Don’t lose sight of heightened risks from home working

Lindsays employment expert says whaling fraud case highlights increased risks created by supervisors not being physically near junior colleagues

Employers cannot afford to lose sight of the heightened risk that junior staff working remotely and alone brings to their businesses, a lawyer has warned.

Kate Wyatt, a Partner in the Employment team at Lindsays, says a recent case at the Court of Session centering on a whaling fraud highlighted the dangers of junior or new staff working remotely without colleagues on hand to routinely check in with.

And she believes it’s an issue that firms should be alert to as people continue to work remotely due to Covid-19 – and as many firms consider hybrid ways of working which would see staff permanently based at home for at least some of their week.

Ms Wyatt said: “Many of us can now relate to the fact that when you are working remotely, it’s not as easy to simply turn to a manager or colleague to ask for an opinion.

“So, especially with less experienced or new members of staff when it comes to the likes of phishing or whaling frauds, that creates a higher risk environment.

“While the case at the Court of Session did not specifically involve remote working, it has highlighted the dangers of working without a supervisor physically close by, which is what remote working is like all the time.”

The case in question involved a firm which fell victim to a £193,000 whaling scam, with payments made by a member of staff who was not normally responsible for processing such transactions and who mistakenly thought they had been approved by her managing director. The emails she received were, in fact, from a fraudster.

At the Court of Session recently, the company involved unsuccessfully appealed a decision that its former employee – dismissed in the wake of the fraud – was not liable for damages arising from her mistaken payment.

It is a case which Lindsays lawyers say highlights the fact that courts are not keen to point the finger at junior employees when major failings happen.

Reflecting the current working environment, it is also one that it believes highlights the need for proper supervision, training and support for those working remotely, particularly junior employees who may not have had chance to build relationships with more senior colleagues due to coronavirus restrictions.

Ms Wyatt said: “After almost 18 months of pandemic working, people may have colleagues they have never met in person. That in itself increases the risk environment.

“If we are working remotely or in different ways, it’s important to keep staff up to date on safe working practices, and to provide regular and refresher training – especially for less experienced staff, who may need closer supervision. While this case centred on fraud, the same can be said for all aspects of work, including data security.

“If, longer term, hybrid working is going to be more common, we need to think about what supervision is required and how that’s managed fairly – including where performance management is needed.

“Everyone needs to be clear on what processes are in place – and when things do go wrong we need to learn from those mistakes, update our procedures if necessary and then make sure everyone is aware of – and adopts – the new ways of working.”

Whaling is a high-value fraud attempt which uses knowledge of the business targeted and techniques including email imitation to create a more sophisticated theft than spam emails. Efforts to dupe employees will often be timed to strike at a business when it is known that key personnel will not be there.

Firms are advised to share any known risks of fraud with all relevant employees.

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