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Patrick, Esq.
Patrick, Esq., Lawyer
Category: California Employment Law
Satisfied Customers: 6939
Experience:  Significant experience in all areas of employment law.
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My employer terminated me from my job for keeping sensitive

Customer Question

My employer terminated me from my job for keeping sensitive information on my computer. I was given the reason of violating company policies for the termination. As an executive assistant I kept sensitive company data on my computer for the past ten years and it was never an issue. I worked for one CEO for five years and the second CEO for another five years. During these ten years, it was never brought to my attention that I was violating any company policies. The second CEO gave me excellent performance reviews (I have signed copies by the second CEO). The second CEO fired me for keeping the same type of sensitive information on my computer. The second CEO must have been aware that the sensitive information was saved on my computer. Why is it an issue to have this sensitive information on my computer now when it wasn't an issue during the past five years? Why would the current CEO wait five years to terminate me when he knew I had the same sensitive information on my computer for ten years? HR gave me the sections of the policies I violated. The policies are vague. Listed below is the policy information provided to me by my former employer; however, I was not given the information these policies "supposedly" apply to:

Policy References

I.S. Policy, IS-11 Acceptable Use Policy
Page 2, Security of Proprietary Information section, item #7:
“No member data should be placed on any workstation’s local storage drives (e.g. “C” drive), personal network drive (e.g. “H” drive) or email box at any time. Credit Union network “O” and “M” drives are acceptable temporary storage locations for member data. Department/Division managers are responsible for performing quarterly audits of their material/documents on the “O” and “M” drives to properly manage/archive/delete member data.”

I.S. Policy, IS-10 Electronic Mail (E-Mail) Policy
Page 1, Prohibited Activities section:
“Subscribing to, sending, receiving or forwarding communications containing confidential, proprietary or copyrighted information without proper authorization or security controls.”

Human Resource Policy, E-3 Computer Security
Page 1:
“Negligent, malicious, or unauthorized use of the computer system, which has the effect of compromising security or impairing productivity and confidentiality, will be dealt with severely.”

Human Resource Policy, C-13, Confidential and Proprietary Information
Page 1:
“All information regarding Credit Union staff, members, and prospective members, and all information regarding Credit Union matters, accounts, transactions, and strategies is confidential or proprietary. As a condition of employment, there shall be no disclosure, directly or indirectly, or any use of confidential or proprietary information (including and also known as third party trade secrets) during the term of employment or at any time thereafter except as required in the course of employment or with specific authorization by Credit Union management.”
Page 2:
“Unauthorized use or disclosure, directly or indirectly, of confidential or proprietary information, including but not limited to, members, associates, market or operational strategies, third party trade secrets or proprietary information, etc., may result in disciplinary action, up to and including termination and other legal remedies where applicable.”

Human Resource Policy, C-8 Unacceptable Conduct
Page 1, item #2:
“Theft, misappropriation, or unauthorized possession or use of property, documents, records, or funds belonging to the Credit Union or any member or associate; removal of same from Credit Union premises without authorization from your manager or above.”

Could this be a form of discrimination or some kind of law violated to terminate me after having this information on my computer for over ten years?

Thank you.
Submitted: 1 year ago.
Category: California Employment Law
Expert:  Patrick, Esq. replied 1 year ago.
Hello again and thank you for requesting me to answer your question.

While I certainly agree that your termination is unfair, it would not ordinarily be illegal or constitute discrimination.

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." What this means is that an employer is free to terminate employees for any reason whatsoever, even a reason that is entirely unfair, unless the underlying motivation is discriminatory or otherwise in violation of California law.

Termination will only be actionable grounds of discrimination if the termination is motivated by an employee's race, religious creed, color, national origin, ancestry, physical disability, mental disability, medical condition, marital status, sex, age (over 40), or sexual orientation. These are the recognized "protected classes" under California law.

Unless you can somehow link your termination to one of these classes, such as your race or religion, it would not be "discriminatory" within the meaning of the law, despite being horribly unfair.

You have all of my sympathy for being let go under such unfair circumstances, but the law does not provide a legal cause of action for unfairness. I am sorry that I do not have more faborable news to tell you in this regard.

Again, I sincerely XXXXX XXXXX this information helps you and I wish you the best. If I have answered your question, I would be very grateful for a positive rating of my service so that I may receive credit for assisting you.

Kindest regards.
Patrick, Esq., Lawyer
Satisfied Customers: 6939
Experience: Significant experience in all areas of employment law.
Patrick, Esq. and 2 other California Employment Law Specialists are ready to help you
Customer: replied 1 year ago.

Thank you, LegalPro54! You are the best. While I was hoping for a different answer, I appreciate your honesty and compassion. You'll probably hear from me again as soon as I think of another question.


Take care ...

Expert:  Patrick, Esq. replied 1 year ago.
Sounds good. Thank you for your kind words and your rating/bonus. Much appreciated. Have a pleasant evening.
Customer: replied 1 year ago.

My former employer has informed me they will not contest or attend the EDD hearing. Should I believe them? I'm suspicious my former employer wants to keep me off guard.


 


If my former employer does not show up at the EDD hearing is it safe to assume that the decision to reverse denial of benefits will be decided in my favor, that there won't be a reason to continue with the hearing? From your past responses, the burden of proof is on the employer. Can my former employer provide their evidence to EDD?


 


Thank you.

Expert:  Patrick, Esq. replied 1 year ago.
Deb,

Thank you for your inquiry.

I cannot tell you whether you should believe your former employer and I am really not in a position to make that sort of assessment.

With regard to your second question, the EDD may still deny benefits even without the employer's presence or opposition to your claim. The EDD is an independent entity and will award benefits only where it believes that such an award is compliant with the Unemployment Insurance Code.

Your employer not contesting the claim will probably influence the EDD, but it is by no means determinative.

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