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A peer of mine (same organization but different scrum team) is a very involved father. He is often taking time off of work to watch his kids and leaving early to take his kids to soccer practice. I know that the other members of his scrum team get annoyed that he takes off so much time off for kids, but they all try to be supportive and understanding because he seems like such a great father.

There's only one problem: he doesn't have any kids.

I started having suspicions a few weeks ago when some of his stories didn't add up. After some Google research, I have become 99.99% sure that he's purely making everything up and lying about having kids to take time off.

Professionally, what can I do about this? He's not on my immediate scrum team, so it could be safe to just stay out of this completely. But I do feel like I have somewhat of an obligation to the organization and the company to let the truth be known so that he stops taking advantage of his teammates. And if I'm honest with myself, the whole thing pisses me off and I want to see him get in trouble or reprimanded for this. What is the best way to deal with this in a professional manner?

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    @GregoryCurrie I only wonder, why the teammates of that "dishonest" person are not bothered? They are the one likely "affected" firsthand, why are not they bothered? How do we know there is no other "backstory" to this "behavior"? Just being devils advocate here, but maybe there is some personal issue we don't know and the team knows, and they chose to "support" him .. cant say. If I were in the place for OP, I'd probably not get involved. YMMV, and I respect that. We're welcome to have different views. – Sourav Ghosh Mar 18 at 5:40
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    When you say "taking time off" - is he just burning leave that he earns as a legitimate company benefit, or is he somehow getting more time off than anyone else? – Ben Barden Mar 18 at 21:18
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    @TrevorD wouldn't it be illegal for the payroll and/or HR department to release info about the number of dependents claimed? Even so, I have dependents (I swear!) and I don't have them on my employer's health insurance (they're on my wife's/their mother's) and I claim zero allowances on my W-4 (my wife gets the allowances too). So neither of those proves anything. Futhermore, while I've brought my kids to the office, many of my coworkers who have kids haven't. – stannius Mar 18 at 21:25
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    @Chris to better focus on the question. The coworker's doughnut consumption and watermarked photos are tangents. – Monica Cellio Mar 18 at 21:38
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    @MonicaCellio actually they show how silly and potentially trolling this question is ! – DigitalBlade969 Mar 18 at 21:59

11 Answers 11

68

You probably somewhat realise this yourself but

He's not on my immediate scrum team, so it could be safe to just stay out of this completely.

Is completely correct. It might offend your sense of fairness that he keeps getting away with it, but from a strictly you standpoint, raising the issue in any way is disadvantageous.

  1. Many people will question why you go around poking in people's private lives.
  2. You can be as convinced as you want, but not everything is as it first seems. I don't know your specific details, but even things like stories not adding up and stock photos could have other, legitimate explanations.
  3. No good for you will come of this.

For the reasons above, I'd advise to stay out of it. If it's really that obvious that it doesn't add up, a higher up will catch on to it someday.

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    Even if you are his manager, as long as he records time worked correctly and gets his assigned tasks done on time, you still shouldn't care. – pboss3010 Mar 18 at 11:33
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    @pboss3010 if you were his manager you should absolutely care. If true then this is quite a big lie and should make you worried that there are other lies. – P. Hopkinson Mar 18 at 11:51
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    Number 2 is a very good point. There could be a deeper explanation related to mental health issues, or a difficult past. You might be someone who is not "in the loop" because you don't need to know about it. Succeeding with this kind of lie for so long is unlikely to be sustainable, so I would say that it is a cover story for a deeper issue, and you don't know about it. – bushell Mar 18 at 13:24
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    I would add to this (2 sort of touches on it) "Taking the kids to practice" may be code for an infinite number of private health matters that they want to keep private. "Gotta go to a soccer game" might mean "Gotta go see my therapist." Don't intrude or assume. – Ethan The Brave Mar 22 at 14:42
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As someone who doesn't have kids, and as someone who finds how a lot of companies bend over backwards for those with kids quite unfair, I can see how this dishonesty manifests itself.

Though, this is technically not your issue to deal with.

I'm glad you are being honest about it pissing you off. It would piss many people off, and I don't think people realise that this also needs to be resolved. It may be quite difficult to watch people you respect being lied to.

You need to distinguish fraud, where the employee gets a company sanctioned benefit, where you may have an ethical obligation to inform your employer, and just peer-dishonesty, which is not actionable by your employer.

I think your first step should be to even the playing field, and ask for the same benefits that he is getting. If everyone starts asking for extra time off, management will have to publish a policy regarding who can claim these benefits and what is required for proof.

Don't guess what he really gets up to. The comment about computer games is irrelivant.

