A company told about 2,500 employees they were getting a bonus during COVID-19 – but it was just a phishing test

cybersecurity
A lock icon, signifying an encrypted Internet connection, is seen on an Internet Explorer browser in a photo illustration in Paris April 15, 2014.

  • UK train operator West Midlands Trains sent an email to about 2,500 employees offering a bonus.
  • The email was actually a phishing test that “used both the promise of thanks and financial reward.”
  • WMT has since been slammed by the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association for its “cynical and shocking stunt.”
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

UK train operator West Midlands Trains is facing backlash for sending its employees a “crass and reprehensible” cybersecurity test disguised as a bonus announcement for working through COVID-19.

On April 12, about 2,500 West Midlands Trains employees received an email from the company thanking them for their work through the “huge strain placed upon a large number of our workforce as a result of COVID-19,” according to the email posted by Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association, a travel and transportation union that represents some of WMT’s staff.

“This has not been easy for any of us and we would like to offer you a one-off payment to say thank you for all of your hard work over the past 12 months or so,” the email said.

Recipients were instructed to click on a link that had a note from Julian Edwards, the WMT’s managing director, and information about the bonus. But after clicking through, employees received a follow-up email from the company notifying them that they had fallen for a phishing test that “used both the promise of thanks and financial reward,” according to a copy of the follow-up note posted by the TSSA.

“This important test was deliberately designed with the sort of language used by real cybercriminals but without the damaging consequences,” a West Midlands Trains spokesperson told Insider in an email. WMT has “regular” trainings and exercises on cybersecurity, the spokesperson continued, noting that “fraud costs the transport industry billions of pounds every year.”

Read more: Investors sunk billions into these 14 cybersecurity startups as the pandemic and massive hacks like SolarWinds made the industry more vital than ever

However, TSSA has since slammed the train operating company and its “crass and reprehensible” phishing test for being a “cynical and shocking stunt.”

“It’s almost beyond belief that they chose to falsely offer a bonus to workers who have done so much in the fight against this virus,” Manuel Cortes, TSSA’s general secretary, said in a press release. “Our members have made real sacrifices these past twelve months and more. Some WMT staff have caught the disease at work, one has tragically died, and others have placed family members at great risk.”

West Midlands Trains isn’t the only company that has received backlash for sending its employees a phishing email disguised as a bonus. In December 2020, GoDaddy also sent its employees a similar phishing test pretending to offer a $650 holiday bonus. Employees who fell for the scam then had to retake the company’s “Security Awareness Social Engineering training.”

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Facebook’s top execs took home hefty bonuses in the second half of 2020, partially as a reward for the company’s ‘election integrity efforts’

Mark Zuckerberg at Georgetown University
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

  • Facebook executives got 110% bonuses in the second half of 2020, according to a new SEC filing.
  • The bonuses were partially tied to Facebook’s “election integrity” efforts.
  • CEO Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t participate in the employee bonus program.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s two lieutenants got a big pay day for their work around last year’s election: COO Sheryl Sandberg and CFO David Wehner got just shy of $1 million in bonus compensation for the second half of 2020.

Those bonuses, awarded at 110%, were at least partially tied to “election integrity efforts in connection with the U.S. 2020 elections,” according to an SEC filing from the company first spotted by The Information.

Ahead of the November 2020 elections, Facebook rolled out a number of measures intended to curb misinformation and promote voting.

The company added labels to all posts about voting that came from federal elected officials and candidates, it paused political ad buying for months, and opened an information center intended to inform users about voting laws. Those efforts were apparently considered a success if the bonus payouts are any indication.

Read more: Some Lululemon retail employees say there is an environment of ‘toxic positivity,’ where workers feel pressure to share personal information with managers and constant feedback can feel like bullying

In the years following the 2016 US presidential election, Facebook struggled with how to moderate speech and advertising from politicians and political campaigns.

CEO Mark Zuckerberg has remained steadfast in his argument that political advertising is equivalent to political speech, and that political speech shouldn’t be moderated by the social media giant.

