What happens if an employee deletes company e-mails after termination?

UPDATED: Aug 26, 2011

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What happens if an employee deletes company e-mails after termination?

Asked on August 26, 2011 Illinois


FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 11 years ago | Contributor

Assuming an employee is terminated by his or her employer and before the employee leaves permanently his or her former place of employment the employee purposefully deletes e mails, the deletion of such e mails (depending upon their significance) could be viewed as a further example of insubordination or wrongful conduct of the employee justifying the termination in the first place and a violation of any office rules or policy manual of the employer.

Depending upon the laws of Illinois, the intentional deletion of such e mails if done to thwart a police investigation could be a crime in and of itself.

From a practical standpoint, a good computer person would be able to retrieve the deleted e mails from the former employee's hard drive with a bit of effort and have such transposed onto paper.


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 11 years ago | Contributor

Depending on the circumstances, this could--

1) Give rise to a civil claim or lawsuit against the employee, since the emails are company property; if their deletion causes the company some economic injury, damage, or cost in some fashion, the company may sue for compensation.

2) Could potentially give rise to criminal liability, if the deletion were done willfully or intentionally, since that could constitute the intentional destruction of another's property; since destroying physical files or books could give rise to criminal liability, it's possible that destroying electronic files could also.

3) In some other case (e.g. if  the employer is suing the employee for some other reason), the deletion could possibly be taken as evidence of wrongdoing (i.e. "why'd you destroy them if you had nothing to hide?")

4) Depending on the existence and terms of any confidentiality, employment, or severance agreements, the destruction could be violations of them, which could also give rise to a claim for damages and/or absolve the company of its obligations under those agreements.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although AttorneyPages.com has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

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