Avoiding Workplace Sabotage

Employers can take a number of steps that can help reduce the occurrence and severity of workplace sabotage.  These include establishing a system for recognizing and addressing acts of sabotage.

This system might include the following elements:

  • Train managers to recognize, record, and report possible sabotaging events.
  • Require managers to keep “sabotage logs” tracking obvious acts of sabotage, as well as seemingly random occurrences in their work areas that might reflect sabotage.
  • Direct managers to respond to possible “red flag” changes in employees’ attitudes and activities.

Determine whether “company culture” is part of the problem.  Elements of this effort might include the following:

  • Evaluate workplace conditions might give rise to sabotage:
  • Is this evaluation made by company staff or outside consultants?
  • Is evaluation a one-time or periodic activity?
  • Evaluate whether the company demonstrates respect for its workforce:
  • Are employees involved in decision making?
  • Are communications between management and employees structured and frequent?
  • Are employees informed of significant trends and changes in working conditions, profits and losses, corporate structure, etc.?
  • Does the company demonstrate the priority it places on employee job satisfaction, job stability, remuneration, etc.?
  • Evaluate whether employee turnover is high
  • Determine whether there is a clearly understood pattern for employee advancement.
  • Evaluate how the company characterizes sabotage:
  • Does the company characterize sabotage as “deviant” or criminal behavior?
  • Does the company accept sabotage as a cost of doing business or otherwise habitually ignore sabotaging activity?
  • Evaluate whether the company requires managers to treat employees with respect:
  • Is there a means for employees to report managers who bully or otherwise act inappropriately?
  • Does the company investigate such reports and counsel, train, and/or discipline offending managers as appropriate?

Companies can also take proactive steps to prevent sabotage.  These might include the following:

  • Train managers appropriately:
  • To maintain direct interpersonal contact with employees, limiting reliance on electronic means of communication?
  • To emphasize excellent two-way communications with the workforce.
  • To recognize and address saboteurs and/or sabotaging activity.
  • To recognize and address “red flag” changes in employee behavior that might indicate a mental or emotional problem.
  • Conduct thorough background checks on all employees, including temporary hires?
  • Design firing and/or termination practices to minimize unnecessary disruption?
  • Are they respectful and humane to employees being terminated?
  • Does the company offer generous severance and job placement packages to exiting employees?
  • Does the company forthrightly communicate approaching corporate upheavals that will impact the workforce?
  • Does the company take steps to reassure employees who survive layoffs?
  • Establish a formal policy that prohibits employee sabotage of the work of peers, and manager sabotage of the work of subordinates.
  • Is there a “zero tolerance” policy?
  • Encourage and reward employee communications and contributions:
  • Does the company solicit and use creative input from employees?
  • Does the company reward good work with advancements, better pay, and/or benefits?
  • Does the company take steps to ensure that workloads and expectations are reasonable?
  • Are employees expected to remain “tethered’ to their jobs after hours (through cell phones, e-mail, etc.)?

In addition to these prevention measures, employers should also establish defensive measures, to minimize the scope and success of sabotage that may be attempted.  These might include the following:

  • Diligently maintain and upgrade a good computer security system and corporate network access policy.
  • Establish and enforce a strict policy against deactivating security systems – even for an hour – except by necessity and with appropriate prior notice and oversight.
  • Provide employees, managers, and executives with network passwords on a strict “need to know” basis.
  • Maintain complete records of all corporate computer activity, including email transmissions, for up to a year.
  • Enforce strict policies concerning use of corporate computers and networks.
  • Enforce strict policies concerning appropriate e-mail, downloads, Internet access, and other such activities.

Employers should also establish a clear process for conducting internal investigations into sabotage incidents.  This should include the following elements:

  • Has management been made aware of the potential costs of employee sabotage, and the commensurate value of efforts to prevent and/or stop sabotage?
  • Does the company use ‘sabotage logs”?
  • Do managers maintain and submit sabotage logs? – If so, to whom?
  • Are logs evaluated to determine whether sabotaging activity may be underway?
  • If so, are logs reviewed to determine if the activity is confined to one or more discrete work areas or if it appears to be pervasive?
  • If so, are logs evaluated to attempt to identify whether it may be the work of individuals or groups?
  • Does the company respond to apparent acts of sabotage?
  • Have acts of sabotage been investigated (by in-house staff and/or consultants) to assess why this is happening and to make recommendations?
  • Is company policy regarding discipline followed pending the outcome of an investigation?
  • Is discipline after an inquiry applied in consistent and non-discriminatory fashion?
  • Have employees been interviewed, in an appropriate and non-threatening manner, to see what information or suggestive they can offer?
  • Are the results of investigations communicated to the workforce, even when an investigation finds fault with the company?
  • Does the company change conditions found to have fomented sabotage?

Employers should also establish clear discipline policies for sabotage, which may be referred to more generally as “destructive and damaging practices.”  Measures might include the following:

  • Clearly explain in the employee handbook steps that will be taken against any employee, up to and including termination, who is caught damaging or misusing company property, or damaging the work product of another employee.
  • Ensure that the company consistently and uniformly enforces these policies.
  • Ensure that the company consistently communicated that destructive actions taken against the company will not be ignored or go uninvestigated.
  • Consult with the company’s corporate or outside counsel for advice on the advantages and/or disadvantages of reporting acts of sabotage to law enforcement:
  • If so, there is a policy distinguishing among civilly actionable, criminal but not dangerous to personnel, and potentially life – or health-threatening actions?
  • Do these evaluations consider the positive benefits that an internal investigation (which may be compromised by a police investigation) might yield about conditions at work that might be giving rise to acts of sabotage?

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