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Can my employer sue me for breach of contract?

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law123
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Can my employer sue me for breach of contract?

Postby law123 » Mon, 30 Dec 2013 9:25 pm

Hi everyone,

I am in need of some legal advice and would appreciate if anyone can offer some thoughts. I left my last company a while ago and recently my last employer emailed to inform me that they found that I uploaded a few work documents to my personal folder. Now they demand access to my personal folder to perform a check or else they will resort to their lawyer for my "breach of confidentiality agreement," which is a standard non-disclosure clause. Does anyone have an idea of what may happen from here to me? I am going to engage a lawyer's help but any voice would be appreciated. Thank you.

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Re: Can my employer sue me for breach of contract?

Postby Beeroclock » Mon, 30 Dec 2013 9:52 pm

law123 wrote:Hi everyone,

I am in need of some legal advice and would appreciate if anyone can offer some thoughts. I left my last company a while ago and recently my last employer emailed to inform me that they found that I uploaded a few work documents to my personal folder. Now they demand access to my personal folder to perform a check or else they will resort to their lawyer for my "breach of confidentiality agreement," which is a standard non-disclosure clause. Does anyone have an idea of what may happen from here to me? I am going to engage a lawyer's help but any voice would be appreciated. Thank you.

This has tightened up a lot in recent years and many companies are getting forensic IT investigations when critical employees leave to a competitor. They can often track file transfers to memory sticks too, so more than just obvious cases where people have clumsily sent from their work email.

It will depend on how many files, their sensitivity, if it's clear the files are confidential, etc.

Did you leave on bad terms and/or now with a competitor?

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Postby JR8 » Mon, 30 Dec 2013 10:11 pm

Did you steal files from your previous employer?

You don't say, but it is pivotal.

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Re: Can my employer sue me for breach of contract?

Postby ecureilx » Mon, 30 Dec 2013 10:52 pm

personal folder like Google drive? if yes, you broke the terms

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Postby zzm9980 » Tue, 31 Dec 2013 8:26 am

I'm not an armchair speculator in this thread, I speak from a lot of experience. Being the technical expert to help my MNC fire people like you is what I do (among other things). I'm going to give you advise, but I'm not a lawyer and I'm going to ignore the ethics of what you're accused of.

To repeat JR8's question: Did you do it? If not, tell them to f-ck off, and change all of your passwords. IF you did, also tell them to f-ck off and change all of your passwords.

Either way, NO you do not have to give them access. Most likely they cannot prove in a court of law that you actually copied those files outside of the company without your consent for them to access your shared folder. DO NOT GIVE IT TO THEM. Now, their logs may give them very reasonable suspicion you took something if you actually did.

Note that if they have your old laptop (or an image of it), they can likely recover your password or a session cookie which would let them log into this account. If they do this, they are breaking criminal law. So unless they're a small two-bit SME, they probably won't do this. Either way, I highly suggest you change any passwords for any personal accounts you ever logged in to from their systems. If you're using Dropbox, log in and 'de-link' the work system if it still shows up under your account.

Did I mention change your passwords? And don't do this again.

ps - If you really want to steal company data, the safest way is to take photos of your screen with your smart phone (as long as it isn't company owned. and don't connect to company wifi). If you're sure they're not running a software agent for DLP on your laptop, then you can also just upload anything to your heart's content through Gmail while using the Chrome browser. Chrome will warn you if they've replaced the SSL Certs and are possibly intercepting your session. If you ever get an SSL Certificate warning or error going to ANY site from work where you normally don't at home, immediately close the window and don't go there.

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Postby ecureilx » Tue, 31 Dec 2013 9:08 am

zzm9980 wrote:I'm not an armchair speculator in this thread, I speak from a lot of experience. Being the technical expert to help my MNC fire people like you is what I do (among other things). I'm going to give you advise, but I'm not a lawyer and I'm going to ignore the ethics of what you're accused of.


