Five Ways to Protect Trade Secrets When an Employee Departs

Employees often present the greatest threat to a company’s proprietary information. Never is this threat greater than directly before and after an employee departs. Here are five ways to minimize the risk:

1. Exit Interviews. When conducted properly, exit interviews can be a powerful tool to protect against trade-secrets disclosure. I discussed exit interviews in more depth in a previous post.

2. Disable electronic access. Make sure to immediately disable the former employee’s access to IT systems, including cloud systems, when an employee departs. It only takes minutes to access IT systems remotely, so any delay puts the company’s proprietary information at risk.

3. Audit data use. Too often, employees take confidential information with them when they leave. Even worse, many employees start taking documents when they first decide to leave, which can be months before the employer learns of the departure. Use IT solutions to determine whether the employee improperly took confidential documents in the months preceding his/her departure.

4. Account for company devices. Hopefully, the company keeps an inventory of all electronic devices, storage media, etc. issued to the employee. Be sure to confirm that the departing employee returned these items.

5. Alert customers and vendors. Depending on the nature of the business and its customer relationships, particularly the relationships between the departing employee and key customers, the company may need to move quickly to alert customers about the employee’s departure. Additionally, if the employee worked directly with vendors that have access to proprietary information, make sure the vendors know they can no longer share that information with the former employee.

Companies need to be proactive when an employee departs. Taking these steps can help minimize the risk of trade-secret disclosure accompanying an employee departure. Of course, these efforts need to be tailored based on the unique needs of your company, the departing employee’s role and access to proprietary information, and the circumstances of the employee’s departure. If you are particularly concerned about trade-secrets disclosure or theft, you should consult an attorney.

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