Fired, then falsely accused of stealing and deleting data... what should I do next?
July 18, 2010 5:26 AM   Subscribe

Fired, then falsely accused of stealing and deleting data... what should I do next?

Fired last week, now ex-employer is accusing me of deleting/stealing data and equipment. I am freaking about this and need to know some good next steps and possible outcomes. They have sent me a letter demanding I return the data(don't have it) and equipment or they'll take legal action next week.

I may have inadvertently taken the flash drive home, because I was working from home a lot. I DID NOT delete or steal data. A friends brother is a lawyer and I am calling him tomorrow, but in the meantime I would REALLY appreciate some info from anyone with a clue on what to do here.

Should I see if I have the flashdrive here, return it and try to clear up this misunderstanding on Monday?

Thanks in advance

throwaway email is
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
There are a few possibilities.

One: the company was going to lay you off, and this is a way to avoid any cost of your unemployment benefits.

Two: your manager wanted to get rid of you, and the possibly missing flash drive is a pretext

Three: the possibly missing flash drive had valuable secrets, someone noticed it was missing, and now someone's head has to roll

Four: this is standard HR "please hand in your stuff" routine following a layoff or firing, but implemented in a ham-fisted way

It would help to know what your employer said when they fired you, as well as what your relationship with your boss was or is like.

You probably want to talk to a lawyer who specializes in employment, at the least to make sure that you get unemployment, but more importantly to prevent you from saying or doing anything that might expose you to liability.

Good luck.
posted by zippy at 5:32 AM on July 18, 2010

Lawyer. Have no contact with, do not hand over anything, do not communicate with, former employer until you have talked to lawyer.
posted by orthogonality at 5:53 AM on July 18, 2010 [14 favorites]

DO NOT TALK TO THE EMPLOYER AGAIN. Or anyone else until you've spoken with a lawyer that has YOUR interests in mind. Everyone else will be looking out for their own interests and those certainly won't match with yours.

Also consider that they'd likewise have to be using an attorney. Those legal costs work both ways. It's one thing to bluff and try to scare you, it's another thing for them to have to start shelling out money to pay their own attorney too.

As the law says, anything you say or do can be used against you. Do not say or do anything else with the employer, as that would only give them more evidence to use against you. They can ask and threaten all they want, but until they file a complaint there's nothing they can do to you.

Do not destroy anything, as destruction of evidence is in and of itself a possible crime. If you did have possession of anything you'd do well to make that apparent with your lawyer and have them deal with it. If you believe there's enough risk that your own equipment could be confiscated then now's the time to make backups and have a plan in place to rebuild. Storing the backups elsewhere would, of course, be necessary.

Again, it would probably be best to have no further contact with the employer (or any other employees there, no matter how 'friendly' they seem) until you've spoken with a lawyer.
posted by wkearney99 at 6:31 AM on July 18, 2010 [4 favorites]

I think I should underline what Orthogonality said. Lawyer. Your only communication with them should be "Please communicate with me via my lawyer." If you do have the flash drive then your lawyer will need to be the one to return it. Telling them that you took the flash drive potentially means that you broke company policy (and therefore were fired for cause); that you were stealing secrets (they were on the drive, and you weren't authorised to remove them); that you stole the flash drive itself. Returning the drive does not make everything OK. It actually proves all of those things. And if the data isn't on the drive then it shows you must have deleted it.

IANAL but I suspect that a lawyer would write a letter saying that you deny having acted against company policy and that if the company accuses you of theft you will pursue those libelous allegations with vigor, and that in fact they have breached their contract with you, and that you will pursue your rights under that contract if they do not retract any claims against you. This will very likely be enough to put the matter to rest.
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:41 AM on July 18, 2010 [6 favorites]

If I had a dollar for every employer who pulled this crap...

This is a ruse to make it possible to fire you "for cause", giving the employer plausible deniability when it comes time to pay unemployment for you. Normally it's enough to just fight them through the unemployment office, but if they're falsely accusing you of theft then by all means get a lawyer.

Say nothing to them other than "speak to my attorney"; admit nothing, don't return anything. Be victorious. Find a better job where you don't work for assholes.
posted by littlerobothead at 7:48 AM on July 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

All the above and Document Document DOCUMENT. Save everything they have written this accusation on. Save voicemails. Make notes of everything you remember. If someone tells you they said X then make a note of it. They're playing with your reputation, either because they really believe this or they are playing the kind of games littlerobothead describes.
posted by phearlez at 9:37 AM on July 18, 2010

The above & make two copies of that backup. Store them in two different places off your property and person.
posted by batmonkey at 11:47 AM on July 18, 2010

All of the above, but it probably is a good idea to figure out if you in fact do have the flash drive in question in your possession.
posted by ob1quixote at 12:04 PM on July 18, 2010

Word of caution: make extra sure that the lawyer you have can deal with this specific situation. Do not let a probate or real estate person deal with this just because they went to law school. (I see no indication that you're about to do this, but you'd be amazed how many ostensibly smart people -- and their lawyers -- think they can handle this and get in over their heads.)
posted by Madamina at 4:18 PM on July 18, 2010

Keep in mind that no lawyer is experienced in all types of law - civil, criminal, employment, family, etc. Amost any lawyer might do in terms of making it clear that you mean business, and aren't going to be intimidated, and if they have evidence, they need to tell you so you can respond to it. But you need a specialist when it comes to things like (a) being paid for accrued vacation leave and (b) getting your former employer to agree not to make allegations against you if contacted by an outside party (such as a future employer). The second may not be possible, of course, but that's what an expert in this type of case can tell you more about.

If you hire a generalist lawyer, or someone who tends to specialize in other things, you'll not only pay for him/her to learn the law (researching), but you're also almost certainly going to get inferior representation.
posted by WestCoaster at 4:46 PM on July 18, 2010

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