Difficult decisions over redundancies shouldn’t blind employers to what their departing employees might take with them, beyond their redundancy payment and good wishes for an uncertain future.
If they are tempted to take confidential data with them so that they can potentially poach clients, this is a real risk to businesses – it may make them more attractive to future employers, or give them a head start when setting up in competition, but the information is valuable and does not belong to them.
How can you stop an employee taking your data?
- Check your employment contracts – what do they say regarding your confidential information and post termination restrictions?
- Do you have an effective social media policy – if your business uses social media platforms to generate leads and referrals, make sure you have a policy in place which makes it clear who owns the connections gained while employees work for you.
- Avoid allowing employees to use personal devices for work purposes, if possible.
- On company devices, lock down USB ports and CD drives so that they are read-only.
- Provide employees with as few access rights as possible while enabling them to do their job properly.
- Monitor email traffic and computer access for unusual activity.
- Remind the employee about any post termination restrictions and their ongoing duties of confidentiality before they leave, both in writing and in their exit interview. Keep a note of the discussion.
- Take action after the employee leaves e.g. disable their email and arrange to have their emails forwarded to a supervisor.
What about connections gained on LinkedIn?
If your business relies heavily on LinkedIn to generate leads and referrals, you should consider additional protections.
Jenny Raymond of Harrison Clark Rickerbys, who recently had success in the High Court, said: “This has been tested in court – we acted for a client who was able to call upon their social media policy. This prevented an employee, upon departure, from taking the connections and contacts made during his employment.
“The High Court was prepared to find that connections gained during the period of employment, belonged to the employer and the employee was ordered to delete them both from his computer systems, and those of his new employer. The new employer was also joined to the proceedings. This limited the risk involved in him moving to a competitor and gaining an advantage from having all his LinkedIn contacts/connections with him.”
Making sure that all your employees know the rules, by taking the practical steps above, will avoid today’s difficult decision becoming tomorrow’s long-term problem – keep your confidential information safe and take legal advice to protect your position as soon as possible.