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I just started a new job and have recently gotten wind that at my last job, the person that was hired to assume my responsibilities is being given the exact computer image of the laptop that I used on the job.

This, importantly, means that file system that I left behind is being given to the new hire as-is. So, if I left any personal information on this computer, the new hire will have access to those files in my file system.

I did my due diligence during my two week notice and zipped up all of the work-related files that I thought would be useful to somebody that replaced me, and put a big README in that zip file that explained what everything was in there. (I gave this zip to my manager on a thumb drive with the intent of protecting my privacy and preventing this exact scenario) My manager apparently doesn't want to use this thumb drive and instead wants to copy the image of my computer and give that to the new hire.

I also tried my best to find and delete anything on my computer's file system that contained personal information. However, I know for a fact that while I worked at my last company, I filled out and saved a number of forms that contained banking details or my SSN. I filled out these forms because they were required by my employer for various reasons. Those forms are most likely deleted, but what if I forgot/missed something?

So Questions:

Is my previous employer allowed to do this? By 'this' I mean copy the image of a previous employee's laptop to be given to another employee.

I'll probably reach out to my previous manager and express my concerns, but if the new hire ends up finding one of the forms that I filled out (that contains banking details or my SSN), am I allowed to make a specific request for that file to be deleted?

  • Are you sure by image they mean including the file system? More generally, when talking about an image, people might mean “the same software, settings and permissions” as the previous one, so the next person with your responsibilities doesn’t take as long to get up and running. – AsheraH Nov 27 '19 at 5:37
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    Teachable moment. Never store personal information on a work computer. If you absolutely have to, use encryption. – Keltari Nov 27 '19 at 6:39
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    @Keltari Not a teachable moment. OP makes clear that they had to enter their banking details and SSN as part of their work. They should probably have been deep-wiping the device instead. – Captain Emacs Nov 27 '19 at 11:33
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    "I filled out and saved a number of forms that contained banking details or my SSN. I filled out these forms because they were required by my employer for various reasons." - This should be a prominent part of your first paragraph, otherwise the answer list is going to get cluttered with noise about how only a fool would store personal data on a work computer blah blah. – A. I. Breveleri Nov 27 '19 at 14:10
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    Companies are responsible for the security of the forms you filled out for them. They have a lot to lose if somebody steals your identity due to those forms of theirs getting into the wrong hands. You might just let your manager know, "heads up, I may have left some company forms with personal information on that computer; if you see any please delete them." – O. Jones Nov 27 '19 at 20:38
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Is my previous employer allowed to do this? By 'this' I mean copy the image of a previous employee's laptop to be given to another employee.

Yes, in the US (and perhaps other locales) they are allowed to do this.

I'll probably reach out to my previous manager and express my concerns, but if the new hire ends up finding one of the forms that I filled out (that contains banking details or my SSN), am I allowed to make a specific request for that file to be deleted?

You can request anything. But it's not clear how you could know if the new hire finds the form.

Your best bet is probably to talk to your former manager and explain what worries you.

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    It's the company's property. @SouravGhosh have you any reference that the company would not be allowed to use their own property. – user111472 Nov 27 '19 at 7:49
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    It probably depends on the OP's location. Some countries have very strict laws surrounding personal data and may require that an employer wipes any personally identifying data when the employee leaves. In that case, even keeping the image may be against the law, let alone sharing it with another employee. – delinear Nov 27 '19 at 8:45
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    @KeithLoughnane this would be illegal in most of the EU. Without a location, it's hard to say whether or not it's allowed. – Erik Nov 27 '19 at 10:07
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    @Erik from the use of "SSN" I think it's reasonable to assume US – motosubatsu Nov 27 '19 at 11:03
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    @motosubatsu, French have "Numéro de Sécurité Sociale", Dutch "SozialverSicherungsNummer", Many german site use SSN instead of RNVR. SSN is quite common acronym us on almost all EU. – Drag and Drop Nov 27 '19 at 13:26
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I appreciate the other answers already answer this from an ownership perspective (it was never your computer, you were issued it to perform work activities and they are perfectly within their rights to re-issue the laptop to a new employee (regulations may apply to what must be done first), etc etc), I just wanted to add something technical.

The files in question are either going to be stored within your personal profile folder of the PC, or - if you saved them elsewhere - in a random location on the C: drive. So, if the files were stored within a new folder you created , e.g.: C:\MyPersonalStuff\, then access will be possible to any user of the computer.

