mean its the first time you've met them, they don't have a lot vested in the relationship at this stage.


Anyway, it's much better to bring this up now, just tell her you heard from Bob that she left at 5:30pm, and ask again if she worked until 7 or not? She might not realise how companies work given she is a trainee, or there might be mitigating circumstances, or she might feel she has to somehow lie to get out of it.

Tell her you don't really mind, but that she has to make sure she observes how her brand - how she appears in the workspace - can be impacted by these things, and to be aware of this in future. Then just go over the work with her and help out.

It's hard to be a mentor to someone when a problem burns at the back of your mind.

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    @Joe fair point - i only mention Bob because in the original question comments it is noted that the trainee specifically asked Bob if she could leave - assuming this is the case it doesn't get Bob involved any more than he would be, because he's the first person she'll assume mentioned it. Also, it helps reduce her worry that she's being timed by some as-yet unknown entity.
    – bharal
    Aug 2, 2018 at 10:40

I think there are maybe only about three or four vital qualifications:

  • Can you do the job?
  • Do you tell the truth ... and do we understand each other?
  • Do you want to work here ... are you harmless?

Number 2 is important -- one of the things you'd look for in an interview.

Lying tends to contradict all three of the above -- i.e., "do we understand each other?", "are you harmless?", and "do you want to co-operate?"

I'm not sure how to answer the question (i.e. "How should I explain to her, that being honest is very important when working with us?").

Maybe explain why it's important.

I think it's that "working together" means that you identify and solve problems together, accurately characterise a problem, agree on a solution (an agreeable solution) -- sometimes come together again if a previously-agreed plan-of-action didn't work out as expected, or when it does -- something like that. You're not there to be lied to, you're there to help her work (which includes, managing distractions), to help her be happy with her employer/employment, and (hopefully, ultimately) to be able to report well of her, and so on.

For what it's worth, I found this video quite memorable (an example of how to be explicit):

  • If you lie [for some reason], if you life just once, if you lie just a little, if you lie because [some reason] ... if you ever, ever lie ... you're finished with me. Do you understand?
  • Yes sir.
  • Say you understand.
  • I understand sir.
  • Go back to work.

Incidentally though, "making a prediction about the future, which doesn't work out exactly as predicted", isn't something I'd consider a deliberate lie.

And of course I don't know what actually happened in her case.

I think it's possible that some people (perhaps especially when young) feel a need to lie for some reason, or even just a possible advantage to lying ... in order to 'get their own way' or perhaps because they don't expect you'd cooperate with them otherwise, or to 'protect' someone or something. Hopefully you can train that out of them, prove them wrong.

And I'd like to emphasise this comment:

Telling lies at work is bad. Being late or leaving early happens, but deceiving people who trust you is not.

It's part of your job as manager to set priorities: what's more important and what's less important?

In this case:

  • What's more important is being truthful
  • What's (much) less important is (falsely) claiming to work long, irregular hours
  • "I was a little shocked because her work seemed rushed and not really satisfactory" is important too, but the possibility of there being a lie involved distracts you from addressing that.

Another point from a German perspective.

In small and medium firms it often happens that the behavior of a new person (new colleague, apprentice...) is silently noticed.

If the new person on board does things wrong because it is internal knowledge (not using official channels etc.) or it looks like a misunderstanding/accident, then people will talk to him. But coming too late or going too early, not greeting colleagues, having no time for help and so on...will get no warning in those firms.

The purpose is that you want the new employee to react as naturally as possible to estimate how (s)he fits into the team. If only a few people are present, everybody is very important for the survival of the firm. One bad apple can ruin the firm, so if you could not behave when you are on probation and you know that, how should that work out once (s)he is a permanent employee?

So in your case, you would simply write down what happened and look out for further misbehavior. If there is improvement and it could be seen as one-time accident, she will survive it. If other things happen...well, that was the probation period.

So in the very first days in firms (I think that is even quite universal) it is necessary to act as impeccable as possible to leave a first good impression. It is a golden truth that good first impressions are able to counter later slipups, but it is extremely hard to repair a bad first impression.


I do exactly the things like she had done, "for no reason"...

For my case it is because of social anxiety, it feels much less difficult to just white-lie and possibly have to clean it up later, versus definitely being in a one-on-one situation with another human (debating for permission). I also am king of no-call no-shows because whenever I have a day where I can't tolarate any human interaction whatsoever (about once every 90 days) I do not / can not leave the house nor even use a phone, and the embarassment of not being able to "human" properly makes it impossible to do either on top of being anxious in the first place. And I for sure never told anyone that was my problem, they would assume I'm making more junk up.

Also US healthcare being as it is it would cost me more than I can afford to have any assistance to fix it, there is a strong stigma against "people that need mental help", and I have trouble making money anyway since I networking with other humans makes me highly uncomfortable no matter the context (including the doctors that might help)

Anyway, I feel like she has similar issues and is keeping them hidden using the same techniques. The fact there is no logical reason for lying means there is a very strong illogical reason, probably near inexplicable.

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