coworker is taking credit for my work when she applies for jobs, scam job offer, and more — Ask a Manager

here are the 10 best questions to ask your job interviewer — Ask a Manager

It’s four answers to four questions. Here we go…

1. My coworker is taking credit for my work when she applies for jobs

I work in a creative and highly competitive industry. I have a longstanding problem where a coworker, Bella, has been taking credit for my work, without actually producing any work of her own. I confronted Bella about this a few times and she became extremely angry. I am younger than her and I have less experience, so I didn’t find the courage to speak up about it until early this year. When I did, our boss was shocked by Bella’s behavior and apparently had some stern words for her. It wasn’t considered serious enough to take to HR, but I think she did receive a verbal warning. Understandably, this has strained our working relationship a lot, to the point that Bella is now looking for a new role elsewhere.

Here’s my problem — Bella is still claiming credit for my work. A friend reached out to me to say that Bella had applied to their company using my work in her portfolio, and after a quick glance at her LinkedIn I discovered that she’s claiming credit there, too. She’s even writing guest blogs about it!

This is a tiny industry, and I’m worried that Bella’s claims will affect my own job search down the line. My own portfolio is public, so any of these hiring managers could see that it’s identical to Bella’s and come to the conclusion that I’m exaggerating my own contribution to the work. Since we still work together she has access to all my original files, and I’ve noticed that she’s accessed a few early sketches, presumably so she can show them as proof of process.

It was hard enough for me to kick up a fuss at my own company. How on earth am I supposed to stop Bella plagiarizing my work elsewhere?

Go back to your boss and share with her the exact concerns you shared here. Your boss can’t control how Bella behaves in her job search but can do two things that will help: she can ensure Bella doesn’t have access to your work files, and she can vouch for you in the future if anyone questions your claim to your own work.

Beyond that, there are really only two effective ways to stop Bella from what she’s doing: (1) social shaming (maybe), like if you’re willing to call her out or — better — your boss and/or HR are; or (2) legal pressure, like a lawyer contacting her on your behalf; you could talk to a lawyer about how you can protect yourself.

2. My job offer is a scam

I am job searching and got an interview request that seemed legit to begin with, but had a few red flags. There really is a company named [company], and the address the interviewer used is what said company has on their website. They even do almost what the interviewer said they do. After the interview — which was entirely conducted in text via Signal, one of the eventual MANY red flags — I was offered a job at a fairly ludicrous wage for the supposed duties. I used a DNS lookup on the email address domain to determine whether it was even provided by the same hosting provider as the real company the scam was posing as, and surprise surprise, they are not.

Anyway, the contact is supposedly going to send me a check to purchase the equipment and software I’ll need to fully create my home office and will be contacting me tomorrow with a tracking number for the package containing the check. Should I pretend I don’t know this is a scam and act like I’m going to go through with this, or should I let them know I’ve determined this is a scam?

It doesn’t really matter; all that matters is that you have nothing further to do with them because, yes, they are obviously a scam. Not because of the DNS thing (it’s not unusual to have separate providers for email hosting and website hosting), but because of absolutely everything else, starting with the text-based interview over Signal and ending with the classic scam move of sending you a check you’ll need to cash to purchase things. You can let them know you know it’s a scam or not; it’s up to you. The main thing is to have nothing more to do with them. Block them from contacting you, and don’t get drawn in any further.

3. Colleague doesn’t wash his hands after he goes to the bathroom, and people are making it my problem

You wouldn’t think that we’d have this issue in 2024, but here we are: a man in my office does not wash his hands after he uses the bathroom. It’s common knowledge because the other men on the floor notice and object. People have spoken to him about it, but nothing changes. Worse, we have communal snacks, and he likes to run his dirty little fingers over biscuits (“cookies”) and fruit before he chooses one. Fruit can be washed — biscuits not so much.

I’ve read the previous letters you received about this sort of thing, and your advice has been along the lines of: This is a common problem, it’s gross, but you can’t do anything about it.

That’s always been my position, too, but as the office manager and the person in charge of ordering groceries for the floor (biscuits, fruit, etc), people are asking me to either fix the problem or find different storage solutions that will remove the opportunity for him to fiddle with the food.

I don’t have standing to speak to this very senior man about his basic hygiene, and I’ve tried to find storage solutions — but lids don’t get sealed, packages get opened and left sitting out, and individually wrapped biscuits don’t get eaten. But then, neither do the regular snacks, because at this point no one else is touching them. Am I missing an obvious solution? Should I simply stop ordering snacks? Is my colleague a pile of rats wearing a human suit?

Why isn’t someone with authority telling him that he needs to stop caressing all the food? That would be gross even without the bathroom thing; it’s unhygienic regardless and someone with power over him (not you) needs to address that.

In any case, if no one is eating the food, there’s no point in continuing to order it. If people weren’t eating it for some other reason, you wouldn’t keep ordering more, right? It might be that the only solution is that people bring in their own food if they want it. And maybe explaining to someone above you why it doesn’t make sense to keep providing food might prod them to actually address it with the gross coworker.

Regardless, though, you don’t need to find a magical solution just because people want you to. You’ve tried different storage options and they don’t work. At this point the only answer to demands that you fix the problem is, “I’ve tried everything I can, but I don’t have the authority to make him change his behavior. If you have a solution that works, I’d welcome it.”

4. Questions in my onboarding paperwork

I am currently filling out some on-boarding paperwork for a new job. The employer is asking the usual questions — name, address, Social Security number, date of birth, etc. My question is about the field for marital status – why would this be relevant information for business purposes? The choices are married, single, domestic partner, widow, divorced. Next they ask for emergency contact names. I understand they need that, especially since I will be working in a remote area, but I don’t know why they need to know the relationship between me and that person. Would there be problems if I listed “next door neighbor” or “friend”? I may be overthinking this but I’ve become more aware of what information I am willing to share and who I share it with.

They’re asking about your marital status because they need it for insurance and benefits administration (and I suspect they’re offering a wider of choices than just married/single/domestic partner because someone who is, say, widowed may prefer listing that rather than calling themselves “single”). As for emergency contacts, it’s fine to list a friend or next door neighbor (and to label them as such). The reason they want to know the relationship is because if you have, for example, a medical emergency at work, the info they share with a spouse might be different than the info they would share with your neighbor.

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