Workplace mistake: What to do when my coworker throws me under the bus?
May 16, 2013 11:18 AM   Subscribe

My office was submitting a grant and the wrong application was uploaded to the grant agency website. My coworker submitted the final documents - and it is clear to me already that he will find a way to throw me under the bus if he has to, to protect his interests. How do I approach this?

My office was applying for a grant. Many of our team members were in different cities and so we were communicating via email with each other, trying to put the pieces together. When everything was set to go, my coworker emailed off the documents to have them submitted. One document was unintentionally omitted. (The consequences of that are minor). I take my blame for that in that I could have checked for it with my colleague, but did not. As a team we determined why this happened. (I always admit my errors, if I realize that I have made them). My colleague was preparing the documents to submit while I was working on one last element of the application. When emailing with our boss today my colleague, however, said a few things that made me feel as though I was being thrown under the bus - the blame was definitely put mostly on me, even though we are equal colleagues and it was his task to finalize and submit.

Because I always believe in my personal accountability and learning from my mistakes I decided to look over our submission and email communications to see where things went wrong. In doing so, I saw that my colleague submitted documents that were for a completely different grant to be uploaded. I did not see the email before it was sent because he was charged with sending it off (he uploaded materials from the wrong folder) and we all trust my colleague.

I am trying to figure out what to do - tell my colleague first? Tell the team? Again, I have some responsibility (as do all of us) for this mistake in that I could have checked his submission before he sent it. I did not because there has not been an error of this type before (and he successfully submitted materials for a different application before). And, I certainly am not fully responsible. I am very concerned that he will find a way to blame me in a manner that is not fair or honest, once this is revealed. This is a very big mistake.

Have you faced this type of situation before? What would you recommend as the most ethical protocol? I believe in being highly ethical and honest - and I know that not everyone else operates that way.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (12 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Document everything. Send an email to your boss explaining everything. Never underestimate the power of proactively defending yourself by telling the simple truth.
posted by IAmBroom at 11:23 AM on May 16, 2013 [5 favorites]

"Here's what happened, with full documentation. Here's my plan to ensure that this never happens again."
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:24 AM on May 16, 2013 [29 favorites]

2nding cool papa bell. Do the post mortem. Lay out, factually, who did what during the timeline. Identify errors. Make recommendations on how to fix it. Submit it to the boss as a postmortem. If you're still in the doghouse after that, they're playing favorites and it may be time to move on.
posted by bfranklin at 11:27 AM on May 16, 2013 [3 favorites]

Also, put this guy on your "watchlist." Not meanly, but know that this is his tendency. Past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior, so they say.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 11:31 AM on May 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

The priority is to try and get the correct grant over ASAP, so try working on resolving this from that angle. I've been on the receiving end of the grant. Contact the organization you submitted the grant to, and say there was a mistake and apologize profusely. I've received that call with a national grant giving organization and said, ok, please send it over by x time and day. Do this quickly though, because on our end we have short timelines. Later go and discuss as a group how to better prevent that from happening. No blame, just how it can be prevented in the future.
posted by happysocks at 11:35 AM on May 16, 2013 [8 favorites]

Fix the problem by getting the right stuff to the Agency, then document the entire snafu, naming no names, then suggest cross-checks to insure that it doesn't happen again.

Lead by example and back out of the room where this guy is involved.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:41 AM on May 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

Email to colleague and boss marked high priority: "It looks as though [colleague's] final submission was inadvertently pulled from X folder instead of Y folder. [Colleague,] did you contact the grantor or attempt to resubmit with the X files? If not I'd be happy to follow up and see what our options are. [Boss,] what do you recommend?"

You're digging into things privately, on your own, while colleague is going public. Things like this should always be public. An email like that doesn't blame, but it says "I've discovered the error and recommend a solution."
posted by headnsouth at 12:02 PM on May 16, 2013 [5 favorites]

First things first: happysocks has it right – immediately contact the agency and inform them a submission mistake was made. Some agencies (e.g. NIH) have time windows for corrections for situations like this.

Second, IMHO this is a no-win situation with respect to the colleague. You must take action to save yourself, but anything you do will either (a) reflect badly on the colleague or (b) they will assume it did (even if you couch it in neutral, non-accusatory terms). You already know you can't trust them (they've demonstrated that), so, I would personally assume they will have it in for you from now on. Be on your guard.

Third, headnsouth's proposal (similar to bfranklin's) seems like the most reasonable plan of action.
posted by StrawberryPie at 1:47 PM on May 16, 2013

On re-reading, I see Ruthless Bunny wrote essentially exactly what I did, but more concisely. Sorry for not acknowledging that!
posted by StrawberryPie at 1:50 PM on May 16, 2013

I really don't know the dynamics of your office, but one lesson I remember from Public Relations 101 is to get your side of the story out first. Once a narrative is out there, all subsequent narratives are compared against that one. That said, if you blame him and say he fucked up, I am not sure that will reflect that well on your either. Whatever you do, present it as looking to the future and finding solutions to ensure it doesn't happen again and don't make it look like a blame game and covering your ass.

You can acknowledge that Bob submitted the wrong documents and Bob's final submission was not reviewed (you can say you didn't review it, or no one else on the team reviewed it if other people also could've) but in the future, before Bob hits send, he should send a final copy to the team with a deadline for feedback ("one hour and then it's being sent") so if anyone catches a last-minute concern, they can chime in before it's sent and everyone should feel responsible for checking the final draft and not assumed everyone else is checking it. It's up to you whether you think it makes sense to name names and if your boss is paying attention.
posted by AppleTurnover at 2:01 PM on May 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

What headnsouth said. Word for word.

Ruthless Bunny's naming no names is nice but when you have a coworker who is capable of throwing you under the bus, you have to go on the offensive.
posted by htid at 8:53 PM on May 16, 2013

The team need to present the problem and potential solutions to the boss ASAP.
posted by BenPens at 4:26 AM on May 17, 2013

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