“In a democracy it’s really important that people can see for themselves what politicians are saying so they can make their own judgments,” Zuckerberg said in a late 2019 interview with CBS This Morning cohost Gayle King. “I don’t think that a private company should be censoring politicians or news.”

Following the 2020 US election, as former President Donald Trump repeatedly insisted that the election had been “stolen” and Trump supporters stormed the US Capitol building, Facebook took the unprecedented step of outright banning Trump from its platforms.

“The shocking events of the last 24 hours clearly demonstrate that President Donald Trump intends to use his remaining time in office to undermine the peaceful and lawful transition of power to his elected successor, Joe Biden,” Zuckerberg said in January. “The risks of allowing the President to continue to use our service during this period are simply too great.”

Got a tip? Contact Insider senior correspondent Ben Gilbert via email (bgilbert@insider.com), or Twitter DM (@realbengilbert). We can keep sources anonymous. Use a non-work device to reach out. PR pitches by email only, please.

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Apollo is offering some associates retention bonuses of up to $200,000 to stay on until 2022 after a year of insane hours and rapid-fire deals

Leon Black
Leon Black, who stepped down as CEO of Apollo Global Management on Monday.

  • Investment giant Apollo is offering some associates six-figure ‘retention’ bonuses in the wake of exits in New York City.
  • The bonuses range from $100,000 for first-years to $200,000 for third-years, according to two people briefed on the matter.
  • The bonuses will be paid in April and come with an agreement that associates stay until September 2022, these people said.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Investment giant Apollo Global Management is offering six-figure retention bonuses to some of its private-equity associates after several young executives quit the firm, Insider has learned.

Seven out of 30 New York City associates have left the firm in recent weeks, Insider previously reported. Current and former employees who spoke with Insider about the exodus described a relentless workload that has become even more intense during the pandemic as the firm – well-known for its distressed buying strategies – pounced on opportunities.

In an effort to stem the exits, Apollo has extended $100,000, $150,000, and $200,000 bonuses for first-year, second year, and third-year associates, respectively, to be paid in April, according to two people familiar with the matter. The bonuses come with the stipulation that associates stay with Apollo at least until September 2022.

And they come on top of pay packages that are already at the top of the market: First-year associates at Apollo receive a total of more than $450,000, according to these people, who declined to speak publicly to preserve their relationships at the firm.

Apollo executives Matt Nord and David Sambur, who co-lead the firm’s private equity group, have been making the offers to employees via phone calls, according to these sources.

Insider could not determine how widespread the bonuses were. One Apollo employee said several associates they had spoken with had not received the bonuses, meaning that the bonuses could have been offered to a select group of associates.

It could also mean that Apollo is in the early stages of rolling out the bonuses.

Joanna Rose, an Apollo spokeswoman, did not address the specific bonuses when asked, but said that the firm’s private-equity business has been and continues to be “extremely active,” putting more than $12 billion to work in the past year across a “diverse set of opportunities.”

“With recent wins such as Sun Country IPO, Diamond/HGV merger and Synnex/TechData merger, we continue to recognize the impact of our extraordinary teams,” she said.

The offers show how far one of the largest investment firms is willing to go to deal with a talent drain among its junior employees, who have grappled with burnout fueled by long-hours and remote work.

They come as concerns about associate morale have cropped up at financial services firms across Wall Street. Last week an internal presentation by 13 demoralized Goldman Sachs analysts described 100-hour work weeks and a mental and physical toll during COVID.

Firms have been taking steps to address the concerns, though no action has been as extreme as Apollo’s. Jefferies has offered Peloton bikes and other workout gear for junior staffers, while Goldman Sachs has vowed to improve conditions for junior bankers, though it has not yet said how.

The additional compensation will make associate jobs at Apollo – already one of the highest-paying entry points on Wall Street – even more lucrative. The typical starting salary of $450,000 for first-years comes with subsequent $100,000 raises annually; third-years can earn up to $725,000, according to these people.

The position offers a four-year career track to principal and, from there, partner – a position that typically earns millions of dollars annually.