However, if the documents/files in question were contained wholly within your user profile (i.e. your My Documents, Desktop, Downloads, etc folders) or subset of folders therein, unless the new hire is a local administrator on that PC (ie can install software and bypass security messages, and this should be unlikely assuming good security practices), then they more than likely will NOT have access to the files in "your" old area, unless explicitly granted by a sysadmin (which is unlikely). The new computer user will have a different computer login to you, and so won't "see" anything. To them, it'll be a brand new computer with the programs they need to do their job.

Lesson learnt here I hope - don't store personal documents on your work computer, it's not yours and some day you may have to give it back. If you must have personal documents, use online storage such as OneDrive/Google Drive to store the documents, and log out of the cloud accounts on the computers prior to handing the unit back.

  • Let’s say “don’t store personal documents that you don’t want anyone else to read”. You can keep your shopping list on the works computer if you don’t mind me reading it. – gnasher729 Nov 27 '19 at 13:34
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In the U.K.: 1. Leaving personal information on a computer that isn’t yours is stupid. 2. The company is under no obligation to clean up your computer, and pay the cost of sorting out what is company property and what is your private stuff. 3. The company is not allowed to read your private stuff - except as needed to find out what is owned by the company and what is yours. 4. If the new employee can read what’s left on the computer and uses that information, it’s your fault as much as it is your fault if your car gets stolen because you left the keys in the door.

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    You must read the whole question. OP says, " I filled out these forms because they were required by my employer for various reasons." – A. I. Breveleri Nov 27 '19 at 14:12
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    There was no requirement that they stayed on the computer. – gnasher729 Nov 27 '19 at 20:41
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Is my previous employer allowed to do this?

In the USA, the computer and all of the data on it belongs to the company.

I'll probably reach out to my previous manager and express my concerns, but if the new hire ends up finding one of the forms that I filled out (that contains banking details or my SSN), am I allowed to make a specific request for that file to be deleted?

You can make the request but if you're in the USA, they're not legally obligated to honor your request.

  • OP did not mention conducting personal business. They may have provided their SSN or banking details when setting up direct deposit, tax information, benefits information (enrolling dependents requires their SSNs usually), etc. I have entered my SSN into my work computer one time for benefits as well when I was first hired. (Now it just rolls over year to year, so I don't need to re-enter it.) It can't be done from home because it's via the intranet. – notmySOaccount Nov 27 '19 at 4:10
  • You're right. I didn't read the question carefully enough and made assumptions. Edited to remove that from my answer. – joeqwerty Nov 27 '19 at 4:21
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    Can you cite a law or statute that states that they are required to honor your request? I'm not aware of any and I'd like to clarify my understanding of the issue. – joeqwerty Nov 27 '19 at 6:08
  • I stand corrected. I couldn't find one. – Stephan Branczyk Nov 27 '19 at 6:32
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I think you might be overreacting. Unless the new hire has administrative credentials or you were consciously saving your forms or browsing history in places where you shouldn't, the new hire cannot access your stuff.

If you still have contact with the hiring manager, by all means let them know, but you may be worrying over nothing.

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Go to a lawyer, and get them to draft a cease and desist letter.

While the computer and the files stored on it might be company property, your personal bank details wouldn't be, and exposing other employees to them would put you at risk of financial damages that would justify you suing them for recompense. As such, you could go to a lawyer and get them to write a cease and desist letter informing them of this, and of your intention to sue them should you take damages as a result of this action.

Needless to say, this is likely to result in a deterioration of your relationship with them, so only do this after you reach out to them more informally to request them to refrain from this course of action, and if you are willing to burn any bridges that might remain between you.

  • Seems rather excessive and expensive to first go for a lawyer – Ed Heal Nov 27 '19 at 13:23
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    While OP could certainly try this, I doubt this would work. To rephrase the question a bit, if I left a sticky note with my SSN in sharpie on the fridge at my work, how is the company liable for my negligence? – Red Mage Nov 27 '19 at 13:24
  • If you leave your bank details outside your control that’s entirely your problem. Unless you accept getting a bill nobody is going to clean up your mess. – gnasher729 Nov 27 '19 at 13:24
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    @nick012000 yes, but he's not asking them to remove it, he's asking them to throw out the fridge and not use it. If the request was "I know there's a file located here and here, that has personal details, please delete it" that would be a fair request. But saying that they cannot use the entire image because there might be a file, is not a reasonable one. If he said to them, please throw out the fridge and don't use it, they'd not be at fault for failing to throw the fridge out. – Sander Skovgaard Hansen Nov 27 '19 at 14:08
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    @Sander Skovgaard Hansen: Well he did prepare a proper dump of his job-related work product, in anticipation that IT would deep-wipe the machine before re-use. – A. I. Breveleri Nov 27 '19 at 14:16

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