How to deal with an unethical co-worker

I teach Humanistic Management and how to stop bullying using behavioral techniques. Ethics is a huge part of what it is I do and teach and I approach unethical behavior using both my own ethics as a humanist and behaviorally. I was recently asked some questions about how to deal with an unethical coworker.  Here are my answers.

1.       What are the signs that someone you are working with are unethical? 

If they lie about anything, they are unethical. If they steal, they are unethical. If they spread rumors about other people, they are unethical.  If they bully, they are unethical. If they don’t take responsibility for their actions, they are unethical. And, in all cases, they are also unprofessional.

2.       If you have to deal with someone in your office who you feel is unethical, how can you stay unaffected? 

The key is to not take it personally and to take preventative steps to protect yourself.  This is a trust but verify approach.  If you have a verbal agreement on some work that needs to be done (who is doing what), follow up that conversation with an email to ensure you have a document verifying the conversation took place and what was agreed to.  Yes, it is a hassle. But it is necessary to ensure that you aren’t blamed for their incompetence and game playing.

3.       Tips to get your job done and remain untainted by an unethical co-worker?

The problem is that any unethical behavior that is tolerated encourages others to be unethical too. So to stay untainted can be hard. First – you do have to have a strong internal moral compass. If something is wrong and you know it is wrong, then you need to not tolerate the behavior. If you are a boss – do something about it. If you are a worker and the unethical person is your boss, you may need to find another job. In the meantime, don’t break any laws just because your boss asks you to and make sure to document everything that is happening so you can not only CYA but also, perhaps, help internal affairs or whatever group oversees compliance issues or legal enforcement, have what they need to take corrective action.  In other words, keep your head down, but document what needs to be documented so you can be a whistle blower.

4.       Should you turn in an unethical co-worker? why? why not?

I say yes, but with caveats. Turning in a co-worker comes at a cost. The ethical thing to do is to turn in unethical people. The company will be better off without them. However, in reality, doing so can cost you your job and, if the person you turned in isn’t immediately fired, they will most likely retaliate. This is especially true if they are your boss. This is why before you take action, you should start documenting things so that an investigator will have what they need to pursue action AND you have a strategy in place to either exit or have allies who will protect you WHEN you report. Get everything in order before you take action. This will give you the best chance of success and put you in  a position to weather the storm you are about to unleash.

FYI – I have online courses on how to deal with harassment, bullying & retaliation – which is part of the unethical behavior dynamic.

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