If you do feel inclined to raise this with management, I would do so anonymously. And yes, I personally would consider letting your coworkers know anonymously if nothing is done and the behaviour doesn't change. Though I fully understand if me saying such things will get this answer a torrent of down-votes.

Whatever you decide to do, your motivations need to be on stopping the dishonesty, and not trying to get the employee punished for it, as much as you want to.

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    Don't start excessively asking for benefits just to prove a point. – Draex_ Mar 18 at 10:17
  • It doesn't sound excessive to me. Apparently it's quite reasonable? – Gregory Currie Mar 18 at 11:13
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    if OP asks for any benefits he doesn't really need, just to make a point, that will a) cost him his leniency budget with regards to benefits in general, such that if he actually needs some other benefits it's less likely he will get them and b) if found out he just wanted to make a point that gets him additional negative trolling points and potentially a harder look whenever he claims he needs any benefits - cause you know, he might just throw another temper tantrum. – Frank Hopkins Mar 20 at 1:34
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    "I think your first step should be to even the playing field, and ask for the same benefits that he is getting" is literally saying he should ask for the same benefits. In most companies I worked such benefits like leaving early you could just get by asking nicely are handed out on an invisible "budget" of goodwill, that will run out eventually and the more you waste it the less is left for stuff you really need. Now there might be official policy specifically for taking care of children, but so far we have no idea about such details. – Frank Hopkins Mar 20 at 2:42
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    @FrankHopkins Isn't my quote consistent with what I'm saying. Maybe I should have said "additional" benefits. In any case, in my experience, the goodwill doesn't flow quite as freely for those without kids, so I would find asking for exact parity the best way to ensure you're not missing out. – Gregory Currie Mar 20 at 2:44
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He's not on my immediate scrum team, so it could be safe to just stay out of this completely

Yes, not your business, I'd stay out of this and steer clear of any involvement whatsoever.

But I do feel like I have somewhat of an obligation to the org and the company to let the truth be known so that he stops taking advantage of his teammates.

Unless you are responsible for managing him, once again, not your business.

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People in HR should have a more accurate information about your colleage's family, since they need to know what benefits he's entitled to and that depends on the number of children. So, if he's not hiding his play from the HR, it's likely that he does have kids despite what you've seen. Or, he's committing fraud which goes well beyond fake family photos, and your observations are not solid enough to be an acceptable evidence in this case.

If you see that he's hiding this from the HR, there are many practical jokes you could pull out, but those jokes can always backfire if you end up being wrong or are not careful.

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    In some environments HR has not right to know your family status, and can be illegal for them to even ask about it. Honestly, a stock photo of his "wife" and a picture of a cereal box doesn't get much more blatant... – Gregory Currie Mar 18 at 10:14
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    @GregoryCurrie In other environments the HR absolutely has to know your family status if you want to get associated benefits like parental leave, extra days off or tax returns added to your paycheck. – Dmitry Grigoryev Mar 18 at 11:14
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    Absolutely. Though my point is, they would only know if he is claiming those things. If he is getting "soft" benefits, those being not coming from the company, but afforded by "understanding" coworkers, then HR wouldn't know (and may not even care). – Gregory Currie Mar 18 at 11:27
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    @GregoryCurrie I don't show pictures of my wife and kid. It's not a huge leap to go to show fake pictures of wife and kid from there for the same reasons. I've seen people do a lot more to keep their privacy and the privacy of others. Sure, they might be fictional, but in the end it doesn't matter - you're encroaching on someone's private life after you realize they want to keep their private matters private. That's some soft-core stalking right there. – Luaan Mar 18 at 12:01
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    OP doesn't mention his location, but in Europe the HR has no business with personal details like relationship status, amount of children, or medical things. It is protected personal information, dating back to decades before the current GDPR things. For example in Finland, the only things HR knows about you are: social security number, bank account, tax percentage, and your home address. – Juha Untinen Mar 18 at 14:57
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Usually when you find out that someone has serious mental problems you do your best to stay out of their issues and make sure they don't get upset at you.

Some busybody will probably eventually pop the bubble, the chaps mentally unstable, no idea where that will go.... best to mind your own business.

