Workplace Sabotage: The Silent Assailant

Sabotage in the workplace is a form of workplace violence that is seldom discussed. But the effects of employee sabotage can span across many areas.
Workplace Sabotage: The Silent Assailant

Sabotage in the workplace is a form of workplace violence that is seldom discussed.   But the effects of employee sabotage can span across many areas.   Consider the costs incurred for hardware, software, and additional personnel to rebuild your company computer system after a virus that an employee intentionally uploaded has annihilated it.   Consider having to pay for a lawsuit by an employee who was affected by an act of sabotage (whether it is physically, mentally, or reputation-wise) because the company did nothing to stop the act or reprimand the perpetrator. Furthermore, consider having to rebuild the morale and trust levels when an act of sabotage occurs.   Employee sabotage is no laughing matter and as the number of cases continues to rise, employers are not taking it lightly any more.    

What is Sabotage?

In broad terms, employee sabotage occurs when an employee intentionally inflicts damage on the organization or its members with the intention of undermining or disrupting the operation or profit of the organization in some way.     Some examples of sabotage include:

·               Deliberate nonperformance

·               Arson, vandalism, pranks

·               Falsifying or altering information on company records

·               Using weapons or other materials and substances to destroy or damage company property

·               Embezzling money

·               Disclosing information to competitors

·               Spreading untrue rumors with the intention of causing damage to the company, other employees, or property

·               Disassembling key parts of machinery or other equipment

Why Does Sabotage Occur?

There are numerous reasons for employee sabotage.   Employee sabotage is usually committed when an individual believes that his/her employer has done them wrong in some way.   The sabotage is either directed towards other people or towards equipment or operations.   The motivation behind sabotage also varies and can range from wanting to advance one´s career by making others look less qualified to venting anger or frustration against others.     HR professionals and managers should be aware of mitigating factors, such as a messy divorce, that may be contributing to acts of sabotage.

How Do You Deal With Sabotage?

As an HR professional or manager, it is your responsibility to identify the problem, prevent it from escalating, protect any individuals involved, and take disciplinary action against alleged perpetrators.   Managers who fail to recognize the potential severity of an employee sabotage incident can actually contribute to further altercations, including more damaging forms of sabotage, and end up costing the company thousands of dollars in liabilities.   If it is determined that sabotage did occur, it is important to follow up with a thorough and objective investigation (for tips on how to conduct internal investigations, see´s Good Detective Work Can Save Your Company).   Here are some key questions that should be addressed:

·               Is the event sabotage?

·               Who is involved: an individual or group of individuals?

·               Is this an isolated event or happened before?

·               Was the alleged perpetrator provoked in any way?

·               Who is the target: an individual, group, or the whole organization?

·               Were there any other forms of damage in addition to property damage?

It is important that the details surrounding the act of sabotage be well documented, as well as any action taken to investigate the action, its participants and victims.  

How Can You Deter and Prevent Employee Sabotage?

Often times, employees who are found guilty for sabotage are ordered to pay back the deductible on the company´s insurance policy, which is intended to cover such losses.   However, the amount of time, effort and money put into fighting the employee over a case of sabotage by a company may be far more exhausting to be adequately compensated by a repaid insurance deductible.

To play a role in preventing sabotage, employers should ensure that all employees are aware of the company´s intolerance against sabotage and that violating this corporate policy would lead to disciplinary action, including termination and a lawsuit.   The policy should be publicized and enforced to add further validity.   In addition to a policy against sabotage, some employers have even included a provision in their employment handbooks that gives managers the right to inspect lockers, desks, and anything else that belongs to the company if they suspect employee sabotage.

A formal, written policy will only get a company so far though. It is equally, if not more important, for employers to develop and practice fair employee relations, open lines of communication, and employee assistance programs so that employees are given a chance to express their feelings, ideas, and criticisms.  

See also IR/Legal News Section

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