my employee takes credit for work she didn’t do

A reader writes:

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

In her recent performance review, she spoke about work she’d done on a project which I know was actually done by a colleague because (unbeknownst to Anna) I’d worked closely with the colleague on it 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 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 try to frame it as constructively as possible. Any thoughts would be much appreciated!

I answer this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

{ 187 comments… read them below }

  1. The New Normal*

    Please put a stop to her behavior. As her manager, you are the ideal person to call her out on this. She needs to know this is not okay. How you handle this sets a precedent for how she continues to work. Her coworkers know she does this and so far they have seen that gets away with it. That is a big morale issue.

    1. Felicia*

      What I’m wondering is if Anna is still doing the job is hired to do, and making her role sound bigger than it is, or is she coasting in her job on other people’s back. It’s not clear from the letter if she was supposed to develop new guidelines, or just update the existing work. Was she supposed to just proofread the document, or was it meant to be done by both of them.
      Allison always says that firing should not be knee-jerk reaction and only be done when no other option really makes sense. Trust is important, but I think firing is only necessary if she is not doing the work she was hired to do. If this is just a case of taking extra credit but she is still getting her tasks done, it needs to be addresses by firing sounds extreme.

      1. All the words*

        If she’s trying to deny other people credit for the work they’ve done then yes, it really is a big deal.

      2. Dust Bunny*

        I manage a small team of researchers.

        This is boo-coo serious in research, though. I’m an archives assistant–not even an MLIS–and I don’t even write a blog post without an exhaustive works consulted list at the end, per my supervisor’s wishes. If she’ll take credit here, where else will she take it?

        1. SouthernLadybug*

          Exactly. If this person is stealing work, firing is exactly right course of action. It is that serious. And this isn’t a forgotten citation or misunderstanding – it’s several examples. I agree with Alison’s approach to ask about it and dig a little more, but I’m 99.99999% sure it is what it looks like and should end in the person being let go.

          1. Artemesia*

            I am always surprised that people frame what are serious firing offenses as if their major concern was not offending or upsetting the person who needs to be fired. This is a person who almost certainly needs to be fired. At minimum, a clear discussion and a PIP.

            1. Zennish*

              This. In this case I might go with a “one strike and you’re out” PIP, because the manager’s lack of response to this point may have reinforced the idea that it wasn’t a big deal. At least though, there needs to be a “This can’t go on any longer, trust needs to be rebuilt, etc.” conversation, and termination if it doesn’t stop in a really definite (and verifiable) way.

              I’m also surprised at the characterization that the employee “does great work”. I mean, how on earth would you know? In the employee’s mind, shading results, plagiarizing outside sources, or misrepresenting the thoroughness of one’s research might seem minor compared to out and out stealing credit from coworkers, which we already know they’re willing to do.

              1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

                She presents great work – at this point I’m not sure I’d have any confidence that she had actually produced any.

                1. Candi*

                  You can present fantastic work if you know how to spin Google’s search engine properly. The biggest part is rewriting in your own words rather than copying.

                  (No, I didn’t ever do this. But college being what it is, I had to stomp on the thought a few times.)

            2. Nanani*

              It seems that sometimes, the need to perform niceness overrides things that should not be overridden.

            3. LittleMarshmallow*

              At this point in my career I’m not even surprised anymore when people try to be super gentle and accommodating to people who do stuff like this. This exact situation is happening where I work also (down to team of researchers)… I wonder which of my coworkers wrote this. Haha! Our credit stealing individual does the same types of things (takes documents other people wrote, puts her name on them and tells everyone she wrote them; gets someone to “help” her with a task which ends up with her “helper” just doing it for her and then she tells everyone she did it with no mention of even helper let alone basically designate – I’ve had this don’t to me by her – and to be clear, she doesn’t have authority to delegate her tasks to others, she’s supposed to be doing them herself). In my workplace this isn’t even just done in reviews. She does this publicly often in front of the people that she’s taking credit from. It’s truly baffling that it’s been going on for almost 5 years with no end in sight and she isn’t even actually doing the job she was hired to do. Sometimes there’s no winning with managers that are afraid to “hurt someone’s feelings” no matter how ridiculous that person’s behavior is.

              1. TardyTardis*

                All this niceness does is tell the other researcher that Ms. Thief must be the manager’s favorite and to hide things from Ms. Thief, reducing communications in the group and reducing their efficiency. When I worked on a team on a school project, one member never even showed up. So when the two of us presented our work, we made it abundantly clear that #3 was indeed #2 in our estimation.

          2. Dust Bunny*

            It’s several really obvious and easily disputed examples. It’s really blatant. She’s either phenomenally bad at cheating or she’s really cocky.

            1. Candi*

              I was reading the post where the intern had her coat stolen by a coworker, and the OP there thought the intern had (somehow) framed the thief for credit card fraud as well.

              There were several commentators on that post who pointed out when someone is cocky enough to steal a coat and carry it openly through a lobby and into the parking lot and put in her car, without even trying to hide she has it, it’s unlikely that this was the thief’s first rodeo. (Security cameras in lobby and lot.)

              Extrapolating from those discussions, if Anna is this cocky now, what has she done that OP doesn’t know about because it was more subtle?

              It’s a little bit fanfictionish, but I consider it a reasonable ask in context of the situation given in the letter.

        2. Lab Boss*

          Yes yes yes! Credit is gold in research. Even in commercial R&D (where “publish or perish” isn’t as big a deal as it is in academia), there is a TON of wrangling over who exactly merits what level and quality of credit on research and publications, down to having to formalize exactly how to determine the order of names in a list of Acknowledgements. Anyone trying to imply they’d done work they didn’t do in a research setting would immediately be on my radar as someone potentially trying to steal the credit from others to parlay into more advanced jobs.

          1. Rachel in NYC*

            I worked briefly with a patent attorney who had a client where everyone involved in a small start-up was included on the patent application.

            Why? no clue but probably because it was filed early on and everyone got along so well at that point. In reality, maybe 3 of the 10 people had invented the gadget. And not shockingly- as time went by- there were eventually problems amongst the group and people started asking questions about having everyone on the already filed patent application.

            1. Nesprin*

              This is a huge deal- missing someone or including someone who shouldn’t be involved from a patent list invalidates the patent.

              1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

                Unfortunately it happens very often – particularly when research happens in Professor Important’s lab, and every patent application coming from that lab has his name on it as first inventor regardless of his material input.

                It only risks invalidation if someone challenges it, and who would dare challenge it?

                1. Springella*

                  I work in the industry now and we’ve recently published a review in a very good journal that I did 80% of work on ( the rest was done by my industry colleagues). All Mr. Professor did was to complain it hadn’t been done fast enough and review it without any substantial changes (or guidance). He’s the first author, followed by 2 other people (our client) one of whom I’ve never even heard of.

                  I left academia because of s@@t like this (I worked at the two top five unis in the world). I say that I left because of utter corruption in academia. I’m not sorry because even though the s@@t still happens, it happens to a much lesser degree, I’m much better paid and I have job security.

                  As to this post, this coworker will do very well in academia. Her only problem is that she doesn’t seem to fit into her boss’s long term plans (meaning promoting her so she’d support him in equally shady dealings later).

          1. quill*

            The “copied and rearranged an existing document to take credit for it” points to a strong possibility of someone who will falsify data and / or plaigarize it. She had literally no pressure to do this but she did it anyway.

