Laid off or terminated employees commonly take confidential company information, according to media reports covering a recent study released by the Ponemon Institute, an Arizona based research company. 

Nearly sixty percent of departing employees steal proprietary company data. Employees took this information in different ways. Most employees take documents (paper) with the information. But employees also admitted that they downloaded information onto a disc  or sent information as attachments to personal emails. Of the nearly sixty percent of the employees that took information, seventy nine percent admitted that they did so even though they knew that their former employer had forbidden them from taking the information. 

In perhaps its most intriguing finding, the survey reports that approximately twenty five percent of the employees said that they were able to access data on a company’s network even after they had been terminated or quit.

These results were based on a survey of approximately 950 employees who were laid off, fired or lost jobs in the last twelve months. 

According to a recent article in the Washington Post, the Ponemon Institute’s founder suggested that employees took this information because they believed that they were entitled to information that they had helped create. Another expert made the practical suggestion that the information was taken to assist employees locate a new position or improve their performance once they obtained a new position. 

Not surprisingly, computer forensics companies have used this report to promote their services. These companies sell their ability to prove that a former employee stole information. 

Employees, who are preparing to leave an employer, should take note of the survey. Employers frequently file suit against former employees for the theft of confidential information. As employers become more educated about the risk presented by departing employees, more effort will be expended to prove an employee’s theft. 

Employers, on the other hand, also need to be vigilant. To the extent that information is readily accessible by former employees or if a company knows and does not prevent employees from taking information, a court may be reluctant to find that the information is confidential or proprietary.