5 effective steps to deal with a coworker who throws you under the bus

Updated on January 28, 2023
How to deal with coworker who throws you under the bus

A coworker throwing you under the bus at work is a very unpleasant situation. A negative reaction to this type of behavior is completely normal and there could be serious consequences for you to deal with. This situation can lead to:

  • Termination of employees
  • Lowered workplace morale
  • Serious workplace conflicts
  • Loss of trust between coworkers
  • Communication and productivity issues
Understanding why your coworker stabbed you in the back like this can help you deal with the situation and mitigate the consequences. 

So let’s take a look at what this all means, and I will give you my best advice on how to deal with a coworker who throws you under the bus.

What does it mean when someone throws you under the bus at work?

When a coworker throws you under the bus, it means that they are fully blaming you for some kind of failure at work. But in reality, some or all of the responsibility is theirs. However, their position in front of your colleagues and boss is that you are solely responsible for said failure.

This can have serious implications and lead to all sorts of negative consequences for you.

  • You might start thinking that you are incompetent.
  • You can begin to doubt your professional skills.
  • Your coworkers might lose their trust in you.
  • You might be put on workplace probation.
  • You might end up losing your job.

Getting thrown under the bus at work is never fun, and the worst thing about it is that you may not know exactly who is blaming you for the failure so you're not able to confront the offender during the resolution process.

Have you considered this scenario: perhaps your coworker is throwing you under the bus like this because they think that you are a threat to them at work?

5 reasons why coworkers throw you under the bus

Why do coworkers throw you under the bus

So why do coworkers throw you under the bus? Let’s take a look at some common reasons that might be behind this treacherous act.

1. They need a scapegoat

In this case, it is not personal. But they messed up and they don't want to suffer the consequences. You just happen to be a convenient sacrificial lamb.

2. They are jealous of you

Jealousy in the workplace is not unheard of. Have you recently bragged about your salary or something else? Are you favored by your boss? You might have attracted some unwanted attention from a jealous coworker.

3. They feel intimidated by you

Coworkers who are competitive can be quite toxic. They might feel like you are excelling while they are stuck. So they have decided to undermine you.

4. They are trying to get you fired

It's simple. For one reason or another, they don't like you. They want you gone. So they are trying to get you fired by making it seem that you are incompetent and unreliable.

5. This is their revenge against you

Perhaps you did something in the past and you hurt this person somehow. Now they are exacting their revenge.

Try to backtrack and think about your professional relationship with this person if you know who they are. Perhaps you will be able to remember something that would explain the unfair way they are treating you.

How do you handle a coworker who throws you under the bus?

How to handle a coworker who throws you under the bus

Let’s take a look at some steps that you can take to deal with a backstabbing coworker.

1. Don’t get defensive

When you find out that you are being pointed out as the person to blame for said failure – don’t get defensive. Hear out the grievances of your boss and/or your colleagues. It is very important to retain your composure.

2. Acknowledge your fault

If you indeed have some fault in this, then acknowledge it. You can say something in the lines of “I am so sorry that this happened – it was never my intention to cause any harm/problem.”

3. Point out why the responsibility is not (entirely) yours

Part of the blame might be yours. But it is not entirely yours. It is time to shift the focus towards the person who is throwing you under the bus.

  • What were their responsibilities?
  • How did they contribute to the failure?
  • How come they are blaming you entirely?
  • Don’t they have a part in this, too?

These are questions that you can use to expose your backstabbing coworker.

4. Figure out their problem with you

If you have a chance, talk to the person who threw you under the and ask them what is going on. How come they betrayed you like this?

Don’t expect them to be honest. They will probably come up with all sorts of excuses and try to gaslight you. The point is to confront them and see how they react. In all cases, you can’t trust this person from now on.

5. Make an appeal to HR

If this behavior continues, and your boss/manager isn’t doing anything about it, then it is time to contact HR. Part of their job is to protect all staff from harassment and unfair treatment.

Let them know your side of the story. Bring forth any evidence that you may have such as emails and DMs that reveal the truth. Discover how to deal with various types of difficult coworkers in our complete blog series.

Key takeaways

  • Find out who and why decided to throw you under the bus.
  • Show your colleagues and boss that the responsibility for the failure is not (entirely) yours.
  • Use facts, reasoning, and logical questions to expose the truth of the situation.
  • Don't trust your backstabbing coworker from now on.
  • Here is our guide on how to deal with coworkers who complain about you.

Written by:
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galin office topics square
co-founder / office worker
Alex has been an office worker for more than 10 years. He is dedicated to helping other office workers to achieve the perfect life-work balance through well-being, effective communication, and building productive habits.

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