Half the employees who left or lost their jobs kept confidential corporate data, according to a 2013 study. [i] This is not surprising since many employees, in performing their work duties, routinely have access to and work with their employer’s confidential or proprietary information. Smart phones, laptops, email and file hosting services like Dropbox or Box allow employees greater flexibly to work remotely or outside of normal office hours, which benefits employers, but also means that the employees are likely to have this information in their possession when the employment ends. Most employers have policies requiring employees to return this information upon separation, and California law says that an employee can use or “misappropriate” the employer’s trade secrets. Even so, when the employment relationship ends, there are several reasons why employees may take the data with them, such as inadvertence, neglect, or a misconception about industry custom. Some employees believe that retaining this information may be useful later. We generally advise employees to immediately return the information directly to her former employer. Doing so minimizes the risk that the employer will sue the employee to return the information, and ensures that the employee can pursue his or her own claims against the employer with a clean conscience.
[i] “What’s Yours is Mine: How Employees are Putting your Intellectual Property at Risk”, (Symantec Corp. and Ponemon Institute, 2013)