Leaving your job: What you can and can’t take with you (2022)

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?

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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.

What you can take

Employees can take any personal items that they brought into their offices from home, like photos, diplomas, coffee mugs and personal electronic devices (e.g. cell phone, iPad), upon leaving an employer, says Chas Rampenthal, general counsel for LegalZoom.

“There are two categories of items you can take with you when you leave: the first category is things that were absolutely yours when you started — ‘I brought my coffee mug and my iPod, I’m going to leave with those things,’” Rampenthal says. “The second category is things you’ve gotten permission to take. For example, if you’ve written a beautifully crafted legal brief that you want to show to potential future employers, then you can ask if, with certain modifications, you can take that. I would advise that if you’re ever unsure, it’s better in these situations to ask for permission, not for forgiveness!” he says.

Employees often also take along work that they created or helped create for the company, such as contact lists, project plans, code snippets or marketing collateral, so that they have examples of their work, says Heimerl.

“In and of itself, there’s nothing really wrong with that,” says Heimerl, unless the documents contain client information or internal information such as strategic plans or product pricing. In those cases, Rampenthal says, the employee should ask the employer for permission to take such documents or samples of work, adds Heimerl. The employer may very well give permission to do so, provided that the employee removes proprietary information from the document.

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If an employee takes such documents without the employer’s permission, having previously signed anemployment contractorseverance agreementthat specified that any documents or code developed for the company is company property, the employer could sue the employee for breach of contract, says Heimerl.

The employer could also withhold the employee’s severance pay or require that the employee return severance pay already disbursed, if the severance pay came with a condition related to taking any corporate information upon leaving the company.

Employees can also leave with items that they bought for work but that they didn’t get reimbursed for, says Heimerl, such as an ergonomic keyboard.

The only exception that might prevent employees from leaving with their own loot is if an employer has a clear policy stating that employees cannot bringany personal property into the office, says Heimerl, which some employers prohibit to limit their liability in the event someone’s personal property is damaged or stolen. If an employee had ignored that policy and brought in trinkets from home anyway, the employer could claim those items as corporate property, but Heimerl doesn’t see many companies going that far.

What you can’t take

Some employees, especially those who have been caught in a layoff, might feel emboldened to take whatever they can from an employer. But pilfering corporate property is stealing.

“If you take an asset, even a mouse, without company permission, that is theft,” says Heimerl. “If you take a $3,000 laptop loaded with software, that’s grand larceny.”

Theft and larceny are punishable in a number of ways. A company can file a complaint with the police saying it wants the ex-employee prosecuted for theft. Usually a sheriff or police officer goes to the thief’s house or sends a registered letter saying a charge has been filed, and the individual has a certain number of days to respond, says Heimerl. Or, an arrest warrant could be served for theft of property. If the police don’t handcuff the individual and bring him or her to jail, the individual will get a summons to appear in court, he adds.

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“In every case I know of,” says Heimerl, “the employee has given back the laptop or paid restitution.”

Instead of calling the cops, other companies will tally the value of the stolen property and will report that value to the IRS as taxable income that the company paid to the employee. The employee will then be obligated to pay taxes on that stolen property, says Heimerl. For a fully loaded laptop valued at $4,000, an employee can expect to pay in the neighborhood of $1500 in taxes, he adds.

If an employee stole a computer that contained sensitive customer financial data or healthcare information, Heimerl says, there’s a good chance the employee could be charged in a federal court for violating federal privacy and information security laws.

When personal property and corporate information collide

There are times when what employees can and can’t take from their employers isn’t clear-cut — such as when they used their personal smartphone or home computer for work and they have business contacts, files or applications on those personal devices.

“A lot of companies will prohibit the use of personal devices for work purposes, but in real life, that’s so hard to enforce,” says Rampenthal. “And sometimes, there are BYOD policies that allow employees to use their own devices; it comes down to understanding what those policies are and remaining in compliance with them,” he says.

When a departing employee has work-related information on a personal smartphone, all work-related information must be removed from the phone, especially if the company had a policy prohibiting the use of personal devices for work, says Heimerl. But the employer cannot seize the employee’s personal smartphone to inspect or keep.

