Lynne Curry: Call out troublemaker employee when he exaggerates

Lynne Curry

Q. One of my employees loves stirring the pot. The moment another employee voices a comment he considers negative about another employee, our department or me, he briefs me in detail. When I check out what he's said, I often learn he has so completely exaggerated what he heard that my checking into it with the employee he names makes a problem where none existed.

Occasionally he tells me other employees are upset about a decision I've made and later I learn the only upset individual was him. He, however, presents the story to me as if he's the only one brave enough to voice what many have said.

How do I get him to cut it out?

A. Call him on it. Your pot stirrer enjoys the attention his exaggerating gains him. He also thinks he's able to exert power over you or sway your views by claiming to represent the voice of many. If you allow him to continue unchecked, he'll find more opportunities to stretch the truth. For example, if he decides you don't act in the way he wants, he may tell each of your employees "other employees have told me," leading to groundswell of gossip or worry.

When he says, "Just to let you know you upset 'Brett,' " don't let him jerk your chain and don't ask Brett "what's up?" unless Brett gives you reason to worry. Also, the next time he presents his views as the "voice of many," check it out by asking others their thoughts in a neutral way. Then sit down with this drama queen and let him know that you've outed him and he needs to stop exaggerating and pretending he speaks for others.

Q. Our payroll office received a notice from the Social Security Administration that an employee's Social Security number isn't the number listed in the Social Security Administration's records.

When we asked the employee about this he claimed they must be confused but he couldn't produce the card he gave us when we hired him. The payroll clerk is convinced this guy's hiding something and says he creeps her out. What do I need to think about here?

A. Not every employee or applicant willingly gives their employer a Social Security number. Some have conscientious objector reasons for not doing so. This may also be a simple clerical error.

Ask your employee to straighten this out with the SSA. If he can't or won't, realize the IRS fines employers who don't provide valid employee Social Security numbers on W-2s. Also, you probably received this incorrect number when you ran a background check or completed his I-9, and you may be employing an illegal alien, an individual hiding something in his background or one trying to avoid child support payments.

Because you have a legal obligation to ensure your employees can legally work in this country, ask your employee to produce other paperwork that verifies his legal status and run a background check. You need to document your effort to resolve this Social Security number mismatch and have this employee fill out a "Reasonable Cause Affidavit by Payor For Not Obtaining Payee's Identifying Number" documenting he gave you a Social Security number you accepted in good faith.

Finally, what exactly creeps out your payroll clerk? Just this, or is this number mismatch the tip of an iceberg you need to check into?

Dr. Lynne Curry is a management/employee trainer and owner of the consulting firm The Growth Company Inc. Send your questions to her at You can follow Lynne on Twitter @lynnecurry10 or through

Lynne Curry