243

So about six weeks ago, my mother’s illness took a turn for the worse, and I took some time off work to take care of her. It was all very rushed because we never expected her condition to worsen so quickly and things were just very messy. I was also pretty stressed at the time, so perhaps I didn’t deal with the situation in the best way, and I only communicated with the CEO over the phone about the whole situation and I didn’t know how long I would be away. He was understanding and basically told me to take as much time as I needed.

Anyway, my mother died three weeks later and after the funeral I flew back home. I was still grieving and wanted a bit more time off to work through some emotions. But I wanted to actually come back to work to negotiate in person. To my surprise when I got in (and apparently to everyone else’s surprise as well) my desk had been cleared. I spoke to my CEO and he told / showed me a resignation email I had allegedly sent him. It was actually from my work address. He even showed me his reply email accepting my resignation. It was dated only a few days after I left and he said the paperwork had all been filled out and there was nothing he could do because they already hired someone to replace me.

Now, maybe it could be conceivable to others that, in my grief, I remotely logged in, sent the email and forgot I did it. I know I didn’t send the email (I need a work dongle to log in and I didn’t bring it with me) but I don’t know who would’ve sent it. I can’t imagine my CEO doing something like this. He seemed genuinely surprised that I had come back and he said he had been disappointed to learn that I had decided to move back for good. It could’ve been a colleague because I know there is a backdoor way to send emails using someone else’s account via some sort of a SQL database thing. We used to do it as jokes but it was never used for something like this and I can’t imagine anyone that would hate me enough to go this far.

The fact is, I don’t care that much about the job. It was the fact that I had long service leave in about 6 months (I was actually coming in to negotiate whether I could take the leave early) and quitting meant I wouldn’t be paid out for it.

So I guess in this situation, do I have any choice other than to accept someone quit for me and move on?

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  • 59
    Kumal, what country are you in? It may make a difference for some answers. – David K May 26 '17 at 13:14
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    I'm sorry you have to deal with this while dealing with the loss of your mother. – Kevin May 26 '17 at 20:13
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    There is some definite legal culpability on the company here. Was the CEO indignant? I might find myself suspicious of him if there was not a serious wide-eyed response followed by the instant summoning of the head of IT and an immediate investigation into this forgery. – PCARR May 29 '17 at 16:30
  • 14
    This story does not make sense. What CEO would accept an email resignation from an absent person without any further dialogue with the person? In any case, the CEO is either in on it or criminally negligible. If this story is true, you need to contact a lawyer and possibly sue for wrongful termination (or whatever law applies in your country). – Ville Laurikari May 30 '17 at 7:34
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    FYI This question is currently the top post on Hacker News with some interesting comments. news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14442971 – kapex May 30 '17 at 8:18

10 Answers 10

297

You need to talk to a lawyer, ASAP.

It is absolutely unacceptable that a company would accept a forged resignation. It's understandable for them to have believed it initially, but once you came in to say it wasn't you, an investigation should have started. Whether you want to keep this job or not, it is unethical for them to leave you suddenly unemployed because someone else committed fraud.

Regardless of whether you want to keep the job or not, get a lawyer. (IANAL, so the rest of this is speculative.) At the very least the company owes you severance pay for firing you. It's unlikely you'll get your job back (unless they give you the job of the person who forged your letter), but you have a good chance of getting damages. My guess is the most difficult part would be proving it wasn't you who resigned, as the company would likely accuse you of regretting your resignation and lying about it.

The specifics of what you can hope to achieve are going to be greatly dependent on your local laws, but that's a question for your lawyer, not us.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – enderland May 30 '17 at 18:29
74

I would recommend going to one of the Assistant District Attorneys in your area as a first step. Forgery is a felony in the United States, a serious crime. Your first move should be to find out if the DA would be willing to prosecute a case like this. If they want to prosecute, they will ask you to sign an affidavit swearing to the facts of the case. You may want to bring such an affidavit with you when you go to the DA's office.

If the DA's office says they might be willing to prosecute, then they will tell the police to investigate it further and collect evidence. If a crime is discovered, then you will have the company "by the balls" so to speak, since they fired you fraudulently. Even if the CEO claims he had no idea, it does not matter because it is negligence to fire somebody based on a lone email with no signature or other assurance. If the police investigation reveals that the forgery was part of a conspiracy to fire you, then you will have a huge legal claim against the company (think in hundreds of thousands of dollars).