            1. It's Growing!*

              I was wondering what sort of research we’re talking about. If this is scientific research, it seems possible that she is the sort of person who might change a few inconvenient numbers for instance 1) if she dropped/spilled a portion of an experiment (or the heat lamp died or the AC went on the fritz), would she just fill in the numbers she “knew” would have resulted had that portion of the project been finished? Would she disappear some outliers because they cast doubt on the desired results? If this is academic (book) research, how willing would she be to “stretch” or creatively interpret (or invent) the research material? Her behavior really calls into question not just her taking credit from others, but the substance of any research she has done and the conclusions she’s reached.

              1. quill*

                In the lab she’d totally be an OOS disaster. “Oh, I didn’t record which instrument I used because I always use the same one! A milliliter more or less doesn’t make a difference! You can use the 90% isopropanol for dishes, it’s fine!”

              2. banoffee pie*

                The PM of Luxembourg is in trouble for plagarising his thesis. Apparently only 2 pages out of 56 were original. He got pretty far before he was caught lol

                1. Springella*

                  He only got caught because he’s PM and his political opponents looked into ‘his’ thesis.

          2. PK*

            Yes. This situation has research ethics all over it. And if there is any sort of funding involved, she may cause problems for the entire institution.

        3. MM*

          Right. I mean, how does OP even know that Anna does do “good work”? How does she know that anything she’s ever turned in was her own work?

        4. Koalafied*

          As a recovering academic enjoying a second life as a marketer I agree with this. In my current field there’s very much this idea that everyone is “borrowing” from everyone – as long as you aren’t plagiarizing verbatim it’s totally legitimate to basically rip off other marketing you see in the world. There’s also no real concept of self-plagiarization – in fact, we’re encouraged to “get more bang for our buck” by recycling old copy in as many places and as many times as you can get results.

          Academia is the polar opposite. Practices that nobody bats an eye at in some business fields are Capital B Capital D Big Deals in academia. You aren’t even supposed to copy and paste a sentence from a previous publication you yourself wrote without citing the earlier published piece, the same as you would for work by another researcher entirely.

          1. TootsNYC*

            I work in publishing, so our workers all get anti-plagiarism training in college or on their first jobs. And the first time they’re encouraged to take the same text and use it elsewhere, even if it’s marketing, is hard on them.

            I’ve had to explain that the “owner” is the company, and the company has given permission to repeat the text.

            Usually it doesn’t involve anyone’s byline, but sometimes it does, and I’ve had to reassure them that no one in publishing will be upset that their sidebar gets used in one issue of the magazine and then later in a promo piece, or a special issue. It’s an adjustment for them.

        5. David*

          Yeah, absolutely. If “research” in this context means academia or something with similar norms, credit is the currency of the field, and misappropriating the work of another researcher is almost akin to siphoning off someone else’s salary to bump up your own. Assuming there are no mitigating circumstances, firing is a very reasonable response, but it can go beyond that – in the most egregious cases, this can be a *career-ending* error.

          Of course, given the OP’s update (linked somewhere below), it sounds like this might be a different field with different norms. Or maybe just *really* incompetent management, who knows. (I kind of suspect both)

        6. Student*

          At the same time, part of why the OP is rather blase about it is because this behavior is pretty common in some fields of research, to the point of being expected and structurally rewarded. I’m in a hard science field, and this was not just common – it was the accepted way to get ahead in multiple organizations that I worked for. Younger researchers, including myself, were directly told to do hard work, let the research boss take the full credit, and eventually the research boss will start letting you take some partial credit and help you take on greater responsibilities.
          Narrator voice: The research boss does not actually ever help you take on greater responsibilities and credit for your own work, especially if you’re good at making him look good.

          I left those organizations, but they’re out there, and they’re not going to change.

        7. Would like a Wolverine as an ESA*

          I also work in higher ed, on the staff side. I’ve heard some stories from colleagues, current and former, about some of our mutual colleagues that aren’t good, especially in regards to giving credit to others and document attribution.

          One former colleague left after a series of incidents with their supervisor. The incident that triggered their departure was a collaborative report that was to be published. My colleague had coordinated our institution’s part and the supervisor didn’t agree with their conclusions. The supervisor took their contribution out of google docs and put it in a MS word document. They then took out my colleague’s contributions and replaced them with theirs, all while still keeping their direct report’s name on the report as the author. The person was angry and upset because the submitted report did not represent their work. It’s not out of character though for that supervisor, because there was near annual turnover for the positions that report to them for several years. It’s really telling that the last search for one of those positions was not led by the supervisor, but by someone else from outside the department.

      3. hbc*

        Part of the work she’s hired to do is to get along with colleagues and be transparent about her work with her manager. I don’t think you’d argue for keeping anyone on who yells at their colleagues or flips off their manager, and this isn’t all that different.

      4. Candi*

        I’m in college, and it’s considered a Really Big Deal if you reference or quote something and don’t attribute it. It’s an Even Bigger Deal if you plagiarize or otherwise steal someone’s work, and that’s what Anna’s doing.

        Anna taking credit for others’ work would not only get her a big fat 0 in every class I’ve been in, it could get her expelled, with no tuition refund.

        At work stealing credit and work is an even bigger deal, especially in the research environment OP cites. It absolutely is a fireable offense. The reasons for the investigation are getting all the ducks in a row and checking for mitigating or unknown factors. (Usually there aren’t such factors.)

      5. Sibyl Rose*

        The LW explicitly says Anna’s colleague asked her to proofread something, in which case, Anna should have sent the document back to the colleague, not pass it along to the LW. That alone is a major offense. If I were the colleague, I would have said something like, “WTH, did I ask you to forward it to LW? No? Then why did you do it?” Anna is bad news, not to mention a pathological liar.

      1. Dweali*

        Ugh…I hate how it was handled in the end. Get rid of the problem don’t move it somewhere else.

        Also with this being the boss’s typical MO does anyone else feel icky about it? That maybe they are keeping a problematic department just for this sole purpose (maybe I’m being too..cynical? Or assuming malice when it could just be anything else…)

        1. kittymommy*

          Yeah, the update is….not good. And the passive-aggressive BS of passing the buck by the boss is gross. I definitely think Anna should have been fired and it probably would have been kinder. I would imagine that everyone in that place knows exactly what that transfer means.

          1. Going Anon Anon Anon*

            Agreed – Anna isn’t going to learn the “you can’t steal your coworkers work” lesson from what happened in the update. I wonder if HR was so useless because the CEO won’t let them actually impose a real consequence that has teeth?

            1. Lobsterman*

              Anna’s not going to learn, because it’s not true. It’s not that you can’t steal work – it’s that after long enough, the constant lying erodes your soul, and you have to retire from The View or whatever.

        2. EmmaPoet*

          It’s not just you. This approach seems pretty shady. Put people on a PIP or fire them already, don’t shove them off into a lousy department.

        3. Snuck*

          I sometimes wonder if people rationalise their inability to fire people by side lining them as “giving them a soft fall so they have time to find something else”…

          I have seen a LOT of difficult and complicated people be sidelined over the years – working in company wide project management in one of the largest corporations in Australia (at one point over 25,000 employees) you see a lot of ‘problem people’ who get nominated to projects. Then they get a little CV love PLUS into the ear of random managers and people who can be influenced. It’s a really crappy strategy because difficult people degrade the workplace flow for the competent people. It rapidly turns into a race for “who can get the highest fastest” with little regard for project deliverables. I have worked with quite a few “Anna” types, and there is nothing that tanks a project effectiveness faster than them – the problem is that it’s usually not uncovered until too late to do more than crisis control, and the Anna Manages Upwards gets promoted and out before that happens. Ugh.