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    It's equally likely they're simply gaming the system and have no mental instability whatsoever. I wouldn't reach for that explanation first. but I agree with your assessment otherwise. This will not last, it will not end well, and OP is best off staying far away from it to avoid the fallout. – Ruadhan2300 Mar 18 at 10:23
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    To be honest, I'm more worried about the behavior of the OP. Sneaking around other people's desk, closely examining their family photos, googling their family photos, keeping tabs on when they ask to leave early or some time off. I don't know anyone in their right mind who would do that. The terms 'stalker' and 'Paranoia' come to mind. – Yury Mar 18 at 11:13
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    @GregoryCurrie yep, still creepy behavior. And looking up pictures of his kids? Just the fact he did this is quite unnerving. – Yury Mar 18 at 11:39
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    @GregoryCurrie Yep, quite unnerved when a stranger takes a photo of my children and saves it on his device. The whole thought process seems perverse; 'Oh that guy gets some donuts and time off for having kids, I'm feeling kinda jealous, what should I do about it? I know! I'll download/take a picture of his kids and google them! I'm sure they're fake and he's a huge fraud! That will prove he's not so great...' The fact he's so obsessed about his guy rigs some bells – Yury Mar 18 at 11:52
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    @DanubianSailor it's not clear that any law has been broken, and no, criminal activity is not automatically caused by mental illness. – Geoffrey Brent Mar 19 at 10:52
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I am a father and I do have pictures of my kids at my office. If I thought one of my colleagues was crazy, I might replace the pictures with stock photos to protect their privacy.

There is a reason, elementary schools will only release the children to their known parents and not to "grandparents", "aunts", "uncles", "best friends" and "work colleages".

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    Would you share that picture with coworkers? And why even have the photo. That's just strange? Like, what are you gaining here. – Gregory Currie Mar 18 at 11:32
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    Having real picture of your kids on your desk makes sense. It gives some warm feelings when look at them. Not wanting a crazy colleague seeing your kid's photos makes sense too. But in this case, just don't put any photo on your desk. Because putting a stock photo in a frame on your desk, pretending it's your kid when it's not, looks as creepy to me as what your hypothetical colleague could do. – dim Mar 18 at 12:03
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    @GregoryCurrie Are you going to explain that you don't want to show them to every single person who asks you? This is entirely dependent on privacy culture in the workplace/region/country/whatever. If people are generally privacy-ignorant, showing fake photos is a pretty quick way to protect your privacy. Just like many people on Facebook use fake photos and names (despite it being against the EULA). – Luaan Mar 18 at 12:04
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    @Luaan There must be some strong cultural element at play here. I don't understand what's so hard to say "I don't have pictures of my kids here". Maybe there is a large expectation that people have pictures of their family on their desk, maybe that's the bit I'm missing out on here. You make a good point if that's the case. – Gregory Currie Mar 18 at 12:08
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    @GregoryCurrie I do not have stock photos of children on my desk. But I understand why OP's colleague might. – emory Mar 18 at 12:53
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He is often taking time off of work to...

Most employers give time off of work as a benefit without constraints about how that time can be used. He's using that benefit.

There may be a reason for his story that you don't know about. I'm not going to go so far as the other answers and say it's mental instability. The bottom line is that unless the amount of time your co-worker takes off, something he's doing while off or the fact that he's made up a story about it is having some material effect on the business, it's not the company's concern and it certainly isn't yours.

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    ... and the concern the OP is showing is a bit of a red flag for someone from a post-com country, if I may say so myself. It's reminding me of those people whose main job it was to stalk and spy on other people for a few scraps from the secret police table :P Lightweight, mind you, but still... none of their business. The coworker made it clear he doesn't want to share his (real) private life with his coworkers. Faking it may be seen as worse than just saying "that's my private business", but that's still peanuts to the encroachment implied by the OP, IMO. – Luaan Mar 18 at 12:07
  • For example, some people have health conditions that they don't want to disclose to their co-workers - I've seen stories from people having cancer treatments who were afraid of getting fired, or just swamped with unwelcome attention, if their situation became known. People in that situation may make up an excuse to cover their time out. As you say, unless he's using this story to get benefits he wouldn't otherwise be entitled to, best to let it go. – Geoffrey Brent Mar 19 at 4:36
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If you raise the issue, there may be repercussions, and there certainly wont be a reward.

Therefore, if you really want to raise the issue, do so anonymously:

  • Get a one off gmail account.
  • Gather anonymous evidence of coworker making up verifiable lies regarding kids, wife.
  • Remove all metadata from any attached files/images.
  • Stick to the facts, even if it means you have to let go some of the claims you want to make. "He takes the time off to go home and play video games." is the kind of thing that has no place in this email.
  • Have a friend rewrite the email to remove "tells". Your personal style of writing will remove your anonymity.
  • Never use the one off gmail account to send an email again. Do not read any response the business sends you to that one off gmail account. There's nothing useful they are allowed to tell you in a response.