Either way, step number one: talk to the DA's office and come prepared with a full written statement of the situation.

(PS Comment on lawyers: while talking to a lawyer is certainly possible, in this case you will get better, faster results by going to the DA first. You can always hire a lawyer later. A lawyer might be tempted to steer you down a path that is not in your best interest, but makes more money for them. With a criminal situation such as this, get it going with the DA first, and think about lawyers later after the criminal case is established.)

  • 27
    This assumes the OP is in the US, which he hasn't specified yet. Definitely a good answer for the US though. – David K May 26 '17 at 13:14
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    This answer seems highly speculative. Would it actually be negligent if employer was legitimately unaware and OP is in an at-will employment state with minimal employee rights? Also, average out of court settlement for wrongful termination is $40,000, not hundreds of thousands. – John Straka May 26 '17 at 13:58
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    @JohnStraka The problem is that if forgery is involved it becomes criminal. In that case, the firing becomes a serious civil tort, so a jury will often award "what the employee would have made" had there not been a criminal conspiracy against him. Not only that, but because of the criminal situation damages can be doubled or trebled. Once a crime is involved, the civil damages become much larger. If the company had just fired him without cause, he might have had no claim at all, but since he was potentially deprived of his job due to a criminal conspiracy, it is completely different. – Socrates May 26 '17 at 14:02
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    Above and beyond that, it's a Federal felony if the business has any business outside of the state where it has headquartered itself. Regardless, lawyer. Yesterday. – SliderBlackrose May 26 '17 at 16:34
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    -1 Loads of assumptions, not least of which is the "OP must be living in my country" assumption. Newsflash: most people don't! There's a whole world out here buddy. – Lightness Races in Orbit May 30 '17 at 10:05
45

I would try to get a lawyer versed in IT subjects/cybercrime.

What the OP and the other answers seem to ignore is that is rather trivial to spoof email messages; the email protocol was never designed with security in mind. (any IT person worth his salt can easily land in your email box an email "from" Bill Gates "himself" from pretty much anywhere in the world - this is kid´s stuff for any rookie system administrator)

That said, if an investigation is made, getting the full and original email will be essential to find out where that message came from; e.g. a forward copy is not enough.

Looking at the full headers, and or the logs of the email server, or rather saying in a more formal way, a cursory forensic investigation will most probably prove easily the message did not come from the location where you were hosted.

Do not ask beforehand for this data. Do not alert anyone of this path; let the competent authorities demand this data from them. Otherwise, the culprit might try to cover his tracks.

  • To address your email security point, you'd be hard pressed to do that nowadays, especially within the same email system. Exchange doesn't let you send emails from addresses that you don't have rights for, and tools like SPF and DKIM (which a lot of places have configured) prevent you from sending emails from domains which you aren't authorised to do so. What's more likely is that his account password was reset (eg someone rang the helpdesk and pretended to be him). That wasy they could monitor the replies as well in case he did have the dongle with him – Matthew Steeples May 29 '17 at 6:39
  • SPF and DKIM have been around for ages now, but just open yout spam folder. Not all places implement it, and still many misconfigured/legacy servers out there. – Rui F Ribeiro May 29 '17 at 7:35
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    OP claims that the e-mail was ostensibly sent from his work e-mail to his superior's work e-mail, so the e-mail would only have gone through the company's internal mail server(s) which should have good in-bound and out-bound records since businesses are typically legally required to keep records of all their correspondence. – David Foerster May 29 '17 at 18:05
  • @DavidFoerster So far so good, no one is saying anything contrary to that. The point is in proving now from where and by which method the email was produced. What I was calling attention is that besides the email being produced using the "known backdoor", or by subverting the actual OP account, there also many trivial ways to fake it, and only a proper legal, authorised forensic audit can get to the bottom of the question. – Rui F Ribeiro May 29 '17 at 18:30
  • 2
    There are potentially more laws here - using someone else's (work) account will almost definitely be against company rules, and possibly work contracts. There may be local laws about unauthorised computer access that apply too. I'd imagine the forgery is a crime in a lot of jurisdictions too. On another note, it's a pretty crappy boss who accepts a resignation without actually speaking to the person first. – Ralph Bolton May 30 '17 at 10:13
18

Hire a lawyer, obviously

It's amusing that so many are saying that the CEO should do something about it. Seriously? Who do you think authorized it?