          I think a soft exit is fine – if it’s understood “I’m sorry Anna but we’ve talked about this, and you’ve not been able to meet the requirements for this role. I cannot continue your employment in this role, however if you need some time to find other work then I can arrange a short term transfer to the mail room. I know it’s not ideal but I cannot keep you working here in my team. Would you like that transfer, or shall I do the paperwork for HR for you to finish up at this company on Friday as a final exit now?” … If you genuinely can’t bear to be ‘mean’ then be fair and honest.

          1. Amaranth*

            I’ve seen that happen, too, where nobody wants to deal with the problem employee and hush up the issues. Eventually people move on and forget and that employee gets promoted, or has the ear of the bosses because ‘they’ve been here forever.’

  2. Ozzie*

    If this has been an ongoing issue, I would be surprised if people haven’t left over it already. If it’s new, better to put a stop to it immediately, before that is what starts to happen. I imagine that it’s especially true in research fields that you simply can’t have someone claiming someone else’s work as their own, but it’s definitely totally unacceptable everywhere.

    Always credit the people you work with, because they notice when you do! But they notice even more when you don’t.

    1. None*

      Couldn’t agree more! I left a job once because of this exact reason. They notice big time! I was refused raises, yet my coworker was given promotions left and right based solely on the work I was producing. Our boss knew it was my work too. I had zero trust in my boss by the end. I know the promotions came from above her head, but she let it happen.

      Side note I found out that same boss is looking to fill multiple positions. Everyone in town in our industry knows she has repeatedly let things like that happen. People talk and those positions could take months or even years to fill. Ones already been open for 7 months. OP get rid of her before you get a reputation for a lack of integrity as a boss and no one wants to work with you.

    2. Snuck*

      Oh yeah. Everyone gets sick of the Annas. Any one with ability, experience and a need for job stability will eventually start looking to go elsewhere.

  3. h*

    All this! Also, I don’t know what type of research the LW does or what field they’re in, but in an academic context or any type of formal research context… knowingly attributing information incorrectly is a BIG deal.

    1. Gumby*

      Yes, it is a *huge* deal. I work in a non-research role but with a lot of researchers and the ‘making sure the right people get credit for the work’ thing is *strong* here. Even on what I consider small things – I will remind someone that something is due, say, and it will come out in a meeting later as “As Gumby mentioned…” It’s not just refraining from taking credit for other people’s work – it is actively trying to credit other people for things they have done. It really took me aback when I started here since my previous work experience was not in a research field.

    2. ArtsyGirl*

      I was in academia (humanities field), even unintentionally plagerizing was cause for immediate dismissal. Blatant theft on multiple occasions would not only include dismissal, but the person would be blackballed from the industry.

    3. Dust Bunny*

      See above: I’m an archives assistant and if I even write a casual blog post it gets a full works-consulted list at the end. It’s not even serious academic research. And every time some researcher writes a book using my institution’s material they credit everyone, all the way down to me who probably only pulled the boxes for them. My profs (BA in history) would eat you for lunch if you went too long in a paper without citing somebody.

      1. a tester, not a developer*

        My undergrad sociology professor always said he expected to see at least one source per paragraph, as “none of (us) had been around long enough to have a completely original thought yet”. :)

        1. Richard Hershberger*

          Made me look: The chapter I am currently working on has, so far, eleven and a half pages of text, with about four to five paragraphs per page. It currently has 37 end notes. So I guess I have a couple of original ideas, but not many. Seems about right.

      2. Nesprin*

        Indeed. Plagiarism is defined as 5 words or more copied from other work. Worth noting that I even have to cite my own work and cannot copy myself from my older papers if I no longer hold the copyright.

  4. Richard Hershberger*

    I am impressed that Alison went so quickly to firing her. What struck me even more than the typical workplace credit stealing is that she is a researcher. That can mean lots of things. For many kinds of research, a willingness to fudge will lead to invalid results, possibly with no easy way for anyone else to go back and figure out. This is a concrete liability.

    1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      It’s rare that I’ll think this, let alone say it, but firing Anna might not be enough. This can’t happen again. If the allegations are verifiable, I think it’d be justifiable to make an example of her.

        1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

          Airing the dirty laundry to the team, if not the entire company. E.g.:

          “As of today, Anna is no longer with Research Co, LTD. She has been dismissed for plagiarism. Plagiarism is forbidden by Section 11, Paragraph 3 on Page 22 of the Employee Handbook (rev 2021.10.1) and is grounds for immediate dismissal and permanent ineligibility for rehire.”

        2. Nesprin*

          If this is academia adjacent, every future reference check+ reference letter would include note of plagiarism. Most fields are pretty small and informal “hey X worked for you, what were they like?” references are common. I’ve worked with a similar plagiarizer, and yes, I’ve told everyone I know to avoid that person like plague.

        1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

          Like … murder?

          Okay, I have so many questions about how we get from dismissal to execution.

          But what I was thinking goes along these lines: So many places, your hint that someone’s been fired is their extension failing to ring or emails bouncing. Everywhere I’ve been, that’s been followed by speculation and conjecture about how, why, and when the Anna in question left, even if it was voluntary or involuntary. Excuses and fantasies take root.

          Habitual plagiarism is so bad that it threatens the integrity of the business, so I think it’s fully apropos to consider suspension that privacy, at least within the organization.

          1. I WORKED on a Hellmouth*

            Or they could just say that she is no longer with the company and not give her a good reference if anyone comes calling. Since, you know, there is zero evidence of anyone else at the company stealing work/lying about work, and going full flog mode might just make everyone feel like they’re working in a dystopian novel? Simply saying someone is no longer with the company (which is what has happened at most of the places I have worked) is probably the only necessary action.

            1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

              I think the more the team/organization is full of bees, the more valuable making an example of Anna to that team/organization is.

          1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

            I had no idea I was going to be in an episode of Gravity Falls today.

        1. Hills to Die On*

          Hanging her by her thumbs in the break room while people throw cheap-ass rolls at her. Obvs.

          1. Aphrodite*

            Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy, your post just gave me a fabulous idea for a weekend post. I hope others like it as much as I do and there are a lot of comments!

        2. David*

          Realistically, a lot of research communities are small and tightly networked, and whether officially or not, word gets around about this kind of stuff. So Anna could face a lot of difficulty getting another job in her field, or if she does, she might get a lot of resistance from other researchers who would otherwise work with her.

          Of course it’s way more fun to speculate about throwing cheap-ass rolls at her or whatever (thanks Hills to Die On, lol)

      1. Gerry Keay*

        or you could take the much kinder mindset of “I still want you to eat, just not at my table.” Torpedoing someone’s entire professional life is entirely unjustifiable.

        1. Gerry Keay*

          *unjustifiable for this reason. There are legitimate reasons to torpedo careers, but those reasons are like… sexual and physical assault, not taking credit for someone else’s work.

          1. Student*

            My career is in science research.

            I am not joking when I tell you that I cried harder, struggled longer emotionally, and quit jobs faster over people stealing credit for my work than when I have been sexually and physically assaulted at work.

            When I think about the cases where some jerk assaulted me, I can at least laugh about it now. I still tear up when I think about one of the more egregious cases of someone stealing credit for work I was very proud of. Part of it was because I was deeply invested in the work – emotionally, time, effort. I was not nearly as invested in my superficial co-worker relations with the jerks who attacked me. It was hugely disappointing and terribly disillusioning to see credit for my work given to someone else, because it showed me exactly how little so many people valued me who worked with me.

            1. I WORKED on a Hellmouth*

              I understand being invested in your work and how devastating having your intellectual property stolen is, but I am so alarmed that you are laughing off what sounds like multiple instances of assault and are more affected by someone taking credit for your work. As an assault survivor, I just really, really hope that you are okay.

