investigating employee misconduct

Shooting-Self-in-Foot.jpgInvestigating employee misconduct is, unfortunately, a common occurrence companies and their HR professionals experience. But if the investigation is not properly handled, it could expose the employer to liability, including being sued for defamation.

Consider for example a recent lawsuit in which an employee sued her employer and its supervisors because of the manner in

Trade Secret MisappropriationUber and Lyft are both internet and mobile application based technology companies offering a peer-to-peer ridesharing platform. Or for less tech-speak, they are involved in what is generally described as the “sharing economy.” However, a recent lawsuit makes clear that sharing has its limits.

Specifically, Lyft is suing a former executive (Lyft v Uber (PDF)), Travis VanderZanden, for breaching his confidentiality agreement and fiduciary duty and after he jumped ship to join Lyft’s chief rival, Uber. According to the complaint filed in the lawsuit, the former executive copied vast amounts of confidential information on his way out the door. Uber has denied that Mr. VanderZanden has “shared” any of this information with Uber. 

These claims and allegations are by no means extraordinary. But they do provide a perfect roadmap for both employers and employees to follow when it comes ending one employment relationship in order to join a competitor. But instead of taking an all-out road trip to address all of those issues, two points stand-out.

How to Get Guarantee Your Former Employer Will Sue You

As to the firs issue, a little background for what not to do if you are an employee about to join a competitor: Lyft’s lawsuit alleges that VanderZanden informed the company’s founders of his plans to resign on August 12 and agreed to meet with the founders on August 15. But VanderZanden cancelled that meeting and suggested they speak after the weekend.

According to the complaint, it was a busy weekend for Mr. VanderZanden. Lyft alleges that he backed up a number of emails and confidential documents to his personal home computer and mobile phone before handing his company computer back. These actions were discovered after Lyft conducted a forensics analysis of VanderZanden’s company-issued laptop. The analysis further revealed that months prior to the departure, Mr. VanderZanden synchronized his personal Dropbox account with his Lyft laptop, copying a “significant number of Lyft’s most sensitive documents” in the process.

So the first issue for both employers and employees is really two sides of the same coin. From an employee’s perspective, assume your digital fingerprints will point to every piece of digital information you touched, e.g., every file, every email, every document, etc. And if those fingerprints suggest you took you former employer’s information to your new employer, be prepared to be sued.

And because these digital fingerprints provide valuable insight, employers need to have a plan in place to preserve this likely treasure trove of digital evidence. This is because the absence of such evidence may eliminate an expensive Don Quixote-like endeavor against the former employee. There is nothing worse than spending A+ resources on a C- employee or situation.

Conversely, the presence of such evidence will be needed to convince a judge that injunctive relief is appropriate and to otherwise support claims against the former employee. As part of your company’s plan, you’ll need to address how to preserve, analyze, and use the digital evidence.

Play a Strong Hand; Bluffing in Litigation Can Be Costly
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Consider one test, the

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Consider for example that according to research (WSJ subscription required) the most defining and critical plays of a professional football game come down to success on first down. More specifically