In most email systems, you can't forge an email without the help of IT. Manager can't do it, coworker can't do it and the CEO can't do it. Do you really think think an IT guy is going to help anyone but the CEO forge an email? "Charlie, Kumal just quit and I need to get into his account. Change his password for me." and it's done.

But yes, you need to see a lawyer, pronto. Don't go see your district attorney as a first step though. That would be self-injurious because a prosecutor isn't interested in you, he's interested in getting a conviction and really couldn't care less whether you get what you deserve.

An attorney that works for you is who you want to talk to first of all. If it's advantageous for you to call the authorities, he'll do that. And that may be the case actually, but you need someone looking out for your interests first and your attorney is the one to do that. Your attorney could actually possibly use the threat of a criminal complaint as leverage.

Having said all that, you've got a really tough case which I know you're aware. Having nothing written down hurts you. On the other hand, any judge or jury would have to find it hard to believe that a person would suddenly quit without even asking for your final paycheck.

  • 1
    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – enderland May 30 '17 at 18:28
16

To answer your question bluntly: no; you do not have accept this, and you shouldn't.

As many others noted:

1) Hire a Lawyer

2) Report the fraud to a law enforcement agency

But since no-one has suggested it, yet:

3) Contact an IT Professional specializing in Digital Forensics.

If you still have access to your email, back it up to a file and submit it to your lawyer and IT professional as evidence. If you do not have access to the alleged email, your lawyer may subpoena it. Either way, once you have that email deliver it to an IT Forensics professional. They can use the email header to reverse engineer the IP address of the person who emailed it. Also consider subpoenaing the mail-server's log.

Cross reference the time and location with your own records and you can prove fraud.

Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer but I am an IT professional (though not forensics).

  • 3
    Bingo. Get the raw copy of this e-mail with all the headers and have some expert look at it. – Kaz May 26 '17 at 22:25
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    And: get any/all logs from the mail server from around that time. – Kaz May 26 '17 at 22:25
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    I suggested pretty much the same 3 hours before. – Rui F Ribeiro May 27 '17 at 2:03
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    Since you need a dongle to remote-in to your work, I would assume that your access is logged. You (or your lawyer) should request a copy of the access logs for the time-period that the email was sent. If you didn't log in, it should be good evidence that you didn't send the email. – CSM May 27 '17 at 16:10
  • @RuiFRibeiro: That's odd I didn't see it when I posted this; granted I took some time (an hour?) to double check my thoughts before posting. Nevertheless, you're correct. What's the procedure here? – KareemElashmawy May 30 '17 at 14:08
9

I'm terrified that one can quit without a handwritten signature on real paper (or official e-signature of some kind). As other answers state, you need to contact a lawyer.

It is highly likely that your resignation is not legally sound. Your employer should be easy to convince to pay you the leave and avoid expensive lawsuits. Just don't sign anything without your lawyer!

Whether you want to go after the one sending your resignation letter, that's your own decision - is it worth it? Maybe it is. You decide if you want to put energy into it. But if your CEO is serious, they will most definitely want to get rid of such a person and will try to find who that was.

6

I would discuss with your superior what has happened and make clear that you did not send this mail. It is not ok (from a security and personal point) that this can happen. First discuss it with him before making accusations or start searching for the culprit.

Secondly I would decide what you would like to do. Do you want to return to the job, or use this as an opportunity to change? This is completely up to you.

  • yeah as I specified, I already discussed it with him but there's nothing can be done cause the paperwork is filled in and they've hired someone else. I don't really mind so much about losing the job as I need time to clear my head - I'm just not happy about losing my long service leave :( – Kumal J May 26 '17 at 11:31
  • 3
    Maybe nothing can be done about your job, but it would surprise me if this would not be an issue. Securitywise, this is absolutely not a good situation. If you would like your leave, I suggest reading up on your rights in your specific country and mentioning this to your boss. Maybe you can have your leave, and your leave would only be activated after this. This is your company at fault, not you. However, you might need to go to court to get what you want. – Houbie May 26 '17 at 11:35
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    @KumalJ If you answer that way you're not making it clear what you want. The fact is, you didn't intend to quit and you want something to be done ("nothing can be done" is not acceptable). You might suggest that if they pay the long service leave that you would be due in a few months, that you would find that acceptable. Consider hiring a lawyer if you want to show you're serious. – Brandin May 26 '17 at 11:37
  • Perhaps get back in touch with the CEO or other superior asking for a copy of the email at least, as you don't remember it, and want to refresh yourself??? – JeopardyTempest May 28 '17 at 8:28
  • 1
    @JeopardyTempest do not say that you don't remember it. Because that opens the door for you having done it and forgotten. – stannius May 30 '17 at 20:01
0