            2. Nesprin*

              Agreed. When I worked with a similar credit-stealing-lamprey-in-human-clothing it affected everything in my life and I was near quitting for months. My spouse kept telling me to “not take it so personally”, but my work is incredibly personal. The credit going to someone else felt like dismissing the value of my efforts and creativity.

              1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

                I feel your pain. It isn’t about your feelings. You are not “taking it personally” that this person lied, stole and slandered you.
                “I did this, not Nesprin. I’m not hurt. I’m livid.”
                Also, love the lamprey reference.

        2. RagingADHD*

          Researcher. Plagiarism.

          Do you think it’s justifiable to “torpedo the career” of a doctor or lawyer who commits malpractice? Someone who violates the basic premise of their own profession torpedoes their own career.

          1. ShinyPenny*

            This is exactly how bad physicians and bad police officers keep harming new victims. TPTB don’t have the moral clarity to effectively hold them accountable for their own bad choices. When bad people make bad choices, it’s not ok to just send them out find their next victim.

      2. linger*

        Obviously, Anna should be, not merely fired, but forcibly and rapidly ejected from their workplace canon.
        (Note spelling. :-)

  5. AndersonDarling*

    I’m really curious what Anna’s motivations are. Does she feel like she doesn’t have anything solid to mention on her review so she made up some things? Does everyone on the team take credit for other’s work and Anna is the first one that did it poorly and was caught? Does she think that professionals take credit for other’s work to get ahead?
    Copying someone’s work and putting her name on it is so lame that I’m really wondering what she was thinking. I hope we get an update.

      1. Momma Bear*

        I wonder how long she lasted in that other department. To try to pass off the work as her own with someone else’s notes included? Yikes. Glad OP keep going up the food chain about this.

          1. LimeRoos*

            Ditto! An update to the update would be awesome! And to see if the LW found another company that better handles stuff like this, since man, it’s great she doesn’t have to worry about Anna anymore, but a department as a dumping ground for employees you (CEO/company, not LW) don’t want to fire is bleargh.

      2. Richard Hershberger*

        So she got transferred to the dumping ground department in the hope that she would go away of her own accord. Back in the day, the hopeless corporate executive was assigned to create the corporation history.

      3. Hippo-nony-potomus*

        That’s… special. The company using a toxic department as a dumping ground insures that the toxic department will never get fixed; it’s filled to the brim with liars, slackers, and the like.

        1. Properlike*

          And at the three different higher education institutions I’ve worked at as an instructor, plagiarism of ANY kind, even among undergraduates is Super Serious. It is a “third-strike-you’re-expelled” level of offense. It is the one situation I’ve never had a department chair or dean question as serious.

          This is firing. And if, as the comments, say, she was merely moved along — on behalf of all the people who inherit someone else’s rejects because they were too cowardly to do the hard thing: Thanks a lot for making my life and job that much harder!

    1. irene adler*

      She took the “Lean In” concept a little too far maybe?
      /sarcasm off

      Given how she responded in the update, she’s not clueless about what she did. Nor remorseful. In fact, there’s probably a good deal of other items out there to which she has claimed authorship or ownership. It’s a numbers game for her- she knows she’ll only get caught appropriating only a portion of all she’s got her name on. There will always be work product out there attributed to her that are actually the fruit of someone else’s efforts. Hence, a win for her.

      I had a classmate in my paralegal program like this. Oh the stories! And for the record, she was a VERY intelligent person.

      1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        For real. OP qualifies her descripition of Anna as someone who does good work. OP, are you sure she’s done anything? Maybe you didn’t see her picking the brains of coworkers or pulling stuff from google, but you can’t be sure all the work you haven’t proved was done by others was in fact done by her.

  6. anonymous73*

    Yes to everything Alison said, but please make sure to document every time it’s happened so you provide specific examples of her behavior. It’s not about providing constructive criticism – she’s lying and it needs to stop.

    I had a crappy manager once who dinged me on a review once saying I missed deadlines. I’m not one to do that, so I questioned her about it. She mentioned ONE time I had missed a deadline, but the reason I had missed it was because I emailed the Team Lead for clarification (copied my manager too) and she hadn’t gotten back to me until after the deadline. Sure I probably should have followed up with the Team Lead when she didn’t answer, but that doesn’t mean I chronically missed deadlines. It sounds like you have several examples of her lies, so this shouldn’t be an issue, but the documentation of them doesn’t allow her to talk her way out of her behavior.

  7. ArtsyGirl*

    Anna is plagerizing her coworkers, she is inserting her name in projects she has not contributed to, and she is claiming work she didn’t actually do. Anna is the adult version of all kids who refused to contribute to group projects and then expected the good grade. By ignoring or reframing Anna’s theft you are tacitly telling her this is acceptable and telling her victims that you don’t care about their hard work which is insanely demoralizing. I would do one on one sit downs with your team and see how long and how pervasive this is. Get into the details of what they have individually worked on and if Anna was at all involved. Then I would have a serious talk with Anna that might include a PIP but I would likely jump right to firing. She is clearly dishonest and I am betting this is the tip of the iceberg.

  8. Leela*

    Ooh please deal with this ASAP because I guarantee you if the workers who are actually doing work have any idea about this and don’t see it changing, they’ll be looking to leave. You do NOT want to be left with a lying worker (who apparently has to take other people’s work to make it look like she’s actually working?) and a bunch of new people who don’t have the context they need to keep things running because your good employees leave over this.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      I’m not sure they’ll be looking to leave, but they will be avoiding or refusing to work with Anna.

  9. Beth*

    This is a letter from the archives, and there IS an update! I’ll put the link into a follow-up comment.

      1. Beth*

        Hmm — the comment never got out of moderation. But the same link was posted in reply to the fifth comment, upthread, by “AndersonDarling” — you can find it there!

  10. Momma Bear*

    Her behavior is pretty egregious. OP should take action and not be afraid to be direct about it. Also, I’d ensure that proper credit was given to the proper person and that all copies of her work that are duplicative are deleted. I think the path Alison laid out is very reasonable – give the employee a chance to tell you something you may not know (or double down on her lie) and then go forward with that information. If she continues to lie, then it’s time to go.

  11. Mr. Tumnus*

    I don’t know that you can constructively approach the fact that one of your researchers steals other people’s work and lies about it. She copied and pasted someone else’s work and took credit for it? She “put together” something that she merely proofread? Anna has a huge integrity issue, and it will become your integrity issue if you don’t put a stop to it.

    I think she should have been fired before this point, but if you want to discuss it, I think the discussion is, “You have taken credit for other people’s work by (fill in the details). This is unethical and will not be tolerated. If it happens again, you will be fired.”

  12. the white witch*

    I worked with an old supervisor (a horrible, horrible supervisor and person) who not only claimed other people’s work but lied about and doubled down if you questioned her on it. For example, I came up with an idea to get media attention for a situation that we were competing with other groups for; I just came into it a different way. Before I pitched it, I checked with my grand boss what she thought. Supervisor was out of the office. Grand boss thought it was a great idea, went forward with it and it was wildly successful, even topping the other company’s coverage. About a week later, our staff was at a full staff meeting and we went around updating each other on on work. Supervisor gave her update that included the work I had done in front of me and our grand boss — to whom she reported — as her own work. At a time when she was out of the office AND knew that I had done it. Grand boss to her credit called her out on it saying, “wait, the white witch did that.” “No, I did it. She had nothing to do with it.” Grand boss, rather incredulously, reiterated that yes, I did that work AND that she and I actually spoke throughout the day and came up with a plan for it. Supervisor still DID NOT BACK DOWN. It was embarrassing and really uncomfortable. She was gone with a month, not just becuase of this but some more egregious. Unfortunately another department hired her and we were stuck with her working with us for way too many years.

