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Patrick, Esq.
Patrick, Esq., Lawyer
Category: California Employment Law
Satisfied Customers: 10922
Experience:  Significant experience in all areas of employment law.
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I accidently sent an attachment that contained confidential

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I accidently sent an attachment that contained confidential person employee information. It was not intentional. it was an honest mistake. My employer put me on administrative leave pending investigation. The data only went out to one person and has been contained. Have I broken a law? Can they press charges? I've been told I can only receive disciplinary action OR be terminated. where do you think stand?
Hello and thank you for entrusting me to assist you. My goal is to answer your question completely and thoroughly and to provide excellent service.

I am very sorry to hear about this innocent mistake. What sort of confidential information did you accidentally transmit?

I very much look forward to assisting you regarding this matter.
Customer: replied 4 years ago.

I work in HR and I was trying to help a previous EE that was not in out current database. so I looked on a spreadsheet that contains information on previous employees. I sent a email with the file to a co-worker asking for assistance later that day. I forgot I had saved the whole file because I usually never do this. I cc'd the prev ee and she recieved the file that contained 41,000 previous ee data.

Customer: replied 4 years ago.


My sincere apologies for the delay in my response. We have had some very unusual technical difficulties on Just Answer today and so I was unable to access your reply until very recently.

To answer your question, "no," your employer cannot press charges against you. For one, private parties do not have any say in whether criminal charges are actually filed. There is a misconception to the contrary because very often in cases of assault or basic theft, you'll hear reports that the victim "declined to press charges." All this means is that the victim has declined to participate in the criminal investigation as a witness and the police, realizing that the crime is not serious, had decided not to invest resources in pursuing it.

Only the District Attorney can choose whether to actually prosecute a crime and "press charges." The most that your employer could do is refer the matter to the police, who would then file a police report and refer it to the DA for prosecution.

Most fundamentally, the dissemination of this information was accidental, and as such, the requisite criminal or malicious intent is entirely lacking. This means that what you describe does not even constitute a crime. So, not only does a private employer lack the authority to "press charges," no criminal charges could even arise from the accidental dissemination of confidential employment information.

You are unfortunately correct that an employee may be terminated under these circumstances, however. This is because, absent an employment contract guaranteeing employment for a specified period of time, employment in the state of California is presumed to be "at will." More specifically, California Labor Code Section 2922 provides that: "employment, having no specified term, may be terminated at the will of either party on notice to the other."

So to summarize, while an individual in your circumstance can be fired for the accidental dissemination of confidential employment information, their employer cannot press criminal charges against them, both because a private entity lacks the authority to make that decision and more fundamentally because the accidental dissemination of confidential employment data does not constitute a criminal offense.

I sincerely XXXXX XXXXX this information helps you and I wish you the best.

If you do not have any further concerns, I would be very grateful if you would give my answer a positive rating and click submit, as this is the only way I will receive credit for assisting you. If you have any additional concerns that you would like me to address, please feel free to let me know by hitting the REPLY or CONTINUE CONVERSATION button and I will be more than happy to continue assisting you.

Finally, please bear in mind that none of the above constitutes legal advice nor is any attorney client relationship created between us.

Thank you and very kindest regards.
Patrick, Esq., Lawyer
Satisfied Customers: 10922
Experience: Significant experience in all areas of employment law.
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