Career

How to Deal with a Coworker Who Is Trying to Get You Fired, According to 15 Experts

What do you do when someone you work with every day wants to get you fired?

We asked experts to discuss how to deal with a coworker who’s trying to sabotage your career.

Here are their insights:

Table of Contents

Damian Birkel

Damian Birkel

HarperCollins Leadership Author | Founder & Executive Director, Professionals In Transition

Your first sign will usually be when your boss calls you into the office and begins to give you anonymous feedback from the team regarding aspects of your job that they are not satisfied with.

Swallow your tongue

This is not the time to go “off” on any one person in the team. Thank your boss for the valuable feedback. Discuss things that can be done to improve. Take notes and plan to send them a memo with the behavior written in and what specific actions you will be taking to work on it. Also mention that it would be helpful to know who is giving you the feedback so that you might be able to work with them directly to resolve it and not bother the boss again. (Usually, they won’t tell you).

Don’t become paranoid of everyone on your team

Instead, be very focused. Watch your teammates. Is there a clique that you are not included in? Start there. Then, help them with their jobs. It will knock them off their guard. Keep doing that consistently and you will confuse them and potentially defuse your personal situation.

Begin to document everything

No more informal communication with those who want to hurt you. Instead, send them emails recording discussions and next steps. Be sure to bcc your boss.

Revise your resume

This is something that we all should do every year, but of course, we don’t. Be sure to pull, copy, and bring home all of your performance reviews, key accomplishments, best work, rewards, and any “atta boy” memos you have.

These are excellent tools to add problem, action, result statements to your resume which are critical in today’s job market.

Take control of the situation from every angle as possible

In addition to updating your resume, make sure your linked in profile is complete and has a recent picture. Meet on a regular basis with your boss to discuss your accomplishments and see how they may feel about the blind carbon copied memos documenting the agreed team actions. Update as necessary.

Look for other job opportunities

Begin to monitor all internal job positions that you may qualify for, and apply for them (yet another way to take personal control at work).

Victor Fong

Victor Fong

CPA | President, Fong and Partners, Inc.

I’m going to place the following advice into 2 categories: Defensive Measures and Offensive Measures.

Defensive Measures

Don’t complain to human resources

I strongly advise that you don’t complain to your employer’s human resources (“HR”) department, particularly if your harasser is in a position of influence or power within the company.

Although HR ostensibly exists to support employees, the reality is that when HR steps in to deal with a workplace harassment issue, its job is to protect the employer, not the employee. Therefore, if your harasser is a high-performing jerk that is valued by your employer, chances are your HR complaint will actually make things worse for you.

Because you’ve shared your thoughts with them about the harassment, this information could be used against you by your employer if they take his side. Which brings me to my next suggestion…

Don’t tell anyone what you’re thinking

When you’re dealing with harassment, do not under any circumstances tell anyone at work what you’re thinking. Don’t discuss your harassment situation with any work colleagues and don’t make any comments about your harasser’s professional competence or character.

Keeping a poker face when experiencing harassment may be particularly difficult for people with little emotional control, but it’s necessary. If your harasser and your employer elicit an emotional response from you, you may unintentionally reveal your intentions in dealing with the harassment. You want to keep them off guard.

Employers are wary of being sued and if they clue in on your intentions (for example, taking legal action), they will use every measure against you to invalidate your accusations.

Review your employment record at HR

One obvious tactic an employer can use (or abuser, if he happens to be your manager) is to tarnish your professional reputation. They can refer to any negative performance reviews in your HR file as a counter offense. Therefore, it’s prudent that you obtain a copy of your file and review it thoroughly. If you have an impeccable employment record, then great. If not, then you should anticipate that any blemishes in your record could be used against you.

Don’t use the office to communicate to the outside

Do not use your company’s computer or telephone system to communicate to the outside. For example, if you’re scheduling a consultation meeting with an employment lawyer, do it on your own personal smartphone or laptop (with your own data plan – don’t use the company’s wi-fi).

