1.23.2017

Business Law Monday: Protecting Trade Secrets and Non-Competes with Low Level Employees

Today's business tips are (1) don't be too quick to kick out an employee who has quit your company for a competitor and (2) be wary of forcing low-level employees to sign non-competes. To find out, why read the excerpts below:

(1) from When Employees Leave With Your Secrets
When you first learn of a departure, you are engaged in triage with two parallel priorities: find out what’s going on, and lock down the evidence.  In most circumstances that may give you time for an initial meeting to get some details and perhaps try to turn the situation around.  But you also have to be ready immediately to take actions that guarantee you get control over your data.
The initial investigation is low key, brief and uses internal resources.  Talk to the supervisor, find out what the departing employee knows and the apparent level of risk presented by the departure.  Identify relevant contracts, especially noncompete, nonsolicitation and invention assignments.  Get a quick read on any unusual recent behavior, including attempts to access information outside normal areas of responsibility, emailing documents to a personal website or uploading to a cloud storage site.
At this point you may be ready for an initial meeting to confront the employee with any disturbing facts or inferences and make a further assessment of the risk.  Where are they planning to go and what will be their responsibilities?  How long have they been looking at this?  What are the attractions of this new opportunity, and what are the negatives with their current position?  If you don’t want to lose them, ask about their willingness to change their mind and stay.  If not, make sure that no one else is involved in the move, and assess whether there is any project that would be seriously hurt if they left immediately.  (If so, then you might want to arrange a carefully controlled and swift transition process.)
Now you need to find out where all of your data are located.  Where are the company laptop and other mobile devices, including USB drives and security keys?  Is anything on a home computer system, in personal email accounts or stored in a cloud account such as Dropbox?  All of these assets, as well as physical files, need to be located and secure in company premises.  Be sure to emphasize clearly – and confirm this in writing – that nothing is to be deleted, even personal files, until the exit interview that will be scheduled to debrief and to separate personal from company data.
If the employee has given notice of willingness to stay on for a period of time, you can take them up on that without necessarily having them be present in the facilities.  Beyond tasking them with gathering and producing all company devices and data, and remaining available to answer questions, you may want to just send them home.  Preserve evidence by duplicating (preferably through a forensic service) all of the drives and accounts to which the employee had access.  And avoid any new damage by terminating the employee’s access to electronic systems.
The initial phase is often completed in the same day that notice is received, and in the process you will have made a basic assessment of the significance of the departure and the level of risk it poses.  If that assessment is moderate to serious, then the next step will often involve bringing in outside counsel to perform a deeper investigation.  This carries several advantages.  First, the entire process will be protected against disclosure by attorney communication and work product privileges.  Second, you will have the benefit of specialists who know what questions to ask and how far they can properly and usefully dig for the story.  Third, you will get sober, independent advice that is not affected by the emotional reaction of some managers when troublesome departures happen on their watch.
Outside counsel can assist with tying down the forensic record and reviewing it for evidence of improper behavior.  They will help you prepare for the exit interview, and in some circumstances they may participate in that process.  More typically you will conduct the exit interview internally, with two primary goals: first, learn as much as you can about where the person is going and what they are going to do; and second, deliver a clear and firm message about the importance of respecting their legal obligations, and the consequences if they don’t.
Here is a common exit interview checklist:
  • Confirm that all company property and information has been returned.
  • Ask about why they are leaving and how it might have been prevented.  This might provide information about others who are at risk.
  • Identify who they have talked to about their leaving; if the person is a manger, remind them of their duties relating to solicitation.
  • Find out about how they got the new job and precisely what they will be doing.
  • Ask them how they intend to ensure that they can perform their new functions while scrupulously protecting your confidential information.
  • Provide copies of their relevant agreements and point out their continuing restrictions and responsibilities; ask if they have questions, and emphasize that these promises are extremely important and serious and that the company will enforce them if it believes there is a breach.
  • Ask them to sign a “termination statement,” for example:
I certify that I do not have in my possession, nor have I failed to return, any files, data, notebooks, drawings, notes, reports, proposals, or other documents or materials (or copies or extracts thereof) or devices, equipment, or other property belonging to XYZ Corporation.
I also certify that I have complied with and will continue to comply with all of the provisions of the Proprietary Information and Employee Inventions Agreement which I have previously signed, including my obligation to preserve as confidential all secret technical and business information pertaining to XYZ Corporation.
Following the exit interview, review the results with counsel and formulate a strategy.  In most cases, the only followup will be a “warning letter” addressed either to the employee alone or also to the new employer, noting the company’s concerns, citing any relevant restrictive agreements, and offering the assumption that everyone will comply with their obligations.  A variation on this approach might include a request for a meeting to discuss assurances required to provide comfort that the employee will not be placed in a position that will imperil the integrity of your data.  (Click here for sample warning letters, and a note on new risks in sending them.)
Of course if you believe that there’s evidence not just of risk but of actual misappropriation of your trade secrets, you need to take prompt action.  You should have outside counsel involved immediately, to help you balance the need for a basic understanding of the facts with the imperative of prompt legal action.  But where you can afford the time to prepare before you act, your decisions will be better informed and less likely to cause collateral damage.  (Click here for my white paper “So You Want To Sue For Trade Secret Theft?”)
(2) from Requiring Non-Competes for Low Level Employees Raises Increasing Risks for Employers