    1. Hills to Die On*

      I love that your grandboss called it out publicly in the moment and didn’t take any nonsense from her. That’s awesome.

  13. the white witch*

    I worked with an old supervisor (a horrible, horrible supervisor and person) who not only claimed other people’s work but lied about and doubled down if you questioned her on it. For example, I came up with an idea to get media attention for a situation that we were competing with other groups for; I just came into it a different way. Before I pitched it, I checked with my grand boss what she thought. Supervisor was out of the office. Grand boss thought it was a great idea, went forward with it and it was wildly successful, even topping the other company’s coverage. About a week later, our staff was at a full staff meeting and we went around updating each other on on work. Supervisor gave her update that included the work I had done in front of me and our grand boss — to whom she reported — as her own work. At a time when she was out of the office AND knew that I had done it. Grand boss to her credit called her out on it saying, “wait, the white witch did that.” “No, I did it. She had nothing to do with it.” Grand boss, rather incredulously, reiterated that yes, I did that work AND that she and I actually spoke throughout the day and came up with a plan for it. Supervisor still DID NOT BACK DOWN. It was embarrassing and really uncomfortable. She was gone with a month, not just because of this but some more egregious. Unfortunately another department hired her and we were stuck with her working with us for way too many years.

  14. Cait*

    OP, you say she’s done some great work but now I question that. Given everything you’ve described, it’s likely that work wasn’t her own. I would do what Alison suggests but might start with talking to everyone she’s been working with and anyone who’s been overseeing her work. Tell them exactly what she’s been taking credit for and then wait for the eyebrows to go up. I’m betting that the few infractions you’ve discovered aren’t the only ones. With enough evidence in your arsenal, I can’t imagine that Anna will be able to explain all of that away. If she can admit wrongdoing, take responsibility, and take big steps to improve her behavior, it might be worth keeping her on. But if she pushes back in the slightest, tries to blame others, or seems disinterested in taking responsibility or fixing her behavior, I would let her go. Just be sure to document all your findings as well as every conversation you have with her, what expectations you gave her, and how she’s reacted.

  15. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

    I left a job many years ago because another coworker took the credit for my work and the boss believed him, even after I complained with proof.

    (There was some words from the coworker regarding how he ‘needed the confidence boost because *insert something mental here, this was a long time ago and I’ve forgotten*’ to me but really, I didn’t care about his reasons.)

    There’s no excuse for claiming credit for work that you didn’t do. None. Today I’d regard it as a fireable offence.

    1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      Whoa. So the boss didn’t really believe him. The boss just didn’t care and decided that coworker’s wants were more important than having a functional office.

  16. Lilo*

    This is one of those letters where I’m glad to see my initial instincts backed up by Alison. I immediately thought “oh no, you might have to fire her for this”. It is extremely serious. The update (linked above) validated that Alison was 100% correct.

  17. Jack Straw from Wichita*

    This boggles my mind. Giving credit and citing sources is what good professionals DO. Heck, I included a single-entry, works referenced page in my one-page grad school application statement because I quoted an AAM column in it.

    Beyond her supervisor having to check everything she says, Anna’s behavior makes it difficult for colleagues to trust her, too.

    1. irene adler*

      “difficult for colleagues to trust her” ?
      I’d say “impossible”.

      They should not trust her. Both from the plagiaristic aspect and from the quality of her work (that which she actually performs herself).

  18. Researcher Too*

    While I agree that Anna is probably acting with malicious intent, I can also see where this behavior could have carried over from the ubiquitous “group project” in college & high school classrooms. A truly obtuse person might be able to “innocently” engage in this behavior in that context. It is too bad that Anna hasn’t been called out before now.

    1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      I don’t understand. If Anna did this crap for school group projects (providing nothing and putting her name on it) it was just as malicious then. If she was going into the google doc the night before and changing the font and putting her name first, she knew damn well what she was doing. She would not have been innocent or obtuse.
      Although, she would definitely have gotten her money’s worth out of college. Learning how to succeed in business without really trying…

      1. Researcher Too*

        Agreed, that’s why I posited that it was probably malicious, but group work encourages these kind of people. However, educators are asked to do a lot of unreasonable tasks in addition to evaluating students (although some are just lazy), so they assign group work instead of evaluating student learning outcomes individually. It is a cascading problem. These unsavory behaviors that are seemingly increasingly common in younger generations have roots and it is useful to identify them. Also, in academia (OP doesn’t specify what sort of research) there is a well-known problem with senior researchers slapping their names on work by younger researchers, especially when the younger researchers are from underrepresented groups. So Anna may have decided this was a viable strategy by observing that sort of behavior as well.

        1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

          I’m feeling the word “normalized” here. I totally get your point now. It’s like, “everyone is doing it, so it must be the right thing to do. First person to claim credit gets credit.”

    2. pcake*

      A close friend of mine is in a University, and she does most of the work on group projects and gets only a portion of the credit. I’ve watched her field message after message from her group project mates – one woman couldn’t do research they needed the next day because it was her pet’s birthday – forget that she’d been supposedly working on it for over a month. Two have said they just can’t figure out how to research stuff that my friend found for them in minutes – and these are third year university students. My friend had to do all that work for the month in one evening after doing her own work to keep up her grades, as if the group is rated lower, it affects her grade.

      1. Snuck*

        This is pretty much what happens with group assignments. Even when you get to choose who you’ll do them with it inevitably winds up being ‘the person who has the most will winds up with the work’.

        Adults have competing priorities and they arent’ all on the same schedule. It’s not fair to force everyone onto the same grade and my favourite group assignment was one (that fell into the inevitable sh-t show even with ‘choose your work mates’) and we all got to rate each other’s contributions and that influenced our final scaling and marks. We were also asked to comment on each other’s contribution, research capability, time management, cooperative ness with the group etc. It still sucked majorly but it was an honest suck experience along the way.

        My preferred way of grinding through these is actually to avoid pairing up with anyone I like or know – the less I know a person the less likely I am to intensely dislike them by the end of it. And then I generally wrest control if I can, and deliver most of it. It sucks, it’s supposed to be a group assignment, and if the group members actually do their work – Great! – but about 70% of the time people get caught up on other assignments, their neighbours dog’s lost and they have to work extra shifts because they drank too much last week and need to make rent. All legit reasons, in their own priority making, but not in mine :/

        So I tend to do most of the project management (it is my background after all, I’ve gone back to uni for funsies right now), and guide and cajole and bribe people (just like I do in project management work), and when that fails I pull the majority of the research together. I do the slide pack. I do the final write up. I do the final edit. I put it out for comment, and offer to do all this grinding detail work, all the endless organising, all the soul sucking work. Because then it gets done, and I set the deadline three days before it’s due, so we’re not arguing about it online with an hour to go. Worst comes to worst I just do the bits they don’t (and I have an email trail for this, which I share with the tutor/lecturer), and hit submit. I am NOT letting some slacker / over committed / uncaring person tank my HD average.

  19. hbc*

    I remember reading this originally and thinking how sad it was, because many of the things she was lying about would look much better if she was honest. Or maybe it’s just me–I think it’s more impressive to hear, “I found a similar report that Jane did, made some edits for flow/taste, and it’s attached. Let me know if this works or if you want to see the original.” Resourcefulness, efficiency, giving appropriate credit…I need that more than I need someone whose default is to work hard and not smart.

