my employee lies and says other people’s work is her own

A reader writes:

I manage a small team of researchers and analysts. I have one team member, Anna, who does some great work but, as I’ve increasingly noticed, also has a habit of claiming others’ work as her own.

In her recent performance review she spoke and wrote about work she’d done on a project which I know was actually done by a colleague because (unbeknownst to Anna) I’d worked with the colleague one-on-one on it a number of times and knew what he’d done on it. She also referred to a set of guidelines she’d “developed” for our external partners (which I was surprised by as we already have one, again written by a colleague some time ago). When I then looked at it, it was clear that she’d simply created a new document with a title page and her name on it but copied and pasted the guidelines from a document she’d found in the colleague’s folder, just in a different order. She has also sent documents to me that she’s “put together with…[a colleague]” but in actual fact the colleague has written it and asked her to proofread. Rather than send it back to the colleague, she’s forwarded directly to me as though it’s a joint piece of work.

I’m now finding it difficult to evaluate her performance (and that of her colleagues) because I find myself questioning whether it’s her work or not. I want to raise it with her – and as it will be the first time I’ve done so – try to frame it as constructively as possible. Any thoughts would be much appreciated!

This is serious stuff.

She’s lying to you, and she’s doing it in order to try to accrue benefits to herself at the expense of her coworkers. That’s a serious integrity problem, and it’s not one you can have on your staff.

If she’s willing to lie to you about this, you won’t be able to take her word for anything. That’s unworkable in an employee.

This isn’t someone fluffing up their work on a project around the edges. She copied someone else’s work and put her name on it.

So this shouldn’t be about finding a way to frame it as constructively as possible or even about trying to figure out how to know if something is really her work or not. It needs to be about telling her extremely clearly that this isn’t okay and that she’s created a situation where you can’t trust her.

And it also needs to be about deciding if you can even keep her. Lying, especially a pattern of lying, is the kind of thing that you need to fire over.

But before you decide anything in that regard, you need to talk to her. I’d start this way: “You mentioned in your performance review that you’d developed a set of guidelines for external partners. Can you tell me about the work you did to create that?” This is a chance for her to come clean.* If she doesn’t, then you proceed to this: “I took a look at it, and it appears to be the document Jane wrote a while ago, but with a title page with your name on it. How did that come about?” And then you go to: “You had also mentioned work you did on the X project, but my understanding is that work was done by Fergus. What can you tell me about that?” (Talk to Fergus beforehand to make sure that your employee didn’t play a role on the project that you didn’t know about.)

How she handles this is going to give you some useful information. There’s a pretty good chance that she’s going to dig in deeper and try to keep the lie going, which means you have someone on your team who’s willing to lie to your face even when you’ve told her the jig is up (and you really, really can’t have that). But who knows, maybe she’ll tell you something you didn’t realize that exonerates her, so it’s important to have the conversation and give her a chance to do that, just in case. But assuming that doesn’t happen, then the next step is this:

“I’m seeing a pattern of you claiming other people’s work as your own. This is a very serious thing, to the point that I’m questioning whether we can keep working together. I need to be able to take you at your word when you tell me things because the alternative is that I’d have to check up on everything you tell me, and that’s not workable. I need to think about where we go from here, but meanwhile is there anything you want to tell me about what’s going on?”

But unless you hear something in this conversation that changes your understanding of what’s been happening, you’re going to need to let Anna go.

* Updated to add: Since this has come up in the comments, I want to clarify it here. The idea isn’t that if Anna does confess, all is forgiven. But the details matter, and can impact how you handle her departure, future references, etc. If you hear “this has been a heavy burden on me and I feel horrible about it — my spouse is dying and I’m not myself and I made terrible decisions in trying to get by at work during this time and I understand you may need to let me go as a result,” that’s different than someone who digs in and doubles-down on the lying.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 437 comments… read them below }

  1. LoiraSafada*

    I worked with someone like this. Unfortunately, this kind of thing was merely the tip of the iceberg.

    1. nonprofit manager*

      I work with someone like this right now. And it is the tip of the iceberg for this person, as well. One of the other very troubling patterns of behavior is this person’s ease in blaming others for problems and unwillingness to accept any responsibility. And this person is in a leadership position.

      1. 2 Cents*

        I worked with someone like this, and when confronted, didn’t admit to anything, even though the evidence was extensive. That place was completely dysfunctional, though, so nothing happened to her. But when I found out, that’s the day I started looking for a new job!

      2. Koko*

        I’ve found that one of the most useful skills in building solid working relationships is to acknowledge your own faults and give credit to others liberally.

        For instance, when presenting on the results of Project X, I’ll always mention the person in Analytics who got me the number I’m using to show that I kicked ass on Project X: “I’m grateful to Fergus for digging into a mountain of data and distilling it for us so we can really see what happened with Project X and where to go from here.” People remember that you gave them kudos in a public setting and it makes them like you more and often be more eager to prioritize requests from you when they’re stretched thin, because they know you’re returning the favor by helping to build their reputation up.

        And when you mess up, a simple, “Shoot, this was my fault. Our spam filter caught the request and I haven’t been checking the filter as often as I should be – I’ll be sure to monitor it more regularly going forward.” It’s not great to make mistakes but if you ‘fess up to them right away and acknowledge what you could have done differently, you convey something important to your coworkers – that you know correcting the mistake is more important than hiding it, that you don’t shy away from taking responsibility, and that you have given enough thought to how you were personally responsible to prevent it happening again (even if other people were the main source of the problem, how might you have done things differently to mitigate or prevent that from impacting your own work?). There may not be a clear immediate payoff but over time it will increase your workplace capital when people know you can be trusted and that you aren’t just looking out for yourself.

        1. NK*

          YES, all of this. Working with people who conceal mistakes and dodge blame is the worst. And it just draws more attention to the mistake in the end because you spend time trying to figure out what happened. In a company where people move around a lot, it’s particularly damaging because when you develop that reputation, no one wants to work with or for you. Owning up to something and moving forward is usually the best way for everyone to move on from it.

          1. Kat M.*

            This is assuming your workplace is sane. I worked at one with a zero tolerance policy, and you bet every single hourly worker conspired to hide mistakes when just one could get you fired.

            1. Satanic Panic (c)1983*

              Yeah, this is an important caveat. I learned really fast at my call center job that it was best to be seen as stupid, instead of admitting that you’d knowingly cut a corner or not followed policy so that you’d keep your job (like refunding a late fee to someone who didn’t fit the criteria because the caller said up front they weren’t hanging up until the fee was gone—and long calls meant you can’t “control your calls” and that’s also fireable! :D).

        2. Stranger than fiction*

          Sadly, I know someone who does all this but the culture he’s working in has multiple people in leadership roles claiming his work as their own.
          (Yep, he’s job hunting)

          1. Steve*

            Leaders claiming credit for their subordinates’ work, unfortunate though it may be, is common and is definitely not on par with what the OP is dealing with.

        3. NW Mossy*

          Owning up to mistakes is also often a way to mitigate the damage, and hiding them can often make the underlying issue worse.

          A key part of my job is to review and approve situations where we’re offering a customer financial recompense for an error. For that process to work well, we have to understand what went wrong and how we’ll prevent/mitigate in the future. We’re also on a clock – every day that ticks by makes the dollar amount we have to lay out higher.

          This is why I lay out very clearly for people that I want to know who was involved and what happened not to blame or penalize, but to understand. We’re all human and we all make mistakes – take ownership of yours, and you’ll thrive.

        4. Anonymoose*


          I have had such a variety of experiences in blame and kudos – both as a team member and leading teams. It’s so CHEAP and EASY to take the blame and verbally dish out kudos – why folks shy away from it is beyond me. My GM used to mistakingly coach his teams to take credit for their assistant’s work because ‘it all rolls up anyway’. *headdesk*

      3. KatyO*

        Same here. One of my employees constantly tries to take credit for other’s work and refuses to accept responsibility for her own actions. I’ve caught her in lies before and HR won’t let me fire her because she’s in a “protected” class. Extremely frustrating.

        1. Else*

          That’s a miserable crock – there is no “protected class” when there is actual documentable malfeasance and poor performance.

    2. Mallory Janis Ian*

      I worked with someone like this, and the rest of the iceberg was that she was deeply insecure and threatened by anyone else’s being perceived as ‘important’ in any way. As the dean’s assistant, she was the head admin, and if any admin beneath her level received any public recognition or praise, she would try to take credit for it. If she couldn’t take credit for it, she would spread negative gossip about their performance. Basically, all recognition had to accrue to her or things would turn ugly.

      1. Anonymoose*

        Oh jeez, she’s a nightmare. I would not have lasted working with her without a verbal bitchslap.

      2. Annonymouse*

        My ex boss was similar.

        I work for a niche industry which most businesses on it hold regular events – think an open day /sports event kinda thing every 2 months.

        At this place you had to “volunteer” to help out at some of these for your performance assessments if it wasn’t part of your regular duties. If it was part of your regular duties/department the policy was “be there or be dead/in a coma.”

        My job at these events is to coordinate everyone (staff, volunteers and participants), keep events to the schedule and make sure we have enough supplies. Which is about 90% of the event, not to mention all the prep beforehand.

        So one time one of the staff “volunteers” is there at the event watching and helping, making suggestions that aren’t practical but are naively helpful and really trying their best and doing a good job.

        At the end of the event we have a little powwow circle where our CEO goes on about how awesome the event was, how great it was for the volunteers to give up their time, how much better it was than last time and how much people enjoyed the event.

        Afterwards the volunteer in question comes up to me and tells me how great a job I did running the day and it’s clear how hard I worked.

        The boss overheard and said “It’s because of all the processes and training Annonymouse got at Teapot Company. It’s all about the greatness of Teapot Company.”

        I was so upset I had to go to a bathroom and cry because:

        1) I had plenty of industry experience running these events. Teapot company didn’t teach me jack.

        2) Literally 90% of the event is my work and even a blind person can see that.

        3) There was tonnes of extra work that went into these events which I was not compensated for. He would make 4-8k cash in hand off these and I would only get to claim some overtime – maybe $100-150 worth for an extra 10+ hours of work.

        4) The ex bosses identity was the company. Any success the company had was his and his alone. No sharing of limelight or credit. Ever. That’s what hurt the most. That I couldn’t be acknowledged for my hard work.

    3. Salamander*

      Yep, I did, too. I had started a new job, and a woman who had started in her role about a month before I did, told me that I reported to her. She had no background in the field. I did. She took everything I did and passed it off as her own. I thought that this was sticky, since she was my supervisor. Maybe some supervisors did this? It had never happened in my previous experience, but this was a new workplace.

      My frustration finally got to the boiling point. I went to our grandboss, laid it out for him with some other issues that had arisen with her, and asked if I could get reassigned to another supervisor. I fully figured that I could get fired over this for insubordination, but I was ready to walk if that looked like a possibility.

      To my amazement, he said that he had no idea that was going on and told me that I DIDN’T REPORT TO HER. I reported to HIM.

      I was floored. I stayed in my role there for more than ten years. She moved on after four.

      Moral of the story: People who do this will lie about a whole lot of stuff and are terrible for morale.

      1. kbeers0su*

        Oh…wow. I’m just trying to imagine having the nerve to lie to someone about their reporting to me instead of their actual boss.

        1. Salamander*

          She was a total puffer-fish. Never had anything substantive to contribute to a discussion, but instead repeated and rephrased the last few statements that the boss said (the “active listening” trick), and tried to get by on that. Sadly, this worked a lot for people who weren’t paying attention.

          I am grateful for the experience, because now I know how to recognize and shut down that nonsense.

      2. Daria Grace*

        I had a similar thing happen. The person was meant to be providing us new hires some training but she pretended she was our manager. A rearrangement of who sat where just happened to put us new people and her sitting away from the rest of the team, allowing her to act like a super strict supervisor without the actual manager noticing for a few months

    4. Bella*

      My sister’s manager does this. He has put her work (and her coworkers’ work) in his portfolio.

    5. Connie-Lynne*

      I had this happen — a colleague who had pushed back on every initiative put forth by my team, frequently ghosted, and complained that he didn’t have a senior enough title showed up at his new company in a VP role.

      Only problem is that his new place put up bios for their VPs. And in his bio he claimed to be the “Senior Architect ” of the team I’d founded, built, and that he had rejected.

      I told a mutual friend that he was close with that Steve might wanna drop the part where he takes credit for my work from his LinkedIn and public bio real damn fast unless he wanted his HR, CTO, and President to get a polite letter from me. It vanished shortly thereafter.

      1. LeRainDrop*

        Good for you! We had a poor-performing staff attorney who, after getting fired, did all sorts of aggrandizement just like that, making himself appear to be the person who directed the work and strategy on a high-stakes lawsuit, even though he was basically a doc reviewer. Alas, he threatened (completely) baseless legal claims against our firm, which meant a settlement that included silence on his actual performance and such. We weren’t able to correct his public misrepresentations about his experience at our firm. He even had the balls to list his former supervisor, the partner who actually fired him, as a reference when he applied for new jobs!

    6. MillersSpring*

      I was the grandboss to someone like this. He was going into the archives to find previous design work by past employees, made a few updates and passed it off as his own. It was suspicious to his boss that his work suddenly improved and also seemed vaguely familiar. He also was sleeping at his desk frequently, coming in late and leaving early, and had been on two previous PIPs. Rather than PIP him again, we just fired him.

  2. Murphy*

    Wow, that is super bad! Definitely talk to her as soon as you can. Like Alison said, that can’t be allowed to continue and has probably already gone on too long.

  3. fposte*

    OP, the problem is that except for the times you saw her create it you don’t know if she “does great work.” It’s pretty disturbing that we’re not talking a one-off here–if this is driven by desperation, she’s desperate way too often to be effective in this job, and if it’s driven by something less forgiveable, I don’t think there’s a way to trust her going forward.

    Basically, you have a serial plagiarist whose actual work quality is a question mark. I could see kindly counseling her into a different position if this is her being out of her depth, but I can’t actually see keeping her no matter what drove her.

    1. FlibertyG*

      True, I think what makes it concerning to me is that these sound like “nice to have,” bonus-type work that she’s stealing. There isn’t that much urgency in a best practices document typically. So maybe she’s just polishing her image, but … how does she act when the product is actually critical and the heat is on? I assume much, much worse than this.

      It’s also not just colleagues, you have to be concerned that she’s lifting things from the internet etc every time she turns something in, and that makes *your* company look bad if it turns up on your website or anything external.

      1. EddieSherbert*


        I thought of this and was concerned as well; hopefully she doesn’t have access to external documentation/posts/whatever, but that could really create a lot of backlash for the company if she ever plagiarized from outside the company!

      2. Stranger than fiction*

        Yes. Unfortunately, people like this will spend more time and energy cheating the system and learning more ways to do so than they do actually trying to learn how to do their job.

      3. Satanic Panic (c)1983*

        >> you have to be concerned that she’s lifting things from the internet etc every time she turns something in

        Is it possible she might not realize that this ISN’T OKAY? I’ve met way too many people who believe if it’s on the internet it’s not copyrighted and/or they don’t have to cite it, rearranging steps is the same thing as making a process, proofreading makes them a coauthor, and the last person to touch a document gets full credit. Like I said: NONE OF THIS IS OKAY, but some people need to have that conversation where it’s explicitly spelled out, because maybe they managed to not learn this in school or had previous jobs that were petty and dysfunctional and encouraged it.

        Storytime. One place where I worked, a newbie got into some of the folders on the shared harddrive, changed the font on some crucial documents, and saved the changes. Then they tried to say since they were listed as having edited the documents, that made them a collaborator, and they referred to “doing some editing on the [x] documents” every chance they got, especially with higher-ups. No one really gave a shit because wtf, but they pretty obviously couldn’t understand the difference between what they’d done and what the people who wrote the document had done.

        I don’t know if this makes the LW’s situation better or worse, but it’s an angle to consider.

        1. teclatrans*

          Yes, I really think that many people don’t understand intellectual property, and the using writing as source material for your own work vs. slightly repackaging it. I am baffled at the disconnect, but I believe it’s real.

        2. Beth*

          Do you really think that this was a case of the newbie not knowing better? To me it sounds like it was an intentional play made in order to take credit (shared, though it may be) for work she hadn’t done and to appear to know more than she did about the business.

    2. Cassandra*

      I was thinking along some similar lines. I’ll take the OP at their word that Anna is actually capable and (at least sometimes) productive. That being so, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Anna revealing a lot of fear and impostor syndrome in the conversation with OP.

      I don’t know that this changes the endgame all that much? Plagiarism and lying are not in any way acceptable responses to feeling inadequate or professionally-threatened by others’ competence. But it might color how OP would manage Anna out, handle reference calls, and so on. Maybe an EAP referral is on the table, if Anna will be staying long enough.

      I want to believe Anna can grow past this, even though it almost certainly shouldn’t be in her current position and it’s absolutely not the OP’s responsibility to fix Anna.

      1. Snark*

        “Maybe an EAP referral is on the table, if Anna will be staying long enough.”

        Hard disagreee. This is a matter of fundamental integrity and professional ethics, not a mental health issue, and I personally advocate for her being gone by the end of today anyway. How Anna feels is really not germane here.

        1. Coming Up Milhouse*

          +1 on this. EAP is increasingly used in comments and a catch all. What would an EAP do for a lack of professionalism and outright lying?

          1. Batshua*

            Not just in the comments.

            My boss just suggested I go to EAP for help with “time management” — and I don’t even need time management help, I need not to have 1.5x the amount of work I can do in a day and not feel burned out all the time.

            (She knows we’re all overburdened and burned out, but apparently we have to finish our work every day anyway, even if it’s not physically feasible.)

            1. cornflower blue*

              “Employee requested EAP for assistance with undermining the fourth dimension. Copay was exorbitant.”

                1. JessaB*

                  There is a rule I think (after having snorked multiple mouthfuls of Pepsi up my nose or on my keyboard,) that one should never have anything edible/drinkable in their mouths when reading AAM. It’s just too dangerous.

                  Maybe Alison should put that in the posting guidelines: Do not eat/drink whilst actively engaging with AAM.

                2. JessaB*

                  Oh and “AAM is not responsible for damaged computers, phones or other equipment that was damaged by laughing readers.”

            2. Batshua*

              (Also, when I have a day where I’m periodically staring off into space doing nothing, it’s not a conscious act of slacking off; it’s my brain shutting down temporarily because I’m totally overwhelmed. The way to fix that would be to remove the insane pressure and have reasonable expectations of our abilities. I have not yet figured out how to tell my boss that I’ve become less efficient because I am stressed beyond reason. I honestly don’t think she’d hear it if I said it, so there’s that.)

              1. LeRainDrop*

                Been there, done that, and I don’t have a good way of achieving the goal. Discussing the long-long-long-term issue (as well as an abusive boss) with our office managing partner, he told me I could try to ask for accommodations under the ADA. I said, “You mean, like that I would not have to work between the hours of 1 a.m. and 5 a.m.?” Snarky answer was not appreciated.

