Steven Garrett catches illegal advice for employees trying to leave their job with class…
Our own Steven Garrett catches illegal advice for “taking files home in advance” from well-intentioned blogger on Level Money. Here’s the story…
I’ve been using the Level Money application since it launched and have been extremely pleased with how well designed and intuitive it is. I’ve also been a reader of the blog since I discovered it. In general, I’ve also found the blog to be useful, informative and relevant.
As an associate at a law firm that practices employment law in Texas (Boulette & Golden), I was really pleased to see your article about “Quitting Time: How To Leave Your Job With Class” since we see a lot heartbreak happen when employees don’t leave their job on good terms (both from the employee and employer side). I think the article’s suggestions were “on the money” except for the one that recommended that employees take files from their work computer home with them.
Since I like the Level Money App so much, my firm agreed that it was important to reach out to them to ask for a correction so other young professionals like me aren’t unwittingly committing acts that are against the law. Please see our correction below to be sure you’re clear on best practices for creating a personal portfolio when leaving a job.
“Take your files home in advance! Some companies take away your access to the company files once you give notice so be sure to copy anything you want to keep from your work computer before you talk to your boss.”
Unfortunately, the advice in this article to “take your files home in advance” without the company’s permission could land you (the employee) in a lot of legal trouble.
In most, if not all, jurisdictions, state law provides those files are the property of the employer and taking them without the permission of the employer can constitute theft. Many states, such as Texas, have passed a version of the Uniform Theft of Trade Secrets Act, which provides that an employer can sue the employee for taking the employer’s proprietary information and recover not only damages but in some cases attorneys’ fees. Federal laws such as the Stored Communications Act can even provide criminal penalties for this behavior if the files are stored electronically (the article specifically says “from your work computer”). In addition, if the employee later brings a legal claim against the employer, the employer can often use the employee’s prior misconduct (i.e., taking the employer’s property without permission) as a defense to the employee’s claims.
In the past year alone,
Boulette & Golden L.L.P. has represented employers in several lawsuits where former employees of a company (or their next employer) have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on legal fees on this precise issue — the vast majority of which could have been avoided if certain employees had not taken work files home with them without permission from the company. The employee’s work is actually the company’s property, and if employee would like to take along samples of his/her work, it is not only a best practice that they get the employers permission, it is legally required.
We whole-heartedly recommend making a classy exit from a job; which should always include requesting permission from the employer to retain files representing your body of work in an effort to build your portfolio. Having a formal discussion and agreed-upon process should alleviate the possibility of future misunderstandings or prospective legal issues.
About Steven Garrett
Steven Garret joined Boulette & Golden in August 2013 after three years with the City of Austin; as Prosecutor in the Municipal Prosecution division and Assistant City Attorney in the Employment and Public Safety Division. Steven utilizes his experience providing counsel to client departments in all areas of employment law to work with the partners of the firm representing employers in a wide range of labor and employment matters, including employment litigation defense, federal and state agency compliance, and non-disclosure and non-competition agreements litigation. Full bio>>