The Wall Street Journal (by Joe Light) recently reported that departing employees are more disgruntled than ever. The article notes that based on exit interviews of more than 4,300 employees from 80 companies:
More than three-quarters of departing employees say they wouldn’t recommend their employer to others, the worst percentage in at least five years …
The WSJ article goes onto discuss the negative impact departing employees may have on a company’s image.
But disgruntled employees may also directly impact the company’s bottom line. Consider the following examples:
- A former employee recently cost his employer over $200,000 after this individual wrongfully accessed the former employer’s IT infrastructure and deleted data and shut down servers; and
- A Complaint was recently filed in Wayne County Circuit Court against a group of attorneys who allegedly violated various ethical and criminal statutes in stealing client files in preparation for starting a competing law firm.
Developing a Comprehensive Procedure for Departing Employees
Thankfully such unscrupulous acts are the exception. But these exceptions also demonstrate the highly consequential adverse effect unscrupulous departing employees can have on a company. With proper planning, however, these risks can be eliminated or, at least, managed. This risk management program should be developed in collaboration with an experienced lawyer, but among the topics that should be discussed with legal counsel are the following:
- Pre-Exit Interview Review: Once an employer learns an employee will be leaving, it should review that employee’s file to confirm what, if any, agreements the employee may have signed. Typical examples may include patent and invention agreements, agreements pertaining to confidential information and trade secrets, and the company should be aware of every provision in every agreement or policy that may be helpful to the company. This review provides an opportunity for the employer to understand every provision in every agreement signed by the departing employee. Each such agreement should be discussed with the departing employee so the individual understands his or her obligations.
- The Exit Interview: An employer should conduct an exit interview with the departing employee before their last day of work. This interview should be conducted (ideally) by two interviewers. The interview should focus on (i) reviewing all work the individual was working on, as well as all critical customer contacts; (ii) apprising the individual of the need for confidentiality regarding all such work and customers; (iii) reminding the individual of all agreements he or she signed and highlight any post-work restrictions; (iv) if there were no agreements, the employer should emphasize that the law provides additional employer protections over proprietary and trade secret information; (v) the employer should also ask the person to explain what steps he or she took to ensure that no trade secret information or proprietary information will be taken or otherwise used in the individuals’ new position.
- Proper Investigation: If there is reason to believe the departing employee has or will take confidential information or trade secrets, legal counsel should be contacted immediately. An experienced lawyer will be able to collaborate with the employer for implementing proper steps and procedures for documenting the theft and positioning the matter to obtain all available remedies.
For additional information on minimizing risks at the intersection of technology and departing employees, see the employer’s technology checklist for departing employees.