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Ben Jones
Ben Jones, UK Lawyer
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My work laptop was having problems working, I saved the data

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My work laptop was having problems working, I saved the data onto a USB key as my work did not have any back up devises and restored my laptop back the factory settings. I handed my notice in a few days later, handed back my laptop but forgot to hand back my USB key. I did give my work the USB a couple of days later when asked. can I be sued?

Ben Jones : Hello, my name is XXXXX XXXXX it is my pleasure to assist you with your question today. Did you have a contractual obligation to return this data at a specific point in time?

Hello Ben, I have a contract that was not signed by me. In the contract it has a intellectual property clause.

Ben Jones : Has the employer suffered any damages or losses as a result of this?

All of the information I had was on the USB key which was then given back to the employer, apart from my emails as I did not know how to back this up and I presumed all of the emails would of been saved on the server. When I handed the USB key back to my employer, I received an email the following day stating all of the information wasn't there, however it was as the latest work was given to my colleague.


all of the information I had was put onto the USB key. I have been as helpful as I can by returning the USB key as soon as possible, answering emails straight away etc.


If the company had a back up device I would of saved everything onto there.


I get the impression they think I have done it on purpose as I handed my notice in before putting all the data back onto the laptop.

Ben Jones : Is there any sensitive information on there that could affect their business, like client data etc

there is customer contact information, customer research etc.


copies of orders from last year

Ben Jones : Are you still employed by them?

yes, I am on gardening leave until 8th August

Ben Jones : i would not be too concerned about being sued especially if you have not deliberately stolen any data. They can only really take legal action if they can show that you have taken some of the data and you have or are going to use it agains them. They can either seek an injunction to prevent its future use or seek compensation for damages already incurred. Neither applies here so at this stage there is little they can do to take legal action against you. However, if you have not followed specific procedures in returning the data or formatting the laptop, that could amount to a disciplinary issue. As you are still employed by them, they could potentially discipline you for this but whether this will happen and the fairness of such action will very much depend on what policies existed, whether they we breached and how serious these breaches were

In a email from my employer they stated that 'destruction of valuable commercial company information very seriously' the only reason why I restore my laptop was due to the fact it was not working. I did save everything onto a USB key which they now have. I get the impression they are trying to state that I deleted information on purpose before handing in my notice but if that was the case why would I give the USB key

Ben Jones : They may be concerned that you saved the data, manipulated it and deleted some of it then gave them back whatever you wanted them to have but without any direct evidence, legal action will be difficult

I got asked the following questions


1. From where did you copy the information on the storage device?
2. Why do you still have confidential Carlton information on another device in your possession to enable you to copy it onto the storage device, many days after returning the 'wiped' computer?
3. What actions did you take to ensure that the information that was being wiped when resetting the computer was backed up?
4. Did you save a copy of the outlook data file in respect of all your old emails before resetting the computer?
4. Why did you summarily wipe the computer of all old information just before handing it in upon resignation?
5. Why did you not speak to someone before resetting the computer back to factory settings, as you clearly knew this would destroy historic data?
6. Where is the backup disc that you indicated was in the office?


I have stated that I had to use my personal usb key to back up the data as there was no back up device in the office. All of the information on the USB key was what I had on my laptop. I had to transfer all of the data from my personal USB onto a blank USB key so they could keep the information and the backup disc should be in the office as I do not have this. The reason why I didn't speak to someone is there is no IT department and I didn't think it would be a problem restoring the laptop


Also, I was under the impression all the old emails would of been backed up on the server so it would be easily retrieved

Ben Jones : the issue as I see it is whether you had the authority to restore the laptop and if in the process you managed to back up all data or if some was lost. The potential ways of dealing with this are the same - no actual quantifiable losses means no legal claim against you but it may still result in disciplinary action

There was no IT department and nothing was stated in my contract to state what I could or couldn't do

Ben Jones : Some of it would be down to common sense, but the main issue is whether data was lost in the process or not

apart from emails and some minor information nothing major was lost


it all depends if they can retrieve the emails back, I was under the impression it was saved on a server but if it wasn't could they claim for this?

Ben Jones : Your position remains unchanged in that case - I would only expect potential disciplinary action, it will be hard to claim damages for lost emails if it hasn't affected their business in any way

quotes had been sent out to customers would this change anything?


the majority of information on my laptop, apart from emails ,other people had access to. brochures, price list etc.


what would disciplinary action incur?

Ben Jones : it would be a hearing where the employer will present whatever allegations are made against you and you will get the chance to defend them. It may end up in no action being taken, receiving a earning or even dismissal

could this been done if I am on gardening leave, I have already handed my notice in? and if I received a dismissal could they refuse to pay me?

Ben Jones : you can be dismissed even if you are serving your notice period, after all you continue to be an employee during that time and the same rules as all other employees would continue to apply to you. They can only refuse to pay you if you are dismissed for gross misconduct

would this be classed as gross misconduct even though I gave them the information back?


and if they have gave me gardening leave - i am serving my notice at home can they still dismissed me

Ben Jones : They may try and claim this, you may have given the data back but some damage may have already occurred, it all depends in the repercussions your actions may have on the business. You can be dismissed at anytime until your notice period expires

would restoring my laptop back to the factory settings and giving them the data at a later date would this be classed as gross misconduct

Ben Jones : As mentioned it depends on whether data was lost and also what the repercussions of this loss would have been on the business. I cannot comment on that as only the employer know this at this stage

OK, thank you for the information

Ben Jones : You are welcome and all the best

Thank you

Ben Jones : ...
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