The dangers of employee ‘tech-revenge’

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An acrimonious ending between a long-term employee and IBM has demonstrated how quickly an employee’s departure can turn nasty, while also highlighting the dangers of employee ‘tech-revenge’.

The situation resulted in a forensic examination of a work-issued laptop, which uncovered illegally downloaded movies, pornographic material and secret recordings of staff conversations and confidential sales meetings.

It began when the employee, who had worked for IBM New Zealand Limited for more than 20 years, handed back his work laptop upon his resignation in August 2013 – but refused to disclose his password.

Although he left to take up a position with another organisation, he claimed he was unjustifiably and constructively dismissed, which IBM denied, countering that he had voluntarily resigned.

It took the multinational tech giant two months and the services of a third party to finally gain access to the contents of the employee’s laptop, which included large amounts of inappropriate, illegal and pornographic material.

Furthermore, several recordings “of confidential, informal meetings regarding sales opportunities” were uncovered, Mary-Jane Thomas, partner at Preston Russell Law, told The Southland Times.

He also had a personal backup hard drive of his laptop, “which concerned the employer”, she said.
IBM counter-claimed that the employee had breached the terms and conditions of his employment by not returning the entire employer's confidential information.

The Employment Relations Authority (ERA) found in IBM’s favour, ordering the employee to pay the organisation a sum of $4,000.

“The starting point – as always – was the employment agreement,” Thomas said.

“It contained a confidentiality agreement whereby he agreed that if he left the employment of IBM, he would return all property in his possession, including all confidential information or materials. He was under an obligation to return all confidential material and he failed to do so.”

She added, “This case is an example of the fact that the authority takes breaches by both employers and employees seriously.”


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