                1. Batshua*

                  I mean, maybe I could go to the EAP to be like I AM SO STRESSED OH GOD WE CAN’T DO IT ALL AND I’M LOSING MY MIND, which might be cathartic, but still doesn’t actually, you know, solve the problem.

          2. Cassandra*

            Find a way to treat the cause, such that the unacceptable behavior changes?

            Admittedly, I come at this from an educator’s perspective. I had a case of plagiarism many years ago that stood out to me because the material plagiarized was a quiz question I myself had written. (This was a multi-TA course with communally-written quizzes, so there was no way the student could have known.)

            The evidence was ironclad. I could have gotten the student bounced out of the university, easily. Instead, I confronted the student with it. A terrified overachiever, the student was devastated by what they had done. They redid the work under my eye and excelled at it, none of their other work for me roused the slightest suspicion, and (welcome side effect!) they actually gained confidence with respect to participation in class.

            I’ll maintain I did a right thing that led to a good outcome. (Not THE right thing, or THE right outcome.) It wouldn’t have worked with every student plagiarist… but I do, still, think it worked with that one.

            If Anna is the unrepentant claw-her-way-to-the-top-at-everyone’s-expense type, sure, throw every available book at her and good riddance. Based on the OP’s letter, I think there’s some small chance she’s not. If the OP thinks so too and wants to take that gamble — in the sense of “fire with compassion and guidance,” not “don’t fire” — I’ll back OP up.

            1. Snark*

              “Find a way to treat the cause, such that the unacceptable behavior changes?”

              I think that has traction when dealing with very young, naive, overachieving people who have a one-off lapse, but once you’re a career professional….I think the standards change and I think the penalties get stiffer.

              1. Alli525*

                Agreed – I think this could maaaaaaybe fly in college, with a compassionate instructor and a student who’s willing to own up to their mistake(s), but once you finish college I draw a close-to-zero tolerance line.

                1. SusanIvanova*

                  College has a different kind of pressure, too: “this has to be done, and *you* have to be the one to do it.” Where in a job it’s “this has to be done, but if it’s totally not in your skill set, that’s why you have teammates.” At least in a functional collaborative environment, anyway – of course if workplaces were all functional, this site would be much less interesting :)

              2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                Yes, this. When you are an adult and you plagiarize, this is not a situation where the employer should try to “treat the cause.” This isn’t an instructor/student relationship. I get that folks want to probe to see if there are good reasons for her to plagiarize, and that Alison and others suggest changing how you approach the firing conversation based on that information, but Anna’s conduct seems so clearly wrong to me.

                If she were a journalist, she would be fired. If she were a lab technician, she would be fired. If she were a researcher at an institute/university, she’d be fired. If she were an author, she may never again get a book deal. Her firing doesn’t need to be punitive, but I don’t think it’s our job, as adults, to protect other adults from the foreseeable consequences of their unethical and dishonest behavior. Even if that behavior is an extension/symptom of other, bigger problems in that person’s life. There are many soft skills that can be taught through thoughtful management, but basic honesty and integrity that go to the core of a person’s work is not coachable.

                1. Pomona Sprout*

                  “I don’t think it’s our job, as adults, to protect other adults from the foreseeable consequences of their unethical and dishonest behavior. ”

                  This deserves to be embrodered on a pillow. Very well stated!

              3. Annonymouse*

                For me it depends on the why and how Anna acts when confronted.

                1) “I’ve been under a lot of pressure personally due to (sick relative /leaving an abusive relationship/ housing worry etc) and I felt like I was drowning. I know it was wrong but it felt like it was the only way to stay on top of work and deal with the other stuff. I feel terrible about it and I won’t ever do something like that in the future.

                2) No, I collaborated with Fergus on that. (I don’t understand the difference between actually contributing and just proofreading.)

                3) That is completely my own work. I don’t appreciate the tone. (Busted but doubles down).

                For 1) I’m more sympathetic because it’s a temporary issue that’s causing trouble and they are genuinely remorseful. You could fix them. Let them know it’s ok to talk to you about issues that impact their work and ways to make sure you both get good outcomes. But be ready to fire if it continues and that this is a major warning.

                For 2) I’d educate them on what collaboration really means, that they’re on thin ice and any further mistakes = fired. Or if the plagiarism was egregious enough fire then educate.

                3) There is no salvaging this person. They did wrong, know it’s wrong and don’t care. How can you or anyone they work with trust them again? Let them go.

            2. TootsNYC*

              I do think there’s a difference when it’s a student–I think there’s a responsibility to mentor that doesn’t exist as strongly at work.

            3. Anonymous Educator*

              I don’t know if I agree that the only way for a student to learn her lesson is to be given a second chance. Sometimes we learn the most from mistakes that have actual consequences. When students who plagiarize get a zero on an assignment or get suspended/expelled, it isn’t because the school thinks those students can’t do the work; it’s because the school thinks those students are violating ethics. You wouldn’t give a student who punched a teacher in the face the opportunity to not punch another teacher in the face to prove she can not punch someone.

              I don’t know how many people kicked out of universities for plagiarizing end up destitute because of it. I would guess pretty close to zero. People get kicked out of schools. People get fired from jobs. There are natural consequences for actions. Sometimes you want to have compassion and compassion is warranted. I don’t think the OP’s case is one of those places to just let it go and give the employee another chance at that workplace.

              1. deesse877*

                I think plenty of college students who are already financially vulnerable and poorly prepared can easily become entrapped by debt due to a suspension for plagiarism. More broadly, I see no evidence–meaning, peer-reviewed scholarship, as opposed to word-of-mouth teaching lore, or the personal reminiscences of by-definition-atypical faculty themselves–that a punitive approach reliably instills any lessons.

                Because it focuses on the college-student hypothetical, this comment may be a derail–please delete if so–but the broader point is that moralism is cheap. It takes more effort to find out what caused a serious ethical breach than it does to impose consequences rigidly, but the former option can at least potentially improve the situation.

                1. Anon for This*

                  This. There’s a reason schools and other institutions are moving away from Zero Tolerance policies. It’s also the reason why plagiarism isn’t an automatic dismissal from the program where I work. The population I work with would definitely not know what plagiarism is and wouldn’t necessarily know about the importance of citations to avoid plagiarism, which is why we had an instance of a student getting in trouble for plagiarizing but not kicked out. She was genuinely remorseful because she didn’t realize she had done something wrong. If we had put the hammer down and kicked her out, we wouldn’t have had the opportunity to work with her so it didn’t happen again.

                2. SignalLost*

                  I like the idea here in theory, but when I had a student who I nailed for plagiarism and who then doubled down on that, leading to the formal external review process, including questioning whether I was just being racist – no, dude, here is the TWENTY MB FILE I created documenting that every single homework assignment and the midterm and final were all plagiarized, I am not being racist just because the plagiarist is notbof my race – you can bet your rear end it became very, very important to me to pass that on to colleagues at another institution the student was attending at the same time. If I back down and say this is just me being moralistic, then my school graduates someone who cannot do the job they will be hired for, and that cheapens the degree of every good student who didn’t plagiarize.

                3. Annonymouse*

                  There’s a big difference SignalLost between these situations.

                  Someone who doesn’t understand can be educated.

                  Someone desperate might be able to be helped.

                  Someone who is lazy/an ass hat (like who you dealt with) deserves the door with your foot in their ass to help them find it.

                  The key is the why.

          3. SarahTheEntwife*

            If — which is a pretty big if in this situation — it’s a case of desperation due to some external situation or untreated depression/learning disability/etc. it could help a lot, but only if she realizes and admits it.

        2. neverjaunty*


          You know how we often have comments wondering how such and such terrible co-worker got as far as they did? It’s often precisely because someone with authority decided to give them a second (or third, or fourth…) chance m.

            1. Mallory Janis Ian*

              Ugh, when I think of all the workplace misery that could be avoided if we didn’t have to put up with all the a**holes exploiting their seventh (or more) chances.

        3. Artemesia*

          This. Once is fixable. A vague ‘our project’ when she did a tiny bit is fixable. But copying stuff and putting her name on it? Being asked to proof and instead submitting the work as her joint work without it going back to the author? Those are not mistakes or puffery; that is fundamental lack of character. That doesn’t fix easily.

          She should be fired today. Misfiling gets a pip; missing a deadline gets a pip; multiple instances of lying about whose work you submit — firing offense.

          1. Toph*

            The thing I worry about, which is less likely but still possible, is what if she’s neither an unrepentant liar nor desperate and flailing? What if she really somehow believes that doing a tiny bit of someone’s project counts as “collaborating”, and it’s showing initiative or self-confidence or some other extremely mistaken sense of self-importance to overstate her contributions? What if she really believes copying the existing document, giving it a title page and reordering it constitutes “updating the policy” such that she should be taking credit for “the new version”? That was the first impression I got from reading the letter. That might not be what’s going on here, but I’ve seen this too and it’s in some ways, worse. This type of person needs firing as much as the liar who doubles down because it’s not that they’re unwilling to behave ethically, it’s that they’re incapable of understanding the difference.

            1. Liane*

              I agree with the others above that, even if this is the problem, it isn’t on an employer to fix/teach them better, unlike school where instructors have an obligation to fix and teach.

            2. Salamander*

              I think that folks that do that really need to get called out on that, hard, and often. It’s really like a car thief complaining that they just “borrowed” the car. Maybe the thief believes it, but people I know who do that have a peculiar self-centeredness that manifests in a whole lot of bad ways. These folks do not play well with others.

            3. Satanic Panic (c)1983*

              I had the exact same first impression, because I’ve also known these people.

              Some of them are coachable. It’s basically a series of “that thing you did isn’t okay, don’t do it again,” and explanations of what “updating” means and how proofreading isn’t something you necessarily get credit for (and definitely doesn’t make you a coauthor). A lot of the time they still won’t understand it’s wrong but they understand the employer thinks it’s wrong, and that can be close enough.

              I don’t think it’s the employer’s responsibility to try to solve it, but it would be a kindness to at least give the person a heads up instead of shrugging and saying “She should know this by now…” and firing her without her fully understanding why. (I’m not necessarily saying don’t fire her, I’m saying make sure she gets enough explanation for her firing that she can take a lesson from it.)

              1. JessaB*

                And I would want to side by side her version of the text vs the original if it’s available in earlier changes, because I dunno what else she might have messed with and how much damage her version might do going forward.

            4. Traffic_Spiral*

              I agree. Since there aren’t any hard and fast rules on what counts, it’s possible she thinks “collaborating” just means ‘helped in some way’ and so on. In this day of meaningless corporate lingo I’d be willing to give her the benefit of the doubt and be like “okay, so when you’re here, ‘collaborate’ = at least 40% of the work, ‘update’ = at least 20% changes” etc.

    3. Karo*

      That’s what stuck out to me, too. Even work where you saw her do parts of it, you can’t assume at this point that she did the stuff that made it really stand out.

    4. Decima Dewey*

      At this point, OP doesn’t know that Anna does great work. What OP knows is that Anna turns in great work–part of it actually done by other people.

    5. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Apologies if I’m naive, but she’s doing this on a research team? This would be immediate grounds for dismissal for every research team I’ve worked on (granted, that was in the social sciences, public health, and law). I don’t mean to undermine OP’s retelling, but I don’t know how it’s possible to “know” she produced any other work independently and completely, with proper attribution, if she’s doing this on documents that OP knows she did not write. Creating a title page and claiming authorship? Proofreading and claiming authorship? My mind is seriously blown with how flagrant this is.

      Certainly allow her to explain herself, but I don’t think keeping her is even on the table. OP can’t trust her, her coworkers can’t trust her, and people are going to begin to figure out what she’s been doing and slowly withdraw from working with her. When I was a student, I had a co-RA who did this, and to this day I will not share information/opportunities with her or speak to her beyond superficial pleasantries.

      I think I’ve told this story before, but I also worked with someone who materially falsified 90% of her job application for a relatively prestigious full-time research position, including falsifying her references (she claimed she worked for some very famous profs in the field, and they had never met her). She also created a mountain of lies and kept trying to dig herself out by lying more and more and then completely ghosted on the job—disappeared for three months and then showed up again. It made my life hell, because not only was I doing the work of two full-time researchers, but my boss could not bring himself to hire her. The combination had a terrible effect on morale.

      Which is all to say, fire her, OP.

      1. Lora*

        First job out of grad school, they fired a lady for taking credit for the work of an entire department, because the department that she worked in had very little insight into what our department did. They just thought, wow she is really efficient and good! She tried to approach many of the people whose work she had stolen and act all friendly (including me) to try to get a good reference – she had been there for many years and had only a postdoc nearly 10 years before as a reference. Nope nope nope.

      2. Artemesia*

        Good catch. Someone who submits false work may be the person who manufactures false data. A number of important researchers have been seriously damaged by research associates making up data on their projects; the senior researcher may have a name on something that ends up being an ethics nightmare.

        1. Sutemi*

          I nearly dropped out of grad school because I had a collaborator who made up data integral to my work, and I didn’t catch it until a couple years later. My choice was to write a thin but valid dissertation and I’m bitter years later.

  4. Kate, Short for Bob*

    As well as the screaming lack of integrity here, this is going to be so amazingly demotivating for your other staff if they see what’s going on, and that it’s not being robustly addressed.

    I’m frankly shocked at her outrageousness.

    1. Trout 'Waver*

      Totally agree. If I had my work product ripped off by a colleague and they weren’t fired for it, I’d start a job hunt immediately.

    2. Stuff*

      I had to work with the kind of person described above and it wasn’t exactly secret that said co-worker was stealing credit and constantly undermining me.

      It’s possible the co-workers don’t know the full range of behavior. It’s possible they know more. But I highly doubt they know nothing about it.

    3. Caro in the UK*

      This is what I came here to say. Her plagiarism and stealing of others’ work doesn’t seem to have been noticed by anyone but you yet, but it will be. And for the employees whose credit she has taken, this is going to be a BIG DEAL.

      If I were them, I would be expecting Anna to face serious consequences, up to and including being fired. If this didn’t happen, I would be questioning your integrity as an employer, and I would be incredibly demotivated to the point of leaving. After all, what’s the point of working hard if someone else takes all of the credit and your employer (seemingly) doesn’t mind?

    4. Sheworkshardforthemoney*

      Indeed, I worked with a colleague who routinely took credit for other people’s work. The manager knew and did nothing so we had less respect for her than for the thief. And a thief is what she is. It affected morale to the point that people left and our business developed a bad reputation as a place to work. There were other factors but this didn’t help.

    5. kbeers0su*

      Agreed with all these. I feel like we’ve seen this come up here from the opposite side- folks bringing up concerns that their coworker is stealing/misrepresenting their work as their own. Perhaps OP should read some of those posts so that they have the context of how it may be affecting other folks on the team. OP’s willingness to look at this as a “constructive conversation” may be because they can’t see the broader effects it is/will have on others.

      Also, this seems like such a HUGE thing for this field, that letting the employee go would also set a necessary precedent. Especially if it turns out that the issue is much broader than currently known. OP wouldn’t want other folks on the team to think that this is ok/not that bad/something you get a slap on the wrist for.

    6. Salameche*

      I used to work with someone like Anna. She was claiming others’ work as her own on a daily basis. Our boss knew about it and did nothing. When we raised the issue again during a team meeting, immediately after our Anna had claimed our work as her, our boss started yelling that Anna was just showing how great a team player she was unlike the rest of us!
      All the members of that team, me included, left within the next 3 months.

      OP, please speak up! Don’t let her use your other employees that way and make it clear that this is unacceptable behaviour.

      1. Tuxedo Cat*

        That sounds kind of like the situation I was in. Your boss sounds almost like the managers for the project- they didn’t care how the work was done and who claimed credit as long as it was done and it was a team effort even when it wasn’t. When we all left the project (thankfully, it was optional for me) or moved to other jobs, the managers quickly learned that the remaining coworkers were not capable of doing their own work.

        1. Annonymouse*


          There is the lesson. People become resentful when you take what is theirs / don’t get recognition for their work.

          And they leave.

          Bosses need to ask themselves “would I rather have the person who says they did the work or the one that actually did it?” Because one way or another you’re going to lose one of them…..

    7. a Gen X manager*

      Yes! and if not dealt with directly and urgently will also affect how OP is viewed and respected for allowing it / not seeing it.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        This is so true. As much as I admire my OldBoss, I would never work for him, again, based on how he dealt with our in-house plagiarizer, and I would not refer strong candidates to him. He’s honestly lucky that everyone is personally loyal to him, or his reputation and research from that period would be shot (in fact, a colleague was caught plagiarizing in their best-selling book that same year, and neither their reputation or the reputation of researchers and co-authors on that project has yet recovered).

    8. Grey*

      If you don’t already, you’re also going to have staff who will do everything they can to prevent Anna from seeing their work. I’d bet Fergus never asks her for proofreading help again.

      It’s not only your trust she’d have to rebuild. It’s theirs too, and they don’t really have motive to give her that chance.

  5. ElleKat*

    I work in research and plagiarism is a CARDINAL offense and definitely grounds for dismissal! Best of luck in navigating this minefield.

    1. Sal*

      Ha, we encourage “plagiarism” in my field – why reinvent the wheel? We have projects that can last years and go through multiple engineers, so when you are the lead and the previous lead is gone, it’s completely normal to put your name on the document when you submit it, even if all you did was update dates. But it’s obviously a very very different situation from the OP’s

      1. FlibertyG*

        Agree, see below, I think some fields this is a cardinal offense and some it’s more grey. For example, my boss always claims to have “done” everything in his department, even if he’s literally never the document, and that’s standard here, nobody raises an eyebrow. (Of course I understand it’s different and way more annoying between coworkers and not at all the same, but in my field people just don’t have the same ownership of tasks).

        1. FlibertyG*

          Of course, OP does say they’re researchers and analysts so it’s entirely possible this is indeed a huge deal for them.

          1. Friday*

            As an analyst, I’m often called upon to explain in detail where I sourced my data and how I mapped it, so my recipients and I can make sure together that what I’m issuing for them is correct to how they need it. How can the thief manage this important step if she didn’t actually create the reports?

        2. Jessie the First (or second)*

          But…. there is a HUGE difference between reusing work for efficiency’s sake and actually *claiming* the work is your original research/writing. I just don’t think the former has anything at all to do with the latter.

          I work in law, and where there is something we can re-use, we do. We keep our files on a shared drive for that specific purpose. But if I reuse something, I do not then pretend I wrote it. I don’t pass it off to my boss in a performance review as a “look at this great thing I invented!” Because I didn’t invent it. Regardless the field, regardless the conventions for re-using work, there is not a field I know of where it is okay to pretend you were the *original* author of something, which is what it really sounds as if Anna did here.

      2. OlympiasEpiriot*

        But, as engineers who sign something, we aren’t taking credit but responsibility. People are going to act on our recommendations or designs and we are liable. So, if we take the previous report and add a bit but there is still an error in the earlier work, that is now on our shoulders. Also, we only do this within a firm. I can’t take a competitor’s soils report, put my firm’s name on it and I’m good to go.

