HR horror stories to haunt you this Halloween

Ghosting, ransomware and recruitment fraud are HR horrors that could strike at any time. Here's our guide to staying vigilant.


HR professionals are well trained at warding off workplace terrors. Keeping people safe in the office, reassuring spooked employees and combating zombie-like levels of productivity are all part of your charm. But can you ever really sleep easy? Do you get the feeling there’s something creepy lurking in the back of the stationery cupboard?

This Halloween, we share our monster tales of HR horror. Could they happen to you? Heed our advice to avoid these tricky situations!

1. Beware the blood sucking email scammers

We’ve all experienced the frustration of spam or dodgy emails filling our inboxes. The problem is, scammers have become more sophisticated and it's getting harder to tell when an email is trick or treat. Your employees could be hit by two types of email fakery.

One is that a legitimate looking email is sent to someone in your organisation, but it’s actually filled with a virus. When opened, it can shut down computers, copy files and corrupt your systems. This could lead to personal data breaches, or ransom notes to get your systems back online. Most recently, the mailing and shipping services firm Pitney Bowes was attacked by ransomware that encrypted information on some of its systems and disrupted customer access to their services. They are just the latest in a long line of high-profile businesses that are being targeted.

The other scenario is when an employee, perhaps in accounts, is sent an email with an invoice or a request from a director, asking for funds to be transferred. These emails are often written in a way that matches the sender’s way of writing, becoming an easy trap to enter.

Thousands of pounds can be lost through the payment of these scam requests, although the National Crime Agency’s advice is to not pay up. This type of trickery can affect HR, marketing and sales departments too by asking for personal information on employees or customers. A data breach like that can cause serious damage to an organisation’s reputation, and individuals could also be held liable.

How to keep yourself safe from scams

To avoid both these types of scams, HR departments need to work with IT and security departments to ensure all employees are aware of proper email etiquette. Training or spot checks may be required to guarantee employees are following these rules if you want to minimise the chance of being hacked. This is particularly important when it comes to data protection laws, as companies can be fined large sums for data breaches and the release of personal information.

The likelihood and scale of an attack are much bigger if your systems are outdated. In collaboration with IT teams, HR needs to ensure that IT and security systems are updated and protected from attack, staying up to date with the latest compliance. Whilst HR teams are not often seen as the technology experts, they are responsible for people data. It’s important they become well-versed in understanding how to protect their organisations from such fraudsters.

2. The curse of the lying candidate

When a job is advertised at your company, sometimes hundreds of CVs can be sent in, with a variety of promising candidates hoping for success. The problem is, can you always tell which candidates are telling the truth, and which are hiding behind a mask of deceit?

A small white lie on a CV is something many people are guilty of and overselling certain experience or skills in an interview may be common when candidates are desperately trying to impress. If you do hire someone who hasn’t been 100% truthful and this soon becomes apparent, you may need to manage them through your capability procedure or use the probationary period (if you have one) to put this right.

A case was recently sent to tribunal where a pilot had included a fake reference named after a Star Wars character, and it hadn’t been checked properly by the hiring team. Once discovered, the company fired the employee and was then taken to tribunal accused of breaching employee rights. The employer won the case, but the risks are real.

How to fend off the fakes

The recruitment process can be demanding for HR teams with all the time and admin involved. However, it’s crucial to make sure stringent processes are in place during recruitment to protect organisations from potential fraud.
Whilst taking references may often feel like a formality, it is important that they are thoroughly checked to ensure the information and experience is accurate, especially for highly skilled roles. References may look legitimate, but no one wants to be responsible for hiring a surgeon or engineer who can’t perform.

All employers have a legal responsibility not to hire someone who isn’t eligible to work in the UK. Failure to carry out the correct checks or to do them improperly can result in a fine of up to £20,000 for each illegal worker. When employing anyone, it’s crucial that all the relevant Right to Work documents are collected and checked for accuracy before a role is offered.

These simple checks can help to avoid spending a fortune on repeat recruitment a few months down the line when the candidate’s true identity is revealed.

3. When ghosting in the workplace leaves you cold

Ghosting is a term most often used on the dating scene. You go on a date, you think it’s going well, and then you never hear from them again. This phenomenon is now entering the workplace. There’s been an increase in instances where candidates accept interviews, or even a job offer, and then disappear without a trace. No matter how you try to reach them, you get no response. This can cause huge delays in filling roles within your organisation, as well as wasting time and resources.

The reason for this has been blamed on the wall of silence that candidates often feel when applying for jobs. One of the biggest complaints they have about the recruitment process is the lack of response from employers after they’ve spent hours tailoring their CV to suit the role and jumping through hoops to impress. Now it seems the tables have turned, and it's organisations that are being haunted by these sudden silences.

How to save yourself from spectres

HR teams can help to combat ‘ghosting’ in the workplace by making their organisation’s recruitment process as efficient as possible. Many candidates want to complete the process in as little as a week, and the majority think more than two weeks is too long. It’s important to keep processes as short as possible, while keeping candidates up to date during each step.

Thank them for applying for the role, set out timescales so they know what to expect, and offer key information to help them prepare. Communication is vital to ensure your candidate feels their time has been appreciated, making them less likely to drop off the radar. And if they haven’t been successful, offer some feedback. This will leave candidates with a positive image of your organisation, which will ultimately help with future recruitment and the overall company reputation. With social media, there’s nowhere to hide…

We hope things don’t get too spooky for HR teams this Halloween! Fans of fear can find more reasons to tremble in our Nightmare on Payroll Street. Pay a visit, if you dare!

A Nightmare on Payroll Street
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