Just a little note .. there are enough IT security software to trace and play back data transfer. they cannot show what the exact content was, but they can show you transferred data, file names etc, from office network to outside, including those you transfer using Webex, MSN, Skype, and to G Drive and such

I am not sure what happened here, but if the OP worked for a company that has such solutions, I am sure they know they have trace before hitting on him .. than just threatening him just for the sake of it ..

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Postby Beeroclock » Tue, 31 Dec 2013 9:57 am

ecureilx wrote:
zzm9980 wrote:I'm not an armchair speculator in this thread, I speak from a lot of experience. Being the technical expert to help my MNC fire people like you is what I do (among other things). I'm going to give you advise, but I'm not a lawyer and I'm going to ignore the ethics of what you're accused of.


Just a little note .. there are enough IT security software to trace and play back data transfer. they cannot show what the exact content was, but they can show you transferred data, file names etc, from office network to outside, including those you transfer using Webex, MSN, Skype, and to G Drive and such

I am not sure what happened here, but if the OP worked for a company that has such solutions, I am sure they know they have trace before hitting on him .. than just threatening him just for the sake of it ..


Yeah that's what I mentioned before too, many companies doing the IT forensics for departing employees, I gather ZZM you are expert in this. For some old-school knowledge hoarders who are used to copying *.* from their company network folder to thumb drive before giving notice, they will get a rude shock if they continue this behavior nowadays.

Reading OP it seems very likely there is at least some substance to the claims. Otherwise he wouldn't be checking here, seeking legal advice, and the wording "my last employer emailed to inform me that they found that I uploaded a few work documents to my personal folder" without any qualification/denial.

I still think the context is most important. Did you leave on bad terms (i.e. you lost the company a lot of money, etc) or are you now in direct competition with you ex employer? Also what have you done with the data to benefit yourself since leaving, or that might harm your ex company? Breach of confidentiality in isolation is harmless if you just sat on the files, went into a completely different industry and there was no consequence. You will be guilty but for nil damage/compensation, so not much point to pursue you.

ZZM's advice seems good for most cases, but I only want to add a warning if the context is such that there is a seriously nasty situation with your ex employer then I would consider more carefully before giving them the one finger salute. I searched for this news story this morning because I was also reminded of it last week in another thread about stolen company info (you don't work in the cleaning industry by any chance???).

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2010-11-1 ... -case.html

From reading this there appears to be substantial financial damages and bad blood between the parties, so much so the employer got a Court search order to physically search their homes. Not wanting to scare you, but this is a real case in Singapore. So if your circumstances are similar you really need the legal advice and my inclination would be to respond carefully, within the timeline requested, and avoid any bad faith/uncooperative stance that might be interpreted as a risk you will destroy the data (which might give grounds for search order).

Hope you will return to share a bit more context/background so we can understand the situation better.

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Postby zzm9980 » Tue, 31 Dec 2013 10:58 am

Beer's right. I'll simplify and make it a little more PC:

If you did something so wrong as that they may come after you criminally, ignore them and seek a lawyer ASAP.

If you didn't do anything wrong, just ignore them.

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Postby zzm9980 » Tue, 31 Dec 2013 11:01 am

ecureilx wrote:
zzm9980 wrote:I'm not an armchair speculator in this thread, I speak from a lot of experience. Being the technical expert to help my MNC fire people like you is what I do (among other things). I'm going to give you advise, but I'm not a lawyer and I'm going to ignore the ethics of what you're accused of.


Just a little note .. there are enough IT security software to trace and play back data transfer. they cannot show what the exact content was, but they can show you transferred data, file names etc, from office network to outside, including those you transfer using Webex, MSN, Skype, and to G Drive and such

I am not sure what happened here, but if the OP worked for a company that has such solutions, I am sure they know they have trace before hitting on him .. than just threatening him just for the sake of it ..


I'm well aware of what is possible and not possible, and tailored my advise as such. Most companies don't have NSA/FiveEyes size budgets and thus can't really take advantage of most of what is "possible" and are instead relying on an extremely limited toolset of what's possible. Especially if they don't have a DLP software agent running on the system used.

