Editor's note: Inc.com columnist Alison Green answers questions about workplace and management issues -- everything from how to deal with a micromanaging boss to how to talk to someone on your team about body odor.


A reader writes:

I have a coworker who I hit it off with from day one, and we trust and help each other.

Last week, this coworker took me out to lunch and told me he was planning to start interviewing, because he found that he is being severely underpaid. I am in a similar situation, so I can empathize.

He wanted to know if he could use me as a reference and claim that I was his supervisor, and that he was making about $30k more than he is, believing that the new jobs would then offer him a higher rate. He promised to thank me and send an offer my way if he gets in somewhere.

I like and trust the guy, but something sounds a little weird. I feel bad that he is getting treated like this, and would like to help him if this is a legal and moral way to do it. I told him I would think about it. What are your thoughts?

You can't do this.

First of all, it's hugely unethical. I assume you know that though -- I mean, you're talking about directly lying. Do you want to be someone who tells bald-faced lies? Premeditated bald-faced lies, no less? And who conspires with others to tell these lies?

Second, this could come back to bite you in a big way. If your company catches you doing this, you could get fired over it. If you're thinking you're not likely to get caught, realize that it could happen very easily. Thorough reference-checkers don't just stick to the references a candidate hands over; they also do their own research. And in this case, it wouldn't even take that much -- the reference checker could simply decide to call the company's main switchboard and ask for this guy's manager (since he's telling them that it's okay to contact his current manager). When they put the person through to his manager, it will be easy to unravel from there. You'd have a decent chance of getting fired at that point, because it's an integrity issue -- you'd have shown you're willing to lie and misrepresent the company.

Moreover, it's not even in your friend's interest to ask you to do this. Many companies that make offers based on past salary history ask for salary verification late in the process (such as by requesting W2s or pay stubs), and will yank an offer if it turns out that the candidate lied. So your friend could get an offer, resign his current job, and then have the offer pulled when they discovered he had lied.

A far better bet is for him to simply make a case for his desired salary based on the market value of the work, leaving salary history out of it entirely.

Either way, tell him you can't do this.

Want to submit a question of your own? Send it to alison@askamanager.org.

Published on: Feb 20, 2018
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.