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Employees often have legitimate reasons for accusing their employers of retaliation. But sometimes, employees themselves retaliate against a company, either out of malice, or to head off being fired.

That’s one reason it pays to try to anticipate employee misfeasance and guard against sabotage.

Recent case: Eon Joseph and three other co-workers were network engineers for Marco Polo, a computer network that lets investors trade stocks and other assets in emerging foreign markets. The men were of various nationalities; two were practicing Muslims. One of their prime job responsibilities was to make sure there were as few network outages as possible.

When a network outage occurred, the four men got an earful from their supervisor. Poor performance evaluations followed shortly after and several of the men feared they were about to be fired.

Then all the men took time off, using either vacation or sick leave. Over the course of the days they were away from the office, files began disappearing from the computer system. Another systems engineer concluded that several of the men had remotely accessed the system and had begun diverting e-mail to private accounts.

When confronted, they denied wrongdoing, but Marco Polo fired them anyway.

They sued, alleging religious and age discrimination.

Marco Polo said it fired the men because an investigation determined they were probably responsible for tampering with the company network. The court dismissed their lawsuit. (Joseph, et al., v. Marco Polo, et al., No. 09-Civ-1597, SD NY, 2010)

Final note: What can employers learn from this case? Perhaps that prevention is better than a cure. After all, the company faced potential disaster had the damage to the network been worse. Despite winning the lawsuit, its entire business could have failed. Instead of reacting to employee misdeeds, create failsafe systems to protect against sabotage.

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