“The company has no recourse other than to ask me [the employee] if I deleted the information,” he adds.

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But what does an employee do when, for example, his work computer kicks the bucket and he has to work on his home computer for several weeks while the IT department procures a new computer? During that time, the employee no doubt has amassed a significant amount of corporate information on his home computer. What are the employee’s rights and responsibilities vis-à-vis his computer and the corporate information stored on it if he leaves his employer?

“In most jurisdictions, the company has no good claim to any of that information and no claim at all on the personal property (the computer),” says Heimerl. “The employer can demand that the employee remove all of the corporate information from the personal computer, but they cannot actually make the employee take any extraordinary efforts to find all the files, including temp files and stray copies, and delete everything in a secure manner — unless, of course, the employee agreed to do so at the beginning of all this.”

If an employee had customer credit card information, healthcare information or other highly sensitive information on a personal computer she used for work, the employer may want to wipe those files from the employee’s home computer and then perform a secure overwrite to ensure that those files can’t be recovered, says Heimerl, but the employer can’t force an employee to do that on the employee’s own personal property. The employer could, however, have another employee perform the secure overwrite or hire a contractor to do it.

The bottom line: in all likelihood, the employee will retain at least some corporate information on her home computer, says Heimerl.

“Without the employee signing an agreement stating that they will not use any information that they retain access to or gain access to in the future, the employer has little ground to stand on,” he says.

Preparing to leave

One thing to keep in mind to make your exit easier: if you know you’re planning to leave, proactively remove any personal items from your workplace and/or any personal photos, documents or other paperwork from company-owned computers, smartphones or other electronic devices before you give your notice, says Rampenthal.

“Give yourself time to stealthily — not illegally, mind you — remove any personal information from your laptop, work-provided smartphone or from your desk,” he says. “You can also give your IT department the heads-up that you’re doing that, so they don’t get suspicious if they see you’re downloading files onto a thumb drive. Most people don’t want to think about it, but there are occasions where folks give notice and are immediately escorted off the property without the chance to get their stuff at all,” he says. “But a little planning and preparation goes a long way.”

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FAQs

What can you take with you when you leave a job? ›

Employees can take any personal items that they brought into their offices from home, like photos, diplomas, coffee mugs and personal electronic devices (e.g. cell phone, iPad), upon leaving an employer, says Chas Rampenthal, general counsel for LegalZoom.

Can you take files with you when you leave a company? ›

Employees can take any personal items that they brought into their offices from home upon leaving an employer, says Heimerl.

When you leave a company can you take clients? ›

The law. The general rule is that post-termination restrictions, often known as restrictive covenants, are only enforceable if they are reasonable and go no further than necessary to protect the legitimate interests of the business. Whether the specific clause is enforceable will depend on the circumstances.

What is the best thing to say when quitting a job? ›

Say you're resigning. Give the date of your last day. Say something positive about the company or job. Offer to help make the change as smooth as possible.

What are the Top 5 reasons employees leave their jobs? ›

Here is the ranking of the most common reasons why people quit their jobs, according to the survey responses we received: because of (1) their jobs in general, (2) their workloads, (3) concerns about pay equity, (4) not feeling appreciated, and (5) having limited career advancement opportunities.

Should I wipe my computer when leaving a job? ›

As general rule, it's a good idea to keep your personal files separate from your work files. However in our digital world overlap happens. If you're leaving for a new job, make sure to delete all of your personal files, emails, contacts and messages from your computer.

What should you not keep in an employee file? ›

Examples of items that should not be included in the personnel file are: Pre-employment records (with the exception of the application and resume) Monthly attendance transaction documents. Whistleblower complaints, notes generated from informal discrimination complaint investigations, Ombuds, or Campus Climate.

Should I delete all my emails when leaving a job? ›

Clear Up. Before handing in your resignation, make sure your physical and digital space is clean, including your email, browser, and so on. Be Polite. Even if you're surprised that your manager wants you to depart immediately, continue to behave professionally.

