102

I've been at my place of work 5 years now, and my first manager there left around 2 years ago. (It was not on great terms.) We did not speak until a few weeks ago when he asked to get lunch. We did, and that went amicably enough (since I played no role in why he ended up leaving).

I just got an email where he's asking me to send him work documents I prepared years ago, with him as manager, to use at his new place of work.

This seems like a bad idea. Certainly it sets a precedent that I'm willing to do essentially free work for him, but then it also gets into the proper ownership of those docs (which is of course my present company, not me or him, despite that he was my manager when I wrote them.)

I would hate to think what would happen if word somehow got back to my current workplace, should I decide to send him them.

My only hesitation is that I've actually seen former coworkers, at my present office, bring with them & use docs that they prepared while officially employed elsewhere (making me think that the rule of not sharing such materials between workplaces is more honored in the breach.) Even so: they were bringing outside work materials to their current job, not circulating them to former coworkers now employed elsewhere.

How should I handle this? Should I refuse to send him these documents?

  • 132
    Your current employer would not be pleased if they discovered you gave out their documents to another company without explicit permission. – Mark Rogers Sep 1 '17 at 2:32
  • 4
    Just because someone sends an email, doesn't mean you have to answer back. Could just archive it and ignore until further developments. – Kzqai Sep 1 '17 at 3:17
  • 14
    It gets into not just proper ownership, but also confidentiality, non-disclosure, and perhaps even trade-secrets depending upon what's actually in those documents. – aroth Sep 1 '17 at 3:41
  • 18
    Because I see nobody else mentioned it yet: you are not employed by your manager. You are both employed by the company. Every employment obligation between you was ended when he left the company. – user53718 Sep 1 '17 at 7:45
  • 1
    You have no obligation to answer to such improper and unprofessional email. Just ignore it. Archive it somewhere as @Kzqai suggested, it might be a pattern of a wider attempt of your former boss contact his other former colleagues, and you may need to document it (to your current company) if they decide to investigate it. – Peter M. - stands for Monica Sep 1 '17 at 14:35
337

Politely refer him to your manager. Nothing positive is in this for you.

  • 20
    This answer is being discussed on Meta. – Dukeling Sep 1 '17 at 16:14
  • 1
    -1 "Former manager finds a new job at a great company and brings the OP on at 3X the salary in a position he enjoys" - So maybe there is a positive in this for the OP. Granted its a 1 in a million shot, but if the OP Doesnt take that chance its a none in a million. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Sep 6 '17 at 15:56
  • 2
    @IDrinkandIKnowThings That the company is willing to benefit from illegally/unethically obtained documents pretty much necessarily indicates it won't be great. Or if they're not, being associated with the manager they fire over the issue wouldn't be positive. Those risks are much greater than the slim chance everything would work out, so the rational choice would be to avoid them. – jpmc26 Sep 8 '17 at 14:30
  • 1
    @IDrinkandIKnowThings That falls into the category of, "Or if they're not, being associated with the manager they fire over the issue wouldn't be positive." – jpmc26 Sep 11 '17 at 6:29
  • 1
    Pick on the answer not the comment. The comment proves the answer incorrect... perhaps you could suggest and edit for the OP instead – IDrinkandIKnowThings Sep 11 '17 at 17:08
106

You are most probably right to not give him the documentation. It is suspiciously coincidental that he asked for lunch two weeks ago and now is asking you for some favor, be really careful.

You should politely tell him "I would gladly send you the documents, just let me check with my manager to get clearance", or refer him to your manager in another way.

As you mention, that documentation is most probably owned by the company, so it could represent legal problems to you if you disclose them without authorization.