Informing the business about your concerns is the secondary reason for sending this. The primary reason is to provide closure. If nothing happens afterwards, you are now assured the company knows and accepts your coworkers actions, having more information than you do.

Finally, who should you send it to? You do not know the whole story, so sending it to all his teammates or even the entire company will be inappropriate. I suggest sending the email to the following 3 people:

  • Direct superior of coworker.
  • Lowest level HR person who's responsible for coworker.
  • Highest level HR person in the company.

If you want to use a minimal version:

I'm troubled by 'John Smith's use of stock photos which he shows around the office, falsely claiming they are actual images of his wife and children. It damages my ability to trust him, which impedes my ability to work with him. See attached images.

Sincerely, A concerned employee.

  • What is the reasoning behind your suggestion to not read any response to that one off gmail account? – CardboardKnight Mar 18 at 13:37
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    @CardboardKnight Fair question. I am not aware of any possible benefit of reading a response, but there are some drawbacks. 1) having information you shouldn't have can cause loss of anonymity. 2) reading a response can encourage the OP to send another email which I advised against because it can lead to various undesirable outcomes, including legal liability. 3) Expecting a response but not receiving the desired one can prevent closure. If the OP sends the email with the knowledge that this is the final action OP takes on this issue, it makes closure easier. – Peter - Unban Robert Harvey Mar 18 at 14:25
  • And what would be the desired outcome of such an action? Coworker takes down pictures and.... stops taking an extra donut? All at the cost of humiliating the coworker and putting manager/HR into an uncomfortable situation. – teego1967 Mar 18 at 15:48
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    @teego1967 Coworker stops lying. Stops (likely) cheating. OP gets peace of mind for not being complicit in a perceived injustice. And if the coworker really did lie about his wife and kids, it was the coworker who humilited himself and put HR into an uncomfortable situation, not OP. – Peter - Unban Robert Harvey Mar 18 at 15:58
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    @Peter I'd include a better work environment overall. It reads as though many people feel cheated. This is potentially damaging overall morale and inducing everyone to game the system. In more extreme cases, the best team members get fed up and leave, leaving the alleged slacker still happily employed and everyone else to pick up the pieces. – John Spiegel Mar 18 at 17:33
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This question makes me wonder what kind of environment would it take to propel people to ...

  1. Feel they need to create the illusion of being a family man in order to get a little extra free-time for themselves, and more donuts.

  2. Get upset about someone doing that to the point where one considers it a type of fraud that needs to be exposed and punished.

Assuming the OP's story is real, I can't imagine anyone feeling anything other than pity for the coworker and the OP.

To answer the question, before it gets closed: Do nothing. Leave the poor guy alone and try to be more tolerant and less judgmental. It will make you feel better and also you will avoid appearing petty if you complain about this behavior.

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    Just on your first point, I can kinda see how this plays out where someone is in a role, they are continually asked to work overtime etc., because they are single and childless. They then go to a new company and are like, "This ain't happening again", so they introduce a soft lie. And like magic, expectations around overtime are lifted. Granted, just a blind guess here. – Gregory Currie Mar 18 at 12:11
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While he may not be in your team, and the products you create can be fully independent, what his behavior does is damage the future of actual fathers in the company that might really need to take the time off to care for kids.

A lot of countries do not provide much of benefits, like leaving home early and such, for fathers, so these often have to be based on mutual agreement between the father and company.

If the company finds out he has done it for a long time by a coincidence, they might look down on future requests for some time off to take care of a child by actual fathers. Not to mention that is he is getting paid for the time off, it is actual stealing of company's money - people get paid to work.

However, as couple viable reasons and possible problems have been mentioned in answers, like him being under witness protection act, undercover agent or other personal reasons known to management, I would proceed very carefully from here. If you want to keep it nice - try to get to know him better, make yourself 100% sure that he does not have a family, ask about the photos in neutral way - "Nice, got yourself a wife that's a model? That photo still has a watermark of the company" etc.

If all the things actually add up, tip it anonymously to management, for the sake of people that will actually need those benefits.

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If you truly want this person exposed then a proper investigation is in order. The best option you have to see that happen is drop an anonymous tip with HR, along with a list of your evidence, and hope they take it from there. That would also be a good time to drop it. After all if they aren't pursuing the fraud being perpetrated against them then something else is going on.

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    "Something else is going on" is a good point. Unlikely as that may be, that something else could be witness protection, a covert programme of some sort, or similar serious matters. Or just a heightened interest in privacy for his family and the photos are just props to deter questions along the line of "If you have a kid, why don't you ever show pictures of them" like, you know, OP is raising anyways. – Magisch Mar 18 at 11:47

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