          1. OlympiasEpiriot*

            And about a completely different situation. (Also, tangentially, we bill internally by the increment of an hour to the job. If you worked on the job, you billed to the job. The PM tracks who is doing what tasks and I can’t claim I did a lot of work without having billed a lot of time. When I’m a PM on a job, I’m aware of this. Anyone who works on the product is effectively credited as every exhibit including calculations has a title block with “Made By” and “Checked By” and the report text itself has a line at the very bottom of the last page with the initials of everyone who worked on the text, including checking/proofreading.)

        1. Sal*

          Yes, totally agree. If I just update dates and then something is wrong in the document, I’m responsible for that, even if I didn’t write it. I need to review and make sure everything’s good before I submit it.

        2. Literary Engineer*

          This was exactly what I was going to say. In my field signing is saying “I am sure this will work and is up to current industry standards”. That’s sort of the whole point of the IEEE and all that. But this is research and it looks like documentation/publishing?

          OP, that’s such a mess. I’m hoping that you can act on this quickly.

      3. Wintermute*

        I don’t know about your specific situation but I think that this is very, very much not the norm anywhere I’ve seen or worked or know of anyone working.

        The norm I’m used to is using version control and revision control. So the authoring engineer goes on line 1 along with the manager that signed off on the product, if Wakeen comes in and adds data and charts, he goes on line 2 with the date and possibly a revision note and another signoff, if Bobert then comes in and removes references to outdated technology and updates the names of a vendor to their current name after their recent merger, he goes on line 3 and so it goes.

        To me that’s the way to handle many authors over a long period with clarity, honesty and integrity, plus it leaves a clear paper trail of who has done what and when so there’s records of work done.

        In the method you describe how can a manager know if you’re producing a lot of quality work, or just finding a lot of old documents to relabel?

        1. Fake old Converse shoes*

          Version Control is the best thing ever. Period. Even Google Docs uses it, albeit a basic form. If used correctly, every person with its own account, it saves lots of headaches and time if someone messes up. I just can’t imagine doing my work without it.

          1. Wintermute*

            I love the fact that it makes both credit and blame totally transparent. You can do a diff search and see who changed what and when, and watch how the document evolved.

            It’s also great insurance for situations where a confluence of factors cause an error that is no one’s fault but a true accident (E.g. Wakeen’s edition added metric equivalents in parentheticals after every measurement, Bobert’s edit added mathematical formula, and then Walinda formatted everything nicely using embedded spreadsheets, well when the spreadsheet automatically parses Wakeen’s parentheticals as math formulae, you can see what went wrong and it’s not that Walinda mistyped all the numbers.).

      4. LKW*

        In my field we reuse a lot of content but two major differences: One, you give credit: “Fergus had a great set of slides that I used as a starting point” or “The Teapot team had a lot of really good documentation that we were able to leverage.” and two, for the most part you create something new from the pieces. Bring in thought from area A, B and C gives you D. Take document A and revise it with new information and restructure to create something updated – not just reordered with a new title page.

        I would not trust anything out of her.

      5. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I’m in a field where we “crib” (read: copy) from prior work all the time. But we do it with attribution, and we verify everything because our license is on the line if we don’t (isn’t this the same for the engineer who seals a design/report?). We do not “steal” someone else’s in-house code/writing/design and then try to pass it off as our own. I suspect the same is true in your field and in other fields that heavily “borrow” from the team/company’s prior work.

        OP’s situation doesn’t sound, to me, like it’s analogous to open copying within a functional team or long-term project. She’s actively misrepresenting work product in order to claim credit for someone else’s work. Even in teams that copy, I have never seen that approach fly—if someone is copying your work, you know they’re copying it and it’s cool. And if someone mistakenly credits you for a section you didn’t write/create, you express appreciation for the person who you borrowed it from or note that you “cribbed” it.

        Caveat: Some material is submitted under the name of the most senior person on the team, but everyone knows as an industry practice that the lead signatory did not write all/any of it, and other primary authors’ names are usually listed, too.

      6. NW Mossy*

        I encourage “process plagiarism,” where someone uses a process built by someone else to achieve the goal. I don’t want them spending valuable time to independently replicate a process that already exists, especially given the risk that they’ll inadvertently introduce process gaps that then cause downstream errors.

        Occasionally I do ask for a process to be developed, but it’s absolutely understood that these are collaborative efforts and it’s expected that the main author will consult others along the way. Anyone who came to me arguing sole authorship would be reminded that developing process in isolation from its users and its stakeholders is a recipe for disaster.

    2. Dust Bunny*

      Where I work, projects are understood to have been done by my department, for whom my boss is the figurehead, but when review time comes, whatever I contributed is on my list of pluses for that evaluation period, so I still get credit when it counts.

    3. CityMouse*

      I am an attorney and we reuse legal analysis all the time. It is a waste of time to write identical orders or statements of law. No one excepts originality, it wastes time and resources. But a brief or motion is one thing, plagiarism in a legal article would be huge. Given the field and the actual claiming of other people’s work, this is huge.

  6. Czhorat*

    If this is what it looks like them there’s been zero reason to keep this person employed. In addition to lying and taking credit for others’ work, there’s an obvious chance that they aren’t actually doing as much work as they should; how did they spend the hours they said they were developing guidelines, for instance, if they didn’t actually do so?

    1. AW*

      Another good point. If she was doing work she should have been able to speak on something she’d actually done.

      I’m also wondering what she was even supposed to be doing since some of the work she’s claiming was done ages ago. What’s happening with the work actually assigned to her?

    2. Not So NewReader*

      To me it sounded like this employee was doing projects that would butter-up the OP, gain favor with the boss, that type of thing.
      OP, you would be the best judge of this but is she working on only the stuff that stands out? Some people are like that, they will do project A because they will get noticed. But labor intensive, time sink project B gets none of her attention because there is nothing in it for her.

  7. Amber Rose*

    Please also keep in mind that if you let this go, and other people on the team start hearing about what she’s doing (and they will), morale is going to tank. Stuff like this can poison a team, and it would almost certainly damage their trust and respect for you as team leader as well.

    This isn’t about being constructive or not. This is about taking action on a serious problem.

    1. B*

      I was coming here to the same thing. You need to think about the others on your team whose work is being taken. If you do nothing, the members on your team may stop producing the type of work you are used to seeing and will most likely leave. This is one of those cases you need to think about how this will be seen through your teams eye.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      I had a boss who would take my ideas as her own. Long story short, I decided every time I saw that, my go-to expression was, “She’ll miss me when I am gone.” Surprisingly I was able to let go of taking credit with some ideas because it was more important to me that the idea got implemented.
      You know, nothing says “good idea” stronger than when someone has to steal said “good idea”. People don’t steal ideas that are not of value.
      However, OP, the point holds that people are only going to tolerate ideas being stolen for so long and then they will move on. A boss who ignores a problem like this can end up with an entire turn over in staff and never realize why.

  8. Joie De Vivre*

    I worked somewhere with someone like this too. But at my employer, the person claiming credit for other’s work was Teflon. Nothing stuck. Some really good employees ended up leaving because of it.

    1. FlibertyG*

      Yeah, worst case scenario for the company – the people actually doing the good work leave, and the only people left are the thieves!

      1. Stranger than fiction*

        Yes! This is exactly what’s happening to my friend I mentioned earlier in this thread. There’s a sort of good ol boys clique that’s used methods like the Op describes to move up in this company and they are indeed teflon (you know ’cause they’re so cool). Because of this, several people have moved on and several more who were vocal (too vocal apparently) were let go.

    2. Anon today...and tomorrow*

      I’ve left a company that had a Teflon employee. She was really good at stirring the work drama pot to deflect attention from herself as well. Management helped her create a seriously toxic work environment (not in the legal definition, but in the people were becoming ill from work stress related issues). I don’t miss that place at all.

      1. MechanicalPencil*

        I did the same. I did all the work and got none of the credit/recognition and none of my attempts to rectify the situation were taken seriously.

      2. Tuxedo Cat*

        In my situation, the employee would blame other people for her inability to get things done or literally cry about how so and so was mean to her. For the former, everything she’d claim was easy to disprove; for example, she once claimed she couldn’t get her work done because I had some files she didn’t have access to. She never once contacted me, and they were actually available in a folder on a shared drive and had been for months.

        It was amazing how much she got away with.

  9. Dee*

    Yeah, I’m not sure there’s a constructive approach to blatantly stealing other people’s work and taking credit for it. I suspect Alison is right, and when confronted, she’ll dig herself in deeper. There’s not really room for improvement there. And as a commenter above mentioned, it’s terrible for morale. If this happened to me and my manager tried to work with a person who’d taken credit for my work, I’d be furious.

    1. many bells down*

      My experience with plagiarists is that 90% of them will immediately double down on the lie and dig in deeper. I think I mentioned a writing contest I entered, before. At least 2 dozen people entered the exact same poem, which was the first or second result in a google search on the writing topic. Most of them then claimed to be the original author, and that everyone else was “stealing their work”. Some of these people would have been literal infants when the poem was published.

      1. Sheworkshardforthemoney*

        Oh yes, so much. I write and it ignites a red hot fury in me when I see plagiarism. It was explicitly spelled out in my school’s Code of Conduct that it was an automatic fail and possible expulsion offence. I used to read re-cap blogs for one of my favourite TV shows. One of them was copied almost word for word from a well known website. I know it’s hard to create original content but at least try to cover your tracks better!

        1. Dankar*

          We teach students that plagiarism is a serious offense, and that it will have repercussions in the world outside the university. Barring outlying situations–like the ones mentioned above where shared work and boilerplate text is typical–there should be consequences!

          OP, absolutely talk to your employee and try to figure out if there’s something you’re missing, but if not, then she needs to go. This is unacceptable behavior from a “professional.”

        2. AW*

          Every class at my alma mater goes over the rules on plagarism right at the beginning but still had a big cheating scandal about every 4 years about the Intro to Business course. It has a lab component and new students keep coming up with the idea to just share the same Word doc instead of turning in their own work.

          Of course, the metadata in a Word doc makes it really easy to catch this.

          The students who cheated all fail (20 – 30), it ends up in the student newspaper, and in four years it happens again. (It’s taught by several different people and it never matters who’s teaching it.) Apparently an upperclassman warning freshmen that they got caught works better than just saying not to do it.

          1. Parenthetically*

            The thing that makes me crazy about blatant plagiarism like this is that it’s such an assumption of stupidity. Like, I can just change the name on the title page, or copy-paste entire sections of text, or whatever, and my prof/boss/grader is going to be too stupid to notice. I had a student once who plagiarized whole paragraphs from a couple of online sources for a fairly important essay and in addition to being annoyed at having to handle a big long disciplinary process for her, I was pretty offended that she thought I couldn’t tell the difference between the work she’d been turning in all year and something written by a 40-year-old professional blogger.

            I always tell my students, “Google works just as well on my computer as it does on yours. You’re not going to fool me, so don’t try.” I think a similar “don’t try this” warning could be given in this office — don’t try to steal work from the other people who report to your manager!

            1. Xarcady*

              I had a student who plagiarized from Cliffs Notes.

              Bless my mentor professor who told me to always buy the Cliff Notes for anything I taught, just for this reason.

              1. Bryce*

                Also because if you have the Cliff Notes, you can write test questions that aren’t covered in them.

            2. Artemesia*

              I had a student cut and paste material into a re-take of a doctoral written qualifying exam. It is a three day exam and he had a scrubbed computer to compose it on. I read his work the first day and it was obvious to me what he had done given the time he had to work and the nature of the material.

              So the next day I had the Admin go in 20 minutes before the end of his session and confiscate the disc from the computer. He protested that it was nothing and he was just keeping a copy of his work yadda yadda and ‘why don’t we just reformat the disc and erase it.’ It was of course a disc filled with canned material much of it apparently from other student work that he was copying and pasting and adapting (like substituting the name of the company in the case and tweaking some of the details — we routinely used case study type questions and of course the basic issues and challenges are similar over the same content).

              How he thought it would not be obvious amazes me.

              1. Liane*

                My Latin prof hired me, an undergrad science major, once or twice to help proctor exams for her general ed class on Ancient Civilizations. It was a small lecture (100-150 students), there were 3 versions of the exam, and a total of 4 proctors (her, me, Classics TA, and a physics prof). We caught like half a dozen cheaters. Afterwards Physics Prof and I went over one of the versions–we would have gotten *at least* the D needed to pass the course from our general knowledge. We were both like “WTH did they even bother?”

            3. Chameleon*

              I regularly have students hand in (online) homework with answers that are not only copied directly from Quizlet, but *still include the hyperlinks*. I’m just astounded at those ones.

    2. Xarcady*

      The Best Practices that was re-ordered caught my eye.

      “It’s not plagiarism–I changed things!” Cannot tell you how many Freshman English students gave to that line. Changing from past tense to present, reordering things, changing proper nouns to pronouns–none of this makes the work your own.

      And I’ve had students who vehemently denied plagiarizing–up to the point where I pulled a marked-up copy of their paper and a marked-up copy of their source material out of my desk. At that point they would usually start crying and claim they were afraid of failing the course, so they “had to” plagiarize. I would maintain my calm and remind them of my office hours, paper conferences, free tutors and the free writing center on campus–all ways of learning to write a better paper and prevent failure–that they seem to have forgotten.

      And I also think that a lot of plagiarists have been doing this for years. Some of the kids I caught wrote beautiful papers, incorporating tiny bits of their own writing seamlessly with the stolen words. They had to have had practice doing this. Hint: if you are going to plagiarize, it is best not to use source materials that your instructor either co-wrote, or proofread, or indexed.

      So I’m pretty sure this employee will first deny wrongdoing, then use the defense that she changed things, and then come up with a sob story as to why she had to do this.

      1. Snark*

        ““It’s not plagiarism–I changed things!” Cannot tell you how many Freshman English students gave to that line. Changing from past tense to present, reordering things, changing proper nouns to pronouns–none of this makes the work your own.”

        And the weird thing is…they often actually believe it. A lot of younger students have this very legalistic understanding of what plaigarism is, and they often have convinced themselves that they’ve sailed through a loophole.

        1. Liz T*

          It wasn’t until college that I fully understood you also couldn’t plagiarize IDEAS. Pretty sure that for my high school newspaper I blatantly plagiarized a Time cover article on the Star Wars re-release. I had no idea I was plagiarizing–I just thought, “Oh yeah Time is right, Star Wars is fantasy rather than sci-fi for XYZ reasons! I now also think that, so it is now my opinion, so I will write and publish it.”

          I really want to go back in time and smack myself. For several reasons, but that one’s def on the list.

          1. LKW*

            I had a teacher accuse me of plagiarism because the ideas in my essay were “too sophisticated” for a high school age teen. I had read an article about Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller and my mom and I had a conversation about it. My mom didn’t give me the argument, but she gave me some perspective I hadn’t gotten from the article. Therefore, I must have plagiarized. There were parental discussions. I don’t recall the end grade but I was fine.

            1. Snark*

              I still think that needed to be acknowledged – the old (Wakeen, pers. comm.) citation would do nicely.

              1. Satanic Panic (c)1983*

                To be fair, the only context for citing conversations I was aware of in high school was when it was a formal interview. Classmates talked about essay ideas with each other all the time and we were never told we had to cite those conversations.

                (I admit my perspective is skewed by a little second-hand outrage at the “too sophisticated for a student” argument; in 4th grade I got in trouble with a teacher for using the word “lament” in a story I wrote—she decided I must have copied the story from somewhere because no kid could know a complicated word like that.)

        2. TootsNYC*

          It is one of the things I was taught in high school, when we were taking notes from source material and then producing reports. We were told to change it around.

          1. Snark*

            Oh, really? I’ve wondered if they were being taught something really erroneous in high school, or if they were egregiously misinterpreting a standard teaching, or something.

            1. FlibertyG*

              TBH I think I was told in school that if you are paraphrasing, that is not plagiarism. And you’d include the source in your bibliography of course. Nobody talked much about plagiarizing ideas … And as a non academic outsider, I’d think it would be pretty hard to know who came up with something the first time. (Like, something comes into your head and you can’t really be sure who put it there, ideas come from everywhere and nowhere, right?).

              1. Snark*

                “Like, something comes into your head and you can’t really be sure who put it there, ideas come from everywhere and nowhere, right?”

                In a research or academic context, you’re documenting research and analysis, and it’s pretty easy to attribute ideas and to know when they’re not your own. At the very least, you need to do your due dilligence with a deep literature review to at least give other workers their due where it’s possible. Obviously, you can’t account for every idea in a paper, but major concepts that underly significant parts of the thesis should be attributed. I’ve been five citations deep and found people who said things similar to me, and I cited them.

              2. Anonymous 40*

                That’s exactly what I was taught – that plagiarism was copying exact content and paraphrasing was fine as long as you cited sources for any facts or data you use in your text.

              3. The Other Katie*

                To clarify, you’re not expected to have totally original ideas. It’s fine to paraphrase something someone else said, you just have to cite it. For example, you can choose to say one of:
                * “Teapot design is a thriving intersection of art and science” (Thimblebottom, 2012, p. 12)
                * Wakeen Thimblebottom (2012) argued that teapot design was a burgeoning field, incorporating technical and artistic elements

                but what you can’t do is read Thimblebottom’s work and then not mention it when you paraphrase his argument about the nature of teapot design.

              4. Satanic Panic (c)1983*

                >>TBH I think I was told in school that if you are paraphrasing, that is not plagiarism. as long as you cite it.

                Fixed that for you. ;P

                Also, learning that you can plagiarize ideas messed me up. When it comes to ideas, there’s a certain amount of independent origination, but I stopped taking credit for anything. If I thought of something, I would immediately go find someone who had written it down before me to attribute it to because I was terrified of accidentally plagiarizing something I didn’t know about and getting kicked out of school. #impostersyndrome4lyfe

            2. AW*

              I remember hearing “use your own words” all the time in grade school/high school. Not a lot of “use your own ideas”.

              1. Anon today...and tomorrow*

                My 12 year old likes to draw and her sketch book is filled with drawings of familiar characters. I asked her if she every drew anything of her own and she looked at me like I had 3 heads and said “Mom, you watched me. I didn’t trace those!” LOL! I had to explain that while, yes, she did draw those on her own they were actually created by someone else and she was just copying their idea. I love that she loves to draw but her sketch book is boring to look at because it’s all the same 5 Anime characters from some show she watches and a bunch of Steven Universe drawings. She’s got talent…I just wish she’d try something original.

                1. Theo*

                  Give her time. The first part of creativity is often copying — many, many writers and artists copy for a long time, in order to learn the skill. She’s 12. I’ve seen my spouse’s sketchbooks from that age, and read my own writing (I’m now published and his paintings are hanging in our house). Drawing cartoon characters sounds about right.

                2. Anon today...and tomorrow*

                  @Theo thanks! I know that she’ll eventually branch out! I write too and a LOT of my stuff as a kid was basically a rip off of every TV show, movie, or book I’d ever laid eyes on.

