My deputy manager who left 3 months ago is asking for a document that was shared with me and my team after they left, but they were part of the meetings that led to the preparation of that document. I have emailed it to them without consulting my manager. I was just thinking, was this okay to do?

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    Were the contents of the document confidential to the company?
    – user44108
    Commented Jul 18, 2019 at 14:05
  • 3
    This Question is unclear. You should give some sense of the kind of content in the document. You have a tag for confidentiality but fail to explain. Commented Jul 19, 2019 at 21:25
  • If it's a confidential document there is no situation where it would be alright to share that with an ex-employee. Commented Jul 20, 2019 at 3:46
  • 1
    This depends completely on what you shared and what the company does. It's impossible to make any meaningful judgement otherwise.
    – iono
    Commented Jul 20, 2019 at 12:06
  • why does he want that document? Did you ask?
    – Mayou36
    Commented Jul 21, 2019 at 16:47

7 Answers 7


You need to talk to your manager about this immediately.

You absolutely should not have done this. This person is no longer an employee at your organization is not entitled to any company information. It doesn't matter that they may have helped create the documents and probably know the content anyway, sharing it with them essentially makes it a public release. Now, it may be that your manager says it's fine and would have told you to send it on, but you should absolutely not do this without written approval.

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    Is this really a good idea? If it's a trivial document, containing no personal information, secrets or other commercially sensitive information, and there's no evidence of it having been shared, then in my opinion OP should carefully weigh up the likelihood of being found out against the likelihood that confessing will actually do anything to help their case. Why should they highlight their own misconduct if they are likely never to be found out otherwise, unless there's an ethical issue (privacy etc) at stake?
    – user234461
    Commented Jul 19, 2019 at 8:57
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    @user234461 if it was "trivial document" which required several meetings of a team of employees to prepare it, the company is probably too dysfunctional to survive anyway! More likely, this guy wants some hard evidence of his old company's strategy, to support his proposals to give his new employer a competitive advantage.
    – alephzero
    Commented Jul 19, 2019 at 9:25
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    @user234461 If it was emailed from company email, there is evidence of it having been shared.
    – Delioth
    Commented Jul 19, 2019 at 15:06
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    @user234461 "there's no evidence..." It is unethical to base a decision on the likelihood of getting caught. There is evidence since it was sent via email. Not bringing this to the manager will make it look intentional. Admitting it also allows the company to do damage control. Imageine the company later files for a patent and finds that the document was released publicly, and an employee hid that information. That could cost the company millions of dollars and the employee their job. By letting them know now they can put the proper NDAs in place and document that the release is not material.
    – Moby Disk
    Commented Jul 19, 2019 at 20:05
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    The manager may limit OP's access to company documents until they prove that they have learned their lesson, but firing is definitely overreacting. Firing them if they found out after the OP didn't tell them would be appropriate on the other hand 'cuz it would show that the OP can't be trusted with company information thus cannot do any work for them. Commented Jul 20, 2019 at 13:36

No, don't share internal company information with non-members of the firm except in the course of normal business.

Previous employees do not have a legitimate interest in non-public company information (unless they are doing business with the firm). It doesn't matter how sensitive the information seems or if it is marked confidential - unless you have permission to share the information, keep it private.

You should alert your manager or a trusted leader in the company. Previous employees asking for information may signal a larger issue. At the very least, make an individual in a management position aware of the data leak.

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    "or a trusted leader in the company" – The OP doesn't say which jurisdiction he is in, unfortunately. If he is within the jurisdiction of the GDPR or something similar, there should be a designated Data Protection Officer, who is protected by law from divulging his sources. While this might not technically a data breach as defined by the GDPR, the DPO should at least be able to advise the OP. If the OP is in Germany or a country with similar laws, and the company is larger than 5 employees, then there might be a Worker's Council, which has certain protections. Commented Jul 20, 2019 at 9:20
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    If the OP is a member of a Union, he should have the possibility to talk to an Ombudsperson or similar. All three of these options allow the OP to talk to someone who can both advise the OP on how to best handle the situation, and who is able to forward the information to the appropriate person in the company without having to divulge the name of the employee. Commented Jul 20, 2019 at 9:21

Obviously you did the wrong thing, and the only question is whether you should own up to your mistake, or lie low and hope nothing bad happens.

The other answers tend to lean towards owning up, but I have to wonder: what planet are they on? On planet Earth, the obvious and only course of action is to say nothing. If you are found out, you can always plead ignorance; and if you are not found out, well then owning up would have been stupid, wouldn't it?