This is important because, under most employment agreements, your employer has the right to review any communications you made using their equipment. Secondly, your employer may be able to (legally) surveil your e-mail communications or phone conversations.

Review your office communications & social media

Have you e-mailed any semi-offensive jokes to your office colleagues in the past? Were you engaged in heated e-mail or phone conversations with colleagues or customers during a bad day at the office? Perhaps you’ve exchanged some unflattering gossip about your superiors with your colleagues?

Maybe you posted some racy photos of yourself on Instagram or Facebook and shared them with some work buddies? Perhaps you’ve tweeted some controversial political views on Twitter in the run-up to the last federal election?

I think you get the gist of what I’m saying here: all these can be used against you by your employer to besmirch your personal character. Therefore, you should review these thoroughly in anticipation that they may be used against you.

Offensive Measures

Watch the jerk’s every move

Watch your harasser’s every move — what he says, what he does and whether he’s harassing other employees. And if he is, find out who they are — you may need their assistance further down the line. When he’s harassing you, make a note of any witnesses to the harassment. Keep a detailed journal of your observations.

So now you’ve reviewed your HR file (Defensive Measure #3), reviewed your office e-mails and social media (Defensive Measure #5), and made a journal of your abuser’s every move (Offensive Measure #1). Keep all this information in a file and in a safe place; it will come in handy for what comes next.

Consult with an employment lawyer

Review your situation with an employment lawyer and show him the information you’ve collected in Defensive Measures #3 and #5 and Offensive Measure #1. It’s also important that you have your lawyer review your employment contract for any restrictive covenants that may prevent you from disclosing the details of your abuse to any outside party.

If you have witnesses to the harassment or documented evidence like emails, texts, etc. and there is nothing that your employer can use against you after reviewing the information you collected DM #3 and #5, then a lawyer may conclude that you have a strong case against your harasser and your employer. In that case, a lawyer will usually recommend that you settle with your employer under terms that will be favorable to you.

On the other hand, you may have done some things that you regret which may have been documented in DM #3 and #5. Your lawyer may suggest that these can be used against you by your employer in settlement negotiations. And if settlement negotiations fail and you decide to sue, they may be used against you in the attendant legal proceedings.

In any event, both you and your lawyer will have to weigh the risks of each option (i.e., settle or sue) and the costs versus benefits of each option.

Go on paid leave

Being harassed or bullied can be a psychologically scarring experience. As such, you should consider meeting with a medical or mental health professional to assess your health. If your employer has a policy of paid leave or short-term disability policy, then, by all means, take full advantage of it.

This will give you an opportunity to take a break from your harasser while you’re still getting paid. Moreover, it will make the jerk look bad in the eyes of your employer since it should be obvious by now that he was the cause of your health issues which are now costing the employer money and lost productivity.

M. Reese Everson, Esq.

M. Reese Everson

Attorney | Advocate, B.A.B.E.S. in the Workplace |
Author, The B.A.B.E.’s Guide to Winning in the Workplace: You Don’t Have to Compromise

Women from all industries have often found themselves face to face with a coworker who wanted them fired. In my book, I describe this person as a Haman.

Be they male or female, a Haman presents themselves as someone who is more powerful than they actually are and seeks out more homage, praise or credit, than they are actually due. A Haman is nothing more than a Hateful, Arrogant, Maniacal, Narcissist advisor to someone in power.

Hip Hop culture refers to these individuals as “haters.” When you run into these Hamans you have to prepare yourself for the worst. With prayer and planning, you should begin to marshal your resources, including letters of reference, advice from mentors, and assistance from people who mean you well, in case you are in need of “safe passage”.

A safe passage could mean a reassignment or new opportunity with another department or a completely new position

Whatever you do, keep moving forward, it’s more difficult to hit a moving target. But also, be mindful to move in silence.

Stan C. Kimer

Stan Kimer

President, Total Engagement Consulting

Don’t get too emotional and do something stupid yourself. Keep a level head.