    1. NotAnotherManager!*

      Exactly – we repurpose and update older work product all the time, and I’ve never run into anyone who claims to have created it from scratch. I don’t get that at all. It’s bad teamwork, and it tends to be fairly obvious that the plagiarizer is lying. In my experience, you get plenty of credit for updating or improving something, there’s no need to pretend like you reinvented the wheel. (I’d actually be annoyed at someone who rewrote something entirely rather than updating – that’s a waste of time.)

      And, if you’re going to plagiarizer, make sure to scrub the speaker notes and document info, Anna!

    2. Sasha*

      This. My department re-uses/shares presentations for teaching/courses etc all the time. We even send out emails asking if anyone has something we can re-purpose!

      Nobody starts a grant application from a blank sheet (aside from anything else there is often boilerplate text we need to put in the Information Governance/Research Ethics sections that are standardised to the Sponsor). Nobody writes an SOP without a template to use as a structure.

      All totally fine! In fact better than doing it yourself when you need to fit a corporate template. Just don’t pretend you did it all from scratch.

  20. PlainJane*

    I’m glad Allison suggested giving her a chance to exonerate herself before going straight to firing. It’s a serious offense… but she may have also gotten really bad advice about making herself stand out. Is this a young, first job person?

    But yes, whether in the form of discipline or simply making the behavior stop, it has to stop.

    1. Kevin Sours*

      It might be clearer if we knew what OP meant by researcher. But I still remember the lecture I got when at the start of second semester chem because I tore the pages for first semester chem out my labbook. Accountability are traceability critical in research. Even as a first job out of undergrad they should know better.

      1. PlainJane*

        True. The letter to me sounds like Anna’s doing routine office work, maybe *for* researchers, but not necessarily *as* one. Writing guidelines for external partners sounds like mid-management work. And it’s hard to guess what kinds of projects are being discussed. A research project? Or a marketing project for the company? Or… I’m just sure.

        It just occurs to me that she may have gotten some advice to “take credit for everything you do!” or something like that, interpreted through the lens of “Make yourself look good!” Did you work on something? Then you did that thing!

        1. Snuck*

          This is the impression I have – that she might be in an adjunct position. Not necessarily a researcher herself, but supporting staff? Or very junior researcher, doing support work for more senior ones.

          If junior researcher then she needs to pull her head in fast, and be taught to not steal other’s work. Possibly fired outright given the HUGE emphasis on plagiarism at most universities right now. She KNOWS this stuff.

          If she’s administrative support or non research officer she needs to be clearly frog marched through the plagiarism policy and asked if she has any questions and given one last chance. And explain it’s about integrity and professional ethics, and that working in a research institution means that even the non research staff have to be above the line.

          1. PlainJane*

            Agreed. I just feel like, if she’s doing it that blatantly, she may be thinking, “Yup, this is the way the world works, and no one will think twice about it.” There’s so much bad advice out there that I’d like to see Anna frog-marched through it for her own benefit as much as OP’s. It sounds like she doesn’t realize she’s done anything wrong, and if she doesn’t have that clarified, she’ll be puzzled by the firing and take the behavior to the next place she works.

  21. Susan Ivanova*

    Can I trade managers? I had one who just assumed that I wasn’t working with other people, without actually talking to those other people. OP sounds awesome.

  22. Phil*

    I was in the technical end of the entertainment business where credit for your work is EVERYTHING. Among other things, it’s how you get your next job (we’re all freelancers). When I was staff I once had a boss who took credit for my work. He took the tapes from the producer and hand him the finished record, done by me, taking credit for the work. But the producers got wise, I quit and took all the clients with me.
    Sometimes the stealing credit thing is amusing. If you look at the credits for MGM films from the late 20s to the 50s you will find that the art director Cedric Gibbons and recording supervisor Douglas Shearer (Norma’s brother) received sole credit for the work of literally hundreds of other people. I knew some of the MGM sound department guys and they were not happy, even decades later.

    1. calonkat*

      While I do sit through all the credits most of the time in theaters (pre-pandemic), I will confess I had to make it into sort of a game of “oddest credit” after things such as assistant accountants became common. Like the vast number of plasterers on Iron Man, or a home ec teacher on one of the Harry Potter movies. I don’t believe anyone ever believed that Edith Head actually sewed every button on every garment when credited for costuming, just as listed actors used to be just people with speaking roles. It’s sort of a mixed bag, everyone does get credit, but in print too small to read on home screens, and ignored by the vast majority of people because 7 minutes of fast moving credits are just too much reading for most people.

      1. Phil*

        With the amount of scenery blown up on the Iron Man films I imagine the plasterer’s got a lot of work.

        1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

          There’s always people leaving right as the credits start to roll and I’m like “… do you even go here?” :-P

  23. Powercycle*

    I worked with someone who did something like this when new management came in asking for documentation on existing processes and systems. They slapped their name onto a bunch of old documentation and didn’t even bother to check if any of it was still accurate, up to date, or even needed. But they also didn’t bother to write any missing documentation either. So in my case it wasn’t just taking credit for other people’s work, but also to cover up the fact they hadn’t done their share either.

    1. Rainy*

      I had a friend years ago, let’s call him Greg, who worked for a specific department as in-house IT, and he was the kind of coder who meticulously commented all his code, signed with his online handle, which was based on his initials, “grep”. It was considered cute as a handle for obvious reasons.

      Greg got hired into central IT, and was replaced in his old role by “Bob” who also used a handle, let’s call it “WhiteHouse”. Well, Bob was a go-getter but only in the least useful ways possible, and was also terribly jealous of Greg just in general, so when Bob got into the department’s system and saw all the commented code, he figured an easy way to look to his new boss like he was doing a lot was to do a global search and replace in their system for Greg’s handle and replace it with his own, so it would seem as though he had written and commented all that code.

      Of course, when the system users tried to search for anything themselves, they couldn’t…because now to grep, you had to type WhiteHouse.


        1. Rainy*

          I assure you, this happened. I changed the handles involved for obvious reasons, but yeah, you had to type the new guy’s handle to access a pretty basic system function.

  24. Lady Danbury*

    Imo, this should result in an immediate termination unless there was a really good explanation and/or sincere recognition of her wrongdoing and commitment to change. This wasn’t just a one off mistake, but a demonstrated pattern of taking credit for other people’s work. It also wasn’t just taking credit for a single idea or comment but entire documents/projects. As Allison notes, this is a huge integrity issue and if you can’t trust her not to lie about this who knows where else she might be lacking integrity?

  25. learnedthehardway*

    This is so egregious and blatant that firing the employee is really the only way forward. Transferring them to somewhere toxic – which is probably toxic because the department is full of toxic people – is an “interesting” approach to the situation (aka. deeply problematic).

    I managed someone who would claim credit for things that really weren’t part of his role – in his case, he really believed he was doing the work, though. eg. our department was asked to do a minor piece of a major company conference, and I saw later that he had claimed he had organized the conference. In fact, what he had done was to make the room bookings and order the food. He really didn’t see the difference – was very proud of the “accomplishment”. I’d gotten the impression he felt he had organized the whole thing from something he said to a colleague, but finding the feat on his online resume when I was searching for his replacement confirmed he was claiming credit for the whole thing. I didn’t bother explaining it, as he was leaving the company anyway. (I found this on his online resume, when I was searching for his replacement).

    I’ve always drilled down on what people claim as their accomplishments, to understand their actual role and contributions. Some people can make a minor contribution to an initiative, and genuinely believe they deserve credit for the whole thing. It was kind of breathtaking to see this in action.