Young executives are key to the private-equity group’s success, handling the grunt work of preparing presentations and analyses that higher executives use to evaluate and pursue deals.

The group has been active in recent months, buying a $1.2 billion stake with Silver Lake Partners in the travel website Expedia and a $1.75 billion interest in the grocery-store operator Albertsons. It also recently completed a $2.25 billion deal to control and operate the Venetian resort and casino on the Las Vegas Strip.

Apollo’s new CEO, Marc Rowan, has signaled that he prioritizes making Apollo a more enticing place to work. Rowan has said in recent weeks that one of his primary areas of focus will be to improve Apollo’s famously ruthless culture.

Apollo had previously stated that Rowan, a co-founder at the firm who is credited with building its expansive insurance business, would take over the chief executive role from Leon Black, the company’s chief founder, who would relinquish the role by his 70th birthday in July.

In a surprise announcement on Monday, the firm stated that Black would step down immediately and also vacate his role as chairman of Apollo’s board, a position he had previously intended to keep. The firm’s announcement cited health issues as a reason for Black’s change of plans.

Black’s departure followed revelations in an investigation commissioned by Apollo and released at the beginning of the year that he had paid the convicted pedophile, Jeffrey Epstein, $158 million for tax and business services.

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Drinks maker Bolthouse Farms is offering 1,800 hourly workers a $500 bonus to get a COVID-19 vaccine

coronavirus vaccine recipient
A coronavirus vaccination site in the US.

  • Bolthouse Farms is paying full-time hourly workers a $500 bonus to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
  • So far, 1,100 California employees out of 1,800 have signed up for the shot.
  • Before the $500 bonus, Bolthouse paid staff an extra $100 for being essential workers during the pandemic.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Jeff Dunn, CEO of Bolthouse Farms, is offering his full-time hourly employees $500 to get a COVID-19 vaccine, the Wall Street Journal first reported Sunday.

Bolthouse employees must submit a photo of their vaccination cards to the company after they’ve had their shot to receive the bonus, the Journal reported.

The California-based company, known for its smoothies and dressings, has poured tens of millions of dollars into COVID-19 safety measures, including testing, protective clothing, paid time off, and staff cover for anybody who is self-isolating, Dunn told the Journal.

Bolthouse also hosts vaccine events weekly at its main plant in Kern County to deliver shots on-site, Dunn said.

Dunn said his philosophy was to “go bigger now because it gives us the best chance at reaching herd immunity quickly.”

Before the $500 incentive for a COVID-19 shot, Bolthouse paid its full-time hourly workers an extra $100 every week for their role as essential workers during the pandemic. This stopped once the vaccine bonus was introduced, Dunn said.

Workers at Bolthouse are a priority group for getting shots because it is a food and agriculture company, and it has secured shots for all its California essential workers, Dunn said.

The company has about 1,800 hourly workers at its Kern County plant, and 1,100 have signed up for the vaccine, the Journal reported. So far, 475 employees have received at least one shot.

The company also employs about 300 office workers in the area.

Bolthouse hopes to reach “herd immunity”

The company estimates that between 1,300 and 1,400 workers at the plant need to be vaccinated to reach “herd immunity,” which is when immunity in a population, either through vaccination or infection, stops a virus spreading and gives protection to the group.

Company executives told the Journal that it was difficult to know when Bolthouse would reach herd immunity because vaccine supply – and vaccine hesitancy amongst employees – was always fluctuating.

Dunn said the company was expecting a certain level of reluctance, because about 80% of its workforce is Latino. Some polls have suggested that Latino people are more likely to be hesitant about getting vaccines, because of skepticism and mistrust of the US health system, triggered by historical injustices.

Bolthouse started teaching staff about COVID-19 in tents in its plant parking lot before it offered the vaccine on-site, Dunn said.

“You just gotta reach out and help people and understand their concerns,” he said. He hoped that there would be a chain reaction once employees start seeing colleagues get immunized safely at work, he added.

Dunn also told staff that some aspects of work would be easier if herd immunity is reached on the plant, the Journal reported.

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