If you are in the USA, call the local law enforcement agency that handles Fraud and Forgeries. They will probably tell you it is a Civil matter, however, in which case you need a lawyer as others have suggested.

Depending upon where you are located, it could be First or Second Degree Forgery, typically a Felony.

And yes, I'd call the local law enforcement folks first, Sheriff's Office/Department or Police Department, County or Municipality or both. They will direct you to the Investigators and/or Detectives (at least in the USA.)

At the same time, I'd call a lawyer and tell them I had called and opened a criminal case.

When law enforcement starts calling the employer, you might find out real quick if it is made up or not, unless someone wants to go to jail.

But, just how much emotional capital are you willing to spend? It could be a nightmare. Crimes usually are.

Be sure you are right on this before you start. It could turn into a much bigger mess than it already is. Think about what you will tell new employers in the Interview (Oh, my last job, well I put a guy in jail and sued the company.)

  • 2
    In the USA, a tortious forgery is NOT merely a civil matter, even if a policeman (wrongly) says so. – WGroleau May 26 '17 at 20:24
  • Um, no. It's not forgery. That involves signatures or writings of some kind. I realize it feels like forgery because someone impersonated him, but it's fraud. Having lived with a detective and known many detectives, the chances of him getting anything more than a report taken and a phone call made is pretty slim. That's why a lawyer first is better because they can subpoena just as easily as a cop can ask questions. – Chris E May 26 '17 at 20:44
0

There's quite a bit of good advice suggesting you should check with a lawyer. Whether you were wronged in a legally liable way will vary based on laws in your area. Such laws may vary based on your employer, like how big of a company it is. For "at will" employment, the company may not have been required to keep your job open at all.

You may want to see if you can negotiate being paid for the long service leave, as the company might prefer to pay you what the company was probably intending to pay you soon anyway (instead of risk a court case that might lead to greater damages). You may want to assess how likely you think you'd win in court, what your favorable judgement would likely be, and how much you would care about the idea that you may be burning bridges (being unlikely to ever be re-hired after launching such a suit... although, how likely is a near-term opening for such a position anyway?)

If you do decide to take the friendly approach of trying to communicate directly with a friendly CEO (instead of starting out by lawyering up), make sure any "settlement" includes you getting a copy of the relevant log information (especially what IP addresses were involved, and any details on who those IP addresses may have been assigned to). Get that data preserved ASAP. If you don't ask for this right away, the company may not be inclined to help you (an ex-employee) have data you could use to sue the jerk who did this (a current employee), even if their internal investigation identified who did this atrocity.

Regardless of your immediate thoughts about when to get a lawyer involved, definitely document details immediately. Who did what, who said/typed what, and when? Such details can fade over time, perhaps especially as more details are added, and so having written records (even self-created ones) can be extremely valuable.

Also, before taking any aggressive/hurtful actions against the company or the person who wrote that E-Mail, consider how much you want to try to personally profit, how much you want to inflict justice, and how much you want to mercifully forgive. A lot of people just default to trying to get whatever seems easily apparent that they might be able to get, such as money and trying to get whatever emotional satisfaction revenge seems like it might offer. However, pursuing such acquisitions can have some costs (including emotional toll) and such pursuit isn't always the best route. Intentionally make your decision. (Coming to a decision of your own will is at least likely to help you to feel less like a complex situation gained power over you, leaving you unable to, at minimum, even make your own decisions.)