                3. Julianne*

                  I totally agree with these observations, and I see this in many aspects of what my younger students (I teach 3rd-6th graders) do in school, and I recall going through it myself, actually! My budding artists tend to draw things that look like their favorite cartoons, my emerging writers bring me straight-forward retellings of their favorite fairy tales, or of Mo Willems books, and so much of their play involves recreating scenes or stories or ideas they know from the books and media they consume. They even copy like this from each other – all the birthday cards I got this year from my 3rd graders were virtually identical. But the older they get, the more I see that they can do more creating on their own and less borrowing from others’ creations. It’s actually been really fun watching that evolution with some of the kids I’ve had for multiple years, and I know that at the age I have them, they’re juuuust beginning to scratch the surface of what they can create wholly on their own.

                4. Starbuck*

                  At that age, what’s most important is that she has something she’s interested in drawing so much that she’ll be doing it frequently enough to progress. I wouldn’t worry at all about what a 12 year old is drawing; at that age I was doing a combination of cartoons/Pokemon and I branched out on my own easily enough once my interests matured. The best part about doing art is getting to create whatever you want! Many professional artists make a good living drawing other people’s characters- there are many art jobs in the animation and comic industries.

              2. Parenthetically*

                This is a HUGE pet peeve of mine as a junior high and high school English and comp teacher. I am constantly harping on my students about crediting the sources of their ideas, and talk them through appropriate procedures for acknowledging in their essays that Wakeen Jones’s book on the Teapot Revolution really shaped their larger thinking on this issue, even though they didn’t end up quoting from or even summarizing Wakeen Jones.

                The purpose of asking students to rephrase in their own words OUGHT to be taught as an exercise in ensuring comprehension, not as an automatic inoculation against plagiarism.

            3. Essie*

              For context regarding what schools teach, the APA quick guide I was given in college explicitly stated this:

              3 or more consecutive words directly from a source is considered a Direct Quote, and must be cited as a Direct Quote

              Direct Quotes > Quotation marks, page #
              Paraphrases > No quotation marks, no page #

          2. Emi.*

            I remember being assigned to rewrite a paragraph in my own words (why?!?!?), and babysitting kids whose reading comprehension homework was basically “plagiarize this page into three BCRs.” It was so depressing.

            1. Nicotene*

              Yeah I’m pretty sure I literally had assignments that were to summarize a text in my own words. The assumption was that it was so I would learn how not to plagiarize (or maybe nobody actually said that, and that’s just what I thought? I am very far from academia these days!).

              1. moql*

                Hm, I had similar assignments, but they were always more of a “here’s how you learn reading comprehension and how to take effective notes” sort of thing. I actually found it very useful in grad school when a professor told us to write up a paragraph on every article we read, so we could easily cite papers in our thesis.

          3. Elizabeth West*

            Same here, though mostly in primary school. We did some bibliography work in secondary school, but I didn’t learn to cite properly until I got to college.

            1. Getting There*

              I had a really mean eleventh grade English teacher, but she did teach us proper citing of sources. I felt fairly prepared when I got to college and had to write paper after paper! (The life of a poli sci major…)

          4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            Yeah—I think a lot of the problems stem from poor instruction at the K-12 level on what constitutes plagiarism. I remember getting the same lines about “changing” it into your own words (usually they called it paraphrasing, but they didn’t mention that if you’re paraphrasing someone else’s idea, it still needs citation!). I suspect this is because a lot of adults also don’t understand that plagiarism is not limited to copying word-for-word.

            Honestly, most plagiarism I see is easily corrected by proper attribution. But I learned almost everything I now know about plagiarism in college, with some (mostly incorrect) instruction in high school. Not saying that that should excuse people who are copying poems published when they were 1-2, but I now believe all frosh should get a more expansive training re: plagiarism in all their entry level courses.

        3. aebhel*

          Frankly, a lot of teachers do as well, and sometimes from the opposite end: “you must source this piece of common knowledge/this boilerplate phrase is plagiarism unless you torture the sentence into an ungrammatical nightmare that no human being would actually write.”

          The underlying principle of plagiarism is presenting someone else’s work or ideas as your own. Citations are not supposed to be primarily a defense against accusations of plagiarism; they’re supposed to allow readers to reference other relevant ideas and writings on similar topics.


          1. SusanIvanova*

            I got a paper back with a comment to the effect of “I think you copied it – it’s all in present tense” back in 5th or 6th grade. I was a space-mad kid back when space probes were first reaching the other planets; I’d pour over every National Geographic article with space photos – and my grandparents had NGs going back to before I was born. I had a book with a timeline of space exploration and I’d written a paper that started from the 5-6 word blurbs and expanded them like mad. But those blurbs were present tense, and being a kid I didn’t think that since I was writing about the past I should change tense.

            I was also the sort of kid that, if you did something I considered stupid, I’d just ignore your opinion from then on. And as that comment (and corresponding low grade) struck me as incredibly stupid, that teacher immediately fell into that category for me. So challenging such a stupid opinion was obviously not worth the effort :)

          2. Sheworkshardforthemoney*

            Slightly off-topic, I learned how to cite properly in my History class. We weren’t allowed to cite Wikipedia because the profs considered it unreliable. One of the first classes was on plagiarism, what it was and why it was bad and the penalties. I still recall digging through old records and discovering that an inordinate number of women were sent away for “rest cures”.

        4. Artemesia*

          My favorite was ‘I changed 10% of the words and so it isn’t plagiarism’ defense.

      2. Anonymous 40*

        When I was back in college in my late 20s to finish my degree, I caught a “teammate” on a group project plagiarizing his contribution to our paper. It wasn’t subtle at all, either. His writing suddenly went from barely high school level to smooth and professional. Took me ten seconds to paste a distinctive sentence into Google and find the original source. I was so mad that he put all of us at risk like that. The paper was due in two hours so I didn’t have much choice but to fix it and let him know I’d caught him. I was sorely tempted to report it to our instructor.

        1. Gazebo Slayer*

          I had a similar experience, but in grad school. Whole paragraphs lifted from websites in a group paper. I rewrote it all and seriously considered reporting it as well – my classmate who did it could have gotten us all kicked out of the program! (And it’s not like, in grad school, she didn’t know better.)

      3. deesse877*

        My experience is that many people are actively taught poor/dishonest citation practices in high school, usually in schools with low-quality faculty. “Low-quality faculty” can mean teachers in low-income schools, who are usually very new to the profession and under great stress, but it can also mean those who work for small private schools that hire alumni or coreligionists preferentially, or super-rural schools that just lack integration with the professional mainstream for geographic reasons. Add to that the fact that so many students hate high school and disengage as much as possible (a tactic I employed myself at the time), and honestly, it’s not surprising that a plurality or even a majority of college students have no idea how to do the right thing in their papers.

        It’s annoying as an instructor, but it’s also horrifying as, you know, a concerned citizen, when you realize how naive and limited these students are as critical thinkers. They don’t yet know how to tell the difference between their own ideas and someone else’s, for real.

        It’s fixable, but only with a huge investment of teaching labor, which doesn’t always happen in universities.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Let me just say, as someone who attended a nationally-ranked public high school, our teachers were considered mediocre to excellent, and all but one butchered the standards for plagiarism. So I don’t think this is limited to “low-quality” teachers or even to particular K-12 providers. I genuinely believe my teachers had no idea what constituted plagiarism, which is why they’re completely unable to teach anyone else about what constitutes plagiarism.

          1. Anonymous 40*


            I went to a good public high school in a middle class suburb with generally good faculty who still never approached the concept that ideas could be plagiarized. I also graduated 23 years ago and wouldn’t even hear the word “internet” until a few months later. I think the concept of plagiarism has evolved a lot in ways of which even well educated pre-internet graduates may be unaware. It certainly changed a lot in the ten years between high school graduation and when I began my second college enrollment. It’s not hard to imagine that some very good high school teachers today may not be up to date on the current thinking.

            1. Satanic Panic (c)1983*

              You’re assuming that the standards you were taught were later changed rather than assuming you were taught incorrect standards? Interesting.

              1. Anonymous 40*

                You’re assuming that the standards you were taught were always universal standards rather than assuming standards may have evolved? Interesting.

                I suggested a possibility based on personal experience. That your experience was different doesn’t change anything and the snide condescension is unnecessary.

        2. Essie*

          My husband taught in an inner city school for 15 years, and he would have loved to deal with plagarism. That would have meant that the kids were actually showing up and doing a bare minimum of work, and that he wasn’t too busy dealing with them stabbing each other or lighting trash cans on fire. Seriously.

        3. Relly*

          I’m hoping that I’m reading you wrong, but it sounds as though you are correlating “low-income,” “rural,” and “religious private school” as being more likely to experience poor teaching quality.

          Some teachers are amazing. Some suck. Just because certain schools have higher budgets doesn’t make the teachers more likely to inspire their students. I grew up very rural, and had some amazing teachers and some awful ones … But I wouldn’t have assumed that the awful ones were awful _because_ we were rural.

  10. ArtK*

    First, you failed (sorry to be harsh) by not calling her out the instant you knew she was lying. You implicitly told her that it was ok to do this.

    Don’t be nice about this — as Alison says, it’s very, very serious. Besides the fact that you can’t trust her now, I can guarantee that her co-workers are aware of this behavior and resent her for it and you for allowing it to continue. My recommendation is firing her now. You will *never* be able to trust her, even if she promises to be good.

    1. ArtK*

      I had missed that this was research work. I would say that ups the ante a great deal. Not only can you not trust that she actually did the work, you can’t trust that the work she did do was honest. Without reviews or whatever, her work product could be entirely false, putting the organization at risk. As a manager, your reputation depends on the quality of the work produced. Can you imagine going to your consumers and saying “that report we did for you? It’s completely wrong” ?

    2. Admin Help*

      I disagree that the OP failed in not calling her out when she first heard the employee lie about her work. It’s perfectly reasonable to get that information, dig a little deeper to confirm your suspicions, consider (and discuss with your own manager, as well as getting advice here) what to do about it, and then circle back. Would that we all could respond perfectly in every given moment.

      1. ArtK*

        I was being brief. You’re correct that the OP might have needed to do further research, although it sounds as if she was *very* aware of the issue at the time. That said, the follow up needed to be done ASAP.

  11. OlympiasEpiriot*


    Nope, that would not fly with my company. We do often copy off each other but it is through sharing boilerplate text for certain reports and we never can just change a damn title page!

    Every place I’ve worked would just fire her right out.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      Probably 80% of our reports at Exjob were mostly boilerplate text. But the front matter authorship was technically the department, not necessarily the consultant, and even they used the same stuff of their own over and over where it was relevant. There weren’t too many variable recommendations you could make regarding particular software settings.

  12. NoMoreMrFixit*

    This is a morale bomb waiting to explode. Sadly I’ve been in this type of situation where others claimed ownership of work I’d done, including one piece that was published under the other person’s name. Letting people get away with this generated a huge backlash of resentment that only ended with a departmental reorganization and the departure of some of the guilty parties. I never got an apology or even an acknowledgement that any wrongdoing had even occurred.

    Guaranteed your other staff know this is going on and are likely as disgusted as I was. This is definitely a cause for disciplinary action and possibly even termination.

    1. Dust Bunny*


      I’m totally cool with sharing credit where there is actual collaboration, but if somebody claimed my work and wasn’t called on it, I’d be beyond mad. Don’t punish your honest employees by letting this slide.

  13. Elena*


    Given that most higher education institutions punish plagiarism by either a failing grade for the course or even expulsion from their degree, this (assuming there isn’t some reasonable explanation, difficult as it is to imagine one) is surely a fireable offence.

    Very surprised anyone would think they can get away being so obvious about something like this. But then again she’s been doing it for a while now it sounds like, so maybe people don’t catch these things as quickly as one would think.

  14. Trout 'Waver*

    Because so much research and analysis is done with little oversight, trust in the researcher is imperative. This would be an immediate termination and a black mark in the industry for me. Think about how the rest of your team would respond if you told them about what this employee did. Not only is she claiming her colleagues’ work as her own (and making them look less productive in doing so), she’s actively engaged in subterfuge to hide her behavior. She knows it is wrong and is doing it anyway.

    I’ve black listed recruiting firms for trying to push candidates on me that have admitted to similar behavior, let alone the candidates themselves.

    1. Frozen Ginger*

      This! If it gets out that your firm has a plagiarist on your team, it could go reeeeally badly. This isn’t just bad for company moral; this is bad for the company PERIOD. I don’t know what research LW is involved in, but I can’t imagine it’d be good if customers or publishers found out.

  15. Chris*

    Zero disagreement with Alison’s comments. This is behaviour that not only is destructive inside the team, it speaks of ethics and habits that will get your team in trouble with whomever they answer to. Worse, if you appear to condone this behaviour or let it slide, it becomes, if not applauded, at the very least something that will grow in the shadows where nobody’s looking.

    My first reaction was honestly ‘this person likely needs to go’.

    1. Snark*

      Yeah, I think Alison is advocating for way more deliberation and discussion than the situation warrants.

        1. Snark*

          When I’ve dealt with plaigarism in the past, in both academia and the professional world, I found that talking to the people whose work had been plaigarized was more helpful in figuring out what was going on. I’ve had people stare coolly into my eyes and tell me that paragraphs they ripped off from one of my best friends’ PhD thesis was their own work. It’s hard to have a meaningful fact-finding conversation. The coworker Anna claims to have collaborated with would probably have more reliable insight.

          1. Leatherwings*

            But when the person doubles down on the lie, you can easily let them go without concern that anything was misinterpreted or something. The conversation doesn’t have to be meaningful or fact-driven to get what OP needs out of it.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Right — the double-down actually is what makes it clear you do need to fire them. It doesn’t prevent you from it. But you’re asking in case there’s something you don’t know.

              I mean, it’s unlikely, but it’s possible that Anna has actually been helping out coworkers way more than the OP realizes and can prove it. You don’t want Anna’s (honest) side of this to be “I’ve been going above and beyond helping coworkers when they ask for it, and when I finally got up the nerve to tell my boss about my contributions, she told me I was lying and fired me.”

              Again, unlikely, but to be responsible, you have to have the conversation with her first.

              1. Snark*

                I think my inclination, though, would not be to end that conversation with “I need to think about whether we can move forward with you in the role.” I think OP needs to enter that conversation prepared for it to end with Anna being let go, whole remaining open-minded to a reason to divert from that course.

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Yep, that’s reasonable. And when I’ve had to fire people for lying (three times, I think?) I did it on the spot, at the end of that conversation. I’m not sure the OP is going to be up for that given the tone of the letter, but in general yes, that’s the way to go.

              2. neverjaunty*

                The OP really needs to hear, though, that there are only two ways for that conversation to end: OP realizes that she totally misunderstood what actually happened, OR Anna is escorted out and given severance. There really isn’t any “but I don’t wanna be harsh” or “but everyone deserves a second chance” middle ground here.

                1. TootsNYC*

                  actually, in any organization I’ve worked for, Anna wouldn’t be given severance.

                  She’d be fired for cause, so no severance. And in some states, she wouldn’t be eligible for unemployment, exactly as it would be if she had cheated on her expense report.

          2. FlibertyG*

            And then you can fire them. But Alison’s point is, you’d have the conversation before having them pack their bags in case this IS an exception.

            1. always in email jail*

              ^yes. This is someone’s LIFE here, there is a bit of a responsibility to check with the coworkers she was working on things “with” (or stealing from) and talk to her directly before moving straight to firing her.

          3. LBK*

            But Alison very clearly suggests talking to the other parties involved, so that doesn’t contradict what you’ve said. I don’t think the point in talking to the plagiarist is to get information from them or hear their side of the story so much as seeing if they fold when questioned on it or if they double down on the lie. The former could potentially be a salvageable situation, the latter is unquestionably not.

            1. Snark*

              So, I agree that the discussion needs to be had. I do question – in the real sense that I can’t make up my mind – whether a full confession would lead to a salvageable situation.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Oh! No, probably not. I didn’t mean to imply that if she confesses, all is forgiven. But the details matter, and can impact how you handle her departure, future references, etc. If it’s “this has been a heavy burden on me and I feel horrible about it — my spouse is dying and I’m not myself and I made terrible decisions in trying to get by at work during this time and I understand you may need to let me go as a result,” that’s different than someone who digs in and tries to defend themselves.

                1. league*

                  Thanks for this – I now understand where you’re coming from, where previously I was all “weird how much leeway Alison is giving this person.”

                2. JamieS*

                  Maybe I’m just being ungenerous but I don’t really see why the justification matters. Regardless of her reasons, the employee lied and claimed another’s work as their own. Those facts don’t change whether she did it to get a promotion, for the giggles, or because not only is her husband dying but her boyfriend dumped her.

                  I understand having the conversation in case OP is mistaken and the work was done by the problem employee. Assuming that’s not the case it’s pretty cut and dry to me.

                3. TootsNYC*

                  especially repeatedly, and especially on things that she wasn’t even tasked with doing (like the standards sheet–she had to go WAY out of her way to do that).

                4. Trout 'Waver*

                  I’m kinda with JamieS on this one. If it was a victimless offense, that’s one thing. But I’d first have to look and see if someone got denied a promotion, missed out on a raise, or lost a really good assignment because someone else was taking credit for their work.

                  I mean, I try to be empathetic, but just about everyone’s been through something and just about everyone is going to go through something in the future. The people who her actions impacted might be going through something also.

                5. JamieS*

                  Sorry I should’ve been more clear. I meant I don’t know why the justification would matter in regards to what happens after termination (mainly references) . If the employee had a “good” reason would OP side step the question on why she was let go or even lie about it if asked? If it’s something worth mentioning if there wasn’t a good excuse what’s the justification for not mentioning it if the excuse was good? That it was an unusual circumstance and the terminated employee wouldn’t do it again?

                  How would anyone know that? Once someone shows this level of total disregard for not only their coworkers but ethics in general it’s not a stretch to believe they’d do it again.

                6. LBK*

                  I don’t think anyone is suggesting the OP should cover for Anna in the future if she has a good explanation,it just provides additional info/context that can be given to the hiring manager if called for a reference. “I caught Anna plagiarizing work, so I fired her” is a pretty different reference than “Anna was dealing with some serious financial issues that made her anxious about keeping her job and in turn affected her judgment; I ultimately had to fire her when I came across multiple examples of work she’d explicitly taken credit for that had actually been done by her coworkers.”

                  The first reference is pretty much a guaranteed candidacy killer. The second one might be workable if it’s been some time since the firing, if Anna was upfront about it in the interview process, if the job is fairly low-stakes, etc.

              2. LBK*

                I think it would depend really heavily on what that confession was like. Frankly, off the top of my head I can’t exactly picture a version of that confession that would convince me she was worth keeping, but the odds are better than if she continued to lie to my face. That one I can say for sure would lead to immediate termination.

          4. kbeers0su*

            I work in Student Conduct at a university currently, and I can say that not all people go that route. I support Alison’s advice to talk to the person first. While half of my students initially attempt to lie to me about their involvement in a given incident, they usually end up coming clean. Too many people just aren’t that good at lying. Especially- as Alison advised- when you only present pieces of the information as you go and see how the person responds to each individual piece.

