Keeping Business Assets Safe When Key Employees Move On

Trade secrets. Customer lists. Proprietary software. Information management systems. Contact directories. Supplier pricing guides. Confidential financial information. Copyrights, patents, trademarks or other intellectual property.

These are tools of the trade in the modern business world. Where employers were once worried about exiting workers absconding with office supplies or power tools, today's companies have to contend with never-before-seen methods of digital information storage that could leave business assets at risk. Electronic information theft is running rampant across the country, and even companies that aren't in traditionally "technical" or "technologically advanced" industries can still find themselves at a disadvantage if a terminated employee uses confidential information against them.

While there are now miniature SD cards, portable hard drives and USB flash drives that can fit in a person's wallet, there are also legal solutions aimed at discouraging employees from taking vital company knowledge with them when they go. One of the most effective methods for ensuring that a company's digital data remains safe is the use of non-compete or proprietary information agreements.

What Are Non-Compete Agreements?

Like the name implies, non-compete agreements are designed to prevent a departing employee from directly or indirectly competing with his or her former employer's business interests. Comprehensive non-compete agreements are designed to both avert the theft of confidential business information and the use of any information that is taken. These contracts can touch on a number of different issues and preclude a range of different activities, including:

  • Agreeing not to perform the same or similar services in the same geographical area for a period of time (usually from six months to two or three years)
  • Not using information gained about the former employer's company in a new business venture
  • Returning all company property once the employment relationship ends
  • Agreeing not to entice fellow employees to leave the former business for a new one that the signing employee is involved in

Other Protective Measures

Most companies do themselves a huge service and take a giant leap forward in protecting their digital information by enacting and enforcing specific plans governing the use of computer equipment, email, internal instant messaging and texting performed on company-provided phones. Having remote working employees hooked up to the company mainframe via a Virtual Private Network (VPN) is an effective way to ensure that employees are complying with company policies about electronic equipment as well as helping protect confidential information from falling into the hands of computer savvy outsiders.

Even though companies are entitled to take steps to protect their data from employee misuse, parting workers sometimes feel that employer policies and contracts are too strict or in violation of basic legal rights. If you are an employer wanting to shore up data policies or you need experienced representation in an employment law or restrictive covenant dispute, speak with experienced employment law attorney in your area.