You should analyze how close that coworker is to your boss.

Are this coworker and your boss tight? In this case, there is really not much you could do. I would quickly find a better job somewhere else and focus on my strong transferable skills to find a new position.

If you are all on equal footing, I would keep meticulous written records

Write down every single thing this coworker is doing to try to get you fired, including exact dates and times if possible. Also, if they are trying to get your fired on focusing on something you may have done or not done, document all your own actions too.

At the right time, take all the evidence to your manager, a manager higher up or the human resources department. Focus on doing the very best job you can during this time so they will want to keep you and fire the coworker instead.

Assess how your coworkers feel about this employee

Has this person also tried to do nasty things toward them and you can solicit their support? Having several people go to management on your behalf and against that employee could carry more weight than you going alone.

Finally, if this employee is that nasty and devious to try to get you fired, it is possible they have done some other inappropriate things that you can also document and have in your case when these situations come to ahead.

Bottom line you want to come across as the valuable sensible employee that the company will want to keep.

Lauren McAdams

Lauren McAdams

Career Advisor | Hiring Manager, Resume Companion

It’s every professional’s worst nightmare: a coworker makes it their mission to drag your reputation through the mud and get you fired.

Whether it’s a personal vendetta or just a cynical career move, every once in a while it happens. But there are steps you can take to weather their attacks and keep your job.

Avoid confrontation

If a coworker is trying to get you fired, it’s likely they will deny having said anything derogatory about you and act pleasant in front of others. Confronting them about their actions will only result in an awkward scene, and make you look aggressive — which is exactly what they want.

Make sure you’ve covered all your bases

Keep honest lines of communication open with your supervisors, and avoid any serious mistakes at work. It’s unfortunate, but you need to be extra careful not to give your coworker any ammunition against you.

Practice positivity

When interacting with your other coworkers (and especially management) be pleasant and upbeat. Compliment people’s work, make conversation and offer a helping hand when needed. If nobody has any negative experiences working with you, then your detractor will eventually just be seen as a chronic complainer.

Ultimately, if you can demonstrate that you’re on top of your work, pleasant, and honest, your workmates will notice and your coworker’s attempts to sabotage you will fail.

Michael Tomaszewski

Michael Tomaszewski

Career Expert, Zety

The moment you start noticing that someone is trying to get you fired at work, you should immediately take certain steps.

Start a paper trail

Document all interactions as much as possible. Ideally, the person reveals (or strongly hints at) their intentions via email, but that may rarely be the case. Thus, it’s in your best interest to record all exchanges with a specific time, context and exact details of the interaction.

All this evidence will go a long way in showing you to be a cool-head and objective party in this unsavory plot against you.

Confront the person

Do so assertively, but firmly. In other words, call them out on their actions and let them know that it will not be tolerated, period. Inform them that you know what they’re trying to do and to stop immediately or you will be forced to escalate the situation.

Standing up to bullies removes their power, and you’re protected via a slew of federal and state regulations that afford you to a harassment-free environment.

Bring up this issue to your supervisor

If the lowly behavior doesn’t cease, it’s time to let your boss know. Meet with him/her as soon as possible and brief them on the situation. This is where the written highlights detailing the incidences will come in handy. Your supervisor will most likely realize quite quickly as to what is going on and act accordingly.

No one likes to work in a more than necessarily stressful work environment so it’s natural that your supervisor will quickly become your ally. With this reinforcement, you should see fairly immediate results.

Ultimately, as long as you’re doing your job well, have the facts/statistics to prove it and behave professionally you should not be too worried about such attempts.

We all run into “haters” in life, but with the above suggestions, you’ll be able to suavely navigate these treacherous waters until the storm passes.

Roger Maftean

Roger Maftean

Career Expert, Resumelab

Although we all wish for it, our work environment is not always all sunshine, lollipops, and rainbows. Let’s face it; this is where the competition and jealousy creep in the least expected moment, ruining your work relations and, eventually, your ability to perform.

