Does my supervisor have the right to open my flash drive without my permission and delete proprietary documents?

UPDATED: Feb 17, 2012

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Does my supervisor have the right to open my flash drive without my permission and delete proprietary documents?

I was recently terminated from a position as a technical writer for reasons other than misconduct. When I submitted my employee badge to the human resources representative, I neglected to remove a flash drive attached to it that contained copies of all the documents I completed while employed there. The human resources representative gave the flash drive to my supervisor, who, in turn, left it for me at the company’s front desk. I retrieved the flash drive this afternoon. When I returned home and opened it on my personal computer, I discovered that all the documents I had completed for company had been deleted as well as some information that was not work related. While the documents were not classified, I suppose they were proprietary. Does my supervisor have the right to open my flash drive without my permission and delete those documents and do I have any legal recourse?

Asked on February 17, 2012 under Employment Labor Law, Virginia


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 11 years ago | Contributor

1) You have no right to keep any work done for the company, whether proprietary or not: the company has a right to require or cause those documents to be deleted.

2) If the flash drive was company property, they have a right to open it without  your permission.

3) If they deleted your persobnal documents from a company drive, that is permissible--they can control what goes onto and what happens to all documents on company computer hardware or systems.

4) If they opened your personal drive and deleted your personal documents, you may be able to sue the company for the economic impact of losing those documents, assuming there is one. You could not recover for any sentimental, emotional, etc. value for the documents, especially in a case like this, where there almost certainly was no malice--i.e. even if it was your drive, the fact that it was attached to a company badge and had company documents on it could reasonably lead HR, etc. to believe that it was a company-provided drive, so at most, they *may* have been negligent in not confirming that fact first.

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 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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