            Plus, OP also needs to be fair. If she doesn’t give this employee a chance to explain what happened, what route does the OP take the next time a similar concern is raised? And what if there is a legitimate explanation either this time or the next time, and OP ends up firing someone who didn’t actually do anything wrong? OP would end up making things worse (morale, trust among the team, reputation as a supervisor) if they didn’t give the employee a chance to set the record straight.

          5. nonegiven*

            They probably have first drafts or other information that shows they did most of it.

        2. animaniactoo*

          Agreed, but given what I’ve seen in terms of someone in this situation being confronted, I would not say “I have to think about whether we can continue to work together”.

          If they’ve dug in deeper, you need to be ready to let them go right then and there. The number of people who turn this kind of thing around/aren’t vindictive after being caught are so small compared to the number where not letting them go tanks the whole situation that imo it’s not a worthwhile risk to keep them on.

          This is someone who is blatantly – repeatedly – taking credit in a situation where they’re easily caught, and that’s a mindset which generally means it’s not this one habit in isolation, there are a bunch of other issues to go along with it. Damage control here means giving those as little ability to make an appearance/be disruptive as possible.

        3. Apollo Warbucks*

          If nothing else it’s good other staff to see how serious disciplinary issues are handled. I’d be worried if people where marched out of the office without a chance to have their say.

      1. AlsoAnon*

        No way. What if OP is wrong (and doesn’t realize it)? It doesn’t sound super-likely in this situation, but you never know.

        1. OP*

          OP here, thanks Alison and thanks to the commenters so far. I really like the approach suggested – I didn’t call her out about the project work during the performance review because I wanted to look back through the files and ensure there was nothing she’d done that I’d somehow overlooked (I checked and I hadn’t) – having raised the guidelines in the review I asked her to email them to me and it was then that I started to look back into the other “work” she’d emailed me and cross referenced with the original files saved on the network so I’m sad to say it’s taken me longer than it should’ve done to pick up on this and I obviously need to look at how I can do better with that in the future.

          This will be the first face-to-face conversation we’ve had since I realised the extent of this. You’re right though, I do need to take a firm line on it.

          For context our company has a pretty rigid policy when it comes to firing which means there has to be a verbal discussion followed by three consecutive written warnings signed by the manager and HR before we can fire anyone! (That’s caused some crazy problems in the past but I’ll save some of those stories for an Open Thread) So for right now, this would need to be that first verbal discussion- but with me keeping a much closer eye from now on.

          1. Allypopx*

            Is there any way you could make a case for an exception? There’s a real risk to the company if she’s untrustworthy and willing to steal work.

            And what if she showed up drunk and punched a coworker in the face or laundered money from the organization? They should have some room for flexibility.

          2. Apollo Warbucks*

            I’m in the UK and there is similar legal red tape to be cut through before firing someone. It’s hard to sack someone but not impossible and for serious bad conduct people can be fired with immediate effect and a small amount of severance.

            How strict are HR and would they change the process given the severity of the situation? As having someone in your team with such a lack of integrity isn’t tenable, you should strongly push back against
            anyone from HR who thinks your employee should stay working for you.

            1. Snark*

              I often hate how hostile American law is to workers, and how stacked the deck is in employers’ favor here, but I really think these kinds of inflexible requirements work to employers’ detriment. It shouldn’t be necessary to issue warnings in triplicate before you’re allowed to let someone actively detrimental to the team and company go.

              1. Apollo Warbucks*

                It depends on the serveriry of the issue, if I stole or punched someone then I’d be suspended straight away and sacked pretty quick. If I was constantly late to work then I’d get informal warnings moving on more formal warning and termination if I ignored them. I imagine employers in the us using a similar approach even with out the law forcing them too.

                There was a case at my last job where someone in a satlite office was sacked for committing a drink driving offence on company time in a company vehicle and they were sacked by the office manager, but over ruled on appeal by central HR. As the manager hadn’t given any thought to the practicality of reassigning the employee to other duties that meant they wouldn’t need to drive. That makes my mind boggle, but I don’t know enough about the decision or law to understand how why that happened.

                1. Anon For This*

                  Yes. I’ve been fired before and it happened much like that. Informal warnings. Formal warning. Probation/performance improvement plan. Fired. It wasn’t for something egregious though. And I’m in the US.

                2. Electric Hedgehog*

                  See, and the thing is that this is theft. This is the theft of her coworker’s efforts, which is the currency that we all trade for wages. It should be treated the same way as someone with their hand in the till. Ask for an explanation to determine how the firing should go and how to give references, but firing is a must.

          3. LBK*

            There must be some leeway in that policy – if an employee punched their coworker in the face, I’m sure the company wouldn’t allow them to punch two more employees and get two more warnings before they could be fired. I’d talk to someone in HR and explain the situation to see if you can get an exception made here.

          4. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Talk to HR. The “three warnings” thing tends to be for performance issues like work quality. There are generally exceptions for things that are more egregious, like lying, punching someone, embezzling, etc. Say this is serious enough that you want to fire her now, and that a PIP to teach her not to lie would be ridiculous, and ask what you need to do to let her go immediately. This won’t always work if you have really rigid, horrible HR, but it will work in a well-run company.

              1. Adlib*

                Agreed. At one terrible job I had, I got one written warning and then was fired unceremoniously one day with no additional chances given. They were a small company and not terribly rigid in this regard, but I’m fairly sure OP’s company can make exceptions.

            1. nonegiven*

              If you gather enough physical evidence and testimony from coworkers about their stolen work, maybe HR has another category for immediate firing.

          5. Chinook*

            “For context our company has a pretty rigid policy when it comes to firing which means there has to be a verbal discussion followed by three consecutive written warnings signed by the manager and HR before we can fire anyone!”

            Double check with HR to make sure there are no exceptions to this rule. If someone stole from the company, would that still only be a written warning? How about if they tried to sell drugs to a colleague on company premises (which happened at one place worked)? To me, plagiarizing and then lying about it when confronted would seem like an obvious exception if they do exist.

          6. Observer*

            I’m with Allypopx – you need to talk to your HR RIGHT NOW about the possibility of an exception.

            There ARE always offenses that a grounds for immediate termination. Something like this is so bad, and such a liability for your organization that it just might qualify.

            Aside from all of the good points other have mentioned, these are some scenarios that could come to bite you:
            * She plagiarizes a piece of work that isn’t correct and fails to catch that before the client – or their constituency realizes
            * She plagiarizes a piece of work that’s more recognizable than she realizes – see above
            * She plagiarizes a piece of work that was actually done by a client and it goes to a different client and the owner client finds out
            * She plagiarizes a price of work belonging to a client and sends it back to the client as her own work

            The bottom line is that unless something VERY unusual is going on, she’s a liar and you cannot trust ANYTHING she puts her name to. EVERYTHING needs to be cross checked and double checked. Otherwise you risk having the reputation of your organization destroyed. It’s very, very hard to recover from something like this – especially if it comes out that you knew about it and let her continue to work.

            1. OP*

              I’m in the UK too Apollo. There has been one exception made in the past on the firing policy, everything else has been made to go through the three written warnings process (the company was sued – unsuccessfully- for constructive dismissal around five years ago and although the tribunal found in the company’s favour, it cost the company a lot of time and money to dispute and it is now very particular that everything be formally documented and evidenced)

              That said, you’re all right that it’s worth the conversation with HR to see what options we have assuming the first discussion pans out as suggested that she doubles down

              1. Lady Bug*

                Even in the UK there should be circumstances laid out in the employees contract that would result in immediate termination, which would probably include fraud and dishonesty. That doesn’t mean the employee won’t bring a claim before the tribunal (its my understanding its fairly inexpensive compared to a US lawsuit), but it may be a quicker resolution and may ultimately be cheaper than the cost to company morale and/or reputation. It’s definitely worth a discussion with HR and legal counsel.

              2. Observer*

                It’s worth pointing out to your HR that if this gets out, it could cost your company A LOT more than any law suit would. Like break the company more.

                So. If the calculation is about mitigating risk, the risk of a lawsuit is much lower than the risk of allowing this to go on. There is also the fact that it would be a very bad move on Anna’s part to sue, because it would expose her behavior, that makes it less likely that she would sue. Not impossible, because people can do incredibly stupid things some times, but unlikely.

                But DO document what you have found and bring it to HR, so they really get what’s going on, and so they at least know they have what they need to protect the company. And perhaps have an HR rep in the room when you have the conversation, so there is better documentation of what happened in the meeting.

              3. always in email jail*

                I work for a government agency that is this strict and, even in this case, there would probably not be an exception. I may be able to issue to multiple warnings for multiple offenses, however, even if I discovered them all at once, so there’s that to consider?

                There’s also the fact that, not only is she lying, that she’s clearly not doing actual work as well. So maybe that’s a separate issue you can tackle? (write her up for plagiarizing, write her up for lying, write her up for not doing work once she realizes she can’t plagiarize, and bam?)

              4. Apollo Warbucks*

                I can see why HR would be concerned about having to go to tribunal but there’s still a way to protect the firm from that liability and sack Jane if you decide to.

                If Jane hasn’t worked for the company for over 2 years there’s a good chance she wouldn’t be able to take a claim to tribunal as the law changed in 2012.

                I hope HR help you get the outcome want, it’s a tough situation to deal with so good luck.

              5. Akcipitrokulo*

                Also in the UK…. and yeah, you cant fire someone without going through processes for most things. But if everything is documented and you’very got evidence of grievous misconduct, it should be fine… but completely get not wanting hassle of tribunal!

                Do you have a legal team? HR and it could get together on it.

            2. Creag an Tuire*

              OP, I’d advise, ironically enough, “plagiarizing” Observer’s arguments when you go to HR and make this a Hill To Die On.

              I would literally tell them that (absent some kind of miraculous mitigating circumstance) they either need to fire Anna or get used to paying a de-facto intern an analyst salary, because for the reasons above you cannot assign Anna anything more than menial tasks from here on.

          7. Coming Up Milhouse*

            Please double check this. This is our policy as well for performance and minor behavior issues, yet in the case of misconduct (which this is): it’s an instant walk out the door, do not pass go type deal.

          8. TootsNYC*

            I would talk w/ HR about this particular situation.

            Because it’s far more akin to lying on an expense report than it is “not doing the job well enough.”

            I can’t imagine that they wouldn’t just fire someone outright for stealing.
            And many companies (the smart ones w/ written policies) have official written policies that say, “We may follow this, but we reserve the right to terminate your employment immediately.”

            However, yes, sit down w/ HR first to find out what your options are.

        2. Engineer Girl*

          I was once accused of plagiarism. An individual created a web portal that was fairly useless. I went in and recreated the whole thing from scratch. The individuals manager tried to get credit for her employee by claiming that I took credit for her teams work. I was furious when accused and showed my manager the autogenerated name/date/time stamps for the work. I showed him the other employees work Vs mine. There was no question I had done the work. I never received an apology.

          It’s really important to have the conversation. In most plagiarism cases the perpetrator will double down, making it easy to take action. If the person did the work they will be furious and can prove the work.

          1. AlsoAnon*

            Exactly this was what I was thinning with “what if it’s a misunderstanding?” I thought it was a reach/derail to say, but what if OP accidentally saved over the shared source file that OP now thinks she plagiarized? Something like that? Of course a conversation is necessary before “fire immediately.”

      2. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

        She’s advocating for one conversation (and perhaps a check in with the colleague whose work the OP claimed). That’s not an unreasonable amount of deliberation. She could literally get this done today, if she wanted to.

        1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

          My apologies — it looks like this has been discussed in the thread before I got here. Should have read all the comments before I chimed in!

  16. Snark*

    I would raise this with her in the following manner: “You lied to me during your performance review and claimed credit for projects I know for a fact you were not involved in. I cannot work with you if I cannot trust you, so please pack your shit and leave.”

    For serious, OP. This is a first-strike, do not pass go, no discussion, no debate, no PIP, fire-this-person-right-now issue. I do not view it as likely that there is anything that would meaningfully exonerate her, because the facts you have now are basically impossible to read any other way. She’s done it on three different deliverables, in a way that is clearly – unavoidably – premeditated and methodical. I would fire her immediately and without further hesitation.

    1. Merula*

      I think the way that Alison is recommending is because there is a small chance that there’s something missing. You start with how you would want to have handled it if there was something missing. When the back story is “I was hospitalized after a car accident without access to my phone”, you’ll want to have said “You didn’t show up for work Friday, and you didn’t call. What happened?” and not “You’re being put on probation for skipping work.” IF they actually did skip work, then you’re still able to follow the former with the latter.

      1. Snark*

        In this case, in context, with three claims of ownership that are equally but differently dishonest? If it was one deliverable, maybe, but fool me once, shame on me, etc. As a general rule, yes, you’re right, but with three cases….my first impulse is to not hesitate. But you’re right, the discussion needs to be had, just in the interest of fairness.

    2. Snark*

      Ok, on further consideration, yes, Anna needs a chance to explain and exonerate herself. My experience with plaigarists leads me to believe that she’s going to double down and lie to OP’s face, so OP needs to talk to the employees whose work was apparently plaigarized and compare the previous version of the best practices doc to the new one with her name on it. If the coworker doesn’t cop to getting substantial assistance from Anna, and if the best practices doc is substantially identical, I think that’s damning.

      So, the conversation should probably be, “Anna, you appear to be claiming credit for x and y documents, and [coworker] says you didn’t do anything on [deliverable] but proofread. This is an incredibly serious matter and as of right now, your job is in serious jeopardy. Can you provide any context or evidence that would convince me that you can continue on in this role?”

      1. LBK*

        That’s not any different from what Alison suggested. Hearing her out isn’t mutually exclusive from firing her – if she has anything other than a crystal clear explanation that’s verified by her coworkers, you can still fire her after hearing her version of the story.

        I think your advice really only stands if the OP is something of a pushover and worries she’ll buckle if Anna comes up with a halfway decent cover story, so she has to go in guns blazing to make sure her point is made before she chickens out. But if the OP is confident in her convictions, there’s no reason to start the conversation off in such an aggressive manner. You don’t lose anything by doing so, and on the very, very slim chance that there is a reasonable explanation that’s corroborated by her coworkers, you haven’t just torched your relationship with one of your better employees.

        Yes, it’s extremely likely that the OP will have to fire Anna, but the relationship goes both ways – she also doesn’t want to piss Anna off if somehow it turns out she’s wrong.

        1. LBK*

          And as I think about this some more, to some extent you also don’t want to tip your hand. As we’re discussing above, the main purpose of this conversation is to see if she doubles down on the lie, and you don’t want to let her know that you’ve already put together the proof of her plagiarism at the outset of the conversation because you don’t want to give her the opportunity to concoct a cover story on the spot.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Yep — that’s the reason for going into it bit by bit the way I laid it out in the post — you’re giving her even more rope to hang herself with if she chooses to take it.

            1. Snark*

              ….dang. I’m a sucker for giving somebody more rope. Ok, you guys win, I’m convinced Alison’s way is the best.

            2. neverjaunty*

              Agree – the problem is when the manager doesn’t like conflict and wants to find a reason to make everything OK again, those conservations are an opening for the Annas of the world to well-actually or sob story their way out of it, and then they get better at covering their tracks.

              Which is to say, definitely gave the conversation, but going in with the expectation that this employee cannot be saved.

        2. Snark*

          Honestly, I just don’t see that being enough of a possibility – in this particular context – to factor in. When it’s this blatant and unambiguous, I tend to go in guns blazing because it cuts out a lot of dancing around. In a couple of cases of really egregious cheating I dealt with, going in with a soft touch tended to result in a lot more tedious bluffing and doubling/tripling down. I agree that in a case where it was somewhat ambiguous or where it was really out of charater or exceptional for the person in question, you’d want to go in with a softer touch.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            The thing is — it doesn’t matter if they bluff or double down. You have all the power in this situation. You can still fire them, you can still cut the conversation off if it becomes ridiculous, etc. But you’re taking the high ground by approaching it responsibly. You don’t gain anything by going in guns blazing, and you potentially lose something.

          2. LBK*

            I think it’s all about how you handle the conversation. You really only have to give them the opportunity to talk once – you don’t need to let them rebuttal each piece of proof and turn in into a back and forth. That’s a pretty common mistake in firings in general; you may give them one final chance to explain themselves, but a firing should not be a conversation.

            1. Snark*

              I think that’s why I initially pushed back a bit. I’ve watched firing conversations devolve into back and forth litigating of points and tears and anguished rending of garments, and noooope.

              1. LBK*

                Yeah – and as I said, if you think you’re the type of person who will get bogged down in a conversation like this, I can see the inclination to be more aggressive from the outset, but I don’t think that’s the right way to do it.

                If you’re worried that you’ll back down, I think a better solution would be to have a more seasoned manager who has more experience with firings join you as a backup so they can intervene if things get out of hand (and sometimes just the presence of another person keeps the conversation on track since the employee feels outnumbered and therefore less apt to win an argument). It’s not unusual for companies to require a witness during a firing, so I don’t think it would be too weird.

                1. Snark*

                  And, if I’m being perfectly honest, I have a crunchy coating over a soft marshmallow center, so maybe I do adopt the hardass stance to avoid getting bogged down. Worth interrogating.

    3. Wintermute*

      I think you need the full situation, just because it’s *possible* that this looks worse than it is. Maybe she actually did help out and misunderstands how to take credit for it? Maybe she did significant editing that the OP doesn’t know about and she’s submitting it to show her editing and formatting skills not the writing?

      It’s theoretically possible, if darned unlikely, and you don’t want to put someone in the unemployment line (especially if they apparently do good work) because of a romcom-worthy “it’s not what it looks like, I swear!”

  17. Imaginary Number*

    Are you 100% positive that she wasn’t involved in the original work?

    Some people are better than others about consistently communicating with managers about what they’re doing and self-promoting. I remember a situation once where a coworker was being accused of something very similar (taking credit for a coworker’s work) only it turned out that she really had been deeply involved and just didn’t talk about it (as opposed to coworker #2 who was the sort that liked to keep everyone spun up on the status.)

    I like Alison’s method of finding out for sure. If asked the question directly “what steps did you take to accomplish this” the truth will come out pretty quick.

    1. Snark*

      You’re focusing on the first incident. There were three, one of which was an old set of guidelines she claimed, and one of which she took out of a coworker’s folder and ginned up a new cover sheet.

      1. teclatrans*

        Alison described the guidelines incident this way, but OP said she also moved various points around. I would put this and the proofreading in the same category (and possibly the other projects too) as gross overexaggeration of the role she played.

        This is still completely unacceptable and I think firing is the only recourse, but man did I deal with lots of students (both as s teacher and when I was a student) who didn’t really understand why doing some “work” on existing (written by other people) passages didn’t constitute original work of their own. This is no excuse, especially for someone with a job where content creation is one of their core responsibilities.