How do bosses feel when you quit? ›

Leaving a job can be an emotional experience for you and your boss. When you tell your supervisor you're quitting, you are essentially stating that you are firing him as your boss. He may feel shocked, angry, or defensive. He may have to answer to a superior about why you decided to leave.

What should you not say in resignation? ›

What Not To Do Before You Resign. Don't Put Anything Negative in Writing. Regardless of how much you hate your job, hate your boss, or hate the company, don't say it. Even if quitting is the best career move you've made up to this point, keep it to yourself.

Why do managers get mad when you quit? ›

Depending on their emotional state at the time of your conversation, your manager may become immediately upset, or even furious that you are resigning. They may feel a sense of betrayal, as well as anxiety about how they will manage the workload without you.

Can I take clients with me to a new job? ›

The short answer is, yes you can communicate or “announce” your new employment. However, if you are bound by an enforceable non-solicitation agreement, you may not solicit the client. But, you can call them, talk to them, talk about the weather, sports, etc. You just cannot “solicit” them.

What is client poaching? ›

What Is Poaching? Known as “poaching,” having contractors contact your own clients is a risk every business takes when bringing on contractors. Poaching can happen either while the worker is on contract with you or afterward. Either way, though, you can lose the ability to do business with that client.

How do you stop a former employee from stealing clients? ›

Employees should sign a non-solicitation agreement, preventing them from contacting any company clients for a specific period after retirement, quitting, or dismissal. An additional clause can stipulate that the employee cannot communicate with the client during that timeframe, even if the client initiates contact.

How do professionals say I quit? ›

How to tell your boss you're resigning
  1. Request an in-person meeting. ...
  2. Outline your reasons for quitting. ...
  3. Give at least two weeks' notice. ...
  4. Offer to facilitate position transition. ...
  5. Express gratitude. ...
  6. Provide constructive feedback. ...
  7. Provide your formal letter of resignation.

What is the most professional way to quit? ›

How to resign professionally
  1. Follow the resignation rules of your company. Check your contract or your employee manual for the expected notice period, be it two weeks, a month, or more. ...
  2. Resign face-to-face. ...
  3. Be gracious. ...
  4. Keep it positive. ...
  5. Maintain the status quo until your very last day. ...
  6. Secure good recommendations.

What is the number 1 reason employees quit? ›

Low salary (59%) Poor management (56%) lack of healthy work-life boundaries (49%) Not allowing remote work (43%)

What's the #1 reason someone leaves quits their job? ›

Reason #1: Pay and benefits

According to Pew Research, 63% of employees who quit their jobs in 2021 cited low pay as the top reason, and that's for both blue and white-collar employment sectors alike.

What is the great resignation 2022? ›

The rise in the quit rate has been called the “Great Resignation,” with many articles in the popular press speculating about why individuals have become more willing to leave their current employers.

How do you leave a toxic job without burning bridges? ›

5 steps to resigning without burning bridges
  1. Resign face-to-face where possible. “Generally, people find it more respectful for you to resign in person,” she says. ...
  2. Show you're thankful. ...
  3. Follow up in writing. ...
  4. Work hard during your notice period. ...
  5. Continue to support the business after you've left.

What should I remove from my computer before returning? ›

You also should make sure you're logged out of any apps, especially personal accounts like Amazon, Gmail or Facebook, and clear your web browsers' histories as well as any saved payment or login information, said Wilson. Log out of your Apple ID and turn off “Find my” tracking setting if you used a personal account.

What documents do I need to collect when leaving a company? ›

Ask for atleast the following documents:
  1. Relieving Letter - This document proves that you have been relieved from all responsibilities and dont owe the company anything.
  2. Experiece Letter -
  3. Salary Slips - Atleast for the last 3-6 months. This serves as the proof of salary.

What should an employee keep doing? ›

Employees who take responsibility for their actions, are dependable, arrive on time, do what they say, and don't let the others in their team down, are highly valued employees.

What information should you not give to an employer? ›

Confidential Employee Information

Personal data: Social Security Number, date of birth, marital status, and mailing address. Job application data: resume, background checks, and interview notes. Employment information: employment contract, pay rate, bonuses, and benefits.

