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Ask HR: What to Do When Someone Takes Credit for Your Work

SHRM President and Chief Executive Officer Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP, is answering HR questions as part of a series for USA Today.

Do you have an HR or work-related question you'd like him to answer? Submit it here. 


One of my co-workers is great at befriending co-workers and delegating portions of her work to them, but she does relatively little actual work. She coordinates work. She'd probably make a good supervisor. When management praises her deliverables, I don't think they recognize whose work goes into it. Would I be wrong to limit my support for her or demand credit for my contributions? —Sheila

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.: It is frustrating when we do not receive the recognition we deserve, and even more so when someone else takes credit for our work. Given your situation, consider some alternative strategies before limiting support to your co-worker and demanding she acknowledge your contributions. While you may be justifiably upset, it's important not to address this when you are angry. Take some time to think through the issue.

Is your co-worker aware of how her activities impact her colleagues? Does she intentionally misrepresent others' contributions? Start by speaking with her to find the answers. Does she notify management about how others helped complete her assignments? You won't know for certain unless you ask. Be sure to approach your colleague with an inquisitive tone instead of an accusatory one. For instance, you might ask, "It doesn't appear management realized I worked on the project with you. Did you let them know I was involved?" This shows your co-worker that you've noticed management acknowledged her work, but not yours.

If your co-worker acknowledges not giving you credit, you can ask her to advise management of your contributions to the project or request that she do so in the future. If she refuses or fails to acknowledge your efforts again, you can make your contributions known to management. If you want to do it subtly, you might say something like, "I'm glad to hear you were pleased with the work I did with [name of project]."

I'll add this: It's critical in many organizations to have employees work collaboratively, so outright refusing to assist your co-worker probably isn't the best course. With this in mind, it might be better to bring others' contributions to light by praising them in collaboration with her leadership. Again, be willing to talk openly about how you support her with your colleagues and managers. Managers should understand the workflow within their teams.

You can evaluate the work requested to determine if it is reasonable and either accept it with confirmation of management's awareness of the ask or reject it with an explanation. Having the confidence to accept or deny a request will give you more control and help establish boundaries at work.

If you ultimately conclude your co-worker is undermining you, then it may be time to speak with a manager. Don't complain about your co-worker. Instead, inform your manager that you have not received proper credit, which you need to develop and maintain positive and healthy working relationships.

I work for the federal government. My supervisor assigned a project outside my position description. Can I bring this grievance to the Department of Labor, even though I am a nonbargaining employee? This is an additional duty to my regular duty, and I would like to go back and work within my position description. —Jose

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.: It is a common practice for employees to perform duties beyond the scope of their position description, usually referred to as "other duties as assigned." But filing a complaint with the Department of Labor likely will not help since it sounds like your employer complies with employment regulations by adding responsibilities to your role.

In most cases, it's perfectly legal for an organization to assign employees work outside of their department or job description. Like organizations, jobs constantly evolve. Employers often increase or change an employee's job duties based on their operational needs. Most job descriptions entail only some of what an employee will do, and they are "living documents" to be updated regularly.

While this can be frustrating, you should look at the situation from another perspective. By giving you additional responsibility, your organization is communicating its trust in you and the value of your work, which may be recognized and rewarded in the future. Highlight your accomplishments and expanded responsibilities during your performance reviews and other developmental meetings. Detail how your additional work has added value to the organization.

Share with your boss how you contributed to another project in addition to handling your primary role. Most importantly, your additional duties may indicate your organization's growth and keep you engaged in the operation's future. This is a key opportunity to explore the organization's direction, adjust your job title or discuss a pay increase, given your expanded role.

However, if, after careful consideration, you do not want additional duties outside of your position description, have a frank conversation with your supervisor about your concerns. Be prepared to explain why you would like to scale back and include how your additional duties affect your work performance. Understand that your initial assigned role may not be in the long-range plans for the organization, and be open to discussing career development and your long-term goals with your supervisor.

In the meantime, the good news is that you are enhancing your skill set and gaining valuable experience that can lead to potential career advancement in the future. Best of luck to you!