  • 41
    "I will gladly send you..." This is not a good idea. "I am not at liberty to do what you ask - please discuss this directly with my manager who is CC'ed on this mail". – Thorbjørn Ravn Andersen Sep 1 '17 at 8:47
  • 8
    @ThorbjørnRavnAndersen "I would gladly send you" is fine, it's a friendly way of saying that you would like to do what he asks. The important bit is "let me check with my manager" – Tim B Sep 1 '17 at 9:23
  • 6
    @ThorbjørnRavnAndersen It's the difference between "I will" and "I would". "I will" says that you are going to do something, "I would" says that you would do something but can't. – Tim B Sep 1 '17 at 9:39
  • 46
    "let me check with my manager" - NO! Just tell him to get in touch with your manager and get written permission for you to send the documents. And don't warn your manager in advance about the matter. This is not your problem, so don't get involved in it by appearing "helpful." If you do this guy one favor, you can almost guarantee he will soon come back for another (bigger) one, and another, and another... – alephzero Sep 1 '17 at 9:49
  • 3
    @ThorbjørnRavnAndersen (and Alephzero a bit also): although how you phrase it may be also valid as they are conveying the same message as the one answered, being a little more polite never hurt anyone. The OP stated his relationship with his previous manager is on good terms, so phrasing it in a more rude or snappy way may not be fully recommended. However, I agree with you that this is something that should be relayed to management. – DarkCygnus Sep 1 '17 at 20:09
56

If the documents being requested are obviously confidential work product then the proper thing to do is to decline and advise your manager. A former company manager is trying to social engineer some confidential company information; that is a serious incident and your company may want to take action. Reporting it promptly is the best course of action to make sure you are protected.

If your company has a document request process then refer your manager to that process. He was with the company so he should know how it works. But you can send him a link to it or a copy of it.

Assuming the documents being requested are not confidential work product, you do not have a document request process, and you would like to help your former manager out, the proper way to handle this is to forward the email request for the documentation to your manager. I would quickly explain that you met him for lunch last week to catch up and today he sent this request to you, and that you wanted to make sure that the company is OK with you providing the documents. And if not how would the company prefer you handle the request.

Your manager is probably going to reject the request, but you already know this. You are simultaneously attempting to help your former manager, and fulfilling your responsibility to your company by running the request up the chain of command. There is that long-shot chance they are going to say sure send the info, in that case I would print and have a coworker sign and date a copy of the email. The purpose is not for a court document, but just something you can show should this blowback on you that you did your part. Then send the document, and have a friend that owes you one.

Even if you do not want to help your former manager out, you should report the request to your manager. It is probably nothing but if it turns out to be something underhanded going on you could help your company head it off. And worse if you don't you could end up being the scapegoat for not reporting it(even though there were other red flags). So just to be safe make sure your manager is aware that you received this request.

  • 10
    I would especially concur with IDrinkandKnowThings' last sentence to report the request to your manager even if you do nothing else. In a previous company I worked for, it was part of corporate policy for engineers that all such requests for information not already on the public website from outside people/vendors must be reported to the manager of the person receiving the request. – Milwrdfan Sep 1 '17 at 3:58
  • 9
    Reporting can be important, as he might try to social-enginner other coworkers if his plot with you fails. – Val Sep 1 '17 at 4:35
  • 10
    ALL the work you do for your employer is confidential, unless your employer says otherwise. For example (under UK law at least) the copyright of everything you do as part of your employment is owned by your employer, not by you. You have no right to even make a copy of the documents you that wrote yourself, let alone send them to somebody outside the company, without permission! (Of course for activities that are entirely inside the company, that permission is usually implicit, unless the documents have a security classification). – alephzero Sep 1 '17 at 9:56
  • @alephzero - Yes but there is a big difference between a document that detailed a work process central to the core business, and a boiler plate policy that is widely disseminated. Going to your current manager and ratting your former manager out for requesting a copy of a basically publicly available policy is not going to make you look good. Which is why i said ask them for permission in that case. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Sep 5 '17 at 16:26
17

I liked the answer by @kilisi - simple and to the point.

However I'd go further.

You should report this contact and request by your former manager to your new employers.

The fact that he left on bad terms simply underlines how serious this could be. You may not know the back story and their may be more to this than just your contact.

This is either your manager planning to use your work to his benefit (misrepresenting them as your work) or seeking confidential material for his new employers (how serious this is depends somewhat on specifically what he asked for).

I would advise making an email to the head of HR where you are now explaining what happened.

Advise them that you find the request inappropriate and while you want to either ignore it or turn it down, you feel they ought to know and that you would appreciate formal advice on whether to respond with a rejection or simply ignore the request.

You need to protect yourself from any possible repercussions of what this guy does. He may be contacting other people as well.

It is then up to your employer to decide how they want to handle the matter. They may want to complain to the other company. They (more likely) will do nothing. But you are protected.

