Before you start considering your options about how to deal with your coworker, it's important for you to understand your workplace's policies. Some companies have detailed instructions on how to handle problems in the work environment. If your workplace has an employee manual, check to see what it says about ethical behavior in the workplace. You should do your best to follow those rules if you want to address the problem without getting yourself into trouble.
If your workplace doesn't have an official policy or the instructions are meant to deal with serious cases of fraud, embezzlement or other major crimes, you'll need to use your own judgment. Sometimes you can correct a problem through a simple discussion. In other cases, you may need to go to your manager, your coworker's manager or a human relations (HR) representative.
One option you might have if the coworker's behavior doesn't directly impact your job or the way the workplace functions is to limit your interaction with the other employee as much as possible. You shouldn't ignore any behavior that could lead to bigger problems, but if it's just a matter of hearing one fish story after another, removing yourself from the conversation may be your best option.
But if you can't ignore or avoid the dishonest coworker, you may have to decide upon a course of action. Next, we'll look at when you should confront your coworker directly.
Confronting a Dishonest Coworker
Confrontation can be difficult. Many people don't like confrontation and will go out of their way to avoid it. But sometimes confrontation is the only way to fix a problem before it gets worse.
Before confronting a coworker about dishonesty, consider the level of necessity and the potential consequences. Is the coworker's dishonesty negatively affecting how you or other coworkers perform your jobs? Does it impair the workplace in some other way? If it just annoys you, it may not be worth confronting your coworker. But if there's a measurable impact, you may need to step up and confront him or her.
Keep in mind that few people like confrontations and even fewer enjoy being confronted. To prevent your discussion from turning into a workplace argument, consider taking a gentle approach. It may even turn out that the dishonest behavior that has concerned you is really a matter of misinterpretation. Open communication may show that there's really no problem to solve.
Try to explain to your coworker how his or her behavior affects your performance or the workplace in general. Keep all criticism restricted to how it affects the job and avoid personal attacks. Again, try to be gentle -- you may encounter resistance. By showing concern and compassion toward your coworker, you may be able to address the problem without making it worse.
This approach works well for relatively minor acts of dishonesty. This can include behaviors such as showing up late or leaving early, calling in sick without actually being ill or stealing office supplies. Point out that management might treat these relatively minor infractions seriously but do so without implying you're going to turn your coworker in. It may be enough to change your coworker's behavior.
Some acts of dishonesty are more serious and can adversely affect you and your workplace. In these cases, it's important to go the next step and report the coworker to the appropriate person. We'll look at these situations more closely in the next section.
Reporting a Dishonest Coworker
You may encounter a situation that's more serious than fibbing on a timesheet or taking home a few pens. In these cases, it's important to follow your workplace's policy for reporting unethical behavior. Depending upon the policy, it may mean reporting your coworker to your manager, your coworker's manager or human resources.
Some acts that justify reporting a coworker include fraud, embezzlement, sabotage and sharing intellectual property. These don't just affect how you do your job -- they can hurt the entire company. It's better to report serious problems early before they can develop further. And you don't want to be associated with unethical behavior -- if your employer discovers you knew about your coworker's dishonesty and did nothing about it, you could face punishment.
When it comes to reporting a coworker, you want to do so confidentially. Request a closed-door meeting with the appropriate manager or HR representative. If your company has a hotline you should use to report ethical violations, make the call from a private location. You don't want to increase tension or anxiety in the workplace. And there's always the chance that you don't have all the information.
Make sure you have a reasonable argument for why you feel your coworker has been dishonest. It's better to provide concrete examples of poor behavior than to level a blanket accusation. Keep the matter professional. Try to avoid getting emotional during the discussion. Point out how the behavior is affecting your performance or the workplace environment. Remember that unethical behavior can contribute to low morale and decreased job satisfaction.
While you shouldn't hesitate to report truly unethical behavior, don't go overboard. It's one thing to point out a destructive coworker and another to become the office snitch. If the matter is minor or merely irritating, a gentle conversation with the coworker is all that's necessary.
Learn more about navigating the modern workplace by following the links on the next page.
- Amble, Brian. "Honesty: more than truth or lies." Management Issues. December 2005. (Sept. 24, 2010) http://www.management-issues.com/2006/8/24/research/honesty-more-than-truth-or-lies.asp
- Cranshaw, Laura. "Taming the Abrasive Manager." Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, Calif. 2007.
- Dawson Parks, Mackenzie. "Dealing with Difficult Coworkers: From Sales and Marketing to Finance and Planning." Business Programs. 2010. http://www.business-programs.com/articles/dealing-with-difficult-coworkers.html
- DelPo, Amy and Guerin, Lisa. "Dealing with Problem Employees: A Legal Guide." NOLO. Berkeley, Calif. 2010.
- Heubeck, Elizabeth. "Dealing With the Jerk at Work." WebMD. (Sept. 24, 2010) http://www.webmd.com/balance/features/dealing-with-the-jerk-at-work
- Hollinger, Richard C. "Workplace Dishonesty." P&L Solutions. (Sept. 23, 2010) http://www.plsolutions.net/Documents/PandL%20-%20Workplace%20Dishonesty.pdf
- Varhol, Peter. "Honesty in the Workplace." Visual Studio. February 2007. (Sept. 24, 2010) http://visualstudiomagazine.com/articles/2007/02/01/honesty-in-the-workplace.aspx