Employee Sabotage: What to Do When the Culprit Lies Within

Employee Sabotage

As an employer, you have invested heavily in the success of your business. Your ongoing corporate operation represents a significant amount of your time, energy, and money and, as such, you want to protect both its integrity, and its future. Your workforce is an important part of that equation – not only do you rely on them to help you maintain the success and integrity of your business, but you also invest heavily in them, through salary, training, and career opportunities. This is why employee sabotage is particularly galling, when it arises.

You have undoubtedly tried to foster positive and productive relationships with your employees, based on trust and respect – both on a personal and corporate level. But employee sabotage can occur when a member of your team is either disgruntled, or in a difficult personal situation which they feels leaves them with no other choice but to sabotage your business. In both cases, instances of employee sabotage are reflective of communication issues within your workforce.

What does employee sabotage look like?

There are several ways in which an employee can quietly undermine and damage your business from within, and each can happen over an extended period of time before anything untoward is noticed.

  • Time theft

Any kind of theft by an employee could be construed as an act of sabotage in that it directly impacts the bottom line of the business, but time theft is a particular issue, because its impact can be so wide-ranging, and depends entirely on the motivation of the employee in question as well as the nature of the time theft. The most obvious and, perhaps, common, is the employee who is persistently or regularly absent due to illness. This means they are likely to be claiming the benefits of Sick Pay while not actually contributing to the business. The fact that the employee is not doing their part for the team means that the team is unable to operate at optimal efficiency.

Time theft – including ‘faked’ sick days – becomes more insidious when the employee is using the time to actively damage your business. This may be through dealings with a competitor, or through ‘moonlighting.’ This means you are essentially paying your employee to make money elsewhere.

  • Asset misuse

The term ‘business assets’ covers a broad range of possibilities – from vehicles and property, to consumable resources and office equipment. Every type of business asset is vulnerable to misuse by employees, and this can amount to employee sabotage where the damage to the business accumulates to cause lasting repercussions. For example, an employee persistently using a company vehicle to serve their own, personal purposes, or to ‘moonlight’ not only costs your business money but can also cause reputational damage if the vehicle is branded and identifiable as belonging to your company. An employee persistently using a company computer or email account to access the internet for personal purposes can leave your business network vulnerable to cyber crime causing significant disruption to your operation, and potentially costly damage to both your systems and reputation. Most notably, this can damage relationships with both your customers and suppliers and can take years to rectify.

  • Corporate espionage

Sometimes referred to as industrial espionage, corporate spying, or economic espionage, corporate espionage is a potentially devastating form of employee sabotage. It generally occurs when a competitor seeks to secure commercially confidential information about your business for the purpose of undermining your operation. There are instances where this type of information gathering is relatively innocuous, where a competitor deploys ‘secret shoppers’ to gain insight into your business, for example. Corporate information gathering becomes employee sabotage in the following circumstances:

  • A competitor enlists one of your existing employees to gather commercially sensitive information, or trade secrets, and pass it on to them.
  • A competitor ‘plants’ personnel inside your operation using your own recruitment processes.
  • An employee steals trade secrets and sells them to the highest bidder.
  • An employee steals trade secrets and releases them publicly.

With the exception of a competitor planting personnel inside your operation, each of these instances is likely to be caused by an employee being disgruntled – either by harbouring a sense of injustice about the way something has been handled internally, or by a personal issue with members of the business management team. Whichever of these causes applies, the consequences are the same. Profits will be negatively impacted by a competitor having access to the operational information behind the products, services, and intellectual properties of your business, as will your overall position in the marketplace. Your operation will undoubtedly be disrupted as you try to uncover the cause of the problem and deal with the workforce issues arising from the situation which, in turn, will impact customer and supplier relationships. If details of your customers or suppliers are compromised – as is likely in acts of corporate espionage – then the reputational damage suffered by your business can be catastrophic.  

How can a Private Investigator help with employee sabotage situations?

The key to dealing with employee sabotage – or even the suspicion of employee sabotage – is impartiality. It is of the utmost importance that the team investigating the issue is independent and objective. This is because those within the company will have a vested interest in the outcome, and this can impact the investigation process, regardless of how diligent the team is about maintaining a neutral position. Moreover, when the investigation is conducted by in-house personnel, there is a stronger case for the target of that investigation to appeal the outcome, citing the possibility of bias on the part of the investigating personnel.

In addition to unimpeachable impartiality, a reputable, professional Private Investigation firm can bring to your case a broad range of technology and techniques, in order to find the truth. This can include:

  • Electronic surveillance – As the owner and operator of your business computer network, you can authorise comprehensive electronic surveillance that is legal and ethical, to monitor all digital activity within your business. This includes telephone records, video and audio recordings, and email communications. The tracking of company vehicles is also possible with electronic surveillance, giving you the opportunity to uncover misuse of your business assets, as well as corporate espionage.
  • Mobile surveillance – If an employee is suspected of sabotage, then a professional mobile surveillance operation can reveal any clandestine meetings with competitors, or any instances of asset misuse. Mobile surveillance operations can track people through multiple modes of transportation, as well as through travels overseas.
  • Counter-surveillance – If you suspect that your premises are being surveilled – either electronically or manually, then a Private Investigator can launch a counter-surveillance operation. This will reveal any recording or tracking equipment that has been secretly installed, as well as identifying any background cyber hacks or breaches that have either occurred or are in progress.
  • Background checks – If you engage the services of a Private Investigator to conduct background checks on new recruits, you can reduce the chances of a competitor ‘planting’ a saboteur inside your business. Similarly, if you suspect an existing employee of sabotage, then a background check can reveal any corroborating evidence – such as unusual financial activity, or associations that represent a conflict of interest.

A professional Private Investigator will record all findings and collate them into a comprehensive, detailed report that is fully supported by documentary evidence, and is also admissible in court. In short, it is the goal of a Private Investigator to provide you with everything you need to prove and pursue your case – either in a civil matter or prosecuted as a crime. This can go a long way to ensuring that your trust in other employees remains unshaken by the actions of the culprit, which means your operation will potentially be able to heal and recover much more quickly.

If the purpose of employee sabotage is to disrupt the operation and damage the reputation of your business, then the best response is for you to hire an impartial investigative team, gather evidence, and use it to return to normal service as soon as possible. Handling the situation in this professional manner will help to restore the confidence of customers and suppliers alike, while acting as a deterrent to the rest of your workforce – that is, discouraging other employees from engaging in acts of sabotage themselves.

Crucial to the success of this process is hiring the right Private Investigator. As an unregulated industry, there are many unscrupulous operatives presenting themselves as qualified Private Investigators and hiring such a company or individual can cause further damage, instead of resolving an issue. The Private Investigator you hire should be able to demonstrate, using anonymised information, success in past cases of employee sabotage. They should be able to prove the expertise of their personnel and, as a potential client, you should be able to discuss your case directly with the investigator that would handle it.

Most importantly, the Private Investigation firm you hire should be fully accredited by professional bodies, including the Association of British Investigators, the Institute of Professional Investigators, and the Professional Investigators Network. They should also be registered with the Information Commissioner’s Office as a business working in full adherence to U.K privacy laws. All of these affiliations provide you with the assurance that the Private Investigator that will work on your case consistently meets the highest ethical and legal standards.

Call OpSec Solutions today to discuss your employee sabotage issues.

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