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Threat of criminal record for leavers taking employers’ records

24 September 2014

The threat of a criminal record may now be sufficient enough to deter employees from walking off with their employer’s client or customer details when changing jobs, after a successful criminal prosecution against a former employee warns Adams & Remers.

Simon Jeffreys at Adams & Remers comments: “What is often a major concern for many employers is that staff will leave their employment and take important customer  information with them which may be damaging to their business. The position has now been clarified and in this case, the employee in question was a paralegal working for a firm of solicitors, who left to join a rival firm. The employee emailed himself at home information which included workload lists, file notes and documents, all of which contained personal information about clients, as he hoped to use them in his new job.”

The employee was prosecuted and convicted under section 55 of the Data Protection Act and fined £300, and made to pay prosecution costs. The maximum fine in the Magistrates Court is £5,000 but there is an unlimited fine in the Crown Court. He now has a criminal record.

Simon Jeffreys continues. “The Information Commissioner  has clearly spelt out how this type of action will be interpreted in the future and all employees should be very careful when changing jobs. It will provide some degree of comfort to business owners as this is always a major headache for them and one which they have tried in the past to prevent with well worded employment contracts. The Head of Enforcement at the Information Commissioner’s Office  has said “ Employees may think work-related documents that they have produced or worked on belong to them and so they are entitled to take them with them when they leave. But if they include people’s details, then taking them without permission is breaking the law”

Simon Jeffreys concludes: “Notwithstanding the civil claims that employees can face for doing this (for example damages for breach of the employer’s copyright or breach of confidence ), it does still seem to happen a lot. But perhaps the threat of getting a criminal record over it may now be a much greater deterrent.”

“I would still urge employers to consider this carefully in employment contracts and they might now want to add a suitable warning in contracts of employment or data protection policies that employees should take careful note  that, as well as civil penalties, they might face an unwelcome early morning knock at the door from the police and a criminal record if they do it.”