        OP, others have demonstrared why you need to fire this woman (unless the conversation exonerates her). You asked for something constructive to do with this employee, and i think the most constructive act you canb take *for her* would be to fire her. Having a conversation where she is called out and asked to explain, and then firing her with a clear explanation of what was unacceptable, is the very best thing you can do for this woman. She needs to face real consequences for these actions (wanna bet she plagiarized freely in school and either hot away with it or received a slap on the wrist?), this is a lesson she needs to learn. Better noe than after building a career on her lies. (She may or may not need the lesson mow, but it will be there for her.)

      2. Zidy*

        See, I can actually see a case for that one too though. If she was trained by the previous coworker, wrote her notes down just exactly as the coworker said it, and then later was writing up a document to make it easier for the rest of her team (because nobody knew about the coworkers document) – it would probably sound almost exactly like the document that the original coworker wrote. Depending on exactly how technical the guidelines are, they may be exactly the same – after all there is so many ways to write something like “Make sure you check the “active employees” button before clicking okay” without sounding exactly the same.

        1. Observer*

          It all she did was type up what her coworker said, in the coworker’s words, and then put her notes to it, that IS plagiarism! Taking dictation is NOT “original work” – it’s the reason why secretaries, EA’s and AA’s don’t put their names to their bosses’ letters and reports even when they do the typing.

          1. KHB*

            That’s not anything at all like the situation Zidy is describing though.

            Every place I’ve worked has had certain procedures and guidelines that are passed from coworker to coworker as “oral wisdom.” It’s not plagiarism to think “Hey, maybe it would be helpful to type these up for everyone to refer back to” – not realizing that Previous Coworker had had the same idea. It does seem like quite a coincidence that the two lists would come out so similar – but as Zidy said, it’s not necessarily out of the question.

          2. aebhel*

            That doesn’t sound like taking dictation, though. Taking dictation is a deliberate ‘you talk, I type’ thing. That sounds more like ‘I was trained by [X] on the procedures, now I’m writing down the procedures I was trained on’–they are probably, by necessity, going to sound a lot like whatever [X] has written about procedure, because there are only so many ways to phrase things. I could see a person new to the workforce not really getting the distinction between writing up your own training manual for work you’re training other people to do, and writing up a training manual based on training you’ve received from someone else.

            Mostly I’m thinking about this now because I’m in the process of writing up documentation for the people covering my job while I’m on maternity leave; a lot of the procedures are things I was trained on by my predecessor in the role, but it would be bizarre to put her name down on it, and I’d be flummoxed if I was accused of plagiarism because it turned out she had written up documentation previously.

            Note: I do not actually think this is what’s happening in this case. Claiming ownership of work that is not hers in such an explicit way is dishonest.

            1. Observer*

              No, she didn’t officially take dictation. But the OP says that it’s the exact same language. The only difference is that the “new” document is in a different order. The only way that could happen is if Anna literally took down every word the colleague said, because even with limited ways to say something, there are going to be differences otherwise.

    2. FlibertyG*

      It’s true, the only possible defense I can think of would be that she considers things she’s touched to be fair game to report to the boss as kind-of yours-in-part and the OP isn’t clear on how much the parts in question are. Is it 20% her work and she’s saying this is a product she’s been a part of (arguable), or is it .05% (which, giving an editing once-over or changing only the title page sounds more like .0002 but there may be things we’re missing here).

      I’d give her the opportunity to explain her logic. But yes I’m really not optimistic about this employee salvaging a reputation.

      1. Clever Name*

        I edit coworkers’ drafts all the time, and I never claim that the final document was in any way my product. At most I’ll say I “worked on it” or “helped”, but I don’t claim ownership.

  18. Mazzy*

    Great topic I literally just heard someone taking credit for an issue I found. It will eventually come to light when I lead the project to fix it and everyone realizes that the other person only knows that the hint happened but not why or how often or how to avoid it. Has happened before with them.

  19. Oryx*

    So, you don’t actually *know* that she does great work. She has proven, more than once, that she has no qualms claiming the work of others as her own so unless you literally stood over her desk and watched her work, all of her contributions as an employee have to come under question.

    Also, yes, this does effect her colleagues because it’s possible they weren’t given proper credit for work they actually did.

    1. Oryx*

      Also, I’m not one to jump to firing but this is a firing offense to me. I’ve worked in academia, I work with intellectual property now, this is 1000000% not acceptable.

      1. FlibertyG*

        I think this varies wildly by field, just cautionary. In research or academia, it’s very important. I work in a corporate field where employees don’t have public ownership over what they produce so this would literally only come up in an employee evaluation sense, not in a our-external-reputation-is-ruined sense. Think like, sales. The company gets the sale overall, and that’s the most important thing to them. Something like offending a client would be immediately fire-able here, but this would be a conversation. It would still be a big deal and possibly fire-able even but it’s probably not an automatic out without any discussion.

        1. FlibertyG*

          Although of course the OP says they’re in research so it may indeed by a huge deal to them.

        2. Oryx*

          But even if it only comes up in an employee evaluation sense there are consequences outside of the evaluation. I guarantee the co-workers have an inkling this is happening and I can’t imagine most people would be okay with finding out one of their co-worker was stealing the work of others including possibly their own work and taking credit for it and having their manager say “So and so does good work.” No, So and So turns in good work and having that work used within the context of an evaluation without their being some kind of fallout is a serious moral issue.

        3. Observer*

          Even in that kind of sense, it’s a huge issue. As Allison pointed out, she’s stealing credit for other’s people’s work and that’s a HUGE integrity issue, whether the credit is only internal or not. It also creates all sorts of other problems, because no one knows what she really is doing, and who else’s work she is stealing (what if she’s plagiarizing copyrighted works, or works from outside the organization that people might recognize?), or if anything else she says is true.

          1. Nicotene*

            Yeah, this is off topic for OP since they’re in research – but in my office stealing credit coworkers’ work would be considered petty game-playing behavior. You’d get a bad rep as a colleague and be disliked, but the company isn’t likely to bring the immediate-dismissal hammer out over it. It’s kind of par for the course here that people jostle and play dirty to get ahead. My boss calls it “sharp elbows”! The company cares about products going out the door on time, not who did what – and employees only care about credit at raise/bonus/promotion time, which is a very dicey, political thing anyway. Everything here is done by department so if you stole credit for someone in the department … nobody but them would care. But yes, there’d be a warning about anything that goes out externally with stolen contents – that would be a bigger deal, and people would be expected to follow that rule because it would hurt the company’s ability to move their products.

  20. MuseumChick*

    The is a Big Bag of Nope. No way would I keep someone on staff who did this. Someone who lies this much, it like the saying goes, for every rat you see there are 50 you don’t.

    Just to cross all your Ts and dot your Is I would have the conversation Alison suggest. But I cannot think of anything she could say to save her job if she was my employee.

  21. Mike C.*

    Christ, what a fraud.

    Yeah, talk to her just to be absolutely sure, but be ready to can her immediately after. Get that job ad ready, have someone suspend her accounts during the meeting and so on.

    But if you’re don’t do anything right now, you’re going to have a very toxic environment on your hands. Justified resentment will be all over the place, no one will trust each other and who knows what else.

  22. Electric Hedgehog*

    Depending on what the research you’re doing is, I think you need to get rid of this person right away. Someone who claims credit for others’ work to bolster their own reputation is someone who could be potentially falsifying the research she’s not swiping from others, for the same reason. Integrity is a big part of what you’re paying for in something like this – you have to be able to trust her work product and right now you can’t.

    1. RVA Cat*

      While research and journalism are different, you don’t want Anna to become the next Jayson Blair or Stephen Glass.

  23. Anonymous Educator*

    But who knows, maybe she’ll tell you something you didn’t realize that exonerates her, so it’s important to have the conversation and give her a chance to do that, just in case.

    I know this is probably good advice—to give the her a chance to come clean, but the OP actually knows first-hand that the Anna is lying:

    she spoke and wrote about work she’d done on a project which I know was actually done by a colleague because (unbeknownst to Anna) I’d worked with the colleague one-on-one on it a number of times and knew what he’d done on it.

    I mean, even if Anna “comes clean,” this is a seriously fire-able offense. I guess the coming clean would just color how bad of a reference you give her for future employment (“She made fire-able offense mistakes but owned up to them when confronted” vs. “She made fire-able offense mistakes and didn’t even own up to them”).

    1. FlibertyG*

      I still think there’s enough ambiguity that it’s worth asking what Anna feels she did. Sure it’s unlikely but you want to cover your basis before you fire someone. Maybe, unbeknownst to OP, this colleague went directly to Anna after every conversation and had her assist with the next steps. Maybe Anna feels that she did make significant changes to the best practices document but the OP skimmed over them – who knows. It’s unlikely but worth an ask in my opinion.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Probably. But it’s always possible there’s something the OP doesn’t know, and to be responsible, she needs to talk to her before making any decisions. But I agree that firing is the most likely end to this.

      1. always in email jail*

        ^yes. This is someone’s livelihood and future career at stake, there should at least be some fact-checking and a conversation before a firing takes place

  24. Wacky Teapots*

    This is a clear cut case of management being unwilling or unable to handle a problem. Be a good manager! Fire this employee! Your staff will look much more favorably on you. He/she is a liar and a thief. You don’t want people like that on your staff. You as a manager will forever be damaged.

    1. Allypopx*

      I think that’s a little harsh towards the OP. She wrote in for advice, she’s willing to handle the problem. Most people, especially newer managers, don’t instinctual jump right to firing, and from the tone I feel like she hasn’t been struck yet by how serious this is. Alison and the commenters have driven that home and hopefully she understands now that this calls for drastic intervention, not constructive coaching. But the impulse to want to fix it says to me she’s trying to be a good manager, she’s not shirking responsibility.

    2. Anonymous Educator*

      Well, we don’t know the OP won’t fire her, so she’s not unwilling or unable to handle the problem. She just hasn’t handled it yet. But, yes, I agree with you that the firing needs to happen ASAP.

    3. OP*

      OP here – I absolutely want to address this firmly so it’s not a case of being unwilling and I certainly wouldn’t turn a blind eye to this – but it’s a new one on me hence writing in to get a good sense on how to approach this – I do want to see if she doubles down or backtracks when questioned. I just posted above (sorry should have posted it at the end of the comments) but for context I’ll repeat the part on my company’s disciplinary policy.

      “…our company has a pretty rigid policy when it comes to firing which means there has to be a verbal discussion followed by three consecutive written warnings signed by the manager and HR before we can fire anyone! So for right now, this would need to be that first verbal discussion- but with me keeping a much closer eye from now on.”

      1. NEW YEAR, NEW ME*

        But I would also make sure that your valid employees get full credit for their work and that make you look at putting in something on documents track changes or a way to record progress on files.

      2. Mike C.*

        This is a bit of an aside, but if someone were sexually harassing a coworker, your company would wait for a verbal warning and three written warnings before dealing with the issue? I understand you don’t make the rules, but such a policy exposes your employer to serious legal liabilities.

          1. Mike C.*

            The OP mentioned one exception 21 minutes after my post and didn’t even address workplace issues where employers are generally required to respond immediately.

      3. CityMouse*

        Surely there have to be exceptions, though (it would be insane not to), and serious lying should qualify.

      4. AJHall*

        Are you based in the UK by any chance? It seems (reasonably enough) that you may be worried about an unfair dismissal claim, so need to show that you’re procedurally in the clear.

        1. OP*

          Yes I am UK-based so you’re right that the company is very conscious of having a clear paper trail for any disciplinary conversations and formal warnings, but I will talk to HR tomorrow on what if any exceptions or workarounds there might be here.

          1. a different Vicki*

            In the short term, can you put her on garden leave, so her coworkers won’t continue to have her stealing credit for their work?

            1. AJHall*

              Not garden leave because that would assume her employment had been terminated, and whether the organisation allows for suspension (with or without pay) pending the outcome of an investigation depends on the organisation – again, hopefully it’s something HR can help on. It’s increasingly sounding to me as if the organisation’s policies and procedures need an overhaul, but that’s a discussion OP may need to have at another day.

  25. This is me*

    I have failed (as in whole semester) students for plagiarism offenses that were less egregious than this . Keeping her may be a liability no matter what she says in the conversation.

    1. Snark*

      Yeah, I’ve done the same. I had a guy who paraphrased an entire paper from another student who’d taken my course the year before, which seriously must have taken as long as writing his own. He didn’t even understand that it was plaigarism, because “it was all my own words!” And then there was a student in a seminar course who wholesale ripped entire paragraphs from my buddy’s PhD thesis, just verbatim copypasta.

      1. many bells down*

        A grown adult woman that I had to do a group project with once just copy-pasted a Wikipedia TALK PAGE into our paper as her contribution. It wasn’t even the actual article. She didn’t even clear the formatting; it still had all the links in it.

        I’m not even sure I can call that plagiarism – more like exceptional laziness.

        1. Creag an Tuire*

          “I’ve failed you for the course for plagiarism. I’ve failed you for the semester for being an idiot.”

  26. ByteTheBullet*

    This is one of those letters where I REALLY hope for an update. I think Allison’s approach is the right one. OP, it might be hard to have these conversations and end up firing someone, but if your employee is guilty, that’s the only way to go about it. Her behavior is so off-limits that ‘rehabilitation’ seems impossible and would tank the team’s morale.

  27. Ramona Flowers*

    This is really bad. That said, I’m curious as to why you don’t know what they’re all working on to start with if you manage them? I couldn’t claim someone else’s project as my own as my manager would know whose it was!

    1. Ramona Flowers*

      Further to which, some kind of collaborative project tracking may be helpful. We use Trello.

    2. ArtK*

      Yes. It sounds like there isn’t enough review/tracking during the progress of projects. While it’s possible to go overboard, the manager shouldn’t be hearing about work done during an annual review.

  28. Snark*

    So….something else just occurred to me. OP, you might take this as a sign that you need to be a little more directly involved in monitoring your team’s work – and perhaps also in assigning work and monitoring who’s doing what. Not to blame you for Anna’s dishonesty, of course, but this is a good time to consider whether you need to be a little more directly involved with who’s doing what on which projects. It sounds like Anna had a lot of room to fly under the radar, feel me?

    1. Anonymous Educator*

      I don’t necessarily get that. It sounds as if the OP does know what people are working on, and that’s why this has come up as a problem. She didn’t hear second-hand “This person stole my work!” It was more like “Wait… Anna claimed to have done this, but I worked directly with so-and-so on it.”

      Micro-managing is the worst. It actually sounds as if the OP has struck a good balance here.

      1. Snark*

        Oh yeah, I totally agree. Ramona’s suggestion to use Trello or similar for project tracking, or even just an Excel tracker spreadsheet, just makes it easier to back-check.

    2. music*

      nah. I think you’re suggesting a level of monitoring that veers toward micromanaging. The default shouldn’t be “i need to watch everyone like it hawk,” it should be “when a problem arises because someone is behaving badly I will address it cleanly and quickly.”

      Otherwise, you’re in danger of treating employees like middle schoolers, and no one thrives in that environment.

      1. Snark*

        Don’t get me wrong, I’m just advocating for a liiiiitle bit more active project tracking and accountability, not micromanaging!

        1. music*

          we don’t know hardly enough about this person’s workflow to know whether her level of involvement is what you consider appropriate. I took from the letter a boss who is actually very involved in her team and already knows what’s going on — that’s how she knew as much as she did and could call the employee out. Don’t punish everyone because a single bad apple got caught.

          1. Snark*

            Like I said: it’s worth consideration. It may not be, upon reflection, necessary. But whenever something like this happens, I think it’s healthy for a manager to take a moment and evaluate whether there’s anything they need to shore up.

          2. OP*

            Thank you! OP here. I’d say that I have a reasonably good view of the work within the team but as someone that has had to deal with some serious micro managers (and some others who were too hands off) I’ve also tried to put trust in the team to do their work and I think that’s important to retain but obviously some things have slipped under the radar so yes I need to look at that. Thanks for all the suggestions, I really appreciate it!

            1. Snark*

              This is one of the hardest balances to strike as a manager, OP, and I’ve been both micromanagey and too hands-off at various times. I don’t mean to imply that you’re too hands off or that you did it wrong, just to suggest what I’d tell any manager with a problem this big!

              1. Trout 'Waver*

                I took a course on situational leadership that was really helpful in helping me get a bit better at the balance between micromanaging and delegating. There is a time and place for each. I’d really advocate for any new managers out there to take a similar course if they have the opportunity.

      2. Ramona Flowers*

        I don’t think it’s micromanaging to simply know what projects your staff are working on. In my mind, it becomes micromanaging if you tell them exactly how to do those projects.

    3. Mike C.*

      I think you’re on the right track with regards to some sort of followup needing to be done, but I don’t think this is it.

    4. Marisol*

      It might not hurt for the OP to *consider* whether or not she should be more hands-on. However, I have seen the opposite scenario play out frequently: management assumes, with no basis, that they have to watch employees like a hawk or they will screw up in some way, either by incompetence or malfeasance. It’s a management style that alienates good employees. Personally, I’d rather my manager err on the side of giving me too little direction than too much.

    5. It's me!!!*

      Whenever my company identifies a flaw with a person’s work, they introduce another bit of paperwork to ensure it doesn’t happen to anyone ever again. So instead of dealing with the singular orginal issue and trusting it not to happen again, we are all now drowning in acountability paperwork.
      I think if this had happened a few times, yeah OP think about a process to ensure it doesn’t keep repeating. But in the comments she’s made, it sounds like she’s reacting in the right way and (hopefully) will deal with the situation well.
      Think monitoring document will be unnecessary. She’s not made a mistake here.

      1. Ramona Flowers*

        Personally I’m not advocating anything more in-depth than a list of who is doing what.

        Also good for tracking the value your team adds and, dare I say it, KPIs.

        1. Ramona Flowers*

          Or whatever the academia equivalent is. (Over here it’s allll about the REF.)

  29. Sans*

    I once worked with a marketing manager for years and found out by accident she had been taking credit for my work. She was telling people she wrote the brochure or ad that in fact, I had written every word of. All she did was approve it and *maybe* make VERY minor edits.

    The fun thing is that the way I found out is that her boss casually mentioned a brochure she wrote and how good it was. I informed him that I wrote every single word of that brochure. I even tried to ask him, do you think she meant she worked on that brochure (she approved it and passed it around for other approvals)? No, he said she definitely said she wrote it. He was not happy with her at all. Ah, karma ….

    1. OwnedByTheCat*

      I had a manager who took credit for a huge fundraising/marketing campaign I had come up with, created, and launched. I was about 24 at the time and it was my first fundraising job. He was the Marketing Director. My big boss sort of shrugged it off…so I left. (wasn’t the only reason, but I was so demoralized. It was clear that having a manager take credit for my work rather than mentor and support me wasn’t going to help my career). I still fume, years later.

  30. a Gen X manager*

    Am I naive in thinking that it is likely that Anna did this because she was way in over her head, but needed the job rather than just trying to take a shortcut and make her job easier? Assuming OP’s information is accurate, she’s definitely got to go, but I’m wondering if in that scenario it should be a “softer” exit and reference (like Alison’s dying husband example), rather than the business version of GTFO.