If you feel like your coworker is trying to sabotage you, here’s what should do:

Act at the drop of a hat

There’s no time to sit around and wait for your colleague to use politics against you. So get a move on and secure yourself.

Depending on what might be jeopardized, document everything you can – your work hours, activities, tasks completed, and all conversation you have (literally put everything in writing with timestamps and print it out too).

If you do things by the book, you have to be able to prove it. Someone’s word will mean very little against hard evidence.

Enter a war zone holding a white flag

Yes, this is scary. However, an honest approach and conversation hit the abuser’s center of gravity. Approach a problematic coworker and ask what is causing the attacks. Perhaps you have done something in the past to upset this person.

Don’t go defensive. Hide your pride in a pocket, and stay positive. Show that you care, and you’re willing to solve all issues.

If you are at your wits’ end, speak to your manager

It’s good to have management informed about the situation even if you are trying to solve it on your own. If talking directly to your backstabbing coworker is not an option, meet with your manager as soon as possible. Let that manager be the mediator and get to the bottom of the problem.

Remember, if your colleague is aggressively trying to get you fired, harm your reputation or discourage you from work – such actions might be considered harassment and should be addressed immediately.

Simon Sapper

Simon Sapper

Director, MakesYouThink Consultancy

In some ways, dealing with malevolent co-workers is the same as any other workplace challenge – but this one does have a unique characteristic.

What is distinctive is getting to the point where you recognize what is going on – that bad or erratic behaviors directed towards you are not figments of your imagination, or you being over-sensitive or reading innocent incidents in the wrong way. This can take time because it is not what we expect – and not what we want to believe.

Once you have reached this point, the issue becomes more familiar – as with all bullying or harassment issues, I suggest you do the following:

  • Keep a diary so you have a contemporaneous record of what has happened.
  • Make sure you have understood and work to the objectives and standard set by your employer because your ill-intended co-worker will try to distract and undermine you for sure.
  • And try and find someone you can confide in – as a sanity check. Good employers will have policies and support mechanisms because they recognize how damaging this sort of issue is to individuals, brand reputation and productivity.

Two other things are very important: First, what is the context in which this is happening? Frankly, if the organization is badly managed, and/or has a toxic culture – then it is going to be much harder to bring rogue co-workers under control.

And second, how do you feel about the situation? Angry, disappointed, and shocked – yes, certainly. But what are you able or willing to do about it? You might feel that the hassle isn’t worth it, and that’s fair enough: time to move on.

Finally, it’s worth bearing in mind just how devious co-workers who want you fired can be. In my own experience, I started a new placement and would-be tormentor was roughly half my age and, I guess felt both threatened and emboldened to attack.

He’d leave notes criticizing my performance accidentally on the printer for me to find, offer inappropriate and unrequested advice, phoneme up when he was off-shift to critique my work and encourage me to riffle through the desk drawers of our more senior colleagues.

The motivation, to me, was clear – he saw me as a more competent rival. With my rhino-like thick skin, his barbs were amusing rather than wounding, but a less seasoned employee may have felt differently.

We all should have a right to work in an environment free from persecution. But this expectation is not always met, so we need to know how to recognize the signs and what to do about them.

Caleb Backe

Caleb Backe

Certified Life Coach | Business Consultant, Maple Holistics

If you discover that a coworker is trying to get you fired, the number one thing to do is to start keeping a record

Track all your accomplishments as proof that you are a valuable member of the team. Also, document all the times that this employee has tried to sabotage your work – with proof of their efforts – so that you have evidence to back up your claims.

Once you have a record of everything, go to your supervisor with your complaint

Explain using hard facts rather than emotions why your colleague’s behavior is wrong and intentional. Remind your supervisor of your worthwhile highlighting all the negative consequences of the other employee’s actions. M

Make sure your supervisor creates a solid plan to put an end to this behavior. And while this process takes place, keep your distance from the colleague in question so that you keep yourself completely clean in the situation.

