On-the-Job Ethics: Dealing with a Dishonest Coworker

Everyone has a “bad coworker” story.  Many of these stories describe behavior that is funny, frustrating, or annoying.  A dishonest coworker, however, is more than merely frustrating; he or she puts every member of the team and perhaps even the organization itself in peril.

While you cannot force a coworker to behave honestly, you can bring the problem to light and take steps to protect yourself and your team from dishonest behavior.  When you face dishonesty from a coworker, try applying these tips:

  • Try to determine why your coworker is being dishonest.  Is your coworker too nervous, embarrassed, or afraid to admit a mistake?  Are they trying to impress someone, like a new boss?  Understanding the cause of the dishonesty often suggests ways to fix it.
  • Ask what the costs of the truth really are.  What would happen if your coworker acted honestly?  Would honest behavior disrupt the project, drive away a customer, or cost your coworker his or her job?  Likewise, what would be the cost of continued dishonesty?  Understanding the gravity of the situation will help you decide whether the problem can be addressed between yourself and your coworker, or if you need to get a supervisor involved.
  • Involve a supervisor when needed.  If you are uncertain about how your coworker will respond to a confrontation or if the dishonesty rises to the level of a possible legal violation, inform your supervisor as soon as you can.  Be willing to work with your supervisor and the other team members to investigate, respond to, and prevent dishonest behavior.
  • Talk it out.  When you’ve gathered as much information as you can, talk about the dishonesty and its effects with your coworker.  During the conversation, focus on the dishonest behavior and its impact on the team, rather than on your coworker’s personal ethics.  Depending on the situation, your supervisor may wish to take over this step.
  • Don’t take it personally.  Usually, dishonesty in the workplace is the result of a coworker attempting to cover his or her own tracks.  Instead, focus on understanding the dishonest behavior and preventing it in the future.

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