When Should You Rat on Your Coworker?

Reporting the misconduct or poor work-related performance of a coworker to your superior has probably crossed your mind at some point during your career. Unfortunately, most of us have encountered situations where the behavior and actions of colleagues have led to concerns we feel the higher-ups should know about—but, we’re often left feeling conflicted between protecting the company’s bottom-line and being labelled the office tattletale. Unless the circumstances make the choice obvious, knowing when to rat on your coworker can feel exceedingly difficult to discern. Here are some questions to consider before going to your boss.

rat on coworker

Are any laws being broken?

First things first. Assuming you aren’t employed by a corrupt company, if your coworker is breaking laws while at work, you can bet the boss will want to know. From skimming money to insider trading, when you are witness to laws being broken in the workplace, you have a responsibility to report it. Not only will you help protect your company, but you are also protecting yourself from potentially becoming an accessory to a crime.

Has anyone been harmed?

If someone’s physical or mental health is put at risk through the actions of a coworker, you would hardly be considered a gossip for reporting them to management. Whether it be sexual harassment at the watercooler or a fellow nurse neglecting a hospitalized patient, these types of offenses can bring serious consequences on your company and even yourself. In these instances, it would be a good idea to document in detail exactly what occurred before going to your boss or HR department.

What is your motive?

This is where things can get a little trickier, especially if you let your personal feelings toward a coworker guide your decisions. If you’re contemplating telling on a peer you don’t particularly like for arriving to work a little late, making a personal call on the clock, or some other action that could be considered time theft by human resources, don’t. Let’s be honest—everyone has been guilty of time theft, and management has more important issues to deal with.

There’s no need to get labelled a tattletale when these types of behaviors tend to expose themselves through an employee’s poor work performance or simply by getting caught in the act. On the other hand, if you work in a field where time theft could potentially put someone’s life or health at risk (emergency services, machine operators, etc.) you should consider reporting it to your superiors—but only if you’ve expressed your concerns to the coworker in question and the behavior continues unabated.

Will it cost you more than the company?

Ratting out a coworker could potentially save your company from losing money and may even get you promoted—but, it could also cost you your job. Make no mistake, there is always the possibility you could become a target for retaliation if you complain to your superiors about a coworker. Doing the right thing sometimes comes with consequences, but having the type of integrity it takes to do it anyway will take you a long way on your path to success.

So—should you tell?

After you’ve answered all of these questions, you should be able to gain a clearer sense of when it’s ok to rat on a coworker. When no laws are being broken and nobody has been put in the path of danger or directly harmed, the decision really comes down to what you’re comfortable living with at the end of the day.

If your goal is truly to help the company or protect another employee and not to merely help yourself get ahead at the expense of a coworker, you can feel confident you won’t be viewed negatively by your peers if you decide to take your concerns to your supervisors. In the simplest terms: It’s not ratting someone out if it’s the right thing to do.

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