should I sabotage my terrible employer on my way out?

A reader writes:

I have a question regarding ownership and I will preface it by saying that I realize it’s kind of a petty one. I am the only graphic designer at a small IT company that does a lot of government work. Most of the work I’ve produced are infographics and some marketing things like flyers, banners, etc. I also rebranded the company to come up with logos and such.

After two years of being incredibly unhappy here and watching my employers really mistreat their employees I am excited to say that I got a new job that I’m very excited about.

I’ve been wondering how much of my work I can leave with and not let them keep. Obviously things like logos and such is different, but I honestly don’t want to leave them any of the source files for infographics or even some of the marketing stuff that I’ve done. I want to leave them with as little as possible.

I admit that me entertaining this idea is fueled by some personal feelings about my bosses and the way they run their business. I’ve witnessed and documented enough to be able to put them out of business and destroy their reputation if I really wanted to. I’m surprised no one has already, considering how awful they’ve been to all of us.

I read through my contract and the employee manual and didn’t see anything about ownership. The closest thing is a section saying that employees need to return company property when they leave, such as computers, etc. A friend of my mine mentioned the other day that ownership may extend to the image files of my work (which there would be a very limited amount of use for since they’re very specific to the projects they were tailored for), but it’s possible that it doesn’t mean the company owns the source files too.

It’s vindictive and petty and, yes, immature, I know. Really, I don’t know if I’ll really even go through with any of it if it’s an option. I realize it’s unprofessional, but this is a bridge I’m not worried about burning either. My supervisor knows I’ve been job searching, that I’ve got a new offer, and has told me that I am always welcome to use him as a reference no matter what. I don’t trust my employers enough to ever consider them a good reference anyway even though I know that they like my work.

So how does ownership in situations like this work? Is it possible to leave them with image files but not the source?


As an employee, you’re engaged in what’s called “work for hire.” This is a provision in U.S. copyright law that says that an employer is the author and owner of work prepared by an employee within the scope of her employment. In other words, if you did it while working there as part of your job, they own it.

And come on, it is petty and immature. It’s also unethical; you were paid for that work, and trying to destroy their ability to use it on your way out would be a huge blow to your integrity. And it would only take a single mention of that to really damage your reputation. It doesn’t matter how terrible your employer was — “she sabotaged their files when she left” will a be a deal-breaker for any future employer who hears it.

It’s also unlikely to cause the harm to your employer that you might be thinking it would. They presumably have back-ups or other means if recreating things if they need to.

You didn’t say what sort of awful things this employer has done, but if any of them happen to be legal violations, the law may give you much more ethical means for redress that way.

If not … well, there’s Glassdoor, there’s discreetly sharing information on them with people in your field, there’s helping your coworkers get out of there themselves … and there’s living well without ever thinking much of them again, which is a special kind of satisfaction.

{ 257 comments… read them below }

  1. J.B.*

    OP: Don’t do it. Be the better person and have that be the first step in breaking away from the dysfunction. You might also want to read Alison’s posts about how bad workplaces get under your skin and how to move on. Congratulations!

    1. Happy Lurker*

      Yes! OP enjoy your fantasy in your own mind. Blow the image of what you could do waaaay out of proportion and enjoy it! Just don’t act on it.

      1. starsaphire*

        Seconding this.

        Psychologically speaking (IANAP*), revenge fantasies are good and healthy. As long as they’re fantasies, and you are crystal clear that you are not going to act upon them.

        (*I am not a pachyderm.)

        1. NoMoreFirstTimeCommenter*

          IANAP either, but in my personal experience revenge fantasizing just made me more angry. It made it more difficult to let go of what had happened and move on. Also the fantasies soon started getting more and more extreme and evil and I would have the impulse to do really bad stuff when interacting with those people in real life. This added an extra layer of “I’m such an awful person” anxiety and worry about the ability to control my impulses (which I did but I was concerned). I felt I was feeding my dark side and I definitely don’t want to do that anymore. So based on my personal experiences I really can’t recommend anyone to actively and willingly revenge fantasize.

          1. Optimistic Prime*

            I am a psychologist! Although not that kind of psychologist. (Research, not clinical.)

            In any case, it seems that the research on revenge fantasies is mixed. Some studies conclude that it’s mostly harmless, or that it can be relatively therapeutic (although not as much as other kinds of fantasizing. Others say that it can induce feelings of guilt or even increased aggression. There’s a theory that this is because there really are TWO kinds of revenge fantasies – the coping kind (where you just imagine bad things happening to the offender, potentially carried out by you) and the planning kind (where you actually plan out how you would carry out the bad things) – and that the planning kind is the harmful kind. There’s also a difference between a revenge fantasy and rumination, which is constantly turning over what happened in your head, and there’s a lot of evidence rumination is really bad for you.

            So I’d imagine this is one of those “individual differences” things that some research psychologists really despise, and depends a lot on individual personality traits and other correlated characteristics and circumstances.

    2. Blurgle*

      99% of the time when someone tells you to be the bigger or better person, they’re attempting to force you to be uncomfortable (up to and including tolerating physical and sexual abuse) so they don’t have to exert themselves and do anything about it.

      This is the 1%.

        1. Clinical Social Worker*

          “Be the bigger person” is often used by manipulative /abusive people to encourage them to tolerate abusive behavior. “Come on, be the bigger person and forgive him. It was just a joke.” When it’s really sexual harassment. It’s being used to keep you in an uncomfortable state instead of doing anything about it.

          That’s not the case here.

      1. Late 2 The Party*

        Exactly. It’s like “turn the other cheek” when you shouldn’t even have been slapped across the face in the first place.

  2. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

    OP, I’m really glad you wrote in with this! I totally understand the desire to do this, and I know what it’s like to be torn between what you should do and what feels more like justice. But please let us be the voice of your superego telling you that as satisfying as it feels, don’t do it!

    The risk-reward on this is way, way not in your favor. You’re not going to hurt them in any real way by doing this, and like Alison said, they can easily (and honestly) use this to ruin your reputation. Risk high, payoff low = not a good course.

    1. Midge*

      In addition to hurting the employer, I think the motivation behind these kind of quitting revenge fantasies is to make the employer see the error of their ways. Like if you leave and take all your files with you they’ll say, “Gosh, we clearly brought his upon ourselves. We should have been nicer to the LW and treated her better when we had the chance.” But that is NOT going to be their reaction. It’s going to 100% reflect poorly on you, and that’s not a good final impression to leave.

      Also, as far as them offering a reference, it’s been my experience that some employers who driven me up the wall and I can’t wait to get away from actually feel pretty positively about me. You didn’t share details, so I don’t want to speculate too much about your situation. But it might be worth having a conversation about what they would say about you if a hiring manager called.

      1. Antilles*

        The real outcome of these revenge fantasies in real life is never, ever the vindication and righteous justice of them admitting they were wrong. Instead, the result will be one of the following:
        (i) They don’t realize anything happened. They might recognize the result, but don’t realize it was an intentional attempt at revenge, so they cannot learn anything from it.
        (ii) They write it off as an issue with you as a person and don’t think of it as indicative of their big-picture problems. So they cannot learn anything about it, because they’ve mentally decided it’s just you.
        (iii) They actually double-down on their behavior as just confirming that they were right. So they learn a lesson, but it’s the exact opposite one.
        I don’t think any of these results are the ones you’re hoping for.

      1. Magenta Sky*

        It’s not inconceivable that it could result in some very tense conversations with the police.

    2. RVA Cat*

      Does “teaching someone a lesson!” in anger *ever* really teach someone a lesson? Other than that you’re a vindictive jerk?

    3. Duck Duck Møøse*

      If they are as awful as you think, they will probably end up self-sabotaging after you leave by doing something stupid, like wiping out your computer accounts and, oopsies, deleting all the important files. Wish for mayhem and chaos, but don’t do it yourself ;) Let karma run its course.

    4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Very much agreed.

      I worry that OP is so enmeshed in their Toxic Workplace that it’s sucked them down into the muck and mire. I feel like this is a situational ethics problem—just because someone else is evil doesn’t mean that you should also sink to doing evil things, or that you’ll escape unscathed. I feel like OP is trying to rationalize why this would be ok by convincing themselves that their bosses deserve to be sabotaged.If this were The Prince, then maybe they do. But I suspect OP works in an industry where hearing about something like this could get you blackballed. [Aside: I am glad OP wrote in instead of just doing it, though, because it shows that OP knows, deep down, that this is probably not a great course of action.]

      Rest assured, OP, that they do in fact own those source files and that destroying/removing them is the equivalent of setting your office on fire. You’re not going to escape without someone charging you with arson, if not today, then soon. Leave the raw sewage that is your workplace clean and with your head held high.

  3. Detective Amy Santiago*

    And it would only take a single mention of that to really damage your reputation. It doesn’t matter how terrible your employer was — “she sabotaged their files when she left” will a be a deal-breaker for any future employer who hears it.

    I felt like this part in particular needs to be reiterated.

    The only person you will really hurt is yourself if you do this.

    1. Liet-Kynes*

      And if they’re willing to treat their employees like crap, imagine what they’re capable of when it comes to a disgruntled former employee who did them damage on the way out the door. Giving the petty and vindictive reason to be pettily vindictive is as likely to result in tears as walking normally on drumsand.

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        “If you don’t like having me as a partner, imagine having me as an enemy.”

        – Chuck McGill

    2. pope suburban*

      They might also hurt the person coming in after them. That person will not have a lot of important source material, which will inevitably delay their work and affect their work product. Since I see no reason to assume the successor is going to be Evil like the company is Evil, this is just putting down caltrops for someone who is already going to suffer. I mean, I get the impulse, having recently left an employer that badly abused me for three years. But at the end of the day, the person taking over my seat is going to have a tide of garbage coming their way, and I felt like it would be inexcusably crappy of me to contribute to that. I mean, I still hope that management reaps the reward of its terrible policies, but in no way is hamstringing their new bookkeeper/desk manager going to do that. It’s just going to hurt someone who’s already in for a world of pain.

      1. Princess Carolyn*

        This was the first thing I thought of. It’s likely to make life harder for a lot of low-level people long before it becomes a problem for the owners or upper management.

        1. SignalLost*

          It will never be a problem for management. It will be a double problem for the replacement, because bad managers will not be interested in hearing why a project just doubled or tripled in time.