What do you keep in your personal files? ›

Employers should keep all job-related documentation such as hiring records, performance reviews, disciplinary actions and job descriptions in an employee's general personnel file. Consider whether the document would be relevant to a supervisor who may review this file when making employment decisions.

Can a company see your deleted emails? ›

Can my employer access my deleted emails? The short answer here is yes, unless you took steps to encrypt those files (which we discuss below).

What should I do in my last week of job? ›

Here is a list of actions to take on your final day at a company:
  • Collect all employee contacts. ...
  • Wipe personal information from your computer and phone. ...
  • Go to HR to hand over all company possessions. ...
  • Complete an exit interview if required. ...
  • Ask for a letter of recommendation from your manager. ...
  • Tidy up your workspace.

Can my boss see my inbox? ›

Work Email Isn't Private

Emails sent or received through a company email account are generally not considered private. Employers are free to monitor these communications, as long as there's a valid business purpose for doing so.

What day of the week is best to resign? ›

Resigning on Monday or Tuesday is for your boss' benefit. Resigning on Friday may deflate his/her weekend. Also, your boss will be in a better business frame of mind on Monday and will be able to use the whole week to begin making plans for handling your business.

Why does leaving a job feel weird? ›

That's totally normal, and everyone processes career transitions differently. Some people might not be fazed when they leave behind a role they considered profound. Others might feel sadness or a sense of loss they don't understand. Anger, frustration and anxiety can also crop up from time to time.

Do bosses take it personally when you quit? ›

And, bosses all too often take quitting quite personally. Many bosses will interpret quitting as you abandoning them. In fact, many of my clients have experienced this very occurrence and find it quite traumatic.

Do you have to say why you are resigning? ›

People leave their jobs for all sorts of reasons, and you certainly do not need to provide any details on why you are leaving the company. Resignation letters are a courtesy to your employer, so you simply need to state that you are leaving your current position to pursue other opportunities.

Should you resign on Friday or Monday? ›

To have the most privacy and allow you to quickly leave the office if things get contentious, emotional, or awkward, time your resignation for 5:00 or whenever your workday ends. Resigning on a Friday lets the dust settle and gives your boss time to think about a replacement plan.

Why does your boss become a jerk when you resign? ›

They act defensive because they have a lot to defend.

Your boss's boss knows that the managerial relationship places a strong role in an employee's decision to leave, so your boss is now having to prove that losing a good employee isn't that bad after all. Unfortunately, you may get smeared during this defensive act.

Should I quit my job due to anxiety? ›

Maybe. If you work in a high-stress job and have a lot of anxiety, there's no doubt that taking some time off or changing to a less stressful career will help your anxiety. If you find yourself asking “should I quit my job because of anxiety?” then it might be time to reevaluate your work situation.

Why is quitting better than getting fired? ›

Resigning from a job has some advantages worth considering. One of the biggest perks is that it looks better on your resume than being fired. If you voluntarily leave a job, you tend to have greater control over your narrative. You can showcase your departure in a more positive light to prospective employers.

Can you leave a company and take clients? ›

This clause is common in employment agreements and serves to prohibit the employee from taking existing customers or operating in competition with the former employer.

How do you say you aren't taking new clients? ›

You can say something like: “Thank you so much for offering me this opportunity. Unfortunately, I am no longer accepting new clients as my schedule is full. I take pride in my work and would not like to spread myself too thin and start offering less value to my clients.”

How do you deal with nerves before a new job? ›

9 tips to keep your new job nerves in check
  1. Understand your nerves are temporary. ...
  2. Stop worrying what new colleagues think of you. ...
  3. Adopt a growth mindset. ...
  4. Keep your imposter syndrome in check. ...
  5. Keep your new job in perspective. ...
  6. Contact your new manager. ...
  7. Plan a fun activity before your first day. ...
  8. Talk to friends and family.

What are 3 examples of poaching? ›

Rhino horn, elephant ivory and tiger products continue to command high prices among consumers, especially in Asia.

