How to deal with coworkers who complain about you

Updated on January 28, 2023
How to deal with coworkers who complain about you

Workplace conflicts can be quite unpleasant. Doubly so when you are at the center of the drama. Especially if your coworkers are accusing you of something.

The best way to deal with coworkers who complain about you is to understand what circumstance brought this conundrum. If there are legitimate grievances, then it is best to apologize and return to good terms. But if you are being wrongfully accused, then you should take action to protect yourself.

I’ve had coworkers complaining about me behind my back. I know just how stressful and mentally exhausting this can be. Worst case scenario, you can lose your job, especially if you are being actively sabotaged.

But who knows, maybe you are indeed at fault for something? So let’s take a look at both how to deal with legitimate complaints and falsehoods that were fabricated by coworkers who wish you harm. Here I will share with you my best advice on how to protect yourself and come on top.

How to handle a complaint against you at work

The best way to handle a complaint that has been raised against you at work is to apologize immediately. Find out what are the reasons for the complaint and the people who are involved. If you have made a genuine mistake, show them how sorry you are and ask for forgiveness.

If a formal complaint has been made against you at work, then you probably found out about this through your boss or an HR representative. Hopefully, they wanted to hear your side of the story as well so they arranged a meeting with you.

It is very likely that the nature of the complaint is quite serious if the management decided to take action and question you. Serious complaints usually concern one of three things so my guess is that the issue is something related to your:

  • Behavior at work
  • Work performance
  • Coworker interactions

In all cases, here are the steps that you can take to deal with the complaint against you.

Time for self-reflection

Be honest: did you do something wrong? Do you know in your heart that the complaint is legitimate? If you are indeed at fault, then it is best to…

Apologize as soon as possible

Draft an email with your apology and send it to all parties involved. You can go for something like this:

Hey guys,

I just wanted to address the complaint that has been made. I am terribly sorry about [my behavior/the mistakes I made/what I did/what I said].

I promise that this won’t happen again. I hope that you will be able to forgive me.

If you are at fault about something, your boss, HR, and your coworkers want to see that you are able to recognize your own mistakes/deficiencies so you can correct them.

Because if you don’t, then they will conclude that you will cause more trouble for them. And this can lead to work probation and eventual termination.

Ask for feedback

Talk to your coworkers or your manager. Ask them about what you did wrong and how you can improve.

Also, apologize to your coworkers in person. Tell them that you didn't mean any harm and that you are sorry.

Say that you will do your best to be better and that you hope that they will be able to forgive you. If your coworkers are kind and understanding, they should be able to forgive you. This way you will forward on good terms.

What to do when someone files a false complaint at work against you

What to do when someone files a false complaint at work against you
If you are dealing with a false complaint against you, then you should be very careful. This means that somebody is trying to bring you harm through false accusations. You might be dealing with a coworker who is trying to get you fired.

Here are the steps that you can take to protect yourself.

Move past self-doubt

Self-reflection and feedback from your peers are important. But if you are not seeing any good reasons behind the complaints, then something fishy is definitely going on. Remember that complaints are worthless if they are not backed up with facts.

Ask the right questions

If your boss and/or HR ask to see you so that you can discuss the complaints, then this will give you the perfect opportunity to defend yourself. A tactic that you can resort to is to assume the role of an interrogator yourself. You can ask the following questions:

  • What are the complaints against you?
  • Who is your accuser?
  • When did the incident happen?
  • Why would you ruin your reputation like this?
  • Why would you risk your job like this?
  • How come nobody else has ever complained about you like this?
  • Is there any evidence that can back up the claims made against you?

Depending on the specifics of the situation, you can ask a series of questions that will easily expose the falsehoods to your boss and HR. This way they will see that you are innocent.

Ask to meet your accuser face to face

If someone complained about me at work without any good reason, I’d love to have a face-to-face conversation with them. If your accuser is so confident in their claims, why don’t they step forward and meet you?

Will they be able to make the same claims when you are there in the room? If it comes to this, it is very likely that they will mix up their story. Their body language and their behavior will betray their lies. It will become obvious to everyone in the room that they are lying.

5 effective steps to deal with coworkers who complain about you

effective steps to deal with coworkers who complain about you
Coworkers who complain about you and spread falsehoods – this is a classic example of toxic behavior at work. Essentially, these people don’t care about your feelings and well-being. That is why you should take active steps to protect yourself. 

Here is what you can do.

1. Distance yourself from them

Both physically and emotionally, distance yourself from these coworkers. Don’t take anything they do personally and limit your communication with them. Talk to them only when work is concerned.

2. Be careful – watch your back

If they see that the complaints against you don’t work, they might come up with another scheme to sabotage you. You shouldn’t trust them with anything so be very careful when you interact with them from now on.

3. Back up your work

Make sure that your work is always backed up. Be it digital files or physical copies, make sure to protect the work that you do for the company so that people can’t tamper with it.

4. Document everything

Be it email or personal messages, you can document such exchanges to serve as evidence on a later stage. One of the ways your coworkers might attempt to sabotage you is through false information. If you keep a record, you will be able to prove that you were intentionally misled.

5. Make an appeal to HR

It is best to report the case to HR so they can take over. One of the primary functions of HR is to ensure the well-being of workers. They should be able to resolve the situation and put an end to the mistreatment you are dealing with.

How to deal with slander at work

How to deal with slander at work

If you are dealing with slander at work, this means that somebody is making false claims about you with the intention to harm your reputation. The false claims can be about your character and the purpose would likely be to alienate people from you.

Defamation at work is a civil wrong. This means that you can take legal action against the person who is spreading falsehoods about you.

If slander at work has brought you severe harm in any way, you can consult with a lawyer to find out what can be done.

Key takeaways

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.

One comment on “How to deal with coworkers who complain about you”

  1. Thank you so much for this information. It will help me tremendously with a co worker who is trying to sabotage me at work I like how you gave detailed and precise information. I also liked how you shared your story. It really shows me that the situation needs to be brought to your boss attention.

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