      2. SignalLost*

        I have been that person! You will be screwing over someone who took a job in good faith (because at some point you too were excited about this job) who will now find that all of the files that may not be USEFUL per se will still keep your replacement from having to go dig out archival materials and a ruler to measure the sizes on this flyer they want recreated. Don’t do it – you wouldn’t like to pick up the pieces from someone doing this to you.

        1. pope suburban*

          Funny enough, I am kind of in that situation now. The person who left my current job had been here for nearly ten years, and was feeling really frustrated and frazzled by the time she gave notice. So, not out of any malice or perceived need to stick it to a bad organization (This place is very employee-focused, so while it has its quirks, it’s fundamentally a good environment), she didn’t leave a lot of documentation and did leave a fair number of loose ends. It’s not the end of the world, since everyone here knew that she was burned out and there are a lot of people who can point me in the right direction, but it would have gone a lot smoother if there was some kind of established protocol. Writing that is actually on my project list, precisely because of the time it takes to train people without handbooks. Documentation isn’t for your boss or the CEO, it’s for the new person who is trying to pick up where you left off, I think.

          1. SignalLost*

            Agree. When I realized what I was picking up, I immediately started documenting every design decision that might need to be referenced. “These are the official colors in hex, rgb, and Pantone. These are the preferred secondary colors we use a lot. This is who you talk to at X’s office. This is the runaround you will get from Y.” (Obviously not literally like that but since we blew a deadline where the graphics office worked PST but the approval person was CST and they were out of the office when second-shift design team came in to finish the work I needed, I felt it was worth pointing that out.) more employers need to consider documentation a benefit and encourage people to create and update it.

    3. Marty*

      Not to mention the possible lawsuit publicly accusing you of trying to sabotage your employer, or the various news articles covering it. Basically, if you did this, your crappy employer can get revenge by making certain that you never have an interview where you don’t have to explain your actions again. They can make your name mud, forever, in most fields.

  4. esra*

    As a fellow graphic designer: There’s no benefit to you doing this. Use the pieces worth using for your portfolio, and happily move on.

    The only person you’ll be hurting is the next designer in the position.

    1. MechanicalPencil*

      Who will know who held the previous position. And then your reputation will go down, not the company.

    2. VC*

      Agree. If they are the only designer at the company, and no one else there understands why they can’t use the files you left (see below comment), they’ll be stuck reconstructing your work and everyone else will simply assume New Designer is an idiot / prima donna for taking so long.

      And by the way, New Designer will be cursing your incompetence, not your subtle saboteur genius, because what kind of designer doesn’t save their source files?

      1. MJChomper*

        Or the new graphic designer will explain to everyone in the organization how shoddy and hideous your work was, since that’s what he/she will see. It will just make everyone resent you and re-think the supposed good reputation you had while with the company.

    3. k*

      This is good point. The next person in that position is going to have to deal with all the same terrible stuff you did. Don’t think about this as a missed opportunity for revenge, it’s an opportunity to take mercy on the hapless person that replaces you.

      And if not just for them, for your reputation as well. You and your successor work in the same field so you never know when you’ll cross paths down the line. If you leave a mess for them to clean up they’ll either think you’re a petty and unethical person who did that on purpose, or an incompetent person who accidentally screwed things up. You say you’re not worried about burning a bridge with the employer, but there are other bridges you could unintentionally torch in the process.

    4. Mazzy*

      This is what I was thinking. The work sounds like too much of a routine part of the job. Though I understand the urge if the work was something out of the ordinary or extra or a going above and beyond project that your boss didn’t request. But this sounds like pretty basic stuff here

    5. rubyrose*

      And, if the new designer leaves, get a position elsewhere and ends up in a position where they are the hiring manager, they will remember your name when it comes in on a resume. Your resume will go into the circular file very quickly.

      This actually happened to me. I was the new designer and later was in a hiring position for another company.

    6. Chickaletta*

      Exactly. As a graphic designer, you should know that you don’t own those files. And lord forbid you try to take the fonts or stock images with you, then you could really be the one breaking the law there depending on the EULA. And yes, like someone else mentioned, you’re harming your reputation if the company hires a competent designer who sees what you’ve done. We’ve all come across work that other designers have worked on where we just shake our heads and wonder if they got their education on the street. You don’t really want to be one of those, do you?

  5. FlibbertyG*

    It’s okay to daydream your revenge fantasy when you work for a crappy company, but don’t take that last step and actually do it. And personally I’ve always been protected by the incompetence of the folks I leave behind … they probably won’t know how to find the files or use them anyway (even though I leave instructions every time).

    1. Lora*

      I’ve had this happen too.

      Ex-boss: Lora, sorry to bother you at your new job and hope you are doing well – where are the documentation binders for the XYZ job?
      Me: I left them on the bookshelf in room 123, waiting to be audited.
      (wondering, I told you all of this and sent an email with the details before I left, did you forget AND lose the email?)
      Ex-boss: Oh, I found them! OK, what is this page where it says the equipment failed performance qualification?
      Me: There’s a technical report about it. I sent you the draft version to be reviewed, remember?
      Ex-boss: Oh. Uh. What’s this about pump cavitation?
      Me: The pump is garbage, it cavitates at the flow rates we specified, you need to spec a new one.
      Ex-boss: Um. I guess you couldn’t do that for us now?
      Me: I’m sure Fergus, Jane and Wakeen can handle it.
      Ex-boss: Oh. Oh I see. OK. I’ll speak with them. Thanks!

      And then I wait three days for the next call, which is when I tell them that my consulting fee is $200/hour.

      Alternate methods of revenge also include helping key employees find new jobs elsewhere, being quite frank and factual about their nefarious behaviors and hearty endorsements of the competition.

      1. Mona*

        (wondering, I told you all of this and sent an email with the details before I left, did you forget AND lose the email?)

        Something similar happened to me when our boss left. We were given explicit instructions to provide SOPs for everything we did for the incoming boss. My files mysteriously disappeared… Sometimes you do what you’re told and take the high road and still manage to get burned.

        1. Anony Today*

          Oh my god. My company has a government client. I was providing onsite support on an activity that has about a 200 day lead time. I was working with the technical team on their part. I was on an in-out schedule with them so after 8 weeks onsite I was about to head out for 3 weeks to work on something else. Before I left I sat down with the technical lead to go over the next thing he had to do and that needed to be done while I was gone to keep the process on track. I then sat down with the whole team to go over it again. I then emailed detailed instructions including sample language. I come back to the site 3 weeks later and they’ve submitted the thing to the next level. I pull a copy so I can have it for when it comes back around to us. They didn’t do it all correctly. I run around trying to pull it from the pipeline to be corrected. I sit the team down to redo it. A higher up is now in the room. They tell him “well if only someone had told us what to do to begin with we would have done it that way”. I was so angry because I can’t afford to be the “expensive outside consultant” who doesn’t get anything done because a lot of the gov’t employees I work with are already pissy about having consultants coming in.

          1. esra*

            Did you refer them back to the instructions and training? I hate when people just shamelessly try this kind of thing.

        2. Chinook*

          “We were given explicit instructions to provide SOPs for everything we did for the incoming boss. My files mysteriously disappeared… Sometimes you do what you’re told and take the high road and still manage to get burned.”

          I was the incoming employee who this happened to. I had a teaching job in a newly formed junior high special needs classroom. I was given no information beyond the basics and went about lesson planning as usual. A few months later a couple of the teachers asked me why I didn’t follow the detailed year plan they had worked out the previous year to ensure that there would a smooth transition.

          Turns out that the new principal (hired after I was) tossed it because he didn’t believe that special needs kids need modified programs and thought any teacher should come up with their own stuff. The two teachers didn’t know this and thought I was a prima donna who didn’t want help figuring out what to do. What clued them in that this wasn’t the case is a discussion they overheard me have with on of the TAs about how the principal wasn’t supporting my year plan which happened to be very similar to theirs in theory and practice.

          I want to add that said principal also lost 3/4’s of his staff by Christmas due to incompetence that made throwing out pre-made less plans seem minor.

          1. The Strand*

            That is horrific. And the kids that most need help suffered because the new principal was an asshat. That makes me furious.

            1. Chinook*

              That job left me with workplace PTSD. And I could have sabotaged the principal because I gave my notice (twice – the V.P. talked me out of it the first time and apologized for doing so when things got worse and I no longer felt physically safe at work) but I cared too much about my students. My replacement was the wife of the high school teacher and I gave notice on Monday and was asked to vacate my teacherage by the weekend. I take pride in taking the time, after school hours, to walk my replacement through my teaching plans, notes and classroom rules and expectations so that the kids would have as little disruption as possible. I didn’t pack up my classroom until the end of day Friday (and my students even stayed late to help me) and I left her some of my more useful teaching props.

              Leaving a teaching job part way through a semester can (and should) ruin your reputation as a teacher, but leaving the right way tempers that. In my case, I was offered another job a number of years later by a principal who had previously interviewed me and had heard about what had happened at that particular school (he even warned me that he was replacing a principal who had been a poor manager like the one I quit on to give me a heads up on what I would be walking in on.) I knew my psyche couldn’t handle the potential problems that could arise and I turned it down in favour of unemployment and grateful I did because I met my future husband a week later (which never would have happened if I took it).

      2. Bunny Purler*

        I had an email asking for some quite detailed info about an old job TEN YEARS after I had left it – my ex-boss was still in post. He was astonished that it had actually been ten years since I left, and was also astonished that I was not prepared to help.

      3. New Window*

        Alternate methods of revenge also include helping key employees find new jobs elsewhere, being quite frank and factual about their nefarious behaviors and hearty endorsements of the competition.

        YES TO THIS. The best revenge isn’t even necessarily revenge, but rather, helping people who would otherwise have become ensnared in the web of toxic dysfunction. You aren’t actively trying to hurt them; you’re actively trying to help other people from getting hurt.

    2. JulieBulie*

      Double-yes to this. When I left ToxicJob ten years ago, I was frustrated with myself for leaving such detailed notes, instructions, procedures, lists of passwords, etc., thinking it was far more than they deserved. It was. But when they called me repeatedly for months afterwards, asking for information that I had written down AND REVIEWED WITH THEM IN PERSON before I left, it was tremendously satisfying to be able to gloat over their incompetence. “Ha ha, now they can be jerks on their own time.” Vindictively leaving them in the lurch would not have been nearly as satisfying.

      1. always in email jail*

        ^THIS. It’s much more satisfying to be able to tell them it’s in the transition document you left them and let them feel silly for not reading first

        1. FlibbertyG*

          Plus since you want to end your connection with them, this is how you get off the phone faster. You don’t want a reason to get sucked back in, you want to be able to say “I wouldn’t remember the details anymore but it’s all in the documentation I left, okay, bye now!” Doing something childish like sabotaging the next person gives them MORE reason to contact you and keep you in their orbit, and you want to break free and be done with them.

      2. FlibbertyG*

        I had a job fire the (perfectly lovely seeming) person I had trained before I left, with no replacement plan, and the hire someone who had no experience in the area of the position as they “restructured” – fine with me, I don’t have care any more, but I can’t imagine what happened to all those open grants and nearly-completed projects I left them to handle. I might as have taken the files with me for all the good they did. But still – not my circus, not my monkeys!

        1. SignalLost*

          I developed a website for AwfulJob that had a weird loop in part of the code. It was one of those things where I put in a huge comment saying “I don’t know why this doesn’t work correctly, I do know that this version works okay, changing anything about this is a bad idea, in order to use this, you MUST have the source files here, and you MUST manually edit this file, yes, it’s a pain, but letting the system do it like it should be able to breaks every time.”

          It was kind of delightful to see that my replacement after I was fired broke that practically immediately and they wound up having to hire an outside contractor to design a completely new website. But for about two years, the sidebar they regarded as the most important part of the homepage just so obviously didn’t work.

  6. AnonABonbon*

    It’s equally jerky, but I’d consider password protecting the files and forgetting the password. Just one or two.

    1. fposte*

      Aside from the morality, as pointed out above the person that really makes trouble for is just the OP’s successor. Why screw over somebody in the same position?

    2. FlibbertyG*

      Nah, this just means they’re going to call you when you’ve started your new job. You don’t want to have to talk to these people again. Give them what’s theirs and move on to your bright new future.

    3. Observer*

      And it will get you in even more trouble. Because then you don’t even have plausible deniability in any way shape or form.

    4. Magenta Sky*

      That sounds like an excellent way to have long, heartfelt conversations with lawyers.

  7. Anna*

    As a senior creative, this is a really really terrible thing to do. If this was brought up anytime while I was checking references or if I heard it through the grapevine it could be a career ruiner. Also our industry is small – word travels.

  8. Bend & Snap*

    That’s not revenge, that’s stealing. Your work is their intellectual property and if you take it, that’s theft. Your company can legally go after you for taking or sabotaging that work.

    Also just a nit, logos are a piece of rebranding, but rebranding is much more than graphic design.

    If you’re this upset about a job you’re leaving, therapy may help.

    1. FlibbertyG*

      I agree with this framing, OP, try to think of it as being: “my company sucks, can I take their laptop with me when I go?” Obviously no, that would not be okay … this is basically the same.

        1. Falling Diphthong*


          OP, “I sabotaged them and caused extra work for some low-ranking unrelated people… because the top people were real jerks!” is just not going to work as a blanket pass that future people considering working with you will conclude excuses keeping the files, the truck, the llama, and the passwords.

  9. NW Mossy*

    OP, here’s a perfect opportunity for you to bear in mind what’s become one of Michelle Obama’s best-known quotes – “When they go low, we go high.”

    Sometimes people are irredeemable jerkwads that deserve to always end up in the slowest-moving line in the grocery store for the rest of their natural lives. Sometimes said jerkwads never do get the comeuppance it seems that karma should visit upon them. But these facts don’t and shouldn’t mean that becoming a jerkwad yourself will do anything to resolve their jerkwadery.

    You are better than this. You’re on your way out. And after some distance, you’re highly likely to stop caring nearly as much about them. You’ll be learning a new job, building new relationships, and furthering your career – that’s more than enough to keep you too busy mentally to give two hoots about the old place. Walk away with the satisfaction that while they may have taken some things from you during your time there, you didn’t let them have your good character and ethics, a feature they lack.

  10. Winter Soldier*

    You are better than this, OP. Don’t give them the satisfaction of making you do something so petty and mean. Rise above it! Be gracious, professional and ethical. Living well is the best revenge!

  11. Liet-Kynes*

    “A friend of my mine mentioned the other day that ownership may extend to the image files of my work (which there would be a very limited amount of use for since they’re very specific to the projects they were tailored for), but it’s possible that it doesn’t mean the company owns the source files too.”

    Their ownership extends to all the products of the labor they paid you for. Don’t try to break-room lawyer this one; your work for their company is their intellectual property, and you are not entitled to the source files any more than a disgruntled factory worker is entitled to swipe a Camry on the way out the door.

  12. Callalily*

    No matter how good of a reference your supervisor promised ‘no matter what’, I don’t think she was imagining that you’d sabotage the company and risk her livelihood on your way out!

    1. Dust Bunny*

      Seriously, let’s not get cocky and entitled here, OP. A promise of a good reference based on a job well done up to now is not license to indulge your destructive fantasies.

      The best revenge is living well. Move on to something better and let this go.

    2. AMPG*

      Absolutely. Any promises your supervisor made become null and void once you steal from the company on your way out.

  13. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    I have walked out of bad situations in my long career. The best thing, to repeat Michelle Obama’s expression = ….go high. Don’t go low. That puts you in the category of the people you’re leaving.

    And you have colleagues/peers there? You do something like that- your co-workers will know – and you may need their good tidings in the future.

    1. LJL*

      I have seen people who have done similar things when they have left employment. The only thing it accomplished was that it made those left behind glad the person departing had left. Do you really want to be the one who they’re glad to be rid of, or would you rather be the one they feel guilty about treating so poorly? I’ve been the latter, and it’s nice to have the satisfaction of knowing that they know you were right and they were wrong.

      1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

        I had the attitude – that .

        a) the place I was leaving was what we called a ‘zoo’
        b) I was getting a substantial increase in pay and benefits
        c) I was moving on to a very bright future (it *has* been a good career ride)
        d) I hoped that my departure – here I was, the “bad guy” – and I was now on my way to the stars.
        e) Perhaps it would inspire others to follow my lead.

        My new life was going to be so good – I wasn’t intent on hurting anyone, or anything. Too busy with a good future to dwell on.

  14. Jen*

    Echoing the flood of “don’t do it”. Alison and your friend at correct – the things you created for them, all things you did on their order, belong to them. Leave them and also, realize you may NOT use that work for someone else.

    A) you could get in legal trouble and work could be subject to takedown notices if you use stuff that belongs to them. B) it will hurt your standing and professional rep. IP can be everything in this industry and you do not want to be known as someone who ignores those rules or as someobe who is vindictive and petty. Don’t do it.

    1. Ama*

      I worked with someone who tried that — he had helped design the department’s website at the place we worked together, and when he got a job at a similar department at a different employer, he copied the entire template exactly, changing only the company logo and a couple colors. I was mystified because he seemed a lot more professional than that when I worked with him, but he also really hated our manager (who was awful) and resented that she never gave him credit for the website design.

      It was particularly stupid because the manager had been in that industry for years and of course knew his new boss and of course pointed out that they’d copied our website when she saw him next. (I honestly don’t know what happened to my ex-coworker, whether he was disciplined or outright fired but I’m sure it wasn’t pleasant.)

  15. HisGirlFriday*

    OP, I agree with previous commenters: don’t go low, go high, and don’t ruin your own reputation for the sake of ‘getting even.’

    Also, there is a limited shelf life for a lot of the stuff you’ve created, so even if you leave them everything, they won’t get much use out of it in the long run anyway.

  16. Seal*

    I will admit that in my darkest moments, I’ve fantasized about sabotaging my employers on my way out of a terrible, toxic job; fortunately, I’ve never succumbed to my baser instincts. Instead, I’ve always made a point of going out of my way to ensure that I tie up loose ends when I can, leave ample, up-t0-date documentation about ongoing projects and procedures, and make sure that I clean out my office entirely. A lot of that stems from having to clean up after former colleagues who couldn’t be bothered to so much as check to make sure they took all of their personal items before they left. My horrid former coworkers and supervisors may trash me after I leave, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to give them more ammunition by leaving a mess behind.

    1. Midge*

      I took over a desk, but not the job, of someone who was basically forced out of my department. I kept finding personal items in the desk and file drawer, like CDs with family photos. Every time I found something, I emailed her to let me know and left it for her to pick up. It was clear she was not happy with me being there (even though my being there had little to no bearing on what happened to her), and refused to answer any of my emails. Days or weeks later the items would disappear overnight. It was frustrating and took up time I should have been working.

        1. Fact & Fiction*

          Looks like she was forced out of the department but not the company so she still works there apparently.

  17. Objects Are Closer Than They Appear*

    Super interesting question. I have to admit I did something similar when I left a particularly toxic job. I didn’t delete or destroy anything. But I did archive a whole host of digital files as I completed projects. These weren’t difficult to find, but since my bosses were not the brightest bulbs in the bunch, I knew they wouldn’t think of it. It was absolutely petty, but I already knew from several colleagues that they were going to burn the bridge no matter how professional I was (And bless me, I held my tongue like a champ, despite a thorough emotional beating and a spur of the moment PIP that was instituted with no verbal or written warnings to precede it and sufficiently vague enough to generate no room for improvement). So, since my boss was being petty and potentially going to affect my livelihood, I figured a small bit of payback was in order. Would I do it again? I don’t necessarily regret doing it, but honestly it accomplished nothing. Plus, no one deserves that kind of power over you. You’re leaving for better pastures and that’s honestly the best gift to give yourself. Who the F cares what these @%&^&% do after you’re gone. Wave bye bye in the rearview mirror.

    1. LQ*

      I think this has the most important nugget of information. It won’t accomplish anything. It certainly won’t accomplish what you want it to. It’s not going to be what you want.

      Tell us the horror stories here. Celebrate your new job. Move forward. But don’t do this. You’ve already done the biggest thing you can.

  18. Antilles*

    This won’t hurt the company nearly as much as you’d think. Why? Because every single time an employee leaves (whether voluntarily or not), they go through similar issues unintentionally. There’s always knowledge lost on the way out – Files put in locations that make sense to the previous person (but nobody else), use of specific-to-you jargon, password-protected files that nobody remembers, written documentation tossed in a box that nobody can locate (or no documentation whatsoever), decisions that nobody understands, and so on.
    So the company *absolutely* has experience reconstructing things from scratch. The company might miss those source files for a little while, but they’ll make do in just the same way they would if you won the lottery and vanished without a trace tomorrow.

    1. Gadfly*

      The advertising company I was with changed systems and outsourced its graphics people and between the two things managed to lose clear ways to find the most recent native files for the ads. Instead, we started getting lots of rebuilt jpegs rather than the native files reworked. And I like to believe, as the only person who was raising a fuss about it, that my leaving probably meant it all went to hell. But I’ll never know…

      The problem with these revenges is you’ll never know they worked unless they think they can get you somehow for it.

  19. LBK*

    I’m curious why, if the OP apparently has info that could tank the whole company, she would choose to go the petty route and most likely just harm herself rather than going for the big target and getting some true retribution. Is it just the amount of additional time and energy that would probably require?

    1. It is I, OP*

      It’s because despite my bosses being horrible people, my coworkers aren’t. It’s a small company and if I did decide to go for the big one, it’s enough to force them to close and put everyone out of work.

      It’s not because I’m don’t want to make the effort. My bosses don’t think what I did was hard enough to need to hire a replacement so petty would, yes, effect me and them, but not my coworkers.

      1. Observer*

        Actually, it would affect your co-workers even more then. Because THEY are going to be the ones who are going to be tasked with any updates to the materials you created.

        And you can be sure that they WILL talk if you do this. And, no matter what you think about it, it WILL tank your reputation. No one is going to give you a chance to explain yourself. And, even is someone is an exception and will give you a hearing, they are not likely to find this an acceptable reason.

      2. NEW YEAR, NEW ME*

        Knowing this detail, please don’t sabotage your employer. Your co-workers will be left to deal with the aftermath more so than your bosses (i.e., extra work and probably nothing in compensation for doing so).

  20. Mockingjay*

    If your company does work for the Federal Government, the contract may specify that any products and information created become property of the government, including source files. You can still be prosecuted after you leave the company.

  21. Steve*

    Another reason not to do it. They may not even care. Worst case they just won’t alter the logos any more. Maybe they won’t even hire another designer, I’ve seen that happen in non-analogous situations. (In the few designer situations I’ve seen, the new person threw out everything the old person did anyways!) Or they can hire a new designer who won’t be starting from scratch, they just need to re-create existing assets, which is less work than creating them the first time.

    This move, as terrible as it would be for OP, just won’t have that much effect on their soon to be former employer.

  22. Mona*


    I will say that such a claim of social media sabotage was used (using the word “used” loosely) as just cause by my previous employer as a reason why they fired someone else. Does that seem strange to you?

  23. CAA*

    If the infographics were developed as part of a government contract, then the government owns both the completed work and the source files. (You’d have to read the contract to be sure, but I’ve never seen one that didn’t transfer ownership.)

    Aside from the entire idea being unethical, withholding assets that belong to the government has the potential to complicate your life immensely. Do not do this.

  24. Anon16*

    I’m struggling with this feeling at my current employer. I don’t want them to succeed, I don’t want to help them succeed, and I don’t want to encourage anyone to work here. I’m currently looking to leave but I’m swallowing a lot of resentment about my employer and how they’ve treated their employees. The only thing that keeps me going is the look on my manager’s face when I resign. We’ve had two full staff turnovers in less than a year – that should say something about the quality of the employer and how they treat their employees.

    1. It is I, OP*

      Thanks for this comment. I’ve been bracing myself for a little backlash since AAM let me know shed be posting my question, but admit it’s still hard to read some of these.

      My manager cries when I told him and cried again after I sent him my notice. Over the last few days, I’ve been organizing things for HIS sake and that’s what’s been keeping my vigilante justice feelings at bay.

      1. Electric Hedgehog*

        Something that could help bot of you – when you leave, help your ex-manager find a new job somewhere better. Poaching good staff is wonderful revenge.

        1. fposte*

          Good thought, and I like the idea of identifying good revenge. Also good revenge, OP, is kicking ass at your new job in ways that your old job prevented you from doing.

          1. College Career Counselor*

            +1 I tell myself this from time to time in the position I’m in now. There are all kinds of things that I am doing here that I wasn’t allowed to do at my previous employer. I’m actually a BETTER, more accomplished professional version of myself for having moved on. You can be, too!

        2. Anon16*

          This is good advice, but the management/leadership is a huge part of the problem. Would be interested in hearing “good” revenge. I’m struggling with these feelings, it’s making it harder to get the work done and do it well. I just don’t want them to succeed. Any advice for handling this would be appreciated.

          1. Observer*

            As long as you are working there you have an obligation to do the best job you can. If you get to a point that you simply can’t you need to quit. Easier said that done, but it’s the reality.

            “Good” revenge? Help anyone there who is any good to find another job. If you know of anything legally actionable about the company that can be reported, do so (overtime violations, discrimination etc.). Glassdoor reviews – as long as you stay dry and factual.

            Depending on your current job, new job and contracts that you may (or may not) have signed, you may be able to direct former clients to better vendors.

            1. Gazebo Slayer*

              This. Also, if there’s anything illegal, unethical, or embarrassing going on there that might be newsworthy, you could anonymously leak it to the press. And if there are any organizations at odds with your employer – a union trying to organize the workers, an advocacy group taking issue with any of their activities, or just a business competitor trying to muscle in on their market share – you could help with that.

        3. It is I, OP*

          Funny enough, that’s how I got my new job and the both of us are now trying to get my manager out too.

        4. The Strand*

          Lovely advice. You will feel so much better about helping than hurting, and it will pay better dividends in the future. Trust me.

      2. Anon16*

        Hi OP, I totally sympathize. I think the feelings are natural. I guess the only way to process it would be to think of resisting the urge as doing it for YOUR benefit over all else.

      3. Shona*

        I suspected you might be in for it in the comments when I read your letter; to be honest it’s been milder than I expected. OP, I really, really REALLY understand how you feel. Feeling so abused by a job that you can barely stand the thought of continuing to help them on your way out the door. I’ve been there. And I have to echo the advice not to do it. Once many years ago I was leaving a job and had a revenge plan in mind. It was petty and vindictive and I knew it and didn’t care. I told myself if I still wanted to do it in a month, I would (lax security there meant I’d still be able to, a month after leaving). After a month my anger had subsided enough that I didn’t want to do it anymore. And now, 10 years later, I am SO GLAD I didn’t. If I’d gone through with it I would be thoroughly ashamed of myself now. I look at it as a gift I gave future me. It was hard not to act on my ugly impulse in the moment, but so much the right choice. You can give future you that gift right now.

      4. Jessica*

        There is an alternative to potentially reputation-damaging revenge: malicious compliance. Provide all your materials, neatly arranged, ask your manager what they’d like you to do with them, do exactly that, then send an email reminding them that all your files are in XYZ as previously discussed. However they screw that up after your departure is on them.

        If you have evidence that a workplace is violating the law, though (changing timecards, hostile environment, discrimination, etc.) then I feel like that wouldn’t be “revenge” if you reported it, if it were sufficient to spur action and/or not bite you in the butt. But don’t put your career on the line trying to “fix” a crappy organization.

      5. MommyMD*

        Just leave and be happy you are out of there. You will end up regretting any vengeful acts. You could ruin your career for life.

  25. Jen*

    Chiming back in ti say: if you can find a cradh course on IP, particulaly copyright rules for graphic designers, you should really go to one. It is crucial to know the copyright status of your work and what does and does not belong to you and your letter suggests you aren’t fully aware of the rules here. There should be some online courses or things offered at schools for graphic designers and artists. I really think this would be worth the time of anyone in this kind of field (anyone like a designer, artist or writer).

  26. Chickie Manages It All*

    Always be the better, more reasonable person.

    Also, what esra says above is so true – you will only be hurting the people who are left there, and the next person in the role – and it sounds like they already have it tough enough, yes?

    There is a quote I love (attributed to Buddha):
    You will not be punished for your anger, you will be punished by your anger.

  27. accelerationist*

    i will agree with alison’s assessment that what you want to do probably won’t hurt the company as much as you’re hoping. that being said, i wouldn’t have any professional or ethical qualms about doing it.

    1. Observer*

      And you probably would find yourself unhireable if you did that. People talk. And employers will stay very far away from anyone who actually has done something like that (as opposed to indulging in some revenge fantasies.)

      1. London Calling*

        And you never know when you are going to bump into someone who used to work at ToxicJob, whether they are a colleague or a manager where you work now – or a prospective employer.

        Revenge fantasies are one thing and deeply pleasurable, but walking out knowing you kept to the moral high ground in the face of provocation and that you are the much better person is priceless self-reassurance that you can wrap around yourself for comfort like a warm coat on a cold night.

  28. hbc*

    If you were my friend or new coworker telling me the story of “Oh, my company was just terrible, so I took the source files when I left,” I would seriously be questioning how much to believe the first part. (And maybe start watching my back.) The correlation between people who took some vindictive action on the way out (shredding papers, locking down files, putting something stinky in the air duct, etc.) and those who contributed significantly to their bad working environment is really, really high.

    Enjoy it as a revenge fantasy, or on the level of “I’m so much better than you guys that I could totally do this and I won’t,” but do not execute. If only for selfish reasons, because there’s no way it will reflect well on you.

    1. Government Worker*

      This. I usually don’t have any problem adhering to the site rule of taking OPs at their word, but the dramatic tone of this letter and even just the fact that she’s considering this kind of petty revenge made me instinctively skeptical of the OP’s claim that she could destroy their business if she wanted to. I immediately assumed that she was being overdramatic about pretty typical workplace dysfunction that wouldn’t actually generate any media or legal/regulatory attention.

      So, OP, if just asking about this plan has damaged your credibility with me, a stranger on the internet, imagine what it would actually do to your reputation among people who know you in the real world?

    2. Fictional Butt*

      Yes. And honestly, whether or not the company was terrible wouldn’t even matter to me. My relationship is not with the company, my relationship is with you, so the only behavior I care about is yours. And if your behavior is stealing from your employer as revenge, you can bet I will never associate myself with you in any way.

  29. Jessesgirl72*

    Besides only hurting your own career, if you ever do need to use all that documentation- either because you filed a lawsuit or as a witness for someone else- your credibility on the stand will be completely destroyed if you do this petty and illegal thing. Do you really want to potentially ruin someone’s chance at justice to make yourself feel better?

    Just walk away and try to adjust ASAP to what life and reasonable work standards are like in environments that aren’t toxic.

  30. Mike C.*

    If you wanted to piss off your employer and make the workplace better for your coworkers, you should have organized a union.

    1. neverjaunty*

      Really, Mike C? I am as pro-union as you are, but let’s be realistic that even if unionization is available to the OP, union organizing is hard in the best political climates – and not everybody is in the circumstances where they can be martyrs to union-busting. This is just a labor gloss on “gumption” and “bootstraps”.

      1. LBK*

        Are there still new unions being organized regularly? They feel like such a relic of the labor movement.

          1. LBK*

            I don’t mean it in the sense that they no longer need to or should exist, just that they aren’t really a thing I hear about except for from my friends who are in jobs that have been unionized for decades.

        1. Chinook*

          The RCMP up in Canada just got permission to organize their first union and is absolutely being done because the frontline staff want to take the power to mismanage from the petty dictatorships that can form in some detachments (as well have safer working conditions and wages that are actually competitive with other police forces). It took them years to get the legal right to do so and is honestly the best kind of revenge against those people who thought they knew best what frontline members need.

          Because, really, if your leadership is respectful enough of their employees, then they will never think to unionize.

        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          There are! I live in an area where unions are just now forming, and in some areas, they are reforming after going defunct for several decades. I find it kind of exciting (they’re sectors with significant exploitation problems that could strongly benefit from unionization/collective action).

          1. LBK*

            I’m curious to see if unions start appearing in the tech world. Startup culture seems like a prime candidate for it, where the business model is basically “convince all of our employees that what they’re doing is so cool and important that they don’t realize they’re being exploited.”

            1. Nottingham*

              It’s coming from the ground up (here in the UK, anyway) – people like bike couriers and Uber or Deliveroo drivers are getting unions involved in getting cases to court to claim workers rights as employees instead of ‘contractors’ or ‘self-employed’ for those sorts of tech start-ups.

              Admittedly, they’re mostly joining unions that already exist rather than starting brand new ones, but it’s definitely happening. I’ve noticed increasing push-back against the glossy myth of empowerment through maximum exploitation

      2. Mike C.*

        I never said it was easy, and I know the difficulties first hand. I’m just suggesting something that would literally fulfill the OP’s criteria.

        1. Jaguar*

          There’s more than just the difficulty of forming a union involved. Unionization rarely happens for knowledge work (like graphic designers) for a variety of reasons, perhaps the most important being put on a rigid pay scale. There are plenty of very good reasons a variety of careers don’t typically unionize, and I say this as someone who is very pro-union.

          1. Mike C.*

            First off, I would point to various “knowledge work” unions such as the Writer’s Guild of America or the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace and various grad student unions. If you want to stretch that definition a little more, there are tons of teachers unions, and professional organizations that act in many ways like unions, such as the ABA or the AMA.

            As for the issue of “rigid pay”, unions like the Screen Actor’s Guild or every professional athlete union deal with this issue just fine. Unions and employers can negotiate pretty much any sort of contract they want.

            1. Jaguar*

              I would say writing is creative work, not knowledge work. People aren’t hired based on their certification and educational credentials.

              I’m not anti-union (at all). But advocating a small business’s employees unionize, particularly when they all do different work (which I’m assuming is the case, since the OP does different work than her colleagues) and presumably do knowledge work, is a really extreme measure and it’s worth taking serious consideration of the situation. Joining a union for graphic designers? Absolutely! Trying to form a union for that specific (and small) business? You’re risking everyone’s jobs pretty blatantly for what’s going to be a pretty flimsy union and you’re going to have to sort out all sorts of things from pay scales, seniority, collective bargaining, union fees, how to handle situations if the employer tries to hire a non-union employee, how to handle the employer using contracted labour (or outsourced labour – like, there’s a graphic designer person already, so what happens if they want to pay a company to make a billboard somewhere? does the union kick up a fuss?). There’s also the messy situation that assuming everyone wants to unionize, you’re now tied into everyone else’s work. So if Joe from network support sucks at his job, you all get dragged into the fight when the employer wants to replace him.

              It seems very unlikely to me that a small IT company is a good fit for unionizing.

              1. Mike C.*

                Right, I understand these issues first hand because this is exactly what I went though. I know it’s extremely difficult not always practical and I never claimed otherwise.

                My original post was more of a comment about how to upset an employer without doing anything illegal or unethical. That’s really all I was responding to.

                1. Jaguar*

                  Got’cha. It sounded like you might be promoting it as viable solution, which is what I was responding to.

                  Still, even as an FU to the employer, going around and talking about unionizing does put the coworkers in a potentially bad spot. It’s a nice fantasy, but OP sabotaging their own work might actually be a better idea just from a collateral damage point of view.

          2. esra*

            Man, I’d join a union in a heartbeat. But with the way designers and developers tend to bounce between companies, I’m not sure a union set-up could work.

            1. LBK*

              I’d think it could be modeled after acting unions, where you’re bound by profession rather than employer.

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Isn’t OP the only graphic designer, though? It would be difficult to form a union of one.

      (Is that an Army slogan? I feel like I’ve heard that phrase before.)

  31. AdAgencyChick*

    Don’t do it.

    But you don’t have to spend a ton of time organizing your files in perfect order that would be easy for someone to pick up and run with, if they aren’t already. That’s something I would do for a nice employer whom I’m leaving for an opportunity I couldn’t pass up, not for one that treated me poorly.

  32. 2 Cents*

    OP, we’ve all had fantasies about what we’d like to do when leaving a despised job. Just don’t do it. It’s not worth your time or energy. You don’t have to put everything together on a silver platter for them, but don’t purposely sabotage things (like deleting the source files) either. The person who’s in your position next might really need the job (any job), and creating a headache for them won’t “get back” at your awful bosses. Extend the good karma forward to the next designer, be a confidential source of encouragement for anyone else looking to escape your company, and once you’ve finished your two weeks’ notice, you can officially forget everything about (Now)FormerJob!

  33. It is I, OP*

    Just wanted to thank everyone for their input and add that everything you’ve all said is stuff I recognize. For the record, this started as a revenge fantasy and then after what my friend mentioned, I moreso wanted to see how possible it was, not so much make it a reality. If anything, I wouldn’t go scorched earth on them because of my coworkers who, unfortunately, still have to work there.

    My employers are really awful people and I don’t mean just bad managers terrible, like they’ve sent people into complete breakdowns to the point where they had to quit, start therapy, and haven’t been able to function enough to keep a job kind of terrible. With one of my friends, one boss would walk behind him everyday and call him a different awful name or make a rude comment, but no one knew this was happening because it was being said in a different language and my friend was on a visa and didn’t want to say anything to jeopardize his job.

    These feelings all came from watching coworkers get picked on, having days where I needed to leave so I could angry cry for a minute, and finally realizing this isn’t what a typical workplace was. I realize that course of action IS immature and no bueno. Believe me. Plus, after I gave notice, I realized they have absolutely no idea how much work goes into the work I’ve done and seem to be under the impression that they can have a tech guy just do it, so that gave me a little ha HA moment.

    1. Grits McGee*

      Plus, after I gave notice, I realized they have absolutely no idea how much work goes into the work I’ve done and seem to be under the impression that they can have a tech guy just do it, so that gave me a little ha HA moment.

      Embrace that feeling! Just think about how much more satisfying it will be to know that they sabotaged themselves!

      1. hbc*

        Yes, that really is the best kind of revenge. Clean hands, clear conscience, and knowing every last bit of fault lies in them and their actions.

    2. Duck Duck Møøse*

      Ha. Let the tech guy do it. Poor guy. :( Like I said elsewhere, they are going to end up self-sabotaging. Not your problem. Run free!!

    3. Allypopx*

      It’s great you wrote in. I think people worry about sending in this kind of question because they know they’ll get some real-talk feedback, but most people have had this impulse and I think this letter will be really helpful to people down the road who are feeling exactly the way you were feeling and considering how plausible their ideas might actually be.

      I’m glad you’ve gotten out of that situation (it sounds awful, I totally get where your feelings were coming from) and that you got a HA moment out of it too!

      1. It is I, OP*

        Thanks. I admit, I braced myself for some backlash, but it’s still a little hard to read. And I totally get where everyone is coming from and I appreciate it. Some are a little more real-talk/tough-love than others, but I appreciate it all the same.

        1. J.B.*

          I totally get it, and it is a really cool thought in your head. And you know to keep it there, so best luck where you are headed now!

        2. One of the Sarahs*

          Hey, you should be proud of yourself that a) you got out, and b) that you checked your impulses, rather than just doing it. Seriously, toxic workplaces are so damaging, especially when you can’t help colleagues, but you didn’t let them bring you down to their level, and you’re on to something better. Go you!

    4. Oh Behave*

      My team and I were laid off in December. Of course we were asked to finish up any tasks and document any processes. As I was working at home (I was primarily off-site), I told my husband how easy it would be for me to change passwords. He said, “you’re not going to do that though are you?”. No. Of course not! But it’s a thought ;)
      I even went so far as to finish a portion of my job enough so that they didn’t need to worry about it for another two months. I wanted to finish well and with the confidence that I would not be the one to cause extra work or problems for others left behind. It felt good to take the high road and not give in to my baser instincts.

    5. Jen*

      FWIW, I didn’t think you were a bad or stupid person, I just thought it was a very bad idea. Good and smart people have bad ideas all the time.

      1. One of the Sarahs*

        Plus OP got Alison’s opinion on the idea rather than just doing it, and is here reading the criticism and taking it all – that’s extra good-and-smart!

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        This was my take, as well. OP sounds like a good person who’s been subjected to terrible circumstances, and the experience is warping OP’s perspective a bit. But I had the impression that OP has some core sense of integrity/goodness, otherwise they would not have circulated their question!

    6. Observer*

      I’m pretty sure you can put an anonymous claim to the EEOC – this sounds like national origin discrimination.

      1. 2 Cents*

        Yeah, I think someone on a work visa is still protected here from such discrimination but IANAL. It’s just despicable behavior on the boss’ part, as well. Makes otherwise levelheaded me want to sign the boss’ email and home address for as much spam/junk mail as possible!

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        It really depends, though. You’d have to prove the coworker was singled out for abuse (or a uniquely different kind of abuse when compared to other similarly situated employees) because of their national origin.

        But also, the confidential claim process isn’t really designed for third-party reporting. It’s confidential, but not anonymous. Typically the worker who experienced harm is required to make the report. There is a provision for third-party retaliation (e.g., Employer harasses worker, worker’s father also works there, worker makes an anti-discrimination complaint, employer fires the father to retaliate against the worker), but I don’t think it would apply, here.

    7. MommyMD*

      Unless your employers are on the Pablo Escobar level of terrible, absolutely nothing justifies sabotage. Employees have to deal with bad employers everyday. This problem doesn’t exist in a vacuum.

  34. DaniCalifornia*

    As a graphic design student I am surprised that this person doesn’t already know that they certainly don’t own any rights to the work done. This has been hammered into our heads by many of my professors that any work done for a company is theirs. Unless you specifically have some sort of contract worked out beforehand that states otherwise.

    Also echoing Alison’s advice. Word will travel and your reputation could be ruined. What if your new job found out and decided to let you go?

    1. It is I, OP*

      Oh, I’m aware of them. My friend, who is also a former coworker and 20 years my senior, mentioned it and it was enough for me to be like wait what, not so much WOW LET’S DO THE THING.

  35. Brogrammer*

    OP, take a gander at Alison’s recent post entitled “Ask the readers: times when work warped your thinking” if you haven’t already. I agree with everyone else here, revenge fantasies feel good, but the reality just isn’t worth it. You got out, it’s time to start un-learning all of the dysfunctional things you’ve had to do to survive in a dysfunctional environment.

    1. Bryce*

      Yeah, a toxic work environment can easily warp toxic thoughts from being an outlet into something that sounds reasonable.

  36. animaniactoo*

    I used to work for a catalog house. I became very very good at recreating logos and other graphics that there were no source files for. Among friends and family, I still have people look to me for it at points (looking @ you dad with your school’s 4kb png logo!)

    This won’t be more than a minor annoyance for them and in particular the person who has to do the redraw. For the bosses who you really want to feel the brunt? Not even a whisker of air. An eyeroll at best. But you? Oh, that’s gonna follow you.

    Among other things, if you created it for them, on their time, they own ALL of your work product, including the source files. So yeah, they do legally own it. Every last bit of it. To be perfectly honest, my company could lay claim to 5 and 10 minute jobs I’ve done for friends or family as a quick thing when I had downtime (even though I wasn’t paid for those). Because I used their resources and it was during time they were paying me to work for them. They simply don’t care to lay claim to it. That lack of understanding on your part or unwillingness to accept that kind of rule/boundary would have me questioning your reliability as an employee elsewhere if I ever heard about it.

    If you’re really feeling that burned, go with this

    I’ve witnessed and documented enough to be able to put them out of business and destroy their reputation if I really wanted to.

    and do something about that.

  37. itsallgood*

    no, do not do this. Remember that your behavior tells people who YOU are, not who they are.

  38. Cercis*

    My revenge fantasy used to consist of a floppy disk that was infected with a computer virus. This tells you how long ago it was – when was the last time you saw a floppy disk drive? But it had gotten infected from a college computer lab and I just held onto it. One job was really, really toxic and I used to dream of taking that disk to work and downloading from it and infecting the computers. I never did it (and probably it wouldn’t have mattered at all, the virus was old enough by that point that all the virus protections took care of it).

    The one revenge that I did take was to send a letter to the board of directors of the nonprofit I left outlining why I was leaving and letting them know that I wouldn’t be the last one to leave (and wasn’t the first) and that they needed to get a handle on it or they would suffer. They didn’t, all the original staff have left and partners are departing in droves. And I’ve been blamed by board members for them losing partners. Was it worth it? It would have been if the board had course corrected and my coworkers could have been spared the petty actions of a tyrant boss and if the nonprofit could have stabilized their partner relationships. But since that didn’t happen, all it did was create ammunition to use against me when potential employers call for references.

  39. Leatherwings*

    Yeah, I understand the deep dark impulse but c’mon. You acknowledge yourself that’s it’s petty and immature. And you’re really okay with actually being a petty and immature person? And having other people view you that way too?

  40. Electric Hedgehog*

    If you really want to sabotage something, go with something less personally damaging (to you) and much more low key. Like, resetting the temp control in your boss’s minifridge, or leaving a piece of lunchmeat in the back of his desk drawer. Or get a magazine subscription of Maxim/Playboy in his name sent to the office. Or put granulated sugar in his carpets. Just don’t get caught.

    1. Electric Hedgehog*

      To be clear, don’t actually do this. But it’s fun to daydream about your evil boss’s sudden and inexplicable ant problem.

      1. Jessica*

        The pettiest of petty revenge!

        Put fingerprints all over his computer screen.

        Open a can of pop on his desk to make a sticky spatter. Or, put a cup of coffee down just before you leave for the day, to make a coffee ring that dries overnight.

        Replace his box of Kleenex with the rough sandpaper kind.

        Change his notifications to have the volume on, so every time he gets or sends an email, changed browser windows, gets an IM, etc. it makes a noise.

        Turn YOUR notifications on to full volume, leave them on and then go to lunch.

        1. Jessica*

          Ooh, I got another one! Put some kind of schmutz in the carpet that will snag his chair wheel every time he tries to roll over it.

        2. Jessica*

          Get one of those phone screen prank decals that LOOKS like a shattered screen, and put it on his phone.

        3. Beancounter Eric*

          Electronic noisemaker – chirps every so often until the battery goes out. Small enough to hide easily, loud enough to be annoying.

          Tempted, oh so much…..actually do, ‘fraid not.

    2. Amber Rose*

      Small fish tucked behind an air vent. Or every air vent, if you’re motivated.
      Swap the sugar and salt.
      Unscrew all the lightbulbs in Boss’s office and hide them in random desk drawers.
      De-alphabetize the paper filing.
      Don’t damage any electronic files, but change their names to something meaningless, like A1, B4, C19, or a, aa, aaaa, aaaaaa.

      No, I haven’t given this a lot of thought, what makes you say that?

        1. Amber Rose*

          It would be ridiculously effective at my current work. I can’t even remember how many meetings there have been about file storage and naming conventions.

      1. Bunny Purler*

        Turn all the mugs in the cupboard the other way up. That drives people to distraction.

        1. fposte*

          Ooh, I like the way you think. Turn the toilet paper on the roll. Clear all the settings on the microwave. Put all the toilet seats up.

          1. Sigrid*

            Turn the toilet paper on the roll? *gasp* fposte, you are just cruel.

            (I sound sarcastic, but I’m half serious. People who have the toilet paper going the wrong way round are FIENDS.)

            1. One of the Sarahs*

              I do this at my dad’s house, and I’m amazed he hasn’t murdered me yet…

          2. FlibbertyG*

            plant sequoia trees in undisclosed locations around the office lawn (this was an arborist’s revenge in an article someone sent me recently).

          1. Jessica*

            Move their lunch behind another lunch in the office fridge, so it looks like someone ate it.

        2. Librarygirl*

          Move everything in their office 1 inch to the right. It’ll look the same but they will be bumping into everything for days.

        1. SarahTheEntwife*

          Or if you want to be more labor-intensive, relabel the actual keys, changing the computer setting to a *different* alternate key arrangement so they can’t just touch-type.

      2. Electric Hedgehog*

        Clever macros to constantly misspell the company name in a non-obvious manner? Or his boss’s name?

        1. 2 Cents*

          Probably could teach the computer dictionary a new word, so if the boss’ name is “Walder,” the program will autocorrect it to “Weirdo” every.single.time. bwhahaha

  41. JustBeCreative*

    Honestly? Leave the source files knowing that no one will understand how they work. I don’t know how it is where you are, but where I work there’s only two people on our team who understand creative/design work–and one of them’s an intern. No one else even has the correct software to open PSD or AI files.

    Leave with the knowledge that there will be one of two scenarios when you go:
    1. A good designer will get stuck in your old, poisonous job and your files will help make their life easier or
    2. They will hire a garbage designer on the cheap who will access the files and butcher them, making your old employer realize what they truly lost when you left.

  42. Trying to keep my karma plate clean*

    Don’t do it. It’s bad karma. And also, even though you feel like “yeah, I’m really going to stick it to them; they’ll be sorry,” it doesn’t work like that. They’ll muddle through without you, probably still oblivious to how horrible they are.

    I *loathed* my old manager. Like really, really, really HATED her. I wanted so badly to print up fake Chinese take-out menus advertising 24-hour delivery with her cell phone number and put them all over her neighborhood. But I didn’t. But man, it’s been almost 10 years and I still think about it.

  43. Amber Rose*

    Go start a new job. Enjoy it. Succeed massively. Forget this place. Don’t let them have even a tiny bit of impact on your life. Revenge achieved.

    Alternatively, the glitter-bomb farewell card is always entertaining. /NotSerious

  44. Getting There*

    My advice is that you’ll never regret staying classy. This applies to all areas of life, not just work. Resist the temptation to be vindictive, and sail on to your new job with your head held high.

    1. Eljay*


      I also find that my revenge fantasies quickly disappear once I have left the work environment. My focus shifts to the excitement (and stress!) of starting the new job. Onward and upward!

  45. Statler von Waldorf*

    Echoing the entire comment section with the “don’t do it” message. This situation is so black and white even I can’t play devil’s advocate on it. If you do it, you will be in the wrong both legally and morally, it won’t accomplish the goal you want, and it’s effectively career suicide. This would be far more than burning a bridge, this is a nuking your entire career bad idea.

    Trust me, living well is the best revenge.

  46. Kiki*

    > “she sabotaged their files when she left” will a be a deal-breaker for any future employer who hears it.

    Just a fun story. The person who I replaced at my current job “quit” by coming into the office over a holiday weekend and deleting every file on her computer plus shredding all her paper files. It’s been about a year since this happened. One of my coworkers stayed friends with her and it seems she hasn’t had a job since she left. Our boss has answered every verification call on her with this story.

  47. Jenn*

    I worked with someone who did something like this and it absolutely poisoned her reputation in the industry. People will remember this stuff and share it far beyond what you think. If the fact that it’s unethical doesn’t help you move past this fantasy please keep that in mind!

  48. Slow Gin Lizz*

    I really wanted to do something like this years ago but refrained from doing it because I was sure it would ruin my professional reputation. Specifically, as a freelance musician I was at a point where I was making enough money to finally quit playing in an orchestra that had a nasty conductor. I contemplated, somewhat seriously, I’m afraid to admit, if I should stay in the orchestra for another season and be an “attitude problem” just to get under the skin of the nasty conductor and to say out loud what most of the musicians were thinking. I decided against it because of the aforementioned reputation-killing and also because I’m generally not one to stir the pot and be an attitude problem.

    It probably would have been fun though, until I got in serious trouble doing it. Which, again, is really not my style.

    OP, to join in the crowd above, this will probably hurt you more than it will hurt them if you do it but I hear you that it’s fun to fantasize about doing it.

  49. anonymous designer*

    I’ve seen legal action threatened over something like this. An old boss of mine photographed some of our work, on company time, using company credentials to get access, and did not hand over the photographs. We asked while he still worked there, he didn’t, and afterwards we saw the photos on his website but couldn’t put them on ours because we didn’t have the files. Legal went after him, sent him a cease and desist, and threatened a lawsuit if he didn’t hand over the full-resolution source files.
    Others have outlined why this is a crummy thing to do, how it will follow you, but this is massively illegal. All of your work created with company tools on company time and/or just using your credentials to gain favors or access is company work. They can actually even prevent you using it in your own portfolio if they want to by declaring it confidential proprietary trade secrets type stuff, and go after you for sharing it with the world. The retribution on this is not worth the small feeling of vindictive pleasure at the time.
    If they’ve treated you badly, you get your revenge by doing what you can legally. You move on to a better job and a better life. You maybe even report violations to the IRS or industry governing bodies if that’s applicable. You don’t sabotage.

  50. NotTelling*

    My best friend and I are extremely petty, vindictive, and creatively evil people. We often share with each other our elaborately evil plans to destroy the lives of people who’ve wronged us, many of which are people at work/our bosses.

    But it ends there, in our private conversations of fantasy, because it’s never a good idea to follow through on stuff like that. It’s much harder for the perpetrator to recover from the consequences than it is for the victim, in most cases.

    So sit down with your best friend and come up with a very satisfying plan to humiliate and punish your employer, if you need to get it out of your system, and then move on with a fresh start at your new job. As others have said, any and all work that you did for your employer belongs to them, end of story, no need to have the contract state this explicitly. Doing anything to try to destroy them will probably end up destroying yourself.

  51. Damn it, Hardison!*

    You could burn the bridge with your current supervisor if you do this. If I had a stellar employee who did this on their way out I would not view them as favorably.

  52. AnonToday*

    Ok, so I know someone who did do this. Basically, they deleted all of their files from their computer, as well as the backups from the network drives (why they had access to those, I do not know, but they did). They then overwrote their computer so that recovery efforts completely failed.

    Basically, about a decade’s work was completely lost, except for summary reports that had been sent to others in the organization, but no record level data remained.

    The end result? That person’s name is complete MUD. No charges were brought, and the successor is slowly making progress to try and replicate efforts, but it is very hard going and probably will unfairly impact their reviews.

  53. Bibliovore*

    This happened to me. Disgruntled employee who felt taken advantage of by previous manager trashed all digital files and procedure manuals right before my arrival. Any questions I had of the previous manager who had retired were directed to those files that no longer existed.

    You can be sure that I share this information whenever his name comes up.

  54. Kindling*

    This reminds me of when I worked on a cleaning crew at a resort. While I was working there, someone set off powder fire extinguishers in guest rooms, twice, leaving the cleaning crew to have to deep-clean those rooms for hours. Apparently the culprits were some former guests who were mad at the owners of the resort for kicking them off the property. Did the owners have to clean it up? Nooope. They just had to pay for a little extra labour. The only person you’d be punishing would be the new graphic designer they hire after you, who’d have to clean up your mess.

  55. Karyn*

    I concur with everything that has been said above RE: the employer not even really understanding your point if you do this. I totally understand the revenge-fantasy temptation (believe me, I’ve had enough crappy employers to imagine all sorts of malicious things I could do to get revenge) but nothing you do will make them understand how crappy they are – and will only backfire on you.

    That said, exit interviews may be useful for you to get some of your concerns across, if done in a professional manner. For example, at the job that laid me off in February after my being there for three and a half years, I did make a few observations during the layoff conversation that went to how people in the company were generally feeling. I mentioned that all of the staff knew the layoffs were coming despite management reassuring people that nothing was going to happen, just based on the fact that HR and management were constantly in and out of each other’s offices for weeks before. The managers seemed really shocked by this, apparently believing they’d been discreet about their meetings and conversations. I said that people were generally feeling scared and anxious, which was making for a really uncomfortable and unproductive work environment. They actually asked me if I was really okay because I seemed very calm about the whole thing, and I said that by that point, I was actually relieved to have the ax finally drop, and I’d already “cried my tears” so to speak. They said they appreciated the honesty and insight, and it turns out that the next day, they had a meeting with the remaining staff to talk about everything.

    All this to say, there’s really nothing to come of getting revenge – all it will do is hurt you. But there are possible options to make your point about things that led to your resignation, as long as you do it professionally and with the best interest of the company and its employees in your mind.

  56. Shadow*

    Although nothing says your files can’t be super disorganized and have weird or misleading names

  57. JAnon*

    I kind of can’t believe this is a real question. As tempting as it is, the ‘rewards’ in no way equal anything bad that could come of it. This is really poor form and as someone with a design background, all other designers – especially those new to the workforce – need to know this is not the way to leave a job.

    1. Shadow*

      Yeah there’s nothing wrong with not proactively helping with your departure/transition, but you really can’t sabatoge

  58. Lindrine*

    As a person in the same creative field, just fantasize. Heck if you have your own computer at home (or want to use some paper and crayons) blow off some steam with creative riffs of work. Example: One of my other designer friends made a “Craphic” logo to vent.

  59. QAT Consultant*

    Another way to look at things: If they use what you created, even if it’s slightly modified, it’s still something you created and they liked it enough to continue use it rather than just dumping it and starting over. Take pride in your work and realize that it was good enough to continue being used.

    If they are as terrible of a company as you have alluded to, they will shoot themselves in the foot eventually and there is nothing that any of your work can do to prevent that. The amount of success they will have based on your work won’t make up for being jerks to all of their employees.

    1. SusanIvanova*

      And when they do shoot themselves in the foot, it’s more satisfying to look back and say “See? Even with everything I left them, they still screwed it up.” That’s what got me through documenting my project for my “replacements” – who, a year later, still haven’t managed to ship a major release. That, of course, is assuming upper management really wants to do that – personally I’m convinced they’re trying to discontinue it without coming out and saying so.

  60. Melly*

    Also, I see you say that you’re not worried about burning that bridge, but unless you are moving like 300+ miles away (and even then…) you NEVER KNOW how people will connect through the course of a career. I’ve been shocked by how small a world it really is multiple times throughout my career of 7 years!

  61. So Very Anonymous*

    We had someone do something like this fairly recently. Hope they are VERY happy in the role they moved on to, because they won’t be getting a positive recommendation from here.

  62. Nancy*

    I didn’t have time to read all the comments, but my thought would be to your co-workers that you are leaving behind. First, why punish them with more work or trouble by taking tools they may need. Also, destroying a company doesn’t just destroy a company, it destroys lives. If you take the company down, your co-workers lose their jobs. Now, it sounds like a bad place to work and maybe they want to leave, but its easier to do that own their own terms. If you have valid complaints about this company and concerns, then an exist interview would be a good way to handle it.

  63. Katie Fay*

    You took the job, you were paid for the job, you chose to stay for a period of time. If they were so awful, you had the opportunity to leave. Now, your leaving … so just leave. It isn’t payback time, it is just time to go.

    1. Gazebo Slayer*

      Can we not justify any and every mistreatment on the job with “you can always leave”? A lot of people really don’t have that option, or it would take a long time. OP said coworkers ended up breaking down and going to the hospital. Abuse is abuse, even if people can theoretically “just leave.”

  64. Kramer*

    Yeah, as Alison said, the sabotage probably wouldn’t have your desired effect anyway. I once worked at a bagel place and had to quit (they made me work a holiday I really wanted off). I sabotaged a steam pipe, thinking that would stop them from being able to make bagels. But all it did was make the place a little steamy.

  65. orangesandlemons*

    Someone did this at my org. I know because I was the IT person asked to restore his files after he renamed his fileserver folder to “Suckas” and deleted everything in it.

    If your company has backups, and you store your files on a network, they’ll likely be able to retreive the files anyway. And you’ll force IT to clean up your mess.

    I hope you take the good advice here not to do it.

  66. superanon*

    I actually helped put a really really bad person out of business. It felt great and I would do it again. They cheated everyone they interacted with – part time employees, parcel couriers, bank, insurance company, suppliers, customers, and even US gov (Canadians lying about biz/residence).

    On top of the cheating they were an absolutely disgusting human being interpersonally, to everyone. So when I had an opportunity to anonymously suggest their biggest client (think red carpet fashion) look at certain aspects of billing vs. shipments, the result was loss of that client, and then loss of the business.
    No regrets. at. all.

    1. Gazebo Slayer*

      Now that’s the way to do it! Ethical, legal, and smart revenge that helps the people whom the jerks are hurting. Terrible people deserve to be driven out of business, and one of the best ways to do it is exposing how terrible they are to their clients in a way that won’t bite you in the ass. Sounds like you lived the dream.

  67. Shannon*

    I had an employee leave on what I thought were good terms. I was prepared to give her a good reference and we discussed potentially rehiring her at a later date. I discovered that she sabotaged her work (deleted content she generated) on her way out. She recently recontacted me about coming back to work, but, there is no way I would hire her to return now, and I certainty won’t give her a glowing reference.

  68. The Strand*

    I can’t tell you how much I understand your fury and desire to punish wrong-doers, watching the recent chaos at my husband’s company, destroying people’s dreams and careers.

    When he got laid off, it was one of the hardest things he’s ever done, to show up and close up and tie things up like a professional. But after all he’s been through, my guy’s main feeling is deep, deep relief to walk away and wash his hands of the place. And I really think you want to shoot for that, no matter how good revenge is going to feel. The best revenge is moving on, and having the kind of stellar reputation that someday, when you tell the right people about your experience with this company, it gives them the impact they deserve.

    So I really like Jessica’s advice on malicious compliance. Do everything to the letter, tell them to the letter, then don’t look back.

  69. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

    I really, really know how you feel. Believe me. From what I’ve learned over the years, revenge has to be incredibly petty (like taking the last tissue and leaving the empty box) or so well done that there’s no hint of it coming back to you. And the second one is near impossible to pull off. (I know someone who tried and it didn’t end well.)

    Talk to your friends and loved ones about how you feel. Don’t keep it inside. Acknowledge your pain and hurt – we often are ashamed of how deeply we’re hurt and don’t want to admit it, which hurts us even more. Keep yourself happy and whole. These scumbags don’t deserve any more of your time and energy. If you can take legal action or report them to a govermental body, that’s a good path to take.

    I saw you said your manager cried when you put in your notice. My vote is to take all the good people and start your own business (if that’s a possibility).

    Wishing you all the best. Please update us and let us know how amazing your life is in six months’ time!

    1. MyTwoCents*

      ” My vote is to take all the good people and start your own business (if that’s a possibility).
      Wishing you all the best. Please update us and let us know how amazing your life is in six months’ time!”

      Please DO update us OP! Good luck and thanks for a really interesting question!

  70. Jackie Paper*

    Years ago I left a terribly toxic workplace where I had been treated so badly for so long that I feel like it amounted to psychological abuse in many ways. I decided to quit after I realized I had started grinding my teeth at night and basically lived in eternal fear that I might have somehow forgotten to do something that I was never told about and would suddenly be subjected to an unexpected verbal flogging in front of all of my fellow employees.

    As I was the only one who knew how to do everything, I had previously written out an entire manual of workflows, technical instructions, general rules and things to know, etc for my area so that was already done. I gave the full 2 weeks notice (during which time my boss did not speak a single solitary word to me, up to and including handing me my final check). During my notice period I practically begged the other manager to let me train one of the other employees, or several, on how to do things so they could keep things running after I left. They refused, they didn’t want to have to give anybody an extra hour to be trained. So I left.

    Then I got to hear from people I knew who still worked there about how much I screwed them when I left. Um … no. They screwed themselves. Still a little bit satisfying in a petty sort of way. Anyways, the best revenge in the end is just leaving them for better things.

  71. Lightly-chewed Jimmy*

    yep, the studies for The Fallen Madonna with the [hand gestures] and even the schematics for the Christmas Puddings stay with your employer – chances are they know neither what they have nor how to use them anyway :)

  72. New Window*

    I so, so completely understand where you’re coming from, OP, and sympathize fully. I’ve had revenge fantasies of my own and found myself surprised at just how deep my negative feelings ran (and that was without a JerkBoss who called me names). My conclusion has been that, ultimately, there’s no way these kinds of attempts at revenge accomplish what we want. The people who suffer won’t be the ones who first caused us suffering, but the hapless bystanders like coworkers or the new people who have to deal with the immediate fall-out.

    It is extremely human to want to make someone feel the kind of pain they caused us. The thing is, there’s not really a way to do that. You can’t sneak up behind them and call them awful names; you can’t make them doubt themselves so much they spend lunchtimes crying in the bathroom. You can’t make them feel the pain they have caused you and other people. Even if you could cause them to feel that pain, it would be super unlikely that it would make them see the error of their ways.Attempting to do that is very likely to backfire and come back to haunt you, even if you’re justified in your motivations.

    The only “revenge” that works isn’t revenge: it’s helping yourself and others escape from OldJob’s toxicity while being a kick-ass professional. Help other people stay out of the line of fire by getting new jobs or not trying to apply there. Leave the files as they are, and view the handover process as a way to make the next person’s time there a little less sucky. Write a factual, dispassionate review on Glassdoor. Speak glowingly about your non-jerky coworkers and OldJob’s competitors. Act so rational, professional, and polite that everyone else will know that JerkBoss was the crazy one.

  73. Cassie*

    I agree with all the posters who say don’t do it. At my org, we have to sign a patent agreement that says anything we create in the course of our job, and/or with org property belongs to the org. So that technically includes excel files and word documents, though my guess is the org is not going to sue someone for deleting a word file here or there. I had a former coworker who (after leaving) was accused of having wiped the computer clean – the higher ups were FURIOUS. And then IT realized the files (which were just stuff like memo drafts) were just saved in a different folder on the computer and not the folder they were looking at. (What idiots).

    I think this should also serve as a wake up call to managers/employers to make sure important files are saved somewhere that is backed up, can be restored, and can’t just be deleted by anyone. I made a few graphics for my org a few years ago – I guess I can just keep the source files on my computer but they’re nothing special so my guess is no one is going to want them.

  74. ArtyGirl*

    I was a senior level graphic designer and illustrator that quit a truly horrible, awful employer. I fantasized about blowing up the stuff I was in charge of… but that’s all I did, because I also value my reputation and know that I am truly a better person, a fantastic designer they they will definitely miss, and way more classy than the douchecanoes that were instrumental in my wanting to leave that hellhole.

    And there were a few genuinely nice people there as well that I genuinely liked, so there’s no way I wasn’t going to go out without all my stuff wrapped up in neat little bows and so organized you could cry over how perfect I left things. Notes, instructions, binders that were color coded, contacts for each project listed with emails/phone # and even communication styles and personality quirks to be aware of, files dated and collected, fonts named and foldered with each job… it was a thing of beauty.

    Sure, it’s loads of fun to imagine the jerks panicking over not being able to find something or having to recreate things from scratch… but no, that’s not me and you shouldn’t aspire to be that cheap and petty either.

    Learn this now, and carry it with you throughout your working career: Life isn’t fair, jobs sometimes suck and you end up dealing with very bad people. If things aren’t going to change, get whatever you need from this job (experience/skills/$$) and then leave as soon as possible. Get out clean and be happy you’re free of that place instead of taking a roll in the garbage on the way out.

    And I’m also curious how anyone that works in the creative field (or really, any type of creation like software, writing, etc…) has no concept of “work for hire.” Do schools teach y’all nothing any more about this? I had courses on copyright law and legalities at my little nothing school, so I’m shocked that one isn’t more aware of how the working world works. Not only could this type of petty BS ruin a person’s working reputation FOREVER but you are leaving yourself open to an actual lawsuit for like monetary damages and even jail time if it was judged to be malicious enough to warrant corporate sabotage charges and you had a company angry enough to come after you.

  75. Tom*

    Hey, I’m a bit late on this entry but I’m curious – you say that as an employee they’re engaged in “work for hire” and so the company owns whatever they do.

    However (prefaced that I am not a lawyer), it’s been my understanding that this is not the way the law works by default in the USA. By default you own what you create, even if someone pays you for it. The canonical example of this is a wedding photographer. When you hire a wedding photographer they own the photos they take and any copyright on them. What you’ve basically purchased from them is their time and a copy of the photos. The wedding photography industry is actually sort of famous/infamous for this and most photographers will either charge an outrageous amount or just straight up pass on the job if the couple insists on owning the copyright on the photos (and most of the time the couple just doesn’t care).

    Since just about any company worth their salt can’t accept this they generally have you sign something when you start there that says you’re doing work for hire and therefore they do own everything that you make (you assign the copyright to them). This is less likely to be in your employee handbook and more likely to be in that giant stack of papers that was a blur on day one.

    Admittedly most of my knowledge about this is based on an article by Joel Spolsky who is also not a lawyer but is a business owner and software developer (the article addresses the distress many software developers discovered when they try and put out an app on the App Store on the side)

    There’s states in the USA that overwrite this, like California where you actually own everything you do on your own time and equipment even if the contract says otherwise.

    That all said I agree with the advice that the LW should not screw around with this and just leave without sabotaging anything.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It’s the difference between contractors (like a wedding photographer) and employees (like the OP). Employees are engaged in work for hire.

  76. The Rat-Catcher*

    My supervisor knows I’ve been job searching, that I’ve got a new offer, and has told me that I am always welcome to use him as a reference no matter what.

    I would take a hard look at this in light of what you propose. Will your supervisor still feel that positively about you if they have to spend a significant amount of time cleaning up the mess, so to speak?

    1. The Rat-Catcher*

      Just read above where it was more of a thought experiment than an actual plan. I can understand where that comes from! They sound horrid.

  77. I Like Stripes*

    Oh I can finally comment and add something to the conversation!

    I had a former coworker lock their files when they left. So only their username/login could access the folder. And of course that was deleted when they left so then we could never access the files. So that similar to what the OP wants to do. We hand only hard, printed copies of stuff. No option to edit. And we aren’t an industry that even keeps paper records around so…it was a loss.

    They did it under the exact same premise you’re listing here. Crappy employer, didn’t care about burning bridges, had a great offer with another place and was like “I don’t want to hand over my materials that I worked so hard on to an organization that is so crappy.”

    Well, not everyone agreed that our employer sucked. In fact some of us liked it/loved it there. We did agree that it was a really unprofessional thing for her to do and it came up frequently in the following year after she left. “Well that was Cersei for you. Of course the most important files for the Tea Pot Convention are locked.” She burned many, many industry bridges as a result.

  78. emma2*

    Alison and other commenters have spoken words of wisdom. My advice also falls in line with: Let karma take its course, and give it a little prod with a *factual* and detailed Glassdoor review.

  79. TootsNYC*

    I’m not sure if anyone brought this up, so I want to make sure it gets highlighted:

    Do not worry so much about your reference as your reputation.

    Your reputation is not restricted to your official employer or your official manager.

    All of your coworkers (who will have to pick up the slack for any damage you actually succeed in doing) will know what you did.

    And even if they sort of sympathize, if they are ever asked about you in the future (like, if you apply at some OTHER company they are already working at–I can’t tell you the number of times someone calls me to say, “Hey, this person’s resume says they worked at your company–did you know them?”), they will remember that you did this, and they will tell people. And they may hesitate to recommend you because of it.

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