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What to Do If Employees Are Stealing Your Data

By Brett Snider, Esq. | Last updated on

Even in the most mundane positions, employees can have access to company networks that will allow them to steal your data. Smart business owners will try to protect themselves from employee theft, whether from current hires or recently terminated ones.

The following tips can help your business effectively deal with situations in which current or former employees are stealing data.

A Current Hire Is Stealing Data

Even though an employee currently working with your business may not be stealing physical items like copper insulation or office supplies, data is often even more valuable.

If you suspect an employee of theft, consider the following roadmap:

  1. Gather your evidence. A good IT team can provide you with the digital fingerprints of the data theft.
  2. Follow your discipline policy. If your business has an established policy, you need to make sure it is followed before you fire any employee.
  3. Terminate the employee. You should be able to terminate any at-will employees immediately and without cause (even though your investigation may give you cause).
  4. Notify the police. Do not notify the employee that you may call the police or press charges, this may be taken as a threat.
  5. Don't gab about the employee. Even after the employee has been terminated, do not leave yourself open to defamation suits by calling the employee a thief.

Former Hire Has Stolen/Is Stealing Data

It is very common for former employees, especially those who have just been terminated, to take emails, personnel files, memos and other sensitive data from the company.

A business always has recourse in these cases, and can:

  1. Send a cease and desist letter. You or your lawyer can easily draft a letter demanding that the employee return the data and destroy any remaining copies.
  2. File a civil suit. Maybe the employee won't return the data, and you want remedies through the courts. Suits for conversion, misappropriation of trade secrets, and tortious interference with a business interest are all options you may want to consider.
  3. Call the police. Give them your evidence and follow up with the case. Do not attempt to contact or warn the employee of the investigation.

Employee theft of company data is serious business. In addition to the above suggestions, it may also be wise to consult a small business attorney to figure out the best way for your business to address the issue.

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