Honestly if they knew what he took, they wouldn't be asking for access to his personal cloud storage.

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Postby bgd » Tue, 31 Dec 2013 11:03 am

I’ve personally been involved in a couple of cases where company information (source code) was sent to a personal email address, against company policy. In the first case a warning was issued, the second was walked off the premises. No lawyers involved.

Since then the process has become a little more refined, basically break that rule you are out of a job and legal recourse could follow.

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Postby PNGMK » Tue, 31 Dec 2013 1:46 pm

The very large company I work for now obviously runs DLP or whatever. This company lives by it's IP and has constant attempts at theft by PRC agents etc. We are constantly warned about storing info on the public cloud or on portable devices.

Departing employees are always checked for USB / file transfers of IP and questioned about every transfer, failure to explain usually leads to financial penalties and if serious enough, court time. It's led to the situation now where most of us inside refuse to transfer ebrochures onto USB or email clients brochures etc - we point them to the public websites only or specialized download locations only. Only a limited subset of functionality for transfers is now available on our work computers anyways and it would not surprise me if USB device file transfers were locked out completely in the future.

It would be nigh on impossible to sneak out a client list or set of electronic CAD and that's the way it should be - an employee does NOT have the right to take that information! As a shareholder in many public companies I fully support the right of company to seek recompense should this happen!

In the OP's case I would keep my mouth shut until it becomes clearer what they think he might have stolen and what the potential damages are (there's no law suit without some form of damages assessment occurring).

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Postby bgd » Tue, 31 Dec 2013 2:20 pm

PNGMK wrote: …it would not surprise me if USB device file transfers were locked out completely in the future.



That’s been the case in my place for a long time, completely disabled. Can’t even use USB to charge a phone.

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Postby PNGMK » Tue, 31 Dec 2013 3:03 pm

bgd wrote:
PNGMK wrote: …it would not surprise me if USB device file transfers were locked out completely in the future.



That’s been the case in my place for a long time, completely disabled. Can’t even use USB to charge a phone.


Yes - initially done because of Virus issues but now more often because of theft issues.

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Postby law123 » Thu, 20 Feb 2014 6:18 pm

Hi everyone,

Thank u all for helping out, some of the answers were indeed insightful. To give u an update, I have proposed to settle it peacefully by offering to sign undertaking and provide proof that I do not possess anything now nor do I ever do anything to the expenses of the company. However the other party has been persistent in demanding access and threatening to get a search order by court.

A bit on the context, I left the company on good term, the employer is a small firm without much IT resources and it had a bad reputation of trying to sue leaving employees unsuccessfully in the past. It would be able to prove that the confidential materials, if I did possess any, might be used by me in my future career, but it would be impossible to prove any financial damage. I was nothing to that company.

So my question now is what is the likelihood of a court search order and what is the worst scenario for me if they commence legal action against me. What could they have possibly discovered and might be discovering with granted access? Any thoughts will be welcome. Thank you once again.

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Postby Beeroclock » Fri, 21 Feb 2014 10:51 am

Did you get legal advice as you mentioned in the first post ? I think it might be necessary if you really want to put your mind at ease, and/or prepare for the worst.

As per the other case referenced in my earlier post, they were able to enforce an unnotified search based on an "Anton Piller Order". From the info you gave it doesn't sound likely APO will apply here, as there need to be a strong case, substantial damages, clear evidence, indications you are likely to destroy the evidence, etc. Your offer of peaceful settlement also helps.

I'm not sure if there are other legal mechanisms for search order other than this APO.

Regarding your question, if as you say "it would be impossible to prove any financial damage. I was nothing to that company." then it seems unlikely they can achieve anything financially from the legal action. If it's only a point of principle and to send a message to their employees that they take these matters seriously, then maybe they will just threaten and leave it at that. However, you also mention they have a reputation of suing employees, so who knows maybe they will go ahead regardless of the chance of success.


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