  26. Sunshine's Eschatology*

    This is so interesting to me because I work in a very different field (law) in a very small firm, and my work with my colleagues is quite collaborative and often incorporates large or small sections of previously-drafted documents. When I say that I worked on something with someone, it’s actually because I’m the one emailing the final product but I want to credit the person who worked with me on it, who is usually (unlike me) not a lawyer. I think this is partly a difference in norms in the field, a difference in the power dynamics, and also a difference due to working in a very small firm where everyone would have a pretty good idea of what I did and what a colleague did on a given project.

    So if I suddenly shifted into this field and office, I could see myself initially communicating in this way. But from the update it sounds like Anna was spoken to about this tendency and kept doing it. So I can definitely see how that’s a problem, but just due to working in a very different environment I remain slightly baffled at the level of (probably righteous!) outrage over this.

    1. Lilo*

      Law is really different though. When you sign your name to something as an attorney you’re not saying it’s your creative work, you’re more attesting to the legal diligence and argument. Every firm/courthouse/government org/etc uses form paragraphs and caselaw banks. Everyone sees a good motion/order/brief and copies it. That’s just expected. It’s not a creative field and no one wants a new associate to waste time drafting new background/case law section when someone has carefully written a standard one (at least where I work in government we also have a whole staff who meticulously updates these with any new case law/regs).

    2. Kevin Sours*

      Imagine for a moment that you task a paralegal Joe with doing some legal research and drafting a memo. They come back with a memo and note that they worked with Sue a bit on it. You find out later that Sue pointed them at a old memo on the subject that Joe made some minor edits to and then presented as a newly drafted document. Joe has misrepresented to you the actual work that he did. Moreover, you relied on that without knowing the provenance of the information (did Joe check to see if there was more up to date information since the last one). And, consider that Joe entered time for writing that memo that you billed to the client.

      At this point what aspects of Joe’s prior work output are you planning to review?

      There is a difference between external credit where as a lead you are going to be taking credit for the work of a team (particularly in situations where you are taking formal professional responsibility for the quality of that work) and misrepresenting credit internally. Particularly when deception is at issue.

    3. Lady Danbury*

      I’m also a lawyer and I completely understand the outrage in this situation (my earlier comment suggested immediate termination). There’s a huge difference between using an NDA that someone else drafted to draft a new one (normal and expected) versus using someone else’s prior IP to create a derivative work (likely unethical/illegal, even if credited). Although context is key, most workplaces/tasks are closer to the latter than the former.

  27. L'étrangere*

    It’s highly unlikely she is truly ‘doing great work’. You just haven’t figured out all her sources yet

  28. Bee Eye Ill*

    Anna probably creates fake profiles on dating sites so she can catfish people in her spare time.

    This could be a mental health thing, too. That’s not normal behavior, and it has probably been going on for a while.

  29. Not Tom, Just Petty*

    I remember thinking that the boss kicking the problem down the road was a crap approach. Reading it today, with more AAM under my belt, I’m feelings devil’s advocate-y about OP’s boss.
    HR is crap. They are refusing to do their job of protecting the company. They tell OP is it not a matter of ethics, but of semantics.
    OP goes to boss who “solves” the immediate problem (this person is hurting the department). This is boss’ standard MO. OK, because boss kicks the problem down the road because s/he won’t take discipline or fire people, or because boss knows damn well that HR won’t back up any action like that. The department will be stuck with this woman and she will challenge any attempts to manage her going forward as retaliation – and HR will support that.

    1. Snuck*

      Fair point. If HR isn’t going to help solve the issue maybe side lining her was the ‘best’ solution the dept could have to protect itself. Seen PLENTY of that over the years.

  30. Meep*

    I am the kind of person who would rather talk others up rather than talking myself up. It has been a problem at times for me, but I don’t imagine I will stop gloating about my coworkers – even if I did the lion’s share of the work. I am hardwired to use “we did this” as opposed to “I did this.” (Probably also due to the fact I am a woman with a history of being blamed for others’ mistakes but that is a story for another day.)

    My toxic coworker is the exact opposite. In March, I was tasked by our boss to come up with an Intern Plan for Summer interns, to “make Toxic Coworker” happy. I could honestly care less if she was happy or not, but I did it for him because I knew he had been struggling since October the previous year to get her to do it. I completed it within a week with him providing a few reviews to help me along the way before I sent it to her and let him know. I blinded copied him on the email, as well.

    At the very next meeting, she tried to take credit for this intern plan in front of both of us! She caught herself the first time, but the second time she was using “I did this”. I was more amused at her audacity than I was livid because that takes a special kind of stupid to not think that one through.

    It ended up biting her in the butt anyway, I suppose, because despite sending it to her three more times at her request and having her claim to have read it at least a dozen times, she was not prepared in May for the interns she hired and anytime she tried to complain that she didn’t have the “materials” she needed, I could gently remind her it was in the Intern Plan she wrote up. lol.

    (Unfortunately, both of us are still working here, but I definitely think our boss stopped relying on her so much after that and definitely has a lower opinion of her opinion, as it was a hot mess.)

  31. birdie*

    Once, I was interviewing to staff a new position on my team. An existing junior employee applied; up to this point I had issues with her performance and general attitude of entitlement toward a promotion. When she made it to the interview, she plainly lied about doing work that I knew she hadn’t done. When I raised this with the other interviewer, I was dismissed and didn’t push further to avoid seeming as if I had a grudge against this employee. All that said, I wish I had been more direct in calling it out.

    1. Maxie's Mommy*

      Anna needs to be frog-marched to apologize to everyone whose work she stole. To save time it can be done at the next team meeting.

    2. Properlike*

      I am so FINISHED with people assuming a professional complaint is a “personal grudge.” Let me guess, birdie: you’re a woman? Was the other interviewer male?

  32. Littorally*

    I know this is an old letter, but I’d love an update from the OP! I’m so curious how the conversation went.

    1. Tuesday*

      There was one! Search for the comment from kittymommy above.

      Warning: Update is Frustrating and Unsatisfying

  33. Hiring Mgr*

    Can someone enlighten me about research? What’s meant by “credit” exactly? What does it mean that Anna rewrote/copied guidelines?

    My main confusion is if this is all so over the top blatant, and credit is everything in research, how has this all gone unnoticed? (Like didn’t one of the employees Anna stole from ask questions or complain?)

    1. MissCoco*

      I’m from a basic/translational science background in academia, so there may be some minor cultural differences, but I’d say credit means saying who did the thing. In formal settings that means authorship, acknowledgements, etc, but in an everyday context, it’s as simple as saying it. “
      Jaime and I were talking about this problem, and I realized we’ve never tried X solution”
      Even if I thought of the idea, Jaime helped me flesh it out (or made the comment that turned on the lightbulb in my head).
      or “Sam noticed that the freezer was leaking, so the repair person is coming out tomorrow.” Even though I called the repairman and triaged the freezer so we didn’t lose samples, Sam is the reason our problem isn’t any worse.

      In this specific situation, it sounds like these things are documentation type stuff, not publishable or public outcomes, so the people being stolen from didn’t see the product. An example I can think of is our lab safety documents/training materials that I created. Over the years, I shared those with a few other labs on campus doing similar work. If someone from my lab had shared that stuff as if it was theirs, I’d honestly probably never find out, unless something like this came up (my manager saw the “new” version and realized it was my work originally)

  34. christopher*

    “Anna produces good work” … “Anna constantly submits other’s work as her own”

    So how do we know she produces good work? From the sound of it, there is a legitimate chance Anna has never produced any work of any kind.

