What Can Employers Do About Document Theft?


The New Jersey Supreme Court has held that in some cases, employees are permitted to take confidential documents from an employer without the employer’s knowledge or permission.  In Quinlan v. Curtiss-Wright Corp., the Court enumerated several factors to be considered when an employee takes documents for a discrimination claim against an employer:

  1. How the documents were accessed. This factor will weigh in the employee’s favor if the employee accessed the documents in the normal course of his or her employment. However, if the employee snoops around the office for documents, it will weigh in the employers’ favor.

  2. What the employee does with the documents. This factor will weigh in favor of the employee if the employee merely copies the documents and shares them with his or her attorney; however, if the employee distributes the confidential documents to the employee’s coworkers, this factor will weigh in favor of the employer.

  3. The information contained in the documents. If the documents contain proprietary information or medical information about other people or employees, this factor will weigh in favor of the employer.

  4. The existence of company policy regarding confidential documents. This factor can weigh in an employer’s favor if the employer has a policy regarding confidential documents, the employees are aware of the policy, and the policy is enforced.

  5. The circumstances surrounding the disclosure. This factor will weigh in the employee’s favor if the documents are central to his or her discrimination claim, but it will weigh in the employer’s favor if the documents are disclosed merely to disrupt the employer’s business.

  6. The employee’s reason for copying the documents. This factor allows courts to consider whether there is evidence that the employer would have discarded the documents, which would weigh in the employee’s favor, and also whether the documents are critical to the employee’s case, which would also weigh in the employee’s favor.

  7. The document’s relation to the remedial purpose of the Law Against Discrimination (i.e. to irradiate discrimination), as well as the documents’ effect on the rights of the parties. 

These factors are clearly employee friendly, so what can employers do?  First, employers can have written policies regarding the treatment of confidential documents.  These policies should be reviewed with employees and enforced in a non-discriminatory manner.  Additionally, employers can limit employee access to confidential documents, giving access to only a select few employees who need the documents to complete their job duties.

TAKEAWAY:  Employers should review their employee handbooks to ensure they have a comprehensive policy regarding confidential documents, and that all employees have been trained on the policy.


The postings on this blog were created for general informational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice or a solicitation to provide legal services.  Although we attempt to ensure that the postings are complete, accurate, and current as of the time of publication, we assume no responsibility for their completeness, accuracy, or timeliness.  The information in this blog is not intended to create, and receipt of it does not constitute, a lawyer-client relationship.  Readers should not act upon this information without seeking professional legal counsel.

This blog may contain links to independent third party websites and services, including social media. We provide these links for your convenience, and you access them at your own risk.  We have no control over and do not monitor the content or policies (including privacy policies) of these third-party websites and have no responsibility for, and no liability with respect to, their content, accuracy, or reliability.  Unless expressly stated, we do not endorse any of the linked websites or any product, service, or publication referenced herein or therein.  We will remove a link to any site from this blog upon request of the linked entity.

We grant permission to readers to link to this blog so long as this blog is not misrepresented. This site is not sponsored or associated with any other site unless so identified.

If you wish for Wilentz, Goldman & Spitzer, P.A., to consider representing you, please obtain contact information from the Contact Us area of this blog or go to the firm’s website at www.wilentz.com.  One of our lawyers will be happy to discuss the possibility of representation with you. However, the authors of Wilentz blogs are licensed only in New Jersey and/or New York and do not wish to represent anyone who viewed this site in a state where the site fails to comply with all laws and ethical rules of that state.

Thank you for your interest in Wilentz, Goldman & Spitzer P.A.’s legal blogs. You will receive an email sent to the address entered in order to confirm your subscription. Please watch for it and click the link to confirm your subscription.