Employee Sabotage

Employee Sabotage | Human Resource Executive Online Here are 10 cases of sabotage that harmed -- or attempted to harm -- some high-profile companies.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009
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Employee sabotage poses a threat to even the biggest companies. The following instances illustrate some of the many forms sabotage when it is directed at big targets.

1. General Motors

Frustrated employees who lash out through sabotage are sometimes said to have "Lordstown Syndrome." The name refers to a General Motors plant in Lordstown, Ohio, where employees regularly sabotaged cars during the 1970s out of anger over their monotonous assembly line tasks.

Acts of sabotage included physical damage to the cars and a fire that shut down an assembly line. The incidents at the Lordstown plant cost General Motors over $40 million in lost production.

2. Omega Engineering

Angered by his termination, a computer-systems administrator crashed Omega's companywide server and stole vital backup files. Production ground to a halt. Despite the best efforts of a team of data recovery experts, Omega lost about $10 million and countless files.

3. Intel

A former Intel employee sent six waves of mass e-mails to current and former Intel employees, criticizing the company. Intel repeatedly requested that the former employee stop sending the e-mails and attempted to block them. The conflict found its way to the California Supreme Court, which ruled that the employee's e-mails did not amount to trespass against Intel.

4. Walt Disney

A Disney employee tampered with video release versions of the animated film "The Rescuers," embedding an obscene photograph in two frames. Disney responded to the sabotage by recalling 3.4 million videos and remaining tight-lipped about the identity of the saboteur.

5. Lockheed Martin

A Lockheed Martin employee was fired for sabotage after a mass e-mail that he sent to 60,000 of his co-workers crashed the company's system for six hours. The e-mail related to a national prayer day and requested a receipt, doubling the congestion caused by the single email. It took a team of Microsoft crisis experts and several hundred thousand dollars for the company to recover.

6. Forbes

All of Forbes' New York operations shut down for two days after a former employee crashed five of the company's eight servers. Vital information on the affected servers was lost. The employee lashed out after being fired from a temporary position. He later pleaded guilty under a computer fraud statute.

7. Verizon Communications

During an employee strike in New York, workers wishing to hurt the company ended up hurting themselves. Two employees suffered critical injuries when they severed a power line, mistakenly believing it to be a phone line. Twenty other instances of sabotage by Verizon employees were reported to police before the end of the strike.

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8. Frontier Airlines

A Frontier Airlines mechanic sabotaged a commercial airplane, damaging the engine and preventing the plane from taking off. The mechanic was charged with a federal offense and faced up to 20 years in prison.

The charges were dropped, however, when it was revealed that the mechanic's worry that the plane was unsafe to fly went ignored by his superiors. Believing he had no other choice, the mechanic sabotaged the plane out of concern for the safety of the passengers.

9. Hewlett Packard

Company executives were distressed when the company's latest product, the Superdome Unix server, performed unexpectedly poorly in performance tests. Even more distressing was the discovery that the tests had been tampered with by a vengeful employee, deliberately skewing the results that many consumers rely on before making a purchase. The ensuing investigation uncovered a string of malicious acts by the same employee, including transfer of confidential information outside the company.

10. Daimler

In a situation that resembles the origins of Lordstown Syndrome more than 30 years ago, German newspapers recently reported that employees at a Mercedes-Benz factory deliberately produced defective cars. This time the employees were motivated by generous kick-backs they received from auto repair shops that profited from the extra maintenance jobs.

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