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An Important Employee Joins a Competitor: What to Do Next.

December 04, 2017

Posted in Business Litigation, Business Start Ups, Employment Law

Depending on your business and number of workers, it may be common for employees to leave for opportunities elsewhere. You may be disappointed to see a valued colleague and genuinely good person leave, you may actually be happy if the person is an under performer who’s hard to get along with or the person’s departure may make you upset or uneasy if he or she is a critical part of your team who’s joining (or starting) a competitor.
If that’s the case, after going through your emotions, it’s time to take action. One action you could consider is making a counter-offer. Perhaps you didn’t really appreciate the value of the person’s skill set and experience on the open job market. Given the time and effort that may be needed to find a replacement, the cost if you use a recruiter and the disruption that may be caused by having the position vacant for an unknown period of time, along with the fact you may potentially have to pay a higher salary anyway for a replacement, this might be the way to go.

If that’s not what you want to do, or if your counter-offer is rejected, there are steps you can take to protect your business. Depending on the facts of the situation, if the person had access to trade secrets or intellectual property and whether or not a contract between your firm and the employee was signed (and if so, its language), you may have some options based on state, federal and contract law.
Here are some suggestions on what to do…

• Look at the employee’s personnel file. Did the person sign any agreements or contracts with your company? If so, is there any non-disclosure or non-solicitation language? If so, if the person at his or her new job discloses trade secrets or starts hiring away other employees or making sales pitches to your customers, you may have a basis in contract law to file a lawsuit to force a stop to these actions and seek damages for any financial harm done. Depending on the facts, with or without a contract, state or federal law may also help you prevent disclosures of trade secrets and intellectual property.
• Shut down the person’s access to your computer system. Whether or not you’re aware of trade secrets or intellectual property being communicated outside your system by this person in the past, it may be worth while to audit the system to see if that happened.
• Go online and see if the employee is active on social media. If you can find information he or she made public that may be of concern, take screen shots and/or print the material in case the person closes the account or removes the content.
• Talk to his or her co-workers. Is there any indication the person plans on doing any harm to your company? Did the person hold a grudge against your firm or its management? Was the person upset at your company for some reason and wants to “get even” by helping a competitor?
If the person is defaming your company by intentionally making false statements that are harming your company, possibly in hopes of getting the business of your current clients, and bringing down your reputation and the value of your brand, that may also be a legitimate reason to file a lawsuit to stop the defamation and try to recoup any damages you suffered.

These are just a few things you could do. Another step you should take is calling our office to discuss the issue, any fears you may have and how you should protect your business. You should also consider having your employees sign agreements with non-solicitation and non-disclosure provisions so both your company and your employees understand their obligations when an employee decides to work elsewhere.