I just got an email where he's asking me to send him work documents I prepared years ago, with him as manager, to use at his new place of work.

Keep that email !

Print it out (preferably with the full header information showing) and keep a copy for yourself as well as for your employers.

Keep a copy of the email you send your employer.

Do not do this reporting verbally.

Keep records and keep records of any contact you have with this former manager.

My only hesitation is that I've actually seen former coworkers, at my present office, bring with them & use docs that they prepared while officially employed elsewhere (making me think that the rule of not sharing such materials between workplaces is more honored in the breach.) Even so: they were bringing outside work materials to their current job, not circulating them to former coworkers now employed elsewhere.

This is irrelevant.

What other people do that is inappropriate is not what you should do. Those are choices they made.

Now it's certainly perfectly reasonable that you stay in touch with former colleagues - that's just networking. It's also quite common for people to make use of material they got through previous employment.

What is problematic is that this former manager went out of his way to seek this information longer after he left. And not from a friend, because you were not friends, but from a former subordinate. That's just wrong in so many ways.

Certainly it sets a precedent that I'm willing to do essentially free work for him

This is a very bad notion that I need to address.

You cannot do work, paid or free, for another person without your existing employer's permission (unless you have a very unusual contract).

And supplying internal documents from your current employers to anyone for money would be grounds for instant dismissal and possibly even accusations of industrial espionage. Giving it for free would almost certainly get you fired as well, for a breach of NDA.

Under no circumstances let the idea that being paid creep into your mind as making this reasonable.

If there was any discussion of your former manager paying you for this information it is extremely serious and you must tell this to your current employers.

Once again, you do not know the full story on why this guy left but you know it was on bad terms. Protect yourself.

  • 1
    You make very good points but this is hard to read in its present form. You may want to condense your paragraphs and possibly reduce the length of your answer as well. Final note: this is something you should bring to your manager, not to HR. – Lilienthal Sep 1 '17 at 7:36
  • 3
    I see, but this is really more of a department matter than an HR matter. First thing HR will do upon hearing this is ask why OP hasn't informed his manager yet. – Lilienthal Sep 1 '17 at 8:28
  • 1
    @alephzero No one in the company has "jurisdiction" over former employees, but if it's not HR's concern I'm at a loss how you can think it's a non-HR person who should handle it. As there's an NDA issue here - a contract concern - HR would certainly be concerned with both the conduct of their current and former employees. It has nothing to do with HR "looking for ways to get more power" - that's just ridiculous. HR have a useful role and it's not "dumb" to employ their knowledge of this subject (contracts of employment is the issue, not the technical or non-tech nature of the documents). – StephenG Sep 1 '17 at 10:28
  • 1
    FWIW, my 2nd manager up is also who my former manager reported to, and is absolutely aware of how his exit played out (since it fell to her to handle that.) My direct manager's OOTO for a while, so her manager seems like the natural point of comtact. – user76342 Sep 1 '17 at 13:24
  • 1
    Okay, I called up my direct manager & was able to reach them, so I let them know. It felt weird to do so & I made very clear that I sent nothing, & only said that he needs to go to my manager. She sounded inconvenienced, but not mad at me in particular. I'm hoping this blows over. – user76342 Sep 1 '17 at 16:24
1

One thing that has not been mentioned in other answers is that you have accepted hospitality.

In a purely social setting, that's unlikely to be a problem. But where it touches your employment, you may well be required to report it. Many companies maintain such a register because countries are legislating against bribery and corruption. The UK's Bribery Act is surprisingly fierce, and the US has stringent controls too.

Until the request for documentation arrived, the lunch was social (albeit probably borderline). But the subsequent request has definitely pushed it over the line to be reported as hospitality/a gift, and it may even qualify as full-fledged bribery if you furnish company documents.

Supplying company documents is bad enough, as others have said, but adding bribery into the mix should not only set off alarm bells but send up flares and slam the security gates.

It doesn't matter what the requested documents were. Your notes on how to stop the CD tray sticking on that old PC are still "Company Confidential", and anything of more consequence even more so.

In my view, you should not respond to the request at all, not even telling him to ask your management for the documents. You should report the entire incident to management, admitting naiveté if necessary. "I realise now that accepting the invitation may have been foolish..."