PS If you think this a question of ethics, ask yourself this: who stands to benefit if you own up? Nobody. Who stands to lose out if you own up? You. It's a no-brainer, if you ask me.

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    Willingly hiding a mistake to avoid potential punishment is likely to just result in harsher punishment down the line when it comes up. Much less stupid to admit your mistake and work to fix it.
    – user46126
    Commented Jul 19, 2019 at 0:38
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    @JSLavertu: I assume that the likelihood of discovery is very low here. And that if by any chance the OP is found out, they can plausibly claim that they didn't realise they were doing anything wrong. So: do you own up, giving yourself a 100% chance of looking stupid? Or keep quiet, giving yourself perhaps a 2% chance?
    – TonyK
    Commented Jul 19, 2019 at 0:53
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    @GeorgeM "assume your ex-coworker just wanted a concrete sample of his work for his portfolio" Kinda translates to: I shared this information with our ex-coworker so he could share it with others. Commented Jul 19, 2019 at 1:17
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    Well, a portfolio is meant to be shown. Commented Jul 19, 2019 at 2:56
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    Making a mistake is bad but forgivable. Intentionally trying to cover it up isn't a mistake, it's a considered action.
    – Basic
    Commented Jul 19, 2019 at 10:24

Any company I've worked in, your action would be reason to terminate your employment and take legal action against you for breach of confidentiality agreements, non-disclosure agreements, and document security regulations.

NEVER share information with people outside the company unless you are authorised to do so, and then only with people who are authorised to receive said information.

For example sending an updated installation manual to a customer for the product you're building for him is usually (but not always, there may be rules about who's allowed to communicate at all with customers) ok, sending a design document for something to a random person outside the company, often even the customer for who you are designing that thing, hardly ever is.


Without going into your actions, its obvious you know you have messed up.

So, I would simply weigh up your options.

And you have 2 really:

  1. Own up, with a risk of getting sacked.
  2. Keep quiet with a risk of getting found out, and sacked

Personally I think there is more at risk with option 1.

I have in the past kept several spreadsheets I worked on from previous workplaces, just so I can re-use functionality in the future.

Whatever you choose to do cease contact with your former manager.

  • 2
    There's a small difference between keeping those documents for yourself and knowingly sending company confidential information to a competitor.
    – onnoweb
    Commented Jul 19, 2019 at 19:04
  • @onnoweb completely agree, but the information on the document is already known to the former manager, the OP does not say its confidential, and there is no mention of the former manager working for a competitor.
    – PeterH
    Commented Jul 20, 2019 at 7:31

It sounds like you don't know why they wanted it. Some of the other answers assume their motivation was shady, which may be an appropriate assumption, or it may not be. If they were really trying to do something shady, would they have asked you at all?

You should probably ask them why they wanted it, and ask them to keep the document confidential. Best to have such conversation by phone or in person. Their reaction will hopefully give you a better idea of what's at stake in the situation, if anything.

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    Communicated motivations don't matter. After all, if there is an actual legitimate reason, the co-worker could just lie and say that, instead of the real illegitimate reason. Commented Jul 19, 2019 at 3:26
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    "If they were really trying to do something shady, would they have asked you at all?" It seems reasonable that they might. Clearly requesting the document from OP was successful. I don't see how you could rule out that it was shady. To me it seems like they expected OP to spill the beans when asked; they might have taken advantage of that for shady reasons.
    – JMac
    Commented Jul 19, 2019 at 13:06
  • @JMac I agree. I didn't mean to imply that any possibility can be ruled out. It may be shady and serious. Or it may be benign (though still a breach of protocol). Or it may be shady and they may lie and try to sound benign. OP should consider this from all angles.
    – krubo
    Commented Jul 19, 2019 at 17:29

To answer the question as asked: you should not have forwarded any company document to a former employer, without approval.

Since you have done it, you now need to mitigate the effects: report the error in an appropriate manner.

There are few circumstances in which an employee will be sacked if they admit to a mistake. In fact, even if the consequences are severe, most employers/managers want staff to feel safe about reporting honest mistakes that affect them. A prompt report allows them to mitigate effects - in your case, determine why a former employee requested the document. So you may get a talking-to, or even face some disciplinary action for a data breach (depending on how sensitive the document is, how well employees in your company are briefed about security concerns before starting a project, etc), but that is unlikely to be escalated to dismissal unless you build up a history of making the same sort of mistake repeatedly - you are expected to learn from mistakes, not keep repeating the same ones.

The consequences will certainly be more severe - and more likely to include dismissal - if you don't admit to the problem, and your employer discovers it by other means - for example, during a data or security audit or if a manager is given a copy of the document by a competitor.

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