What is abusive client? ›

Abusive Client means a Client who demonstrates any kind of behaviour that we, in our sole discretion, deem a violation of the applicable Customer Agreement or terms of use; Sample 1Sample 2Sample 3.

What is client abuse? ›

What is client abuse? Client abuse is the misuse of power or the betrayal. of trust, respect or intimacy in the therapeutic. relationship.

What are 3 main reasons why associates steal? ›

According to this concept, theft occurs when three elements are present: (1) motive, (2) desire, and (3) opportunity. In simple terms, motive is a reason to steal. Motives might be the resentment of an employee who feels underpaid or the vengefulness of an employee who has been passed over for promotion.

What is the most common form of employee theft? ›

Employee Time Theft
  • Employers lose about 4.5 hours per week per employee to time theft. ( ...
  • 1 in 4 people admit to reporting more hours than they actually work. ( ...
  • 75% of companies lose money from "buddy punching," the most common type of employee time theft. (
4 Oct 2022

What factors cause employees to steal? ›

Four Factors Contributing to Employee Theft
  • Financial Need. Real or perceived, a financial crisis can drive an employee to steal. ...
  • Perceived Unfair Treatment. Employees justify stealing when they believe the employer has overworked and underpaid its employees. ...
  • Opportunity. ...
  • Workplace Norms.
14 Jun 2022

How do you celebrate leaving a job? ›

  1. Start a Slack Thread. ...
  2. Gift a Digital Address Book. ...
  3. Create a Highlight Reel of Goodbyes and Well Wishes. ...
  4. Take Time to Remember and Reminisce. ...
  5. Sign a Farewell Card as a Team. ...
  6. Buy a Self-Care Package. ...
  7. Host a Virtual Going Away Party. ...
  8. Plan a Snack Time.
29 Mar 2022

Do you give gifts when leaving a job? ›

While both of you are left with memories, you can turn it into a bittersweet occasion by sending them off with a going away gift to help them remember how missed they are and will always be. It's human nature to want to know that we're loved and will be remembered. This is the chance to celebrate your time together.

How do you say goodbye on last working day? ›

I'll be leaving my position as [job title] here at [Company], and my last day will be [date]. I wanted to reach out to let you know that I've so enjoyed working with you during my time here. It's been a true pleasure getting to know you better!

What to tell coworkers when you resign? ›

Tell close colleagues in person.
  • “I've got some news to share. I've accepted a position at Morgan & Smith and will be leaving at the end of the month. ...
  • “I wanted to let you know that Friday will be my last day here. I'm really excited to go back to school to get my graduate degree, but I'll miss working with you.”
15 May 2022

What to give your boss before you leave? ›

Here are some thank-you gifts to consider presenting to your boss when you leave your current role for a new opportunity:
  • Planner. ...
  • Portable keyboard. ...
  • Flowers or a plant. ...
  • Thank-you card. ...
  • Insulated tumbler. ...
  • Stress ball. ...
  • Treats. ...
  • Artisan coffee.

What is a good goodbye gift? ›

Going-away gift ideas for a friend or a family member
  • Dual time watch. ...
  • Fitness tracker. ...
  • Box of dated letters. ...
  • Meal delivery kit. ...
  • Long-distance keychains. ...
  • A photo book. ...
  • Flowers to greet them at their new home. ...
  • Travel gadgets or accessories.
9 Jun 2022

Should I get my coworkers a gift when I leave? ›

Using a going away gift to wish them well makes them feel supported as they move on. This also makes the employee feel comfortable coming back to work at your company if that's the case. In many office environments, coworkers develop close bonds with one another, as well as their employers.

Videos

1. How to Quit Your Job: The Harvard Business Review Guide
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2. What should you do when a salary offer is lower than you expect?
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3. Workplace Mental Health - all you need to know (for now) | Tom Oxley | TEDxNorwichED
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4. Why great people quit good jobs | Christie Lindor | TEDxZaragoza
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5. Bored out of your mind at work? Your brain is trying to tell you something. | Dan Cable | Big Think
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6. What if you hate your job?
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