Leaving your job: What you can and can’t take with you

Outright theft is an obvious no-no, but there are still some gray areas when it comes to what you can take with you when you leave a job and what you could land you in legal hot water.

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When some people leave a job, the only thing they want to take with them from their office is their dignity, and maybe some family photos. Others leave with contact lists, project plans, marketing collateral, code snippets and other work-related files from their computers. Still other employees take the opportunity to loot the supply cabinet for notebooks, pens, flash drives and other items that they don't want to buy from Staples.

If a layoff is in your future, or if you’re moving on to another opportunity, you may be tempted sneak off with sensitive corporate information or company assets such as laptops after being handed a pink slip – but what can you legally take with you, and what will land you in legal trouble?

Jon Heimerl, formerly director of strategic security for Solutionary, a provider of information security services, and now manager of the threat intelligence team at NTT security, says departing employees can get in big trouble if they take corporate information or physical assets without their employer's permission. Depending on what the employee takes, an employer could sue the employee or press formal theft charges with the police.

"I know a company that laid off an employee who then walked into a competitor's office with proprietary information about a big R&D project," says Heimerl. "The company sent a letter to the competitor from a lawyer that said, 'We know you hired this employee. We have proof that he took proprietary information with him, and we are going to sue you and the employee.' The competitor withdrew its employment offer, and it took the ex-employee twelve months to find another job," Heimerl says.

That’s a pretty extreme case, but there are still some gray areas when it comes to what you can take with you and what you shouldn’t.

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