Yes, you will probably sour the relationship you have with your former manager. That's unfortunate, but he's putting you in a difficult position. His relationship with the company was never great anyway. It's entirely possible that he's attempting to get back at the company and using you to do that. This may even be the thin end of the wedge of full-blown industrial espionage. That's unlikely, but you can ensure that it never starts.

What reporting the lunch and subsequent request will do is exonerate you of any deliberate wrongdoing at all.


Passing thought: the documents you have seen your colleagues bring in from former employers may well have been in their possession all the time, since before they left their last job. That's bad practice (as they should have returned them on leaving) but very different from their having been supplied to them by current employees.

  • Details are contract-specific and company-policy-specific, but prohibitions against accepting hospitality usually apply to vendors, competitors, governments and customers, not friends or former (or even current) colleagues. And there's usually a specific amount: accepting a meal worth less than, say, $50 may not need to be reported. But yes, doing a "favor," especially one like this, stinks. "Bribe" is a bit strong but not a crazy word to use, if the employee actually provided the documents. – door_number_three Sep 3 '17 at 21:55
  • 2
    I'd have to disagree on the "accepting hospitality" front, and on admitting anything. "Admitting naivete" means you think you did something wrong. If the meeting went as the OP described, he did nothing wrong, because no anti-bribery legislation prevents ex-colleagues from meeting socially. It's not borderline at all; and even if he was trying to poach the OP for his new company, that's still perfectly fine. But regardless of any of that, and regardless of whatever happened, the first advice anyone who's had contact with the law will tell you is admit nothing. – Graham Sep 4 '17 at 15:58
  • What I think I meant was, "Perhaps I could have seen this coming. I didn't see it coming, but now it's happened, it's something the company should know about." By all means omit the first sentence. – Andrew Leach Sep 4 '17 at 16:14
  • Interesting angle, but the OP never stated that the ex-manager paid for the lunch? – lambshaanxy Sep 4 '17 at 23:00
0

You can lose your job at best, could even go to jail. Probably even he himself wasn't supposed to take any documents with him while leaving the company. (I'm assuming he did but not everything he needed apparently.)

Inconsiderate of him to ask you to even consider this. Now you know not to accept any social calls from him either.

Answer is "No. I'm not at liberty to disclose any document without written permission as per company policy and laws." . That's right, if it's being released by you, get written permission or email for the record.

I myself have documents from my previous jobs, I kept those I worked on, only from technical reference / guide point of view, in case I need to do a similar documentation, I have a format in front of me.

I've been asked for it by another ex-colleague and I denied its existence because I'm not with the company anymore.

Even if you leave this job one day, you can explain why you still have a copy (provided you didn't download documents you shouldn't have) but you cannot explain why you gave it to someone else.

  • 4
    Claiming that the lose one's job is the best outcome is extreme. There are other possible and even likely outcomes (written reprimand, verbal warning, stern talking-to, mild rebuke, shrug of the shoulders and "who cares?" etc.) – barbecue Sep 3 '17 at 23:55
-1

Whilst extremely unlikely, consider the idea that YOUR company is trying a penetration test of itself via its employees.

Perhaps your CEO has asked a former employee to see if any of their current employees are susceptible to industrial espionage and this guy is 'trying' to access internal documents with various other people in your company, not just you, to see who is 'vulnerable'.

I once was at a job interview and was left in an office for a few minutes before the interviewer arrived. There were a couple of documents laid on the desk in front of me, facing away. Out of curiosity, I glanced at the documents, but didn't really take anything in about them. During the interview, I was asked if I had read any of the papers on the desk, to which I replied yes. It was part of the interview !! They mentioned that whilst on customers premises, they expected their employees to read anything they could see, in case there was anything about their competitors that could be useful in the future.

  • 1
    Perhaps this is not that case, the OP (open-ball) already mentioned in a comment that he reported the situation to his current manager and that she seemed inconvenienced. Also ending a contract in bad-terms with an employee would be hard to request from him to perform such a test with them. However your answer adds a new and plausible possibility to this context, so I upvoted. – Armfoot Sep 4 '17 at 12:56
  • 2
    if a prospective employer told me i should be conducting low-key espionage when interacting with customers, that would be a pretty major red flag for me. – this community is transphobic Sep 6 '17 at 3:21
  • I hope you didn't take that job... – jpmc26 Sep 6 '17 at 3:56

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy