Can I keep company documents after dismissal?


As the saying goes, “knowledge is power,” and companies can become very unhappy when an employee retains confidential company information after their employment has ended. Company policies often state that such information must be deleted from the employee’s computer after employment with the company concludes. In the case of Wairoa District Council v Simon Mutonhori, events turned sour when the Council discovered that Mr Mutonhori still had company documents in his possession post-employment, which the Council thought had been deleted. 



Mr Mutonhori was employed by the Wairoa District Council as a Customer Services Manager for Regulatory Services in September 2020 and was later promoted to the role of Group Manager for Planning and Regulatory Services. Mutonhori was dismissed from his employment with the Council in August 2022. On the day of his dismissal, the Council wrote a letter to Mutonhori telling him to return any Council property he had within 24 hours. The letter also contained “ongoing confidentiality and privacy obligations,” which instructed Mutonhori that post-employment he must not use, disclose, or distribute company confidential information to any person or entity as per clause 29.1 of his employment agreement. 

Mutonhori subsequently brought forward a claim for unjustified dismissal, and at the hearing, Mutonhori provided communications about Council operations, personal information, and commercially sensitive documents as evidence. The Council was concerned about Mutonhori’s retention and use of this information and believed that he was in breach of his employment agreement. 

Mutonhori submitted that he was not liable because he was still employed at the time the information was disclosed and that the information was public information. 



The Employment Relations Authority found that Mutonhori did breach his employment agreement by retaining the information after his employment ended and disclosing the company’s information at the ERA hearing. 

The ERA held that Mutonhori had been dismissed by the time of the hearing and was not employed at that time by the company. Even though there may have been an “unjustifiable dismissal” case, that does not take away from the fact that Mutonhori had still been dismissed, wrongfully or not. The ERA also held that not all Council documents are public property and some information stored may be confidential and personal; in this case, the information Mutonhori disclosed was personal and sensitive and should have remained confidential. 

Mutonhori was ordered to permanently delete all the council’s documents that were in his possession. 


Key Takeaways 

After leaving a company or organisation, an employee will often be made to delete any company documents or information in their possession. An employee must comply with this mandate, or else legal proceedings may ensue to enforce document deletion. Ultimately, employees must ensure to abide by the company policies which they have agreed to follow, including policies regarding the deletion of documents.

If you are an employee facing dismissal or if you are an employer who is concerned about the retention of company documents, please get in touch with the Watermark Employment Law team. We are happy to assist you.