Nate Masterson

Nate Masterson

HR Manager, Maple Holistics

Address the situation. Talking about someone behind their back seems so high school, so it’s especially frustrating when you find out that it’s happening in the workplace.

If it’s happening to you, you need to figure out how to handle it, stat. Just make sure that you know for a fact that this is happening so that you don’t become the one talking about others.

Address the talker directly

The key is to do so in a firm yet nonconfrontational way. Tell them that you’re aware they are unhappy with certain aspects of your behavior or performance. Yet remind them that this is no excuse to speak negatively about you to others.

Make it clear that if they have a problem with you they should be professional and come speak to you directly, without stirring up office politics.

Report the situation to your supervisor or HR department

If, for whatever reason you are nervous about confronting this individual, you can go directly to your supervisor or HR department with your concerns.

However, you should come armed with proof that this negative talk is happening, as well as how it’s destructive to your work performance and the rest of the team. If the higher-ups realize that this is an issue that can start to affect the work environment and office output, they’ll be more inclined to help.

Mike Falahee

Mike Falahee

Owner & CEO, Marygrove Awning Co.

Communicate and address the problem directly

Ask the coworker what they have against you and try to determine why they want you fired. Hopefully, through civil communication, you can resolve the issue before it escalates.

If that fails, try to avoid them and focus on your own responsibilities. If they proceed with multiple attempts at getting you fired while you continue to perform admirably it’s likely a superior will recognize that they’re the problem, not you.

Maintain professionalism

Don’t let anger get the best of you, and don’t lower yourself to their level. Maintain your professionalism. Attempting to sabotage them in retaliation might result in you getting fired and in that case they win.

Related: What Does It Mean to Be Professional at Work?

Jessica Chase

Jessica Chase

Sales and Marketing Head, Premier Title Loans

Workplace politics is something one has to face at least once in life. There could be something you need to smell like if your manager is giving more attention to your peer, or your co-worker is trying to ignore you and is more friendly with some other people you do not like, etc. The hate can lead to a stage when a co-worker would get fired.

The best advice for this is to sort out the things

You must need to have empathy instead of the anger of rage if you smell something is going wrong between you and your co-worker. Conflicts do arise but try to settle them down as soon as possible.

Try to go out with your co-worker for lunch or bowling and pay the bill, try to be extra careful while using your words, and try to give pleasing compliments that do not look like a taunt for your co-worker. A small gift like a candy or a diary when you get back visiting your hometown would be nicer.

Remember, you need to put yourself in others’ shoes and have a feeling of empathy for your co-worker. That’s how you win people!

Related: Building Strong Work Relationships

Osama Khabab

Osama Khabab

Founder & CEO, Motioncue Digital Media Agency

Talk directly to the co-worker involved

As professionals, the first step would be to talk directly with the coworker and try to resolve the issue without having to involve team leads or supervisors.

Sometimes having a one-on-one private meeting with a coworker really helps in clearing the air by highlighting clear office policies and communicating substantial solutions to the problem.

Ensure valid and reliable documentation

In case your coworker refuses to cooperate, the next step would be to document any incident which clearly showcases how your coworker is trying to sabotage your position. If things escalate, those documents would act as evidence to protect your position.

Seek management help

Lastly, it would be an adequate idea to report to the HR representative or team supervisor if things start to turn chaotic with your coworker. They would help in monitoring the whole situation and it could lead to either your coworker getting reassigned in the different departments or maybe let go.

Ana Bera

Ana Bera

Cybersecurity Expert | Co-founder, SafeAtLast

If you suspect that a colleague is trying to get you fired, don’t fall in the trap of drama and conflict. If you approach your colleague and try to sort things out, he or she will just deny everything, leaving you in a very uncomfortable position.

Do your job the best as you can and be limit the communication with your colleague

Be very polite and make sure that your results speak for themselves. However, you should let your colleague know that there is a certain line after which you won’t tolerate somebody’s rude behavior. In case he or she crosses that line, approach the management directly with credible evidence that will support your claims.

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