Twenty Ways to Catch Employees Who Lie at Work

Human Resources professionals are pretty clever at catching employees in lies.

Posted Jun 21, 2014

Skilled investigators are not always just cops; some of them might work in your Human Resources Department too.  Many HR directors, managers, and analysts have been around the block, seen a few things, and lived long enough to have heard employees tell them a lot of fibs, little white lies, partial truths, half-truths, and downright false statements.  Here are some of their favorite techniques to help them spot lies and liars in the workplace.  When HR professionals hear employees use one of these 20, they start thinking about preparing a termination package or even calling the police:

Answering a question with a question:

“Did you take the money?”
“Take the money? Why would I take the money?  I have a good job.”

Answering a simple yes/no question with a non-yes-no answer:

“Did you take the money?”
“I did not take the money.” 

Redirecting the blame to other “suspects” to stall for time:

“Did you take the money?”
“Of course I didn’t take the money.  Are you going to talk to Jerry about it?  He probably took it, or he knows who did.”


“I swear on a stack of Bibles, on my children’s lives, my grandmother’s grave.”

Too much defensive anger, especially for a simple question:

“Did you come in past our starting time today?”
“How dare you accuse me of that!  This is a big problem with you!  You don’t trust people!”

Acting bored and wanting to end the meeting:

“Did you take the money?“
“Is that the reason you brought me in here.  This is ridiculous.  I have a lot of work to do.  I’m going to go back to work.” (Watch the final courtroom scene in “A Few Good Men” for the best example.) 

Using language ”softeners”:

Saying or writing: took versus stole; hurt versus injured; bumped versus assaulted; touched versus groped; drunk versus tipsy.

Using double negatives:

“Did you take the money?”
“I don’t know nothing about any missing money.”

Knowing too much about the event:

“Do you know how the money was stolen?”
“I didn’t go near the safe.  I wasn’t even there.”
“I never said it was taken from the safe.  How do you know that?”
“Well, that’s what I heard.”

Using any or all of the Big Four – minimize, deny, rationalize, blame:

Problem drinkers: “I’m only a little buzzed.”
Cheaters: “Never met that woman. I don’t even know her.”
Shoplifters: “Everybody does it.  I was just going along.”
Getting into a fight: “He started it.”

Using missing personal possession as a distancing device:

“Someone stole the laptop” versus “Someone stole my laptop.”

Missing contractions, with too much emphasis:

“I have some concerns about some of the items on your expense report.”
“I did not turn in a false expense report!  I could not have done that!  I would not have done that.”    

Using statements of restriction:

“Sorry, but that’s all I can really tell you.”
“That’s about as best as I can remember.”
“I wish I could tell you more.”
“To be honest with you, that’s all I really know.“

Using “escape” body language:

Turns away from the questioner.
Puts a hand over his or her mouth when answering the question.
Uses small “micro-shrugs” of his or her shoulders during the less-than truthful answers. 

Can’t remember the order of events:

“Tell me what happened from when you got to work until when you went home yesterday.”
“Well, first I went to the morning meeting.  No wait.  First I got coffee and then I talked to Sue.  No, that’s not right either.  It’s really hard to remember what I did yesterday, to be perfectly frank with you.”

Answers the second-chance or “proper punishment” question incorrectly:

“What should happen to employees who steal products from the company, threaten co-workers, take money from the cash drawer, or sell drugs at work?”

Truthful answers: “They should be fired.  They should be arrested, prosecuted, and go to jail.”

Untruthful answers: “Well, context is important in every situation.  I’m not here to judge people.  People make mistakes.  I think there is often a good reason why some people do certain things.  Everybody deserves a second chance.” 

Suspicious written “commitment”: statements:

Way too long; way too short; lots of crossed-out sentences; lots of inserted statements; using big, bold lettering as a distraction; using excessively tiny lettering during the untruthful parts; wanting to recant: “Wait! I want to change what I wrote!”

Suspicious written “timeline” statements:

Big time gaps; long periods of unwitnessed work; fuzzy or inaccurate definitions of work supposedly done.

Violating the “Goldilocks Factor”:

The truth should come out as verbal or written statements that are not too long, not too short, and that are just right.  Big time or information gaps and either too much detail or not enough are often the problem areas as the employee seeks to redirect blame or distract the listener or the reader from his or her involvement.  The truth comes out directly and quickly, where lies wander around.

Dr. Steve Albrecht, PHR, CPP, BCC, is a San Diego-based speaker, author, and trainer.  He is board certified in HR, security, and coaching.  He focuses on high-risk employee issues, threat assessments, and school and workplace violence prevention.  In 1994, he co-wrote Ticking Bombs, one of the first business books on workplace violence.  He holds a doctorate in Business Administration (D.B.A.); an M.A. in Security Management; a B.S. in Psychology; and a B.A. in English.  He worked for the San Diego Police Department for 15 years and has written 15 books on business, HR, and police subjects.  He can be reached at or on Twitter @DrSteveAlbrecht