We have heard this phrase many times before but what does it really mean? Things are not always as they seem! People will fool you! You have to gather context and information just to be sure! Perhaps all of the above. I recently had leaders from two different companies reach out with similar and troubling situations.

One employee had asked for time off and unfortunately this would not have been convenient for the organization. The manager apologized but had to deny the request. An employee in another company took a few days off and then requested additional time away from work. A few days after the initial requests for time off, both employees contacted their managers stating that they had experienced tragic situations involving a child in their family. The organizations acted with compassion and concern and provided time away from work, access to an EAP (Employee Assistance Program), vacation sharing to continue wages, insurance continuation, etc. These disturbingly sad situations had an impact on the team and the managers were coaching and counseling through this difficult time.

Within a short period of time, fellow employees came to the manager stating that the situations were “suspect”. In both instances, team members stated that they had seen pictures of the children posted on the Facebook pages for the impacted employees and that the pictures look familiar. One picture had been posted in a popular magazine and the other on the CPR website. Each manager completed their own investigation and verified the information provided by the fellow team members was true. The managers were angry at the deceit and asked how to approach each situation.

The employee who was out on leave was asked for a doctor note authorizing the return to work. The note was not provided and after repeated requests, the employee was considered to have resigned her position. The employee who had “borrowed” the picture from the CPR website came in requesting a return to work and was shown the “similar” picture. Once the jig was up, the employee walked out of the office never to be seen again.

Smoke and mirrors…yes! Deceit…yes! Disgustingly sad…yes! It is easy to hear these stories and become cynical but in my experience most employees act with integrity. The lesson to be learned is to ask the questions, gather information and deal with situations calmly and quickly… and then poof! Smoke and mirrors.