Dear Aunty B,
My marketing manager has just resigned to go to a competitor. Part of the suite of services we sell is marketing, so as you would expect, our company has great marketing strategies.
Now I fear that he is going to take these strategies to my competitor. We also have great contact lists that he developed. Who owns those?
I feel devastated at this betrayal because we have taught him everything and he has been a member of our “family” for five years. Should I show him the door immediately and see a lawyer?
You poor thing. It is devastating when this happens. But several things are concerning. Your staff are not your “family”. This is often a mistake that female entrepreneurs make, but recognise that you can be close to staff without being “mum”. So separate out your feelings of betrayal from the reality that an employee may take off with your IP.
I assume you have an employment contract with him that refers to confidential information and includes a restraint of trade clause. Make sure he – and other staff – know which information is confidential (often they assume it is their property and not the company’s).
Common law prevents your marketing manager from disclosing confidential information such as marketing strategies, pricing margins, computer programs, prototypes etc. It also prevents him stealing staff members or nicking your pricing lists while him work for you.
Stay very close to your customers after your marketing employee leaves. Check that there has not been any unusual activity such as large files sent from his computer. And if you are really concerned, send a letter to their new employer saying that you suspect your rights have been breached.
If you are taking all these precautions, sit back and stop worrying. You actually have no proof yet that he is doing the wrong thing. Don’t show the betrayer to the door. Instead hire a replacement and get your marketing manager to transition him/her.
Have a proper farewell and maintain the goodwill while gently reminding “the betrayer” of your rights.
But don’t go over the top. Confidential information does not include “know how” which is the skill, knowledge, and experience the employee has built up working for you, which the employee has the right to take with him.
Lastly, does your competitor have any staff you might want to pinch? Why not put a sign in their elevator saying you are looking for staff? Immature but hey, it’ll make you feel better.
Your Aunty B.