5 times misuse of work email got someone fired

Tips & tricks
3 mins
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There are many reasons not to use your work email for personal matters, not least that it’s probably against company policy. Most work emails are likely monitored, company emails are easy targets for phishing scams, and if you ever leave your company, you may lose access to any accounts that you’ve signed up for using your work email address. 

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In fact, if we’ve learned anything at all it’s that nobody is immune to email mistakes that can range from faux pas to full blown scandalsHere are five examples of that.

1. The CEO who sent nudes—on work email

In late 2019, McDonald’s president and CEO Steve Easterbrook was dismissed when it came to light that he had engaged in inappropriate relationships with three subordinates. Initially, Easterbrook downplayed the extent of the relationships, which allowed him to claim a severance package worth around 40 million USD.

Following Easterbrook’s dismissal, McDonald’s began to investigate further and found evidence on their email servers that he had exchanged explicit photos and videos with these subordinates—over work email. It was also discovered that Easterbrook had rewarded one of these subordinates with stock options valued at several hundreds of thousands of dollars. Easterbrook had been able to get away with it initially by deleting emails from his work devices.

Unsurprisingly, McDonald’s wasn’t lovin’ it and filed suit in August 2020 to recover Easterbook’s severance package.

2. The firefighter who sent threats over work email 

In early 2021, a firefighter/EMT was arrested for sending violent threats to a Seattle City councilmember using a colleague’s work email. Firefighter Andrew Finseth’s threats towards councilmember Kshama Sawant included statements like: “announce your resignation now, or else,” “if you know what’s good, you would know it’s time to go,” and “if you need help leaving, try jumping head first off the top floor of your building. I’ll even come push you.” 

Investigators said they found evidence that the colleague’s email was accessed from Finseth’s home and church. Finseth says he wanted to get his colleague in trouble and now faces several charges that include cyberstalking, computer trespass, and identity theft.

3. The supervisor who sent racist messages by work email

Paul Hansen was fired from his role as a water superintendent in mid-2017 for using his City of Chicago Department of Water Management email address to circulate racist, sexist, and homophobic messages to colleagues. In addition to sending messages comparing minorities to animals, and sending and receiving sexually explicit imagery, Hansen also attempted to sell second-hand firearms and hunting equipment to other Water Department employees.

4. The cop who made a controversial donation using work email

Following the August 2020 shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, a period of civil unrest swept the city, lasting from August 23 to September 1. On August 25, 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse shot three people, killing two of them. Reactions to the shootings have been polarizing with proponents and detractors both strongly voicing their positions in public discourse.

In April 2021, William Kelly was fired from his role as Lieutenant at the Norfolk Police Department following revelations that he donated to the legal defense fund for Rittenhouse. Kelly’s donation was discovered after the crowdfunding platform GiveSendGo suffered a security breach and email addresses of donors were made public. 

Guess what email address Kelly used to make his donation?

5. The airline whose staff joked about safety via work email

O.K., this last one isn’t about someone getting fired, but a company looking very bad because of internal emails.

Following two fatal crashes in late 2018 and early 2019, the Boeing 737 MAX airliner was grounded by 51 countries. In late 2019, Boeing supplied internal messages to Congress and the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) as part of the investigation into the cause of both incidents. It was discovered that a combination of factors led to failures in the 737 MAX model including its design and Boeing’s minimization of training procedures for the craft. 

Emails Boeing supplied for the investigation were obtained by Reuters and The New York Times and later made public by Boeing themselves. The messages, dated between 2015 and 2018, revealed employees mocking federal rules, discussions about deceiving regulators, and jokes about potential flaws in the 737 MAX. Perhaps most damning were internal concerns raised over subpar software, poor training standards, and discussions of coverups.

One anonymous employee had this to say of the aircraft’s safety: “This airplane is designed by clowns who in turn are supervised by monkeys.” 

Read more: The 4 best encrypted email providers for extra security

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