  35. staceyizme*

    How does this qualify as “how can I frame it?” instead of “what on earth made you think you’d get away with lying?”- if you can’t trust her on something as basic as whether she actually did the work that she submitted in her own name? How can you trust her with other things like client confidentiality or proprietary trade/ industry data or anything else where integrity is needed? Also- she’s robbing others of their work product. That’s an act of hostility and it’s breathtakingly insulting. Basically, in her world, anything goes if it makes her look good. That’s not okay.

  36. Rinky Dink*

    My BOSS does this to me and my teammates ALL. THE. TIME. He is a very insecure executive. He will take a document of mine, change the file name and NOTHING ELSE and send it around to the executive team claiming it as his own (not the departments, or even the team, or me, but actually his). I’ve witnessed it several times because kudos will come back to him and I will get cc’ed, or even my CEO has looped me back into the email chain down the line. I’ve never seen anything like it.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      Oh my! That is terrible.
      While it can be fairly usual for a department manager to submit work to executives, good managers will at least acknowledge the hard work of the team.

    2. STAT!*

      Can you and your colleagues do something like put an undeletable (?SP) watermark in your docos? Or password protect them? Or put your names in the footer? Passive aggressive arguably, but soooo satisfying. I’m reminded of one of the revenge at work stories where somebody did something similar (story number 4 in the link):

  37. Lirael*

    My ex was seen by his then-boss doing something he shouldn’t have been doing, he knew he’d been seen…. and then he doubled down “he can’t prove it so it’s fine”.

    The boss agreed to let him resign with two months notice.

    Meanwhile I was incredulous I’d married someone with so little integrity.

    We are now divorced.

    Which is to say, WTF Anna?! Stop stealing people’s work!!

  38. raida7*

    I think that maybe you should check if she’s achieving actual goals and tasks that are her job.
    And don’t gloss over this – people get away with lying because they learnt they can. She thinks she’s making herself seem better but in fact is hurting herself here, and is unaware. So if she says she created a doc that’s just a copy of an existing one – read both and ask her to explain the value she’s brought to this new version. If she suggests she did the lion’s share of work when you know it was someone else, again go into detail “I know that Jessie worked on a,b,c with this, what were you working on?”
    Details will kill off lying fairly quickly – and always be interested, not critical and ‘trying to catch’ her. And really, truly, just tell her that you know she didn’t do that, why does she feel that she needs to pad out her achievements? Does her role simply not provide opportunities? Is she underloaded with tasks? (and has time to faffle about looking for documents to pointlessly re-write)

    Also, have a genuine and serious sit down conversation around
    “If a colleague asks you to proofread a document, it is their document and they are the owner of it. Forwarding it to me before they received your proofreading is not a clear and transparent way to handle the document. If this would come to me, it would come from the document owner, when they intend it to.
    Did you have concerns about their handling of this that you wanted to avoid? You didn’t raise any issues that needed my attention when you sent me this document, and I can’t act on them if I don’t know about them.”

    Another approach is to skew it as being firm rules to manage their professional appearance:
    “You may have felt you were being helpful, but you are not a secretary and are not expected to middle-man documents, and I don’t want you ending up in the position of people assuming you’ll handle their admin because you’ve “always just done it”.
    If you’re asked for proofreading, I expect you to proofread, return the document, and let the owner handle it from there. If the owner has a different opinion, I’m happy to sit in on a quick meeting to clarify roles and responsibilities.”

    If you don’t act, her team mates will learn about this and be pissed.

  39. CatBookMom*

    FWIW, I still remember an incident at my last job. I was in my late 40s. A different department, a bookkeeping, info-gathering, etc. one, physically adjacent to mine in the field of cubicles, finished up a BIG project, not programming, and got recognition at a company-wide gathering. EXCEPT – only the lead of the dept got the kudos. Susie was on an out-of-country vacation during at least 3 of the weeks of the project, maybe 50-60%. SHE got the kudos, not her staffers. Susie and I were not friends, for minor kudos-stealing reasons from before, but I had seen the long hours her staff put in, when she was notably elsewhere.
    Now, perhaps the staff got pay bonuses, etc. But SUSIE was the one who stepped up to the kudos, to the recognition, and appeared to be enjoying it. And she NEVER said “My team did so much…..” I lost a lot of respect for the CFO over that meeting, for piling all the credit onto her, instead of her 8 staffers.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      Wow that was crappy of Susie. Any manager should of heaped praises on her team even if she was accepting the recognition from the CEO (which is fairly normal for CEOs to recognize the executive staff).

  40. MissDisplaced*

    I kind of snorted at this because this is something that seems to be endemic at my very large company. It happens to me all the time!

    I create a graphic in Adobe and am asked to recreate it in PowerPoint for someone who then makes some text changes to it and says they “created” it.

    I write all the copy for a web article, email series and make all the graphics. Web team produces the page or email and then claims it as “their” work.

    I create a spreadsheet for research and do all the data entry. I pass it to some other department, they add one column, and say it was “their” research.

    And the list goes on.

    I just always ‘cc my managers when I send the work off to other people or departs and clearly state what I’ve done on it. But it’s still super frustrating.
    For myself, I always try to cite who else did something, as in “Jane wrote the copy and I designed the graphics for it.”

  41. Rocket Sturgeon*

    “ he emailed my team and Anna had kindly done one for him… except I knew we already had a presentation on it. I got him to forward me the email and presentation she’d sent. She said she’d “written it” and hoped it covered what he needed. ”

    If Anna’s heart was pure, she’d have cc’ed the LW – her boss – on her email.

  42. linger*

    On attributing acts of plagiarism to “cultural differences”: the article
    Yusof, D S M (2009) “A Different Perspective on Plagiarism”, The Internet TESL Journal 15 (2009) [URL ]
    attempts to argue that the notion of plagiarism is (merely) a Western construct that should not be automatically applied to students from other cultures.
    Several examples are presented [drawn from research by Introna et al (2003)] of students excusing their plagiarism on grounds of purported cultural difference, including a Chinese student who “said it was correct to rewrite the author’s word since the author was well known and respected”; and foreign students from Spain and Mauritius who claimed their acts of plagiarism were standard practice in their home institutions. Yusof suggests such cultures view information and text as freely sharable and collectively held by “society as a whole, rather than an individual” (Hu 2001).
    However, Yusof fails to examine these examples at all critically. A writer being “well known” doesn’t seem to hold up as an excuse for copying without naming that writer, unless the source text can itself be assumed to be immediately recognisable by the audience (as might be the case when quoting Shakespeare, for example) … but even then, “respect” for a revered source seems more directly shown by proper attribution, accurately naming the source and marking the scope of what has been quoted or used. And more generally, Yusof’s claim that plagiarism should be seen merely as “a western concept that has been imposed on societies across the world” loses its force if one considers that the activity of formal research is equally a “cultural import”, the success of which crucially depends on being able to examine and question the evidence base of any statement. Failure to cite sources breaks the evidence chain, and defeats the purpose of research. For this reason alone, the “cultural difference” defence of plagiarism cannot stand.

    1. linger*

      It’s funny how “all information is held by society, so I don’t need to name sources” never extends to “… and I don’t need to put my name on this report”.

  43. Tomalak*

    I think I might accept a sincere confession and apology without firing her – triply so if she is young and naive and has done something dumb and unethical but she looks unlikely ever to do so again. Maybe I’d regret it.

    Would I hire someone who had done this in the past? Maybe – and I worry about a definite no to such questions. Are such people never to work again?

  44. Cory*

    In the real world this is called plagiarism, in the academic world this is called academic dishonesty or fraud. Should be grounds for dismissal if your company has a code of conduct. Dismiss her, make an example of the behavior.

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