    1. Anonymous Educator*

      Could be, but that would mean that she went into the performance review and the OP immediately said “So, what have you even done here?” The fact that she took something someone else had written and just slapped her name on it, means it wasn’t something she was expected to produce but something that had been produced that she simply wanted to claim credit for… at least that’s my reading of it, based on the information presented.

      1. OP*

        OP here – yes that’s right. The guidelines were not something she’d been asked for, but rather something I’m guessing she was looking for extra credit on!

        1. Ramona Flowers*

          I kind of did this once – took some guidelines that were divided into three different ex-employees’ handovers in a mix of doc and spreadsheet files, put them in one format and updated them where needed. But the difference is I never tried to imply that I wrote them!

          1. OwnedByTheCat*

            If someone did that – compiled documents and organized them – I’d be over the moon and they’d get major bonus points. In fact, I have a coworker more junior to me who has been doing that. Every time she notices a problem in how we are accessing information or compiling it, she suggests changes and makes them. It’s incredibly helpful and shows her to be a proactive team player!

          2. TootsNYC*

            I took someone else’s Excel-spreadsheet tracker and modified it, and kind of spread it around. I always talk about it being “his spreadsheet.”

            I sort of feel like it’s been a year, and probably I can just call it “the tracker,” but I’m pretty sure that if I were talking about it to new audience, or if someone admired it, I’d be leaping to say, “I snitched it from Larry Rivera–I only added the color coding.”

          3. HE anon*

            Consolidation from a bunch of different places is actual work, though. You need to curate which information is important, establish a flow of what makes sense where in the final document, etc. It’s not just slapping your name on a new title page.

        2. Tertia*

          Did those guidelines actually go out to the external partner? Your HR may stick to their policy no matter what, but if she knowingly sent plagiarized material out as a company work product, that’s a big deal. It’s not going to fly well if she does that with third-party research that a client recognizes.

    2. CityMouse*

      I don’t really find it mitigating. People who lie rather than ask for help are not people I trust.

    3. Snark*

      Given that one of the incidents was basically an extra credit project….yeah, sorry, I think you’re giving the benefit of a little too much doubt.

  31. hbc*

    The most charitable view I can muster is that she genuinely is overestimating her contributions to certain things, or maybe believes that it’s something that everyone does so it’s underselling herself to not claim credit for everything she’s touched. (Depends on the specifics of what she said about the one-on-one project–she might claim partial responsibility for a section because the guy asked, “I’m thinking of using X model for the data, but what do you think about Y?”)

    Even in that case, I’m pessimistic it’ll work out. In my experience, Anna types will hear this as you undervaluing her performance, and she will then fight tooth and nail to prove the injustice of this workplace. Be prepared for a lot of “Why did Wakeen get his name on this report?” conversations. Sadly, I think the best outcome is to show your current employees that you gave her a fair chance to stop her behavior, and for her to be better behaved at her *next* job.

    1. FlibertyG*

      Yeah agree there’s a slim chance this is what it looks like in her mind. “I did help with this, I did (one thing)!” Unfortunately, that’s still probably not salvageable for OP.

  32. Mike C.*

    On other thing that came to mind here. Once you (most likely) fire this employee, you need to publicly and directly establish clear expectations for what is and is not acceptable behavior with regards to plagiarism. That this has been going on for as long as it has can send the message that such behavior is tolerated and you need to stamp it out.

    1. Lora*

      Yup. I would fire her, call a meeting and say, “Anna is no longer with the company. Please direct questions about Projects X Y and Z to me until they are re-assigned. The reason she is no longer with the company is that she was taking credit for other people’s work. I want you all to know how seriously I take that, and that I want us to be able to trust each other and work as a team, and that isn’t possible if someone is lying or stealing credit. If you have any questions, see me.”

  33. Rusty Shackelford*

    Given that the OP has stated she won’t be able to fire the employee until after a verbal warning and three written warnings (!!!), I wonder if it would be possible to treat each document as a separate incident.

    Incident one: hey, you were less-than-honest about your role in “developing” these guidelines. Discussion, verbal warning.

    Incident two: inspired by the discovery about the guidelines, I also found this project you claimed was actually done by one of your peers. Written warning #1.


    1. Snark*

      Yeah, I wondered the same thing. What I really hope is that these requirements can be waived for a discovery of a recurrent and severe professional ethics issue, but if they make her jump through the hoops, this’d be a way to do it.

    2. fposte*

      Definitely worth trying if they don’t respond to Alison’s argument that this would be firing for cause and thus exempt from the warning policy.

      And you know, OP, if you’re in an environment that makes it that much harder to get rid of people committing malfeasance, that’s a reason to intervene earlier than you might otherwise. This person could probably be gone already if you’d started the clock when you first noted the problem; if they make you reset the clock from now, that’s an awful lot of reduplication of effort.

    3. DArcy*

      At minimum, the OP should talk to HR at how this is egregious behavior which seriously endangers the professional crediblity of the entire company. If there is no possibility of an exception to the normal firing policy for egregious misbehavior, the OP needs to take the maximum possible disciplinary actions and look at what can be done to check against further such behavior until (not if!) the employee can be terminated.

    4. Creag an Tuire*

      I don’t know if OP’s policy is the result of a union contract or just an HR policy, but I can tell you that if it’s the former that kind of sleight-of-hand would be shot down right away and justly so.

      That said, every Progressive Discipline clause I’ve ever seen includes an out about how “…the parties agree that certain conduct is grounds for immediate termination”. OP is on much stronger ground arguing that point.

    5. HE anon*

      I like this strategy.

      I’m hoping for OP’s sake and the other people in their department that they can waive the three strikes rule. My position is covered by a union, and our contract has a very clear, lengthy progressive discipline process leading up to firing, but even then there’s a clause about “egregious actions on the part of the employee” allowing exceptions, or something to that effect. Plagiarism is definitely a big enough deal in research that it was fall into that category. Please take this to HR to see if there’s a way around it or if you can use the strategy Rusty suggests.

    6. nonegiven*

      Take the most clear cut, the one OP helped another person with, get his notes, first drafts etc. Confront Anna, write her up. (1)

      Ask her to cop to anything else right now. You have 30 minutes to make a list of projects and your ACTUAL involvement.
      she doubles down

      Write her up for another project (2) Last chance, come in tomorrow afternoon with anything else I might find.
      she triples down

      Write her up for anything else you can find and fire her.

      1. Satanic Panic (c)1983*

        That seems unnecessary. Ideally, OP’s HR department will listen to reason and classify this as the BIG DEAL it obviously is. Failing that, I’m sure there will be more legitimate examples soon enough, especially if OP is asking Anna’s coworkers for other examples as they happen.

        The tactic of adding onto the initial warning like you’re the school principal fishing for information would send me out the door if I heard about a manager doing that to someone. This is egregious enough that if other instances come up after the first conversation, I think it would be fair to issue more warnings for them even though they took place before the first conversation, but holding back known instances so you can stack all the written warnings onto the first conversation isn’t a fair way to do it.

  34. MissDisplaced*

    Playing devil’s advocate here but is this person clear about the difference between and claiming others’ work as her own verses using existing copy?

    I only say this because at my job we have a huge resource of previously “approved” language and copy in our documents (regulated industry). This copy is frequently picked-up in the creation of new documents for new purposes. So technically you have not “developed” it all from scratch, but you do “develop” and tailor things specific to what you need and most people would then state: “I developed this TPS Report and Guidelines for the Teapot company,” and it’s just understood you used the existing copy as your base.

    Not making excuses, but if the person came from a place that operates differently, could it be possible they simply don’t understand the difference, and in their mind they are not intentionally lying about the work?
    It doesn’t seem to be quite the case here, but I could maybe see it happening and the person thinking it was ok.

    1. Snark*

      So, I’ve been in both research and providing compliance support to a regulated industry, and I see where you’re coming from. I don’t rewrite every word of every EA I write, and I have a personal archive of bits and bobs that I copypasta in where it’s just boilerplate or standard language. But, reread the details of the story – several counts of proofreading a doc then putting her name on it as coauthor, and at least one case where she took an old guidance doc and reordered it without significant rewrites and claimed authorship. It’s just not the same situation. She’s clearly claiming others’ effort as partially or wholly her own.

      I do agree that this is, in general, a possibility in many fields, but not here.

      1. MissDisplaced*

        Yeah, I know OP didn’t mention anything like that.
        But situations do exist where it is not automatically plagiarism to “steal” (i.e. use) other’s copy either. In fact, I would be in trouble if I didn’t use the existing approved copy in many cases!
        I had wondered if maybe they had a mix like that and they person couldn’t discern the difference or know better. The instance of proofreading a doc then putting her name on it is very different though.

    2. fposte*

      My problem is that it doesn’t really matter. If she’s gotten this far without knowing that it’s okay a brief explanation isn’t going to put her on the right track and mend any broken fences with co-workers; this is a big and uncertain project even there. I’m obviously doing some projecting from my own workflow, but the idea of having to police somebody’s output for originality every single freaking time is just too labor-intensive for me to countenance.

    3. Undine*

      I’m a technical writer, and it’s assumed that on some level nothing I write is completely original to me. I get all my new information from a technical person in the company, I update documents that already have a lot of information in them, etc. My name doesn’t go on the document outside the company, so in that sense authorship is irrelevant. But when I am talking to my boss, I am very clear on what I’m doing: I’m updating the section on “Tea-roasting your Llamma” to fix the tannin bug. I’m talking to Wakeen to figure out what we have to do to document the new Smoked Tea functionality. I’m reorganizing the section on Green Teas. What I don’t do is take a file that someone else wrote and say, “Here’s some material on Green Teas I’ve just created!” or “I’ve made really great progress on the Tea Protocol document, it’s up to 20 pages” (when the Tea Protocol document is really Fergus’ work, and I just proofread it.)

      I think we can trust that the OP knows how Anna is presenting her work, and that she genuinely is taking credit for things she hasn’t done.

    4. ThursdaysGeek*

      And in my job it’s almost the opposite of academia. I start working on a program that someone else wrote, and the ownership transfers completely to me. I can object all I want – “all I did was change the sort order!” – but the rule is once you touch it, it’s yours. Fortunately, sometimes someone else gets assigned code I’ve supported for a time, and then it is all theirs.

      And, of course, we have comment blocks with all the names of people who’ve worked on it, so even if it is mine right now, we can see who owned it in the past.

      Also, if code works, we re-use it. Because in my type of job, we don’t care who wrote it originally, we just care about making things work. Authorship is of no importance, and we swipe snippets of code and use it without attribution all the time. When someone comes up with a better way, we all start using the better way. (We do NOT do that with code found outside the company, but anything written in-house is fair game for all of us.)

  35. ThisIsNotWhoYouThinkItIs*

    Hm. I saw your update OP. With this being research/academia, there are few exceptions that I think apply for this sort of thing (more of a “responsible” signer on a revision than the original researcher/author). Not sure if this is that sort of place, and it has the potential to ruin the whole company if she’s doing this with external sources/research.

    You say your company requires 3 strikes (written warnings) before people can be fired, correct? What’s your latitude for reassignment of duties? Obviously you will have a stronger eye on the her work, but maybe some task reassignment to things that are easily cross-checked? And you could add another level of fact and source-checking to whatever work you do give her? It seems like a reasonable consequence for a high-risk problem like this (if you can’t get an exemption from HR to let her go immediately).

    Best of luck, and I’d love to hear some of those stories at the next open thread! :D

    1. Allypopx*

      That’s a great option to think about if HR strictly ties the OPs hands, but it’s certainly not the ideal and any outcome where this employee is still at this company is going to take a lot of management resources to maintain. I hope a conversation with HR can prove fruitful.

      (+1 on open thread stories!)

    2. Nicotene*

      Ha maybe that’s why I’m missing the context here – my first and only academic paper was in undergrad, where I did all the data collection, lit review, and write up, and the head of the department was first author. I was surprised and he explained to me that that’s just how it goes – since I was in his lab, this was his paper. So I shrugged and that’s been the end of my experience with intellectual property lol. People are probably still out there faithfully citing his effort on that paper! (to be fair, I think one of the students he advised came up with the research methodology and designed the experiment, maybe that’s why, and I was more just the lab monkey doing as I was told. I certainly didn’t design the experiment itself – neither did he though).

  36. LKW*

    I had a case at work where someone at one client gave material I created for them to a former colleague who had become a consultant. At my next client doing similar work, that consultant presented the work as her original material and the client was enamored. I alerted my management who ultimately decided that she hadn’t improved upon it (in fact she had taken out a lot of the good stuff), and her company was too small to be competition so we were going to do nothing.

    I had to sit there and listen to her and my client explain (incorrectly) the steps of the process I created and I could say nothing. It was infuriating.

    1. Xarcady*

      There is at least one case in academia where someone plagiarized and submitted the plagiarized work to a scholarly journal. Said journal sent the article out for peer review, and the peer reviewing the article recognized that he had written it! He notified the journal, which did not publish the article and which did notify the submitting professor’s employer. The university involved did not want to publicize the incident, for fear of tarnishing their good name, so they cut a deal with the professor and let him go.

      He emerged several years later–on a committee for something like the National Foundation for the Humanities, determining who, including his former colleagues, got grants and such. See the book, Stolen Words, for the story, and a whole lot more on plagiarism.

  37. The New Wanderer*

    This situation (wholesale claiming credit for others’ work) goes beyond most of my experiences with plagiarism but I just don’t get it. I do peer reviews for Niche Field journals and I keep running into instances of research authors cut/pasting entire lines or paragraphs from another source without citing the source, implying that it’s original work. It’s so easy to cite! You’ve already done the hard part, having found an appropriate thing to quote – just add the quote marks and the reference and be done with it.
    Incidentally it’s pretty obvious to catch when the majority of the writing is fairly clunky and suddenly there’s an extremely well-written section. Takes a 5 second online search to catch it because 99% of the time it’ll be the first or second search return, and that’s all the more effort the authors took in the first place.

    I had a colleague at one point who did have an issue with the lead taking credit for colleague’s work – I recommended only giving the lead access to watermarked PDFs of any documents. Not sure if that would have worked (colleague never tried it), but I definitely would have done that if it were my situation.

  38. LKW*

    OP, if you do decide to terminate or even at the end of the initial discussion you need to carefully monitor what information she’s accessing that may be proprietary to your organization. I may be jumping to conclusions but I would not put it past her to send herself some files or download content to a USB that she would then use at another job. You may want to remind her of any disclosure agreements or policies relating to using material created by your organization.

  39. Jessie the First (or second)*

    OP, I really hope you’ve seen the comments that recommend you go to HR and explain that you need an exception to the “one verbal warning followed by three written warnings before you can fire” rule. There has to be an exception to the rule, unless your employer is fine with someone who embezzles from them three times, as long as they don’t embezzle a fourth time. So you just have to find out if THIS case warrants an exception. :-) Unless they haven’t really thought through this policy, in which case, you can be the one to plant the seed that maaaayyyybbbbeee they should consider all the implications of never allowing anyone to be fired, no matter how egregious (or even criminal?!) their behavior.

    1. AJHall*

      Yours is not the only and not even the worst comment in this thread which is recommending that OP take a course of action which is ill-advised at best and grossly negligent at worst and could land the company in a whole heap of legal trouble, but it’s the one which jumped out at me having worried away at it overnight. You and several other commentators are not taking account of the fact that laws differ from place to place and there is a very big difference in employment law between the UK and the US (and an even bigger difference between the US and many parts of Continental Europe, for that matter) with regard to dismissal.

      In order not to risk a tribunal claim OP has to act in a manner which is both procedurally fair and substantively fair and which is also non-discriminatory. Yes, the UK system allows dismissal for gross misconduct provided a proper investigation has been carried out resulting in the employer having reasonable cause to believe the gross misconduct has occurred. But to be procedurally fair, the proper investigation has to follow the company’s internal procedure, so that if the company’s internal procedures happen to be egregiously rigid the OP could end up being caught between a rock and a hard place. Anna may well argue any and all of (i) company rules never made it clear this sort of behaviour was against company policy; (ii) Bill, one department over, has been doing this for years and been promoted for it, so why single out Anna? (iii) she was in fact told to do this by her immediate manager, it’s the tip of an organisation-wide iceberg and she wants to turn whistle-blower; (iv) (etc). Whether any of Anna’s arguments stand a snowflake’s chance in hell I don’t know and no-one here knows. But unless she gets a chance to make them which follows company policy for investigating cases of gross misconduct (and if they’ve left that out of the disciplinary handbook they’re idiots, but they’re still the idiots within whose framework OP has to navigate) then OP is the person on whom the backlash will fall. So in OP’s place, I’d kick it to HR using the term “potential dismissal for gross misconduct” and encourage HR to get their legal advice team on the job.

  40. LILY*

    Just speaking as an employee, not in a management role, get rid of the liar. Please.

    I work in a sales call center. Our incentive is based off of several things; one of them is sales conversion. We have to “code” each of our calls. Since we get “existing sale” a lot, people tend to hide “not booked” calls as existing. Those people affect our averages. Nothing is done about it except for 1-2 calls (out of hundreds) that are audited.

    If we are honest with our calls, we get below that “average.” That is money out of my pocket. Those are bills that don’t get paid, because someone else lied and skewed their work results in a way that is dishonest.

    This causes other people to lie about their call results, to compete. I’ve been honest with mine because I’m always wondering if management knows something I don’t, and I’m not going to incriminate myself. But others start to follow suit, creating a whole office full of liars; more times than not, I’ve had a chunk of MY commission taken out, because of someone who lied and brought those averages through the roof.

    Get rid of the liar. As an employee I’m sick of watching it slide

    1. Marisol*

      do you mean that the liar ruins the curve for you guys? They inflate their numbers and the rest of you are held to that false high standard, and get a smaller bonus as a result of the numbers being skewed?

      1. Not So NewReader*

        I’ve seen similar things in retail.

        This week we are going to focus on X’s, sell as many as you can.
        What happens is people ring up similar priced items as if they were an X and get credit for selling an X. Meanwhile honest employees plod along, well, honestly. So the top seller sells 100 X’s. The next nearest person sells 40.
        The company never even looks to see if the sales match what was in inventory. If you only have 136 X’s in stock and your store sells 237, HOW does this happen?

        1. Satanic Panic (c)1983*

          >>What happens is people ring up similar priced items as if they were an X and get credit for selling an X.

          Where in retail are you talking about? Any time I’ve been involved in sales contests, it was based on the UPC (or ISBN in my case) and it was tracked by who rang the books up on the register. The issue we had was usually something like Zac talked this featured book up like crazy to a customer and she decided to buy one for her, one for her daughter, and two for her sisters, but she wanted to keep browsing, so Zac was helping someone else when she was ready to check out and the 4 sales got credited to a different cashier. (The other issue was when Miranda really wanted that Red Lobster gift card, so she convinced all her sorority sisters to buy the featured book and then return it two weeks later, after the contest was onto a different title. That wasn’t fun, and management was pissed.)

