Last week, we examined the legal aspects of leadership succession and the advanced planning necessary to do it right.
However, what if a key employee unexpectedly resigns to work for a competitor? What steps should an employer take in those circumstances?
1. Prevent further access to company information — The employee likely has been planning this for several weeks and has a head start on you. There is a reason she or he is leaving you.
Lock everything down and disable passwords and email accounts. Has the employee return all company-owned equipment such as laptops, cellphones or PDAs that may contain confidential business information?
2. Preserve electronic evidence — Is anything confidential missing? How do you even know what was taken?
If you are worried, hire a professional computer-forensic expert to determine whether the departing employee engaged in any inappropriate conduct.
No matter how well-intentioned you are, such experts usually recommend you not access electronic devices yourself and root around looking for evidence. Instead, disconnect the electronic device immediately and allow the experts to properly extract the necessary data.
3. What did the employee know? — Does the employee really have any confidential information? Should you even be concerned?
Or was the employee at the meetings where company strategy was discussed? Talk to co-workers, as departing employees often talk about their plans to leave the company.
4. Remind the departing employee of obligations under any noncompete agreement — During the exit interview or at the time of departure, hand a copy of the noncompete agreement to the employee, and remind him or her of your expectations.
Also ask if she or he has retained any confidential information, request that those documents be returned and confirm that the employee has no more copies.
5. Contact customers about the employee’s departure — You need to inform those customers who now will be handling their account.
Also, as a general rule, customer logs and prospect lists should be updated and reviewed monthly so that you are not learning this information after the employee already has departed.
Such steps may minimize your risk and maximize your success if you go to court.