  • If the OP worked at a company (and location) that falls under FMLA, they would in fact have been required to keep his job open for him. – stannius May 30 '17 at 20:02
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    @stannius : I did say "Such laws may vary based on your employer, like how big of a company it is." Wikipedia's article on the FMLA notes "work at a location where the company employs 50 or more employees". That excludes a whole lot of employers. The reports that the CEO made this change (he didn't speak to HR), and the state of E-Mail security, both suggest a higher likelihood of a less bureaucratically run organization than the experiences I've had with FMLA-encumbered employers. – TOOGAM May 31 '17 at 4:34
  • Sorry, I missed those words, carry on! – stannius May 31 '17 at 15:40
-5

Quite a lot happening, and all of it bad on both sides.

Firstly it sounds like you were AWOL. In most jurisdictions your company could initiate (at a minimum) a formal disciplinary procedure against you for that. In some (and you have not said where you are) they could fire you with a letter.

but I only communicated to the CEO over the phone about the whole situation and I didn’t know how long I would be away. He was understanding and basically told me to take as much time as I needed.

That's unprofessional behavior by both of you. However the fact that your communicated by phone should be recorded somewhere, even if the words spoken are lost. It's not much, but it's something. Personally I would simply never let something like this rest on verbal communication - and I experienced a similar bereavement, BTW (condolences to you).

So you should assume that you're gone, one way or another, in these circumstances and proceed on that basis (i.e. get another job and assume this one is gone for good).

Now regarding the alleged forgery ...

As described it's a crime, possibly more than one, in most places.

It's possibly an identity theft. Someone impersonated you.

It's possibly an computer hacking crime (you suggest it's possible at least).

Note that :

I know there is a backdoor way to send emails using someone else’s account via some sort of a SQL database thing. We used to do it as jokes

That remark could make you complicit in hacking, joke or otherwise. Frankly I'd be surprised if it was not grounds for immediate dismissal anywhere - I'd certainly want you fired if I was working there. It hugely undermines your own ability to show fraud, as the fraud could just as easily be by you to cause trouble.

However, if you honestly believe this to be the case, it probably ought to be reported to the appropriate authorities.

As your own civil law position is dubious you should probably speak to a lawyer about this and ask their opinion on approaching the authorities.

On the civil law side, it's simply beyond my ability to even guess what a court would say, but there's a legal principle called the doctrine of clean hands which may apply. Your company may have accepted (accepting your claim as true) a fake email as valid, but it sounds like you were AWOl as well and there's the hacking-as-normal-behavior issue. A court could consider that both of you were breaking the rules and just kick you both out.

If you want to sort this out you will need a lawyer (and one who knows contract law and employment law, not just someone who handles house sales).

Personally I would be loath to let someone impersonate me and force my resignation under any circumstances. It's a crime, and it ought to be investigated and, ideally, someone convicted for it (again taking you at face value). However you've put yourself in a very difficult position and this won't, I suspect, be a clean fight.

  • 12
    AWOL? It sounds like the CEO explicitly gave the OP "leave" over the phone. That's not an uncommon way to handle things. Some companies may have a more formal process for absences, but those are usually the kind of companies that have more formal processes for resignation too, so I'm suspecting we aren't talking about a place that's a stickler for paperwork. – Zach Lipton May 26 '17 at 22:45
  • AWOL is what it's going to sound like when the CEO has no reason to confirm a verbal communication and every reason to deny it. The whole thing is a mess. If what the OP says is a true representation of how the company operates, it's just not managed at all. Hacking as a joke is not something I'd ever allow at any level in a business. Who would do business with people like that ? I wouldn't. – StephenG May 26 '17 at 22:51
  • 1
    Some parts of this answer are good. but the AWOL claim sounds naive to say the least. Has the company tried to communicate with the employee? Can they prove it? Otherwise, how can they claim he was AWOL? Since he had no access to emails - and in any case always - there are are other forms of communication in this world that the company could have used to contact the employee. – ypercubeᵀᴹ May 27 '17 at 11:08
  • 1
    It doesn't sound like the CEO is denying that the original phone call, in which the OP explained the situation and said he'd be out for a while, took place. It sounds like the forged e-mail was sent after that, making it appear that the OP had changed his mind and decided to resign. – Keith Thompson May 28 '17 at 3:14
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    @StephenG because the company did not fire him (claiming that he was AWOL). They terminated the contract after the (alleged) resigning email. – ypercubeᵀᴹ May 28 '17 at 9:51

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