  41. MintyFresh*

    I’d also be questioning if the good work Anna does is really her work.

    I solved a tricky system problem for a co-worker once and she emailed our boss etc taking credit for it. I only found out when another co-worker on copy who knew I did the work told me and I shut that shit down quick. But if I didn’t have that heads up I never would have known.

  42. Troutwaxer*

    With regard to the stuff you believe she’s done herself, let me suggest that you go through that work and type some of the sentences into Google. When my wife was teaching she would use this as a way to find plagiarism. She said it worked really, really well, and it will spot most of what might have been copied from someplace online.

    1. Snark*

      Yeah, I did this all the time when I was an instructor. Typically, it wasn’t even off the first page of Google hits.

    2. Julianne*

      I read somewhere (I don’t know where and Google is not turning up anything helpful, so now I cannot give credit in this discussion about plagiarism…) that a string of six words in a text is like a snowflake – (generally) unique. I used to check for plagiarism in an informal instructional context (Model UN background and position papers, important but not the highest stakes) by Googling six-word chunks, not quoted material, from the paper to check for plagiarism. It worked pretty well for my purpose, which was really about nailing down instances where students had just cut and pasted from the internet more than anything else.

  43. Iris Eyes*

    Some cultures have a very different view of intellectual property/plagiarism from what I understand. Not that they don’t know its frowned on but the may not see it as wrong to the degree that others do. Just wanted to throw that angle in the ring.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      So did people in previous eras.
      Google the background story on “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”.
      Sad, sad stuff.

  44. Lunch Meat*

    If you can’t make an exception to the three warnings rule and get rid of her right away, can you at least remove her access to her coworker’s work? I’d be concerned about sabotage in this situation.

  45. SideshowStarlet*

    Document your discussions with Anna from this point forward and watch her like a hawk. I think at the end of the day, though, the only outcome that will be fair to the other employees and in the best interest of the company would be to let Anna go.

  46. MechE31*

    I used to work with a guy who would take credit for things he didn’t do in meetings where the people who did the work were in the meeting. They were typically junior and he was far more senior than them. He was let go about a year after he started in a “layoff”.

  47. Kinsley M.*

    This is just crazy to me. I’ve gotten ‘lectured’ before because I didn’t cite MYSELF from an article I’d written previously. And that’s how I learned self-plagiarization was a thing. That she’s taking others people’s work is just insane to me. I agree with the general consensus of the comments that there’s no coming back from this. I don’t think the conversation needs to be one of how do we move forward from here as much as it needs to be let’s plan your exit.

    1. Anonymous 40*

      Self plagiarism isn’t a thing, unless the assignment (academic or professional) expects all new work or the prior work is owned by someone else, like a previous employer.

      1. Typhoid Mary*

        My understanding is that self-plagiarism is absolutely a thing. In an academic field where cutting-edge ideas are the currency, a professor publishing work as “new” when it is really a re-hashing of their old research is intellectually dishonest. Kind of like turning in the same paper for two different assignments, and claiming you did twice the research. But of course this may vary from field to field.

        1. Anonymous 40*

          I cited assignments expecting new work as a case where “self plagiarism” exists. Even then I think it’s a very poor term as it dilutes the meaning of actual plagiarism while not adequately describing a different problem.

      2. Satanic Panic (c)1983*

        Every school I’ve been to says it’s a thing. Fwiw, I think it’s profoundly stupid in a high school or college context to say turning in the same paper to two different classes is any kind of plagiarism. (I mean, if you planned your classes that well, good job you!) Fail me for not doing the assignment, but don’t brand that scarlet P across my chest like I turned in a Wikipedia article as my own. :(

        I get it for new research and publishing multiple articles to multiple academic journals, but applying the label to undergrads when “you get a zero because didn’t do the work I assigned” is reason enough just seems like a bit much, you know?

  48. Lo Flow*

    I worked with a woman who I swear her husband did her job, he worked at the company also. When I would ask how she created a report, she couldn’t explain it to me. Whenever we were on a project, she would always take the most convoluted approach. It was like she had no idea how the processes worked.

  49. Crabby Consultant*

    I recently had a similar experience.

    Last year I worked as a strategic consultant for an agency. I was the senior / lead person on my team and led much of the strategy on the project. I put in a ton of work beyond what I could bill for, but the work was ultimately successful. I was proud of the work I did there, and show it in my portfolio as I take on new clients of my own. I put my whole heart into that project.

    A friend who also worked at that agency clued me in that one of the junior FT team members had taken credit for my work (his role was different from mine, and he was junior) and is posting on Linkedin in that he was the ‘lead strategy etc’ on the project I consulted, claiming that he had done the lead work and that my project deliverables were his own. He apparently was able to leverage that work and move on to a ‘strategist’ position at the very client we did the project work for last year.

    I am concerned that this junior person is representing my deliverables — that I worked hard to accomplish — and have no recourse against him. I was a consultant, he was FT, and it’s a small industry. How do I move forward representing my own work knowing that someone else is showing what I did in their portfolio as well?

  50. Stellaaaaa*

    I think those of us who have hovered around academia are going to have stronger reactions to plagiarism than people whose jobs emphasize teamwork.

    I really think this person needs to be let go. If you’ve ever had your work “stolen” by someone else, you probably also know that higher-ups don’t always believe you when you try to talk about it. If possible, OP should try to find out whether there have been previous complaints from the people who have actually done the work. This is the kind of thing that “regular” employees tend to know about for a long time before it comes to management’s attention, since people on the bottom rung understand that making that type of accusation might not be taken seriously, especially if they feel that management’s first instinct is to protect and “work with” the accused. It all feels a lot like, “I spoke up for myself and OP’s reaction reaffirms my feeling that Rachel is the manager’s favorite, or that the optics of Rachel’s seniority over me matter more than the nitty-gritty of what’s really going on.”

  51. Just another voice in the echo chamber*

    I had to laugh a bit at this question because I have recently had sort of the opposite problem with my (much-loved) boss! I am the kind of person who by nature believes in giving credit where credit is due (to the point of, “Wow, wasn’t it a great idea of Sally’s to go see this movie tonight! Thanks, Sally!”) and am pretty sensitive to nuances of language. In my performance evaluations (which were lengthy and detailed and which the company put a great deal of weight on), my boss would strikethrough any mentions of “contributed (specific small portion of the project)” in my self-report portions and replace with a general “developed” etc. We would always argue these points as I always felt her changes overstated my roles in projects – she felt her wording was strongly self-promotional rather than actually inflated. Her reasoning was that in evaluations such as these strong self-promotional language was expected, and actually necessary, so that when she reviewed the evaluations with Grandboss and other higher-ups she could advocate most strongly for her team members for promotions raises etc. She was the boss, so I let her make the decision (and I sure did appreciate her reasoning in this context! Great boss!) – but my point is, is it possible that perhaps Anna just needs a quick talking-to from you that when she discusses her work, you need her to use language that clearly identifies her actual role in the project? I think some people are just sort of natural self-promoters and if you call that out to them they can watch out for that and adjust, like any bad habit really. Just wanted to raise the point. However, if that’s not the case and Anna’s really flat out lying to you about her work, I agree with the others – she needs to be fired, absolutely.

    1. Observer*

      No, what the OP described is NOT just “strongly self promotional”. For example, she took an existing document changed the order of the items,slapped a new face page on it and claimed that she developed it. She’s claiming the entire credit for a document that she put minimal work into with essentially inconsequential effects.

      1. Just another voice in the echo chamber*

        My larger point was that I’ve seen this behavior successfully coached, a few times actually. Only the OP is in a position to decide if the person’s morals are in the right place, if they would possibly be able to understand/adjust their behavior, if it’s even worth it, etc. Alison’s script will definitely probe for the answers. I hope to hear an update!

  52. Hiring Mgr*

    I would have to think that this sort of thing falls outside of the “three strikes” firing policy… Also, not to sidetrack but something I was wondering reading this one was why is this seem like a universal “fire this person immediately” but the one yesterday with the paystub stealing stalker wasn’t so clear cut.

    1. Elsajeni*

      I think the main thing is that the manager didn’t write in on that one — “Wow, you need to fire this person immediately” could be useful advice for the manager wondering what to do about an employee who stole a coworker’s paystub to find their address and go to their house, but “Wow, your manager should fire you immediately” isn’t helpful to the employee at all. (“It’s very possible that your manager will fire you over this” might be, though!)

    2. AlsoAnon*

      Someone mentioned in the comments “we’re not the jury; we’re the fire brigade” as in, we (the commenters) advise the person *presenting* the issue. The LW/checkstub-opener wrote in, not their manager. Personally, I think the correct advice to the *manager* in that story is to let the LW go. While I have sympathy for that LW, I understand how their actions constitute gross misconduct and warrant immediate dismissal.

      Same applies here: we’re talking to the manager. If the Work-Forger wrote in, we’d evaluate that person’s circumstance and advise accordingly.

      That said, I feel you on the frustration of feeling like action X gets a hugbox on Tuesday and (much less severe by comparison) action Y gets the pitchfork on Wednesday. I get it n

      1. Observer*

        I mostly agree with you. But I’m not so sure that the actions described today are really that much less severe. It’s a different set of issues. But a high level of untrustworthiness based on lying and stealing credit IS a very severe problem in the workplace.

        1. teclatrans*

          But AlsoAnon didn’t say anything about one being less severe than the other, just that we are advising the person who wrote in. I am pretty sure that if the manager from yesterday’s situation wrote in, people would be all over the firing suggestion.

  53. Biff*

    You know, I realize this is off the beaten path, but I wonder if this employee came from either a tech company, or a company which was burdened by out-of-date technology and filling systems. In both instances, the kind of “work” she is doing is absolutely defined as work. You could call it document churn/management. I have done this kind of work. Basically, the idea is to go in to whatever horrid repository exists, dig up files that you may need to install antiquated software to even read, copy and paste those files into whatever system is in use now, update them for any changes, and then save them in a modern format, and stick them in the modern repository. On some level it is just filing the serial numbers off someone else’s work, but it’s absolutely necessary work! We would update the current documentation with our names and a date, simply as a filing convention (this is the last person to update this file.)

    Likewise, I considered my proofreader and formatted to be a vital part of the documentation creation process. I can write content all day, but I’m not good at catchy formatting, so my word wizard absolutely got credit. The pattern we used was I’d write it, my editor would proof it, and then the editor would send it onto the manager. My manager knew from one on ones that I’d written it and my coworker had edited it. I suppose it could look like my editor was trying to pass it off as something they’d done, but since it had been discussed in advance… I never worried about it. Not once.

    If OP’s employee is accustomed to an environment where documentation churn like this is a certain subset of the work, and it’s a way to quick accolades (the number of people who want to dig through old repositories, evaluate what is in there, update anything still useful and ‘archive’ the rest is pretty limited. Can’t imagine why….) she may not realize that this isn’t a common thing at other workplaces. She may even be HORRIFIED to see documents that haven’t been touched in a year, or not up to whatever the bleeding edge of industry standard is. That would be a “omg, who dropped the ball” depending on the document and the context. At my previous job I probably checked into most of my documents every 3-6 months.

    I wouldn’t be so quick to say she’s trying to pass herself off as something she isn’t. She may simply be doing what she percieves as important document management that is not valued at the OP’s company the way it was at the last.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      These examples are really helpful. And a good illustration of Alison’s rule about giving them a chance to explain or hang themselves–you may not have an important piece of information. Allowing for the possibility is both good practice and avoids yelling yourself into an embarrassing corner.

      1. Biff*

        If it is the case that this employee was involved in document churn, though, she does need to know that the wording she is using isn’t quite up to snuff. Things like “developed” doesn’t pass the sniff test. I would have said something more like “Brought process documentation for “Requests for New Project Bids — Current Clients” up to new “PSY” standard.” or, had there been extensive overhauling, “redeveloped “Current Client Change Request Guidelines” to reflect current working process and current formatting standards.”

    2. Typhoid Mary*

      Yes, I appreciate this. A few commenters have said, “I can’t imagine Anna has anything to say that could mediate the outcome.” That’s the point; you can’t imagine. That’s why it’s good to ask! (Especially since either way you still have the authority to fire her if needed.)

    3. Toph*

      This is interesting, but in your example where you describe taking the old Flerfenflugen document from an old system, dumping it in the new and tacking your name on as the last person who touched it, if you had to describe that work to another, would you use the phrase “created a Flerfenflugen document”? Or would you say something like “updated the Flerfenflugen documen” or even “migrated the Flerfenflugen to the new system” or something? I don’t disagree that what you’re describing is work. And I know in general we try not to nitpick word choice on this site, but in the case of OP’s employee, I think the distinction matters. In their subsequent verbal discussion maybe what you would describe would come out. But I do think, at least in the Best Practice document example, it is fairly damning that the employee chose to say she “created it”. That’s misleading at best. Likewise in the case of the proofing example. Proofing is totally work. I agree and proofreaders should get credit for their contribution, but OP’s employee chose a turn of phrase that, to me, overstates the situation in a conspicuously misleading way. If the person actually used less-direct language about the collaboration, I’d be more sympathetic to the possibility they’re mortified and didn’t mean it the way it came across, but I do put a lot of weight on the word choices the person used when claiming this work.

      1. Biff*

        As I said above “she does need to know that the wording she is using isn’t quite up to snuff. Things like “developed” doesn’t pass the sniff test. I would have said something more like “Brought process documentation for “Requests for New Project Bids — Current Clients” up to new “PSY” standard.” or, had there been extensive overhauling, “redeveloped “Current Client Change Request Guidelines” to reflect current working process and current formatting standards.””

    4. neverjaunty*

      Or, we could trust the OP instead of neggimg on her document management understanding?

      1. Biff*

        I’m sorry if I came across as ‘negging.’ I didn’t mean to imply that. It’s just, as I read along, I realized that the person in the question was using a lot of the same language I used to describe documentation wrangling/churn/management at my own year-end review last year, and realized that, if you took my review to another company, it might very well look suspicious, and sound as though me or my partners in document cleanup were stealing glory.

      2. teclatrans*

        Thats pretty harsh. What are the comments section for, if not bringing new perspective and possibilities to the issue?

  54. ZucchiniBikini*

    This is a context-specific discussion, I think, although certainly from the information the OP has provided, this case seems pretty egregious. I am a freelancer and work mostly for universities and government agencies (in Australia) doing business writing, policy development and process improvement. The convention here is that the freelancer / consultant is effectively never credited publicly for the finished product of work – that credit goes to the internal staff member/s who managed or oversaw the project. There are no less than three universities in my state whose policies are 50% or more authored entirely by me, but you would never know it to look at either the published products or the internal and external comms.

    That said, this is a convention that does not in any way preclude me including that work in my portfolio (which I do) and my clients have always enthusiastically confirmed my role when asked. It’s more of a polite fiction that for some arcane reason the universities need to maintain – that consultant support *doesn’t exist* and they do *all the things on their own*.

    As to reusing others’ work – in policy development in particular, this is commonplace, but not in a plagiarist sense. If a peer organisation has a terrific Privacy Policy, for instance, it’s very normal to write to them asking permission to reuse some of the content, often verbatim, for a new policy. Permission is almost always granted and work progresses from there. No one claims that they thought up the words, but it is frank reuse, and it saves much time and possible errors. Indeed, universities here like the model so much for institutional policy development that they semi-officially “split the difference” with new policy work in emerging areas of operational requirements (eg university A might invest in a project to develop a really robust Bullying Policy that works in a university context, and three other universities will reuse that work, while university B invests in a Fraud Prevention Policy and everyone piggybacks off that).

    1. Observer*

      The key problem with what the OP describes is not that Anna is reusing work, but that she is lying about it. If, for instance, she had said “hey, I found this client procedures document, and I thought it would be more useful if it were rearranged, so I did this.” That would (probably) be great. At minimum, it wouldn’t be a problem. But, she didn’t say that. She said that she created it. etc.

      1. ZucchiniBikini*

        Oh yes, I completely agree that the lying is the problem. I guess I was just trying to point out that reuse can be an acceptable strategy in some contexts, and that there are circumstances where the credit for work will go to someone other than the person who did it (like with my scenario as a consultant) without that necessarily being an evil thing.

  55. No Name Poster*

    Argh! I work with someone like this now. She takes credit for other people’s work and lies about everything. If someone talks about something they’ve done, she’ll top it. Every time. Even things outside of work. Let’s call her Wakeen.

    Fergus: Saw Paul Simon our trip to NYC.
    Wakeen: I saw him with Garfunkel three times back in the day.

    You get the idea.


  56. Pomona Sprout*

    After reading a good chunk of these comments, I agree with those who have said the equivalent of “Fire Anna’s ass,” for reasons that have been amply articulated.

    That is all!

  57. Angry Manager*

    One fix I found for this kind of person, bring them into your office, sit them down and tell them they are fired. If they really want the job they will beg and do whatever, let them stew for a bit as you go to get the “paperwork” or tell them to come back on Monday to finalize the details. When you come back let them talk you into reconsidering on one condition, the next offence is firing on the spot. Sometimes bringing someone right to the edge really sets them straight. Sometimes the threat of being fired isn’t real to these people, it’s like people who don’t wear seat belts because “it’ll never happen to me”. Some kids need to see a window break before they learn that playing football in a greenhouse is a stupid idea.

  58. Lasslisa*

    For a more general take on this *type* of problem, I’d be interested to know what happens with work you *assign* her. Is she getting it done, is it done well, is she getting others to do it instead? If lying about work is ALL the work she’s doing, that speaks badly for her potential for improvement and reform, compared to if she’s doing a good job but being an overzealous self-promoter around the edges.

    Also worth thinking about: in your organization, what would the likely effect of this lying be if she got away with it – does it diminish the others’ work in a way that would impact their promotion chances? Damage their long-term portfolios or enhance her own? Does it reduce other teams’ trust in other people in your org, or do they find out she’s claiming credit and lose their trust in her (and you for believing her)?

    I work in a more team/output-focused environment, and while this would piss me off it seems similar in my context to, say, badmouthing a colleague who’s up for the same promotion as you, or refusing to help other teams with their critical projects. It’s certainly a major issue and worth progressing as a pip / issuing warnings, and it’s an issue that you want to be seen to disapprove of for the sake of morale. But I would be surprised to see it considered ‘stealing’ (she’s taking credit from someone else within the company, so it’s bad collegialness and it makes her unreliable, but she’s not stealing *from the company* or committing a crime like stealing from a colleague would be). There are a lot of ways people can be terrible and screw their coworkers that need to be dealt with without rising to “gross malfeasance”.

    The bigger issue from a corporate perspective to me is if the OP asks for more details (what exactly did you contribute to this document?) and Anna starts lying in a more concrete, intentional double-down fashion. For example: “I came up with the guidelines” (demonstrably false) vs. “I gathered the guidelines from the old best practices doc, reviewed them, and rearranged them to make them more understandable” (possibly true, at least as she understands it). Because then it’s clear that she is completely lying and there’s no respectful working relationship to salvage.

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