BY Susan M. Brazas for Lawyers.com
News headlines often tell stories of disgruntled former employees who return to their workplaces and cause trouble. One man fired from a Texas auto dealership made life miserable for 100 of the dealer's customers by disabling ignitions and setting off car horns via computer. He won't be getting a recommendation.
Texas Man Hassles Customers
In April, a man fired from his job at a Texas car dealership got back at his former employer by hassling its customer base. Omar Ramos-Lopez, 20, was charged with felony breach of computer security. He allegedly used a former co-worker's password to deactivate car ignitions for more than 100 customers.
He went online and altered the dealership's business records, activating GPS devices to disengage the cars' ignitions. These devices are used by the dealership to repossess cars when buyers don't make their car payments. Other employees began seeing odd changes to the company's records, such as to customer names.
The dealership controller said Ramos-Lopez may have thought it was just a harmless prank and didn't think about the chaos that would result. He also probably didn't think police would be able to trace it to his computer. But they did. He was held in the Travis County Jail on $3,000 bond.
Be Cautious about Former Employees
If you're considering firing or disciplining an employee, be cautious about what damage they could do later. It's important to protect company security if there's a chance the employee could seek revenge. Make sure to protect customer lists, and change computer passwords and locks.
Consult with your company's HR department, legal department or even local police if a former employee tries to damage company property or publicly spreads false, damaging or confidential information. Even disgruntled current employees could create havoc.
A written letter outlining what's off-limits and what consequences will result might deter an employee from causing harm to the company.
Computer Security is Essential
Here, Ramos-Lopez was able to access the company's records by using a former co-worker's computer password. Many companies might not realize the damage done by a disgruntled employee back on to the company's network.
Discussions with your IT department or consultant will help you understand and safeguard against such risks. They may recommend regular safeguards such as periodically changing all passwords or access codes. Anti-virus software and devices are also important.
The company could also be at risk of lawsuits for revealing private information. Many states give special protection to certain types of records, like medical records, mental health treatment records, and drug and alcohol treatment records.
The car dealer had addresses and, most likely, financial information about their customers online. Even private personnel record records could have been viewed depending on the access of the co-worker supplying the password.
Companies considering firing or disciplining an employee should be careful to safeguard highly confidential information employees would have access to. Back-up data and special security measures are important.
Questions for Your Attorney
- Would a former employee be liable for any security breaches he causes to my computer system?
- Do I need an employee handbook to prevent this type of problem from happening?
- Would a union protect the employee who causes harm to my system or other business property?