How To Avoid Getting Blamed For Your Co-Workers Mistake

Robin Schwartz

How To Avoid Getting Blamed For Your Co-Workers Mistake

At some point in your career, you will make a mistake. Sometimes those mistakes are hardly noticeable and can be fixed before moving on. Other times, mistakes are big and impact the team members around you.

In the very worst of cases, mistakes can be costly to your organization. Many of us know we should own up to mistakes that are caused by us, but not everyone does.

It is not possible to control the work product of those around you. You need to know what to do (and not do) if you find yourself getting blamed for someone else’s misstep.

Don’t Just Take It

There is no reason you have to play along with a co-worker that is trying to drag you down. You cannot take responsibility for the mistakes of others and still expect to excel in your own job. If you have been incorrectly implicated by a co-worker (or by association with a project), take the appropriate steps to distance yourself from the issue.

Speak up to management who can help you if you are not able to work the issue out with your co-worker. You do not want to get in the habit of taking the fall when your work was not the issue.

We would like to think that most of our co-workers would not let us take the blame for a mistake we weren’t responsible for. That’s not always the reality.

Many times, those in the hot seat are worried about what will happen to them. They feel more secure if others are implicated with them. This is not an excuse to let the behavior slide. Take the appropriate steps to ensure that the right people know what part you did and did not have in the blunder.

Talk To Your Co-Worker

It does no one any good to immediately start saying “it’s not my fault” or to start crying.

If you are beginning to take the heat for something you know a co-worker was responsible for, seek them out to have a calm discussion.

It is better to assume that your colleague does not realize you are being blamed for their mistake than to assume that they are out to get you. You will need to continue to work with this person going forward.

For that reason alone, having a composed conversation with your co-worker will give you the opportunity to voice your concerns. It gives your co-worker a chance to explain and give them the opportunity to make things right.

Hearing what our co-workers have to say may shed more light on the situation as well. You may come to realize that your co-worker did not know about a project deadline. Maybe they were not forwarded a key email she needed to complete their part of the work. Seeking the person out to understand what went wrong is does two things:

  1. You don’t get blamed unfairly.
  2. It makes sure the mistake doesn’t happen again.

Don’t Throw Anyone Under The Bus

There is a right way and a wrong way to clarify what part you did or didn’t have when a mistake is made at work. The wrong way definitely involves publicly pointing your finger at the person next to you and saying “they did it!”. We should not have to be blamed for the errors of others. We also have to deal with these situations with a level of maturity and professionalism that is appropriate for the workplace.

You may find yourself being questioned by a manager or another team member about how or why a mistake was made. If so, explain your part in the situation and the steps you were involved with.

If you aren’t sure exactly what happened after you handed off part of a project or ran a financial report, be open and honest about that. There is no need to assume what happened next or point the finger at someone who might not be responsible either.

Seek Support

Some of us may encounter a co-worker who is known to regularly pass the blame on others so they look good. You will not be the only one who notices this person’s behavior. More than likely, your other colleagues are fully aware of the unprofessionalism and inability to take responsibility for their mistakes.

Should you find yourself in this situation, seek out the counsel and help of colleagues, managers or HR. It is likely that someone who is unable to exhibit accountability will also be on the radar of company leadership and the HR team. When you have a private one on one with your boss, discuss your concerns. Instead of specifically saying:

“John blamed me for not returning the client’s call!”

You can leave your colleague’s name out of it. Try telling your boss:

“I am responsible for triaging the voicemails left on the system overnight and emailing them to the account managers.

Lately, I feel like I’ve taken the blame for a few clients who weren’t called back. I’d be happy to show you the organizational system I’m using, but mainly, I want to figure out how we can avoid frustrating clients and ensure that account managers are reading the messages I give them.”

By stating your concerns this way, you are giving your boss a lot more to go on. Without specifically citing another responsible party, you are making it clear to your manager that the issue may be with someone else in the process.

We all want to put our best self forward in the workplace and making mistakes is not usually part of the plan. When you find yourself taking the blame for someone else’s mistake, ranting and raving to everyone might make them realize it wasn’t your fault. It won’t earn you any popularity points.

Instead, remaining calm and professional in order to sort out the misunderstanding. It will be appreciated much more by your colleagues and leadership.

About The Author

Robin Schwartz

Robin Schwartz has nearly a decade of experience providing HR expertise to employees and management in higher education. Her broad experience includes benefits, compensation, performance management, employee relations, payroll, talent acquisition and management. She received her masters degree from American Military University and maintains a PHR certification.

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