A client recently asked us to draft a non-competition agreement that would prevent entry level machinists from working for a competitor for one year following their departure from employment. When we asked the client about the reasons for requiring the non-competes, he responded that he was sick and tired of training employees and losing them to a competitor that promised marginally higher wages. We responded that use of non-competes in these situations could result in legal claims against the employer for restraint of trade.

...For lower level employees, often a confidential information agreement is sufficient to cover the employer’s true protectable interests. In the above scenario, we recommended that the client use a combination of a confidential information protection agreement along with structured retention bonuses to deter employees from moving to a competitor for small differences in hourly compensation. This alternative has the dual benefits of having a considerably better chance of being enforced, as well as avoiding possible legal claims over restraint of trade or unfair trade practices.

Jiminian Law PLLC is devoted to helping clients in all areas of business, copyrights, trademark, sports and entertainment law.  Providing knowledgeable and effective representation are the keys to my success. Contact me for matters pertaining to the formation and maintenance of your business as well as corporate compliance matters, contracts, trade secrets, employment and more.  I am available for a free consultation if you call me at 917.388.3574 or 929.322.3546 or email me at danny(at)djimlaw(dot)com.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Labels

11th Circuit (1) 1st Amendment (2) 2015 (2) 2016 (20) 2017 (2) 2nd Circuit (8) 4th Circuit (1) 501(c)(3) (2) 7th Circuit (1) 9th Circuit (2) A-rod (1) accident (1) accounting (11) ACLU (1) acting (5) actor (2) advertising (3) advice (59) Aereo (1) age discrimination (1) agent (6) album release (3) alert (1) AlleyWatch (1) An Actor Inquires (3) analysis (6) Ancillary territories (3) angel pad (1) angels (1) anti-discrimination (1) AP (1) Apple (1) application (1) apps (2) architecture (1) art (5) art fair (1) art law (4) artist (3) asset (2) AT&T (1) athlete (1) athletes (4) Athletic Commission (1) audience metrics (1) avatar (1) bankruptcy (1) baseball (1) basketball (4) Beastie Boys (1) blog (17) Bob Marley (1) bonds (1) bone-head move (6) box office (2) boxing (1) branding (6) breach of fiduciary duty (1) brief bits (1) broadcast radio (2) broadcast TV (6) broker (1) budget (1) business (66) Business Insider (2) business manager (2) C&C Music Factory (1) CA (5) cable television (3) calendar (1) California (2) California law (5) campaign (2) cannabis (1) cases (10) casting (1) celebrities (6) Celebrity Endorsements (1) Center for Art Law (1) CFP (1) charts (1) China (1) China Law Blog (1) Chobani (1) Chubb Rock (1) class action (4) Coca Cola (1) Comcast (1) comedy (8) comic books (2) Commerce (1) Common Law Claims (1) company (14) compliance (1) contract (33) contracts (3) copyright (51) corporations (9) Creative Commons (2) crowdfunding (5) crowdsourcing (1) Cuba (2) cybersecurity (1) damages (1) Darth Vader (1) David Bowie (1) deals (11) Debmar model (1) defamation (4) demonstrations (1) development (6) DGA (2) digital (3) director (1) directors (10) DirecTV (1) disaster (2) discrimination (1) Disney (1) distribution (15) diversity (1) Division I (1) djimlaw.com (3) DMCA (3) DNA (1) DOJ (1) DOL (1) Dominican Republic (1) donor (1) Dov Seidman (1) DPRA (1) drone (1) Drumpf (1) DTSA (1) Duke Ellington (1) DVD (4) EA (1) economic espionage (1) economics (3) EEOC (2) EFF (2) EMI (1) Empire (1) employees (13) employer (13) entertainment industry (10) entrepreneur (9) ESL (1) esports (2) EST (1) ethics (3) events (1) Exclusive Use (1) executives (5) exhibitors (3) exploitation window (2) FAA (1) facebook (4) Fair Labor Standards Act (2) fair use (6) family & friends (1) fantasy sports (2) fashion (5) FBI (1) FCC (3) feature (4) FIFA (1) film (30) filmmaker (9) filmmaking (22) finance (6) finder (1) First Amendment (1) first-look deal (1) FL (2) FLSA (1) football (2) Forbes (2) forms (2) formula (3) foundation (1) FOX (2) FOX News (1) franchise (1) Free Speech (3) free trade agreements (1) funding (7) fundraising (3) gain (1) gambling (1) genetic larceny (1) Ghostface Killah (1) Google (3) Gordon Rees (1) government (28) grants (3) graphic novels (1) gross (3) guides (1) H-1B visa (1) HBR (1) hip hop (3) HOLA (3) Hollywood (9) Huffington Post (1) Hullabaloo (1) IATSE (1) IMDB (1) immigration (1) Inc magazine (1) incentives (5) Indiegogo (1) Indiewire (2) indigenous people (1) infographic (1) Information is Beautiful (3) infringement (20) Instagram (1) insurance (1) intellectual property (39) Intellirights (1) intent to use (1) International (7) internet (2) investment (10) investors (1) IP Watchdog (1) IPO (1) IPRHFF (1) Iron Man (1) IRS (10) ItsArtLaw blog (1) iTunes (1) jdsupra (5) Jersey Shore (1) John Cones (1) journalism (1) jumpstart foundry (1) Justice Dept. (2) Kickstarter (3) Kristin Thompson (1) LA Times (1) labor (10) Lanham Act (3) Las Vegas (1) latino (3) launch (1) law (8) Law 360 (1) Law360 (1) lawsuit (21) lawyer (3) lawyers (16) legal (2) legislation (8) liability (6) libel (2) licensing (6) Likelihood of Confusion (1) litigation (42) LLC (3) madrid protocol (1) maker (1) management (2) manager (3) marketing (8) Marvel (1) media (8) mediation (1) merchandising (2) merger & acquisition (1) MLB (2) MMA (1) mobile devices (4) money (5) moral rights (1) MPAA (1) Mr. Jaar (1) MTV (1) Murdoch (1) music (25) music publishers (1) musician (6) musicians (12) NAB (1) NALIP-NY (2) Name and Likeness (1) NBA (1) NC (1) NCAA (3) negotiation (10) Netflix (3) network (4) New Line Cinema (1) New Media (2) New York (6) New York law (9) news (6) newspaper (1) NFL (3) Nikki Finke (1) NJ (1) NJ Motion Picture and TV Commission (1) NLRA (1) NLRB (1) no budget (3) non-compete (2) Nonprofit Risk Management Center (1) nonprofits (15) NY (8) NY Court of Appeals (1) NY Mag (1) NY Press (1) NY Production Alliance (1) NY Times (4) NY Yankees (1) NYC Focus (1) NYC Mayor's Office (1) NYMag (3) O visa (1) Olympics (1) online rights (2) open-source (1) OSHA (1) P visa (1) partnership (2) patent (7) patents (3) PEDs (1) photography (5) PIPA (1) piracy (2) pitching (4) plan (1) policy (3) politics (3) Power Play (2) pre-1972 (5) privacy (5) producer (2) producers (20) producing (1) production company (12) production journal (1) production resources (2) production tips (1) profit (11) progress (1) projects (8) Promaxbda (1) promotion (5) PTAB (1) public domain (3) publicity (9) publishing (4) radio (2) Rakim (1) record labels (3) recording artist (1) registration (2) regulation (2) rent (1) Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (1) residuals (1) revenues (5) Richard Prince (1) Richard Pryor (1) royalties (1) ruling (3) safety (1) SAG-AFTRA (3) sales (4) satellite (2) SBA (1) SBA loan (2) scandal (2) science (1) SCOTUS (5) Script Reader Pro (1) SDNY (3) SEC (6) securitisation (1) seed capital (2) seed money (1) settlement (1) Sirius (6) small business (15) soccer (2) social media (5) software (3) Sony (3) SOPA (1) SoundCloud (1) Spiderman (1) sports (24) sports agent (3) Sports Agent Blog (1) sports law (2) Star Wars (1) startup (13) Starz (1) statistics (1) stock (1) strategy (28) streaming (10) student-athlete (1) studios (7) Sub Pop (1) successul film (5) summary judgment (2) Supreme Court (11) Supreme Court of NY (1) susan sarandon (1) Tax credit (6) tax foundation (1) tax inversion (1) taxes (10) technology (16) ted hope (2) television (11) The Art Law Report (1) The Atlantic (1) The Baffler (1) The Business of Sports (1) The Guardian (1) The Upshot (1) Theater (1) theatre (3) theatrical exhibition (4) theatrical window (2) THR (9) Time Warner (2) TPM (1) TPP (1) trade secret (11) trademark (31) transmedia (1) Triple Crown (1) Trump (1) TTAB (2) TV (3) Twitter (1) UFC (1) unions (3) US International Trade Commission (1) USPTO (7) Variety (2) VC (2) vendor (2) venture capital (1) video (1) video game (2) Vimeo (1) visualizations (1) VOD (2) Vox (1) Walmart (1) Warner Bros. (2) Washington Post (1) Wattpad (1) web series (2) webcast (1) webinar (1) website (5) WGA (1) What Every Producer Should Know (8) wikipedia (1) WME (1) work for hire (1) workshop (1) write-offs (1) writer (2) writers (4) WSJ (2) YFS magazine (1) youtube (3)